A/N: So this is posted a couple other places already, but Bulbagarden seems to have a better appreciation for adventure series than other places.
This is my first attempt at an action/adventure fic. I feel like there's not enough stuff that explores the history of the pokemon world, and I wanted to write something that takes place a long, long time ago after seeing all these little glimpses of the past throughout the series.
I'm putting the Prologue and first chapter together in one post, just because I feel like the Prologue was a little short to post on its own, and because this is all I have done so far.
My aim still wasn't good enough.
Luca had been right on one thing at least. Ever since I began using my own bow, one I made myself, instead of my father's, my aim had gotten better. It was still off, though, and that meant some of my arrows were getting damaged during target practice. They weren't beyond repair, but it was cutting down on the number of shots I could attempt between collecting my arrows each time.
I took a deep breath, visualizing it; picturing my arrow hitting the carefully marked lines on the bale a few yards from me. A deep breath, then I let go.
The arrow sank perfectly into my target, and I couldn't help but smirk a little. Pride at success during practice was wasted, granted, but it was still enough that Zed chirped for me from his perch on my quiver.
"That's the last one," I told him, slinging my bow and walking over to retrieve my arrows. The small green bird hopped off and fluttered away, clutching one of my stray shots in his claws and bringing it back to me. The sight alone gave me another smile. His tiny wings seemed far too little to support him, but they managed somehow. At the very least, he was powerful enough to return an arrow twice as long as he was tall to my hand before dutifully flying off for another.
"Better," came a voice from behind me, and my smile faded even before he continued, "but you're still taking too much time."
"Yes, sir," I answered.
"The Stantler won't stand still like that bale of hay. When they come through on their way south, you'll be lucky if they even slow to a walk."
Luca was one of the oldest people I knew, and easily one of the oldest people in the village. He'd finally retired from the hunts the year before, when a bull Stantler had cost him his right eye. Despite the missing eye, he still helped train the new hunters.
"I know, I need to learn to react faster, and to trust my instincts," I recited, sliding the last of my arrows back into my quiver. "But my instincts still say-"
"That you'd be better off working on the traps, I know. And you would indeed be good there. But you'll be better as an archer. Trust me."
I nodded, glancing back at the target. Luca had trained my father, too, when he'd been my age some 20 years before, so I had no doubts he had an eye for good archers.
"The hunt is soon. You need to be ready, or you'll have to wait another year."
"Let's go, Zed."
My Natu landed back on my shoulder and we left without another word to Luca. It was disrespectful for an Apprentice to question their Master. I wasn't an adult yet, so I had no place to tell him I thought he was wrong. Leaving – ignoring his words – was my only choice expressing my disapproval.
He was right, of course. Zed and I hadn't come as far in the last year as we should have. Soon the herds would come and it would be the New Year – by the next full moon, for sure. And if I was going to stop being an Apprentice at 14 like the rest of my peers, I'd have to bring in a kill on the Stantler hunt. The herds would only be nearby for a few days, and in that time we needed to get as much meat as possible. The Growing season didn't have as high of a quota as the Ice Bridge season did, since local wildlife was more plentiful and plants would be growing. But the more meat we brought, the better the feast would be for New Year...
I'd talk to Luné, see if I could go on one last smaller hunt before the Stantler were sighted. Practicing on something smaller but still moving, unlike the practice targets, would help me get my timing right. Maybe I'd get a Bidoof this time.
I left the archery range and hurried up the stairs toward the center of town. Instinctively I reached above me as I passed under one of the upper skyways, extending my fingers toward it. I still wasn't tall enough to reach it, but I was sure I would be soon. The entire village spanned several levels; surrounding the central plaza in all directions except straight up and down. As a result, there were bridges and stairs everywhere to connect it all. That wooden bridge I couldn't quite touch yet was one of the more recent ones; new enough that I could remember a time before it existed, and was probably the lowest one in town.
I crossed the plaza in a hurry – eager to get free from the crowd – and clamored up a narrow southern staircase to the uppermost level. There were faster ways to get home than going up to go down, but those main paths were always full of more people than I even knew lived in Mulberry. In its own way, this way took less time, and it gave me a clearer view of the sky above and the central plaza below. The sun was still high enough that its light filled the cavern, illuminating the three crystals that sat in the center of town.
