PDA

View Full Version : [Pokémon] The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World


Cutlerine
January 9th, 2011, 10:08 AM
The third story I've posted. If you've read either of my other two, you won't find this familiar; it's much lighter than either of them.

It's something vaguely like the story of the Hoenn-based games - but only vaguely. I took them as my starting point and let myself go crazy after that. It includes most of the major story events, as well as some minor ones that I thought deserved to be highlighted as epic/mind-bogglingly strange, but the reason for those events happening is pretty different. You know, in the same way that the reason Ophelia went insane is different from the way Hannibal Lecter went insane.

...

Moving on... Ratings? Let's see. Perhaps PG-15, because it's come to my attention that this story has got a lot more violence in it than I originally anticipated. There's also swearing (though only in Nadsat) and slight innuendo, but mainly it's the violence. If you don't want a detailed description of a dragon's head blown out, then don't read this.

Anyway, after those long digressions, here we go:

Chapter One: Introducing Robin Goodfellow

The city at night. In the west, the chimneys of the industrial district cut across the eye of the moon; in the east, the townhouses of the rich gaze smugly down from their lofty perch on the Pelenine Hill. Most are asleep in bed, but a few people wander the streets, loudly and drunkenly proclaiming their worth. Two lovers laugh; a car alarm sounds. Another night in Rustboro.

Through the night came a blurring orange comet, blitzing through the streets like a bullet, trailing blue lightning in its wake. It tore down a residential road, setting a horde of tame Poochyena barking wildly, and hurtled into a park, scattering the Zigzagoon that had come out to feed. It zoomed across ponds, whizzed past factories, flew by Pokémarts.

After it came the thing.

You couldn’t see it in the night; it cloaked itself in darkness, each streetlight dying as it passed. Huge, heavy paws thudded rhythmically on the asphalt from somewhere within the shadow, and deep, low breaths whispered through the air. When it passed the Poochyena, they stopped barking and retreated into their kennels, whining with fear.

It was gaining on its quarry, and both of them knew it.

The orange blur came to a huge car park and blasted through a car, leaving it undamaged but turning the headlights and radio on. It passed out of the other side and pulled up sharply to avoid another; behind it, the sound was abruptly silenced as the thing that chased it crashed onto the bonnet, snapping at the retreating orange light.

The hunt continued over the tops of a row of cars, the fugitive flitting silently and the pursuer pounding craters in the steel roofs with each bounding step. They dropped to the ground, reaching the end of the car park; the blur halted, looking for an escape route, and for an instant you could see it possessed a small, anxious face – and then it bolted, hurtling towards the building with the blank façade that stood nearby, blotting out the moon with its great dark bulk and throwing puddles of light out through the windows.

The thing let out a yarring growl, realising its quarry would be out of its reach once inside, and redoubled its efforts; the orange blur squealed in dismay as a set of great, yellowed teeth snapped shut just inches behind it. It spun around and launched a shower of sparks at the darkness behind it, and a surprised yelp told it they had connected; however, it knew that the thing would not be stopped for long, and immediately turned to flee again.

As the chase drew closer, the gloom seemed to part a little and the building became visible: a huge block of concrete, studded with windows both illuminated and dark. There was a sign by this door – but the orange blur zoomed past too fast to read it, melting through the plate glass and into the brightly-lit lobby as if it weren’t there at all.

The thing had more direct methods: it ran straight into the door at full pelt, shattering it instantly and setting off a hundred different alarms. The lights instantly died, and someone screamed; this building was still full of people, and the thing was not a presence calculated to reassure.

Voices shouted as the lights died, and the clatter of feet on stairs sounded throughout the building, but neither hunter nor hunted were listening: the chase was all their world, and there was no room for anything else. Through a corridor, up the stairs... here the orange blur met a confused man in a white coat, carrying a torch, and rushed him with a high-pitched scream. The man dropped his torch and ducked, and the orange blur sped past him, trailing sparks.

The doctor looked up, and saw a blot of utter darkness approaching him; it was darker than the surrounding gloom, and it seemed to suck in the light of his torch until it went out. He heard thumping footsteps, a low growl—

—and then whatever it was, was gone, passing over his head in a single prodigious leap in pursuit of the light.

The orange blur saw a door and sensed safety beyond; it passed through it like a ghost, and immediately dived towards a large object on the other side of the room. Oddly-shaped as it was, there was no way to tell what it might be, but the blur didn’t care: it just wanted a hiding place.

The door exploded and the thing burst in, somehow leaching away the moonlight that shone in through the windows, plunging the room into pitch darkness. It growled, looking around wildly for its prey.

Which was nowhere to be seen. Silence settled like a coat of dust over the room, and the thing began to pace around slowly, searching.

From its hiding place, the orange light couldn’t see anything; it had to rely purely on its hearing, and all it could hear was footsteps, steadily coming closer and closer.

Thump.

Thump.

Thump.

If it had been able to breathe, it would have held its breath; as it was, it screwed up its luminous eyes tightly and hoped against hope that the thing wouldn’t find it here...

Thump.

Thump.

A small snarl; something pressed against the dust sheet on the machine. The orange light knew that it was now invisible, but still, if that thing heard or smelled it...

“What the hell is that?” someone said in an old, gravelly voice that had seen years of cigarettes. The thing pulled away from the machine and growled loudly; its footsteps bounded away and the gravelly voice cried out.

Then all was silent, save for the sound of footsteps and shouting on the stairs outside. The orange light gave a silent sigh of relief. It had escaped.

In the streets below, the thing crept away stealthily, sliding into the night like a professional thief. Exposure could not be tolerated; the orange thing had won tonight, and the thing had to return now.

But it would be back.

---

“Kester...”

“Mmm?” I appeared to be floating just above a pink rainforest, but since it was a dream I wasn’t particularly bothered. Even less of a concern was the huge, warty clock that was talking to me.

“I am your body clock,” it said, opening wide its bulbous lips and letting out a stream of bats.

“Really...?”

“All the body parts are having a party,” it said, and sort of melted away into thin air.

“Come back!” I called, but I didn’t really care. Like I said, it was just a dream.

“By the way,” it whispered invisibly into my ear, “it’s quarter past eight.”

The rainforest disappeared, abruptly replaced by my bedroom ceiling. I thrashed wildly, trying to turn around, and eventually got myself into position to look at the clock on my bedside table.

It was blank; the batteries must have died in the night. In such situations, I find that the only thing to do is to check your watch, which I did, and presently exploded out of bed as if there had been a lit firework under the sheets.

“Quarter past eight!”

An ecstasy of fumbling ensued, ripping drawers from the chest, trying to find clothes through a fog of half-dispelled sleep. If my watch was right – and there was no reason to believe it wasn’t – I had about fifteen minutes to get ready and get to school. This might sound reasonable to some of you, but if your school is half an hour away by bike, you, like me, will appreciate the difficulty.

I suddenly stopped my frantic dressing, aware that something was wrong; after a few seconds, I realised that I couldn’t put my shirt on over my tie and that I really needed to wake up properly. To this end, I half stumbled, half flung myself into the bathroom and, after missing once and hitting the tap, immersed my head in a sinkful of cold water. This had the sort of effect on me that I usually only get when you poke me forcefully in the eye, and I leaped back up, instantly wide-awake.

“Damn it!” I muttered as I finished dressing myself, this time in the correct order. “Why’d you go to work early today of all days, Mum?”

It was horribly unfair, I reflected during my journey down the stairs, that the day my alarm clock had failed to go off owing to battery death had coincided with the one day each week my mother had to leave early for work, leaving me with no way of waking myself up in time; it was probably down to the alignment of the planets, or something equally unchangeable and nastily capricious.

I looked at my watch, and the blinking digital figures looked back:

08.21.

“Six minutes?” I cried in dismay, searching for house keys. “It took me six minutes to get dressed?”

I found the keys, went outside and did something to the door that may or may not have locked it; I hoped it did because there was no time to check. I dashed into the garage, looking for my bike, and stopped dead.

I’d forgotten about the Vespa.

It stood there next to the bikes, a presence of infinitely more grace and beauty – and speed. I hesitated for a moment. I didn’t have a licence yet – in fact, I wasn’t actually that good at driving it. No, it was better to go by bike.

But the Vespa’s faster, whispered a little voice in the back of my head.

“That’s true,” I said aloud. “And after all, it isn’t that far...”

I looked at my watch and saw I’d wasted another two minutes. That decided it: the only vehicles in my possession I was capable of operating (however badly) were the bike and the Vespa, and if I took the Vespa I might just get to school on time for once.

Thus avoiding the detention that had been hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles all week.

I leaped on, started it up, drove far too fast out of the garage and smashed into Mrs. Braithwaite’s car in her drive across the road. I had a brief glimpse of the sky as I flew over the handlebars, and then I fell down onto steel and onwards into a whirling black pit of oblivion.

Which did, in fact, seem oddly familiar, probably on account of that business that occurred last year.

---

The orange light was asleep when it happened.

Actually, he wasn’t just an orange light; just like Kester Ruby, he had a name, though what that might be was unknown to anyone but him. But the important thing remained: he was asleep when it happened.

If he had been awake, perhaps he would have seen it coming: voices, low and urgent, were all around him.

“Get him in—”

“—where’s the electrode jelly—”

“—hurry, we need to know—”

“—I’m trying, but the damn thing won’t start—”

How was the orange light meant to know that what he had taken residence in, what he had temporarily possessed to escape the thing that had chased him in the dark, was actually a sophisticated piece of medical equipment, and one that would be in use that very day? Invented by Devon’s top medical research pair, the Phelps-Laurence Occipital Tampering Device was nothing short of a marvel of engineering. Based on a study of the power contained in an Abra’s brain, it scanned automatically for defects in thought activity that indicated damage to the brain.

Today, however, it was doing something decidedly different, something it had never before done and was never intended to do.

It started up with a low buzz, and that was when the orange light became aware that something was up. In the bowels of the P-L.O.T. Device, one of his large, electric-blue eyes snapped open.

“Adjust it,” someone said, “it’s too high...”

Both eyes flew open, and widened. The orange light gave a small squeal of dismay, and then the circuits all around him burst into life, electricity coursing through the veins of the Device at unimaginable speeds. Bowled away, the orange light found himself flying through wires, burning down cables faster even than he had been fleeing last night. He zoomed up, down, left and right like the hapless passenger of an insane rollercoaster ride; a thin, inaudible scream whistled from his mouth.

Then, all at once, the track ended, and he was flying through the air, whizzing out of an electrode and slamming straight into something thick and meaty with enough force to knock him out.

---

The P-L.O.T. Device whined loudly and gave off a shower of sparks; its operator recoiled in shock and motioned desperately for someone to get the patient out of it. Hurriedly, a couple of nurses tugged at the gurney, pulling it free from the Device’s clamps with a rough crunch of breaking plastic.

“Shut it off!” cried someone, and the operator jabbed a button experimentally; the Device told him in no uncertain terms what it thought of this idea by letting that button, and the others around it, fall from its flank like shed scales.

