|Hell and High Water
Author: Perosha PM
AU novel. After Team Magma and Team Aqua lose control of Groudon and Kyogre during "The Scuffle of Legends," the two Pokémon are poised to destroy Hoenn. Desperate for a way to stop them, villains and heroes alike are forced into an uneasy alliance that brings enemies close, and friends even closer. Rating for natural disaster, language, and mature themes; no explicit sex.Rated: Fiction T - English - Suspense/Romance - Team Aqua & Team Magma - Chapters: 34 - Words: 210,866 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 3 - Published: 04-15-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8029253
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words?
Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?...
If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.
– Job 41:1-4, 8-9
"All of you need to get into the ruins, right away!"
Only the grunts nearest him could even hear the shouted command. Tabitha spat out a mouthful of water and hoisted Maxie higher against his shoulder, blinking away the rain that had already soaked through his uniform, and counted the striped and hooded figures as they scrambled toward the crumbling stone temple, every step a splash through liquid mud. In the distance, the massive wave looked like a wall of iron as it rolled—slowly, unnaturally slowly—towards the shore, down below them at the base of the sloping volcano that constituted Monsu Island.
"Get into the ruins, now!"
A pair of Aqua grunts who had paused to gaze at the distant wave turned and fled towards the temple. At Tabitha's side, Maxie hissed through gritted teeth.
"Sir, are you all right?" Tabitha shifted his grip again, keeping Maxie on his feet. "We need to get to safety with the others. Come on."
"No." Maxie tried to support himself, then stifled a gasp, clutching at his side through his overcoat with his free hand. "We have to stop Archie. If this goes on much longer..."
Grimacing, Tabitha looked to the sky. The rain was lessening to a drizzle as Archie and Kyogre moved further offshore, though dark clouds still seethed above their heads, as though the frothing cauldron the sea had become had somehow spilled up into the sky. Flecks of bright white flickered inside the churning storm: lightning, waiting to strike. Even the caldera of the volcano had begun to smoke harder, the thin plume just barely visible against the clouds. Tabitha set his jaw.
"We don't have any way to follow Archie, sir," he said. "The chopper's damaged. There's nothing we can do but get to the ruins."
"If we don't do something—" Maxie began, then hissed again, his lined face tightening with pain. Tabitha supported him more firmly, trying to mind the side of his ribs that seemed to be tender.
"Maxie, let's go—"
Something big swooped overhead, pale against the dark sky, shooting over the wind-tossed treetops and down towards the rocky shore. Tabitha almost ducked instinctively.
"What the hell was that?"
Already the flying thing was hard to make out, a light-colored blur speeding out to sea. It seemed to be heading towards Archie and Kyogre.
"Come on, you guys! Pikachu went this way!"
A few yards away, a group of people rushed past, not even noticing Maxie and Tabitha as they bolted for the trees on the edge of the ruins. It took Tabitha a second to register what he was seeing.
"It's those kids again!" he said in astonishment.
And indeed, the four children his submarine had unexpectedly picked up that morning were running pell-mell through the muck, headed towards the slopes that descended to the shore. In moments they had all but disappeared, melting into the darkness between the trees. Maxie stirred.
"Right." Tabitha hesitated. "Sir—you should stay here with the others. It's too dangerous."
Maxie winced and forced himself to straighten up; Tabitha relaxed his grip, letting him support himself.
"We have to follow them," Maxie said weakly. "The Blue Orb is still inside that boy's Pikachu. If we lose it now..."
Tabitha did not argue. Instead he pulled his hood further over his head to shield himself from the rain and followed Maxie towards the woods.
Ash lost the breath to yell as he scrambled down the steep slope, trying not to slip in the treacherous mud. Pikachu had gone this way, he was sure of it, and after a moment he caught a glimpse of light between the trees. He sped up. The world became meaningless sound and fury as he barreled down, down, past trees whose ranks grew ever thinner as the muddy ground gave way to bare, wet rock. Pikachu was soon visible as a ball of light half a dozen yards ahead, and only the sound of footfalls from behind him told Ash that the rest of his friends were keeping pace with his furious scramble down the ridge.
