A/N: once every one-thousand years I appear to update the Hoenn Bible. Anyways it's been over 3 years since I posted this and I want to do a quick thank-you to everyone who's read and left reviews. Back when I started it, ORAS hadn't even been announced and I just went off some whim after I'd replayed Sapphire. I never thought I'd still be at it now! It still feels weird writing Pokemon fanfiction when I'm in college, but I still love it (and reading others) all the same, haha
I haven't written in first person (that is, in a fic, for a character, that's not like. myself) in so long, and tbh I really can't stand it lol, but I'm gonna tough it out for the rest of this fic. Most of this chapter is from a third-person perspective. Maybe someday I'll do a massive rehaul and change May's. It's fun to get in the character's mind, but I think that can also be done from a third-person perspective and sounds a lot better that way.
Chapter 46 - Denouement
Steven was barely able to dive to his right onto Skarmory in time to avoid the massive fissure spreading up Sootopolis' east coastline. The Steel-type heaved itself up into the air, its feathers catching the gales spread by the storm and moving further away from the dangerous trench. But Skarmory's balance was not perfect, and no sooner were the two off the ground were they tumbling back towards the earth at an alarming speed, the Pokemon screeching as it did.
The two landed a few hundred meters to the right, much closer to the lake now. Skarmory crashed headfirst into the soggy grass, sending Steven tumbling off its back despite how tightly he'd been holding on. Dazed, the trainer pulled himself to his knees and struggled to catch his breath, his chest burning with pain. The water, he noticed, though he stood on his knees, rose up to his waist where he had ended up – further downhill from Skarmory. It was hot, almost like a hot spring, and bubbles rose around his hands before he pulled them from the water. He'd been blown over to the plains outside the more densely populated part of the city – the place receiving the worst of the flooding. Fear seizing his body, Steven tilted his head up to look out across the lake, realizing just how much closer he now was to the two quarreling monsters. His breath caught, and quickly he began searching his jacket for another Pokeball, but they were all empty – he'd sent his entire team out earlier, spreading across the town to try and restrain the worst of Kyogre and Groudon's devastation.
Bright gray eyes scanned the landscape for any sign of Wallace, but between the sheets of rain coming down it was hard to make anything out. Steven cursed under his breath, calling out for Skarmory. Kyogre shrieked, the noise like an earthquake against the trainer's eardrums, and propelled itself forward, forcing Groudon back into the deeper section of the lake. Its fins beat against the water's surface as it did this, creating more enormous waves, peaks crested in frothing white rapids.
Steven barely grabbed hold of one of Skarmory's talons in time as one of the waves bore down upon him, imploding as it hit the shallows before getting sucked back out into the lake. The muscles in his arm screamed in protest as he tried to pull himself onto the Pokemon's back.
I have to keep going…! Thought the trainer as the chaos below seemed to beckon him. Skarmory was clearly struggling to stay in the air. I… have to trust in May…
Lightning lit up the sky, closeby, and Steven's heart jumped into his throat. Involuntarily he tensed, and seconds later thunder so loud it seemed to shake his very bones clapped around him. They needed to land. High ground…
Taking advantage of a patch of Groudon's sunlight, Steven again looked around. His eyes landed on a cliff that had avoided many of the rockslides plaguing the Sootopolis's rim. There was a ledge closeby… the trainer pointed the spot out to the Pokemon above him, and the two descended, collapsing onto the rock.
Steven's attention focused on the sky above. Once the clouds cloaked this spot again, they'd no doubt be at risk of a rockslide if lightning were to hit the ancient volcano's rim. The sunlight wasn't quite as unbearable, at least not when it was supplemented with rain. He dragged himself up to the cliff's face and leaned back against the scorching hot rock, noticing that whatever few weeds had sprouted up between the soil here were shriveled up.
His breathing grew heavy as the sunlight beamed straight down onto him. Skarmory, too, appeared to be in immeasurable pain. The light glared off of its metal feathers, no doubt cooking its insides. Quickly, Steven drew the Pokemon's ball and recalled it. He was now struggling, even, to breathe. The air was unbearably dry, and the smell of salt-water on his clothes and in his nostrils was making him feel ill. He fumbled with the buttons on his suit jacket until they were all undone, then tugged it off of his drenched dress shirt.
"Damn it…" croaked the trainer, hand grasping the rock behind him, but his attempt at bringing himself to his feet again ended in failure – his legs wouldn't cooperate, they were too slow and sluggish. "I can't…"
Steven's eyes moved to the rock wall behind him. He'd always been impressed with Sootopolis. Its rim was a stark white, like the buildings built within it. He had always wondered what kind of stones and minerals existed within its walls, but the only dry cave existing on the island was the Cave of Origin, and no matter how much he bothered Wallace he knew he'd never get an opportunity to enter it, especially for something as trivial as geology. The city walls stretched far underwater, part of an ancient volcano. Mt. Chimney and Sootopolis – two super-volcanoes in one region was just another one of Hoenn's defining traits. It was ironic that one was active and the other was buried under water – some kind of weird reflection of Groudon and Kyogre's struggle.
Suddenly, Steven jolted out of his daze, grunting as he made himself sit up.