“What about the patient?” someone else said; rapidly, he was whisked away, and the operator was left to stare blankly at the machine that had suddenly gone so horribly, terribly wrong. With an air of one who knows he is flogging a dead horse, he pulled a small lever, and watched in surprise as the central section of the Device fell off with a flash and a whimper. The lights dimmed, and the whine ceased; the operator found himself alone in a dark room, staring at the husk of what had once been Central Rustboro Hospital’s most prized machine.

Meanwhile, doctors were hurriedly checking over the patient in the nearest available room. His name was, according to his ID card, Kester Ruby, seventeen years old, occupation student, resident of 18 Guerama Road. There was a phone number, but they’d already tried calling and no one seemed to be home.

Other than being unable to contact his parents, there were no other problems. It seemed that whatever had happened with the P-L.O.T. Device, it hadn’t affected him; it even, one doctor was heard to remark sourly, seemed to have been a waste to use the Device, since his head was, remarkably, intact, with no sign of brain damage at all.

Of course, they did not know about the orange light; certainly, they were aware that something had broken into the hospital last night, but so what? There were still patients to treat, after all, still diseases in people’s blood, still bones broken in their limbs.

Unfortunately for the patient, however, the orange light was of vital importance; in fact, it was going to be the biggest thing in his life for quite some time to come.

---

I opened my eyes and blinked groggily; I tried to sit up but someone pushed me back down.

“Where am I?” I murmured.

Odd. I wanted to know the same thing, I thought.

“You’re in hospital,” someone told me. “You had an accident.”

The Vespa. I remembered now. I had crashed it...

I want a better explanation than that, I thought.

“Don’t get up just yet,” the someone said. “You’ve hit your head.”

Suddenly, the world popped into focus. I was speaking to a doctor who was standing next to the bed I was lying on. At least, I thought it was a bed. And I thought it was a doctor – though I couldn’t see him.

“Am I OK?”

I hope so. Corpses are revolting.

“You should be. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with you.”

“Wait,” I said, sitting up, ignoring the hand on my shoulder. “Since when do I think with an English accent?”

“What?” The doctor looked puzzled; he had a long nose and chin, and the whole effect was to make him look like the man in the moon’s idiot cousin.

You’re not the one doing the thinking, meatface.

“Who said that?” I glanced around, but the room was empty save for the doctor and I. Table, bed, counter – but nothing living.

Looking too far, said the voice. It spoke with the kind of impeccable English accent that I had always assumed only belonged to either the greatest spies or the greatest supervillains.

“Who are you talking to?” The doctor now looked like he suspected I might have brain damage after all.

“No one,” I replied, realising he couldn’t hear it. I could do without people thinking I was crazy. “Just... thought I heard something.”

Look, meatface, are you going to acknowledge me or not?

I did my best to ignore it and tried to listen to the doctor.

“...you are?”

“Sorry? I wasn’t listening.”

“Can you just confirm who you are?” The doctor had a notebook out, and a pencil. “Your ID card says you’re—”

“Kester Ruby,” I told him. “Seventeen.”

Kester. I’ve not heard that one before. Is it a contraction of something?

“OK, that’s good.” He made a note. “We tried to call your parents—”

“Oh – my mum’s at work. For Devon.”

Devon? Next to Cornwall? I went to Cornwall, once. It rained.

“Your father?”

“Don’t have one.”

I suffer that particular problem, too. He just faded away one day, into thin air. That’s how we go, you know.

“Oh. Er, OK.” The doctor made another note. “Right. Do you have a work number for your mother?”

I gave it to him, and he said he’d be back in a minute. The door clicked behind him as he left.

“All right,” I hissed, as soon as he was gone, “who’s there?”

Since you’re asking, said the Englishman, my name is Robin Goodfellow, though you may call me Puck, and I am currently stuck in your big, meaty head.

“What?”

Let me spell this out for you, said Robin Goodfellow – Puck – with a little sigh. I was in that damn machine they used to see if you had any brain damage, and it beamed me into your horrible, meaty body. Now, I am stuck here. He paused. Did you get that all right?

“What?” I said again. This didn’t make any sense; how could anyone be beamed into my head? Who was this person? Where were they?

I can read your thoughts, Puck told me. I’m in here with you. I actually find it kind of disturbing; you’re all full of meat. A shiver ran down my spine. Oops. Sorry, that was my shudder, not yours.

“What?”

Will you stop that, please? You aren’t endearing yourself to me. Seeing as it looks like I might be here for a while, I would appreciate it if you stopped saying that.

“What?”

The doctor came back in.

“Your mother’s going to be here soon. She didn’t sound very happy.”

“Oh, sh—” I bit off the curse halfway through and changed it into something else: “Oh, she is not going to be happy.”

“I don’t think any parent would be,” the doctor said.

“No, you don’t understand,” I told him. “I crashed the Vespa...” I put my head in my hands, found it hurt and took it out again. “Damn it.”

Not knowing what to say, the doctor took the opportunity to slide out of the room, silently, as if he was on castors.

I swore softly to myself. “This is bad, bad, bad.”

Is it? What happened? Faintly, as if from far away, I heard the sound of paper rustling. Oh dear. That looked painful.

“What are you doing?” I asked, temporarily distracted.

Looking at what happened, Puck said, and it isn’t pretty. Your memory of it is of fairly low quality, but still... Another shudder went down my spine. Oh, sorry. That one was mine again.

“Who the hell are you and how are you in my head?” I hissed angrily; it had suddenly clicked, just like that. This guy, whoever he was, was actually inside me. He was thinking to me.

Oh, you get it now, do you? Puck asked, sounding amused. OK, here’s how it goes: Rotom goes to sleep—

“What’s a Rotom?”

You don’t know? Wait a minute, let me get a picture for you.

An image of an orange globe of energy, a couple of jagged points sticking out of it on the top and bottom, flashed before my eyes. This orb had huge, electric blue eyes, and a mouth twisted into a grin that managed to be cynical and mischievous at once. Little flickers of blue lightning kept jumping off it like rats abandoning a sinking ship.

“H-how did you do that?” A thought occurred to me. “This is brain damage, isn’t it? From hitting my head on the car. I’m going crazy, right?”

Puck sighed.

No. Regrettably, you are very much sane and I really am in your head. Believe me, I don’t like this any more than you do. Are you prepared to listen to the story of how I got here now?

“O-OK.” This might clarify things, I supposed. If the story was believable, I might not be crazy at all.

Rotom are poltergeist Pokémon, Puck said. We have the ability to possess electrical equipment and do what we want with it; we’re sort of electronic ghosts.

“You’re a Ghost-type, then?” Now that made sense. Ghost-types could get in your head, after all.

Yes. Electric/Ghost, a unique combination. Puck sounded a trifle smug there. But that’s not the point. What I’m trying to say is that I possessed the brain-scanning machine they have here. After that, it’s guesswork – but I think they tried to scan your brain to see if you had brain damage, and I, er, got zapped in here.

“I see.” I’d never heard of Rotom, and I wasn’t entirely sure this wasn’t just a trick played on me by my evidently broken mind – but if Rotom did exist, then I guessed this scenario was somewhat plausible. “Would you mind getting out and leaving me alone?” I asked politely.

I’d be happy to.

There was a pause.

“Are you going to?”

No, Puck sighed. I can’t. Rotom aren’t like other Ghosts; we’re not psychic or anything. I tried to leave you like I’d leave a machine, but I got stuck on those nasty tendon-things. Eeurgh. Flesh is so creepy.

“Having a Pokémon made of electricity in me is creepy,” I retorted, then stopped. Was I really arguing with a Pokémon claiming to live in my head? No, this wasn’t real; I had to be crazy.

You’re not crazy! Puck cried. If you think you are, we’re not going to get anywhere in this relationship!

“There is no relationship! Get out of my head!”

I leaped up and started swatting ineffectually at my cranium; it was at this moment, while I was jumping around as if I was suffering from a nasty attack of St. Vitus’s Dance, that the doctor and my mother walked in.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, looking startled.

“Um... just... stretching!” I said, spreading my arms wide and making stretching, yawning sort of noises. “Ah, that’s better.” I sat down hurriedly on the bed and looked innocent.

“Right,” she said, then snapped into relieved mother mode, hugging me and loudly proclaiming how fantastic it was that I was still alive, and that I had escaped serious injury, and that everything was all right; as soon as she touched me, though, Puck started shrieking.

Aaah! What’s she doing? Is she attacking us? Aah, she’s all warm and fleshy! Get her off, get her off!

“Shut up!” I hissed, as quietly as I could, but Mum heard me and gave me an odd look.

“What?”

Get her off, get her off! I think we’re being smothered!

I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the screaming in my head.

“Nothing,” I told Mum. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Oh,” she said, and let go of me, standing up and turning to the doctor. “Can he come home?”

“Well, I can’t force him to stay—”

“So he can?”

The doctor looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, yes, but I would advise—”

“Right,” Mum snapped. “I’m taking you home now, so I can punish you.”

“What? I almost died! How is this fair?”

“If you’re well enough to leave hospital, you’re well enough to be punished,” she said sagely. “What the hell were you doing, driving the Vespa?”

“I was late,” I muttered mutinously, but acquiesced. I’d had enough of the hospital too, to be honest.

The drive home was tense; Puck seemed to have calmed down and didn’t say anything, to my relief, but I was aware that I was probably going to pay dearly for ruining the Vespa. I tried not to think about what the collision with the car had done to it.

“You’re not going to use that machine again,” she said flatly. “You’re not going to take the test, either.”

That doesn’t seem too bad, piped up Puck. I mean, it’s not like you were any good at driving that thing anyway.

Silently, I willed him to shut up, but he was right: I had had enough of the Vespa for a while. The last thing I wanted was another head injury. Although, I mused, if I had gone insane because of that, then maybe another one would knock Puck out of my head and some sense back into me.

You’re not insane. I’m really here.

“Also,” Mum added, “you’re grounded.”

That was to be expected, too. I wasn’t planning to go anywhere just yet, anyway; my head ached and I felt like sleeping for about a year.

“Also, you’re paying for the repair work on the Vespa.”

I winced.

“Is it trashed?”

“Yes,” she answered shortly.

“Ah.”

I bit my lip and tried not to imagine what it must look like.

We pulled up outside the house, and Mum practically threw me out of the car.

“Go inside and stay there,” she said. “I’m going back to work. I’ll call the school when I get there.”

“You’re not concerned for me at all, are you?”

She looked at me askance.

“Why should I? The doctor said you were fine.”

With that, she wound down the window and drove off. I sighed, and pushed open the door. It hadn’t been locked after all, which was a good thing since I seemed to have lost the keys. I plodded upstairs and pushed open the door to my room, to wander morosely into the mess within. My head ached, and I felt like sleeping.

Puck, however, had other ideas.

So, he said, what’re we doing now?

“I’m going to sleep,” I told him, flopping onto my bed. “This has been a really, really bad day.” I looked at my watch. It was only twenty past ten. “And it’s not even lunchtime.”