The ground suddenly leveled. Ash staggered, momentum nearly pitching him over, but righted himself and kept running, calling out to Pikachu, who had paused on the edge of an outcropping as though contemplating whether to jump. The Blue Orb's red lines pulsated weirdly across its tiny body.
Ash managed to skid to a halt before reaching the rim of the ledge, and heard Brock, May, and Max stop short behind him, panting. A good thirty feet below, Pikachu landed—safely, it seemed—atop a huge gray submarine that had been thrown up onto the shore by the storm, now lying helpless on the rocks like some bloated steel monster.
"Hey, Pikachu!" Ash called, to no avail. Brock squinted at the sub below, realization dawning as he noticed a familiar symbol on its hull.
"Hey, that's Team Aqua's submarine!" he said. Beside him, May looked frightened.
"Is...something inside of it?"
Ash grit his teeth.
"Pikachu!" he called again, but Pikachu paid him no heed. If the distance had not been so great, he would have leaped down after his friend, but even Ash appreciated the danger of a jump from this height. All he could do now was watch.
Archie's madness seemed to have infected the entire sea. Half a mile offshore, the gray water churned as though boiling, whirlpools and waterspouts forming and seething for the blink of an eye before vanishing as quickly as they had appeared. Rain came down in intermittent sheets that twisted in a way no natural storm could mimic. Every once in a while, some trick of the air carried echoes of Archie's laughter to them, faint but distinct, yet the sound was barely human; it might have been the laughter of an evil spirit, some demon of the oceans summoned out of ancient myth to end the living world. Even from this distance, and even through the haze of rain, Archie himself was visible as a glimmer of blue above the water. Evidently the Red Orb had been absorbed into his body, for the harsh light of it shone from within him like a beacon. Behind him, the tidal wave that Kyogre had summoned stood tall and unmoving, awaiting only a madman's signal to lunge forward and drown the island. Lance and Dragonite, too, were distinguishable, though only as a pale blur zigzagging above the sea.
Ten feet away from Ash and his friends, Maxie and Tabitha arrived. Their trajectory down the slope had brought them onto a different ledge than the children, and now Maxie bent double, gasping for breath. Tabitha reached out to support him, but Maxie straightened up, looking grim. The two men gazed down at the submarine, watching Pikachu screech loudly enough to be heard even over the wind and waves, shooting bright tongues of electricity toward the sky as if to challenge the storm itself.
"What's that Pikachu doing?" Maxie muttered.
"I don't know, sir..."
Pikachu had now attracted everyone's attention. Out at sea, Kyogre and Archie had stopped sparring with Lance and Dragonite; it seemed like they were both watching the commotion on the beach, and Pikachu continued to scream like a thing possessed as it sent forth bolt after bolt of electricity, the brightness lashing painfully across the watchers' vision. Tabitha shielded his eyes against one particularly strong blast, then tensed, discerning beneath the storm the sound of footfalls behind him. He glanced over his shoulder.
It was Commander Shelly. Her long red hair clung to her back, wet and lank, matted in places by the same mud that now stained her soggy jeans. If she noticed her disheveled condition, she did not care. She did not even spare a glance for Maxie and Tabitha as she stood transfixed, shivering in the rain, her gaze darting between the screeching Pikachu down below and Archie and Kyogre out on the water. She looked horrified.
The sight of Shelly triggered something in Tabitha's brain, a chain realization as swift as the thunderbolts being expelled by Pikachu. In a fraction of a second, he understood everything, remembered what was inside the sub, why the Orb-mad Pikachu would have been drawn to it...
Lightning struck the submarine.
The bolt lasted, perhaps, four seconds, but for the watchers on the ledges, those seconds stretched into an hour of blinding whiteness and the indignant shriek of burning metal. Then something exploded.
A wave of heat passed over them, like a furnace blast, and Ash lunged forward and let out a scream that no one could hear. But already the submarine, or whatever was left of it behind a thick veil of smoke, had ceased to be the center of attention, because the boom of the explosion had not ended. Instead it grew louder and deeper, until it had become a roar emitted not by the wreckage on the beach, but by the island itself, which trembled beneath them.
