A/N: Yes, yes, you guys and gals all have every right to chew me out for updating this so late. So much has happened in my life lately, especially since I got myself a full-time job at a government office. It's done wonders for my schedule. And I'd gone through some mighty serious burnout when it comes to writing "Pokémon" fics. Don't worry, though; I managed to get over it, as you can see from this update. How?
Well (and consider this my personal advice to fanfiction writers suffering from writer's block), after months of this slump, I decided to start listening to some "Pokémon"-related music on a seeming whim, and that was when I fell deep into the rabbit-hole and never came back. In a good way, that is.
And my, ohhhh my, I fell into the rabbit-hole at THE PERFECT TIME. The Masters Eight Tournament is, without a doubt, hype incarnate for me. The unveiling of the complete Masters Eight roster, the fact that Ash frigging Ketchum is standing alongside these Champions as an equal, the fact that (spoiler alert) HE'S FULLY EQUIPPED TO USE MEGA EVOLUTION, Z-MOVES, AND DYNAMAX/GIGANTAMAX?! Oh! *faints briefly but dramatically* I'm so proud of my boi.
...Yeah, you bet that this is going to influence how the future version of Ash will look like in this fic. ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D
Also, I'm pretty sure that some, if not all of you have seen the brand-new one-shot that I've posted, "So Wrong And Yet So Right", which is set in the timeline established in this story. It's more proof that this fanfic is finally coming back in full swing, baby! Once again, nothing about those one-shots spoils what happens here! :D :D :D
And in addition, I've found the original version of this story and posted it on here and at Archive Of Our Own. Remember, this very fic started out as a rewrite and a resurrection of an old project that I discontinued way back when, believe it or not!
Anyway, I'm not going to waste anymore time with this rambling. I've got a couple more things to say, but I am going to save them for the ending Author's Note. I think I've bored you long enough with all of these explanations.
Now then, on with the long-awaited chapter! ENJOY!
P.S.: For updates regarding progress on my writing and just life in general, please check out my profile! I try to update it as often as I possibly can with any status update!
P.P.S.: Due to the slowly improving situation regarding the coronavirus outbreak, I am going to have to remind you all about the basic steps you should take if you want to stay healthy, courtesy of my university's reminder emails:
-Wash hands often with soap and water for 20-30 seconds at a time, and/or use hand sanitizer
-Avoid close contact with people who are sick
-Keep your hands away from nose, eyes, and mouth (I can't imagine how difficult this part is probably going to be)
-Eat well, get adequate rest, and exercise regularly
-Get a flu shot if you haven't already and are able to
-Stay informed on the COVID-19 vaccines, get shots if you're able to, and try to get a booster shot if you're eligible
And if you ARE sick (I hope you get better if you are), please be a good sport and save other folks the trouble of getting sick. You can do this by:
-Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve, elbow, or a tissue whenever you sneeze or cough
-Not sharing food and drinks with others
-Avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes (Again, I understand this is probably going to be difficult)
-Avoiding close contact with others
-Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects
-Staying at home if you're unwell (PRIORITY NUMBER ONE!)
-Staying calm and keeping yourself well-informed (My personal advice)
If you already know this, then great! If you didn't know any of this beforehand, please keep that information in mind as we all go through this trying time. It's a realm of unknowns at this point, and I wish myself and all of humanity well.
"Mt. Kiloude. The tallest mountain in all of Kalos. The centerpiece of Kiloude Forest. To the tourists, a grand, majestic mountain, the perfect backdrop for a photo to be cherished as a memento in the years to come. To the people of Kiloude City, a longtime symbol of both the wonders of nature...and its dangers too.
"Many, many generations ago, the people of Kiloude City, then a humble but beautiful town, worshiped their mountain with the same reverence they reserved for the likes of Arceus. After all, it was where the Titan of Ice would nest upon the waning of winter and the advent of spring. Its summit, reaching high for the Hall of Origin, was far from the warmth of the Earth and therefore a place of everlasting winter. A perfect place for a mighty Titan to rest.
"And as the seasonal domain of a Titan, the very nature of Mt. Kiloude was constantly associated with peril. Any and all attempts to lay eyes upon the Titan of Ice in the flesh were rewarded with swift, ruthless death, even before the fools and the arrogant could ever hope to reach the mountain. Death brought by the hands of the surrounding forest. The humble people of Kiloude City would forever be destined to behold the Titan's arrival only from afar. An arrival highlighted only by a distant cry and a trail of blue sparkles.
"And so it was, but with that unfortunate circumstance, there came a blessing for the people of Kiloude City, and, eventually, the Kalos region as a whole..."
"HEY! We need to go back! We need to go back for Mommy and Daddy, Foster!"
"No! They can handle that weird lady! We just need to get out of here, Ar!"
But Aria didn't listen to Foster's protests. Instead, she started frantically nudging at Sylvia's plumage with her foot, which elicited a concerned chirrup from the Humming Pokémon.
"Turn back, Sylvia!" she pleaded loudly and desperately. "We gotta help Mommy and Daddy! We gotta!"
The Altaria shook her head with a low squawk of disagreement and continued flying on ahead. The two children watched as the towering Mt. Kiloude came within striking distance of them, its snow-capped, cloud-covered peak and steep, rocky mountainside becoming more and more distinct by the minute.
And then, over the howling of the air blowing against them, Aria and Foster heard a familiar roar reaching them from the distance behind them. They looked over their shoulders and saw Kay and her Shiny Salamence soaring towards them, an intense glare coming from the former's eyes while the latter was opening its mouth wide, summoning a sphere of orange fire that burned hotter and hotter.
"Sylvia, look out!" Foster cried.
"SALAMENCE!" Kay hollered over the gale. "USE HYPER BEAM! TAKE THAT ALTARIA DOWN!"
With another roar, the Dragon Pokémon fired its attack. The Hyper Beam barreled through the air at a breakneck speed, almost breaking the sound barrier in the process. Sylvia saw the attack coming and made a move to dodge it, but just a split-second later, it was too late: the Hyper Beam struck her in the right wing and sent her hurtling towards the side of Mt. Kiloude at a dangerous speed.
"SYLVIA!" Aria screamed.
Sylvia tried to steady herself and continue flying in a smooth, straight line, but flapping her injured right wing proved to be a difficult task. Eventually, her wing gave out, and with an exhausted squawk, the Humming Pokémon continued her descent towards the side of Mt. Kiloude.
"Hang on, Ar!" Foster hollered.
Aria promptly held on to Foster, who in turn held onto Sylvia's neck as she roughly landed on a large rock that protruded from the side of Mt. Kiloude. The Humming Pokémon then collapsed on the rock with a debilitated sigh, which was soon accompanied by it reverting from its Mega Evolved form to its original form. prompting the two children to dismount her and hop on the rock. While Foster looked around in a mixture of desperation and confusion, Aria knelt before the Flying-type Pokémon and shook her.
"Come on, Sylvia!" she cried. "Get up! You can do it, I know you can! Just get up!"
With a weary chirrup, Sylvia slowly lifted herself to her feet. She then attempted to spread out her wings, but her right one, still singed from Salamence's Hyper Beam attack, suddenly recoiled, the wounds irritated. Sylvia squawked in pain and carefully folded her wing back towards her side.
"Oh, no!" Aria swiftly inspected the wounded wing and saw the burn marks and withered feathers, which caused her blue eyes to soften. "This is gonna need one of Mommy's special sprays..."
"AR!" Foster yelled suddenly. "Watch out! That crazy woman's coming!"
A familiar roar pierced the skies, confirming Foster's shout of concern. Kay and her Salamence emerged from the clouds hanging overhead, their eyes laser-focused on their targets. The Dragon Pokémon circled over the two children and the Altaria for a few moments before slowly, carefully descending towards the mountainside. Sylvia promptly hopped in front of Aria and took on a defensive stance, even though she looked exhausted and weak. Foster immediately ran beside Aria, behind the Humming Pokémon.
"You are just as much of a nuisance as your children, you know that, right?" Kay asked with a hint of irritation, while her Salamence continued its descent. "Aria?"
"Stop it!" Aria snapped, even though she was more afraid than defiant. "Leave us alone! Right now!"
"Leave you alone. Leave you alone..." The poacher's eyelid twitched, and she rubbed her forehead in exasperation with a gloved hand. "My colleagues and I told this, or something to that effect, to your children and their friends so many times, and did they listen? No! They kept meddling and interfering with our affairs! Cost us precious paychecks! Made all of our catches escape like it's nothing!"
