It was a busy day for Fu-Shangren, who owned a boutique in Mist Street called Mr. Fu’s Trinkets and Oddities. Never in his forty-seven years of selling and trading had he seen his shop so full of admiring customers. The boutique had been rebuilt and expanded numerous times over the years to make room for Mr. Fu’s growing selection of merchandise, most of which he acquired from his many travels. There was either something peculiar, marvelous, or priceless anywhere you looked: flying carpets, cursed jars, exotic fruit, thousands upon thousands of scrolls—as the store sign said, ‘If you can dream it, we’ll have it.’
As he counted coins in his desk, Mr. Fu remembered how he started it all. He was only thirteen, a young Medicham from some nameless village far away from Mist Street, when he set out to pursue his dream of success. He was full of energy then, driven by sheer determination, and with his pink forelobes tied up in a knot and only a few berries to sell, he journeyed for the Megacity of Decémon. The first few months of city life were rough, but after nearly four decades’ worth of dedication and hard work he would find himself the owner of the finest boutique in Decémon’s High Market. Success was a bittersweet thing, he thought.
Now aged and bearded, though still lively to anyone who would pay him a hefty sum of gold, Mr. Fu looked over the busy shoppers. It was still early in the morning and yet even more customers arrived.
Among the newcomers was a suspicious hooded figure, prompting Mr. Fu to give the two Gallade Arresters patrolling outside an uneasy look. The blade-armed law enforcers did not look back, however, and it was to Mr. Fu’s despair that they seemed to think it was a good time to leave their posts. All negative thoughts seemed to vanish from the Medicham’s mind, though, when a Lilligant approached him to purchase an ornate and heavily-jeweled necklace.
“And this is top quality?” the Lilligant spoke in a very dignified voice as she handed Mr. Fu a large bag filled with coins.
“Yes, yes, the rubies and sapphires were dug by Sableye in the Northern Range…”
That was Mr. Fu’s big mistake. The hooded figure had blended in the sea of shoppers, never staying at the same place for long. He eyed the valuable stones displayed in their glass cases and examined other precious items…things which he will never have…
He was hesitating. He could not do it; he would get in so much trouble—but then the Lilligant who had just been talking to the Medicham passed by him, her flower-crown’s beauty magnified by the necklace she was wearing... So near was he to grabbing it…And no sign of Arresters…
I am the son of the Ringmaster, he thought, the spirit of the Fallen Lord resides in me. I am my own law.
The Lilligant screamed in shock. Apparently realizing what had happened, Mr. Fu dropped the silver he was counting and yelled,
“Rascal! Thief! Get the Arresters! Help—THIEF!”
All heads turned towards the hooded rogue, who broke into a swift run. The shoppers near the entrance tried to block his path, but too late—the thief was too quick and agile for any of them, and with a crash of glass the figure broke out of the shop with his prize clutched tightly on hand. Some shoppers tried to pursue him still, but as soon as the figure hit the streets, he was nowhere to be seen. The Gallade had just returned to their posts, alerted by the commotion the thief had caused, while Mr. Fu could do nothing but grieve as he reluctantly returned the Lilligant her bag of silver coins.
Heart pounding inside his chest like an animal wanting to be set loose, he ran through the winding maze that were the roads of Decémon High Market. Was he being chased he had no idea; the only thing coursing through his mind was the instinct to escape. Making a turn at Gunk Shot Alley, the thief paused, and after making sure he had not been followed, he gave the multicolored necklace a quick look before stuffing it inside his cloak.
The thief took another precautionary glance around the area, half-expecting a battalion of Arresters to come out from all directions. The alley was filthy as it was deserted, spare for a homeless Garbodor sleeping in a corner like an unconscious mound of junk. Minutes later, he convinced himself that he would not be seeing the Gallade soon, so with a sense of victory he removed his hood to reveal a round, pale-orange face.
Reptilian and smug-faced, the thief was a Scraggy: he had a small, red crest on his head, large oval eyes, and teeth which were permanently bared. Most interesting of all about the orange bodied robber, however, was that his cloak was not a cloak at all—it was an extension of molted skin connected to what appeared to be trousers, so that he looked like a cross between a lizard and a marsupial.
Exhausted, the Scraggy made his way further down Gunk Shot Alley. The dirty cobble seemed to stretch into darkness, but the Scraggy seemed to know his way around its twists and turns, and after avoiding a Victreebel peddling some suspicious looking Mental Herbs, he stopped in front of a small, dingy pub called The Black Sludge.
A six-foot Drapion stood sentinel in front of the pub’s door, looking ogre-like, with his segmented arms crossed. The Drapion’s body was marked with chains of strange symbols seemingly etched into its purple carapace. The Scraggy, not at all intimidated by the monstrous scorpion, approached the pub without hesitation. The Drapion took notice of the small lizard and raised a spiked tail the size of a log.