No one needed to ask what was happening. As one they all turned and gazed at the smoldering crown of the low volcano behind them in the center of the island, and waited, holding their breaths.
With a bellow, the volcano erupted; it deafened them with its anger as it spewed a plume of hot ash into the roiling storm clouds. Forked lightning immediately shot through the ash cloud, as if the storm resented this intruder, and something bright burst from the rim of the volcano and began slithering down its sides: fresh lava. Channels in the rock funneled the lava into twin rivers that smoked and spluttered as they rolled down the island's flanks, far enough on either side of those watching from the ruins and shore to pose no danger, yet too hot and bright to even look at directly. Both flows of lava met the sea within moments of each other, cascading over the lip of the shore cliffs and exploding on contact with the water. The ocean hissed in reply. Great white plumes of steam billowed from the places where the two forces collided.
The wreckage of the submarine radiated light, excruciatingly bright light, as though the metal had been a thin wrapper ripped away to reveal a piece of the sun. The light coalesced into a pillar that moved steadily upwards, throwing the world into blinding relief, and when the beam reached the clouds it spread outwards. The clouds dissolved, breaking apart and swirling like dark vapor before disappearing as completely as though they had never been.
In the space of a deep breath, the entire sky above Monsu Island was magically wiped clean. Now it was a pure, pale, perfect blue—save for on the far side of the island, where ash still hung in the air, drifting away southeastward on some wind too high to feel.
The storm below had died as swiftly as the one above. As the clouds were rent to tatters, the ocean that had seethed slate-gray in the darkness becalmed itself, smoothing under the strong rays of the sun. By the time the clouds disappeared—and it was but the work of a few moments—the sea surrounding the island was docile, save for the wall of water that Kyogre had created, towering behind the great Pokémon like a beast held at bay. In the absence of the wind and rain the unmoving wave looked truly freakish. There could be no doubt that it was the product not of natural forces, but of an ancient and unfathomable will. And now, another will had awoken to challenge it.
Maxie watched Groudon—a real, living, breathing Groudon—extract itself from the wreckage of the half-melted submarine. Its crimson scales shone like armor in the newly bright sun as it heaved itself forward on hind legs that could crush a redwood, its tail alone powerful enough to smash concrete to powder. Gargantuan claws cleaved through the steel piled around it like so much tissue paper, and when it was free it raised its mighty head and gave a bellow that shook the foundations of the island. By some miracle—or perhaps the power of the Blue Orb—Pikachu had survived the explosion of the sub, and from this distance it was nothing more than a crackling ball of light perched atop Groudon's muzzle, its shrill screams inaudible. When Groudon roared a second time, Maxie felt the sheer force of it vibrate inside his ribcage.
Somehow, in that moment, it seemed to Maxie that he had beheld this creature many times before. In some ways, he had—if fantasies counted, and dreams, and those muddled visions somewhere in between that occurred during long nights spent lying awake. But now, staring down at the shore thirty feet below, soaking wet and, if the pain in his side was any indication, bleeding...
Groudon was to an ordinary Pokémon what a mountain was to a stone. The Earth herself had conceived it in the days when she was young, nurturing it in her fiery womb until it came forth from her in spasms of rock and lava, awakening at last into a dark and ancient age of the world beyond the memory of any thing that now lived. Any thing, save the equally mighty creature lying in wait out in the water.
The wave behind Kyogre lunged forward like a charging army, climbing higher every second, desiring to devour the whole of Monsu Island. All the sea before the wave drew back to join with it, leaving bare a great field of wet rock, but no one watching attempted to run. Even if any of them had been capable of moving, there was nowhere to go. The wave would swallow them where they stood.
Groudon drew back its massive head, opened its jaws wide, and then roared at the sea. The sound alone was thunder out of the bowels of hell. From its maw, a beam of energy erupted, shooting across the intervening space and smashing against the tidal wave: a Solarbeam.
It was like a hammer hitting a pane of glass. The wave shattered to pieces, shooting up a hundred feet of foam before melting into a flat plane of swirling blue. Mist sparkled in every hue over the surface of the sea, empty save for the distant Kyogre, Archie still hovering above it in his mini-chopper. Groudon snarled triumphantly. Kyogre bellowed back.