No, it wasn't possible. Sootopolis had been inactive for hundreds of years, and before that one eruption still, it had been underwater. There was no way…
Ignoring the pounding pain in his head and the searing-hot rocks below his hands, Steven made his way to the edge of the outcropping he'd landed on, looking down at the lake again. A breeze blew by, ruffling the strands of hair that weren't stuck to his face, but not cool enough to offer any sort of relief.
He'd before mistaken the steam rising from the water around Groudon as simply an effect of its body heat. Now, he saw that the entire lake was steaming. The sunlight alone couldn't have done that. And not to mention the bubbles…
Coughing, Steven finally mustered the strength to stand up again, only to watch in horror as the water around Groudon visibly clouded. Sediment. There were other spots in the lake doing the same, like the clouds in the air above had suddenly appeared beneath the water's surface, as well. He'd seen this before, maybe not in person, but on video – small undersea volcanoes were found all across the deepest trenches of the sea, along fault lines, between the planet's plates. But this…
The mess beneath the lake's surface became more violent as Steven watched helplessly, with spurts of orange popping up here and there. The lake soon turned a pale, grayish hue, the texture becoming more soupy and thick. Kyogre, too, was growing even more agitated as its water-based attacks weakened. Almost like Groudon was focusing the brunt of its power back to Sootopolis so it could gain the upper hand…
Wallace's voice sounded clear and crisp in the trainer's ear – it was only now he realized the white noise of the rainstorm had lifted, replaced with the heat's silence. Turning his head, he found that Wallace had just landed on the perch, as well, Metagross swaying wearily nearby. The gym leader approached him, and to his surprise tugged him by the shoulder back a few feet – away from the edge he'd been wobbling over.
"You look like hell, Steven. You can't just sit and bake like this – you'll die," scolded the man, brow furrowed.
Steven opened his mouth to speak, but a fit of coughing came out instead. He fought it off, grabbing hold of Wallace's arm for support. "Wallace – " he started, catching his breath, "the lake – the volcano…!"
"Slow down – what are you…"
"It… it's going to erupt, Wallace."
The blue-haired man paled. "What…? Sootopolis is inactive."
Steven's grip on the man's arm tightened. "I understand that. But this is Groudon. Just its presence here would probably be enough to get it stirring… With its power, it could cause an eruption with ease. Even if it is inactive, it's still like a weak point in the planet's crust. Access to the mantle and the magma beneath us…"
Wallace's jaw clenched as his cerulean gaze trailed down to the lake again. "Steven… I didn't prepare for something like that." He'd never seen the older man as unsettled as he was. "If May doesn't…"
Blaziken was the first to leave its ball and hover over its trainer. She wasn't moving; almost as if the stillness of the peak had swallowed her up as well, and that she'd soon turn to stone. The next was Mightyena, barking in concern and nudging at its trainer's arms. Soon all six Pokemon were out, filling the unmoving, stagnant air with worried cries and movement, hoping perhaps that this would bring their trainer back into the waking world. But still, she didn't move.
One Pokemon then trailed away from the party, staring out after the massive viridian dragon that had just left the peak. Shelgon was torn between distress at its trainer's state, and yearning to follow that Pokemon, to be able to at last achieve its dream of flying. It waddled around again to face its trainer, whose skin was beginning to pale. Shelgon was reminded in that moment of its own waking moments in this world, as Bagon, and how this trainer was willing to care for it and nurture it despite its own inability to fly, and the time, patience, and love it was given despite being so far behind the other stronger, more powerful Pokemon around it.
As if empowered by its gratitude, Shelgon all of the sudden began to glow and change shape, at last evolving into the form it had always dreamed of becoming. It grew three, four times in size, stretching massive wings up in either direction, baring scales the color of the darkening sky. It growled softly to itself as the light faded, before approaching its trainer, the rest of her Pokemon parting way so that it could lift the frail girl onto its back.
Wallace and Steven stood in the harbor district of Sootopolis, now, the cliff they'd been near earlier having been crushed by a landslide. The water was waist-deep, and hot, though Kyogre had once again summoned up a storm in the sky above them, cloaking the sun once more. Mud and sediment stuck to their clothes; Wallace had long since abandoned his cloak.
The city was all but ruined. Cracks and fissures ran through it, centered in the lake which was caving into the earth itself, as if someone had pressed their thumb into a ball of dough. Rivers of water, now chock full of a combination of rock deposit, trash, and people's stray belongings (lawn chairs, awnings, you name it) flowed in and out of the streets freely. Many houses were destroyed, either by wind, lightning, or remnants of rockslides. Wallace's own mansion up on the north end of the crater was half-buried by an enormous sheet of stone that'd been sliced off of the volcano walls.
The two trainers were still fighting, now less for the city and more for their own lives. It was Wallace who had taken the lead, ordering his water-type Pokemon to the best of their ability to fend off the worst of Kyogre and Groudon's attacks. Biding time. Steven had recalled all but one of his Pokemon – Metagross still stood strong, protecting the drained trainer atop its back.
At this point, he could only think back and lament about what he could have done to prevent this. His fury at his father burned strongly in his chest, for not listening to him, not doing something more for the towns close to the coast. What condition were they in? Had people been evacuated? He wanted to trust in the Elite Four serving under him. When had his father stopped listening to his advice? Was he still frustrated with his son, after everything they'd been through, for pursuing Pokemon training rather than the family business? That was no excuse for not addressing a risk as huge as this.
