I sit in a picturesque little restaurant overlooking Undella Bay, surrounded by the smell of the salt breeze, the sound of chattering holidaymakers, and the warmth of the sun. I tap my pencil against the table, musing over a passage of the letter I am drafting on the back of a menu.
“…and furthermore,” it reads, “I cannot imagine what possessed you to hide something as basic as a difficulty setting behind something as ——- as the key system, nor who you imagined would use an ‘easy mode’ unlocked only by completing the game; this all but undoes the admittedly excellent work you have done in presenting these options in the first place, especially for players of Black 2, and serves no readily discernible purpose. And another thing…”
Uncooperative? Needlessly complicated? Demented? I chew the end of my pencil and gesture to a waiter for another glass of water. I’ve been here for nearly an hour and have ordered only a small tasting plate, which I have long since finished. I suspect the staff are growing tired of my presence. Hopefully I won’t have to keep them waiting much longer.
Byzantine! That’s the word I wanted. I continue to scribble away on my menu.
“Sorry I’m late. I was held up by some old friends; apparently their trust in me is not what it once was.” I look up from my menu to see Zinzolin, dressed in his faded old silk robes, standing by my table. I stand up to be polite, and shake his hand before inviting him to join me. “How are you?” he asks as he sits down. “And your brother? Where is he?”
“Jim? I’m surprised you haven’t been keeping tabs on him. After we tied everything up at the Giant Chasm, he just kept going. Fought at the Pokémon League and everything. His battle with the dragon girl was spectacular. Everything’s still all hush-hush now, but,” I lean across the table and whisper conspiratorially, “they’re making him the new Champion. And I have his ear.” I sit back, smugly. “We’re already planning some major reforms in policy, regulations, and power structure. Not as dramatic as your plans, I admit, and it might take a while to win over the rest of the League, but we made a lot of friends on our travels. Clay will back us on just about anything, if we allow a few choice concessions to the Driftveil Tournament, and I think beating the snot out of your guys has won Cheren over to our side permanently.” I hesitate. “Er… avoid mentioning this meeting to him, would you?”
“Good, good. Where was I? Oh, yes. Iris is something of an unknown quantity. She respects Jim, certainly, but… she was a very conservative Champion. Very much preferred to run things on a personal level; no sweeping reforms. So was Alder, come to that, but Jim’s working on him.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Alder’s kind of a recluse these days. Spends most of his time at home in Floccesy Town. These days, his voice in the Pokémon League is his grandson, Benga.” Zinzolin suppresses a slight groan.
“…you mean now there are two of him?”
“You have no idea.” I’d met Benga. ‘Chip off the old block’ is an understatement. “Benga’s old school, like his grandfather. He’s all about endurance. You’d like him,” I suggest, cheekily. Zinzolin snorts. “He’s taken over one of the skyscrapers in Black City and set it up as the ultimate test of a Pokémon trainer’s ability to persevere in the face of hardship. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of elite trainers, battling from dawn ‘til dusk. That’s where Jim is now. Win over Benga as a friend, and maybe do him a couple of favours popularising this new battle club of his, and we’ll be halfway to gaining his support for our reforms.”
“My, my. Busy indeed,” Zinzolin comments, bemused. “And what have you been doing? Not at your brother’s side, clearly.” I sigh.
“I’ve… been wandering a bit. Exploring Unova. Fought some legendary Pokémon here and there. Got my ass handed to me a few times. I was hoping for allies, to be honest, but that hasn’t panned out so far, even though Unova’s practically hosting a legendary Pokémon convention these days. The lake guardians are here, all the way from Sinnoh, but I think they might be more interested in watching events unfold. They certainly didn’t take kindly to my intrusion. A Latias and a Latios showed up outside Striaton City; lord only knows what they’re up to, the inscrutable bastards. There’s even a Regirock waking up beneath Twist Mountain. I think there’s a whole triad down there, but I haven’t been able to translate all of the inscriptions or open all of the tombs yet.” I shrug. “It seems like everywhere I turn, there are more powers with their eyes on Unova, and I have no idea what any of them intend.” Zinzolin waits patiently. “I don’t like not knowing,” I add petulantly. “I ran into the rest of Team Plasma, too.”
“Oh, yes?” Zinzolin seems to be holding back a chuckle. I ignore his levity.
“Most of them are still with Colress on the frigate. Last I checked, they’re docked outside of Nuvema Town, optimising the solar panels so the ship can fly again without its power core. Colress plans to continue his research, of course, but the rest of them have no idea what they’re going to do. I advised them to contact Rood and try to reunite Team Plasma. Together, and without Ghetsis’ influence, they might actually be able to achieve some good for once.” Zinzolin continues to look sceptical. “You know, you could join them again, if you wanted. They could use some guidance.” Zinzolin gives a dismissive snort.
