Char knew what death felt like. He had experienced it before.
Death was simple, peaceful, and painless. It was calming and serene. In many ways, it was the perfect state of existence.
That's why he knew… what he felt now was not death. This… was something else.
It was agony. Wretched, vile agony. It was as though spears had been jammed through his muscles, as though his head had been submerged in water. His heart raced, reverberating in his chest so strongly that it may have been on the verge of failure. His eyelids were too heavy to open; his throat too sore to produce a sound.
He tried to stretch, and was met with the sensation of jagged sawblades digging into his skin from unpredictable angles.
And there was noise. Oh, so much noise. There were voices there, somewhere. But mostly, it was just the wind. The pummeling, howling wind, sweeping over his bare skin like an ocean tide.
That's when he realized: he recognized this sensation.
He had felt it before, somewhere… but he couldn't think clearly enough to remember.
"Hey!" a voice shouted over the continual whoosh of the wind. "Hey, I think he's waking up!"
"H-h-h-help-p…" Char choked out.
His body vibrated, convulsed so badly that he thought a ghost was wrangling with him for control. He felt a pair of paws pull him up from his position on the ground. The snow-covered ground. The snow that had surrounded him.
Squinting, he cracked his eyes open. The light glared. The wind stung. But he managed to glimpse at the Pokémon in front of him.
Saura and Ray. They were there. Ray had helped him up. Saura was standing next to him, looking deathly terrified. And cold. They both looked cold.
"W-w-w?" Char tried to spit out. "W-where… is… everyone?"
"Char…" Ray said sadly, leaning close so that his words could be heard over the bitter storm. "Scythe used an escape orb and ran away… Nameless flew Lily back to Fort Emerald, it could take her a week to get there and back. Prince… got lost in Temporal Tower because we knocked him out, then… the tower disappeared. So… he might be gone. Maybe for good."
Char opened his eyes halfway, and managed to keep them held open, though they stung whenever a burst of wind would strike him in the face. Saura and Ray looked like miserable, half-frozen, tattered remains of his friends. Behind them, the snowstorm raged. There was no visibility; the white billows and streams reduced everything in the distance to shadow. Even the sky was invisible. Was it day, or twilight? He couldn't tell.
"Char, we're the only ones left," Ray said somberly. "It's just us now… And our bag disappeared when we were expelled from the tower. We… don't… have anything."
Char's thoughts were cloudy. His mind was trying to disconnect itself from the pain of its existence.
"Come ONNNN!" Saura cried with a surprising power in his voice, shouting over the continual blizzard. "We have to GO!"
"Go… where?" Char wondered.
"AWAY from here!" Saura yelled, stomping in the snow. "We have to get out of the cold! Come on! Let's go! Come on!"
Char tried to walk. His brittle legs resisted his every command. He tried to move his arms to balance himself…
…and realized they were clutched around something.
He glanced down, and saw that he still grasped the reviver seed. Through everything that happened, it was still unused. He coughed up a painful chuckle at the irony; he had been so proud of his decision to save just this one seed for himself, yet in the end, it had done nothing for him. But now it was all he had, and he knew he was going to keep clinging to it.
"We can't just DIE out here!" Saura screamed, his pained and desperate voice rising over the storm's howl. "We have to go!"
Saura began running away. He didn't run very fast; the snow slowed him, causing him to stumble over his own frail paws every step he tried to take, but it didn't stop him. Clenching his teeth, the tiny Bulbasaur dashed through the snow as Char and Ray tried to follow behind him.
They followed him, step after step, for what seemed like a mile… but the snowy, desolate landscape of Zerferia never seemed to change.
Step after step, there was no sign of shelter. There was no sign of the weather improving. There was no sign of hope.
Char didn't have hope anymore. He didn't care. He couldn't; the stinging, stabbing cold overpowered all of his thoughts and his sensations. He remembered death, and the way it felt. He began to yearn again for that simple peace, that gentle, quiet plane of existence where nothing else existed but souls. Because it would mean that he wouldn't have to feel cold anymore.