"Sir, what's going on here?"
It took Maxie a moment to reply to Tabitha. When he spoke, his voice rang hollow and distant in his own ears, as though he were hearing the words of some other man speaking very far away.
"Tabitha...Groudon is an amazing Pokémon. We were fools to believe we could actually control that kind of power."
The earth rumbled in affirmation. Behind them, Commander Shelly spoke, evidently to herself.
"But, wait...If Kyogre is capable of the same kind of power, then...Archie is..."
Tabitha glanced back at her. Her gloved hands had clenched at her sides, and she was shaking visibly, though she did not seem to notice.
Below them, Groudon began to move. With another roar it dragged itself forward, slow and powerful as the shifting of the Earth's crust, wading headlong into the water. Kyogre and Archie seemed content to wait for its approach.
On the other ledge, Ash watched Groudon enter the sea with dread, his gaze focused on the ball of light perched atop it.
Brock was about to speak when he noticed something else.
"Ash, look—it's Lance!"
Dragonite was swooping towards them out of the clear, bright sky, Lance clinging to its back with his cape whipping behind him, still soaked through. The dragon Pokémon's incredible speed brought them to the ledge in the space of a few moments, and Ash ran to meet them as Dragonite landed heavily, its claws gouging the rock. Lance did not give Ash a chance to speak.
"Ash, you and the others have to get out of here," he said at once. "You've got to get off the island while Groudon's holding off Kyogre—there's not much time. Get on Gyarados and head southeast as fast as you can. If I don't catch up with you in an hour, then tell Gyarados to take you all to Mossdeep Island. It's closest, and Gyarados knows the way."
"What? Lance, I can't just leave Pikachu out there by itself!"
"Ash, we don't have time to argue over this," Lance said. "Groudon could make that volcano erupt again at any moment. It isn't safe here."
"I'm not leaving without Pikachu!" Ash looked over his shoulder. "Brock, May, Max—all of you guys get away on Gyarados. I'm staying here, no matter what."
"But Ash—" Brock began. Lance cut him off.
"Ash, I appreciate your courage, but I can't handle Groudon and Kyogre both at once, much less—"
"You don't need to handle them both! We just need to get Pikachu back!" Ash looked defiant. "I don't care what it takes, I'm gonna help Pikachu—even if I have to battle Kyogre and Groudon by myself!"
"By...yourself?" Max gaped.
"Won't happen." Brock stepped forward, clutching a Pokéball. "'Cause I'll be right here with you."
"Yeah, me too!" May said. "We're a team."
"And I'll help you too, Ash, no matter what blows up!" added Max.
Above and behind them all, the volcano belched more ash, as though answering Max's challenge. The sky on the other side of the island noticeably dimmed in consequence. Lance hesitated, then grimaced.
"All right, but we've got to hurry. Ash, I think you should ride with me on Dragonite, while the rest of you go ahead and hop on Gyarados. Ash and I will approach Groudon and wait for the perfect opportunity to save Pikachu. Brock, May, see if the two of you can distract Archie. Do anything you can to hold him off, got it?"
"What about me?" Max asked. Lance shook his head.
"Sorry, Max, but this is too dangerous. Just stay here."
The shout startled them all. On the other ledge, a few yards away, Shelly was waving an arm to get their attention. Behind her stood Maxie and Tabitha, though neither of them looked like they knew what she was doing.
"What do they want?" Brock wondered. Lance spared a glance over his shoulder at the three of them, then nudged Dragonite with a heel; the Pokémon sprang towards the other ledge, landing with a thud and forcing Shelly to back away a few steps.
"You three!" Lance barked. "Go up to the ruins and get your people down here. They won't be safe if the volcano blows again. Hurry!"
Tabitha and Maxie looked taken aback, but Shelly did not hesitate to bark right back at Lance.
"Are you going to try and stop Archie?"
"Yes, and y—"
"I'm coming with you."
"Do you have any Pokémon?"
"Then stay here!"
Lance turned away. It was only a yank on his cape that prevented Dragonite from taking off again.
