(A/N: Well, now we're pretty much caught up to where the Anime canon picks up, so this chapter is mostly just a rewrite of the opening battle scene seen in 'Lucario and the Mystery of Mew', but with a few added scenes to spice up, if you will, the tragedy of Aaron; and provide some more depth and insight into the turmoil that ensues between Lunan's good and evil.)
The Enigma Chronicles - Sedition
Chapter 16: Of Heroes and Legends
Everything caught in the shadow of the Tree of Beginning was still damp with morning dew. The sun was a faint thin line of gold rimming the mountains in the east, but a thick coating of morning fog plastered the rocky landscape, nearly impossible for the naked eye to see past. In the midst of the fog stood the great tree itself, far too big to be normal. Glistering lights of a sapphire hue illuminated its enormous branches, as a large and imposing birdlike creature emerged from its depths, crying out a warning.
Ho-oh, the Pokémon of a thousand prisms, belted towards the Cameran Palace, extinguishing the fog with its magnificent wings. All was quiet below, if not only for the moment, for a great danger was approaching from both the east and west. The great bird could feel their presences closing in on the defenseless kingdom, razing everything in their warmongering paths.
Maundering the abandoned foothills below Ho-oh, Lucario bustled swiftly through the blinding mist, jumping and flipping expertly over large crags of rock in his way. He was searching. He was scouting. It was a duty he couldn't fail. He had been tasked with patrolling the mountainous outskirts of the Cameron Palace, as Zinten's armies would soon clash with Kota's, while the sacred soil of the queen's dominion was destined to serve as their battlefield.
Alas, the fog only continued to cloud his vision, obscuring anything further than a few meters ahead. It didn't matter. He had other ways of completing his task. Stopping in his tracks, he raised a paw to his chest, concentrating his innermost power. "Aura is with me.", He whispered the familiar line in his gravely voice. Eyes closed, he probed the way using Aura.
The world around him fell silent, as spiritual energy fields engulfed his every sense. His mind's eye shot ahead, over rocks, through forests, until it stopped over a cliff. There was a huge mass of individual objects, glowing that neon blue. It was… alive. A forest? No. An army. Zinten's army. It was composed of humans and Pokémon. There were hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. And they were all armed and geared for combat. Their numbers reeked of the darkest energy he'd ever apperceived, choking his senses.
Mulling this over, Lucario reeled and faced westward. He repeated the process, and saw a second army, this one even closer. Kota's army. Their numbers were equally impressive, but they too excreted a most unsettling vibe, one bent on destroying the opposing force. It was then did he realize there was no stopping this fight.
Lucario stood stoic in thought. There was no mistake that this oncoming inception would indeed mark the end of the war. Two armies, one of peacekeepers and the other of warlords, had gathered their forces for one last epic fallout – a battle on neutral ground, so neither side would have a real advantage. And, somehow, his kingdom had been chosen as these unlucky grounds for combat.
Up above, Ho-oh sailed against the fog, trickling golden flakes of dust from its rainbow wings, as if sending down a distress signal to Rota's innocent – and Lucario couldn't help but lift his head to the Legendary in passing, faulting in his tracks.
Suddenly, per Ho-oh's warning, a trio of red-armored Houndoom sprung out from the fog, jolting Lucario from his trance. They landed in front of him, growling carnivorously, and he promptly recognized them as Zinten's reserves. Outnumbered, he bolted in the opposite direction, running straight up a slope. This wasn't out of cowardice; but of necessity. His first priority was to report his findings to his Master, not make enemies.
He came to a halt in front of a large crystal, one rooted directly to the castle. Using Aura, he knelt before the mystic gem and activated its mysterious powers, channeling the castle's inhabitants for an immediate response. The crystal shimmered like a silken veil, and a connection was quickly established. "Hear me, Sir Aaron!", He growled with urgency, pressing his paw against the crystal's fluid surface. "Sir Aaron, please!"
From the terrace of the palace, Aaron could feel the imbalance emanating through the earth, in the direction of the mighty crags that made up the World Tree deep in the valley. It loomed in the distance, a lord among the mountains it rose from, but crests of ominous fog coiled like angry smoke on the jagged teeth of those faraway peaks. Never did the sacred dwelling look so browbeat, so vulnerable to its changing surroundings.
Aaron shuddered as the loud but distant shriek of enemy Pokémon signaled the armies' approach over the hills. He sensed Zinten's forces rift through the borders like a blazing hurricane, but no quicker than Kota's legion already impending on the threshold of the Tree's sacred grounds. A feeling of unease seemed to waft through the breeze, settling inside his heart and wrenching it to a paste. He was torn. He didn't want any part in this battle... but he had to defend his queen.
