Cloyingly sweet odors wafted through the center of the manor. Gilded Persians—Giovanni was ostentatious as ever, it seemed—stared, unblinking, at the mire of masked men and women mingling. The hall was full of a subtle din, though to Sabrina’s senses, it was a crashing cacophony of thoughts. Or, at least, it would have been, had she been unskilled.
But she was not, of course, and so a subtle din it remained. Sabrina felt naked without Alakazam at her side, but it was a necessity, as was the mask covering her features, depicting an Espeon’s cunning mien.
Necessity. Sabrina’s lip curled at the word. Joining Rocket had been a necessity, Koga had said, and so they two, and Surge, much to Sabrina’s dismay, had slipped into the ranks unseen. They’d contemplated bringing the others in, but most of them would leave too many loose ends.
She had no idea where Koga was tonight, but that hardly mattered. The two of them maintained a facade of constant bickering and petty arguments—it made it much easier to avoid suspicion, and much easier to push forth their ideas. After all, when they agreed on something, it had to be the correct path, because they were at each other’s throats all the time.
Sabrina might have smiled at the thought of tugging all those Rocket executives along like Growlithes on a leash, but tonight was not a night for smiling.
Surge, on the other hand, was now sauntering directly towards her. He’d done nothing to camouflage his... unique appearance, aside from smearing a Zapdos mask over his face like it could veil the obnoxious yellow hair spiking from his head.
Zapdos, she thought idly. The nerve of this man…
“My lady,” came Surge’s voice like a freight truck came over gravel, “it pleases me to see you in good health.” He took her hand in a dramatized motion, pressing a kiss to the glove. Sabrina stared daggers at him.
“Surge.” The man blinked—he always did get some strange kick out of being called Lieutenant—and looked upwards.
“I trust your night is well?” Her eyes rested upon his, and while many had labeled Surge’s gaze one that could make boulders tremble, Sabrina had always matched his tit for tat.
“It is.” Surge straightened, face coming close to Sabrina’s. To an onlooker, it might have looked as though he meant to plant a perfunctory kiss upon it, but instead, his voice—as mellifluous as a train loudly honking at midnight—whispered into her ear.
“They haven’t found them,” was all that the man said, but Sabrina tensed, before nodding minutely. In seconds, she devolved into the giggles of a bashful lover, forcing a crimson tinge to her cheeks. She and Surge had played this game for so long, it was practically second nature. The lieutenant grinned coyly at her and poked her nose. In her periphery, she saw a black-clothed man, chest labeled with a scarlet R, nod to himself, gaze drifting away from the supposed lovers.
Surge broke away from Sabrina with another wink, and Sabrina chuckled just the appropriate amount. She did still have appearances to maintain, Surge’s vapid fantasies be damned. The man’s mind was practically a whorehouse in its own right, from what little Sabrina had allowed herself to peer upon.
Sabrina straightened out after the shock-haired Gym leader left. Giovanni’s eyes and ears hadn’t found the bonded yet. Any of them, it seemed. Two at once was almost unheard of—it had been unheard of in Sabrina’s time, at least—but Caitlin had flown in all the way from Unova to inform them with deadly certainty that she had seen two children take up the bond in a vision. Caitlin had been wrong a handful of times for as long as Sabrina had known her, and the Psychic-bound Trainer rarely pronounced things of this magnitude without absolute certainty.
But if Giovanni hadn’t found them, how would Sabrina? A manservant brought her a tray with red wine on it, and she accepted it wordlessly. Grimsley was looking, they said, but could Grimsley really find them in the entire span of Kanto?
She took a sip of wine. Sabrina had spent so long building her way up to this moment, and now it was here, and she could not help but feel a distinct sense of trepidation. If Giovanni found out…
Caitlin was infinitely more prone to foreseeing the future than Sabrina—Sabrina’s gift laid elsewhere, but they were no less expansive for it—yet Sabrina had done it a few times. Mostly in dreams.
The night she and Giovanni first met, one-on-one, she’d had a single vision. Caitlin called them Foreseeings. Sabrina had foreseen a forked road. On one side of the road, she knew without seeing, Sabrina, Koga, Surge, Oak, all the others, lay dead and forgotten. On the other, they survived. But the roads were twisted, gnarled with woods and magic, and she hadn’t seen anything but that.
Sabrina cradled the glass. Her mind’s eye showed her only an image of her unmoving inside an abandoned warehouse, blood leaking from every orifice on her face.
“Duchess.” Sabrina nearly jumped out of her skin at the voice. When she turned, however, she was ever so grateful that she had not.
Giovanni stared at her, bereft of any mask, brown hair neatly cropped to his skull. He smiled at her over his glass of champagne.
“Giovanni,” she returned coolly. Sabrina rarely used honorifics—even with Giovanni.
“You look radiant as ever, my lady. It is good of you to join us.” Giovanni’s eyes reminded Sabrina of some sort of big cat, and indeed, the entire demeanor of the man suggested a lounging predator awaiting something intriguing to strike at. Sabrina was not scared of him—there was little to scare her, anymore—but she did keep a healthy caution around the leader of Team Rocket.