"Take me with you," Shelly demanded. "If you're going to try and get Archie, then I'm going too."
Without waiting for confirmation, Shelly sprang onto Dragonite's back, balancing on the base of its thick tail and clutching beneath its wings for support. Dragonite yelped in surprise, and Lance twisted around to stare incredulously at the passenger he'd acquired.
"I'm coming," Shelly repeated firmly. Lance sized her up.
"Do you really think you can stop Archie?"
"I don't know. But I have to try."
Out at sea, Groudon bellowed again. The noise seemed to make Lance's decision for him.
"All right, fine. But we've got to hurry. Dragonite—"
The great dragon did not even have to fly; a single strong leap was all it took to propel it back to the ledge where Ash and his friends stood waiting.
"Lance, what's going on?" Ash asked. "What's she doing?"
"New plan!" Lance announced; he had to raise his voice to be heard over the noise now coming from both Groudon and Kyogre. "Shelly, you come with me on Dragonite, and we'll go after Archie. Ash, go with your friends on Gyarados and see if you can get Pikachu away from Groudon while Shelly and I have Kyogre distracted. Groudon should be easier to approach, since it's out of its element in the water."
Dragonite took to the air, hovering above the ledge. Lance nodded down at Ash, Brock, and May, then tossed them his Pokéball containing Gyarados; Brock caught it.
"Be careful, and good luck!"
Groudon halted. Already it had waded so deep into the ocean that water reached halfway up its scaly sides. Its rumbles underscored the screeches of Pikachu riding on its head, challenging Kyogre, and in response Kyogre let off a Hydro Pump—a colossal jet of pressurized water with all the size and force of a train. But a bolt of lightning from Pikachu clove it in twain before it could hit its mark, and Groudon slammed a claw across the surface of the sea, rending a fissure whose shockwave smashed full-force into Kyogre. The great beast wailed and dove. Where it disappeared, the sea began to churn once more.
Squinting against the rushing wind and flashes of electricity, only one thing drew Shelly's attention: the mini-chopper hovering near Kyogre, manned by Archie. He was no longer laughing. Another lightning bolt from Pikachu blasted the sea next to Kyogre, creating a burst of light that blinded Shelly, and when her vision returned Dragonite was already within a stone's throw of the chopper, its leathery wings beating the air on either side of her as it hovered. Shelly clung tighter to it.
Archie did not seem to notice them. He bellowed some command at Kyogre that went unheard beneath the noise, and Lance heeled Dragonite, who shot a Twister attack close enough to the chopper to finally attract Archie's attention. When he whirled to face them, Shelly saw blue light blazing through his eyeballs and skin, pulsating in a pattern that was visible even through the wet suit that clung to his muscular frame. He looked utterly mad.
"You again!" he roared at Lance. "Back for more already?"
"Archie, stop it!" Lance hollered. "You'll destroy yourself and everything else!"
"You want me? Then come and get me!"
"Archie!" Shelly cried. "Archie, please, listen to me! You have to stop this! Please!"
She might as well have been begging Kyogre, for all the good it did. Archie laughed and took the chopper down closer to the water while Kyogre breached, creating a massive whirlpool before diving again.
"Dragonite," Lance said, "aim another Twister—"
But the rest of Lance's command was lost beneath a roar from Groudon that seemed to tear the very air in half. Another Solarbeam pierced the whirlpool like a javelin, sending plumes of spray and steam shooting into the air. Dragonite was high enough already to dodge these, but Shelly almost lost her grip on it as it did. Archie, much closer to the surface, was not so lucky. A column of water smashed against the side of the chopper.
The chopper lurched, shuddering, then pitched onto its side and plummeted, its mangled left fan dead. Archie had no chance to cling on. The first jolt had unbalanced him, and with a shriek of rage and surprise he was hurled toward the sea below, scrabbling futilely in midair. Dragonite dove, but it was a fraction of a second too late. Lance and Shelly were still twenty feet above the waves when Archie hit them, the water breaking his fall no more gently than a brick wall would have done. The chopper crashed beside him.
