nandosagi: (Minene Uryuu)
[personal profile] nandosagi

-:-

CHAPTER 2: The Nostalgia of the Life Orb

Looker's questioning of Giovanni had gone on for some time, but the two were still seated at the table in the dingy holding room. Giovanni's threat to make the interrogation difficult had been followed through on, as he attempted to avoid answering as many things as possible. Despite this, Looker was relatively satisfied with the answers and confirmations of Giovanni's plans he was receiving.

"Now, want to be knowing I am of those that were working with you on this plan that was half-baked. Already arrested I have, the ones calling themselves Proton and Ariana. Want to be knowing more about these two…" From his files, Looker pulled two documents and thrust them onto the table before Giovanni's eyes. "N. Lalume and G. Neumann. These two haven't been being rounded up. What I am wanting to know is about them."

"Lalume had nothing to do with any of this. She just does what I tell her to do, and even then, she doesn't always listen. She's a wild one, an independent and free mind that takes orders from noone. Gideon on the other hand…"

Just then, Giovanni was interrupted by the sound of the interrogation room door opening. One of Looker's subordinates was standing behind it.

"Mr. Looker, sir. There's a call for you."

"Then seems it be that we will have to put this interrogation of questioning on hold. Excuse me."

Looker rose from his seat, and after taking note to push the chair back under the table, exited the room. Right outside, the officer was waiting with the phone, which he handed to his superior immediately.

"Hello, being this is Inspector Looker." Suddenly, Looker's face changed as he heard whatever the person on the other end of the line was telling him. His blank expression became one of surprise. "You really are certainly sure that such a thing is being appropriate? Being a large risk, it is. …Oh, no, sir, never would I think to backtalk you. That is not something I would ever be caught not not doing! Got it I am having. Goodbye, sir."

After hanging up the phone, Looker stepped back into the interrogation room, where Giovanni had almost literally not moved at all. As he rejoined his prisoner at the table, Looker leaned his elbows on the desk and clasped his hands.

"Now, being I am authorized to offer you a deal. I have been being informed by the superiors above me that this man, the one named Gideon Neumann, is a primary target of importance. For that reason, the order of direction I have been given is to offer you this: if you are agreeing to assist in the takedown and arrest of Gideon Neumann, being I will to allow you off with only house arrest."

The news of this change in events surprised Giovanni greatly, causing him to widen his eyes and then blink repeatedly. "And what of my associates?"

"Given they all will be one last chance to reform. All remaining members of the Team Rocket will not be getting arrested for any past crimes unless they are committing more of them. It is all sitting here, graciously waiting before you for your approval."

Giovanni evaluated the offer. On the surface, he thought about rejecting it due to being unwilling to accept the idea of house arrest. He was used to his freedom, and having the police monitoring his every move felt too invasive. Further thought made him realize how unnecessary that worry was, however, as he had plenty of ways he could subvert the surveillance. Old ways of evading the eye of law enforcement from years past would work just as well for this. With that decided, Giovanni's thoughts turned to his followers. Though many of them had been peeled off by the increased zealousness of both the Tohjo Continent's government and the International Police in hunting them down over recent years, he still held on to a core group of loyalists. He knew he could have never reached the power he once held without their help, so if he had to go down, he decided he owed it to them to let them have another chance. Throwing Gideon under the bus would be a price he'd have to pay.

"I never trusted Gideon all that much anyway," the crime boss finally mumbled to answer, his eyes closed reflectively. "Your terms are acceptable. Let's take him down."

-:-

Matt, Olivia, Bunny and Nekou were hiking on a trail in the mountains about three miles from the stadium. The trail was relatively straightforward, but it was clearly not well-traversed, a fact made plain by the crunching foliage and rocks under the group's feet.

Of the group, Matt and Bunny were in the lead, with Reuniclus floating nearby. In Matt's hands was a thin tablet computer displaying a map of the area, supplemented with the information that Bunny was providing.

"It won't be long now," Bunny pointed out, peering at the map on Matt's computer screen. "The Ruins were just a little further up this trail."

"I haven't been this excited for a study since La Ciudad Dorada six years ago." Matt's manner was a bit more cheerful than it was just a short time earlier. He was walking with evident energy, and judging by his interest in the upcoming research, it quite plainly was something he needed to invest his attention in. "I wonder what we'll find there. They say that Argyros was quite the civilization."

"Will you two keep it down up there? I'm trying to read!"

Trailing Matt and Bunny, Nekou was lounging on the back of Tanya, Matt's Heatran, to avoid having to actually walk the whole way up the mountain trail. She was amusing herself by reading a book while she snacked on a bag of bacon strips that she had stored between her breasts for convenience. Matt had not been paying attention to her in the least after giving in and letting her ride on Tanya, so when he turned around and saw this sight, he stopped dead in his tracks from the shock.

"Who are you to tell me to be quiet when you work for me? And how about you stash your food somewhere a little less vulgar while you're at it!"

"You mad?" Nekou taunted, clearly encouraged by Matt's complaints. "I'll put my food wherever I want. Deal with it."

"I guess you've forgotten who you work for, you leech." Suddenly, Matt noticed the actual book Nekou was reading. "A book on the Periodic Table of Elements?" he stuttered in complete surprise. "You're a scientist?"

"I just have fun dicking around with chemicals and such," was Nekou's casual reply. "I just happen to be good at what I do. And reading books like this makes me even better."

Sufficiently quieted by this unexpected discovery, Matt turned back around and began leading his group up the trail. His mind was now filled with new questions, primarily just who Nekou was, if she could actually be a brilliant chemist with her erratic behavior.

"Nekou, where are you from?" Olivia's question indirectly put Matt's thoughts into words. It also helped by breaking the awkward silence that had briefly set in.

"I don't know where I was born," Nekou answered with surprising bluntness, even though she hadn't really been asked this, "but I grew up in Mahogany Town, then I lived in Viridian City for a while. My parents moved a lot. What about you, Bunny? How do you know my new bodyguard client?"

This remark made Matt cringe, but Bunny was unaffected by it. "A few years ago, we met up in northern Sinnoh. I was researching the Plates, the mystical items that are said to be pieces of Arceus's power. Also, I was trying to stop my old mentor, who was also after the Plates."

"The son of a bitch shot me…" Matt added, his words carrying overwhelming bitterness. "I've been through worse, but still…"

"That's actually an interesting story." Both Matt and Bunny were caught off-guard once again by Nekou actually saying something complimenting. "And I know your story, Olivia. You're the daughter of the famous hero Rich Mistbloom and the Frontier Society commissioner. Now you're living with the body I'm guarding as you gear up to start your own training journey, since your father…"

"…left on a trip and never came back." As he interrupted Nekou's sentence with a conclusion of his own, Matt shot the lounging young woman a sickeningly serious look. Even she was able to realize to back off of the topic because of the intensity of Matt's gaze.

Mere moments later, though, her intensity returned. "Watch out!"

Caught completely off guard, both Matt and Bunny barely had the consciousness to get out of the way of the Ice Beam that was aimed at them from the sky. They frantically searched around for the source of the attack, but were unable to locate it.

"What just attacked us?" Bunny screeched, briefly overcome with panic. "I didn't see a thing!"

"Nekou, what was it that you saw? You saw it, didn't you?"

As she climbed carefully down from Tanya's back, Nekou simply pointed into the air and said, "It's right there."

Matt and Bunny whipped around again, just barely making it in time to catch a glimpse of the Pokémon assaulting them. Though clearly avian in nature, it looked unlike any typical bird. Its main body was ball-shaped and mainly colored green, with a wide, jagged black stripe going around the middle. Inside that stripe were two round blue eyes, and a black, three-pronged appendage emerged from each side. Atop its body was a black outgrowth with another eye on it, and the Pokémon's two wings – each comprised of four oversized feathers colored mainly yellow – surrounded it. Four more feathers of similar coloration hung from the Pokémon's underside.

"That Pokémon…" Memories of a bygone time flashed through Matt's mind. Though he could not recall the species name of it, he had seen the Pokémon before. It was one of the Pokémon used by Queen Shadow, the antagonist whose final battle with Rich Matt had witnessed five years prior.

"It's a Sigilyph," Nekou informed, her tone becoming unusually serious. "They're said to guard ancient towns even in this modern era."

"Then this is where the Argyros Ruins are!"

"You're right," Bunny confirmed, "this is the place. But we'll have to beat Sigilyph first, and I wasn't prepared for this…"

"My dad fought a Sigilyph," Olivia chimed in, recalling the same events that Matt did. "He said it was a Psychic and Flying-type. I know you've got something to beat that."

Matt looked up to Reuniclus, but then nodded, deciding that she wasn't right for the job. Instead, he reached into his bag and removed an Ultra Ball, a Poké Ball with yellow and black instead of red on its cap.

"If it's a Flying type, then Ice will be effective. Subzero, make your mark!"

Once it was thrown into the air, the yellow-and-black sphere erupted in a great flash of light. The light, in turn, produced a small bear cub of about two feet in height. His rotund body was primarily white in color, but from the neck up, it was varying shades of blue.

"Cub-pshooo!" sneezed the Pokémon, a Cubchoo. A large, watery drop lowered from his nose because of this.

Seemingly angered further by this apparent intrusion on its territory, Sigilyph raised its wings upward, then cut down with the right-hand one, creating a glowing blade of air that sliced directly toward Subzero.

"Counteract it with Ice Beam!" Matt commanded, his voice echoing through the mountain pass.

Subzero attempted to inhale to gather energy for his Ice Beam, but instead, he sneezed again. A quantity of somewhat watery mucus was dislodged along with the freezing beam itself, and that beam struck down Sigilyph's Air Slash on contact. Already thinking one step ahead, however, Subzero was already prepared to sneeze out a second Ice Beam, this one hitting squarely into Sigilyph's left wing. As the cold radiated through its body, Sigilyph cried out.

"Sigilyph guard old and forgotten towns," Bunny informed. "We must have made it angry by coming here."

"It can't tell that we mean no harm?" Olivia blurted out, feeling worried due to the memories connecting the Sigilyph species with her father's antagonist.

"Well, there's only one way we're going to get past this. Subzero, hit it again with Ice Beam!"

Subzero's dripping mucus froze into yet another Ice Beam, clipping Sigilyph across the right wing. In retaliation, Sigilyph angrily called forth energy from the mountain trees surrounding the path, using it to create a sphere of green light that crackled with power. This Energy Ball attack, when it was thrown by Sigilyph, struck Subzero squarely in the chest.

Although the wound left on Subzero was not especially major, he still wailed and thrashed in pain. His small body was not strong enough to withstand even this blow.

"Subzero, you've done your job. Come back and take a rest." Matt held up the Ultra Ball, bringing Subzero back to its confines with a beam of red light. "Reuniclus, it's your turn now. Shadow Ball!"

A black sphere with a glowing core took shape between Reuniclus's hands, letting off sparks as it grew. Sigilyph was able to recognize this as a threat, however, and attempted to hold back the attack using its own psychic power. A soft purple glow appeared both in Sigilyph's uppermost eye and around Reuniclus's body, which rendered Reuniclus unable to move and throw the Shadow Ball.

"That won't work so well, Sigilyph. Reuniclus, take it away!"

Reuniclus valiantly struggled against Sigilyph's psychic powers, attempting to shove her arms forward and release the Shadow Ball. Matt had underestimated Sigilyph's strength, however, and it was not long before Reuniclus found her attack attempt again coming back at her.

Matt's thoughts started to race. Did he bite off more than he could handle? This question gnawed at him, eating away at the persistent doubt he always had about his capabilities as a Pokémon trainer. He tried to force through the truth – that there was surely a way out of the situation – but his pessimistic nature got the better of him.

