Here's Chapter Six. Once again, all credit goes to MattSilver, who waited for months and endured my constant teasing. Best. Beta. Ever. I'd also like to dedicate this chapter to everybody who followed Under the Same Sky from the beginning to the end. Your patience is astounding, and you're the reason why I write. =O
This is the final section of the main story; all that's left is an epilogue. I tried to use this chapter to use what MattSilver referred as "recursion". The plot of this story was the most labour-intensive part of writing UtSS, and I was careful to include Chekhov Guns throughout the previous chapters. I hope you notice the significance of the "opening quotations", for both Chapter 6 and the preceding chapters. In fact, you might want to re-read the last few chapters, if you'd like, because it'll help you pick up the recursive references in this chapter.
At least read the beginning of the Overture, if anything. XD
Cheers, and I hope the ending makes you think. The epilogue, which I have now altered in order to flow with BW2 canon, will be posted soon after. Maybe I'll even create a pseudo-sequel, although Black, as a character, might not be the protagonist: his story, I think, has now come full circle.
Disclaimer: I don't own Pokemon. If I did, I would give the new BW2 protagonists more manageable hair. [gets shot]
"We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon."
The Chargestone Cave is colder than you'd expect. The low temperatures make me and Pignite shiver, although I'm suspecting that hunger also has something to do with it. I make a quick decision and reach into my satchel, pulling out a Wiki Berry Poffin. Pignite gives a happy snort when I spilt it. Our field rations had been depleted, so these strange breadrolls are the next best bet. I give one half of the Poffin to Pignite, who messily scoffs it down. Instead of being grossed out, I'm amused by my Pokemon's eating habits. I smile at him.
N, who is standing to my right, notices my smile.
"Your Pokemon," he says. "He makes you happy?"
"More than you can believe." I then scowl at N. "And don't give me your bullshit about Pokeballs being enslaving. Because I don't have the energy for it right now."
N doesn't reply.
Probing, I glance at him; I ask.
"Does 'N' stand for anything?"
"It stands for 'Nameless', which is what I am," he says.
"That's stupid," I remark. "Everybody deserves a name." I feel cheeky. "Even villainous douchebags like you."
N seems a little taken back. His green eyes warm with a surprised appreciation, gleaming in the cave's light like two soft jades.
"Your idealism opposes my truth, yet I cannot help but admire you," he murmurs.
He looks sharply at me. "Do not ever forget who you are, Hero. It is a bold heart you have."
When Black had left Tim and his fretful mother, the sun was rapidly approaching the western horizon. Already, people had started to return to their homes. The crowds around the shopping malls and beaches had dissipated, like an Aspirin in water. Black wasn't one of the crowd, though. He had one more errand to complete before retiring. One last important errand. Hardening his determination, Black started to head down the main street, turning into a meandering series of alleyways. His destination couldn't be too far away.
Eventually, Black found the flower shop. Hidden in a dreary part of Undella Town, Larissa's Flo-Emporium was squeezed between two alleyways which were the size of needle-eyes. Nothing could trump the power of his C-Gear's GPS, though. A series of online maps guided him through the labyrinthine streets, to his destination. Yes, the search had taken a bit longer than two hours, but he had found the flower shop. He had fucking found it. Finally.
When he walked through the door, the mingled perfume of multitudinous flowers greeted him. Crisp lilies, indulgent roses, sweet pansies – it was an olfactory rapture. Across the rows, blooms of all different shapes and sizes hustled. There were tiny violets, bloated sunflowers, even the exceptional Greenfield orchids and their vibrantly red petals. The description of the shop in the internet review had been correct: Larissa's Flo-Emporium contained every type of flower, including the heirlooms and rarities.
The owner Larissa, a tawny-haired woman in green overalls, noticed him. She approached him and shook his hand.
"Champion, it is an honour," she said, with a hint of astounded nervousness. "How may I help you?"
"I'm looking for a flower," he replied.
"Do you have a specific variety in mind?"
Black told her.
"Oh, those? And you want the true heirloom, not one of those emulated doppelgangers?" Larissa adjusted her overalls. "Well, you're in luck. I received a new shipment from Lacunosa yesterday. Please wait a moment."
The florist shuffled to the back of the store. Outside Black's sight, Larissa rustled and collected the flowers. She returned with a package that was wrapped in butcher paper. Black thanked the florist when she handed him the bundled flowers. He placed the flowers in his satchel and fished out his wallet.
"How much do I need to pay you?" he asked.
"No, no. These are a gift." Larissa put up her hands in refusal. "It's the least I could do, after everything you've done for us, Champion."
"But I – "
"Take them! Please. My Corsola was in Pokemon Storage that day; if it weren't for you, I would have lost her."
Black was still sputtering when Larissa pushed him out of the shop. He offered to pay once more, but the florist declined firmly. Rebuffing Black, Larissa even gave him a free Damask rose. "For love," she said. He could only stare blankly as the woman shoved the rose in his hand and closed the door in his face.
Black looked at the rose; it was the faintest shade of pink and emanated a coy but cloying fragrance.
