AN: Thozies, I'm glad you like it so far! I know the story's littered with errors, sigh. I might go through and try to fix them some time, but I'm afraid I don't have the time at the moment. :(
Ravenshade: By the time the story's over, Emporershipping might be the only canon one of the bunch. :p
Cenobia: Thanks! Sorry for the wait.
Silver: Can't give any hints, sorry! All the Legendary are weird types, so that would give it away. Glad you like it, and I apologize for the wait.
Anon: Jirachi is a good guess! S/he is one of my favorite Legendaries. :)
Sapphire Flare: I never really like the A in ACT either. Charizard was always cool, though. I know, right? Sapphire deserves a crown once this is all over! Glad you like it. I'm not fond of Palkia, but he can be a pretty cool dude. :p
Oscuro Dream: Thanks!
WillowBurn: Thank you, glad you like it.
MewKyuun: Thank you, I'm glad you like it! Sorry it took so llong, my other projects are always sucking up my time, sigh. I can try to be faster, but no promises. D:
Hermytail: Aww, thank you. :)
Krourou: That sucks about your game! RRT is probably one of my favorite Pokemon games. Bubbles and Buttercup actually fit Team Sparkle rather well, haha, I like that. Hmm, maybe Magnus is actually an alien? Who knows. Skyler/Sapphire kinda freaks me out, because it's one of the few pairings I didn't think of, but everyone else keeps mentioning it, ha. Thanks. :D
She craned her neck back to look up at the craggy gray stone. She could barely see the top of Sundown Cave, stabbing into the sky like a jagged tooth.
Something is waiting up there for me, she thought, something that will help us on our journey. Perhaps we're finally going to do more than just wander around helping stupid Pokemon with their ridiculous problems.
"Ready?" Singe asked, glancing at her. She smirked.
"Of course," she replied. "Let's get in, beat the boss, retrieve the item, and go!"
"Don't forget saving a Zubat, delivering a Cheri berry, and help a Rattata get home," he reminded her. She rolled her eyes and waved him away with one hand.
"Details, details," she said, but smiled despite herself; she was rather excited about the prospect of a hidden gift. She had tried earlier to think of what it might be, but aside from a valuable item, like a Nugget, she had come up dry.
"Alrighty then, let's not waste any more time!" Singe chirped, striding towards the dark maw of the cave. He reached out with his right hand to touch the cave wall. "My mother taught me this really neat trick where—"
Singe's voice cut off abruptly as the mystery dungeon swallowed him up. Without hesitation, Sapphire followed him.
Sundown Cave opened up before her eyes; she found herself gazing down a long tunnel that was only dimly lit from behind with the sunlight pouring in from the dungeon's entrance. Singe was nowhere to be seen.
Hurried off without me, she thought, feeling only slightly irritated. Guess he's more excited than I thought. Makes sense, I suppose…this is a dungeon only for Bronze ranks, and I know how much that means to him.
She took a step forward, pressing her hand against the right cave wall just as Singe had done. She wasn't sure what it was for, but it had apparently seemed like a good idea to him.
As she stepped into the cave, there was a sudden loud rumbling sound behind her. Sapphire's eyes widened as she heard the sound of stone against stone. She turned around, but it was too late; the sides of the tunnel's opening suddenly slammed together, blocking out any trace of light. She was plunged into darkness.
Immediately, her breathing stopped. Terror rose up into her throat, choking her. She stumbled backwards, hitting her back against the side of the cave. The darkness was all around her, pushing against her, pinning her to the wall. The cave was completely black; there wasn't the slightest trace of light no matter how franticly she looked around the tunnel.
The darkness was just like what she had felt before, that very first darkness that had threatened to consume her when she woke up in her new body for the first time. It was the darkness that had taken her memories away, the darkness that had consumed her human half, the darkness that had trapped her in this alien body.
No, she thought. No, no no!
It wasn't until the ragged sounds tore out of her throat that she realized she was shouting aloud. "Singe! Singe!" she screamed, and then turned towards where the entrance to the dungeon had been. She moved too quickly and smashed her nose into the stone. She let out a yelp of pain, but didn't pull back. She scrabbled against the stone, Scratching it, trying to somehow dig herself out. In desperation, she launched a Water Gun at the wall, but to no avail.
"Sapphire? Sapphire, what's going on?"
She didn't answer him, instead shouting something incoherent and shooting another spout of water at the unresponsive rock.
"Sapphire!" Singe's hand grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. She stared into his wide green eyes, her sides heaving, barely noticing the flickering flame on the end of his tail.