“They are weak. They remain loyal to the scientist for the same reason that they remained loyal to Lord Ghetsis: because they can conceive of nothing else. They feel they have no place in this world, and fear the struggles they would face if they attempted to carve one out, so they cling to the only place they have ever been accepted. Colress rules through fear, whether he knows it or not.” He looks me in the eye, a hint of ice in his gaze. “You would be wise not to think of that one as an ally. This quest of yours to reform Unova… he and his technology may support you for a time, but his devotion to his grand experiments makes him… unpredictable. As Lord Ghetsis discovered, to his cost.”
“Ghetsis didn’t understand Colress. I do. I can work with him. As I can work with you.” Zinzolin gives a hint of a shrug, silently letting the matter drop. I shake my head and press on. “Speaking of Ghetsis… I didn’t invite you here just to swap stories; there are some things I still don’t understand. Things I need to get straight in my head. I was hoping you could help me sort some of it out.”
“Well, I can’t promise I’ll be able to help you. If you want to talk, though, you’ve earned that. Ask your questions.” I lean forward over the table.
“Why did Ghetsis do it?” Zinzolin raises an eyebrow. “I mean… all of it. Why conquer Unova? Why manipulate N, and you and the other sages? Why try to control Reshiram, Zekrom and Kyurem? Why separate humans from Pokémon? Why any of it?”
“Because it was in his nature.” I say nothing and stare at him, giving a little ‘go on’ wave with my hand. “Lord Ghetsis was a rare thing, and exquisite in his own way,” Zinzolin continues; “a brilliant mind given over absolutely to one singular purpose. Through life, we change our world, but the world changes us as well. For most of us, the ideal world seems impossible, so we agree to compromise, and let the truth of what is dull our dreams of what might be. Some, though… some cannot bear to compromise. It is easier for them to change reality than to accept it. History may remember them as ‘heroes’ or ‘villains;’ in the end there is no difference. This is what Lord Ghetsis was. He believed he was born to rule. This is nothing unusual; however, most men would quickly be subdued by the impossibility of that vision. His vision could not be denied.”
“That’s what he showed to Kyurem, isn’t it?” The words form a question, but my own voice is already answering it. Ghetsis had given me and Jim a brief, partial explanation at the Giant Chasm. “That’s how he mastered it. Its soul was empty, and he filled it with his own ambition. But if Ghetsis could do that to Kyurem, if his ambition was that powerful, why did he ever need N? Why didn’t he try to control Reshiram himself two years ago? She and Zekrom are just as amoral as Kyurem, aren’t they? They didn’t care about the sides they took; only the heroes’ devotion to their causes mattered to them.”
“Zekrom and Reshiram are like Kyurem, it is true,” Zinzolin replies, speaking slowly as he thinks through his answer. “They respect willpower, the drive to bring about change, and are shaped by it into an instrument of the wielder’s choosing. Zekrom and Reshiram, though… partnership is in their souls. They could never separate humans and Pokémon, because they, more than any of us, need partners to feel whole. That is why Lord N’s resolve was twisted by Reshiram just as it shaped her, and he abandoned us. Lord Ghetsis… his will would not be shaped. He could not use them. It was only later that he discovered Kyurem, and realised how unnecessary it had all been.” I frown, remembering my own battle with Ghetsis’ monster.
“But Kyurem was nothing,” I object. “My Samurott crushed it. Ghetsis would have been better off sticking with the frigate.” Zinzolin smiles slyly.
“You never battled Kyurem,” he tells me. I open my mouth to demand that he stop speaking in riddles, before I realise what he’s saying.
“I battled that… thing; that fusion of Kyurem and Reshiram. But wasn’t it stronger than Kyurem on its own would have been? Wasn’t that the whole point?” Zinzolin sighs.
“I believe Lord Ghetsis may have… miscalculated. Kyurem’s power was incredible. I know it firsthand, as do you. The attack on Opelucid City is proof of this. I also know that, only minutes after becoming one with Reshiram, it was defeated ignominiously by a mere child-”
“-partnered with a perfectly mundane Pokémon. I can see only one explanation.” I beat down my injured pride and understand what Zinzolin seems to be getting at.
“You think the fusion weakened Kyurem.”
“Oh, I am certain its body was vastly improved, in every way a common trainer would consider important. But we did not anticipate the weakening of its spirit. In that fusion, Lord Ghetsis’ ambition was tainted by the weakness and sentimentality of Reshiram’s affection for Lord N, and by a need for partnership, for equality, that Lord Ghetsis could never satisfy. It changed Kyurem’s basic nature, from an embodiment of his pure, undiluted will, into a…” he pauses.
“…a living being with hopes and dreams?”
“Exactly,” Zinzolin says with undisguised disdain. I turn this information over in my mind.
“So if you’re right, someone who understood Reshiram and earned her partnership… a person like that could join Kyurem and Reshiram properly?”