For a moment, the Red Orb's radiance glittered eerily just beneath the surface of the water, like a bright light shining through dirty glass. Then another wave rolled over the spot where Archie had fallen, and the light was gone.
Shelly dove, but her fall lasted less than a second. Dragonite caught her around the waist as soon as she had leaped from its back, and the last of the chopper disappeared beneath the water even as she struggled to regain her breath.
"Don't be an idiot!" came Lance's yell. "You can't go after him!"
Dragonite shot upward so quickly that its tightened grip squeezed the air from Shelly's lungs. Kyogre had tossed a towering wave in their direction with no more effort than it would have taken for a human to lazily swat at a fly, and foam from the crest of it licked the soles of Shelly's boots as it passed beneath them. Shelly's gaze darted frantically, searching the sea for a glimpse of light, or the hint of a figure bobbing amidst the rolling waves...
She struggled, making the tips of Dragonite's claws press into her skin. Below, Groudon spewed a barrage of mud at Kyogre, blanketing the sea in a layer of sediment. Kyogre dove, disappearing beneath the muck.
"Climb back up here!" Lance yelled down at Shelly. "We have to help the others against Groudon!"
"But Archie—he'll drown!"
"You can't help him now! Come on!"
For a moment, Shelly wrestled with the urge to wrench herself from Dragonite's grasp and plunge into the swirling sea. Then Dragonite lifted her up, and she found herself scrambling onto its back once more, behind Lance.
As they sped away, Shelly twisted to watch the spot where Archie had vanished recede behind them—but already she could not tell where it had been.
"Pikachu! Pikachu!...LET ME GO!"
Brock grit his teeth and kept his grip, though Ash was struggling so much that they both nearly slipped off of Gyarados. Groudon and Pikachu had vanished a moment ago with a combined howl, as if some mighty current had risen from the depths to yank them under, and it was only Brock's instinctive lunge that kept Ash from hurling himself after them. Now Gyarados's powerful body cut a path through the uneasy sea as it circled around the spot where Groudon had been, unable to follow with passengers on its back.
"Brock, let go of me! I have to go get Pikachu!"
"Ash, you can't—"
A sudden boom issued from somewhere below, and the ocean heaved, as though a bomb had exploded underwater. Gyarados braced itself against the shockwave, but its passengers nearly lost their balance nonetheless, and in that moment of confusion Ash managed to break free of Brock's grip and dive off of Gyarados. Brock and May cried out in unison, but there was no sign of him but his hat, floating on the surface.
"Mudkip, Lotad!" Brock yelled. Two small figures popped into view in the water beside Gyarados. "Go get Ash! He dove in!"
The two Pokémon disappeared. Another boom echoed from below, but this one seemed less powerful, as though whatever had caused it was no longer right below them. May signaled to Beautifly overhead, and it swooped down and plucked Ash's hat from the water, dropping it in her lap before resting on her head. Brock simply scanned the surface, holding his breath.
It was Lance, hovering on Dragonite. Behind him, Shelly looked pale.
"Brock! What just happened?" Lance called. "Where's Ash?"
"He dove in!" Brock yelled back. "And I think Kyogre pulled Groudon and Pikachu underwater!"
Lance swore loudly. Brock shielded his eyes as he gazed up at the hovering Dragonite.
"What about you guys? Where's Archie?"
Suddenly, something broke the surface of the water: Ash, coughing and spluttering, Mudkip and Lotad clamped tight to the shoulders of his jacket. Dragonite scooped him up. Ash gasped and coughed up a little water, struggling feebly in Dragonite's grip, and shivered in the draft from its beating wings.
"Ash, are you all right?" Lance called at him. Ash looked up.
"Pikachu's down there somewhere, Lance! I can't leave it!"
For the third time, a palpable shockwave rippled through the water, but it was much weaker than before, and without any noise to accompany it. Whatever was happening was further away—though in what direction under the faceless waves, none of them could tell.
Dragonite made a few wide loops, skimming the surface, but there was nothing to be seen. At last it swooped back towards Gyarados and set Ash gently onto its back, between Brock and May; Mudkip and Lotad let go of him at last. Lance surveyed the blue ocean.
