“Mmm… make the backrest reach a little higher on the left hand side. And have a little bit of greenery growing from the right armrest. Don’t forget to keep the seat nice and smooth!” Xerneas and Ilex the Venusaur roll their eyes, continuing to fine-tune the wooden throne they are magically growing for me. ‘The Elite Four all have thrones,’ had been my reasoning; ‘how would it look if I didn’t get one?’ All right; I will concede, in hindsight, that the gigantic living oak growing up through the heart of the cathedral of the Elite Four was a slight extravagance, but one has to look the part. Nothing says ‘strong on environmental issues’ like a giant magic tree overflowing with the essence of Life itself, and nothing says ‘crazed despot’ like an outlandish throne.
Come to think of it, maybe I was sending some mixed signals there.
“See if you can get some fungus growing on there. Maybe a little bit of mistletoe as well. And some deadly nightshade.” Ilex gives a low bellow in response. “I know it’s not an epiphyte! Just give it a shot, okay?” A long, slow rumbling noise. It’s understandable, really. They’ve been nothing but patient and indulgent, but they think I’m ridiculous for spending so much time on these trappings – for their own ‘thrones’ on either side of mine, they chose cushions of soft, green moss. As I muse on this, there is a loud thunk from below as the elevator to my chamber starts to rise. I give an excited whoop and gesture rapidly to Xerneas and Ilex. “That’ll be our guest! Positions! Positions, quickly!” They move to settle down in their places on either side of my throne, as I leap into it and twist around into my prepared lounging pose, one foot on the floor, the other dangling over an armrest, one arm propping up my lazily cocked head, my other hand idly playing with my Digivice. I immediately regret that I haven’t had time to practice the pose in the latest iteration of my throne – there’s an awkward knobbly bit of wood jutting into the small of my back. We’ll have to work on that. No time now, though. The elevator platform has arrived, slotting into its place in the centre of the chamber with a neat clunk. On the platform is a slouched, dishevelled man with a sack over his head and his hands cuffed behind his back, flanked by two ill-tempered Gurdurr. I make a little waving motion with one hand, and the man is frog-marched off the platform by the Gurdurr, who delicately snap his handcuffs, then return to the elevator and descend. All is silent for a moment.
“Diantha? Diantha, is that you? Why am I here?” I grin and shoot a glance at Ilex, who reaches out with a Vine Whip to snatch the sack from the man’s head, revealing a shock of bright red hair. Lysandre looks around wildly for a few seconds before his eyes alight on my throne. “You!?”
“Mmm… me,” I answer indolently. I turn my eyes back to my Digivice, continuing to twirl it in my fingers. “You know, Sandy – may I call you Sandy? No? Well, I’m going to. You know, Sandy, you weren’t at all easy to find. For the longest time I was sure you’d died in Geosenge Town, when your headquarters collapsed… but you’re not that easily killed, are you? Not anymore.” I slip my Digivice back onto my wrist and snap my fingers. In response, a sleek wooden dart flies from one of my armrests with a muted swish and sticks in Lysandre’s chest (okay, I know the poison darts will seem like overkill, but in my defence I was really bored). He cries out in pain and staggers, almost falling backwards into the elevator well (I really should put in some railings…) before he rights himself, plucks the dart from his chest and tosses it aside. I turn to watch him, and count to ten silently as he struggles to draw himself up to his full height, still breathing heavily. I reach ten, and give an impressed whistle. “Concentrated Stun Spore essence of a shiny elder Vileplume from the jungles of eastern Hoenn. That, Sandy, is one of the more potent neurotoxins known to man or ‘mon.”
“You could have killed me,” he growls, his face darkening.
“No, I couldn’t. I think we both know that.” I smile at him. “So, how does it feel? The – how did you put it? – the pain of endlessly waiting for a beautiful world to finally be built?” Lysandre doesn’t answer – just scowls at me, his eyes stormy. “Well, I suppose it takes a few decades to really feel the difference. It’s the second century that’s the hardest, you know. Or so I imagine, anyway. When it really hits you that everyone you ever loved is dead. Say, did the ultimate weapon affect your Pokémon, inside their Pokéballs? That sweet Gyarados of yours? I wonder whether-”
“ENOUGH!” he roars. I blink, startled. “I may have failed in my duty, I may be broken, alone and lost, and I may be condemned, for my failure, to untold lifetimes of misery in a world that can only decay, fester and die, but I will NOT stand here and be belittled by you! Tell me why I am here and be done with it!”