"I don't even know you, miss! I don't know what you're talking about!"
Unfortunately, Kay ignored her protest. "But no more. I will not let this opportunity pass me by. Once I've rid myself and my colleagues of your pesky daughters, I'll find that accursed Celebi, and I will have it transport me back to my timeline by any means necessary. Maybe it'll be a more wonderful future for me by the time I- WHAT THE?! HEY!"
Aria and Foster had taken advantage of Kay's rant to make their escape. Sylvia hopped after them, trailing behind them by a few feet due to her injured wing and inability to fly.
"You can't escape me, you two!" Kay roared furiously. "Now, Salamence! Use Hyper Beam again!"
Salamence roared and opened its mouth to summon one of its most powerful attacks. But just as the sphere of fire had begun to materialize before its agape jaws, a Staraptor suddenly appeared with a loud, combative caw. Before there was a chance to react, the Dragon Pokémon was struck in the body by one of the Staraptor's wings, which was glowing with a bright silver color.
Kay quickly jumped off of Salamence before it could crush her against Mt. Kiloude's side from its impact. She then glared up at the sky, where she saw someone riding the Staraptor's back.
Meanwhile, Aria, Foster, and Sylvia stopped, having overheard the newest developments. The redheaded girl's blue eyes shone with relief and wonder.
"MOMMY!" she cried.
"Run, Aria!" Elle commanded at the top of her lungs. "RUN!"
Aria didn't waste another moment and continued running with Foster and Sylvia behind her. However, once she reached a few feet, she stopped and looked over her shoulder to see Elle confronting Kay.
"Aria!" Foster cried. He ran up to her, grabbed her wrist, and started half-dragging her away from the scene. "Don't stop! Don't even look back! We gotta find a place to hide until your mom comes back for us!"
Aria could do nothing but watch in helpless dismay while the distance between her and her mother widened by the mere minute. She wanted to do something to help her, but Foster guiding her away wasn't helping any matters. The only thing that she could do now was think one thing and one thing only.
"Be careful, Mommy... Please..."
Within the cave at the peak of Mt. Kiloude, the squawks of Sylvia and the roars of Kay's Salamence made their way into its cold, dark depths. Though they could now be heard as whispers over the soft howling of the winter gales outside, the foreign sounds were still enough to disturb the shadowy being resting within that cave.
The circular red eyes that belonged to that being narrowed, and it started to traverse its way out of its resting place. Its body and all of the powerful muscles within ached from its interrupted slumber, and it felt nothing but fury at the abrupt disturbance that was currently erupting outside.
In fact, its fury was so palpable that the very air surrounding it started to grow colder and colder as it passed by...
"I guess the saying is true. Don't mess with a mother Ursaring."
Elle felt a cold shudder travel down her spine as Kay stared down at her from atop a protruding mountainside rock. The green-haired woman's look of exasperation had been swiftly replaced with a certain form of amused smugness that made Elle feel very uncomfortable. Even so, she stood her ground and tightened her grip around her husband's Staraptor.
"Fortunately," Kay continued, "I know how to deal with mother Ursaring."
"You don't scare me," Elle replied defiantly. "If anyone should be scared, it's you for thinking you could frighten my little girl like that. Anyone who tries to hurt my daughter, or any friend of hers for that matter, is an enemy of mine. So mark my words, woman, you're going to pay very dearly for what you've done to her today."
Then, all of a sudden, to Elle's surprise, Kay started to chuckle malevolently.
"Heh heh heh..." The Pokémon poacher's lips tugged upward into a sinister sneer that sent another round of chills down Elle's spine. "Ohhhhh, my dear Elle, you are so entertaining. Truly, you are! I haven't had a laugh like this in such a long while..." She took a deep breath and exhaled in genuine elation. "Ohhh, how precious..."
Elle's skin paled in an instant at the sound of her name coming from the other woman's mouth.
"You know who I am...?" she asked.
"Why, of course!" Kay exclaimed in response. "It took me a little while to connect the dots, but now that I did, I must say I'm quite amused... Where I come from, the story of your life is well-known. The Eight-Headed Seviper does its research on its opponents in advance, after all. Both current...and potential..." The Pokémon poacher then pointed at Elle. "All the history books and pamphlets never did go into specifics into what happened to you, but I think I have an idea now..."
"What...Wh-What happened to me?" Elle repeated. Her eyes slowly widened while she felt an unpleasant feeling of dread bubbling up within her gut. "W-Wh-What the heck are you talking about?!"
Kay ignored her and simply said, tauntingly, "Before we get to business, I just want you to know that I'm going to stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down your little girl and do what I do to any and every witness to my transactions: eliminating them quickly...and ruthlessly."
Upon hearing the not-so-implicit threat to her daughter's life, Elle mustered all of her willpower and then some to excise her body and soul of all feelings of dread and uncertainty. Once her entire being was vacated of those emotions, she felt a newfound surge of maternal protectiveness and aggressiveness filling her. Uncaring of Kay's strange words and all the implications they posed to her future, the woman glowered intensely at the Pokémon poacher, energized by her love of, and her urge to protect Aria by any means necessary.
"I don't understand the kind of insane nonsense you're blabbering about," she snarled savagely. "But whether or not it's true, or whether or not you mean it, it doesn't matter. You threatened my daughter, and you did it so shamelessly. So..." She tightened her grip around Staraptor's plumage. "I'm not going to hold back on you any longer. And don't say I didn't warn you, lady."
The corner of Kay's lips twitched from amusement. Then, her entertained expression remolded itself back into her usual look of stone-cold seriousness.
"Alright, Salamence. FLAMETHROWER!"
The Dragon Pokémon bellowed loudly before launching a stream of red-hot flames from its mouth. Elle gnashed her teeth together as she closely, intently eyed the incoming attack...
About fifteen or so minutes had passed since Aria, Foster, and Sylvia began fleeing from Kay and Salamence. Once they felt confident enough that they had put a long distance between them and their pursuers, the trio slowed down, only to feel the harsh, unforgiving effects of Mt. Kiloude's cold, frigid weather. Even as they were descending from the peak and traveling down the mountainside, the wintry gales had stubbornly refused to subside, and it even seemed as if they were strengthening by the minute.
And with every step they took down the face of Mt. Kiloude.
"Why...is it...getting...so cold...?" Aria asked between intense shudders and chattering teeth.
"I...I don't...know..." replied an equally cold Foster.
Just then, the freezing gale picked up even further, accompanied by a growing, increasingly ominous howl. Acting on her instincts, Sylvia stomached her pain long enough to hop towards the two youths and wrap her debilitated wings around them, consequently providing them with the warmth of her fluffy, cloud-like plumage.
"S-S-S-S-So c-c-co-co-cold..." Foster stuttered. "I-I-I-It's j-ju-just l-l-li-li-like th-th-the le-le-leg-g-g-gend..."
"Le-Le-Leg-ge-gend?" Aria stuttered back in confusion. "Wh-Wh-What le-le-leg-ge-ge-gend...?"
But before Foster could have a chance to respond, they and Sylvia heard the familiar roar of Salamence. This was quickly followed by the sight of a Flamethrower blazing across the frigid sky, parting the clouds and even the blowing gales. And then, they saw two winged beings flying through the sky, with one chasing the other while firing attack after attack at its direction. As the two got closer and closer to their position, Aria and Foster could start to distinguish the familiar outlines of a Staraptor and a Salamence.
Eventually, one of Salamence's attacks landed its mark, sending Staraptor hurtling towards them.
"MOMMY!" Aria screamed.
Fortunately, Staraptor recovered quickly and steadied itself in the nick of time. Its swift maneuvers allowed it to fly right over Aria and Foster's heads before it could crash-land. As the Predator Pokémon soared right past them at high speeds, Aria felt her red hair blow wildly all over her face. She brushed stray locks away from her eyes, just in time to watch Elle maneuver Staraptor back towards her direction.
"Aria!" Elle cried.
"Mommy!" Aria cried back.
A split-second later, a powerful, searing Flamethrower struck the ground in front of her, Foster, and Sylvia. It then began to pursue them, forcing them to retreat several feet up Mt. Kiloude. The trio could feel the white-hot heat burning behind them, overwhelming the frigid cold that had been encapsulating them mere moments ago.