“Get lost,” the Drapion warned as he raised his claws threateningly.
Unfazed by the hostility he was receiving, the Scraggy merely presented his left wrist, and a look of dawning realization washed over the Drapion’s grotesque face. The Drapion lowered his venomous claws and tail, stood aside, and let the Scraggy in.
The inside of The Black Sludge compared nothing to Mr. Fu’s shop: if the latter was grand and fabulous, the former was decrepit, dark, and as dirty as the alley outside. What was surprising, however, was that the pub was full despite its unsanitary conditions: A group of Skuntank with greedy looks on their faces was gambling in one table; a Purugly discussing something with a worried looking Persian in another; three Jynx were eyeing a Machoke who had passed out in the corner after having one too many drinks; and everywhere the slimy forms of Grimer were collecting and delivering mugs and glasses between tables. A foul stench lingered across the room, but everyone seemed able to tolerate it.
The Scraggy put on his hood and walked towards the counter, where a one-eyed Muk served as barman. The Muk stopped trying to polish the pitcher he was holding (though he was doing a better job at making it filthier than it already was) when the Scraggy sat in front of him.
“You shouldn’t be here, kid,” the barman said, poisonous froth gurgling inside his mouth as he spoke.
Underneath his skin-hood, the Scraggy spoke, “Denying the Ringmaster’s son a visit to this dunghole, are you, Ol’ Mudface?”
“Traxor, you can’t be—” the Muk said, blinking his good eye hard.
“Clean the slugs out of your ears,” the hooded lizard retorted, “Said I was his son—you know my father’s rotting in Cresselion Penitentiary.”
And suddenly, the continuous flowing of sludge in the Muk’s body quickened, and he turned a paler shade of purple.
“Y-you’re… The Marked One?” gurgled the barman stupidly.
“Channeler of Suns, Envoy of the Fallen Lord, Avenger of the Ring… yeah, that’s what they call me. Those take too long to say, though. I prefer my birth name.”
These words struck the barman dumb, as if the Scraggy had just announced that the world would end tomorrow.
“Go get me Devilspit,” said the Scraggy a little impatiently. He rummaged in his skin-trouser for something, and with an odd snapping sound he produced a small, neatly cut sapphire and tossed it to the barman. “Mix it with some Elixir, you know what I want, Mudface.”
The great mass of purple sludge obeyed without question; the Muk left the counter and proceeded to the backroom. Minutes later he returned holding a wide-mouthed glass containing a bubbly golden liquid. The barman served the strange drink to the Scraggy, who immediately drank it without pause. The Scraggy was halfway through his drink when the glass’s contents shifted to a darker color, similar to coagulated blood. The Devilspit stained the hooded lizard’s teeth so that he looked like a Golbat that had just been feeding. After draining the glass dry, he set the glass on the counter and turned his head towards the Muk, silently daring him to speak.
The barman seemed to notice this, and with his voice still trembling and gurgling, he spoke, “So you came back, Ragnor.”
“Bit obvious, I think,” said the Scraggy called Ragnor, teeth still stained blood-red.
“Where’ve you gone off to? The Ring of Grudos has disbanded.”
“You missed me then, Ol’ Muddy?”
“Some say you went off to revive the Fallen Lord,” the barman continued as if he weren’t interrupted; Ragnor had noted that the Muk was regaining confidence in his voice.
“That’s a fool’s idea,” the Scraggy responded. “He doesn’t need to be awakened as long as I serve as his host. No, I’ve been looking for… others. He has a plan; I can hear his whispers…”
It looked like the barman would turn pale again, but he collected himself.
“And you found any?”
Ragnor removed his hood and gave ‘Ol’ Mudface’ a grave look and whispered, “Yes.”
This time the barman could not help himself from turning lilac. Ragnor looked at the only window inside the pub, a faint streak of light piercing it.
“They’re stirring, Mudface,” said the Scraggy. “They will rise, and soon. The ten ruling factions—well, nine if you insist the Ring’s gone, blame it all on the failure that is my father—The ruling factions of Decémon are going to wage war against each other. It’ll be the just like last time, killings everywhere, disappearances… except Groudon is bent on dealing his vengeance.”
“You say you hear him…?” said the Muk pathetically.
Instead of answering, however, Ragnor took the Muk’s hand and placed it on his left wrist; the Scraggy saw the barman’s single eye twitch in apparent disgust.
Etched on the Scraggy’s pale flesh was some sort of claw-like rune:
Tension was erased from the Muk’s face as soon as he touched the pulsing scar; instead he looked rather battle hungry, with the look of bloodlust filling his expression. For a moment it appeared as though the Muk was ready to strangle the Scraggy, but then Ragnor released his grasp of the barman’s hand. The Muk’s countenance returned to normal.