He, like so many others, was quite interested in the identity of the new bonded Trainers. According to Caitlin, Ghetsis and his Team Plasma had shown an interest in it as well—but the Unovan branch of the Order was already working to negate his efforts. They’d sent two operatives to Kanto, as well: Grimsley, of the Elite Four, and Drayden, a powerful Dragon-type Trainer. Grimsley was presently searching for the bonded, as his affinity bond to Dark-types made him much more suited to sneaking. He was accompanied by Drayden when not in a city, but the man’s Dragon-types were more likely to draw attention than actually help Grimsley in the center of a metropolitan area.
“Lost in thought again, my dear?” Giovanni’s voice brought her back to reality. All of Team Rocket seemed to believe Sabrina was prone to dissociation spells—that was true, occasionally—she had done naught to disabuse the notion. If people believed her not fully present, their tongues were often looser than they would be elsewise. Sabrina had learned that very quickly.
“My apologies,” she replied, ever calmly. A slip-up, no matter how minute, would catch Giovanni’s attention. It wasn’t very hard—Sabrina was a relatively serene person even in the midst of heated conflict—yet something about the task seemed almost insurmountable all the same.
Giovanni smiled at her, like a Seviper smiles at its dinner. “I see you and Lieutenant Surge are as close as ever.” The leader stepped beside her, hand coming to rest precariously close to hers. She knew what she’d find if she probed his thoughts.
“The lieutenant is not particularly intelligent,” Sabrina said with a wry smile, “but he does have a head for military tactic, I suppose, else you’d not keep him. I do not find him all that enjoyable, but he is amusing at times. Flirtatious to the extreme, of course.”
The Rocket boss laughed, but it was strange, like a piano long since out of tune. “Acerbic as ever, Sabrina. Tell me, what do you think of this whole bonded affair?”
She tensed. Sabrina was a Psychic-bond—Psions, they were often called—but Giovanni bore no affinity bond that she knew of. It was a touchy subject.
“We place too much thought on the power of children, and not enough on the power of our own organization. But I do see the positives to obtaining the bonded children.”
Giovanni snorted. “And if they are not children? I’m so very tired of meddlesome children.”
Of defeat, Sabrina thought he might have said. She was sure he thought it, even if she didn’t dare look in upon his thoughts.
“Then we place too much thought on the power of those that are not us all the same. It might even make more sense if they were children. The younger they are, the more malleable to aiding Team Rocket.” The words felt like ash upon her lips; poison spittle even as they were spoken.
Necessity, she murmured. Or was that someone else?
“Very true,” Giovanni mused.
Sabrina paused, contemplative.
“Have you found any leads?” It was a risky question, at best, but it was the only chance she’d get.
Giovanni paused, and Sabrina almost felt a stab of fear in her gut.
“Nothing yet. We only know that the one bonded to Moltres is a female, but nothing more.”
Sabrina might have laughed. Grimsley really did work faster than Rocket’s team, shocking as it seemed.
“The last one was also a woman, wasn’t it?” Sabrina had known her well, but that was hardly anything to be reminisced upon now. Leave the ghosts to Phoebe and Shauntal, Koga always said.
Perhaps she would.
“Yes. An insufferable woman, but very powerful. Moltres requires such of its bonded, I should think.”
Ilyena had told Sabrina at length what, exactly, Moltres required.
A monster to hunt monsters, she recalled Ilyena describing herself as. An instrument of fiery vengeance.
“Do you know which of the trio is bound to the other one?” Sabrina knew the answer, but she paused to look at Giovanni as she asked.
A vein in his forehead twitched, pulsated. “No,” he acquiesced.
Sabrina suppressed a smile, pressing her glass to her lips.
For a moment, she recalled Caitlin’s eerie words when Sabrina had spoken of her deathly Foreseeing. The woman’s Gothitelle had been beside her, eerie and hauntingly beautiful.
The world must be preserved. Whatever the cost, we shall bear it. Death lies ever on the horizon for us, Sabrina.
Sabrina shook it off, but in a strange way, Caitlin was right. If she died to protect their world, wasn’t that worth the price?
“Forgive me, Sabrina dear, but I must take my leave. I fear the party never stops.”
As must I, she thought blandly.
“Of course, Giovanni. See you soon.” The Rocket boss strode off in long, powerful steps, and Sabrina receded to the back of the gala. Surge and Koga would have already made their subtle exits, judging by the time. She was late.
She slipped out of the manor, black hair falling like a waterfall of pure ebony down past the small of her back.
Two alerts pinged on her Pokégear—this one was a throwaway, with just contacts from the Order—both from Surge, asking where she was.
She waited until she was far away from the manor and its security to open them.
A single, sarcastic reply later, Sabrina was silently removing the dress she’d worn into the gala. It was almost a shame to take it off—the thing was fine silk and was a beautiful pastel pink to match the color of the Psychics.