It went back further, though. Steven had been stuck between the concept of helping May combat Team Aqua and discouraging her from it. Part of him wished his father had never brought her into this – as much as he liked her, she'd be better off having never to carry the weight she was given.
What should he have done? Infiltrated the seafloor cavern with her, but then risk not being prepared when Kyogre was inevitably awakened? There were just too many responsibilities to juggle, and he'd let people down because of it.
Wallace was facing away from Steven, standing further out in the water alongside his Milotic, but his head was lifted towards the sky. The trainer followed his gaze, across the dark clouds that weaved through the sky… until they stopped on an anomaly.
It couldn't have been Groudon's work – the sun patches were much more natural looking, as if the thick blanket of clouds had been tugged apart in some places. This was a clear-cut circle. A single sun-shaft beamed down from it; it illuminated Kyogre and Groudon's clashing forms. The two had gone still. Then, a silhouette came over the ring of light; Steven's gaze moved back up to the hole in the clouds, and he gasped.
'Pokemon' almost felt inappropriate to describe the thing that was descending; it was a serpentine beast, as big as the two titans currently sitting in the lake, covered in glimmering jade scales. A pattern meandered down its body, glowing as yellow as the sun. Through the pouring rain, Steven watched it hover down to the water's surface, where it then stopped, coiling in mid-air.
The scene before his eyes was like some painting. Even despite the chaotic conditions around them, it was breathtaking. Groudon and Kyogre untangled themselves under the gaze of the third Pokemon's eyes; then its mouth parted, and a cry came forth, echoing across the volcano rim, cutting through the rain and thunder above.
Steven felt the air still. He rubbed his eyes – and realized that the two warring ancients were, in fact, retreating into the earth and sea. Any sign of their madness was gone. The third figure sat in the air, like an illusion, emanating power. Then, with one last cry, it untwisted its body and ascended back into the clouds.
No sooner did the rain lighten into something resembling a normal storm, and Wallace and Steven both could only blink to keep the water out of their eyes as they watched the scene before them, shocked into stillness. The storm continued to ease, rain lightening to a drizzle before the clouds themselves were reduced into wisps. The heat, too, faded back to a comfortable temperature. The lake's water lazily settled down; whatever disaster had been happening beneath the surface subsided, as well. Less than five minutes had passed when Sootopolis had regained some semblance of normalcy again. A harmless breeze was all that remained of the tempest.
Steven let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. His face was twisted with confusion, awe, and shock, still searching the sky for the serpent. But it was long gone, and no trace of it, nor Kyogre or Groudon, was left, besides the damage they'd inflicted.
Off to his right, Wallace exhaled, one of his hands rising to his face. "May… she actually did it." He tilted his head towards Steven, who looked back, still dazed. "She did it."
They waited for a minute more, mostly because neither trainer thought his body was willing to listen to him through the heavy layer of shock still rocking them. Then they noticed something out of the corner of their eyes – another figure, significantly smaller than the last, was ascending from the sky, gliding across the lake towards the Pokemon Center on the other side of the city.
Steven narrowed his eyes; red wings, blue scales – a Salamence? Wallace, ever-prepared, whipped out a tiny pair of binoculars from his vest and held them up to his eyes.
Suddenly, the man was stumbling forwards through the water, climbing atop Milotic. Steven stirred atop Metagross. "What is it?"
"Its May!" was Wallace's urgent reply, before Milotic leaped into the water.
Steven was the last to reach the eastern section of Sootopolis, where the Salamence had landed. He nearly tripped up a flight of displaced stairs, coming to a clearing just below a grassy hill where, atop it, sat the Pokemon Center, still somehow in one piece. There might've been sidewalk running through the area at one point, but all but one or two slabs of it had been uprooted and tossed somewhere else. The grass around them was yellow and brown.
Even after the scene that had unfolded just a few minutes prior, the trainer's stress levels were nearly through the roof again. He hurried towards Wallace's figure just a ways ahead, along with two massive red wings poking out from a crowd of… Steven's brow lowered as he recognized the silhouettes.
Archie and Maxie…?!
The two men avoided his gaze as he shoved himself between them and Wallace. He felt a pang in his chest as he saw what the three had been crowded around – lying up against Salamence's side was May, looking more worn than he'd ever seen her, a trail of dried blood escaping her nose, almost like…
If there was any rational part of him left after dealing with the disaster, it was seized then by panic.
A large hand on his own shoulder brought him back to reality. Wallace. "She's breathing, Steven, just barely. We're going to take her to the Pokemon Center."
Steven couldn't think of what to say in response, and his head was still pounding, so he just stepped back, giving the nurse kneeling beside May space. Archie and Maxie moved to help; they'd hardly taken two steps when Salamence lashed out at them, rearing back its head and hissing.
"You three should stay back," advised the nurse, she herself looking worse for wear. Her arms encircled May, carefully lifting her off the ground like she was a child that'd gotten hurt at a playground. Salamence's eyes flicked to the woman briefly before narrowing on Archie, Maxie, and Wallace again. "I'll see what I can do. For now…" she nodded at the mess all around them.
