Chapter 24: Rise With The Storm
Northern Unova – Unova University
Once Alex had his Aron, he'd visited his brother, who was in the middle of a summer-long experiment at the University's lab. He looked around as he entered the lab building, and he felt his team drawing his gaze towards one of the lab's habitats. Then, he saw why.
It was an Amaura, clearly a hatchling, and it was as white as the snow within its habitat. It looked to have once produced berries, like the other Amaura and Aurorus habitats nearby, but evidently the little one had frozen all of it.
Each of his team told him to go to the little one, and Alex approached the Pokémon, and reached out to it in a manner not unlike a Ralts, with emotion. Good feels flowed into the shivering Pokémon, and that was when Alex noticed. This Amaura was pure ice type.
"He's the most recent hatchling in this line that we've been breeding specifically for Special Attack power. Moreover, like most 'fossil' Pokémon these days, the rock typing impurities have been lost. We have their entire genome, finally." Eric said, approaching as he noticed his brother, staring at the tiny Pokémon.
Alex smirked. "My team insisted that I pet him. He doesn't seem to mind." Indeed, the habitat had started to look slightly greener since the trainer had started scratching the hatchling. The sounds of enjoyment the little male was making were adorable.
He'd almost thought it was female, but had then noticed the tips of the frilly ridges along its neck. They were more of a deep blue, rather than pink. There was that, and the electronic sign on the door of the habitat that had listed his gender with true Pokédex accuracy. The ridges had been pure white a moment before, but the blue was actually working nicely with the pure white of the skin. He was adorable.
He felt Terra give the mental equivalent of a nudge. "Can we keep him?"
Alex smirked. His team was becoming clever. They knew he'd be reluctant to take an ice type because of Terra's dislike for it. Having him ask, was supposed to remove that hesitation, apparently.
He spoke directly to his first partner then, and gave him the mental equivalent of a stare, with his third eye, for a long moment. "They freeze the air around them, and you heard Eric. He'll be strong. Are you sure you want an ice type like that around?"
Terra seemed to chuckle. "If I did not, I would not have asked." He rolled his eyes. "Humans."
Eric handed the Pokémon an Oran berry as Alex's focus snapped back to his surroundings, and the little long-neck stared at the lab-coated student, motionless. Alex scratched the spot under his chin again, and then gave him a Sitrus berry. It made adorable sounds of enjoyment as it devoured the fruit, and Alex smirked at his brother. "Is this the first time he hasn't frozen what you've given him to eat?"
Eric rolled his eyes. "We get it. You're psychic."
Alex smirked. "You don't need psychic power to know a hungry hatchling. Where's the mother?"
Eric's expression grew dark for a moment. "Frozen. Passed on. The others abandoned him after that. He needs a social learning environment, or he's going to end up losing control of that power. He needs to learn his limits, and not fear it…"
The Professor-in-training paused, as he saw his brother's smirk shift to a grin.
"Oh come on!" Alex said, chuckling as the tiny Pokémon rolled on its back, and demanded a belly rub. Leo had joined him, for that. They all enjoyed their trainer's hand scratches, but sadly, they all could not fit in the lab. "Look at him, he needs us. And, I need an ice type. As well as my crystal."
He looked at Eric, and Eric sighed, pinching his brow. After a moment, he pushed his glasses up, and the lighting in the lab turned them white. Alex resisted laughing. "Fine. He's yours. But I expect regular reports on his health. I'll get your crystal." Since returning from Norstad, he'd had three whole months while Alex was off 'preparing' to study it. Evidently, it had come from a village of Articuno riders. He'd supposed if anyone would have shards of an Ice Plate, it would be such a village.
Alex was painting a Luxury Ball in the white and blue colors of his new partner, who seemed eager to enter the ball for some reason. Finally, he booped his nose against the button, and it dinged shut immediately. It twitched in his hand then, and made sounds of enjoyment as the little Pokémon ran around within his new home. Alex smirked. Hatchlings. At least this one wouldn't eat his ball. Four times.
Cenomons, or 'Ceno' for short, was now in a Heavy Ball, one that had stood up to his jaw strength. Evidently the Ultra Ball had been unacceptable, so the little Pokémon kept eating through them until his trainer got the message. Alex had brought him into the mental 'web' that made up his team, then and the little one learned to use words, rather than brute force. At least with them.
As Eric finally returned, crystal in hand, he eyed the newly painted ball. It wasn't so much 'paint' as it was using a stylus to draw, color, and pattern Pokéballs to suit their trainer's preferences. Naturally, the woman who'd invented this tech had made a fortune when the Pokéball companies bought it from her. By this point, it was standard with most balls. Styluses were, of course, sold separately.
Alex eyed the Icium crystal, and Eric sighed again as he handed it over. "Don't teach him anything ridiculously powerful right off. His affinity for special attacks is…off the charts." Alex rolled his eyes, and his brother glared at him. "Seriously. Don't teach him Ice Beam until he learns it on his own."
Alex smirked, and gave Leo a scratch. The large cat had come for the belly rub, but had stayed, waiting for a moment like this. He gave Eric a feral grin, and the Professor-in-training shifted uncomfortably as he recalled how well Leo had handled such attacks.