"I guess my bodyguard duties extend to even this, then," Nekou said, stepping forward with a slight chuckle escaping her lips. Though Marie, her tiny Sneasel, was perched atop her head, Nekou wasn't planning to use her. She had another Poké Ball in hand, which she threw while calling out, "Dalian, use Thunderbolt!"

A Pokémon with the appearance of a small girl appeared from within Nekou's Poké Ball. Her body was mainly black and shaped like a skirt-wearing torso with thin arms and legs. Two white, ribbon-like objects hung on her front, while a third was on her back. Four more lined up on her head, around her round pigtails. A pair of white-and-blue eyes and a set of red lips completed her purple face.

"Gothriii!" Dalian screeched. Her petite body somehow generated enough electrical energy to shock Sigilyph quite significantly, enough to release Reuniclus from its grasp. The tips of Sigilyph's wings were left burned, as well.

"Thank you. Reuniclus, finish this!"

Free from the psychic restraints of Sigilyph's power, Reuniclus finally let her Shadow Ball loose, impacting on the colorful flying Pokémon and sending it crashing helplessly to the ground in a cloud of dust.

"Now, everything comes together and the answer becomes clear! Go, Poké Ball!"

With a showy flair, Matt spun around on his heel and threw an empty Poké Ball at the fallen Sigilyph. It split open, turning Sigilyph into red light, and drew the Pokémon inside. As Sigilyph thrashed around within the ball's confines, the sphere rocked violently, but soon enough its resistance subsided. The ball became still, and a moment later, a flash of light and a ping indicated a successful capture.

"Matt got Sigilyph in the end!" beamed Olivia, her grin reaching from ear to ear.

On Matt's part, he merely stepped to where the ball lay in the gravel of the path and knelt down. He leaned over the Poké Ball with a thin tablet computer he took from his bag.

"Let's see here. Psychic-and-Flying type, ability is Magic Guard, and it's female. In that case, I think I'll name you Ayingott."

"That's a really pretty name," Bunny said to Matt as he rose. "Good thing we got out of that scrape."

"He couldn't have done it without my help and my Gothorita friend Dalian," Nekou interjected in a deadpan manner. "But, that said, maybe you aren't so bad after all. You should be a fascinating observation subject."

"At least you're regarding me with a little respect now. It's a start."

"Don't rest on it," Nekou sniped back. "You're already not impressing me much."

"And what could I do to fix that?" Though he really wasn't interested in playing this game with her, Matt figured that if he entertained Nekou's rants, she'd be pacified for later.

"I want books and food and a lot of really nice things. I want the finest things I can have. I want my Pokémon to have the finest things, too. I want to be able to sit in a really comfortable bed lined with the softest sheets, and have plenty of books to read, and lots of snacks to eat and beer to wash them down. And be able to make as much of a mess as I want because someone else will clean it up. And I want…"

"Alright, that's enough!" Matt was unsure if Nekou's rambling outburst was actually serious, but he didn't feel like taking the risk of letting it go on further. "You really want a lot of things in life, don't you?"

"They're not all that complicated…" Nekou coldly added, shrinking back as she did so.

Surprisingly, Matt smiled. "Good point. Those are some pretty simple desires."

"Those things sound nice," Olivia suddenly chimed in. "I want them too."

Caught completely off guard, Matt found his attempt to be positive completely derailed, and he could only run his hand down his face in exasperation to react. Already he could see where things would be going, if Nekou was going to be an influence on Olivia. He thought to himself that the only way things would ever turn out normal was for the whole thing to be a joke.

"You guys! This way, quick!"

While Matt and Nekou had been having their discussion, Bunny had gone further down the trail and was now waving to them from a short distance away. Now that their path was clear and they had an idea of where to go, Matt and Olivia ran after Bunny, while Nekou contemplated getting back on Tanya's back for a minute before following as well.

Where Bunny was leading them took the group a bit further down the trail, then down an old set of stone steps that formed a leftward curve as they went down. Nekou and Olivia actually went ahead of Matt at this point, as he had to send Tanya back into her ball due to the fact that the stairs were quite narrow.

"Matt, Matt!" Olivia's voice could be heard echoing back up the path, a distinctive excitement easily apparent in it. "Hurry, get down here now! It's beautiful!"

"I'm coming! Just wait a minute, would you?"

The material Matt's boots were made of did not agree with the cold, moist stones comprising the stairway, resulting in him slipping in his haste to descend them. He only was able to make it about halfway down before he completely lost his footing and tumbled down the rest of the steps. The fact his body was mechanical acted both in and against his favor; while the reinforcements kept him from being badly injured, they also exponentially increased the amount of noise he made as he fell. At the bottom, he just laid on the ground at first, unmoving out of shock.

"Watch your step, you might fall." Nekou's warning was coated with sarcasm, and she said it anyway despite knowing it was well beyond the point of relevance.

"Matt!"

Showing much more outward worry about her friend and colleague, Bunny rushed to Matt's side to help him up. He was just shaken, and after brushing himself off and flexing his neck to rid himself of the cramp in it, he chuckled about the spill.

"Well, I guess that life would be boring without something unexpected happening!" he joked. "Bunny, Olivia, what's got you two so worked up?"

"Look, over there!"

Matt's gaze followed the direction indicated by Olivia's pointing. It wasn't long before he saw what she meant – just a short distance further ahead was what appeared to be the ruins of a small town. There were a number of stone homes in various states of collapse and a ruined, dried-up fountain visible.

"The Argyros Ruins…" Matt exclaimed in awe, his organic eye widening with the childish excitement coursing through his body. "Come on, all of you! Our goal is right in front of us!"

When Matt ran off in the direction of the ancient town, it was Olivia that immediately followed him, as her excitement was very similar to his. Bunny didn't hesitate, but she held herself back from getting too worked up.

Nekou, on the other hand, tried to introvert her feelings. "I would have rather seen this in a book," she mumbled as she headed forward. "Then I would be able to take it in at my own pace."

There was one thing none of the four noticed, though, despite their varying emotions on the discovery – the bespectacled, lab coat-clad man watching them from the brush. With his glasses glowing, he snickered and moved to follow them.

-:-

Looker sat at a desk in the International Police facility, sipping at a cup of coffee as he reviewed the files on his subjects and their recorded testimony to him. Another male officer, one of his subordinates, was sitting opposite him.

"So what have you discovered, Mr. Looker, sir?"

"Glad I am that you have been asking that. Well, after acting to be reviewing everything, to one conclusion I've arrived. The one called Gideon, he has gone rogue from the Team Rocket group of remnants. Something there is motivating him to betray his ones who are employers and be acting on his own."

"Do you know what he's after, though?"

"That I do not. It is of most vital importance that we arrest and apprehend the man named Gideon Neumann as soon as can be possible."

-:-

The rotted wooden door of one of the houses was pushed open, creaking sickeningly with every inch it moved. Once daylight was allowed to filter into the dwelling, its interior illuminated softly, giving Matt the visibility he needed to enter. Olivia, Bunny and Nekou followed, but not closely.

Noting that his surroundings weren't bright enough for any studies to be conducted, Matt reached into his bag and removed a small electric lantern, which he activated with a knob-like switch on its top. Though it was only about five inches tall, the lantern threw an unbelievable amount of light, creating well more than what the group needed. Matt set the lantern on a nearby table made of crumbling wood pieces and looked around.

"This place… look at all this!" Something about the small kitchen area in the far corner of the house attracted Matt's attention, so he ran over to it, taking out his tablet computer as he did so. "Look at this wine," he gasped, scanning several old bottles with the computer. These gray-colored bottles were each emblazoned with an elaborate insignia similar to a coat of arms. "It isn't possible…"

"Matt, over here." Bunny had gone to a cabinet not far from where Matt was, and had become visibly stunned by what she'd found inside. When Matt joined her, she said simply, "This is what I think it is, isn't it?"

"You're dead-on correct," Matt replied, confirming their guesses by scanning the various eating implements and dishes inside the cabinet with his computer. "This stuff all matches up perfectly to ancient Michinian culture."

"But how is that possible?" questioned Olivia, her face wearing a look of utter confusion. "Michina Town is way north from here, way up at the end of Sinnoh. Is it really possible for their culture to be here too?"

Matt smiled. "You've learned well, Olivia. I'm proud of you for asking questions like this. Let's evaluate this." After handing the computer to Bunny, Matt again reached into his bag, this time taking out a soft vinyl keyboard that he unrolled on the counter in front of himself.

"Are you getting all this?" Bunny was plainly fascinated by the objects she was seeing even as she was scanning them. "Well, we know Argyros was heavily populated by Tenganists, right? Maybe it's just coincidence that the culture here and the culture in Michina Town nearly match."

"I suppose it's possible." Even though he no longer had the computer himself, Matt was able to contribute using his portable keyboard. He was able to see all the data through his mechanical eye even without uncovering it, so he continued to type, the keys making plastic, squishing noises with each hit. "I think it might be that the people here immigrated from another Tenganist area. What do you think, Olivia?"

"Well, it probably isn't coincidence, and it probably isn't as simple as that the settlers of Argyros just decided to move here. If you've taught me anything, there must be a connecting event, an 'X' factor. If we assume the ancient people of Argyros moved here, why did they do so?"

"Excellent questions, Olivia. That's the goal of our work, to determine exactly what that hypothetical "X" factor is. Nekou, you want to give it a crack?"

There was no answer, which prompted Matt and Bunny to turn around. Nekou had found her way into a hidden storage space, where a number of treasures were being kept, and was now reveling in her own personal discovery.

"Nekou, what are you doing?"

"I made a find of my own," she replied, unflinching against Matt's reproach. "All this stuff is mine now."

"You can't take all of that," Bunny corrected. "It all has very high archeological value. A vase? Jewelry? Coins? All of that should probably be in a museum, not in your hands."

"Step off, I told you it's mine. You keep your share, I'll keep mine. That is, unless you don't want to play fair, in which case I'll be more than glad to keep my share and take yours."

"Now, now, that won't be necessary." The escalating tension was clearly getting to Matt, and he wished to avoid a conflict by stepping between the two women. "Bunny, she does have a point about it being her find, but Nekou, you really should realize the value of those objects. I'll tell you what, how about you take one thing?"

"You say I can take one thing?" Nekou answered without hesitation. "Fine, the thing I choose… is everything."

The reaction Nekou's clever remark elicited was just what she wanted. From her vantage point crouching on the floor, she watched as both Matt and Bunny threw their hands up in the air and turned away. With only Olivia's eyes on her, Nekou chuckled and selected a golden coin from the trove as a good-luck charm.

"I think we've seen all that's to see in this house," Matt declared as he rolled up and stored his keyboard away. "Let's take a break and then go look elsewhere in town for clues. Anyone want some water?"

All three of his team members raised their hands at his request, so Matt removed four clear plastic bottles of water from his bag and distributed them amongst his group. Each of the bottles was vaguely cylindrical in shape and bore a wrap-around label, which depicted a mountains-and-sky horizon with the words 'Fresh, Delicious High-Mineral Water' written across it.

There was a silence that lasted several minutes before Bunny spoke through her sipping the water. "Already, this trip is worth it. Wouldn't you guys agree?"

"It is pretty nice to get out of the classroom," said Olivia, before grimacing and adding sarcastically, "for what feels like the first time in forever."

"It can't be helped, Olivia." Matt knew that Olivia's passive-aggressive remark was aimed at him, so he had an excuse at the ready. "I don't even know how I got the time off that I'm getting. Selling this to my backers at the Angel Corporation wasn't easy."

"You got in with the Angel Corporation?" In a truly rare instance, Nekou was genuinely interested in the topic of conversation, and sat down on one of the chairs at the table. "If they agreed to finance your work, you must really be up to something big."

