Chapter 23: Through the Fire
Fire grants us heat, fire grants us hope
Seething as darkness covers the globe
Fire creates smoke, fire creates coal
Releasing his rage to tame his soul
Insyte stared off into the distance as the wings of the Skarmory beneath him beat on either side of him. He touched a paw to the fiery orb hanging from his neck. Up ahead, he could see the crooked volcanic island of Cinnabar, headquarters of the Vulcanite League.
The Skarmory landed on the ashen shore. Once, a thriving city of science and research had stood here; but it had been obliterated in a belligerent, seething eruption many years ago. "Thank you," said the Flareon as he climbed off of the Skarmory's back. "I pray that we shall both see each other again, when all this madness is over."
The Skarmory nodded, gave a sharp cry, and flew off. Insyte turned to face the jagged cavern mouth. Mother, father," he murmured. "I promise that I will avenge you, and slay the one who planted that traitor in Lute's camp. And I will fulfill that terrible destiny which you foresaw for me... which you have helped me to embrace."
Inside the cavern, the air was thick with steam and heat. The Flareon's path was lined with pools of molten rock and boiling water. At the back of the cavern, a river of magma welling out from a jagged hole in the wall and down another passage. As Insyte reached the river, a Magmar leapt up out from the magma and grabbed him by the neck.
"Who goes there?" demanded the Magmar, raising Insyte into the air. Looking his enemy in the eyes, Insyte delivered a powerful hind kick to the Magmar's chest. Losing his grip on the Flareon, the Magmar bellowed out an alarm. Turning, Insyte dove down into the magma, molten rock rolling over him like mineral water in a hot spring.
Several other guards entered the room as Insyte climbed out of the river on the other side. Ducking under a Monferno's kick, the Flareon rolled behind the monkey and bit its flaming tail, sending it screeching and bounding off. Two more Magmars chased the Flareon down the passage, hurling balls of burning clay over his head.
Tumbling into a long mess hall, the Flareon raced across the floor, startling Vulcanites at obsidian tables on either side of him. "Intruder!" shouted the Magmars as they entered. "Stop him!" Exchanging fearful eyes, the Vulcanites one by one abandoned their food and joined the pursuit.
Entering a larger dike, the Flareon sprang up onto a thin ledge as a a thin, glowing rock wall split open, magma pouring into the tunnel and sweeping his pursuers off their paws. Clinging to the rock wall, he glanced back to the struggling Vulcanites caught in the molten tide below—cursing and shouting at him, but unharmed.
As the magma flood subsided, Insyte leapt down to the floor and hurried on. The passage was widening, magma trickling around the Flareon's paws, down into the heart of the volcano.
Insyte slowed to a halt as the tunnel opened into the central magma chamber, a vast cavern of glowing red stone, magma cascading down from the tunnels into a great lake of swirling magma. The sun's light glowed through the crater high overhead, illuminating a island of obsidian in the center of the magma lake.
On that black, glassy island stood a statue of a giant bird, its wings spread wide, feathers layered like the bands of a rainbow. Its eyes were proud and fierce, a golden plume adorning its head. Gazing at the statue, Insyte felt as if the statue was looking back at him, its sharp eyes penetrating his soul.
Suddenly, dark energy rings appeared around his paws, neck, and tail. Eyes widening, the Flareon stared as howls and shouts filled the tunnel behind him, an Arcanine padding toward him as Vulcanites surrounded Insyte. "Lieutenant Canir!" called one Charmeleon. "We've caught him."
Eyes narrowing, the Arcanine circled Insyte. "In the name of Heatran, master of the Vulcanite League, I place you under arrest," growled the Arcanine. Then, more quietly, he murmured."Forgive me."
The Flareon barely had time to gasp before heavy paws struck him from behind, knocking him out.
A dark blue dragon with thick steel armor appeared in the sky above Viridian City. Its tail was shaped like the sun's rays, and its body was decorated with golden veins. Embedded in the center of its five-pointed chest plate was a blood-red crystal. The helmet was dark gray, and the eyes were a terrible, searing crimson.