There were at hundred different versions of the tale of how the gods had saved Mulberry Village when the cold had taken hold of the land, leaving three crystals – the Guardians of the Frozen Sea, Flaming Earth, and Storming Sky – to protect us. It happened so many generations ago that most people assumed it really was a legend by now, and few were sure if the crystals really gifted the village with warmth and clear weather as they were said to.
Even the non-believers were unwilling to test the legends, however, and I couldn't see why anyone would want to. The trio of crystals was a beautiful sight; each cluster was easily double my height, and cast a glow in a different color. Even if they had no other mystical powers, this light both gave the village extra protection at night, and helped serve as our calendar.
Right now the red crystal – Flaming Earth – still glowed brighter than the other two, keeping us warm for the winter, but the yellow had begun to outshine the blue already. By now Storming Sky cast a visible light during the day again, and once it was brighter than the red again, the Stantler would return and the New Year's Festival would happen. The first rains would happen once Flaming Earth had faded to cast the same dim glow as Frozen Sea, and things would stay that way until the Growing Season passed.
Today I found myself pausing to gaze at the Guardian crystals, a slight uneasiness filling me at the red light. As I stared, I felt Zed's talons tighten on my shoulder, his feathers fluffing like he was cold. I swallowed hard, pushing down the sudden urge to run, and reached up to pat him softly.
"It's okay, I'm sorry," I assured him, smoothing his feathers. "I'm just anxious about the New Year."
I made it to the end of the skyway, casting one more glance back at the Guardians-
The sky went dark, just for an instant, and in the next, I was on my knees, clutching the rope side of the bridge desperately as it swung violently.
It was hard to tell which was more deafening; the explosion, or the screams that followed it. Tiny bits of crystal and rock rained everywhere, flying far and high enough that I felt a few strike me, but I was far too horror-struck to be bothered by them. I dragged myself back to my feet, trying to get a better look at the plaza, but the smoke was just too thick.
Out of the corner of my eye, something black seemed to pass across the sky again. I turned to look, but too late; it was already gone, if it had been anything but smoke to begin with.
I dashed for the nearest staircase – not the path I'd intended to take before, but one that would take me back down to the central level, so I could see the damage more clearly. I turned at the bottom of the stairs, then stopped in my tracks as I realized I had a duty more important than my curiosity.
I raced across the path, Zed fluttering his wings to keep balance as I made several sharp turns, hopping down three or four steps at a time on the next staircase I had to climb, trying to return home as fast as possible. Mother and I lived on one of the lowest levels of the village, and sometimes I wished there were ladders to connect us to the higher floors, instead of the steps carved into the cavern wall. I stumbled down the last few as I tried to turn again too soon, and finally hit our door, only to turn around as I realized she was standing outside already.
"Oh! You're alright!" she shouted, throwing her arms around me.
"I am," I answered, hugging her tightly for a moment.
"What's going on?"
I shook my head. "I... Nothing good. There was an explosion in the plaza, and I think-"
"The Guardian of the Flaming Earth was destroyed!"
I turned around to find the shout had come from one of our neighbors, who was now leaning, breathless, at the bottom of the stairs. "Town meeting," they panted, then, "Masters and Journeymen only, I'm afraid, but if you could help tell everyone..."
I nodded. Apprentices – those not yet adults, but still within a craft – were rarely included on meetings like this, and children certainly weren't. I felt a slight frustration at being unable to go, since I'd seen the explosion, but for now I knew my place.
"Wait!" my mother shouted as I turned to run down the path, grabbing my hand. "...Be careful. Go straight back home after you tell our row."
I squeezed her hand and nodded once more. I knew I was all she had left, so she was worried. "Of course."
It took only a few minutes to knock on every door on my floor; by halfway through, the commotion had already drawn most everyone's attention, and I was telling the news to several houses at a time. Zed bounced around nervously, getting tangled in my hair each time he switched shoulders so I had to herd him off that perch and onto my quiver instead. It didn't make him happy, but right now there were far more important concerns.