Regardless, it came off, revealing a black, skin-tight bodysuit. Every member of the Order wore them when in the field—hers was patterned slightly with pink hues along the sides, just as Surge’s had yellow and Koga’s purple—even when doing mundane activities, as Sabrina was.
Sabrina had left her motorcycle off to the side. It was a gift from Surge, ironically enough, and both she and Koga had received one. Nobody had seen her arrive on it, and the helmet covered her face, making it perhaps the only truly subtle way of leaving the area in anything short of an all-black car.
She climbed onto the motorcycle, voices buzzing in her head. Only some of them were her own.
She’d learned how to filter most of them out, but occasionally, a few slipped through—echoes of the thoughts of people she was around, or had been around for a long time. Some of them were Giovanni’s, she was sure, but she didn’t care to sift through them. He’d yielded anything he could have, anyways. Sabrina never dared to truly touch Giovanni’s mind when they were near each other, but she always had a knack for sensing when anyone—even him—was lying, or tiptoeing around the truth.
It was convenient, sometimes. Other times, it ended with her knowing things she wished she didn’t.
But that was long past, and she was long past due to be at their meeting spot. By Koga’s demand, they met in a house he’d bought in Fuchsia City, right near the edge of the city limits.
The wind stirred itself along Sabrina’s face, and she exhaled. The motorcycle was silent as it crept out of the parking lot, and her face was veiled by the helmet around it.
The stars watched, unblinking and unburdened, from their celestial heights.
Hours away, a girl with flames for eyes watched the same stars as Sabrina, staring at their infinite depths.
Sabrina looked up at them and wished for peace, for an end to all this.
The girl looked up and wished for freedom.
Neither would get what they wanted, in the end. Luck never worked out like that.
The dice never stopped rattling in his head, but they seemed to be especially noisy inside the depths of Grimsley’s mind as he canted his gaze around the small house. It was in the middle of Viridian City, which Grimsley had quickly learned was a relatively unassuming town despite its proximity to the region’s Victory Road. He was due to meet a scientist tonight, someone who had been tracking the strange spike in heat signature from Mount Silver. Grimsley had a feeling it was the result of Moltres initiating a bond, but he wasn’t about to let that on.
So, here he was, hair gelled flat to his head, wearing a lab coat and fake glasses. Drayden sat in the bar next door, just in case aught went awry, but Grimsley was confident in his abilities. He still wasn’t sure why everyone had insisted he bring the man, but Grimsley didn’t mind the company.
A man bustled inside, carrying two separate laptops and wearing a too-small lab coat. He had stark blonde hair, the backs of it still sticking up, as though he hadn’t bothered to even glimpse at a mirror, and his aquiline nose supported square glasses. Overall, he seemed rather sharply made, reminiscent of a Braviary. The dice kept rattling, and Grimsley fingered the card deck in his pocket. It was lucky, so he said.
“Are you Doctor Lucan?” Grimsley questioned, peering at the man cautiously. He had positioned himself by the light switch, and if the birdlike blonde made any sudden movements, he’d flick them off and be done with this whole affair. As it was, he felt the shadows tingling at his side, whispering.
“That’s me, yes! Hello. You must be Doctor Giima, right?”
Grimsley smiled, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and proffering his other hand for a shake. Doctor Lucan obliged.
“Yes, that is me. Shall we begin?” He’d adopted a slight accent—Johtonian, of course—on Sabrina’s advice.
Grimsley settled into one of the chairs in the house that Doctor Lucan had rented to study the spiking signatures.
“Absolutely. You wanted to know more about the heat signatures, right?”
Grimsley nodded. “Indeed.”
Doctor Lucan furrowed a brow. “Can I ask why?”
He resisted the urge to blow out a hiss through his mouth. “That is somewhat classified,” Grimsley began, because technically it was, “but it’s part of a study to help predict weather patterns in Johto and Kanto.”
“Is this for military work? I won’t support it, if so. Johto and Kanto have enough problems as it is without all of that.”
Grimsley smiled. “Believe me, Doctor Lucan, I want nothing at all to do with the military. This is purely for research.”
The doctor stared at Grimsley suspiciously, but then nodded. He keyed in a password to his laptop—it was too long to remember even if he wanted to—and swiveled the screen around.
“The spike occurred two and a half weeks ago, as you can see. Temperatures on Mount Silver and around it shot up by an average of ten degrees in a fifty mile radius. On Mount Silver itself, meteorology reports say it spiked fifty degrees within an hour. At night.”
Grimsley frowned. That was hot, even for a bonding. Maybe it really was something else, but the date lined up exactly with Caitlin’s vision. She’d never been wrong about something like this, and he doubted it would start now.
“Has there been any subsequent spikes?”
“Well, the hotter temperature lasted a whole day and a half before it subsided. After that, things mellowed out until...two nights ago, as you can see. It spiked by about twenty degrees again, though it was only five here in Viridian…”
The entire thing was atrociously boring, and the only useful thing that it actually yielded was that the spike matched perfectly with Caitlin’s vision, and that there was no discernable pattern for the smaller spikes. Grimsley had never heard of a bonding taking a long amount of time, but then again, he’d never found himself in the middle of one. The spikes could be from the bonded Trainer being unable to withstand that much power.