In the lull of his self-wallow, Lady Rin stepped to his side, but refused to meet his gaze. Instead, she let her eyes glaze over the kingdom one last time, for it would soon be little more than a tillage of rubble. Her hands rested wistfully atop the ledge of the balcony, but she herself seemed immovable, even beneath the swishing and rustling of her dress in the wind.
Aaron couldn't bear the silence; it was a punishment. He turned to his queen, his voice genuine but urgent. "I didn't want it like this." He blinked when she failed to face him, tilting his head in shame. He suddenly wished he had done more to sway Kota from the decision to invade the kingdom. "I tried to stop the war from coming to Rota, your highness. I truly did!"
Rin didn't seem angry, not in the slightest. Deep down, she didn't blame Aaron for any of this, not as much as she blamed... herself.
Her lack of voice only stripped him of his confidence, at least for the moment. There was a reprimanding slap in the back of his head and he frowned. "I will serve neither side of this conflict.", He pleaded with her, desperate for some sort of understanding on her part. "M-My place is with you and only you-"
"Aaron.", She finally hushed him, dipping her head only slightly. "What if we don't survive?"
"I can take you away from all of this!", He promptly answered. His eyes glinted with something that made her shiver, and he gestured his staff in the direction opposite of the incoming struggle. "I can protect you. I swore that I would – and not just to Kota... but myself."
Before she could muster a reply, the crystal edifice behind them emitted a luminous flash, and Aaron hurried across the balcony to answer to it. He knelt before the structure, placing a gloved palm over it, as Rin whirled on the spot to listen in on the briefing.
"Sir Aaron, please!", Lucario's panicked voice pulsed through his Master's senses.
Aaron's expression hardened considerably, but he spoke into the crystal with efficient softness. "What's the matter, Lucario?"
"The two armies are about to clash, Master; and our kingdom is caught between them!", The Pokémon's voice reported what they'd both dreaded. "Once the fighting starts we will all be destroyed!"
Behind Aaron, Lady Rin gave a subtle whimper, then turned back to quietly survey her endangered dominion. She stressed in a gentle whisper, "When the armies reach this palace, our kingdom will fall..."
Lucario was disrupted yet again as the Houndoom pack suddenly reappeared, having fared their way up the slope. Moving into a fighting stance, he was forced to break contact with Aaron and defend himself. He'd have to rendezvous with Aaron later. He didn't want the enemy following him back to the castle.
Relentlessly and unmercifully, the Houndoom attackers began to spray him with Flamethrowers, each of which only barely hedged.
Weaving his way through their fiery assault, Lucario remembered back to his training with the pendulum logs, using the memory of the exercise as a basis for his current strait. He danced with the lurching flames that sprung at him from all directions, smoothly and expertly finding his bearings. He was at full balance and composure. His Aura conducted every perfectly-executed motion as he sped down the slope.
The chase was soon suspended by a dead-end; a rock wall stood in Lucario's path, but he was too slow scale it in time, as the pack quickly reassembled at his position. In the chaos that ensued, one of the three Houndoom drew close enough to pounce at him with an Iron Tail.
Acting on his feet, Lucario swiftly slipped from the enemy's sights, and the missed attack shattered the wall in his place. The dust cloud that followed swept him unguarded and singed his eyes, blinding him of his surroundings. He leapt away aimlessly, trying to rub his eyes clean, but to no avail.
The three Houndoom seized the opportunity and immediately pressed their attack.
Calling on his Aura for sight, Lucario jumped into the air, evading multiple Flamethrower attacks, then landed in front of his opponents. With a gnarl of contempt, he quickly dispatched them with a series of Aura Spheres, thus clearing a path to the palace.
He wasted no time in spurring onward, guided only by Aura Sight; he had no intention of waiting around for the rest of Zinten's forces to show up and engage him.
A low wind blew in and ruffled Aaron's cape, bringing with it a hostile scent – the scent of approaching doom. He looked beyond the balcony and down to the number of innocent that lined up in the streets, sensing their frightened Aura shudder and hiss in a wistful symphony. He couldn't stand do see them so distraught, each of them robbed of the same hope to live peacefully under his watch.
To his right, Rin shared the mournful view of the kingdom's inhabitants waking up to the unthinkable. She knew the untimely fate that was headed their way, yet couldn't grasp the reality of it. It brought so much hurt.
Aaron glanced at his treasure that stood poignantly beside him, but couldn't bring himself to touch her. Perhaps he was a coward, but he feared she would crumble to dust, fade away and be forever lost to him and his memories. It couldn't be any worse than the certain doom awaiting them both.
She did everything in her power to avert his eyes. Her refusal to flee the palace was obviously a decision he couldn't divine, but she didn't plan to relent to his pleas, nor did she intend to deploy the royal guards and cater them to the unsatisfied hunger of this ruinous war. It would serve no purpose.
