ATHUOR'S NOSE: This is a short story which is really an adaptation of an array of posts from an old RP that never properly took off, and relays an event that Gad Sylvanhart refers to vaguely during Prologue 1 of At the End of the Wilderness - with a short segment to cap it off which takes place shortly after Prologue 1. Now that we've got the timeline out of the way, have fun. Memories of the Mirage "Been a while since we were here last, don't you think, my dear?" A purr. "That's what you always say." The trainer and the creature that stood beside him surveyed the panorama of the town that lay before them - little has changed in Lavaridge itself ever since their last visit. It was still the quaint little geothermically-active town it was when they left it behind. A few new buildings maybe - but he was never the sort to pay much attention to towns. They weren't close enough to tell, anyway. He was about 1.75m of height, with dark brown hair and warm brown eyes behind black-framed matrix-esque glasses, and had an athletic build - the sort of toned look that one would get from traveling much and surviving in the wild for a while in occasionally rough conditions. He was dressed in a black shirt which sported a green stripe with a black tribalish design upon it, dark green cargo pants, a dark green headband with an intricate pattern upon it, and black leather fingerless gloves with a brown leather laces fastening them. A Digital Storage Device was clipped on his black belt, and hanging from his neck was a small pendant of green crystal, silver and a single drop of purple crystal. His companion, standing bipedally to a height of about 1.60m, was a long-maned, slender female Electabuzz whose emerald-green eyes glinted slightly. She was twitching her tail, still purring at the trainer, who smirked lightly and wrapped a single arm around her waist - a gesture she returned moments later, leaning a little closer to him, closing her eyes and purring contently. He blushed slightly, wrapping his other arm around her and holding her close - another gesture which she soon mirrored. They stood there like that for a little while before breaking their embrace and proceeding along the small route known locally as the Jagged Path - which climbed down the lower slopes of Mount Chimney and headed down into the town itself. It HAS been a while - though the duo's last gym challenge WAS through the Hoenn region, they have spent quite a long while back in the Kanto region - their home region - and somehow gotten themselves involved in a mysterious tournament known as the Kanto Contention Campaign - or KCC for short. As the two were headed down the path, he recounted, in his mind, the events of the tournament, the conspiracies behind it, and the adventure he's been swept by when his path crossed with two adventurers from the Orange Island and a researcher from Cerulean City - who were hot on the tracks of an ancient, advanced civilization known as the Dawntreaders. And what an adventure it was... It was, in fact, those very two adventurers - two females by the names of Christine and Maren - that brought him to the Hoenn region, a small stop along their way back to the Orange Islands. When he first arrived at Slateport, he thought of taking a ferry from Hoenn to the Sinnoh region - but then, when scattered rumors about odd happenings in the desert reached his ears, he decided to stay a while longer and get a feel for the region again. As such, the Electabuzz and himself have been on the road for a day or two now, not in a particular hurry, taking the scenic route rather than flying. And here they were now - Lavaridge Town. The desert was not too far away to the east, if he recalled correctly. Turning his head in the general direction, he suddenly froze. In the distance, to the east, there was a castle in the sky, hanging ominously in midair in the same manner castles usually do not... well, shouldn't. In this world, he has learned to expect the unexpected. And still... "That's no moon..." he muttered silently "Also, it's upside-down. Looks like someone in the prop department for reality put the slide in the wrong way." He rubbed his eyes for a moment, wondering if he was just seeing things. Sure enough, the castle was still there. The Electabuzz was, in fact, transfixed on it, twitching her antennae gently. "So, I take it you're seeing what I'm seeing, Mari." He said, the Electabuzz giving a quick nod and a silent murmur in response. "Wow. When they said strange things were happening I did not expect something this strange. I think it's worth checking out. What say ye, my dear?" The electric-type gazed at him for a moment, then grinned, nodding. Linking their arms, the trainer and Electabuzz proceeded to head off eastwards, where a crowd has already been slowly forming... ~*~ It seemed as if there were more people on the outskirts of the desert than there was sand, although maybe it was just in his mind. Though the desert itself has been generally well-traveled by trainers, its