I don't think it needs to be said that I don't own Pokémon. If I did, I wouldn't be writing fan fiction for it, now would I?
Anyway, this story is dedicated to ShadowDragoon32, who helped me come up with an idea for a sequel to All Mine, and to More for More, who so eagerly awaited Palm's release.
Chapter 1: Humility
Small waves gently crashed against the rocky outcropping which extended from the Island of Lightning. The full moon cast its golden-silver light on the sea, shimmering with innumerable facets as the fluid surface reflected it. Behind the outcropping, the dark mass of the main island jutted out of the water, its crags, peaks, and crevices creating jagged shadows in the eerie light. It was quiet that night, as it had remained for centuries past, the events of the last forty-eight hours merely a blip of frenetic activity in an environment otherwise characterized by a peaceful stasis. A faint sense of surrealism hung in the atmosphere, as though the island merely existed as an ethereal concept, detached from the "real" world which surrounded it.
A new feature dominated the landscape tonight, the product of a fierce struggle waged between the forces of nature and those of human ambition and greed. The wreckage of what appeared to have once been an elliptical craft of titanic proportions jutted out of the crags, creating fissures and rivulets in the rock from the pressure with which it had collided with the surface. Sharp metal beams extended at regular angles, girded in place by a red steel ring. At the end of each was a pair of thinner steel blades that looked to be rotors, now twisted into peculiar shapes which groaned as they steadily detached themselves from the main structure. A similar structure lay half-submerged in the water about twenty metres away. The two rings had once been joined together: they had provided most of the propulsion for the craft. What remained of the airship's core lay scattered about in glass and metal debris of varying sizes.
He stood in a small clearing in the centre of the rubble. His bright blue eyes moved slightly as his serene gaze took in the nocturnal ocean vista in front of him. Yes, that would be the right word to describe him: serene. Throughout the entire adventure, not once had he lost his composition. Not when he'd set out to capture the Titans the previous morning. Not in the face of the unexpected resistance of those youngsters which had resulted in the loss of Moltres and Zapdos. Not when his Floating Palace, which had taken billions to design and assemble, crash-landed on Lightning Island. Not when he failed to acquire Lugia even as he himself took control of his half-wrecked ship's artillery. And not even in that final hour of disgrace and defeat, when the divine song of the Beast of the Sea, with the assistance of that Shamouti girl and her conch, restored the balance of power between the Elements. Serenity was ingrained in his psyche. He simply did not lose control, even when it appeared he'd lost everything else.
With a graceful movement, he lowered himself to his knees, his lavender robe folding as he did so. His gaze shifted down to the ground, more specifically to a spot nearly half a metre from his black boots. Poking out of a pile of metallic debris and churned ground was a card, the once-vibrant colours on it having faded with time. But that did not matter. Colours faded with time, true, but its intrinsic value remained as it was. Not its monetary value, which, high as it was, amounted to a drop in the bucket of his seemingly bottomless wealth. No, this was something entirely different. He reached with a calculating hand and plucked the card carefully with his fingers. In a fraction of a second, he took in the golden trim and the stone background onto which a crude depiction of Mew had been chiselled. The hint of a smile forming on his lips, he drew himself up to full height, still staring at the first of his many possessions.
"How it all began," he mused, so quietly that his voice seemed merely a fixture of the otherworldly scenario. "And how I'll begin...again."
He lifted his head and gazed at the dome of stars above, infinite twinkles of light slowly appearing in the waxing night. The celestial realm had always fascinated him. One of many reasons he'd launched his ill-fated attack expedition by air. Star-crossed indeed, he thought to himself. His dream had been to travel among the stars; but more than that, he wanted them. So much space, such vast expanses in which the Planet did not even register as a blip. And it was all unclaimed. It could all be his own one day.
But he did not allow his thoughts to wander. He had miscalculated yesterday, he reminded himself as his gaze returned to the wreckage of his airship. He swerved on his heel, walking with a steady step until he stood in front of one of the rings. The elliptical beam dug into bedrock on one end and sank into water on the other, one of the red girded beams leaning against it and forming a doorway of sorts into a mountain of torn metal, glass, and electronic devices. Taking a step closer, he leaned inside the makeshift cavern with a cautious glance at the beam above his head. Casting a quick, furtive glance, he distinguished the remains of the ship's observation deck in the darkness. Once an impressive elliptical structure of thick glass reinforced by a steel base and roof, his command centre was now in the same state of affairs as the rest of the ship, as far as he could determine. He took another meditative breath, then stared intently into the darkness.