"It doesn't have to end this way, milady.", Aaron said stiffly, turning on his heel and facing Rin directly. "We can run away from all of this. The war. The judgment. The everyday foibles." He smiled that sad smile. "We could be wedded, just as you wanted when we were children." He took her hand, his face never more resolved than at that moment. "Now I want it too. I want it now more than ever."
His pleasing offer echoed in her mind. He'd reached out to touch her other arm, but she brushed the hand away before it could settle there. She watched him as solemnly as he watched her, fighting back the flood of tears threatening to spill forth. "I will stand my ground, Aaron. I know it's not what you want to hear... but this is unavoidable."
"I won't let you fall to this crisis.", He said, pacing away from the ledge of the balcony. His voice caught in his throat. "I just can't..."
Rin's heart sank as his words settled with her. She narrowed her eyes at the look of disappointment on his face. She knew how lost he was at this moment... but couldn't let her judgment be swayed, not even for the forbidden bond they shared. "I will not flee the palace when the armies attack.", She spoke with a powerfully regal force in her tongue. "My fate will be the same as the rest of my kingdom."
The frightening truth remained that she was right. In one final effort, he pleaded, "But your highness... there will be no survivors."
Rin held her tongue and merely continued to look out into the distance, letting the heavy silence hang tragically between them.
Torn by her neglect, Aaron lowered his head and hummed in thought. Then, opening his eyes again, he raised his scepter into the air, the glimmer of the cusp shining bright through the fog and beckoning Pidgeot from the roof of a nearby tower.
Rin's eyes suddenly flicked up as Aaron leapt over the ledge of the balcony and took off on Pidgeot's back, leaving her more alone than ever before.
Not far from the Tree of Beginning, Kota rode his Dodrio through the haze of the fog and to the small clearing from the base of his hillside position, assuming that this area would most probably host a ground battle. And also from his position, he'd see that Nagateru would direct the aerial reserves to deal the initiative against the opponent.
However, as he and his soldiers stormed their way towards bottom of the mound, he spotted a unidentified object soaring the sky above their turf. "Aaron?", He stuttered, flabbergasted. He halted amidst his charging soldiers that zoomed past him, and his voice grew hoarse and angry all at once as he tried to pan out the blue knight's actions. "What in the name of Arceus is that boy doing! I told him to remain with the queen!"
"General!", Nagateru called to Kota in passing, pointing to the heavens. "What are your orders?"
Kota gritted his teeth, then bellowed in response, "Get him out of there before the enemy rips him out of the sky!"
Per his superior's directive, Nagateru paused and shuffled against the current of knights and Pokémon flooding onto the battlegrounds to meet the enemy. He then motioned a hand to a pair of Skarmory surveying the movement, ordering them into the skies.
From his position in the sky, Aaron saw the two promptly approaching armies. There was no way his people could muster enough forces to stop this. Rin was right. There was no other choice but to accept the fate of his kingdom. It was a dishonorable hope, he knew, but at this point their only chance was for the two armies to decimate each other.
Aaron steered Pidgeot against the lift of the fog, heeding no mind to Kota's forces below – a mistake he'd quickly regret. Within minutes, a team of Skarmory geared in green rushed at them. Aaron pulled at the feathered neck of his mount, and Pidgeot instantly dove to the side, speeding too narrowly to reverse direction.
"Pidgeooooo!", Cried his mount in pain as one of the Skarmory swooped in close enough to deliver a wieldly Flash Cannon attack to the bird's flank.
"Never mind them.", Aaron quietly muttered, looking back. The Skarmory were preparing another flyby. "Pidgeot, drop me off and find some shelter. This is no longer your burden to bear..."
Pidgeot complied and passed a rock overhang, slowing just enough for Aaron to hop off. Once its master was safely dismounted, the brave bird proceeded to crash into a neighboring forest. The forlorn knight, however, let out the breath he'd been holding since departing the palace. Pidgeot would be okay. He wished he could say the same for himself.
He watched anxiously as the Skarmory flock circled the crash site, but was soon at ease when they lost interest in scurried off, apparently no longer seeing him as a threat. Gathering himself, he stood frigidly and looked around as he felt a familiar presence sprinting down the ravine below. It was his pupil. "Lucario... I don't want you to see me like this..."
The Pokémon soon ended his jog and stopped at the foot of the bouldered pedestal his Master stood poised upon. And though he was grateful for the arrival of someone he was sure would have the answer to this crisis, he sensed anger and shame radiating from the knight's Aura. "Sir Aaron!" Greeted the telepathic Pokémon, his sense of sight still dashed from his earlier entanglement. "I knew you'd come-"
"Lucario, what happened to your eyes?", The human interrupted.
Lucario merely shrugged off the evident concern. "Don't worry about me, Master."