“What the Heatmor…”
“That’s how I feel all the time. Or at least, that’s what he’s feeling. Enraged and bent on the other factions’ destruction. You’d feel the same way if you were an all-powerful being set to eternal slumber.”
“So it is true? You are the Marked One,” said the barman, trying to sound braver than he felt.
“I guess so. You probably heard the story already, but it’s what happened. When my father was Ringmaster he performed a ritual he thought would grant him the Fallen Lord’s powers. The thing is it worked, more or less.”
Ragnor sighed before continuing. “He tapped into Groudon’s energies, but his body could not contain it. He was too weak, or at least that’s what the Fallen Lord’s told me. And you know what happened next.”
“Groudon’s energy broke free from Traxor and that’s what caused the explosion near Tackle Plaza.”
“Yes, the blast killed fourteen bystanders,” the Scrafty nodded. “It was convenient for the Arresters too; he performed the ritual so close to Cresselion Hall that he was tried and sent to prison on the same day.”
The Muk produced a jug from under the counter and filled it with something that resembled gutter sludge and drank. It seemed to calm him, so that he was able to speak the question he’d wanted to ask the Scraggy from the beginning:
“But how come you are the one hosting the Fallen Lord?”
“The blast should have killed me too; I was with him when he began the ritual. But he chose me, Mudface. I don’t understand all of it, but whatever he’s planning, he intends me to be his instrument.”
“You will let yourself be a tool of the Fallen Lord? You seek to finish the factions of Decémon?”
Ragnor looked affronted by the Muk’s questions. “Are you telling me you are defending them? The Ring of Grudos might be no more but you are still a part of it as much as I am. Are you telling me you’d let the other factions—Cresselion Command most of all—continue treating us like leftovers? Look at this damnable pub of yours!”
The Scraggy did not notice it, but he had yelled a little too loudly at the barman, prompting the gambling Skuntank and the Jynx to give him deadly looks.
“Guy’s been having too much Kelpsy-beer,” Mudface announced, and the Jynx and Skuntank looked away.
“Listen to me,” Ragnor said in a lower, though much stricter tone. “We are at war here, Mud. We’ve got to act. Rally the old followers and take them to Fire Blast Cavern. Tell them a new Ringmaster’s arrived.”
Then the doors of The Black Sludge burst open.
Something great and purple crashed into the table where the Skuntank had been gambling. Many curses were made about a perfect play being ruined, and when the dust had cleared, it became clear that it was the half-conscious body of a Drapion that had caused the disturbance.
“Blades…they’re here,” the Drapion said weakly, fresh cuts evident in his tattooed hide.
At once, all but Ragnor and Mudface the barman succumbed to panic. It was chaos: the Grimer serving drinks dropped their glasses and scurried for the back exit; the Skuntank released their defensive fumes in their haste; the three Jynx released the Machoke, still unconscious but now with odd marks all over his gray body; the hassled Persian making his escape through the single window as the massive Purugly tried to do the same—
Five figures emerged from where the Drapion came. Tall, slender and blade-armed, five Gallade Arresters walked inside the grimy pub, all bearing either disgusted or triumphant looks on their white faces. Each wore what looked like a green helmet, and had a red spike coming out of their chests.
“Septime, clear this filth,” ordered the leader of the five, who could not bear the foul gas the Skuntank had released. “Putrid animals…”
“Right away, Commander Ballestra.”
One of the remaining Gallade began whirling its sword-like arm. Slowly, the noxious gas spiraled and condensed towards the Arrester’s arm, effectively clearing the pub of its toxic atmosphere. Then the same Gallade released the Vacuum Wave onto the street.
“Better put a leash on that thug of yours, one-eye,” said the Commander to the barman, who had a faded battle-scar across his chest.
To the Gallade’s amusement, Ballestra gave the benumbed Drapion a light kick.
“You have no business here,” said Mudface rather angrily, turning himself a violent shade of eggplant.
“He dares to talk like that to enforcers of Decémon Law!” exclaimed one of the Arresters.
“Can it, Croisé,” Ballestra said. “We will not stay in this Raticate’s den for too long, scum. We have come to arrest that thief.”
The Commander pointed at Ragnor, who still had his back to the band of Gallade.
Mudface still looked defiant, but the Scraggy remained unmoving.
“Guilty of your crime, are you?” jeered the Arrester called Croisé. “Ready to face your fate? Not even attempting an escape?”
But the Scraggy did not hear Croisé’s taunting; instead, a voice which did not belong to anyone in the room filled Ragnor’s head. The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, as though some lost ghost was trying to speak with him…
Let them take you, my champion. They will lead you to her. You shall know.
It stopped as quickly as it came. Ragnor had just realized that Ballestra and the Arrester he called Septime were just beside him; the Commander was in mid-sentence when he snapped back to reality.