It’s too early to sleep, Puck said. Besides, I don’t think I can bear to sleep in here. It’s all so sticky and messy. All these neurons!

“At least I have neurons,” I retorted. “You’re a Ghost Pokémon, right? Made of gas?”

Plasma, actually.

“Whatever.”

I don’t want a body, anyway. It’s unnatural. All this flesh and blood – so delicate! Imagine if you got shot, there’d be blood everywhere. It would be a nightmare to clean up.

“That would be the least of my problems. Now, leave me alone! I want to sleep!”

But I don’t. And if we’re going to share this body, you’ll have to listen to—

“‘Share’? We’re not sharing anything. This is my body. Can you please just shut up, if you can’t leave!” I took a deep, calming breath. “OK, I’ve got to stop talking to myself. There’s no such person as Puck.”

Yes, there is. Look, if you don’t believe me, just go and look up ‘Rotom’. There’s bound to be lots of information online.

“You can’t be real. Pokémon can’t talk.”

Are you even listening to me? Just look it up!

“But you can’t talk,” I said triumphantly. “You’re a figment of my imagination!”

Oh, Arceus preserve me, groaned Puck. You’re right, I can’t talk. But I’m in your head. I’m not talking – you’re listening to my thoughts. He sighed. Just look it up, meatface.

“Stop calling me that.”

I’ll stop disparaging this disgusting body of yours when you believe I’m real.

“Fine, I’ll look you up.”

Since I was grounded, I shouldn’t have been using the computer – but this was a matter of my sanity. I felt it was justified: after all, if I found out Rotom was a real thing, then I’d be sane.

And Puck’s story would be true. Because I hadn’t known that Rotom existed until he’d told me – and I couldn’t have invented a weird story about a Rotom stuck in my head unless I already knew what it was. Either there was no such thing, or all of this was real.

So you can understand why I was nervous as I typed ‘Rotom’ into Google. Whether I was insane, or I really did have a Rotom called Robin Goodfellow in my head, I had a pretty serious problem.

“Oh my God,” I said, staring at the screen.

A spiky orange ball covered in lightning grinned back at me, next to a young man holding a Poké Ball. According to Wikipedia, this Trainer, Lincoln Marshwood, had been the one to discover Rotom’s existence, nearly 20 years ago.

What did I tell you?

“I have a Pokémon in my head.” I think I must have been in shock, because I just remember reading down the page blankly, not taking in anything at all. “Oh my God, there’s a Pokémon in my head.”

That’s right. Puck paused. Hey. You’re not in shock, are you?

“Oh my God, there’s a Pokémon in my head.”

You are, eh? Well, I don’t know much about how these meat-brains work, but I think I can sort that out...

Blinding pain erupted behind my eyelids and stars burst in front of them. I’m fairly certain I passed out for a moment or two, because the next thing I remember is opening my eyes to find my head was resting on the keyboard, drooling on the spacebar.

“Wha...?” I lifted my head slowly, and suddenly remembered how I’d ended up like this. “Puck?”

You called?

“Did – did you just knock me out?”

I think so. You fell over, anyway.

“Pl – please don’t do that again.”

Duly noted. So, now you’ve accepted me as a real being and part of your life, what’s next on the agenda?

“Nothing,” I said, getting up. “I want to go to sleep. Even more after that.”

I turned off the computer and went back upstairs, ignoring Puck’s protests. I wasn’t in shock any more, not properly – but I still felt as if the whole world had suddenly leaped on my head that morning, shovelling far more than anyone could cope with into my life. Tuning Puck out, I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

Cutlerine
January 12th, 2011, 02:32 AM
Italicising everything Puck says is starting to really get on my nerves...

Oh well. Here we go:

Chapter Two: Bat out of Hell

A long, long way away, deep under the earth, a man in a ruby-red trenchcoat was fuming quietly.

“Sir?” asked a timid subordinate. He was answered with a death-stare of such power that he recoiled in horror and stumbled into the wall.

“Please,” said the man in the trenchcoat, anger audibly suppressed in his voice. “Please, just tell me one thing.”

The subordinate looked as if he wished the floor would swallow him up.

“What might that be, sir?”

“I want to know,” his boss said, “how exactly you failed to steal the goods from Devon.”

“Well. There was another thief, sir—”

“Ah, yes. I heard about this. The Pokémon.” The man in the trenchcoat looked up from his desk and delivered another withering death-stare.

“Y-yes, sir, it was a Pokémon. Probably working for the blues, sir.”

“And it was a better thief than you were.”

“Y-yes, sir.” Sweat poured down the subordinate’s face in great glistening rivers.

“And you don’t know where it took the goods.”

“N-no, sir.”

“Well.” The man’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Our benefactor won’t be very pleased about that, will he?”

“No, sir.”

“So, then.” The man in the trenchcoat looked behind his underling, at something beyond the door into his office. “I suppose you know what this means.”

The other man turned around slowly, eyes wide in terror; he knew what was waiting for him there. It was what waited for anyone who failed the boss: the thing that wreathed itself in shadows and stalked its prey in the dead of night when the wind was at its face.

Yellow fangs snapped; something red blazed in the darkness.

Drops of blood hit the floor and pooled.

“Clean that mess up,” said the man in the trenchcoat dispassionately, to some unseen servant. “And get me back those Devon goods!”

---

Kester, said a little voice. Kester.

“Not this dream again,” I mumbled.

Not a dream. Wake up.

I jerked my eyes open, startled, then remembered. This was Puck, the Rotom who had, through a bizarre, horrible series of mishaps, got himself trapped in my head.

“What do you want?” I asked, rubbing my eyes and checking the time. It was four o’clock, and I was hungry; I hadn’t eaten all day.

I have something to tell you.

“What is it?” I got up and started on the way downstairs.

Um... actually, never mind.

“No, what?” I went into the kitchen. “You woke me up for nothing?”

It was one of those things where you think it’s important, but when you think about it, it turns out not to be important... Puck tailed off.

“Whatever.” I pulled bread from the box and cheese from the fridge and started making sandwiches. “Look, Puck, I think we need to have a talk.”

I’m glad you’re using my name. Surely this must be a sign of our deepening friendship?

“No.” I decided to be blunt. “I appreciate you can’t get out of my head and you don’t want to be there, but just... shut up and stay that way until you do, OK?”

Ouch, said Puck. I’m hurt. He didn’t sound it; if anything, he sounded like he was suppressing laughter.

“I – hey, what’s funny?”

Nothing, nothing. It’s just... you’re so defeatist. Aren’t you going to try and get me out of here? Be a bit more... proactive?

“I’m just making the best of a bad situation,” I said curtly, taking a bite of the sandwich. “Unless you have any ideas.”

I don’t, as it happens. Hey, what are you doing?

“I’m eating.” I paused. “Wait. Let me guess: that’s disgusting and something that only meat-faced humans do?”

No! Puck sounded hurt. Well... maybe. I eat, too, though. But I eat electricity.

“Well, you want to know something? I don’t care.”

Puck sighed.

Look on the bright side, he said. At least you don’t have a proper Ghost-type in your head. Can you imagine what it would be like if I were a Gengar or a Banette? All those angry thoughts. I’d probably eat your soul.

“Puck, shut up.”

But me, he continued blithely, I’m a much better class of Ghost. I don’t eat dreams, just electricity. I don’t hurt people, just possess a few machines now and again and play a few tricks.

“Puck!”

Yes?

“I told you to shut up.”

He seemed put out, but he stopped talking, and I finished the sandwiches in blessed silence.

Kester?

“Damn it, Puck, stop talking!”

But I’ve got a favour to ask of you.

“Why would I grant you any favours at all? You’re the most annoying person I’ve ever met!”

Before I was ch – before I went and possessed that blasted machine, I dropped some, er, important goods off somewhere, and I was wondering if we could go and—

“No.”

You don’t even know what I was going to say!

“Don’t care. We’re going nowhere.” I put the plate in the sink, and, deciding that I ought to try and curry some favour with Mum, started washing it and the bread knife.

A little sigh echoed around in my head.

I didn’t want it to come to this.

“Come to what?” I paused warily.

I can pull on some neurons again. Like I did earlier, when you were in shock.

I winced at the memory.

“You wouldn’t.”

I would. I’m very serious.

“I guess you would,” I said, realising that I hadn’t done anything to make Puck feel very warmly towards me. I turned off the tap and sighed. “OK, where did you put these goods?”

---

“So, Puck,” I said as we walked down Teckerford Road, “what are these goods you wanted?”

Er... If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not go into that right now.

“Fair enough, fair enough,” I replied, eager not to be zapped in the brain again. “A man has to have his secrets, after all—”

Kester?

“Yes?”

Shut up.

Smarting at the insult of having the tables so completely turned on me, I complied, and kept following the Rotom’s directions.

Left here.

“Where are we going, exactly?” I asked; the alley we had turned onto was carpeted in trash and green-tinted puddles, and I was slightly concerned about being mugged.

Don’t worry, said Puck, I am a Pokémon. If anyone comes after us, I’ll get them with Discharge.

“Can you use that – when you’re inside me like this, I mean?”

There was an ominous silence from inside my head. Then:

Maybe...

“Great.” I walked on, convinced that I was going to be murdered at any moment; these alleys led towards the industrial district, and in that direction lay the poorer neighbourhoods, the ones with high crime rates and desperate people who would kill for small change.

Are you sure you’re not exaggerating? asked Puck. That can’t be right.

“Oh, it’s true all right,” I said darkly. “I heard this story about someone who left his Ponyta there while he went into a shop, just for five minutes – and when he got back, someone had taken all the legs off it and it was just sitting on four little piles of bricks.”

That’s definitely not true.

“Well, maybe not that story. But it’s a scary place.”

What are you, eleven? Start walking and go down that alley there.

Cursing the bad fortune that had landed me with Puck, and the ability he had to knock me out with a painful attack on my brain, I complied, kicking a can moodily. The buildings either side of me got grimier, the alleyways got darker, and my mood blackened.

Stop.

“What am I looking at?” I glanced left and right, in case anyone had spotted me and decided I looked easy to kill.

Behind these bins.

I looked at the bins. They were old and rusty, and smelled strongly of boiled cabbage.

“Do I have to touch them?”

Not if you can move them with your mind.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I muttered, and dragged them aside, doing my best to ignore the odd-smelling stickiness the handles left on my palms. Behind them was a black rucksack, sitting in a pool of water that was giving off the cabbage smell. “Why did you leave it in the water like that?” I moaned.

I was in something of a hurry, said Puck evasively. Just pick it up.

I picked up one strap between my thumb and forefinger, then realised it was too heavy to lift that way. Gritting my teeth, I grabbed it properly and dragged it out of the water, holding it at arm’s length.

“OK, I got your stupid goods,” I said. “Can I go back home now, before my mum gets back and kills me for going out?”

Yeah, yeah, Puck answered, unusually quickly. Let’s go now, Kester.

“What is it?”

Then I saw them, too: the two men in red suits at the other end of the alleyway. Their faces were impassive behind red-tinted sunglasses, and one of them was carrying a gun.

