Chapter 9: The beginning of a lifetime
A mere days later, the journey upon the sea had ended, and the group of friends had finally found a friendly port. The lustful captain had been detained, and Raine had taken over the Virtue. The broken mast had been haphazardly nailed back in, but it had held until the shore was reached. They had anchored to discover it was a resistance town. Raine had explained that there were some towns not loyal to Vinetra, and that there was a whole underground network of people who resisted her rule. It was a dangerous craft, but they were determined to find the messengers to save Aradain.
"The resistance finally got its wish, good luck my friends!" Raine called from the bow of the ship. The group had disembarked, and stood amidst the bustle of the dock. They ignored the group, as they saw nothing peculiar about them. Oddities came to port everyday, why should they be any different? "Goodbye Raine! I hope our paths meet again!" Ash called and the group held their hands up, waving a goodbye to their newfound friend. Raine waved back, smiling broadly. "They will Ash! I promise you they will!" They left after she said this, smiling all the way into town.
They were greeted by a warmly lit, densely populated shopping plaza. The open air market style gave the impression of friendly people, and good times. Hardly the desolate, and desperate land under oppression they had pictured. "Oh wow! Look at that!" Misty cried dashing over to a stand. "Hey Jessie! That looks kind of that shop you used to like to go to back home!" James said excitedly pointing to a small shop in the corner of a wide hallway. Arranged very similar to a mall, it was composed of the town square, a large fountain adorning the center of it, and several branches going off in different directions. "Hey you're right!" she replied taking his hand. "Come on! You too Meowth!" Jessie said and they ran off like children, giggling with joy.
Ash rolled his eyes and smiled at them. "Well Brock, Jessie and James are excited about the same thing, should we be worried?" he asked lowering his eyes seductively. "Only if James comes out with something and not Jessie, then worry," Brock replied with a chuckle. "Come on, let's go find something to do, eh Pikachu?" no answer came to Ash's request. "Pikachu?" the Pokemon and the dragon were gone. Brock shrugged. "I guess they went off with something to do," he offered. "What's a Pokemon and a dragon going to do in a place like this?" Ash asked snickering. "I don't know, what do dragons do for fun?" Brock answered smirking. "Well, leave it to everyone else to go have fun and leave us with the dirty work," Ash grumbled. "What do you mean?" "We get to go find a hotel or an inn to stay at tonight," "Oh,"
They continued through the marketplace, designated "Maamut Square" with large banners bearing the resemblance of a snake-like creature with the head of dog. Black, with a moustache of fur hanging from an elongated snout. They found it odd that such and ugly creature was immortalized in the name of the plaza. They were even more shocked to find that the only inn of the town, which they had since found out its name was Vertigo, was the "Maamut Inn." "What's with the ugly dog thing?" Brock finally ventured to ask as they stared into the wood carving of the inn's sign. "Shh! Don't ever let the princess hear you say that!" they looked forward to see a stout middle-aged man with a very forgettable standard face standing in the doorway. He was over-weight with a short brown moustache and beard, and he shock the glass he had been polishing at the two young men.
Ash regarded him as no problem at all and addressed him calmly. "Excuse me sir?" he asked. The chubby man rolled his eyes and spat in the glass. Both Ash and Brock flinched as he began wiping the stains off the glass as if nothing were wrong. "Maamut be the favorite Pokemon of Princess Cerise, don't ever let her catch ya saying it be ugly!" he said ending the conversation right there and turning to go back inside. Ash shuddered at the grisly innkeeper, but followed him in anyway. "Wait, I was hoping you'd have a place to stay," he asked hopefully. Brock followed him in. "For uh, five people, two Pokemon, and a dragon," he added. "I don't serve freaks," the innkeeper spat derisively.