"Well, my research has been in two stages, really. First of all, this." To show what he meant, Matt lifted his arm and for a brief moment extended the blade in it. "All the development and execution that went into turning me into this thing… they thought it had some potential applications in the medical field, so they financed it. I can't say I disagree, either. I really only wanted to undergo all of this because I think it could help my sister one day."

"How is Amanda, speaking of her?" Bunny chimed in.

"She's doing well, actually. She moved in to live with Anabel… I think that it helps Anabel to have someone to take care of." Noticing Nekou's inquisitive glare settling intensely on him, Matt realized he had to explain further. "My sister Amanda was born with deformed legs that relegated her to a wheelchair, and then suffered terrible injuries to her eyes that robbed her of her sight. I've hoped that by undergoing these experimental modifications to repair my own damaged body, one day these things will have applications that will give her her mobility and sight back."

"That's good that you'd watch out for your sister in such a way." Nekou's compliment was delivered glumly, implying something else was on her mind. "I wish I had a sister I could care for like that. Anyway, what was the other reason?"

"Other reason?" It took a moment for Matt to realize what Nekou was talking about. "Oh, my research. Well, for over a decade now, I've been working on developing a new system to produce energy. You see, I'm from Snowpoint City in Sinnoh, where it's naturally cold and miserable weather all the time. When I was growing up we were fortunate enough to have enough money to keep our house heated, but I saw a lot of people who didn't have that. It gave me the goal to develop an energy source that would be relatively inexpensive and produce large amounts of clean power so nobody in Snowpoint City would go cold in their own homes again. And after many non-starters… I finally came up with something, and over the past ten years, I've perfected it and put it into use in Snowpoint City… and it worked. It reduced the city's oil consumption by sixty percent in less than six months."

While Matt talked, Olivia simply sat and pouted, having heard this story plenty of times before. Bunny simply listened respectfully, but Nekou was seemingly jumping out of her skin, leaning forward and listening intently with wide, excited eyes. Picking up on how the scientific angle of all this was thrilling to Nekou, Matt took his reclaimed computer and entered a command into it.

"Here, watch the video."

Matt turned the computer around, allowing his companions to see the screen. On it, a video comprised of several scenes strung together with narration played; the first of these scenes involved images of an offshore oil rig.

"Over the past one hundred and fifty eight years, crude oil has become a cornerstone of the world's functionality. This simple substance has become a piece of everything in the world, working its way into science, politics, war, investment and enterprise. Truly, the ones who control the world's oil supply control the world itself. But with problems of depletion and pollution mounting, what if this no longer had to be the case?

Introducing the ALEA, the Absolute Limitless Energy Allocation system. Brought online for the first time in 2011, it has been successful in drastically reducing oil consumption in areas where it is in effect."

The image, which had transitioned to an ALEA logo after the oil rig disappeared, now changed to a shot of an underground tunnel with glowing orbs colored red, green, blue and jewel-like colors.

"ALEA functions based on processes of nature itself. The system harnesses the power of Spheres, items found all throughout the world's underground areas. Once buried in the ground, Spheres develop and grow naturally over time, giving off natural energy in the process. By using cartridges filled with nutrient-rich soil with Spheres buried within, ALEA harnesses the energy given off by growing Spheres to provide massive amounts of clean, safe energy for everything connected to the system's network. It is truly a page-turning breakthrough destined to change the world."

As the video ended, Nekou immediately blurted out, "Nice circlejerk. Your invention is kind of impressive."

"I'll just ignore that insult and accept the compliment. I'm on my way to give a speech in Whitegold City, because the Angel Corporation is interested in subcontracting my work through the power plants owned by Everton International for an expansion of the ALEA system. That's where we're going after here."

"Hey, Matt, riddle me this…" Having grown completely disinterested in the conversation, Olivia had gotten up to investigate something she'd suddenly noticed. Her interruption came as she ran her finger down the interior wall of the house, and she did not turn around. "…you said this city was wrecked and abandoned millennia ago, didn't you?"

"That's how the story goes."

Olivia abruptly whipped around, her eyes filled with a defiant sense of inquisitiveness. "Then tell me why the decay of the building doesn't look thousands of years old?"

Matt's eyes widened, and he stood up quickly. He hadn't even considered the possibility raised by Olivia, yet, as soon as she raised it it made perfect sense. In a flash he had his computer out again, and was using it to analyze the composition of the wall.

"Well shit," he suddenly blurted out. "I'll be damned."

"What?" Bunny quickly asked.

"Olivia's right. The aging on this building doesn't match up to the stories at all. Destroyed and abandoned five thousand years ago? Sure, try more like one hundred and fifty or so."

"Doesn't that change everything?" Once again, Nekou's thoughts were on focus, even if only because she found the discovery interesting.

"Indeed, this finding could completely revise the entire…"

Bunny was suddenly cut off by what seemed to be an earthquake. The whole house shook violently, enough to send the old wine bottles tumbling over. Dust was shaken from the ceiling as small cracks appeared in it as well. Looking up and seeing this, Matt immediately became visibly alarmed.

"Bunny, it can wait! Everyone out, this place is going to go down!"

-:-

Looker was still sitting at his desk, pouring over the information provided by his interrogations of Giovanni, Ariana and Proton.

"The question is being, what is the man named Gideon actually being after?" Looker asked himself aloud. The notes hadn't provided an apparent answer, and it was frustrating the detective. "Must I be finding the solution to this mystery, yes!"

One of the officers appeared in the doorway, rapping on the opened door to get Looker's attention. Once the sound reached Looker's ears, he looked up from his work.

"Excuse me, sir, there's been an incident."

"Has there been being? What sort of incident was it happening to be?"

"A small earthquake was just detected moments ago in the mountainous region not far from here. It would appear it's the same place where Matt Chiaki and his friends went."

Looker wasn't very interested in the news until the part about Matt came up. Connecting two opposite sides of the problem in his mind, Looker jumped up and declared, "Be preparing a team of investigation for the region of mountains, post haste! If anywhere we will find the man named Gideon right now, that place is going to be happening to be the place where it'll happen!"

-:-

The cause of the earthquake became crystal clear to Matt and his group once they made it out of the house. Towering over all four of them at nearly ten feet tall, the gray-bodied golem Pokémon was an intimidating sight. Some parts of its body were darker in color than others, such as its chest, which also had a jagged, glowing yellow line cutting across it; this line was also overlaid by an oval-shaped brown seal of some kind. Similar lines formed spirals on its shoulders and large hands, and also created what appeared to be its eyes, a straight vertical line alongside an 'L'-shaped line.

"What's that thing?" Olivia shrieked, her whole body filling with a startled fear due to the creature's unexpected appearance. "Is it a Pokémon?"

"It's a Golurk…" Almost seeming to confirm Nekou's statement, the Golurk released a low, mechanical-sounding rumble in which its name could be made out.

"Well it doesn't matter much what it's called," Matt brashly remarked, seemingly un-intimidated by the Golurk. "If it's a threat, I'll eliminate it. Looks to be a Rock-type, so… Reuniclus! Wipe that thing out with Focus Blast!"

"Rankukuru!" cried Reuniclus, making a sudden return after spending some time floating behind the others. She brought her hands together and created the pulsing, light-blue orb of Focus Blast, which she then threw right at Golurk's chest.

What happened next prompted gasps from Matt, Olivia and Bunny, but an indifferent huff from Nekou. The Focus Blast simply passed right through Golurk's body, not injuring it even a small bit.

"What just happened?"

"Golurk isn't a Rock-type at all," Nekou dryly informed. "It's Ghost and Ground. No wonder you need me to protect you."

While Nekou insulted Matt, Golurk was itself on the move. It took another heavy step forward, then reeled back and swung its right arm in a punching motion. There wasn't any overtly obvious reason for Golurk to do this, as it still wasn't standing near anything, but the meaning quickly became clear – a second fist, this one made of shadows, emerged out of thin air near Reuniclus and punched her right in the face, sending her crashing to the ground.

"Reuniclus, hold on!" Matt shouted. He ran to his fallen Pokémon while Nekou and Bunny stepped forward.

"I'll take care of this. Marie, prepare yourself!"

Grateful for the chance to fight, Marie jumped off of Nekou's head. The small Sneasel bravely faced its oversized foe, showing no evident fear despite Golurk towering over her.

"Don't be foolish," Bunny interrupted, wielding a Poké Ball of her own. "You might have a type advantage, but you can't do this alone. Sky, help out as well!"

Bursting from the ball Bunny threw was the Ghost-and-Flying-type Pokémon Drifblim, carrying the nickname Sky. He unfurled his four ribbon-like arms from his purple-and-lavender balloon body, letting out a gentle cry as he did so.

"I guess I'll accept your help this time, but next time, stick to learning what a Golurk is." Nekou didn't see the glare she got from Bunny for this remark, but it was highly likely that it was exactly the reaction she was aiming for. "Marie, take out Golurk's legs with Ice Beam!"

Aiming to immobilize the golem Pokémon, Marie exhaled a concentrated ray of freezing energy, moving herself skillfully to sweep it across both of Golurk's knees. Indeed, it seemed to work – Golurk grunted as it felt the pain of its legs freezing up, and blocks of ice formed around its two lower limbs.

What Nekou and Bunny both clearly didn't anticipate, however, was what Golurk would do next. After shaking off the shock of the ice, Golurk simply responded by retracting its legs upward into its body. A strong flame replaced them, essentially turning Golurk into a living rocket.

"I didn't think this would become an aerial battle. Sky, use Shadow Ball!"

Just as Golurk lifted off, it was hit in the face with a sphere of darkness launched by Sky. It lurched backward, groaning its name again, but recovered quickly. With great speed, Golurk had retracted its left hand and turned that arm into another rocket, giving itself more propulsion, which it promptly used to launch a Mega Punch attack at Marie.

Nekou smiled wryly at this seeming threat. Though Golurk smashed its fist into the ground, making the entire landscape tremor in what was actually a second attack – Bulldoze - before it knew what had happened, Marie was gone from sight.

"Goluh?" the puzzled Pokémon mechanically wheezed.

A sudden sensation tickled the back of Golurk's body, which was quickly realized to be Marie perching on it. While Marie laughed mischievously, Golurk began waving its arms frantically, desperately trying to get the Sneasel off of itself. With the shape of its body and arms, however, this was impossible.

"That's what training to take advantage of your small size will get you," Nekou smugly boasted. "Give it another Ice Beam."

This time, the Ice Beam was focused to one location – the back of Golurk's head, where its body and head connected. Golurk's agonized, robotic roar echoed through the area, and it was finally forced to reactivate its legs and land.

"Nekou! Bunny! Let me finish it!" Having sat out the whole battle, Olivia finally decided she wanted a piece of the action. "Roselia, let's play! Energy Ball!"

Olivia's Roselia emerged from the Poké Ball she threw, and immediately gathered the power she needed to use an Energy Ball. Just before the orb was thrown in Golurk's direction, Marie performed a skillful leap off of its back onto Nekou's head; after that, Roselia no longer restrained herself and let the attack loose.

The Energy Ball crashed into Golurk's chest with explosive force, throwing it into a stone wall about two dozen feet away despite its size. It did not rise again after this, making it clear that it was defeated.

Cradling his fallen Reuniclus in his arms, Matt spoke up, "That was impressive… thanks, you guys. Olivia, you've gotten pretty good."

"Well obviously. I have to do my best to guard your body, right?" Nekou didn't even give Matt a chance to respond to this provocation before adding, "But, you're right. Olivia, for someone with no badges yet, that wasn't bad."

"Thanks! Now that I'm finally going to get to be a trainer, it's good for me to get in practice, even like this. Roselia, how are you feeling?"

"Roselia!" chirped the small Grass-and-Poison-type. It was openly proud of its accomplishment, even if Marie and Sky had done all the work.

