Chapter 4: Return
A sigh escaped the young Pikachu’s lips. Sivaris, gliding on a thermal, turned his head around to look at his rider. “Doin' alright back there, Landon?” he asked.
The Pikachu nodded, looking off to the side, as if observing an odd cloud shape. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he responded finally. “My shoulder’s a little sore from that bullet yesterday, but it’s nothing; war and pain goes hand in hand, after all.”
Sivaris smirked in his knowing way. “Landon, I know that the medallion’s still bothering you…”
Landon looked at his partner. His attitude had definitely changed a lot more than how he was immediately after taking off. “Sivaris, if you felt what I felt, you’d understand. I’ve never felt a force like that…ultimate despair, darkness…It was just horrible…”
The Staraptor shook his head. “Landon, come on, you’re better than that. Juno buried it, so it’s done and over with. Just focus on the fact that it all was a success, despite the fact we lost two warriors to that bloodbath…”
“Yeah…Yeah, you’re right,” Landon replied, his expression changing slightly. “I’m a soldier. If I let myself be consumed by thoughts like these, or dwelling on the deaths of other soldiers, I’m useless in battle.” A grin slowly slid across his muzzle. “This is nothing.”
Sivaris smiled and looked forward again. “There we go, that’s the Landon I know.” He flapped his wings twice, drawing up near Juno and Blazewing as the six flew south towards the Azure Islands. Landon seemed back to his usual self, having praised Sivaris for his exceptional flying skills he used in the battle.
Sivaris laughed. "I just carry you in the air, Landon. You're the one doin' the other half of the work. Nice aim, by the way; that Azumarill didn't know what hit 'im."
The Pikachu smiled and ran his hand through his spiky hair. "Yeah...but that was about the only freebie I got; I wouldn't have wasted so many bullets if that many Royal Enforcers weren't there...man, that Altaria the Azumarill had could really
fly. Almost a match for you, Sivaris...almost."
He grinned back at Landon. "Damn straight."
Meanwhile, some distance behind the two, Maura and Zeb flew along silently, scowls locked on their faces; they resented having to spend an extended amount of time together, especially if there wasn't any fighting enemies involved. But other than her usual contempt for her Latios mount, Maura was thinking to herself about her squad Captain, Landon. Whenever I see him on the islands, he's always so cheerful and happy, or at least calm. But once he enters a battlefield...He's completely different,
thought the Weavile to herself. Why does he get so serious and battle-hardened when fighting the Black Onyx, I wonder...
Her questions would go unanswered, as usual. She did, however, make a silent oath to discover who Landon really was one day, that happy Pikachu, or the experienced soldier.
Then, Zeb decided he should voice his own thoughts to his partner. "Maura, in the battle, you were reckless," he remarked. "Not only did you draw fire towards me often, but you could have jeopardized the mission if you were any less careful. You need to make sure that you-"
"Oh, shut your trap, Psycho," Maura interrupted. "I don't need to be preached to about my battle techniques by someone like you. For Arceus' sake, you're an aerial battler, and I do my fighting on the ground, so you don't even have the right. Now, as usual, I prefer silence from you, rather than your irritating voice. So shut it!" With that, she sent back to her silent fuming.
Zeb's scowl returned double as he continued his flight in silence, Maura's insulting name still stinging him. My name is
The flight felt shorter than the trip to the ambush site for the six Pokémon, due to the battle ending in somewhat of a success, so their spirits were up. Within an hour, the Azure Islands were visible on the horizon, and grew more and more as they came closer. It was only a matter of minutes afterwards that Juno circled around and led the squad towards the landing pad, a smoothed-out section of sand in the middle of the largest island. Down below, Aries stood by as he watched the flying Pokémon return home.
Juno hopped off of Blazewing's back and looked towards the Sceptile, nodding in greeting. Maura and Landon stepped up next to the Gold Rider and saluted, which Aries returned. "So, Juno...report?"