Alex smirked. "I think he can handle it. If he can't, I'll teach him." In reality, he was planning to let the little one mature a bit. Pokémon grew faster than humans, as a rule, so a few weeks wouldn't be too long of a wait.
Eric raised a brow. "Teach him what? Those overpowered C-Moves?"
Alex held up a finger. "No. Just no."
Eric's brow rose higher. "But the 'c' is for cryst-"
Alex's finger pushed against his brother's nose, booping it. "I said…No."
The younger brother waved his sibling's finger away in disgust. It reeked of Leaf. Of course he'd had a bowl before coming. Typical Alex. "Fine. Tye-jee-too moves." He mumbled something about 'foreign moon languages', and then his gaze fell to the crystal. "Do you really need it so soon? We're learning so much. That thing literally gave us the perfected Aurorus genome. I touched it to mine, and it turned pure ice type. It literally rewrote strands of DNA. With a touch! It's incredible."
Alex shrugged. "I'm sorry, I need it back. It's high time we got to Fornia. We've given Pravus far too much time with…whatever he managed to escape with."
Though he'd gone over the events a hundred times, Alex still couldn't figure out why the Arcean Prophet had retreated. He'd gained the upper hand with his Gigalith, and then just vanished. It defied logic. Most likely because Pravus knew something he was as yet unaware of. Finding out what he'd learned or retrieved was their main objective. For now. And it required quite a bit of stealth.
Eric pushed his glasses up by the center rim, and sighed. "Alex, those crystals are shooting pure Arceus-level creation energy into the Pokémon who use them. For attacks, and for evolution. It can't be healthy."
"If it isn't, we'll soon find out." Alex said, eyeing his new Pokéball, as he teased it with his mind. It glowed blue, and was rocking slowly. The hatchling within was already sleepy. After going so long without food, or family, he needed a nap. "I've been monitoring those using the crystals for evolution for a while now. Where I can, anyways. There's rumors of problems with Mega Evolution in general, but I can never find anything solid on it. When and if there is a case, I'll deal with it. Personally. Then I'll stop it from repeating."
Eric stared his brother down. "And what if your 'case' ends up being unfixable? What if every case results in a death? Will it be worth the risk then? What if it can't be fixed?"
Alex smirked at his brother. "Can't? There is no can't. There is no try. If something needs to be fixed, I'll find a way to fix it. It's that simple."
Eric sighed at his brother. "Tell your Sage that giving you Teleport was a bad idea." Alex smirked.
Several Days Later – Victory Plateau, Unova
Alex waited patiently at the top of the Victory Plateau. He'd Teleported in five minutes ago, and this Challenger was still walking up the stairs. The Unova League tournament had just ended, and this summer's newest hotshot had fast tracked his way to the Champion. Through the Four.
Five minutes became ten, and though the wind howled across the barren battlefield, Alex didn't mind it. It was cold on the plateau, true, but Norstad was much colder, he could wait hours up here, despite the relatively hard wind. It was rather nice, when you had it to yourself. Finally, the Challenger came in, looking confident. They always did.
Being the Champion of the hardest League in the world, Alex had the option to give his challengers a choice.
Battle six on six against his team, and claim victory over the entire Victory Plateau, or, battle six on one…against the Unovan Dragon, and become the Champion. Given that they had enough Champions already, Tao had come up with this system early on in Alex's reign, and nobody in the League had objected. Tao knew what having too many Champions could do, and even Hilbert had agreed that there were enough, for their League at least. The Victory League was not the only League in Unova, but it was the strongest.
All who fought the Dragon, lost. Alex refused to battle them again immediately after that, not that the six on six match would've helped. Alex's team was, supposedly, just as strong as Tao. Stronger even, if one believed such rumors. Most Challengers went for the dragon, however, always staring blankly in surprise as their Master Balls failed to capture the dragon that already had an 'owner'. It was depressing how many trainers with enough skill to beat the Four opted to try for an easy victory to claim the title of Champion. Those, did not get invites to the Dragonspiral Tower.
What few Challengers that did decide to battle Alex, or whichever Champion was available, also usually lost. Both Hilbert and himself had perfect records in such battles, and often, trainers were sent home, or to the tower. Some came solely because they'd heard that was one way to receive training, and both Alex and Hilbert had told the others that those trainers especially should be sent to the tower. The desire to learn was usually a good thing, and they left it to Tao to sift the worthy from the unworthy.
Others, simply wanted the prestige beating the Victory Plateau's Four would bring them. A record like that, especially with a win against a Champion, could open doors for a Trainer. Alex's own record had caught more than a few eyes over the past several months, as he had many wins. He'd stopped keeping track of them ages ago, but evidently one of his devices was just automatically recording the numbers.
Hilda had all but ordered him to start 'marketing himself', and once he realized just how much demand there was for random Champ-themed merchandise, for some reason, he'd allowed her 'marketing guy' to start 'selling his image' or whatever. Evidently, that meant giving him shelf space next to the other Champions on the Join Avenue.
He didn't understand half of the obscure business-like nature of selling these random products, so he'd left it to the strange man who seemed to gleefully enjoy and revel in it. As long as the impressively large paychecks kept coming in from the sales, he didn't mind doing the occasional cameo in Pokéstar Studios, either. Whenever the strange man called, it was usually with such an offer. Or to talk about how great his shorts were.