To reach the top, I must start at the bottom.
He narrowed his eyes and stepped forward tentatively.
To obtain everything, I must start with nothing. As it was all those years ago.
His pace quickened as he descended into the abyssal interior of the mechanic behemoth. It was indeed a descent, as the ground had cracked and broken apart when the ship crashed, the weight of the metal pushing down into the bedrock and permanently altering the surface. His sight severely limited here, he paid close attention to the sounds his boots made on the uneven surface. A firm thump as he treaded on rock, a distinctly hollow ting on metal, a crunch where the ground had been churned. He reached out slowly with his right hand, his fingers sliding over a marble surface, and withdrew as he felt a large crack. This had been his throne, which went up and down on a piston to different levels of the Floating Palace. If the throne was here, then what he needed was somewhere nearby.
The card itself is not sufficient, he intoned in his mind as he felt around the throne's surface. It is the key, but I must find the lock. He continued apace, ever carefully, ever watchfully in case he encountered an obstacle hidden in the inky depths of the ship. All it would take was one misstep, one wrong turn, and he would find himself trapped in a chasm of rock and metal, or worse. He dismissed the possibilities as he turned another corner, the pupils of his eyes relaxing somewhat as he spotted a narrow shaft of moonlight poking through a gap in the rubble. The silvery glow was narrow, but it was sufficient to reveal the trial ahead of him: here, the solid surface ended and the ocean began. He did not know how deep the water was at this point, and he did not fancy testing it. From what he could see, though, there was no other choice. It was this way. All the evidence pointed to that conclusion: the winged, birdlike statue lying to his right, the specific shape of the panelling that jutted into the watery depths ahead, the proximity to his throne...
He slowly unbuttoned his robe, revealing a white shirt and trousers of similar silken material. Setting the robe carefully on a piece of metal frame on the ground, he then removed the emerald earrings he wore and put them in his shirt pocket, which he buttoned. Taking another good look ahead of him, he waded into the water and found it was shallow, barely coming up to his ankles. Nevertheless, this was but a small relief. In rocky places like Lightning Island with no sandy beach, sudden increases in depth weren't unusual. He took another slow step forward. As he suspected, it was much deeper here. He leaned forward, bending his knees, and launched himself forward.
Just in time to avoid a steel girder that fell across the very spot he had been in seconds ago. The beam tore from the side of the ring it had been girded onto with a horrifying metallic screech, hitting the water and the rock underneath it with a loud crash. The impact created a small wave which nearly submerged him, and he coughed and spluttered as water flew into his face and mouth. It was only then that he reacted, turning around to see the beam lying across the wreckage at an odd angle, one end leaning unsteadily against the ridged panelling which formed a makeshift 'wall'. His expression hardened as he turned once more and swam deeper into the tunnel. The solitary shaft of moonlight illuminated his face, golden hair matted against his ears and on his forehead, covering a brow furrowed in annoyance. He would have to commission his tailor to craft a new robe for him in order to replace the one that the beam had caused a pile of rubble to fall on. Such an inconvenience, he thought to himself as he continued to wade in the inky water.
He moved quickly underneath two more beams which leaned against each other in the shape of an X, barely visible in the minimal light. He swam a few more metres and noticed his vision improving. There must be light up ahead, he mused. Perhaps, by luck, it would be there too. In other circumstances, he would have contacted a construction crew to clear the rubble, but he couldn't risk alerting the authorities. If they found what he needed...
They wouldn't, he assured himself, the water sloshing as he continued his advance. He spotted more beams of moonlight on the surface ahead of him. From what he could discern, a large segment of the floor of his observation deck rose out of the water ahead of him. He swam a few more metres and grasped the edge of the metal floor, breathing loudly but not too heavily. Though he kept his body in good physical shape, this was the most strenuous activity he had performed in some time, and he made a brief mental note to resume his fitness regimen upon returning to civilization. Taking a deep breath, he grunted as he hoisted himself onto the floor, which had settled on enough of an incline that he needed to be careful in case he slipped back into the water. He tilted his head up and squinted, momentarily blinded by the relative brightness of the moon's light shining on the metal surface. The pupils of his eyes having dilated as he had slowly become accustomed to the darkness, he gave himself a few seconds to readjust so he could see what lay ahead.