"Thank you, nurse," managed Wallace, bowing deeply.
The next hour was spent surveying the city. Steven, not knowing what to do with himself, followed around Wallace like a lost kid. The older man first went to his Gym, which sat beneath some three feet of water. He made some comment about how he was happy he'd moved his office to his home the year before. That's where they'd gone next. Half of it was destroyed – to Wallace's luck, not the half with his office in it. The power, of course, was out, and many of the windows that weren't storm-proof shattered, but there was enough light still to reach the room. Steven wasn't sure what time of day it was, and his Pokenav wasn't really on his mind yet.
Wallace promptly pulled out a contact book and picked up his home phone. It, of course, wasn't functioning. Instead he used his own nav to make a number of calls, while Steven sat dazed in one of the office chairs. Most of the conversations went in one ear and out the other, but he picked up on a few things – he was calling in the essentials, police, hospital workers, maintenance, along with some other Hoenn regional officials to tell them things had cleared up in the heart of the storm. Wallace was purposefully vague with the details – the pokemon themselves weren't mentioned.
Maybe an hour passed when he finally finished up with that, taking a deep breath at his desk before perking up again. "Okay, let's go."
The two continued flying around. Even compared to what it was normally like, Sootopolis was dead silent. Steven had only ever experienced this when he was a child living in Rustboro, and there'd been an earthquake. Sure, he was rather introverted and could live for days by himself in a cave, but something about an abandoned, evacuated city set him on edge. Flood water had made itself comfortable in most of the streets, and many of the fissures decorating the ground would never heal.
"We'll never be able to fix the whole city on our own, of course," commented Wallace. "I'll have to rely on them to help with that. For now, we can focus on the worst parts – buildings on the verge of collapsing, that kind of thing."
Steven hummed in agreement.
The sun set, and a warm, quiet twilight blanketed Sootopolis. Wallace and Steven were sitting on a ledge, resting after clearing a school of rubble, when the former's Pokenav began to chime. Steven jumped at the noise.
"Yes? Okay. I'll be right over."
The grass crunched as Wallace got to his feet.
"It was the nurse."
Robotically, Steven started to rise, only to be stopped by Wallace once again pushing him to the ground. "I'll go alone, and report back in a bit. You need to rest and recover."
The seated trainer frowned.
"Yes, I know. But look – " one tanned finger pointed out a ways, to a patch of dry land some distance below them. On it were two figures, standing apart from each other with their backs turned. In the dim light they were nothing but silhouettes. So, Maxie and Archie were still hanging around…?
"Watch them for a bit," instructed Wallace, before finally turning and leaving.
It was night when the grass began to crunch with Wallace's footsteps again. Sootopolis had a strange atmosphere without choir of insects, voices, live music, and laughter that normally filled the air after dark. Archie and Maxie had sat down, heads resting in their hands, but they hadn't moved. Above, the moon was almost like a foreign presence after all of the rain and sunlight, but it was comforting in a sense.
Steven stood, still wobbling on his legs. He and Wallace exchanged a grave look.
"First and foremost, she was suffering from altitude sickness," Wallace sighed. "There's some more minor physical injuries – dehydration, a twisted ankle, some bruises… but the hypoxia is what has the capability to cause the most damage," elaborated the man. "She should recover fine, but the nurse can't tell if it got bad enough to cause any brain damage."
Both men tensed at the use of the term. Steven crossed his arms.
"The nurse promised not to talk about what happened here, either," continued Wallace, his attention moving to the two gang leaders sitting by the shore. "I think it would be best to take this slowly. Explaining the cause can come later, after things settle a bit."
"…Or we just shouldn't mention it at all," muttered Steven as he plucked a Pokeball from his belt.
The gym leader blinked. "Cover it all up?" He chuckled. "There's that Devon heir I know."
"That's not…" the trainer sighed. "Wouldn't it be easier to have her make the decision? Something like that would probably affect her more than it would any of us. Unless one of those two wants to speak about it, which I doubt they ever will."
Maxie and Archie. They'd both likely be put in prison the rest of their lives if word got out.
Wallace hummed. "Play it off as a freak weather incident? Clever, though… that wouldn't be as good for Sootopolis's tourism."
Steven ran one hand through his hair, pulling at the brittle strands.
"Go get some rest," advised the gym leader. "The Pokemon Center has available rooms. I'll likely be up all night tending to my baby, here," he gestured to the city around them, "and watching those two men, as well."
Reluctantly, Steven complied.
The Hoenn Champion had an uneventful sleep, bare of any dreams. He fell into a brief panic as he woke, however, but one glance out the window reminded him that things had ended.
Again, he dressed himself in the same messed up clothes. The showers weren't working, probably wouldn't be for a while, along with most of the utilities in the city, so he left his room feeling filthy and not the least bit refreshed.
While picking up his Pokemon at the counter, he asked the nurse about May.
"She's stable, yes. I'm going to let her wake up on her own – she was suffering from sleep deprivation and shock, so I think it will be better to give her time for her body to recover from that."
Steven hummed an acknowledgment. Then, swallowing his pride, he added, "would you mind if I stopped by her room?" The last thing he wanted to do was be a bother to this nurse who'd worked as hard as she did, but the guilt and concern bubbling up in his chest wasn't going to be soothed until he was able to see May was okay himself.
