Ash Ketchum has been determined to become the best since he was a toddler. He has his eyes set on a charmander, but a twist of fate led him to the humble Nidoran. Note: Mix between anime and the games.


71. The Prophecy Part 3

He became them all for a single instant as the Sphere's essence rushed up his arm like molten lava, an infinite will for change and freedom. It merged with him and fought for ownership of his body with a fury neither of its kin had mustered.

The Feather pulsed and aided it as a vessel of Fire, the instrument gifted to him by the Moltres he respected corrupted and turned against him as a weapon by the Sphere's desperation to live once more.

Ash's being was assaulted by twin forces, one overwhelming and immense and the other waxing and feeding off of the first's endless power.

His vision flashed red and the world burned around him, the shield fading as the Sphere unleashed the enormity of its will upon his spirit and that which protected him from the physical manifestation of its energies.

Fire and Ash.

He lost himself for a moment as the twin spirits warred — one impossibly powerful and the other absolutely unbreakable.

For what seemed like an eternity he was in balance, his body frozen as the Sphere grew hotter and hotter in his hand. But it could never claim the vessel each desired.

It was Lightning that tipped the scales. The little bit of its essence he retained awoke and crackled, attacking the Sphere and Fire with territorial instincts no mortal could match.

Ash found his focus and overwhelmed them all, crushing the warring forces into submission and binding them to their own inanimate vessels.

You have retained yourself?

"Yes…I have," Ash gasped to Dazed. She gently pulled him over to her with telekinesis and examined him. His whole body ached with searing pain like it had been burned from the inside out and his throat was torn and raw as though it had reverted to its horribly damage state from after his first battle with Moltres. "Take me to Plume…I have to —"

There is no time. Ice and Lightning feel the Fragments. They come now to reclaim that which is theirs.

"Then we need to make time!" Ash rasped and hacked into his elbow. "I have them all! Where's Lugia?!"

I know not — the Guardian's power has weakened. Its battle has taken a toll. But Ice and Lightning flee here to find their power once more. Their essence has grown weak and tired. They seek their only hope in the Fragments.

"Then they'll be disappointed," Ash scowled up at the blackening sky as twin natural disasters raged his way faster than he'd ever seen them move. He saw the lightning flash and thunder shake the sea and earth as Zapdos made its displeasure known. The ocean and air froze where Articuno went and he saw brief glimpses of terrible white wings that swallowed the world. "I'd throw the things in the volcano before I let them reclaim the Spheres."

His heart pounded as the Titans sought him out. Lugia was still strong, or so Dazed said, but it clearly wasn't able to defeat the two Birds without his aid. It could just maintain the balance and buy him time.

He decided to go for it. Plume might be fast enough to escape the incoming Birds, although he feared what would happen if they focused their full might against the two of them. Even Lugia's shields couldn't withstand that kind of devastation.

But he had to try — Infernus and the rest of the world were counting on him.

"Plume, get ready to fly!" He shouted to his friend as he rushed over to her, hands going to his pokeballs as he prepared to return the rest of the team. "I need you to go faster than —"

The Blizzard engulfed them, or at least the skies above. Ash felt chilled talons grip his heart as a white shadow passed over him, its cry colder than the deepest days of winter. Twin white eyes looked upon him and he felt Articuno's sapping cold swallow his shields with directed intent.

His friends had already collapsed, only saved from unconsciousness by Dazed as she drew upon every last reserve of her power to sustain their shields. Ash found himself collapsing by them as vicious winds shot innumerable blades of ice into the shield, pushing it closer and closer to its limit every second.

He was lost in the Blizzard when thunder rolled through the volcano, a foreboding rumble that was far worse than any earthquake. Rain intermixed with snow and ice and lances of lightning carved their jagged path across the sky, piercing the Blizzard with the full might of Zapdos.

Hold yourself, child. Your trial will be over soon.

Ash found himself on his back and looked up at the sky, which was just a mass of white wind with the occasional flash of lightning. It was almost peaceful now.

The Spheres pulsed against his back, the desire to meet with their respective Legendaries evident. He had to fight back the urge to grasp one and surrender himself to their power.

Instead he fell into Lugia's song, which echoed eternally in his mind. It grew louder and louder as the whiteness intensified and a great shadow loomed over him. The shadow's wings were outstretched and sharp as icicles and a vicious beak of crystalline ice opened and a dreadful howl echoed forth that intensified the cold and slowly drained their shields of their strength.

The Ice Sphere froze against his back and Ash just barely managed to catch himself before he reached for the smooth surface of the ancient artifact and allowed its great power to consume him.

And then the Song reverberated inside his skull and a thin beam of light pierced the Blizzard just a little above Articuno's physical body. The Titan of Ice seemed to retreat within itself in fear just before a mighty gale roared behind the light beam and carried the entire Blizzard away, dispersing it as though it were just a wispy cloud.

Articuno's scream of shock echoed throughout the dim volcano, although it was soon carried away by the absurd power behind the attack. Ash saw one of its vast wings torn off by the gale, although it reformed almost instantaneously.

Ash sprung to his feet the moment he could, as did his friends. They all looked weary and drained — Dazed had done her best but there was only so much she could do. Lugia hadn't bothered to shield them, although Ash couldn't blame it after that attack.

But that wasn't his concern. Not right now.

What he did need to worry about was getting to Shamouti Island and ending this, although he wasn't sure how that would work. Zapdos' Storm had replaced the Blizzard and it was more vicious than he had ever seen it — outside of the volcano, which Moltres seemed to retain some small amount of control over, lightning fell as frequently as rain to the point there was just a continuous flash of light coming from all direction and a steady rumble of thunder.

It wouldn't be possible for Plume to cross that even with Lugia's help. They'd nearly died going through the Storm when Zapdos had been entombed within Lugia's prison. With its power unrestrained it would be a death sentence.

His mind ran constantly with ideas as the seconds ticked by. Dozens were discarded before they were even fully formed and most just couldn't work.

Frustrated, Ash gripped Infernus' pokeball. He had to hurry this up. Ash hadn't gotten a good look at Infernus before he recalled the Magmortar mid-fall but he did know that his friend was probably dying. Air Lens wasn't able to handle that much electricity even if he was empowered by Moltres' presence.

He froze.

He looked at the pokeball.

He released Infernus.

Ash withheld a choke in his torn throat as he saw Infernus. The Magmortar was limp and unmoving, mouth agape as his head lolled back. His entire body was blackened as though his magma-like blood had frozen inside of him. There was still life in him but his fire was waning.