Hearing the undeserved title pass through his ears, Sir Aaron turned his back, shielding his eyes with the hat that sat crooked on his head. He couldn't bear to carry that accursed title. Not anymore. "Don't call me that.", He muttered in a voice so despairing, it sent a shudder through his student. "I'm no longer your Master. I've abandoned the queen and the kingdom... and I'll never return."
"But... that's impossible.", Lucario started, unable to find his voice.
It was then did Aaron begin to rush off in the other direction, for he couldn't look his student in the eyes after a confession like that.
Heartbroken, the blinded Pokémon ran after him manically, gauging him with his Aura. "Master, wait!"
Aaron knew he couldn't shake his student so easily, and he dreaded leaving the poor creature behind in a world so wicked and evil. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he made up his mind. With a fierce and almost tearful grunt, Aaron whirled on the spot and hurled his staff. It landed upright beside Lucario, as its cusp began to shimmer luminously. "This is for your own good, old friend."
Lucario froze on sight, crying out to his Master. Fear. Bewilderment. Distress... Betrayal. All at the mere peak of what the candid Pokémon was feeling at that very moment, atop his mountain of emotions. He was spared but a fleeting moment to observe his once proud and courageous mentor speedily racing away as the bright glow of the staff's mystical orb began to dissolve his essence.
"Sir Aaron!", Lucario called out in a final panic... but it was all in vein; the immense blue light of the scepter completely engulfed him in a single wave, sealing him deep inside the cobalt sphere.
From within its crystallized contents, the world beyond was obscured and misshapen; everything glassy and jewel-like. Only by sheer luck did he manage to capture a one last brief glimpse of his Master... vanishing into the mountains as the earth beneath them trembled with the oncoming war. All he could ponder of as his Master left, his gleaming Aura of sky blue gradually fading from Lucario's vision, were the simple words, "Why, Master?", before the world around him vanished completely. "Why...?"
From her terrace, Rin could finally see past the fog, if not only barely. She spotted both armies in the faint distance, each charging from either direction. But more pressingly, she could hear a shrill but somber whistle sounding across the kingdom, reaching out to her. It was the distress cry of the life-giving Tree that stood defenseless before the battlefield afar.
"That wail...", Rin hymned dispiritedly to the otherworldly howl, her hands clasped together in fright. "It's coming from the Tree of Beginning. It's crying."
Upon rendezvousing with Pidgeot, Aaron found lonesome refuge atop a cliffside near the Tree, granting him a fullsome but guilt-lashing view of the conflict below. The fog had mostly cleared, and it made the battlefield seem oddly serene. The cries of Zinten's charge were muffled, seeming far off, but he knew it wouldn't be long before the entire Cardinal legion poured down the hillside to meet Kota's approaching forces.
Recounting his mistakes, and his weaknesses, he felt foolish standing idly by in the midst of something he'd long strived to prevent. Guilt and regret tumbled through his mind like waves in a windstorm, scaling higher and higher and crashing down, only for another to take its place. He'd failed his kingdom, allowing his sense of self to grapple with his mind. He had retreated so far into the depths of his head, too afraid to face his grief that he cost his people their lives. Over and over the dominant thought in his mind, "I've failed, not only as an Aura Guardian, but also as a man."
Then, he sensed something else, and a cold feeling of dread flooded his veins. He turned slowly to try and place its source, and came face-to-face with none other than the royal majesty of the Cardinal Empire himself. "K-King Eldar?"
As the assumed general of the enemy brigade, the notorious king donned a full-body suit of the finest armor. The helmet hid all but a few tufts of bronze hair that had grown past where the helmet covered it, and his glowing orange eyes, which pierced through the helmet's shadow like firelight. Eyes that burned with a sort of malevolent longing. Hunger.
Aaron was at a loss for words as he tried to fathom the older man's sudden presence. "W-What are you doing here?"
Removing his helmet, Eldar cast his bedeviled eyes to the battlefield below and watched as the armies advanced further, a triumphant smile forming across his face. "What a sight...", He spoke at last in that sly but roguishly silky voice of his, choosing to leave Aaron's question unanswered. "If it comes as any consolation, this struggle for power... was always destined to befall your kingdom."
Unnerved by the king's ominous assertion, Aaron sank his knees to the sharp gravel, letting free a defeated breath. His hands fell limp from his sides, hitting the ground. "For the longest time, I never really believed in absolutes."
"Nor I.", Eldar plucked back as he squatted beside the blue knight, releasing a sigh of his own. "But even the unpredictable is inevitable, wouldn't you agree? So why not embrace the inevitable by enacting the unpredictable." The wicked king sneered, clearly enjoying Aaron's miserable state, "No one's as high-righteous as they say they are." His smile quickly deepened. "Not even you."
