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TEEN: The Legendarian Chronicles

Chapter 42: Team Aqua
I already replied elsewhere, but thanks for the reviews, uA! I'm thrilled that you're enjoying it. ^^



~Chapter 42: Team Aqua~

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A click and a fizz rang out as I popped the top on a can of energy drink. I grimaced, then proceeded to chug it down. It was sour and awful but I didn’t care. I was gonna need something to keep me going who-knows-how-much longer we had to fight.

I still had to give Lugia the bad news. Couldn’t put it off forever, even if I would have liked to. Since Lugia and Ho-oh were at Sootopolis, they were now the only thing standing between the Rockets and Groudon awakening.

I took a deep breath and said, <The Rockets got the Red Orb.>

<What? How?> Lugia immediately demanded.

<The executive had Entei!> I replied heatedly, my face burning with shame. <I don’t even know how; it’s supposed to be with the Johto force.>

<Are we to assume the Johto force has nothing to do with this?>

<I—> I paused. My gut instinct was to say no, because the two halves of Team Rocket never seemed to work together on anything. But in light of what I knew about Stalker, I couldn’t rule it out. For all we knew, he only warned us about this mission so that he could capture Groudon and Kyogre himself.

<No, not really,> I admitted. <In any case, how’s the situation at Sootopolis?>

<There’s a fleet of airships here. They haven’t made a move on the city yet.> Lugia’s mind was calm, yet tense. Guarded. <We’ve tried attacking them from afar, but our attacks simply glance off their shields.>

<Rudy and Moltres are chasing the airship that left the Magma base,> I said. <He’s gonna keep me updated, but we should assume they’re heading to Sootopolis with the orb.>

I felt an affirmation from Lugia, almost like the mental equivalent of a nod. <Right. No matter what, we won’t allow them to approach the island.>

So that was settled. Nothing more I could do, so it was best if I put the Red Orb situation out of my mind. If I could.

“*How did Lugia take the news?*” Chibi asked, staring intently at me from the nearby snack counter. He’d obviously gotten the hang of spotting the face I made when talking to Lugia.

“Better than I expected, honestly.” I wasn’t even sure what I had been expecting. Anger? We’d failed to protect the orb. It should have been angry. I was angry. We should’ve been expecting that we might have to face a Legendary. We should’ve been ready for it.

I had to keep telling myself that it wasn’t a lost cause. We had Rudy and Moltres pursuing the airship that had left. And Lugia and Ho-oh were ready to stop them once they reached the island. This wasn’t over.

And… at least we were all okay. That was something.

I glanced over at Darren, who was currently raiding the Magmas’ break room fridge. Not for himself, on second look—he was mostly just holding the fridge open and watching helplessly while Weavile shoveled rice balls into her mouth.

The small break had given us a chance to heal our teams at least. No one was too badly injured, aside from Alakazam, who’d suffered some severe burning from Entei’s fireball—the sort of thing that really needed Pokécenter treatment, not just a brief stint on a healing machine.

“Think Rudy’s gonna be okay?” Darren asked offhandedly.

I tilted my head. “Yeah?” Then something hit me about the way he’d said it, and I added, “Why, do you think he’s not?”

Darren shoved a hand in his pocket. “I mean. He is riding a Legendary into a literal warzone.”

Oh. I guess it sounded pretty ridiculous when worded like that. Yet another thing that I just took for granted as reality, without stopping to think about it.

I shuffled a foot against the floor, trying to think of what to say. I finally settled on, “Does it feel weird that this is normal to us?”

Darren laughed. “All the time. I seriously forget that it’s not normal. And then someone like Maxie comes along and is like, ‘Why are a bunch of kids here?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah… this is weird.’”

‘Why are a bunch of kids here?’—that question still felt bizarre. We were just kids. I hadn’t felt like one in a while. Not since that night on Midnight Island.

“Before we went on the Moltres mission,” Darren went on, “when I explained it to my team… everyone was pretty familiar with that kind of situation, y’know? They were just like, ‘oh yeah, this again.’ Except Skarmory—he wasn’t on the Rebellion, so for him, it was like, ‘what the heck, why are we doing this?’” he said, chuckling under his breath.

I took a swig of energy drink. It was slowly becoming more tolerable. “I wish Jet had been like ‘what the heck.’ She’s got it in her head that we’re like, a bunch of war heroes and that this is all some kind of—” I paused suddenly as the realization hit me. “She’s basically us, when we started out. We were like that back then, weren’t we?”

Darren shrugged. “Probably. I know I had it in my head that I was doing something big and important. Not that it’s not, but… well, you know.”

I knew that feeling all too well. I’d joined the Rebellion because I wanted to feel important. Maybe the feeling would eventually pass for her, like it had for us. Although… given what had caused us to lose that view…

“The weirdest thing is that I have a hard time imagining life without all this,” Darren added. “What would I do with myself? Just walking into a building, I start calculating escape routes… imagining how quickly I could react if the person next to me got shot.” He closed his eyes with an ironic half-smile. “Pretty sure if we told anyone else, they’d think we were insane.”

It was the same for me. Seemingly random things still called back those memories and instincts, no matter how much time had passed. Flashes of lightning, and I’d suddenly feel concrete on my skin and acid in my mouth when neither were really there. The heat of flames, and my ears would ring with gunshots and screaming kids. Catching a side glance of my best friend from just the wrong angle, and I’d feel a spike of adrenaline from nowhere and a fist locking around my collar and…

“We’re pretty messed up, yeah,” I said. “It helps not being the only one, I guess.”

Darren nodded distantly. “Yeah.” His mouth curled into a smirk. “But you guys being partnered with Legendaries? That’s still weird. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.”

I snorted. “That’s fair.” Then I glanced at my watch. It’d been fifteen minutes since Rudy left. Each minute we spent here was another minute for things to go downhill at the Aqua base. “Come on. We shouldn’t waste any more time.” Chibi jumped back onto my shoulder. I downed the rest of my drink in one unpleasant gulp and tossed the can before walking toward the door. Darren shut the fridge door with Weavile still inside, waited five seconds, then opened it again, which finally prompted her to jump out from inside and follow us out of the break room.

As we walked down the hallway, I felt Chibi’s paws grip my shoulder. “*I couldn’t understand…*” he said quietly.

I glanced at the hybrid out of the corner of my eye. “Hm?”

“*Before yesterday… when I thought you were trying to hide from this mess,*” he clarified. “*It didn’t make any sense to me. But… you had a life before all this. I forgot because I didn’t have a life before all this.*”

Oh. That did make sense, what with the way that he’d been constantly badgering me for information on Team Rocket for the past nine months. I’d been frustrated at him for being unable to let it go, but… obviously that wasn’t so easy for him.

His paws clenched my shirt. “*I said I wanted to find something else to live for, but then I was angry with you for trying to do just that.*”

I reached over my shoulder to put a hand on his back. Felt his body tense up and then slowly relax. “It’s alright. I understand. And… I’m sorry I haven’t been able to help you move on.”

“*Not your fault,*” he replied immediately. “*I wasn’t letting you. Some things I have to figure out on my own.*” I didn’t necessarily agree with that, but… saying so wouldn’t help, I knew that much.

We regrouped in Maxie’s half-destroyed office where several Magmas were already hard at work cleaning up. Maxie was currently discussing something with his admins, but then glanced up at me and Darren when we entered.

“You two will need to reach the Aqua base as quickly as possible, correct?” the Magma leader asked.

I nodded. How far was that, anyway? I wasn’t too good with Hoennian geography, but if it was off the northeastern shore… that had to be at least 150 miles away. Or even more? Maybe I could text Ajia and have her send Mew to get us? But if they were in the middle of a fight, the last thing I wanted to do was distract them.

Maxie must have seen the dismayed look on my face, because he went on to say, “In the past, our team had… frequent need to teleport to the Aqua base for infiltration purposes. And while those days are behind us, some of our teleporters still have the location memorized.” Good. We couldn’t afford to waste any time flying all the way there.

The admins who’d be going with us—Courtney and Tabitha—stepped forward, flanked by a squad of four Magmas and three Pokémon—a Kirlia and two Claydol. So they’d be teleporting eight humans total, plus Latias, whom everyone had pretty much just accepted was here at this point. No point hiding herself anymore.

Courtney gave one last bow to her leader before taking the Kirlia’s hand. I placed my hand against the rough, earthen surface of one Claydol while Darren did the same with the other one.

This was it. Barely done recovering from our first failure, already rushing into another fight. No way of knowing how much longer the night would last. God, that thought was exhausting.

“I wish you all the best of luck,” Maxie said, nodding.

Then the office melted into distorted light. Two jumps later, we appeared on a wide, rocky platform surrounded by water on three sides. Ocean waves lapped at its edge, and a cool sea breeze swept through the air. The sky had lightened noticeably compared to when we’d arrived at the Magma base—I turned to face the open sea and was met with the first light of dawn peeking over the horizon.

The teleporters vanished and reappeared twice more until all of us were here, including Latias. Courtney gestured for us to follow her before silently leading us down a rough path along the water’s edge, skirting the perimeter of a sheer rock face, past sharp crags jutting up from the shallow sea. We rounded a particularly narrow ledge where the rock protruded out into the path, and there it was, the entrance to the Aqua base—a wide opening carved into the side of the rock down by the water’s edge. How were things going in there? Were Ajia and Starr alright?

The path we’d been following didn’t reach the entrance. In fact, there were no visible walkways at all, just an open waterway for boats or water-types. I was just puzzling over the best way to get in when a grinding, metallic sound suddenly reached my ears. It almost sounded like… a garage door opening, coming from the direction of the Aqua base. Was it inside the waterway, out of view?

After several seconds, the door sound ground to a halt, and in its place, I could hear an alarm blaring, mixed in with the sounds of… an engine revving? No, multiple engines revving. Getting louder.

Then, without warning, a huge blue and black speedboat shot out of the opening at top speed.

“After them!” a voice shouted.

A flock of flying-types bolted out the hangar next, half of them with riders. Following close behind them was a fleet of smaller boats that broke off from each other the moment they exited, swerving wildly, dodging Pokémon attacks. Like half of them were trying to avoid the other half.

“What the heck?” I muttered under my breath. Was Team Aqua… making a break for it? Taking the fight to the ocean?

“Hey! Over here!” Tabitha called out, waving his arms over his head. At first it didn’t seem like any of the boats had noticed him. But then one of them abruptly swerved into a full U-turn, zooming straight at us. It didn’t make any effort to slow down gradually, instead braking hard right as it pulled up. I flinched as a spray of seawater washed over all of us, then glanced up to see that the boat was full of people wearing striped shirts and black bandanas, all staring at us—or rather, the Magmas—in total confusion.

“The hell are you punks doing here?” a tall, burly man called out to us from the helm. He was shirtless, heavily tanned, and wearing the lower half of a wetsuit with a large, stylized ‘A’ tattooed on his chest. So… an Aqua, if that was anything to go off.

“We came here to help you ungrateful whelps!” Tabitha called back, stamping a boot against the rocks.

The man captaining the ship scoffed. “You think we forgot how to fight off invaders? Always managed to send your group packing, no sweat!”

Courtney narrowed her eyes but didn’t say anything. Tabitha shook his head and stammered, “W-well I know you Aquas are physically incapable of taking anything seriously, but these Rockets are bad news!”

“Ha! Couldn’t defend your base?” the man said with a hearty laugh. “Figures!” Tabitha’s face went red.

“Matt, dear, they came all this way to help, the least we can do is give them a lift,” a voice called out. I glanced over at the ship’s bow to see a slender, dark-skinned woman with long, black hair streaked with blue. She was currently leaning against the guardrail, eyeing our group with an amused look.

“If you say so, Shelly,” Matt said with an exaggerated eye roll. Then he turned back to us and said, “Get on board, and hurry it up, will ya?”

One of the Aqua members extended a ladder down the side of the boat. Tabitha started climbing aboard, muttering to himself the entire time, followed by Courtney, the other Magmas, and finally me and Darren.

“More kids? Seriously, what’s with all the kids today?” one of the Aquas asked loudly the moment he got a good look at us.

“Child soldiers recruited to fight a war with the Rockets,” Darren answered without missing a beat.

That caught Matt off guard. He blinked at us for a second before bursting out laughing once more. “Jesus, Kanto’s not as boring as I thought!” Then he whirled around and gripped the wheel tightly with his giant hands. “Alright, we’re setting off. Hang on tight! I ain’t turning this thing around if any of y’all fall overboard!” he called out. I barely had time to cling to the side of the railing before the boat abruptly lurched into a tight U-turn and began accelerating to top speed.

The Aqua ship practically flew across the water, scattering sea spray into my face and whipping my hair around like crazy. Far ahead of us, I could see the rest of the boats, as well as the aerial squads of Rockets. We were rapidly gaining on them.

Tabitha struggled to make his way toward the helm, fighting against the air pushing him back. “Do you even know what they’re after?!” he yelled over the roar of the wind in his face.

Matt scoffed. “They’re tryin’ to get their hands on the Blue Orb, what else? That’s why Archie took it and made a break for it. He knew we’d be way better off fighting back in our element.” He gestured to the fleet of boats ahead of us, now circling around to confront their pursuers.

At once, dozens upon dozens of Pokéball flashes rang out, and I was suddenly staring at an absolute horde of water-types. Wailmer, Carvanha, Sharpedo, Wailmer, even a few Wailord—all launching high-pressure waterspouts outward, crashing into the Rocket boats, toppling half of them, knocking flying-types out of the air. The skies near-instantly filled with a nonstop barrage of water so relentless it might as well have been raining. Heck, in a few spots it actually was raining, as some of the water-types had generated rain clouds to help fuel their attacks.

Gunfire rang out a few times, but the onslaught of waves radiating out from the Aqua fleet kept the Rockets from getting close enough for a clear shot. Bolts of lightning shot out from some of the electric-types, but they were too far to target the heart of the Aquas’ forces, and could only pick off the outliers.

Holy crap. Maxie wasn’t kidding when he said the Aquas in their element were scary effective.

In the midst of the chaos, my eyes locked onto a gray-scaled blur zipping in and out of the Rockets’ aerial lineup. Aerodactyl! Ajia was okay! I couldn’t see her clearly, but I could see the small jolts of lightning that Pichu fired off every few seconds, and the Rockets’ Pokémon falling around her, wings twitching with paralysis. Mew was probably here too, disguised as one of the multitudes of water Pokémon. Not to mention Latias, wherever she’d flown off to.

But then what about—my eyes scanned the army of water-types, struggling to pick out individual Pokémon—there! A Feraligatr and a Gyarados adding to the torrential onslaught keeping the Rockets’ boats from getting close to the Aqua leader—and the latter had a trainer on his back. So Starr was okay too. Thank god. After me, Rudy, and Darren had only barely made it, I hadn’t even wanted to think about the idea that Ajia or Starr might not have survived the Aqua base.

A high-pitched trill suddenly broke the air and my stomach instinctively tied into a knot. I knew that sound. I glanced upward and sure enough, there it was. An icy, cobalt falcon circling overhead, ribbonlike tail swirling snow behind it.

Articuno. God, I was sick of facing down Legendaries.

“Yeah, that thing gave us trouble back at the base,” Matt said grimly, staring up at the ice bird. “Some Kanto girl—a friend o’ yours?—she kept it busy while the rest of us hightailed it outta there so we could fight back on our own turf.”

My mouth went dry. If Ajia had managed to stand up to Articuno, then it was because she had Mew, and no other reason. “Don’t… don’t underestimate Legendaries.”

Matt grinned. “Don’t underestimate Team Aqua.”

Several dozen water-types all fired on Articuno at once, from all sides. It retaliated with Ice Beam after Ice Beam, freezing countless waterspouts into jagged icy spires. But for every attack it froze, ten more filled the air, forcing it to stay on the move, constantly looping out of the way, struggling to control its flight with waterlogged feathers.

Articuno was limited to picking off opponents with single shots. It couldn’t just let a vicious Blizzard rip through the air without hitting its own forces. And now it was stuck spiraling around, struggling to find an opening. It shrugged off a few of the waterspouts, freezing a group of water-types solid, but for each squad that fell, there were five more to take its place. There were actually too many for it to break through. And really, that shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, before the Rockets had legends at their disposal, they’d had to take them down with huge numbers of ordinary Pokémon—this was no different

Matt jerked the boat to the left and I snapped my hands to the railing again as we only narrowly avoided a sudden patch of ice that sprung up from a rogue Ice Beam. Then, with another swerve, he pulled our boat into a wide arc heading straight for the center of the Aqua fleet. The water-type forces parted to let us through, and Matt took us further in until our boat was traveling right alongside the largest ship in the fleet.

“Hey Archie! Get a load o’ the reinforcements we picked up!” he called out.

Archie? Wait, that was their leader, right? I leaned out over the railing and stared up at the larger ship. There he was at the helm—a tall, wild-eyed man in a navy wetsuit with a cape of netting trailing from his belt and a huge golden anchor hanging from a chain around his neck.

Archie turned in our direction and blinked at us for a few seconds before breaking into an amused grin upon seeing that the ‘reinforcements’ were a bunch of Magmas and some kids.

“Ha! You came to help us? That’s rich!” Tabitha folded his arms but didn’t bother responding. Archie smirked. “Appreciate the offer and all, but we’ll be taking care of this lot on our own!” He leaned over the ship’s railing and called out, “Whaddya say, bud? Let’s show these punks we mean business!”

At first, I wasn’t sure who he was addressing with that last bit. But then, several seconds later, a Sharpedo burst out of the water, right alongside his ship. Archie grabbed at the golden anchor around his neck, and in an instant, beams of light burst out of it, streaming through his fingertips in a dazzling array of colors. What on earth? Was that… normal? None of the Aquas looked surprised—they were all staring in anticipation, like they couldn’t wait for what was about to happen. On its next leap from the water, the same rainbow light erupted from Sharpedo—from a polished stone strapped to its dorsal fin. And the instant the light crossed paths with Archie’s, it flared to life, completely engulfing the shark, swirling around it so thickly that I could barely see it, Archie grinning wildly the entire time.

Suddenly, the light exploded outward from the two in a dazzling prismatic flash, fading into shimmering rainbow strands drifting upward from Sharpedo. The Aquas burst into wild cheering. And all I could do was stare openmouthed. It was like a Sharpedo but more, body covered in bright yellow patterns and scar-like markings, with jagged, toothy protrusions jutting from its snout.

“What the hell just happened?” I muttered under my breath.

Archie slammed a foot against the ship’s railing, thrusting a finger toward the Rockets. “Get a taste of Mega Sharpedo.”

Mega… Sharpedo? That light… that was a mega evolution? I’d heard vague stories about it—real important to Kalosian history, practically a myth for the longest time—but I never thought I’d ever actually see it.

Sharpedo burst from the water almost too fast to see, launching itself clear through the air, striking one of the Rockets’ flying-types and knocking it and its rider into the sea. Then the shark fired a burst of water behind it and cut through the sea like a torpedo, honing in on one of the ships that had been stolen by the Rockets, tearing a wide gash through the hull with its jaws.

The sudden counterattack didn’t go unnoticed. With a high-pitched cry, Articuno swooped down and fired, freezing the water in Sharpedo’s path. But the shark barely noticed. It shattered the ice with the spikes on its snout and kept going, tearing through the water at high speed, smashing ice wherever it could, freeing the frozen water-types so they could go right back to launching brutal Hydro Pumps at the Rockets.

“See? What’d I tell ya,” Matt said, a hint of pride in his voice. “My bro’s got us covered.”

They actually had a shot. And even if Raven showed up with Entei, it wouldn’t exactly be a big help at sea, would it? We actually had a shot. This wasn’t over.

And then Lugia’s voice was in my head saying, <It’s awake. Groudon is awake,> and the world came crashing to a halt. I stood frozen, gripping the ship’s railing so hard my knuckles turned white, numbly processing the sudden announcement from nowhere.

<Wh… what?> I asked shakily.

<Did you not hear me?> the legend said.

I shook my head. <No, I—I heard you, but—how?>

<I’m unsure. None of the airships here have made a move on the island. We’ve been watching them the entire time.>

<There is no way in hell the ship that left the Magma base could have made it there by now; it’s clear on the other end of the region. And Rudy hasn’t messaged me yet either, so—> And then the answer hit me. The single, blatantly obvious truth that none of us had considered yet.

<Oh my god, we’re idiots. They didn’t need to get their entire force there! The instant they had the orb, all they had to do was just teleport a single person to the cave to awaken it. They probably already had a teleporter ready to go with the location memorized and everything!>

Lugia’s mind crackled with frustration. It hadn’t made that connection either. <So staking out the entrance was for nothing, then.>

<We would’ve needed someone waiting to confront them inside the cave.> I slammed a fist against the railing. <Damn it.>

Lugia steeled itself, as through suppressing the frustration and trying to focus. <Ho-oh and I will protect Groudon. Do not let them recover the Blue Orb!>

“Hey. You okay?” Darren asked, putting a hand on my shoulder. Though he hadn’t heard the conversation, he’d definitely seen my random outburst and the sudden wave of anger crossing my face.

“Groudon is awake,” I said, holding a hand against my temple.

His eyes widened for a second with surprise. He opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but then froze, processing. “Oh. They sent someone ahead to—”

“Yeah,” I said flatly.

Darren closed his eyes, exhaling slowly. “…Rudy’s gonna be pissed when we tell him.”

I’m pissed.”

“Yeah, that’s kinda unlike you.”

I was not remotely in the mood to care about that. We couldn’t afford to let them get the Blue Orb too. Even if the Aquas were holding their own now, I didn’t trust for a second that the Rockets didn’t have more tricks in store for us.

“So I’ve been meaning to ask—how do y’all plan on fighting here, anyway?” Matt asked, glancing back at the Magmas. With a smirk, he added, “Unless you’re telling me you finally figured out that water is the best type?”

Courtney glared at him, but then turned and looked out at the waters surrounding us. I followed her gaze and saw that the seaway here was unbelievably shallow, with rocks and sandbars scattered between random pockets of deep water. Matt’s near-constant swerving wasn’t pointless—he pretty much had to do it to avoid beaching us.

“There. Let us off there,” Courtney said abruptly, pointing at a particularly large sandbar along the outskirts of the sea battle.

Matt shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

The boat swerved again, but by this point I was getting used to it. Matt pulled us over as close as we could without getting stuck, and then I immediately bolted down the ladder and jumped off from it to land in the sand. Darren, Courtney, Tabitha, and the Magma grunts dismounted after me.

Matt gave us one last incredulous glance and said, “Y’all are determined, I’ll give ya that. Good luck!” before the boat sped off.

Darren turned around, quickly grabbing two Pokéballs from his belt. “Alllright, I know everything looks good right now, but let’s be real—we know that’s not lasting.” He let out Skarmory and Weavile, then climbed onto the metal bird’s back, with Weavile riding in front of him.

I let out Swift, Jet, and Aros in a flash, keeping Firestorm in reserve—better to not have him out with all the water flying through the air, plus I’d need a backup flier if Swift went down. “Jet, hop in the water and defend those boats. Aros, give them air support, and keep away from the ice. Chibi, go with him—make sure your lightning doesn’t hit the water, we don’t want to fry any Aqua forces. Precision strikes only—no Discharge.”

Jet gave a mock salute and dove into the sea. Aros glanced at Chibi with a look like he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the right words. The Pikachu either didn’t notice or didn’t care, jumping onto his back like usual and clinging tightly. After a few seconds’ pause, Aros turned to face the Aqua fleet before taking off.

I climbed on Swift’s back and said, “We’ll want to stay clear of Articuno. Take us over the Aqua forces so we can support them however we can.” The Pidgeot nodded wordlessly. Then he flapped his wings and we were off, circling the airspace above the sandbar. Below us, the Magmas had sent out all their ranged fighters, and plumes of fire had already begun to rain down on the Rockets. Skarmory swept a flurry of pointed stones into the air that hovered around the Aqua fleet, ready to dig into any Rocket forces that came too close.

Time to enter the melee, then. A burst of Quick Attack and we were off. We flew past a group of Pelipper that was busily whipping up a Tailwind, forcing the Rockets to fight against the wind. I scanned the waters below and spotted a squad of enemy Pokémon that had darted in from behind, zeroing in on Archie’s ship. In one smooth motion, Swift swooped down and nailed two or three of them with Air Cutter, which caught the Aquas’ attention and led to a barrage of Dark Pulse from the Mightyena pack onboard.

No time to stop and focus down any opponents, no time to land any big moves. Just darting in, small strikes, then darting out. Movement caught my eye, and I threw a glance upward to see a squad of Crobat above us, already paralyzed by Chibi, Aros tearing through them in a blaze of dragonfire. To our left, another squad of fliers. Two of them had just gone down to a Hydro Pump, but a Yanmega deftly zipped past the waterjets, eyes glowing as it shot a multicolored beam and took down one of the Mightyena. Swift fired off an Air Slash, knocking it back, and that took the dragonfly too close to Skarmory’s rocks, which immediately dug into it. A Gliscor powered through, shrugging off the rocks, but a rush of Icy Wind from Weavile coated its wings in frost. Then, while it was stunned, Swift dove down and smacked it with his wings, knocking it into the waves, where it was immediately frozen by one of the Aquas’ Walrein.

I felt a burst of cold air behind me—Articuno?—and whirled around in a panic, but no, it was just Weavile, slowing another group of Crobat with Icy Wind. Then a loud crash snapped my attention back to the ship just in time to see a Blastoise ramming the hull with a high-speed headbutt. I pointed Swift downward, and he immediately caught it between the eyes with a blade of wind. And in the moment’s pause while the tortoise was clutching its face in pain, a duo of Lanturn surfaced right next to it and unleashed a flood of electricity.

They just kept coming. We could hold our own, but for how long? Even with the Aquas’ impressive fleet, Rocket forces still kept managing to slip through. Swift struck down a Beedrill, stirred up a whirlwind, and tossed a few more Crobat into the floating rocks. He was just flaring up his wings with light, about to go for an Aerial Ace when something orange glinted in the corner of my vision. A Dragonair, facing Archie’s ship, charging something in its mouth—a ball of orange light.

Oh no. Hyper Beam.

“Guard them with Protect!” I cried.

Swift dove, and the Dragonair fired, and time seemed to slow as the blinding beam lanced straight for the ship. Swift flared his wings at the last second, white light shimmering in front of us. I screwed my eyes shut right as the beam struck the barrier with a piercing screech. Ears ringing, I felt a spray of water from something surfacing beneath us, and dared to open my eyes a crack. Another Dragonair below. Couldn’t Protect.

“Quick Att—”

Too late; a burst of dragonfire exploded from below, pouring over Swift’s feathers and sending a jolt of raw, heatless pain shooting through my arms. I clung to him for dear life as he struggled to regain his flight, firing off blades of air at everything around us. Through blurred vision I caught a glimpse of the Dragonair recoiling backward, then darting in for another attack.

I coughed, eyes watering, and yelled, “Tw-twister!”

Swift whipped up a whirlwind streaked with white flares, catching the dragon in its center and whipping it around mercilessly. But, wait… what about the first one? I spun around and there it was—behind us, its horn crackling with sparks. My stomach curled inward, already anticipating the burst of lightning, already seeing it before it had even—

And then a giant, blue-scaled head lunged out of nowhere, grabbing the Dragonair in its icy jaws and hurling it so far that it was practically a speck when it landed in the water. I blinked in shock at our sudden rescuer, eyes falling on the person riding on its head, who was currently giving me a rather unamused look.

“Starr?” I blurted out.

She pointed forward, and her Gyarados snaked his way through the water until he was alongside us, giving Swift the chance to land on his back and rest his wings. The Pidgeot hummed gently as a healing glow washed over him from Roost.

Starr spun around to face me. “What’d I say about getting yourself killed?”

I flinched. “We were doing fine,” I replied automatically. Then my brain caught up with my mouth and I added, “But… thanks.”

Her expression softened. “Just giving you crap. I’m glad you’re okay.” She turned back to face the same direction as Gyarados, pointing out a few targets that were getting dangerously close. “We’ve been doing alright here.”

“Better than alright. Way better than we did at the Magma base,” I said.

She gave me a sideways look over her shoulder. “Do I even wanna know?”

I wasn’t too keen on sharing the details anyway. “Not really. They got the orb and woke Groudon, that’s all that matters.”

“Does Ajia know?”

I paused. “I’m… not sure.” Both she and Mew had been here the whole time, so not likely. I only knew because my patron had seen it happen.

My eyes wandered over to Ajia’s Aerodactyl as he looped through the air, sending blades of air from his wingtips and knocking the Rockets Pokémon back as they attempted to take aim. Near him, a green blur flickered in and out of shadow, the Pikachu on his back firing bolts at anyone who got too close.

And then, for whatever reason, I noticed that the seas around us were a lot less… hectic than they had been only a few minutes ago. Most of the skirmishes had died down. The Rocket boats had all pulled back, putting a wide berth between them and the Aquas’ forces.

“What’s going on?” I muttered under my breath. Were they… retreating? That didn’t make any sense. Sure, we were holding our own well enough, but there was no way they’d give up that easily. They had to have something else in store.

And then I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see several large somethings in the air. I squinted, struggling to make out the details. Then my eyes widened—it was a fleet of airships, rapidly approaching us from the northern horizon. Fighting back against Rockets on stolen Aqua boats was one thing, but airships?

“Crap. They’ve got reinforcements coming,” I said, a sinking feeling building inside me.

At my words, Starr whirled around. Her eyes narrowed. “Shit. It’s the Johto force.”

A few of the Aquas started cheering as the Kanto Rockets pulled back, but it wasn’t long before they spotted the approaching airships. A crowd of waterjets fired on the nearest one, but the water just glanced off to the side, deflected invisibly. So the airships had ALR shields, huh? Then again, that did match what Lugia had said. But what was powering them? ALRs were useless without Pokémon energy as fuel.

A large, metallic door on one ship began sliding open with a metallic creak. A flicker of sparks shone from within. And then a gigantic golden beast leapt down from the ship, landing on the nearest boat with a heavy thud that shook it so hard I thought it would capsize. Aqua grunts stumbled back from the impact, toppling over the side and into the water. Those still on board recoiled in fear.

I stared frozenly, mouth hanging open. It was Raikou. The Legendary Beast of Thunder that I hadn’t seen since that night a year ago, when we’d actually managed to save it from the Rockets. And it had a human on its back. A young man wearing an Executive’s outfit, surveying the Aqua forces with a half-bored, half-amused expression.

“Lexx?!” Starr’s voice rang in outrage.

He jerked slightly upon hearing his name, then turned to face us, face splitting into a wide grin. “Oh hey! Nice job keeping the Kanto force busy. But we’ll be taking it from here.”

Raikou crouched low before leaping high into the air, instantly letting a hail of lightning rain down on the Aquas’ forces. Dozens of Pokémon cried out at once before falling silent. And that was just the first attack. Raikou kept going, leaping from Aqua ship to ship, positioning itself behind the Aquas, so the water-types would have to attack their own trainers to get at it. Bolts rained down from above, spreading like a web across the surface of the water, forcing the remaining Pokémon to dive under to avoid it.

My heart sank as I numbly watched it all unfold. “But… he warned us about their attack…” I uttered weakly.

“‘Warned us’ my ass, he was just trying to distract us with pointless bullshit so we wouldn’t know what was really up,” Starr growled.

And what had I been expecting, really? That Stalker sending us here to sabotage this mission meant that the Johto force wasn’t involved? Of course that was a joke.

