We travelled south down along the cliff walls, skirting them until we came to a ravine with a gentle climb. Remish led us up them, casting furtive glances in all directions. He seemed more high-strung and cautious than his laid-back brother, as if expecting an attack at any second. The archer never said much, only giving vague grunts whenever Zekarus asked him a question. On the other hand, Zekarus was as talkative as a song bird. I filled him in on my adventures here—though I didn’t dare mention anything about time travel—and in turn he shared a few of his own. From the sound of it, Zekarus was very mischievous, having an affinity with trouble. Yet I liked his easy-going nature, and it put me at ease. Even Sniper, who followed dejectedly behind, seemed to relax after Zek released the third peal of laughter from me.
Feeling more comfortable with the boys, I braved more questions. “So… what exactly is going on in this, er, land?”
Zekarus’ energy dimmed a bit, but offered a sad smile. “War, Zayna. I’m afraid you picked the wrong time to visit.”
“War?” I blinked, unable to comprehend the word.
“Yes,” Zekarus’ eyes took on a far-away look. “The Southern Kingdom is rising against the Northern Kingdom, and all the places in between are in utter chaos.” He grew silent for some time, reflective, but then turned thoughtful. “Zayna? How much do you know about the kingdoms in this land?”
Remish suddenly stopped, turning to fix his severe gaze on his brother. Both engaged in an intense staring contest, neither side giving in to the other. I stood by in bafflement, wondering if I had missed something. Finally, Zekarus spoke in a soft undertone.
“I know what I am doing.”
Remish narrowed his eyes, replying coldly, “I hope you do.”
With that, he turned his back on us again, leaving a chill in the air. Only after he put a little distance between us did I dare ask Zekarus, “What was that about?”
Zekarus sighed, “Nothing. Don’t worry about it. So, want a history lesson?”
I glanced up at Remish tentatively. “Sure?”
The young man grinned, not even hesitating for a second as he started his story:
“A long time ago, our ancestors settled Unova in tiny villages scattered across the land. For ages, the villages lived separate lives from one another, until an adventurous governor set out to establish trade. Eventually, the villages united, forming one thriving kingdom that spread from the oceans down south, to the mountains in the north. However, the day came when the sole monarch died of an ill disease, and a usurper rose to the throne. The usurper introduced new ideas, and ruled with an iron fist. Some parts of the land grew to like his ideas, but the northern regions objected his tyranny.
“They broke away from the south, forming their own kingdom with the one true heir to the crown. The usurper, enraged by their rebellion, brought forth armies to bring the new kingdom back under his dominion. However, the resistance they met overwhelmed their forces, and they retreated back to their kingdom in the south. Though bitter about their defeat, they left the new Northern Kingdom alone for a time, until another ambitious man rose to command. Decades had passed, and both kingdoms had attained an era of peace and wealth. Yet the new commander of the Southern Kingdom wanted to regain the lands that his Kingdom had lost. He was hungry for power and control. He didn’t want a kingdom; he wanted an empire.
“Another war began, though one this time that would last for a hundred years. In time, the Kingdoms began to decay from the inside, out. The wealth and splendor of the old ages were burned to the ground as our land was ravished. Both Kingdoms tried pulling everything they could to gain ground against the enemy, but never did they realize that they were destroying themselves.”
Zekarus’ expression grew weary as he finished his tale, “In the past year, corruption was sown in the Northern Kingdom. The true King was assassinated upon his own throne, and his heirs, two twin brothers who were barely of age, were forced to flee from their home. Now a pretender sits upon the throne, mercilessly playing the war game until we have lost all we gained.”
The young man fell silent, the brightness of his character leaving his face. He suddenly looked older to me, like a man who had seen too much sorrow in his young life. I slowly absorbed his story, still sorting through all the details. I had never taken a history class, and regrettably I didn’t know as much as I should about Unova’s roots. But I felt like I had heard a story like this before. I just couldn’t put my thumb on when and where. When I glanced up from my thoughts, I met Zekarus’ solemn eyes. Then I knew.