Finally, the Challenger crested the top of the stairs, but before Alex had a chance to speak, the trainer on the opposite end of the field spoke first, as he stepped into the light, and pointed a finger at the Champion. "I want you Redwood. Not the Dragon."
Alex glanced at the trainer harder. He seemed familiar…and then the Emboar on his undershirt, below the black leather biker jacket, reminded him. The kid from Aspertia, with the Tepig he'd passed over for Terra.
He hadn't lost any of his protagonistic charm. The flame tips of his hair were now done all the way to the roots. He'd acquired black sunglasses, and Alex didn't need psychic power to know he had a motorcycle downstairs.
Alex shrugged, still clad in the robes from Tao's otherworldly tower. "Fine. Single or double? I don't do triple battles up here, or any of that rotating nonsense…sometimes, less is more."
The flame haired kid, who had to be fifteen going on sixteen, swiped his thumb across his nose, and smirked. "Double, then. Doesn't matter, I'll crush you in any battle!"
Alex rolled his eyes. Then again, for all he knew, he was about to be blindsided by a plot armored protagonist. He kept his guard up, suspiciously. The kid was only normal typed…still, he had managed to beat the Four.
Alex had recently begun to help each of them, including Nick, to embrace their inner power, and gain the ability to use plate crystals. Then, he'd taught them how to do one Taijitu move. The others, they would need to learn on their own, if indeed they could learn them at all. Most trainers seemed to be able to handle one or two.
Down in the Swamp, it was another story. Everyone there was a professional, and almost all of them had every kind of plate crystal. Alex hadn't believed there were so many crystal users in one place, until he'd lost several matches to trainers who outmatched him because of their versatility with attacks and combinations, all fueled by crystal power.
Alex had surmised that there were only a limited number of types, and thus, a limited combination of balanced energy attacks. Some, like fire and flying, he'd discovered, had simply been incompatible. Blaze could power up his Flamethrower with the flight crystal, but forming a balanced sphere of fire and air, was quite difficult. The result was usually an explosion.
Many trainers had begun to spread word of what this supposedly super-strong Champion had on his team, and he knew there would be trainers designed to break him, but that was what his other four were for. Honestly, they needed the experience more than his original six.
They were his best kept secret, though they were still quite young. His newly evolved Lairon had lived up to his name, and devoured everything he could in the obscure, un-mineable mountains Alex discovered via Teleport. He'd needed quite a bit of metal to evolve, but there was always metal being formed on this planet. The humans of this era did not want for resources.
The Aron species was often where builders got their materials from. They literally shed metal, and were quite good at battling. It was just common sense to have them around work sites. There were more than a few decent trainers who also worked construction.
Focusing on the Challenger again, Alex shrugged. He hadn't noticed that he'd been silent for a good minute. The intimidation factor was starting to wear off as the Challenger waited, impatiently.
Hilda and Rosa always gave him crap for not being 'menacing enough' to scare off most challengers. Back when Kanto had held the title for 'hardest League in the world', Lance, their leader, had been shrouded in mystery, and dragon types. The Champions who beat him were likewise rumored to be strong. After battling against Red in the Swamp, he understood.
He decided he could always attempt the 'edgy but cool' thing Lance and even Gary Oak had done, at one time, and this poor kid would help spread his reputation. He'd send him to Tao, as well. He'd be fierce, with a bit of training.
"Very well. A double. That'll make it shorter." The flame kid's smirk faltered, as he saw Alex's. It was way too confident.
A flash of green and black came from the belt of the Champion, and he spoke to his team, "Hold off. Let's see if this one is worth evolving for." He could hear the cameras whirring around them as they floated into the air, and began recording.
The League ref's voice came over the intercom, hidden both out of sight, and away from anything the Champion could break. "This League match will be a Double Battle. The Champion may not substitute. The Challenger may do so as often as he desires. Begin!"
"Verrignus! Leif! Go!" The same Emboar from last time appeared alongside a Leafeon now. They both looked strong, but Alex saw no reason to worry. Terra and Shruikan were quite tough, and made an excellent team.
Shruikan flapped into the air, and as he bathed the plateau in flame, Terra looked unfazed. Ground types could handle fire easily, and this wasn't directed at him. The air became distorted by the heat. The Leafeon countered with a Razor Leaf, only to find that in the new heat of their battlefield, the leaves were all but useless, as they turned to ash halfway across.
That applied to Terra as well, but that didn't matter much for this battle. He wasn't using Razor Leaf, or kid gloves. "Earthquake." Alex spoke again, and his starter reared up onto his hind legs, before coming down. The force of the slam shattered the ground. Massive, steaming boulders rocked both of their opponents.
"Verr, punch the boulders!" The Emboar turned, smashing them apart with Brick Break as the attack rocked him. He managed to take less damage, but his Leafeon partner was down. "Bufo, you're up!"
A Seismitoad appeared next to the Emboar now. "Hyper Voice!" Alex tried not to smirk, and failed.