“…may be used against you in a court of law. By Decémon Law I arrest you for thievery.”
Septime conjured triangular shackles out of mental energy and put them on the Scraggy’s thin arms. The magical shackles resized themselves to bind Ragnor’s hands, but he knew they were useless against him. He could easily break out of them if he wanted, but the voice had ordered him not to.
“Should’ve thought twice before you stole from that queer Medicham, kid,” said Ballestra, but the Scraggy was not listening. “Croisé, Moulinet, des Armes, you three go cuff that Drapion—he’ll be coming with us too.”
The Scraggy looked and nodded at the barman, hopeful that the Muk would be able to reform the Ring of Grudos.
“We’ll be taking you to the 'Hall, let the Prime Arbiter deal with you.”
Then the voice filled Ragnor’s head once more, though he could no longer discern what he was being told. He felt like his skull was being cracked open, pain searing his body in waves. He was screaming silent cries of agony, and lost all conscious thought.
And with that, the Scraggy and the Drapion were dragged out of the pub.
The sunlight stung Ragnor’s eyes. Having gotten used to the dimness of The Black Sludge and Gunk Shot Alley, the Scraggy blinked hard, his eyes watering. For a moment he thought he was dreaming, but soon realized he was being dragged across the marble pavement of Tackle Plaza. Eyes were staring at him from the streets. What had happened?
Then he remembered—he had been arrested at the pub. He had fainted, too, and was now being sent to Cresselion Hall for his crime.
“What angers the Fallen Lord?” the Scraggy thought to himself as marble brushed against his back, but no one answered.
Could it be that Groudon was hurt? Or was he beginning to rise?
“Oi! Finally awake, this one…” the Gallade that was dragging him along released its hold. “You walk.”
The Scraggy struggled to get on his feet; the triangular shackles still binding his hands.
“Stop holding us up, des Armes!” said the voice Ragnor recognized as Commander Ballestra’s.
“Yes, Commander! Get up, scrawny legs!” the Gallade pushed Ragnor straight, and he saw that des Armes was holding the necklace he had stolen, which was oddly missing a sapphire in one place.
Ragnor marched with the five Arresters. The Drapion that was brought with him was now awake as well, and had numerous chains around him, restricting the Ogre Scorp from moving his claws and tail. The Scraggy ignored the terrified grasps of passersby as they walked through the Plaza.
Not long after, the group of seven stopped in front of an impressive, dome-shaped building. In front of it was a great marble statue, depicting the mythical being known as Cresselia. Swanlike and with three rings arcing from its body, the stone Cresselia gazed upon them with an unnerving, lifelike stare. Commander Ballestra entered Cresselion Hall first, followed by the three Arresters restraining the Drapion. The Scraggy and des Armes entered last.
The building was huge. Constellations dotted its ceiling, and its floors were perfectly polished. All around the room, the gold, foxlike faces of Abra and much taller Kadabra were arranging, cross-checking and filing mountains of paper using their telepathy. They were currently in the lobby, and Ragnor saw that the Hall housed many rooms. To which one he was being sent to the Scraggy couldn’t be sure, but he had a good feeling it was the one with the biggest door.
Sure enough that was where the Arresters brought him. The Drapion was sent to a separate room, leaving Ragnor with Ballestra and des Armes.
The doors opened to reveal a large room filled with rows of seats. At the far end of the room was a raised platform, with the flag of Decémon on one side and the blue banner of Cresselion Command on the other. Mr. Fu the Medicham and the Lilligant who had purchased the necklace were present, along with numerous other witnesses. But they did not matter to the Scraggy. For levitating above the raised platform was a Ralts, the Prime Arbiter, green capped and red horned, suspended in midair using her psychic energies…
It seemed as though the Arbiter had just recognized Ragnor’s presence; she had snapped from her trancelike state and gasped at the sight of the cuffed lizard—
“It seems you have broken your own law, Prime Arbiter,” the words came from Ragnor’s lips, yet his voice sounded like it ought to have belonged to something much bigger.
“You may have succeeded in binding me during the last War,” the Scraggy continued. “But I will not fail this time. Such a noble sacrifice you have made for your people, but all will be lost to my power…”
At that point Ragnor broke his shackles with little effort. The two Gallade tried restraining him, but they were easily tossed aside by the Scraggy. Those present in the room gasped.
“Decémon and its factions will bow to my rule,” Ragnor droned on, talking to the Ralts more than anyone else in the room. “And you shall be the first one to perish… Cresselia…”
Ragnor gave in to the voice’s influence, and soon found his flesh being torn apart from all sides; he was changing into something larger, something fueled by endless anger…
There was a massive blast that could have rivaled a volcanic explosion, then a great roar, and the whole of Cresselion Hall was no more.