His mind was made up. Ash didn't even know if a lava pit would be enough to heal his friend in this state and he doubted this Moltres was in any condition to heal or resurrect him again even if it was willing…which Ash felt it wouldn't.

The rest of the team was circled around him with fearful eyes. Dazed had lost her normal impassivity in favor of eyes dark with concern. Her pendulum trembled and jumped wildly, betraying her emotional state.

Even Tangrowth understood the situation as he ran his thick vines over Infernus' cooling body and assuaged old curiosities about the Magmortar's form. He gurgled piteously and his vines wriggled erratically as a few massive tears dripped from his saucer-like eyes and were lost in his shell of vines.

Bruiser knelt by Infernus' body and growled a series of noises as his reptilian face twisted in sorrow. His soft noises never stopped and he drew out a series of symbols in the air above Infernus, which was cold for the first time Ash could remember.

Nidoking and Torrent were the most restrained. Each dipped their head to their fallen comrade, although Nidoking made sure to shuffle over to Ash in order to support him. Ash didn't respond other than to clench Nidoking's plated shoulder as he stared at Infernus.

Plume cried out as she fluttered over and lowered her head to Infernus' side. She cooed softly to the cooling Magmortar and shut her eyes before she started to sing softly to him, a series of high, clear noises that made Ash want to collapse down at his friend's side and forget about this damned apocalypse.

He joined his friends at Infernus' side and knelt. His face was stone as he laid a callused hand across his brother-in-arms' chest for the first and probably last time as a Magmortar.

It was only the second time he'd actually touched Infernus, he dimly realized. His body was just too hot normally. He'd be burned if he got within a foot of hi now, let alone actual contact.

The last time was after the battle with Pierce, when Infernus had been struck by Metagross' Hyper Beam. It had been a bad wound, although he almost smiled at how naive he'd been back then. He'd seen much worse now.

"Back up, all of you."

His team obeyed, although they looked at him oddly. Only Dazed seemed to understand what he was doing, if her wide eyes were anything to go by.

This is madness, Friend-Trainer. The risk —

"Is worth it," he finished. "Please, Dazed."

Her eyes narrowed in disapproval but she relented. Ash could sense the fear and concern she radiated but knew he had to move on. Infernus didn't have much longer. His breaths were a rare thing now and certainly not enough to sustain him.

A cold power uncoiled within him and watched through his eyes, truly interested for the first time he could remember.

Ash couldn't find it in himself to give a damn.

He reached into his pack and grasped the Fire Sphere. It burned his hand and molten lava rushed up his arm to test his will once more but he shut it down with a thought.

He had already proven his mastery over it. He would not bother doing so again.

Ash took a deep breath and looked at his friend one last time.

"I think it's about time we introduce a balance of our own."

With that he pressed the Fire Sphere to Infernus' chest. It shone with the power of a sun and the blackness that had spread all over Infernus' body seemed to be burned away as his molten blood began pumping once more, bringing warmth and fire back to his body.

He did not move, though, other than to grasp the Fire Sphere with his claws so tightly Ash would have feared it would break had he not known what it was.

Infernus trembled as fire exploded from him and heat comparable to that of a volcano's heart oozed out of the Sphere and filled his body. The air around him was warped to the point he was but a blur even from a foot away and if Lugia's shield wasn't in place Ash would have been burned alive.

Ash feared his own heart stop as Infernus' body shook and jerked as he contested the Sphere's power over himself and tore his way back to life. Horribly familiar red eyes flashed from behind Infernus' closed lids and Ash feared that he might have condemned his friend to certain death as the Sphere's new body.

That fear did not wane as the fierce red glow refused to fade. Infernus' body, now completely restored by the Sphere's energies, slowly rose on unsteady legs. The heat that emanated from him now was absolutely horrific — even Dazed's shields had begun to fail just from being in his proximity. All of his other teammates had been forced to retreat, leaving the lone human standing in an aura of flame that unconsciously spread further and further from its master.

He clenched his fists and froze as Infernus' body turned around to look at the only one that dared to remain close.

Time seemed to stop as Infernus turned, all of his hopes and fears bound up in this one moment.

The Sphere was nowhere to be seen, presumably absorbed into his body. Infernus' body had been turned white-hot and the stone around him had already partially liquefied just from his presence, which had settled around the entire volcano like a heavy pressure that wanted to suffocate everything around it.

Infernus was almost invisible in his white-hot flames as they billowed around him, expanding further and further as the Sphere melded with its host, but Ash could see just enough to determine whether his friend had been mastered by the Sphere's will or not.

It was not red eyes that stared back at him. It was not the Sphere that had pulled its lips back into a smirk that reeked of well-deserved arrogance.

Infernus had returned to him.

As his renewed fires licked closer and closer to his team Ash was grateful as Lugia, having sensed their plight, spread its shields to his family as well. He knew very well that it was a good decision.

His feelings were only renewed when Infernus' blindingly white form smirked and raised one of his cannons to the sky. The volcano rumbled and quaked beneath Infernus' feet as he accessed some of his newfound power, which was that to rival the sun.

And then it was released.

Ash nearly tripped on himself in surprise when a blast of flame that swallowed the entire sky and banished all remnants of Articuno and Zapdos' waning powers emerged forth from his cannon, a blinding flare that devoured every last bit of the atmosphere it touched and left it in glowing embers.

When the first gout of flame finally faded and the volcano's rumblings had ceased Infernus was left in his cloak of fire. A childish smile had wormed its way onto his face and his eyes were wide with delight at what he had become with his second resurrection.

Then he pointed both cannons up at the sky and poured his full strength into the blast — it was beyond anything Ash had ever seen. Moltres' Inferno was but a campfire in comparison, the explosions of the volcano a mere firework.

Crackling thunder raged throughout the earth and magma belched forth from the volcano as Fire's power waxed to its zenith, unleashed to its fullest potential by he who had conquered the Sphere.

They were in the epicenter of this divine birth, engulfed in a maelstrom of flames that boiled the seas and had already begun to liquefy the outer layers of Moltres' volcano.

Ash and the team stood still in the midst of flames that would reduce them all to charred bones were they not shielded by Lugia's full power. It took the Sea itself to quench Fire, it seemed.

After an eternity of being consumed by his own fire Infernus finally stopped the flow of power from his cannons and seemed to recognize that other beings were still present.

His eyes recognized Ash first, although they quickly flitted from him to the others. Infernus' eyes didn't show any sort of recognition aside from pausing longer on some of them than the others.

Ash felt a little uncertainty worm its way into his mind but didn't allow himself to show it. He could not appear weak in front of Infernus — he knew his friend far too well to allow that.