“Puck, I swear, I am going to kill you,” I said, staring at them.

What’re you going to do? Run over your own head? Actually, he snickered, you could probably do that, considering how good you are at driving – Wait! That’s a gun! Er – get out of here!

I turned and ran, and heard footsteps behind me as the two men in red broke into a run, too. A bullet sang past overhead and buried itself in the brickwork of a wall; I broke out into a cold sweat and ducked down a side-passage, breathing heavily.

“Puck, they just shot at us,” I gasped.

Nice work, Sherlock. Now start moving, they’re catching up!

“What do they want? And what’s Sherlock?” I cried as I started moving again.

You’re disgustingly poorly-read, snapped Puck. But I guess I can’t expect anything else of a Hoennian.

“Stop – gasp – avoiding – pant – the question!”

Another bullet ricocheted off a wall just in front of me; I yelped and turned left—

—right into a dead end. I turned wildly, but the two men were already there, blocking the exit.

“So,” one of them said, “you must be the owner of that Rotom.” He looked me up and down. “Is it just me, or are crooks getting younger these days?”

“They are,” said the other in a slow, lugubrious voice. He was the one with the gun, and he held it levelled at my head. “Remember that kid from Lilycove?”

“Mm,” agreed the first one. He turned his eyes back to me. “Kid, do you know what this is?” He held up a Poké Ball.

“Yeah,” I nodded. “Please don’t shoot me.”

“You obviously don’t know what this is. It’s a Poké Ball – it doesn’t shoot, it holds Pokémon. Like this.”

He tossed it down on the ground, and something large expanded out of it in a flash of blue light: a huge, blue-skinned bat, mouth held open in a permanent scream and great, fat tongue rolling out like the steam from a smokestack. I’d never seen one in real life, but I knew from TV that this was a Golbat. The great bat uttered a strange gibbering noise that sent shivers down my spine, and glanced over to the first man with shifty eyes for its orders.

“Take that bag from him,” instructed the man. The bat advanced, standing upright on its hind legs and walking in a manner curiously reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin. Panicking, I threw the bag down in front of me.

“Ah, wait!” I cried. “Don’t – just take it! I don’t even know what it is!”

What? Puck cried. No, don’t do that!

The Golbat halted, uncertain, and looked back at its master, who looked at the man with the gun. All three looked equally confused.

“But why did you steal it, then?” the first man asked.

“I didn’t! I – this has been a very, very bad day,” I told them, the words coming out too fast and becoming a babble. “There was a Rotom – but it went in a scanning machine – and then—”

“I think ’e’s insane,” said the second man, peering at me intently. “Do we kill ’im anyway?”

“A witness is a witness,” the first man replied. “Want to shoot him, or shall I do it?”

“Don’ like shootin’ kids. You do it.”

“Golbat! Kill him!”

The bat gave an ear-splitting screech and rushed towards me, waddling fast on its ungainly little legs. I threw myself to one side, heedless of my head, and it turned on one heel, leaping into the air with one beat of its powerful wings and slamming down onto my chest, winding me. The small, sharp eyes glared into mine; the huge, python-like tongue emerged from the mouth and tasted the cloth of my shirt.

“Oh, please,” said the first man, sounding disgusted. “Can you do it without all this dribbling? This is revolting.”

The Golbat looked at him with an aggrieved air, as if to say: What do you expect, with a tongue like this?

Kester, said Puck, fast as thought, hit him now.

“What?” I hissed, and the Golbat’s eyes snapped back to mine. I felt its claws tighten on my ribs, slicing through my shirt and drawing lines of blood.

Just do it! Trust me, we need to work together on this one!

“You’d better be right,” I muttered, and punched the Golbat on the root of its massive tongue.

Blue lightning exploded from my fist and the Golbat fell over backwards, dazed; I stared at my hand in wonder as sparks flew all around it.

Don’t just stand there, get up! My legs spasmed in response to Puck’s order, and I scrambled to my feet as the Golbat reeled, wings clasped to its tongue in pain. Hit him again! I swung at it, but missed; a ball of electricity burst from my hand anyway and hit it squarely between the eyes. All of its muscles contracted at once; in a weird sort of death-flap, its wings snapped outwards and then in again, launching it backwards into a wall at high speed. It gave a single despairing screech, then its eyes glazed over and it fell back, unconscious.

For the longest second I’ve ever lived through, no one said anything. All three of us (four, counting Puck) stared at the fallen Golbat.

“What the ’ell was that?” said the lugubrious man at length.

Go on. Threaten them, while they’re still surprised.

I turned to the two men and opened my mouth, but no words came out; I was far too shocked to do anything as complicated as speak.

Go on, Puck repeated. Speak!

“I...” I closed my mouth, moistened my lips and tried again. “You should go.”

“Can we still have the bag?” asked the first man.

No.

“No.”

“Shoot him.”

“I, uh, wouldn’t do that,” I said, holding up a hand. To my surprise, a few bluish sparks danced on my fingertips. “What do you think is faster, bullets or lightning?”

The two men exchanged glances.

“I think we might need to make a tactical retreat,” the first one said.

“Migh’ be onto somethin’ there,” the second one agreed, holstering his weapon. The first one recalled his Golbat, and both of them ran as fast as I’d run earlier, obviously expecting lightning to chase them out.

I leaned against the wall, suddenly weak at the knees. I didn’t even care about the dirt and slime on the brickwork; I was shaking all over, like a leaf in a strong breeze. And that pretty much summed up how I felt, too: utterly shaken and unstable.

“Puck,” I said in a low voice. “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”

---

When you’re fleeing, you’re usually too occupied to notice anything outside of the thing behind you (danger) and the thing in front of you (safety). Thus, as the two men in red suits fled the danger – Kester – towards safety – their hideout in the industrial district – they didn’t notice the man in a green overcoat leaning against the wall in a nearby alley, watching them go.

Furthermore, as Kester stumbled out of the dead end, staring at his hands with all the fervour of Lady Macbeth, he did not see the man in the green overcoat either. Puck, since he could only look through Kester’s eyes, also failed to see him.

And that was how it came to pass that the man in the green overcoat, the man who had seen everything that had happened and had absorbed it with the greatest interest, was able to walk away in the direction he had come from, completely undetected.

---

“So let me get this straight,” I said, lying back on the sofa and taking a deep draught of my drink. “When you tried to use your moves, they happened through me instead?”

Kind of. Puck paused, and when he spoke again, he didn’t sound happy. Actually, you’re the one who has access to them now.

“You mean I can use all your Pokémon moves?”

So it would seem, Puck replied sourly. Then he brightened a little. Hang on, not all of them. From what I saw in the alley, you can do everything I could do about... eight years ago.

“What d’you mean?”

Put it this way, explained Puck, if you were a Rotom – and I suppose that, combined with me, you form an honorary Rotom, as it were – you would be about Level... 1.

“What? I thought – that blast of lightning seemed pretty powerful to me!”

ThunderShocking a Golbat does not make you Superman.

“But still.” I held up my hands in front of my face and let a few sparks sizzle off my fingertips. “It’s kind of cool.” I grinned. “You know, you might actually have a use after all, Puck.”

So glad to be of service, he replied, in tones that left me certain he meant the exact opposite. Is this what it takes to cheer you up? I have to donate my abilities to you?

“Yes,” I replied firmly. “How else do you make up for the fact that you got yourself trapped in my head?”

I could... possess an oven and roast you a goose?

“What the hell’s a goose when it’s at home?”

Puck sighed. I miss England.

“You are English, then?”

Yes. I came to Hoenn a few months ago, to – actually, never mind why I came here. Besides, added Puck slyly, a more important matter for you to consider would be the two men in red.

“Oh yeah.” I hardened my voice and did my best to sound mean. “Explain exactly why they tried to kill me?”

Puck coughed. Ahem. Er... I’d rather not go into that, if it’s all the same to you.

“It isn’t. I’m going to throw that bag into the river if you don’t tell me.”

Fine, he grumbled. But... don’t be angry, OK?

“That means it’s something really bad, doesn’t it?” I groaned, putting one hand to my forehead.

No, no, Puck reassured me, in a soothing voice. Not at all. He paused. They’re just two harmless killers from Team Magma.

I leaped bolt upright, choking and spilling my drink; instantly, any elation I might have felt at my newfound electrical powers vanished.

“What?” I shrieked, slamming my glass down onto the table so hard that its contents slopped over the sides. “Puck, you’ve got me involved with the Mafia?”

Team Magma and Team Aqua; there hadn’t been a more famous set of rivals since the Montagues and the Capulets. Two crime syndicates, both alike in aspect, both calling themselves Hoenn’s Mafia, locked in a never-ending battle for supremacy over the nation’s underworld; their agents were spread over the region, scattered into fighting units in every town and every city. From the knife-fights in the treetops of Fortree to the shootouts in the depths of Lilycove, not a week went by without news of another skirmish, another clash between the two Teams’ forces. Neither was large enough to eradicate the other, and so the fighting wore on, little, indecisive victories won – the Magmas won this street, the Aquas won that dock – that didn’t really take anything away from the other Team. Their gang war had been raging on for fifty years, and showed no signs of letting up; the current underworld situation had developed against the backdrop of the fight, and now you could pretty much be certain that almost every crook in Hoenn supported, directly or indirectly, either the Magmas or the Aquas. The worst of it was that everyone in the country knew all about it, and the government did nothing: the Teams were essentially large armies, and the gang war might just become a civil one if they were interfered with.

You’re only a little bit involved, said Puck in wheedling tones. I just stole that bag from Devon, all right? But the Magmas want it pretty badly. You can probably expect them to come for it quite soon, he added.

“Puck!” I shouted, rising to my feet. “You brought the Magmas down on me? Why the hell would you steal that bag if you knew this was going to happen?”

I didn’t know this was going to happen, snapped Puck angrily. I thought I’d still be free, not trapped in some semi-retarded meatface without a spine who’s stolen all my powers!

“I’d gladly give them back if it would get rid of you!” I retorted. Then, all at once, all my fighting spirit left me, and I sank down onto the sofa, holding my head. “Oh, it’s too much, it’s too much,” I moaned. “What did I do to deserve this?”

There, there, said Puck; I wasn’t so stupid that I couldn’t detect irony and immediately got angry again.

“Shut up!” I snapped. “You haven’t even answered my question: why did you steal that bag?”

There was an odd silence in my head.

“Puck?”

Nothing.

“Puck?”

Still nothing.

“Right,” I said, getting up and grabbing the bag, “this is going in the river—”

All right, all right! Puck cried. Put the bag down and I’ll tell you!

I did, and sat back down.

“I’m all ears, you malevolent little demon.”

I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, he said frostily, or see the thoughts that just flashed through your head about what you would like to do to me. I stole that bag... Here he faltered. I stole that bag... because Team Magma wanted it! And, after all, if they wanted it badly enough to kill—

“Kill?” I yelped; the Rotom ignored me and kept going.