For the first time... Aaron faltered, jaw working as he pondered the well-thought assessment. He didn't reply. He couldn't. He wouldn't. In fact, he did his best to ignore those real but haunting words. He merely stared at the ground. It looks so solid, so final.
Eldar shook his head dismissively. "You're so torn, Aaron. You CAN'T protect your Queen... but you WON'T contribute to the violence."
"I won't.", Aaron mumbled in response, refusing to look up. "Violence is never the answer. I've followed orders long enough."
The king shrugged. "And yet... your kingdom is bound to perish, as is your dear queen..."
"I-I don't know what else to do, your majesty.", Aaron whimpered, letting his forehead drop to his knees. "I've already failed my kingdom... and yet I can't bring myself to fully abandon my precepts. I'm at a crossroads... one that I just can't cross."
Eldar merely nodded in response. There was a subtle bitterness in his manner that didn't escape Aaron's attention. Finally, he enlightened – sputtered, rather, "These silly morals were planted inside you, Aaron. The power you hold... the power you choose to use for righteousness... does not belong to you. It never did."
Aaron huffed and looked up at Eldar warily. "W-what?"
Eldar gave a deliberate, mocking laugh before continuing, "You were not born with the Aura, Aaron. You were chosen by it in its natural, uninherited glory. I saw to that personally."
Aaron looked searchingly in the old man's eyes for a moment before a light of realization dawned on his brow. In a fit of panic, he shot to his feet and demanded, "What did you do!"
Eldar couldn't help but smile. His head rolled back in the breeze of memories. "I brought you to the Tree of Beginning on the eve you were born."
Aaron snapped back, "That's a lie!"
His face splitting into a wretched smirk, Eldar drawled, "I'll admit, your parents put up quite a struggle... especially your brave, life-staking father... but in the end, they met their ends swiftly... and painfully."
Aaron glared at him, his lips sealed tightly against his teeth. The truth was seeping through him now, the truth he'd long to uncover, and he was loathing every second of it. "You murdered my parents...", A whisper was all he could manage as tears blurred his vision. "You killed them!"
"I was desperate to seek out the prophesized True Guardian of Aura." Eldar's tone gave the other man a sick feeling, bile rising up in Aaron's throat at the unspoken implications. "Given your father's honorable reputation, you seemed like a worthy candidate. I murdered your parents in cold blood... and delivered you to the holy sanctuary of the Tree itself, where the dwelling Mew harnessed the Aura of the Tree and instilled its power into you!" He flitted a proud look up at the shattered knight. "Don't you see, Aaron? Your Aura is special because you received it through nature's will. And since that miraculous day, you've molded it into something even greater!"
"No..." Horror gripped at Aaron's heart as images flashed through his mind; he could almost picture his mother felled by the sword of the evil king, his father slaughtered in stepping in to defend her. "Why did you spare me?"
"I only let you rise... so I could see you fall, which you have." Eldar continued. Aaron shook his head, and Eldar lowered his voice, leaning in closer. "You've failed your duty as the True Guardian of Aura... which can only mean you were never the true guardian to begin with. You were just a lost cause, Aaron. You still are. You were fated to be. You may be unique in the power you possess... but destiny has no other plans set for you. And that only means... I was right from the very beginning. I was out to prove that even someone as good as you... could fall." With a chuckle so deep in his throat, he bellowed, "You're a failure, Aaron."
Failure. The word echoed in Aaron's mind, repeating again and again until it was a roar in his ears, thrumming in his brain until he clutched at his hair, the weight of it tightening its hold. He was caught unaware when the tears finally poured down, but he could feel them now, boiling in his eyes before freezing in streaks down his face.
"There is no hope left for the Aura Guardians.", Whispered the meticulous king. "When the time is right, they will all share your fate."
A shudder passed through Aaron, his lips trembling at the cold reality setting in stone. He shook his head, his mouth falling open, tasting the salt of his tears on his tongue. "No..."
Eldar gaped, turning his head to look up at the boy again, who was staring back at him, his expression hard. Then, pinpointing the struggle in Aaron's eyes, he spat, "The only balance the Brethren Kingdoms will find... is the balance that rests in chaos..."
Aaron clenched his jaw, reluctant to give Eldar the satisfaction. He stared at him for a long moment, staying absolutely still. He seemed to struggle with himself before answering. He was filtering through his thoughts and trying his hardest to push back the spell of suffrage Eldar had so callously cast over him.
"Everything you've done was all for nothing.", Eldar spoke so gently, it was almost euphoric. "You may as well throw yourself into the battle... and let yourself be destroyed. I've already won this war, you see."
"No!", Aaron gasped boldly, fighting for breath. He wiped away his tears, unknowingly wiping away his sense of loss. His somber expression was now one of resolution, one he imagined his father once held in the days of yore. "No one will win this war... because I will not allow this war to continue."
