Before this day, there was only one person alive – indeed, one person in the past five hundred years – who had seen the real Ho-Oh. His name was Red, except when it was Ash, for he traveled under both names and only Pallet Town knew which of the two was the alias. He had made headlines by winning the Indigo Pokemon League at age eleven, then resigned his title to train in Mount Silver, and its deepest, most inaccessible corner became his new home. Yet despite the careful image he maintained of constant training, he frequently ventured off the mountain on the back of his Charizard to fly anywhere strange and powerful pokemon gather against whom he can test his strength. The first time he saw Ho-Oh was at the beginning of his journey, a symbol of hope flying over a rainbow after he and his Pikachu were nearly killed by a mad flock of Spearow.
It was not by coincidence that he was in Ecruteak today. Someone – he didn't know who, for they had come in the night as he slept, but it was clearly someone strong enough to venture through Mount Silver to reach his inbox – had delivered him a message telling him to come to Ecruteak on this date, which his curiosity would not let him neglect. And no sooner did he begin his investigation than was he, and the rest of Ecruteak City, greeted by the sight of a giant rainbow bird of legends flying across the sky.
Although it was noon on a work day, a crowd gathered all the same, building after building emptying as though the world was coming to an end to see the sparkling bird of rainbows fly across the sky in the direction of the city's great towers. It seemed impossible. Although the Sacred Ash was still kept as a holy item in the Tin Tower, it had been so long since the war that many had begun to wonder if the pokemon it had come from had ever existed, or if it was merely a sort of national myth by the old priesthood who became the Keepers of the Sacred Ash as a reason to increase their spiritual authority. Even those who still believed so faithfully that the day would come doubted it would be in their lifetimes. Yet it made sense, some of the crowd whispered; hadn't the legend said it would come back when humans and pokemon alike learned to live together in peace?
Yet others asked "why now?" Sure, Team Rocket had been beaten recently, but it was barely a Johto organization to begin with, and it had been a couple years since then anyway. And Johto had been a peaceful place for as long as anyone alive could remember. It didn't make sense... unless one remembered the other version of the story.
The Keepers of the Sacred Ash had always denied this version, and back when they had the ears of emperors or power in their own right, people who spread the story were executed for heresy. Yet since Johto's revolution, freedom of religion had been proclaimed, and the world had become such a peaceful place that it had begun to make sense. Ho-Oh, it was said, either did not care about peace and co-operation (according to the radicals whose doctrine had long been forgotten) or, as perhaps one in ten of the crowd believed, this was not its only requirement for returning. It was a hero to return only when the people were both worth saving and truly needed it, and then it would come to find its destined trainer and do its best to save the world.
So as it descended to perch on the ruins of the Burned Tower, there was a small undercurrent of fear. But it was dwarfed by an overwhelming, impromptu celebration.
Ho-Oh had returned!
Morty of Ecruteak, Gym Leader and therefore the closest thing the stateless society of Johto had to a local authority, was among those watching in awe. The idea was not his own, and truly must be credited to Ho-Oh itself, who perched not on its old nest in the Tin Tower, but on the top of the two-story ruins where three beasts had perished, which Lugia had once called home. A few construction workers had left with their Machoke the moment Ho-Oh landed, and returned with a large stockpile of construction materials and whatever brass plating they could find soon after. But his encouragement certainly helped.
"People of Ecruteak! For years, the Brass Tower has remained a burnt pile of rubble, a monument to our own folly. But no more! It is time we honor Ho-Oh and rebuild it, bigger and greater than ever – and strong enough that nothing can burn it down ever again!"
A loud squawk and a glorious spreading of its rainbow wings signaled the great bird's agreement, and Ho-Oh flew up to its old perch on the tower next door, watching humans and pokemon work together with a strange mix, however brief, of pride and relief. Johto deserved one great moment of celebration before the storm.
The first inkling anyone in Johto had that something was wrong in Hoenn was when the Wingull Post stopped coming.
The second, about a week later, was when the Wingull Post came, carrying not letters but refugees, accompanied by Taillow, Swablu, and practically every other species of flying type in Hoenn, so many in number that daylight ended at noon, for they could no longer see the sun. Across Johto a third of their number landed, directed by Winona of Fortree City, whose command of flying pokemon had placed her in the de facto role of leading the evacuation. She wore her normal outfit, and its light blue shade made her stand out all the more against the red and black with homemade Team Magma symbols sewn on, which those refugees who found the time to change and modify clothes before evacuating wore.