—to kill, then it’s probably better off out of their hands, don’t you think?

“What are we going to do, Puck?” I moaned, reverting to my despairing persona in this time of crisis. “What the hell have you dragged me into?”

Puck was silent for a while. When he answered, he sounded uncharacteristically serious.

Look, he said, if it makes you feel any better, I apologise for getting you into this, even if it wasn’t my fault. But we’re here now, stuck together like this, and we can’t sit around moping all day. Here he paused, and, reluctantly recognising the cue, I sat up and removed my head from my hands. We aren’t totally defenceless, the Rotom continued. You can use my ThunderShock, right? Maybe you can practise, and get better – like a real Pokémon. Maybe you can learn other moves of mine, stronger moves. We can defend ourselves against the Mafia, repelling wave after wave of lethal home invaders. It’ll be like Home Alone, only without any funny bits and lots of death. Er... What I mean is, we’ll be just fine.

“No,” I said decisively. “We’ll just give them their bag back as soon as they come asking for it.”

No! cried Puck, aghast. You can’t do that!

“I can and I will,” I told him, in tones that, if you’ll permit me to compliment myself, really did brook no argument. “I can’t hold off a nationwide criminal organisation armed with the powers of a Level 1 Rotom. This madness has to stop.”

Kester—

“My mind is made up,” I said, watching a silver Devon company car pull up outside. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to let my mum in and try and get back in her good books.”

Ignoring Puck’s increasingly feeble protests, I walked out and opened the door, whereupon someone who most definitely was not my mother threw something purple at me, and I suddenly found myself somewhere else entirely.

Cutlerine
January 15th, 2011, 04:11 AM
Chapter Three: Dance Like a Ludicolo

“Puck? Where are we?” I didn’t really expect him to know, but he was the only person around for me to ask.

I was standing in the centre of a little round room, window- and door-less, with steel walls, floor and ceiling. It was unpleasantly reminiscent of that business that occurred last year, though that’s something I’ve no desire to go into here.

This has never happened to me before, said Puck, and he sounded like he was choosing his words carefully, but...

“But?”

I have heard about this from other Pokémon.

A dark little suspicion began to take shape in a far corner of my mind, but I ignored it and asked him again, more forcefully.

“Puck. Where are we?”

I think, he said, and don’t be angry, but... I think we’ve been caught.

“Caught?”

Well... yes. Caught.

“What do you mean, ‘caught’?”

Like, er, in a Poké Ball, caught.

And then I took to wailing and gnashing my teeth, and shrieking and battering the walls, and to the rending of my hair. It was a very biblical fit of wrath.

Because, after all, I was in a Poké Ball.

Now, I’d never taken that much of an interest in Training – that was why I was still in school, and not out roaming around the country with my own set of superpowered monsters – but I knew what that meant: someone now owned me, or intended to. And that was something that, to understate things, really quite annoyed me.

“Hang on.” I paused in my ineffectual assault on the ball’s walls. “I thought these things could only catch Pokémon?”

Yes. But, in case you haven’t noticed, we are a Pokémon, Puck pointed out. Together, we can use moves, and we have an elemental typing, Electric/Ghost. Don’t you think that makes us enough of a Pokémon to be caught by a ball?

“Argh! This is all your fault!” I shouted. “God, Puck, I hate you! You show up in my head, you make me beat up mafia Pokémon and steal mafia property, and now you get me caught like a damn Zigzagoon!”

In my defence, it isn’t mafia property as such, Puck said facetiously. It’s only desired by the mafia.

“Another thing!” I cried. “You don’t take any of this seriously! You’re stuck in me, right? You have a vested interest in whether or not I survive, right? Yet you don’t seem to care at all whether or not I live through it!”

There was a brief silence, during which I wondered if Puck was building up to zap my brain again.

I can’t deny that my presence here is most likely what’s caused you to become captured, and that I have caused you considerable inconvenience otherwise, admitted Puck. But I urge you to relax. Just because they caught you doesn’t mean you have to obey them. Pokémon often disobey their Trainers, right?

It was true. Every week, there’d be a couple of stories on the news about Trainers mauled or otherwise injured by newly-caught, untrained Pokémon; they were as dangerous as wild ones before they got to know their owners. It was one of the hazards that had led me to reject the opportunity to become a Trainer all those years ago, when I’d been ten. It was just too dangerous for someone like me, who liked the quiet life. Not that I thought I’d be getting much of that now, in a Poké Ball with a Rotom in my head.

Just a quick question, Puck said, was that serious enough for you?

“Yeah. You sounded like James Bond.”

That’s fairly racist of you, but I think it might be a compliment so I’ll overlook it.

“Whatever.” I raised a hand and shot a ball of blue lightning into the wall of the Poké Ball; the steel conducted it all around the room before it fizzled away harmlessly. I grinned a wicked grin, imagining what had happened to the Golbat happening to whoever had caught me. “You know what, Puck? I think you might be right for once. Let’s get some revenge.”

Yes, agreed Puck. Let’s do that.

If I hadn’t been so absorbed in thoughts of electrically-based revenge, I might have noticed he sounded less than certain of my scheme – but I was, and so I didn’t.

It was going to cost me.

---

Solomon Stone was a large man, stout and corpulent: his neck, if he had ever possessed one, was long gone, and his body flowed seamlessly into a head of precisely the same width as his shoulders. He resembled nothing so much as a great fleshy tombstone, crammed into an expensive dove-grey suit. His arms were too short and his legs too long, so that he was well over six feet tall but couldn’t reach high shelves; every single aspect of his proportions were anatomically wrong.

Stone’s face was no less prepossessing: his mouth was wide and stretched almost from ear to ear, turning up at the corners and so giving him the expression of a benevolent frog. His eyes were wide and very large; in his youth, when he was very drunk, he had often amused other partygoers by popping them almost an inch from their sockets – a trick he now put to use in business meetings when he wanted to stun someone into silence. Pallid, straw-like hair, greying now, hung limply from his large cranium, and his ears were so small as to be inconsequential.

Naturally, this remarkable appearance was the subject of much discussion among those who knew him, for Stone refused to tell a soul how he had come by it. The leading theory at the moment was that he had been born of the unholy union of Ludicolo and woman – which also explained his habit of shifting from foot to foot, waving his hands.
Yet beneath this strange and alarming exterior lay a mind of unparalleled business acumen. The illegitimate son of a Kantan gravel merchant (possibly by a Ludicolo), he had been born with stone in his heart; he had taken it as his name and made a fortune in quarrying in Italy. He had acquired Silph cheaply when the company collapsed in the late ’80s, during the Kanto-Johto Depression, and, rebranding it the ‘Devon Corporation’, had resurrected it in Hoenn. Now, Devon had the kind of monopoly on Hoennian high technology that Silph had once had in Kanto, and Stone was, at just forty-four, among the planet’s ten richest inhabitants.

Right now, however, Stone was not acting as a man of his status; he was not lying in a pool in his palatial mansion, absorbing the sun of the Hoennian summer, nor was he hard at work to increase the amount of money in the bank.

He was trying to balance his pen on its nib.

This was a problem that had absorbed him for about three days now. Stone knew it must be possible, but he couldn’t quite figure out how. His pen was one made by Devon, and consisted of a slim steel rod that tapered to a razor-like point; it wrote by leaving a thin line of metal behind when it passed over a surface, and hence could write on virtually anything. When held upright, it was perfectly symmetrical, so there could be no reason why it wouldn’t balance except Stone’s own imperfections.

Stone did not tolerate his imperfections. When he encountered them, he strove to eradicate them – and for the most part, he succeeded, through sheer pig-headed determination and effort. That was why he had been sitting in his office for three days at the top of the Devon skyscraper, trying to balance his pen on its point on the surface of his desk.

One problem, he had thought early on, might have been that the desk was on an incline, so he’d borrowed a spirit level from one of the engineering labs downstairs to check that it was even; upon discovering that it was about a degree out, he sawed a millimetre off the legs on one side of the desk. That then lowered it too far towards the other side, so he’d sawn some off those legs – and this had gone on and on, until his desk lay on the floor like a beached whale, surrounded by broken bits of wood.

The next problem that he had encountered was that the surface of the desk was probably not entirely smooth. It might have microscopic dips and peaks that interfered with the ultra-fine point of the pen. So, of course, Stone had procured a plane and removed most of the wood from the top of the desk before varnishing it with a special lacquer Devon had created a few years ago for simulated ice-rinks; it was extremely slippery and, even on a molecular level, was almost entirely even.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was Stone’s ninth desk this year. His long-suffering receptionist had been forced some years ago to place a standing order with a nearby furniture firm, who, while unused to supplying clients with packets of identical expensive hardwood desks on a monthly basis, had accepted gladly and were now quite prosperous.

There was a knock at the door, and Stone’s pen fell over again. He looked up absently.

“Come in,” he called.

A pair of Devon employees came in; one was a researcher, wearing a white lab coat and carrying something in his hand. The other was less easy to place, since she just wore a grey suit; however, Stone had a hunch she might be someone important from advertising.

He regarded these intruders into his domain benevolently over horn-rimmed spectacles, specially made to accommodate his widely-spaced eyes.

“Hello,” he said good-naturedly. “Who might you be?”

“I’m Darren Goodwin,” the researcher replied, “and this is Theresa Ruby. Um, I hope we’re not interrupting anything, sir...” He was staring in some consternation at the sad corpse of Stone’s once-fine desk.

“No, not at all,” said Stone genially, getting to his feet and settling into the impressive chair that had once sat behind his desk, and now sat behind a pile of very slippery firewood. “Take a seat.”

He indicated two chairs on the other side of the ruined desk, and the two Devon employees seated themselves somewhat uncertainly.

“I was just trying to balance my pen on the point,” explained Stone, holding up the relevant implement. “Quite difficult, as it happens.”

“Er – right, sir. Well, do you remember those stolen goods?”

Stone nodded. “Yes, of course. That was just yesterday, wasn’t it? Dashed bad business. They needed to get to Angel down in Slateport. In fact, I think they’ve been calling up, demanding to know where they are.”

“I know, sir. I was tracking down those parts, as instructed, and I found this.”

He held out a fist-sized sphere, half white and half purple, with two red blobs on the upper part. Stone peered at it.

“You found a Master Ball?” he asked, puzzled. “I think you’ll find we make those. We have lots of them here—”

“No, no, sir,” replied Darren Goodwin. “I found the boy in possession of the stolen goods.”

“Well, where is he, then?” asked Stone, feeling put-upon. Honestly, the man was talking in riddles! Why couldn’t he just leave him to balance the pen on his desk? “Why are you showing me a Master Ball?”

Darren Goodwin suppressed a sigh. Stone was an excellent businessman, but all other aspects of his personality, including common sense and reason, seemed somewhat... moronic.

“No, sir,” he said. “He’s in here.”

Stone blinked once, slowly, like a chilled lizard. Then, he spoke, with a calming, avuncular air.

“Now, Derek—”

“Darren, sir.”