“Do you have a prediction when it will spike again?”
Doctor Lucan blinked. “Judging by the weather patterns right before and after the spike, it seems totally random. One of the residents said they saw a bright orange...shape, in the sky, right when the temperatures spiked, but Moltres hasn’t been since for months. Not since…”
Grimsley held up a thin hand. They all knew what had caused Moltres and the other birds to recede into seclusion: all three bonded, who were heroes to the Kanto region, had just...vanished. No trace. The day it happened, storms of epic proportions buffeted Kanto. It had receded—eventually—but it was still a fresh wound for Kantonians, particularly those who had taken pride in their national heroes’ status. Most of the other regions didn’t really know of the concept of bonding—thanks to the Order—and even the Kantonians had a backwards perception. They thought the bonded in Kanto were just the most powerful Trainers with an affinity bond, like the one Grimsley had.
They couldn’t be more wrong, of course, but Sabrina had never bothered trying to disabuse them of the notion.
“So, it could be Moltres, but it probably isn’t. Right?”
“So it’s some sort of disturbance. How are you tracking them, if I might ask?”
“I have trackers set up all the way up Mount Silver, stopping just a few miles short of the peak. Nobody’s gone up there lately.”
“Would you mind letting me peek at the data every day for a week or two?”
Doctor Lucan hesitated. Grimsley felt the shadows itching around him.
“..Fine, but you can’t tell anyone else what you see. I’m gonna publish my findings myself, not be mentioned as some footnote in someone else’s bestseller.”
The dice threw themselves at the walls of Grimsley’s skull, now.
“One more thing, Doctor Lucan.”
The blonde, birdlike man swiveled from his laptop to look at Grimsley. Shadows painted his face, now, making him appear almost ghastly. It was an easy trick—he’d learned how to manipulate shadows years ago—but it always worked without fail. Doctor Lucan’s eyes went wide, practically bulging out of his skull, blue irises swallowed up by fear-filled pupils.
“If anyone asks,” Grimsley began, voice dribbling with power, “you didn’t share this data with anyone, alright?”
“Y-Yes. Of course.”
Grimsley rose to his feet, banishing the shadows to the corners of the room once more.
“Good. I’ll be back, Doctor Lucan. Have a good night.”
He smiled grimly down at the doctor, who was now shakily smiling back, and glided out of the house. Drayden was waiting in the bar over, and Grimsley was in the mood to swindle some idiots out of all their Poké. After he changed, of course.
Grimsley turned his eyes towards Mount Silver, and exhaled.
Stay safe, whoever you are. Everything might fall apart if anyone else gets their grubby hands on you.
Candela kicked a bit of rubble along the street, flanked by two Order-issued guardsmen, both with their Pokémon trailing them. One had a large Mightyena, and the other had a hulking beast of an Arcanine. Candela didn’t really see the need for bodyguards after so long, but Sabrina had stared daggers at her when she had done naught but suggest they leave her to go take care of more important duties.
“Nothing is more important than the preservation of a bonded, Candela.”
“I’m not weak, Sabrina.”
“No, but you’re only one person.”
“Let me take Spark. This is a bonded issue.”
“Spark is still in training.”
Training. Candela scoffed. Spark was almost as strong as she was, now, though he never let it on. Publicly, Spark was still a research assistant—being groomed to take over a research team, just as Candela already had. Team Valor was hers, of course.
In an effort to disguise themselves, the guardsmen flanking her were dressed like members of Team Valor, which was already bustling even without the Order’s support. These chumps would never be Valor, really, but she’d amuse them.
“Leader Candela,” one of them called, and she turned, scarf billowing in the chill wind. It was the guard with the Arcanine—his name was something like Borus, if she remembered right.
“We found traces of ice.”
Articuno, a strange voice crooned from the edges of her consciousness. Moltres. Have you come out to play, sister?
Candela had learned long ago that the birds had no real concept of gender—at least not insofar as the world of man did—but referred to each other by gendered honorifics, from time to time. Articuno was often called sister by Moltres, but Zapdos was called cousin. Candela shook her head slightly, willing the voice quiet.
“Anything else? We can’t exactly go searching with the singular hint of traces of ice, darling. Give me something to work with.”
The guardsman paused, lips thinning. He was about to offer up some witty retort, she was sure, but he stopped. Plainly, he wasn’t used to grunt work.
“We discovered a mark, but none of us can decipher its meaning.”
Memories that were not hers bled into her consciousness. Articuno marked its hunting grounds with a mark, something that neither Zapdos nor Moltres did. Both Zapdos and Moltres invited intruders to dare step into their hunting grounds, invited challengers to come be devoured whole. Articuno was a quiet god, a thing found only in the cold dark when you went looking for things that should not be. It marked its territory so that none who did not seek a challenge intruded, and marked that those whom found favor with the boreal entity might find shelter.
Candela pushed past the man, heels clicking against the ground, and stepped to inspect the mark. Flareon followed at her heels.