Step after step, he plodded through the snow, tracing the trail his Bulbasaur friend had created. He didn't know how much more he could take. His nerves didn't ever numb themselves; he felt every twinge of horrid pain the wind would deliver. He tried to simmer down his inner flame to reduce his sensitivity to temperature, just like Prince had shown him, but he couldn't feel an effect…
Saura just kept going. It was like a spirit had taken over him, pushing him forward tirelessly and ignoring the pain, even though parts of his body were clearly wilting. A third of his bulb was faded brown.
The wind shifted, blasting Char in the face. Cringing, he held the reviver seed against his chest, as though expecting it to provide him warmth. Saura continued to walk.
"Y-you're going t-t-too fast…" Char called to him, trying to move his stinging legs. "Saura…"
"KEEP GOING!" Saura commanded. "Just keep moving!"
"Saura, we don't even know if we're going in the right direction!" Saura called to him. "We could be going farther north!"
"IT DOESN'T MATTER!" Saura screamed, doubling his efforts and ducking his head against the wind. "JUST GO! ANYWHERE… BUT… HERE! KEEP… GOING!"
"We can't… go anymore…" Char whispered. "I… I need t-t-t-to rest…"
"We can rest if we find SHELTER!" Saura cried. "C'mon, Char! C'mon! Don't stop now!"
"Saura, we saw the whole area when we first came," Ray said to him. "There is no shelter, not for miles. Not unless we can get back to the Scarred Crags, and that's over a day's walk, and we don't even know which way—"
"DO YOU WANT TO SURVIVE OR NOT?" Saura blasted, not turning back to look at them. "KEEP WALKING!"
There was another rush of wind. Saura gave a broken cry, averting his face from the brunt of it.
Char felt it as well, but to his surprise, he began to feel some kind of relief. The stinging, throbbing pain was gradually subsiding. His body was finally becoming numbed down, his nerves turning themselves off to the persistent cold.
He breathed a sigh of relief. With the numbness, the cold wasn't really all that bad.
Alright… he thought to himself. I can do this now. I can survive.
He squinted ahead of Saura, plotting a course of travel.
"Saura, I'm… I'm getting sleepy," Ray warned. "I think I might faint."
"You have to ignore it!" Saura insisted, pressing forward. "Don't let yourself fall asleep! Just keep walking!"
I don't understand what's so bad about this, Char thought to himself. Once you're numb, it's really not that bad.
"Saura… I'm sorry…" Ray sighed. "There's… nothing left... we can do…"
"NO! No! NO NO NO NO!" Saura stammered, not turning back to look at him. "We HAVE to survive! We HAVE to go! Just… keep walking! Just keep taking another step! I… I have… I HAVE TO SEE MY FAMILY! I HAVE TO SEE… If they're okay! I have to… to make it back… We can't… die out here… No…"
They need to stop arguing, Char said to himself. It's getting hard to focus on my thoughts.
Now… let me think. How do we find shelter from this cold? Can we make shelter?
"Char?" Ray cried. "Char… your tail just went out."
Holding the reviver seed in one claw, he reached behind himself and clutched his tail.
He examined it. It was a stub. The flame was no longer there.
He stared at it, fascinated, for several moments. Trying to decipher it. Trying to contemplate.
"What… does that mean?" Ray asked.
"It means I am about to die," Char said plainly. "I have about six minutes to live."
Saura stopped in his tracks. He turned around to face his Charmander friend, his mouth hanging open in horror.
"Is… there any way we can save you?" Saura asked.
Char tried to remember. His emotions were all numbed, and so was the sting of the cold, making his thoughts clear…
He was smoldering. Just like Prince had shown him, that one time in the freezer of Fort Emerald.
What was it that he had said?
When you find yourself smoldering, there is only one way to save yourself. If you want to live, you must find warmth at all costs. It is the only thing that can save you.
"I have to find warmth," Char told his companions. "It's the only way."
Without hesitation, Char and Ray both pounced toward him, huddling close. He knew their bodies were terribly cold, but he couldn't feel it.