Cracking a wry smile, he pocketed the rose. "For love? Interesting."
Black strolled down the meandering road. With one eye on the GPS, he started navigating himself to his next destination. The return trip was easy than the original searching trip, probably because he had become acclimatised to the mean, twisting streets. He ducked through the tight alleyways, following the light at the end.
It was through one of these alleyways that Black turned a sharp corner and abruptly collided into a weedy figure. The crook of the person's elbow jutted into his stomach, knocking the air out of him. Hastily, Black grabbed the nearby guardrail and supported himself. He panted and tried to catch his breath. The person had really surprised and gotten the better of him. Couldn't the Undella councillors have better planned the town's layout?
"Shit, I'm sorry," stammered the inadvertent assailant. "I didn't mean to! You came out of nowhere, and it was really sudden."
The person was panicking: his hands were wrung together, while his pimply face was scrunched in alarm. A mousy mop of hair hooded two watery, blue eyes. Dull surprise opened Black's face, as recognition dredged up the appropriate memories and images. All that was missing was a pizza box and a dishwater-grey uniform with the logo of a feather.
"You're Matt Johansson, aren't you?" asked Black, as he pushed himself off the guardrail. "From Rufflet Pizza?"
Johansson looked uneasy. "Yeah… do I know you?"
"You delivered a special order pizza to where I was staying. Last Saturday."
Johansson surveyed Black, who rolled his eyes. Widening blue eyes and a gasp. Black's identity finally dawned on the pizza deliverer.
"Holy shit, you're the Unova League Champion." Johansson's voice rose two octaves, becoming a high-pitched squeak. "You were at Lady Caitlin's villa… with Champion Cynthia!"
"Former Champion Cynthia," corrected Black, wryly.
Matt Johansson reeled back to the wall. He was dumbfounded, as though somebody had announced Christmas was now in July. Amused, Black folded his arms.
"Fuck," swore Johansson.
The weedy teenager helped Black to his feet. Johansson wore an entertaining expression of equal parts glee and horror. He picked a book which had fallen out of Black's satchel – The Ruins of Underwater Undella.
Johansson handed the tome to Black, who dropped it back into his bag.
"Thanks," he said.
Johansson swallowed nervously. "I-I – "
Curious, Black titled his head.
"You're you – and I'm me." Johansson flushed, looking flustered. "This is surreal… Man, I'm really sorry. If there's anything I could do – "
"It's okay. I'm fine."
"Are you sure? Fuck, you could have sprained your ankle – "
Black raised an eyebrow.
Matt Johansson shut his mouth immediately. It was at this moment of silence that Black noticed Johansson was carrying two duct-taped boxes. The boxes were rectangular and, if put together side by side, formed a length longer than Johansson's arm. A large, red scrawl labelled the larger one: 'DO NOT OPEN – RESERVED FOR TRISH RICHE'.
"Those are heavy boxes to be lugging around," remarked Black.
An edge of embarrassment pulled at Johansson's face.
"When she's not working at the pizzeria, my older sister makes ceramics and vases," mumbled Johansson. "To help pay for the bills, you know. This is one of her orders, which I'm supposed to deliver."
A strange feeling floated in Black's chest. It jerked on his heart, like a rope around a Tauros's neck. After several seconds, Black recognised that he was feeling sorry for Matt Johansson.
"Does she enjoy pottery?" asked Black.
"More than making pizzas. Laura can't stand the smell of onions. Still, ceramic making is annoying: mould it, glaze it with the binding agent from Beedrill wax, blast it in the abandoned kiln. I don't know how Laura does it."
Black said nothing. Instead, he reached over to Johansson and hoisted one of the boxes from the weedy teenager's arms. Johansson gawked.
"C'mon, I know where the Riches mansion is," said Black. "It's in the same direction I was heading. I can take a small detour."
"Y-You don't have to," Johansson replied.
Black balanced the box on his arms; it was lighter than its bulky appearance had suggested. "But I want to. Now lead the way."
Johansson balked a little, but he started to tread towards the end of the alleyway. Casually, Black followed. The two walked out of the alley and turned the corner at a gilded lamppost. In time, they reached the Undella wharf: the opulent Riches mansion loomed from a plateau on their right, while the sandy hands of Undella Bay stroked the ocean's blue.
"Why are you bothering to help me?" asked Johansson, when they were climbing the stairs up the Riches' plateau. "You have more important things to do – and, no offense, but you're not famous for being a Mother Teresa. Then why?"
Black smiled, remembering a flash of ash-grey eyes and blonde hair.
"Because I can."
Johansson was sputtering again.
"I've been meaning to ask," said Black, trying to change the topic. "Aren't you meant to be wearing, y'know – "
Black made a gesture of a feather over his heart.
"I only need to wear the Rufflet uniform on my workdays," retorted Johansson, petting his green tunic and jeans. "I wouldn't be caught dead in that thing; it's fucking ugly."
Matt Johansson bit his tongue when he realised that he swore in front of the Unova Champion. Again. The older teenager looked humorous with his awkward and sheepish, like the kid with a hand in the biscuit tin.