The large frog's seismic tones were rather impressive, as they shattered the rest of the boulders, flattening the field once more, and while his Voice was untrained, it was actually somewhat strong. The Emboar ignited his fists on the flaming beard around his chin, and charged as his trainer pointed at Terra and shouted, "Fire Punch!"
"Aerial Ace."Alex kept his arms crossed as he gave the orders, and stayed completely unreadable. Both Terra and Shruikan knew many moves, so did his entire team, but usually he tried to limit himself to four. In League battles, at least.
Thunder boomed through the clouds above the plateau as his enormous black dragon arced down, and slammed the fire pig, hard, with a type advantaged move. His punch never even came close to searing his scales, such was his speed, even with all his added size. The darkness of the night also helped. Shruikan was quite hard to see, when he didn't want to be seen.
The Emboar smashed into what was left of the stairs Challengers ascended to reach the plateau, and Alex sighed. Aside from not being menacing, constantly breaking the plateau's marble foundations was another thing he received crap for. He could fix the earth of the field itself, but marble and stone were different. Apparently. He took Terra's word for it.
"Energy Ball." Terra's attack shot towards the Seismitoad, who managed to catch it for a moment with the vibrations from his hands. It eventually overpowered him however, and he too went sailing backwards, unconscious.
Alex glanced at the fainted pair of Pokémon. He knew one of them was the kid's starter, and when your first Pokémon went down, it usually meant the battle was as good as done. He'd been wrong before, though.
"You can back out now, if you like. Your record will still have four victories on it. Nothing to sneeze at, since they're from this League." The Champion still had his arms crossed, as he waited for the trainer's response.
"I still have three left-"
Alex cut him off. "That's your first Pokémon lying by the stairs there. Do you really want to make your other three fight a battle your strongest couldn't win?"
The spiky, flame haired kid called his three out then, and Alex eyed them. A Noivern, Weavile, and Aegislash, all fairly strong. He had to admit, the kid's team had most of the types covered for. It was balanced well.
"What do you guys think?" The kid asked, as the three eyed their opponents.
Alex gave the command, mentally, and had to resist a smirk. "Rise with storm, my 'Viking Gods'." It was the nickname Percival had given the pair when he'd wanted a double battle, thinking it would be any different from a single. Given that it had been practice, they had decided against mega evolving. Terra had actually fainted, as he usually did against ice trainers, when he didn't mega evolve, but Shruikan had won the day in fiery retaliation.
The plate on his Salamence's chest flared, and his form became that of a Mega Salamence. The storm clouds around the Plateau increased in size and darkness. The heavens thundered at his arrival, and his roar was just as loud and intimidating as the fury of nature. Terra was similarly changed as the light from the Grassium shot into his form, and mega evolved him.
One roared, and the heavens roared with him. The sky flashed, and the massive form of the Mega Shruikan glared down at the three remaining Pokémon. Terra, for his part, slammed the plateau with his clubbed tail, shaking the entire conical mountain their League was perched upon. The very earth felt ready to shatter under the power of that Torterra.
Whatever enduring confidence the kid's team had, vanished in the face of these masters of the earth and sky. These battles were as much a head game as they were a contest of strength and skill. Too many people forgot that.
He was being kind again, though, and he knew it. Lance would've crushed his opponent's entire team with the ferocity of his dragons, and sent them back to the Pokémon Center. Laughing.
He decided then to be the Champion he'd always wanted to be. A kind one, a strong one, someone Unova could rely on, just like N. If everyone became too afraid to battle, he'd never get challenged. Still, there were times, like now, when a challenger's team simply had no chance, and needed more training, lest they get seriously hurt.
"Go to the Dragonspiral Tower. Train there. The Unovan Dragon will make you strong enough to challenge me, team to team." The two trainers locked eyes. "After all, that's what made my team so strong." He left out the whole traveling dimensions and space-time differentials thing. Years of training had the same effect, no matter the plane you were on.
The kid glanced at his Emboar again, then nodded. "Right…we'll be back for you. My Emboar will never stop until he proves that you should've chosen him."
Alex raised a brow. "Your Emboar will never win until he accepts the trainer he has, not the trainer he wanted, a very long time ago. Good luck getting that through to him, though. There's a reason I didn't choose a stubborn Tepig."
The kid chuckled, wearily. "A wise choice…but I can handle his stubbornness. I'll take your advice, Champion. Then we will return." The two bowed in the Unovan style, fist to palm, grinning. They shared a vegemite sandwich and a bowl of Leaf grown on Terra's shell before parting, in true Unovan trainer fashion. Alex had even given him a small bag of it. He called this strain 'Green Monster'. Terra didn't seem to mind.
Alex watched them go, and let the power fade, and his partners returned to normal. He patted each of them. "Well done, you two. At this rate, we'll run out of challengers."
"You've got to be bloody kidding me! Again!?" Alex shared a look with his partners as the enraged tones of Rosa climbed up the stairs to the mostly-smashed entrance. He sniffed, and the familiar scent of burned Leaf was still hanging around. That too was another thing Rosa had forbidden both him and Hilbert from doing up here. He glared at the cameras, which were still on. Bloody robots never turned off.