"I thought so. I owe you two thanks too, though, Sky, Marie…"

Sky did not respond drastically to Olivia's comment, only making a slight pleased expression. Marie, on the other hand, showed just as much smug pride as her trainer, and drank in the praise.

While Bunny and Olivia sent Sky and Roselia back into their Poké Balls, Matt comforted Reuniclus one last time before recalling her as well. "Let's regroup, then. I'd think that Golurk's Bulldoze was the source of that earthquake."

"It wouldn't surprise me," Olivia added, "but why was that Pokémon here?"

"Golurk is a Pokémon created by an ancient civilization," Nekou revealed, back into her genuinely helpful mode. "A lot of things about it and its pre-evolved form, Golett, remain mysterious. They're powered by some kind of unknown energy, but nobody has been able to determine just what energy that is or how it works. Regardless, Golurk were created to act as guardians. It's possible that this Golurk was here to be a protector of Argyros and simply never left after the town was abandoned, and then we woke it up. Sigilyph was probably tasked with protecting this town, too."

"But if the town was in fact abandoned thousands of years ago…" Matt appeared deep in thought for a brief moment, but quickly shook it off, his mind overrun with confusion. "It doesn't add up. If the town was simply left, wouldn't it then progress that the people would decommission Sigilyph and Golurk from protecting it? Why leave them here?"

"Wouldn't it suggest they were forced out?" Olivia suggested.

"I agree," Matt said with a nod. "We have to look for evidence in this area that the city wasn't willingly abandoned, and anything that would prove it was emptied out much more recently than we initially thought. I'm very suspicious that what we've been told about Argyros may be lies, all of it."

It was just then that Olivia spotted something moving out of the corner of her eye. "Hey, guys! Look over there!"

"What is it, Olivia?" Even though Matt and the others all turned, they failed to see what Olivia did. In their vision, nothing was moving or out of the ordinary. "Are you seeing things?"

"No, I definitely know it was there!" Cupping her hands around her mouth, Olivia called out, "Hello!"

Bunny sighed. "There's nothing here, Oliv…"

A small cry suddenly cut her off, and from behind a nearby rock, a yellow ear with black outlines ending in three spikes appeared.

"Chu, pichupi!"

It was the mysterious Pichu that had appeared in the ruins earlier. The humans were more surprised by its presence than the Pichu was of theirs, so when it jumped from behind the rock and ran, it was not out of fear. It almost seemed that Pichu was beckoning the four to follow.

"That Pichu's adorable! Come here, let me get close to you!"

Of course, Olivia was the first one to take the bait, chasing after Pichu without hesitation. This essentially forced the others to follow after her, though Nekou was clearly infatuated with Pichu as well despite trying to hide it.

"Did Olivia see Pichu despite the rock being there?" Matt thought to himself as he ran. This question puzzled him almost as much as the historical questions running through his mind from earlier.

The ruined town, its defeated protector and all its treasures were left behind as the group pursued the beckoning Pichu. It led them out of the village into a field, where their feet sank down slightly into the soft dirt, leaving prints behind. Soon, though, the pliant earth itself gave way to a much harder landscape, dotted with rocks and rampant weeds.

"Olivia, watch it!" Bunny called ahead, mindful of the ever-increasing number of hazards. "Be careful you don't trip!"

"Oh, I'm fine!" Olivia confidently chortled in response, keeping her mind focused solely on catching up with the object of her current affections.

At least, Olivia was confident until the ground gave way under her feet, causing her to sink out of view of the others. Before she was even gone from sight, they became greatly alarmed and concerned for her safety.

"Olivia!" cried a fearful Matt. At once thoughts of failure attacked him, making time seem to come to a stop. After all the promises he'd made to himself and others to take care of and protect her, the last thing he could handle was something happening to her in a preventable freak accident.

His anguish was not long-lived, thankfully. When he reached an abrupt edge where the field dropped off, he discovered that he was standing atop a wall of ancient stone bricks about twelve feet high. Olivia hadn't even fallen, the portion of the wall she had stepped on was loose and had given way, causing her to slide to the gravel path at the bottom. Matt jumped down to join her, and helped her get back on her feet.

"Olivia, don't do that again," he scolded, albeit in a protective way. "I can't have you running off like that."

"Oh, don't be so stuffy. I don't have to take orders from you."

Matt backed up slightly, preparing to reprimand Olivia, but he never got the chance to. A sudden breeze alerted him to the fact that Nekou had arrived and jumped down from the top of the wall as well.

"Sounds like she's got total ownership of you," Nekou uttered without skipping a beat. "She made you her bitch. No wonder you need my help, it's to serve her."

"That's right, I get what I need out of him… and I need a lot."

"Stuff it, both of you," Matt snapped, removing his hat briefly so he could run his hand through his hair in frustration. With everything weighing on his mind that day – the tournament, his concerns about Anabel's well-being, Team Rocket's halfhearted comeback and the mysteries of Argyros – he didn't have the capacity left to deal with not only Olivia misbehaving but Nekou deliberately provoking her into doing so.

Luckily for him, Bunny provided a distraction from the top of the wall. "Hey, you guys… I don't think I can jump from here, and the ground doesn't look stable…"

"Just jump, I'll catch you."

Matt's assurance gave Bunny the confidence she needed to swallow her fear. After hesitating for a moment, she took a slight, shaky step forward, then gave in and threw herself over the ledge. Just as he had promised, Matt skillfully caught her with no difficulty at all, then righted her and set her down on her feet.

"See? That wasn't so bad." he said with a smile.

However, Nekou just could not let this opportunity pass. "Of course it wasn't bad, you had the human landing cushion watching out for you."

"Oh, just…" Realizing the futility of his situation, Matt prudently decided not to even try to argue with Nekou any further at the moment. Instead, he turned his attention back to Olivia. "Which way did that Pichu go?"

"That way."

Olivia pointed directly down the path, which ended in an entrance of some sort made of stones. A tall, rectangular opening rested directly on the path, while an opening shaped like an up-pointing arrow was above it. Intricate curves were carved around both spaces, but the years that had passed had not been kind to the stone face and many of them were damaged.

Seeing this alluring relic intrigued Matt's senses, and he hurried over to examine it. As he ran his gloved hand over some of the stones to feel what was left of the carvings, he could hear the others approach from behind.

"This is a tomb or temple of some sort, I think," he stated without turning around. "Why would Pichu be trying to lead us here? I get the feeling something big happens to be in here…"

"What are we waiting for, then? Let's get movi…" Suddenly, Olivia was interrupted a sharp pain that shot through her brain, causing her to fall to her knees.

"Olivia!"

Though Matt, Bunny and Nekou all cried out to her, it was Bunny that made it to Olivia's side. Olivia resisted Bunny's attempts to help her up, instead staying on the ground with one of her

hands firmly pressed against her eyes.

"I… I see it…" gasped the girl, whose breathing had become labored.

"What do you see?" Matt worriedly inquired. "What is it?"

"Inside the shrine… there's a bright light… Pichu… and we're there, too! There's a treasure, and… ugh…"

Olivia fainted and fell to the ground, but Bunny quickly helped her back up. The girl was breathing heavily, making her body heave and tremble while sweat rolled down her skin.

"Inside the shrine…" she repeated, with her face contorted into a look of utter pain. "We find the treasure, and Pichu's there… and the bright light…"

"Does any of this make sense to either of you?" Desperate to understand Olivia's words, Bunny looked up toward Matt and Nekou, pleading with her eyes to them for the answer.

That answer, however, wouldn't come. Matt simply shook his head and responded, "I don't have the slightest clue what that means. I can't help but feel, though, that it's connected to these ruins. More than ever, I'm now convinced that this place is hiding an immense secret." Reaching into his bag, Matt took out and turned on his lantern again. "Nekou, stay with Bunny and make sure Olivia is okay. I'll lead the way in."

For once, Nekou actually listened to what Matt told her to do, going to Olivia's side right away. Together with Bunny, Nekou aided Olivia in walking as Matt used the lantern to guide them into the shrine.

Inside, it was difficult to see anything. The shrine's interior was undoubtedly vast, judging by how little the lantern actually illuminated. Every movement the group made echoed inside the cavernous hall, even though they had no idea where they were actually going.

"This is a waste of time," Nekou complained. "Give us more light somehow, or let us go back."

"I think I'll take that first option. Tanya, make your mark!"

Matt threw the Dusk Ball into the dark air around his group, and as soon as Tanya materialized from it, the natural glow her body had from the internal fire all Heatran possessed cast light throughout the entire shrine.

All four members of the group looked around the spacious interior of the temple in awe. The chamber was even bigger than any of them had initially thought, a gigantic underground dome that had to have been at least forty, possibly fifty feet tall at its highest point. What remained of ancient carvings spread all throughout the hall, and what looked like broken pedestals and artifacts of various types were scattered about everywhere. It appeared that pieces of the ceiling had at some time fallen down, damaging them.

For a short time, the group simply surveyed their surroundings, awed by the vast amount of history all around them. Even with most of the shrine's contents broken, there was still enough left of them to provide plenty of fascinating subjects to study.

One treasure soon stuck out, however. Half-buried in the wreckage was an orb made of blue glass which, despite its color, blended in rather clearly into its surroundings.

"Is that the treasure you saw?" Matt asked of Olivia.

"Yeah, that's it. And since that's there…"

Matt, Olivia, Nekou and Bunny all raised their gazes collectively, and indeed, not far from the orb, positioned about a foot off the ground, was the glowing energy cluster. It was hidden from view from the entrance by a pillar.

"It can't be!" Bunny exclaimed incredulously, unable to believe what she was seeing. She took a step toward the shining portal and gasped, "It's… a Time Ripple?"

"I don't believe it, yet…" Analyzing some hastily-gathered data using both his artificial eye and computer, Matt was stunned by the unusual energy readings coming out of the cluster. "It would indeed appear to be a Time Ripple…"

"Pi, chu!" Suddenly, Pichu re-emerged from the broken ceiling tile it was hiding behind. When it ran to the Time Ripple and started gesturing toward it, Matt and the others finally understood what was going on.

"Pichu must have time-traveled and come through that Time Ripple into our era," Nekou theorized. "But where did it come from? What time period? Tell me you can figure that out."

Matt sighed and said, "It's not possible to analyze everything."

Ignorant of the discussion her older companions were having, Olivia slowly drew closer to Pichu and the Time Ripple, completely unaware of any risks she might have been taking. Both the strange light and seemingly innocent Pokémon fascinated her, and she had single-mindedly decided to discover their secrets on her own.

"Porygon, Swift!"

Olivia never made it to Pichu and the Time Ripple. The peaceful scene was interrupted when a blast of star-shaped rays impacted right in front of her, throwing her back to the floor. Her scream interrupted Matt, Nekou and Bunny, the former and latter of whom became alarmed nearly instantly as their heads turned toward the source of the command at the entrance. Nekou, on the other hand, just remained strangely stone-faced all the while.

Standing in the entryway of the shrine alongside his Porygon was the bespectacled man with the messy blue hair and lab coat… the Team Rocket scientist named Gideon.

"Who are you?" Bunny angrily demanded while Matt ran to Olivia's aid. "What gives you the right to do that?"

"My name is Gideon… that is, Gideon of Team Rocket. If you ask me, I'm quite surprised that you don't know who I am already, but what that tells me is that my mission is one I will have no problems fulfilling alone."

"Your mission? Have you forgotten that I already beat your boss and helped get him arrested?"

"Giovanni is not my boss, which is something else you should have already been aware of." The amount of confidence the traitorous scientist was exuding actually topped that which Giovanni himself showed, and it was something Matt was especially able to pick up on. This man had come with a goal. "Oh well, I guess it can't be helped. I do owe you some thanks, though… I was only on a mission to recover that Life Orb. The fact you helped me find a Time Ripple too just makes my fortunes greater. Now, step away from what is rightfully mine!"