It didn't matter what kind of power Infernus had attained. Ash didn't believe the core foundation of his personality could be altered by all the Legends in the world.

His mind was centered around strength. That was how every interaction, every relationship, every decision he made was decided. How strong was the other party in comparison to himself? Could they make him stronger? Were they strong enough to bother keeping around?

It was all down to power.

And power was what defined Infernus at this moment.

He was infinitely weaker than Infernus right now. He could not possibly make him any stronger. He was not strong enough to bother keeping around, not when Infernus seemed to have become a Legend himself.

The question was whether Infernus had developed true loyalty — true camaraderie — with Ash and the team. There was nothing they could do to stop him should he decide to strike them down in this moment

So Ash met Infernus' eyes impassively, awaiting his decision.

It would determine the fate of the world.

A moment stretched into an eternity.

The Inferno swirled around him, Infernus' soul made manifest. It seemed to taste and lash at the shields, although Ash couldn't feel any real malice behind it.

Ash trusted Infernus. He trusted the brutish Magmortar with his life and the lives of his comrades. He trusted him as a brother.

But even he had to admit that he was a bit surprised when Infernus dipped his head to him in respect and even bent his knees. It was more blatant respect than the Magmortar had ever shown him.

The flames coalesced around him in a manner that was almost soft, although they still possessed that deadly heat that was decidedly Infernus.

"How do you feel?" Ash grinned at the ascended Magmortar. He didn't truly need an answer but Infernus wasn't about to pass on an opportunity to show off this new strength.

Infernus' brilliantly white form flared even hotter as though he were trying to burn away any remaining shreds of mortality and casually raised one of his cannons, although nothing shot out other than a few licks of flame that were quickly reeled in.

The ground rumbled, black smoke poured from the volcano's mouth, and magma exploded from its heart in a great geyser of molten rock that fell around them in a fiery heap that built and built upon Moltres' volcano until had been claimed by its new master.

Their shields kept them from dying from the mere heat that radiated from the fires and lava but he could feel that they were stretching Lugia's barriers to their absolute limit — it would not be wise for them to remain here for much longer.

Despite his own perceptions of the Guardian, Lugia was not omnipotent. He'd be wise to remember that.

"I suppose I have my answer," he laughed, ignoring the danger for now. Ash was just able to make out enough definition from the white-hot being in front of him to see Infernus' lips turn upwards in a gleeful smirk.

Ash's head snapped to the west when he heard a terrible rumbling from the skies. He could just make out a wall of white engulfing a comparatively small figure shielded in a sphere of oceanic blue energy, although most of the Blizzard was obliterated by the effort.

The shields waned and he finally began to feel some of the horrific heat that would melt the flesh off his bones in seconds if he were unprotected.

"Infernus, listen to me!" Ash rasped. His throat burned with bitter smoke and old tears reopened.

He who was Fire obeyed.

"I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the Birds. They're tearing the world apart and we're the only ones who can stop it — you can restore balance and force these Legends to acknowledge that we — this team — have a right to exist greater than their own," he said. "Go, Infernus, and see if gods can bleed."

Infernus smiled that savage grin that spelled doom for those that opposed him. He grew brighter and brighter as power flooded his body unrestricted and he let all of his self-imposed limits fall away like superheated chains.

When he feared that Infernus' presence would leave him naught but blackened ash the Magmortar leapt far, far into the air. He propelled himself hundreds of feet with his cannons, which now had enough combustive force behind them to keep Infernus aloft with no effort.

Ash couldn't help but ignore his own safety and comfort in favor of watching Infernus soar off with a mighty roar as he cried out his challenge to the Lords of the Sky. The Inferno burned once more and left the entire atmosphere ablaze in his wake — he burned so hot and so fast that nothing could burn behind him.

"Let's go — we've bought our time," he said to his friends. They all nodded their assent, although each still seem dumbstruck by what had just happened.

To be honest, so was he. He just didn't have time to show it.

Ash had to ignore

I fear you have tipped the scales too far, Friend-Trainer. This new beast you have created is fresh and strong with his new power. Ice and Lightning have been terribly drained by the Guardian — even were they at the apex of their power I do not believe they would be prepared for a master of a Sphere such as the brute. He is as vicious and unpredictable as the worst aspects of the element he has become. His bloodlust will not be sated with the destruction of Ice and Lightning.

Dazed's svelte voice had lost any sort of calm. Although she still retained her tight emotional control and her diction was precise as always he could hear genuine panic in her — a fear he'd never truly seen in her before.

She polished her pendulum with a shaking hand, her fur raised by the psychic power flooding off of her thanks to her agitated state. The Hypno's eyes were wide and intense, reduced to a near-animalistic state by the reality of Infernus' new status.

I lack the gift of foresight so many of my peers possess but I do not believe that the uncouth savage will be satisfied until the entire world burns before him. He will burn and burn until nothing else remains but himself.

I implore you to find a way to subdue him — even the Blight's dominion is preferable to the terrors I anticipate. It at least has some sense of intelligence.

Ash was silent for a few moments as magma pooled around them, casting them all as silhouettes outlined by liquid heat.

His friends watched him intently, all with differing expressions.

Nidoking was guarded, reserved. He was always the cautious one, the one most aware of real threats. Ash looked to his first friend but could find nothing in Nidoking's black eyes.

Plume was the same. She seemed more concerned with escaping the rapidly encroaching magma than any debates, however, and squawked with a bit of worry as she flapped her wings as hard as she could to cool the lava and blast it away with her powerful gales.

Torrent's scarlet eyes betrayed the worry he had in regards to Infernus. He was on good terms with the Magmortar — they both respected each other's immense strength, although Ash wasn't sure how that relationship might have been altered just now — but was hardly blind to the reality of Infernus' nature.

Tangrowth was oblivious and was content with trying to raise globs of molten lava with Ancient Power — something Ash would have had a great deal of interest in at literally any other time, especially given that the grass-type was actually having some measure of success — and cautiously playing with chunks of the molten stone by layering as much of it on his shielded vines as he could before it slipped away.

Bruiser was much the same as Torrent. He respected Infernus' strength and skill if not his attitude, but knew just how terrifying the Magmortar could be to those he saw as beneath him.

Ash hesitated. "I trust Infernus and I trust Lugia to resolve things if they get out of hand. Lugia is still strong."

"We need to deal with this later," he continued and eyed the glowing streams that came closer and closer. He didn't want to test the shields any more than they had to. "Plume, get ready to go as fast as you can. We have to end this now — hopefully Lugia will be able to make use of the two Spheres we still have. I'll have to find a way to get the last from Infernus."