The first encounter with someone prejudiced to their appearance stung. Ash raised a finger to counter the remark, but only a small squeak exited his mouth. "Insulted you did I? Well get out of ere fore I do it again freak!" he said motioning with a grubby hand to the door. "Ash, let's go," Brock said tugging on his shoulder. "But I-" "Let's go, Ash!" The bigger stronger boy dragged him out of the building and back onto the street. "Well IWe should'veHe can't justWhy I ought-" he sputtered before Brock clamped a hand over his mouth. "Just, shut up and let's find someplace else to stay-" "What? My inn isn't good enough for the likes of you?" Both friends looked up to see a young woman, clad in a tight-fitting pink dress, elegant white embroidery decorating it on all sides. The gold trim beautifully accented the light colors of the dress, and the soft brown of her eyes. Her strawberry blond hair hung neatly at the small of her back, and her hands were held rigidly on her hips. A small snake-like dog creature yipped angrily at her feet.
"Um, no miss, the owner turned us away," Ash said raising his hands defensively. The girl cocked her head to the side thoughtfully. "Turned you away did he?" she asked lowering her eyes seductively. Ash nodded dumbly. The girl looked over her shoulder furtively and leaned in closer to the two friends. "Do you have the crystals?" she asked when she was sure no one would hear her. "What?" Ash replied in disbelief. The girl panicked and held a hand over Ash's mouth firmly. "Shhh! Meet me at the town square tonight at midnight, after the festival, and bring the others too!" she hissed and gathered the Pokemon at her feet into her arms. She nodded to the two young men and dashed away, leaving only an extreme confusion in her wake.
When she was out of sight, hidden in the massive crowds, Brock turned to his friend. "What was that all about?" he asked raising one eyebrow. "I don't know, what crystals was she talking about?" Ash replied. "Maybe the one Misty has?" Brock offered. Ash shook his head. "But she said crystals, not crystal, is there more than one maybe?" he said as they began walking back to the square. "I don't know, but I'm definitely not coming back to meet her again," Brock answered. "Oh I am, where's your spirit of adventure Brock?" Ash said punching him lightly in the cold stone arm. "I think I left it in Vinetra's palace, along with my courage and any bravery whatsoever," Brock joked.
Misty stood at the vendor, eagerly picking through the small glasses of tiny, brightly colored fish. They looked up at her with neon, glowing eyes, and darted about in a theatrical display of dance and pageantry. They seemed to know her, and their antics were saved just for their queen from the sea. "A maiden from the sea such as yourself would probably be interested in this!" the young man behind the desk perked up suddenly. Misty looked up and instantly grinned at the object he held outstretched in his palm. It was a beautiful iridescent seashell, with a wide opening at one end that slowly shrunk as it coiled downwards to meet itself at a well defined point. It hung from a black, silky cord that shone in the bright afternoon sun. "Oh it's so beautiful!" she breathed taking it from him. "Then it is yours," he replied placing it swiftly into her webbed hand.
Misty dropped it on the counter as if it had burned her. "Oh no! I couldn't just take it!" she said breathlessly and put her hand to her chest. The young man somberly bent down and picked up the item. Misty softened and held out a strange coin to him. The sullen youth looked up and smiled vaguely. "I'll accept the gift, if you accept a donation," she said warmly. Raine had given them some of the Virtue's stash of money to use, and all but one of the passengers had decided it had been much too long since they'd made any transactions at all, namely, everyone but Ash, who had taken it upon him to find a place to stay.
The boy took the coin and handed Misty the necklace, she smiled as she departed the stand, and flipped back her short red hair to tie the black string beneath it. He sighed, no more than ten years old and already he was charming ladies. His father would be proud.
"Jessie, no, absolutely not!" James called from the dressing room of the small clothing shop. "Come on James! Humor me! I'm beginning to miss our old days in Team Rocket!" she answered trying to stifle her laugh. "Well, I for one really don't miss this part of it!" James answered. "Just get out here before I force you!" Jessie shouted beginning to get irritated. The flap of material that covered the small stall moved delicately and Jessie's and Meowth's jaws dropped as they witnessed James step out in an orderly outfit. The brand new leather boots covered his shins up to knees, and the tan pants clung close to his thin thighs. The white shirt was a bit loser of a fit, but no less charming, lacing delicately at the top. He had it loosely tides, revealing a small portion of his upper chest. He grinned at his dumbfounded comrades and crossed his arms triumphantly. "What? You didn't actually think I was going to put on that horrid dress you picked out?" he asked incredulously.