When the first trainers landed in Johto they told their stories – stories of how the war they had ignored for so long had ended decisively, of regret for staying out of it; had there been nearly as many Team Magma members before Kyogre's rebirth as there were now, Hoenn would never have been lost. Stories of Kyogre and Groudon fighting a battle which destroyed Sootopolis, of a decisive Water Spout and Groudon's body vanishing, the orb from which it came sinking to the bottom of the sea. Stories of an endless rain which flooded the land, of evacuation to mountaintops, of a heroic guerrilla resistance by what remained of Magma which made life very dangerous for Team Aqua members, but no victories over Aqua Grunts or even their leadership would ever stop the rain. Nothing would, so long as Kyogre lived.
And no one in Hoenn had any hope of stopping Kyogre. When the rain covered the last mountaintop – and day after day, as more refugees came and more hapless trainers drowned, the mountaintops grew smaller and smaller – Team Aqua would sail north.
And Kyogre would be with them. And if Kyogre wasn't stopped, Johto would share Hoenn's fate.
If the world survived, historians and archaeologists would do extensive research to determine the precise number of dead in Hoenn. The land had not had a proper census in decades, so even the percentage was guesswork. But when one extrapolates from the number of refugees found in Kanto, Johto, and Sinnoh, it is quite reasonable to conclude that only half of Hoenn's people escaped alive.
Forty days and forty nights after the flood began, the birds stopped coming. But there was no Ark, no Ararat, and no rainbow, just a great bird with rainbow wings determined to fight back.
Hoenn was no more.
The strongest trainers of the realm – some long retired, some who looked to young to even operate a pokeball – had gathered in Ecruteak, for news of Ho-oh had roused them all. Indigo Plateau had emptied, as had the Battle Frontier, and the Pokedex holders had joined them. And much to Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald's chagrin, not only had Team Magma showed up, but they showed up in enough numbers that the crowd would have cheered if Maxie called for the abolition of the ocean.
Maxie, thankfully, was saying nothing of the sort. Not yet, anyway. It was emotional appeals to support his organization, stories of atrocities committed during the war, of fighting to protect Hoenn, of how he wanted to save his homeland; even Ruby wept at his passion. There was plenty of passion in the room, for Hoenn's finest trainers had virtually all made it out; few lacked a swimmer or flier in this era.
What they needed was not passion, but a plan. And there, the crowd was silent.
There were two enormous problems which faced any hope they had of fighting back. The first was that, unlike Team Aqua, who had been waging war since its foundation, Johto had not had a proper army since it was still called part of Ransei. A few called for meeting them head-on, but no one knew how to organize such large groups of people in combat – Magma had fought many battles, but had lost the ones that mattered, and their enemy grew stronger with water pokemon from every victory. The armada they now faced was larger than they had ever seen.
The second was that they were trying to stop a god. To be fair, they had their own god. But Kyogre had a type advantage, and Ho-oh had absolutely no confidence in defeating it head-on.
They brainstormed for hours. No one had a plan, and half the crowd wanted to force Maxie to try to lead them again – never mind his criminal connections, history of defeat, or absolutely shattered self-confidence. But slowly, awkwardly, hoping the crowd would forget his disgrace, Lt. Surge stepped forward. "Electricity. We zap them to bits."
"We know our type advantages!" A heckler shouted from the crowd.
"Not what I meant. We don't have the electric pokemon for this task," he said, emphasizing the word pokemon. "But we do have the electricity!" He shouted, pointing up to the lights, then outside to the power lines. "The electricity needs of Johto, channeled into the ocean, are more than enough to take down even Kyogre!"
"Kyogre and everything else in the sea." Misty grumbled, but to little avail. No one cared about saving the Horsea or Shellder when they could be saving the humans. A battle plan was soon brought up, but it relied on pokemon primarily in a diversionary role; they were to lead an army to the shore, seek combat, and as they approached fill the sea with enough electricity to render the sea barren of life for five square miles. Any Quagsire or other ground types in the force who survived this attack would be picked off by a corps of grass-types lead by Erica. It was a simple, effective plan, and its only drawback would be the week-long blackout which would inevitably be required, but better a week without light than a lifetime without land.