He chuckled, "Time to go!" With that, he recalled his partners, and Teleported himself and his team back to Jess' room. It had become their unofficial preparation area for the impending cross-continent journey. She'd gotten the room to herself, as after a month of listening to the 'famous couple' going at it in the privacy of the bathroom (what little there was), her roommate had requested a transfer. Being ultra-rich, Jess hadn't seemed to mind that the price of renting her room doubled for the rest of the semester.
They'd spent a lot of time in the room over the course of the semester, though it was mostly sans clothing. Being able to Teleport almost anywhere gave them a wide range of places to enjoy each other, but they both agreed her room was nicer. Cozier.
Final exams were over by now, and the only students left on campus were either flunkies, or people who really needed to take a break. Eric was in the latter category, as were his lab buddies. Alex had taken to calling them the 'Braintrust', and the nickname had stuck. Even amongst their Professors.
With him sleeping on campus, Alex's hovel in the Swamp had turned into the island's local recreational area, and had grown to include more beds. Battles were held, Leaf was smoked, naps were taken.
After finding crumbs and what he sincerely hoped was jam in the hammock that passed as his bed, he'd decided to sleep in civilized quarters at night. Jess hadn't seemed to mind. They'd tried looking for a real house somewhere, but the prices were truly insane, and the upkeep was even more so. And, why should they pay for a view they could get just by visiting a memorable spot they could Teleport to?
Eventually he'd offered to build her a house, something his instincts immediately regretted, as he saw the look in her eye. She'd kept her thoughts on the matter hidden as well, a hard thing to do given that they were but a thought away from each other all the time these days. She'd accepted his offer, which had led to research, some math, and the conclusion that Cenomons would need well over forty years of shedding, as an Aggron, just to get him some of the materials he'd need.
Then there was everything else that went into buildings that he'd never considered, as he'd literally built a home out of mud and vines, and had been content with it. Now he had to account for plumbing, wiring, heating, power, air flow, location and thousands of other tiny yet important things.
Needless to say, he put it on the back burner. They'd be camping for a while anyways, until they found lodging in Fornia, though he supposed they could always sleep elsewhere, and Teleport back in the morning. The only problem with that was risking not remembering where they'd stopped the day before, and losing yet more time playing catch-up.
Thus, they'd decided to try to camp out as they crossed the Stoney Mountains, sneak into Fornia, and then find a hotel or something they could use as an anchor. The reason they didn't already have one had been yet another factor in what had kept them waiting well into June to depart. The only way to get into Fornia was by air, or sea.
The sea routes were all thoroughly patrolled by the many battle-capable yachts that the Arceans used to advertise how well-off and prosperous being one of them was. Given how well their airships had been constructed, Alex didn't really consider their navy a threat. Not yet, anyways. Sacreus, Fornia's capital, was landlocked so it made little difference.
With the sea cut off, and no desire for plane travel and the level of scrutiny it brought, that left traveling over the land, and after a test-incursion, they realized just how famous Blaze had become. He'd been recognized and chased for miles outside Fornian territory, and only a quick recall and Teleport had saved their bacon.
The footage of him battling Lizardon was still one of the most popular things on the PokéNet, even though a year had almost passed. Evidently, they'd seen it in Fornia too. Alex hadn't even tried Shruikan, much to the dragon's dislike. He'd claimed the night could conceal him, and Alex had countered that his 'hundred-foot wingspan' blotting out the stars would give them away. As would literally any light, for the night was dark blue, not entirely black.
Thus, they'd decided on going full tourist, and playing the role of conversion-friendly newlyweds. Two tan, blonde, blue eyed strangers on the precipice of breeding. The Arcean who'd approved them for travel in their territories had practically drooled when he realized the potential. Evidently, recruiting couples was a big deal.
Now, everything was ready, packed, and as Alex bamfed into the dorm room again, he blinked, as he noticed his love, talking to a strange man. It took him longer than it should have to recognize the student in charge of dorm housing, but he was kind of proud that his paranoid, skeptical mind hadn't immediately leapt to worries of backstabbing.
The man just stared at him, and Jess sighed. They'd tried keeping the ability to Teleport somewhat secret. Like most secrets, it had gotten out almost immediately that the Champion could get where he needed to instantaneously. Apparently, Unovans thought that was a good idea, and he supposed having a defender who could pop in literally whenever was a somewhat comforting thought. And probably a decent deterrent against crime.
"Don't mind him. He's carrying the bags. Here's the key." Jess said, as she handed it over. The man nodded, and then promptly left.
He was glad to be rid of them, honestly. They were quite loud, and had stayed well over a month past the end of the year. Since the girl was rich, the increasingly absurd room rent hadn't driven her off, and since her lover was the Champion, and an Alumni, they couldn't really just tell him to scram. Especially since he could just poof right back five seconds later, and nobody would be the wiser.
There were four bags in all, their usual two, and two solely for sleeping bags. They hadn't bothered with a tent. Arthur popped free of his ball to grab the extra bags, and then they all Teleported once more, to the rendezvous spot.
The Sage had informed them, after some deep meditation, that their journey would go as well as it needed to if there were three entering Fornia, not two. Tao had divined much the same, and even had a suggestion as to who else should come along. He'd grown up in Fornia after all, and though he'd needed a better disguise than tanned skin, Brad had still proven himself somewhat capable.