"Staraptor, use Brave Bird!" Elle's voice hollered over the crackling of the flames.
The Flamethrower abruptly stopped a couple of seconds later, punctuated by Staraptor's and Salamence's simultaneous cries.
"AGH!" Kay snapped. "Curses!"
However, Salamence's Flamethrower had already done its job. Aria and Foster ran back in the direction from which they came, with Sylvia frantically hopping after them. As they ran, they could hear the sounds of Staraptor's and Salamence's attacks being exchanged at their respective owners' orders, powerful roars and squawks, and wings flapping resonantly. Aria tried to look over her shoulder to see if her mother was alright, but before she could, Foster once again grabbed her wrist and forcibly guided her up the mountain.
"Don't look back, Aria!" he cried. "Don't look back, no matter what!"
"But...Mommy!" pleaded the redhead.
Even so, the two children continued running, their bodies fueled by nothing but adrenaline, which kept the sensations of burning muscles and straining tendons at bay. Neither of them stopped for a single second, not even when they reached the same location where Sylvia landed, not even when it sounded like Kay and Salamence were closing in, and not even when they neared the windy peak of Mt. Kiloude.
But as soon as they reached the peak, Aria, Foster, and Sylvia finally stopped in their tracks. Their bodies went as cold as the wintry environment that surrounded them.
The peak of Mt. Kiloude was nothing but an unmemorable mountaintop that they fleetingly stared at so many times from the safe distance of their homes in Kiloude City. Not once did they think about what it would be like, being stuck on such a snowy, cramped space at the top of the highest point in their homeland. They were vaguely aware of how it was once a highly celebrated and treasured place of worship for a deity whose name escaped them in the moment, but such storied history lectures were of no interest to their children.
And so, they didn't expect to see such a snowy, rocky, limited landscape, with no wild Pokémon in sight. They also didn't expect the harsh winds that had been blowing earlier to die down to nothing in such an unnatural way. They had stopped so abruptly, in fact, that Aria and Foster could see stray snowflakes still fluttering to the ground. However, one glance at the barren, nigh-stripped-down trees informed them of how strong the gusts had been before, to the point where many of the icicles created in the subzero temperatures were facing sideways rather than in the usual downward direction.
But Foster didn't take the time to take in the sight of his current surroundings. Instead, he tightened his grip around his friend's wrist and continued guiding her along, with Sylvia hopping behind them. They could hear Kay and her Salamence getting closer and closer.
"What're we gonna do, Foster?!" cried Aria.
Panting, Foster looked around in desperation for the perfect hiding place. In seconds, he spouted something ahead: the mouth of a cave. He gasped in relief and tugged Aria further along with him.
"We'll hide in there!" he cried.
Aria quickly spotted what Foster was talking about. "I-In there?!"
"You got a better plan?!"
The redhead did not say anything further and instead followed her friend into the cave. The first thing that greeted them was a snow-covered boulder, straddling the boundary where the last rays of faint sunlight ended and where the abyss of darkness began. The children dove behind the rock, followed by Sylvia, and then peeked out from behind it, watching the mouth of the cave as the sounds of battling continued to rage on outside, echoed by the distance and breezes.
"Mommy..." Aria whispered. "I hope you're alright..."
Unbeknownst to her and Foster, the cave was deeper than the darkness had suggested. And further down the cold, dark, gaping tunnel, a pair of red eyes watched the sheltering children and Altaria intently...
"WHY WON'T YOU JUST GO DOWN?!"
After Salamence fired its latest Hyper Beam, which missed Elle and Staraptor, Kay glowered down at her opponents with fists clenched so tightly that they were quaking. From the safety of the Flying-type Pokémon's plumage, Elle looked up at her enemy with defiance.
"You know..." Elle called tauntingly, "you probably should call it quits while you still can, whoever you are. Pack it up and get outta here, or else you're truly going to regret it."
"The Eight-Headed Seviper NEVER backs down from an obstacle," Kay snarled savagely. "Especially one that's standing in the way of their target."
"You said you do your research on your opponents? Both current and potential? Well, hopefully that also applies to all the places where you have battles, because if not, it's gonna spell a whole lot of trouble for you."
Then, Kay smirked, stunning Elle. "Ohhhhh, I know aaaaall about the legend of Mt. Kiloude, Elle. And believe me..." She made a swiping movement with her arms, activated peculiar devices mounted on them. "A preposterous legend like that doesn't scare me, because I always come prepared."
With a particular cruel grin, Kay then aimed her right arm's device straight at Staraptor. Before it or Elle could react, the device emitted a powerful sound-wave in the form of a beam, which hit both of them. Staraptor squawked loudly in pain and started flailing wildly in midair. As for Elle, she screamed in equal agony and covered her ears, but that, coupled with Staraptor's flailing, knocked the woman off of the Predator Pokémon's plumage.
Elle's shrill scream of terror caught Staraptor's attention. Staving off the pain induced by the sound-wave, it dove toward its Trainer's wife at high speeds, laser-focused on saving her.
But Kay wasn't about to allow it. "Heh heh heh. Not today, little birdie. Not today, I'm afraid..." She snapped her fingers. "Salamence!"
Salamence roared and fired the attack, which struck Salamence long before it could reach the plummeting Elle. It let out a final squawk before falling towards Mt. Kiloude as well, unconscious and unable to save its rider. Kay grinned callously at the development before turning towards the summit of the famed mountain.
"Excellent. Now...where were we...?"
Though Aria, Foster, and Sylvia couldn't see much of the battle through the cave's great mouth, they were able to see, in a matter of seconds, Elle's form as she fell through the sky. In that moment, everything fell silent for everyone; not even the sounds of the cold breezes reached their eardrums. Aria's breath was hitched while she maintained eye contact with her airborne mother; the young girl silently prayed to Arceus for a miracle that would turn her mother's dire predicament around for the better.
But nothing came. Instead, Aria could only watch as Elle stopped panicking and took a moment to turn her focus on the cave. At that moment, she knew her mother had seen her in her dark, gloomy shelter, despite falling many feet through the air and being about to fall many, many more.
Because she smiled at her.
Then, in the next second, Elle was gone, having fallen down the mountainside to her doom. There were neither screams nor yells that signaled her end. It was just a cold, almost contented silence that wrapped Aria, Foster, and Sylvia around in a blanket.
Finally, Foster was the first to speak. "No... No way... That can't be..."
"Mo...Mommy...?" Aria called, softly and dumbly.
Sylvia simply chirruped and bowed her head in somber acceptance.
Then all of a sudden, darkness enveloped the light flooding into the cave. Salamence's massive form landed right in front of the cave's mouth with a dull thud, its impact on the ground making the snow underneath stir slightly. Aria, Foster, and Sylvia dove behind the rock and heard the sounds of Kay dismounting her Dragon-type Pokémon.
"Little Ariaaaaa..." Kay called in a taunting singsong voice. "Come out, come out, wherever you aaaaare. I just took care of your pathetic little mommy, and now I'm gonna take care of you."
Aria felt a cold shiver run up her entire body at those words, while Foster grimaced in terror. Sylvia immediately wrapped both children with her fluffy wings, hoping to blend them in with their environment. They could hear Kay's loud footsteps getting closer.
"And by taking care of you," continued Kay, "I mean...DESTROYING YOU!"
Salamence's roar echoed through the cave, and after a brief flash of blinding light, Aria and Foster yelled while the rock providing them shelter exploded. Sylvia covered them up even more with her wings and used her body to take the brunt of the explosion and flying debris. Once the blast subsided, Aria fearfully peeked through Sylvia's fluffy plumage, only to be met with the sight of Kay sneering down at her.
"No more lollygagging," the woman snarled. With that, she activated her futuristic wristwatch and spoke into it. "Haxorus and Druddigon, come up to the top of Mt. Kiloude. We've finally cornered our mark."
"Haxorus and Druddigon, come up to the top of Mt. Kiloude. We've finally cornered our mark."
Aria's father gasped in surprise when he heard Kay's voice speak to his opponents from an invisible speaker system. The two Dragon-type Pokémon, both of them injured and scorched from their battle with his Pokémon, looked at one another, nodded in acknowledgment, and started to lift off.
"OH, NO YOU DON'T!" he hollered. "TYPHLOSION, USE INFERNAL PARADE!"