"Sapphire, calm down," Singe said. "Just breath, please, just relax. We're perfectly fine, nothing's going to happen to you. What's got you so upset?"
She stared at his tail, the light finally beginning to register, and felt her breathing ease. Singe seemed to take note of it, and his eyes gentled.
"Are you afraid of the dark?"
"I'm not afraid!" she spat, but the terror in her eyes was plain to the Charmander. He grabbed his tail with one hand, shoving it towards her. The fire blazed up, almost too brightly for her to look at, casting twisting shadows on the cave's dark walls.
"Just relax," he said, his voice calm and soothing. "Close your eyes."
"Sapphire. Please, just trust me." His green eyes blinked at her, radiating calm honesty. He held her hand with one of his own; the other was still clutching his tail so that it burned between them like a blazing torch. "Close your eyes."
She hesitated, then did as he instructed. Singe's tail's light flickered through her eyelids, and she found herself relaxing slightly with the realization that his tail was able to keep the darkness at bay.
The light dimmed, and her hold on Singe's hand tightened, but he didn't pull away. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and the light dimmed down even further.
"Open your eyes."
Her ruby eyes fluttered open to find that his hand was now positioned over the flame, muffling it. It still managed to lick through his fingers, giving off a gentle glow.
"See? So long as I'm here, you won't be in the darkness," Singe said. "I shouldn't have left you, I know, but I thought you were right behind me and I didn't realize you'd be so afraid…I promise it won't happen again. I'll stick right here by your side, Sapphire. You have my word on that."
She stared at his tail as he released it from his grip, watching the flame spring back up, crackling brightly. Sapphire forced herself to take in a deep breath, exhaling with a gusty sigh.
"Better?" Singe asked.
"Much. Thanks." Sapphire drew away, her face burning with shame. Her nose was throbbing, and she realized that it was bleeding. She touched it gingerly, then winced; Singe winced with her, his emerald eyes wide and sympathetic.
"I can get an Oran berry for that," he offered. "Looks like you hurt your fingers too, trying to Scratch the wall. You tore a claw."
"It'll grow back," she said, looking away from him, unable to bear his pity. "I'm not a child."
"I never said you were."
"No, but you're looking at me like I'm a delicate piece of china or something!" she shouted. Her voice bounced off of the tunnel walls, echoing harshly in her ears.
"I'm just worried for you, that's all. You looked kind of crazy there, and you tore yourself up without even noticing…it was scary for me, too." Singe cocked his head to one side. "How long have you been afraid like this? Were you afraid as a human, too?"
"I wasn't afraid," she said again, her face burning. "I just…panicked. It was just so dark…I couldn't see anything, and you weren't there, and it was just like when I woke up back at the lake, in a strange place without any memory of who I used to be or how I got there…."
Singe's eyes widened in understanding. "Sapphire, I had no idea—"
"Can we just go?" Her words came out sharper than she had intended, and Singe flinched.
"Of course. I just want you to know that I'm here for you, if you need anything," he said. "I won't leave your side again. That was my mistake. You've nothing to be ashamed of."
"I know," she growled, feeling her temper flare, before she forced herself to take another deep breath. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, she had been gripped by fear, terror like nothing she had ever felt before. If it wasn't for Singe calming her down, there was no telling what she would have done trying to escape the dungeon.
Singe turned away, but she touched his shoulder, and he glanced back at her.
"Thank you," she mumbled, staring down at her feet. She couldn't see his face, but she knew he was smiling like he always seemed to be.
"You'd do the same for me, if your tail was on fire," he said, with his customary chuckle.
Singe began walking down the tunnel, pausing at the end to glance back at her. She followed him closely, resisting the urge to reach out and grab his tail, to somehow anchor herself to the light. It was childish, but that didn't make her want to do so any less.
"So, what sort of Pokemon are out here?" she asked, trying to distract herself from the flickering shadows and waiting darkness.
"Weren't you listening when Magnus was briefing us?" he asked. Singe's question was met with silence, and he sighed. "Of course not, I'm sure you had more important things to think about.
"Most of the Pokemon here have weaknesses to you, I think he said. There are a lot of Aron and Geodudes lurking around; they're the ones that made these tunnels."
"I thought the tunnels happened by themselves, as part of the whole mystery dungeon package?"
"In fields and forests, yes, but it's different in caves. All of the tunnels here were originally carved by Pokemon. What the mystery dungeon does is close some of them off so we can't enter them, and widen the areas to create rooms. Most of the rooms stem from dens created by ferals to store food and stuff like that."