Sure enough, a strange mark lay in the center of the thing. It was unreadable to most—even to Candela, at first—but upon closer inspection, the shapes swirled into place. Only a bonded could read this, she knew somehow. Perhaps only one of those bonded to the three aerial deities of Kanto.
A bird set upon a field of icy blue stared out at Candela, red eyes unyielding and everburning. The Valor leader pressed a fingertip to it, felt a spark of power dribble through her. Ancient magics flickered within her—she shut her eyes for a moment and watched as her eyelids alighted in incandescence. Warmth plumed around her figure, and for a moment she was back upon the peak of Mount Silver, staring down the reckoning.
But then the vision shifted, and Candela was no longer staring at Moltres’s fiery beak. Instead, she saw only a waterfall of icy white hair, like a snowfall, saw eyes bluer than any crystal. She saw this same spot, only days before a bustling city block, being leveled by a shadowy figure with ice sprouting from its body.
A loose bellow escaped the staggering figure, full of pain and sorrow. Candela recognized the bellow—she was sure she had howled like that too, in the first days of the bond. It was a traumatizing thing, and the price of it almost outweighed the benefits.
She recalled the day of her bond suddenly, recalled an unending fire that had spiraled out of her veins, recalled a fire so hot it made the sun itself seem a chilled tundra. Pain, real as an organ, had split open her head, a voice she could only describe as petrifying slithering into her head.
“You have called,” it had murmured, “and I have answered. Your intentions matter for naught. What is done is done. The bond is complete.”
The voice pierced her somnolent dwam, forced her from her musings.
“I have what we need,” she said quietly, voice rich with the last remnants of godly power. “Go back to Sabrina. Tell her I’ll find the bonded myself.”
Borus stiffened. She took him in as he did so. He was a rather unimpressive man—his nose wasn’t big or small, his eyes a simple shade of deep brown, similar to her own and yet different in so many ways, his hair cropped low to his skull. Sucking in a deep breath, Candela could taste his lack of affinity bond, too. Another gift, as Moltres called them. Candela wasn’t sure what they could be called.
“My orders are to escort you until the bonded is located or we are recalled. Only Sabrina herself can override—”
She felt rage building up inside her. Maybe it was irrational, but she didn’t care much in the moment.
“Your orders,” Candela began, allowing her irises to turn a burning orange, “are inconsequential. Do you know what a bonded can do? Have you ever seen one in action?”
Color touched Borus’s cheeks. “It doesn’t matter what I’ve seen. Orders are orders.”
She had to forcibly stop smoke from curling out of her nose, had to stop the transformation from going any further than it already had. Why wouldn’t he lay down and accept her words for truth?
Candela smiled all the same, though, her orange gaze never shifting. She knew what her eyes must look like, now, narrow pupils like a reptile’s peering at Borus from within irises the same shade as fire.
“You’ll have to catch up, then,” she said simply, releasing Charizard from a Poké Ball at her waist. The hulking Dragon-descendant stared down at Borus, who was still uncowed. Maybe he could have passed for Valor after all.
“Leader Candela, I cannot abide this.”
She laughed as she climbed atop Charizard.
“Then look away, darling,” she said flatly. Apprehension pounded in her skull—she knew if this man accompanied her to find Articuno, he’d die. Gruesomely, perhaps. Moltres whispered such things in her ear, and she believed it.
Pride fills us, the voice lamented, yet what are we without it? Wind and words. Find my sister, daughter.
Borus looked as though he were going to say something further, before he pulled out his Pokégear and held it up to his face, scowling at Candela.
“Go, Feu,” she murmured to the Charizard, and with a roar, the grand creature took off into the air. Borus glared up at the skies, as if he could pull down Charizard from its lofty heights with naught but a withering gaze.
Her head throbbed. In truth, she had no idea where she was going—but she’d seen enough in the fleeting vision. The bonded, whoever that was, was hurting. When Candela was close enough, she knew in the deepest, darkest corners of her mind that she would feel the other. She had felt Spark, but it was different. This...this was a fresh bond. It couldn’t have been forged more than a week ago, judging by the lamenting screams, and Caitlin had arrived only two days prior to inform them.
Caitlin’s eyes glowing pure pink, Gothitelle at her side. The strange Pokémon seemed to emit a strange languor, and an eerie calm settled over the room. Caitlin leaked pellucid tears from her glowing eyes.
“The one has become three,” she whispered, hands shaking, “the bond is complete. Soft as snowfall, sharp as ice. A broken tower lies, singular and alone. The white wolf, alone in its sorrow, seeks another.”
That strange, rosy gaze settled upon Candela.
“You, child of ember and dust. Find the one who weeps alone. Find the broken tower, polished and unburnt.”
Candela shook her head clear of the memory, willing the woman’s strange, sibilant voice from her mind. Caitlin spoke ever in riddles and strange words, and while the rest of the Order found great importance in them, they made Candela’s skin crawl. Spark’s, too. Something about her mile-wide gaze was disconcerting.
She couldn’t recall a broken tower. There were some ruins in Kanto, but nothing like that.