Eldar glared daggers, taken aback by Aaron's resurgence of strength and spirit. He thought he had shattered the knight... but he'd miscalculated, apparently.
Something tight in Aaron's chest uncoiled, a pressure being lifted from his shoulders. The weight that had been oppressing him loosened from his chest, filling his lungs with air again. He sucked in a deep, icy breath and finally let go. Through his eyes, the world was vivid and beautiful again. His sense of self was resurfacing. His heart was decided to a path now paved specially for his destiny.
Eldar shot up and wagged a bitter finger at the boy. "The prophecy foretells that the True Guardian of Aura is one of an established authority!", He snarled, gritting his teeth. "You failed to keep the peace, just as I predicted. And so you are not what you think you are. Like I said, you're just a lost cause."
"Then I'll set my cause on the correct path, if that's what it takes.", Aaron retorted, biting his lip.
"You have nothing more to offer these people.", Eldar murmured back, and indeed, the distant shouts and commotion of charging soldiers could be heard from below. "You've given them everything – and even THAT wasn't enough save Lunan!"
Aaron raised his gloved hand, pressing it to his chest in the pose of the Aura Guardian. "No I haven't.", He whispered, accepting the consequences of what he knew to be done. "Not everything. Not yet."
Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Eldar was silent for a beat, then pressed, "Think about your Queen. Your Master. Your dear friend, Lucario. Your entire kingdom! You cannot protect them. You have doomed them all, Aaron!"
Aaron smiled softly, a tiny, almost dazed quirk of the lips. "Then I'll make the sacrifice of my own mortality and repay my debt. I'll light the way back to harmony... even if it costs me my life."
Eldar turned his back, his cape twirling behind him. "Then your legacy will survive only in memory.", He muttered calmly to the distance, oddly unfazed by Aaron's choice. "And that won't be enough to confute me. The prophecy has now been tipped from your favor. Death is death, Aaron. Let's at least be honest about that."
But Aaron didn't see his fateful decision as ludicrous, nor passionless suicide. He saw it as the moment of opportunity the Seer at the Tree had spoken of. "I'm not afraid to die.", He uttered, turning towards Pidgeot. "If it means saving the ones I love... I'll do it in a heartbeat!"
Whirling on his heel, Eldar chuckled and brushed off the notion with a hand gesture. "Your selfless compassion cannot win this war, you delusional fool."
"It takes a selfless man to inspire selflessness at the risk of his own self.", Aaron gallantly recited, then mounted his Pokémon for flight. "Goodbye, your highness."
A grim but scheduled smile twisted at Eldar's lips as he watched the pair take to the skies in their final mission, then whispered quietly to himself, "And then there were six..."
Armies of battle-bound beasts, ranging into their thousands, hastily marched towards the opposing foe, prepared and determined to conquer one another. Pokémon dressed in armor, masks, neck and arm bands. One side, in crimson red, the other in forest green. Each side bearing the flames of strife in their eyes. This battle was bound to have a disastrous ending, and the possible defeat of Cameran Palace.
From the west, the Emerald Kingdom brigades surged by the masses. Kota and his forces were already near the base of the hillside. The wind rushed passed him, making it hard to concentrate. The thousands of hooves and talon pounding into the ground thundered along behind him. He put the visor to his helmet down, just barely able see past what was straight ahead. Beside him, his league of knights drew their swords, only moments away from clashing with the tide of velvet red.
At last, the Cardinal Empire emerged from the peak of the mount and began to push down the slope, racking in by the thousands. Zinten led the charge. The eruption of his echoing war-cry was released, and his Arcanine reared in its readiness. He spurred it forward.
A cold wind cut into Aaron's face, burning his skin as he pressed against the harsh current of air. He was in a hurry and didn't have time to reconsider his next course of action. All he knew was that he was running short on time... and that these were his final mortal moments. He tried not to dwell in the past, nor any of his misgivings, but it was mostly fruitless.
Yes, a part of him wanted to go back and kiss his beloved a final time, but he wouldn't. It was meaningless at this rate. His actions would speak louder anyway – his devotion to his queen and the kingdom would be unveiled all too soon. Rin would understand his sacrifice. She shared his sense of honor, after all. And in the long-run, their forfended love would not have been for nothing.
Another part of him wished he could have made amends with Kota. The last words he had spoken to his old Master were words of neglect, borderline contempt. He hoped that deep down, his Master would understand just how much he appreciated him, along with all he'd learned from him throughout his training. At the same time, he hoped his fate would instill Kota with an inkling of redemption, as well as taste of who the man beneath the hat really was and what he'd stood for.
And then there was Lucario. Poor, innocent Lucario. As much as Aaron longed to return to the abandoned staff and free the Pokémon from its crystal prison, he didn't want his student following him to the Tree and suffering his fate. No, he wanted his dear friend to awaken at a more distant and peaceful time, and live a long and prosperous life. It was for the better. And he'd make sure Lucario would one day know that these were his true and only intentions.