Yet there were no military strategists among them to remind them that no plan survived contact with the enemy; had Team Magma known that, maybe the world would be fighting Groudon and the expansion of the land. The only one who could possibly have such knowledge was Ho-oh, and Ho-oh had no interest in learning the means by which mortals best committed their fratricidal bloodshed. War was chaos, war was bloodshed and cruelty that shattered Ransei and left rampaging samurai and pokemon more savage than their wild counterparts in its place.
Ho-oh had never imagined a war like this, when heroes would have to unite to protect their world from devastation.
The sky itself was crying a pouring rain, to the chagrin of the masses of Pidgeot, Fearow, and Noctowl acting as lookouts. The tide was extremely high – not the natural tides of the moon, but the sort encountered during typhoons, or whenever Kyogre was near. The docks of Olivine were beginning to flood as the largest armada the pokemon world had ever seen came into view. And it was a true armada, not the giant school of water pokemon they had imagined, but a navy of the sort not seen since centuries ago, when Kanto and Johto were still called Ransei. Instead of swimming, water-types crowded the deck of each and every boat, from Spheal to Mudkip, with Kyogre taking up the entirety of the largest one of Aqua's ships of the line.
"How could they be even more than they were when they beat us in Hoenn?" Maxie wondered aloud, a terrified shock on his face. They had been cut off from news, but they assumed there was none to learn. Yet people in desperate situations will even join groups working to flood the world if that's what it takes to survive, and Archie and Kyogre could be extraordinarily persuasive at convincing new recruits the world needed to be cleansed in water. Team Magma was not the only group to grow massively in number from Hoenn's fall, and the Magma-aligned refugees and Johto and Kanto's combined forces at best matched them in size.
A nation's power supply rest in the Olivine Lighthouse, connected by wires from across the land to three very confused electric pokemon, whose trainers had no clue which order to give now.
"Without Kyogre, Aqua can plunder us, but Johto can never sink! It's a smaller target, but it's one we can hit!" Surge shouted, pointing from the lookout to Kyogre's ship; even from this distance, there was no mistaking that great blue leviathan for a Wailord or anything else.
Jasmine's Ampharos, Surge's Electrode, and Red's Pikachu, together hooked up to enough electricity to power all of Johto for a week, let loose from the lighthouse with the largest burst of thunder the world had ever known.
A large boat turned, but too slowly – far too slowly. A desperate Kyogre leaped out of the way, soaring like a Wailord through the air. The lightning engulfed the boat completely, ripped through its hull and sent its charred remains to the bottom of the sea. In midair, Kyogre pointed its blowhole and fired an enormous jet of water at the lighthouse, like the most gargantuan hose the world had ever seen, toppling Olivine's lighthouse backwards and smashing it onto the rocky beach, snapping the hundreds of wires connected to the three electric pokemon in the process. The Electrode and Ampharos were quickly recalled, but Pikachu dove with the three trainers out the window, each of them who would be caught well before the ground by the sudden movement of Ho-oh; with the air force whirlwinding away into the ocean, there was only one bird alert enough and convinced that Red, whatever the circumstances, must not die. Simultaneously, Kyogre landed on another large ship, sweeping half a boatload of pokemon over into the electrified ocean and crushing the other half beneath its enormous bulk.
Ho-oh let the three trainers down onto the ground, then turned, opened its beak, and ignited the sail of Kyogre's new boat with a ball of sacred fire. Erika's grass corps fired a volley of razor leaves into the sea, aimed not at the waterline towards the ships (which were clearly too large for them to sink) but at the water pokemon atop their decks, a full half of them aimed at Kyogre. Many of the attacks connected, but not enough to noticeably shrink Aqua's armada.
And then Archie raised his hand and shouted "Attack!" to all the sea. In perfect unison, every pokemon on every boat summoned up bursts of water which merged with the torrential rains into an enormous tsunami; a tsunami which swiftly washed all of Olivine and the united army of Johto away. Yet with Kyogre's ship catching fire, Team Aqua turned their ships around and beat a hasty retreat, at a moment when there was no army in the field left to stop them from flooding the world. No army, but a burnt Kyogre on a sinking ship in an electrified sea. And without Kyogre, as Archie well knew, there could be many devastating storms, but no repeat of the sinking of Hoenn, no final victory over the land.