The pink-haired woman only tilted her head. "Of course, Mr. Stone. Right this way," she beamed. "I was waiting for you to ask."
Pokemon Centers were, of course, set up for the care of Pokemon, but even if the dangers of training weren't talked about enough, it was still an easy profession to get yourself hurt in. So every nurse and center was equipped to deal with human injuries, as well, unless they were so severe that they had to be redirected to an actual hospital.
Luckily for May, hers were somehow not as severe as Steven had assumed them to be.
The nurse left him before a large cot, with the trainer in question laying beneath the thin white sheets. Daylight poured through the window just beyond them. She appeared significantly better than how they'd first found her. The blood on her face was gone, her expression was no longer twisted in pain, and some color had returned to her skin. She looked different without her bandanna; her hair was let down and lay splayed across the pillow. Most comforting, though, was the slow rise and fall of her chest.
Steven was preparing to leave Sootopolis. Exhaustion wasn't enough of an excuse to slack off on other responsibilities for this long. He hadn't even called the Four to check in after everything, nor his father – the thought just now occurred to him. He was always a bit bad at that kind of thing. It came with years of going off on his own excursions into caves that cut him off from the world, he supposed.
His mind was much clearer now, and he felt he could stand on his feet again without swaying, so that was good enough a reason to get moving. After everything that had happened in the city, he knew that leaving it would feel surreal, that the effects would take a long time for him to recover from. But he at least had to go back to Mossdeep. Soon, Wallace might start offering him some of his own clothes, which Steven would never get caught dead wearing.
He felt bad for not saying goodbye or thank-you or anything to May; after how they'd worked together on the entire Aqua ordeal, it felt wrong not to have a final sort of meet-up about it, and to share their experiences again. He had a nagging feeling that he'd see her again soon, though – after all, he was still Champion, and she had seven badges under her belt.
Yes, still Champion. He'd have to talk to Wallace about that again, before he left.
Crossing his arms in the office chair he'd pulled up next to her bed, Steven zoned out, going over their past meetings in his mind and trying to decide whether he should leave a note or something for her.
Overnight, the lake had retreated some. People, too, had begun trickling back into the city – mostly workers, the essentials. Wallace watched them with warmth in his tired chest. In the end, it was the townspeople that mattered most – destroyed buildings meant nothing next to life.
Adjusting his hat, he turned to face the lake again. The water still rose up to his knees, from where he stood on the islet that held his gym. The sun sat overhead, accompanied by a few innocent clouds. Cerulean eyes watched the lake – its beauty had been sullied by the volcanic sediment Groudon had stirred up, but already a cleanup crew had been assigned to try and clear some of it out to ease the flooding.
His thoughts were interrupted when a heavy hand thudded against his back, and Wallace swerved around with a smile.
"Master," he greeted.
Juan was looking well. A bit tanner. Wallace hadn't seen him in a few months – he had been away on various conferences overseas. A few weeks ago, the leader had gotten a letter from his old mentor saying he was heading home. "Your timing is impeccable."
The older man only spared a chuckle at the quip. "You can spare me the details, but I can guess what occurred here, either way…"
Sobering Wallace replied with a simple, "Yes…"
It was quiet for a while, and the two just stared at the lake before them.
"The landscape of our hometown has changed drastically, but in the end it is Sootopolis all the same, no?" chimed Juan. The wind ruffled his monochrome hair. "No disaster can change that."
Wallace didn't quite agree with his mentor's statement, with the image of the volcano beneath their feet erupting stuck in his mind, but he said nothing of that. "You're right."
"Wallace." Juan stepped into his field of vision, voice stern and grounding. "You did what you could. And you did well."
Sighing, the gym leader pulled his cloak further around his shoulders. "Mm, I tried."
The air around me felt weird. It was cool and humid, nothing like the dryness that'd filled my lungs before. Before what? I took a shaky breath, trying to make sense of the darkness around me. There was something fuzzy – an image. It was tilted the wrong way, but I could make out some figures. A red monster, a blue monster… a city actively being destroyed, clouds that covered everything like thick smog. A feeling – scales beneath my hands. I know those two, I thought, not able to tear my gaze from them.
Then it hit me – a thousand memories and feelings, all pointing to a name. Kyogre. There were two – Groudon. Just like that, it was like anxiety replaced the blood pumping through my veins and I felt hot. Sootopolis… Wallace and Steven… What happened? Are they okay? There was so much confusion, and it made my eyes start to water. Sky Pillar… I remembered the sky, then, the horizon around me glowing yellow and turquoise and pink. A green dragon, not unlike the one in the image I was looking at, flying off into the distance. Then my arms going numb, my legs, then nothing. I cried harder at the very real thought that I was dead.
Then I felt it again, that cool air – it didn't fit the scene of Sootopolis before me. I could hear things, too. Some dull machines, the buzzing of a fluorescent light, even someone's breathing, but it was too even to be my own. I felt a sheet lying over me. Something stiff like a hospital gown, over the black undershirt and shorts I normally wore. Some dull stinging in my arm – I wasn't sure what that was.