deeper recesses have been left largely unexplored due to some exceptionally strong sandstorms and deceptively stable-looking sand pitfalls. In areas like these, Trapinch 'Arena Trap' pits were more common and even Vibrava lurked beneath the sands, preparing to pounce their prey and stun it with ultrasonic waves. Wild Cacturnes, who adapted to the fierce sandstorms, stalked those who unwittingly wandered into their forsaken habitats, waiting for their exhausted prey to collapse and then moving for the final kill. And there were always the fanciful tales of gigantic, sand-eroded Onix attracted to rhythmic vibrations from the surface and attacking their origins - but these tales were rather common about deep desert areas regardless of region. The deep wilderness has always fascinated the minds of wanderers and explorers, and was often rumored to reward those who were brave enough to face the dangers and explore the deep desert. Some of these intrepid explorers never made it back. Some have returned but were never the same again - half crazed, mumbling half-coherent sentences about sandstone towers that were there and yet were not, of ruins dotted with Braille, of titans of living rock wandering amidst the sands, of the shadows of the desert following them as they went and of the goggles doing nothing. Most of them avoided the deep desert altogether, concerned about their safety and the safety of their PokéMon. He has been to the deep desert before, but mostly by accident. One of the extensive sandstorms of the deep has mysteriously expanded for a time during his journey. The sandstorm disrupted his navigation equipment, and he wandered much deeper into the desert than he thought he would. With a shield generated around him by Tempest, his Ledian (for whom shield techniques were somewhat of an expertise), he wandered the sandstorm for a while (walking without rhythm, just in case) until a strange tremor caught his attention. Just in time, for out of the sands leapt a wild Vibrava with a shrill burst of ultrasonic waves - apparently drawn to Tempest's shield harmonics - or just driven by hunger, another fair possibility. Tempest countered the creature's attack with a flurry of ice punches, and at the end of a long grueling battle, both combatants were down for the count - but the Vibrava was captured. That Vibrava, though it took a while to warm up to the notion of being a trainer's PokéMon, has since become one of his most loyal and trusted PokéMon - Arafel, now a Flygon. The story flashed through his mind yet again as he observed the two PokéBalls he was currently holding. This time he wasn't going to be lost - he was walking into the deep desert on purpose - and as such, he would need both Arafel and Tempest's help. Tempest's shielding abilities were obligatory, and Arafel, being a Flygon, possessed an intimate knowledge of the desert - making him the perfect scout for traps and dangers ahead. He has already made sure he had all the supplies he needed for a possible prolonged trek through danger - including the heavy traveling cloak and set of goggles that allowed him to escape the desert when Tempest's shields failed during his last journey. He paused for a moment to reflect on that - his escape was a strange ordeal, and he never told that story to anyone but his own PokéMon. He HAS managed to don the cloak and goggles shortly before Tempest fainted and the shield fell, But with his instruments still useless (and the sandstorm preventing him from checking his PokéGear anyway) he wandered blindly through the desert, when suddenly he heard - or thought he heard - something. Turning his eyes in the direction the sound seemed to come for, he saw - or thought he saw - something moving. There was sand blowing everywhere, but amidst the swirling winds, he thought he saw something more solid - like some kind of PokéMon, and yet not. Just a pattern of swirling sands blowing in the storm - but, it seemed to be waiting for him. He started followed it, only for it to turn away and fly off amidst the winds in a certain direction - always visible, just barely. He couldn't help but feel that it was leading him somewhere. He followed it for what seemed like eternity to him, surprised by the fact that nothing else alive approached him. Nothing but himself and the wind. Finally, after a while, the sandstorm was thinning - and soon he found himself emerging from the blinding cloud into the near edge of the desert, on the outskirts of Route 111, not far from where it meshed into Route 113. As he looked around for whatever it was that guided him safely to the exit, he found nothing. Looking back into the sandstorm behind him, there was nothing there too. Maybe it was a hallucination. Maybe it was a ghost-type. Maybe it was some kind of after-effect of something. Whatever it was, he wondered if he'll ever encounter it again. This time, though, he left no room for luck. He donned the cape and goggles before beginning the journey, and he had a spare pair of goggles for Mari, just