The strange-looking Typhlosion in his possession barked and fired a barrage of purple fireballs at the two targets. But the duo of Dragon-types were quicker, deftly outmaneuvering the special attack and soaring off towards Mt. Kiloude. Gritting his teeth in fury, the man began running after them, followed by his Pokémon.
"Cornered our mark?" he repeated to himself in his mind. "Oh, no. That can't be good. Come on, Elle, you can do it. You can protect our daughter, I know you can..."
"Don't be so afraid, little girlie. You'll be joining your mommy soon enough."
Kay malevolently deactivated her wristwatch and knelt down so she could be at a closer eye-level to Aria. Sylvia moved to shield the redhead and her friend from harm, but the injuries she sustained dulled her movements. The woman issued a fleeting scoff at the Humming Pokémon before refocusing on Aria.
"So...any last words?" she asked.
But Aria was left speechless. She could only look up at Kay with absolute terror, terror that she had never felt before. The darkness of the cave was encroaching on her, severe tunnel vision quickly began to develop, and she was shivering more and more, not from just the harsh cold temperatures. The image of her mother falling through the air flashed across her mind, over and over again, paralyzing her.
In that moment, she could vaguely feel a damp warmth pooling around her legs.
Kay scowled bitterly at Aria's silence and grabbed her by the sleeve. The redhead tried to break free from Kay's grip, but Salamence started to tower over them both. Its draconic face stared downward at her, giving her an uncharacteristically evil look. Then, a pair of large, looming shadows started to block out the light peering into the cave, signaling the arrivals of Haxorus and Druddigon. The little girl shuddered, giving the green-haired woman enough time to tighten her vice-like grip upon her.
"N-No!" Foster moaned helplessly. "Aria!"
"AGH!" Aria screamed while Kay started to drag her away. "SYLVIA, HELP MEEEEE!"
Mustering its scarce, ebbing strength, Sylvia squawked and pecked the woman's hand, causing her to sharply recoil and let go of Aria.
"AGH!" She then glared hatefully at the Humming Pokémon. "You're gonna pay for that! Salamence!"
Salamence opened its jaws wide to summon a sphere of fiery energy. Aria felt her entire body twitch in protest, but that was all her strength could muster before fear and helplessness took her over again. All of time suddenly slowed down for her, threatening to freeze as coldly as the snow all around them.
It was all over now. Deep down, in her immature, still-developing, seven-year-old mind, Aria knew it. Her mother would not be there to rescue her, Foster, and Sylvia anymore, and any other help was so far away now. Kay and Salamence had won in brutally tragic fashion, and they were about to have their way with them, whether they wanted it or not.
It was over-
A flash of blue light exploded into Aria's eyes, almost blinding her. She heard Salamence roar again, but this time, it was out of pain and terror. Everyone turned and saw Salamence being quickly frozen by a particular powerful Ice Beam attack that was coming from deeper within the dark cave. They all watched with agape mouths as Kay's strongest Pokémon was swiftly, effortlessly consumed in a thick layer of ice.
"Sa...Salamence..." Kay breathed out in uncharacteristic shock. "H...How did that...?"
Sensing danger, Haxorus and Druddigon joined their Trainer's sides, their bodies poised for battle. The trio stared into the vast, pitch-black darkness of the cave, waiting for their new opponent to reveal itself.
And it did.
"Wh...What?" Kay uttered, her voice low as her eyes became as wide as saucers. Haxorus and Druddigon both took a few steps backward in caution. "No way..."
Aria, Foster, and Sylvia all followed the woman's gaze, and they too were completely overwhelmed by what they saw. It was a large avian Pokémon with predominantly sky-blue plumage and wings that looked as if they were made out of ice. Its forehead bore a majestic crest consisting of three dark-blue, rhombus-shaped feathers. It also had circular red eyes; a short gray beak; and long, thin, gray legs. Each raptor-like foot had three forward-facing toes and one backward-facing toe. A mass of baby-blue, downy feathers decorated its mighty chest, and trailing behind it was a streamer-like tail that was much longer than its body and colored in the same shade of blue as its crest.
"Sooo..." Kay continued, the corners of her lips twitching into a small smile of satisfaction, "the legend of Mt. Kiloude was true, after all." Unlike her intimidated Pokémon, her fear washed away, and she took a confident step forward. "The Titan of Ice, in the flesh..."
Aria, Foster, and Sylvia watched as the Pokémon reared its head and released a great, earthshattering cry that echoed all over the cave. They felt everything around them begin to rumble from the cry's unequaled power and might; snow, ice, and eventually rocks started to fall on top of them.
"It's gonna collapse!" Foster screamed in realization.
Tapping into the dwindling reserves of her strength, Sylvia forced Aria and Foster on top of her back and started limping out of the cave while Kay and her Pokémon were distracted. The pain coming from her wounded wing was unbearable at that point, but the Humming Pokémon stomached it for the sake of the children and continued onward, no matter what it took.
By this point, Aria had simply become too overwhelmed. The loss of her mother, the threat to her life by Kay, the battles and the pursuits, it simply crashed down on her with the weight of a ton of bricks.
And so, the last thing that she saw before passing out was a burst of sunlight, followed by the feeling of droplets on her fair face...
Like a lifting curtain, Aria's eyelids opened slowly, spurred by the calming yet intriguing sound of dripping water droplets. Strangely enough, she had to exert a lot of effort into forcing her eyelids open. Once her eyes were fully opened, she was initially confused. At first, her entire world was a bright, indecipherable, featureless blur. Much like her lids, her eyesight didn't seem to agree with her awareness. Then, as it finally adjusted, she realized she was lying in a bed...
A bed in the Kiloude Pokémon Center...
"Don't look back, Aria! Don't look back, no matter what!"
"I just took care of your pathetic little mommy, and now I'm gonna take care of you."
A woman falling through the air...
"Mommy?" Aria looked around with increasing urgency. "Mommy? Mommy?! Mommy! MOMMY!"
She suddenly heard a door open, and she flitted her head at its direction.
"Mommy?" she asked hopefully.
But her heart fell as soon as she saw her visitor.
"Oh, my!" Nurse Joy exclaimed. "You're up!"
Aria could only blink at her in surprise and confusion. Even so, the nurse heaved out a sigh of relief and approached her bedside, her equipment ready.
"How are you, dear?" she asked. "Any pains? Any aches? Anything at all bothering you?"
"N...No..." Aria replied with a shake of her head. "Where's...Where's my mommy, Nurse Joy...?"
Nurse Joy took a deep, somber breath, and then her face twisted into a subtle grimace. She may have tried to mask this reaction from Aria, but the young girl recognized the look too well. It was the same kind of look Foster and Amara would wear every time an old Pokémon at their farm finally passed away. Even so, her mind, in all of its stunned disbelief over what just happened, stubbornly refused to connect the dots together.
"I'll..." The nurse grimaced again. "I'll go and get your daddy, Aria. He'll tell you."
With that, Nurse Joy departed from the room as abruptly as she had arrived. Once she did, Aria noticed for the first time the nurse's trusty Wigglytuff standing in the doorway, looking as bright and joyful as always. The Wigglytuff approached her bedside, holding a plastic tray with food and a minuscule juice box on it. As it set the tray down on her bedside table, Aria absentmindedly stared out of the window, all the while continuing to hear the sounds of water dripping.
As her mind began to delve into the oblivion of recollected memories, Aria could feel the past few hours slowly returning to her.
Her mother's special photo-shoot...
Her and Foster wandering off into Kiloude Forest to check what the scientists were doing...
Their encounter with the strange woman with the Salamence...
The strange woman's knowledge of her, and the attempts on her life...
Her mother's heroic intervention...
Her and Foster hiding in a cave...
A great, blue, avian Pokémon...
Her mother falling through the air-
The girl's heart skipped a beat in shock, and she stared at the doorway again. Her father was there, and to her surprise, so was her older sister. And both of them had teary eyes and puffed cheeks.
"Pa...Paris...?" Aria asked.
"Aria..." Paris replied with a sniffle and a hiccup.
"I...I don't get it..." The little girl looked around, even though the horror of reality was starting to dawn on her. "Where's Mommy...?"
Her father approached her bedside in a swift stride. With clenched fists and a grim face, the man knelt down on both of his knees, faced his youngest daughter, and placed his hands on her little shoulders. Aria could immediately feel how his hands were trembling badly, like he had just emerged from a bathtub full of ice and nothing else.