"I don't even know what this Life Orb is, but it can't be a good thing if you or Team Rocket or whoever capture it. Tanya, come forth! Flash Cannon!"

"Porygon, Double Team!"

Unintimidated by Tanya's thunderous footsteps, Porygon stared her down, even when a Flash Cannon attack was sent its way. It responded by simply creating several copies of itself around the place where it had been floating, with the original position now occupied by a clone that absorbed Tanya's offense, rendering it useless.

"Now use Zap Cannon!"

It was now Porygon's turn to go on the offensive, and it used the energy in the air to create a circular field of electricity that eclipsed even Porygon's own body in size. Luckily for Matt and the others, it was slow to form, allowing them plenty of time to prepare.

Matt jumped to the right, and prompted Olivia and Bunny to move to their left. He then commanded, "Cut it down with Dark Pulse before it can fire!"

Unfortunately, Tanya was too slow, and Porygon managed to launch the Zap Cannon first. The wave of dark rings that made up Dark Pulse did hit Porygon, but the damage was not severe besides a few burns on its body.

As for Porygon's attack, it completely missed and struck the ground separating Matt from Bunny and Olivia. All three were knocked down by the recoil surge of energy that the blast created upon impact, but while Matt and Bunny were merely stunned by their falls, Olivia fell just a little bit further and had her hand brush against the Time Ripple.

Something was triggered when Olivia touched the Time Ripple, even as briefly as she did. It started pulsating more violently than it had been before, and also began expanding and getting brighter. Everyone in the room could only look on in stunned silence as the blinding light flooded over them. Finally, there was a bright flash, which faded to reveal another startling development – everyone, both human and Pokémon, had disappeared.

-:-

Back in the ruined town of Argyros, not far from the chaotic events breaking out in the shrine, Looker sprinted into the same area where his subjects had been earlier. He surveyed his surroundings diligently, noting the one house whose door had been left hanging open, and the fainted Golurk lying in a pile of smashed stone bricks on the town square's far end. His attention was soon diverted by an arcing beam of light shooting into the sky from just outside the town, however. That light was coming right from where the shrine was.

"Seeming it is that something of large size is quite happening here!" he exclaimed, though noone was around. "And Matt Chiaki is to be found nowhere, nor to be Olivia Mistbloom… backup will be of the utmost requirement!"

-:-

What was happening terrified Matt more than almost anything he'd ever gone through in his life, and Olivia, Bunny and even Nekou weren't doing any better. Even Gideon, who had been dragged into this mess along with the heroic foursome trying to stop him, was covering his eyes and screaming.

All five humans, plus Tanya, Pichu and Gideon's Porygon, were falling. They weren't just falling anywhere, though, like off a cliff – they were falling through some kind of bizarre space filled with blue clouds and strange crystalline objects that looked like giant diamonds. How they got here, none of them knew, they only could figure out that something happened when Olivia accidentally touched the Time Ripple.

And yet, as abruptly as this event began, it suddenly ended. Matt, Olivia, Nekou, Bunny, Tanya, Pichu, Gideon and his Porygon were all deposited back in the field just outside the shrine. However, something even more unusual was going on – whereas the field had been overgrown with weeds before, it was now well-landscaped and neat. The stones that comprised the wreckage now were built into stone torch structures, which were lit.

Completely baffled by these strange developments, Matt looked around, then up at the sky. "The weather's changed, too. It was sunny enough before… now it looks like it might rain. What is going on?" Suddenly realizing something else, Matt gasped and turned around. "Olivia! Olivia, are you okay?"

"I think so…" Olivia shook her head, seemingly stunned but unharmed. "I feel a little weird, like I just watched a hundred hours of movies straight."

"You're lucky you didn't come out much worse, given that you touched a Time Ripple." Nekou's air of knowledge clearly surprised her companions, but this time, she remained completely serious instead of trying to instigate them. "The effects of people touching the Time Ripple have been documented in several cases, most notably that of Grings Kodai, the businessman who used its energy to grant himself profound abilities of premonition. What intrigues me, though, is that Olivia seems completely fine now... but exhibited some of the symptoms before she even touched it."

"But that doesn't make any sense," Bunny commented, while Olivia simply looked around in confusion. "How would she be able to show symptoms of something before being exposed to it?"

While listening to his companions' thoughts, Matt shut his eyes and reflected on the things only he knew. There was an idea that came up in his head as a possible explanation, but it was so grim that he immediately discounted it and refused to think further of it.

Meanwhile, during all of this, Gideon was attempting to slink away quietly with his Porygon. "I don't know what's going on here," he whispered in a low, hissing voice, "but I sure don't feel like sticking around to find out. This ain't worth it."

"Hold it right there, you invader!"

The situation took an even sharper turn for the worse when Gideon found his escape route blocked. A group of about a dozen soldiers, all clad in red armor bearing badges emblazoned with a curved 'Z' insignia, poured from the direction of the city. With the soldiers was a group of Magmar that numbered about fourteen in size, and coincidentally, the city was no longer ruined, either.

"What… who are you all?" Gideon exclaimed. He too was unable to figure out what was happening, so the sudden presence of unusual soldiers just made the problem even worse.

"On the orders of Colonel Nixon to secure this area, you're all placed under arrest!" cried the leader of the soldiers in a flat yet commanding voice. "Magmar, Flame Burst!"

"Stop them with Swift!"

Each one of the fourteen Magmar loosed a single fireball from their pursed lips, all aimed straight at Gideon and his Porygon. Though their tight targeting made their attack a greater threat, it also was their most significant weakness. Porygon's Swift was able to cut down all of the fireballs well before they reached their collective target.

The explosions of the fireballs created a vivid light that caught the attention of Matt's group. "Shit!" Nekou spat out the moment she saw the soldiers. "All the questions will have to wait. We have to get out of here!"

"The temple… if we can get back into the temple…" Matt's thoughts were interrupted by another blast from one of the Magmar flying by his head. One necessity abruptly precluded all others to him, and he seized Olivia's hand. "This is too dangerous. Stay by me, Olivia!"

"Sky, Balin, come out and protect us!"

Bunny's Drifblim, Sky, appeared again, along with her second Pokémon, a Ninetales named Balin. Balin's lithe figure provided an elegant counterpart to the distinct shape of Sky's body, making them a well-matched team in terms of style.

After getting the two Poké Balls she'd thrown back in her hands, Bunny then commanded, "Sky, Shadow Ball! Balin, Psyshock!"

Balin's eyes lit up with a bright light, and he materialized a gray wave of psychic power using it. This beam swept across the group of Magmar, inflicting several of them with wounds similar to those of being struck with a blunt object. Sky followed up by taking aim at the Magmar he judged to be the strongest and slamming a sphere of shadows into its chest, knocking it down.

"Target the rebellious ones first!" cried the lead soldier.

At that order, the group of soldiers fractured. Five of the men took three of the Magmar and surrounded Gideon and Porygon, while the six other guards and three Magmar attacked Bunny, Sky and Balin. Neither Bunny nor Gideon tried to battle further in such close quarters, but when the soldiers seized Bunny by the arms, she became physically violent in a hopeless attempt to fight back.

"Bunny!" Matt's agonized scream sliced through the open air of the field. He refused to give up on her and resolved to fight despite the fact the lead soldier still had seven Magmar able to fight under his control.

It was then that Matt felt another hand grab his arm. "We can save her later," Nekou forcefully said. "If we also get captured, who will save us?"

"Are you just suggesting that we let these guys have their way with her? We may never be able to find where they go!"

"They won't go far if what I'm suspecting is right. We need to gather more information and find out what we're up against before rushing in like a bunch of Tauros…" Looking up, Nekou spotted the leader of the troops slowly advancing with his seven Magmar while his henchmen subdued and restrained Bunny and Gideon. "We have to go, now! Hurry!"

Before Matt could object, Nekou tossed a smoke bomb to the ground, creating a shroud of cover for her. She then pushed Matt and Olivia onto Tanya's back and prompted the Heatran to follow her back into the shrine.

"Magmar, clear away this smoke!"

The seven Magmar still immediately in the employ of the lead soldier all used their Flame Burst attack again, clearing away the smoke with the fireballs they produced. Even then, though, it was far too late; Matt, Nekou, Olivia and Tanya were gone. He glanced around for a moment before turning to one of his subordinates.

"You there! Take the two we have in custody to Colonel Nixon for questioning. I will personally deal with the ones who got away."

"Sir!" exclaimed the lesser-ranked officer obediently.

Following the orders of their leader, the eleven soldiers dragged Bunny and Gideon off. As she was being forcibly moved along Bunny growled under her breath, "Don't you screw this up, Matt. I'm sure you still want me on your side."

-:-

The interior of the shrine was affected by the odd phenomenon, too. All the damage that had been previously exhibited was gone, and now the insides of the vast dome looked like a palace of sorts. Treasures such as ornate pottery and well-designed paintings were arranged all around the chamber, granting it a rich air.

Matt didn't care about any of this, though, as unusual as it was. He slumped to the floor from Tanya's back in the center of the chamber, overcome with a sense of defeat for what he assumed was the loss of yet another friend.

"I let her down," he mumbled, his voice so dispirited, so broken, that it could barely be heard. "I swore I wouldn't let anyone else get hurt, and now I can't even protect my friend from those soldiers..."

"Listen to yourself. You are only letting her down if you really give up on saving her. You have to stop seeing everything in such black and white terms, because under those, all you see is either total, immediate victory or total, immediate defeat." After brushing a lock of her hair out of her eyes, Nekou continued, "The first thing we have to do is identify what has happened and gather more information on our surroundings. That's the top priority in any mission such as this. Once we know what we're doing, saving Bunny will be easier."

Refreshed by Nekou's words, Matt stood back up slowly. "You're right. Thanks for caring about this even though I dragged you into it."

"Don't get the wrong idea. I'm only doing my job."

"Sssh!" Olivia suddenly hissed, something having perked her attention enough to make her stand on edge. "I heard something. I think someone else is in here with us."

"I'll handle this. Dalian…" Nekou carefully opened the Poké Ball she needed to release Dalian, who appeared at her trainer's side. "Use your psychic power and scan this chamber."

"Riii tah."

The Gothorita's eyes came aglow with soothing blue light, and she let out a gentle hum of her name that filled the air like a peaceful melody. After several seconds of meditation, Dalian abruptly whipped around at about a sixty degree angle and gestured toward a pillar.

"Thanks, Dalian." Rising her gaze to the pillar, Nekou called out, "We know you're there! Show yourself!"

The sound of a stunted footstep responded to Nekou's demand, followed by a leg wearing a brown wooden sandal emerging from behind the pillar, shortly in turn followed by its owner. It belonged to a young woman dressed in thick and long hooded robes of a plain blue color. Her exact age was hard to estimate, as her matter of dress made her appear much older than she actually was; her youngest trait was her wavy, shoulder-length blonde hair which clashed with the color of her robes.

"B-begone," she stuttered, narrowing her vivid green eyes as she shakily backed away from the three. "Leave this land at once, vile creature masters who control the forbidden creature!"

"Creature masters? Forbidden creature?" Olivia wondered.

"This just puzzles me even further," Matt stated in reply, adjusting his hat on his head. "Written records that have been recovered from the ancient Michinians are filled with references to terms like 'creature master' and 'magical creature' that are now widely accepted to be referring to Pokémon trainers and Pokémon from that era. Why would someone here and now be using such langua…" A sudden realization came into Matt's head, one that horrified him so much that his visible eye widened as much as it possibly could while his mouth sank into a formless shape. "Is it possible that we actually have…"

"Here you are!"