It would have been easy to sneak into the meeting if I wanted. To choose a staircase close enough to hear what was going on without getting caught. But getting caught would mean punishment and dishonor, neither one of which I was in the mood for, not with New Year so close.
So I went home and I waited.
Only a few minutes passed before frustration started to sink in, and I flopped down on my bed, Zed barely flying clear in time. I tried to work on my concentration exercises, to take deep breaths and concentrate on a single spot on the ceiling. I even rose one arm up to aim at the ceiling, trying to keep it and my mind equally steady. It was supposed to improve both my muscle tone and my patience.
My patience wore out first and my arm fell flat on the bed beyond the reach of the blankets, grabbing a handful of hay and crushing it.
I jumped a little when a pair of small hands grabbed onto mine, then calmed down as soon as I recognized the hands as Mona's. Mona was the orphaned mankey my father had taken in years before, who had been raised, despite the species' fierce reputation, in our home since infancy. Now that my father was gone, she slept beside me quite often. She was still somewhat temperamental and definitely liked things her own way, but she was far from violent or dangerous. It was hard to convince others of that, of course, but we loved her either way.
She stared at me, clearly worried, and I held my arms out so that she could climb into them and cuddle into my chest as she did at times.
"You're scared, aren't you?"
She growled and climbed right back off of me, curling up in the corner of the bed and crossing her arms, clearly offended by the accusation. "Right, never mind," I sighed. She was prouder than any human child, that was for sure.
I wasn't sure if I had asked her because she'd looked for a hug, or because I was scared and needed one myself. Some part of me was excited more than it was worried, which worried me on its own, but I shook that off. It was natural for me to get riled up over something new going on. Here in Mulberry, not much happened that wasn't on a calendar.
I was torn by the sudden realization that I was actually a little glad this had happened, because it meant a break from routine. A disaster was nothing to be glad about, however, so I felt equally ashamed by the notion, which in turn made sitting still even harder.
Normally when I was this restless, I'd go and practice my shooting. That wasn't an option now, since juniors were all on house arrest during the meeting. I sat back up, scanning the room for something, anything, to fill my time outside of meditating. Surely something needed cleaned or mended.
But there was nothing; mother had even taken care of dinner before I'd arrived.
Thankfully Zed had noticed my mood, and he hopped over to me with a few molted feathers and placed them gently on my thigh. “Arrows.” Some of my arrows needed mended, and there was no reason I couldn't make another few. “Thank you,” I told Zed, patting him on the head. He chirped, pleased with himself, then fluttered off to his roost by the fire.
It had been two days since the attack, and most of the village was doing their best to pretend nothing was happening. It was obvious they were pretending, of course; there was a gaping hole and pile of rubble in the center of town, and no one over the age of five seemed to smile, or even speak above a whisper.
They were scared, but didn't know what to do beyond try to resume life. I was scared, too, but whenever I saw mother I tried to smile anyway.
"You don't have to be so strong for me," she told me over breakfast, and I just nodded. She'd told me nothing of the meeting two days earlier except that there would be an extra guard put out and curfew enforced more strongly. I didn't know if she hadn't told me more because I wasn't allowed to know, or because it was all she knew as well; the elders had taken at least one additional meeting since, so I tried not to blame it on her.
'You always have been for me,' I thought, but said nothing, trying to keep my eyes from traveling to the necklace hanging above the fire.
"Your father couldn't have done anything if he were here, either."
I knew that, of course. But somehow I felt like things would have been better anyway, like no one would have been quite as scared. My father hadn't been any great hero or leader, just a slightly above average hunter with too big of a heart, as most people described him. Thinking about those words brought the first real smile to my face since the morning before the attack. "I know," I whispered, standing gathering my bow and quiver.
I just nodded, holding back my heavy sigh until after I'd closed the door behind me. Maybe mother didn't need me to stay strong for her, but that didn't have to stop me from trying to.
I couldn't just pretend things were normal the way she was, the way anyone was, however. I couldn't pretend that there had never been a bridge just above the Crystal of Flaming Earth, that there had never been such a crystal to begin with... and I knew the town couldn't forever, either. If nothing else, there was a noticeable drop in temperature in the last two days inside Mulberry.