Juno stepped forward once. "As expected, the convoy passed the exact point we set up for ambush at 1500 hours. The enemy was sufficiently confused in the initial attack that most enemy soldiers were taken out within the first two attack runs. Unfortunately, even with our success, we lost two soldiers in the ensuing bloodbath...You see, they had an entire contingent of Royal Enforcers with them."
"Dear Arceus, that many?!" Aries cried, his eyes wide. "What in the world were they transporting...?"
Juno continued. "As expected, they had prototype and experimental weapons and technologies. As you can see, we were unable to bring anything back, because they torched the convoy when they realized the battle was lost; they must have been under orders to make sure that what they had could not fall into enemy hands no matter the cost. However...they were also transporting something...else..." Juno paused for a second. "It was what seemed to be a normal platinum medallion bearing Skepter's crest. This proved to be far from the truth even once we found it.
"It was completely untouched by the fires, both it and the velvet-lined box the medallion was found in, which was most unusual on its own. More of its...uniqueness revealed itself once Landon reached out to grab it."
The Sceptile nodded and looked to the young Pikachu. "What happened?"
Landon's expression darkened a little as he remembered exactly what he felt. "My body locked up as soon as my paw latched around it, and whatever power the medallion contained held me fast. I felt...cold. All the happiness, all the good feelings inside me, were instantly drained away, and replaced with dread, despair, and darkness...I can only accurately describe it as pure evil, whatever the hell it was…”
Aries nodded once more, and turned his attention to regard all three standing before him. "Well, I'm glad it was a success, and that the three of you, at the least, came back alive. Juno, I'd like you to come with me, I'm sure we have more to discuss. Maura, Landon, you two are relieved of duty for the remainder of the day. Landon, I'd take care of that bruise before it becomes a problem. Dismissed!"
Landon and Maura saluted once more before doing an about-face and walking away. Sivaris joined his rider, but Zeb flew off on his own, away from Maura.
As Landon and Sivaris walked (the trip was too slow for the Staraptor to remain airborne), they stayed silent, though both had smiles on their faces. They had returned successful from their most important mission yet, so spirits were higher than normal. Soon, however, Sivaris' smile turned into a knowing smirk. "I can see where we're headed, my love-struck friend."
That earned him a light punch to his wing from the Pikachu. "Sure, why doncha just go tell the whole damn island?" he said sarcastically. He smiled again, however.
Sivaris gave a mock insulted look to his rider. "Well, if that's how you're going to act, then I shall!" He took to the air and circled around Landon. "You will forever regret the day you dared mar the perfection that is Sivaris of the Typhoon Runners, my small prey!" With that Sivaris flew away, a laugh barely audible from his retreating form.
Landon chuckled and continued along his path. He was thankful that he had decided to tell his mount about his secret crush; Sivaris definitely cared for Landon, and he showed it by swearing to never tell another soul about it until Landon himself did, as well as more or less excusing himself whenever Landon decided to go meet with his favorite Pokémon in the world. He quickened his pace as he saw the wooden infirmary building ahead, a pretty little Sandshrew maiden visible in one of the windows.
The Sandshrew seemed to sigh as she washed her paws, apparently having finished treating a patient. By her white clothing and mouth covering around her neck, it was obvious that she was a surgeon. She chanced a glance out of the window beside her, and her bright cerulean eyes suddenly went wide as she spotted Landon approaching. She disappeared from the window in an instant. Mere moments later, Zhunjai burst out of the front doors and raced down the steps and across the sand to meet the Pikachu halfway.
She smiled. "Well, glad to see you made it back in one piece, Landon," she said, her voice light and cheerful. "I was afraid that this time I'd have to sew your arm back on, or something."
"Dost mine ears deceive me?" Landon retorted. "Is my best friend actually doubting my capabilities in battle, or did a Spinda fuddle my senses?"