Very well. We will all do what we can to assist you with that task.

"Glad to hear it. Start thinking on ways to get it done," he ordered before he strode over to Plume. "I'm returning you now. With any luck I won't have to release you before this is all over."

His team nodded as they disappeared in a flash of red light, although Nidoking held on long enough to gently tap Ash's shoulder and meet his eyes before he too vanished. Ash paused for a moment and took a deep breath as he readied himself.

"Let's go, Plume," he said quietly and mounted the great bird. She spread her wings as far as she could and flapped, leaving the encroaching magma billowing around them in a heavy spray of pulsing orange and black as they soared into the sky.

Ash felt a grin spread across his face, although the side that had been slashed to the bone by Articuno's Blizzard was uncomfortably tight even after Lugia had healed him.

He raised a hand to his face and winced at the slight tenderness. His fingertips lightly traced over a thick, ropey mass of scar tissue that pressed onto his mended cheek bone.

It was unexpected but he didn't really care. The scar wasn't debilitating and was infinitely preferable to bleeding all over the place. If Articuno's presence hadn't frozen his blood the moment it left the safe confines of his body he would probably have fallen unconscious a long time ago.

Ash pulled himself away from those thoughts and just looked over to the mass of clashing elements about a mile to the west of Moltres' island.

Lugia had escaped the Blizzard with ease, it seemed, and hung far from the maelstrom of Fire, Ice, and Lightning that swallowed the world where they touched. Its white radiance was brighter than the full moon and its eyes were closed — wind swirled peacefully around it, as the small cyclone thousands of feet beneath it that yearned and reached for Lugia showed.

He frowned at Lugia, although he relaxed when a gentle, kind power touched his soul through the shields and the calming melody drifted into his mind. The scent of salty sea air drifted into his nostrils and he looked away from Lugia, more interested to see how Infernus was doing.

Neither Zapdos nor Articuno had been ready for Infernus, it seemed. The Storm did its best to engulf the Inferno but was burned away at every movement with contemptuous ease as Infernus charged at the Titan of Lightning like a white comet of heat, banishing the Storm's power as he pounded on Zapdos' physical body with a vicious single-mindedness only Infernus could muster.

Articuno fared little better — it did its best to attack the newcomer but Infernus burned too bright and too hot for the Blizzard to do much more than chill the outermost edges of the Inferno. An icy howl like the crashing of an avalanche rang out through the sky as Infernus' white body appeared in the midst of the Blizzard and exploded, searing away the entirety of the white mass of snow and wind and ice before he grasped Articuno's neck with a single arm and disappeared with Ice in tow.

Ash's eyes were probably as wide as Tangrowth's as he watched Infernus appear before Zapdos and its Storm an instant later with a certain Bird of Ice noticeably absent.

Aside from the fact that Infernus still retained his ability to teleport and apparently had the power to bring even Legends with him he was very confused as to just where Infernus had taken Articuno — where would he see as a fitting resting place for the Bird, at least for the moment?

His answer was given when Lugia's long neck curved down so the Guardian could look oddly at the sea, which had just created a massive bulge before ice covered the sudden displacement and slowly began to spread.

Lugia's eyes flashed and the ice was shattered and the sea lit up once more as the Guardian sealed one of its Birds in a prison it lacked the power to escape this time.

Zapdos thundered its surprise at its kin's sudden disappearance and disappeared into its Storm once more before it swept back to attack Infernus, who had just exploded into his full cloak of fire once more.

As Storm met Inferno for the last battle they would face this day Plulme shrieked to let Ash know that they were descending. He reflexively kept a tight grip on Plume's body as she shot down and his organs climbed up into his throat.

She landed in the midst of the stone shrine with perfect grace, her talons gripping tightly as she lowered herself to allow Ash to leap off. He graced her with a grateful smile and a stroke of her feathers before he turned to Slowking, who smiled at him as the ageless creature stood over Lance.

His breath hitched as he laid his eyes on Lance. The Champion was pale as bone, although he still drew breath. Were it not for the slight rise and fall of his chest Ash would have been certain that the greatest Dragon Master the Wataru had ever produced was long dead.

"Yes, he is in dire straits," Slowking agreed as it looked upon Ash's horrified face. "But his heart is still strong. He rose minutes ago as Fire asserted itself once more and sought to aid you, although I was forced to restrain him. Now, as Fire hides and seeks to recover its power he sleeps."

"I suppose that's the price for being so intimately connected with Moltres," Ash murmured as he knelt besides Lance. The Champion's Feather was aglow with life, smoldering tirelessly as Moltres was rejuvenated within the volcano. "He's stable?"

Slowking nodded. "I have tended his wounds. It's his connection to Fire that causes him the most harm. Otherwise he would have left to find you long ago — his will dwarfs that of man and pokemon alike."

"That he does," Ash smiled, his mind flashing back to Lance's willingness to put his own life on the line to save that of a boy's…and the will he had displayed in attempting to match the Moltres that still retained Ash's respect.

Once he was certain that Lance was fine he rose to his feet again, although he spared the Champion another glance. As he was now the mightiest of all trainers looked rather…small.

"I have the Ice and Lightning Spheres," he said. At his words the two artifacts pulsed, seeking to entrance him into accepting their power once more. Ash crushed their illusions as easily as he would a leaf. "The Fire Sphere…"

"I can see," Slowking remarked as it stared out at the Inferno that threatened to swallow the Storm whole. "An unorthodox use of its power, to be certain. The lone Fragment of a Bird devoted to maintaining the balance has instead been used to destroy it further."

Ash didn't look away from Slowking as it chided him. "I needed to save my friend's life."

The Sentinel nodded slowly at that. "Ah, yes. Friends…my apologies. I seem to have gotten distracted."

"Place the Spheres on the altar," Slowking instructed hurriedly. "The Fire Sphere must be added to return balance to the world but the Great Guardian may make use of these two."

Ash nodded and kept his focus tight as he rose to the top of the shrine — he idly noted that the ice from before had been completely melted off and it seemed dry as normal stone — and touched the Ice Sphere to put it in the center pedestal.

The Ice Sphere's primordial will struggled against him but his own snuffed it out in an instant. He had already mastered the Sphere's cold power and he would not suffer it to fight against him once more.

He eyed it curiously as the smooth Sphere was set on its pedestal and flared to life. Icy mist swirled incessantly and it shone with a frozen white power that seemed as though it would suck all the heat from his body if he laid a single finger upon it.