Roger Silversky, Champion of Kanto, stared out from the back of his Rapidash, eyes sweeping over the watching city of Viridian, desperate survivors and refugees from countless cities destroyed. Behind him sat a Golduck with harsh red eyes, clinging to his master's shoulders.
"We must stand together, more tightly united against an enemy that has brought death and destruction to our lands," said the Champion. "It is an enemy that has brought death and destruction to all whom oppose him, and oppression and slavery to those who bow before him. Giratina cares nothing of families, of friendship, of love. For he is nothing but a monster, the darkest sort of evil that roams the earth."
The Rapidash gave a sorrowful whinny, pawing at the ground as the Golduck gave a terible shudder. "'What good is it to stand our ground,' you may ask," said Roger. "What can you do, but die, when the enemy holds all the weapons? For as I speak, men and women and children and Pokemon are fighting and dying for their homes, unable to raise a claw. We fought for Celadon City. We held our ground. And in the end, the city was leveled."
The people of Viridian stared up at their Champion, the greatest warrior from their city. "But we cannot lose hope. Giratina's invincibility is nothing but an illusion, an empty threat against our descendants. That is why we shall hold our ground always, never retreating. Because to do anything else shall seal all our fates. We can, we shall survive. For we are not mice, but humans..."
There was a terrible roar as the king of time raised his maw to the stars, and the roar that ripped from his maw shook the entire city. Terrible cries frose from the crowd. If even the gods sided with the Exile, then what hope was there for them?
"My friends," said Roger, his voice shaken but still clear, staring up as Primal Dialga descended to the earth. "Remember this: It is better to give yourself up to a noble cause, than to live forever without meaning." Horrified shouts rose as the Champion kick-spurred his Rapidash, who whinnied and broke into a steady gallop up the hill-slope towards the descending dragon.
The dragon's eyes flared as Roger and his Pokemon charged towards him, and energy began to gather in its maw. At an order from his master, the Golduck climbed up onto the Champion's shoulders as the Rapidash sprinted onward, his psi-gem glowing. Then, as the Champion reached the top of the hill, the Rapidash leapt up into the air, its horn aimed for the terrible scarlet diamond in Primal Dialga's chest, a concentrated stream of freezing energy bursting from the Golduck's maw.
A massive blast of blue energy like a thousand rays of light rained down from the sky and engulfed the trio in earth-scorching power as Primal Dialga reeled back in pain, obliterating the Kanto Champion Roger and all that he had ever been, reducing him to ashes. Snarling, the terrible beast struck the ground.
Blasts of temporal energy rained down upon the sky, waves of decay erupting from every direction. Fireballs, blizzards, and streaks of lightning rained down from the sky upon Roger's and Slick's hometown, humans and Pokemon collapsing into dust in the pulsing blue waves. And high overhead, a man in red upon a Charizard stared in horror as a once-proud city joined the others in destruction.
"You've come at last."
Slowly, Insyte stirred in a crude jail cell, rigid bars welded into walls in a warm, dark cavern. "I've waited for you for a long time," said a voice. Looking around the for the speaker, the Flareon caught sight of the Phoenix Orb in the cell across from him, the door locked as if the orb was another prisoner.
There was no mistaking it. The voice was coming from the Orb. "At long last, destiny's flame has come to the mountain of the great forge," said the voice. "The moment of the prophecized hero is drawing nigh, the time when divine fire shall rain from the sky and iilluminate the heavens..."
Insyte gasped as a bird of flame rose from the Orb and took shape, the words washing over his ears like honey. "Who are you?" asked the Flareon, stepping back.
"I was Ho-Oh, the Golden Protector," said the bird, his eyes gleaming. "As Ho-Oh before me, and Ho-Oh after me, I watchd the world for danger—and struck down its threats where I could. Long have my praises been sung, in the city of Ecruteak. But the hearts of the world have turned against me. Now, sealed in stone, I appeal to you through my crystal."
Ho-Oh, the avenging warrior to balance Lugia's secrecy. The Flareon recalled the great bird statue in the central magma chamber... not a statue, but Ho-Oh's petrified body. "You are Ho-Oh? God of the Vulcanites?" uttered Insyte, his paws pressed against the bars. "Why? Why would you wait for me?"