“…well, there’s no need to be like that,” I murmur. “I was just making conversation.” I shrug and hop out of my throne. “All right, then. First things first – Lysandre. You are here because I want to offer you a job.” I give him a winning smile and hold out both of my hands, palms turned up.
“And what makes you think I would work for you, ‘emperor’?” he sneers. “You know how I feel about my royal ancestors. You sit in this grand hall thanks only to the borrowed power of your Pokémon, your underlings, your tools. Deep inside you are as weak and vile as Kalos’ monarchs ever were. You are happy to take and take and take from the dwindling life of Kalos, but what will you give back?” I shrug.
“Stability?” I suggest. “Direction? Efficiency?” I begin counting on my fingers. “Justice. Enlightenment. Pokémon rights – they’re not my ‘underlings,’ you know; Xerneas and I are in total accord on every matter – where was I? Science. Education. Environmentalism. Aqueducts.” Lysandre suddenly looks bewildered.
“Everyone needs aqueducts. The point is, Lysandre, I may want to make sure I’m at the top of the heap, but that’s only because- well, mostly because… well, okay, partly because I’m simply the best person for the job.” I raise my arms, gesturing to the walls around me, now thick with ivy. “I’m Kalos’ Champion. I saved this region from… well, from you!” I walk back towards Xerneas, still standing by my throne, and place my hand tenderly on the back of his neck. “I am partnered to Xerneas, the guardian and protector of all life! Together we can make this region greater still! Conquer all who oppose us, and build a new Kalosian Empire that will be the envy of the world! Bring life from lifelessness! And all I ask in return is the obedience and adoration of every man, woman and child in this land, a flat 80% tax rate, monuments to our greatness in every city, a magnificent palace – which as it happens, we now have – servants to cater to our every whim…”
“How generous of you,” Lysandre remarks drily.
“I know, right?” I leave Xerneas’ side and approach Lysandre again. “But politics aside, you asked why you would ever work for me. It’s simple. I can offer you what you want most.”
“And you think you know what I want most? What is that?” I lean in close, for a conspiratorial whisper.
“Redemption.” He stiffens slightly. “That is what all you oh-so-tragic anti-hero types want, isn’t it? The chance to prove to the world that your heart was in the right place all along? To reclaim your memory from the annals of history’s villains? Perhaps – oh, the tragedy – to end your life in a valiant act of self-sacrifice (assuming, of course, your life can still end)? Tell me I’m wrong.” He wants to; I can see in his eyes the urge to throw my words back in my face… but he’s curious. He speaks, carefully and deliberately.
“Tell me what you propose.” I clap gleefully.
“I just knew I could win you over!” I dash to collect a sheaf of papers from behind my throne. “Now, as de facto head of the Kalos League I am not without a wide range of human and Pokémon agents to take care of all the mundane preliminaries of establishing my dominion over this region, but there are a variety of special tasks which I cannot trust to just anyone; I need someone who is an accomplished engineer, a skilled and charismatic Pokémon trainer, a scholar of Kalosian history, an adept of Mega Evolution, a-”
“Get to the point,” Lysandre interrupts, scowling again. I rein in my excitement.
“All right, then. I will. As it happens you can complete your first task right now: to provide me with some information. Where is the other?” His scowl deepens.
“The other what?”
“Don’t play dumb. The other legendary Pokémon. Yveltal. Where is it?” He shakes his head. “You must know, or at least have some suspicions.”
“I do not, nor would I tell you if I did. It is bad enough that Xerneas has chosen to follow you. What you would be capable of with Yveltal at your side, what you would be able to take from the people of Kalos then-”
“At my side!? No, no no no no. I have no intention of working with that… thing.” Xerneas make a flat, disapproving whine. I look Lysandre straight in the eyes. “I want to kill it.” He stares back, warily.
“To what purpose? Yveltal never truly dies. It drains the life of everything around it, unleashes Death to sustain itself so it can return to plague Kalos centuries later.” I click my tongue.
“I never said it would be easy. Obviously anyone wanting to kill that abomination permanently would have to find some way of circumventing its ability to steal life. To tell you the truth, I have no idea how you’re going to do it.”