Jessie blinked and put a hand to her forehead in disbelief. "YYou look good James," she stuttered. "Thanks, by the way, I gave the dress to someone who could really use it," James answered. "Thanks Mr. Birdy man! You are a doll!" a wormy looking man sauntered up behind him. He had a very heavy and odd accent, which only added to his strange appearance. "You're very welcome," James answered smiling at Jessie. The man walked to the front of the store flamboyantly showing of the gaudy dress, pointing towards the duo he credited with his new attire. The people in the store shot them vicious looks, obviously disliking the man, and Jessie, who was much more self conscious than James, could practically feel herself shrinking in her chair. "Okay, payback has been achieved and in full," she said bluntly. "Thank you," James replied and ruffled Jessie's hair affectionately. She swatted his hand away and put on a face of mock anger. "Hey! Don't mess with the hair!" she said grabbing the hand she had previously thwarted from its evil doings. "No, I think you need more torturing," he replied diving forward, his hands moving to her rib cage.
Jessie's eyes widened as his fingertips danced about her abdomen and she fell backwards with laughter. "No tickling James! That's an illegal move!" she cried holding his arms back. "Says what rule book?" he asked Jessie's laughter becoming contagious. "Says mine!" Jessie said finally forcing her way to James' sides. The mutual tickling finally got to both of them, so they fell to the floor laughing and the assault had finally ended. They both wiped the tears from their eyes, and smiled broadly until they caught their breath. "I think I'm going to like it here," James said not bothering to get off the ground. "Me too," Jessie answered.
At that moment Ash burst through the door, shoving his way through the crowds, hoping for any sign that his comrades were still in the shop. "Jessie? James? Meowth? Are you still here?" he called. "Hey young man! Stop that racket!" an obese woman screeched gripping his tail tightly. He yelled in pain and whirled around to face her. "Yeah and who's gonna-" he stopped as his eyes slowly meandered up her enormous stature. She dropped the crimson tail and her stout hands moved to her hips. Ash gritted his teeth and smiled vaguely at the intense look she was scrutinizing him with. "Um, sorry Miss, but have you seen a blue-haired guy, with wings and a tail, came in with a redhead who has a brown tail, cat ears?" he asked motioning with his hands the different features of his friends. "Oh them, they're back there, odd looking bunch, I've seen some ugly creatures in my day, but they take the cake!" the woman said audaciously and lumbered away. As Ash had suspected, the instant Jessie had heard that, both she and James were on their feet. "Did she just call us ugly James?" "I believe she had the nerve Jessie!" "Well, we'll show her a thing or two!" Ash dashed to the two insulted friends and gripped their outstretched hands angrily. "Maim the marshmallow later! I've got something really important to say, and I need everyone here to say it, I need to find Pikachu, Riley, and Misty, you guys have to help," Ash hissed dragging Jessie and James out of the store with him.
Meowth simply chuckled to himself and followed, crossing his tan arms across his chest. "Wait!" James screeched the instant they left the store. Ash jumped, startled, and whirled around, clamping a hand firmly over his mouth. "Be quiet James!" he hissed. James mumbled something undecipherable under his palm and with a loud sigh he dropped his hand. "QuietlyWhat?" Ash asked. "I left my clothes in the dressing room, these aren't mine!" Ash slapped himself in the forehead and shoved James roughly back into the shop. "Geez, you really are as stupid as you look. Go change and meet us back her," he muttered with a disgruntled tone. James shot him an annoyed look, but trudged back in silently to retrieve his garments.