Shaking his head, Black chuckled.
It took another minute to finish climbing the stairs. The Riches' front door was predictable: elegant French-design with Swarovnna Crystals. In other words, pretty but impractical. As Black set down the box, he accidentally grazed against his Pokebelt. He was reminded that there were now six balls, not five.
An idea came to him.
He unhooked the Heal Ball from his belt and faced the older teenager, who was leaning over to ring the doorbell.
"Hey, before you do that," said Black hurriedly, "I have something to give you. Here."
And he thrust the Pokeball into Matt Johansson's hands.
"It's a Wailmer," explained Black. "I caught him yesterday and haven't opened the ball yet, so he hasn't formed any attachments with me."
Matt Johansson gawped at the pink Pokeball, as though it had spontaneously grown out of his hand.
"He might need to go to a PokeCenter later, but he's pretty healthy." Black rattled off the relevant debriefing information. "Keep him away from Carvanha and Sharpedo for the first few weeks, and you should be fine. I know that you'll need a Trainer's License, but you can take TQE in December. Lacunosa Town had a testing centre at which you can register."
Matt Johansson clutched the Heal Ball.
"And one more thing." Black felt a little mischievous. "Be wary of Skitty, especially after he evolves. There are certain things in life that you definitely don'twant to see."
Matt made a choked sound which Black guessed was an emotional attempt at a laugh.
After a pregnant pause, Black asked, "You don't mind that the Wailmer is Shiny, right?"
Matt looked up from the Pokeball; his eyes were wet.
"O-Of course not," he stuttered, wobbling on the spot, as though his legs couldn't support him. "But… why?"
"I heard about you and the Wailmer pod." Black shrugged. "Everybody has to have ideals and dreams. If you don't dare to wish, nothing will change."
Black looked piercingly at Matt. "The next Whirl Cup is in ten months. I better see you there, okay?"
Matt nodded furiously; tears were creating streaks down a tremulous smile. Shock, excitement, and apprehension ignited his face in turn. However, there was something luminescent which shone through each emotion. It was dim but bright, like a candle against the dark wind. It wasn't what would have been Black's careful guesses: not fear, not disdain, not greed, not sycophancy. Not even admiration.
It was gratitude.
"T-Thank you," said Matt feebly. "I don't know what else to say."
"Then don't," replied Black.
And he turned around and headed down the stairs. Black felt Matt's stares on his back, even as he disappeared out of sight.
The last thing he heard before reaching the bottom of the plateau was the sound of a doorbell ringing and the words, "Delivery for a Mrs Trish Riche?"
Black gazed up at the Riches mansion, which loomed from its place in the horizon. As always, the mansion gleamed with the opalescence of its family: tall, tinted windows glimmered in the golden sunlight, like burning marigolds, and the marble walls curved outwards and endlessly. The Riches were rich – and probably would still be rich in twenty years. Some things would never change. However, in some cases –
"Life goes on," he murmured.
Black walked down the wharf. He hadn't lied to Matt Johansson; Black washeading in the same direction as the Riches mansion. To the left of that plateau, the brilliant white of Undella Bay streamed out in rolling beaches and breaking waves. Securing his League hat, Black started to jog down the concrete stairs and into the sand.
Once again, twilight was blanketing over the bay, bathing the water in a curtain of dark orange. The din of tourists had seeped away, migrating to the night-time restaurants and hotels. Even Spiraria Beach, the most popular section of the coastline, was emptied: the lifeguard's chair was unattended, while the surfers had carried their boards back to the change rooms. The ambience was subdued. However, a few swimmers still lingered in the waves and trained with their Water Pokemon.
The swimmer with the Staryu detected him. Gasping, she hissed something in her friend's ear. Within seconds, all of the swimmers were pointing and staring at him, as spectators would at a zoo.
Black no longer minded, though.
Disregarding the whispers, he took out a Pokeball and threw it into the air. Unfezant materialised. The bird crooned meekly upon seeing her Trainer.
"Hey, girl," he greeted the Pokemon. "How about a race to the Divine Cove? Me against you."
Unfezant gave an affirming trill.
Grinning, Black threw his shoes into his bag and sprinted down the coastline. Unfezant glided above him, like a kite in the wind. He tripped a few times, getting sand in his messy, brown hair, but he picked himself up again. He ran so hard that his feet hurt and his wounded ankle stung, but he didn't care.
Instead, Black laughed.
As the lifeguard chairs disappeared, the sand became softer under his feet. The further Black ran, the greater the ocean seemed to change: the water was no longer a vibrant blue but a deep indigo. His mind went to the diving spots which Susan had mentioned. When he vaulted over a rotting fence, he spotted a beach that was untainted by human activity. Dusk illuminated the skeleton of an umbrella and the corpse of an overturned sailboat. On a crooked pole was a metal sign which was red and flaky with rust and ill-maintenance:
The Divine Cove, Ruines des Abysses – TURN BACK NOW.
He was at the right place. Ignoring the sign, Black slipped down the hill and into the cove. Gracefully, Unfezant followed him. A strange tumult of emotions swivelled in his stomach; he was both eager and terrified, calm and troubled.