He'd had only a Charmeleon when Alex first found him, and as the son sparred with his father, Blaze, the two humans had talked. Brad had been reluctant, at first, to go back to the region that had essentially controlled his entire life. After but a few months in Unova, he'd started to understand just how bad things were back home. Just how strong the delusion really was, and what kind of effort would be needed to remove it.
Alex had reminded him that his family, though they likely claimed to be willing to serve, were still under that regime, and his disappearance had likely made life difficult for them. That, more than anything else, was what convinced the trainer to come along. If they'd been mistreated, there was a good chance some of them would defect as well. Alex had tasked his rival with securing aid from the north of the massive region, and while he was doing so, he could find his family as well, for that was where they'd lived. Once he had them, he'd send word to Alex and Jess, and they would help free them.
Alex hadn't really wanted a third wheel, but he supposed it would keep himself and his woman from lusting after each other all day on the golden coast's famous beaches. They'd still be doing that, of course. They were 'honeymooning' after all, and he had no doubt the Arceans watched everybody they let in.
Brad had promised to build up his team, in preparation for the journey west. With only three months, he'd actually managed to pull a decent one together. There were several species most Fornians had, like Lycanroc, Ursaring, Gogoat, and the regional variant of Marowak that was both fire, and ghost. Alola and Fornia were culturally similar, but Alolans always said their neighbors were a bit…weird. They too could see through the devout façade. This hadn't stopped the Fornians from acquiring, and then breeding, the rare variants of known species found on the islands, though.
For her part in gaining four new members, Jess had found a Swablu, who she'd called Aria after they sang together, near the University's campus while Alex had been hunting for an Aron. The randomness of the universe had guided him to the little Amaura, who he'd nicknamed Gelauros. Eric had immediately shortened it further to 'lil G', and it had been Alex's turn to sigh as every other lab student had agreed it was better. This was the future of the scientific world.
Brad was surprised when they showed up with belts carrying over six Pokémon. Then, he saw them unstrap their bags, and begin to pack their balls away.
Alex put his main six balls in his bag, as Jess did the same, leaving them with their newer partners. The others hadn't particularly liked being shoved in darkness, as they wanted to see what was going on themselves, but until the plan came to fruition, they could wait. For now, their function was helping their newer, younger teammates, and Alex was glad that his team was mature enough to be okay with waiting a few weeks. Of course, if he needed them, they could pop free and help, but they had all agreed that should be a last resort.
Once the balls were away, they donned their disguises. Brad's had gained pale skin, and blue hair, for some reason. He'd stick out in Fornia, but nobody would recognize him. No Arcean would associate with such a person, or so the former Champion had said. As long as nobody official took a harder look at him, he could blend in perfectly.
He entered the region at the northern port where the Kanadia, Fornia, and Dakota regions all intersected. Being one of the larger ports of entry, Brad could slip in amongst the hordes of people unnoticed, and once in Arcean territory, he could once more act like a loyal Arcean. He was more worried about the 'newlyweds' blending in.
The other pair had gone in the southern route, and had been forced to blend in to the mind-numbing obliviousness of the local population of the Sippi region, which was heavily influenced by the Arceans, and would likely join them soon. Some of the hardcore ideologies, and pure hate, towards Unova in particular, had given the pair pause as they started to subtly listen for rumors of rebellion.
Evidently, the residents of the Sippi region believed that the Unovans had, somehow, caused the massive Swamp that now covered their ancestral homelands to grow out of control. Apparently, many of the people here had once lived in those southern areas near Floria, or what was left of it.
Since they couldn't actually blame nature for stealing their homes, this 'theory' of why the Swamp had grown so large had gained massive popularity once the Prophet claimed, through 'Divine Insight' apparently, to know beyond the shadow of doubt that Unova and the Swamp were connected. From there, the people of Sippi had run with the theories, and hadn't stopped.
As the two realized the extent of this kind of zealot-like thinking, they both agreed that, even though they had to gain allies, they were better off working ideological change from the inside out. The people here were angry over a 'crime' that had likely been 'committed' millennia past, and were speaking of war with Unova based on what essentially amounted to a rumor from a foreign government. If Fornia changed, it was likely that these support states would change as well. Eventually.
Thus, they did not actually look for trouble on their way through the lush Arciana region's plains once they crossed the border. Despite this purposeful obliviousness, cracks in the Arcean façade were literally everywhere, as were posters of their faces, untanned, and unchanged, listing them as 'threats to the Prophet'. Those, more than anything, had forced them to silently, angrily, ignore the perversions they came across, even here.
They could've gone through Utado, which had once owned the Arciana region, but anyone who entered Nevouri from Utado was closely watched by the Arceans. Being as yet 'unconverted', the further they went into Nevouri, the more looks they received.
They would've gladly pretended to convert to blend in, the only problem was that doing so took months, and thousands of units of currency. They had an alternate plan.
After a last look through his granduncle's room, Alex discovered a note, with a name, location, and Holociever number. The words 'Do not call until in Fornia' were underlined below it. As were the words 'trusted contact'.
This, more than anything, was the riskiest part of their plan. They had no idea what this contact could do for them, and planning alternate routes of hiding in Fornia's wild, Stoney Mountains had taken time.