Ash broke his interested gaze off and grabbed the Lightning Sphere, ready for the wild, coiled power to leap into his arm and contest his will for the second time.

It did not.

The Lightning Sphere flashed and a live current ran up his arm at the contact but he did not find himself tested. It simply existed in harmony with him, always poking and prodding at his will but never attacking and seeking to annihilate his spirit in order to replace him with its own.

He spared the Sphere a moment of consideration before he placed it on its own pedestal and the bolt of living lightning that dwelled within coiled and danced, driven by some power he could not detect.

Ash peered past the single empty altar to look upon what Infernus had wrought.

The Inferno filled the sky with eternal summer — at least in the vast expanse where it did not simply burn and burn until there was nothing left. It had dwarfed the Storm and almost encapsulated it, although Zapdos' form was still visible flitting about and thundering defiantly as Infernus' comet-like body appeared to burn and attack at every turn. The Titan of Lightning's unmatched speed was nothing in the face of Infernus' teleportation.

Lugia still hung in the sky watching the proceedings with what Ash assumed to be curiosity. The ocean was still a vibrant blue and the ice was still held back, so Articuno had been restrained. He doubted it had any strength left after Infernus had savaged it.

His lips quirked up into a smile at that.

The Birds had not been ready for Infernus.

They were powerful on a level that he could only truly comprehend after he touched the Spheres and became them for the briefest of instants. They were fierce and immortal as the elements they embodied, so far above the rest of the world that the only true connection they had to the mortals was a primordial territorial urge to dominate and protect their own claimed land.

But that was their weakness. They were right to be confident in their power — they were old, terribly old, and had only ever been mastered by the Sea itself. Their only equals had been themselves. Their power was unchanging and eternal.

That was why they would never be a match for something like Infernus. Not when he had mastered the power of one of their own and ascended to their own level.

The Titans did not fight. Not as most saw it. They clashed with terribly destructive results but they simply vied for dominance, testing one another to see which could claim dominion over their kin. All the destruction was just a side effect they barely noticed when it did not assist them in their primordial ritual.

It was all an endless cycle that they had not partaken in for millennia upon millennia. Blinded by their ancient fury and desire to conquer their fellow Titans to the exception of the rest of the world.

Infernus was their bane. The Birds scarcely realized they fought — Infernus lived for it. His every breath, every action, every thought was all devoted to the thrill of combat and the satisfaction of watching his enemies driven pathetically before him while he razed all that mattered to them.

He wasn't just releasing his power to its fullest extent like a hammer, allowing his Inferno to rage against the Storm or Blizzard until one or the other gave way in the face of the others' great power.

He attacked. He sought his foes out within their own cloaks, hunting and burning until he could find that which he desired to dominate and tear them apart. He honed the Inferno into the focused fires he controlled subconsciously thanks to years of constant combat, razing through the Storm like a hot knife through butter.

It was clear how well the Birds had taken to Infernus' abilities. They could scarcely comprehend that something was actually fighting them instead of just vying for dominance. Death and injury were practically foreign concepts to immortal, infinite beings such as themselves and Infernus was doing his best to force them to realize those aspects.

He taught them fear, a lesson Ash doubted they had ever received before.

They respected Lugia's might, its power to shape and calm the world. It was a gentle being that did not revel in combat. It subdued and restrained the Birds, forced them to cease their combat, but they did not fear for their own existence in its face.

Infernus did.

Perhaps the lesson hadn't sunk in completely, he mused. Zapdos still fought on futilely, a constant flash of hundreds of bolts of lightning that razed the sky and cut their way into the Inferno, although they dissipated almost instantly.

Ash had to hold back a laugh at that.

Air Lens.

Air Lens on a scale that had never been seen in ages past or ever would be again if Ash had his way.

He kept his eyes focused as Zapdos' Storm was finally seared away to little but a few wispy clouds that billowed around the dimming Titan as though they could actually protect it from Infernus' fierce hunt.

The world slowed as Infernus' white-hot body appeared just above Zapdos as it recoiled from the sudden loss of so much of its power and lowered a cannon. Zapdos' physical shell looked up with its glowing golden eyes to see he who had become Fire.

Zapdos thundered for just a moment before it was cut off by the raging and crackling of a firestorm that swallowed the Titan of Lightning whole and shot all the way down to the sea, which barely reacted thanks to being held in place by Lugia's power.

Infernus roared his victory and bathed the world liberally in his unending fires, a terrible sound that deafened Ash and heralded the sudden eruption of the volcano, which spewed what seemed to be an infinite amount of thick black smoke and molten rock into the air before it fell into the ocean and erupted into vast clouds of hissing steam. Several massive waves were spawned from the mass of magma collapsing but an errant thought by Lugia put an end to that.

The Thunder Bird's form was held helpless in the air, shielded by a vortex of swirling air that was only visible to Ash because of the fire that twisted around it before being extinguished. Lugia pulled Zapdos away from the flames that would consume it and looked upon Infernus, who hovered in the air with terrible anger burning around him.

Ash winced as the Inferno condensed around his friend and left Infernus in the semblance of a living star. It didn't change the air that warped around him or the sea that boiled even beneath Lugia's shields but did serve to make the Magmortar even more fearsome.

Infernus shot forward then, exploding into action so fast that Ash could barely track him through the warped air. Trails of plasma burned behind him as he approached Lugia, who appeared serene as ever even in the face of Infernus' most terrible fury.

When the Great Guardian did act, it was faster than anything Ash could hope to track. One moment it was utterly still and the next it had opened its great maw and released a thin beam of intense energy that shot straight at Infernus, the unbelievably powerful wind it carried behind it enough to part the sea hundreds of feet down beneath it.

The Magmortar, lost in his battle-rage and indignant at losing the chance to kill Zapdos, took the beam head on.

Ash saw the world freeze for a single instant as the star met the gale.

Then Infernus teleported just a hundred feet above Lugia, still in motion.

Lugia's head snapped up and the last remnants of the beam shot into Infernus' cloak of compressed fire.

His Inferno held on for a moment, wavered, then, all at once, was stripped away by the Guardian of the Sea's most powerful attack. Trails of flames and sparks filled the air before they dissipated into nothingness.

Infernus roared and shot a massive blast of flame at Lugia, although it was harmlessly snuffed out by a shield of swirling air. The Magmortar shot down in an effort to match Lugia up close, but let out a furious roar as the ocean suddenly reared up with impossible speed and swallowed him whole.