But Caitlin was sure of a broken tower…
A memory that was not her own slid onto her mind’s eye. Icy winds that could not be there in truth buffeted her skin, harsh and puckering.
Islands rising from the depths. A castle, once great, collapsing into the seas.
Candela shuddered. The broken tower…Could it be on Seafoam Islands? It was possible, she supposed, but all that water wasn’t exactly inviting to Candela. Still, she would do what must be done. She just wished Spark were the one going to those islands, not her.
With a nudge, Candela urged the Charizard towards the Seafoam Island, though they were a good few hours off. Candela couldn’t quite make out their silhouette, but she knew the general direction they lay in.
Even if she didn’t, some preternatural sense drew her there, as though missing a limb. Another, less severe sense drew her towards Saffron City, towards the skyscrapers and glamour and metropolitan life that lay within it. It was Moltres, calling out to its brethren, Articuno and Zapdos. Spark, the Zapdos-bonded, was still training in Saffron. The bonded were taught in everything from self-defense to Pokémon strategy to learning how to wield their abilities best, though the last one required some personal introspection, as they had no bonded stationed in Saffron. She’d met some, though, and had a suspicion about others—but the Order was tight-lipped with information it did not care to divulge.
The first bonded besides Spark that she had met had been the Dialga-bonded from Sinnoh. She was a strong, imposing woman with shock-white hair falling to her hips. Her name had been Mara, or something of the like, and she had hardly noticed Candela when she visited Sabrina.
Sabrina was head of the Order in Kanto, but Candela had quickly realized she still had someone she reported to. She’d never met the woman—Cynthia, her name was—but all reports said she was a force to be reckoned with. Cynthia wasn’t the founder of the Order of the Titans, but she’d expanded its reach far beyond what it had been when she’d ascended to the upper echelons of the organization. Nobody had ever mentioned whether or not Cynthia was a bonded, but she almost assuredly was. If she wasn’t, there was no way she didn’t at least have an affinity bond.
Charizard swooped low over the terrain, and Candela watched it pass below her. She could handle a bit of water, even if it was less than preferable.
Stroking her hand along her Charizard’s back, Candela recalled her first meeting with Sabrina, fiery-eyed and just shy of thirteen.
“Do I get a choice?” Candela had asked, scrappy and flame-like.
“You always have a choice,” Sabrina had replied, in that same cool, neutral tone she always used.
“I can only hope that you make the correct one.”
Sabrina never gave anyone a choice, really. She was the smartest person Candela knew, always pushing people around the boards that she dreamed up in her head. Candela resented it, on some level, but Sabrina always got her way. Surge had said it was just the way of the world. A woman like Sabrina didn’t get where she was without some intellect.
And her skills, Candela thought glumly. She’d seen Sabrina in action only once, but it was enough to make her at least somewhat cautious around the woman. Candela could take Sabrina in a regular fight, but Sabrina had more trickery than even Grimsley, though she wasn’t too keen to go up against the Dark-bond herself.
Charizard swooped low over the world, dipping and bobbing through the clouds. The Flame Pokémon swiped through the clouds like they were naught but—well, clouds, actually.
Seafoam lay only a few hundred more miles ahead. They would reach it by nightfall, Candela was sure, and the thought made her shiver with unbidden chill.
Sister is cold, like the corpses adrift on the lonesome sea. Be wary.
The voice came without warning or preamble, and even thirteen years later, Candela found a headache forming in her temple. She was as used to Moltres’s presence in her mind as anyone in her position might be, was used to the preternatural powers it offered her. Those sharing her affinity to the Fire-type could perhaps sympathize, but even the most awesome of their powers paled in comparison to hers, for better or for worse. She had been born with no such inborn talent, though her brothers both had, and it had been a subject of much jealousy.
Now you will make kings weep, a dim part of her mind remembered. Those had been the first words Moltres had uttered once their bond had been completed, once she was marked as a Titan until the end of her days.
“Are you afraid of me?” Moltres was bigger than any house she’d ever seen, eyes larger than even the tallest human. They were pure blue, icy and full of all the things Candela had ever feared.
Candela’s legs shook, but she remembered her mother telling her never to let the world see her sweat. She was Candela Pendragon, after all.
Moltres’s laugh was mirthless.
“Perhaps you should be.”
Candela had heard many things in her time in the Order about how children Titans often fared. The last child to bond with Moltres had been just before Ilyena, a boy of ten—just a few months older than Candela herself. He’d incinerated himself in the first year of his bond, leveling an entire city block as he expanded. The damage would have been worse, if not for Sabrina and Iraya, a Water-type bond and one of Sabrina’s closest confidantes.
“You’ll fare better, of course. I know it.” Iraya’s smile had been kind, but a promise lingered behind her words, a promise that she would ensure that if Candela could not control herself, she would not allow the wanton destruction of before to occur once more.
Thankfully, Candela had not met with the same fate, and she now had complete control of her strange abilities—for the most part. When particularly emotional, Moltres’s raw power often bubbled out from her fingertips without her consent or knowledge. If her emotions were strong enough, Sabrina said, Moltres could merely overtake her body entirely, wrench control from her and make her dance along a string.