"Aria..." he choked out. "Your mom... Your mommy... She...She's...Sh-She's..."
He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence. Instead, he burst into tears and hugged Aria as tightly as he could. The girl was stunned, and deep down, she could feel her heart plummet to her stomach, as quickly as her mother did. At that point, Paris had begun to burst into tears as well, and she dove forward to hug the both of them, the family that she had left now.
And while her father and sister sobbed, Aria continued to stare blankly into space. She could remember everything that'd happened to her and Foster as vividly as day, and yet, while her heart accepted it as true, her brain simply was unable to catch up. She was caught in a chaotic whirlwind of emotions spawned by her father and sister and her own inner turmoil. There was nothing in the world that made sense to the little girl in that moment.
All she could really comprehend as the truth was the noise of dripping water, which Aria quickly determined was coming from a leaky faucet in the sink of her room. In the midst of all her horror and confusion, her mind strangely took solace in the dripping of the water. Whether or not it was a means of deflection and denial of the tragedy that crashed upon her so unexpectedly, she did not know.
She just continued to look at, and listen to, the leaky faucet as it continued to drip out water, slowly and ominously.
The present day...
Northern Kiloude City
"Oh, my Arceus..."
"Aria... I'm...I-I'm so sorry..."
Ash, Serena, and Yancy were all rooted to the spot, rigid and unmoving, completely mortified by the recollection of Aria's childhood incident. The redheaded girl too was affected by how Paris described the whole thing. Her paling face was now lowered, and her posture, once confident and magnificent, had been reduced to a stiff, lifeless slouch. Paris had to force herself to take a couple of deep breaths once she was done with the story. The Pokémon Showcase Committee was also deathly silent, though for varying reasons.
"So," Ash eventually said, dispelling the somber mood, "do you know what happened to that Salamence Trainer? Or who that blue Pokémon was?"
Paris shook her head. "No. There was no trace of that Trainer and her Pokémon after that day, either in the mountain or anywhere else. Officer Jenny assumed the blue Pokémon that Aria saw scared the woman off, and she got lost and died in the wilderness afterwards, so she closed the case. And as for what that Pokémon was, well, we've had many guesses, each of them being more outlandish than the last. And frankly..." She cast a hesitant glance towards Aria, who appeared to be particular grim from the retelling of events. "Who knows if Aria did indeed see what she saw? It was a...traumatic day for her..."
Aria took a deep breath and sadly lowered her face.
"Alright, alright," Countess Diable said nonchalantly, dispelling the somber mood. "Now that you kids know the full story, will you drop the whole I-want-the-Committee-to-keep-catering-to-my-insecure-little-sister's-needs-so-she-can-feel-oh-so-fulfilled angle? I believe security's been itching to throw someone out of this domain. Literally!"
"What?!" Serena cried with widening eyes. "NO!"
"Young lady," Davis replied grimly, "after what you just heard, surely you'd be more appreciate of why security is a major concern for this event. The timing, the location-" He slowly glared at Aria. "The center star... We can't afford to take any chances. Not now. Not when Showcases are being afforded this one last, glorious shot at relevancy in the Kalos region."
"Not to mention all the big bucks!" Diable interjected while gleefully rubbing her fingers together.
"You can't do this!" Ash shouted. A surge of paternal protectiveness coursed through his body as he stood in front of his future daughter, before the Showcase Committee. "Yes, what Yancy did was a breach of your security, but she did all of it for the most harmless of reasons! She meant no harm! She did what she wanted to do, and that was to make people all over happy with her performances! How does that make her a threat?!"
"PIKA!" Pikachu cried in agreement.
"You're just concerned about the bad press this might cause!" added an equally defiant Serena.
"Might?" repeated Davis. "Or will? Young lady-"
"Call me 'young lady' one more time," she interrupted ominously. "Come on, mister, do it. Call me 'young lady' one more time, and I'll show you a true threat-"
Yancy's voice pulled Ash and Serena out of their protective, parental impulses, and they twirled around towards their first child.
"Huh?!" Ash exclaimed.
"Pikachu!" Pikachu squeaked.
"But Yancy-" began Serena.
"No, M...Serena," Yancy cut off, simultaneously shaking her head. "I...I think it's for the best. I should've known better... I should've..." With a quivering lip, she looked at Aria and then apologetically bowed her head at her. "I'm sorry. I'm...I'm so..."
Yancy seemed to catch herself in her apology, and her voice trailed off. Before anyone else could respond, the pink-haired girl rushed out of the room, nearly knocking a surprised Paris aside in the process. The others stared at the open, empty doorway, most of them stunned and surprised by the unexpected turn of events. However, once the dust had settled, one of them quickly spoke up.
"Well," Diable said with a huff, "that takes care of that problem."
"Now, now, Countess," Earl replied. The stout, well-dressed, monocle-wearing man took a step forward, keeping his eye on the doorway in genuine concern. "That girl did seem quite perturbed..."
The older woman rolled her eyes. "You worry too much, Earl. It's that kind of attitude that'll sink the Showcases for good. And I-"
Diable was cut off when Serena ran out of the room just as quickly as Yancy did, followed closely by Ash. Neither of them bothered to acknowledge the others, surprising them with their departures just as much as Yancy did. In particular, Aria and Paris stared out of the doorway with curiosity and concern.
But as for Diable, she gave the doorway a horrible smirk. "And there goes the girl's supporters. You know, Palermo, you have been talking high and mighty about that Serena character lately, but from what I've seen, she's far from worthy of usurping Aria and becoming the-"
"You aren't the one qualified to make that judgment around here, Countess."
Everyone's skins crawled at the abrupt sound of Palermo's cold, stern voice. She stepped forward with closed eyes and a wrinkled brow, her voice, unheard of for the longest time, piercing the air with unmatched authority. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes and cast her gaze towards the doorway as well. A shade of uncharacteristic ambiguity quickly filled her normally chilly, piercing eyes, something that Aria took notice of...
In the Laurier Maison's lobby, a disguised James and Meowth aimlessly wandered amongst the crowd, their chins low and their lanky arms dangling from their shoulders as they passed through the milling crowds of citizens and tourists. After a couple of minutes of this, Meowth scowled in annoyance.
"Man!" he snapped. "We need ta stop helpin' out da twoips every time dey get demselves inta serious trouble!"
"I'll say," replied an exhausted James. "That battle took the life outta me... Not to mention all those minutes sitting there waiting for Jess's turn..."
"Makes me wonder how she's doin' in dat fancy dressin' room of ders."
James sighed. "She's probably blowing her top off at the very notion of waiting and waiting...and waiting..." Then, he let out a chuckle of elation. "At least we're not on the receiving end of her fury this time."
James blinked and glared at the Scratch Cat Pokémon. "Hm? Hm? There's nothing to think about, Meowth! Unless you've finally lost your memories of Jessie's wrath from all the times we've been blasted off by that twerpish Pikachu!"
"Shush, James!" Meowth exclaimed before pointing off in a certain direction. There was a curious glint in his feline eyes. "It looks like dere's someting going on between da two main twoips and dat new twoip!"
"Huh? What new twerp? We meet new twerps every week of the month, Meowth."
"Da one wit da pink hair!"
"The one with the pink hair?" repeated a puzzled James. "I...don't remember meeting a twerp with pink hair in this story. Sounds like a plot-hole, if you ask me-"
"Ah, just shut up and follow me!"
Meowth promptly grabbed James's wrist with his right paw and roughly half-dragged him across the lobby. Some stunned visitors had to step out of the way to give them room in their new route.
"Hey, Yancy! Wait up!"
"Yancy! Is something wrong?! You can tell us!"
But Yancy didn't heed her parents' calls to stop, not until she burst through the doors of the Laurier Maison and stormed outside. Many of the people loitering there, locals and tourists alike, had to make way for her. As they did, she could hear their whispers as she passed by.
"Hey, it's that Yancy girl!"
"Isn't she the one that Palermo outed as a crasher?"
"Wooooow, and to think she did a great performance..."
"If I can recall, she's also the sister of Serena!"
"Serena? That cutie with the honey-blonde hair?"
"Surely she'd know better than to crash a Showcase, then."
"It's an Exhibition Showcase, though."
"Still doesn't change the fact that she broke the rules."
"Yeah, she should've learned from her sister's experience."
"What an insecure loser."