He felt their heartbeats. Their breathing. The way they clasped onto him so desperately, not wanting to lose him.
And for almost a minute, the tiny team of Pokémon remained there, clinging to one another with all their might.
They were alone. The world had abandoned them to this deathly, terrible place of cold. But they had each other. And it was each other that they clung to, when all other hope was gone.
Ray began whispering. "You think this is r—?"
"Shhh," Saura hissed. "You don't have to say anything…"
The storm would not relinquish them. The cruel land of Zerferia would not show them mercy, even unto the end. Saura and Ray knew that there was nothing they could do to save Char. The least they could do was to offer him this small comfort, this gesture of companionship, in his final moments.
But Char… Char's heart and mind were racing.
"No," he said. "No, this isn't good enough."
"Char," Saura said to him, "we don't have—"
"No, we're wasting time," Char said again. "I can't waste my last minutes. There's a puzzle here. I'm trying to figure it out."
"Char, do you think that we'll live?" Ray asked. "Dialga said that you planned your own future for yourself. So maybe you thought of a way to get us out of this."
"No," Char responded. "I couldn't have. When we came to temporal tower, my plan was thrown off-course. I didn't plan for any of this to happen, so I couldn't have anticipated it… No, if we are going to live, we have to figure out our own way out of this. And I think there's something…"
He noticed Ray's neck. Unlike Saura's, and his own, there was no green scarf wrapped around it.
"Ray…" he asked, "How did you get out of Temporal Tower? You don't have a rescue emblem…"
"Um… I don't remember, I blacked out when the wind came," he replied. "When I woke up, I was just on the ground, and the tower was gone."
"That means, the tower must have expelled you when it disappeared," Char realized. "Celebi made it disappear and you were probably kicked out. That means…"
Courage, little one.
I will suffer with you.
And I will not let your fire die. You will emerge from this a stronger Pokémon.
It is a promise.
"…Prince is somewhere," he realized. "We have to go back to the tower site. Prince is somewhere here. We need to find him."
Char rose to his feet, pushing his friends away from him.
He looked at the reviver seed, then tossed it into the snow. He could not afford to hang onto it any longer. Not when he had only minutes left to live.
He dropped to all fours, turned the way they had come, then scampered back with all of his remaining strength. It was easy to follow the fresh trail of tracks they had left, although the storm would soon erase them and replace them with the same blanket of whiteness which covered the rest of Zerferia's wasteland…
He didn't worry about his friends. They would catch up.
In fact, one of them did, sooner than he had realized. Ray slammed into him from behind, flipping him over and draping him across his back. Char held on, watching the snowy ground fly by a foot beneath his face.
"If you've got six minutes, you'll never make it," Ray breathed as he dashed through the snow. "But I can."
"Thank you," Char replied.
Char felt static tingle across his skin. He knew Ray was giving it his all, using his reserves of electricity to motor his muscles and bolt through the snow astoundingly fast.
"Are you doing alright?" Ray asked between short breaths.
"I think so, I don't see any light yet," Char replied.
"I know I'm going to see light right before the end," Char told him. "Prince showed me."
"Well, it hasn't been six minutes yet," Ray replied, "but we're coming up on that fast. Keep holding on."
Ray seemed to double his speed and lurch forward, and Char tried not to vomit as the ground blurred past like a waterfall. He still found the smoldering reaction fascinating; his stomach was clearly upset, but he didn't feel discomfort. He also wasn't anxious about the fact that he was about to die. His thoughts were smooth and organized, allowing him to think clearly in the face of his mortal peril.
"I shouldn't have trusted Scythe," Char said to himself. "Now that I am thinking clearly, I know that now. He knew what was best for me. And for all of us. He knew Scythe would pull something like this from the start. I was emotionally attached to him. I don't know why I was so attached to him…"
"Don't worry about that now!" Ray called to him. "Save it for later, if you live. Hey, I think… we're here."