"I think Kyogre and Groudon have moved away from here," he announced. "It looks like things are starting to calm down."
This seemed to be true. The endless expanse of choppy waves, though not serene, could not be compared with the violence of even a few minutes ago, and there was no sign in any direction of either Kyogre or Groudon. Without the cacophony of their battle, the world suddenly seemed tranquil—unnervingly so. Only the pillar of smoke rising from Monsu Island remained as evidence of everything that had just happened.
"Okay, everybody listen up!"
Lance's voice seemed to snap them all out of a dream. He leaned forward to better call down to those riding Gyarados.
"All of you head back to the island!" he commanded. Over his shoulder, he added, "You too, ma'am. Hop on Gyarados."
"Lance!" Ash protested. "I'm not leaving Pikachu!"
"There's nothing else you can do, Ash," Lance replied. "Dragonite and I will stay out here and search for Pikachu and Archie for as long as we can, but the rest of you need to head back. We have to evacuate Monsu Island as soon as possible." His tone permitted no argument. "Send Gyarados back out to help once it's dropped you off."
As Shelly slid off of Dragonite's back and landed on Gyarados, Ash unclipped a couple of the Pokéballs from his belt and opened them. One of the Pokémon inside materialized into the water beside them; the other, into the air.
"Corphish, Swellow—help Lance and Dragonite look for Pikachu, okay?" he ordered. "It's out here in the ocean somewhere. I'll come back and help too, as soon as I can."
"You two, Mudkip and Lotad," Brock said. "Help Corphish look underwater."
"Beautifly—" May reached up and touched its antennae gently, "go with Swellow, okay? Help find Pikachu."
The Pokémon dispersed. Gyarados turned away towards Monsu Island, but none of its passengers gazed toward their destination; all four of them instead sat facing backwards, holding on to Gyarados's dorsal fins and watching the search party fan out over the empty ocean. For a minute, no one spoke. The only sounds were the wind and the movement of the water as Gyarados's long scarlet body twisted back and forth, leaving a wake like a sparkling ribbon.
"Ash? You lost your hat..."
"Huh? Oh, thanks, May." He set the soaking wet cap back atop his equally wet hair. "I shouldn't be leaving Pikachu like this..."
"We're not leaving it—we're going to regroup," Brock said firmly. "We need to figure out what to do next."
"But what if Groudon and Pikachu head somewhere else to get away from Kyogre? We're stuck here on this island."
Brock looked like he wanted to say something, but after a moment, simply turned to face Monsu Island. May did the same. Ash, however, continued to gaze backward at the figures of Dragonite and the other flying Pokémon, now variously-sized dots skimming every which way over the sea. He looked as though he were extending every ounce of his will to them to ensure the success of their search.
Shelly watched them, too, but there was none of Ash's strain in her face. Something like numbness had begun to steal over her, blessedly draining away the adrenaline, and she pushed a lock of wet hair out of her eyes as she watched the figures recede. A primal fear in her gut half-expected for either Kyogre or Groudon to explode from the surface of the water, screaming its victory over the great and ancient enemy, but the sea was calm. Still, she was not naïve enough to suppose the ancient Pokémon's feud ended. Their field of battle was not Monsu Island. It was all of Hoenn—all of the world. And Archie...
Her stomach lurched. Shelly could not decide which was worse: not knowing whether they would find him, or no longer knowing whether he was worth finding.
"They're coming back," Tabitha announced.
Maxie had noticed this too. Gritting his teeth, he staggered back to his feet; his side had begun to bother him again, and now when he tried to breathe deeply a dart of pain pierced his lower ribs. Tabitha had thrown back his hood and was shielding his eyes as he followed the progress of the red Gyarados as it headed back towards shore, making a straight line for the wreckage of Team Aqua's submarine.
"I can't tell if they've got that Pikachu or not," Tabitha said, "but it looks like Archie isn't with them."
There was a long silence as they both watched Gyarados draw nearer. At last, Tabitha shook his head and ran a gloved hand through his dark hair, already beginning to dry in the sun.
"What's going to happen now?"
Maxie gave no answer. For the first time in a long time, he did not have one.