Most people hadn't believed that the power and warmth actually came from the crystal; they thought it was actually a lava flow or other heat source below the earth. Now not even the staunchest non-believer could deny that at night our breath was visible. This morning as I crossed the plaza, it was obvious that a certain few faces were missing from the crowd, their normal seats occupied: the town council.
I arrived to the shooting range to find only two people there: Luca and a younger child I recognized, who was not yet an Apprentice but had interest in archery anyway.
Luca looked at me as I began my warmup, reaching over and offering a seed to Zed, who took it cautiously and bowed politely. "I need to leave shortly," he told me.
"I know. There's a meeting, isn't there?"
"Yes. The time for subtlety is over for now," he answered unapologetically.
I reached up to tie my hair back, not answering him, though this time it wasn't out of any rudeness. What could I say to that? I could try to ask for information, but if I were privileged enough to have it, he would have already shared it.
"Perhaps there is also a time where-" he paused, looking thoughtful, and then shook his head. "I need you to lead the others in exercises, if any arrive. Many are being kept home out of fear, I'll be delivering messages to them after the meeting."
"And the rest?"
He looked away, and I drew an arrow from my quiver, assuming I'd pried too far.
"There was a small tracking group sent out this morning. Lena and Isto are with them for now.
That took care of most of the other archers, and I presumed the trappers as well.
Without another word he strode away, his Starly fluttering behind him.
I turned to practice, to pretend today was just another day, as the others all were.
I bolted upright from deep sleep, causing Mona to shriek in annoyance and throw a handful of hay at me before burying herself back into bed. I only noticed because the fuss woke mother up as well, and she looked at me, groggy but startled.
"What is it?"
"You didn't hear that?"
I knew I'd heard a horrible explosion, one just as loud as when the crystal had been destroyed, so why hadn't mother heard it? "No, I thought something happened..."
"It was just a dream," she assured me, placing her hand on my arm, and I nodded stiffly, still not convinced. "You were probably remembering the other day..."
I kept on staring at the door. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I stared, and I noticed Zed doing the same, looking double his size due to how fluffed his feathers were.
For some reason I felt the need to run. Something in the back of my mind told me to get up the stairs and fast.
For another minute or two, nothing continued to happen, and finally I let my shoulders fall. "You're right. Just a memory," I told mother, who was already halfway back to sleep.
I started to roll over and lay back down.
The noise from my dream erupted through the house, and I froze, not sure anymore if I was dreaming or not. But this time Mona started fussing, and there was a slow echo that followed the sound, as though something was spreading, sounding almost like ice breaking.
"...Ice," I spat, clambering over the side of the bed and racing for my boots. Zed latched onto my shoulder and I shivered, both from the actual temperature of the room, despite Hearth's fire burning brightly across the way, and from the uneasiness that was sinking through me. I had my bow and two arrows in record time and I raced out the door without even lacing my boots, ignoring my mother's shouting to wait from behind me.
The stairs. I needed to go up the stairs to my right, not down the ones to my left. I didn't know what I needed to do there, but somehow I knew I needed to go up them.
I wasn't sure how loud the sound had actually been, because I didn't see any others outside yet. Whether it hadn't woken anyone else, or they were all simply staying inside and waiting, I didn't know.
I bolted for the stairs and raced up them so fast I almost tripped, pausing only to consider what way I needed to go before I heard the noise again. It was closer and louder now - I was on the right track it seemed.
Then another noise, this one far more frightening in its own right: falling water. There was a spring just beyond the walls of our village, that flowed in such a way that we had made wells drawing from it in several places around the city. While there were some homes where you could press your ear to the rock and hear it trickling beyond, this was far louder, and far more foreboding. It sounded no different than a small waterfall hitting the rocks below, and I glanced around to find the source.
Sure enough, the level above me had produced a small stream that was spilling onto the steps where I stood. The level above was where the nearest well was.