in case. She would, of course, travel with him outside her PokéBall - someone needed to watch Tempest's back, after all. "And speaking of which..." he murmured, preparing for what was to come "It starts." He tossed the PokéBalls into the air. "Arafel, Tempest... Arise." The first ball burst open, releasing the large Flygon, who closed his eyes, twitched his antennae and breathed in the edge-of-the-desert air - the scent of home. The second PokéBall burst open immediately after - and out emerged the Ledian, who proceeded to flutter around Arafel's head, one of her eyes flashing with what could have been considered the arthropod equivalent of a wink, before proceeding to fly around in her usual orbiting cycles around the dragon-type. The Flygon was too lost in thought to notice her, but then again, he was used to Tempest's flirtatious behavior around him. It never failed to amuse the trainer, though. "I hate to interrupt you two," the trainer grinned "But I require your assistance. As you probably figured out, we're headed into the desert, probably deeper than we have been before. Tempest, I'm relying on you to provide us with some shielding against the sandstorm - looks like it's going to be hell out there again. Arafel, I'd appreciate your guidance - your knowledge of the desert would be exceptionally helpful. Are you feeling up to it?" The Flygon spread his semitranslucent wings and bowed his head, his claws flashing, for a second, in a turquoise glow - a gesture of readiness for the creature. Tempest grinned, fluttering close to the trainer and flashing her eyes, forehead and leg crystals in a note of excitement - shielding was what she did best, and after the whole ordeal last time, she was dying to give the good ol' desert some payback. "That's good, then." He grinned, turning his eyes to the Electabuzz. "Mari, my dear," he said, softly smiling and handing the extra pair of goggles to the electric type, who smiled back as she donned them "Stay close, and do watch Tempest's back. If the storm's going to be as bad as last time, we can't afford to lose our shielding." The Electabuzz grinned, lightning dancing between the points of her antennae for a second. Then, there was a ripple in the air around them as what looked like a soap bubble in the shape of a geodesic sphere surrounded the trainer, herself, and the Ledian which fluttered in orbit around them - generating it. "Ah, the shield is up. Thankye, Tempest." The trainer nodded, to a chirp from the Ledian "Now, Arafel, the direction we're headed at is towards this... upside-down castle in the sky. Think you can guide us there safely?" The Flygon nodded in response, twitching his antennae and taking off into the sky, staying relatively close and visible, flying ahead to scout. "That settles it. To adventure then!" the trainer grinned, and the three set off following the Flygon towards the mysterious castle. Nothing quite like the beginning of a new tale... ~*~ The sandstorm raged, but so far, the shield was holding. Visibility was low, but periodically, the Flygon let out a light signal, revealing his location and the direction to go to the trainer and two PokéMon that followed in his footsteps. These signals were in truth short focused bursts of flame - the turquoise-green flames of a Dragonbreath attack to indicate direction, and the red-hot flames of Flamethrower to indicate a warning or a threat. The method seemed to work well - and so far, they have come upon no danger. Arafel's senses were keen even in the face of the sandstorm (sandstorms were, after all, his natural habitat) and he could sense just about anything that did not belong in the desert - and some things that did. The sandstorm seemed to get increasingly worse the further they went, and so was the number of threats Arafel indicated. Soon enough there were more red flares than green ones. The green flashes were longer now - Arafel was glassing the sand where it was safe to walk. Amidst the storm around them they could see small vortices, like miniature tornadoes - evidence to the passage of rapidly spinning Baltoys - and, occasionally, faint shadows of things that were vaguely humanoid but not. The things seemed to steer clear of their path for some reason, but the trainer could not help but wonder if some of them were not following them. The deep desert was a treacherous place, he knew. And then, just ahead, there was a massive red flash - a Fire Blast - which indicated something that the trainer was hoping not to encounter. Unavoidable danger. ~*~ The spot where they stopped was something the trainer did not expect to see. It almost seemed as if the earth has given in at that spot creating a vast chasm which there was no way around - the sand from around it flowing slowly inside in what seemed like waterfalls, small rock outcroppings breaking the surface, contributing further to the illusion. The dragon-type was standing vigil near the edge, turning his eyes to the trainer who has just walked up to his side, surveying the scene