"Infernus!" Ash cried out, fearful of what the full weight of the ocean would do to Infernus without the elemental cloak burning it away. He doubted Infernus could simply teleport out — Lugia's power would probably disrupt it. Legends like Lugia had power so great that keeping him from teleporting would be trivial.

Fear not, my friend. I have simply restrained him. Your ally is not so attuned to the power of the Sphere that he may recover so quickly.

It is time to restore what has been lost. The Prophecy must be fulfilled.

With that Ash felt the power of his shields amplified a hundredfold and the world around him was similarly affected. He had just a moment to realize what was coming before the world was consumed by Fire.

Infernus stood before him bereft of his Inferno but still white-hot and more powerful than he had ever been. Flames licked their way across the ground as the Magmortar snarled and raised a cannon only to realize it was pointed at Ash.

"I'm proud of you, Infernus," Ash began with a smile. He stepped down the stone stairs with perfect grace, every movement easier than it had ever been. "It seems that gods can bleed after all."

The Magmortar calmed and the billowing flames slowly compressed around his body. A smirk crossed his lips and he nodded before he lowered his cannon.

"You've just forged a legend of your own," Ash grinned. "One that's not going to be easily forgotten — least of all by the Birds themselves. It's not everyday that they come to know fear. This is a day they'll remember for as long as the earth still stands."

Infernus' smirk grew wider and smugger. Fires flared about him in anticipation as he awaited Ash's next words.

Ash hesitated before he spoke. "But you need to give up this power and return the Sphere."

The Magmortar's response was swift.

Flames exploded out of his very being, consuming the world and testing just how far Lugia's shields could go. The sky was white with heat and flame, warped until he could scarcely see more than a foot in front of him. When it died down smoke billowed everywhere and small embers danced incessantly throughout the entire sky.

Ash frowned. That seemed to be a no.

"I know you don't want to give it up," he said to the tense form of Infernus. "I don't know if I would either. But we need to restore balance."

Infernus growled and allowed magma to leak off of his body. There was so much heat radiating from him that what little bits of earth and stone weren't protected by Lugia nearly a hundred feet away melted and twisted into magma and molten glass.

Ash stared his friend down and crossed his arms. "Remember that this is not your power. It's just borrowed. Do you really want to be known for what isn't yours? Give the Sphere up and come with me again — I'm going to find a way to get you and all the others this strong one day and when we reach that point, know that it's your power that took you there, not something borrowed."

That struck a nerve. Infernus hesitated, his pride in his own abilities taking over. His fires died down, although he was still impossibly hot.

"Give me the Sphere," Ash pressed. "For me and the rest of the team, if not your own peace of mind."

The world was silent for a moment other than the quiet crackling of Infernus' flames.

His friend finally nodded and plunged a hand deep into his chest, tearing apart dense muscle, bone, and flesh with ease. Ash hid back a wince and he saw Plume do the same. He recoiled even more when he saw that Infernus had already healed the wound around his hand as his claws grasped for the Fire Sphere and had to reopen the gaping wound before it knit itself together once more thanks to the Sphere's energies.

Infernus lightly leapt atop the altar where the other Spheres were held and, after a moment's hesitation, offered it to Ash.

He took it and for just a moment the three entities were connected.

The Sphere's will was crushed beneath the combined might of Ash and Infernus'. It struggled for just a moment before he dominated it, although he did not partake in its power. He would not give it even that much influence over him.

No, he was more interested in Infernus' essence.

It was a thing of fiery passion, all hot-blooded and every scrap of devotion it was capable of poured into combat and Ash and the team, the latter of which brought a tiny smile to Ash's lips. But then, as he began to take in the whole of Infernus, he tore the Sphere away.

Curious as he was he would not violate Infernus' privacy like that. His mind was his own.

"Thank you," Ash rasped as the wounds in his throat reopened and tore faster than Lugia's energy could restore them. The Fire Sphere seared his hand and he had to fight for every word. "You're a good friend, Infernus."

Infernus, whose eyes looked dimmer than he had ever seen them, nodded with an odd expression on his face. The Magmortar took the one chance he would ever had and placed a molten hand on Ash, face unreadable as touched his trainer for the first time.

Ash took in the molten heat that was just barely warm behind his shields and let Infernus take this opportunity. Infernus' mouth twisted up into a genuine smile — one of the few Ash had ever seen not related to fighting or training — and the Magmortar who had been Fire nodded at him before he removed his hand and leapt off the altar to stand by Plume.

He wasted no time in setting the Fire Sphere on its pedestal. It flared to life just like the others, twisting and crackling inside of its smooth prison.

Aside from that nothing happened.

The world was the same — hot and cold and humid all at once — and the remnants of the Birds' clash still reached as far as his eyes could see. Their power had been broken but the damage was already done.

He stepped back and stared at the Spheres, frustrated.

What had been the point of all this? The Birds had been defeated, yes, but the sky was still black and rain and snow alternately pelted him as the weather continued to foul. It didn't have the power of the Birds to drive its expansion anymore but anywhere the Blizzard or Storm touched would be ravaged.

Then the winds calmed and a peace took hold over all creation. The song echoed within his heart and a gentle call reverberated throughout every molecule in his world.

Everything silenced and Lugia rose from the sea with grace beyond any ordinary creature. It shimmered in an odd ray of sunlight that pierced through the gloomy clouds and allowed the psychic bonds that locked its wings into place to dissolve, enabling it to free the mighty clouds of white and raise them high into the air.

It looked upon him with old, kind eyes and salty sea air drifted through his nostrils. He met the eyes that shone with power as ancient and strong as that of the ocean itself and found himself drowning.

He saw the darkest depths of the sea where pokemon no human had ever seen before skulked and hid, where the deep-sea fissures leaked geothermal heat that was all that sustained life in those terrible conditions. He twisted and turned through all the waves that had ever been, danced through the waters and met hundreds of pokemon all in an instant.

After an eternity of life in the deep, hidden places of the world through Lugia's eyes he broke away, the memories fading already.

You honor us with your assistance, Ash Ketchum. Few could have taken upon the mantle of Chosen One and fewer could have succeeded in their quest.

But the Prophecy is not yet fulfilled. To restore what is Now to what Should Be there is but one deed you must perform.

"What is it?" Ash asked, mouth dry and throat still raw. Warmth surrounded him and the psychic shields Lugia had placed over his fragile body for what felt like hours slipped away. He stretched his fingers, shivering as cold winds whipped against him and fat droplets of rain pelted his skin.