“I-?!” Lysandre’s mouth hangs open, and Ilex laughs at his astonishment, a low booming sound that echoes around the chamber.
“Well, obviously. You’re the perfect choice. Fail, and maybe Yveltal will actually be able to kill you. I can’t think of anything else that would do it at this point. Succeed… well, just think of it. Yveltal, the shadow of Death, banished from Kalos at last, never again to haunt the world of humans and Pokémon. You’ll be a hero. You’ll be redeemed.” He frowns, furrowing his brow.
“With Yveltal gone from the world, beauty and goodness might live longer. We might all have more time.” Xerneas gives a trumpeting cry of agreement. I smile.
“It’s worth a shot, right?”
“And if I were the one to do it… perhaps I could convince people… perhaps this time I could make them change their ways…” I wave my hand.
“Yes, yes, whatever you want; we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. There are some other tasks I need you to perform first, though.” Lysandre narrows his eyes suspiciously. “Don’t worry; it’s all important work. Everything you do for me will lead up to our ultimate goal. If you don’t know where Yveltal is, you’re going to need to find it for me first, obviously. I don’t know where or how you found Xerneas, but I would start there. You’re also going to need these.” I hand him the sheaf of documents. He gives me a quizzical look, then begins flipping through them. A few moments later, he looks back up at me in surprise.
“These are Xerosic’s notes.”
“Mmm. Perhaps you’ll have better luck reading them than I did. I don’t have the technical skill to fill in the parts he doesn’t fully explain… and I’m not familiar enough with how he thinks. I know you’re an inventor of some ability; you reverse-engineered a Digivice, for goodness’ sake.” He looks up in confusion.
“Oh- uh, a Mega Ring, that is. The point is, you clearly know what you’re doing, and you’ve worked with Xerosic yourself.” Lysandre skims a few pages.
“I don’t recognise these plans. He kept this work secret from me?” I roll my eyes.
“Oh, probably. He’s like that. Look, can you understand the technology or not?” Lysandre is silent for a while. He continues to read, and examines a number of diagrams.
“I believe I can, yes. Given time.” I grin at him and applaud.
“Excellent! Now, I’m going to need you to build one of those for each of us – ah, by the way, there should be designs in there for a transmitter unit, but mine won’t need that; it’s just so I can keep in contact with you in the field in case of emergency. Incidentally, there’s a place in my Elite Four open, if you could use something to do with your down time – oh, this is so exciting! I dance over to one of the windows. I have kept Diantha’s Pokéball-patterned stained glass, but had the panes remounted with hinges, so they can swing open. I start fiddling with the catches. Ilex rumbles gently and gets up to help me, reaching for the higher ones with Vine Whips.
“I have not agreed to do anything,” Lysandre reminds me.
“Oh, but you will, you will! So much is already underway! Just come and see!” I release the last catch and, with a great shove, swing the window wide. Lysandre cautiously approaches to look out over the scene below with me.
On the slopes of the mountain below us, scores of Timburr and Gurdurr waddle back and forth, merrily singing out-of-tune as they shuttle bricks, mortar, beams and nails from place to place at the direction of Conkeldurr foremen. Pan the Chesnaught lumbers around the site, alternating between barking orders and helping to shift blocks of stone. Ruined walls and towers rise, slowly but surely, to their former heights. Orion the Lucario and Pytho the Goodra stand nearby, negotiating with a group of wild Graveler to have them join the construction team. Squadrons of Poliwhirl wade through the rivers, putting together water wheels to snatch the energy of the waterfalls as Odysseus the Clawitzer deftly slices planks of wood with his claw. Druddigon tunnel into the side of the mountain, expanding and clearing out some stretches of the cave network while closing off others, or jealously claiming choice spots for their own lairs. A dozen Hydreigon wheel through the sky in perfect formation, firing blasts of light at hovering targets with roars of triumph. Everywhere, Grass Pokémon of every sort bask in the sunlight and coax plants from the earth, weaving thick walls of thorns and canopies of vines around hidden walkways, building huge berry orchards, and tenderly nurturing huge bulbs packed with toxic spores. Lysandre surveys all of this, and turns to me.
“The Elite Four, you say?” I grin, and clap him on the shoulder.
“Sandy, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”