“Now, Derek, I want you to listen here,” Stone continued blithely. “It might have escaped your attention – and you probably work very hard – but our Poké Balls, even Master ones, only catch Pokémon.” He gave a reassuring grin; it spread his mouth so wide it looked like the top half of his head might come off.

“That’s just the thing, sir,” replied Darren, through clenched teeth. “I think he might actually be a Pokémon.”

And thus Stone found the story of the boy using Electric-type moves on the Magma grunt’s Golbat being related to him, by none other than the man in the green overcoat himself, though that coat was now hung up next to his desk nineteen floors below.

“...and I’m sure it was ThunderShock,” finished Darren. “I have a Magneton, sir; I know my Electric moves. So I followed him home, returned to the office and borrowed a Master Ball to catch him with – on a hunch, sir.”

“Very interesting,” observed Stone, nodding. “Spectacular work, Derek.”

“It’s Darren, sir.”

“Of course. How remiss of me. Let me apologise, Derek.” Stone paused. “This could prove quite the breakthrough. No doubt all sorts of tests can be performed on this lad.”

“Excuse me, sir,” interjected the other Devon worker, Theresa Ruby, “but may I ask why I’m here?”

Stone turned to her in some astonishment. Truthfully, he had forgotten she was there.

“Why, of course you may ask,” he said kindly, “but I’m sure that I don’t know the answer.”

“Actually,” Darren said, “I think this might answer your question.”

He stood up, took a few respectful steps back from the carcass of the desk, moved his chair aside and dropped the Master Ball in a colourful explosion of purple-blue light.

A boy appeared – or a young man, it was difficult to be sure; his long, thin limbs and skinny body argued for him lying on the cusp of adulthood, at the awkward age of sixteen or seventeen. He had messy, sun-bleached hair and a lightly-tanned face; a battered-looking school uniform belonging to an institution that Stone did not recognise hung from his thin frame. One of his eyes was brown, and the other, on the right, was the electric blue of distilled summer skies.

“Hah!” he cried, and pointed at Darren Goodwin; a small ball of blue lightning shot from his finger and fizzled harmlessly against the man’s coat.

For a long moment, no one said anything. Then, the boy turned around and noticed everyone else – particularly Theresa Ruby, at the sight of whom he looked inordinately surprised.

“Mum?”

---

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Naturally. I mean, this was the worst day I’d ever had, after all.

“Mum?”

She seemed just as surprised as I did.

“Kester?” She glanced at the man next to her – the guy against whom my ThunderShock had proved singularly ineffective.

Er – about that, said Puck, I was going to say, but the only reason you beat up that Golbat with ThunderShock was because it’s a Flying-type, and they’re weak to Electric moves. Because ThunderShock on its own is, well, useless, really. Especially if you’re Level 1. Which you are.

I wasn’t really listening to him; I was too confused. Happily, though, this was becoming something I was used to. I looked around for answers, and saw a Ludicolo in a suit sitting in a fancy chair on the other side of a smashed-up desk. I was about half a second away from throwing myself out of the window in despair and fury at the nonsensical nature of the world when I realised that it was just a very ugly man, which was marginally less stupid.

“Kester... how did...?” Mum seemed to have swapped surprise for confusion.

“It’s a long story,” I told her wearily, “but basically, this all started because my clock ran out of power in the night.”

If anything, that confused her more.

“Explain,” said the man in the white coat, who was holding something purple I recognised as a Master Ball. A wave of hatred surged through me; he must have been the guy who caught me. I folded my arms and looked him squarely in the eye.

“I don’t want to,” I said.

“Fine.”

There was a brief red flash and I was back in the ball again.

“Damn it!” I howled, blasting the walls with ThunderShocks. “That wasn’t meant to happen!”

A moment later, he let me out again.

“You going to talk now?”

So, glowering mutinously, I told them everything: about the Vespa crash, about the accident with the brain scanner – a Phelps-Laurence Occipital Tampering Device, the white coat guy told me it was called – and about Puck stealing the bag of goods.

“So,” said the man who looked like a Ludicolo, getting up and wandering over in a series of dance-like steps, “you’re now a human Rotom, as it were?”

“Yeah,” I replied sulkily, “and much good it’s done me.”

“But this is remarkable!” he cried, bending down to examine me better. “From what I know of our Device, that ought to be completely impossible!”

I shrugged.

“What do I know, I’m not a scientist.”

“I presume this is why your right eye has gone blue.”

“What?” This was news to me – and not welcome news, either. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s blue. Like a Rotom’s eye,” the white coat guy said. I groaned loudly. Great. Another unwanted change that Puck had caused.

“Actually, this has happened at a very convenient time for us,” the Ludicolo man said, straightening up and starting to shuffle from foot to foot. “This lad would be an ideal courier for taking the goods down to Angel, wouldn’t he, Derek?”

“It’s Darren, sir,” replied the white coat guy through clenched teeth. “And that’s an inspired idea. We can’t risk sending them through the usual delivery service, not now we know the Magmas are after them.”

“Whoa,” I said, holding up a hand. “No. No, no, no. I’m not delivering anything for anyone.”

The white coat guy, Darren, sighed.

“There are three reasons why you, in fact, are, Kester. Number one: you are a captive Pokémon. If you refuse, I’ll just recall you. Number two: the man to your right is the President and owner of the Devon Corporation. If you refuse, your mother will be fired. And number three: if you do this, I will personally oversee the extraction of that Rotom from your head.”

“I would too,” put in the Ludicolo man or, as I now knew him, the President of Devon, “but I’m afraid I’m rather busy at the moment with a personal project.”

Now that was an offer. But was it possible to get Puck out of me? He couldn’t get out by himself...

“How do I know you can actually get him out?” I asked suspiciously.

“I’ll get fired?” asked my mother, outraged. It seemed to have been the only part of the conversation she’d picked up on.

“Please be quiet, Theresa,” said the Devon President. Mum opened her mouth again, then thought better of it, and closed it. Her eyes flicked to mine and communicated angrily: You’d better go and deliver those goods, or I’m going to kill you.

“If the Rotom went in, the Rotom can come out,” said Darren simply. “I shall start research on how the Device managed to get him in there as soon as you leave.”

Seems like a pretty good deal to me, said Puck. I’d take it. Also, you have a scary mother.

“Tell me about it,” I muttered under my breath, so that only he could hear. Then, louder: “OK. What exactly do I have to do?”

“It should be simple, for someone with your powers,” the Devon President said. “Do you remember that bag your Rotom stole?”

“Yes?”

“Deliver it to Captain Stern at the Angel Laboratories building in Slateport, defending it from any Team Magma rapscallions who come after it.” He smiled genially, as if this was the most reasonable request in the world.

I stared back.

“You must be crazy,” I told him. “There’s no way I can do that.”

The President clapped a palm to his inordinately broad forehead.

“Of course!” he exclaimed. “How remiss of me. We at Devon will, of course, provide you with the necessary funds for ferries, accommodation, food and suchlike—”

“That’s not the point,” I snapped, not caring that I was talking to someone who could probably have had me killed if he’d wanted to. “It’s not the money, it’s just stupidly dangerous.”

“Now,” said all three of the adults at once in the same placating tone; I gave a small cry of despair. They looked at each other, and then Darren spoke.

“I think,” he said, “that your mother wants you to go so she doesn’t get fired, and President Stone and I want you to go in order to salvage this awful situation with Angel Laboratories. With such compelling reasons—”

“How are they compelling?” I shrieked, and found myself back in the Poké Ball. I stared around at the steel walls for a few moments before he let me back out. “Right,” I said sourly. “That’s how they’re compelling.”

“I’m not going to get fired over this,” Mum said in quelling tones. I turned to her in stunned disbelief.

“Don’t you care that I’ll probably die doing this?”

“No you won’t,” she said, “you’ve got your powers now.”

“Dear God,” I moaned. “The world has gone insane.”

“Look, are you going or not?” asked the President, suddenly very businesslike. “I’ve got a pen to balance on my desk, you know.”

I decided not to ask about that, and simply shook my head.

“I’m not going,” I said firmly. “And before you return me” – I saw Darren raising the Master Ball – “I just want to say something.” I took a deep breath.

Oh. Wait. Kester, wait – I don’t think this is a good idea...

I’d seen Ghosts do this on TV, when the Championship Tournament came on. I hoped to God that Rotom could do it as well, and that they could do it at Level 1.

The shout left my lips and instantly magnified itself to incredible volume; I actually saw the air ripple around my head as the sound waves tore the atmosphere asunder. President Stone, Darren and Mum slammed their hands over their ears, recoiling, and I closed my mouth and snatched up the Master Ball as Darren dropped it. The shout continued to echo as I ran for the door, the windows of the office shattering beyond the ruined desk.

Dialga’s Orb! shrieked Puck. How the hell did you make an Astonish that strong?

“Shut up, I’m trying to flee!”

I shoulder-barged my way through the door and ran through the office of a very surprised secretary onto a red-carpeted landing. There were stairs and a lift; I thought they might catch me if I waited for a lift and hurled myself down the stairs.

This was the first mistake. I should have thought about it: I was on the top floor of the Devon building – which was fifty-one floors above ground level. Thinking about it logically, a guy like me, with the fitness of a Slakoth, was never going to make it down even half of those.

It took me five floors before I couldn’t go any further; gasping and spluttering, chest heaving, I staggered past a group of surprised office workers, tripped and tumbled heavily down the next flight of stairs, dropping the Master Ball and cutting the legs from under a young woman on her way up. In a confused tangle of limbs, we both crashed into the wall at the point where the stairs turned.

“Ah!” I cried, jumping up and accidentally treading on her hand. “Sorry! Can’t stop!”

I took a couple of steps towards the top of the stairs, but a strong hand grabbed my arm.

“What?” asked an angry voice. “You can’t stop? You just knocked me down, then stepped on my hand, and you can’t even stop to help me up?”

I turned around with a weak nod.

“Uh – yes,” I said, quailing before a ferocious gaze from two bright blue eyes. “I – it’s a really – difficult – situation...”

“At least apologise properly,” snapped the girl. She looked like she was my age, with brown hair that fell in two long arcs either side of her head and skin tanned to the colour of wood. “Go on. Apologise.”

Is it just me, or are all human women utterly terrifying? asked Puck.

“Please, just shut up!” I told him. Noticing anger flare in the eyes of the girl I’d knocked down, I hastily added: “Ah no, no, not you! I was talking to – someone else!”

I heard shouting from the upper floors; my pursuers were gaining on me.

“There’s no one else here!”

“Yes, there is!” I cried. “In here!” I jabbed a finger at my temple. “I was talking to – oh, forget it! I’m sorry, OK? I didn’t mean to knock you over, I wasn’t telling you to shut up. Can I go now? There really is quite a lot riding on this...”

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” The girl put the Master Ball back in my hand. “You dropped this, by the way.”

“Thanks,” I said, and started to run again just as Darren careered wildly around the corner of the stairs, shouting at the girl to grab the ball off me before I got away; I was a thief and a robber and up to all kinds of larceny. As fast as lightning, she snatched the ball back from me; instantly, I stopped running and started pleading. “No! Give that back! I need it to live a safe and ordered existence!”