I was dragged out my thoughts by Starr tapping a fist against her Gyarados’s armored scales, then pointing forcefully toward Lexx. “We’re going after him.” The sea monster nodded sharply, and I had to throw my arms around Swift as our ride lunged forward, cutting a line through the seaway, straight toward Lexx and Raikou.

I stared up at Starr, speechless. She wasn’t serious, was she? But neither she nor Gyarados showed any sign of stopping. I couldn’t let her go after him alone, but… after seeing the devastation that Raikou had just unleashed… I wasn’t sure if I had to protect her… or hold her back.

“*This seems… unwise,*” Swift said, quiet enough that only I could hear him.

“You’re telling me,” I whispered. Then I called out, “Starr, are you sure we should be doing this?”

Starr didn’t respond. Or acknowledge that I’d said anything, for that matter. Her gaze was firmly locked on her brother, who was still antagonizing the Aqua forces. A couple of ground-types had endured the lightning and were attempting to strike back, sending waves of muddy water crashing down on him. But Raikou just raised a Protect barrier around itself and its trainer, the mud splattering off harmlessly. Then it retaliated by opening its jaws wide and launching a volley of shadowy orbs, picking them off one by one before they had a chance to counterattack.

“Hey!!” Starr belted out. She pointed forward, and Gyarados spat out a narrow jet of water that splashed against the thunder beast’s side, only narrowly missing Lexx himself. “Why don’t you get over here and fight me, you little worm!”

Raikou slowly turned in our direction, staring expressionlessly. Lexx gave his sister a crooked smile. “Starr, I want you to think about the fact that you’re challenging Raikou while riding a Gyarados.”

“Like I care,” she spat. “Do you even have the balls to attack me?”

Oh my god, what was she doing. My hand hovered over Firestorm’s Pokéball—I could let him out at a moment’s notice, he could grab her, we could make a break for it. But Lexx ignored her, turning around and focusing on the Aquas once more. Above us, the squads of Rockets pouring out of the Johto airships had grouped together in an aerial formation, with the Pokémon in front putting up Reflect and Light Screen to protect those in the back. There were still a decent number of water-types bombarding their shields with high-pressure waterspouts. At Lexx’s command, Raikou fired another string of lightning from its forehead, straight upward, calling down a bout of thunder from the sky, right in the center of the Aquas’ broken lineup.

Without warning, a hulking blue shape burst up from the water with a violent splash. Feraligatr! Her jagged, toothy jaws dug into the tiger’s leg, staining its pelt red. But the legend only barely flinched. Lexx glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and sighed before motioning to Raikou. Strings of electricity danced across its mane, then flew into the gator, who let out a garbled cry and fell overboard with a splash.

Really, Starr?” Lexx said, giving her a tired look. “This will all go a lot faster if you guys don’t get in our way. We’re facing a common enemy.”

“Looks to me like you’re helping the enemy right now,” she snarled, recalling her starter.

Lexx paused. “Well… yes. But not for long.”

“The hell is that supposed to—”

But her words cut off sharply at the whistle of something flying through the air, rapidly approaching. Gyarados noticed it first, darting to the right. Swift flared his wings to keep his balance, and I flattened myself to his back right as a hunk of molten earth slammed into the side of the ship, knocking Raikou off balance and nearly throwing Lexx from its back. I whirled around to see Courtney, standing at the edge of the water, arm outstretched. Her Camerupt stood next to her, snorting steam from its nostrils.

“What is it with people wanting to fight Legendaries today?!” Lexx yelled to no one in particular as he regained himself and pointed for Raikou to disembark. “Do you guys seriously not know how strong they are?” The lightning beast gave a mighty leap and hurtled through the air, landing on the nearest island with a spray of sand.

“Strong,” Courtney mused to herself. “Alright then.” She held out the multicolored stone that Maxie had given her. Beams of light suddenly burst out of Camerupt’s collar—the same light that we’d seen from Sharpedo not that long ago. But then, that could only mean—!

The light consumed Camerupt, swirling around it like a raging vortex. And then it exploded outward all at once, dissolving into multicolored strands radiating upward. With a loud snort, Camerupt stamped the sand, melting it beneath its hooves. Its thick, crimson coat ruffled with every movement. Glowing, molten lines of magma traced the volcanic peak that had burst up from its back.

“She can’t beat you… you say?” Courtney asked. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “Perhaps I can.”

Lexx let out a low whistle. “Never seen a mega evolution in person.” He smirked. “Well this just got slightly more interesting. Alright, I’ll play your game.” He jumped down from Raikou’s back, gesturing for it to go ahead, and the lightning beast took a few steps forward until it was standing directly across from its opponent.

“I’ve always wanted to know just how much lightning it would take to hurt a ground-type.” Lexx grinned darkly. “Should we test it?”

Courtney’s eyes flickered with interest. “An experiment?” She stepped back and motioned to Camerupt… or rather, Mega Camerupt. “Let’s begin.”

The volcanic Pokémon reared up with a snort and stamped both forelegs into the sand. In reply, an explosion of molten energy burst up from under Raikou, consuming the beast. Raikou kept walking, a twinge in its eyes and the slightest shudder in its steps. Then, with little more than a flicker of sparks as a warning, it unleashed an absolute deluge of Thunderbolts.

I’d seen floods of lightning before. I’d seen Chibi pour his entire power supply in a single move, more than once. But this? It sent me reeling back to that night we destroyed the Thunder Field, giving Raikou that chance to use its full thunderous might against the Rockets. All of that, directed on just one Pokémon. Camerupt staggered back, teeth clenched, pain in its eyes, the air shimmering from the sheer heat of the lightning. But it was enduring, and forcing itself forward, stamping the sand again and generating another eruption beneath its opponent.

This was the power of mega evolution.

Raikou waited for the earth to settle beneath its claws. It tensed itself, strings of lightning coursing through its mane. But before it could strike, a huge chunk of mud crashed into the back of its head, knocking it forward a few steps. What? Where had that…?

The beast threw a glance over its shoulder to locate its attacker. There, on the far opposite side of the sandbar, stood a Swampert, shaking the water from its fins and eyeing Raikou. The only one out of the crowd of ground-types that hadn’t fallen to a single Shadow Ball.

Raikou turned toward it. Then it closed its eyes. The air shimmered and warped, condensing into waves of light that dug into the mudfish. It didn’t even flinch. Raikou blinked in surprise. Then Swampert lunged forward, striking the ground with its palm, sending a rolling wave of sand crashing into the tiger’s legs, bringing it to its knees, which gave Camerupt the chance to call up another eruption right beneath it.

Right. So the Swampert was Mew. Got it.

Starr was watching this all unfold with a look of distaste. Finally, she turned away and said, “Well, the creepy Magma chick is dealing with shithead over there. Come on, we’ve got other problems to worry about.” Gyarados gave a flick of his tail, and suddenly we were moving again.

I blinked in surprise. She was actually willing to let it go? I’d been half expecting to have to drag her away from a fight with him. Still, I wasn’t about to question it. I threw one last glance back at Courtney as we left. We couldn’t waste her distraction—we had to protect Archie’s ship. My eyes scanned the waters around us and—dammit, Raikou had really screwed us over. What little remained of the Aqua forces were regrouping in the center. In the air, I spotted Darren flying on Skarmory, the metal bird stirring up whirlwinds and knocking approaching Rockets into the pointed stones. Saw Aros and Chibi still going strong, along with Aerodactyl and the Pelipper flock, all of them working to keep the Rockets from getting any closer.

I was just about to have Swift take off and help them when a high-pitched whistle filled the air and a frantic voice yelled, “Get down!” I tilted my head back to stare straight upward and—holy crap, what?

Meteors. The sky was full of meteors.

“P-protect?!” I yelled.

Swift leaped into the air, flapping right above Starr and Gyarados before spreading his wings wide and forming a wall of light above us. Not even a second later, dozens of projectiles—sparkling red and blue flares that looked like dragonfire—rained down on the entire seaway, clattering off barriers, knocking flying-types out of the air, and tearing holes in ships. I held tight to Swift’s neck, burying my face in his feathers and flinching with each shock wave and just willing it to be over.

After what felt like forever, the countless impacts began to die down. I lifted my head right as the Protect wore off and Swift leveled off our flight, gliding in a low circle above the water. A chill fell over me—the skies were disturbingly bare. Half the aerial fighters had been knocked into the sea from the meteor shower (what even was that move?) and most of the Aqua fleet now had gaping holes in their boats. I threw a frantic glance back at Archie’s ship to see a Walrein hard at work freezing the openings shut, but the hull had already taken on so much water that it was too late. The Aquas on board were frantically discussing something when Archie suddenly made a hard right turn, beaching the ship against the closest sandbar before they could sink any further.

Crap. This was bad. There went their mobility. And with half the water-types down… I whirled around to see Articuno rapidly closing in on us. No, no no no. If it got too close, that was it, game over. Had to do something.

…Articuno should have taken some damage by now, right? Between all the water and fire and lightning and—

Chibi. He was the only one that could put a dent in Articuno, besides Mew—and Mew was still dealing with Raikou. Even if it was just for an instant, it’d give us the opportunity to get Archie to safety.

“We’ve gotta find Aros and Chibi, fast!” I hissed into Swift’s ear, and the Pidgeot instantly put on a burst of speed. I flattened myself to his back, holding tight as he ducked and weaved around the few remaining fliers, scanning them all with a growing feeling of dread. Aros hadn’t been hit by the meteors, had he? Or the ice? Or any one of a dozen other things that could have taken him down and I wouldn’t have even seen it and—there! A wave of relief crashed over me when I caught the flutter of green wings out of the corner of my eye. Swift had already spotted him, diving down to where the Flygon was helping fish unconscious Pelipper from the water.

“How much power do you have left?” I immediately asked Chibi.

“*Borrowed some from Pichu. I’m at around half,*” the hybrid replied.

Would that be enough? Didn’t matter, had to try it. “It’s a long shot, but we don’t have a choice,” I said, pointing toward Articuno. “Use Mega Bolt!”

The Pikachu turned to face the ice bird, eyes narrowing. He drew himself back, poised to take a flying leap, when—

“*Wait,*” Swift cut in sharply. “*They’ve got hostages.*”

What? What was he sayi—oh crap. Articuno was actually carrying the Aqua admins in its talons. Of all the dirty moves. Couldn’t hurt Articuno without hurting the hostages, at least, not with lightning. But who else could put a scratch on it?

A rush of wind shot past me and I saw the brief flash of red feathers in the sunlight. Wait… Latias! Of course! She could do it—she could save them! Glimmering mist balls formed from thin air, pelting Articuno right in the chest repeatedly. The ice bird recoiled backward with each blow, instinctively retaliating with an Ice Beam that missed its mark completely.

Now they were close enough for me to spot that it had a rider—the executive, Ender. He pointed forward, and the legend sent a rush of cold air from its wings. Frost formed around a jetlike shape in the air, flickering red before Latias snapped into full view, her illusion broken. Shivering, she pressed on through the storm, still forming more mist ball attacks, still pelting Articuno with them, forcing it back from the ship below. And then, when she was mid-move, Ender snapped his fingers, and a jagged Ice Beam split the air, striking her dead-on.

My heart jumped into my throat. No!

Latias cried out in pain, her attack fading into mist. She struggled to bring her claws together for a Protect, but the ice crystals were too thick, her arms frozen solid. Then the ice made its way to her wings, and with a pitiful cry, the crimson dragon went limp, spiraling down into the sea with a splash.

I stared in horror. She’d be a sitting duck! Any one of the Rockets could capture her!

“Firestorm, grab her!” I yelled, opening his Pokéball.

The Charizard materialized in thin air, immediately pitching his wings back into a steep dive. I held my breath as he flared his wings just above the water, then let it out as he reached down to wrap his arms around Latias and lifted her from the sea.

“Don’t let anyone near her!!” I cried.

But the Rockets weren’t paying attention to them at all. Everyone’s attention was firmly on Ender and Articuno. The ice legend spiraled down over us before landing on Archie’s ship, pinning the Aqua admins to the deck with its talons. Archie let out a roar and lunged forward, held back at the last second by four of his crewmates grabbing him by the arms.

“One wrong move from any of you and these two get impaled,” Ender announced to the crowd. “Or frozen solid. Take your pick. Hell, I could even shoot them if you wanted me to give them a clean death, but that’s the boring option.”

Archie’s entire body trembled with rage so thick that I half expected him to throw his crew off and rush the Legendary by himself. But then his eyes slid to the trapped admins, and he slowly deflated, relaxing against his crew’s hold.

“I believe you know what we want,” Ender said, holding out his hand.

Every inch of me was screaming to do something, anything. But what? There were Rockets facing in all directions, watching our every move. Even if Mew just teleported right up to them, all it would take was a slight twitch for Articuno to drive its foot-long talons into the admins.

Silence hung over the surrounding. No one dared to move. All eyes were on Archie, waiting to see what he would do.

“Don’t give it to him, bro!” Matt yelled.

Ender snapped his fingers and a garbled cry of agony rang out from the deck and Archie belted out a desperate, “No!!” and oh god. A daggerlike claw had just pierced Matt’s side. Blood flowed from the wound, dripping onto the deck.

“Whoops. Such a clumsy bird,” Ender said, delicately stroking Articuno’s neck feathers. “Looks shallow, though. He’ll probably pull through. Sure would be a shame if it happened again.” He lifted his face to give the Aquas a pointed look.

For several seconds, Archie didn’t respond. He just stood there, teeth clenched, eyes lit with fury. Finally, he took a few slow, resentful steps back until he was inside the ship’s bridge. I couldn’t see what he was doing inside—all I knew was that it felt like ages before he returned holding a polished, glassy orb of the deepest cerulean. That was it. The Blue Orb with the power to awaken Kyogre. And we had to just sit and watch as he handed it over to the Rockets.

With hateful resignation written all over his face, Archie took a step forward. Then another. Each one forced, like it was taking all of his effort. Until finally, he was standing right before the overbearing form of the giant ice bird. Ender motioned for Articuno to lean down, then held out his hand. There was a moment’s hesitation. But then Archie steeled himself, forcing his arm forward and dropping the orb into Ender’s open hand.

“See how much easier that was?” Ender said as he held the orb up to the sun, admiring the light glimmering off its surface. “Can’t believe it took me that long to think of it!” He tapped Articuno’s side and it spread its wings to take off, ascending from the ship’s deck with heavy wingbeats. Once they’d gotten some distance from the ship, the ice bird released the two admins from its talons, dropping them unceremoniously into the sea, where the Aquas’ Pokémon immediately rushed to retrieve them.

“Show’s about to start, everyone!” Ender called out, releasing his Xatu. Then he and the psychic blinked out of sight.






~End Chapter 42~

Next Chapter: The showdown in Sootopolis is nigh.
 
Aight, here's a double billing for chapters nine and ten!

Ch9
Jade is still a fucking dumbass, I see. Learned nothing in battle class, I guess, oof. Her pokémon hardly seem to need her, even. Still, she's self-admittedly making progress, which I love to see. She's just a practical learner, that's all! And I also really like that she credits Swift for the victory. Love to see the humility and integrity, I hope it stays with her.

2983, huh? Is the implication here that this takes place in the future relative to our time, or just that they have a fantasy date system? I'm used to thinking of the pokémon world as having a date that corresponds to our own.

I like that we're getting a little more substantial characterisation for Firestorm, now. He was stolen, so he wants to prove himself and be super loyal. Makes sense! I snorted at his indignation at not battling, although I remain torn between enjoying the pokéspeech convos and feeling weird about their appreciable sapience. With Chibi, I accredited his articulacy to his legendary genes, at least.

Genuinely loved to read the stuff about multi battles in aggregate. I guess the Kanto kids are really provincial, wow. I actually had to go google for tag battles, feeling I'd forgotten a Gen 4 feature, which was disruptive to my reading, but besdies that it was a lovely bit of worldbuilding and an indication of what the story holds. Also really cool to see pokémon from other regions! I've been waiting for those!

The staged battle was absolutely kick-ass. I told myself it must be staged, and was delighted when Stalker confessed that it really was, and I think it served its purpose in the narrative really well. You're already proving to be battles georg, but it's fine, they're great fun to read. This is really digging up my buried "wow cool pokémon" feelings that have been mostly dormant for some years now. Thanks for that!

Genuinely pretty funny to me that these guys are the 'Rebellion' considering that Team Rocket are an insurgent group and have no sovereignty. Same 'problem' as the Rebellion in She-Ra — you're only rebels if your armed group are fighting a legitimate authority! This is just me being picky, rebellion is awesome.

Ch10
Was the evasive combat exercise at the beginning a 'tag battle' as mentioned last chapter? I'm uncertain.

My notes say while reading this that I was excited to see more non-Kanto mon as in last chapter, that pokémon are still super sapient as previously noted, and that Jade is still an idiot as usual. That checks out! Don't recall what I was gonna elaborate on, but I feel I should note that despite roasting Jade constantly in these, I'm actually really fond of her. She kind of has that Adora vibe, of being determined to do good and feeling the need to solo every problem, while also trying to get by on a single braincell. I love her, lmao.

I loved to see non-sweeper moves get some serious tactical use this chapter, stuff like scary face, smokescreen, and whatnot. The flavour was delicious, seeing them used to actually affect the outcome of a battle and to achieve objectives other than reducing HP to zero. Really appreciated how interesting the fighting was, and the full involvement of Jade in the trainer role! Great stuff. I especially liked her tactic or recalling and releasing a pokémon for rapid battlefield transit, which feels like the sort of move most trainers wouldn't think of because it's unconventional. Good going, Jade!

Stalker is an impressive individual, I see. He gives orders to Jade's pokémon, seeking to push them personally. He must be familiar with almost a couple hundred pokémon, I guess? That's astonishing.

Lastly, I think I had a good chuckle at 'how do we tell who wins that bet', lmao. There are some golden lines here and there for humour.

Alright, next chapter(s) concern a real mission and a legendary pokémon! I'm almost as excited as these rebels are! See you then!
 
Chapter 43: Dance of the Ancients
Thanks again for the review, uA! Already replied elsewhere, but I'm thrilled that you're enjoying the fic. ^^



~Chapter 43: Dance of the Ancients~

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I stared numbly at the silhouettes of the Rocket airships as they disappeared over the horizon. They’d gotten the orb, and we’d all just sat there and watched it happen, and it wasn’t like we should’ve said ‘screw the hostages,’ but there should have been something. Anything.

While I was frozen, Swift glided down to where Firestorm had landed—the same island where Archie’s ship was beached. The Charizard was still holding Latias, his arms clasped tightly around her sides.

“It should be safe to let go now,” I said.

He gave one last furtive glance around and then nodded, setting the dragon gently onto the sand. The ice had largely melted from her on account of being held by a Charizard for the past few minutes. Her breathing was still shaky and her body shivered uncontrollably.

I reached into my belt pouch and retrieved a revive crystal before cracking its shell and holding it to Latias’s forehead. Several seconds passed, all of us waiting with bated breath. Finally, her eyes snapped open. The dragon jolted upward, eyes darting back and forth before she stopped and blinked in confusion.

Her gaze snapped to mine. “*Did we…?*”

I shook my head, and the look on her face crushed my heart.

“*I wasn’t able to stop them,*” Latias said emptily, staring downward. “*I failed again.*” Her claws dug into the sand.

I bit my lip, glancing away. It wasn’t fair to expect her to beat a Legendary just because she was a legend herself—especially not one with such an overwhelming advantage. But I had no idea how to say that convincingly. Where was Mew—she’d know what to say.

Actually… where was Mew? I turned my head in all directions, but I couldn’t see her or Ajia anywhere. Guess I was on my own here. I awkwardly put a hand on Latias’ shoulder. “You did the best you could. And this isn’t over. Not by a long shot.”

The dragon nodded distantly, her amber eyes now staring off to sea.

“Can you heal yourself?” I asked gently.

It took several seconds for her to respond. But then she finally closed her eyes and let a healing glow ripple across the surface of her feathers.

Footsteps crunched in the sand behind me. Slowly, Starr walked up to stand alongside us. She didn’t say anything at first. She just stood by my side, watching Latias heal in silence.

“Is it bad that my first thought was why the Rockets didn’t just do that sooner?” she finally whispered, a bitter edge to her voice. “It’s what I would’ve done.”

I fought back a shudder. She didn’t want me to answer. I knew that much.

In the seas all around us, everyone was regrouping now that the Rockets had left. Water-types ferried unconscious teammates back to the Aquas. Flying-types landed on the ships and the sandbars. The Aqua boats that hadn’t sunk were all converging on the point where Archie’s ship had beached. Out the corner of my eye, I saw Aros and Chibi landing alongside Swift and Firestorm—at least we’d all made it through okay.

Then a sudden thud caught my ear behind me. I spun around to see Darren’s Skarmory sprawled out in the sand, Darren himself awkwardly stumbling off the metal bird’s back. Weavile followed close behind, shaking water from her fur.

I jogged over to them. “Hey, are you—oh geez.”

Skarmory was breathing heavily, blood streaming through holes in his armor. Darren himself was soaking wet (had he fallen into the ocean at some point?) and hurriedly spraying the steel-type with a potion.

“I forgot he didn’t know Protect,” he said breathlessly, not looking up at me. “If his armor weren’t so sturdy, we’d’ve been screwed.”

What? He didn’t know—oh. Skarmory wasn’t on the Rebellion. God, it had just become second nature to order Protect at a moment’s notice after all our time on that team. But he’d never learned it.

“Do you need a revive? I’ve got one left if you—”

Darren shook his head, grabbing a Pokéball and recalling the metal bird. “No, no, I’m just… gonna keep him in the ball. Until we have the chance to hit a Pokécenter.” That was his second Pokémon that had been incapacitated. How much longer until we’d get a chance to heal everyone?

Darren let out a hollow laugh. When I gave him a look, he said, “I’m just trying to imagine how he felt. ‘Use Protect, I don’t know that move, idiot.’”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that. It was all too easy to see myself in his position—I couldn’t help suppressing a shiver.

A flash of light caught my eye. Ajia had just blinked into view with ‘Espeon’ on one side and Archie on the other. The latter stared downward with a cold, steely expression. And then it hit me—Skarmory was far from the only critical injury that the group had suffered.

“How’d it go?” a woman asked. I glanced upward to see Shelly staring down at the Aqua leader from the beached ship’s deck. She gripped the railing with trembling arms, still soaked from when Articuno had dropped her into the sea.

Archie took a deep breath. “Took Matt to a hospital in Lilycove. They rushed him into the ER. Sounded pretty confident, so… I think he’s gonna be alright.”

She gave him a curious look. “You’re not staying with him?”

Archie was quiet for some time, staring down at the sand. “No. No, he’ll be alright. ‘Sides, we gotta stop things from getting any worse.” He clenched his fists, jerking his head up to give a stern look to all of the Aquas gathered around. “We’re not gonna let those assholes get away with this, ya hear? If there’s any way we can help fix things, we gotta take that chance.” Archie turned his gaze to the south. “We owe it to Hoenn for what we all did last time.”

Ajia was still standing next to him, nodding to Mew as they talked psychically. I walked over to stand next to her and was suddenly struck by just how frazzled she looked. Her eyes held a strange combination of heaviness and manic, barely-contained energy.

“Are… you okay?” I asked her.

Ajia blinked at me in confusion. Her eyes flickered towards Mew, and she forced a smile that looked almost genuine. Almost. “I know things look bad right now, but it’s not over. We can still fix this.”

That kind of evasion didn’t seem promising. “I… know that, but are you—?”

“Oi! This one belong to any of you?!” a voice suddenly rang out.

I turned and squinted at an Aqua waving to us from an approaching boat. In front of them, a Wailmer was carrying something on its back. Something orange—some kind of wet, bedraggled furball?

Wait. No. No no no. It was a Floatzel.

“Jet!” I screamed, breaking into a run across the sandbar, sprinting through the surf until I was right in front of her, staring at her limp body splayed out across the Wailmer’s back with matted, bloodstained fur. Dread crept up the back of my neck. Was she…? No—no, she was still breathing. Thank god. I grabbed a revive crystal, cracked it, and held it to her forehead.

The wait was agony. It couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds, but those seconds took an eternity. She was going to be okay. Just had to keep telling myself that. After who knows how long, I noticed that the bleeding had slowed, and her breathing had grown steadier. Good, good. She was going to be okay—and this time I actually believed it.

In an instant, Jet’s eyes snapped open and she sprung onto all fours, hissing madly. I sprang back, waving my arms in front of her face.

“Hey! Hey, you okay?”

The Floatzel blinked at me for a few seconds before slowly sinking back down, some of the tension in her muscles loosening. Her breathing was still shaky, eyes still darting around frantically.

“What… what happened?” I asked, trying to keep the confusion out of my voice.

The sea weasel stared downward, eyes wide and unblinking. “*Couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. They were all surrounding, but… couldn’t fight back. Just… sinking, and I couldn’t… I couldn’t…*”

“You couldn’t what?” I shook my head. “Never mind, we’re safe now, you can—”

She shook her head vigorously, screwing her eyes shut. I slowly reached out a hand to brush the fur on her arm, and she flinched. My heart crumpled inward. What on earth had happened? (I hadn’t seen it, I’d almost left her behind, she could’ve—)

Unsure of what else to do, I held out her Pokéball. “Did you want to—?” Before I could even finish the sentence, Jet reached out and tapped the button, dissolving herself into the ball.

I stood frozen. None of the Aquas said anything, but I could feel all their eyes on me.

Jet didn’t know Protect. Just like Skarmory. I’d let her go out into a warzone, and I hadn’t even considered the fact that she wasn’t trained for it like the rest of us. But at least Darren had been there for Skarmory. I hadn’t even seen what had happened to Jet, and if the Aquas hadn’t said anything, I might have forgotten her entirely. What the hell was wrong with me?

I walked numbly back onto shore, lower half now soaking wet from wading through the surf. Swift and Firestorm both watched with obvious concern. Aros was pretending very hard to look like he hadn’t seen anything.

A hand grabbed my shoulder, and I flinched. “Come on, let’s go,” Starr said heavily.

I swallowed hard and nodded, recalling Aros, Swift, and Firestorm while Chibi returned to his usual perch on my shoulder. I half-expected him to say something, but he didn’t.

“We’re going on ahead,” Ajia announced. Latias gave a sharp nod. All of her fear and regret was gone, replaced with steely resolve.

Archie turned from his conversation with Shelly. “We’ll catch up as soon as we can.” Then, as an afterthought, he added, “And don’t worry, we’ll keep this lot safe,” jerking a thumb toward the Magmas. Tabitha glared at him like he was trying to find a way to feel insulted. Courtney was busy healing her Camerupt, spraying down the gashes across its fur.

The last thing I saw was Archie giving us a determined grin. “Give ‘em hell for us.” Then everything melted into light.

Our surroundings rematerialized into a ridge of white rocks, and I immediately had to shield my eyes. Holy crap, the sun. It wasn’t even that high in the sky, but the light was blinding. And the heat—it pressed in from all sides like a smothering blanket. It felt like I was going to drown in it.

Slowly, I dared to open my eyes a crack, letting them adjust. I found myself looking down on a lake-filled crater, half-hidden under giant clouds of billowing steam. I squinted at the haze of white, struggling to make out any details. Where was it, it had to be here…

Then the steam parted, and I caught a flash of red. Just long enough for a glimpse of the giant crimson beast responsible for this—piercing yellow eyes, claws dripping with lava, and jagged, spiky hide crisscrossed with glowing blue veins.

Groudon. The embodiment of the earth.

Somehow, even after all this time, even after getting used to the idea that the ancient, all-powerful Legendaries could be captured in a Pokéball just like any common Pokémon… the idea that this thing was in danger of being captured just seemed… ridiculous. It was stupid—why on earth would Groudon be any different than the other Legendaries? But somehow, it just felt on a whole other level. Standing here, being in its presence, I couldn’t help feeling unbearably small and insignificant.

“God, they’ve really done it now,” Starr muttered under her breath. “Going after the legends back home was one thing but this? I always knew things would get out of hand eventually. Never thought I’d actually see it though,” she added with a dry laugh.

I couldn’t help noticing Ajia giving me sideways glances in the middle of her back and forth with Mew. I was about to ask why, but then, wait—had they even known that Groudon was awake before we’d gotten here? I hadn’t told her. And now that we were here, the idea of sharing what happened at the Magma base burned almost as much as the heat. We’d failed, and now an entire city was in danger, and—

“We can’t let them awaken Kyogre,” Ajia said suddenly, yanking me out of my spiral. “If Ender teleported into the Cave of Origin, then we’ve got to go after him.” She was pacing, her movements twitchy, erratic, like everything was running on overdrive.

Mew pawed at the ground, looking pensive. <I’ve been inside the Cave of Origin many times. But I’ve never laid eyes on the chamber where the land and sea were put to rest during the last crisis, so I will be unable to teleport there directly.> Her Espeon body’s forked tail flicked anxiously.

“We’ll find it,” Ajia said firmly. Then she turned back to the rest of us and forced a smile. “Keep each other safe. And keep Groudon safe!”

I blinked. “You two are going in alone?”

“We can’t risk all of us going in there and leaving Groudon unguarded,” Ajia answered. Her words had a practiced tone, like she’d already been planning to say that.

“But…”—I gestured vaguely upward—“Lugia and Ho-oh?”

“They could get captured too,” she immediately countered. “And then what? Besides, dark narrow caves, I’m gonna have Z try to get the jump on them. Not gonna fight them head on.”

Starr let out an unimpressed snort. “You expect us to just let you run off and play hero by yourself while we—”

“Just trust me, alright?” Ajia exclaimed, her voice desperate. “We need the rest of you to stay out here, okay?”

Starr gave her a long, hard stare. Finally, she clapped a hand to Ajia’s shoulder and said, “Come back alive, got it?”

Ajia blinked at her in surprise, but Starr’s expression was dead serious. She gave her a reassuring grin. “Of course.” Then Ajia and Mew blinked out of sight.

They could handle it. Had to tell myself that. It was the only way to keep the growing pile of anxiety from consuming my thoughts.

So that left us to deal with the Rockets out here. There was just one problem—where were the Rockets? The steam was thick enough that I couldn’t see much of anything around Groudon, but from its movements… it sure didn’t look like it was fighting off any attackers. It was just calmly walking forward. Vast flows of lava slowly spread out all around it, cooling as they hit the lakewater. Each footstep sent tremors spreading so far throughout the crater that I could feel them even from way up here.

“It’s not being attacked,” I muttered. “Maybe it managed to fight the Rockets off before we got here?”

Chibi’s eyes narrowed, ears twitching. “*That, or the Rockets are waiting for something.*”

“Yeah, but what?” He didn’t answer. His paws clenched my sleeve as he stared downward, deep in thought.

A shadow passed overhead. I jerked my head upward to see Lugia and Ho-oh, circling high above us.

<Lugia! We’re here!> I called out.

Lugia snapped its head toward us, then turned back to Ho-oh briefly before the pair of them spiraled down. Gusts of air swept outward as the pair touched down on the white rock, folding their wings and throwing troubled glances back at the lava beast in the center of the crater.

“Well… it’s good to see the Rockets didn’t catch Groudon,” I said. That was at least one good thing, right?

Lugia shifted its wings uncomfortably. <They didn’t try to.>

I tilted my head. “What?”

<Nothing happened. The airships stayed outside the crater the entire time. They didn’t even attempt to approach Groudon.> It gestured a wing behind us, away from the crater.