Slowking tapped his shoulder and offered him what looked to be a thin, simple flute formed of a pearly material that was impossibly smooth to the touch — Ash was afraid he wouldn't be able to hold it without the instrument sliding out of his hands. It shone brightly as a ray of sunlight cast down from the heavens touched it and possessed an inner glow that pulsed at his touch.

Join your soul with mine, O Chosen One, and tame the tempest which claims our world.

Ash took the flute with great care and jolted as the Song that ran constantly through his mind intensified a hundred-fold, almost audible in his own ears. He looked upon the beautiful instrument in awe. It was simple and plain, but there was unmistakable care placed into its creation.

It was perfect.

"I don't know how to play," he admitted to the Guardian. "I don't think I've ever even touched a flute before."

Warmth surrounded him and he felt something akin to amusement brush his mind.

Do not fear — join me.

Ash nodded and slowly placed the flute to his lips. It was an odd motion, one that he'd never encountered before. He'd never had much of an interest in music before — he certainly appreciated it, but he'd never cared to try and create his own or learn how to play. He'd always had his head stuck in a book about pokemon or battling and he didn't regret it for a second.

Until now.

Well-aware that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing, Ash closed his eyes and waited.

A warm power flooded him, salty air ran down his throat, and he played.

The song that echoed in his soul translated perfectly to sound. His hands moved fluidly, governed by the power he had given himself over to. His breath whistled through the flute with the skill of a master and joined the haunting notes that bound the entire world in its spell, calming the wild elements and those bound by their nature to do harm.

He existed there for an eternity. There was peace in him as note after note played — he felt more presences join them, his friends released from their pokeballs. He felt a great light appear into existence before him and heat flush his chest.

Note after note after note he played as Lugia sang, their melodies mingling in perfect harmony. The world itself listened — warm air arose from where there was none, the natural heat of this land found itself dominant once more. Gentle waves lapped at the island's base and three great presences found the fury bleeding from their hearts.

And, finally, the Guardian's Song ended.

His hands lost their deft skill, his breath failed to flow through the flute.

Only the Song remained, still playing eternally through his soul.

Ash opened his eyes.

The world was restored — Lugia's titanic body was suffused in a soft green glow that reflected the ocean that no longer glowed with the power of the Guardian or boiled or froze under the terrible energies commanded by the Birds.

It was odd just how stark the change was. He'd gotten so used the ravaged expanses of sea and black, gloomy storms that he'd completely forgotten Shamouti was a tropical paradise.

There was a very satisfying feeling as he looked out on what he had wrought. This time he wasn't helpless, just a weak bystander useless to interfere in the workings of Legends. He and his team were responsible for this, the healing of the world itself.

Lugia's Song still rang throughout the world and he felt it now deeper than ever before — he felt the notes of the melody strum through his spirit before they slid their way through the air. The connection with the flute amplified it and he had to focus to avoid closing his eyes and basking in it.

The workings of Lugia were enough to keep that focus strong, however. As the green energy that sprung from the Spheres — all were connected to one another by the ethereal cord, which then flowed to the Guardian — swirled around it in a pale mist the Guardian made use of its power.

Far on the horizon he could see black clouds peeled away, rains stop, lightning die. Ice melted, snow was banished. Magma cooled, painfully hot air calmed, and the soot and ash that poured from the volcano in droves was banished.

The sun shone without any obstacles and maintained the gentle heat that touched him.

How long he stood there watching Lugia channel the united power of all three Spheres he knew not. It could have been a minute or it could have been an eternity. Time had lost all meaning and he lost himself to the Song once more.

But, as all good things must, it came to an end and he found himself staring blissfully out at the calm azure seas. His friends were all gathered around the shrine with similar expressions — Torrent and Dazed in particular looked like they'd never awake from the trance — and he snapped himself out of the spell and looked back, worried for Lance.

"He will wake in a few minutes," Slowking explained as Ash stepped down from the shrine and examined the pale Champion. There was a bit more color in him, at least, and his breaths were more frequent. "With balance restored the Golden Fire will ignite soon."

"Thank you," he nodded to the Sentinel. "When will he make a full recovery?"

Slowking stared past Ash as he pondered the question. "A few days — I healed what damage he and his partners suffered before you were delivered to me. His own body is in perfect health. It is merely the result of the Fire here usurping his bond and its defeat that ails him."

"Good, good," he muttered.

The sound of a massive weight dropping against the stone with feather-like grace drew him away from his inspection. The adoring snort from Torrent and the great shadow that fell over him was what made him finally turn to examine the newcomer.

His eyes widened and he had to keep himself from taking when he saw Lugia mere feet from him.

Its long feet which ended in three massive toe-like structures that clenched around two of the shrine's pillars that stood four feet apart were the first things he saw. Then his gaze travelled up to the massive white body with feathers so small and delicate that he could scarcely make out anything but a solid wall of whiteness even from this short distance.

Finally he reached the wings, which extended a hundred feet out on either side and blotted out the sun with ease. They appeared almost similar to hands or a Zubat's wings in their construct, as they were so large comparing them to a bird's wings wouldn't do them justice.

And then extended the long, thick neck that nonetheless held grace that any Persian would be jealous of.

Then there were the eyes, which had been drained of the soft green energy that emanated from the Spheres and were clear of Lugia's own power for the first time he had seen them. They melded almost perfectly with the pure white of its ghostly-pale feathers but stood out starkly against the blue crests about its eyes.

Lugia lowered its head down a little past Ash so that its neck was clearly extended. Torrent, who Lugia had moved closest to, trembled with religious fervor at the Guardian's proximity. Ash saw Lugia's eyes flash for just the briefest moment and Torrent grow rigid in response, although the Legend didn't reveal whatever it was to him.

The Guardian looked back at him.


Ash froze and looked back at the Guardian at that command, unsure if he truly understood what the Legendary desired. Lugia nodded, and Ash's hands shook as he mounted the Guardian's neck.

He had just enough time to glance over at his family before Lugia formed a psychic shell around the two of them and shot into the sky, using levitation in order to circumvent the raw, destructive power that accompanied the beats of its wings.

He looked down at the world, which seemed so small but so beautiful from the aether.

It is beautiful, is it not? It is the Sea which takes hold of my heart, but the realm of Light is a gem I may gaze upon but rarely. My home is the abyss, and Light is a force I see only in the dreams of those that dwell above.

Ash nodded silently and looked down at the tropical paradise of the Orange Islands — what tiny portion he could see, anyway. Shamouti and the Elemental Islands were only a small fragment of the Orange Archipelago but he thought they might be more than enough for him after this day.

You performed your duty well, my friend. The world honors you in this moment, as do I. This is a day I knew would come from the moment I laid eyes upon your kind and realized what I must do to preserve you.