Besides, it wasn't as though Maxie and his allies could pull off a plan like that again. Just as Groudon was weaker than Kyogre, and that was why it now lay at the bottom of the sea, Maxie had been a poor commander forced to lead by circumstance with neither knowledge of nor aptitude for tactics, but whether or not they had tossed his incompetence aside had no hope. Because the people of Johto, although numerous, had no discipline, no officers, no idea how to fight a war.
Next time, Archie proclaimed to his army, with plenty of enemies left in earshot to spread his message, no one would make them retreat. Next time, they would sweep away Johto, Kanto, and even Sinnoh without stopping until the whole world was Kyogre's. Next time, Ho-oh, not some lighthouse containing an ultimate electric weapon, would be the first one Kyogre shot out of the sky!
It was the day after a draw which historians (if any survived) would call a victory, but which the people of this time, watching Olivine's ruins and thinking little of how much was spared, saw as a disastrous defeat. After informing only Red, Ho-oh flew at the break of dawn to the Ilex Forest in order to answer Celebi's request for a meeting.
"Ransei." It was one word, but it communicated everything about Celebi's plan which Ho-oh needed to know.
"You shouldn't do this, Celebi. You've lived through it too. The tyrants of the past must not be allowed to rule our world again." Ho-oh retorted angrily, spreading its wings to impose its great size upon the small, bug-eyed fairy.
"What choice do I have?" Celebi answered with a sigh.
"There has to be another way." Ho-oh replied, speaking with more of the blind determination of a shounen manga hero than any reasoned conviction.
"Ho-oh, I'd like to know what it is. The beasts are cowards who run away at the first sight of trouble. You were the only bird at Olivine: the others don't care what happens as long as their caves survive, and they're halfway underwater and well protected already. Mewtwo's a pacifist who'll never fight again. I don't even know where Mew is. And if Hoenn's other gods had any power, we wouldn't be in this mess." Celebi explained, shaking its oversized head.
"Mortals. Our army was as large as theirs. If we believe in them and put our strength behind them... their ingenuity astounds even me sometimes, electrifying the ocean like that. They'll find a way."
"And now there's panic in the streets, riots over blackouts, and no more Olivine City. And nothing to suggest they've gained any grasp of military tactics next time around."
"You have all of time to pick from! Even if this isn't the answer..." Ho-oh begged.
Celebi gave a long, sullen look Ho-oh's way. "I tried. I tried every time and history book I could get my hands on. I looked up generations of Team Magma's leaders but they're if anything worse. I'm sorry. There is no other way."
There was a part of Ho-oh that wanted to use Sacred Fire, that knew it would regret sparing Celebi long enough to complete the ritual. And there were certainly many who would criticize it after the fact, who would write of its majestic plan and how had it been willing to strike Celebi down, Ransei would remain at peace.
Yet in that moment, Celebi had made Ho-oh waver; at least this way, there would be those left to issue criticisms. And plenty from the past who would read the criticisms which later generations of historians gave them, if they lived long enough.
Hideyoshi. Tokugawa. Mitsuhide. Vassals upon vassals, often warring with one another. Names echoing throughout history, all kept in check by a man who mastered far more than the sport of pokemon battle until a young trainer and his Eevee defeated him.
Oda Nobunaga. The name still reverberated throughout history, hundreds of years after the clan system had been abolished and trainers known only by their class. The first man to unify Ransei in centuries, yet cut down barely a year later in a rebellion led from Aurora Castle. But that hadn't happened yet.
And the rebellion's leader, lionized as he had been by the scribes, had died of tuberculosis soon after and plunged Ransei back into chaos – at least, until Tokugawa could finally end the warring states' era. More to the point, he had shown no ability to lead the truly massive armies needed today; his skill was in besieging castles with teams of six powerful pokemon. Even Ho-oh did not broach his half-forgotten name. He would not be among those from the past.
But practically everyone else from that age would be, regardless of their conflicting schemes for the throne, for Celebi needed Nobunaga at the height of its power with every trainer he could muster. In a dazzling light, a great army of nearly two hundred trainers from the distant past materialized in the modern-day Ilex Forest.