"And instead of Flagstones, there are Stairs?"
He nodded. "We move up and down in caves, instead of to the side, so we use Stairs."
"What other ferals are skulking around here?" She shuddered at the thought of wild Pokemon staring at them from the darkness, cloaked in shadows.
"Zubats, I think…maybe even the occasional Onix, but they're pretty rare. Onix dig really fast, so they usually don't cross the paths of explorers. They keep their distance. As ferals go, they're pretty peaceful."
Alright, she thought, I can handle all that. Everything that we see will be weak to me, except Zubats, and they really hate light. Singe should be able to scare them off with an Ember, if his tail isn't off-putting enough.
They continued in silence; Sapphire noted that Singe was resting his right hand against the tunnel wall again.
"What are you doing that for?"
"Oh, it's a trick that my mom taught me, to get around mazes and dungeons. See, if you're always following the right then you eventually work your way around the whole dungeon, so you'll find the stairs. It makes it so you can't get lost if you don't have your map with you for some reason. You can always keep track of where you've been."
Sapphire nodded; it made sense. Then, she blinked. "Your mother's an explorer?"
"She used to be," he answered, pausing as the tunnel forked, before heading to the right. "Back in the day when she was a Charmander, she wanted to create a Legend team too. The only problem was that there were no new Legendary, so there was never the need for a new team. She trained until she was a Charmeleon so that she'd be ready, but the call never went out.
"Still, she liked helping others, and she kept it up until she finally became a Charizard."
"Why'd she stop, if she liked it? It seems like a Flying Pokemon would have an advantage in fields and forests. She'd be able to find the Flagstone and quarries pretty easily, while avoiding all the trouble."
"Yup. But after that, it wasn't really a challenge. She wanted to help other Pokemon, but the jobs were too easy, and there were younger teams that needed the experience more than she did. So she tried to be more daring, only entering places where her flying abilities were a hindrance rather than helpful…and she ended up in a really tight spot."
"What happened? Was she hurt?"
Singe took a long time to answer, which only made Sapphire more curious. Finally, he sighed. "I'd rather not talk about that."
Sapphire was wondering where exactly Singe came into all of this – surely his mother wasn't embarking on dangerous missions while she had him to take care of, but if so, where had he come from? – but she didn't want to pry more than she already had, especially considering how much he had already helped her.
"Ssh," Singe warned as the tunnel opened up before them into a large room. "Might be ferals in here."
"Your tail has already given us away…not that I'm complaining," she added hastily. "The ferals know we're here."
She smiled as she saw a strange gray formation in the center of the room: the Stairs. The great stone slabs rose up into the ceiling, and when she craned her neck back, she could see the dark entrance to the second floor of the cavern.
"There," Singe warned, pointing towards the corner of the room. Sapphire's eyes narrowed as she spied the glint of steel. She took a few steps towards it, and realized that it was a little Aron, curled up into a ball. The creature appeared to be asleep.
She closed her mouth, readying a Water Gun, before feeling Singe tap her shoulder. He held his finger to his lips and shook his head.
"Let it sleep," he mouthed, before pointing back towards the Stairs. Her eyes narrowed, but she nodded, and followed him up the large stone steps, into the blackness.
Two things happened as they reached the second floor. The first was that the stones underneath their feet shifted, closing over the Stairs leading down to the first floor. The second was that something in the darkness let out a wild screech.
Sapphire instinctively ducked and felt a gust of wind as something rushed over her head. Singe was already turning, fire licking his tongue as he spat out an Ember. Sapphire shielded her eyes from the blinding blaze, opening them to see that their assailant, a Zubat, had managed to avoid the flames. The blue bat was disorientated by the light, and Sapphire took the opportunity to blast it with a Water Gun, sending the blue-and-purple Pokemon slamming into the stone.
The Zubat collapsed to the ground in a heap. Sapphire nudged it with her foot to make sure that it wasn't getting up, before looking to Singe to make sure he was alright. To her surprise, he was grinning.
"That got our blood pumping, huh?" he asked. "That noise alerted every Pokemon on this floor that we're here, so we best be on our toes!"
Sapphire found herself smiling back; Singe was right about her blood pumping. Nothing seemed to excite her the way a dungeon did. It was where she belonged, as crazy as that sounded.
Singe strode into the waiting tunnel with a spring in his step, and Sapphire followed with her heart thumping in her chest.
. . .