Char twisted his head to see. The white, snow-covered ground appeared to him like a giant wall rushing past his side. Up ahead, he spotted a large clearing where snow was scarce and the brown, ice-encrusted dirt could still be seen below the layer of powder. It was a perfect, pure-cut circle in the snowy wasteland. It was the site where Temporal Tower had stood.
Fast as lightning, Ray began to dash around the perimeter of the clearing.
"Keep an eye out," Ray told his friend. "If Prince is here… he'll be somewhere in the deeper snow… That's where I woke up, and that's where I found you…"
"There," Char said.
Ray ground to a halt, turning to approach the direction Char had indicated.
There was a dent in the snow, and a subtle cloud of black smoke rising from it and blowing away in the wind. Ray hopped through the snow to examine the spot, letting Char roll off from his back.
There, with his body sprawled across the rocky ground, was the unconscious Infernape. His flame still burned dimly, and he still breathed. Char rushed to his side.
"Prince!" he shouted in the Infernape's ear. "Prince? Wake up!"
"Looks like he's out cold," Ray said, nudging his face.
"Can you wake him up?" Char asked.
"I don't have much energy left, Char," the Raichu replied, looking worried. "But I can try."
Ray released a strong jolt of static into Prince's head. Prince's body convulsed.
His eyes blinked fluttered open.
"Prince," Char said. "You need to wake up. We need you."
Prince's eyes rolled back into his head, and his eyes closed again.
"No! Prince!" Ray shouted. "Wake up! Come on, wake up!"
"Can't…" the Infernape mumbled in reply.
Ray shut his mouth, surprised at the sleep-talking Pokémon before him.
"I'm sorry… I need to sleep… for a long time…"
"Prince, we're trapped in Zerferia, we don't know which way to go," Char informed him, still with a flat emotionlessness to his voice. "We might die here. We need you to wake up."
"South… east…" Prince mumbled. "The wind blows… to… the south-east… You can find shelter… crags…"
"Thank you," Char said. "But you have to wake up…"
"Don't… go through… the crags…" Prince managed to say. "You won't… make it back… I'm sorry…"
He slumped, and spoke no more.
"Prince! No!" Ray cried, ready to zap him awake again. "Prince!"
"Let him sleep," Char said. "He needs his sleep…"
Char stood up, grasping the Infernape's arm. He pulled, flipping the downed warrior onto his belly.
Then, he crawled underneath, between Prince's body and the bare, rocky ground, letting the Infernape cover him like a heavy, bulky comforter.
And he closed his eyes.
He could feel the warmth. It was small, but it was significant. Even through the trauma, the Infernape's ember burned many times hotter than his own. He felt the warmth pulsing through the warrior's chest…
Char knew he had mere minutes left, if not less. He closed his eyes and waited to see if Prince would be enough to re-light his flame, or if the white light would start coming for him…
When his ember began to reignite, he knew, because the cold had returned with it. Even through the Infernape's body, he could feel that wicked, stabbing sensation upon his skin, that sharp-as-glass wind that cut at whatever it touched… Also, he felt a very discomforting sensation of being crushed.
"Char! It worked!" Ray shouted in triumph. "Your flame is back!"
"I… knowww…" Char grunted, trying to bear the sensation again. "Ughhh… So cold…"
Char mustered his strength and tried to resist the weight of Prince. Struggling, he rose to his feet, draping the Infernape's body over his shoulder by the arm. Ray rushed in and took the other arm.
"Warm enough?" Ray asked him. "Now you might survive."
"I might," Char said through gritted teeth. "But this won't last forever either. Eventually, Prince is going to start smoldering, too. And we can't light his fire by ourselves."
"Then we'll take him to the crags," Ray said. "He told us the way. The wind blows to the south-east, so if we keep it at our backs and on the right side, we'll go south. I guess Saura was going the wrong way after all. We were going due east, I think…"
They began to march forward, dragging Prince along behind them. With cooperation, the burden was not heavy; they were able to march back the way they came at a very steady pace. Part of Char wanted to smolder again and return to the state of blissful numbness, but the other part of him appreciated living, and harbored some hope now that they had been given direction. He bore the pain and kept walking.