Jessie raised an eyebrow and pushed Ash lightly. "What's your problem?" she asked. "What? I just told him to get his stuff!" he replied. "You also insulted him. Now, I can't let my best friend be insulted by another friend now can I? What's up?" Jessie replied defending their friend. Ash sighed and relaxed, finally realizing what he had done. "I'm sorry, it's just that, this is serious, and it'll be night soon, and Misty and my Pokemon are nowhere to be found," he said, in his nervous anxiety, still roving with his eyes for any sign of the missing persons.
Nothing more was said until James arrived wearing his original clothes. "There, happy now?" James snapped. "James, II'm sorry," Ash said suddenly. James' eyes widened and he looked thoughtfully at Ash. "It's just that," he stopped, not wanting to tell everyone he'd wanted to assume the leadership role, and that he was scared of failing, "I'm worried, and I guess there's still a bit of friction left over from the Pikachu thing." James smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder. "We're not going to get through this without some disagreements, I mean, remember what Jessie did to you in the labyrinth?" he said comforting Ash.
He smiled in response and nodded. "Help me find everyone, and meet in the town square at midnight. "Twelve? Got it," Jessie said. "Actually, 13, there's 13 hours in a day here," Ash replied laughing at the overly used spoof for haunted houses and such. Here in this land it was true. "What's wit' da ugly Pokemon?" Meowth asked pointing to the Maamut adorning the clock. Ash shuddered. "Um, don't ask," he said.
The company parted ways and left to find their companions. It was nightfall before Ash really began to panic. He and Brock had gone to look together, as had Jessie, James and Meowth. Both groups suddenly stopped as they heard the clock begin to chime. 1"But we haven't found Misty or anyone else yet!" 4 "Jessie what'll we do know?" 9 "II don't know." 1012 "Welcome, to my Vertigo," 13. The clock struck a final hour with a deafening knoll, nearly drowning out the soft words coming from the moonlit center of the town. "Ash?" He looked up to see Misty standing at the center talking to the woman in the pink dress he'd seen earlier. Pikachu also stood at her feet along with Riley. "Misty? Pikachu? Riley?" Ash asked in disbelief. "Hey Ash!" she called cheerfully. "What about-" "We're here too," Jessie, James and Meowth emerged from the shadows.
The girl in pink clasped her hands together excitedly. "Misty already showed me the crystal, let me see the rings!" she gasped. The group assembled in the center and reluctantly held out the hands they still wore the rings on. Her soft brown eyes grew wider as she inspected each one. "I can't believe it! It's really you!" she exclaimed snatching Pikachu from the ground and squeezing him tightly. "Ah! What? What?" he screeched trying to free himself from the death grip. "You're the messengers! Come! You must stay with us at the castle!" she said happily and grabbed Ash's wrist. He cried out in surprise as she dragged him along with her as she took off. "I guess we'll go with her," he said shrugging and the rest of the group followed.
The girl led them out of town, which was framed by dense woodlands. It was oddly silent, not a creature dared move to spoil the placidity of their home. They traveled until the girl stopped suddenly. She turned around and held a finger harshly in front of her lips. "Welcome, to your new home," she whispered, and parted the dense foliage that blocked her path.
Before her, lay a castle. It was small in comparison to most of the medieval style castles the group had seen, but it was beautiful no less. The tall spires reaching to their utmost height, crowned with simple tops, ridged, and ready for battle. It had no moat to speak of, as most of the group had expected, but they could see through the metal bars of the gate to the central courtyard where an enormous fountain, bearing the resemblance of Misty, gurgled pleasantly. "Whoa," Ash breathed. "Come! You will live with me and the resistance here until you can be ready to face Vinetra!" the girl said leaping through the bushes. "Wait! Resistance? That's here?" Ash asked awkwardly following her, tripping on every branch in the bushes.