The memory faded, and was replaced with an entirely different scene. A… Pokemon Center? Or, a hospital room? I couldn't tell. My eyes moved to the stinging sensation in my arm, and with a slight jolt I recognized it as an IV. I felt my brow furrow, and kept looking around. Everything was unnaturally calm. There was light in the corner of my eye – daylight? I turned my head to the right, and my hair shifts – was it down? My bandanna was lying on a stand between the bed and the windows.
Windows. My breath caught in my throat as I took in the scene outside. Without a doubt, it was Sootopolis, but not the Sootopolis I remembered. It was like someone took sandpaper and ran it against a painting until everything was scratched up. Blinking, I raised my free arm to rub my eyes, but the trashed city was still the same.
Something was missing, though. The weather. Where was the rain? Was Groudon's drought taking over? But it was just too calm… the water was still, and there was movement between some of the streets, like people, and vehicles.
Dazed, I laid my head back against the pillow. The scene outside was just too baffling, especially on top of all the jumbled thoughts bouncing around my head. Part of me just wanted to sleep.
Then I noticed something else in the corner of my eye, this time on the left. Numbly, I shifted my eyes over in that direction. There was a familiar pair of gray-blue ones looking back.
"…Nnh…" I opened my mouth. It felt like I ate a handful of sand. "…Steven…?"
"…May," he breathed. One of his hands rose and ran through his hair as his eyes closed. "You're awake…"
My mind was still fuzzy, but the sight of him made knocking out a much less desirable option. "Steven, why are you…? Oh…!" I straightened. "You're okay-? That means… Sootopolis…"
I searched his face for answers, but found nothing. Well, except that he had gray circles under his eyes, and looked worse than I remembered him ever looking. But "alive" outweighed that.
"Yes, you're in the Sootopolis Pokemon Center. I'm fine," answered the trainer.
My heart wouldn't stop pounding in my chest. "What about Wallace? Kyogre and Groudon… W-what about the storm? I…"
A hand found its place on my forearm, a little ways below where the IV was still sticking out in reminder that I'd been bedridden. Warm, with two cold spots where his rings were. A familiar touch. I felt my heart slow down a little, and stopped to catch my breath.
"It's over, May," Steven explained, sounding even more relieved than I felt. "Whatever you did, it worked. It's over. Kyogre and Groudon are gone."
It took me a few minutes to absorb the words. Just like that, then? How? For some reason the image from my last dream came to my mind again. Rayquaza, before Kyogre and Groudon… Now that I thought about it, they did seem to disappear after that. And the sky had cleared, before I passed out again…
But there were still so many holes – how had I gotten to Sootopolis? Last I remembered, I was stranded on Sky Pillar. What about Archie and Maxie? The orbs? What if they just summoned the two again?
Steven must have felt my spiking pulse again, because he shifted and squeezed my hand, saying again, "It's alright. You'll find out the details later."
The click, click of footsteps sounded outside the door, and then another person stepped in – pink hair. A Pokemon Center nurse.
She started fretting over me, and I tried my best to focus on what she was saying, but everything was still blurry. After a minute, she excused herself to go get water, or something. My gaze moved back over to Steven, who had stood up, now, arms crossed again. The hand he'd been grabbing twitched at my side.
"Steven," I started to babble, the words all sounding weird. I felt weird. Maybe the nurse gave me some sedatives… "I had a dream earlier… where I had a Salamence on my team… Can you believe that?"
Luckily, the words had been enough to catch his attention again, and he looked down at me again with those pretty eyes, and a pretty smile to go with it. "I think I can, yes, May."
A sound akin to a scoff escaped me. My vision started to shimmer, and I thought it was just the medication until I felt tears on my cheeks. "…Why?"
Something passed over his face, probably pity at the silly scene I was making. "Because you're an extremely talented trainer, May. Doing something as trivial as training a Salamence probably wouldn't be too hard for someone like you."
Embarrassed, I tried wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. Now I was making a fool out of myself like this, in front of Steven of all people. It seemed like I was always crying. Even though I always tried to put on a strong front and pushed myself, in the end I just wasn't as strong as the person I thought I was.
I saw Steven sit back down somewhere to my left. I tensed, realizing I might've just said all that out loud. He grabbed the limp, IV-arm hand again, leaning in closer to get my attention. Reluctantly, I looked over at him again. He seemed… angry, almost.
Geez… I just wanted to pass out again and sleep for a year, hopefully not embarrass myself as bad the next time I woke up.
"... 't say that about yourself," he was saying. Oh, I had said it out loud, after all… "You're one of the strongest people I've met," continued the trainer, sounding kind of uncertain. Then he smirked a little. "And I've met a lot of strong trainers, as you know."
The meds really started kicking in, then, and before I could summon up some kind of retort my eyes flickered shut on their own.
Wallace, Juan, and Steven were gathered outside the current leader's estate, in the small courtyard that rested out front. Wallace was lamenting over the dozens of wilted plants, an Azumarill bouncing at his side, occasionally shooting water at a plant as if that alone would bring it back to life. Juan and Steven both were sitting at one of the few benches not splintered by the disaster, the latter fidgeting with the rings on his fingers, the former, sitting back with his arms behind his head.
Currently, they were waiting on food. Wallace was concocting something in his crock-pot, sparked to life by Juan's Lanturn. Steven decided he had to eat something before leaving.