Black walked past the abandoned lifeguard's chair and towards something that he had noticed on his second visit. A series of rocks were piled together, in the semblance of a small shrine. The arrangement of stones was unusual: seven rocks served as the base, and layers of five and three rocks followed. Two rocks rested at the apex. Black felt his eyes harden.
This was what he had come for.
If Black's research was correct, the rock formation should have a special inscription on the fourth stone. Black leaned closer. Using the back of his hand, he gingerly scraped the dust off the specified stone. The ocean grime began to peel off the rock.
After meticulous moment of concentration, Black succeeded in separated the dirt residue. He blew on the stone; dust went everywhere. Coughing, Black wrinkled his nose and touched the rock again. The surface was mostly smooth, but there was now, upon the removal of the obfuscating grime, two grooves in the stone.
A curved 'P' overlaying a sharp 'Z'. A symbol which resembled the Chi-Ro.
The logo of Team Plasma.
"This is it, Unfezant," said Black quietly. "I was right."
Unfezant trilled a melancholic tune which reminded Black of a dirge.
Team Plasma had chosen their logo from a large symbol which was delineated on the roof of the Dragonspiral Tower. Although they thought the symbol had no meaning and possessed only aesthetic value, it looked impressive. It would represent Plasma's use of Unova's myth to bring forth a new future. What Team Plasma didn't know was that their logo was actually a glyph which had a specific meaning.
The symbol had befuddled many archaeology books; no academic could produce a plausible meaning for the glyph. Indeed, Black himself would have disregarded the symbol as a decorative curio which Team Plasma had fished out. He would have, if he didn't accidentally glimpse at Cynthia's notebook.
The notebook had said "Chi-Ro: King?". This little clue led Black to the conclusion that the symbol represented a certain word. One of the words that were used to describe him:
"I knew I'd be able to find you here."
We're in Nuvema Town again. While Snivy and Tepig race under the slipper slide, I stand next to the seesaw. Bianca is sitting on the seat of the swing set. She pushes her legs out and then pulls them in, rhythmically.
"Do you have a wish?"
I reply that I don't understand what she's asking.
"A wish," she repeats. "Something that you've poured your dreams into, something you want so badly."
"It'd be nice to wish for something selfish, like being taller," I reply. "But wouldn't it be better if your wish is to make the world a gentler place?"
Bianca stares, before giggling.
"You're a big softie under that messy hair," she comments.
Bianca smiles. "I think that's why your Pokemon listen to you so well, and why you're so good at Pokemon Battles."
"Why?" I ask, feeling bemused by what Bianca was saying.
"You continue to hope," she says simply.
"I knew I'd be able to find you here."
Black didn't need to turn around to see who it was. He recognised the voice almost at once. That soft, satiny tone and the mature, modulated serenity. When he faced her, the exhaustion evident in her appearance surprised him. Cynthia's black cloak was dusty, as though she did not have the opportunity to clean it. Those blond bangs were dishevelled, while black circles from a lack of sleep ringed her tired eyes.
"Did you travel here directly from… wherever you went off to?" asked Black.
Cynthia smiled. "Am I really that transparent?"
"Only to me."
Cynthia set down her bag and crouched next to him in the sand. She pulled her messy hair into a manageable ponytail. Black stared intently at her. A bubble of happiness floated inside him, sending a small warmth through his heart. Reflexively, his limbs relaxed.
It took Black a few minutes before he realised that he had missed Cynthia's calming presence.
"Where have you been?" asked Black, fidgeting with his shirt's hem. "And what were you doing?"
Cynthia sighed before answering. "I was meeting someone significant to me."
A pause. "Dawn."
Black froze. He looked at her and a feeling of sadness swelled in him.
"She was far from happy to see me," said Cynthia, quietly. "We talked for a long time, discussed those months of Team Galactic's Sinnoh. It's not a reconciliation… but it is a start."
"Do you think it was a smart choice to meet her again?"
"Maybe, maybe not." She seemed a little resigned. "However, it needed to be done."
Black glanced at his Unfezant, who had elegantly raised her right wing over Cynthia. Unfezant wore an urgent, imploring expression, while the blond woman twisted her silver ring again. Sunlight was reflected in the brown shard – the remnant of her Gastrodon. Black had become acclimatised to enough of Cynthia's characteristics to recognise that she went to the ring in moments of pensive sadness. And Unfezant seemed to recognise it too.
When Unfezant gestured at Cynthia again, Black sighed.
"Okay, okay," he muttered.
Cynthia cocked an eyebrow when Black tentatively approached her. Blushing, he extended his hand towards her. The hand clenched into a fist.
"What are you doing?" Cynthia sounded amused.
"I-I still don't feel comfortable hugging or whatever," he explained, holding out his fist. "But when Looker did this – "
Discomfited, Black cleared his throat. "It's for luck."
Cynthia chuckled. The setting sun sprayed another shaft of gold on the Cove, as Cynthia bumped her hand against Black's fist. Black flinched; Cynthia's skin… it was warm. He pulled away as quickly as possible.