"What do you mean?" Ash's brow furrowed.

Your people interested me from the moment you touched the sea with your crafts of bound wood and simple oars. I saw their worth, but I saw the fragile position they occupied as well.

That which you know as Legendaries have always reigned over the world which we embody. We are eternal. We are the Foundations of this world, imbued with that which is Creation.

It is only with the emergence of your kind that we have receded for millennia for yet another long sleep.

I am a cause for the withdrawal. I called out to Fire, Ice, and Lightning and brought them to this place, the cradle of life. It is here that I met those that raged wild across the world, free as they been since the beginning. They were great then, powerful as I am now. Each altered the world in their wake, doing as they would and existing according to their natures.

It is here that I bound them. I put forth all that I am and created these islands. I took their Nature and sundered it into their current states: One to Fly, One to Roost, and One to Bind.

When the Nine looked upon me I imprisoned them so that they would no longer alter the world in their image as they had before. I placed the Spheres on their prison — they were to call out to their soul-kin and bind them to their islands, always seeking to reunite with the Original and restore themselves to what they once were. The Original Incarnations of Fire, Ice, and Lightning could not leave a part of themselves, not when they were so close to the Fragment I had taken.

I made them sleep.

The Thirds left this place for an eternity to fly the world once again. They were that which once was but sought to become what could be. You have met them, the last of the shards. Beyond mortal reach but nothing to the force which they once embodied.

When my work was done, I slept for many human lifetimes. I had chained that which was by its nature free and my essence was broken by it. When I awoke I was but a shadow of my former greatness, just as Fire, Ice, and Lightning were shattered into thirds.

"Only a third of your power…" Ash trailed off as he tried to process the sheer enormity of the statement he'd been given. It seemed impossible — Lugia could raise the sea itself and crush the Birds individually with ease. No matter how hard his mind worked he couldn't comprehend something three times stronger. "So the Birds were as strong as you are now?"

Yes. They were beautiful, then. They were Fire, Ice, and Lightning and all that accompanied them. If I hold one regret in my heart it is quenching them, no matter what has resulted while they were locked away. To see them together…you could not comprehend it. Fire's flight shaped deserts, Ice's froze the world to its heart. Lightning flattened forests and tore mountains asunder.

Lugia's connection with him brought vague pictures of great walls of swirling fire and raging blizzards and storms that swallowed vast swathes of the earth beneath their black clouds.

Yet he knew it scarcely compared to what had truly happened — only a psychic could truly appreciate the enormity of what had occurred in those elder days. Mere vision could only give him the barest glances and peeks at the power Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos had once embodied.

"How did they wake up?" He asked finally. "You said you put them to sleep."

Yes. They were dormant for many thousands of years, undisturbed by any that braved the legends of these islands to lay eyes upon them. Their will remained latent but it was all that remained. It banished intruders, entranced those that would make their current embodiment things of legend.

It was months ago that they first stirred. Powers that had not touched the earth for longer than your histories record made themselves known. The Shade — the one you know as Mewtwo — brought imbalance with its birth.

When its mind swept across the world it awoke the Lightning you know, which had slept in the far places of your lands for many centuries. It agitated Ice and hastened its movements. Even Fire, which had forced its kin into exile to free your kind of the Thirds' influence, felt its touch shape the universe.

It was when the Guardian of Life and its Shade clashed that the Originals roused. Their minds, long dormant, shuddered with power long forgotten.

They would have slept for decades more had one of your kind not sought their capture. He attacked Fire and awoke it in true — his life was lost moments after but Fire's consciousness awoke the others and they lost themselves to their rage.

"Mewtwo!" Ash hissed, although the expected icy fire failed to make an appearance. He didn't even feel a flicker of its presence within his mind. Mewtwo had abandoned him for the moment. "It's all its fault…"

Perhaps. It did not realize what it had done. It possessed power unrivaled amongst those it had encountered and did not understand the repercussions of exerting its will upon the world.

But its battle with the Guardian of Life has far deeper implications.

Concepts that have slumbered and retreated from the age of humanity stir. They will roam the earth once more. That is inevitable, despite my own efforts.

Ash's breath hitched at that. More Legends walking around and destroying everything around him? The world could scarcely deal with three Fragments of Legends awakening. What were they supposed to do when more and more woke up and discovered the world that had grown without them?

Yes. Dark times are coming — many will reject this new world and sleep once more, but some will rise to the call your Mewtwo sounded. throughout all Creation. In its ignorance it was their Herald. Not all Incarnations were gifted with reason. Some are simple Concepts, mindless except for that which is their very Nature.

And those that do are terrible in their power — even in my prime I would scarcely be a hindrance to the most powerful of Concepts.

There are few of them, but they exist. They will awaken, and they will reshape this planet in their image.

This is my gift to you, Ash Ketchum. I gift you Knowledge:

Land and Sea, Behemoth and Leviathan…they breathe.

With that Lugia finally started to move from their perch high in the heavens, gently maneuvering its way across the skies.

I know I have placed a terrible burden upon you, my friend. But all knowledge has its price, and it seems that are the one cursed to pay it.

Lugia sounded genuinely regretful at that. Ash nodded slowly but found himself lost in Lugia's Song as it breathed joyfully, moving away from the dark tidings it brought and instead focusing on what they had achieved in the present.

With his spirit lifted by the Song, Ash looked out onto the lapping waves of the sea and smiled.

If Lugia's words were true then he'd have a hard time ahead of him.

He'd just have to make sure to enjoy every second until then.

His good mood was torn away when he heard three ancient voices join Lugia's Song and his lips curled up into a fierce snarl as he saw the powerful bodies of Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos flank Lugia as they lazily drifted with the wind.

They do not come for battle. They come for their last flight.

Ash calmed and looked back at the Birds as they sang in perfect harmony with the Guardian. The crackling of flames, the low roar of an avalanche, the soft thunder that preceded the coming storm…they completed the melody in a way that he didn't even know was there.

He left himself open to their own Songs.

There was emotion there. Emotion he hadn't even been sure the forces of nature could even feel.

Sorrow, regret, the knowledge of what they had lost…it was all there. And it pulled at him.

His earlier hate for the Birds softened. Ash doubted that he could ever forgive the creatures for the havoc they'd wreaked but he held a bit more sympathy at feeling their own strange emotion.

He knew what they once were and what they had been reduced to. What Lugia had forced itself to do in order to protect his own species from the true might of Fire, Ice, and Lightning.

He couldn't forgive or forget.

But he could understand.

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