“You’re… you’re the brothers from the story,” I uttered, looking between the two. “You’re princes…”
,” Remish stopped.
He had brought us to the opening of a cave, where the remains of a fire rested before its maw. Little evidences of a camp were scattered across the rocky ground: a pile of neatly stacked wood by the fireside, a line of rope leading from one cliff wall to the other that held strips of meat or clothes, and a pair of logs used for seating.
“Welcome to our camp, Miss White,” Zekarus welcomed, livening up once again. “It’s not much, but it’s been our home for the past little while.”
“It’s…,” I started, but trailed off as I heard barking. Dog-like barking. To my surprise, a familiar face emerged from the cave with her stumpy tail wagging. “Lilly!”
I ran to her, words not even describing my joy. As soon as we met, I wrapped my arms around her wooly neck and held her tight. She squirmed in my hold until she could lick the tears off my cheeks, whimpering happily all the while. I didn’t notice till later that a bandage had been wrapped around her thigh, clean and white.
“Ah, so she’s yours, then?” Zekarus’ eyes glinted as he laughed.
“Zekarus, what is this?” Remish sighed, shaking his head.
“I found her out in the woods, trying to follow some North Kingdom troops,” Zekarus sheepishly answered, ducking his head. “The poor thing was bleeding, and… well, I couldn’t help it. I had to help her out.”
Wiping the tears from my face, I finally released my Stoutland—then turned and hugged Zekarus. His body stiffened in surprise, but gently lowered his arms around me.
“Thank you so much, Zek,” I whispered, ever grateful.
“You’re very welcome,” Zekarus chuckled, holding me tighter before quickly pulling away. Clearing his throat, he added, “Er, but you should be a little more careful—the people of this land aren’t very… kind to Beasts.”
I laughed. “I think I figured that out long ago.”
Remish had quietly watched us for some time before suddenly speaking up, “Are
you a witch?”
“No, of course not,” I rolled my eyes, exasperated. “Why does everyone keep accusing me of that?”
Remish and Zekarus exchanged glances.
“That is what they call those who bond with the Beasts,” Remish offered an explanation.
I frowned, turning to Sniper and Lilly. “Is that such a bad thing? Where I am from, people and Pok—people and ‘Beasts’ live together in harmony.”
“Is that true?” Remish’s eyebrows lifted in doubt. “Can that be so?”
Zekarus smiled. “How ideal would that be?”
I stared. My head buzzed, trying to tell me that I was missing something immensely important. No way. There was no way…
“Perhaps… you can
help us, then,” Remish’s stony masked softened some, and I could sense that he was lowering his guard some. Maybe he still didn’t trust me, but at least he was giving me a chance to prove myself.
“Help with what?” I blinked. I overheard them before, mentioning this, but what did they mean? How could I be of any service to them? They’ve already helped me more than I could repay them, I suppose.
“We, er, actually wondered if you might be able to help our friend,” Zekarus again turned sheepish, glancing cagily towards the cave. When I furrowed my brows, he took my hand. “Come with me.”
I didn’t object, though I was beginning to wonder why these two acted so elusively. Zekarus pulled me through their humble camp, towards the gateway into the cliff face. I felt apprehensive approaching the cave, given my adventures earlier that day, but Zekarus squeezed my hand reassuringly with an added wink.
“Um, I should warn you. Our ‘friend’ might be a little… surprising,” Zekarus clued me in as we stepped inside, sounding uncharacteristically nervous.
My question answered itself when a gust of wind suddenly blew my hair back. Rustling filled the darkness as something massive shifted against the rock. Rumbling rattled my bones before the shadows in front of me moved. I tensed, automatically expecting an attack. Soon, I was staring into the golden eyes of a dragon.
“Zayna, this is our friend, Shachor,” Zekarus introduced us, enjoying my astonishment.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw more of “his friend.” The dragon was massive, taking up the whole back part of the cave. Its wary slitted eyes watched me from a horse-shaped head, striped with shades of black and white. The long neck that held it sported a main of silvery feathers, as fine as down. It lay on its side, over long limbs that ended in sharp talons. Only when I got over its majesty did I notice its misery. Every breath came out in slow, wheezing gusts—its broad chest rising and falling in a sickly rhythm.