The thought sent another chill up Candela’s spine, even though she knew precautions had been taken to ensure that would never happen. Sabrina never spoke in certain terms of the past, but her vague hints were enough for Candela to deduce that similar situations had occurred before, situations where Titans had spiraled out of control, had their control subsumed by a beast born when the world was still young.
Charizard dipped low again, and Candela could see the beginnings of Seafoam ahead. The islands were a complete maze to someone without a guide, and Candela was severely lacking in that department.
Lorelei knew them like the back of her hand, but Lorelei was on assignment at the moment, allegedly searching for Articuno the same as Candela was. Only, Candela had never been assigned to seek out Articuno’s bonded, she had merely elected to. A whim had taken her this far.
She could already imagine Sabrina’s fury. Sabrina terrified her far more than any of the other Order members—even Lorelei’s icy anger was nothing compared to the quiet black rage of Sabrina. When she was truly angry, she was a sight to behold, a terrifying and dazzling force of nature. Candela had seen it a few times, but never had it been directed at her.
The first time, Team Rocket had attempted to seize Spark right from under their clutches. Sabrina had unleashed the full breadth of her psychic powers onto the poor Rocket members.
They’d been dead before they could even scream, their bodies eviscerated by blades they could neither see nor comprehend. A Psion ignored the laws of probability, shirked them entirely as though a mischievous schoolyard boy foregoing the rules of roughhousing, and Sabrina was a master Psion if ever there was one. She was not as skilled in Foretelling—the uncanny gift that Caitlin seemed full to the brim of—but her abilities elsewhere could make anyone lose their lunch.
She’d never hurt Candela, of course. Sabrina cared for every member of the Order deeply, and only ever directly punished traitors and liars, and she would never even dream of harming a Titan aligned with the Order. Like it or not, they were a commodity—and one the Order could scarcely stand to lose, with the world in the state it was in.
They had beaten back Team Rocket, but Kanto and Johto were still licking their wounds from the affair. Now, whispers carried all the way from Unova spoke of another like Team Rocket, only a thousand times worse, a team corrupted from its past ideals. Candela had heard of Team Plasma, an extremist environmental group, but never in such a horrific way. She had learned that their previous leader—N—had either mysteriously vanished or been killed, and a man named Ghetsis had taken over for the green-haired king of Team Plasma.
But the issues of Unova were hardly her issues. Right now, she had to find Articuno’s bonded before anything undue could happen to the Titan. They could finally complete the trio, finally safeguard Kanto against a corrupted Titan. Candela shivered to think of the consequences if even one of them was indoctrinated to harm the people of the world, not protect them.
Chill winds stung her face as Charizard’s massive wings bit through the clouds. The Flying-type Pokémon turned what would typically be a days long journey into one of several hours, instead, but he would tire soon.
Candela hissed out a breath through her teeth. They’d make it to Seafoam, but only just, and she hadn’t brought any other Flying-types with her. So much for a quick escape.
You are flame and splendor. What fear have you of ice?
Moltres’s voice came unbidden once more, the nascent god’s whispered breaths her only constant companion.
“This is my fate,” she murmured aloud to nothing in particular.
But can fate not be broken?
Seafoam drew ever nearer, and Candela felt something like trepidation forming in the pit of her stomach, like a rotten peach pit.
She had nothing to fear from Articuno, yet she still felt fear. Candela was the strongest Titan of the group, a fact which would not be changed by the addition of this next bonded, yet still, she would be alone in this.
You are not alone, the voice said with a husky laugh, I am here with you.
The clouds parted about her as Charizard swooped low. Her Pokégear chimed with messages, likely from Sabrina. She didn’t dare look at them, not yet.
And suddenly, Seafoam Islands laid right before her, glittering and expansive. The islands were as cold as ever, Candela grimly thought.
As she dismounted Charizard, Caitlin’s final warning rung through her head, ominous and strange.
“Be wary, Candela Pendragon.”
“What did you see, Caitlin?”
Caitlin’s gaze had been distant, for a moment, hints of fear touching the icy depths.
“Nothing,” she whispered.
Candela bit back a shiver. She wasn’t scared of Seafoam Islands—it was all ice, and she was built to destroy ice. Nascent fire lingered in her veins, ever screaming to get out.
She put a foot down on the icy dirt surrounding the islands. Even from here, she could feel the tug at her soul that denoted another Titan, and close.
Sister, that sibilant voice whispered. Find the Titan, child.
Candela walked towards the entrance to the cave, cold licking her face. Charizard hung beside her, but she paused, pulling a Poké Ball from her hip. In a flash of red, the Pokémon returned to its residency inside the contraption, leaving Candela alone.
She huffed out a breath, fog curling out of her mouth like smoke.
Something felt... off. Enough to make her pause before crossing into the cave mouth itself, darkness stretching outwards like an eldritch appendage. She was a creature of flame and light. Why was she petrified in the face of this icy darkness? A shadow hung in the air, real as any whispered autumnal wind.