What? I spun around and sure enough, there they were—the fleet of airships, grounded on the northern shore of the island. I could just barely make out a small yellow shape pacing in front of them (Raikou?). And something large and blue perched on one of the ships, most likely Articuno.

This didn’t make any sense. An entire fleet of airships equipped with ALRs, combined with the power of multiple captive Legendaries. And they didn’t even try? Were they just waiting for the forces from the Magma base to meet them? But then we’d have Rudy and Moltres at our side, so really, that’d even things out.

Rudy. How was he doing? Stuck riding Moltres halfway across the region. On his own if the two of them were ambushed. Part of me couldn’t help wishing that he’d come with us, and let Moltres pursue the airship by itself. But that wasn’t alright either. He was chosen now. He needed to have Moltres’s back. Even if…

“I am not so optimistic to believe that they stayed back because Lugia and myself were standing guard,” Ho-oh said. “That said, it didn’t seem wise to abandon Groudon.”

I continued to stare at the Rocket fleet, a feeling of sickly unease dawning on me. “We… we messed up. We shouldn’t have sent you to Sootopolis. But… I thought Groudon would be in danger.” I threw another glance back at the red beast, watching as it called a giant plume of magma up from beneath the lake, forming a large hill. “They never even tried to catch it?”

<Evidently not.>

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” I said again, like saying it out loud would somehow force an answer into being. The Rockets had every opportunity to catch Groudon, and they’d just ignored it. Unless…

Latias tapped her claws together. “*Perhaps they didn’t think they had the power to challenge the earth directly. If they awakened the sea as well, and let the two fight, then both would be much easier to capture, yes?*”

Dammit, that made sense. If we’d known… there wouldn’t have been any reason to send Lugia and Ho-oh here. They could’ve helped fight off the Johto force. They could’ve—I froze, gears turning in my head. “Stalker. He—he told us the Rockets’ forces would be here so we’d send our most powerful legends here. He wanted them to get the orbs.”

Starr stomped the ground, shaking her head. “I told you guys. I told you that Sebastian was playing you.”

I screwed my eyes shut. “I know, alright? I know.”

“You knew, but you ran right into it anyway,” she said, her voice heating up.

“Well, it wasn’t like we could just ignore him either!” I yelled, throwing both hands toward the Rocket airships. “Were we supposed to just let the Rockets do whatever they wanted here?”

Starr was silent for some time, staring off at the fleet, idly kicking rocks down the slope. “Look, it’s not just you alright?” she said, turning away. “I should have realized that was his angle. But I wasn’t thinking about it because I didn’t want anything to do with it, and—”

“I don’t believe it wise to dwell on the mistakes we have made,” Ho-oh said, its gaze fixed squarely on me and Starr. “Let’s focus on how to move forward.”

Starr stared up at the phoenix incredulously for several seconds. Finally, she broke eye contact and muttered, “Right.”

How to move forward. If the Rockets weren’t planning on catching Groudon until after awakening Kyogre, then it meant we had some time to think, at least. But with no Rockets to fight, what exactly were we supposed to do here? Stop… Groudon?

Wait…

“Has anyone tried asking Groudon to stop?” I asked. It seemed weird saying it out loud. Talking with an ancient being that had been sleeping inside the earth. But… it was still a Pokémon, right?

Lugia shifted awkwardly, glancing at Ho-oh. The phoenix cleared its throat and said, “We… attempted to speak to them at several points, but they did not respond to anything we said.”

Great, so we couldn’t reason with it. Of course things couldn’t be easy.

Latias bowed her head. “*This is similar to what happened last time. We were unable to get through to them back then, either.*”

“What are we supposed to do, then?” I asked heatedly. We’d failed to protect the orbs and already had to deal with one of the legends being awake (and the heat was making my head feel fuzzy and my thoughts didn’t want to flow straight), and I sure as hell was not in the mood to just sit here waiting for something to happen. I found myself automatically grabbing a Pokéball from my belt.

“Jade, if you head off on your own just like Ajia, I’m gonna slap you,” Starr said flatly.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?!” I countered. “I’ve got to do something.”

Darren held both hands up disarmingly. “Ohhkay, I know you might not be thinking straight, on account of having a Legendary for a partner.” I gave him an unamused look, and he went on, “This seems like the kinda thing we should leave to them. How ‘bout we focus on stuff that we actually can help with?”

“Like what?” I asked.

He pointed down at the buildings lining the inner slope of the crater. “For starters, the city that’s probably about to be destroyed, yeah?”

What? Oh no. Were there any people still down there? They’d had a head start when the Indigo rangers gave the warning a few hours ago, but the evacuation couldn’t possibly be done already. We had to buy them more time.

“Right. You’re right, we’ve gotta head down there,” I said, opening Firestorm’s Pokéball. He froze the moment he laid eyes on Groudon, staring at the dinosaur with a disturbed look.

“*That’s Groudon?*”

“That’s Groudon,” I replied heavily, climbing onto his back.

I glanced at Starr, tilting my head in a ‘come on’ sort of way, but from the look on her face, it was plain that she wanted to do anything else. Grudgingly, she let out Arcanine. He shook his mane out in the sunlight, closing his eyes contentedly for a moment before leaning forward for Starr to climb on.

“Mind if I get a lift?” Darren asked, folding his arms behind his head.

Starr’s irritated gaze snapped to him, but he didn’t flinch. “Sure, whatever, hop on,” she said. Darren climbed onto the firedog behind her, like he hadn’t noticed her reaction.

Firestorm glanced back at me worriedly. “*This heat… it feels nice, but are you going to be okay in it?*”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, even if I was already starting to feel lightheaded, and had no idea how long I’d be able to last. But there was no point worrying him when we had a mission to stick to. “Alright, you two”—I gestured to Lugia and Ho-oh—“keep trying to get through to Groudon. If there’s even the slightest chance that we can get it on our side… Well, if not, just make sure it stays as far from the city as possible.”

Lugia glanced back at the Rocket airships, conflicted. <I suppose. But inform me the instant that the enemy makes a move on us. We’ve suffered enough failure as it is.>

I nodded before turning back to the others. “Come on, let’s go.”

Firestorm flapped his wings and we were off. Down into the crater, gliding almost effortlessly on the warm air while Latias flew next to us and Arcanine deftly leaped whole city blocks at once. The roads of Sootopolis were deserted. Scattered buildings had crumbled from the tremors that occasionally shook the island. It took some effort to keep my eyes from drifting back to Groudon. And to the creeping flows of lava that I couldn’t help but notice were dangerously close to reaching this side of the crater.

After passing through five or six deserted neighborhoods, I felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe the city really was empty? But then nope—I finally spotted a large crowd several blocks ahead of us, in an open clearing that must have been the town square. Dozens of people and Pokémon were clustered around the entrance to a tunnel that must have led directly outside the crater. Scattered throughout the crowd were Pokémon rangers, easily identified by their uniforms. And with them, an assortment of Pokémon helping with the evacuation: an Aggron with two people on its back; a Machamp carrying four kids, one on each arm; several large bird Pokémon taking off with riders.

Town square was noticeably cooler than the rest of Sootopolis. Entering the airspace was like a breath of fresh air, a break from the oppressive haze hanging over the island. Flaring his wings, Firestorm swooped down to land in the first open space he could find. With a mighty leap, Arcanine landed alongside us, making several people nearby jump back in alarm.

“What’s going on here?” one of the rangers snapped.

There were about a dozen ways I didn’t want to answer that, so I just went with, “We’re here to help. We’ve got strong Pokémon that can help carry people out, put out fires, recover people from collapsed buildings… whatever you need.”

The ranger folded his arms. “Appreciate the offer and all, but what made you think it was a good idea to come here? We’re trying to get everyone off the island, and we weren’t exactly planning on adding more people to… to the…” His eyes went wide and his voice trailed off.

I was about to ask why when someone cried, “Th-there’s a guardian with them?!”

I spun around to see half the crowd staring at Latias openmouthed. Oh, yeah, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Waltzing straight into the center of town with a Legendary in tow was bound to turn a few heads.

“She’s, uh… here to help too,” Darren said sheepishly. Latias gave a soft wave, clearly uncomfortable with all the attention.

The rangers glanced between Latias and us incredulously. A few of them turned to look back at Groudon—or rather, the pair of gold and silver birds circling Groudon that had suddenly shown up right around the same time as us—no doubt putting two and two together.

“Fine, fine. We’re almost done here, but could always use more Pokémon. Have your teams join the squad that’s clearing out the north side,” he said, pointing in that direction. “Fire and water types preferred. Fliers and teleporters can stay here to carry folks down to the docks.” He then turned to the rest of the rangers behind him and called out, “Let’s keep moving!”

Starr didn’t waste a second letting out her team and barking out orders. Her fire-types took off down toward the area where the heat was most intense, Feraligatr lumbering after them on all fours. From Darren’s team, Sandslash and Golduck followed, while Weavile joined the squad of Walrein keeping the town square cool with Icy Wind.

I hopped off Firestorm’s back, grabbing three Pokéballs and letting out the rest of my team.

“We’re evacuating people,” I announced once they appeared. “Firestorm, stick to the hot zone. Aros, fly high and look for anyone who got left behind. Stygian, check the collapsed buildings. Swift, join the group carrying people out of the crater.”

“*Where are the Rockets?*” Aros asked, glancing around in confusion. Because of course that was the first place his mind went.

“They’re not attacking right now,” I said exasperatedly. “And this city’s about to be destroyed, so we really can’t afford to think about them right now, alright?”

The Flygon huffed. “*It was just a question, geez,*” he said, spreading his wings.

My face fell. “Wait—” But he was already gone, flying off with the rangers’ Pokémon.

No no no, I didn’t want to be like this. But I was all ready for him to complain like yesterday, except… that was after the first Rocket encounter yesterday. He’d been just fine during the second fight, right? At least, up until the point when he… ugh, I couldn’t keep the details straight. Too many fights in too short a time.

After an awkward pause, the rest of the team glanced at each other with uncertainty before Firestorm cleared his throat and said, “*This way.*” Swift gave me a concerned look, but then took off with Firestorm, while Stygian raced after Aros.

“*I’ll stay with you,*” Chibi said, breaking the silence. “*I don’t trust the Rockets to stay out of this too much longer.*”

“Thanks,” was all I managed to say. Even if we were too late to stop the Rockets from getting the orbs, we could at least help make sure that everyone made it out of here.

All around us, the rescue efforts progressed. Teleporters blinked in and out of the crowd. Flying Pokémon touched down, pausing just long enough to pick up more passengers. Latias had joined a Metagross that was levitating rubble out from the tunnel, most likely shaken loose by Groudon’s tremors. On one of her return trips, she paused suddenly, like she had just noticed something.

“*Oh! I know him!*” Latias exclaimed, pointing.

I followed the direction of her claws to see a silver-haired man in a crisp black suit with metallic accents. He was discussing something with a group of rangers who pointed at us every so often. I tensed up. Somehow, I didn’t feel like being pointed out was a good thing in this case.

“Wait. That’s Steven Stone, isn’t it?” Darren whispered to me.

The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it off the top of my head. “Who?”

“Steven Stone? Champion of the Hoenn League?” Darren gave me a look. “Really, Jade, do you ever watch TV?”

“I’ve heard of him alright, I just forgot!” I said, feeling my cheeks go red.

Oh crap, he was walking this way now, Metagross floating gently alongside him. I couldn’t help freezing up as he stopped right in front of us, surveying our group with a mixture of curiosity and deep contemplation. “If you don’t mind… could any of you explain what’s going on here?” he asked.

I shrank back. “You’re asking us?”

“Well, you kids seem to have enlisted the help of not only two Johto guardians, but one of ours as well,” he pointed out. “Care to explain?”

I rubbed the back of my head. “Not… really.”

Steven raised an eyebrow, but then Latias drifted in front of us. “*They’ve all helped fight Team Rocket in the past. They’ve all protected Legendaries. I trust them.*” Starr scoffed quietly but didn’t say anything.

The champion considered Latias carefully. “Very well. I’ll trust your judgement.” He turned around, facing the ongoing Legendary clash. “So Team Rocket is the cause of this. I’d heard news of their actions in Tohjo… but this seems beyond any of that.”

I blinked. “You’ve heard…? How?”

“The Indigo League,” he answered. “I’m not privy to the full details, but they’ve relayed the general situation to us here in Hoenn.”

What? The League knew about the Rocket situation? I was about to say something, but Starr cut in with, “Yeah, that tracks.”

Steven nodded. “I’m grateful for the assistance, by the way. But something tells me you three came here for another reason.” His words were calm—shockingly calm, given the situation.

I paused, unsure of how much to tell him. “We thought we’d have to fight the Rockets to protect Groudon, but… they haven’t targeted it yet.”

His face faltered, like he was having a hard time working through what I said. “Why would something like that be your responsibility?” His words weren’t judgmental, just… perplexed.

I took a deep breath and said, “We didn’t… enlist the Legendaries. It’s more like they enlisted us.”

Something shifted in his expression. After several seconds, he replied, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

I paused. That definitely wasn’t the reaction I’d been expecting. After all, being partnered with a Legendary… most people would find that pretty amazing, right? Hell, some people would even be jealous. But Steven had immediately known that it wasn’t something desirable.

“I suppose I can’t tell you to get yourselves to safety then,” he went on. “Look after yourselves. And if you need anything, come find me.” He gave a small wave, then turned and briskly walked back to the rangers, Metagross floating not far behind.

I stared after him, thoughts swirling in my head. I’d just gone and told him about the chosen thing. Sure, he’d basically already put it together (and so had the rangers, for that matter). But I still wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I just… felt like we could trust him.

“*He knew about the Rockets,*” Chibi muttered. “*I always thought the Legendary project was a secret.*”

“Me too,” I replied. “The League knows more than they’re letting on.” Then again, hadn’t Lexx vaguely implied something like that yesterday? Obviously the Rockets’ street-level stuff was known to pretty much everyone, but if Steven knew about the Legendary project…

And then without warning, a horrible, reverberating scream suddenly tore the air, shaking the island and gripping my entire body.

No. No no no no.

Storm clouds began condensing out of thin air, quickly covering large swaths of sky, blocking out the harsh sunlight. Part of me couldn’t help feeling sweet relief the instant that blinding sun was covered, but it was offset by the creeping dread settling in my gut.

It was Kyogre. It had to be. How had they described it? The embodiment of the sea that could drown the world in a torrential downpour? What else could this be? Mew and Ajia hadn’t managed to get there first. But what were we expecting? None of us could stop Ender from teleporting inside the cave. The moment he’d gotten the Blue Orb, this was inevitable.

Groudon jerked its head toward the northern edge of the crater, fixing its blazing yellow eyes on the hole—the same hole it had emerged from—with rapt attention. Alarm spiked in the back of Lugia’s mind. With a mighty flap, the dragon-bird swooped down in front of Groudon’s face, spreading its wings as wide as it could.

<No, no, no!!> it yelled. <Pay attention to us, dammit, not them!>

The waters inside the crater began to churn. Slowly at first, then rising in intensity until fifty-foot waves slammed into the shores, crashing against the rocks and smashing a half dozen buildings flat (oh god, there weren’t any people there, were there?).

Groudon observed the rising waters with a look of distaste. Then it raised both arms upward, calling more magma up from below, raising its island high above the water’s surface. Plumes of fire shot upward from the spires of fresh earth, piercing the cloud cover and letting that blazing sunlight through.

<I said pay attention!> Lugia snarled. It snapped its wings together, unleashing a blast of wind straight into Groudon’s face, carving deep gashes into its craggy hide. Despite looking as immovable as a mountain, the beast actually staggered backward from the force of the attack. For several seconds, it didn’t move. Then, with a low rumble, Groudon slowly pulled itself to its feet, and something in its movements sharpened. It had just been doing its own thing before, but now it stood tense, arms held outward, claws digging into the lava spires, pulling energy from the earth. The blue veins across its back brightened. Then it opened its maw wide and blasted out a torrent of fire. Lugia swept its wings together in front of its face, white-hot flames streaming over its feathers. I couldn’t help flinching at the sight, but Lugia barely looked fazed. Its eyes glowed, water streaming up into the air and swirling around it. In a flash, the water rushed forward like a freight train, crashing straight into Groudon’s chest and slamming the beast so hard into the lava wall behind it that it partially sank into the molten rock.

Whoa. Okay, this was getting too extreme. <We’re not trying to hurt it, remember!> I yelled.

<Maybe they deserve to get some sense knocked into them!> Lugia countered.

<If we weaken it, that’ll just make it easier for the Rockets to target it.>

<If we take them down, we can still fight the Rockets ourselves,> Lugia huffed indignantly.

<After wasting all your energy?> I asked.

<Do you have a better idea? You were the one adamant that we not allow their power to go uncontrolled. They’ll level the whole city and think nothing of it!>

Sure, that was true, but that didn’t mean it was a good idea to basically do the Rockets’ work for them. But I couldn’t think of a… that is, there wasn’t much… ugh, the screeching from inside the mountain was growing so loud I could barely hear myself think.

Groudon’s eyes lit up at the sound, and it let out a resounding roar in reply. The ground shook. The lake pulsed. The tension hanging in the air was so thick it was almost electric. Seconds dragged by for an eternity with no one daring to move. Then an explosive burst of water erupted from the cave, and with it came a gigantic leviathan, blue as the deepest ocean and streaked with glowing red lines, pulsing with energy. The sea beast landed in the lake with a mighty splash, surfacing soon afterward and letting out a cry to the heavens. The clouds instantly gave way, unleashing a torrential downpour. Even though the rains were clear across the crater, it was still unnerving, seeing the weather turn so unnaturally.

Lugia glared at the new arrival, exasperation flooding its mind. But it pushed the emotions to the side, forcing itself to stay cool. Turning its back on Groudon, Lugia flew down to hover over the raging whirlpool Kyogre had created.

<I need you to listen to me,> Lugia said, keeping its voice level. <Groudon isn’t your enemy. The humans who awakened you are. They intend to steal your power and use it against the rest of us.>

Kyogre wasn’t paying attention. Its winglike flukes continued to beat the water, stirring up towering waves that crashed into Groudon’s mountain, tearing chunks of fresh earth from it. Annoyance crept back into Lugia’s thoughts, and with the flick of its tail, a psychic glow forced Kyogre to look upward.

<Did you hear me? I’m trying to—>

Without warning, a waterspout erupted beneath Lugia, knocking the seabird flying through the air like a ragdoll before splashing awkwardly into the lake. I flinched—even though this was Lugia we were talking about, that still looked like it hurt. Part of me was half-tempted to ask if it was alright. The other half thought better of it.

<They are going to regret that,> said a cold voice in my head.

Lugia burst from the water, eyes glowing a menacing blue, psychic fury echoing so hard through our link that I got an instant headache.

<I can do that too,> Lugia hissed, flaring both wings upward.

In an instant, the waves radiating out from Kyogre reversed direction, slamming back into it. The leviathan fought to keep itself steady, powering itself to the top of the waves just in time for a sharp gale to force it back down again. Across the lake, Groudon let out a roar and stamped the ground. Piercing stones thrust upward from the deep, breaking the water’s surface and digging into Kyogre. The sea monster screeched in pain, struggling to free itself from the rocky prison.

<You’re not getting a pass here,> Lugia growled, turning back to face Groudon. With the flick of a wing feather, the waves reversed again, and Groudon only barely had enough time to raise a wall of lava in front of itself before an enormous wave crashed down on its mountain.

A wisp of self-satisfaction leaked into Lugia’s thoughts. It was abruptly cut off by a jagged Ice Beam crashing into its back, sending a wave of frost across its whole body. What? Where had that—I snapped my head in the other direction to see Kyogre, still fighting its way out of Groudon’s trap, snapping stone spires with its flukes… but with the obvious glint of ice shimmering around its toothy jaws.

Lugia shook the frost from its wings and drew itself back to fire another blast of wind, but Kyogre already had another Ice Beam ready, firing it right into Lugia’s face. The seabird staggered back, fighting to keep itself steady in the air, several colorful swears echoing through our link. But before it could regain itself, Groudon nailed it with a few well-aimed boulders from behind, knocking it closer to the water, just in time for one of Kyogre’s waterspouts to erupt beneath it. Then, while it was still reeling, another hail of rocks, only barely stopped by a barrier. The moment the barrier dropped, another beam of ice.

I winced as one blow after another struck without mercy. It… it would be fine. This was Lugia we were talking about. It could withstand anything.

…But what if it couldn’t? What if it was stuck there, pummeled endlessly until it couldn’t fight back, and we couldn’t do anything to stop it, and—

Out of nowhere, a searing sunbeam struck Groudon from above. The volcanic beast hissed in pain, stumbling back into a lava flow and partially sinking into it. An echoing cry rang out as a pair of rainbow wings dove for the spot where Lugia was still pulling itself from the ice.

Of course! Ho-oh!

With an angry screech, Kyogre sent a towering wave straight for the bird duo, but Ho-oh raised a barrier, and the water crashed against it, spilling out around the sides. Lugia took that opportunity to snap the ice with a psychic pulse, just in time to dodge the next wave of rocks that Groudon called up from the lakebed.

Okay, the two could probably hold their own together. At least until the crater was completely evacuated, which—I glanced over my shoulder at the rapidly emptying town square—probably wouldn’t be too much longer. Okay, good. The city was toast, but at least everyone would be out by then. But what if the disaster expanded beyond Sootopolis? Latias had said that their fighting threatened the entire Hoenn region last time. And we had no way of stopping them without also making them easier to capture. At this rate… it would almost be better if they were—no, no I wasn’t going to let myself think about that. We could protect Hoenn and stop the Rockets from getting them.

A familiar sound caught my ear from behind—the sharp blip of a teleport. I spun around to see—

“Ajia! You’re back!” I yelled, running over. She was doubled over and breathing heavily, bits of snow and ice tangled in her hair. A pair of Ninetales (one of which must have been Mew) stood beside her, shaking the snow from their tails.

I was about to say something, but the sound of hoofbeats cut me off. Starr had just ridden over on Rapidash, skidding to a stop in front of Ajia.

“What happened in there?” she asked.

Ajia straightened herself, trading a brief glance with Mew. “They… knew we were coming. Couldn’t teleport out once we were in the chamber, had to fight Articuno. And, well…”

Starr’s expression faltered. “You knew you wouldn’t make it in time, didn’t you?” I jerked my head toward her in surprise, but Ajia just nodded slowly.

She’d known. That’s why she made us all stay out here. It was a lost cause from the beginning.

One of the Ninetales trotted past us, gazing down at the Legendaries trading blows in the center of the lake, the air torn by wind and fire, lava and water. <What are they doing?>

I rubbed the back of my head. “Lugia was… trying to keep the fight under control.” That was one way to put it. “Ho-oh only stepped in to help.”

Mew shook her head, letting a glow surround her before she blinked out of sight. Seconds later, there was a small flicker in the middle of the combatants. It took hold of Lugia and Ho-oh, and then the two of them vanished from the battlefield. Then Mew—still a Ninetales— reappeared and offered a tail to each of us. I took one, unsure of where it would lead, and then we appeared in a deserted side street. Not far from where we’d been before, from the sound of it—just far enough that we could talk to the Legendaries without anyone seeing us.

It was kind of weird seeing Lugia and Ho-oh standing side by side in the middle of town like this—both of them taller than the houses around them. Lugia in particular was bruised and beaten with chunks of ice stuck in its feathers. While it shook itself off, Latias flew in from nowhere, already letting a healing glow radiate from her claws.

Lugia gave a small huff. <I can heal myself.>

Latias froze, shrinking back a bit. Then she nodded softly and drifted back to hover alongside me.

Ho-oh straightened itself with some difficulty before stepping forward, talons clicking on the stone pavement. “Good to see you, Mew. As you’ve noticed, things have not gone well out here.”

Starr snorted. “Putting it mildly,” she muttered under her breath.

“I don’t believe we’re in a position to fight them,” the phoenix went on. “Not when they’re like this. Even if we came out ahead, it would not end well.”

With Lugia and Ho-oh gone, the two raging legends were free to focus on each other once more. Groudon commanded rolling flows of lava so thick they threatened to fill the entire lake. Kyogre’s waves struck with such power that they carved deep trenches in the surrounding stone.

And then, out of nowhere, a thought struck me. “Wait. How on earth were Groudon and Kyogre stopped last time?”

Ho-oh blinked for a moment, then glanced over at Latias. She tilted her head as though the answer were obvious and said, “*The messenger from the heavens arrived and told them it was time to stop.*”

I stared blankly. “The messenger… from the heavens?”

Latias nodded. “*One of the most ancient protectors of our land, and the only one with the voice that can calm even the earth and the sea: Rayquaza,*” she said earnestly. “*They were our only hope. The humans performed a ritual to summon them from their throne in the heavens, and they returned the two to their prior sleep.*”

Everyone was silent for some time. I honestly had no idea how to respond to something like that. It almost sounded more like a myth than something that had actually happened, but if she’d seen it firsthand, then who was I to question it?

Lugia let out a cough. <That’s, uh… that’s all well and good. Very mystical and such. But how are we actually going to get through to those two?> Mew thwacked the dragon-bird with her tail, and it shoved her with its wing.

Latias blinked at Lugia in confusion. “*Are… you doubting the great messenger’s existence?*”

Lugia gave an exasperated sigh. <No. Obviously they’re real, but they’re not exactly here right now, are they? We’ve got to take matters upon our own wings.> It gestured down at the raging battle for emphasis.

“Well, hang on,” Ajia said, raising a hand. “If the messenger showed up last time, then it’s possible for it to help out here, yeah? If we can just find it, and get it to—” Her words cut off sharply, and her expression suddenly transformed into one of disturbed realization.

I blinked. “…Ajia?”

“It’s a trap. This was all a trap.”

Starr scoffed. “Yeah, no kidding. And we walked right into it.”

“Not for us!” Ajia exclaimed, shaking her head. “For Rayquaza. The Rockets were never after Groudon or Kyogre at all, they were just trying to lure Rayquaza here. It’s the real target.”

Starr opened her mouth like she was about to protest, but then froze, gears turning in her head. “…Shit. You’re probably right.”

God, this explained everything. Why the Rockets hadn’t attacked Groudon. Why they were just waiting for something, with no indication as to what.

Latias looked mortified. “*We can’t let that happen!*” she cried.

Ajia spun around frantically, looking in all directions. “Where are the Rockets? We’ve got to take down their fleet before Rayquaza gets here.”

“They’re outside the crater,” I said, pointing vaguely in the direction we’d come from. “But do we really have the firepower to fight them head on?”

<Where is Moltres?> Mew cut in.

Right, Mew and Ajia still had no idea how things had gone on our mission. “Rudy and Moltres were… tailing the airship that took the Red Orb,” I said, feeling progressively dumber with each word. “We didn’t want to lose sight of them.” Fat lot of good that had done us.

<Can you contact him?> Mew asked in earnest. <We’ll need their support.>

“Right,” I said, snatching my phone from my pocket and pulling up his number as quickly as I could. I threw the phone to my ear, bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet as it rang.

Come on, pick up pick up pick—

Then a small click followed by a sudden blast of sound in my ear. I jerked the phone away and held it at a distance, where I could just barely make out a voice shouting over the smothering noise.

“Rudy, where are you, we need you and Moltres here now,” I yelled into the microphone.

His words cut in and out, barely audible over the roar of the wind. “I don’t—some forest—something? Why? —happening?”

“How much longer until you get here?” I asked.

“How should I know?!” came the reply.

I glanced up at the others with a helpless look on my face.

Mew gave a restless flick of her tails. <I could teleport them here if I knew where they are.>

Except he’d just said he didn’t know where they were. Unless… Well, we were never gonna get anywhere over the phone. I hit the end call button and opened the messenger. Fingers flying across the screen, I texted him, “Send me a screenshot of your location in the GPS. Don’t ask, just do it.”

I still expected him to ask at least twenty questions or come up with some reason not to do it. But no, not even a minute later, my phone buzzed, and I was looking at a zoomed-in snippet of Hoenn’s map.

I held out my Pokégear to Mew. She squinted at the image, tilting her head back and forth, muttering to herself, until…

<Wait. That waterway. I recognize that shape. I know where they are!> Within seconds, she had vanished from sight.

I let out a breath. Okay good. We could get Rudy here, attack the Rockets before they were ready, before Rayquaza showed up. Then it could put a stop to Groudon and Kyogre, and the city would be saved. We could do this.

“Hey, uh… did I hear something about bringing Rudy here?”

I glanced over my shoulder to see Darren wandering over with his hands in his pockets. His team wasn’t with him (mostly likely still helping the rangers), aside from Weavile. She seemed to have gone a bit overboard with the whole ‘keeping cool’ thing, as Darren’s hair and clothes were coated in bits of snow, even though we weren’t standing in one of the patches of harsh sun.

“Mew’s getting him now,” I said.

Darren nodded. “So he has no idea what he’s showing up to, huh.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but then stopped. Right, last thing Rudy knew, the Rockets had only gotten the Red Orb.

“…Did you ever tell him that Groudon was awake?” I asked, already not looking forward to the answer.

Rubbing the back of his head, Darren said, “See, I was going to, but then we had to help the Aquas, and I forgot.”

Ah, crap.

As if on cue, a flash of light appeared next to Lugia and Ho-oh, and there was Moltres, stumbling a bit from the sudden jump and throwing suspicious glares around. On its back, Rudy blinked in surprise, like he still hadn’t worked through what had just happened. Then his eyes widened the moment he saw the twisted mess of black clouds mixed with blazing sun.

“What the hell?!” Rudy cried as he slid down from his patron’s back.

“What is the meaning of this?” Moltres demanded, waving a wing toward the lake filled with towering waves and explosions of lava.

“The Rockets got the Blue Orb,” I said, wincing. “Also they might have teleported the orbs into the cave.”

Rudy smacked his forehead. “Oh, what the hell? Seriously? We flew all that way for nothing?”

“Hey, not for nothing,” Darren cut in. “It’s not like we could’ve had the Magmas’ Kirlia teleport Moltres all the way here. It would’ve had to fly either way, and you kept it safe yeah?”

Rudy paused, considering it. “Yeah, I… I guess you’re right.”

“Survived your first job as Moltres’s chosen, that’s a win,” Darren said, nudging his shoulder.

Moltres clearly wasn’t satisfied by that, though. “How are we meant to deal with this?”

“We’re not worried about them right now, they’re not the real target here,” Ajia said hurriedly.

“Then what is?”

And then a terrifying and unearthly roar brought the world crashing to a halt. Everyone froze instantly. I could feel it echoing through my whole body; pure, paralyzing anger so thick I could hardly breathe.

“*WHY DOES HUMANITY NOT LEARN FROM ITS MISTAKES?*”

A beam of light pierced the sky directly above Sootopolis crater, pushing back the clouds, dispelling the distorted haze of heat from the air. And from within, a brilliant, emerald green ribbon of light spiraled down toward the crater. A serpent. Riding on currents of wind so effortlessly that it was practically made of wind.

The air hung still. So unnaturally still that I felt a small jolt when something rushed up next to me. I dared to let my eyes drift away from the sky, and to the crimson dragon now floating alongside me, staring at the emerald serpent in reverent fascination.

“*The messenger from the heavens. Rayquaza.*”






~End Chapter 43~

Next Chapter: An unlikely deal, an unlikely solution
 
Chapter 44: Messenger from the Heavens
~Chapter 44: Messenger from the Heavens~

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Everyone was frozen on the spot, staring in awe as the serpent spiraled downward. No one dared to speak. No one dared to breathe. It was like the entire earth had gone still, all eyes watching the emerald ribbon twisting gracefully through the air.