with awe. Mari followed him soon after, gazing into the depths for a moment, wide eyed. Even Tempest, the ever-hyperactive, paused her orbiting to flutter over the edge and gaze at the sight. It was unlike anything the three have seen before. Beautiful - though, as the trainer was certain, treacherous. "... Wow. I don't suppose we could fly over it?" the Trainer muttered, to a closing of the Flygon's eyes, a bow of his head and a swish of his tail. Looking up, the Trainer, Electabuzz and Ledian could see why - the winds over the chasm were especially powerful. The Flygon could handle it by himself, but not with a rider or two on his back. "Guess we have to walk... in, then?" the trainer murmured, before turning his eyes to the Flygon and nodding "I don't like this, but I guess we both know that. Arafel, if you can, fly to the other side and meet us there - I might need your help in climbing back up once we get through this. Mari will let a signal out if we need your help in there." The Electabuzz let out several sparks of lightning in confirmation and grinned. The Flygon nodded again, spreading his wings and taking to the air, his keen senses seeking a path through the treacherous winds. "Good luck, Arafel. We're all going to need it." ~*~ The wild winds whipped above, but within the chasm the air was deceptively still. The ground, though made of solid rock, was covered in a thin layer of sand. From the surface, the sand falls gushed down the eroded rock walls, flowing on into small 'ponds' of fine grains which seemed to ebb even deeper into the ground - deep pits of dry quicksand, ready to entomb anyone unwary enough to walk into them. There was no light save what faint illumination filtered from the sandstorm above, and silence dominated the landscape. A momentary flash of bright light suddenly burst into being, sending several Trapinches scuttling away in panic, a few of them diving into the dry quicksand pits - the small ant-lion like creatures were not particularly fond of bright light, and they could burrow their way back to the surface if need be. The flash settled down into a soft, warm, steady golden glow as the Electabuzz that generated it moved on ahead, leading the way. The trainer followed in her footsteps slowly, prepared to tackle whatever was lurking in the darkness. Following the two, the Ledian fluttered silently. There was not a living creature in sight within the chasm save the occasional scuttling Trapinch, rising from the surface of the sand pits, looking around and diving back in. They did not risk attack something much larger than they were. It was eerily silent - so silent, they could hear their heartbeats, their footsteps and the gentle humming of the Ledian's wings. "Stay on your toes, Mari. Something doesn't seem right about this place." The trainer whispered softly, and the Electabuzz nodded, emitting a soft chirp in reply. They walked in silence when suddenly, a rumble from the depths caught their attention. It seemed to be all around them, reverberating between the chasm walls. Several loose pebbles fell from a rock ledge above them onto another as the shadow of a Sandshrew or two dashed past them to take refuge in a crack in the rock. There was more life here after all. The rumble again - it was getting closer now. The last few Trapinches still scuttling about dived into the sand pits. And silence again. Suddenly, Mari paused, twitching her antennae, her eyes widening. Several sparks danced around her left antenna, and she turned her head in that direction. "Electric disturbance? Here?" the trainer whispered, followed by a nod from the Electabuzz. She tensed for a moment, and turned to give the trainer a worried look - it wasn't just a mild disturbance. It was a major one. VERY major. Whatever was generating it, it was an exceptionally powerful electric-type - powerful enough to worry her. The rumble again. It was getting even closer. The trainer could vaguely see something in the distance. Four pairs of glowing red spots - two of which seemed to be fixed in place, the other two flailing behind them - occasionally obscured, occasionally revealed. Something was approaching them - something massive. The Electabuzz tensed even more as her antennae twitched again, this time more violently. The light emitting from her was dimming - could it be that she was afraid? That was not like her. The trainer wrapped his arms around her slender form, and she pressed closer to him, light currents running along her form. She was shaking - but it was not fear. The creature, whatever it was, was siphoning electricity from her somehow. Its presence alone was drawing electric energy. As the creature slowly approached, the rumbles became louder. Suddenly it paused. And then, it was moving faster. Thundering footsteps heralded the creature's approach - it was a massive beast reminiscent of the ancient legends of Sasquatch - significantly taller than the trainer. Massive muscles rippled across its neon yellow-furred body, black markings and stripes