Light and shadow swirled around the cave as the flames in the Orb crackled. "This was not always such a cruel, harsh place," said the phoenix, the air rippling with heat. "Long ago, the Vulcanites were led by a wise, powerful king. Under his rule, the Vulcanites flourished in every land, in every volcano. Man and Pokemon echoed my praises. Such an era should have been eternal."
The Flareon stared down at his paws. Ho-Oh's voice was filled with faded melancholy, drawn taut by time. "Upon the king's death, the Vulcanites turned upon each other. Corruption and weakness rotted at my power. Only humanity was loyal to me. And now... with humanity now in decline—"
The phoenix suddenly broke off. In the distance, the Flareon could hear pawsteps down the tunnel, accompanied by a familiar scent. "A visitor approaches," warned Ho-Oh. "Tread carefully, destiny's flame..."
The Flareon stared as the phoenix vanished, a sillouette entering the cellblock. "Insyte?" whispered an incredulous voice.
His heart pounding, Insyte turned to see an all-too-familiar face on the other side of the bars, a Quilava watching him from the cellblock hallway. "Embyr?" he gasped, his eyes widening. "You... you're alive!"
"Could it be? You've come back to me, at last?" murmured Embyr, approaching him. "Oh... Insyte..."
Insyte reached a paw through the bars of the cell towards Embyr. "I've missed you so much," said the Flareon.
A shroud of melancholy fell across Embyr's face, and she drew away from Insyte's cell. "So have I..."
Insyte blinked, startled at first to see Embyr's sadness. And then, he remembered that he was imprisoned within a jail cell in the Vulcanite League. "Embyr... you joined the Vulcanite League?"
"I did," said Embyr quietly. "The world changed for both of us when you left Kanto, Insyte. We've become different Pokemon, living in a different world."
"I know we have," said Insyte, a sense of longing in his heart. "But Embyr..."
"I thought... the Vulcanite League would be a source of protection," whispered Embyr. "That even though you weren't there-"
"I didn't die," said Insyte desperately. "I didn't want to leave you either... I had to."
"Why, Insyte?" asked Embyr, her eyes filling with tears. "Why did you leave me behind? Didn't you love me?"
"I did!" said Insyte. "Embyr... I thought about you every day. I'd given up on my dreams, my hopes, my ambitions. But I couldn't forget you."
"You attacked the only family I have now," said Embyr, closing her eyes. "I was taken into the Vulcanite League. At last, I had people to notice me. People who could help me. People who cared-"
"I cared," said Insyte, tears forming in his eyes. "I worried about you every day. I worried about you, even as I stopped worrying about myself."
Insyte's voice trailed off. He stared at the markings on Embyr's foreleg. One was the insignia of the Vulcanite League, but the other one... a triangle with three twisted, interwoven circles. it was a horrifcally familiar symbol, the symbol of Giratina. "You... you've joined Giratina..." he breathed.
"Of course I did," said Embyr, looking back at Insyte, her eyes shining. "Giratina is on the verge of freeing the world from the corrupted shackles of human influence..."
Insyte stared in horror at the words which Embyr spoke. "What has happened to you?"
"I matured," said Embyr. "I grew up. I saw the evils which humans inflicted, and I knew Giratina was right. But what about you, Insyte? They think you're a human supporter... just because you had a trainer. You need to tell them the truth, to swear allegiance-"
"How can you say that?!" cried Insyte. "Giratina is a cold-blooded murderer! He is an oppressor to Pokemon and humans alike! His campaign is leading the world into chaos, poverty, and despair!"
"What, indeed, happened to YOU?" Embyr backed away from Insyte's cell, shaking her head in disbelief. "No... you don't know what you're saying! Look around you and see the good that-"
"I have seen firsthand the cruelty that Giratina has inflicted, upon the very humans who would protect us," said Insyte. "I have seen him enslave children as young as seven years old. His battles are nothing but violent massacres!"