The girl turned around and smiled deviously. "Why, this is the head of it all," she replied walking backwards. "And how may I ask, are you related to it?" Misty asked. "I'll tell you everything when we get to the castle, follow me!" she said and took off running towards the gates of the palace. James took this opportunity to stretch his newly healed wings, spreading them as wide as they would go. "Want a lift Meowth?" he asked and even before the cat had a chance to reply, James scooped him from the ground and with a flash of cerulean, had taken off into the night sky.
"James! What are ya doin'?" Meowth screeched trying to free himself. James closed his eyes against the wind and performed a lissome flip midair. Meowth yowled in protest and wriggled in his arms. "Oh don't you just love flying Meowth? It feels so, liberating," James breathed obviously enjoying his new talent. Meowth felt the color drain from his face as he looked to the ground far below him. "I don't love throwin' up," he muttered. James smiled and stopped gliding the last few feet to the ground. Once there, he walked over to the group who had since gotten to the gate with the girl and was waiting for him. He set Meowth on the ground as well, who took two wobbly steps forward and instantly fell forward on his face. "I'll leave flying to the birds and James," he groaned.
Jessie smiled and helped him up. "Come on, we'll get you inside," she said winking at James. He smiled in response. "Guards! Open this gate!" The girl yelled. The silhouette of a man appeared in the towers on either side of the gate at her call. "Who goes there?" he asked. "Your job if you don't cut that King Arthur guard act out!" the girl yelled. "Oh! PPrincess! I'm sorry! Right away!" Sir lady ma'am!" he sputtered and the shadow disappeared. "Princess?" the group asked in unison. She looked suave, flipping her hair over her shoulder and stepping through the gate as it opened before her. "Princess Cerise of Aradain at your service," she mused and disappeared behind the rock wall.
They followed Cerise into the castle and she led them quickly to a large room, lit only by several wiry candelabras holding thickly dipped yellowed wax candles. It was enough light to see the murals painted on the walls with rich colors. They had faded over the years they had been there, but it was still an accurate depiction, of an epic battle. "In this room, the history of all of Aradain is stored, look. The paintings, the tapestries! All of them, they're all of your ancestors!" she exclaimed pointing at the intricate designs with sweeping motions of her hands. "Wait a second," Jessie started, "I thought Aradain never had any rulers, why are you a princess?"
Ash smiled nervously, wondering why he hadn't realized that as well. Cerise sighed and pointed to the very end of the room, where several carved busts sat regally on wooden pedestals. "Many generations ago, when the queen was defeated, the people of Aradain decided they would be better off with a ruler, so they held a world wide election. My ancestor was the winner of that very same event, and was crowned king. My family ruled until Vinetra came back," the girl paused and clenched her fists, looking away from the group, "she murdered my mother and father, the king and queen of Aradain. I managed to escape and I'm the one next in line, I'm the rightful ruler of this land. You were sent here to help me, will you stay at the castle? This has been the center of the resistance for I don't know how long. You can do your best from here!" She looked back, quickly wiping a tear from her fair cheek.
Ash smiled and turned to the rest of his friends, who in turn smiled back at him. Jessie, James, and even the cat Meowth, had the same rush evident in their clear azure and emerald eyes. Ash found it hard to believe that they were actually his friends, but when he thought of the dedication with which they had thrown themselves into this situation, trying so hard to be friends, he knew that they would stick with this until the end. The boy now could hardly remember what they looked like without their new features, it was as if they'd always been there, and
Misty and Brock had the same thrill about them. They had always been his friends and they'd been with him every step of his journey. Though he doubted they ever believed that he could make it as a Pokemon, much less achieve the immortality of the title of "Pokemon Master" but since they were truly his friends, they'd stuck by him. "Let's do it Ash," Misty whispered quietly, for once sounding serious. Ash could tell that everyone finally knew where they fit in the odd puzzle of the intricately written legends.