Yancy finally felt a hand latch itself around her wrist and tug it in the opposite direction, beseeching her to stop. She did just that, but she couldn't muster the courage to turn around and look her mother in the eye.
"What's wrong, Yancy?" Serena asked. "Why'd you run off like that?"
"Yeah!" Ash added, just as he caught up with them. "We were gonna convince the Committee to change their minds! Are we still gonna do that?!"
Yancy's voice came out as a whisper, barely audible even at an infinitesimally short distance, but it still reached Ash and Serena's eardrums.
"What?" asked Ash.
"But what about the-?!" Serena began.
"Forget the Exhibition Showcase," interrupted Yancy. She lowered her face, and in that moment, the guilt was evident on her face. "Forget the final performance. Forget the dance. Forget everything. I...I shouldn't be here... I...I gotta leave!"
She tried to run off, but she was held in place by the power of Serena's grip alone. The honey-blonde gazed determinedly and intensely into her daughter's eyes as they turned towards her, sapphire-blue meeting sapphire-blue.
"Whatever your problems are right now," Serena said, "you're not going to solve them by running away from them. The only way you can solve them is by confronting them head-on."
"And remember," Ash added, "you're never alone in confronting those problems! We're here for you, Yancy!"
"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked with a raised fist of encouragement.
"So please," completed a tender Serena, "please tell us what the problem is."
Overtaken by emotion, Yancy gawked at the past versions of her parents, and in that moment, she could visualize them as their adult selves. She recalled how they were always there for her, even when she was journeying with Nate and their friends, and how their compassionate and inspirational qualities spread far and wide. They were always so perfect for her, and to know that they were projecting that very same compassion and inspiration now, as teenagers...
"Mom..." she whimpered, almost incoherently. "Dad..."
At that moment, Ash came to a realization. "The person in Aria's story, about her mom... The Trainer with the Salamence that tried to attack her... That was another person from the future, wasn't it? Someone who you knew?"
Yancy nodded darkly. "Mm-hm. It's her."
"Who?" Serena asked. "Who is it?"
"It's Kay." The pink-haired girl narrowed her eyes. "Parker's boss."
Parker narrowed his eyes while he continued to watch Nick and his construction company continue with their excavation operation. After what seemed like an eternity of hard work, it was clear that they were finally bearing the fruit of all their labors. A considerable portion of the cliff-side had been torn away by excavators and bulldozers, revealing a shiny, metal chassis unlike anything the time period had seen before.
"I don't know how you got yourself into this debacle, Kay," the Pokémon poacher thought, "but I'll see to it that you are extracted, and as soon as you are, I will brief you on the situation. And then we can get the mission back on track. Those kids have been lucky thus far, but that winning streak is about to come to an end for them-"
The voice interrupted the poacher's musings. With a sigh that bordered on exasperation, he turned and saw Sid standing a few feet away from him. His posture was more confident and less lackluster, unlike his companions, something that the poacher had taken notice of on many occasions. As a result, Parker put his guard up.
"What is it that you want, Sid?" he asked bluntly. "Because if I recall correctly, you are supposed to be filling in for one of the bulldozer drivers down there."
"Yes, yes that's true..." Sid narrowed his eyes somewhat. "So, do you...plan on double-crossing Adam?"
Parker kept a straight face as he replied, "Absolutely not. I always keep my word to my clients. They want a Pokémon, I deliver, no questions asked and one-hundred percent guarantee. The same thing goes for my colleagues. As soon as we get my boss Kay out of that mountain, we'll be able to snatch Celebi with no problems."
"I don't doubt that. But..." Sid's eye twinkled craftily. "I agree with your stance. Adam's goals are too self-centered and shortsighted. With a Celebi in our clutches, we have the power to rewrite all of reality, and yet he wants to squander all of that on petty family issues and a hotel chain that I presume will be going down the drain in twenty years' time or so."
"He's good," Parker thought in surprise. "Good, indeed..."
Then, the poacher said out loud, "Alright. And if I were to double-cross Mr. Glazing, what exactly would you hope to gain out of it, given your advance knowledge of my...hypothetical intentions?"
"Let's just say my ambitions run higher than a mere hotel chain."
Parker blinked slowly and narrowed his eyes slightly at Sid, suspicion creeping into his mind. But before he could inquire further on the man's intentions, another voice from the distance filled the air in all of its comical blunder.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE HIT JACKPOT!"
"Ladies and gentlemen, we hit jackpot? What the heck kind of phrase is that?"
"Yeah, it's not like we're mining for gold or Mega Stones, you know, Nick."
"Or those Z-Crystals that I've been hearing about lately online."
Nick scoffed and stretched out his arms in a gesture of radiant glory. In front of him, a massive excavator pulled the last of the earth away from the even more gigantic hunk of metal, revealing it for the underpaid construction workers to see. Floyd and Lloyd's disapproval faded away at the stunning sight, and the twins joined his sides to gawk at the object that Parker wanted them to excavate.
"Maybe not, you two," Nick replied confidently, "but given what we are trying to dig out, Parker's definitely gonna pay us the biggest, greatest, and juiciest paychecks of our lives!"
"Without a doubt," Floyd commented.
"No doubt in my mind," added Lloyd.
"Well!" Floyd turned around on his heel and started to walk away while tucking his raised hands behind his head. "I think I know what I'm gonna do when I get paid!"
Nick and Lloyd stared after their compatriot for a moment before following him.
"Do tell," Nick said curiously.
"I think I'm gonna retire."
"Huh?!" Lloyd exclaimed. "You for real?!"
"Yeah, of course! Well, that is, I'll retire after I use Celebi's powers to travel to the future so I can find out how I'm doing. I'd like to know how much of a high life I'm living in retirement!" Floyd then looked at Nick and Lloyd. "You know, I think you two should probably retire as well. Remember Unova?"
Lloyd nodded, remembering the brief glory that they experienced in that region. "Ah yes, I remember that very well." He beamed in reminiscence. "A true moment of our time."
"We need more of those times. Not this repetitive stuff."
"But..." Nick said in protest, "what about the construction company? We've got a living to make!"
"Yeah, the kind of living that involves living on paycheck to paycheck. Might as well have one big, final score and wrap up everything before all of it just goes down the toilet! I mean, doesn't it always end up like this whenever we try to pull off a pretty big construction job or set up some side-gig to make some more money or pull off some con?"
"End up like what?" asked Lloyd.
"Like...Like THIS! Like where we are right now! In the dumps, in the boonies, in the swamp! Whatever you like to call it! There is always a pattern to these kinds of things. First, we come up with a plan, a marvelous, ingenious plan! Then, we put it in action and dupe lots of clueless folk into giving us their investments. Then, everything's going all fine and dandy until, all of a sudden, we are dealt with some stupid, convenient twist of fate and the gig is up! Then, we try to make off with our reward, and it seems like we're still gonna triumph!
"But then, fate gets the best of us, and before we know it, we lose our reward and are blasted off by some powerful, OP attack, mostly a Thunderbolt! After thousands of times of this, it makes you wonder, doesn't it? It's like we are the main villains of some Japanese cartoon show that's been going on for over twenty-frigging-five years and usually relies on the most basic of formulas in its episodes! No, better yet, we're more like the supporting villains of some badly-written piece of shipping fanfiction! But we're not cartoon villains, nor are we bad fanfiction characters! We're real people, see!"
Nick and Lloyd watched on with borderline-empty faces as Floyd poured out his heart and soul to them. Finally, after the redheaded man finally finished, Nick responded.
Floyd threw his hands up in surrender. "You know what? Forget it!"
Before Lloyd could respond, a sudden loud, clanking noise filled the air, silencing the trio almost instantly. Shivering, they looked back at the metallic chassis that they were close to fully extracting. Their eyes widened in utmost terror, and they quickly concealed themselves behind one of the motionless excavators. And they weren't the only ones who reacted this way: Cecile and the other construction workers were staring at the strange metallic structure with a mixture of total awe and unrivaled horror.
After all, it was stirring and moving within its rocky tomb, and the movements weren't akin to something that was being dislodged. Instead, it was moving more like a creature that had been disturbed from its long slumber.
"Seriously, what in da world did we dig out?!" Nick exclaimed.
"Does it look like I know, Nick?!" replied a furious Floyd. "Why should I wanna know what it is?! That's Parker's business! And frankly, I'd rather know Arceus's rage!"
"Well, whatever it is," said Lloyd, "it's obvious that we shouldn't be sticking our noses into its business."