"Wallace," spoke the Champion, hand clenching into a fist.
The man glanced over his shoulder. The tomato plants sitting at his feet had pretty much no chance at revival. "Hm?"
"About the Champion title," began Steven, standing up all of the sudden. "and transferring it to you…"
This caught both Juan and Wallace's attention. "What about it?" called the leader with a knowing smile. "Rethinking things?"
Steven sighed. "I do want to be done with it, especially after everything that's happened. But I might wait a little longer, before that."
Spinning on his heel, Wallace beamed. "Wait for the girl?"
The Champion flinched. "Yes… Despite it all, I can't pass up the opportunity. I want to battle her, a proper battle, and the League would be the perfect place for that." For once, he seemed genuinely excited, the drama of Team Aqua and the woes of Devon put behind him.
Wallace chortled, approaching Steven and giving him a pat on the shoulder. He looked like the same boy that'd first shown up at the gym however many years ago, again. "I understand completely, my friend. Who wouldn't? I was curious before, but after that display, I'm itching to see her skill in battle firsthand, myself."
"You don't mind?" pressed Steven, as if he were treading on thin ice. "I know this has been planned for a while. And if she wins, then…"
The cloaked man only shrugged. "It was more a favor for you than it was out of me wanting the position, in the first place. Master, you, however…" he twirled around to Juan, who had raised an eyebrow at the two, amused. "…seem to be counted out of the 'battling May' equation here. You don't mind?"
The man's shrug was almost too similar to that of Wallace's. Steven wondered just how long he'd trained under the contest master. "I've had enough 'good battles' for my lifetime, Wallace. I can hold off for now. A vacation back in beautiful Sootopolis would not be bad at all for my well-being."
"Thank you, Juan." Steven bowed deeply.
The foreign man chuckled. "Any time, sir Champion."
The nurse had gone on and on about staying in bed and getting rest, but after waking from that more or less forced nap, I had to get out the room and see the city for myself. She'd equipped me with a crutch (cane, more like) since I'd nearly collapsed the moment I stood up. Promising not to be out long, then, I'd limped my way outside.
It was late in the day again, and the cloudless sky was shifting into a pale orange hue that was easy on the eyes. The water stretching out before the city reflected it, and the buildings, too, were dyed saffron in the lighting. The damage was extensive… debris was scattered everywhere, chunks of concrete and rock flecked across the entire city, and the shoreline had risen so far that I couldn't believe my eyes at first. In some places, both in the lake and by the coast, strange formations of rock and earth jutted out of the ground (including what could be a land bridge between the eastern harbor and the islet where Wallace's gym sat.) Not a speck of green was seen in the landscape, either. Yet somehow, Sootopolis managed to look beautiful and devastated at the same time.
I scurried as fast as I could towards the gym, wanting to talk to the leader and check in. He was okay, right? Steven had sounded like nobody got hurt, but I wasn't really sure whether I'd dreamed up that conversation or not. A lot of things just didn't feel real, at the moment.
By the time I reached the shore, I had to stop and catch my breath. There was a misplaced slab of stone sitting the dirt nearby, so I trudged over to it and sat down. As if the weather was finally giving me a break, the wind picked up, gently blowing my bangs off my forehead. The waves of the lake lapped against the shore, a soothing song for those the disaster left behind.
When I opened my eyes, I found that I'd sat down right across from the landbridge that led to the gym. But the people that were on it…
It was like getting punched in the gut. Archie and Maxie. I felt my heartrate spike again, instinctively got to my feet, only to waver and put my weight back on the cane again. They were still here. Just loitering by the water's edge, watching the sunset, Maxie standing with his hands limp at his sides and Archie sitting a few feet away, arms on his knees.
I hobbled across the land bridge, my feet drawing me closer and closer to them despite the overwhelming fear I was feeling. When I was a couple meters behind them, I stopped, and could do nothing but stare. The wind was blowing the tails of Maxie's long coat out behind him, and rather than his usual pose, his back was hunched, shoulders slumped, head tilted down. Archie was the same, sitting still and staring into the lake. Beyond them, the sun was dipping into the jagged rim of Sootopolis's walls, and the sky around it had exploded into different shades of fuchsia and gold.
I didn't know what to say. Luckily, it was Maxie who turned around first. I could hardly keep from flinching at the sight – he looked like he hadn't slept in days.
His eyes sort of swept over me, then he sighed. "So, just like that, you… were able to fix things, after all."
Archie leaned his head back before getting to his feet and joining Maxie. "Looking at the city now… it ain't so bad, like this…"
The Magma leader only hummed in agreement.
Silence settled around us for a while, and my breathing evened out. A few feet away, a Wingull landed in the shallows, hopping around and poking at the grass. Another one joined it, then, and after a minute of fruitless searching, they both flew off.
"Guess in the end… what I was aiming for didn't mean anything to Pokemon. I wanted to help them, but setting the world off balance like that… isn't the way to do it." Archie shoved his hands into the pockets of his worn-out shirt. His gaze followed the pair of Wingulls as glided inland.
"I can never ask forgiveness of you, child," Maxie muttered, his hands now balled into fists at his side. "Nor understanding, nor trust. Merely seeing the error in my ways isn't enough not after almost sundering the world I wanted to protect." Archie glanced over at his former adversary, not a trace of animosity left on his features. "Even if I can never atone, I will do what I can to make amends."