The girl looked from me to Darren uncertainly. Behind Darren materialised my mother, and a fleet of confused-looking Devon office workers.

“He’s released the Pokémon from that ball,” Darren told her. “You need to recall it! Its name is Kester!”

“Don’t listen to him!” I cried. “It’s me who’s in that ball, and he’s trying to trap me!”

The girl looked at me as if I were insane, and raised the Master Ball.

I can’t believe you thought that would work, Puck said in disgust, as I snatched wildly at the girl’s outstretched hand—

“Kester, return!”

And then red light pulsed in front of my eyes, and I was in the little metal room again.

Cutlerine
January 19th, 2011, 01:21 PM
Chapter Four: Ruby and Sapphire

The scene: a comfortable living-room, with a fire flickering in the grate despite the fact that it was a warm summer night. Two well-stuffed armchairs sat near this fire, next to a table with a glass of port on it.

The cast: two men and one woman, one in the right-hand armchair, and two by the door.

“So you did not manage to steal the goods,” said a soft voice, rich with the accent of some far-off land. It belonged to the man in the armchair.

“No, boss,” said half of the pair by the door.

“What happened, exactly?”

“There was a Rotom,” said the other half, the woman, “and it was too fast...”

“A Rotom? They don’t live here, do they?”

“No, boss,” answered the first person. “Must’ve belonged to the reds.”

A florid curse in some foreign tongue came from the direction of the armchair; its utterer grabbed the port, downed it in one and slammed the glass onto the table so hard it cracked. “Well, why are you still here?” he snapped at the two people by the door. “Go back and get those goods!”

His subordinates hurried out as the glass smashed against the wall where they’d been moments before.

Everyone was on the move.

---

Sapphire Birch was having a bad day.

It wasn’t as bad as Kester Ruby’s – his day would take quite some beating, and it was only about quarter past five – but it was pretty bad by normal standards.

It began at half past four in the morning, which is not usually a congenial time for any sort of day to begin, let alone a bad one. But it began then anyway, with the fire alarm going off in the Pokémon Centre where she’d been staying the night. Usually, this would mean a fire, and if that had been the case then Sapphire wouldn’t have minded getting up early – but it was merely the result of faulty wiring, and it took a whole hour for this to be discovered. An hour that Sapphire, and half a dozen other Trainers, spent standing outside in the cool summer dawn, desperately trying not to pitch forward and fall asleep on the pavement.

Of course, once she got back inside, she couldn’t get back to sleep, in accordance with the twisted variant of Murphy’s Law that bad days observe. Sapphire tried everything – counting sheep, even reading her English dictionary – but nothing worked. She had had high hopes for the dictionary – foreign languages were not her forte, especially ones written in a different alphabet, and she was usually able to pass out by skimming a couple of pages – but they were dashed to the floor by the cruel hand of fate.

So Sapphire had been tired and annoyed even before she got up later that morning, and matters weren’t helped when she realised she had no idea where she’d put the letter from her father that she was meant to be delivering that day. It had taken about an hour of searching to find it – by which time, the Centre’s cafeteria was deserted, and very little breakfast was left for her.

Underfed and overburdened, Sapphire left the Pokémon Centre in the mood known as high dudgeon, storming off down the street to catch the bus that would take her to the Devon Corporation building; thanks to being late from breakfast, she missed it, and, as the next one wasn’t due for forty minutes, she had to walk.

It was forty-six minutes later when Sapphire realised it would have been more sensible to wait for the bus; however, the Devon skyscraper was only ten minutes away now, and she decided to press on. Unfortunately, due to a series of closed roads and a close encounter with a poorly-skilled cyclist, it in fact took her most of the rest of the day to get there.

It may, at this point, be prudent to offer a word of explanation. Sapphire Birch was, as can be divined from her surname, the daughter of the esteemed Professor Birch of Littleroot. A Trainer of seventeen years old, she had been released from her duties in helping her father with his research two months ago, and had come to Rustboro to set off on the true Trainer’s career: defeating Gym Leaders. She had elegantly and easily mopped the floor with Roxanne, and had then tried to go to Mauville via Verdanturf; regrettably, there had been some trouble with the tunnel that connected Rustboro and Verdanturf, and she hadn’t been able to. So, intending to go south and catch a ferry to Dewford Island instead, she had returned to Rustboro and received a phone call from her father.

This call had asked her to retrieve an important package from the Devon Corporation, to be brought back to her father in Littleroot. A letter had arrived at the Pokémon Centre the day afterwards, to be taken to the President and used as proof of identity, and thus Sapphire had heaved a sigh and made plans to visit Devon and obtain said package.

Plans that were currently in the process of being thwarted.

When she’d finally got to Devon and convinced the security guards and receptionist that she was, in fact, there on legitimate business – a difficulty Sapphire had also had at the Gym – she had found that the lift was out of order, and had been forced to walk all the way up the stairs. Exhausted from lack of sleep and a long day’s walk, her patience has worn as thin as a caterpillar’s eyelash.

Of course, we already know what happened next: a boy called Kester Ruby fell down the stairs and knocked her down, and, after a brief scuffle, was recalled into a Master Ball, which Sapphire was now holding.

And this, if you are reading this in hopes of action, is where the narrative resumes.

---

Sapphire stared at the ball. Then she stared at where the boy had been.

This was not possible.

“Thanks,” said the man in the white coat, advancing on her, “now, give me that, please.”

“W-who was that?” Sapphire asked, holding the Master Ball out of his reach. “And did he just go... into the ball?”

“Yes,” admitted the white-coated man. “Now give him to me.”

“I don’t know what just happened,” Sapphire said, her voice slowly hardening, “but I do know that whatever it was, you’re probably the bad guy here. And I don’t like that. Not at all.” Maybe it was something in her eyes, but the white-coated guy and his gang suddenly stopped advancing, faltering a little. Sapphire continued, voice gaining strength now. “I have had a really bad day,” she told him, “and I don’t want it getting any worse. I mean, are you seriously expecting me to help you imprison someone who obviously doesn’t want to be here in an illegal and impossible way? For God’s sake, I come here to pick up some goods for my dad and I end up an accessory to a kidnapping! What kind of stupid operation is Devon running here?”

Sapphire paused for breath, and the white-coated guy jumped in.

“Did you say goods?” he asked sharply. Sapphire glared at him.

“Don’t interrupt,” she said forcefully, and the man visibly flinched. The group of men and women behind him hurried back to their desks. “I did, but that’s no business of yours. I—”

“You’re after them too,” breathed the white-coated man. “Of course! That blue coat... you’re with the Aquas!”

“What the hell are you – hey!” The man grabbed her arm and started wrestling the ball towards him; Sapphire headbutted him on the nose and he let go, clutching his face. “What the hell are you doing?” she yelled angrily. “What is wrong with you people?”

“Security!” cried the white-coated man, gushing blood. “Security!”

When the two burly men in dark suits appeared at the top of the stairs, Sapphire decided to swallow the rest of her tirade, along with her pride, and run.

In sharp contrast to Kester Ruby, Sapphire was in prime physical condition. Her father’s idea of research involved many long weeks spent outside in close proximity to wild Pokémon; on more than one occasion, she had had to run from a protective mother Swellow, or escape the wrath of an irate Dustox. Once, she had even had to fend off a group of four juvenile Mightyena, half-evolved from Poochyena, with nothing but a log from the campfire; thankfully, the lupine monsters hadn’t yet developed the unstoppable brave idiocy of their evolved form, and fled at the sight of the flames.

All this meant that Sapphire was a damn fast runner, and she was out in the car park in just seven minutes; she vaulted the low border fence and tore off down the street. The guards were long gone, but, just to make sure, she ducked into an alley and ran through it down to the next road before she stopped, heart beating like a drum.

Sapphire held up the Master Ball and stared at it, only now letting her confusion out from where it had been trapped behind the indignant rage she’d shown the white-coated man. Here was a boy – a human – in a Poké Ball. It didn’t make any sense. It was impossible. And yet...

Here he was, right in front of her, inside the ball.

And that wasn’t even the beginning of it: there was that creepy Devon guy in the white coat; there was the question of the ‘goods’ they kept going on about, and all the rest of it. Sapphire thought about it all for a moment, and felt a twinge of unease.

“What,” she said aloud to herself, “have I got myself into?”

---

I have to hand it to you, Puck said, that was a good try. You almost got away – and that was a very impressive Astonish.

“Why are you so unconcerned?” I asked. “You’re inside me. I get caught, you get caught. So why don’t you care that Devon is endangering us?”

They’re endangering you, Puck corrected. If you die, I’m pretty sure I’ll just float out of you, completely unharmed.

“Oh, wonderful.” I kicked the wall and sat down heavily. “This is just great.”

Look on the bright side, Puck encouraged. This will be a great opportunity for you to increase your powers.

“Why are you so keen for me to do that?”

It pains me to see someone so weak, said Puck; it sounded like a lie to me, but I didn’t press him for details, because blue light pulsed in front of my eyes and I returned to the real world, where the girl I’d knocked down the stairs was looking at me with curiosity.

I looked around, and to my surprise I found I wasn’t in Devon; instead, I was standing in a small, messy bedroom, of a level of blandness that indicated it had to be a hotel room.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“In Rustboro’s main Pokémon Centre,” replied the girl. “I stole you.”

She was so matter-of-fact about it that I didn’t know quite what to say; in lieu of a reply, I stared at her. She was a little shorter than me, and wore a blue coat, the same colour as her eyes. For some reason, she also wore a matching hat: a fedora with a Swellow wing feather stuck in it. Around her waist was the belt that marked her out as a Trainer, with attachments to hold Poké Balls – but only two of these were in use. There was another ball in her hand, and this was my Master Ball.

“Right,” I said at length. “Do... do I get an explanation?”

“You have to tell me your story first,” she replied. “Then I’ll tell you mine.”

“Can I at least have your name?”

“Same rules.” I sighed.

“My name’s Kester. Kester Ruby. But you must have worked that out.” She nodded slowly. “Oh yeah, and his name” – I pointed to my head – “is Robin Goodfellow, but I call him Puck.”

The girl looked at me as if I were insane – a possibility that I’d already considered and discarded, if you remember.

“Ri-ight,” she said slowly. “I’m Sapphire Birch.”

That rang a bell; wasn’t she related to the Birch?

“Professor Birch’s—?”

“Daughter, yes.” Sapphire looked at me with the air of someone who commands people, and whom people invariably obey. “Now you tell me your story.”

So I told the story of how Puck had came to take up residence in my head for a second time, only this time I included my meeting with President Stone and Darren Goodwin. When I was done, Sapphire looked somewhat disbelieving, and had to sit down on the bed to keep from falling over.

“This... this is crazy,” she muttered.

“Yes,” I agreed. “Utterly, horribly insane. It’s been a really bad day.” I leaned against the wardrobe.

“This can’t be true,” Sapphire said, looking up at me.