"Yeah," Nick responded. "And like they said, whenever the going gets tough, Team Rocket gets going!"
"Yeah, on the double..." Lloyd replied in an unenthusiastic, deadpan tone.
"Go Team Rocket..." said Floyd fearfully.
They prepared to leave from their shelter, but paused for a moment.
"Déjà vu?" Nick asked.
Just then, the trio heard another mechanical noise. Intrigued, they cautiously peeked out from their shelter. Then, their eyes widened again, this time in awe.
Two massive, tentacle-like arms with bladed pincers for hands were emerging from the metallic structure. They smashed themselves down upon two of the excavators, completely crushing them, but not before the operators managed to flee. It then used the newfound momentum created by the arms to drag itself out of the side of Mt. Kiloude, leaving behind a giant cloud of dust and debris in its wake.
Parker watched as the machine, very much like his own mecha but ten times larger, emerged from its old tomb, ravaging the side of Mt. Kiloude in the process. His lips slowly curled into a smile of triumph and satisfaction.
"At long last. We've recovered you...Kay. Celebi is ours now."
At the top of Mt. Kiloude, a soft, cold, snowy breeze blew into the familiar mouth of the dark cave. Deep within the cave's safety and solitude, the pair of red eyes opened again, its owner overhearing the ominous sounds on the ground below...
Twenty years in the future...
Northern Kiloude City
Celebi's loud squeal caught the attention of Finn, who had been screaming and holding on to a tree trunk to avoid being sucked into the gaping, howling time portal. With an eye still screwed shut, the bespectacled boy slowly, carefully looked over his shoulder and watched as a vine wrapped itself around the Time Travel Pokémon, which was still being held in the arms of Selene.
"NO!" the girl roared with a mixture of anger and grief, as she tightened her grip on Celebi.
Gasping, Finn glanced at the source of the vine. Parker's Chesnaught was using it to hold onto Celebi with a vice-like grip while simultaneously using its other vine to hold onto another tree.
"Lu...Lucario..." the boy grunted.
Beside him, the Aura Pokémon grunted in acknowledgment.
"THIS ISN'T OVER!" Parker roared as he held onto Chesnaught's shell. "ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, I'M GETTING THAT CELEBI, AND I'M GETTING PAID!"
Selene didn't bother to respond, instead devoting herself to a literal tug-of-war with Chesnaught's vine. Quickly realizing how extremely dire the girl's situation was now, Finn looked at his Lucario, who looked back at him and gave him a nod and another grunt. Then, the boy traced the ground between him and Selene's position; it was full of grass and littered with tree roots that he could hold on to, but just barely.
"Ohhhhh, this is such a bad idea..." he said with an increasingly shaky voice. "Lucario, we should-"
Finn found himself gawking at Lucario, who let go of the same tree trunk he was holding onto and quickly latched itself to one of the tree roots, using its breakneck reflexes. The Aura Pokémon then looked up at its Trainer and let out an urgent, stern bark at him. Finn couldn't help but recoil, being reminded of his great-grandfather Gurkinn.
"Ohhhhh!" the bespectacled boy cried in defeat. Then, he slapped himself in the cheek with one hand. "Calm down, Finn, calm down! You can do this! Dad's done these types of things with Uncle Ash when he was my age!"
"PICHU, USE THUNDER SHOCK, QUICK!"
Selene's voice caught Finn's attention. He flitted his gaze back to the little girl, whose Pichu was already charging up its electricity.
"WAIT, SELENE!" Finn yelled, but his voice was drowned out by the howling of the time portal.
The electricity coursed through Selene and Celebi's bodies, but the former refused to let go. The electricity also traveled across the vine and to Parker and Chesnaught, electrocuting both as well.
"AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!" Parker roared.
Then, predictably, Chesnaught lost its grip on the tree as a result of the attack, and both it and Parker flew into the time portal. Finn gasped, however, when he realized Chesnaught's vine was still wrapped tightly around Celebi's body. Selene gasped, having come to the same realization too.
"NO, CELEBI!" she cried.
Finn watched with bated breath. Not wanting Celebi to be yanked out of her hands and left to an unknown fate while she was safe, Selene let go of the rock and held onto Celebi with both arms.
"AAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!" she screamed as she flew into the portal.
The decision was made in a split-second. Finn let go of the tree trunk and allowed the hurricane-force winds rushing into the time portal to hurl himself towards Selene. He could vaguely hear his Lucario barking out for him, or the hammering of his terrified heart, as he reached his arms out for the little girl. He silently prayed to Arceus that he could catch her in time before either of them could get sucked into the portal and be trapped in there for an undetermined amount of time-
"QUICK! CATCH HIM, LUXRAY!"
Finn immediately felt his pant leg get caught in something, stopping him from reaching Selene. He could only watch with helplessness as his childhood friend's younger sister, his very cousin, disappeared into the time portal with Parker and his Chesnaught, headed for an unknown destination in time...
Then, after a couple of minutes of unnatural discord in the space-time fabric, the uncontrollable portal strained itself into closing and turning into nothing more than a faint sparkle of emerald-green. The rushing of winds stopped abruptly, and Finn fell flat to the ground, on his face.
Finn slowly looked up, his face caked in tears of desperation. He hoped to see Yancy, Selene, Nate, and Evelyn standing there, as if nothing had happened, but he could only see empty air. The only evidence of what transpired in the past few minutes twinkled on occasion, leaving behind a peculiar green glint.
"What...What the HECK?!" Finn sat up and glared at his father's Luxray, which had just dropped its leg. "Why'd you stop me, Luxray?! Do you...Do you even know what just happened?!"
"Yes, yes we do," a new voice replied.
Gasping, Finn shot up on his feet. Clemont and Bonnie were arriving on the scene, with the latter being accompanied by Squishy in its 10% Forme. The air was filled with the sounds of approaching emergency sirens, Parker and Kay's cronies were nowhere in sight. Both of them had serious, focused looks upon their faces as they stared at the glittering remnants of the time portal, but Finn was dismayed over how neither adult seemed too serious about the situation.
It was like they anticipated it or something.
"It looks like it's time, Bonnie," Clemont said mysteriously. "Have you been able to get a hold of Ash and Serena?"
"I was finally able to get through to Ash," replied Bonnie. "He says he's on his way right now. But I'm still trying to get in touch with Serena. She's still on voice message."
"Well...that could explain the delay..."
"Delay?" Finn repeated incredulously. "Delay?! Where...Where were you two?!" He marched up to Clemont and stomped his foot in front of him. "Dad! Yancy, Selene, Nate, and Evelyn were just sucked into a portal!"
"Yeah, we noticed, Finn," Clemont replied. "Look, I-"
"You noticed?! You were close by us when this was happening!" The teenage boy clenched his fists tightly. "Why? W-Why didn't you do anything to stop it?!"
Clemont immediately put his hands on his son's shoulders and stared deeply into his eyes. "Look, we wanted to, Finn, we really did! But...your Auntie Bonnie and I, we had a feeling this would happen as soon as we started battling those Eight-Headed Seviper goons. And we knew that it would be in everyone's best interests if we let everything pan out like it was supposed to-"
"Like...it was supposed to?!" Finn pointed at the empty space where the time portal once was. "Yancy, Selene, Nate, and Evelyn were sucked into a time portal, Dad!"
"Yes, I heard you, Finn." The inventor consolingly patted his son's shoulders. "Don't worry, they are alright. I can assure you of that. In fact, they're better than alright. They're in really good hands."
Finn blinked, his frustration fading away and being replaced with confusion. "Really good hands...?"
"Yes. They're..." Clemont hesitated for a brief moment. "They're with me and the rest of the family...twenty years ago."
In the skies of an unknown region
The helicopter raced through the cloudy skies at a fast speed. The sounds of thunder and the flashes of lightning marked its brief but commanding presence in the sky. Inside it was a sole human passenger, a younger man who was still on the phone with someone. Even though he was mostly shrouded in shadows from the surrounding banks of clouds, there were four things that were distinguishable even with the scarce lighting.
One was the black, fingerless glove on his right hand, which bore a glinting Mega Stone.
Another was the metal, black bracelet strapped around his right wrist, which held an amber-yellow crystal in the shape of a lightning bolt.
Yet another was the metallic, white wristband wrapped around his left wrist, which had a peculiar magenta insignia on it, taking the shape of an X.