They passed the second floor relatively easily; the two of them encountered only a few obstacles, and dispatching them was fairly easy. If it was a Zubat, Singe would fire off an Ember to blind it, and allow Sapphire to finish the job; if it was anything else, Singe would duck and clutch his tail while Sapphire blasted it with a Water Gun. Geodudes went down in one shot, but Aron were a little more stubborn.
Privately, Sapphire wondered if Singe was feeling ashamed that she was having to do most of the work, but if he was he didn't show it. She was willing to bet that he wasn't; he wasn't the type to be ashamed of simply being outmatched by his opponents' types.
Sundown Cave's rooms proved to be rather large, making finding the Stairs relatively easy. In no time at all they were on the third floor, where their client was waiting.
"Now, let's be careful," Singe said as they entered the first room of the third floor. "Remember, our client is a—"
"Zubat!" Sapphire warned. It wasn't until she had shot off the Water Gun that she had prepared ahead of time before she realized that Singe hadn't used Ember. The Zubat wasn't blinded, and thus twisted out of the way with ease.
"Hold on!" Singe ordered, and Sapphire stopped long enough to realize that the Zubat was fluttering above their heads, looking panicked.
"Help! Help! Rogue adventurers!" the blue-and-purple bat yelped. "Help! Zubat in danger, here!"
"Calm down, calm down," Singe said, keeping his voice level. He quickly grabbed his tail and muted the flame to avoid freaking the Zubat out even more. "It was just a mistake. We've been fighting feral Zubats all the way up here. I'm sure you've run into plenty too."
Sapphire flushed as she realized her mistake; the bat was not an enemy, but a client. "Sorry," she mumbled. "Jumped the gun a bit."
"Just take me home! The Pokemon here aren't very nice and you aren't much better and I want to go home!" the bat cried.
"Get down here and we will," Sapphire snapped. Singe reached up with his hand, and the Zubat's tail brushed against his fingers. Sapphire heard the badge chirp, and the Zubat disappeared in a beam of light.
Sapphire scratched her chin. "That could have gone better."
"Yeah. Our reward probably won't be all that great, but that's okay. At least we got her out of here. Two more to go, I guess."
"What are the next clients, so I don't accidentally blast them too?"
He chuckled. "We're delivering the berry to another Sentret – they seem to have a hard time finding those, for some reason – and then the other's a Rattata. Try not to fight him."
Sapphire inclined her head. "Got it. Don't blast the furry mammals."
Singe laughed. "That about sums it up."
. . .
They passed the berry on to the Sentret – who was related to Tracey, the Sentret they had delivered a Chesto berry to, by way of an uncle, as it turned out – without trouble, and Sapphire managed to rein in her gut reaction to claw the Rattata. The frequency of their enemies rose the higher in the cave they went, but it was nothing they couldn't handle.
It wasn't until they reached the end of the ninth floor that Sapphire felt the flutter of fear in her stomach. The last time she had faced a boss, she had lost. Badly. That had been a boss that she'd fought before, a boss that she had beaten and had known what to expect with. This new boss could be anything, and it would almost certainly be much stronger than what she had fought before.
The Stairs rose before them, as imposing as the Staircases before it. Sapphire swallowed, and looked to Singe. He smiled at her.
"We could go back now," he said. "We've finished our missions. We don't have to go all the way."
"Duh. I know that," she replied, "but that would be the coward's way."
"You aren't afraid?"
"I…might be. A little." She scuffed her feet against the hard stone floor. "But I'd be furious at myself if we turned back now. You've got enough Oran Berries and the like to last us, I assume?"
"Yeah, I think so," he said, rummaging through their Bag. "It won't be anything we can't handle, of that I'm sure." He blinked at her, then gave her a cocky grin. "We're both a lot tougher than we were a few days ago, you know. We can beat this boss, no problem."
"I know," she said defensively. "I'm not that afraid."
"Never said you were," Singe replied. "Although, between you and me, I might be."
She smiled at him, heartened by his honesty. "Don't worry, I'll protect you," she joked, and Singe grinned at her, clapping her on the back.
"A joke, Sapphire? Right before a big battle? Pinch me, I'm dreaming." He looked back up at the Stairs, and took a deep breath. "Well. No reason to put it off."
Singe started up the steps. Sapphire clenched her fists, following him without pause.
Glittering silver and dazzling sunlight met their eyes on the final floor of Sundown Cave.
AN: I know it's been ages. The sad thing is that this chapter was 80% done months and months ago, but it was on another computer and I never got around to transferring it until today.