Prisons / Vigils / Preludes and Nocturnes / A Warning / A Fall, Down Into the Dark
Ten years ago
The crowd moved as one, their finery shifting and catching the light as they followed the action across the arena, hit and counter-hit. Ferocious pulses of electricity, of darkness, of poison and acid stabbed and arced through the air, crackling off the powerful shield that protected the audience. A succession of pokémon stamped and cracked the arena floor, trading blows, feet and claws and paws leaving broad gouges in the substrate or floating above it.
The trainers would have been on that floor, once; the old clan adepts had fought alongside their pokémon—fought as their pokémon—on storm-swept battlefields for the glory of their queens and princes, or against monsters, or evil gods.
Nocturna raised her arm and pointed at the mega-evolved electivire, her cape and robes billowing in timed gusts from carefully placed wind machines. A mega stone glittered at her throat, inset in a necklace of silver scales.
"Venoquake, Amarna," she pronounced in rolling tones that echoed over the sound system.
The mega-evolved drapion, all legs and spikes and snapping pincers, pointed its double tail skyward and began raining down globs of purple poison.
"What good is an attack that doesn't hit?" came the reply from her opponent, drawling in his Kalosian accent. "Show them, Octavia. Wild charge!"
The mega electivire skittered, spiderlike, its body supported by a host of black cables multiplied in the battle evolution. It dodged between clots of poison, closing in on the drapion.
Electricity cracked between them as the lightning around the electivire grew in intensity, and it darted in close, fists clenched as if grasping the thunderbolt like a god—
The drapion slammed the arena floor, and the wave of power sheared through the arena substrate, passing under the electivire's darting cables—and then upward, exploding in a gout of poison- and ground-type energy. The electivire flew into the air. It hit the ground hard, cables splaying uselessly as it rolled to a stop and turned to energy, fainting, the mega evolution falling away.
"Hard to dodge the 'quake, isn't it?" Nocturna said, and she smiled, the glitter of a dozen lights and cameras on her, the roar of the crowd in her ears, and her opponent a distant figure who'd just lost his strongest pokémon.
Nocturna shut the door on her last few guests, pulling off the mask of her gym leader's costume and becoming Genevieve Park again.
She breathed out, a long exhalation, and stepped into a stone tunnel dug centuries ago when the gym had been a castle.
The match had been a success, an S-tier exhibition against a professional trainer from Kalos. She'd won—she'd been expected to, a gym leader on her home turf with her best pokémon—but more importantly, the match had been well-attended and appreciated, the audience thrilled at the ripples of power and the skill of the trainers.
Orthrus raised their heads as she came to her apartments.
She stripped off her sweaty robes, the black silks rippling with birdwing iridescence. Removing her mega stone necklace produced its usual moment of wooziness and she sat down in her armchair carefully.
Orthrus stumped over. "Good fight?" they chorused.
Gen petted the zweilous's heads as she waited for the dizzy spell to pass. "Perfect, it will be on the internet in a few hours, I'm sure. The league officials were pleased."
There had been a crackdown recently on nepotistic gym appointments, so greater scrutiny was paid to every new gym leader—but in Gen's case this was more a formality. No one wanted the Sunset Mountain gym, or not for long.
Gen had used her mixed-type team for this fight, a succession of bruisers she'd brought together as a professional trainer back in Johto. Even then she'd gotten along best with dark-types, their melancholies and sharp humor reflecting her own. When the conditional acceptance for her gym leadership had come in, she'd hastily assembled a dark-type roster, and several of those pokémon had left, amicably traded, as she worked on a team she could depend on.
She didn't need a constantly rotating roster to keep everyone below level thirty, as the tier one gym leader might; Sunset Mountain was the tier seven gym, and getting everyone at par had been the challenge. Even if they pushed the level limit a bit, the long winters tended to be almost devoid of battles, so their strength would decline naturally after the rush of the summer season.