Disappointed, Unfezant clicked her beak. When she gestured at Cynthia again, clearly expecting a more personal form of comforting, Black scowled and returned the bird to her Pokeball. Cynthia watched these events, smiling placidly at him. Irritated, Black harrumphed. Unfezant may have been his most tranquil and diligent Pokemon, but her ideas about him and Cynthia were appalling.
He needed get the bird away from the Rom-Com Hour on the Goldenrod Channel.
Cynthia said his name; he looked at her.
"May I ask," she started gently. "Why did you choose to come here? To the Divine Cove?"
"If you knew how to find me, you should know the answer to your own question."
Cynthia examined the stone structure in front her. Meditative, she stroked her fingers over the symbol in the fourth stone.
"The fourth song in the folklore of Unova," she said, softly. "The Legend of the King."
Black didn't respond.
Cynthia spoke out loud, almost as a way of refreshing her own memory: "'Out of the waters of chaos, the King had created peace. He reconciled the past and the future'. "
Lowering his League hat, Black hid his face from Cynthia. He gripped the rim of the cap, tightly.
"'Life itself is gratitude'," she recited. "'The flames that eat receive life. Good or evil is not all that remains, so do not be hateful'."
Plaintive, Cynthia finished: "'Do not waste your life. All is precious'."
Black stared absently at the stone structure. A silence that was somehow louder than spoken banter resonated between him and Cynthia. Contemplative, Black wondered if Cynthia had pieced together the mystery. She was the one who first knew about the Divine Cove, after all.
"Most academics believe that The Legend of the King originates from Icirrus City," murmured Cynthia. "The city is close to the Dragonspiral Tower, which already concerns a great god. People don't consider that the myth could have concerned Undella Bay, primarily because the locals are fearful of the area and the myth describes a benevolent god."
Black folded his hands, preoccupied by the swirl of emotions.
"However, a benevolent god can also be a terrible god." She was introspective. "And the ruins of the Divine Cove suggest the presence of an old shrine to a deity of sorts." Cynthia gestured at the stone arrangement. "The old worshippers must have burnt an offering to the god to celebrate life – and to offer thanks for the fortune in their lives."
When Cynthia pressed her lips together, Black looked up at her. His moist eyes were swimming with determination.
"So you've figured it out? What I came here to do?"
Cynthia didn't reply. Instead, she took out a Pokeball and opened it. In a flare of white light, her Garchomp appeared. The sand-shark cooed affectionately upon seeing his Trainer. When he spotted who was sitting next to Cynthia, Garchomp growled and reared his head back. Garchomp wasn't happy to see him; the creature still probably remembered the Pokemon Battle from two days ago.
Garchomp gave a steely glare. Black didn't back down against the Pokemon's mean gaze.
"Garchomp," said Cynthia kindly, grabbing the Pokemon's attention. "Please light the top of the stone shrine with aFlamethrower."
The sand-shark belched a plume of white-hot fire at the stone structure. The top layer of rocks burst into flames. However, something odd happened. When Garchomp closed his mouth and ended the Flamethrower, the top of the shrine continued to burn. The rocks did not appear to be flammable, yet the stones flickered in a subdued blaze. It was unusual, mystical even.
Cynthia looked at Black, giving him a sad smile.
"Feel free," she said, gently. "I promise not to intrude."
Black felt a wave of affection towards Cynthia. Mumbling a quick "thank you", he opened his bag and pulled out the bundled flowers from Larissa's Flo-Emporium. The removal of the butcher paper revealed the contents: six-petalled cerise flowers which emanated the scent of raspberries and blackcurrants.
With a heavy heart, Black lifted the Glacideas and examined them. They were sincerely beautiful, with an ethereal quality that was pure and pristine. The dim glow of the burgundy sunset extenuated the scarlet flecks in the petals, reminding him of swirling Embersand an aflame silhouette which had followed him so faithfully…
Black thought about all the memories they had together: the first time they had met in his bedroom; the first time they had battled Cress and his annoying Panpour; the first time they had laughed at Bianca, when she asked Lenora how the Gym Leader "got that deep tan".
The second time they had shared a Casteliacone with sprinkles; the second time they had fought alongside Cheren, defeating some preschoolers; the second time they had managed to achieve Evolution.
The third time they had participated in a Pokemon Musical; the third time they had cracked a joke at Carracosta's expense; the third time they had split a Poffin in half, because their field rations had run out and they were damn hungry.
The last time they had walked together down a road, side by side.
"I'm thankful for the time we spent together," muttered Black. "You were my best friend. Not Cheren, not Bianca. Not him. You."
He stepped towards the fire. "Before, I was angry that you were taken from me, angry that what I'd chosen to do had taken you and not me. Angry that so many people were still smiling, while I wasn't."
"But now I know that every moment we had shared was a minor blessing." Black sighed. "I'm just happy that I met you."
There was a loaded pause. Then, Black took a deep breath and dropped the Glacideas into the blaze. The change was immediate: as soon as the flowers touched the stone arrangement, a coil of green flames laced the orange fire. The blaze intensified, as though it were conscious. Trembling, Black spoke directly into the fire.