Spinning around, Matt, Nekou and Olivia found that the leader of the soldiers had found where they'd gone, still with his seven Magmar in tow. The man wore a smug, sadistic smile created from his pleasure in having cornered his targets. To him, his work was just like the survival of a wild animal, like a lion on a vast plain, and as such, subjects who violated the space he was to guard were just like the proverbial lion's prey. He relished the thrill of hunting those unfortunate enough to land in his sights.

"What did you do with my friend?" Matt demanded.

"She's going to be questioned by Colonel Nixon, my superior." Looking up, the soldier noticed the blonde woman, and his smile broadened. "So you lot are working with these suspicious spies, now? After what Colonel Nixon warned you would happen should you try to rebel against his orders? I guess I'll have to exercise some control. Magmar, Flame Burst! Torch her treasure!"

"NO!" the woman cried as one of the Magmar turned toward several pieces of pottery and a painting. "Please, stop!"

Ignoring her frantic pleas, the Magmar continued its attack and spat out a single fireball that would still be enough to destroy the precious items. However, it never reached its targets, as Matt fearlessly dashed into its path and cut it down with a single swipe of the blade in his right arm.

"You're going to get yourself hurt if you do stupid things," Nekou scolded, though her voice reflected a slight hint of admiration for his recklessness.

"I don't care! The stuff he's trying to destroy is more important than me!" This statement took all three women in the room back, for varying reasons. Both Nekou and the blonde woman had never seen someone so willing to throw themselves away for a seemingly minor cause before, while Olivia had never grown to understand the meaning of making such a sacrifice except for a relative. Matt, meanwhile, wasn't done fighting back. "Tanya, use Dark Pulse to knock back those Magmar, but be careful not to damage anything."

Tanya stomped forth to face the small army opposing her trainer. She opened her mouth, allowing a vortex of dark energy to burst out; this managed to hit most of the Magmar, but not with enough power to outright defeat them.

"Minccino, help Matt and Tanya out! Aqua Tail!"

In a flash, Olivia was in the battle as well, having sent out her Minccino. The Normal-type Pokémon lashed her tail, which was glowing with a flowing blue light, into the bodies of one of the Magmar. Immediately upon impact, that Magmar cried out, feeling all its insides tighten from the force it had just been hit with. It collapsed back into its companion behind it.

The soldier growled, then threw his hand forward. "Magmar, Focus Blast!"

One of the Magmar moved to the front of the group, then brought its hands together to form a

tightly-packed sphere of light.

"Tanya, Dark Pulse again!"

Before the Magmar that was trying to attack could do so, another of Tanya's Dark Pulses flooded over it, causing the Focus Blast to explode while the energy was still in its grip. The backlash from the explosion hit all of the Magmar brigade and their human leader as well, finally prompting him to flee. No prey was worth the amount of trouble he was having.

"It's over, finally," Matt whispered, clearly relieved that the ones threatening his group were gone. "We can't rest. The longer we wait to save Bunny, the less likely it is that we'll succeed."

"Um…" The blonde-haired young woman's attempt to speak up interrupted Matt's thoughts, and he turned to face her. "Th-thank you for stopping them from damaging this shrine."

"You're very welcome. History must be protected, after all, so future generations can learn from it." Realizing what he'd said, Matt reflected on his words carefully. "History… future… yeah, something like that."

"If you want, I can help you!" blurted the woman.

"Weren't you just saying how we were 'forbidden creature masters' and all of that?" Nekou coldly asked.

"I was wrong. I see now that you are good people. Please allow me into introduce myself. My name is Agenta and I am a maiden of this town."

"Just like Sheena…" Matt mumbled, before remembering his manners and bowing in a short but polite manner. "I'm Matt. I'm a scientist researching this area. These two are my student Olivia and my assistant Nekou, and…"

"Bodyguard," Nekou corrected, giggling ever so slightly. "I'm his bodyguard."

"Oh, just knock it off already, I'm tired of hearing it from you! Anyway, that's them, and the girl those soldier guys carted off was Bunny, my friend. We have to save her."

"Well, I'm pleased to meet you… and I'm pleased to say my magical creature and I can try to help. Golurk, please come."

Quite unexpectedly, a Golurk emerged from a dark corner of the shrine, having been hiding there the entire time. Matt, Olivia and Nekou, all being used to the appearance of a Golurk by now, were not as shocked as before at its size. With her Ground-and-Ghost-type companion, Agenta slung a brown satchel over her shoulder and motioned for the trio to follow her out of the shrine.

-:-

Clunk.

The metal key resonated loudly when it was turned inside the lock of the jail cell where Bunny and Gideon had been thrown. They had been brought to a brig aboard a giant ship made of wood floating on a nearby lake, and the only unusual trait of their dull confines was a porthole on the wall of the cell itself.

"Let us go!" Bunny screamed through the bars as the soldiers emotionlessly left the room. "Better yet, let ME out! Leave this guy here!"

"It won't do you a lick of good," Gideon uttered. "Even if they did let either of us out, where would we go?"

"Back to where we were, of course!"

"How pitiful, do you not understand yet? We are at the center of a profound scientific and supernatural event with untold consequences. I don't know what kind of superpowers that little girl you were hanging out with has, but she has singlehandedly made the impossible possible."

Outside, the soldiers had made their way to a pair of large, ornate doors outlined with carefully-carved decorative curves. The lead soldier took hold of the knocker on the door and struck it against the wood, generating a dramatic sound.

"Colonel Nixon, sir?"

"Come in!" a voice from inside the room replied.

Heeding the voice's order, the men moved into the room. It was the ship's leader's office, richly furnished with furniture made of the finest lumber and floors lined with plush red velvet carpeting. Golden treasures like statues and pottery lined the walls, along with gorgeous paintings in equally gorgeous frames.

The military leader who controlled the soldiers sat in a huge leather chair at a desk sitting in front of a full-length picture window overlooking the lake. He wore a red uniform dotted with golden arcs, and over the left half of his body, a crimson cape pinned down by a golden shoulderplate with three pipe-like protrusions jutting from it. On his head, he wore a bright red powdered wig that not only had three rolls on each side, but three hooks sticking out of the top as well.

"So there was a breach in the north sector?" the man, evidently the Colonel Nixon the soldiers had spoken of, asked of his followers. "Speak! I can have nothing impede me!"

"Several strange people appeared near the temple," admitted the lead soldier, a sense of nervousness overcoming his mind. "We led an attack against this unknown threat. The group numbered five humans in total. We arrested two of them, one male and one female. The others…"

"Are you to tell me that the other three escaped?"

"I'm… very sorry, sir. They fought back. We had to withdraw to regroup our forces."

"I see. Very well then…" Nixon calmly reached for the bottle of champagne sitting in the bucket full of ice on his desk, opened it, and filled a glass with the sparkling fluid. After taking a leisurely sip, he said, "Repair your forces and take no further action. The fated day is tomorrow. Tomorrow… I will bring forth Zoroark and destroy the empire of Caitlin XVI!"

-:-

Matt, Olivia and Nekou all rode on Golurk's back with Agenta as they flew over the restored but still ancient-looking buildings of Argyros, until they arrived at their destination on the banks of a vast lake. The trip seemed to take very little time, as looking out at the inexplicably-repaired town fascinated all three of them.

Their arrival was at a rather large compound built of pale limestone, looking more like a fortress than a typical house. Windows dotted the sides of the irregularly-shaped structure on both the inside and outside of the square boundary created by its walls, making it possible to see that most parts of the building had three floors, with four in some places.

Agenta guided her new friends under an arch and into the courtyard, which was overlooked by multiple balconies and dotted with a few carefully-tended plants. They nearly got lost from their sheer fascination with the gorgeous sights of the modest and elegant building, but Agenta kept them on track until they reached a wooden door with a carefully-carved image of the Legendary Pokémon Arceus on it.

"Please, welcome to my home, the Argyros Shrine." Setting her hand on the door, Agenta carefully pushed it open, leading Matt, Nekou and Olivia into a corridor dimmed by its brown, wood-panel walls. Sunlight filtered in through the latticed windows, giving the hall a subdued, peaceful feeling. "Mother? Mother, I've returned!"

"You didn't mention we'd see your mom," Olivia said, her intentions immediately obvious to Matt. "Is your father here too?"

"My father… isn't here anymore," Agenta responded, turning away and choking back a tear.

Matt found himself in a very uncomfortable position. Olivia was clearly trying to talk about her issues over her father and the effects his disappearance had on those left behind, but she only ended up opening a sort of Pandora's box when Agenta turned out to be in the same situation. He didn't know what to say or do.

He breathed a sigh of relief when Agenta's mother finally rushed into the hall. She looked very much like her daughter in both physical appearance and clothing, albeit with an aged face and no hood on her robes. The older woman was also holding a tiny child wrapped in a blue blanket in her arms.

"Agenta, you should not be so irresponsible! Your sister is here sick and you've taken far too long bringing back the herbs to make medicine! And then you bring back this aberrant lot of strange people!"

"I'm sorry, mother… but I did bring back the herbs, and these people… they came here by accident and helped to protect the temple…"

"Yes," Matt added, "I'm sorry for any trouble we might be giving you. We just want to find out where we are, find our friend, and go hom..."

Matt suddenly found himself being cut off, however, when Nekou shoved past and boldly put the back of her hand on Agenta's baby sister's forehead. "She's burning up! This child is very, very ill and needs help!"

"Excuse me, do not tell me what my daughter needs!" hissed Agenta and the girl's mother. "I know very well she is sick, so I don't need to hear it from someone in such vulgar garb!"

Nekou pulled her head up to meet the woman's gaze directly. "You can spend time insulting me for my choice of clothing, or you can let me help you. Agenta, show me what kind of herbs you have in your bag."

"Huh? Oh, right…" When Agenta opened the satchel, Nekou immediately began rooting around inside of it, looking at and comparing the various items inside. "Are these what you need?"

"They should do fine. Matt, I'll need to borrow Tanya for her heat, and some water to prepare the medicine with."

-:-

Over the next ten minutes, Nekou busied herself mixing the selected herbs she needed with the water and heating this mixture on Tanya's back. The end result was a concoction with a somewhat unusual and unappealing gelatinous texture. Matt, Olivia, Agenta and her mother all moved to a dining room and were seated at a long table when Nekou came in with the medicine sitting in a spoon.

"Do you honestly expect me to…" Had Agenta's mother finished that sentence, it would have been a question about if Nekou really thought she'd give her infant daughter the medicine. However, she had to correct herself when the sickly child in her arms hacked out a terrible, wrenching cough. "If you can do something, please do it. We need it…"

Nekou leaned over and carefully lowered the spoon toward the girl's mouth. "Here, be careful now… this'll help you feel better…"

Almost immediately upon sipping down Nekou's creation, the girl calmed. She stopped coughing, relaxed in her mother's arms, and could be heard sleeping peacefully. The sight of this development instantly caused Agenta's mother's icy façade to melt.

"Oh… thank you, so much. It's the first time my little one has been at peace in days…"

"See, mother, I told you they were good people."

"I'm sorry I doubted you," Agenta's mother said to Matt, Nekou and Olivia. "Please forgive me."

"Don't worry about it. Like I said, we're just passing through and want to gather some information before leaving." Lifting his head slightly, Matt continued, "I'm going to just need to ask you a few questions about this place and the circumstances going on. First, let's introduce ourselves. My name is Matt, and I'm studying the history of this place. This is my student, Olivia, and my bodygua…I mean, assistant, Nekou."

"It's a pleasure to meet you. You already know my daughter Agenta. I am Althea, the guardian priestess of this shrine, and this little one here… this is Catherine."

"You all have really pretty names," Olivia commented rather unexpectedly. "They're like mine."

"You're very kind."

"Now, Althea, since we're all introduced, I need to speak to you about some things. First, when our group arrived here, the city and temple were in ruins, but by the time we met your daughter, everything was rebuilt and structurally sound. What can you tell me about that?"