Embyr looked into Insyte's eyes. "I waited for you for two years, clinging to the memories of that perfect Pokemon I once knew. I saw the light in you that once shone brightly, beneath your darkened pelt. And now, your fur is bright, but your soul is darkened."
"Please, Embyr," pleaded Insyte, his body tightly pressed against the bars of his cell "Help me get free. Giratina has caused so much wrong in the world. Help me to set things right again."
"I... I can't believe it," said Embyr, staring. "I thought that we knew each other better than any two Pokemon could... and you truly were a human lover all along..." She turned around and walked off, wracked with grief. "I can't believe it... I was in love with a traitor... You're just as bad as that evil Vixen..."
"Embyr! No! Please!" cried Insyte, beginning to weep uncontrollably on the jail cell's floor, feeling a powerful sense of emptiness and loss, thrice as hollow as when Slick died. "No... no... Embyr... EMBYR!!!"
Dozens of Pokemon sprinted down through the hills towards the smoking ashes of Ecruteak City, Suicune at the forefront of the charge with his billowing purple mane and crystal headress. A mesh of packs and dens, Furrets and Heracrosses, Stantlers and Xatus, Jumpluffs and Sneasels, the host of Pokemon raced over the grass and through the trees as one, leaping over ledges and brush, paw after paw of instantaneous movement. Tonight, the Wild Alliance was on the move.
"Giratina's troops caught the Wild Alliance off guard, and many good warriors died," Shock told Thalia as they ran onwards, side-by-side. "But it is in our nature to endure, to persevere through the rugged wilderness. Giratina can take our homes and our loved ones, but he shall not break our spirits!"
"Where are we going?" called Thalia, paws hot against the ground, trying to keep pace with Shock. She'd never had trouble doing the timed runs that Slick put her through a few years ago, but this was different—Shock seemed twice as fast as her, perhaps even faster than Sparktail and herself put together! "Wasn't Ecruteak City burned to the ground?"
"Ecruteak is the place where the Alpha and his brothers were born," answered the Manectric, the pack passing broken white fences. "It has been the sacred gathering place of the Wild Alliance for a century and a half, and we will not abandon it, regardless of whether it is habitable for humans or not." He gave Thalia a sharp look. "Do not forget that we are not like the soft-hearted humans who raised you."
The Leafeon winced, falling back a few paces. "I—I really can't help it if I don't know anything about the Wild Alliance," muttered Thalia, glancing away from the Manectric. It was silly, really; she hadn't actually been raised by humans at all, but no one would believe that she and Sparktail had been thrown into time-stasis for three thousand years as children. "Really—everything you guys do amazes me."
The pack stampeded through the wooden gates, green turf replaced by a sea of scorched wooden houses, their paws kicking up ashes and dust into the air. At a bark from Suicune, the pack slowed down as they proceeded down the street, dropping to a steady trot. When they came to a full stop in the center of town, and the dust-clouds cleared, Thalia froze.
In the shadows of a charred monastery stood Entei, a gray mane like rippling smoke, his headpiece a golden star-like mask, his paws thick as tree-stumps. The Alpha shook his tan muzzle, surrounded by a great crowd of Pokemon; thick-muzzled Granbulls, horned Houndooms, tan-maned Arcanines, and many others gathered before the fiery beast, looking up towards the magnificent Alpha with hope.
Along the jagged trail of footsteps left by the Red Dragon's rampage padded Raikou, a black-and-gold beast whose head and fangs were like a sabretooth's. This Alpha's mane was an elegant violet, billowing from the back of his head like a rolling thundercloud. His jagged, electric-blue tail glowed as he led his own meta-pack down towards the city square.
The three Alphas padded towards each other, leading their forces together, uniting together a prodigious army too large for Thalia to comprehend, perhaps over a hundred strong. There was an odd gleam passing between Suicune, Entei, and Raikou, these three brothers born from disaster, molded by disaster, and reunited by disaster.
Her blood chilled as Shock hissed into her ear. "Don't be fooled," warned the Manectric, his eyes narrowing. "This isn't even a quarter of the Exile's army, girl, and most haven't got anything like the ferocity that our enemies do. If we're going to be taking on the devil and his armies of darkness, we'll need a lot more than this!"