"I'm… sorry…" Char choked out as they traversed the circular clearing where the tower once stood.
"For what?" Ray replied.
"For all of this," Char said. "This was my fault. I shouldn't have told you to knock out Prince. I wasn't thinking straight…"
Ray smirked at him. "Save it," he said. "And besides, you don't have to apologize to me. Before all this, I would have followed Scythe off of a cliff, too. Right now, let's just work on getting to the crags…"
Before long, a miserable Saura came hobbling along through the snow. He never looked happier to see fire Pokémon in his life. He eagerly crawled between them and under Prince, lifting his chest off the ground and further relieving the team of his weight. Together, with rekindled hope, they marched to the south in search of shelter.
Though the wind still pummeled them from the side, Prince and Ray helped to shelter Char from the worst of its strength, and talking to his friends really helped to take his mind off of the cold…
"I guess the last ember hasn't faded just yet," Ray said with a smile. "We're still going…"
"You know, I don't think I like that motto anymore," Char admitted.
Ray looked mildly surprised. "Hmm? Why not?" he implored.
Char tried to give an ironic laugh, but it came out like a sigh. "Because… It's just… Silly… blind… trust."
"Well, heh, isn't it blind optimism that got us this far?" Ray replied. "If we gave up out there just now, we would have never found Prince, and we would have just died out here. But you didn't lose hope…"
"But that wasn't blind," Char said, grunting to keep Prince's left shoulder lifted off the ground. "Look… I think… things are going to be different from now on. I think we kept getting lucky because I wanted for us to be lucky. I mean… I… I was outside of the time stream… I planned for myself to meet Saura, and to meet you, and to meet Scythe… And when we worked together, we were always lucky, because that's the way I had planned it. We were following my fate. We never failed, we always got lucky, because we couldn't fail, because my plan counted on it. But… those plans are all gone now… Dialga says history is being re-written now. The predetermined fate I made is gone. And it's not going to come back until I can find Giratina. That means…"
He locked eyes with his friends, first Ray, then Saura.
"…everything we do, from now on… we're going to be on our own," Char said. "We don't have luck on our side anymore. We can't just… rush into danger anymore. Nobody's going to save us. So we can't be overconfident. Because… if we're overconfident… it's just as bad as giving up."
"No…" Saura muttered, breaking his silence.
Char and Ray gave him a surprised glance. He wore a look of determination.
"That's not what the motto means," he insisted. "It means… it's not over until it's over. And no matter how… confident we are… that doesn't make it any less true. Besides," he said with a tiny grin, "I wake up to that motto. We can't stop using it… At least, if we live…"
"Fine," he said, grunting as he readjusted his grip on Prince's arm. "But we have to be stronger now. No more… of all this… blind trust. Not in Scythe, not in me, not in the Call, not in Dialga… It's just us. We're all that's left, now. We have to make our own hope."
Char paused for a moment to contemplate his own words. He looked to the horizon, or whatever he could see of it, for any sign of the Scarred Crags – their only hope for shelter.
"As you wish, fearless leader…" Ray said with a subtle grin.
"I've been thinking," Char said to him bluntly, "I think you would actually make a better leader than me. You've been in the resistance longer, you're older, you're stronger, you're evolved… And I know you've just been following me because you idolize humans. I don't think that's a very good reason anymore."
"Me? No, I don't think so," Ray sighed, shaking his head. "I'm single-minded. I'm good at following orders, and that's about it. When I don't have orders to follow, I get lost too easily. I'm not so good at seeing the bigger picture. I'm afraid I probably wouldn't ever make a good leader."
Saura interrupted Char's reply. "Char… I know you would make a good leader," he offered. "You know why?"