Ash turned to the young woman in the pink dress behind him and lowered his head respectfully. He drew his sword, and slowly knelt on one knee before her, the broad side of the sword facing her, parallel with his body. He smiled, and kept his eyes shut, his head still bowed. "My name is Ash, of the Flame, I am at your disposal Princess," he said. Cerise let the tears gathering in her eyes fall and smiled as Misty knelt in the same fashion as her companion. "Misty, of the tide," she said. The sound of metal hissing against leather sheaths echoed along with the triumphant voices of all there. "Brock of the stone!" "Pikachu of the thunder!" "Jessie of the mind!" "James of the wind!" "Meowth of the body!" All knelt the same way, their eager eyes now directed towards the soul they would fight to see in its rightful position.
They had seen their official titles inscribed on the walls of the chamber and knew their place in the legend. "This is what the legends spoke of, the grand return of the noble messengers of Aradain," Cerise breathed. Ash smiled at her and nodded as she took out the crystal Misty had given to her. "YYou may rise," the Princess choked as she turned to a large circular altar in front of the busts. It had seven oddly shaped notches in it, going deep into the wood that had gone a deep red with age.
She gently placed the dragon shaped crystal into its respective slot and it illuminated a bright blue. "You have freed my soul, I shall now wait for my time to avenge the land from its oppression. Seek out the rest of the powers, and beware the darkness," Icthsique's voice rang out one last time, and the azure light died down. Misty smiled and stepped over to her crystal.
She ran a hand down the intricately carved stone scaled affectionately and sighed. "Until we meet again," she whispered and turned to her friends. "So? Where shall we be spending the rest of our lives?" she announced placing her hands on her hips. Cerise smiled and turned to walk from the room. "Follow me, I shall take you to your rooms, they have been kept just as your ancestors kept them," she said, and the group followed them to their new homes.
Ash sat on his bed that night, unable to sleep, and surveying his new surroundings. His room was on the ground floor, in the West swing of the castle, and it looked out into the courtyard. He looked up at the brilliant crimson canopy that shaded his bed and sighed, throwing himself down on his pillows roughly. He blew out the candle at his bedside that Cerise had provided for him and directed his eyes toward the window.
The silhouette f James flashed across the silver moon as he took a graceful dive to the ground. "Guess he couldn't sleep either," Ash thought to himself and swung his legs over the side of the bed. His limbs and tail created a warm red glow in the corner of the room as he gently pushed open his glass window just in time to witness James light deftly in the center of the courtyard. "You're gettin' good at that," he called to him. James gasped and clutched at his chest, whirling around suddenly.
Ash smirked and rested his chin in his hands, his elbows resting against the wooden sill. "Do you want to give me a heart attack?" James asked smiling. "Why not? Maybe it'll help me sleep," Ash mused. "You too huh?" the winged young man said as he sauntered over to chat with his friend. "Yeah, too bad I can't fly, it might be fun," Ash said as he fingered a cerulean feather longingly. "I never thought I'd enjoy it so much," James said dreamily. "Do you think we can do it?" James looked confused at the question. "Do what?" he asked. "Save this whole world? I mean, it sounds like it would take like, a couple generations to find all the seven powers and get them into the crystals," Ash said, his brow furrowing with worry.
James grinned, ruffling his ebony hair affectionately. "Like they always say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, perhaps, today was ours. See ya tomorrow pal," he said and launched into the night sky with a rush of warm air. Ash closed the window and latched it securely, brushing a stray blue feather away. "Cleaning up after him is going to get annoying," he mused and took a long leap back into bed.
He'd often done it as a child, when he was afraid of monsters under the bed, but now it brought a smile to his face. He now felt welcome in the world of Aradain, a world where anything could happen. This was a world of magic, and strange monsters, new Pokemon and cities. He now had a mission he knew he could fulfill, and he'd do it better than his ancestors had. He'd find out more about them, but for now, he was tired, and needed to sleep. He slipped under the covers and closed his eyes. The sheets were cool with the night, and felt good against the hot flames. He remembered when they'd first appeared, and drifted into sleep with this imprint lasting in his mind. The first journey of his adventure was over, but this was only the beginning of the saga.