"Zed, fly up ahead," I commanded him, though he took flight halfway through my words. I bolted for the nearest ladder, which was several doors down but still faster than going to the correct set of stairs. It was the route I usually took up to the well, even though I had to take those stairs down, so my feet found each rope rung without effort, even in the near blackness of a moonless night.
That darkness brought my attention elsewhere when I arrived at the next floor, despite the urgency of the situation. It did seem too dark, and what little light there did seem to be was an unsettling green that was not only wrong for the season but altogether nothing I'd encountered before.
I turned to look across the village; the plaza was much more visible from my new vantage. What I saw jerked the breath from me and froze me in place; both Storming Sky and Frozen Sea were shining, but the glow was not spread throughout their limbs as I was accustomed. Instead it was concentrated in their tips, like buds on a tree, and the center of each crystal seemed darker than the night sky.
They hadn't looked that way the night before. Yes, they'd both been glowing - which wasn't right for Frozen Sea this time of year, at all - but they hadn't been like this.
I was jerked from my worries by Zed's squawking a few feet away, and for a moment I swore I felt the water lapping at my shins. When I looked down it was just covering my toes - much shallower than I'd momentarily feared, but still much deeper than it had been when I first stepped off the ladder.
There was no more cracking, no more explosive noises, but the chill was still holding my spine rigid as I took the next few steps toward the well room.
A small chunk of ice, clearly broken off from a larger sheet, floated by on the current and slid off the edge beneath the railing of the level.
"...EVERYONE. FLOOD! FLOOD! GET TO A HIGHER LEVEL!" I started shouting, wondering why I hadn't opened my mouth before. No one was panicked because no one else had thought to leave their rooms. Panic wasn't needed, but some sort of reaction was. Evacuation would be ideal, to higher levels, but I knew at least some of the people on this level had smaller children who would take a few moments to move. "HURRY!"
I continued shouting as I sprinted the last few feet to the well room, the water starting to lap at my ankles. I could hear voices coming out of the rooms around me, people starting to complain about my shouting or making their own exclamations as their feet hit the water seeping in under their doors. "Get upstairs!" I told the first person I saw actually open their door.
"What's going on?!" they demanded, as though they thought I'd caused the mess.
"I don't know," I admitted. "I think there's ice in the well."
I didn't have time to answer any questions. There was a good chance I wouldn't be able to do anything to fix the situation, but that didn't have to stop me from trying. I turned and finished my sprint, sliding into the well room.
The problem was obvious, even in the dim torchlight. There was a gaping hole in the wall, where rock had crumbled away, leaving the tunnel behind it exposed and the spring within it to flow out. Ice blocked the tunnel where it would normally continue through, and from the pieces of jagged ice visible at the edge of the hole, it continued that direction as well.
“Mother of Mew,” I cursed, mind racing. There were only two ways out of the room for water, with the pipe blocked: a small hole, only meant for spills, that had been drilled in the floor and which I couldn't even currently see below the water, and the door itself. Even if I blocked off the leak, it'd only be a temporary fix.
The ice needed to go.
I waded across the room and slammed my elbow into the blockage. Even though the only result was pain, I grimaced and slammed it again, hoping to at least crack it. Still nothing.
I heard Luca's voice over the rest of the ruckus, distant but approaching, from back across the cavern. Help would be here soon, but the water was already above my boots, not that they'd been waterproof to begin with.
Water. Ice was water, just frozen, and if I melted the block...
It was worth a shot.
A few others had already begun to cluster at the door, and I turned to them, searching for what I needed in the crowd. One of them barged past me with a dagger that he began chipping at the ice with. “A cyndaquil. Someone bring me their cyndaquil!”
“I have a growlithe,” someone offered, their voice anxious, and I had to blink to clear my head far enough to realize what they meant.
“Yes. Bring it.” There were, after all, two species, not just one, used as fireplace monsters; cyndaquil only came to mind first because that's what Hearth was. The woman who had offered stood still for a moment, looking at the man who was chipping at the ice nervously. “Hurry!” I urged, and she snapped out of it, pushing back out of the crowd.
Before she could return, from somewhere in the dozen or so people, a child a few years younger than me pushed through with a cyndaquil cradled to his chest. “Here!” I snatched the magical creature from him, carefully but quickly, and held it under the belly, face toward the leak.