Fading into the background of Nevouri had been simple, and as Cenomons dug them a tunnel towards the iron-rich mountains, he was all but drooling. Usually, he was hard to motivate, but the promise of these ore rich mountains had always gotten him going again, as he learned to battle. His patience was finally being rewarded.
Once the voracious Lairon had found his way into an ore-rich cave within the massive mountain chain, the two humans had made camp. Cenomons continued munching away, until he discovered something that was rock, but unlike anything he'd seen before.
He grunted for his human, as he'd learned to show things like this to him, and the human stared back at the Pokémon. "Holy…Ceno just found a fossil. A Pokémon fossil." He held up his Pokédex, and the device scanned it, then came up blank. It beeped loudly then, echoing through the cave, and the words: New Species appeared on the screen.
Then, came a blank space, for a name. The two humans just stared, and shared a look. "Let's find out what it is before we start naming species…"
"Redwoodsaurus." Alex said, smirking. He grunted, as an Iron Tail sent him flying towards the tunnel they'd entered through. He'd just laughed, as it had been kind of fun, smashing through various rock formations and feeling almost none of it. He hadn't realized how much tougher his body had become since Norstad, but evidently, the Storm Crown was doing its work.
Once he returned, he found Jess scouring the Pokéweb, and then as he sat down, she showed him what she'd found. "I thought it looked familiar. See? The ancients have data on this. The horns are identical."
Alex glanced at the name, and then at the creature. Three horns, located on the western part of the very same continent, herbivore, quadrupedal, and not actually unlike an Aggron, save that it apparently couldn't stand on two legs.
While the two humans stared at the glowing noise maker, Ceno returned to eating, as he was ravenous. His trainer's regimen was exhausting, but the results showed, and he'd rather enjoyed winning what few road battles they'd come across.
Even Fornians challenged each other, it seemed. None offered to share a bowl, however. The Leaf was strictly outlawed, but Alexander Redwood had long ago perfected hiding his stash. It was nice to see his spots held up to even government-level scrutiny.
It was as Ceno returned to the fossil's spot, that he noticed something. Another one. Another horn shape, all but identical to the first. He was both curious, and ravenous, though mostly ravenous. With about a second of hesitation, he began loudly crunching the rock and bones, and as he did, he ingested the crystallized lifeforce of the Pokémon that had once been. Since the Pokémon had been a direct descendant of one of the first Mew, as were most fossil Pokémon, the latent gene-altering power had a peculiar reaction with the Lairon's own genetic make-up.
He didn't notice any immediate changes, except that now some ores looked more appealing than others. Pure instinct guided him to a specific blend, but his trainer barely noticed as he and his counterpart smoked a bowl, and then fell into their usual grunting session. Ceno had also learned to not bug them during those. Humans could be gross.
The next day was mostly spent waiting for Ceno, who hadn't slept, to stop eating, so he could tunnel them out again. Alex had asked for patience from his lover, as he'd seen the look in his young partner's eye, and his responses, and emotions, labeled the meticulous munching of specific ores as incredibly important. Something was up, but Alex didn't bug him.
Jess was eager, because she'd found a Shield fossil. She'd never resurrected one before, but Alex had a feeling it wouldn't be so easy in Fornia. He didn't let that dampen her excitement though. A Bastiodon would fill out her team nicely.
She'd also found a lone Nidoran, and while she hadn't been entirely newborn, she'd still been a bit young to be on her own. Jess had decided to copy Alex at that moment, and tried asking if she wanted to come along. While she was off winning a partner through trust, Alex had decided to ignore his methods for once, as he spotted something unique within the many cave tunnels.
Typically, Drapion on the eastern side of the continent were more popular, as they were strong, versatile, and purple. Many good teams had Drapion, many villains also seemed to enjoy using them. Alex had spied a red Skorupi however, and realized that was simply the color they took here in Fornia, as he spotted a whole nest's worth.
Now the trick would be isolating one that wasn't too young, or too weak. Seeing his trainer hesitate, Gelauros, or Gel, as he'd started being called, simply walked into the nest, all smiles. All of the Skorupi immediately began hissing at it, but backed down when they felt the young one's frost breath.
Gel went from one to the other, his trainer in tow, until eventually he pointed at one Skorupi in particular. It had been near the back of the nest, silently working on perfecting its strikes. Alex noticed it was a male, though he guessed he couldn't have been too much older than Gel.
The two had locked eyes, and it had taken Alex a moment to realize that his little long neck wanted to battle as badly as the Skorupi. The others watched, the hissing muted as they took in the strange white Pokémon, and the human it dragged with it.
The Skorupi accepted the challenge, and the battle was fierce, but short. Thankfully, the pair had practiced turning the little dinosaur's Rock Throw into a Rock Slide, and thus, the advantage was his. The Skorupi was utterly blindsided by the rocks, buried even, and the little long neck essentially pounded him with Rock Throw, for fun, until he agreed to give up, and let the hatchling win.
He crowed, triumphant, and before he could blink, there was a maroon-colored Net Ball freeing the Skorupi from the rocks by taking it inside. Surprisingly, the ball dinged shut with only a few shakes, and Alex quietly retrieved it as he suddenly noticed the thousands of eyes staring at him. Gel nudged him, and they left quickly, but unharmed. The battle had been fair, after all, and their brother had accepted the challenge against a Trainer. Trainers caught Pokémon. If he hadn't wanted a trainer, he could've refused easily.