The taller man shifted around so he was again facing the setting sun. "Both of us. Rather than having Aqua and Magma compete, we should just keep each other in check. Make sure nothing like this ever happens again…" He glanced over his shoulder at May, some semblance of sorrow in his eyes. "That's the kind of world I wanna make for your generation. Equal."
I didn't know what to say, or why they were even telling me this, of all people. My mouth just hung half open. Somehow, I found sympathy for them, beating faintly in my heart.
Archie planted his hands on his hips, and nodded as if he'd made up his mind about something. "Kyogre, Groudon – maybe the actual one we should be following is Rayquaza."
The tips of Maxie's lips just barely lifted into a smile. "Perhaps you're right," he breathed.
Any hostility I had left dissipated as the sunset reached its climax. My heart only thrummed softly at the sight of the two broken men standing at the shoreline. After everything they'd lived for and dedicated themselves to had come crashing down before them. Maxie was right – what they did was unforgivable. But it was also over, and just like Groudon and Kyogre, the two had been coaxed into peace. I figured I'd take an example from Rayquaza, too, and leave them be.
I'd been misguided too, the past few months, acting without knowing what I was doing. It was nothing short of a miracle that things turned out like they did.
"…Later, kid," I heard Archie rumble, before he called out his battle-scarred Sharpedo and disappeared beneath the lake's surface.
Maxie called out his own Crobat, climbing atop its back. "Farewell, trainer," were his words before the Pokemon sped off into the sky.
I leaned heavily on the cane. I don't really… know what to feel. I don't know if I should have let them go, but… maybe I should stop worrying so much about whether I made the right choice or not. Maybe I need to start trusting myself more.
Stars began peeking out from behind the patchy clouds in the sky. The rim of the city was still glowing, just barely, with the last of the sun's light, and a comfortable coolness had filled the air. I was about to let out a few of my Pokemon when I got the feeling I was being watched.
I peeked over my shoulder at the gym. I'd never noticed, but it really was an impressive building, styled like those foreign Ionic buildings, with lines of white striped lights running along the entrance and roof. Two smaller, blue spotlights lit up the doorway. I started when I recognized Steven's figure in between the shadows of one of the gym's pillars.
I half-hobbled up to the structure.
"They're leaving, then…?" muttered the trainer, leaning off of the building. "I wonder… if they'll head to Mt. Pyre and return those orbs."
My eyes caught on the insignia carved just above the entrance. A badge with three droplets of water. The eighth.
"The Rain Badge," Steven's voice came from off to my left, and he stepped over to my side. "The last one before the League. It wasn't that long ago I was in your exact place…"
I scoffed. "I was just thinking the same thing… Even after everything, I can't believe I'm already on Hoenn's final gym." A warm memory passed through my mind, of shaky cargo trucks, towns that smelled like summer, goofy professors, and one annoying neighbor. "It feels like I just got Torchic yesterday, but thinking back, so much has happened."
He had a big smile on his face when I glanced back at him.
I felt my cheeks heat up. "W-what?"
"Nothing," Steven replied, shaking his head. "I'm just excited, is all."
"To battle you," elaborated the trainer, taking a step back. "And see how you and your team have changed. Someone like you, who's climbed their way up this far so quickly, while facing as many challenges as you have along the way. I want to know what kind of trainer that's made you… Battles are the best way to show those feelings, I think." He gestured to the gorgeous gym towering over us. "But I'll have to wait a bit longer."
I could only stare at him as my brain tried to process what he meant, like it was a jammed printer. He really did say weird things sometimes.
"Wallace sends you his thanks, by the way," Steven continued, approaching the Gym's entrance. The light doused him in blue hues, shining off of the various rings he wore. The trainer still looked worse for wear, but I couldn't help but admire how even after going through a near-apocalypse, he still had some air of regality to him. "He'll be cleaning up here, for a while, but I'm sure he'll accept your challenge any time you're ready."
"Wallace… that's right, he was this city's Gym Leader…"
"He's strong," warned Steven, his tone growing serious. "Taught by powerful trainers, and a prodigy in both battles and contests from a young age. He seems like an easygoing person, but in combat he becomes something else entirely."
I gulped. Nervousness choked my insides. I wasn't ready, not after what happened…
"But the way you are now, I think you're on equal footing with him." The trainer turned around, a confident glow in his eyes. It was contagious, and some of the anxiety in my chest eased. "Give it your best shot. The next time we meet, it'll be in the right place for battling." He stepped past me, back towards the lake that was now full of stars. "Until then, May."
With that, in the same fashion he had all the other times we'd met, Steven called out his Skarmory and flew off into the sky. I stood watching the silhouette of the two until they vanished beyond the walls. As usual, he was nothing short of captivating.
"The Rain Badge… That's my next goal, then."
A/N: Come to think of it, ORAS added and updated so many things about Hoenn that this fic contradicts. Like general lore, actual characters, character ages, character personalities, locations, etc. etc., but thanks for the patience & understanding on that regard. I'd have to rewrite so much stuff to make it fit ORAS, and honestly I'm not sure I'd want to follow the remake plot in the first place.