"Why?" Char returned. "I have… the same problems. I'm single-minded. I need to be given orders, or I get lost…"
"Because you're forgetting something," Saura told him. "When you were a human… you saw the bigger picture. And you planned for… coming into the world like this. You planned all of this yourself. That's why I know you're a good leader, now. Because you wanted something, and you did whatever it took to get it. That's the difference between a leader and a follower, you know. Leaders always know what they want by heart and they know how to get there. You lost your memories, but you didn't lose your person. You're still the same person. And I bet, you still have the same skill. You just need to find it again as a Charmander."
"Maybe you're right," Char muttered, shrugging. "If we end up surviving this, I'll work on being a better leader. I don't know how, though. I'll figure it out…"
And they continued trudging through the snow, hour after hour, with nothing but Prince's warmth to keep them comfortable. They kept up the idle chatter as long as they could, taking their mind off of frostbite as they discussed everything they would do when they got back home… if they ended up alive.
When the topics of conversation had run out, Char resorted to counting his steps to distract himself. He lost count sometime after two thousand.
Through it all, Char's mind kept drifting back to Prince, and all the actions he had done. Every one of them, every decision he had made for the group, was honorable and wise. Char felt such a vast and profound regret for not having seen it before. And now, he could not count the number of times Prince had saved his life.
I'm sorry, he wanted to tell the sleeping Infernape. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would have listened to you. I would have worn the stupid sweater, I would have sided with you against Scythe… Oh, so many mistakes I made… I should have asked Celebi to take us farther back in time, so I could change all of my mistakes… But it's too late for that…
I wish I could tell you how sorry I am, and how right you were… I'm so sorry… You are a noble and dignified leader, you didn't deserve to end up in the snow like this…
It's all my fault…
I forgive you.
Char held his breath for a moment. The words had spontaneously appeared in his mind, immediately following his flow-of-consciousness… yet, he had not created them.
He realized… they had come from Prince. They were words of heart-speak.
Prince, too, had lived in the presence of humans early in his life. He had come from a human continent, and thus he had heart-speak. But it was not strong enough to ever channel Celebi's call, especially with Lily always at his side… but now, as the Infernape was so close in proximity, his heart-speak could finally be heard.
Char knew that somehow he had spoken to Prince's deep subconscious, and that Prince had replied to him. He felt humbled.
How can you forgive me, after what I did? Char tried to speak to him telepathically. I don't deserve forgiveness…
Prince didn't answer again.
Well… it doesn't matter, I guess, Char tried saying to him. I accept your forgiveness…
Char thought he felt the warmth from the Infernape's chest grow stronger. Swallowing hard, he held onto Prince's wrist tighter and stood taller, carrying the fallen warrior with reaffirmed strength.
At last, after what seemed like an eternity of torturous journeying, the persevering Pokémon noticed a shadow looming before them. At first, Char thought the sun was going down, leading to an intensely bitter Zerferian night. But as they approached, they noticed that the darkness was a shadow cast by the upcoming terrain.
They had made it to Zerferia's mountains: the Scarred Crags.
Old yet vivid memories arose in Char's consciousness, memories of cruel pitfalls, falling boulders, and a battle with a barbaric legendary beast made of rocks. He remembered that the Scarred Crags were not a friendly place to explore. They were a place which had required Prince's guidance to traverse. Yet, he and his tired team were more than eager to seek refuge among its cliffs and crevices; at the moment, they could imagine no worse fate than freezing to death.
Taking great care to avoid unstable ground, the Pokémon dragged their former leader into the shelter provided by the thorny shards of rock. They did not stop searching until they found a secure little cove where the sky was hidden from sight. Overjoyed at their triumph but exhausted at their efforts, the Pokémon set the Infernape down in a corner to rest. Char breathed a weak stream of fire onto himself and the Infernape, trying to wash away all of the ice and snow that had crusted upon them.
"Think we can sleep here?" Ray wondered. "It looks safe…"
"Safe enough," Saura said, already snuggling up beside Prince's form. "We should sleep. Then we can make it through the rest of the mountains tomorrow. Or… whenever we wake up."
Ray hesitated. "Um… Saura… that might not be a good idea…"
"What?" Saura returned.