Rayquaza was here. It could put an end to all of this, just like last time.

And then out of nowhere, a piercing Ice Beam crashed against the serpent’s body. Rayquaza snarled in pain, falling backward in midair as ice crystals coated its scales. Curling its body inward, the dragon shattered the ice into bits before jerking its head in the direction of the beam.

“*What is the meaning of this?*” it demanded, the words echoing through the still air.

A sound echoed in reply. Wingbeats. Then Articuno soared into view, snow trailing from its long, ribbonlike tail. Seeing it was a cold, jarring crash back into the reality of the situation.

Articuno fired again, but this time Rayquaza was ready. The serpent looped out of the way as smoothly as wind, then steadied itself and roared at its attacker.

“*Explain yourself!*”

It didn’t know. It had no clue what this attack meant.

Articuno leveled its flight, staring down the serpent. And then, with a roar, the entire fleet of airships shot into view at top speed. Over a dozen of them—flying, mobile ALRs, all zeroing in on Rayquaza.

“We’ve gotta stop them!” Rudy yelled, climbing back onto Moltres’s back in a hurry. Not even a second later, Moltres launched into the air, sending a rush of warmth through the street.

Lugia and Ho-oh glanced at each other briefly before taking off after the firebird. Mew had already begun to transform, growing horns, a tail, wings… she’d become a Charizard! Ajia hopped on her back, and the two immediately took off after the gold and silver birds.

“I’ve gotta help Lugia,” I muttered, turning to run back toward the town square, where I’d find my team still helping with the evacuation. But then my eyes fell on Starr and Darren, and my heart sank.

“You guys…”

Neither of them had flying Pokémon available. I had to go, but they couldn’t come with me. Not unless either of them rode one of my Pokémon. But that meant none of us would have a backup flyer and that was just insanely risky and—

Darren folded his arms behind his head. “Hey, I get it. My team and I are gonna keep working down here. I get the feeling this place is gonna go down in flames soon. Gotta help out where I can.”

I turned away from him, to where Starr was very deliberately avoiding my eye.

My throat clenched. “Starr…”

“There’s no point in repeating all the things I’ve already said,” she cut in. For a few seconds, she didn’t say anything else. But then she turned sharply toward me, jabbing a finger in my direction. “You’ve got a Legendary at your back, right? Use it. And tell Lugia that if it gets you killed, I will figure out a way to make it regret it.”

Relief washed over me. “Right. Okay. Good luck down here!” I yelled before taking off in the opposite direction.

I sprinted down the stone streets of Sootopolis, scanning the airspace overhead for any sign of my Pokémon. I found Swift first and flagged him down. With his eyes, it didn’t take us long to locate the others. Then we took off for the center of the crater, where the airships were rapidly closing in on the Legendaries.

Articuno was still doggedly focusing on Rayquaza. Lugia rushed in, flapping its wings to stir up a fierce whirlwind and knocking Articuno’s flight askew. The ice bird regained itself within seconds, firing back with a blinding Ice Beam. Lugia folded its wings in front of itself right as the beam struck, exploding into a vicious flurry of snow and ice with way more force than I expected. So much force that it sent the dragon-bird reeling backward. I winced as Lugia shook the shards of ice from its wings, jolts of frustration piercing its thoughts.

<That hit was far stronger than usual from Articuno. What have the humans done to them?>

I blinked. <What? Some kind of battle enhancements?> It never would have occurred to me to use those on Legendaries. But of course the Rockets had thought of it. They knew they’d be having to fight us.

An uneasy feeling crept down my spine. The airships had arranged themselves in a large circle around Rayquaza, slowly drawing inward. There wasn’t much time left. Lugia glanced back and forth hurriedly before flapping hard to gain altitude.

<The Rockets are closing in! Get Rayquaza out of there!> I yelled.

Lugia hesitated, jolts of anxiety dancing through its mind. <That’s right in the middle of their forces. They’ll have units ready to capture us.> I felt wisps of… fear? What? It was afraid?

<And?? Do you want them to capture it?!>

The fear melted into anger, a smothering wave of it, flooding my brain from all sides. I wanted to curl into a tiny corner of my head where I didn’t have to feel it. But… no. No, I couldn’t let myself care about that, not right now, this was too important. And so, fighting back every instinct screaming at me to just let Lugia do whatever it wanted, I snapped back with, <Look, do you want them to catch it? Just do it!>

The anger broke for just a moment. I was sure it was going to round on me, unleash some kind of psychic fury on me for yelling at it. But then, without another word, it turned and folded its wings back, diving straight into the center of the ALR circle. Lugia fired a burst of water that knocked Articuno aside and then turned to Rayquaza, who was currently sizing up the circle of airships.

<You need to leave this place!> Lugia yelled.

Part of me half expected the emerald dragon to ignore Lugia, just like the other two had. But no, it circled back toward Lugia, fixing its golden eyes on the seabird.

“*So long as the land and the sea continue their dance, I must be the one to calm their spirits,*” Rayquaza stated simply.

<The humans are trying to catch you! Do you even know what that means?! Do you even pay attention to what happens beneath the clouds, or are you too busy reigning from on high to—>

“*Leave me be, sea guardian!*” Rayquaza snapped. “*Your input is neither wanted nor needed!*”

Lugia’s wordless scream of frustration echoed throughout my head.

I couldn’t really say I was surprised. <Groudon and Kyogre didn’t understand what you were talking about either,> I pointed out.

<Those two have been asleep all this time,> Lugia countered. <That one doesn’t have that excuse!>

A sudden Thunderbolt fired at Rayquaza. I turned in its direction to see… Raikou? Standing on the back of an airship! A second bolt fired, but Rayquaza was ready for it this time, looping out of the way in one smooth motion before retaliating with a vicious blast of dragonfire. With a mighty leap, Raikou arced through the air, landing on the next airship over while Rayquaza’s attack enveloped its previous ride.

The ship didn’t swerve or make any effort to move. Almost like it wanted to…

It wanted to get hit. That was the energy they needed!

The ship’s shield projectors crackled with sparks. Waves of energy rippled outward, linking with the rest of the ships, forming a web, slowly encircling the sky battle in an enormous bubble.

<The barrier is forming! Get out of there!> I yelled.

Lugia flapped its wings, powering itself forward at top speed even as the waves of energy shot from airship to airship all around it. Ho-oh flew after it in a hurry, zeroing in on the spot furthest from the barrier’s origin point, the web slowly encroaching. Only a few seconds left before they were trapped. Come on!

Folding its wings inward, Lugia shot through the opening like a missile. Not even a second later, Ho-oh slipped through, the wall of energy catching on its tail feathers with a small jolt of sparks. I almost collapsed with relief. They’d escaped… although now they couldn’t defend Rayquaza. It was trapped inside the barrier with Articuno and… a Charizard? Wait—Mew and Ajia were still in there! They’d stayed behind to protect it! Two Legendaries against one. But Articuno was stronger than usual. And still, Mew had to fight, which meant she couldn’t protect Ajia at the same time. What if she got hit?

Rayquaza jerked its head back and forth, apparently realizing that it was completely surrounded. Then its attention snapped to Articuno right as the ice bird began gathering icy energy in its beak. Mew swooped in front, countering with a blast of white-hot flame that totally overwhelmed the oncoming Ice Beam. Way stronger than any real Charizard’s flame, that was for sure. Meanwhile, outside the barrier, Lugia was circling restlessly, firing blades of wind from its wingtips, one after another. But it was no use. With that barrier up, the ALR circle could just absorb anything Lugia could dish out.

<It’s no good, attacking the barrier like that won’t work,> I told Lugia.

<How are we meant to break through, then?>

<We’d all need to attack together—that’s the only way to overload it. Surround it from all sides, while Rayquaza attacks from the inside.>

Attacking from the outside wouldn’t be so easy though. Not with Raikou and Entei patrolling the perimeter by leaping from ship to ship. The two beasts were perched on platforms atop each ALR, almost like the platforms were designed for them. We’d never had to attack ALRs that were being guarded by Legendaries. Usually it was the other way around. How the hell were we supposed to get at them?

Both beasts had riders, too. Raven was glaring daggers at Rudy and Moltres—we’d stolen Moltres from her, of course she’d want it back. And Lexx… he actually waved upon looking toward us, and a burning anger welled up inside me. Just what the hell was Lexx doing, playing like he was our friend every time we saw him. He’d ruined the Aqua’s forces. It was his fault that the Rockets had gotten the Blue Orb and Matt had been stabbed and… and Jet…

Raikou opened its mouth and lazily fired off a Shadow Ball at Lugia. I pointed forward and Swift swept a wing outward to block it, the ghostly energy streaming over his feathers harmlessly.

Lexx put a hand to the side of his mouth. “Might wanna stay back!” he called out. “Gonna get pretty chaotic in a bit!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I yelled back.

But before he could answer, I caught a glint of flames in my peripheral vision. I spun around and—

“Look out!”

A blazing Flamethrower shot past us. Swift cried out in pain, his wing completely scorched. I hurriedly grabbed a Full Heal from my belt pouch and reached out as far as I could, spraying down his wing while he struggled to keep our flight steady. Where had that even come from? I threw a frantic look over my shoulder, and—oh crap. Entei, leaping toward us, already gathering more flames in its mouth.

“Quick Attack!” I yelled, and Swift put on a sudden burst of speed. Just enough that the next Flamethrower went sailing past. Chibi fired off a narrow string of lightning behind us, but by now we were far enough that Entei had plenty of time to leap aside.

“Save your power, we’re not fighting Entei. Not again,” I warned him.

Chibi gave a small huff but didn’t protest.

“How is your power, anyway?” I’d never asked how much he used up during the fight to protect the Aquas.

Chibi turned away, avoiding my eye. “*It’s low. Used a lot of it in the last fight. Haven’t had enough time to charge back up.*” It was obviously hard for him to admit, since he was supposed to be the team powerhouse.

“We gotta get you more. Just need to find a source of electricity and…” Hang on—Raikou was here. Where was Entei… Okay good, Entei was distracted by Moltres right now. We had a clear path.

“Let’s get you that power. Swift, fly close to Raikou.”

Our flight path veered closer to the airship. Chibi tensed up, ready to leap at any moment. Lexx glanced in our direction.

“Now!”

Chibi leaped from my shoulder, falling straight at Lexx, tail glowing like he was going for an Iron Tail. Would he realize what we were playing at? For just a second, I could have sworn I saw him crack a smile right before Raikou unleashed a Thunderbolt at Chibi. The lightning struck, enveloping him. The Pikachu clenched his teeth, screwing his eyes shut. Then all his fur stood on end as the energy was pulled into his body.

He was falling now. Swift dove down just in time for me to throw my arms up and catch him. I immediately clutched him to my chest, feeling all my hair stand on end from the static charge. As we flew past Raikou, I caught sight of Lexx, still smirking. He knew exactly what he’d done.

I looked back down at Chibi. His breathing was erratic, sparks coursing through his feathers.

“You alright?” I asked.

“*Fine. Better now.*” he said with the tiniest trace of a grin.

I grinned back. “Alright. Let’s save Rayquaza.”

Swift flapped powerfully to gain altitude before circling high above the barrier. We could see most of the Legendaries below us, and they most likely wouldn’t notice us up here. Inside the barrier, Articuno and Rayquaza traded blows, with Mew still breathing out streams of fire to limit the ice bird’s mobility. I didn’t want to believe for a second that they’d be okay just because it was two-on-one. Articuno had a massive advantage, and… now that I was paying attention, I could see that the ice bird was wearing some kind of orange goggles. For protection? For enhancement? I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that Articuno was blazingly fast. And those Ice Beams? Too bright to even look at. Lugia was right—this level of power was not normal.

Outside the barrier, flames tore the air. Moltres was targeting an airship with massive bursts of fire, engulfing it in a raging firestorm, but the flames just clung to the barrier before melting into rippling light.

We had to unify everyone. Attack together, just like when we’d saved the birds.

“Ajia! Tell Rayquaza to attack the barrier!” I shouted at the top of my lungs

I honestly wasn’t sure if she could hear me from in there, but seconds later, Charizard looped closer to Rayquaza, roaring to it. The serpent jerked its head in surprise. I wasn’t sure if it was going to listen, but then raging pink dragonfire flared up across its scales. With a low growl, Rayquaza turned around and hurled itself at the barrier, tearing and clawing at it in a frenzy.

<Lugia, it’s time. Make sure Ho-oh and Moltres are ready.>

If the Legendaries were all focused on all-out offense, they’d have no way to protect themselves. I turned to the Pikachu clinging to my shoulder.

“*Chibi, we’ll need you to defend them from—” I paused. He’d need to be able to let out a sustained blast—no way he could do that sitting on my shoulder. Not with the way his body generated lightning.

I grabbed Aros’s ball and let him out. I was just about to let out Firestorm too, but then the memory from yesterday flashed through my head. Swift mortally wounded. Falling. No, Firestorm would have to stick with me as backup.

“You two are getting paired up again,” I said nodding to Chibi as he leaped over to Aros’s back. “I know it’s airships this time, but it’s the same old ALR tech we’ve dealt with before.” I forced a smile and added, “Just like old times. The Legendaries are the all-out offense. The rest of us need to protect them. Let’s go.”

We had the raw firepower. They only had so many legends on their side. We just had to keep up the offensive and hope that none of them got captured.

Banking his wings, Swift took us closer to Lugia. Squads of flying Pokémon were deploying from the airships that hadn’t formed the barrier, already converging on the Legendaries. Had to keep them back. Slow them down. Anything.

“Tailwind,” I muttered.

Swift swept his wings forward and a powerful wind current formed, pushing out from us and against the oncoming Pokémon.

“Follow up with Double Team and then use Air Slash on anyone who gets too close,” I added. We didn’t have a shot in hell at defeating that many opponents. Just had to keep them distracted with a barrage of fast, light moves.

To our left, Ho-oh was struggling to keep the pressure up while Raikou’s lightning rained down on it. Way worse than the lightning that had taken down the Aqua fleet. I caught a flash of red as one of the bolts glanced off Latias’s barrier. Aros managed to intercept a second one, and Chibi used the energy to strike down three fliers at once.

To our right, Moltres was struggling to find an opening to attack the barrier with Entei cutting it off at every turn. Raging streams of fire collided between the two, Entei’s far brighter, bursting straight through Moltres’s blaze. The firebird pulled back, letting its flames dissipate. My heart jumped into my throat as Raven snapped her arm forward and fired a Master Ball. But then a small jolt knocked the ball aside—Raichu. She was actually riding Moltres. Rudy had switched to riding Fearow, currently struggling to fend off a red and green-winged blur. Her wings glowed with the light of Steel Wing, blocking the Flygon’s Dragon Claw with a metallic clang.

I clenched my teeth. Rudy didn’t have much of an answer for Flygon—at least not while in the air. But… he’d be okay. Had to tell myself that. Had to focus on protecting Lugia.

I held on tight as Swift swerved into another Shadow Ball’s path. He followed up with an Air Slash, nailing a Gengar right in the face and darting away before it could regain itself. It was that pattern, over and over. Swoop in, Air Slash, dart away before the counterattack. All around us, afterimages from Double Team zipped in and out of the Rockets’ forces, preventing them from landing a hit on us.

We couldn’t draw all their fire, though. A wave of Dark Pulses hit Lugia in the back, and I whirled around to see another squad of Rocket Pokémon approaching from the side. Another wave hit; Lugia’s eye twitched. I could feel it resisting the urge to turn around and knock them all back with a single devastating blow. But it held fast, striking the barrier with piercing beam attacks repeatedly. Meanwhile the barrier was… still going strong. No flickering or weakening. Too many interruptions.

“Go for a Whirlwind,” I ordered. Needed to push them back from Lugia.

The wind whipped into a frenzy, tossing a squad of Crobat aside while a wave of Pokémon led by Honchkrow circled around to approach from the other side. I flattened myself to Swift’s back as he dove under them before swooping up from below, launching an Air Cutter upward. I flinched as a Thunderbolt fired, but it missed, hitting one of the copies. Most of the copies had been struck down by now, but there wasn’t an opening to make new ones. Not with this many opponents crowding the skies.

A sudden burst of speed and I almost lost my grip. Another Thunderbolt, then a burst of dragonfire—no time to strike back, had to keep moving. Swift ducked and weaved around enemies with flawless precision. Then Gengar cut us off in the front. He pivoted to change direction, but two squads closed in from the sides at once.

“Dive!” I hissed.

Swift pointed his wings back, and I clung to his neck for dear life as a hail of attacks shot over our heads. The wind rushed past us. I buried my face in his feathers, focusing on nothing but holding on. Slowly, the crackle of lightning and ice and dragonfire faded into the background. I dared to throw a glance over my shoulder. The Rockets hadn’t pursued—the Legendaries were a much more obvious target. Swift flared his wings to level our flight once he was sure we’d lost them. But when I nudged him to fly upward, he didn’t move.

“Swift?” I asked.

“*Look down there,*” the Pidgeot said.

I leaned over his side, gazing down at the lake below us. It took a few seconds for it to sink in—the water was still. No bursts of lava. Groudon and Kyogre had stopped fighting. They were just sitting there, eyes trained upward on the emerald serpent twisting and turning through the air in the middle of the ALR barrier. How long had they been like that? Had I seriously not noticed?

“They’ve stopped?” I muttered, hardly daring to believe it. “But why?”

“*Was it because that one arrived?*” Swift asked, glancing up at Rayquaza.

“I’m… not sure.” All I knew was that this changed everything.

<Lugia, they’ve stopped. Groudon and Kyogre have stopped.>

<What?> The seabird whirled around and threw an incredulous glance down at the two Legendaries sitting motionless at the center of the lake. Confusion and disbelief flickered through its thoughts.

A glimmer of hope took hold in my mind. <I think we might actually be able to get through to them now.>

Lugia hesitated. <I’m a little busy right now.>

Of course it was. I really couldn’t blame it. But someone had to do it. The lake wasn’t a raging hellscape anymore. It’d actually be possible to get close to them without getting totally annihilated.

I took a deep breath to steel myself. <I’ll do it, then.>

Lugia jolted. <Wait, are you crazy?>

Maybe. Had to do it anyway.

I pointed downward, and Swift dove. The air rushed past, the sounds of the battle now well behind us. My heart thundered in my chest. We were actually approaching Groudon and Kyogre. Sure, the space around them wasn’t a death zone anymore, but they’d easily be able to… No. No, I couldn’t think about that.

A sudden rush of air swept alongside us, and I looked over to see Lugia diving as well.

<What are you doing here? Weren’t you attacking the airships?> I asked.

<Ho-oh’s taking care of it.>

I threw a glance upward to see the phoenix assaulting the barrier with explosive bursts of blue flame. I couldn’t imagine any Rockets being able to get close enough to those plumes of fire without getting incinerated. Not to mention that I could see the glimmer of red wings darting around it—Latias still trying her hardest to protect everyone. They would… probably be okay.

I focused back on the water below as we descended. Down to where the last remnants of steam slowly drifted up from what had once been ground zero. Where Groudon and Kyogre sat watching Rayquaza motionlessly.

Lugia’s mind was tense. It obviously didn’t trust those two not to lash out. But even as we neared, the duo remained calm, eyeing us silently. Lava pulsed lazily at Groudon’s feet; waters churned softly around Kyogre.

Swift leveled his flight before landing on a patch of cooled rock. I could feel the warmth drifting upward, but it was gentle. Hard to believe that this place was a raging inferno not even half an hour ago.

I took a deep breath. Here goes nothing.

“Groudon! Kyogre!” I called out at the top of my lungs.

For several seconds, nothing happened. Then the great red beast blinked. I could actually feel those burning eyes shifting to me. It opened its mouth—Lugia tensed, ready for anything—and let out a deep, reverberating rumble of a growl. The sound tugged at my mind, almost like there was some meaning there, just out of reach. It rose and fell with the rhythms and tones of Pokéspeech, and the patterns were… familiar. But putting meaning to them felt like trudging through mud.

“Is it… saying words?” I asked.

<Yes,> Lugia said. <It’s a downright ancient form of Pokéspeech, though.>

My heart was racing. It was actually talking to us. We could explain everything!

“Can you translate for me?” I asked. Something told me these two weren’t going to understand modern Tohjoan.

Lugia concentrated, its focus sharpening. And as Groudon spoke, I could feel the understanding drift across our mental link.

“*Why do you wish to speak with us, small one?*” Groudon asked.

Lugia’s eyes slid to mine. It had addressed me? Not Lugia. Me. Then again, Lugia was the one who’d been attacking it all this time. And getting addressed by a human had to be a strange experience for it.

I swallowed hard—the idea of saying something back was overwhelmingly intimidating. But what else had I come down here for?

“We’ve… been trying to talk to you this whole time. Why wouldn’t you listen?” I said as Lugia repeated my words in its voice.

Groudon slowly blinked. “*Our dance would not allow it,*” it said, as if nothing were more true or obvious.

“Your… dance?” Was it referring to… their fight? I still couldn’t get over them standing calmly, side-by-side, without a hint of malice toward the other. Not after the way they’d been tearing into each other previously.

“Why were you two fighting?” I asked. “And what do you mean by ‘dance’?”

A rolling thunder echoed from Groudon’s chest, and it took me a second to realize that it was laughing.

“*It must be joking,*” Kyogre spoke up, its voice a low hiss that chilled the air.

“*Perhaps the beings of this time do not know,*” Groudon mused. “*How easily the old tales fall into myth.*”

“*It’s disgraceful,*” Kyogre spat.

Groudon gave the sea beast a tired look. Then it lowered its gaze to me once more and said, “*Our dance is the ceaseless urging of our souls. It is an eternal cycle of beginning and ending. At the dawn of this world, I settled the molten surface of the planet into solid land and set the continents into motion. They settled the waters of the planet into seas and carved out the oceans. It was eons of creation and destruction, back and forth. I have no idea how long our dance lasted. I don’t even remember how we were set into that path to begin with.

“*At some point other living beings came to inhabit this world as well. And then the messenger from the heavens came to tell us that we were done. We had to sleep for life to continue, for our dance brought balance to the earth, but it would be an unending hell for any others. And I was so very tired. So I buried myself under the skin of the earth, allowing myself to sleep, and in my dreams, I have guided the flow of the earth’s blood and the journey of the continents ever since.*”

I stared at Groudon. Its words felt like a heavy weight settling onto my chest. All this devastation, and it wasn’t even something they’d chosen to do? Was it really just… nothing more than instinct?

“So it’s not even like you wanted to fight each other?” I said, unable to keep the incredulous tone from my voice. “Couldn’t you refuse? Couldn’t you decide not to?”

As Lugia repeated my words, Groudon shook its head softly, almost with an air of disappointment.

“*I cannot expect one like you to understand our dance. It is why we exist. Even now, it calls to me. It is my purpose.*” It exhaled long and slow, causing a wave of warm air to wash over me. “*But it seems the messenger does not wish it this time. They have already come to end it. And so soon?*” Its words held a wistful, almost sorrowful air.

“Don’t you wish you had a choice?” I found myself asking.

Groudon considered me carefully, something shifting in its eyes. “*The burden of decision has never been ours to hold. We have our purpose. You have yours. How can I lament that?*”

Maybe it wasn’t something I could understand after all.

I let out a breath, struggling to think of how to word my next sentence. “You said the messenger had come to end your dance. Well, the only reason it started this time was because of humans. They awakened you because they wanted to steal your power. You’re both in danger.”

Kyogre let out a sharp, broken exhale—a laugh? Groudon tilted its head ever so slightly, gazing at me curiously. “*They believe they have the power to harm us?*” Though it was impossible to tell, something told me that it wasn’t trying to be condescending. That it was genuinely confused as to how such a thing could happen.

“They have the power of the legends on their side,” I said slowly. “They could actually do it. And they’re attacking the messenger right now.”

Groudon was silent for some time, its head held low.

“*Then… we must not hold back,*” the volcanic beast finally said, a low sorrow in its voice.

“*They must pay,*” Kyogre echoed.

“You’ll help us?” I asked, daring to let the glimmer of hope rise within me.

Groudon was about to answer, but then Kyogre suddenly cut in with, “*We could do much more than that if we had our true power.*”

I blinked at the leviathan. It stared back, its gaze cold and unrelenting.

“Your true power?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“*The orbs,*” it replied immediately.

The orbs? The Red and Blue Orbs that had awakened these two in the first place?

“*I can feel it even now, the orb,*” Kyogre went on, an undercurrent of… desperation in its voice. “*I feel as though it houses a piece of my soul. One that was ripped from my body ages ago. I must have it.*” It gazed up at the airships longingly. I couldn’t help but notice that its eyes were following… one ship in particular.

“That airship? The orbs are there?” I asked. The beginnings of an idea were taking hold. If we could get the orbs to them… they could destroy the ALRs, and then…

Groudon fixed me with a serious gaze. “*You require our strength to save the messenger. Let us regain our true might, and we can easily do this.*”

I blinked. “You’d really be able to do it that easily?” I said incredulously.

Kyogre stared me down. “*Our true might would let us destroy them all.*”

A twinge of unease flickered in the back of my mind. But we weren’t in any position to turn them down, were we? We needed their power.

“Can you fire all your power at those ships? That’ll drop their defenses, and then we can get the orbs.”

Groudon nodded deeply. “*Of course.*”

Was this a huge mistake? I still wasn’t sure. If they’d really be that powerful, then… after we defeated the Rockets…

I clenched my fists, struggling to push back the doubts. “If… if we do this for you, you have to promise to go back to sleep afterward. For the sake of the world.”

Groudon regarded me for some time. Part of me worried that it wasn’t going to agree, but then the volcanic beast turned its head upward, staring at Rayquaza, twisting and turning within the barrier overhead.

“*The messenger has already arrived. Our dance, it has been broken,*” Groudon said simply.

Lugia flexed its wings angrily, drawing itself up to full height. <Look. I don’t give a damn about your dance, if you don’t hold up your end of the deal, you’re going to be sorry. There’s a lot more of us than there are of you. I don’t care how powerful you’ll be. You will regret it.>

Groudon chuckled. “*Do not be so sure of that, sea guardian. But there is no reason to go back on our word. After all… the messenger’s true glory could easily smite us all.*”

The messenger’s true glory? What did that mean?

“*Enough of this,*” Kyogre barked, the veins on its body glowing a vibrant red. “*You wished for our help. Let us do this.*”

I traded glances with Lugia. “Alright.” We could worry about that later. After we’d gotten the orbs.

Swift and Lugia both spread their wings and took off. Below us, the air began to shimmer, the thick, sludgy lava under Groudon’s feet glowing with renewed life. The surrounding waters began to churn, slowly at first, but quickly growing more vicious. Rayquaza’s arrival may have swept the hellish weather clean from the sky, but the power hanging over these two was still so thick it was almost tangible.

With a roar, both earth and water erupted at once, lava plumes and waterspouts shooting into the air and crashing mightily against the ALR barrier with an explosion of sparks. Raikou and Entei both leaped back, retreating to the ships furthest from the impact point. The entire barrier flickered and shimmered, struggling to absorb the flood of energy.

<Well, those two might be total nutcases, but at least they’re finally on our side,> Lugia said with a bit of satisfaction. It gave me a sideways glance and added, <Good thinking.>

I blinked. A compliment? Coming from Lugia? Well, I wasn’t complaining.

The airships started pulling upward, trying their best to get out of Groudon and Kyogre’s range. If they gained too much altitude, we’d never be able to keep up the pressure.

“We’ve got to force them back down!” I exclaimed.

Lugia flapped harder, powering itself upward while Swift and I rode the slipstream behind it. We reached the top of the barrier, where Ho-oh and Moltres had joined forces, unleashing a barrage of white-hot flame. Lugia flew over to join them, already charging up an Aeroblast in its mouth. Gale force winds and raging fire combined to form a swirling firestorm, tearing into the barrier and sending shock waves all across its surface.

Something caught my eye—Raven and Entei, quickly converging on Moltres. Couldn’t let her get a clear shot, but couldn’t put us within range of Entei.

“Stay behind them. Keep up the Whirlwind and be ready to dodge.”

Swift circled the beast in a wide arc, stirring the wind into a frenzy. Entei was barely fazed, but it sure got Raven’s attention. She flashed a murderous glare toward us, but didn’t order an attack. She just gripped Entei’s mane tighter and pointed for it to target Moltres.

A piercing yellow beam shot from nowhere, and Lugia only barely managed to block it at the last second. I spun in the direction it’d come from and saw one of the airships that hadn’t joined the barrier circle now advancing on us. Moltres broke from the attack group, razing the ship with a vicious Fire Blast. Without any nearby units to form a shared barrier, it was forced to pull back. Then a second beam struck from behind, and Moltres fell forward, screeching in pain.

Raven pointed her arm forward to fire a Master Ball, but the winds around Entei were too vicious—she couldn’t keep her arm steady, her hair kept whipping into her face. While she struggled to get her bearings, Raichu fired a Thunderbolt into the ALR beam’s path. Small, but just enough of an interruption that Moltres managed to pull itself free.

By now the Rockets’ forces were advancing all around us, including Raven’s Flygon and Gengar. Latias was knocking them back left and right, but there were too many of them to handle on her own. Maybe we needed to switch strategies—have one of the other Legendaries back her up. With the added power from Groudon and Kyogre, we didn’t need to have all our legends attack the barrier at once. Rudy, where was Rudy—there he was! Still riding Fearow, currently keeping Honchkrow busy.

“Rudy! You and Moltres can deal with the Rockets, I’ll stick with Lugia and Ho-oh!” I yelled.

He flashed a thumbs up and pointed Fearow toward the oncoming crowd of flying Pokémon. Without him saying or doing anything, Moltres followed—he’d gotten a handle on the psychic link, hadn’t he?

Inside the barrier, Rayquaza was a searing ball of raging dragonfire, flailing against the energy shield with all its might. Mew grappled with Articuno, holding on tight with flaming claws while the ice bird thrashed against her hold, unable to reach Rayquaza.

The airship circle dipped lower. Sparks cracked as a plume of lava collided with the barrier from below. A torrential waterspout followed, and it flickered from the strain. I knew that look. It was almost at the breaking point. Too much power for it to handle.

We were close! Just a little bit more…

Out of nowhere, a thunderous lightning strike rained from above, striking Lugia with a deafening crash. I clapped a hand to my ear, screwing my eyes shut as my whole body went numb. That was way too close. When I opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of something yellow leaping up to the highest airship.

Raikou. I’d forgotten about Raikou.

Lugia was struggling to keep itself airborne. That gave the airships the opportunity to fly higher. Groudon’s next lava plume fell short, hitting nothing but open air.

Dammit. We were so close! We couldn’t give up now!

A high-pitched whistle suddenly tore the air. I jerked my head upward and felt my insides dissolve. Meteors—just like the ones that struck down the Aqua fleet.

<Look out!> I cried.

Too late. Lugia screeched in pain, molten balls of red and blue dragonfire scorching its feathers before it had the chance to raise a barrier. Ho-oh struggled to fight through it, keeping its flames going even as the meteors pummeled it from above. Whatever launched these was strong enough to hurt those two?

Another piercing whistle sounded, and this time I caught a glimpse of the ball of light as it shot high into the air above us before exploding into a second wave of meteors. My stomach curled inward—this time we were in the line of fire.