"I'm really grateful for everything you've done for me," said Black in a small but unfaltering voice. "Maybe we'll see each other again."
The flames flickered.
"But for now, goodbye," he whispered. "Emboar."
An aroma of freesias and berries coiled outwards, as the fire consumed the Glacideas. Tongues of green flames flickered out, like fireworks. The blaze spat out more scents from the burning flowers: sea-salt, charred wood, smoking leaves – and something sugary. Something syrupy. Curious, Black breathed in deeply. It was cloying, it was refreshing, it was familiar.
Churned vanilla topped with candied sprinkles.
Tears pricked Black's eyes. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his jacket; his cheeks were wet.
"Thank you," he murmured, as the fire slowly faded away.
After another minute, the flames had died completely. The scent of ice-cream lingered only a second longer, as though it did not want to leave, before vanishing as well. Black felt himself stagger backwards.
Something warm wrapped around him. Black turned his head to found Cynthia's arms squeezing him in a reassuring hug. He thought about telling her to respect his personal boundaries, but for some reason, he didn't want to. Instead, he extended his own arms around Cynthia and returned the hug.
For a long moment, the two Trainers stayed like that, kneeling in the sand and holding the other in embrace. Eventually, Black pulled away, though. He removed his arms from Cynthia and stood up. While the gentle pressure of Cynthia's body had been comforting, he had work to do. Black took a deep breath. His mind was clear, much clearer than it had been in a while. He knew what he had to do.
Cynthia pushed herself off the ground. Serenely, she brushed back her blond bangs.
"What are you planning to do next?" she asked.
"I've contacted Looker. We're planning to travel to the Relic Castle tomorrow," said Black coolly.
He stuck his hands inside his pockets. "The Interpol thinks that one of the Seven Sages might be hiding there, considering that Team Plasma had shown interest in the location before."
"Looker thought it might be a good place to start looking," he replied.
Cynthia seemed pleased that he had agreed to Looker's offer. Although she had personally viewed and treated him as a kid in his mid teens, Cynthia understood that most of the world would not share her opinions. Everyone else would have seen him as the great Unova Champion and expected such from him. Cynthia knew this. It was why she was insistent that Black accept the others' idealised or skewed perceptions of him as an unchangeable fact of life, as a facet of reality, and instead endeavour to use his contentious abilities for betterment. Looker's quest to capture the Seven Sages embodied all of this.
Cynthia gazed at Black; she idly stroked her Garchomp's head.
"And what about afterwards?"
"I don't know. Meet up with Cheren and Bianca, visit my mother in Nuvema Town," said Black. "I'll probably head back to the Pokemon League, eventually."
"You'd be willing to return to the Pokemon League? Your duties as a Champion?"
He shrugged. "It is my rightful title, right? I can't afford to push away my responsibilities."
When he caught Cynthia's sharp look, he added, "At least not anymore."
It was true; one vacation was enough for a lifetime. Besides, if he evaded his Championship status any longer, Marshal Kuntz might decide to "accidentally" break his jaw. Not to mention that Black had a folded piece of paper to return to a certain haughty Psychic-specialist.
"How do you feel about this?" enquired Cynthia, in a concerned voice. "Do you think you're ready to be the Unova Champion?"
"Before, definitely not. I was too angry."
"People," answered Black. "I didn't like the critics who labelled me a 'god-slayer' or whatever, but they won't nearly as bad as the ones who congratulated me for the events of that day."
Cynthia nodded, empathetically.
"I was having nightmares about the Castle," said Black, "and they were calling me a Hero of Unova? No fucking way. I hated all that attention and wouldn't have been able to deal with as Champion."
Black smirked. "What do you think?"
When Cynthia didn't say anything, he misconstrued her silence for a lack of understanding.
"People can change, right? I've got to put things in perspective," said Black quietly. "The truth is that everybody needs a bit of idealism. Without it, we can't function properly. We'd be these bitter little things, too scared shitless to do anything."
Cynthia turned to Black. Shooting him a shattering stare, she studied him as though he were the most fascinating thing in the world. Black resisted the urge to redden or shy away.
Once again, she defied his predictions; Cynthia reached into her purse and took out something flattened and shrivelled. It was a dried flower, its pale-pink petals pressed into a paper-thin width. The kaleidoscopic smell of numerous berries permeated the stem.
When Cynthia carefully placed the flower in his hand, Black realised that tellingly, there were six petals. It was a pressed Glacidea.
"I want you to have this," she said, kindly. "It's a Glacidea I picked during my first Pokemon journey. I have cherished it for a long time… but this feels right."
Shrewdly, Black wondered if this Glacidea was the one he had seen in Cynthia's photograph, the flower that the younger Cynthia was wearing in her cropped hair. Why would have Cynthia kept the flower over the years, though? She could have easily obtained another one in Floaroma Town or at the Goldenrod Flower Shop. Unless… unless this Glacidea had sentimental value. It must have reminded her of something.
Black felt a pang of sympathy towards Cynthia. He took the Glacidea with two hands.