Zekarus moved by its side, placing a hand on one of its ivory horns. The dragon didn’t strike; instead, it closed its eyes and rumbled again. Very timidly, I walked up to the creature as well, marveling at its size. The only Pokémon that I could compare it to… was N’s Legendary. Was this a Legendary as well? I worried that it might not be so friendly to me, but Shachor only eyed me through a narrowed lid.
“He’s… magnificent,” I breathed. “But… what’s wrong with him?”
“He is ill,” came Zekarus’ soft reply. “And we are not sure how to…”
I met his eyes, knowing what he meant. Braving the last few feet that distanced me from Shachor, I knelt and placed my hand on its cheek. The scaly hide felt warm beneath my hand.
“Can you help him?” Zekarus asked hopefully.
Shachor’s golden eyes opened again, and up close I could see into its depths. Staring into them felt like standing and peering over the edge of a bottomless canyon. Ancient, timeless… familiar. But sadness; much sadness in those eyes.
I started, shaking from the spell.
“Um, yeah,” I finally replied, feeling a little dizzy. “I think I might have some medicine in my—”
I stopped as I became painfully aware of the absence one of my belongings: my bag. “Crap,” I cursed.
“My bag,” I winced. “It was confiscated by those soldiers. They still have it.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, letting out a moan. “I can’t believe that I lost it. It has everything—all of my stuff. And… medicine, and… Ugh, this is bad.”
“That is not the only ‘bad’ development,” Remish’s voice suddenly called from the entrance. Zekarus and I turned to see him outlined against the light outside. “Soldiers are traveling up the ravine.”
“How many?” his twin brother whirled around, sounding alarmed.
“Thirty, and all armed to the teeth.”
“We can’t let them find us!”
Remish nodded grimly. “If they find Shachor…”
I glanced between the two twins, sensing the fear that stiffened them both. I realized something then: they had bonded with Shachor. Two brothers, two twins—one dragon…
“We have to fight,” I stood, clenching my fists in determination.
They looked at me in surprise.
“What?” I shrugged, but they kept staring. Shaking my head, I continued, “Look, we can’t let them get to this cave, right?”
“But there’s only two of us,” Remish lowered his head, growing ancient.
I raised an eyebrow. “’cuse me?”
“Okay… then three of us,” Zekarus tried to repair his brother’s damage.
I smiled, “Still not close. I can add six others to our team.”
The brothers exchanged confused glances.
Remish, still doubtful, ventured to ask, “What do you mean?”
Right on cue, Sniper and Lilly poked their heads into the cave. I whistled to them, and the two joined us in the cave, ogling at the giant within.
“Lilly can’t fight, but Sniper can,” I started to explain, reaching for the Poke Balls at my belt. “And I got five others right here.”
Ripping them from their placing, I threw the capsules one at a time. The cave lit up with each consecutive flash, momentarily illuminating the expressions of total shock on the faces of the twins. First came Kiki, my ever quirky Simipour with her glowing smile. She was followed by my Darmanitan, Rascal, and Terra the Scrafty. Last of all, Rouge the Krookodile and Archie the Archeops.
“What sorcery is this?” Remish recoiled, fear mixing with his amazement.
Rouge narrowed his eyes at the prince, crossing his arms with immediate dislike. Still grinning, I rested my elbow on the crocodile’s shoulder. “It’s not sorcery, guys. It’s science—technology.”
“Science?” Zekarus scrunched his nose. “This is the strangest piece of science I have ever seen.”
“Don’t worry too much about it,” I laughed. “It’s beside the point. Now, I got six fighters here—what’s the plan?”
Remish released a sigh, shaking his head. “We’re still outnumbered. I don’t see how we can stand a chance.”
“Wait…” Zekarus mused, examining my team. “I think… I might have an idea.”
“Throw it at me,” I grinned, hoping he would say that.