Swift didn’t waste a second. The Pidgeot immediately swept his wings in front of us, and the white light of Protect appeared just in time for the first meteor to crash against it. I clung to his neck, teeth clenched as the shock waves shot through us. First one meteor, then a second—the barrage just kept coming. The Protect flickered. Then it shattered. Swift fell backward, fighting to keep his flight steady, swerving awkwardly to the left as a meteor clipped the edge of his wing. I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder only to see one headed right for us, and—

The meteor crashed against a barrier that flared up from nowhere, exploding into flaming shards that fizzled into nothing. Swift took that moment to regain control of his flight, and we both stared in shock at our savior.

“Latias! I… thanks,” I said breathlessly.

“*Hang in there,*” she said with a hopeful smile. “*We can do this, I know we can!*” And for a moment, I actually believed her. I nodded, and she held up a claw before shooting off just as quickly as she’d arrived.

I sat there, breathing heavily, heart pounding a million miles a minute as Swift kept us at a level soar. Okay, we weren’t dead. Time to focus. I turned in every direction, trying to take stock of the aerial battle. Lugia and Ho-oh had landed along the crater rim, letting a healing glow wash over them with Roost. They’d both taken a lot of damage from that last attack. Lugia’s pure-white feathers were scorched all over from the dragonfire. But where had the meteors come from?

No sooner had I thought it than something caught my eye overhead. A jetlike shape high above us, silhouetted against the sun. I squinted, struggling to make it out. It was a sleek, cobalt dragon with pointed wings. Cloth billowed from the rider on its back.

My breath caught in my chest. Riding on the dragon’s back—it was him.

I felt the blood rush to my face. Stalker. The one who’d strung us along all day, playing us for fools. At least this time he wasn’t even pretending to help us. Better for him to just outright attack us rather than what he’d been doing before.

“Shepard! Fashionably late as always,” a voice drawled.

Cloudlike wings soared into view, and there was Ender, riding on his Altaria. As he stared down Stalker, something about his demeanor felt distinctly… hostile.

Stalker said something into a communicator. A low hum followed, and the barrier started flickering. Then, in an instant, the wall of energy spanning half of the airships fizzled into nothing. The barrier—they’d just straight-up deactivated it? Rayquaza wasn’t trapped anymore! Why on earth would they do that?!

Ender cocked his head. “Oy! Shepard! What do you think you’re doing, friend?” he asked with a dangerous edge to his voice.

Rayquaza let out a cry that sounded almost excited before blasting a stream of violet Dragonbreath at the closest airship, melting the shield projectors. The serpent rushed in and tore through the armor in a blaze, but not before the adjacent ship rotated and fired a beam at it. Mew swooped forward, grabbing the fins on Rayquaza’s back.

“*Come on, we’ve got to get out of here!*” she cried.

“*No,*” Rayquaza hissed. “*This is unacceptable.*”

Ender snapped his fingers and Articuno fired an Ice Beam, stopping the dragon’s rampage cold. It couldn’t move. It was frozen solid, claws buried in the ALR armor, tail dangling limply.

Then, without warning, Sebastian pulled back his coat sleeve to reveal a Master Ball cannon, pointing it straight at Rayquaza.

“No!!”

Time slowed. The ball shot toward Rayquaza; the dragon couldn’t move. Then Mew darted forward, deflecting the ball with a well-aimed blade of wind from her wingtip.

Ender turned to face Sebastian, smirking. “Ah, so that’s how it is? Think you’re clever, do you?” Ender pulled out his own communicator and said something into it.

Entei leapt into view, already charging a Shadow Ball in its mouth. The beast launched the orb at Latios, but the cobalt dragon put on a burst of speed and avoided it easily. Ender motioned to Articuno. The ice bird dove, zeroing in on Latios, but he was too fast for it. Then, without warning, Articuno abruptly put on a burst of speed and fired an Ice Beam directly at him.

A burst of flames from above collided with the Ice Beam, cutting it off. I threw a glance upward and saw the unmistakable silhouette of a Charizard. Not Mew this time. Stalker’s Charizard. Then a golden blur shot out of the blue, slashing at Altaria’s underside with flaming claws. A Dragonite. Articuno was still tailing Latios, but a bolt of lightning fell from above, striking the ice bird with a thunderous crack.

Ender spun around. On the closest Johto airship, Raikou stood sparking.

“Oh look, the Sakari brat’s involved in this too, why am I not surprised?” he called out.

“Just keeping things interesting!” Lexx called back.

Seconds later, a Flamethrower from Entei poured over the spot where Raikou had just been standing, engulfing the airship. The thunder beast had leaped aside, retaliating with a vicious lightning strike. Entei only had a moment’s notice to raise a Protect to keep itself—and its trainer—from being electrocuted.

It was chaos! Johto Rockets firing on Kanto Rockets, attacks tearing through the air left and right, striking both airship and Pokémon alike. In the midst of it all, Mew had set to work thawing Rayquaza with her fire breath. She’d gotten about halfway before the serpent had the leeway to shatter the remaining ice. Without even acknowledging her, Rayquaza launched into a spiraling Twister. Vicious wind currents ripped through the air all around it, knocking the combatants back. All the while, Latios circled the airships like a hawk, just waiting for an opportunity. We couldn’t let him get one.

I felt it before I saw it—Lugia flying back up to meet us, flanked by Ho-oh. Both of them fully healed after roosting. I could feel the confusion drifting through Lugia’s mind as it observed what had happened in its absence.

<They’re… fighting each other?> Lugia said incredulously.

<This isn’t the first time they’ve been at odds,> I replied.

Lugia tilted its head, observing the ongoing chaos. <I see. Well, this is convenient, isn’t it? Let them destroy each other,> it said, sounding rather too satisfied with the idea.

Maybe we wouldn’t need to get the orbs back after all. Maybe the Rockets really would just destroy each other. Then again, it still didn’t seem like a good idea to leave them alone, not when either side could make a move on Rayquaza at any time.

“*They’re fighting each other now?*” a voice asked.

Latias had reappeared at my side, staring at the ongoing chaos with a perplexed look. “*I don’t understand, why are they—*” She froze sharply, eyes wide with… fear? No, anger. I’d never seen that kind of expression on her face. It was actually chilling.

I followed her gaze to see her staring straight at Latios. Or rather, straight at the human riding on his back.

Oh no.

“*Latios!*”

“Wait—” I began.

“*He’s right there!*” she exclaimed with a desperate look. “*I’m going to get him back this time!*” she cried, folding back her forelegs and shooting off.

“Wait, don’t go!” I yelled, reaching for her. But she was already gone.






~End Chapter 44~

Next Chapter: An ending, but at what cost?
 
I have a little less to say about Chapter 11, seeing as it's a less intense chapter than most. I think chapters like this are important! Downtime matters, transitional periods of time are key for context and to take a breath.

It was nice to see a trio of mid-stage kanto starters cooperating in a combat training scenario. Mid-stage starters deserve more love! It's so much more interesting than league-style practice matches, and as usual, you did a great job having the moves be more tactical and interesting than a test of strength.

Karen lol

It's good to see Jade learning. She might struggle with the study of theory and thinking stuff out, but she definitely picks stuff up in practice. Good going, kid. "Kid" is right—everyone in the rebellion is such a kid. It's so obvious when they pipe up and interact with each other than they're fairly immature adolescents. I can feel that "kids in war" floodwater approaching, oh gods. I will note that it felt like there were a ton of characters to keep track of this chapter, but I don't know whether that's likely to keep up for long or not. All I'll say is that it was a bit of a struggle to be sure of who each name actually was, but it wasn't a huge bother or anything.

I thought the food debt was a brilliant piece of worldbuilding to throw in. It's not just that Team Rocket are exploitative bastards who wring their employees' money out of them, it's that it explains why the grunts don't end up with any real spending money.

Chapter 12 has the sickest cover art yet! Damn! Wow! That bloodied Raikou! I especially like that it's well within reasonable limits, which has a lot more impact than just splattering the creature with gore.

Mostly I remember reading this being super hype and tense. You got the sense of urgency and danger down really well, I was low key so stressed for Jade. Once again she slips by people because they aren't paying attention, but surely that can't keep working!! Speaking of tension, it helps that I always seem to luck out with Haikyuu music when I read. Always a fitting track~

Big fan of that "none of us should get caught" attitude. The sunk costs aren't high enough to start considering yourself or your fellow teens as acceptable casualties~ ...yet~

The fight itself was awesome, in the "my inner adolescent thinks this is so epic" kinda way, but also in the sense that Raikou's legendary power really came through, even when they were on the back foot. I found myself terrified for the rebels, for Raikou, for the TR pokémon... big fan of the line about "Some could be recalled, others couldn't." That hit pretty hard!

I have to say that the actual plan they ended up going with was super badass, but also kindof an ass-pull? Don't get me wrong, it was so sick I was practically hand-flapping, and it came as a huge relief that they could still pull something off, but the degree of dexterity involved sounded near-superhuman. I also found myself wondering why the TR grunts didn't open the fight by launching some master balls, but it's one of those "because then there wouldn't be a kickass fight, dumbass" questions. I just assumed that a legendary would be strong enough to resist or destroy incoming capture devices unless weakened.

"Interlopers" is an interesting term to use for the rebels. I wonder if it has any more significance than "intruders on the fight."

I'm glad that it went well, but so nervous for Jade and her allies. I keep expecting them to get rumbled practically every paragraph! Excited to keep going, and sure Starr will turn up soon...

Ch13:
The mission is complete, and they get new pokémon! I'm almost as excited and happy as they are. Sucks about Jade's new pikachu, and I really like that this is what gets her to ask Stalker to approve the upcoming mission. I'm almost surprised Stalker approved the mission, but he seems all-in on expecting astonishing feats from young, inexperienced trainers. Alright!
Time to be Sneaky. Good stuff. Surely this is the last time she gets away with it...
Razors! Love to see him. This is gonna be good, I'm sure. His situation is so damn tragic!

Ch14:
Oops, ya fucked up again. Always with the blunders. Gotta have disasters so the story can stay gripping!
Trauma and whump!! Love to see it.
Stracion finally appears! She was pretty fun, although I did feel she rather went on a bit justifying herself, and it felt odd for such a young Rocket to be complaining about the good old days. Despite the slightly weird dialogue, the battle itself was cool as hell. I would make an OTP joke, but I don't think you need that rigt now, bud!
I like that Jade gets to grab a couple of extremely cool experimental pokémon and that this is cool as fuck, but they neither fall into her lap, nor present a particular asset for her it seems. They manage to be very exciting but without being contrived or anything, y'know?

Teleport Extra:
This was pretty cool! Surprised it's not threadmarked but you do you. Nice to learn a little more about it and its limits and why it's not a major logistics solution, and the presented justifications made plenty of sense. Good stuff, love to see a worldbuilding.

Ch15:
Mewtwo!!!! Very good miserable cat. Love to see him. The chapter art is very good as always: a moody, classic, musing Mewtwo moment.
Pretty terrified about Team Rocket possessing a mind-controlled super-psychic, which it looks like they have.
Loads of tension this chapter, I was so scared for Jade!
Astrid finally appears! I bet she's the one responsible for all this pain and trauma I've been anticipating. She is genuinely terrifying. "I never forget a face," holy shit. Oh fuck oh fuck oh god, Jade isn't gonna be able to sneak around any more! Jade please wear a fuck-ton of cosmetics and coloured contacts and dye your hair. Different look every mission, please.
Loved that Astrid called Jade a little shit lmfao
The way you described Mewtwo's Pressure and how overwhelming his presence was one of my fave things about this chapter.

Misc. from above, fuck my disorganised notes:
Ohohohohoho, I'm a big fan of Jade finally getting electrocuted. Good description, the pain is really gonna come now.
Also, Chibi being in pain as he tanks electric attacks. That was great stuff. I love stoic characters suffering through it, y'know?
(It is still so fucking weird knowing two "Chibis" who are linked as author and character but have almost nothing in common besides!)
I'm very hype about the team of hybrid experiments. I want to know what their genetic deal is! I like how fucking disagreeable they are and I get the feeling they're gonna be a handful.
I had a great time reading this chapter and I'm big fear.jpg about things getting much worse very soon. Great job by Chibi Q. Pika.

Ch16
Loved the reunion of Chibi and Razors, it was very touching. And painful! The way Chibi is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he'd got to the point of trying to kill Razors when this outcome was still possible... I love it.
Love that Flygon/Aros is so oppositional that he considers sleeping outside just to be difficult.
"Yes yes and yes" got a snort.
Jade's emerging trauma about thunder shock is very good, the way her narration puts it makes the horror of it plain and sickening.
Making a deal with the experiments was a fun scene. Stalker really is quite a character. What's his fuckin deal?
Hooray, Chibi stays! I thought it might go that way, and I'm glad it did. Really pleased for them both.
Chibi's chronic pain is delicious. I don't have his pain, but the vibe is spot on.
Bless Jade! She is so sweet and humble. What the fuck. What a likeable girl.
Firestorm also has trauma from helplessness! Excellent. Poor lad.
Jade helping him to learn a way to use fire punch was such a great scene! I haven't had the pleasure of reading many scenes like this, and I'm glad we get some besides TMs and that TMs aren't perfect anyway. Great stuff. Really cute.
FIRESTORM PAWNCH!
Lastly, I am fuckin snorting at Firestorm's obvious crush and Jade's total smugness at spotting it. Wonderful.

Ch17
Sick chapter art as always!
Love a good threeway fight, this one was a lot of fun.
Go team Jade! I'll cheer for you guys!
Autumn! Love a good bit of Autumn, and a sense of time and place and sensory input.
I'm so touched and proud of them! I love them a lot, I'm gonna cry. It's really special to feel so fond of these guys.
Swift's interest in human affairs and contemplative temperament makes me suspect he'd take an offer from Perihelion.
INTERLOPERS! Very excited to know what that's about.
It's been 3000 years... since the last war. I'm guessing this element was introduced after Gen VI.
Desperate for the timeline where LC is an anime. I know it gets grimmer later, but ch17 is peak 'this should be an anime'.
The legend is so wordy! Very much a weird piece of writing. Intriguing.
Totally agree with Jade that Suicune and other Legends are pretty damn scary. Wonderful sense of presence.
Ah yes, this is a chosen one fic, oh my. I've not really read any chosen one fic, but this is still my favourite chosen one fiction I've ever read tbh. And that's this far in. I know there's so much wonderful content to come. I love your notes about avoiding pitfalls and will try to speculate as I read, even though speculation is hard for me!
Ah yes, explorers of pain and suffering. My heart is gonna break in the best way.
I'm so fuckin' hype!

Ch18
Viridian base is pretty huge! It has a real sense of scale and a military vibe. Team Rocket really does feel like a paramilitary organisation here, and not a glorified crime cabal. I like that take on them, you know.
Darren's banter with Jade is good and funny here.
Fuck yeah, this mission has that vibe like when you return to tutorial level where you had a scripted loss to a boss and now you get to fuck em up!
Lmfao I spotted a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. It's been memed on too much for me not to just grin at it.
Fuck they got accidentally captured I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN.
Jade has opinions about high tech plausibility that surprise me. It feels weirdly intrusive and unimmersive that she should be commenting on whether electric type energy is easier to handle with tech, or how plausible these devices are.
The escape from the truck was tense as hell, very good, exciting.
Brainwashed legendaries are really fucking scary and really fucking sad. That's a good plot element right there.
Hi Chibi's bird parent! I like that he gets a little moment to touch his feathers. I like that the birbs each have their own takes on entei turning up and are distinct personalities.
The word 'wave' gets used 4x in a single paragraph and that's egregious Sorry!! It feels mean to point out but I still gotta arrest you for repetition crimes.
Aros and Stygian but no Razors... surely there's a reason? Poor Chibi wants his bro and I feel for him.
"Protect each other" is a lovely phrase. I hope this is a theme getting name-dropped. I'd use it in the trailer for LC anime. It gave me emotions.
The word 'crap' sure gets thrown around a lot and helps cement these kids as being kids. It's a little harder to remember that many Rockets are actually also super young.
Super battle! Very fun! The sheer tension! The close call! Mew! It Mew!!
My hype levels at the end of this chapter closely matched how tired I was at the time, sorry!

Ch19
Mew's characterisation as a sad god is good, I'm convinced they're complacent and gonna get completely curbstomped by TR.
The way Mewtwo doesn't even have the agency to take out Mew without orders is killing me. All his agency is gone in the worst way.
Jade is a more competent trainer! Ya love to see it! So proud of her.
Hooray for Stalker! I'm glad we don't spend too much time drooling over his awesomeness in the heat of battle, however.
Oh man the situation got so much worse so fast. I have a feeling that I'll be saying this a lot going forward.
Pretty hype about Chibi's power and its potential. I thought Jade might use him to drain the forcefield, actually.
Lmfao Aros only cares about Stygian. It's endearing even though it's kindof an asshole trait.
The return of jeep forcefields! Not a bad continuity moment there.
The return of fucking suicune! Oh man. Epic.
The ebb and flow of battle is wild, holy shit this is intense. Great stuff.
Dude so many guys are fuckin dead and I bet Team Rocket doesn't even have dental. How can you expect grunts to stay loyal when you don't even give them dental and they might get burned or electrocuted to death in the line of duty?
Mew's teleporting in the battle is a great way to use their signature trick in an effective way. Good stuff.
Jade is empathetic and I love her. She really cares. I love characters who care.
The return of Astrid!! Terrifying. Whenever she turns up, I can really feel Jade's fear.
Aros gets owned in this holy fuck. I kindof expected him to be overconfident and get stomped, but it's really brutal and I love how it goes down.
Jade is bold, I love it.
Chibi is protective, I love it.
The wounds are brutal, I love it.
WHUMP YEEEAAAHHH!
Big fan of how Jade performs at her highest level ever at heroism only to get absolutely stomped at the last minute. Oof.
Wonderful finish to the chapter, absolutely losing my nut at this point to get to the next.

Ch20
Love this chapter art a lot. Goddamn. The anticipation is thick.
Oh, the fear Jade is going through is exquisite, oh my.
You mattered, Jade! You made a difference! I'm so proud! Sucks that you're gonna get FUCKING TORTURED FOR IT.
INJURIES YEAH! Big fan of some nasty descriptions of characters having been thumped badly.
Wind up watch sounds like a brilliant idea lmfao.
Planning for your inevitable next electrocution? Oh HONEY. oh nooooo. We're about to be well beyond planning for the next time you suffer a quick jolt.
I'm scared for her! Torture is scary!! Astrid's presence is deeply intimidating.
Love that Jade is nauseated looking at Raichu. Not panicky, but sick. It's an interesting little distinction.
Love that she takes the first hit on purpose, love that defiance. Big fan of that.
Love that she starts being incapable of answering and just mumbles nonsense. Oh, Astrid. Torture doesn't work. She's just a kid. You're going about this with such little thought. You must be really torn up about this to be so sloppy.
I didn't notice at first, but the implicit clothes-wetting is an excellent line. How dreadfully sad that is.
Oh no, I love her, she's trying so hard and so scared. I want her to succeed. I feel like I wouldn't do any better in this situation.
Love when Stracion turns up and the sound of footsteps is terrifying. I actually also expected it to be Astrid back for round two.
Very surprised at the rescue but very excited. It's good stuff.
Poor Jade. She did her best but she feels so humiliated.
Love the stuff about the shower and burning the clothes it happened in.
Love her cluster bomb of negative emotions and confusion at being exempted.
Love how awful everything is even after it went as well as could be expected.
The shock Jade's in is handled really well, and we truly are in The Good Shit now. Delighted to have finally reached this point.
...
So.
That was the electrocution.
I'd been wondering for a few chapters if Astrid would turn out to be Starr, given the stellar names, similar appearance, and the whole electrocution thing. I don't think I actually suspected anything until Astrid's second(?) appearance, in which she electrocutes Jade for the first time. The line about never forgetting a face helped, but I also overthought it a bit. I still felt there was a 20% chance that Astrid was Starr's colleague, and not her alias.
My expectation for the scene, albeit one based on nothing, was that Jade would finally realise this person was her former friend during the interrogation, and although I knew there was a possibility that she wouldn't realise until later, I wasn't sure why the deception was in play, or why Jade hadn't realised by now. As it turned out, I had misunderstood or misremembered the timeline, and thought it had only been three years for some reason. Five is a lot more, and that tracks.
I can also think of plenty of reasons why Starr wouldn't reveal her identity, but I was expecting it to be confirmed unambiguously to give me something concrete to react to. The way things went down, I was very sure that Astrid was actually Starr as early as chapter 15, and just waiting for hard evidence out of fear of being wrong. I read through the interrogation waiting for the realisation to hit, and when it didn't, I doubted myself even though it literally couldn't have had another reasonable explanation. I'm genuinely sorry that my reaction wasn't what you were hoping for! I wish I'd told you on the phone like a week ago what my theory was, damnit. I'd have felt so fucking clever!
Anyway. The torture was excellent, albeit not quite how I had expected. I didn't get a kinky vibe at all, you may be happy to hear. I love a good scene like this, and I'm desperate at this point to read on and get the rest of the Astrid-Starr content. Part of me wonders if there's more torture to come...

Ch21
It's the depression pit chapter! It's a good pit.
Lmao at the forcible reminder that pokémon speak anime-style. I tend not to think about it much.
Jade is very sad, Firestorm is trying so hard to help in his dumbass way, my heart hurts.
Looooove the depression. It's a leviathan mood. Really well-handled.
Swift can exchange money for goods and services. Swift is the MVP and I love him and his epic patience.
And I love Jade's 'depression brain', it's really well written and the bullshit logic is very familiar.
Lmao at how Chibi waits for days to talk to Jade and he's just venting about Razors. Get a load of this guy.
Hooray mantis ptsd is tasty. Really enjoy his very specific flavour of traumatisation.
Battle was good fun. Always enjoy an LC battle, and I love how Razors holds back in a sortof bullshit way bc of his fear.
Don't worry, Razors isn't suicidal, haha! He only doesn't care about living except to not further fuck up Chibi! Surely that'll pay off! Haha!
I've been waiting for a real discussion about the former commander before deciding, and I reckon Stalker isn't that person. I don't think this is the kind of fic that drops mention of a plot point like this three times only for it to be confirmed somehow later. I think it's a bigger twist.
I'm so hype for ch22 after that ominous ending A/N, wtf, WILL THERE BE AN WHUMP?

Ch22
Gorgeous terrifying chapter art on this one.
Omg it's an attack on the base?? I'm a fan of this sort of sequence, they're really terrifying.
How did they get the intel? Who squealed? I must know.
Holy fuck kid death I have been waiting for this and it is DARK. It's not too much of a tonal drop off a cliff, but it's still a gutwrenching transition.
This is really nailing the terror oh wow. Everything is so terrible and confusing.
It's painful to hear dialogue from a kid not realising their friends are fuckin dead yet.
Moltres is epic and terrifying, Stalker is really cool.
Holy shit it's Astrid and she's scary. Her appearances are increasingly fearsome.
Massive copyka at Jade's freakout and Astrid's hesitation. How must she FEEL to hear that horrified "stay away from me" from her friend?
Man I know what this is all setting up for, oh my god.
The Tyson scene is fucked up. I'm a fan of horrifying use of mindcontrol to turn allies against each other.
OH MY GOD WHAT A BUTTON THAT JUST PUSHED. I don't even know if I knew I had that button, but the throat-slitting moment was incredibly intense. Goddamn.
Holy shit? That murder sure just happened. It's... just barely within my schema for taking seriously, though. The leg crunch was fantastic, but something felt slightly off about the repeated iron tail and extended screaming. Not sure what, I'm afraid.
Trauma brain really well written here.
Everything is so awful and it's a lot and I love it.
Chibi you motherfucker. The long game you played with wartortle was perfect and I'm upset. I particularly love how Firestorm thinks it's a matter of strength, even though he knows that even Legendaries are vulnerable to Team Rocket. What a little idiot.
There is so much I love about Jade's state of shock. It's a perfect sequence. Horrifying things occurring to her, blank responses. Great stuff.
There is nothing Stalker could have said that would have been okay after all that. The message he left almost feels... shameless. But this was always a guy using kids for espionage against a ruthless paramilitary organisation, no matter how badass he is.
Wow Jade sure has noooooo choice now about continuing with the rebellion oh god. She's talking about it like she has a choice, but she's not safe any more.
Also, the "I'm sorry" extra comic is amazing. I love it so much, and my favourite thing about it is Chibi's expressions.

Ch23
Sucks that jade was only just getting progress on trauma and now everything is so much worse
Hooray for experiments officially joining her
"Razors wasn't my pokemon" BUT YOU CAAAAARRRRE! It's okay to grieve him!
"Meeting up with Starr" lmfao you don't KNOW. She's about to REALISE. AAAA.
Jade is almost as slow to internalise new things about herself as I am lmfao. You moron, you're a proficient trainer now!
Chibi's return is rough. What did this dude do, go beat up randoms until he was ready to drop dead?
Jade's grief brain is well-written. You've managed to pull off the most incredible shock brain, trauma brain, depression brain, and now grief brain. It's solid stuff. I'm especially a fan of how Jade keeps telling herself that her reactions aren't reasonable or fair or logical. Bless this poor girl.
The fact that Jade assumes if she's not about to die she's about to be tortured, and her reaction to this is worse, is agonising.
I really enjoy how Astrid-Starr is just at her wits' end in this. I think organically it would just come off as an executive under enormous pressure after her interrogation subject escaped, but knowing what I do, it comes off as absolutely heartbreaking.
Aaaaaaaaa I love that you put so many delicious parallels in BLC.
Aaaaaaaaa THE REVEAL THE REVEAL IT IS GOOD IT IS GOOD. What a great delivery. Perfect.
I can't believe Jade came this close to realising in Ch15. Omg.
I love that you were dropping little bits of info as early as Ch1, with that whole "17yo executive" thing.
Wow there's a lot in this that I love, especially with what I already know from elsewhere. I'm really enjoying these little notes about Starr's emotional state, what matters to her, the turmoil... it's all fantastic. It actually made me go back and read various scenes from both LC and BLC.
Big fan of Astrid-Starr's angry recriminations and defenciveness and it makes me excited to see more of her and how this subplot will go. I'ts my favourite thing.
I wonder if Jade could have thought of Starr a few more times over the course of the previous chapters. I recall she mentions Starr just a very little in the opening chapters, but that's all that comes to mind. I've been continually wondering if this would happen, actually.
Holy shit that extra was so fucking good. I love everything you write from Starr's POV. It's delicious. It's very Duskcore, but easily distinct enough that I don't feel I'm cribbing, which just means it's especially tasty.
I love Starr, I love this fic, aaaaaaa I am just full of feelings holy fuck.

The Experience of Binging 19-23 In One Night:
As you know, because I liveblogged draft versions of most of the above to you last night, I stayed up until 4:40am reading LC. I've very rarely done that sort of thing, and though I was sleepless to begin with last night, it is the compelling nature of LC that made me stay up so late. It was a rough experience to be awake that long reading brutal stuff happening to Jade, but I loved it. No regrets whatsoever, and I can see myself doing it again.
I am very very much enjoying this story.
I love it, in fact.
The experience of loving this story is doing weird things to my head and heart, also.
It's a fun adventure fic which deconstructs a lot of established tropes, has dark content written well, fun battles, hits countless buttons to the point of qualifying as a sister fic to my own, is really long with sick art and characters I'm fond of, a redemption arc not based in romance but in being better for one of my favourite characters I've ever read, I'm close enough friends with the author to stay up all night babbling about my reactions, and there's still so much left to go
Not to mention I have a unique and exciting relationship to the story by way of BLC.
It's an incredible experience for me. I'm deeply emotional as I write this. My heart aches. I've wanted this experience of really, really, REALLY caring about a fic to the point of sacrificing sleep to it and exchanging feelings with the author, for years and years.
I feel very lucky, and very grateful.
And I can't wait to keep reading.
 
Ugh, finally got around to reading ch24! Gonna avoid cluttering my reading list until I'm caught up with LC, I think. Right, here goes:

The dialogue about the Starr reveal is just slightly off, somehow. I think it's the incredibly direct way Jade drops the info, since Ajia's reaction tracks. No biggie, though.
Ajia is good, I love her. I can already tell at this point that she's going to be fun to read, she's got this ludicrous boldness that comes with clowning on Rockets for too long while going unscathed. I'm confident it will blow up in her face eventually. Or Jade's!
Espeon! It's just nice to see another of my faves.
Aww hugs!!!! I love to see a hug, and I don't think we've had any special hug moments yet. Fleeting, but nice.
Ajia is picking up where they left off but I'm glad Jade gets to feel like a stranger. It's lovely, but perhaps naive, that Ajia treats Jade the way she does, and it really shows how big the gap between them is. Sure, it's closed a little now that Jade is a trainer with experience fighting Rockets, but just as that's closed the gap, a new one has opened in the form of Jade's traumatic experiences which Ajia sure doesn't seem to intuit.
Holy shit. Jade is really hammering herself about Moltres. That paragraph about how Moltres will never make any further benevolent appearances ever again almost feels like too didactic a paragraph, except that it really suits Jade's brain gremlins tbh.

Love that Jade wishes she'd gone with Ajia even though she can't know how it would have gone. I somehow doubt that Ajia would have been able to give her the same value of experience as the Rebellion (for all that the Rebellion damaged her), and Ajia sure seems like the sort of person to be incautious about Jade's safety in the name of mad plans. AU where they travelled together and got captured due to Ajia's overconfidence in Jade's rookie abilities, that sounds delightfully painful. Speaking of AUs, I'd love to read some of those noncanon indulgences you keep mentioning.

Lmfao Ajia can harass Starr literally whenever she likes, apparently. I'd honestly be surprised if she hasn't done something like this already, given her near-nonchalance about it.
It's very interesting that Starr doesn't distinguish between believing in the Rocket cause and coerced loyalty. I mean, I don't know yet but I definitely know that she was raised to be part of TR, so I already understand that it's a matter of never having a choice in membership, a matter of being groomed, a matter of not having it in her to discard her family however awful it is, and so on. She's crazy young to be an executive, and I totally get what that means. And of course in order to live with that, she has to deal, psychologically, with the incompatibility between her situation and stuff like compassion, friendship, mercy, and even a desire to choose her own life. She can't entertain those thoughts, it isn't safe in the evironment she's stuck in. Ajia's interference is the sort of thing it would take to force her out at this point, clearly, but at this point I'm wondering just how bad the fallout will be...

Ajia holy shit are you gonna blackmail Starr into leaving? Apparently. This sucks because she's removing Starr from a terrible situation where she has no agency (child soldier), via a terrible situation where she has no agency (framed as traitor), to put her in a terrible situation where she has no agency (on the run from Super Mafia).
Ajia's plan is absolutely bullshit oh my god I have no idea how this is gonna go and I'm scared!! If this goes even close to how she intends, it definitely won't be a good thing, and there are so many ways it can go worse.
Jade snooping around a TR base while terrified of being caught is nostalgic by now, given how many times it's happened.
Umbreon! Love an umbreon. Ajia has those Wes vibes, what with being a cool but somewhat shady trainer with Johto eeveelutions fighting an evil gang.
Pichu is impressive! Love to see unevolved pokémon kicking some ass.
There is totally a need to be so sappy. Recent events have been dreadful and we need some friendship and comfort, goddamnit.
I'm a fan of them using plans like Espeon's return and teleport gambit and combat supplements, it's nice to see nonstandard methods of dealing with problems via pokémon.
Lampshading texting Giovanni doesn't make it less wild that Ajia totally just texted Giovanni. Wow.
Starr's swearing text!! Love to get to things you've told me about in advance.
Oh my god it actually happened, Giovanni turned up, the plan worked? And he thinks Starr is a double agent. Still pretty sure she's his daughter and I would be sure even if it was just for the Viridian thing in the prologue, of course. But anyway that's rough as hell, oh god. He's not even phased. He just sics his goons on her.
"I can't believe I actually cared about you two" is such a rough line, it has related energy to "stay away from me!" Lines like that where friendships crumble are so rough on my heart.
Chatlog is pretty interesting. I guess Lexx came up in the prologue, huh? Everyone from that school is probably either a Rocket or a resistance fighter in some way, ha.