And the fourth and final thing was the brim of his signature cap, colored white at the bottom and red at the top.
"I understand," the man said with a grim nod. "I'm still on my way there..." There was a brief silence. "Yeah, gotcha. See you soon, Clem."
He promptly hung up and forlornly stared out of the window. He could see nothing but dark storm-clouds surrounding the helicopter and threatening to envelop it. A portion of the clouds was illuminated by a flash of lightning deep within.
"ETA, fifteen minutes," the pilot announced.
Despite the clarity of the voice coming from the cockpit, however, it barely reached the man's eardrums. He simply kept on staring out of the window and into the clouds, absorbed in his own little world...
Spurred by the familiar voice, the man turned towards his companion, a Pikachu. Though his fur was well-groomed and there were little bags under his eyes to indicate his age, the Mouse Pokémon continued to exude radiant power, a power that the man had always relied on since he was ten years old.
"I'm fine, Pikachu," Ash said upon noticing how his first Pokémon was tilting his head in concern. "I'm just worried for the kids, that's all. But I know we'll get them back. Never give up till the end, right?"
Pikachu nodded in agreement. "Pika, pikachu!"
A/N: So that's the end of this chapter! Here's a quick recap of some of the stuff in the fic's lore that was explored in the chapter, lore that you guys and gals may have forgotten about:
-Foster is Aria's childhood friend who is currently an employee of the Laurier Maison, as well as a farmhand. Sylvia is the pet Altaria of Aria's family, and the signature Pokémon of Aria's late mother Elle.
-Finn is Clemont and Korrina's son in the future, who is a traveling companion of Yancy and Nate. He and several others were there when Selene, Yancy, Nate, Evelyn, Parker, and Kay were transported to the past by Celebi's machinations.
-I will not be revealing the blue avian Pokémon's identity yet, though I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out quickly. As for why the heck it's showing up in the story, I've actually been planting seeds for its appearance here for a WHILE. Refer to the end of Chapter 11 in particular. ;D
Anyway, here's some background info for this chapter. Originally, I was going to devote the entirety of it to wrapping up the story behind what happened to Aria's mother Elle. The battles were going to be more drawn-out, and we would have more intricate explanations about Elle and Kay's fates, while the material for the second half would've been reserved for the next chapter, returning the audience to the present day. However, one of the secondary reasons why it took so long for this chapter to be released was because I was having such a hard time lengthening the sequence the way I wanted it. Then, I got burnt out with "Pokémon" for a while and decided to take an unofficial sabbatical from that.
Eventually, when I did finally return to writing this chapter, I still had difficulties getting the sequence to the length that I wanted. At first, it didn't bode well for me and my chances of bringing the story back in a timely manner, but then, in the heat of the moment, I remembered something. A reviewer (either here or on AO3, I'm too lazy to dig the review back up for clarification) had offered some significant constructive criticism on the story's direction. Namely, I was taking too long to get to the icing of the cake that is the Exhibition Showcase, which was the major Freestyle Performance with all of the Performers onstage and the ball dance after that (and that's more lore that I'm sure you've all forgotten).
Anyway, I remembered that constructive criticism, and I decided to take it to heart. After rereading the entire fic myself, from beginning to end, I realized that I was lollygagging at this point and that it was becoming a growing disservice to all of my readers who are ITCHING to see more juicy AmourShipping stuff. So, I decided to revamp my plans for the chapter and speed things up. Starting in the next chapter, we'll wrap up the little debacle about Yancy being allowed to take part in the Exhibition Showcase, and we'll get to the big Freestyle Performance, followed by the dance. And THAT'S gonna be where the juiciest of all AmourShipping moments will be! :D :D :D
So yeah, consider that something to look forward to in the chapters ahead!
Now, I'd like to thank the following people for reviewing:
1) Well, unfortunately, that's what you had to go through for these past few months. But don't worry! I'm back on top of this story, and I intend to get the remainder of these chapters released and out of the way in due time!
2) Yeah, ain't that a shame. :/
3) Well, it's not Aria per se, but as you can see, Yancy has put two and two together and is starting to blame herself and her actions for bringing Aria's childhood woes about. Let's see how she resolves them...
4) Hopefully my little recaps helped you remember the story's lore somewhat!
-FashionLuver98: Oh, why you're very welcome! I'm so glad the timing of that chapter was pitch-perfect! Now, is there anything that you'd like to specify in your review? Anything that you liked about the fic so far? Anything you might have disliked? Any questions or other comments? It'd be greatly appreciated!
-Guest reviewer #1: Is...there anything else that you'd like to specify in your review? Is there any reason in particular why you think it was interesting to delve into Aria's childhood? Anything that you liked about the fic so far? Anything that you might've disliked? Any questions or other comments? It'd be greatly appreciated!
1) Yeah, it's a real punch in the gut, knowing what happens to the family next. :'(
2) It's alright! Take all the time you need to write out your review! No rush.
1) Well, it's like the say! Childhood friends always make for good couples and good romance! (I made that up, obviously. XD)
2) I personally headcanon Aria as being a year or two older than Ash and Serena. In the future, everyone's somewhere in their 30s. That way, they would all have enough time to realistically be the parents of adolescents. At least, that was the intent all along, unless I got my math wrong somewhere down the road.
3) Well, since Kay was sent through the time portal, she wound up being in there longer. Therefore, she got transported further back in time compared to everyone else. (Yeah, time travel in general is an iffy concept, so please, suspend your disbelief for this one! :D)
4) Looks like one of your questions was answered with this chapter! As for the others, well, they'll be answered soon. ;D Just keep your fingers crossed...
5) Well, I hope this chapter didn't take too long for you! DX
-Guest reviewer #2:
1) I'm not going to get too much into details of the concept for the sake of spoilers, but...I'll just say that it's flexible. ;D
2) Heh heh heh. Well, only Parker would know the answer behind that, and he's certainly not going to share that info to him, so... XD
3) It's alright. Any sort of comment is deeply appreciated! :D
1) Yeah, in hindsight, the way I segued into all of that could have deserved some further clarification. But hey, what can I do now? The chapter's out there now.
2) Funny story, and I'm sure you can tell from my opening Author's Note, but I have warmed up a little to the fanservice in Journeys. The Masters Eight Tournament and its lineup was just fantastic, and what they're doing with Ash right now is just well-deserved for him given all that he's been through. I do hope he wins it all. However, I do still feel like they could have done more with the premise, and that they could have balanced things out more with promoting Galar and showing off all the past regions.
3) Speaking of recaps...hoo boy, we've come a long way from all of those cameos that you just mentioned! :O :O :O
1) Thanks! I'm glad I was able to help you navigate your way through all of these new characters!
2) Yes, yes I did. Clemont/Korrina for life!
3) Uhhhh...are you talking about Selene? Or Serena? I can't tell... (I've officially bamboozled myself thanks to my name choices! DX DX DX)
4) Yep. Miette is just one big walking troll machine. You just can't help but love her for that. XD XD XD
And with that out of the way, I wanted to take this moment to address the rumors that I've been hearing recently about shutting down. Right now, I am not too convinced of their reliability, since the admins have reappeared on Twitter after a long hiatus to provide some updates on what they are doing for the site. Whether or not those updates pan out like they are supposed to remains to be seen, but I will take the admins' word for it for now.
Anyway, regardless of what ultimately happens, I do intend to stay with this site till the bitter end. Call me a suck-up and an FF sycophant, but I've been here for over ten years, and I've become too attached to it to jump off the ship.
But if the shutdown does happen, whether it's in the near-future or not, don't worry, everyone. That won't be the end of me and my projects. For those of you who don't know by now, I've been active on Archive Of Our Own since 2019. Many of my stories (at least all of the ones that I do intend to continue at some point) are also posted on there, and any new chapters and stories that I post on here will automatically be posted on AO3 as well. Glitches that plagued the site back in 2020 convinced me of the importance of having backup copies of my stories posted on other fanfiction sites. So, here we are!
And yes, I go by the same username of "TheCartoonFanatic01" at AO3. It shouldn't be hard to find me over there.
So once again, don't worry, everyone. Rest assured, I've been on top of a potential shutdown of FF for years. My stories are safely stored elsewhere. If the end of this site is near, let's all just kick back and enjoy the memories we made here. :D
Well, hope you enjoyed this chapter! TheCartoonFanatic01 is out. PEACE!