"I'll take good care of it," he replied.
Cynthia looked away from him. She was gazing at the sea extending around the Divine Cove. Since the sun had nearly set in the western sky, the faintest rays penetrated the thickening cumulus clouds to tinge the indigo ocean in gold. Darkened patches of seawater were in the distance, signalling the diving spots which Susan had mentioned.
"Do you know why I originally came to Undella Town?"
Black glanced at Cynthia. A spiralling breeze whistled through her blond tresses, spreading them out behind her. The creamy expanse of her skin peeked through.
"No," was the truthful reply.
"Have you heard of the underwater ruins surrounding the Divine Cove?"
Trying to recall the information on Undella Bay, he furrowed his face. "I think so… You're talking about the Abyssal Ruins, right?"
"The Abyssal Ruins, Rovine degli Abissi," said Cynthia. "They are the sunken remnants of a temple. Studying them is one reason why I chose to come to Undella Town."
Black watched as Cynthia's expression became reflective, doleful almost.
"I speculate that the Abyssal Ruins are related to a local legend told by Undella's oldest poems," she told him. "Do you remember the Legend of the Young Man?"
Cynthia paused, before looking at Black.
"It's related to the Legend of the King, I believe," she said, soberly. "If we consider that the King and the god are the same character, the two myths complement each other."
When Black frowned, Cynthia interpreted this as an opportunity to elaborate.
"Undella's folklore states that a god from a distant land crafted Undella Bay out of the towering mountains which once surrounded the Giant Chasm," explained Cynthia. "Grateful for the new, fertile lands which they could use to farm, the humans built a majestic temple to honour the god. At first, people attended the temple frequently and worshipped the god with fervency. All was well."
Cynthia scratched Garchomp under his neck. As the land-shark gave a low growl of satisfaction, she spoke in a sombre tone.
"However, as time passed, less people visited the temple. Humanity started forgetting about their patron and became neglectful. This made the god angry." She looked Black in the eye. "In an effort to gage humanity's true intentions, the god disguised himself as a mortal woman and asked the people to repent and return to the old ways. The villagers of Undella jeered at the old woman."
Black narrowed his eyes at the last phrase; he had heard it before from somewhere.
"Only a young man dared to defend the old woman," said Cynthia. "Enraged by this humiliating rejection, the god decided to punish the people. He summoned his grandson, the Blue Ocean Whale, and ordered him to flood the temple and the town surrounding it. Out of the townspeople, only the loner who had defended the old woman was spared."
Yes, he had definitely encountered this legend before. It prickled the edges of his memory, tauntingly.
"Even today, the temple remains flooded, and the cove around it is considered cursed," continued Cynthia. "Extraordinary phenomena, such as multicoloured Pokemon, are supposed to guard the waters. The wrathful god does not welcome human presences."
"But?" asked Black.
"But," Cynthia acknowledged, "the god had some mercy. For the sake of the young man who had defended him, the god would apparently give any voyagers into the Ruins a chance. If the person could prove within five-hundred steps that they were pure of heart, the god would enable them to live. If not, a torrent of water would crush and kill them."
"Yes," confirmed Cynthia. "But a great reward remained for the survivor. The god would offer his congratulations by granting one, true wish."
Black asked, even though he knew that he had already heard of this legend. He realised that it was mentioned in one of his books on Unovan mythology – The Ruins of Underwater Undella. Hence, he already knew the answer which Cynthia was about to provide.
"Any wish," she averred.
Immediately, an idea formulated in Black's mind. Cynthia's story had persuaded him to attempt a final feat. It was dangerous, but he had to try… Why did Cynthia tell him the Legend of the Young Man, though? Judging from the sad gleam in her eyes, she had to be somewhat aware of what she was doing. Perhaps she guessed (correctly) that Black was already familiar with the legend. That it was only a matter of time before he came to the natural conclusion himself. Was she pre-empting the decision for a specific reason?
"Have you explored the Abyssal Ruins yet?" he asked Cynthia.
"Why not? Didn't you come to Undella originally for the Ruins?"
Cynthia stared at the sea; she was beautiful but sad.
"My PokeGear registers a significant amount of unknown radiation coming from the central Ruin area, beyond the beach," she responded in a faint voice. "It is sporadic… and most academics I've talked to can't identify it. Its closest cousin in the spectrum is the type of radiation which Team Rocket had spread in Lake Mahogany. And even then, this radiation seems to be completely different."
Black cracked his knuckles.
"Moreover, there is a disproportionate number of Shiny Pokemon in the area. Highly-levelled Shiny Pokemon," said Cynthia steadily. "I would even wager that the mystery radiation is causing these mutations in the Pokemon."
Surreptitiously, Black unzipped his bag and perused through his TM/HM section.
"In fact, the only reasons why the scientific community has not conglomerated around Undella Bay are that their actions would met by serious resistance from the Riches family and that there is a similar and far more interesting phenomenon occurring at the Sinjoh Ruins. It's far too dangerous to examine these ruins, while the radiation and the Shiny Pokemon linger."