“Move!” I shouted at the man picking at the ice. It looked like he'd cracked it slightly, but it was just taking too long; by now the water had probably reached my own house, if not the one level below that. He looked back at me, bewildered, but moved out the the way. I couldn't blame his expression, either; even if my holding a magical creature like it was a weapon wasn't unusual enough, I was less than half his age and certainly a lower rank, and I was still ordering people around. I'd be in a lot of trouble after this was over, but now was not the time to worry about it.
“Shoot your fire!” I commanded the cyndaquil, and its back flared for a second before it let out a line of flame in front of it, straight at the hole. “Good! More!”
I could actually feel its body growing warmer in my hands as its flames flickered and then grew. Already its breath was larger than I'd ever seen any cyndaquil manage before, especially my shy Hearth, but somehow it was finding even more fire within it. I was in awe, even within my panic, my heart pounding even harder as I saw the full extent of the magic's power before me.
A cloud of steam was forming from some of the water, and the current at my ankles seemed slightly warmer as well, but when I squinted past the brightness of the flames, I could still see at least some ice. I took a step forward, trying to gain a better angle, and shouted above the noise of the steam and the cyndaquil's howling, “Keep going!!”
Another, brighter burst of flame, and then it was all gone, leaving the room filled with steam and silence. I felt my back against my wall and was shocked to realize I'd been pushed back against it during the blast.
And the ice. The ice was gone. There was still a trickle of water pouring from the hole, but the water level had already started to recede, now that it had its natural tunnel to run through.
“S-someone should block this off!” I called, panting, and fell to my knees. I didn't care if my legs got soaked by the now-warm water, I was just worn out, and it was still the middle of the night.
“What in the name of Lugia is going on? Everyone move!” There was a pause, and a familiar white head made its way past the doorway. “Quit gaping, someone go get something to block that up!” It was Luca he'd finally arrived and was pushing through the crowd to get to me. I closed my eyes, expecting a reprimand when he found me; surely he'd heard me shouting at the adults.
“You,” he said when he came around the corner, and I nodded, staggering to my feet, still cradling the cyndaquil to my chest. “...Come with me.”
I nodded again. My throat and eyes hurt now, from the heat and steam, and I didn't dare speak back to him yet. The little boy who'd brought me the cyndaquil tapped me on the arm as I passed him.
“Can I have her back? Unless you still need her...”
I handed her back to him with a quiet thanks and continued on my way, passing a very bewildered woman with a growlithe as we went. “Get the damn thing plugged!” Luca shouted again, then sped up, and I hurried to keep pace.
It took Zed's reappearance on my shoulder for me to realize he'd gone to begin with. I imagined he'd flown away from the steam, if he'd even come back after flying away at all...
"You're lucky Zed came and found me," Luca said, answering my unasked question.
"I am?" I ventured, trying to keep my irritation from showing through in my voice. I had to try my best to be respectful right now, to minimize any trouble I'd be in. He guided me around a few more corners, when I started to realize I didn't recognize the corridor we were in. "...Luca, where are we?"
"On the path to the elders' meeting hall. Do your best not to remember it."
Like I'd be able to remember with far more serious things on my mind anyway. I was being taken straight to the elders. The idea of exactly how much trouble I must be in passed my mind, when suddenly I realized there was no way they could know what I'd done already. Even in my panic I knew there was no way some ruckus and arguing with adults would have merited me that level of punishment...
Unless they thought I'd been the one who caused the break, but surely even then the first half still applied...
They'd understand that it hadn't been me, though. I was certain of it. Because it had been so cold, my story would make sense...
Luca opened a door and nodded for me enter ahead of him, so I hurried past. "Stay here," he told me. I grimaced and nodded, shocked to find myself alone in the room. Would he really leave me there to make me sweat until he returned with the elders? "There's still another flood on the south side, I've got to go help. Lunè will be here shortly."
That got my attention, snapping me from my worrying for a moment. "Wait, Lunè?!"
He shut the door behind him, and I was left alone in the room, the only light from a crackling hearth on the other side.
Left, once again, with nothing else to do except meditate.