disrupting the uniform yellow. Twin, metal-plated cable-like tails whipped behind it - their exposed tips, resembling LED bulbs, glowing the same fierce red as the creature's eyes. The beast turned its domed head towards the trainer and Electabuzz who invaded its territory, rumbling again. Electricity danced between the two tips of its tails, and at that moment, the trainer realized just what he was facing. This beast... it used to be an Electabuzz, once. But that was all but gone now - whatever it was now, it was angry, fully in control of its own power... And siphoning energy from all sources of electricity around it. "Whatever this is, it does NOT belong here." He muttered. The Electabuzz nodded, looking into his eyes. This was a precarious situation - and she knew it. But she would fight anyway. The creature charged, rushing forward, its tails whipping forward like a scorpion's. Every time its feet hit the ground, it seemed to tremble. The Electabuzz sprang to action, leaping towards the beast in a quick attack, cold aura forming around her fists. Sparks were flying - literally - from both electric-types as they clashed. The ice punches connected, but it was like punching solid rock - the beast's thick fur kept it unfazed by the cold and its sheer muscle mass absorbed the shock. The beast roared, striking forward with its tails in a whip-like motion, grabbing hold of the Electabuzz and flinging her away. She growled, bouncing herself off the wall and landing in a nervous crouch. The creature turned - whatever it was, it seemed to be more interested in Mari than in her trainer. Opening its mouth, the beast unleashed a deafening screech which echoed through the chasm walls. The trainer winced in pain, covering his ears - he could only imagine what this was doing to the Electabuzz, with her acute hearing. His worries, however, seemed to have been far from based. Because, as the beast screeched, the Electabuzz was meditating - clearing her mind, ignoring sensory interruptions from the outside world, focusing her thoughts. She would need more power for this battle - and with her bio-electricity siphoned away slowly by the almost armored monstrosity she was fighting, she would need to tap into a different form of energy. Her training. Her eyes closed, her ears filtering out noises, she sought out the beast's energy signature with her mind - searching for weak spots. The beast's wailing screech never relented, becoming even louder. Rocks were falling off ledges. The sand falls were disrupted - the beast would bury them alive if that continued. And she found it. With a cry of her own, the Electabuzz launched herself blindly forward, her fist glowing a deep red aura. The sound waves were almost a physical barrier, but she was too determined - her mind clear, there was nothing that could stand in her way. The Focus Punch hit its mark with a resounding CRACK - the black circle of fur straight in the middle of the creature's forehead. The creature wailed in pain, dropping to its knees, clutching its head as Mari landed nervously behind it, her mind flowing back into reality. The beast turned its head towards her, its eyes burning red with fury. It shakily rose to its feet, shaking its head lightly, and charged forward again, lightning surrounding its entire form, its speed picking up more and more as its Motor Drive ability kicked in. The creature lunged at the Electabuzz, knocking her down, pinning her to the ground, growling. With a quick whipping motion, it sank the tips of its tails into Mari's sides, roaring with triumph as it pumped electricity into them. The Electabuzz convulsed and writhed as electricity pulsed through her - the current was far more than she has ever handled before. She attempted to struggle to get herself loose, but the beast was too strong. Too determined. It was starting to smell victory in this battle - as soon as it would subdue this female, it would drain her bio-electricity completely. And then, it would turn its attention to the rest of these invaders... Suddenly it paused when something hit it. A reasonably large rock has just impacted its head right in the connection point of an antenna - almost as if it was designed to get its attention rather than hurt it. Just as it turned its head, it found itself treated to a nice helping of sand right into its eyes. The creature screeched blindly, glaring at the source of the disturbance. Something was standing there. The human. "I suggest you let go of Mari, you tentacle-rape reject, before something VERY bad happens to you." The trainer said, glaring at the beast with iron determination. The creature roared with rage - a creature who cannot even fight on its own right dares challenge it? Well, it would just have to teach it a lesson - moreso for the insult than the injury. Standing up, but still holding the Electabuzz in its cable tails, the beast roared, fire forming around one of its fists, while ice formed around the other. Dashing forward towards the trainer - it was surprised, for