Excited to be on the Starr redemption arc at last! Oh boy. Seeya next chapter.
 
So I went right ahead and read ch25 because of course I did.

First off, I adore the chapter art. I keep looking at it. Starr's face, with flowing tears but a grit-teeth wide-eyed stare of horror. Her hands, are they reaching out, or coming up to defend herself? Her executive outfit, and how it has elements of both strength and vulnerability, light and dark. The hulking feraligatr behind her, concerned but ultimately no asset to her strength in the situation they're in. The stark grey wall behind, reminding us that the Team Rocket environment is a bleak one. The shadows. The handgun. The emblem. Wow.

Reactions first!

Ajia is very competent and Starr is on the back foot... or is she? I'm not exactly expecting at this point that she might use the rest of her impressive team together with her sidearm to take control of the situation, because I know she's been increasingly a mess for some time now. More that I'm expecting Ajia to fuck up or have poorly predicted the outcomes.
Wow Starr really isn't handling this psychologically, huh? She's very much in the 'denial' phase. Intensely so.
What a win! Love to see stuff like pichu-beats-raichu, not a fan of evolution being a ticket to strictly superior battle competency.
Giovanni sure makes an entrance. What an intimidating fellow. This is a serious version of the character, and I love to see it.
I fucking knew they wouldn't free Mewtwo lmfao. There was no way they'd pull the plan off that easily, or that Gio would leave himself so vulnerable.

Oh god this is fucking terrifying and I fully expect Gio to demand that Starr executes the gals. What an awful situation. Definitely not feeling a "get sent to the cells for Stracion to bust out" vibe this time...
"Ruined" is such an gut-wrenching word to use about Astrid. It's clear how Gio only sees her as an asset and perhaps an extension of his pride, and not as family. It's also a button of mine when antagonists go off on how worthless someone is specifically for their redeeming traits, or becuase they're on a redemption path.
He was already suspicious, of course. We don't see much of the consequences for Starr letting Jade get away repeatedly, except in her mounting stress levels and that delicious extra, which I loved, but it must have been awful for so long. How much scrutiny has she been under her whole life? That line about her being 'singled out' later on really hammers this home.
Ajia is a "criminal" lol. The fuck. I guess Gio thinks that Team Rocket are already sovereign, or something.
Oh shit oh shit this is gonna be so awful...
Ajia sure seems like she really overplayed her hand here, and Jade was hopelessly naive, to the point that even though I know Starr gets out I still somehow don't believe it'll happen??
"This decides your fate" is a metal line. It has the same energy as "Angry at her? Dusk, I'm angry at you." It also really makes it even more intense that Starr can't go through with it, considering she knows it's futile and she has almost nothing to lose by killing them herself.
Starr's begging and pleading hurts my heart. I assume this is not a habit she's made during her TR career.
Oh wow, Jade's emotions when Starr refuses! I feel that, Jade. What a mood. I believe in Starr!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Umbreon! Espeon! This fucking battle is so sick, omg. Such intensity! I love it.
"It was my choice" no it fucking wasn't, you WALNUT. YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND AGENCY. YOU WERE A MINOR BEING COERCED BY AN ARMED CABAL LED BY YOUR FATHER. YOU FUCKING MORON. Anyway my heart is breaking for Starr. She really does believe that her life is her own.
Lmfao that Ajia keeps assuming stuff of Jade. Why would Jade, a certified idiot, have uncovered or guessed Starr's relationship to Giovanni? Haha.
HOLY SHIT THEY PULLED IT OFF WOW. I was stunned, and confused, and couldn't think what Umbreon did.
Lmfao at half the Rockets fucking off tbh. I bet they're totally going to get resources to help out and not just fleeing for their lives~
What the fuck did Umbreon DO, though? What's Ajia's fucking deal?

Yeah, Jade you hardly know either of these girls. Five years is a long time, and a year isn't. Honestly, it's sometimes pretty rough to realise that in five years, some of the most important people in Jade's life are people she hasn't seen in that long, knows fuck-all about, and in Starr's case, has been tortured by extensively. She doesn't go with Ajia for Starr because she thinks it's her moral duty, but because Starr is still her friend. She doesn't seem to have people in her life, exactly. The Rebellion, sure, but that's done and she didn't go with her teammates. She hasn't thought about her family hardly at all since the call to her mother forever ago. The most important people in her life besides these two are her own pokémon, I think. It's kindof rough to think about.

Further on that note, Jade's goals and cares don't often seem firm in her own mind. I think she wants to be significant to the people who left her behind. I think she wants to matter to the people who went off and lived lives without her. It really makes my heart ache. By contrast, Starr's goals and cares have been obliterated by the weight of 'survive being a Team Rocket executive' and 'don't murder your childhood friend and lose what humanity you have left'. That's even worse heartbreak. Ajia seems to just love dunking on Team Rocket. Power to her. I'm sure she's very well-balanced psychologically~ I actually feel like we could stand to know more by now about what the friendship at school was actually like. Jade doesn't elaborate on it much, and I feel like if she thought back to it sometimes it would track better that she'd take such risks as this one. She mentions that Starr used to love water pokémon—that stood out to me a lot because such details are pretty rare in her narration. Don't get me wrong, I love these three, but it's just something I've been musing over a little.

Love how Starr processes the situation as Ajia ruining her life, when her life was already shit and she could totally have just killed them. Except of course, she couldn't, and Jade and Ajia were right to gamble on that fact. Damn.
Jade's internal narration is laying it on a bit thick here but I like that she's still bothered that Starr is okay with different murders. She isn't getting out of moral scrutiny just because she's done this one thing.
"Have you forgotten what I did to you" oh man this is some delicious guilt. It's not the same as remorse, but that's surely to come.

Kinda surprised that Ajia fucks off and that Jade was about to. I thought both of them would be more insistent on staying together. Hell, Ajia just leaves without even showing concern that, say, Starr might verbally rip into Jade out of shock and anger. Or that Starr might literally not be able to process what to do next. Or that she has a firearm and a lot of fear that she'll be hunted down and tortured. Oof. Really surprised that Starr is the one reaching out given the state of shock she's in! I think the actual lines used could use a little tweaking to sell it as natural, but I get it. Starr does care, and everything stopping her shwing it but habit are very suddenly gone. It tracks. And of course, Jade just watched Starr yell at Ajia, and Ajia walk away, and she doesn't know what to do. It's rough.

Starr volunteering that description of her social life is pretty rough... Even though she admits she couldn't trust anyone, she still talks about having plentiful social interaction and the opportunity to 'fool around' as being a desirable thing. But I know that as a very young executive, all her relationships, if they even qualify as that, were probably sketchy as fuck. Even if they'd been with miraculously decent Rockets, who weren't sickeningly exploitative of her, they still represented a threat to her strength and a risk of attachment, of weakness, of slipping up. I don't believe for a second that Starr had a single healthy intimate moment with another Rocket during her time there and I am miserable about the implications of what sshe's saying. I'm desperate for her to have a real friendship with someone who actually cares about her. Oh gods.

Jade is a good kid and I love her. Well done for offering your hand, Jade. I'm proud of you. HOORAY FOR BIG HUG! I love big hug. I know we probably aren't gonna get platonic spooning bc of inevitable reader perceptions but I choose to imagine it will happen bc it makes me happy. I hope we at least have plenty more hugs to come! I love the friendship, hhhhhhhh.

So, this was one of my favourite chapters so far too, along with ch23. I love this stuff so much. I'm gripped. And so relieved there's so much more to go. I did think to myself that by now there's still a lot of stuff that feels either like it's been dropped or was a deus ex machina of some kind, or just a strange narrative choice, but I trust that we'll get answers to everything in due time. I'm having way too much fun to get hung up on stuff like that right now! Very hype for the next chapter, Chibi!
 
ch26, I'm on a roll~

Love how unimpressed and uncomfortable Feraligatr is in the header art.
The pokémon don't like this! For the most part, anyway. I like that, it's a good way to layer on the difficulty of the new arrangement without having Jade and Starr lay into each other. Bless Raichu for wanting to make friends even though he's a walking trigger. Kinda fucked up, though.
Many fire types, huh? I have this image in my head that she's used them as a unit to burn out targets many times, and this is the reason for having several.
'Loop of nope' is a slightly irreverant way to describe Jade being triggered, but I chuckled. It's really delicious trauma brain all round, this chapter, actually.
"Flagged for something I've actually done" is a great way to remind us how fucked up Starr's history is. We already know she attended a massacre of teenagers, and saw her torture a 14yo, but I'm waiting for her to reveal something even more awful that she's done.
Starr being legit impressed at illegal trainership is a nice moment. It's good banter! I like that she's so good at slipping into comfortable jesting and jockeying despite awful, awful, awful things on her mind. It's a good character trait. Also, Duskcore.
Jade, you are truly a dumbass! Get a diploma in dumbassery, you have all the qualifications. Starr is literally holding a pile of money.
Sleepy train rides are good. Really felt the vibe. This chapter was less 'essay on Osaka' than you'd led me to believe, I actually found it all really natural and grounding. Love to see bacon pancakes pop up in the fic.
That was a rough moment with Chibi. He's becoming the weapon he was created to be, I guess. I know that surely he'll recover some eventually but it's tasty to see him so angry and shut down right now. I love Jade for trying so hard with him, and feeling so bad.
New outfit and no flinching! This is a very good scene, I love a few things about it but particularly how it plays on Jade's compartmentalisation of Astrid and Starr.
Starr's guilt! Jade's trauma! It's absolutely delicious to read. I think I'd have preferred a more consistent nightmare, it feels a little spread thin over many characters taunting Jade, but it was still good and I really loved how out of it Jade was afterwards and how she manages to open up about what's on her mind despite Starr's resistance. I loved how Starr is so affected by it and desperate to shut it out but talks about her feelings anyway and Jade both sympathises and begrudges because this shit is complicated. It was an exceptionally good scene, imo. Big fan of Starr's willingness to start making up for things in small ways, that "five years?" comment especially. Oh, Starr. I know you care.
"Forced out of us" is a great line. I'm a huge fan of this kind of indirectly brutal communication, the way Jade can say something with no explicit link to the awful experience they're trying to move away from and still be saying "the reason you couldn't get useful information out of me by electrocuting me repeatedly was because I was a child and nobody trusted me with useful information." She's saying "you tortured me for nothing." It really hurts my heart, like everything in this fic lately!
Stalker scene was good, I'm fascinated by what must be going on inside his head and to what extent he's basically just grooming Jade to be an asset in his war. Very excited to finally learn a little more about his name and whole deal! Also delighted to hear more about Mewtwo's escape, which I've been anticipating for a while and which I'm crediting as the main reason Jade and Starr aren't already dead or imprisoned.
 
Here we go, with ch27!

I had a feeling Stalker was still an active Rocket member and this explains why there's such a rift between the forces, I guess! I fiure I was supposed to believe he was a defector, but I always assumed he was still very much integrated and that his goal was specifically to prevent the use of Legendaries rather than to take down the team. Wish I'd called it!
He calls her Astrid, he calls her loyal. He knows how to get a rise out of her, it seems.
I too am impressed with Jade! Demanding answers and getting them, you go, kid!
Ajia is so central to the events of the revolt! What a story! She's very impressive, but I still don't like her emotional wellbeing credentials.
Who is the Kanto commander? I am fascinated by this 'strongest trainer ever' reputation. It also occurs to me, how does Team Rocket recruit so many extraordinary individuals? It sure seems like a tremendously powerful organisation.
"Treason" is an interesting word to use. Yet again with the implication that Team Rocket is sovereign and not an insurgent group itself. What does Giovanni believe in?
Executions, huh. Rough to think of Starr murdering people, rough to think of her gunning down prisoners in cold blood. Or worse.
Starr knew about this guy all along and couldn't do anything, huh? She's been under some intense and sustained stress for one hell of a long time. Her only reasonable play was to keep out of trouble, but she's under pressure as the boss' daughter to perform. A no-win scenario, to be sure.
Kinda love how mad both Ajia and Starr are at Sebastian, but for different reasons (save for the shared distate at his chessmastery).
Starr cares about doing shit yourself and taking the heat yourself because she had to, and Sebastian is a puppeteer. I can't imagine her ever expecting someone to do something distasteful for her, and she seems to have fully internalised that if you mess up, you must be punished. I wonder how many times she's been punished, and in what ways. I guess we'll find out.
Sebastian has his own agenda, naturally! I mean, was there really ever any doubt?
Also, why haven't the pantheon obliterated TR by now?
Oh wait, they're doing exactly that. Really enjoy how Ajia gets the same memo via telepathy.
Also, Ajia is a chosen! Many thoughts on this, but I was too tired to type them up.
Starr cares about atrocities, and dead innocents. Love to see some moral backbone in a recovering villain, even if the bar is incredibly low on this one.
Stalker's departing words are very interesting. What a manipulator! Bet he thinks he can still get his claws in Jade by appealing to her need to be considered significant. Which I don't know if Starr and Ajia are going to give her considering how much she's still in their shadow. I mean, Stalker even credits the Mewtwo mission to Jade, here, even though it was very nearly 100% on Ajia, and I think he hopes it will make Jade feel loyalty.
Ajia is pretty based! Best of luck to you, you mad trainer.
Starr will join! Wonderful. Very excited for that.
Love how Mew just pops up and starts chatting to them. No biggie. She's seen some crazy shit, probably.
Looking forward to the next!
 
What a long fucking read ch28 was! Really enjoyed it. Here goes.

Lugia time! Problems on purpose! The chapter art is especially gorgeous, and I'm very excited for the famed large horrible superpowered goose creature and all the terrible decisions they're gonna make!
Holy shit this is one hell of a conflict. It reminds me of the destruction of Midnight Stadium and the first kid deaths. The destruction of city blocks and the presumed death or injury of many, many civilians is a rough thing to take even sympathising with the Legendaries as one might do at this point. I'm anticipating that some of them may be not just assholes, but close to or outright malevolent, given that this is how the so-far-sympathetic Mewtwo and the soon-to-be-Team-Jade Lugia are behaving.

Mew is sad! Instantly likable little kitty, worrying about the wellbeing of petty mortals. I wonder whether she's actually a moral paragon, since I suspect the prominent legendaries will be more complicated than that.
Jade is so good and she's out of her depth like never before. Really enjoying that she's heading into this with really nasty odds, and I'm proud of her for how far she's come. This is so intense.
"People are dying, Twenty-four" is such a line and I love it. Just putting it down flat. Really enjoy Aros' little reboot of confusion as everything tells him to go save the day instead of taking revenge.
"List of conversations owed" is a great concept and I'm looking forward to seeing some of those overdue discussions. Will one of them be about Firestorm's strength fixation?

Don't get killed, Jade! Starr needs you to stay alive or she'll have fuck-all to live for. I suspect Starr is gonna be pretty damn dedicated to Jade's survival, considering it's her lifeline to not being totally irretrievable as a person.
Cool combat and orders! Really like that Starr is able to command a specific focus-fire with a handful of syllables. That's fantastic stuff.
Interlopers sure aren't wanted by every Legendary, huh? Since there are seven Legendaries choosing human partners, that leaves an awful lot of Legendaries who aren't doing that. Even if only the first four or five generations of Legendary are relevant to the conflict, that's a huge number of them who aren't throwing their lot in with that gambit.

Master ball cannons are not allowed! Jade Arens says so! D:<
Mewtwo captured himself, huh? Kinda genius. I really enjoy this sort of thing, I know I loved this kind of idea when I was writing fanfic in the mid 2000s and all that. It feels weirdly nostalgic.
Healing Moltres and Articuno repeatedly sounds pretty terrifying. Lugia is clearly on a different level, but the power levels on display combined with restorative aid makes for an unassailable foe if not disrupted.
Love the inventive use of sandstorm. Always a big fan of moves being used to do useful things and not just fill out a battle scene.

The evolution of both Swift and Firestorm was fucking sick. That fight was intense, and I was delighted to see Jade in a serious duel at last, against a tough opponent no less!
I AM YELLING. OH MY GOD, FIRESTORM. That was so brutal. That was so sickeningly cathartic. This is incredibly FI-core oh my god?
Hey, nice, Jade is horrified but relieved. Good reactions. Looks like Firestorm is more messed up than anticipated, but the freakout tracks perfectly well with his strength fetishism and general obsessiveness. Excited to learn more, see him recover (or get worse...)
Swift is once again the MVP! He is so excellent. What a lovely bird dude. Wholesome. why would you ship jadestorm when you could instead ship swiftjade
Also, we're finally past the banner art! With Swift and Firestorm at their final evolutionary stages besides megas (), that gorgeous art of Jade in Rocket uniform runnin with her team is now fully in the past! I'm guessing Lugia is gonna be the sixth team member, of course, leaving her with three fliers for those essential Chibi-brand aerial combats and fraught flights.

Jade you idiot! You have no plan at all! Did she not even think about the consequences of this or consider running the plan by anyone at all? Oh my god, she just wants to be significant, doesn't she? She wants to make a difference. Oh no.
I love Chibi for being so protective of her. He does care! He fucking slapped a god in the face to save her life. Bless you, you little edgy pikachu.
Lugia is... probably probing Jade's mind, right? Otherwise they'd just beam her again and get it right this time. That, or they're sparing her by means of torture, I guess, but I think probing is more likely considering the likely imminent addition of Jade to chosen one ranks.
Oops, though~
 
It's TIME to review Ch29!
Fantastic art, as always. Really like this one.
"Someone's charizard" is pretty rough. She's not thinking of him as Firestorm right now, huh.
She got whumped HARD. Damn. Really enjoying the consequent pain and hardship.
Chibi was LYING, he DID care!! I am tearing up at this.
Psychic torture, huh? I wonder if that was really the goal. I'm not really expecting the attack to have been meant as a punitive measure. Big frowns at Lugia if so.
Get your fucking license, Jade. Go do it. Fuck's sake!
HANDHOLDING! Love a bit of platonic handholding.
Starr: Please don't make me fight TR, but I will follow you anywhere-
Jade: Nah, I'm good, lmao.
I love them.
Ajia's not really part of a big resistance, huh. It never felt like she was recieving orders or coordinating efforts the way Stalker was, but it's a pretty decent surprise that the Johto resistance straight-up doesn't exist. And Jade thinks she's 'supposed' to be a big brave bold invincible hero, who doesn't feel fear. Oh man. Ajia's still just a kid with talent and boldness, though.
Starr saying "we" about TR, Jade calling her on it. I have a soft spot for that trope. Wonder how long it'll take for Starr to drop such things.
Lmfao six other people to help Ajia. Has she met any of them? ...mayb.
"Thanks or whatever" lmfao can you be sincere and vulnerable for three seconds
Love the banter between these three. The dynamic feels complete. It's like the story's been waiting to reunite them this whole time. I love each of them anyway, but bouncing off each other is a total delight. Aaaaaa!
I like that Jade fusses about the state Firestorm will be in and immediately wants to recall him. She's so bothered by this, of course. Reasonable.
His shame at failing to protect his trainers and at losing control and her shame at not helping him through his issues or appreciating him before he'd killed someone. It hurts, but it's delicious, and I hope they're both okay. x
He's taller! Maybe she'll think of him differently now that she has to look up to him a bit.
Learn to fly, Firestorm! Oh, how wonderful. What a lovely ending to this chapter. My heart.
 
Chapter 45: Deluge and Desolation
The grand finale of the Hoenn arc is here at last! One way or another, the fight ends here.



~CHAPTER 45: DELUGE AND DESOLATION~

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We shot through skies torn with fire and lightning, ducking and weaving past blades of wind as meteors rained down all around us. Swift nimbly dodged every single one, fueling his flight with bursts of Agility that almost made me lose my grip. The whole time I kept my eyes focused on the red streak shooting through the air just ahead of us. A Shadow Ball shot from nowhere, passing so close to Latias I thought she’d been hit. But she deftly looped around it, keeping Latios in her sights the entire time.

“We can’t lose them,” I muttered.

“*Will you be able to hold on?*” Swift asked, glancing back at me with concern.

“Doesn’t matter, we gotta keep up.” If Stalker caught Rayquaza now, this entire mission would be for nothing. All the pain, all the failure, for nothing. Couldn’t let that happen.

In the center of the sky battle, Mew swooped closer to Rayquaza, cautiously approaching. It almost looked like she was offering something, but the serpent just smacked her aside with its tail. It was too agitated, too anxious to distinguish between friend or foe, angrily flinging blades of wind at anything that got close. The airships converging inward weren’t deterred, though. An ALR beam fired; Rayquaza snarled in agony. Then the crack of a Master Ball cannon split the air, and my heart stopped. But there was no red beam—Rayquaza was still intact. My eyes locked onto the gray blur of an Aerodactyl zipping around it. Then a second one—Mew had switched her form. She wasn’t teleporting. (Did the airships still have an anti-teleport field up?) And for another thing—why didn’t Mew and Ajia have any backup? Where the hell were the rest of our Legendaries?

<He’s going to catch Rayquaza!> I yelled to Lugia.

I couldn’t even see where Lugia was right now, but I could feel the apprehension in its mind. <There are capture balls flying everywhere,> Lugia said sharply. <It’s too risky to interfere, one of us could get captured instead.>

What?! Seriously? Sure, it was something to watch out for, but that didn’t mean we could just leave Rayquaza!

I threw a frantic glance around at the other Legendaries. Even Ho-oh was hovering some distance from the battle, eyeing the airships closely. We had more of a reason to be afraid than them!

<We’ll attack them from afar to weaken their forces. Don’t let that human out of your sight!>

Ugh, fine. Guess we were on our own, then.

Swift’s wings were a blur at my side. Every few seconds we’d accelerate with another burst of Agility. It wouldn’t last long, I knew that much—this was a ridiculous waste of energy. Every so often, his flight stuttered for just a fraction of a second. I’d been pushing him this hard, and he had to be exhausted. But Firestorm and Aros would never be able to catch up with Stalker. And they’d never be able to avoid all the crap flying through the air. Only Swift could do it.

Latios dove. Latias fired a Dragon Pulse right into his path, forcing him to brake hard just to keep from flying into it. Then he ducked behind an airship to avoid an Air Slash that shot out from inside the circle. It was only for a second—the instant his path was clear, Latios darted back into the open, Stalker already leveling his arm cannon at Rayquaza. But the winds were too vicious, there was no way he’d land a hit. Then Latios had to duck to avoid a spurt of dragonfire that went right over Stalker’s head.

“*Let my brother go!*” Latias cried.

I honestly didn’t expect a response. But he yelled back, “I need his strength! Stay out of the way or we’re all done for!”

“*I’m not giving up!*” she exclaimed, shooting right at him. Latios put on a burst of speed and dove into the center of the Legendary melee, trying to lose Latias in the chaos.

I clung tightly to Swift as he pursued while the fighting raged on all around us. Rayquaza swerved to avoid a bolt of lightning fired by Raikou but wasn’t fast enough to avoid the Flamethrower that followed from Entei. In the chaos, with how much I’d been focused on Stalker, I’d actually forgotten that we still had to deal with the Kanto force.

By now, the airships themselves were firing on Stalker, forcing Latios to swerve wildly in and out of the beams, slowing him down. Raikou countered as many of them as it could with strings of lightning while the Johto airships fired back on the Kanto ones. Altaria swooped around behind Raikou, breathing out a Dragonbreath at Lexx, only for it to be blocked by… a Magnezone? Yeah, a Magnezone was guarding the pair from behind so Raikou could keep up the offensive.

In the midst of it all was Rayquaza, and it was clearly tiring. Its spiraling flight grew slower, the winds less turbulent. With Latios’s speed… Stalker would easily have a clear shot. But no, he was still struggling to evade Latias, who’d been doing a much better job keeping up with him than we were.

“*Latios! Latios can you hear me!*” Latias’s voice called out. Latios’s flight path faltered slightly, but he kept going.

She was gaining on them, having to dodge just as much fire, but having the advantage of being smaller and more maneuverable and not carrying a rider.

A sudden blizzard ripped through the air within the circle, forcing Latios to fall back. Swift flared his wings to avoid flying straight into it, but even from here, the icy chill made my hairs stand on end. I glanced below us to see Articuno flying back up—what? Hadn’t Raikou taken it down earlier? Wait, obviously Ender had flown down to heal it.

Rayquaza was clearly sick of being the target, because it immediately shot toward Articuno, smashing it down with its tail before spiraling away from attacks launched by Raikou and Entei. Latios closed in from behind. My heart stopped as Stalker pointed his arm forward.

And after all this, I couldn’t just let that be the end of it.

“Twister!” I yelled.

With great effort, Swift snapped his wings together in front of us, slowing our flight but kicking up a vicious whirlwind lit with dragonfire. I didn’t expect it to hit. But Swift never missed his mark. The whirlwind swept into Latios, and though the jet dragon’s flight didn’t waver, he wasn’t the one I was aiming to disrupt. Stalker yanked his arm back with a wince. We locked eye contact for a moment.

Then a golden blur smashed a fist into the side of Swift’s head.

The blow knocked us reeling. A rush of cold swept over me as ice crystals flared up around the impact point. My hands clutched at Swift’s feathers, brain struggling to process what the hell had just happened. I saw Stalker, his eyes cold and expressionless. Saw Dragonite, her expression mirroring her trainer’s. Then Swift’s wings gave out, and we were falling.

I was weightless, the wind rushing past me as I tumbled through the air, the back of my head screaming even as my hands flew to my belt. I fumbled with my Pokéballs until I found Swift’s and managed to recall him, then grabbed Firestorm’s ball just as quickly. Orange wings spread at my side and immediately pitched back the moment their owner realized what was going on. The Charizard swooped under me, matching speeds with my fall until I managed to reach out and grab his shoulders.

“Got to catch Stalker. Got to stop him,” I said breathlessly. He’d attacked us. He’d attacked us.

Firestorm’s eyes fell on Stalker, and I felt his shoulders tense up. “*I’ll stop him,*” he growled.

“We don’t have to beat him, we just have to distract him until…” Until what? When would this end?

Firestorm put on a burst of speed, ascending as powerfully as he could. But by now it felt like Latios was miles away, a pinprick high above us. He blasted out a stream of fire, aiming straight at Stalker. But Latios drifted around it effortlessly. With a growl, Firestorm blasted out another stream, and another, but these ones had less power, and they didn’t even reach.

Firestorm wasn’t fast enough. No Quick Attack, no Agility. Stalker outstretched his arm, preparing to fire. I couldn’t reach him in time. Had no way to stop him.

And in the moment that the two had slowed enough for him to take the shot, a red-winged blur shot from nowhere, impossibly fast.

“*Please!*” Latias cried.

She clutched the larger dragon’s tail fin with her claws, his flight jerked, Stalker pitched forward, and his Master Ball shot wildly off into the distance. Not a second later, he spun around, staring at her in disbelief.

And then, above us, Rayquaza was transformed into blood-red energy. Sucked inside the Master Ball. I stared in horror, feeling like my brain had to restart. What. What. How?! He’d missed, he’d definitely—

My eyes suddenly locked onto Articuno, not too far from us. On its back was Ender, and he was wearing a Master Ball cannon. He pointed, and the ice bird swooped forward, clutching the ball in its talons before immediately banking around and flying back to the airship fleet as fast as its wings would take it.

My whole body went numb. We hadn’t saved Rayquaza. We’d only ensured that the Kanto force got it instead of the Johto force.

Stalker whirled around, his eyes lit with more fury than I’d ever seen. “Do you have any idea what you just did?!”

Latias shrank back slightly, looking devastated. But then her gaze hardened, and she darted around to face the larger blue dragon, whose eyes were shut.

“*Latios, please.*” She pressed her forehead against his, willing him to respond. But Latios said nothing.

Stalker stared wordlessly at her for several seconds. Then, without warning, he swung his arm forward and fired a Master Ball point-blank.

It was like I’d just been punched in the face. I gaped stupidly as the smaller dragon instantly transformed into blood-red energy before she was sucked into the ball. He caught the ball before it could drop and held it tight as it shook furiously before finally growing still.

I was frozen in mute horror, struggling to find something to say, but the words kept dying in my throat.

“W-why would you do that?!” I shouted, my voice breaking.

Stalker glanced at me out of the corner of one eye. The fury was gone from his face, replaced with an icy cold stare. He didn’t answer me. He just motioned to Latios, and the pair of them shot off.

No. No, I was not going to let him get away with that without an explanation. No!

Without me even saying anything, Firestorm blasted out a Flamethrower at the retreating dragon. When that failed, he shot forward as fast as he could, but Latios was already miles ahead of us, and there was no way we’d ever catch up.

Dammit. He couldn’t get away with that! No! We couldn’t let him!

A Flamethrower from above cut right across our path. I threw a glance upward to see Stalker’s Charizard glaring at us. Firestorm froze, staring at her in disbelief. I didn’t even know whether to order an attack or what. What was I even going to do when we caught up to Stalker? Attack him? Knock him off his Legendary? As if I could do any of that. I couldn’t do anything to him, and he knew it.

I’d thought I was prepared for the idea of fighting Stalker. I was wrong.

<I’ve got a message from Mew. They’re saying we should use this chaos to steal the orbs.>

Lugia’s words were a cold, hard blow back to reality, dragging me out of the all-consuming focus on Stalker. Even though half of me was screaming that no, we had to go after him, he had to pay. So loud that I was afraid Lugia would hear it.

But Mew was counting on us… I couldn’t get wrapped up in what I wanted. Had to do this for the sake of the mission.

<On it,> I replied, grabbing Firestorm’s shoulder. His flight slowed, and he glanced back at me in confusion.

“*We’re not going after him?*” he asked.

“Lugia said we have to get the orbs,” I said, my voice dead.

“*We’re—we’re just letting him get away with that?*” he asked in disbelief.

I screwed my eyes shut. “We’re not, we’re just—” I took a deep breath, forcing my breathing to stay level even though my blood wanted to boil. “We’ve got to put a stop to all this, and getting the orbs is the only way to do it.”

“*I… okay,*” he said reluctantly, banking around.

I scanned the aerial battlefield. Did we still know which ship had the orbs? They’d all been circling around in a frenzy, there was no way it was still in the same place we’d last seen it. But a glance back down at Groudon and Kyogre made it obvious—the duo’s attention was locked onto one ship in particular. Even though their attacks fell short, there was no mistaking their target.

The only problem was how to approach it. The sky was still a warzone, and I couldn’t rely on Swift’s speed anymore. We’d need more firepower. Some way to get close without just throwing our lives away.

And then Starr’s words drifted to the front of my mind: You’ve got a Legendary. Use it.

My eyes slid to Lugia. It was just hovering right below us, some ways away from the chaotic sky battle between the Kanto and Johto Rockets. Launching attacks at the airships while also steering clear just in case any of them decided to fire a Master Ball out of the blue.