Zhunjai couldn't help but let out a little giggle at that. "You're always so defensive of your so-called capabilities. Just know that I was worried for your life, as usual. You know war is a risky business, especially against the Black Onyx."
Landon shrugged and sat down on the steps to the infirmary building, the female joining him a second later. "Well, you know what they say about the business of war." He gave a smirk. "Business is boomin'."
Before Zhunjai could respond in a similar fashion, she found she could no longer ignore the large purple bruise that had replaced his shoulder by now. "Landon...please, would you let me at least get you some ice for that? It's gonna get ugly real quick if you don't do something about it..."
Landon nodded, his expression becoming a little more sober. "Yeah, sure. I was...gonna ask you in a moment anyway."
Landon stayed where he sat as Zhunjai disappeared inside the infirmary for a few moments, returning with a blue icebag. She handed it to Landon, who immediately placed it on his shoulder. He gave a muffled hiss, followed by a relieved sigh. "Ah, that feels a lot better..."
Zhunjai sat next to him again. "It was hurting you a lot more than you showed, wasn't it, Landon...?"
He responded with a shrug. "Not like it matters that much. I am a soldier and still bodily able, so it's really nothing to worry much about. Besides...I've had worse than this..." He emphasized the statement by touching the scar that used to be his left eye.
Zhunjai sighed. "I know, Landon, but...Well, I know you're strong, but you don't have to act like you're unable to feel pain. You're mortal like the rest of us, but you always shrug off every injury, always raring to go on to the next mission, to the next battle..." She looked down at the sand. "It's a little unnerving, sometimes. I admire you for your strength, but I also worry about how you treat yourself as well because of that strength...It's okay to feel the weakness of the flesh sometimes..."
Landon nodded slowly, also looking down at the ground. "I've endured way too much to let something as simple as a bruise or a few cuts bother me, Zhunjai...I've seen the horrors of the Black Onyx Kingdom nearly my entire life, I know what they're capable of." He returned his gaze to the Sandshrew maiden. "To take them down once and for all, weakness of the flesh is something that I cannot allow myself to feel. Besides," he added with a grin, hoping to brighten the mood of the conversation, "I can always trust on you to repair whatever damage I get in battle, from a cut on my arm to a severed limb!"
A thud reverberated in the air as Zhunjai pounded her fist on his head in retaliation. "Dammit, Landon, that's nothing to act so coolly about! That's serious business!"
"Alright, alright, sheesh!" Landon cried in response, head bowed and paws clasped to the growing bump on his head. He then moved the icepack from his shoulder to the new wound. Under his breath, he whispered, "Sometimes I worry more about losing my life at your hands than in battle..."
The huge doors to the throne room slowly opened for the Charmeleon. On his body, he wore the uniform of the Black Onyx Kingdom, a completely black outfit. On the left side of his chest, the insignia of an upside-down trident surrounded by flames was embroidered; on the right side, the symbol of the rank of Captain. He clasped his claws behind his back, one of them a completely metallic, robotic arm. His gaze was icy in his concentration, as he prepared to report the bad news to his rather...temperamental liege. Soon, the doors had opened completely. The Charmeleon beckoned with his metal claw to the female Zangoose standing behind him, and the two began walking down the carpeted path between many rows of onlookers, all garbed in black, wickedly-spiked armor. As they passed each row, the armored Pokémon in that line turned as one to face the front in practiced fashion.
Finally, the Charmeleon and the Zangoose reached the front of the crowd where they knelt and bowed their heads before their leader, the Ampharos warlord, King Skepter.
Skepter regarded the two from his throne, then finally nodded and raised a paw. "Rise, Captain Zanix." The Charmeleon immediately rose to his feet, and Skepter continued. "Captain, your report on the investigation on the intercepted convoy?"
"Your majesty, it appears that raiders local to the Conda area had set up an ambush along the convoy's route," Zanix explained. "There did not seem to be any survivors of the attack; in fact, even the bodies did not remain, only ashes and the charred husks of the convoy vehicles. We're afraid that we do not know yet if anything was taken, nor how large the ambush force was. My sources do speculate that it was a force of large size, possibly numbered between fifty to one hundred raiders."