He was on the right path after all, it seemed. He spotted a crawlspace between a leaning pillar and a cracked window frame at the other end of the floor segment, the entrance mercifully illuminated by a beam of light. Cautiously reaching forward with his right hand, he inched himself further onto the metal floor, sharply drawing in breath as he almost slipped. A few more careful climbs, and he managed to slither across the floor and reach the makeshift threshold. He pushed lightly against the surface at the base of the threshold and exhaled softly with relief as he determined it to be the hard green stone of the ship's middle layer. It would be sufficiently stable for him to push his weight on.
As he crawled forward, he heard a loud wrenching noise as his foot pressed down on the metal floor. The entire wreck seemed to shudder, providing further impetus for him to hurry. He scrambled into the narrow passageway, noticing that his surroundings brightened the deeper he crawled. The soft swish of the waves also increased to a gentle roar as he advanced: perhaps nothing lay beyond except the open ocean, and he'd find himself momentarily plummeting with an ignominious fall into the depths of the tropical waters.
However, that doomsday scenario did not play out. The crevice, it turned out, opened not into the ocean, but into a wide area of what had once been the middle layer. Moreover, his task had become much easier, as this area was luckily exposed to the sky above. He stood up, drawing himself to full height and stretching his limbs. A small smile parted his lips as he took in the familiarity of his surroundings.
It was here.
He rested his gaze on a dark corner ahead and to his left. To any other observer, it would have merely resembled another pile of rubble. But he was not any other observer. He stepped over to the shadows, discerning a metal cabinet half-squashed under layers of crumbling rock and metal. But the damage was minimal. The cabinet was still in decent enough condition for him to be able to open it when he pulled the metal handle. It was the only item of such stark functionality that he deigned to keep in his collection. But that functionality served him well, he admitted, as he looked inside.
There it was. The lock to the key.
He removed the object from inside the cabinet, which he slid closed, and then took a few steps to the centre of the open area. He gazed around, carefully considering his options. With the object now safely in his possession, he began formulating plans of escape, a task which in his situation required immediate attention. He could return the way he came. Or perhaps he could climb the mountain of debris behind him. Finally, he noticed another option available to him in the form of a tall but extremely narrow passageway between two crumbling marble pillars just to the right of the cabinet. The way which he had come was not necessarily the safest, but the mountain of debris and the narrow passageway were unknowns.
He had decided to test the second of these options when he heard a sickening crack behind him, followed by a rumble and crash. He turned with a start and saw with cool trepidation that the layers of rock and metal above the cabinet had squashed it. One of the pillars forming the passageway now wobbled dangerously, its foundation having become unstable. He dashed to a beam resting on the mountain of debris just as the pillar fell. Though it hadn't posed an immediate danger, the pillar fell parallel to the rough wall it had been leaning on, raising clouds of dust and sending a tremor reverberating through the entire wreck. He held on tightly to the beam, which the tremor caused to waver, and began climbing up it as it gradually stopped shaking.
He reached the top of the pile and looked around, positing himself on the side of one of the airship's rings. The breeze was stronger up here, exposed as he was to the open ocean now. He could potentially climb down the side of the ring and maybe swim toward one of the rocky outcroppings to the side of the wreckage. Giving his surroundings another once over, he realized that this was his only viable option. The interior had become too unstable, and he couldn't risk going back there, not after that pillar had collapsed the way it did.
Another metallic groan, much louder this time, cut through the salty air. He felt what would happen next seconds before it actually occurred. It was as if something had suddenly taken him in his arms, and he had lost control of his own movements. A nanosecond of stability followed, and then the structure began to shake violently. An incessant rumble filled his ears, pierced by the occasional crash of rock falling down on metal. Too late, he realized what had caused this final collapse: the cabinet, it seemed, had ironically been the very object which had kept the wreckage stable. He'd opened it and taken out the object, altering the distribution of weight and with it, the hulking ruin's centre of gravity. Now, the imposing remains of the Floating Palace begun to sink into the ocean.
For Lawrence Girardin III, escape had turned from a matter of immediate attention to one of exclusive attention.