She could even shut down the gym if she wanted to, the league administrators had said. Porphyry City's steady rains might be preferable to the meters of snow and brutal wind that would turn the old mountain castle icy and leave her alone in its echoing chambers as the staff departed.
The previous gym leaders always had. But Gen thought of the old clan-leaders who had remained through storm and siege. She had a duty.
Her pokédex beeped, the concierge reporting that all the guests had retired to their guest rooms in the gym, or had left to the pokémon center or other accommodation. Gen sent her a quick thank-you and hopped into the shower.
Well past midnight, Gen disabled the security system on her floor, and she left through a maintenance door into a stairwell. It ended in a cul-de-sac and more doors, and one door she unlocked, following a tunnel that sloped downward to a final door set in a construction partition covered in warning signs.
She tossed a dusk ball to the ground, releasing a shiny caligryph in flash of purple light.
The bipedal griffin straightened, looked at her sternly. "Don't do this, Gen," he said.
"I know, Albus. But I can't not."
Beyond the door was a vertical tunnel, and on the caligryph's back she floated down, down, down.
A part of her mind wondered, as it always did, at her calmness: the equanimity of the sacrifice, drugged, gliding down into the dark.
At the bottom was a cave, and in the cave was something enormous: it was midnight blue streaked with silver, the fur ticked to look frosty in the light, and it slithered out to meet her. It was as big as a bus and longer, its many-legged coils falling away into the dark.
It hit the barrier and hissed.
From her pockets she produced a plate and a vial, and she spilled the vial on the plate, and with an iron rod she pushed the plate across an invisible line.
The creature licked at the blood, dragging the plate across the stone. Its eyes were flat black, mirrors at the right angle. It rubbed up against the wall, groaning.
They had no idea why or how it was imprisoned in the cave, no idea what it was except for the ice- and dark-type auras suggested by pokédex analysis. Things could pass the shield, but not it, not pokémon.
They had no idea how the barrier worked or when it might fail.
No one kept the Sunset Mountain gym for long. The people of the second crossing had built it centuries ago as a warlord's stronghold, its narrow paths and sheer drops proof against siege, but their enemy had been inside the walls, all along. They'd delved too greedily and too deep, as the poet said.
Gen's time in the tournament cycle had wound down and she'd applied for gym appointments for years without success. The system was bogged down with certifying alternate gyms while the primary positions were often held by the old clans defending an ancient privilege.
She came to Gaiien, a wild-west league just barely incorporated, its third-crossing cities still growing. People leave Sunset Mountain after six months or less, the league officials told her; the workers say it's haunted and the local people avoid it and the pokémon too.
The mountain, the mountain, the mountain. She'd asked the native people, the people of the second crossing, with their eyes that shone in the firelight and pokémon that never saw a pokéball. They told her stories about queens and princes, gods that left and gods that stayed, and of demons that stole vitality and granted terrible powers.
Dark-types were immune to psychic attack; a newborn could shut out a mind-probe from a master. Sometimes, though, they could learn how to send them.
The thing in the cave, its serpentine coils stretching far away into tunnels, sent her blistering commands that she could not follow. She had no idea how to lower the barrier, and neither did it, which was what had saved her.
Deep under ice, under earth, under stone, it spoke to her, and she gave it blood and sugar and scanned it with her pokédex and deleted the scans before she went back up, before it could sync.
It spoke to her, dark-type to dark-type specialist. Had the other gym leaders heard it? They'd had other type affinities, some of them. They'd had the sense to run, perhaps. But a gym leadership was more than a cushy summer position, more than teaching, more than battling. Type specialists had stood as bulwarks against strange and terrible things, once. They still could.
She had a duty.
Eventually it tired and shuffled away into the dark, sleeping through its long imprisonment. Gen wondered if her own was just beginning.
4/8/2017 - Someday I will stop tweaking this, but today is not that day.
9/18/2016 - Couple of small tweaks here.
A map of the Gaiien region. Check out gaiienpokedex on tumblr or deviantart for more info, including gym leader names and specialties.