a moment that the trainer would not relent. He did not move a muscle - standing there, stable as a rock. Faster and faster it dashed, preparing to connect both punches at the same time, when suddenly it froze. The trainer smirked. "Told you." The beast paused, confusedly. Something felt different. Turning its head backwards - its eyes widened when it saw what it saw. The Electabuzz was no longer secure in the grip of its tails - on the contrary - she seemed to be floating in midair, surrounded by a faint blue nimbus, glowing brightly with power, with a smirk of her own. And in each of her hands, she was holding... The creature let out the guttural, groan-like equivalent of Oh bugger. The creature screeched deafeningly as the Electabuzz slammed the tips of its tails against each other and held them securely against each other - effectively short-circuiting it. Sparks were flying from the connection point, and the cable-like tails were heating up very quickly. The beast convulsed, collapsing into the ground, unable to control its own electricity. Mari didn't even have to hold the cables anymore, the reversed polarities were doing the job for her. Taking hold of the creature's antennae, the Electabuzz connected herself to the circle, drawing power into herself, replenishing her energy supplies, glowing even more brightly than before. Finally, the beast relented to unconsciousness, collapsing to the ground, its tails dropping lifelessly by its side, their red light fading into nothing. A spark or two flew between them as the lights flickered and died. The beast was defeated. The Electabuzz stood there, radiant in her victory, her mane billowing behind her, static electricity making it float and curl in midair. And then, she was swept in an embrace, which she returned happily - the trainer's hair stood on end as a result of the electric aura, but it did not matter - all that existed for the two, at that moment, was each other. He gently brushed his fingers along her sides, where two small circles of fur have been lightly singed by the creature's tails - nothing that a good rest and cell restoration/regeneration in a PokéMon center wouldn't fix, but their presence made him wince. This was a dangerous situation - he may have seemed determined when facing the beast, but he was not acting out of courage - he was only far more worried about getting that thing off of Mari before it killed her than about what might happen to him. He was only determined because he fully trusted Mari to be able to recover from the attack. If she didn't... Well, it was best not to think about it. As long as she was safe, he could have breathed easy. "Don't you ever worry me like that again, Mari..." the trainer murmured into her ear, holding her closer, and the Electabuzz smiled, giving his neck a light, reassuring affectionate nibble, glowing a bit more warmly for a second. Meanwhile, the Ledian, who unbeknownst to the trainer was keeping a shield around him at all times, was simply watching the two with a light shrug and a grin. They amused her to no end, those two... ~*~ A little while later, the three found a comfortable place to scale the chasm walls from the other side. A rope was brought up to the surface with Tempest's aid, and Arafel secured it, allowing Gad and Mari to climb to the surface. Beyond the chasm, the sandstorm seemed to have weakened marginally, but it was still not one to be underestimated. After a short rest the shield was back up and the trainer and two PokéMon were on the go again, leaving the chasm behind and headed towards the last known location of the flying castle, following the Flygon's fire signals... ~*~ Sitting by the Electabuzz's bedside, the trainer held her hand as he gazed at her soundly sleeping form. It's been a while since that adventure in Hoenn, but he remembered it all as if it only happened yesterday. The things that he saw in that desert were things few others have seen or even knew existed - some of the things even he had a hard time believing could possibly be anything more than a mirage. But, great and wondrous as they have been - his most vivid memory was still the memory of that battle. And it was not until now, when they faced the Magmortar - the shadowy fire creature that seemed to feel no pain - and its mysterious, armored trainer, that she worried him that much. Two different deserts, two species of hostile PokéMon that he had no prior knowledge of. Both battles provided a serious danger to the life of the Electabuzz. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, the trainer known as Gad Sylvanhart was beginning to wonder if this was going to become a recurring theme. He turned his eyes to the electric-type and smiled fondly at her - and giggled lightly as he saw a smile forming on her own face. Yes. As long as she was alright in the end, and they were together, they could pull through anything this world would throw at them. When life tests you like that twice and you succeed, you know you're doing something right.