"When we woke him up and got him to tell us the directions, he told us not to try to get through the crags," Ray explained, indicating Prince. "He said we'd never make it."
"But…" Saura stammered, "But… why would he say that?"
"This place is pretty dangerous," Char reminded him, settling down next to Prince as well. "Remember? Last time we were here, we fought Regirock. And the rocks around here are all as sharp as blades. You could probably cut your head off just by walking into the wrong wall."
"I think we should trust him," Ray added. "He used the last of his breath to warn us not to go through the crags."
"Wait, then what do we do?" Saura wondered worriedly. "We can't stay here forever; we'll starve. There's no food here. Unless you want to eat Prince, we won't last more than a week. Ahh… we can just wait for Nameless to come back!"
"Nameless won't be able to find us down here, Saura," Char told him sadly. "She won't see us down here. She doesn't know all of Zerferia by heart. She didn't even know there was a Regirock…"
The three Pokémon exchanged wordless glances. The newfound sparkle of hope in their eyes began fading away, leaving only anxiousness and uncertainty.
"So… if Prince doesn't wake up soon…" Saura asked forlornly, "What do we do?"
Char didn't know how to answer the question. They had come so far, discovered so much hope even when all seemed lost… It was difficult for Char to admit that he was truly out of ideas, and that they might just end up starving to death, lost and alone in that treacherous mess of a rock pile deep in Zerferia. He looked sadly into their eyes, now understanding all the potential they held… the potential to be a great, powerful team together, the potential to meet Giratina, the potential to even change the fate of the Resistance and the nature of Ambera itself…
He wondered if Prince had simply pointed them to a place where they might pass away with a bit more dignity and comfort.
I wonder… am I supposed to visit Giratina by dying? Char mused darkly. Seems to make sense. I would go to the spiritual realm, and that's where Giratina is, supposedly…
Well… I won't try that option until it's all I have left.
"First of all," Char told his friend, "We should rest. We can't do anything without energy. Tomorrow, we can figure out what to do. Alright?"
"My stomach is already grumbling…" Saura moaned. "Maybe we should have saved the reviver seed. We could have tried to eat it…"
Char breathed deeply, moved with pity for him. And sympathy, too; his stomach didn't feel too full, either.
"Tomorrow," he reassured him. "Tomorrow, we'll figure out what to do. Tonight, we rest."
"Okay," Saura whispered, laying his head against Prince's leg. "Okay…"
"We'll think of something," Ray told him, curling up at Prince's side. "I'm sure…"
For the first time in longer than he could remember, Char set himself down to take a long, blissful, well-deserved rest.
It wasn't in the safety of his room back at the Gold Division. It didn't hold a candle to his favorite bed with the glorious braziers beside it. It wasn't within the hospitality of Fort Emerald. And it wasn't under the watchful eye of Scythe or Prince. But this cold, rocky haven would have to do for now. It wasn't all that bad, actually; it was warmer than the snow-covered wastelands, and it felt safe from the wilds and the elements. And, best of all, his faithful friends were right there with him, inches away…
Char didn't want to think about what would happen the following day, or whenever it was when they would wake up. The days and nights moved strangely in Zerferia, passing much longer than the days Char knew from his life in Iron Town and the Great Plateau. He knew that when he would awaken, it could be in the pitch-blackness of Zerferian midnight. He knew that they might not think of a way home. He knew that they might have decided to brave the dangers of the crags, and probably fail.
But he pushed that all out of his mind. That was tomorrow's business. Tonight, he would rest and enjoy the night… even if it would be the last night he would spend with his dear friends.
Sighing contentedly, he curled up next to Prince on the opposite side of Ray, setting his head into Prince's warm, fuzzy fur. He simmered down his fire, calmed his nerves, and let his eyes flutter to a close. Dreams were already dancing on the inside of his eyelids. He welcomed them.
Not too long after he fell asleep, a voice echoed through the cave.
"Well, well. Looky what we have here."
Char jolted back awake, panicked, at the sound of the foreign voice. Saura and Ray had done the same. They stood, frightened and wary, prepared to pounce at whatever had spoken.