“Perhaps. Kyurem would become a vessel for the truth forged by the hero. But Reshiram’s hero is Lord N, and where he walks…” Zinzolin turns up his palms in a gesture of ignorance. I recall my recent visit to the haunting, silent ruins of N’s castle, beneath Victory Road, and the offer made to me there by N and Reshiram. I keep my expression neutral, though, and say nothing. Zinzolin might be a friend, of sorts, but ‘trust’ would be a very strong word to describe our relationship. I take the opportunity to change the subject.
“I don’t think you ever told me what you thought about N’s part in all this. Who is he, to you?” Zinzolin seems hesitant to say anything at all.
“In public… in public Lord Ghetsis spoke of him as the saviour, the only one who could lead Pokémon out of the night. Behind closed doors… there, the facade was thinner, but still, none of us could tell what he really thought.”
“At the chasm, he called N… a freak, I think he said; a freak without a human heart.”
“He may have been right. Lord N’s body and mind were human; of his soul, I have doubts.” Part of me wants to contest this, but I let it slide.
“Could he really talk to Pokémon?”
“Oh, yes. That much is beyond doubt. Some of us… the Seven Sages, that is… some of us believed he was a harbinger of the next stage of human evolution, others that he was a throwback to the days of myth, when humans and Pokémon lived as one. One of us thought he must have been sent by some great legendary Pokémon as our messiah. The rank and file called him ‘child of the Pokémon’ – they adored him, of course. I do not know what he was, though I would be very much surprised if any of those things turned out to be true.”
“He said something, when we were at the Giant Chasm. Something that’s been bugging me.” Understatement of the century. I recite N’s parting words: “By being with Pokémon, humans can continue toward new horizons. By being with humans, Pokémon can exhibit their true power. That’s what Reshiram taught me: the truth for Pokémon and me. And someday both truth and ideals will come together… Then Pokémon and humans will be freed from the oppression of Pokéballs.” Zinzolin’s brow furrows at that.
“Lord N said that? Those exact words?”
“I don’t think I could forget them if I tried.”
“Perhaps he hasn’t changed as much as we thought, then. We all believed that Lord N had given up trying to rewrite the relationship between Pokémon and humans, but perhaps he still has ‘Pokémon Liberation’ of a different sort in mind. I wonder where Rood would be today, if we had known that two years ago?” Zinzolin chuckles.
“What he said, though… the ‘oppression of Pokéballs.’ For N to say that, still, after everything he’s seen and done… do Pokémon really suffer when we capture them?”
“Of course they do. Do not delude yourself by imagining otherwise; it is beneath you.” I blink, surprised by the backhanded compliment. “Pokémon joined with human trainers are torn from their homes and communities, and called to devote their lives to fighting and growing stronger. How many humans in today’s world can say the same?”
“So is that why you joined Team Plasma in the first place? To… free Pokémon from oppression?” I mean… sure, I can respect that, but it’s not what I was expecting from Zinzolin.
“Did you understand nothing of what Lord N said?” he asks, clicking his tongue in rebuke. “I joined Team Plasma to free humanity from oppression. Battle, struggle and suffering are the path to growth. By relying on Pokémon for everything, our society has brought itself to stagnation and weakness. We have cut ourselves off from evolution.” Yeah, okay, that sounds more like it.
“But we achieve so much working together!” I exclaim.
“We?” Zinzolin asks, his gaze flickering downward, to where my fingers are instinctively tapping on my Pokéballs. “Or they?” I blink.
“I… will give this some thought.” I fall silent. Zinzolin studies my facial expression for a while. A waiter comes by and refills our water jug.
“If that is enough philosophy for one day,” Zinzolin suggests, “perhaps I can catch your interest with another proposal. You do not seem to have been in any great hurry these past few weeks. I take it your brother can do without you a while longer?” I cock my head.
“There is a ruin, not far from Undella Town. Beneath this very bay, in fact,” he says, gesturing with one arm. “A product of that same civilisation that built the Desert Resort, the Dragonspiral Tower, and so much more. That same civilisation that fell when Reshiram and Zekrom last clashed. You fancy yourself an archaeologist, do you not?” I open my mouth to speak, but Zinzolin cuts me off. “Now, now, I know what you will say – you cannot commit to so great a project. But perhaps this will convince you.” He seems confident of this. “Contrary to what you may believe, my faith in Lord Ghetsis was never entirely blind. I made something of a point of tracking his movements – difficult, of course, but far from impossible. He visited this site with some regularity throughout our… career. Even during his time in exile, I believe he continued to do so, though it is hard to be certain, since he normally moved from place to place with the aid of the Shadow Triad. More importantly…” he withdraws a hefty binder from within his voluminous purple robes, “my lord’s papers, which are now in my possession, contained extensive notes on his attempts to translate the inscriptions below.” He places the binder between us on the table. “Please, discuss this with me further. No need to commit to anything just yet.”
I glance out at the sea. The sun is setting over the waves, but I have nowhere to be.
“Shall we order? I’m starving.”