Cynthia sounded exasperated. "If you and I were not Pokemon Champions, by now the town authorities would have stopped us from entering the Divine Cove – like everyone else has to."
Whipping out a Pokeball from his belt, Black released his Carracosta. The sea-turtle emerged in a burst of white. Carracosta yawned and gave him a nonchalant look. While Black approached the Pokemon, Cynthia was scrutinising the object in Black's hand. It was a silvery disk, coloured in a blue glaze. HM06 – Dive.
"It's like learning Surf," Black said to Carracosta. "Just close your eyes and put your right flipper on the disk."
The sea-turtle did not budge; indolently, Carracosta poked the sand with his right flipper.
"Don't be so lazy. I'm not asking you to do anything impossible," argued Black. "It's not hard. You probably don't even need to practice this move like you usually have to with TM/HMs, considering how deep you were able to swim as a Tirtouga."
After a moment of convincing from Black, Carracosta finally placed his flipper on the disk. There was a shimmer of blue, and a flurried movement. One… two… three. Three beeps, and the light died down again, leaving a bored-looking Carracosta. Black returned the HM to his disk case.
Cynthia hitched a breath when he mounted his Carracosta in a fluid, upwards hop. She tightened her grip on the growling Garchomp.
"What you're planning is reckless," she said, evenly. "Exposing yourself to unknown radiation could kill you, not to mention the wild Pokemon in the area. Please wait until lab technicians can analyse the water samples."
Black took something out of his satchel. The Damask rose issued a delicate, subtle fragrance, as he presented it to Cynthia.
"It's only fair," said Black. "A Glacidea for a rose."
Cautiously, Cynthia grasped the rose in her hand. She brushed her fingers against the pink petals, as though she were caressing an instrument.
"Do you have a death wish?" she said, in a tone of false calm.
"'One cannot live under the same sky as the murderer of one's father'," murmured Cynthia.
He stared at the horizon, which was now fading with sunlight. While the numinous sprinkle of stars dashed across the night-time sky, the pregnant curve of the waxing moon gleamed silver in the centre. As per Cynthia's words, an almost indistinctive group of gold-tinted Octillery and purple Remoraid lingered in the far distance. The ocean itself had become almost black in its hue, the diving spots becoming nearly indistinguishable from the others. Black never knew how gorgeous the last nights could be, not until that final moment.
When he muttered an order in Carracosta's ear, the sea-turtle and his Trainer started to glide towards the water.
"Make a wish, Cynthia," he said.
Cynthia directed her ash-grey eyes towards him; they were inscrutable and glazed over with an unidentifiable emotion. She opened her mouth to say something and then closed it. Her hand went to her ring again. The brown stone glimmered in the moonlight, like a frozen teardrop.
"I wish for… one more dawn," she responded.
Registering Cynthia's reply, Black turned back to his Carracosta. The sea-turtle slid over the surface of the water, with a tranquillity which belied the situation. Eventually, Carracosta had swum far beyond the beach and had settled over a darker patch of the ocean. One of the diving spots. When Black glanced back, Cynthia and her Garchomp were small, near-indiscernible blurs. However, he noticed that Cynthia's figure was still holding the rose, just as he was still holding the Glacidea.
As he tightened his grip around the flower, Black wondered what was going to happen to him. Would the god judge him? Life or death? Perhaps before, he would have weighed the logical portions of his mind and cynically decide against this. But now, he was different. He knew he wasn't alone and would accept his fate with open arms. Idealism and rationalism, ideals and truths – one couldn't exist without the other. He was no longer angry. And he was no longer hiding. Able to move beyond his fears and his past, to embrace his future –
He was the Fifteenth Champion of the Unova Pokemon League. He was the childhood friend of Cheren and Bianca. He was the Trainer of five Pokemon – and had been the best friend to six. He was no longer afraid.
He was the Hero of Unova.
I'm in my bedroom. Lifting the lid of the box that Professor Juniper had left behind, I stare at the happy Pokemon in front of me. His excited red eyes greet my own amber. Behind me, Cheren and Bianca discuss the different combinations that made the Pokemon Type Chart. Referring to the Chart, Bianca is arguing that Snivy might be the better choice out of the three starters. Cheren disagrees, folding his arms. I clear my throat, regaining my friends' attention.
"Who is this little guy?" I ask, gesturing at the Pokemon who starts to jump around my room.
"Er, lemme see." Bianca raps her head to remember. "Tepor? Steampig? Teapot?"
"It's Tepig," corrects Cheren, testily.
"That's right! Professor Juniper said he's called Tepig."
I glanced down again. The Pokemon nuzzles his nose in my ankle and coos. Feeling the warmth of kinship toward the creature, I pick him up and look at him, intently.
"Hey, Tepig," I greet.
The Pokemon gives me a snort of happiness.
A/N [June 16]: Thank you for staying with me all this time. I realise that I've kept you readers waiting, unfairly, because of my real life commitments and despondence arising from lack of reviews. I apologise for the wait, and hope that you enjoy reading UtSS as much as I enjoyed writing it. It really was a rollercoaster of a ride for me. And to you readers, I hope that you felt the same.