Two silhouettes stood at the cave entrance. Intruders.
Char reached behind his back and clutched his tail, shining it forward to reveal the identity of the newcomers.
What he saw made his jaw drop.
Hobbling in from the frigid snowstorm, and quickly approaching Team Ember, was…
…a Seviper and a Croagunk.
"Aww, you look freezing cold," the Croagunk taunted. "Did you miss us?"
Char was speechless. He could not fathom his reality; he was really seeing Team X. He wondered for a moment if he was dreaming.
"NO! YOU!" Saura gasped, leaping back. "It's YOU! H-HOW? HOW?"
"You followed us all the way here?" Char cried in disbelief.
"Why, yesss, we did," the Seviper hissed evilly. "I suppose you have underestimated us. It was not all that difficult; just a few little rocks and snowflakes in our way. Oh, and distance. Do not forget distance."
Char crouched down and growled threateningly. His tail flared, though not as brightly as he would have liked; his energy was nearly exhausted. Saura drew his vines, and Ray weakly dropped to a hostile stance.
"HOW did you GET HERE?" Saura demanded of the intruders. "HOW? HOW ARE YOU HERE?"
"Heh. You wouldn't believe us if we told you, twerps," the Croagunk said, smiling evilly and swaggering closer. "Really, I don't think you would. It would blow your tiny little minds right out of your skulls."
"Get AWAY from us!" Saura threatened, whipping his vines in the air. "GET OUT!"
Team X began to laugh in unison.
"Ah… Ahahah… Do you… really think we're just going to turn around and leave?" the Seviper chuckled. "Do you realisssse how difficult it was to come all this way and track you down? And to just… leave?"
"Heh. Heh heh heh. I don't think you realize just how much pain you've caused us, you filthy little children," Croagunk spat. "Do you know how many nights we spent, plotting to get through to you, huh? Do you have any clue how many times we had to fall back and regroup because you had to go and run off somewhere? Well… No longer. NOW is finally our day to shine. NOW is when we get to win for once! NOW WE HAVE YOU RIGHT WHERE WE WANT YOU, TEAM PEANUTS!"
Char, Saura, and Ray were speechless.
"Aww, what's the matter?" the Seviper goaded. "Why do you look so flabbergasted that we remembered your team name, even after you so arrogantly yelled it in our faces? It's amusing how much you underestimate us."
"Alright, time to end this," Croagunk growled, rearing back a fist…
An unexpected, expertly-aimed sleep seed collided with Ray's head. The Raichu thumped to the ground.
"Excellent shot, Croagunk!" the Seviper cheered to his companion. "See, you kids get to take a nice long rest after all!"
"EUGGGHHH! NO!" Saura roared, launching himself at the Croagunk and flailing his vines…
And Saura collapsed, too. His extended vines swiveled to a rest upon the ground.
Char thought quickly. He had to defend himself and his teammates. He knew that fire was harmful to the Croagunk; he thought of a strategy. Pouncing away from the Infernape, he bolted into the corner of the cave.
Unfortunately, as soon as he had turned his back, the Seviper slithered after him with surprising haste. Before he could turn around, the viper's coil had wrapped around his body once, squeezing him quite tightly and holding him in place.
Char struggled. He roared threateningly. He bit and he clawed at the snake's scales. He tried to hold his breath and overheat himself, but his fire's power was just too spent from all the effort he had given.
"Feisty one!" The Seviper teased, grinning wide. "Hey, Croagunk, how good is your aim from this far? Can you hit him from over there?"
Char tried to wiggle free from the coils, but the more he struggled, the tighter the snake held…
The Croagunk produced one more sleep seed from a tiny satchel strapped to his back. He held it, tossed it from hand to hand, judging its weight.
Char made one last effort to move, but he was too exhausted. His last cry of defiance came out as a pathetic whimper.
"Hey, Char…" the Croagunk said cockily, rearing his hand back to make the throw. "Say goodnight."
And Char fell into a deep sleep.