What if I just…

It was a stupid idea. Just stupid enough that I had to try it. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

I grabbed Firestorm’s Pokéball. “I’ve got a plan, I need you to trust me,” I said. Had to do it before I changed my mind.

Firestorm turned. His gaze slid between his Pokéball, and what was below us, and I felt him tense up. I could tell he didn’t want to do it. But then he said, “*Alright.*”

I recalled Firestorm and let myself fall. A single, heart-stopping moment of weightlessness later, I landed on Lugia’s back and immediately clung to its neck as tightly as I could.

Lugia jolted, turning its head to stare right at me. <What are you—?>

“I need you to take me to that airship,” I said.

<Take… you to?> it said blankly. Like it had never remotely expected me to ask that.

“We need to get the orbs, and I need your power to have a shot at getting close enough to that ship to do it,” I said as firmly as I could. Like the fact that I’d already made up my mind meant that it couldn’t argue.

Lugia was stupefied, still struggling to process my words. And its confusion was bleeding over into my head so much that even I was starting to wonder why I’d done it.

<F… fine,> Lugia said finally, and with a mighty flap, it turned and took off for the airship.

Man, riding Lugia was weird. My fingers slipped against sleek, densely-packed feathers. Each wingbeat was like a thunderclap echoing through my body. Lugia was way too big for me to move with it like any of my team. I was just along for the ride, and I couldn’t help immediately wishing I could switch back to Firestorm. But this was what I’d chosen.

We traced a wide arc around the sky battle, approaching our target from behind. Hopefully both it and the rest of the Kanto force would be too busy with the Johto force (and hopefully the Johto force just plain wouldn’t care). A blur of red and green wings caught my eye alongside us—Aros, with Chibi still on his back. Of course they’d be nearby— I had told them to protect Lugia. And I felt better having them near, as there was no way I could keep watch for enemies in every direction.

As we neared our target, the telltale shimmer of a barrier flickered to life. But they’d have a lot harder time standing up to a Legendary without the whole fleet in defense mode. I felt Lugia scoff internally before drawing power from within. It focused the energy into its mouth, preparing to fire a piercing beam attack.

Then a heavy impact struck from behind, knocking Lugia askew. I pitched forward, clinging desperately to Lugia’s neck just in time to keep myself from being thrown off. A wave of pain shot through my entire body, but that was nothing compared to the torrent of outrage and confusion assaulting my mind through the psychic link. Lugia flapped its wings wildly to regain itself, glancing around in a frenzy.

“What the hell was—” I froze, shaking. The feathers on Lugia’s back were charred black. I’d just felt the shock wave from the blast. If it had hit me directly, I’d have been toast.

My eyes locked onto the culprit—two airships had broken from the battle against the Johto force and were fast approaching us. The panic in Lugia’s mind melted into anger. The dragon-bird focused its energy again, firing a blindingly orange beam right at them. But the Rockets had obviously seen that coming, because Lugia’s target seamlessly switched back into defense mode, and the attack went sliding off the barrier and out into the open air. The second ship fired, and I felt a split second of dread as that deadly beam shot right for us… until a huge lightning bolt struck out of nowhere, and the two attacks collided with explosive force.

I covered my eyes as the smoke washed over us, and when it cleared, I could see Chibi sparking wildly on Aros’s back. I let out a huge sigh of relief. But that attack must have taken a huge amount of power, and there was no way he could keep that up.

The first ship’s barrier dropped. A jolt of alarm flickered through Lugia, and it raised a Protect around us just as both ships fired at once. I screwed my eyes shut as sound of the beams crashing against Lugia’s shield assaulted my ears. When the sounds had let up, I opened my eyes to see the ships already preparing to fire again, and Lugia struggling to call up the energy for a second barrier back-to-back.

<I’ll have to dodge, brace yourself!>

Lugia dove. I clung to its neck for dear life and felt the tingle of that searing energy shooting right overhead. The ships pivoted in midair, following us with their cannons, readying another shot—

Which meant they were completely unprepared for the all-out Fire Blast consuming them from above in a raging inferno. Both ships fell backward, sparks leaping from their melted shield projectors.

“Need help?!” a voice called out.

I spun around to see Moltres soaring over to meet us, Rudy perched on its back with all the confidence of someone who’d ridden a legend into battle a hundred times.

“Rudy!” I yelled, waving to him. “We’ve gotta get inside that airship!”

He nodded sharply, then turned to motion over his shoulder. “Come on!” Who was he talking to?

I got my answer a few seconds later when Fearow soared into view, and it took me a bit to realize that she had a rider. Darren was riding Fearow, Weavile sitting in front of him.

“Darren? What are you doing up here?” I asked blankly.

“Thanks, I feel super wanted,” he said dryly. Before I could protest, he added, “We finished things up in the crater. Figured I could make myself somewhat useful up here, maybe. Also this one might have dragged me into it.”

“Shut up!” Rudy yelled, face going red. “I needed the ice support against that Flygon, okay?!” Weavile flashed a toothy grin at his words.

The two airships that had been attacking us pulled back. With their shield projectors damaged, they had no way of defending themselves or absorbing more power to fire at us. That just left the third—the one that held the orbs. Lugia nodded to Moltres, and the two of them unleashed a relentless barrage of raging flames and psychic blasts. Way too much power for it to absorb on its own—the shield projectors shorted out right away.

Satisfaction flooded my mind from Lugia, and I couldn’t help letting it bleed into my own thoughts. The dragon bird swooped closer until it was right above the ship, and I slid down its tail to land on the flat metal platform that Entei and Raikou had been using as a perch.

<I’ll let you know once we’ve got em!> I said to Lugia, pulling my focus away from our link. Then I waved to Rudy and Darren and yelled, “Come on!”

Moltres and Fearow flew close enough for Rudy and Darren to jump down after me before recalling their Pokémon. What surprised me was the Pikachu that took a flying leap and landed right in front of us.

“*I’m coming with you,*” Chibi said firmly.

I blinked. “Weren’t you gonna stick to protecting Lugia?”

He glanced back at the dragon-bird, eyes narrowed. “*I don’t expect it to stay in the line of fire once we’re inside. You deserve the help more.*”

I gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks.”

There was an entry hatch on the far end of the platform. I pointed it out and Chibi swung an Iron Tail at it, cleaving through the lock. Pulling the hatch aside revealed a set of rungs leading downward. I lowered myself down the passage as quickly as possible, closely followed by Rudy, then Darren.

The three of us found ourselves in a cramped, narrow passage lined with pipes. The air was filled with the roar of the engines. We followed the hallway toward the front of the ship, footsteps slowing as we approached the bridge. Two Rockets were in there, from what I could see. They hadn’t noticed us yet, not with the engine noise.

Chibi’s feathers crackled before he leaped from my shoulder. I shut my eyes, but I could still hear the jolt of lightning and the garbled cries from the Rockets. A few seconds after they fell silent, I opened my eyes to see them passed out in their seats.

“*They obviously weren’t expecting an attack from the inside,*” Chibi said with a bit of a scoff.

He was right. No combat unit to speak of. Then again with the ship’s defenses, and how little space there was inside...

“So, we made it. Now’s probably a good time to find out why we’re here.” Darren said, crossing his arms behind his head and giving me a sideways glance.

Oh. Right.

“We’ve got to find the orbs,” I said. “Groudon and Kyogre promised they could defeat the Rockets if we could get them the orbs.”

Darren just nodded in a ‘that makes sense’ kind of way, while Rudy fixed me with an incredulous glare. “You’re telling me you talked with those things?” he asked, gaping at me.

“They’re Pokémon,” I just said.

Rudy made a face like that was the farthest thing from an explanation. Then Darren cut in with, “Alright, let’s hurry up and find ‘em.”

We jumped to work, throwing open every drawer and compartment we could get our hands on. They were here, they had to be here. Groudon and Kyogre had sensed them, and there was no way those two could be mistaken, not when their entire world seemed to revolve around getting these orbs.

My eyes fell on a metal case wedged under the main console. I tugged on its handle, sliding it out into the open. My pulse quickened as my fingers hurriedly undid all the latches before throwing the lid open, and—

“Here they are,” I said breathlessly.

I was staring down at two glossy, translucent orbs, each bearing some kind of rune inside them. I reached out to grab the red one and felt a tingle run through my fingers, making the hairs on my arm stand on end. The power emanating from this thing was almost tangible.

“The same person shouldn’t hold both,” Darren pointed out. “That way if one of us gets taken out, the others can at least get the second orb to them.”

Good point. I was just about to hand him the Blue Orb but then happened to catch a glimpse of Rudy’s disapproving face.

“Don’t talk like that,” he muttered, eyes firmly on the floor.

Darren shrugged. “It’s just how it is.”

“And I’m saying that’s not how it is,” Rudy snapped, rounding on him. “No one’s allowed to die, got it?!”

Darren didn’t reply, he just turned and gave me a knowing look. I wasn’t about to tell Rudy that I’d been thinking the same thing. Still, I went ahead and handed the Blue Orb to Darren, who pocketed it.

Chibi’s ears twitched. Before I could ask why, he leaped from my shoulder and raised a Protect behind me. A sudden burst of heat washed over us, and I spun around to see flames crashing against the shield, spilling out all around it.

“Aiming to unleash the primals? And I suppose that makes you the heroes?” a voice drawled.

The flames cleared, revealing Ender and his Ninetales, standing there in the hallway, staring us down. In a flash, Rudy let out Ebony, and Darren let out Golduck. The six of us all facing him, ready to attack at any moment, and he didn’t look remotely concerned by that.

“Power like what the legends have can’t be allowed to run wild,” he said, all amusement gone from his voice. “You’re running down a losing path if you think it should be unrestrained.”

A chill ran down my spine. What was he…? Never mind, I wasn’t gonna let myself think about it. It was just more garbage trying to sound like any of this was justified.

“You’re outnumbered. You can’t beat all three of us,” Rudy said.

Ender just shrugged. “I don’t have to beat you, I just have to stop you from getting out before the other squads finish up their work.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. Had to get out of here as soon as possible. He’d been relying on Articuno throughout most of the fight, so his team was likely still in good shape. And that was assuming he didn’t have reinforcements on the way right now.

Wait. Of course he did, Rockets always did. He was stalling.

Without warning, Chibi jumped up and fired a thin bolt over our heads. There was a flash of light followed by Nidoqueen standing in front of Ender, blocking him. He snapped his fingers—Ninetales’s eyes flashed an eerie red. The Pikachu dropped to the ground and, to my horror, he’d gone slightly cross-eyed, lights dancing around his head. Was Ender insane? Throwing off Chibi’s aim with all of us crammed into a narrow passage where a single stray bolt could blow the place? Chibi shook his head, sparks crackling across his feathers, and I couldn’t risk it—I recalled him in an instant.

Ebony jumped in front of us so that she could absorb any more flames from Ninetales, but that just made it all the easier for Nidoqueen to nail her in the face with a jet of water. Golduck retaliated with a Water Pulse of his own that splashed across the corridor, soaking both opponents. Seconds later, he was slammed into the wall when a glowing orb of green energy exploded into his face. Ninetales flashed a smirk as the water-type sank to his knees, then proceeded to fix Ebony with a hypnotic stare, tails swaying behind it.

God, we didn’t have time for this. Or the space. Had to get out of here. Needed some other way out besides the exit hatch. Some way to make our own exit.

And then a terrible, brilliant idea dawned on me.

<Lugia,> I said.

<Yes?>

<Use your psychic power to rip the airship open.>

The silence was tangible. <…Are you joking?>

<Does it sound like I am?> I asked.

Lugia’s mind was silent with stunned disbelief and total bafflement.

<Alright. Brace yourself.>

“Recall your Pokémon,” I hissed under my breath.

What?” Rudy snapped.

I didn’t get a chance to say anything else. With the squealing of metal as our only warning, the floor suddenly split open. Ninetales leaped away in a panic, practically bowling its trainer over as the hole in the floor stretched wider and wider.

“What the heelllll?!” Rudy cried.

A mess of recall beams filled the room as all the Pokémon got recalled. The crack was practically a chasm now, and everything not bolted down had started sliding into it. Rudy clawed at the slick metal floor, desperately trying and failing to grab hold of something. Darren flashed a tired look my way, like he knew I was somehow responsible for this. That was the last thing I saw before all of us slid out into the open air.

Falling. But this time I was ready for it. This time I was able to fight back the panic flaring up in the back of my head, because we’d escaped—we’d escaped!—and that was all that mattered. A giant pair of white wings swooped past, taking up my entire field of vision. I landed on Lugia’s back with a thud that knocked the wind out of me, then felt two thuds behind me that signified Rudy and Darren landing as well, before Lugia spread its wings and leveled our flight.

<That was… surprisingly efficient,> Lugia said, its voice somewhat shaken.

“Hoooly crap. That was awesome. Insane, but awesome,” Rudy said, eyes wide with exhilaration like that was the best thing he’d ever experienced.

“Okay, gotta admit I didn’t see that coming,” Darren said with a wry grin. “Be honest, did you know that was going to work?”

I didn’t reply. I was too busy watching Ender and the two pilots falling through the air behind us. Twin flashes of light appeared as the former let out his Xatu and Altaria. The dragon-bird caught him, and then Xatu teleported the pilots away.

They’d made it. Okay. I wasn’t… I wasn’t ready to think about something like that being my fault. In any case, we did it. We got the orbs. Lugia was already making a beeline for the crater, flapping its wings as powerfully as it could. We were going to make it. We were going to—

An earth-shattering roar tore the air, echoing in my ears and gripping my body from all over. I glanced around hurriedly to find its source and—what? Rayquaza had just appeared from within the circle of airships. It had escaped? How?! Unless… they let it out on purpose? But that could only mean…

My stomach tied itself into a knot. They’d already managed to program the mind control for it. That’s why the Rockets didn’t retreat after they caught it. They were preparing to use it against the others! If we didn’t do something fast, the Rockets would walk away from here with a lot more than just two Legendaries.

The serpent shot toward us like a green lightning bolt, and I felt my insides dissolve. Lugia swerved to the side at the last second, just in time for it to go barreling past us like a train, so close I could have reached out and touched it. I was sure that it was going to loop around instantly and catch up with us, striking Lugia down and tearing through the rest of us in a blaze. But Rayquaza hadn’t followed. It paused for a moment, then began twisting and turning in midair, greenish-red dragonfire wreathing its body.

The black hole of dread inside me somehow grew even bigger. “It’s powering itself up!”

<I’ll try to hold it back. Get the orbs to those two, now!> Lugia demanded.

Our flight slowed, and the flicker of embers caught my eye to our left. Moltres was gliding just under us, matching speeds with Lugia. Oh geez. Yet again, I had to switch rides in midair. I was really getting sick of it. Rudy didn’t waste a second; he hurled himself toward his patron, landing so smoothly you’d think he was used to this. Next was my turn—I swallowed hard and took a flying leap. A half second of falling later, I hit Moltres’s back with a thud, immediately grabbing Rudy’s shoulder to steady myself. Then Darren grabbed hold of me, and Lugia immediately banked around to confront Rayquaza.

“What now?” Moltres asked.

“We have to get to Groudon and Kyogre!” Rudy yelled.

Moltres pitched its wings back and shot downward, and suddenly I was clinging to Rudy for dear life. I couldn’t help glancing back at Lugia, who was lunging into battle with blue dragonfire streaking its body. But compared to Rayquaza, it was practically standing still. The serpent looped around, dodging effortlessly, moving so fast it was like the wind. Lugia swung its tail, trying to snag Rayquaza in a whirlwind, but the serpent cut through like it was nothing, slashing across the seabird’s back. Lugia’s pained cries echoed through my head.

It would be okay. We just had to make it to Groudon and Kyogre, and we could end this.

Moltres beat its wings as fast as it could. Past Raikou and Entei and Articuno and the fleet of airships, weaving around bolts and beams, flames and ice. It was fast, but I couldn’t help feeling less safe on Moltres’s back from how big of a target it was. My hand had just started inching toward a Pokéball when an ALR beam struck.

Moltres screeched in pain, its flight jerking erratically. My heart jumped into my throat as we pitched forward, all three of us clinging desperately to each other to keep from being thrown off. My eyes fell on Moltres’s side, where the feathers had disintegrated, leaving raw, torn flesh behind.

Moltres grunted in pain. “I’m… fine. I just…” Its wings faltered slightly. Moltres shook its head as though trying to get its bearings, but then its eyes went unfocused. (God, it’d flown halfway across the region and then had to endure this crap?)

“Where’s Mew, she can do it,” the firebird said, its voice weak.

Mew, where was Mew? I scanned the air for a Charizard but couldn’t see one anymore. No wait, she’d switched to Aerodactyl—gray wings, gray wings… Then again, she could have transformed into anything by now. And that was assuming that she hadn’t been cap—

Another beam struck. Moltres went limp, and then we were falling.

“Moltres!” Rudy screamed. But the phoenix didn’t respond. He turned to me and Darren and yelled, “We gotta bail!”

He pushed off from Moltres’s back before releasing Fearow and letting her catch him in the freefall. I let out Firestorm, awkwardly flailing toward him in midair the moment he’d appeared. His eyes went wide once he realized I was falling again, and the Charizard immediately pitched his wings back to swoop under me. I threw my arms around his neck, and he reached out to grab Darren by the wrists before flaring his wings to level our flight.

Moltres spiraled past us, freefalling downward before crashing into the side of a house in a mangled heap. Rudy went pale. He nudged Fearow, and she dove as quickly as she could. The instant the two touched down, Rudy practically tripped over himself jumping from her back.

“Moltres!” he yelled, sprinting over to the firebird and already pulling out a revive for it.

Firestorm glided down after them to land in the flooded streets. I slid from his back and landed in water up to my ankles. This whole block had been flooded from Kyogre’s arrival. Clouds of steam drifted up from where Moltres lay.

And then in a flash of light, Mew suddenly appeared right in front of us.

<Lugia just informed me. You got the orbs?> Mew asked.

I pulled the orb from my pocket and held it up to her, and she gave a sigh of relief. <Good. I fear those two may not be able to hold Rayquaza at bay for much longer.> She glanced upward at Lugia and Ho-oh struggling to fend off Rayquaza. The emerald serpent circled around them so blazingly fast it was a green blur. I winced as it tore across Lugia, slashing wildly. Even from here I could see the bright red streaks staining its feathers.

The fluttering of wings caught my eye. I turned to see Aerodactyl touching down around a block away, limbs trembling. Ajia jumped down from his back right before he collapsed, wings splayed out across the ground. Injured? No, just exhausted. She recalled him, then ran over to us.

“You guys did it! I’m so glad you’re okay!” she exclaimed, grabbing my shoulder and practically collapsing against it.

I blinked. “Ajia…”

She looked up at me, eyes dead with exhaustion. “I’m so, so sorry I wasn’t able to help, but Mew and I have been busy with all this and—”

“It’s—it’s okay,” I said, putting my hand on hers. She’d been having to deal with so much today. “It’s not your fault.”

“Are you all alright?” a voice called out.

I turned to look behind us, back up the slopes of the crater, where Steven Stone was riding towards us on the back of his Metagross. Its limbs were folded inward as it hovered just above the ground, weaving around crumbled buildings and crushed vehicles.

“I saw you falling from the cliffs up there,” he said once he reached us. “I was unsure what to believe before… until I saw you riding the guardian of fire just now,” he said, like he was still having a hard time believing it. Then his eyes went wide when he saw what I was holding. “How did you get that?”

I instinctively clutched the orb a bit tighter. “Groudon and Kyogre asked us to get them.”

“They asked you?” The look on his face made it clear that he’d never remotely considered that talking to them was even an option.

“We’ve got to get the orbs to them,” I said, hoping that my voice sounded firm. We couldn’t think about him right now. I turned my back to him, taking a few steps toward the lake.

“Wait,” Steven said, stepping in front of me. “The orbs will revert those two back to the form they had when they shaped the earth’s surface… or so the legend goes.” He gazed out at where Groudon and Kyogre were still firing waterspouts and lava bursts into the air with just as much vigor as they’d had when this all started. “That’s not the sort of power we should be trifling with.”

Rudy looked up from where he was tending to Moltres. For the first time throughout all this, his eyes had lost some of their fire. “That’s… that’s not…”

“Mm, I’m pretty sure more lives will be lost if we let that kind of power fall into Team Rocket’s hands,” Darren said flatly.

Steven was silent for some time. He sighed, shaking his head. “I’m going to regret this.” He turned to face Ajia. “Your guardians will keep this under control? That kind of power… I don’t want to think about how many lives would be lost if it ran wild,” he said, giving her a very serious look.

Power running wild… the words echoed in my head. My thoughts drifted back to what Ender had said, and… no. No, I wasn’t going to let myself think about anything that he’d said. This whole mess was their fault.

<We’ll make sure they know they can’t stay like that,> Mew said. <You have my word.>

Steven turned to face her. It looked like he was having a hard time coming up with what to say. Finally, he nodded, averting his eyes like he didn’t think he could address her directly.

The ground shook, sending sent ripples through the flooded streets. Groudon and Kyogre were approaching us now—Kyogre cutting a trail through the water and Groudon walking across fresh earth that bloomed in its path. Even though I knew they weren’t going to attack us, there was something undeniably intimidating about seeing those two ancient beasts approaching.

Mew took an orb in each paw. She hovered out to the duo, who had almost reached the edge of the lake.

<We need your help,> she said.

Groudon nodded. “*You need our power to defeat those humans, yes?*”

<It’s not just that,> the psychic cat went on, her tail twisting restlessly. <We need you to use your true power to stop Rayquaza.>

Both titans recoiled visibly at her words, their eyes widening with shock and outrage.

“*Stop… the messenger?*” Groudon asked. Like such a thought had never remotely occurred to it.

“*That was not our deal!*” Kyogre hissed.

<Please—>

“*Attacking the messenger from the heavens is unthinkable,*” Groudon said with a heavy shake of its head. “*Their word is the divine will. The only thing that can halt the ceaseless urging of our dance.*”

<I know that, but their mind is not their own!> Mew exclaimed, struggling to keep the exasperation out of her voice.

Groudon gave a low rumble of contemplation. “*What does this mean?*”

<They aren’t in control of their actions.>

“*How is such a thing possible?*” Kyogre demanded.

<Those humans up there have created weapons that let them enslave their minds,> Mew said carefully. <Including those as powerful as the great messenger.>

Both titans paused, processing Mew’s words. I honestly wasn’t sure if either of them would have any idea what that was supposed to mean, but then—

Groudon hung its head. “*Such a thing… would be a most detestable act. That which never should be done.*” Its words held a faint sorrow.

“*The Orb,*” Kyogre said, nudging Groudon aside, forcing itself to the front.

Mew recoiled backward slightly, clutching the orbs tighter. <You have to promise that you will return to your sanctum afterward.>

Kyogre stared long and hard at her. “*That was the agreement,*” it said, hating every word.

Mew paused, taking a deep breath. Then she slowly levitated the two orbs over to them. Both orbs touched Groudon and Kyogre’s heads at the same time. In an instant, waves of rippling light spread across their bodies. The light strengthened, solidifying, encasing them in radiant cocoons of faceted glass. We watched with bated breath as their bodies turned molten within, shifting, changing, growing, pulsing with unimaginable power. Then, without warning, the cocoons shattered. I squinted through steam at the pair of titans before us, their silhouettes familiar, but the details strange and new. Kyogre’s skin glowed, glassy, transparent in places, revealing the energy pulsing vibrantly inside its core. Groudon’s craggy hide had split open, traced by piercingly bright lines of molten magma flowing freely underneath. It was almost like… like their bodies were struggling to contain the sheer, monstrous power.

And then I felt the heat wave begin to radiate outward.

<We must leave,> Mew said, and without waiting for an answer, she teleported us out.

All of us—me, Ajia, Rudy, Darren, Moltres, Steven, and Metagross—reappeared on the crater’s edge, looking down on the lake. Groudon and Kyogre glowed like twin stars, red and blue, below us. And then the unnaturally still air that Rayquaza had brought was shattered instantly. The clouds covering half of Sootopolis shifted to pitch black. Rain burst forth, so thick it was like a solid wall of water crashing down onto Sootopolis. The other half of the sky was on fire, shimmering with a heat haze so dense I could barely see through it. The lakewater boiled. The roads and buildings of Sootopolis twisted and distorted, then glowed, finally melting under the relentless heat.

Lugia and Ho-oh swooped downward to land awkwardly next to us, both of them bleeding profusely, staining the gleaming white rocks a vibrant red. I could feel Lugia fighting back its exhaustion, doing everything in its power not to let it show. The dragon bird slowly pulled itself into a more dignified posture, forcing a healing energy through its body. Mew joined Ho-oh’s side, and the two of them raised a shimmering veil around our group, keeping the scorching heat at bay. Then Lugia flicked its wings, and I felt a cool ocean breeze wash over us from behind, despite the fact that I could see the lethal heat right below.

Everyone… they’d made it outside the crater, right? But even beyond Sootopolis wasn’t safe. This level of power… Steven was right. We shouldn’t have done it. But we’d had no choice—we couldn’t let the battle keep going. It had to end. Had to keep telling myself that.

The Rocket airships quickly pulled back beyond the edge of the crater. That just left Rayquaza alone, circling overhead. A pulsing blast of dragonfire rained down on Groudon and Kyogre, and neither flinched. They’d been on par with the other higher legends before, but this? This was a whole new level.

“*Forgive us,*” Groudon said, its voice a low tremor.

Shock waves radiated from the crater, vibrating through my feet even from way up here. Six piercing lights encircled Kyogre, pulling water toward its body, collapsing it into tiny pinpricks. Then the light exploded into a barrage of piercingly blue beams, looping over Rayquaza before slamming into its back. The serpent had no time to react. It let out a cry as the waterjets smashed it down into a fresh lava field of Groudon’s, just in time for the volcano beast to slam a foot into the earth. Jagged spires of molten rock erupted from the ground, digging into its body from every direction. Again and again, water pummeling it from above, earth stabbing it from below. The serpent flailed against their hold, but there was nothing it could do. It was almost pitiful seeing the great messenger from the heavens so utterly dominated like this.

A high-pitched tone sounded from one of the airships. There was a flicker of light next to Rayquaza—something teleporting next to it? And then it was gone.

The Rocket fleet accelerated suddenly, leaving the crater at last. They were retreating. They’d gotten their prize, no need to stick around and fight a losing battle. With a thunderous roar, Groudon stamped the earth, calling up a towering surge of lava hundreds of feet into the air, catching the airship at the back of the formation and incinerating it in an instant.

Ajia glanced at Mew, her eyes wide and face pale. The psychic cat gave a somber nod and vanished. A pulse of light signaled her reappearing next to the pair of titans below. Lugia tensed up. Readying itself in case it needed to fly down after her. But then, after several agonizingly long moments, there was a flicker of light. It started as a pinprick, then grew into a blazing wave of red and blue, swirling around in a vortex. The clouds lightened; the sunlight dimmed. And then, when the light faded, there they were—Groudon and Kyogre, in their normal forms once more, looking almost tame compared to the nightmares they’d become. That terrifying, unearthly glow was gone, contained within the orbs once more.

Mew reappeared in front of us, one orb in each paw, both pulsing softly.

<It’s over,> she said.






~End Chapter 45~

Next Chapter: Jade and Sebastian have a chat.
 
Ch30
Gorgeous art!! Always gorgeous art, but damn.
So, this is the end of Book 1!! I really did demolish it, as you say. If anything, I'm gonna get faster now.
Jade is a real trainer! What a journey, from failing her exam to having a big team of evolved and powerful pokémon and travelling far from home with her friends. I'm so proud and happy for her I'm getting teary.
Telling the experiments goodbye is a touching scene in its way. They're still oppositional assholes, but they have obviously become fond of her, even if they won't show it.
Swift and Firestorm are proud of her! Okay, now I'm really emotional.
Negotiations! The experiments are all tsunderes and I love them. You little shits, just admit you care about the human already.
Get hype for a great journey! I know it'll go wrong, but for now I'm hype!
That moment with Chibi is genuinely so touching. What a great character. I know he's like, got that edgy dA OC vibe and you missed your chance to give him a reasonable name, but I don't care. I love the birdchu.
This is the best I felt I've understood Rudy and Darren so far. Really enjoyed their scenes with Jade this chapter.
Love the growlithe fight, and the way it just feels like this is how pokémon journies are meant to be, with Ebony having fun and fights being to bond and test strength. It's so much sweeter after all the pain to date.
Buizel seems fun! Looking forward to having her around.
Lmfao Jade is still a dumbass with no ability to plan. Has she never thrown a pokéball before? Nice catch, idiot. I love her.
Can't believe I'm finally this far through. It was a wonderful experience, and definitely a complete 'book' in its own right.
I'm proud and hopeful and and and I love this fucking fic holy shit.

Ch31
Hooray! Excitement to begin Book 2, excitement for some serious competitive battling.
Jet already having evolved makes for a good timeskip demonstration. Good choice, there.
Lol I already know T Fang is coming from the cover art. Jet is possibly fucked here.
"Our opponent was still huge metal snake" missing the indefinite article 'a' here, bud
Four moves does matter, I see. Interesting. I'm only learning this now, and only in the next chapter am I learning it's four moves per battle rather than four moves possible to remember at any one time. That's really interesting.
Jet only knows water moves but they each matter!! I actually love that. It's way too specialised to be worthwhile in the games, but in this fic it provides a lot of tactical options. I really love that, the way I love how smokescreen and scary face and so on actually have utility.
80LBS OF SOGGY AFFECTION. I love Jet.
The various pokémon and human banter makes me really happy, I feel wonderful and kinda like everything is about to go wrong, but maybe not just yet. It's comforting for them to be getting on each other's case in such a friendly, low stakes way.
"Weren't hoping to be in the battle weren't you" reduplicated 'weren't's there, bud
Lol Book 1 is just Jade telling Jet things over the course of their journey I guess.
It has been SO LONG with nothing coming of Jade's weird rock. what. When are we gonna get Legendary Bullshit. I'm frankly amazed she hasn't so much as done a little idle research into it.

Ch32
Hooray for sick stadiums and battles! Definitely an exciting change of pace, and good to see what high level battling is like in a regulated environment. The note about high powered moves being forbidden in certain areas is a fun piece of worldbuilding.
Stygian vs Pupitar! I really loved the way Pupitar is so indifferent even before reachin her final stage, and her interesting method of propulsion. Definitely a surprising match.
Aros vs Nidoking! Pretty rough for Jade to fuck up an entire move choice like that. Poor Aros will be humiliated.
Firestorm vs Tauros! I liked that Jade fell to more or less the same trap as last time, because she's a slow learner. I feel like I don't tend to see that in fiction, with protagonists usually adapting fast. Also I snorted hard at Firestorm hurting himself in his confusion. Excellent moment.
All in all, those were really fun battles to read. I felt like a real spectator. Great stuff, Battles Georg.
Rudy is better at pokéspeech because Jade made it cool! I love that! How wonderful, bless, oh my god. I'm delighted.
Starr bickering is the best part of this chapter lmfao she's so grumpy all the damn time. Friendship is so based.
Hype for next chapter!
 