Puzzled by this question, Althea curled her nose. "What are you talking about? This town has been this way for thousands of years. It hasn't been destroyed since the great war with Zoroark in ancient times."

"But that would mean…"

Anticipating Nekou's thoughts, Matt immediately cut right to what he suspected. "Now, next question, what year is it currently?"

"According to the calendar introduced by the government ruled by Queen Caitlin XVI's family, we are in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty. Shouldn't you know that?"

"I fucking knew it," Matt mumbled, his dubious hunch confirmed. "We time travelled. Olivia, when you touched the Time Ripple, you activated a chain reaction that brought us all back in time."

"Is that even possible? I did that?" Olivia couldn't understand how anything she'd done had caused such an event. She did believe that time travel that time travel could be accomplished, but she'd never done much studying into the subject and therefore was left completely stunned by the revelation.

"Time… travel?" Agenta wondered aloud. "I don't understand…"

"It makes sense that you wouldn't, so don't worry," assured Matt. "You see, we are from the year 2012. While we were exploring the ruins of this place that exist in our time, a phenomenon occurred that transported us backward to this time period."

"But if you now exist in this time, assuming that your claims are actually true, would your actions here not themselves destroy the line of continuity that created your future in the first place?" Though she had just been introduced to the concept of time travel and did not believe in it very much at all, Althea demonstrated a surprising amount of understanding regarding it. She had already discovered the controversy of time paradoxes, which remained an intensely-debated subject even in the future.

However, Nekou had her own things to add to the subject. "It remains a contested subject within the scientific community. There are a lot of variant explanations for time travel and its effects, but one in particular demonstrates that time paradoxes may not even exist in the first place. This theory describes that there are countless, infinite universes running alongside each other, without interacting at all. Each universe has differences that make it unique from the others, and if time travel is carried out, the temporal plane will self-correct. Now obviously, this has never been proven, but it makes some amount of sense."

"I'm sorry my self-appointed bodyguard just bored you with her drivel." Matt ignored the dirty, upset look Nekou shot him and continued, "Now that I know we time travelled, this is even more important. How do we get back home?"

"We can't help you on that," Althea answered, "but we know someone who might. His name is Bjorn Zerossen and he is the government official in charge of this area."

"The government control of… wait, did you say his name was Zerossen?"

"What of it?"

"It can't be…" The name was all too familiar to Matt – in his time, he had once gone to school with a young man named Viktor Zerossen. Together, they had created an impressive body of work, complementing each others' skills with robotics and physics. It all went bad, however, following a tragedy where their mentor's daughter was killed in a freak accident, leaving Viktor Zerossen with intense survivors' guilt and anger at Matt for surviving too, prompting him to rebel and adopt the once-affectionate nickname of "Zero" as his new name. As Zero he engaged in increasingly unstable attempts to resurrect her, eventually ending up enlisted with the villainous Team Galactic.

Matt hadn't seen him for years, but still, hearing the last name Zerossen raised uncomfortable flags. Althea, Agenta, Nekou and Olivia all picked up on his sudden trailing off, and stared at him until he realized that they were doing so, at which point he snapped back into consciousness.

"Tell me more about this government power structure overseeing Argyros Town, then."

Althea nodded her head. "You see, after the great war with Zoroark, Argyros was a self-governing land until the seventeenth century. It was then that the Colchester family, led by the current queen's ancestor Caitlin I, swept across the Tohjo Continent, subjugating all lands in their way. There was a brief battle, but Caitlin I quickly struck a peace treaty with our people and the problems were resolved.

The ruler of the Tohjo Continent today is Caitlin XVI, and she has installed General Bjorn Zerossen as the military executor of this land. He is a kind man who is respectful of our culture and tries to make us happy with life as subjects of his queen in as many ways as he can. But…"

"But what?" Olivia questioned. "Did something bad happen?"

"General Zerossen's deputy, Colonel Nixon, eventually took an interest in this area as well. He studied our carefully-preserved culture and tradition carefully, and discovered the horrific secret we guard… that once annually, we must sacrifice one of our own people at the temple to Zoroark, or else the treaty our ancestor Kratos made will be broken and disaster will face us again. He wishes to usurp control of this time for us and use it to his own advantage."

"I don't understand," Nekou reasoned, shaking her head. "If you make the sacrifice every year, and he wants to do it instead, what difference does it make?"

"He doesn't care about one core piece of our culture – we don't use the same calendar the people of the kingdom do. For us, one year is defined as the time between two periods of the sun completely disappearing from the sky."

"The total eclipse of the sun…" Suddenly, Matt understood what Althea was trying to say, and his expression intensified as the urgency of the situation became clear. "You already made the sacrifice for this year by your calendar, didn't you? And he wants you to make another out of order?"

"That's correct. He does not care that making the sacrifice twice in one period of time could possibly fully summon Zoroark back to life. In fact, he is probably banking on it."

Agenta abruptly stood up, causing an awful screech by pushing her chair against the floor. "I have… to go cleanse my mind."

Matt, Olivia and Nekou stared as Agenta left the room; none of them had expected the young woman's strange behavior. Picking up on their surprise, Althea stood herself and made her way over to a large, ornate wooden cabinet nearby. With her free hand, she opened it and carefully removed an object – the same blue glass orb that the group had found in the ruined temple in the future.

"This is the Life Orb," she revealed, "or, this particular one is a replica of the Life Orb. It's a treasure that came from our ancestral homeland and was once used by Kratos, the great hero who did battle with Zoroark and saved our people. Today, it is an important item because of the fact that the sacrifices must be made using it. We plan on giving Nixon this false Life Orb to try and thwart his plan."

"Let me see that." Matt carefully examined the fake Orb once Althea gave it to him. It was carefully crafted, and to the uninformed, it could easily be mistaken as the real thing. "Please allow me to keep this for now. I still need to ask Agenta some more questions."

"She likely went to the shrine deep inside this compound to try and purify herself and her mind so she can see the path forward. Go talk to her, and you three can stay the night here."

"Thank you very much." Matt put the fake Life Orb in his bag, then tipped his hat to Althea and walked through the doorway Agenta had used to leave. Behind him, he could hear Olivia and Nekou giving similar wishes.

-:-

The sun was nearly completely down over Argyros, and the moon had almost fully replaced it. This odd mixture of daylight and moonlight shone through the gallery window behind Nixon's desk, granting a sinister, almost otherworldly glow to the wicked colonel and his room full of spoils.

He was not the only one sitting at the desk now, however. While he continued sipping from the champagne in his glass, he was questioning Gideon, who had his hands tied to the back of the chair he was in. They had been talking for some time, long enough for Nixon to confirm to his own trust that Gideon really did come from the future; Gideon had reached this conclusion on his own in the jail cell. The subject had now turned to why Gideon was at the temple in the first place.

"It's in your best interest to be honest with me," Nixon said, his slow words coated with suave menace. "If you come clean now, I can see to it that your fate is a little better than it can be."

Feeling defeated after the long interrogation he'd endured, Gideon finally gave in. "My boss ordered me to recover an item called the Life Orb from the ruins. To that end I followed the others to the ruins, but when I tried to take the Orb, the Time Ripple was initiated."

"I see." Leaning forward in his chair, Nixon postulated, "It would seem you have enough of a connection to the Life Orb that I cannot get rid of you easily. What would you say to a partnership?"

"What are you talking about?" Gideon feared that Nixon was using 'partnership' metaphorically, and didn't want to think about what it could really mean.

Instead, though, Nixon rose from his seat and casually made his way toward the left side of the room. "Exactly what I said. A partnership. You see, in addition to being the deputy of General Bjorn Zerossen, the military executor of this district, I am also the current leader of the religious society known as the Order of Illusion. Founded by my ancestor, the man known as Marcus the Betrayer, the Order of Illusion has long stood against the teachings of the Tenganists. Even so, their culture holds important keys for us… my goal is to resurrect Zoroark, the mythical beast that once ravaged this land, and ally myself with his power to overthrow the empire of Caitlin XVI. After that, I shall create a theocracy ruled by the Order of Illusion, with myself at its head and Zoroark at my side. With all opposition eliminated, none will be able to stop the Order of Illusion from making our beliefs come true!" Seemingly catching himself before falling completely into madness, Nixon turned slowly and ominously to Gideon. "And the key to all of that is the Life Orb, the very item that you came here to find. So what do you say? If we team up, together we will be able to obtain and control the Life Orb, and bring Zoroark back into this world!"

Gideon hesitated. On the surface, Nixon's plan seemed completely mad, but the more he pondered it, Gideon couldn't help but see an opportunity in it. In truth, despite the man's rank, Gideon looked down upon Nixon, believing him to be not as intelligent purely because he was from an earlier, more archaic time period.

"I agree. Let's work together." Because of his assumption regarding Nixon's intelligence, Gideon arrogantly assumed he could outsmart the military executive and cult leader. The moment he accepted the proposed partnership, he already was thinking of ways to steal the Life Orb from Nixon and escape back into the future alone.

"Wonderful!" Nixon exclaimed as he took a mounted saber off the wall with his right hand. Using it, he cut the ropes binding Gideon with a single deft, masterful swipe. Once his new partner was free, he explained, "I will personally oversee the collection of the Life Orb and the preparations to call forth Zoroark. I have also already prepared a very special secret weapon to deal with any opposition."

"A secret weapon?"

"Yes, it is right over there." Nixon pointed over at a stone-gray cannonball on a pedestal nearby, then smiled. "Inside that is the weapon that grants me the kind of power even General Zerossen cannot oppose. Soon, I will be completely and utterly invincible!"

-:-

In the present, Looker had returned to the stadium complex to meet with his subordinates. They went to a table in the dining room of the main building to discuss their findings from the day.

"Traveling I did to the ruins of Argyros, trailing Matt Chiaki," the detective revealed to his henchmen. "However, ruined being it was. It was appearing that they were leaving in a big hurry of great urgency, because they were being leaving doors open and not cleaning up the square of the town after creating a mess!"

"Their whereabouts, Mr. Looker?" asked one of the policemen. "And what of the suspect, Gideon Neumann?"

"Whereabouts, they could not be found. There was a flash of light being bright and nowhere to be found they were. Gideon Neumann, Matt Chiaki, Olivia Mistbloom, not a one of them were located in any location that could be found."

"My daughter is missing?"

Looker and his officers had sat down close to the bar, and as such, they were overheard by Anabel. Anabel had still been drinking all this time, but by now had drastically slowed the rate of her alcohol consumption. Her hangover was gone, but because of her depression, being so drunk only served to stabilize her mood.

"I asked you a question. Where is my daughter?" Even though her grip on sanity was artificial and created by the alcohol, Anabel was losing it again from hearing that Olivia was missing. The idea of something happening to Olivia was the last thing Anabel could stand.

"I-I'm being quite sorry, Anabel," Looker answered nervously. "We are… we are being engaged in a search plan right now. She should not have been getting separated from Matt Chiaki and the others who were being with him. Hopefully, soon we will be finding them all."

"I'm joining you!" Anabel's bold, defiant declaration surprised Looker and all of his men. She was plainly too intoxicated to do much besides sleep, judging from the woozy look in her eyes and the flush in her face, but she remained completely lucid somehow. "I will not let anything happen to her!"

"If you are insisting, so let it be." Knowing that it would be pointless to try and resist, Looker simply resigned himself to Anabel's demand.

-:-

Night came in the past world, casting a beautiful full moon over Argyros Town and its people. The stone that the buildings were made of glistened in the glow of the moon, making the entire community seem alive.

In the Argyros Shrine's lower levels, Matt had spent nearly an hour trying to make his way down to the actual shrine deep inside the compound. Finding it was much easier said than done, but eventually, on the lowest level, he found a floor with a single path, which in turn led to what obviously was the shrine.