Despite all of that, Alex called him out anyways as they began the trek back to their camp, and explained exactly what he needed from the Skorupi, and if that was too much, he could easily return home. Much like Ceno, he'd asked to see his teammates, but was less impressed by the Lairon and Amaura. Gel's hatchling eyes had eventually convinced the scorpion, at which point, it returned to the ball. With only one member left, and since he really only needed a ghost type now, he decided to let the universe guide him to his last partner.
Jess had been somewhat disappointed when she returned with Nidoran of both genders, only to find Alex already had a Skorupi. She'd named her Nidoran Maria, and had called her partner Tony, because it was adorable and nostalgic. Alex agreed to let the Nidoran male stay regardless. Neither of the humans wanted to split them up. There was more room in Jess' bag, so he typically stayed there as they moved through the mountains, but Alex trained him as well. He was a good sparring partner for his team of younger Pokémon, and he knew he would never mind having a Nidoking around, in the future. Tony didn't seem to mind, as his partner was clearly the better battler. He was just happy to stay with her, grow stronger, and be a part of a larger family.
Once they'd packed up camp, Ceno had agreed to tunnel, and eat as they went. He was still picky about what he ate, so the going was slow, but Alex had a feeling it would be worth it. Eventually, he'd had to let the Lairon roam solo, just so progress could be made through the caves.
Being what he was, he had no trouble finding the group for an occasional nap, but for most of those long days under millions of tons of rock, Cenomons was absent, eating away at the endless supply of ore. The other Lairon he encountered were more relaxed, and less willing to battle, given the abundance of food. Ceno ignored those too weak willed to fight for good ore, and thrashed those who tried to take it from him. In this way, he beat those Lairon worth beating, and earned his experience. His trainer had taught him useful moves, but he did notice that without him, battling was a lot harder. Despite that, he relished the challenge.
Finally, after almost a week within the mountainous tunnels, which were largely quite far away from any kind of dig site, the two humans emerged from the darkness, and several minutes later, Ceno joined them. He was finally content, his voracious appetite sated…for now. It was good timing.
Ceno used his mastery of the rock to make a platform for the humans to stand on, as they'd been clinging to a relatively steep cliff side, and as they took in their first look at Fornia, Alex burst out laughing. His hand, halfway to his Holociever, paused.
Before him was a valley filled with trees, and not just any trees, of course. The tallest, the oldest, the biggest. The species from which his family was named. A stand of Sequoia sempervirens trailed through the valley below them, in a very obvious line, only visible from such a high perch, or from the air. As oblivious as he was, Alex knew a sign from the universe when he saw one. He pocketed the Holociever number, and then the pair began to follow the very obvious line of massive but also rather young trees.
Several Hours Later…
"There's no sign of them. Report back to HQ. The Rebels have them."
The captain of the Arcean Task Force, or A.T.F. as it was sometimes called, spoke into his Holociever. He'd been perched up here for hours, alongside his Mega Lucario, keeping tabs on the strange 'married couple' that had gotten quite deep in Arcean lands, without joining the Church, before vanishing for almost a week.
When they'd reappeared, he'd almost missed them, but their classic Fornian looks made them stick out against the gray stone of the mountain they'd perched on. Once they disappeared into the Redwoods, he knew it was only a matter of time. The only people who went to such places were those who wished to rebel against the Church.
Once the new face of Fornia's so called 'enemy' had actually forced their Prophet out of Norstad, a strange thing had occurred in the Fornia region. Those who were tired of the blatant lies and mistreatment gathered in groves of ancient Redwood trees, where they met a people who shared their views on the rulers of their lands.
Though it had been centuries since any of the Tribes had been recognized as a people, they still remained in what areas of the massive Fornia region the Arceans had not yet plundered in the name of resources. Together, those Fornians who wished to rebel made an alliance, a rebellion, of sorts, and small bases and outposts full of these so-called Rebels had been popping up all over the region, causing havoc to the Church.
Tourists were especially dangerous, for the A.F.O was in charge of keeping them oblivious to the goings on of the government. Once the Arcean Fossil Organization had lost track of the couple, they'd called in the Task Force. They dealt with threats to security.
A response came over his Holociever, "Stay where you are. This hunt is being given to the Hand of Death." The captain stared at his communication device, mouth agape. A Hand of the Prophet? For two random tourists who probably got lost in the caves? At most, they'd meet the native tribes and find a way to go home, he didn't understand why such a response was warranted, but then, this was a Hand who was coming, the Hand of Death, who was supposed to be a rumor. A bad nightmare.
Despite the grisly nature his missions no doubt entailed, if he was being sent in, it meant the Prophet himself wanted these tourists. He nodded at his Lucario, and the loyal hound leapt down from their own perch to follow the tourist's scent. They needed to be useful to the Hand, or he would likely dispatch them as well, for incompetence. Given the strength of the couple's aura, something the Lucario found strange, but was unable to comment on, tracking them was easy. When the Hand appeared, he would have a strong trail to follow, and hopefully, his trainer would continue to live.