Suddenly, a mordant wail penetrated his senses as he steered Pidgeot closer to the dying Tree that sat disfigured in the mountainous warzone. Its blinking lights were fading, its branches were wilting. The great specimen of all Aura was only a mere minutes from shutting down altogether. And Aaron knew exactly why.
He piloted Pidgeot into the archaic tunnels of the massive trunk and pushed to the very heart of the Tree, the same chamber the Seer had shown him. Around him, the energy flow of the Tree's nutrients were failing considerably, as was the shaft of light that marked the center of the cave. It was then did he know to get to work. He dismissed Pidgeot and began to wander the chamber nervously, searching.
Little known to the Tree's inhabitants that watched him from the stone arches overhead, he'd come to seek out Mew. If what Eldar had said was true, and Mew truly was responsible for his ability to use Aura, he was ready to give that power back in order to restore his kingdom. It was a debt he owed – not only to Mew, but to the people of Lunan for having failed to end this war sooner.
"Mew!", He cried out, his head reeling from left to right as his echo bounced off the cavern walls. "Where are you? Mew!"
The cry of Ho-oh suddenly split the silence and shook the chamber violently.
Aaron looked up upon hearing the screeching noise and spotted the rainbow phoenix emerging from one of the catacombs, transforming into Mew. Of course, he knew it to be Mew from the start; the Pokémon was a master of disguise, after all. But alas, in its present form, it was so sick and depleted, it strained him to even watch. "Arboreus was right. Mew's health is failing... because it's lost its power – the power handed down to me."
Outside the grounds of the Tree, time seemed to halt for Kota. Barely making out the sounds and senses around him, the air went mute and he could only hear the pounding of his own heartbeat as the two armies rushed towards each other, war cries rising. For several heartbeats, they raced at one another. Then... they collided at last.
With a horrible crash and dazzling horrendous explosion of sound and blood, Kota's senses felt sharp and raw, his mind unable to comprehend anything but movement and slaughter. Red and green armies hammered into each other with a thunderous roar. Pokémon clashed against Pokémon, and humans attacked each other with deadly steel. The rage was evident in the curses and snarls from both sides. Nothing short of a miracle would stop the fighting.
Kota slashed blindly this way and that, his insides shuddering at the sounds of his lanced coming in contact with another's body and heads being whipped off by his blade. He spun his Dodrio around and stabbed inwards to a mob of Aggron that were busily swarming. His steed leaped ahead, crushing a fallen soldier under its talons. He cried aloud, not even knowing what he was saying, or if he was only shouting with the acceleration of emotion and physical exhaustion as the attack was swept into bloody chaos.
At the site of Lucario's betrayal, Aaron's Pidgeot swooped down from the sky and grabbed the lone scepter, whisking it away from the heat of the battle.
"Mew, I realize that you and this tree are one.", Aaron spoke ever so softly as Mew descended in front of him. Then, narrowing his eyes with deadly determination, he mustered his courage and raised a gloved hand to the mystic Pokémon. "Please... take the power of my Aura and save the people!"
Mew looked deep into the eyes of the wise knight, intently but gratefully. "Meiu!"
A sphere of radiant blue flickered to life before Aaron's offered palm, growing in size. "Now! Accept the Aura!" He wobbled on his knees, the energy within him pushing forward as the life-giving sphere doubled in size, nearly filling the chamber. "The power of Aura... will prevail!"
Totally engulfed by the human's amplifying power, Mew began to absorb the Aura and replenish the Tree back to form.
Aaron gave a fierce and deafening cry as his life was sapped before his very eyes, his body going limp with violent flailing. The pain was unbearable. He began to struggle, the world spinning around him, and realized with a sudden startle that it was time to fully let go of his own Aura. His life, his experiences, and the faces of the people he'd come to know and love flashed before him, then faded into a blinding overcast of light. Peace, at last – just what he'd always wanted.
A searing but unfathomable pain suddenly twinged in Rin's chest. She clutched at her aching heart for a moment, trying to collect herself, but was quickly distracted by the arrival of Aaron's Pidgeot. She watched the winged mount perch atop the ledge of the balcony, but without her lover sattled upon it. She gave a startled gasp as the bird dropped Aaron's scepter from its beak and into her trembling hands.
This was Aaron's staff, without question. She knew that the knight wouldn't let it leave his hands unless he was… was not expecting it back.
The bird flew off, leaving the pitiable queen to examine the staff. She turned it over and stared at the crystal mounted at the cusp for a moment. "Aaron.", She whimpered, her heart sinking. "What have you done, my love?" A distant flash of magnificent light suddenly caught her eye and she looked up from the staff.