The shrine itself was a huge, spherical chamber. About one-third of the surface area in the room was a floor, while the other two-thirds created a giant bowl of sorts that served as a wide, deep pool. Above the pool, the ceiling was completely made up of a vast stained glass window, depicting the man in the toga from the legend, several other people, Zoroark and three Sigilyph, all surrounded by bizarrely beautiful flame patterns.

Moonlight filtered through and brightened the stained glass, while a soft blue glow radiated from deep within the pool. These factors created twin sources of light to break the darkness, allowing Matt to accidentally see one other thing as he rushed into the chamber – Agenta was standing on a pedestal in the exact middle of the pool, waist-deep in the crystal-clear waters. She had undone the top half of her robe, and was standing looking up with arms spread, soaking in the light from both above and below.

"I'm sorry!" Matt screamed in surprise as soon as he realized what was in front of him. "I'm really sorry, forgive me!"

"What's the matter, never seen a girl like that before?" Evidently, Nekou had followed Matt all the way down to the shrine and was in the mood for mischief again.

"Shut up!" Just the presence of Nekou at that exact moment irritated Matt, prompting his outburst.

"Please, both of you…" Agenta calmly interjected. "It is okay that you see this. Purification of the body and mind is an important spiritual ritual for a Tenganist maiden such as myself. It grants me peace and clarity in difficult times."

"I see… if you don't mind, may I stay and observe this?" Matt's interest was purely for historical reasons, as the idea of seeing a ritual all but lost in the modern era held great value to him.

"Of course. I am not bothered." Agenta continued to meditate in the light as Matt and Nekou sat down on the floor near the pool. "I feel so serene here. It gives me peace and clarity, like I said."

"I do too, actually," Nekou quietly observed.

"You two are curious about just what this land means to us, aren't you? I can guess, considering all the questions you were asking."

"That's… actually exactly right." Matt was clearly surprised by Agenta's keen sense of what he was thinking. "This is already the greatest discovery in history, if we could simply understand the meaning of the things that have happened here… it could completely change how the future views this place."

"Always the ever-thinking historian, huh?" This was actually said with a good amount of respect, instead of Nekou trying to outright insult Matt again. She felt less like dealing out snark than usual because the subject interested her as well.

"I understand. Please… allow me to tell you the meaning of the land of Argyros.

Five thousand years ago, in the land of Michina in the far north, Arceus saved the world by destroying a meteor. Though it was gravely injured, it was healed by a man named Damos, who helped it recover the Plates that gave it life. In gratitude, Arceus looked upon the ravaged land that the people Damos led tried to make their living from. Feeling profoundly saddened by the misfortune of these good people, Arceus detached several of its Plates to create an item called the Jewel of Life, which it granted to Damos to enrich the land."

"That's all very well documented in our future," said Matt with a shake of his head. He knew this because of Sheena, who had told him every detail of the Michina legend.

"I see. After that, Damos was to return the Jewel of Life to Arceus on the day of the disappearance of the sun, once he was done using it to make his people prosperous. However, he had a disciple named Marcus, who firmly believed that returning the Jewel of Life would result in the ending of the blessings it gave them. Marcus tried to trick Damos into not returning the Jewel of Life, but, becoming suspicious, Damos secretly met with Arceus again. It was then that Arceus assured Marcus's fears would never come true by giving Damos the Life Orb, an item embodying the wisdom the people would need to keep the land healthy. Damos still feared Marcus's intentions, and therefore, he entrusted the Life Orb to my ancestor, Kratos, who led a group of people out of Michina. They were the first Tenganists, and by simply being around the Life Orb, they became wise enough to use the life pulses inside the earth itself to enrich their lives. Some of the people even became able to create wondrous devices such as a flying castle that took them far overseas."

"A flying castle?" both Matt and Nekou exclaimed in surprise, before he continued, "there is something like that in our future. It's a historical site in an ancient town I've never been to, though I'd love to see it. They call it the Sword Castle or Sword of the Vale."

"I believe that may be the castle that transported a group of Tenganists from the landmass connecting Kanto, Johto and Sinnoh to a land far overseas. I am surprised it still exists.

So, Kratos's group continued traveling south, until they reached these lands. Just after they settled, however, they were attacked by a bandit. It was actually Zoroark, an evil creature that that was able to alter its appearance and create illusions to torment them. Kratos had to lead his people in the long, bloody war against this enemy, even though all they wanted to do was live in peace. Their entire settlement was destroyed and many died. This horrible event went on and on until one day…"

~:~

All around the ones who had gathered, there were flames. What were once houses and trees now served only as fuel to sustain the crackling fire consuming the original town of Argyros. Yet, there was a space that was yet spared, and it was here that the two opposing sides of the conflict met.

On one side of the clearing stood Zoroark. His black fur was fouled with small splashes of blood from his latest rampage, but he did not care. He was more conscious about making sure the long mane growing from his head did not get caught in the fire, but even that wasn't his primary concern at the time.

Opposing Zoroark from the other side of the field were several men and women, including Kratos, the blonde man in the blue toga patterned with a purple arc. Some of his right pectoral muscle was visible, as the toga did not cover everything, and accordingly, it also went a ways up his left leg. Like all the others, he had the same wooden sandals. Three Sigilyph flew alongside them.

"You've finally decided to surrender, have you, Kratos?" Zoroark hissed sadistically.

"I am here to negotiate peace with you, Zoroark." Kratos had a booming voice that would make any normal person or creature take heed of him. Of course, this didn't work on Zoroark, but it didn't matter. "We are here to lay out agreeable terms that will end this war."

Sensing opportunity, Zoroark broadened his smile. "Terms agreeable to me, you say? Let me see if you are willing to make the kind of sacrifice that will suffice to fulfill my desires!"

Kratos looked to his side, where a woman who looked somewhat like a female version of himself but with brown hair stood. He nodded to her, and she nodded back, before he returned his gaze to Zoroark. "This is my wife, Zoroark. She has decided that for the purpose of stopping the needless bloodshed you have purported, she will surrender her own life to you. Her blood will be with which the contract is formed to end the destruction of any more lives."

"A human sacrifice… yes, Kratos, you truly are an intelligent and worthy adversary for me. Your terms are in fact acceptable. Step forward, woman."

Showing no fear, Kratos's wife stepped forth to face Zoroark. The evil creature moved nearer to his target, as well, then spread out his arms while a sinister aura filled his eyes. This aura quickly surrounded the woman, and she groaned in pain as Zoroark's power started to overtake her. Kratos and the others, meanwhile, just stood by and bitterly watched.

They watched, that is, until Zoroark was nearly done with absorbing all of the woman's life energy. At that point, Kratos quickly reached into his toga and pulled out the true Life Orb, which he thrust in Zoroark's direction.

"Begone, demon! Zoroark, you will no longer terrorize this land!"

A light from the Life Orb suddenly engulfed the entire area. Zoroark turned his head slowly in Kratos's direction, with his eyes widening in horror as he realized what Kratos was actually doing.

"You… Kratos, you treacherous liar! How dare you betray me?" Already, Zoroark could feel a force pulling his very essence downward, into the stone plate he was standing on. Realizing his time was almost up, he resorted to one last threat. "You will dispose of me now, but I will never be gone… one… every time the sun disappears… you will return to me… and this ritual will be repeated… do it… or I will return…"

The light became too bright, causing Kratos and his followers to close their eyes. Zoroark's pained scream blew through their ears, but none of them flinched. When they could sense that the light was fading, they opened their eyes, and discovered what had happened as a result – both Kratos's wife and Zoroark were completely gone, but the plate that Zoroark was standing on now had dimly glowing lines inexplicably etched into it.

The group of men approached the stone, led by Kratos, who looked down on it in silence. One of his followers set a reassuring hand on his leader's shoulder, attempting to soothe some of the conflict in Kratos's normally-courageous mind.

"Please, sir, do not fall into despair. Pandia was a beautiful and brave woman, and together, we will assure that her death was not in vain."

Wordlessly, Kratos bent down and carefully picked up the stone plate. It was large and heavy, but he had enough strength to hold it. "We will construct a temple and house this tablet there. This land will live on, but we will have to fulfill the contract with Zoroark to assure that the danger remains ended for all of time."

~:~

"…and after that, the temple where we met was built. The sacrifice has been carried out faithfully for thousands of years, but now, Colonel Nixon wants to make a sacrifice under his own control outside of the normal schedule. When he came here, he studied our history and culture, and after learning everything he had to know, he confronted us directly. He actually killed my father to prove that his intent was serious."

"He seriously did that?" Nekou gasped, not expecting Nixon to have been willing to go this far. "Just what is he planning to do?"

"I'm glad Olivia's not here," Matt thought.

In response to Nekou's question, Agentha flatly answered, "he wishes to destroy the contract and resurrect Zoroark in physical form, which is what will likely happen if the schedule is broken. He… he actually demanded that we give over my sister as the sacrifice when she was born, but… I volunteered to go instead."

"But you'll die!" protested Matt nervously.

"I know, but if I don't do it, my sister will die instead. Why should I let them destroy her when she still has the future ahead of her? I have lived a satisfying life, and I have no fear of death if it is the right thing for me to do."

Matt shrunk back. Agenta's words struck a chord with him – he also had little fear of death, but it was because of a different reason. While Agenta didn't fear death because of her courage, Matt had little fear because he simply did not care much about it. He felt he had little to live for, with the number of losses he'd suffered through the years taking their toll. Many people he'd cared for had either disappeared or met their ends after getting involved with him, and many more were people he bonded with only for the circumstances to go horribly wrong.

Sighing, he reached into his pocket and took out an unusual pocketwatch. Its unusual trait was that when it was flipped open, it had a second picture holder between the interior cover and the watch face itself. The inside of the cover had a painting of a young woman with striking sky-blue hair styled into pigtails and eyes of similar color who was wearing a light-green dress; likewise, the painting in the extra holder was of another young woman, wearing white priestess garb. She also had powerful blue eyes, as well as thick brown eyebrows and brown hair done up into three buns. A noticeable contrast could be drawn between the two – whereas the first woman looked extremely feminine and overly cheerful, the second had a much more serious look that gave her the air of a warrior.

"Is one of those Sheena?" Nekou asked, looking over Matt's shoulder.

"Yeah," Matt answered, pointing to the brown-haired woman. "The other is Eleanor, who died at La Ciudad Dorada because of my own cowardice and inability to stand up for things."

Without even turning around, Agenta picked up on the sadness evident in Matt's voice and said, "Were they people you loved?"

"I… guess they were. I can't seem to hold onto things that I love… it's just…"

"Please, say no more. Love is a powerful thing, and once you learn how to let it drive you positively, you will understand why I am ready to give my own life for the good of others."

"What if the Life Orb could be used just like it was five thousand years ago?" Nekou suddenly blurted out. "Could it possibly be used to defeat Zoroark completely this time?"

Realizing what Nekou was getting at, Agenta pulled up the top half of her robe, which had been floating on the water around her, and put it back on. "Only Zoroark's essence would appear this time. But if the same power was used on that essence, it's possible that Zoroark's body and soul could be completely severed from each other, rendering him essentially dead."

"That's it!" Matt cried out as he jumped up. "Agenta, please fetch the real Life Orb!"

Obliging, Agenta stepped off her pedestal into deeper waters and dove beneath the surface. A minute later, she emerged from the crystalline water and stepped back onto the higher ground. In her hand, she held a blue glass sphere that was emitting a muted but brilliant glow… the true Life Orb. An elegant pattern was cut into its surface, giving it an even more incredible appearance.

"Here is the real Life Orb. It was hidden at the bottom of the pool in this shrine, where no malicious entity would ever go."

"Well it's time for that little Orb to come out of the water and join the battle. Agenta… I have a plan to save this land and your life!"

END of CHAPTER 2

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