But she was no coward. Duty laid before her. She would not shirk it. Not even here, in this strange place.
Beware, Moltres screamed, unbidden and undesired, beware. Death lingers evermore. Beware. BEWARE!
Candela gritted her teeth, haphazardly weaving her scarf around her face. It was ornamental more than anything—the cold scarcely touched her, even in this place. Being the living embodiment of a fiery deity tended to do that.
Snow crunched beneath her feet as she moved, boots digging into the icy landscape. She pushed inside the cave, allowing the smallest of flames to coalesce upon her palm, casting ghastly shadows about the cave. The dark figures danced in circles around the cave, given form by the light of her fire.
Strangely, there were no Pokémon lingering behind corners or hiding behind rocks. A cold silence hung in the air, shadows stretching far too long to be wholly natural. Candela couldn’t quite shake the feeling that she was being watched by someone, some thing . It wasn’t the same tingling in the back of her neck she felt when a Titan was near—this was stranger, more eldritch. Something wicked lingered here, but she couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was.
Watching, warning, winding. Leave. Leave this place. Leave. LEAVE!
A chill crawled up Candela’s spine as Moltres babbled, and not from the chill. She had never known the pyric deity to be aught but collected and terrifying. Now, however, the great god of fire was a babbling mess, and it left Candela more afraid than any cold threats the winged mirage of Kanto could have made.
Suddenly, she felt it. A shift. Tingling in the back of her neck.
Sister, sister, sister, sister. What fate has befallen you, sister?
Candela moved quickly, then, steps taking her down the winding, puzzling caverns of the expansive cave system that was Seafoam Island. She tried to pay no mind to the skeletons against the walls, peering into the endless depths before them, bereft of eyes and yet all-seeing.
Lo, lo. The madman dances on graves of ice. Shadows that do not fear the first soft touch of flame. Lo, lo, I never sleep. I never dream.
She tried to shake the voice from her head. As a child, she’d been subject to every whim of Moltres’s psychic babbling, but she had trained herself since. Yet it was no use.
Candela was running, now, footfalls echoing across the walls. She had snuffed out the flame on her palm, now, relying purely on the preternatural instincts that guided her, even in the darkest of shadows, towards her goal. Articuno.
She ran until her lungs felt fit to burst, winding in a circle, down, then up, then to the side, then down, then up, then to the left, then down, then up, then—
A light. First it was blue, and then it seemed to be touched by the faintest hints of red, then black, then purple. Candela froze.
Ahead, a figure lay kneeling upon the ground, ice white hair falling like a snowy waterfall about them. Blue light flowed out of them, cyanic ichor pooling in a funnel into—
A man stared cruelly up at Candela, azure light puddling in the palm of his hand as he drew it out from the figure, who was now too weak even to kneel, collapsing into a supine position and twitching. Fire flared in the edges of Candela’s vision, unbidden but not wholly unwelcome. She took a dangerous step forward, and the man smiled lightly, one eye hidden by red glass.
“So nice of you to join us, Moltres,” the man began, and Candela stared at him. Most Titans had an aura, some sort of marking about them that denoted them as what they were. Even those bearing affinity bonds tended to have something to mark them as other, and even the smallest living creature held an aura—if you knew how to look for it.
This man, however, had nothing of the sort. He was a void.
“Release her.” Candela’s voice boomed with voices that were not her own. Fire licked her face, coating her body. It began to sear her clothes, but she paid no mind to that.
A soft, horrible smile trickled along his features. “Articuno? Oh, no. I think I’ll keep her.”
“No,” Candela said simply, fire in her every word. “I don’t think you will.” Who was this man to seize her quarry? The supine figure was a Titan, plainly, and Titans belonged with the Order. That was the way of the world.
She pointed a hand forward, flames already swirling around it. A ball of fire the size of her head lobbed towards the man, incandescent against the slick dark walls of the icy caverns.
Just as it appeared as though it were going to burn him, however, it just...stopped. Shadows clung to it, suffocating it.
The man tilted his head, the gesture avian, and peered at the ball of fire.
“You’re strong,” he remarked, and the fire winked out, “but I was hoping for more of a challenge.” He began to chuckle.
She snarled. “You want a challenge? I’ll give you it and more. Release Articuno.”
The strange man raised a gloved hand skywards and brought his thumb to his middle finger. A sickening snap resonated through the caves, and suddenly, it was as though the shadows themselves unfolded, revealing thirteen men and women dressed in head-to-toe black, silver patterning criss-crossing their chests.
“Do try to keep up, Titan. I’d hate for the game to end so soon.”
Suddenly, all thirteen of the figures were rushing towards her, and flames danced across her entire body, burning through her clothing. An icy blueness seeped into her gaze, and in the corner of her eye, she saw the man and Articuno’s bonded disappear into the shadows, swallowed by a swirling vortex of darkness.
The figures charged forward all the same, ever faster.
Moltres, she pleaded. The god’s vengeful screams ripped through her throat as the pyric deity took a hold of her.
And the world turned black.