Chapter 33
Really enjoyed the tournament content this chapter. I love the takes on competitive battling in LC, and I really felt hype for the events as if I were a convention attendee myself. I couldn't help but think of Worlds in real life. Pokémon really lets me care about sports by way of animal companions.
Friendgroup shit! Love it. It brings me such joy for Jade to be spending time casually with her friends, all her friends! I like how she's caught between her older friend pair and her younger friend pair, each of which has very different but related traumas. Delightful. Will they eventually squad up?
I wanted to scream with Jade during that fight holy shit. I wanted to stand up and cheer with my arms up and fists clenched. Hype!
Lexx! This guy! Barely know he exists, absolutely expected him to show up but without having any particular expectation. Turns out he's basically a huge smug dick. Goddamnit Lexx.
Team Rocket will attack the League, huh? My running theory is that when 'the war' happens, it'll be open conflict between humanity and the Legendaries, with Team Rocket heading up humanity. You said before that 'treason' was foreshadowing. I'm sure that the Chosen are going to find themselves fugitives not only from Team Rocket but from legitimate authority in due time.
Starr being this torn up is fun to read. I love her and how much she cares and how hard for her things are.
Rudy is so competitive! What a little munchkin of a trainer. Man, you go, kid. I'd bet on ya.
Oh no! The Thing!

"Chapter 34"
Lmfao.
Actually, I really enjoyed this April Fool's joke. I often get distracted from and come back to LC chapters while reading, and because of this, I actually forgot I was reading a Fool, and for like a full three seconds I thought Trilugia was still canon. My misapprehension was quickly ended by Chibi and then Everything Else, and I settled in to enjoy a bunch of total bullshit with a big dumb grin. I'm especially a fan of Stalker making no fucking sense whatsoever, that was delightful. Thanks for a good laugh. This made me want to do an April Fool's joke chapter of my own!

Chapter 34
Jade's terrified face in the chapter art is wonderful. I do love to see her in a state of total panic.
HOORAY PTSD FLASHBACKS. These are always superb; you're damn good at them.
"You're not alone" oh my heart. I'm a sucker for moments like this.
The aerial combat is fucking intense! I found the whole sequence gripping, honestly.
Love that Jade's experiments aren't necessarily competitive with TR's forces, just because they have significant innate strength. It really serves to emphasise both that Jade's team is not a solution to any of her problems, necessarily, and that TR are a serious threat.
I like that you lampshaded the frequent presence of ice beams specifically to make life hell for Jade's fliers. I'd begun to notice it, in fact.
MEGA BOLT! That's really sick. Imagining that as an actual move similar to Explosion.
Hooray for the battery of trainers volleying beam moves. That's sick as hell.
Hooray for Dragonite! Whose are they? Or rather, WHO are they? I'm calling it now that this is Mew transformed.

Chapter 35
Lmao it was Mew. Fastest confirmation of a piece of speculation ever.
The escape to the ranger station is very cool. The whole concept of it is cool, rangers are cool.
Love to see Ajia's father and the rangers. Real feeling of a lived-in world and of her having a life. It also makes it feel like Jade just... isn't connected to her family, rather than that you keep forgetting she has one.
Forgetting Rudy and Darren and feeling bad about it is a nice moment for Jade. It's like, sure yeah I get it, it sucks, but you were literally afraid for your life while under attack from a minor deific figure. Holy shit, girl.
REACHED JADESTARR HUG! HAND: DETAINED. I love these moments so much.
"You just can't be upfront, ever?" I can really feel everyone's frustration, oof. Still, I love seeing the three of them together even when it's sad and hard. They're good kids. Flawed as hell, but I love them. Their dynamic as a trio is a real "more than the sum of the parts" deal.
Mew, you dick! Just have a fucking conversation with the poor girl! I'm desperate to know what it is that's making it impossible to communicate anything meaningful to her right now. I feel like she could at least more clearly explain that there are conditions silencing her.
Love the reveal that only Ajia has been chosen to-date by the way. I'm not at all surprised, although I had little reason to believe it was definitely the case. The next-most likely possibility was that some unknown face was a Chosen with whom she had a difficult working relationship if any, but to be honest I should have called this one. The implications! Leaving it late indeed.
BEEG LOOG. I am ready for the CONSEQUENCES. It's ALL BEEN LEADING TO THIS (CHAPTER).

Chapter 36
It's THIS chapter! The chapter everything's been leading to! Beeg loog moment!
I love to see Jade this terrified, but she really is a huge dumbass to think Lugia failed to kill her. Lugia's probably spent the last year thinking that she'd know that they could've killed her and chose to spare her and must be taken aback by this.
You know, if it weren't for that the Jade & Lugia bond was practically an up-front reveal, I would probably also be surprised by Lugia being a member of the Order, given how aggro they are. Fair enough on Jade's part.
Really enjoy the conversation between these two. Careful balance of negativity and positivity from both parties here. Really interesting implications for character, lore, foreshadowing, and all sorts. Sortof expected Jade to wonder what Starr would think if she agreed to this before doing so.
Hooray psychic whump! Low key chills when Jade's uncertainty is forced out of her by the bonding process.
Holy shit if she'd turned Lugia down... they'd have killed her? Goddamn.
Bless Mew. She's a sweetheart when she's not bound by secrecy.
Interesting that the Order essentially is composed of Mew and both Tohjo quartets, with the exception of one beast and one bird. I wonder why those two are not members.
There's a feeling in the prose for this chapter that you're taking pains to make as explicit as possible why events are happening in the order and manner that they do, but a couple times it just comes off as Jade being a dumbass. Asking which other Legends have chosen a human when she already knows is the egregious one. Which leads me to wonder if it's somehow significant that Lugia wouldn't confide that information. It gives the impression that Legendary etiquette is a big deal, or that Lugia just doesn't want to give Jade info.
Excited for the 'meat' of the fic, and for the power of friendship!
 
hey hey, here from crossposting. I'm not really sure where I last left off reading but from the looks of my review history I haven't actually left a review since ch13, so that's fun.

mostly keeping these big picture/high-level since they're older chapters and it looks like that what uA did so i'mma just steal that lol

ch14

The infiltration continues!

I like where Jade chooses to draw lines in this chapter--capturing god is weird flex but i mean you do you. Hybrids are weird! But clones?? Super clones?? It's a good way of showing how over her head she is with all this, when she's impressed/in awe of her enemy's plans instead of even beginning to work through the main ramifications there, haha. I also like that she ends up making some really terrible decisions that bite her very quickly--releasing the clones in the room to "rub it in their faces" or whatever immediately gets her caught lol. Actions and consqeuences!

Some fun vibes about how Stalker is definitely having really good plans here and is 100% not doing anything else strange by organizing a rebel group that's mostly just semi-trained children. I like how Jade's first instinct it to call him--is that what everyone does? Poor guy probably needs like six phones for all of the panicked calls he ends up getting from yeeting these kids into the middle of firefights over and over again.

The clones are really cute in this chapter too, and I like how you portray the history between them. Aros is basically a shonen protagonist "just because we're clones doesn't mean we're not as good as the originals", and Stygian is all "um akshually". It's a nice bit of levity!

It looks like you've already heard this a lot, but Stracion's appearance at the end of this chapter feels unnecessary. I like how you foreshadow that she's probably learned some stuff with Stalker, and there's a nice moment where Jade does some useful tactician support (noticing that Firestorm has better odds with close-range attacks), and I imagine she's going to be important at some point later on, but right now it just feels like a cameo for the sake of cameo? Reading the author's note, it's not even that I wanted a real/major/gonna fight you for srs antagonist or anything (I think there's plenty of tension leading in and out of this chapter already!). I mostly just wanted this fight to be leading to something, and by the end of it I was struggling to see what it was (and this gets exacerbated by Stracion undoing most of the damage she's caused in the fight)--beyond just meeting Stracion and knowing she's here to fuck with some plans, I don't really know if Jade or anyone else gained much that couldn't have been done in one of the many other fights in this arc.

Chibi Pika said:
I bristled. But at the same time, I didn’t feel like arguing. Not with experimental Pokémon whose good side I really wanted to stay on. My eyes couldn’t help tracing the obsidian blade running along the left side of her face… but no. It was no use thinking of all the things they could do to me, and besides—they needed me. I could walk around the base freely—they couldn’t.
I really liked the tension that develops between Jade and the experiments here; they can't trust each other but they also can't not. It's kinda grounding to watch Jade rationalize it so bluntly here--she's the only one here who can walk around freely, and she's more than happy to leverage this both against them and to reassure herself. Stalker's definitely been rubbing off on her lol.

Chibi Pika said:
I stared back at his deep blue eyes that betrayed no emotion whatsoever.
Chibi Pika said:
And Razors had known that. That final look he gave me… he knew our only chance was to split up. But how would I find them again?
I think this is a thing that becomes clear upon reading chapters back-to-back, but Jade has a tendency to say something along the lines of "I couldn't have known this"/"his face was unreadable" or something, and then shortly after being able to read/know the thing? There was another one I flagged in my multiquote:
Chibi Pika said:
I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t exactly seen enough Grovyle to know what was different about hers. Unless it had something to do with magically poisoning my Pokémon without using any poison moves.
And this tends to undercut the narration--what does it mean to betray no emotion if the intent is made clear immediately after? The second example I think works a little better: it feels very sullen teenagery, which is a pretty Jade-ish vibe. I get the vibe of "how was I supposed to know??? uhhhhhh quickly, I'll spitball", which to me implies a lot more emotion and helps walk through the guesswork that's happening here, rather than two certain statements in the first example.

Chibi Pika said:
Teleportation mechanics in LC
“Because the people demanded it!”
oh hey i'm people!

I thought this was cool to explain--there are a lot of things to break worlds in canon, but teleportation is probably the most interesting one! Range-of-sight teleportation as a cantrip sounds broken as fuck and I really hope that gets a broken combat application soon

Is there a functional difference between 10 x 10 km teleports and one beeeeeeg 100km teleport besides the pauses in between?

Chibi Pika said:
Also worth noting is the fact that psychics are notoriously proud, and unlikely to stay with a human that only uses them as glorified transportation. (All Pokémon have the legal right to leave their trainer for any reason.) It’s simply uncommon to see anyone with a teleporter other than a dedicated psychic trainer or a competitive battler. Well-trained psychics willing to lend their strength to human society are highly-valued, and most often employed by emergency response teams.
haha i'm really sorry that of all things in the teleport aside I zero in on this section, but I find this one line really fascinating: "All Pokemon have the legal right to leave their trainer for any reason."
There's a thing I made up which is just the Bechdel Test but for Civil Rights--are you able to directly influence the rules which govern you? If the answer is yes, that's clearing the bare minimum of having civil rights. If not, you aren't living under a just government, and you are bound by rules that don't represent you.

So then the question of Pokemon having legal rights becomes interesting, since it doesn't necessarily solve civil rights problems and it also opens up a lot of interesting questions--they're not treated as sovereign entities and they also aren't treated like animals. But do they get a say in making the laws that govern them? It seems like most of the movers in this society are human, with the legendaries sort of fucking off into their own corners to not be bothered and leaving the normal pokemon alone. The non-Rocket jobs we've seen have all been staffed by humans who are occasionally accompanied by pokemon--and that feels reinforced especially in this section, where it seems like Pokemon rarely (want to) take up professions outside of battling, even though they'd be extremely valued there as well. I feel like it'd be a stretch for there to be Pokemon politicians or whatever responsible for passing this legislation, given that being able to understand what they're saying is optional for human students (and trainers like Spencer can get really far without being able to understand their Pokemon at all)--but then are those rules really made for Pokemon if they aren't in part made by them?

Which is like! not the main focus of this fic, and I get it; we don't ask about Aragorn's tax policy and this isn't the time and place to question the ethical ramifications of legal representation; this is about beeg birds having a slapfight and Jade buying a nice lollipop for her goose friend. But this is a story about agency, and choice, and being cast to follow rules that someone else made a long time ago that say what your destiny is supposed to be, so I did find this tiny aside in this footnote/extra chapter particularly fascinating.

ch15

okay well that was a weird tangent

Mewtwo in this chapter! Beeg spook. Mewtwo asking "and what help is a human child" is such a mood for this fic haha.

Overall this one is a lot of fun. Mewtwo's such an interesting character when it comes to questions of personhood and free will, so I'm glad that there's an incarnation of him in this as well. The conversation with him was appropriately somber, and I liked that Chibi's really the driving factor in a lot of the information that gets disclosed here--clones gonna do #justclonethings! And it's kind of horrifying that they have to just run, knowing this is going to bite them in the ass a little later. Seems like sending kids to disrupt operations isn't a great idea, sad Stalker sounds.

And first Astrid sighting! I'm sure she's not going to be important later.

had a bit of fun trying to see if I'd shitposted anything worthy of going up on the Jade x Stracion wall and found this gem from 2019:
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my brain is enormous apparently.

Chibi Pika said:
“*What is your plan for getting out of here?*” Absol asked, licking her mane and generally looking bored with the discussion.
I'm fresh off of bingeing Salvage but I love this image of an Absol character just giving zero shits while their child ward is freaking the fuck out. And there's Mewtwo this chapter! Destiny.

Chibi Pika said:
And man, was it bizarre. Tall, gangly, and humanoid, with thin, wiry arms and huge legs. But strangely… cat-like? The pointed ears, rounded paws, and short muzzle all reminded me of a cat… a creepy hairless humanoid cat. And yet, despite everything, there was something… powerful about it. I couldn’t explain why, it just was.
A bit more of that "I couldn't explain why" cropping up in narration. I wish there was a little bit more insight into how she gets to these conclusions. Later she provides some concrete descriptions about how talking to Mewtwo muddles her thoughts and makes it hard to think; it would've been helpful to have a bit of an anchor for what powerful actually means in this scenario.

Chibi Pika said:
“*I told him that I’m an experiment just like him. Hang on, I’ll ask him to include you.*”
this entire conversation

Chibi Pika said:
But then a wave of icy resentment washed over me. <I know that I was created to fight. Created to dominate others like myself.> God, Mewtwo’s presence was overwhelming. I couldn’t tell what I was feeling anymore. Too many things. Too hard to process them all. My thoughts dragged like mud. What was I doing here?
I kinda wanted more physicality to what it meant for thoughts to drag like mud though--the narration here still feels very clear and rational. There's one really cool bit later on where Mewtwo's despair at the thought of being brainwashed leaks in and she can't tell if it's hers at first, but other than that the thoughts here certainly feel like Jade's own. For a first person narrator I wanted a bit of a closer look into what it means not to think her own thoughts, you know?

Chibi Pika said:
As the Rocket neared, I was able to get a better look at her—a young woman with short, auburn hair, a tough build, and stern features. Not the sort of person I’d like to cross. High-ranking too, from the looks of her uniform. She wore a tight black tank top with a thick vest, loose capri pants and heavy black combat boots. Sure enough, both her vest and cap had the executive symbol emblazoned on them.

But then an eerie feeling washed over me. Why did I feel like I recognized her from somewhere?
ah yes, all my shitposts are finally coming together

Chibi Pika said:
It felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs. What? How? How could she possibly know it was me? It took every ounce of concentration I had to keep my face neutral with the sudden wave of dread spreading through every inch of my body. Had to play dumb. She had no proof. Had to keep it that way.
I thought it was! really adorable! that she thought that Team Rocket, whose first scene is them just shooting up a god with helicopters and guns needs proof to do mean things to people.

Chibi Pika said:
I clenched my teeth
another thing I noticed reading this all at once--lots of teeth clenching in this section.

Chibi Pika said:
I sighed. “No.” Honestly, for all I knew, Mewtwo was probably already linked with a Pokéball. I guess there really wasn’t anything I could do. Not now, anyway.
Chibi Pika said:
Astrid rolled her eyes. “I’ll pretend that wasn’t the biggest fluke in existence. Anyway, who said I wanted to battle? I think it’d be faster for me to just knock you out right here, drag your stupid rebel ass to a detention cell, and force you to tell me everything I want to know.”

My eyes unconsciously slid to the gun holster hanging from her Pokéball belt, sending another jolt of ice coursing through my veins. No, what was I thinking—she had just said she planned to take me alive. But only because I had information. And after she’d gotten that information out of me…?
I feel like this chapter has a lot of ... well I could do this thing, but I'm not really going to. Astrid at least has some reservations and I get that, but I never really think that Jade or Astrid are really going to do these things--by spending more time talking about why they aren't doing it, it feels like they're just bluffing. As a result I don't really feel the tension as strongly, since it doesn't feel like a real possibility in the first place.

At least after all this, I had a pretty good idea of how to navigate B2f
B2F I think? I truly do not know capitalization schematics for basements but I've only ever seen the acronym capitalized fully.

In front of me, the two clones nodded to each other before melting into shadow and streaking across the floor.
Between chapter 14 and here, if I had a nickel every time Aros and Stygian nodded to each other before melting into shadow, I'd have ... two nickels, but it's kind of weird that it happened twice.

ch16

Awww! More #justclonethings; I really like the shared history between Chibi and Razors here. It's a lot of fun that these clones are really not having it with Jade, but they care deeply for each other--makes a lot of sense honestly! There's something powerful about their conversation about Chibi/Razors' free will when they're brainwashed, and how Chibi insists that what you do under brainwashing isn't your fault, but Razors is firm that intentional or not, the outcomes are still the same. Lotta good questions about choice, and a lot conveyed there in how both of them feel like they're able to exercise it. And this played in really well to Chibi's speech later about "I'm like this because they made me this way"--I never really get the sense that he thinks he's got a choice in a lot of this, but he’s convinced it's not his fault and there's nothing he can do, and that's really tragic.

As a breather chapter I think this is a nice chance to look back at all the things that just happened and process it. The reactions for all the experiments/clones was really nice, and having some closure for Firestorm and his frustration post-Stracion was nice--he sort of falls off the page a bit for ch15 and I was curious what him and Swift were going to think about all of this! Really cute bits where he and Jade are both super hyped about him learning new techniques; it's good to have a few wins like this here and there.

Chibi Pika said:
I shrugged and grabbed two Pokéballs from my pocket, one red and one black, opening them to reveal twin flashes of light that took the forms of a white beast and a tall green mantis. And then Chibi froze, staring wide-eyed at Razors in total disbelief. In all the time I’d known him, I’d never seen him look so stunned. But then, this was his first real reunion with Razors in… how long? Years? How many years had Razors been brainwashed? How many years had Chibi been forced to view his companion as the enemy?
The epithets really start picking up in this chapter. I know these have been brought up before and it's kind of a stylistic thing for you, but in this exact case they felt really weird--Jade knows who she's sending out, so it felt weird to see the epithets followed by the names rather than just the names. Maybe just "I shrugged and grabbed two Pokeballs from my pocket, one red and one black. There were twin flashes of light. Chibi emerged and then froze, staring wide-eyed [...]"?

Chibi Pika said:
I grit my teeth. No sense holding back any longer.
Jade's gonna need invisalign by the end of this arc for all the teeth clenching she's doing

Chibi Pika said:
“But I’m due for grunt work in Cerulean next week,” I protested. And my supervisor was… not exactly the kind of person I wanted to upset.

He gave me a pointed stare. “The last thing you want is to be captured inside a base.”
I wasn't sure what outcome she was expecting from this tbh.

Chibi Pika said:
I glanced at my watch for about the millionth time that day only to be met with the same blank face. I’d realized at some point that it was probably dead from Raichu’s lightning, though I didn’t seem capable of remembering that fact for more than five minutes.
This felt vaguely meta in light of all of the other things I've seen Jade forget lol. Wasn't sure how to parse this one.

Chibi Pika said:
“Her Raichu is infamous,” he went on, “but you don’t have to worry about the Mewtwo data. That script wasn’t just copying the data to the drive. It was uploading it to an online storage. I actually read some of it last night.”
This felt vaguely hollywood hacker to me--most computers that hold secret data like this aren't hooked into any sort of publicly accessible network, traffic is highly monitored, nothing just goes out on the wifi, etc.

Chibi Pika said:
“Do you still have their Pokéballs?” Stalker asked me. Right, there was no reason for me to hold onto them if they were going to be free now. I dug through my pockets and retrieved the minimized balls, handing them to him. He gave them a curious look before saying, “I’ll keep them in my office. Having the option to recall them in case of emergencies could be useful.”
a decision that has really interesting implications on how he views the members of the rebellion and that i'm sure will have no repercussions later

Chibi Pika said:
I nodded, taking a few steps back. “From what I remember, it’s basically just a long stream of fire. Like Fire Blast, but way thinner, and you don’t have to get it to split into five, so it should be easier to control.”

Firestorm planted both feet firmly on the ground, digging his claws into the dirt and taking a deep breath. He then exhaled a large burst of flame that billowed outward in the air before splitting off into wisps and then vanishing completely. The Charmeleon blinked a bit in surprise, then let out two or three more spurts of fire with similar results. The flame was impressive—it just wasn’t going anywhere.
I thought this scene was really interesting! There's definitely a central question of like, what to trainers add to these fights, especially since a large portion of the main good-guy Pokemon cast (basically everyone except Swift and Firestorm at this point) are both capable of and seemingly prefer fighting without a human trainer. So trainers contribute the strategy? Jade's instructions feel kind of vague here though--I couldn't really understand how this would be any more or less useful than watching someone else use Flamethrower and copying that, or why Firestorm hadn't come to this conclusion after enviously watching Stalker's Charizard or something.

ch 17

Houndoom that just act like larger, deadlier puppies is an excellent trope and I am here for it. And more victories for Firestorm! I get the sense that everyone is about to need some morale boosters for what's coming next.

Some much needed Swift aftermath here too--Jade mentions something along the lines of forgetting where he'd gone for an entire day, and that feels a lot like my mood regarding him sometimes tbh. There's a lot of moving parts in this story and it feels like Swift and Firestorm are usually the first parts that Jade immediately forgets about lol.

Stalker using phrases like "I need to figure out a way to keep using you" and Jade nodding along happily with it is a really good vibe for what is to come; I'm sure there's nothing wrong here. I really like how he's speculating about what the author of these tablets must've said; got major "asking for a friend" vibes here. History repeating itself is an interesting topic to bring up in a universe in which this could be forced to happen, quite literally.

This chapter feels like a lot of set-up for a lot of future plot, which makes sense given how far we are into the story fractionally--I kinda wish we'd gotten some of this earlier, but that's a useless comment until I see how this pays off. What I did want in this chapter for sure was more understanding of what Jade thinks about all of these things. There's this idea that like, oh, prophecies are stupid, but I feel like she's rapidly reaching saturation for how many legends she's seen in one room and that excuse is starting to wear thin on her. And Swift ends up feeling like a means to an end here, so someone can shepherd Jade to these ruins, and he conveniently disappears once that's been accomplished.

Chibi Pika said:
“You’ve got the type advantage, of course I’m not just gonna rush in blindly against—” My words were cut off by the whoosh of another Razor Leaf.
For the most part I think this battle is well-described, especially for what it is (light-hearted shitposting! no one is trying to die this time so we can all talk smack) but I got a bit lost here re: the whoosh of Razor Leaf being loud enough to cut someone off. That feels like it'd be very loud lol.

Chibi Pika said:
The Absol’s movements were sluggish, and her left foreleg bore a purplish tinge—poison, most likely. Still, the white-furred beast kept deftly dodging punches from Primeape like they were nothing, following up with slashes of pink energy from the blade on her head.
Likewise this description of a purple-tinged foreleg felt weird--is the whole leg poisoned, visible even through the fur? "sluggish movements" and "deftly dodging punches like they were nothing" also feel very incongruous.

Chibi Pika said:
“*Strength is nice, but it’s not everything,*” Swift said, with an airy, offhand tone like he was thinking aloud. “*Training here has let me learn so many things. I want to know how everything works.*” He paused, looking down. “*It’s not something Pokémon are supposed to think about, though.*”
didn't expect to see this here! what *are* Pokemon supposed to think about then/

Chibi Pika said:
Movement, out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to the left and caught sight of a violet gas ball drifting lazily amongst the trees before crossing the clearing and vanishing through a pillar.

A Gastly.
I wasn't quite sure what the impact of having this on its own line was supposed to be--are the Gastly spooky? Is Jade afraid of the ghosts? Are they typically associated with places of spiritual importance? Jade mentions like, huh, that's weird that they're here, but having it on its own paragraph like this made it seem like this was an important statement, but Jade immediately forgets about it.

Chibi Pika said:
I blinked. On one of the slabs was some writing I could actually read. At first, I was sure my eyes were just playing tricks on me, but there it was—words written in the Tohjoan alphabet. But there was no way that I’d be able to understand it; it’d likely be some ancient language that just happened to use the same—
stalker is just sitting in the corner with a pair of binoculars and a cuneiform tablet trying to see who will read his cool poems tbh

Chibi Pika said:
even among the Order—the ones who dedicated both mind, body, and spirit toward ending the war
both -> three things here; felt kind of strange

Chibi Pika said:
A slender beast stood atop the stone archway at the entrance to the ruins. Diamond-spotted cobalt fur covered a lithe frame with muscles poised to strike at any moment. Twilight glinted through crystalline antlers, casting sea-green highlights across the stone floor and making the ruins feel even more unearthly. But the weirdest thing was how its violet mane and ribbon-like tails constantly billowed through the air… like it was surrounded by its own personal whirlwind.
I thought this was a nice bit of description! The personal whirlwind is a nice touch; I bet they're doing it to look extra dramatic.

Chibi Pika said:
I opened my mouth to speak… and found all memory of the legend completely gone.

“I… don’t remember.”
yeah this seems normal
(is this? the canon explanation for why she keeps forgetting about Swift and Firestorm????)

Ch18

I thought it was kind of silly that Jade ends up being sent to infiltrate Viridian base, which is so big and important, immediately after Stalker says that it'd be dangerous to send her on missions where she could be recognized? Unless he's like, really trying as hard as he can to throw the whole operation into chaos--given that this one ends up playing out exactly how one would expect, at the risk of information being leaked via interrogation, this seems like a monumentally self-destructive plan even for Stalker lol. And there's a later line that mentions he doesn't even give her a new account with admin rights, which seems really dangerous if she and Darren got separated. Bad planning part 18 for Stalker lol.

Bit of a two-fer; will put the overall thoughts in ch19.

Chibi's reaction to seeing Zapdos is cute haha. Big shoes to fill. And Razors didn't want to come! #justclonethings continues to be an excellent subplot.

Chibi Pika said:
“What kind of officer need a grunt’s help to get through a door?” Darren asked wryly.
need -> needs here

Chibi Pika said:
At once, I had to screw my eyes shut as I found myself staring directly at the piercing glow emanating from the electric-type’s body. I blinked a few times, willing my eyes to adjust until I could make out the silhouettes of Darren and Chibi, highlighted against the blackness.
The word "silhouette" confused me--Chibi's the source of light, so he wouldn't be a silhouette, and if he's just emitting light then I'm not sure if Darren would be a silhouetted either?

Chibi Pika said:
Stalker closed his eyes and exhaled slowly before shaking his head. “No. This is the easiest way of following them. Message me your coordinates every five minutes. I’ll track your trajectory from each one and figure out the most likely destination while I get everyone else ready to go.”
find my phone would be really helpful lol

Chibi Pika said:
The entire area fell deathly silent. All eyes were on Entei. The beast inhaled deeply, then unleashed a deep, reverberating roar that shook my entire body. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It… almost felt like Pokéspeech. But at the same time… not. It felt like a cry for help. A cry directed at someone in particular. But who?
I liked this bit of description a lot!

Chibi Pika said:
And the third, soaring high on short, broad wings, was a golden heron, its jagged plumage coursing with strings of lightning.
There's also a lot of "strings of lightning/electricity" in the section I've read here.

I think I mentioned the epithets stuff higher up but "golden heron" for Zapdos was a bit of a stretch for me--herons are wading birds, and also they have long necks (closer to Moltres tbh).

Chibi Pika said:
The birds were reluctant to harm Entei, but that just made it even harder for them to fight Mewtwo while having dodge the lion’s flames.
dropped a "to" here

Chibi Pika said:
Rudy spun around to face the ALR. “All right! Time to take down these machines!” he exclaimed with a huge grin. “Ebony, use Inferno! Nidorino, Sludge Bomb; Larvitar, Rock Slide; Wartortle, Water Pulse!!”

“Swift, use Air Cutter. And Firestorm…” I took a deep breath. “Well, we’ve got a giant target and nothing nearby to worry about… use Fire Blast.”
I really like the feeling of being able to cut loose and have your wizard Fireball the room; this is a nice payoff from the training chapter!

The long barrage of attacks felt unnecessary here since they don't really appear to have much of an impact on what Jade sees or does next besides a general sensation of elemental chaos. I think something like "Rudy commanded a string of attacks from his own Pokemon" would've had a similar affect?

Chibi Pika said:
Mew turned her head in the direction of the voice, observing the Rockets with a mixture of sadness and pity. <So humans have become our enemy once again. But I wonder… are you really prepared for that?>
Serious Mew! That's an interesting one.

The lack of differentiation between like, these exact humans and just humans is kind of terrifying and I'm sure will have no implications later down the line.

Ch19

Haha, it's about time people started losing again; things were going too well for Jade for at least two chapters.

The brawl, part 2! It's rightfully chaotic, and the scope of all the power at stake is laid out really nicely here. Really sucks that each of these encounters to rescue the legendaries only ends up with them being deeper and deeper in the hole numberswise; they really aren't doing themselves any favors by showing up at each fight. I was kind of confused about why Suicune enlists the birds to go in their stead and then shows up on their own anyway? Or why the Rockets didn't do barrages of Master Balls earlier--I didn't fully get the sense that Moltres and Articuno were worn down any more here than they were when they first called to Mew previously--it was hard to understand how weak/strong everyone was at a given point, especially since Jade is once again pretty removed from the action. But still a fun free-for-fall, and a good chance to see all the rebel kids getting to use the techniques they've been practicing.

The terror at the end works really well in the first-person narrator too--sometimes I get the sense that we're a bit disconnected from Jade's head, but this one was really close in there and the emotions were made really clear. Fun fun.

Chibi Pika said:
Mew had taken to blinking in and out of view around the battlefield, teleporting non-stop, pressing buttons on the fallen Master Balls and trying to open as many of them as possible. But then a blue aura appeared around all of them, and they flew out of her reach, pulled by Mewtwo’s telekinesis.
I have this image of interns having to comb through the field later and figure out which one of the Master Balls is the real one.

Chibi Pika said:
But then, without warning, Mew teleported to Entei’s side, grabbed hold of the beast, and then teleported again. An agonized howl rang out as the fire legend reappeared within one of the ALR beams that had been aiming at Zapdos. Its body spasmed wildly as the energy dug into it, then finally collapsed to the ground, motionless.
ah yes, good, line-of-sight Teleport as a cantrip being broken as fuck and having horrifying combat implications, excellent.

Chibi Pika said:
I gave her a defiant glare. “I think I can. I think these computers are the only thing keeping Mewtwo on your side. What happens if I destroy them?”

“You’ll be in for the worst pain of your life, that’s what,” she spat. But at the same time, there was actually the tiniest sliver of fear in her expression. Mewtwo might have been the Rockets’ greatest weapon, but they were also terrified of him, weren’t they?
There is a massive percentage of Jade/Astrid dialogue that's just them bluffing and immediately being called for bluffing.

Chibi Pika said:
I sank to my knees, letting out a huge sigh of relief. I didn’t have much chance to relax before Chibi rounded on me. “*What are you doing facing down the head of the combat unit alone?! I’d expect that kind of overconfidence from Aros, but not you, Jade.*”
this didn't feel like a realistic response from him? Jade's done stupid shit in front of Chibi all the time.

In general it looks like I'm about to start the electrocution arc, which I imagine is best tackled as one unit, so I think I'll taper off here.
 
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