Skepter's gaze narrowed, and he huffed. "It was him...He
was the perpetrator of this attack..."
Zanix blinked. "Excuse me, your Highness...?"
Skepter bared his teeth. "Juno, you fool!"
Zanix quickly took a step back in shock, but regained his composure immediately. "Begging your pardon, milord, but...this attack goes against everything we've known about Juno's strategies from the records stolen from the Silver Apex," he explained. "There's no evidence to suggest Juno was at the center of this ambush. The last time he was sighted was just after his escape from your captivity of him, heading into Symarix itself. We've been combing the city ever since the sighting for any signs of him or the remainder of the Silver Apex, but so far to no avail."
The paranoid monarch would not be convinced by Zanix's logic, however. He slouched a little in his throne. "It was
him, I just know it...Juno's always been the source of my misery, always the one thorn preventing my Kingdom from obtaining the ultimate goal of bringing the world together under one rule...my rule..."
Zanix gawked at his king, but instead of asking about it, he merely stood there, awaiting further orders; he knew better than to question King Skepter. He who questioned his King met the rather unfriendly point of his sword.
After another minute of rambling mutterings, Skepter sat up straight in his throne again. "What has been done to rectify the destruction of the convoy and the cargo, Captain?"
Zanix nodded. "There is an ongoing investigation into the true culprits of the attack, as well as their location, milord. As for the cargo, I have already made arrangements for the Southern Manufacturing Plant to begin construction on more prototype weapons to be done immediately and subsequently shipped to Monaraca in complete secrecy."
A smirk crossed Skepter's lips. "I was right to promote you to Captain, Zanix. You always think ahead and take the best course of action. A fine quality in a leader, one my military needs more of."
Zanix knelt once more. "You honor me, your Highness."
Skepter clapped his paws together once. "Very well, Zanix, I entrust the operation to your wisdom. You and Ensign Zyrina may take your leave to your quarters now."
"At once, your majesty!" the two kneeling Pokémon said together. They then rose, turned around, and exited the throne room as they had entered.
Once the huge doors had closed some distance behind them, and the hallway was clear of others, Zanix stopped and turned to the Zangoose. "Zyrina...why did you fight that other Ensign in the courtyard today?"
Zyrina seemed taken aback by his sudden question. "My apologies, Captain, but in all fairness, he challenged me. How could I turn that down, especially after he insulted Tyrille? I held back, though, so no blood was drawn from his pathetic body." She flexed her claws menacingly.
"Zyrina, we may have the largest military in the world, but that's no reason to think that thinning out our own ranks, regardless of who initiated the attack, would be alright," Zanix scolded. "You're lucky that the Combusken still lives, and wasn't cut to ribbons."
Zyrina turned her scowl towards the wall. "I said I held back..."
Zanix nodded and turned around. "Go to your barracks and get some sleep, Zyrina. Tomorrow, my squadron will be making a run of Symarix, and I expect everyone to be at tip-top shape for our assignment."
"What's the use of searching those ruins, sir?!" Zyrina asked, almost demandingly.
"To ensure Skepter's...perfect
vision for the world is possible, we need to root out all usurpers and enemies, wherever they may hide," Zanix explained, a tone of displeasure in his voice. "It is our duty to king and country, after all. Now, begone. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
Zyrina gave a salute and turned into the hallway to the barracks. She allowed herself a smirk at Zanix's obvious displeasure with their king. Zanix wasn't agreeable with Skepter's ways, but he did believe uniting the world under one flag would finally be the end of wars, so he allowed himself to do the things that were necessary of him as a Black Onyx Captain to ensure this vision for the future.
Zyrina didn't much care, either way. She was bored of useless missions, but she did relish the chances to fight their enemies, and her Captain offered her this opportunity more than any other.