The Tree of Beginning in the distance shimmered with powerful green flares that stretched across the kingdom, prompting crystals all over the land to react with a mutual glow, shooting rays of green light into the morning sky.
Startled and frightened, the queen glanced around, as the crystals that riddled the castle balcony were responding as well.
Suddenly, the flashing emitted from the distant landmark softened into waves, pulsing throughout the wartorn land. Soldiers and Pokémon paused in their fighting, and looked up in wonder at the glistening Tree. The world seemed to go quiet and still, placing everything in suspended motion and self-reflection.
The burst of light nearly blinded Kota. He strained to see through his helmet. At last, he could bear the blasted thing no longer. He pulled the visor up and observed the flash of green overhead. The Aura radiating from the source was Aaron's. He could feel it, enveloping he and his armies, as though washing them of their sins. A single tear escaped his eye.
With a sacrifice now realized, the blood and bodies around these tainted souls no longer seem to make any amount of sense. None of them wanted this at heart... and none of them could feel that selfish contempt eating away at their soul anymore. It was gone, all of it, as a calming sensation of peace and understanding passed over each and every one of them, exempting them of their quarrelsome thoughts and warlike ways. None of it mattered.
In an instant, everyone tossed their weapons aside and stepped away from their respective opponents, unwilling to take their senseless violence any farther.
As the two armies in the distance began to gradually but peacefully part ways, Rin simply stared at the Tree of Beginning, crying softly to herself. The truth pained her, but she understood what her beloved had done. At the cost of his own life, he fulfilled his duty and restored his kingdom; at the same time, he fulfilled his destiny and reached out to the people and Pokémon of Lunan.
Eldar appeared behind the heartbroken queen, listening to her incessant sobs. "That's just how love is, isn't it?", He sighed drearily, stepping up beside her. "It can be a powerful weapon. It can either work for us or against us." An insidious smile played at his lips. "In your case, it played to our advantage. Aaron was the only way of stopping this war. I established that when you and I first formed this alliance."
"Scoundrel!", She choked out, wagging a quivering finger at him. "You swore that Aaron would not be harmed!"
"I swore to nothing.", He swiftly interjected, swatting her hand away. "I merely established that Aaron would save your kingdom... and he did. I kept to my word. Your people are safe." Again, he smiled, unable to resist it. "Rejoice, your highness. The Brethren Kingdoms can thrive in peace once again."
A strangled sob burst from her throat and she balled her hands into fists. "Leave my kingdom at once!"
"As you wish.", He whispered hoarsely, mounting his Charizard for his flight back to the badlands. "I thank you for all your help, milady."
Her mouth was dry, unable to respond. She crumpled to her knees against the wall of the balcony as Eldar departed, spilling ashamed tears into her hands, unable to forgive herself. The guilt rested on her shoulders and her shoulders alone.
Zinten silently ushered his men up the slope, away from the Tree. He was so wrapped in his musings that he barely noticed Eldar patrolling the air above him.
"Why the long face, captain?", The king's arch voice descended upon him. "Aaron has perished, just as you wished."
With a shallow breath, Zinten closed his eyes and set his jaw, refusing to look up. "Just... leave me be.", He mumbled back, pressing onward with a more temperate pace than his usual stride. He was battling with emotions he hadn't felt since before Nadia's death – the light inside him. "I've nothing to say..."
Rain fell in steady drops as the battlefield quickly cleared, its drumming sound muffling the sobs and brokenhearted cries that permeated the air around the crowd of Rota and Emerald Kingdom souls gathered before the Tree of Beginning to mourn their savior. Kota crouched before it, bawling his eyes out, while Pondo and a handful of other Guardians brooded behind him in a similar state. Sadness and grief painted on each and every face.
Finally, Rin arrived on scene, holding a flower and candle to the selfless hero she'd fallen in love with. All heads turned in her direction she knelt before the landmark and immediately broke down. She was truly crying now, hot, shameful tears that spilled out despite her attempts to blink them back.
Behind the queen, the Cameran Royal Guard saluted their fallen commander, while the native Pokémon of the sacred grounds joined together and sang a eulogistic hymn to honor the True Guardian of Aura. From this, a choir resonated throughout the crowd, and a more powerful chant was bestowed before the Tree.
The chant of all Aura Guardians.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
(A/N: I was going to include the scene of Aaron's final farewell message to Lucario, but it just felt more dramatic having Aaron's fate realized from outside the Tree rather than drag on his death any further than it needed to be. It's basically just a shift in perspective, so I'm not necessarily cutting out anything. Plus, now I don't need to spoil the ending for the eighth film for those who haven't seen it.
Next Chapter: Eight years have passed since the war, and though the Brethren Kingdoms are at peace with one and other, an even greater plot threatens the Ministry as Eldar's true intentions are revealed.)