“You’re holding my ball,” I told her sourly. “What more proof do you need?”

Sapphire looked stumped for a moment, then said:

“Show me your powers.”

That suited me just fine. It could hardly be a bad thing to impress a pretty girl with some lightning tricks, so I poured a stream of sparks from my fingers while Sapphire looked on in amazement.

“OK, now I believe you,” she said, eyes wide.

“Good. Now, your turn to tell me about yourself.”

Sapphire swiftly laid out the main points of her story: she too had been having a bad day, though not quite as bad as mine; she had been on her way to Devon to pick up some goods (at the sound of that word, the cause of so much trouble, I flinched) for her father, Prof. Birch; and she had been on her way up to see the President about it when I’d crashed into her.

“Goods,” I repeated. “You’re after some Devon goods.”

It had to be a coincidence. It couldn’t be the same lot.

“Yes,” replied Sapphire. “I had a letter for the President.” She felt in her pocket, and pulled it out to show me. “From my dad.”

“Your dad wanted Devon goods.”

I couldn’t get the strange idea that I might have once briefly held those goods in my possession out of my head. Even though they were definitely not the same goods.

“Yes,” repeated Sapphire, looking at me oddly. Her surprise and shock seemed to have been overridden by further fears for my sanity.

“Can I see that letter?” I asked. Sapphire clutched it tightly.

“No!” she cried. “Why?”

“I have a hunch. Please.”

Something of my urgency must have shown in my face, because she gave it to me then, albeit uncertainly. I tore it open, and scanned the letter inside.

“Oh my God,” I said, head starting to spin. “This...”

“What?” Sapphire came to look at it, too. “Hey – this says I’m a courier for someone called Angel Laboratories...” She looked at me. “How did you know?”

“These goods.” I sank down onto Sapphire’s bed, holding my head. “They’re at the heart of all of this. Puck! Explain!”

Startled, the Rotom fumbled for an answer.

Er, um, I... He paused, then said hopefully: You won’t believe me if I say I don’t know what the goods actually are, will you?

“No.”

Well, tough. That’s the story I’m sticking to.

“What? What is it?” asked Sapphire, confused.

“Puck,” I replied succinctly, pointing to my head. “I’m talking to him. He speaks in my head, remember. He says he doesn’t know what the goods are.”

Sapphire stared.

“He’s got to be joking, right? You said he stole them!”

“I know he’s lying, but I can’t persuade him to tell me. If I irritate him too much, he’ll fry my brain. But that’s irrelevant: the point is, Devon wants these goods to pass on to Angel Laboratories, and at the moment they have them. Team Magma wants the goods, too – but I don’t know why. And apparently your dad wants them too.”

“So what’s so special about them?” asked Sapphire.

“That’s just it. I don’t know.” I got up again. “And I don’t actually care. Thanks for saving me, Sapphire. I’m going home.”

I snatched the Master Ball from her and made off towards the door.

“What?” cried Sapphire. “You’re just leaving?”

“Yep,” I replied, one hand on the doorknob. Slim, cold fingers gripped my free hand and adroitly twisted it backwards; pain flared in my wrist and I dropped the ball. I spun around, meaning to snatch it up, but Sapphire already had it and was stepping back. “Give me that,” I said warningly.

“Think about it,” she said, sliding over the bed to the other side, “where are you going anyway? If you go home, your mum will just give you back to Devon, won’t she?”

I paused. This was undeniably true.

“Don’t care,” I said. “I’ll go... somewhere else. Or I’ll hide the ball. Speaking of which – give it.” I held out a hand.

“I’ll tell you what,” Sapphire said, plucking another ball from her belt with her free hand, “I’ll make you a deal. I’m a Pokémon Trainer, you’re a wild Pokémon.” She glanced at the Master Ball. “Sort of. Anyway, I’ll give you your ball back if you beat one of my Pokémon in a battle. If I win, I can keep it and you help me investigate these goods.”

Don’t do this, Kester, warned Puck.

“OK,” I replied, ignoring him. “Let’s do this.”

You might think I was an idiot to accept the challenge. I was, but let me explain why I did it anyway: I thought I could win. Sapphire had told me she was just starting her career, despite having helped her father with Pokémon for years; I supposed her Pokémon must be pretty weak, and thus that I stood a chance.

One side of Sapphire’s mouth flicked upwards in a quirky little grin I later discovered was her signature smile.

“Great,” she said. “Let’s start this.”

She dropped the ball in a flash of blue light, and a little orange bird appeared on the bed. It had a large, round head and small, intelligent eyes; it stood on one leg and chirped endearingly.

A bird, then. Probably a Flying-type. I grinned; if I was right, I would finish Sapphire’s Pokémon off even more easily than the Golbat.

Kester—

“Shut up, Puck,” I said, cracking my knuckles. “ThunderShock!”

I pointed at the bird and a ball of blue electricity flew towards it; it hit it square in the chest and knocked it backwards, little wings windmilling to maintain its balance. It didn’t seem unduly concerned, however, and immediately hopped forwards again as Sapphire said:

“Ember!”

A thin stream of flame shot from the bird’s beak; I yelped and ducked, but it singed the top of my head as it streaked past.

“Again.”

Another jet of fire; I tried to dodge to the left, but the wardrobe got in the way and the flames caught my shoulder, setting my shirt on fire.

“Ah! What – oh God!”

I snatched a pillow from the bed and started smacking at my chest, trying to put out the flames; they were easily extinguished, but another flaming streamer hit me as soon as I put them out, and now my sleeve was on fire. Crying out, I blundered around helplessly before tripping over a pile of Sapphire’s discarded clothes and falling heavily onto a bag that seemed to be full of bricks. Gently smoking, I looked up at Sapphire’s grinning face with extreme distaste; the expression only deepened when the orange bird jumped onto my chest.

I tried to warn you, said Puck regretfully.

“Looks like you could use some training up,” Sapphire remarked. “And I’ve still got your ball, so I guess you’re mine.” She grinned broadly. “Cool. I have three Pokémon now!”

I groaned loudly. I’d escaped from the sinister clutches of Devon to end up as the property of an irritatingly confident young Traineress. I didn’t know which was worse; either way, I had to participate in a dangerous undertaking that could very well cost me my life.

Think of this as a career opportunity, Puck said helpfully. You were unemployed before, but now you have a steady job as a Trainer’s Pokémon.

Oh yeah. And I still had that goddamn Rotom in my head.

“You look burnt,” observed Sapphire, helping me up and recalling her Pokémon; unsteadily, I fell onto the bed. “I know!”

She bent down to rifle through the bag I’d fallen onto and pulled out a small spray bottle, the contents of which she emptied into my face. Rather than making my eyes burn, as I thought it might, I felt a soothing sensation of coolness wash through my body, and I sat up, revitalised.

“What was that?” I asked. Sapphire held up the bottle.

“Potion,” she replied. “You heal Pokémon with them.”

“I’m not a real Pokémon,” I began, but Sapphire cut me off.

“You’re enough of a Pokémon to be caught in a ball and healed by a Potion,” she said. “That makes you one in my book. Now, tell me more about these goods.”

“I don’t know what they are, you know that. Puck stole them from Devon last night, from what I gather, and Team Magma tried to steal them too – but Puck got there first. Now Devon have them again.”

“And my dad sent me to go get the goods for him,” added Sapphire, looking thoughtful. “So he was after them as well.”

“Unless you want to chase the Magmas or go back to Devon, then I guess you should ask your dad.”

Sapphire smiled sweetly.

“No, we are going to ask Dad,” she told me. “I won the battle, remember?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “about that. What type was that thing?”

“Torchic is a Fire-type,” she answered, “which is why your ThunderShock didn’t do more to it. You should have used Astonish to make her flinch before you attacked.”

“I don’t know this stuff, I’m no Trainer—”

“No, but you’re a Trainer’s Pokémon,” snapped Sapphire. “So shut up and start learning.”

“Hey, don’t—”

“Another thing,” Sapphire said. “I’m in control. You belong to me, Kester. Therefore, when I tell you to do something, just do it. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but Puck spoke:

Kester! Are you an idiot? This girl, in addition to being physically stronger than you, possesses Pokémon that are capable of annihilating us. Swallow your stupid adolescent pride and obey her.

For once, I listened to him; he was too obviously right. I shut my mouth.

“Good,” said Sapphire. “I suppose you did that because the Rotom told you to?”

“How did you—?”

“You’re too stupid to do it by yourself.”

She’s got you there, Puck chuckled. You are a prize idiot. But tell her I do have a name. I won’t have myself referred to as ‘the Rotom’.

“Puck would like to remind you he has a name,” I relayed monotonously. “But I strongly urge you to keep calling him ‘the Rotom’.”

“It must feel like the whole world’s against you,” mused Sapphire. “Devon, Magma, me, Puck – even your mum.” She grinned that quirky grin again. “But I don’t care about that. Come on,” she said, getting up. “We’re going to talk to my dad.”

Xilfer
January 20th, 2011, 08:07 AM
NOOOOOOOOO! I HATE CLIFFHANGERS! I NEEEEEED MORE...MAKE ANOTHER CHAPTER! PLEAAAAAASE!

Cutlerine
January 20th, 2011, 09:33 AM
Oh? There are actually people reading this? That's a first. For your kind patronage, I shall give you this promise that tomorrow there will be another chapter.

Cutlerine
January 21st, 2011, 12:27 AM
Chapter Five: A New Threat

“That must be it,” decided the first man in the red suit.

They had both been sitting in their current base, in the industrial district, for several hours now. Their plans had been thrown somewhat awry by the kid with the lightning fists, and they had spent their time thrashing out an explanation for it all.

What they had come up with thus far was this: the kid was the Rotom’s handler, who worked for Team Aqua. His offer to give them the bag had been a clever ploy, to throw them off-guard; in reality, he had ordered his Rotom to possess his watch so that it seemed as if he had no Pokémon to defend himself with. Then he had punched Goishi, and the Rotom had simultaneously ThunderShocked it, making it seem as if he had magical powers. This had sown confusion in their minds, and they had fled the scene like a couple of amateurs.

Both of them, and Goishi, were in perfect agreement: the boss could not know about this.

“We need to go after the kid,” said the second man (the mournful one). His name was Blake, though very few people cared.

“That’s true,” agreed the first man. His name was Fabien, and a slightly greater number of people cared about that.

“Eek ee-eeek,” concurred Goishi. Neither Fabien nor Blake could understand what Goishi said, but he was very vocal in their discussions nevertheless; he would bite them if they didn’t let him speak. Of the trio, he was the one who most people cared about: he had a girlfriend, a sleek Crobat named Stheno, who worked with another pair of Magmas and sent him letters every week.

“Where can we find the nearest Aqua safe houses?” Fabien wondered.

“There ain’t many ’ere,” Blake noted. “Devon’s men mostly ’ave this turf.”

“Eee-EE-ee-e-ek,” Goishi confirmed.

“That’s also true,” agreed Fabien. “And it wouldn’t be practical to keep the goods here, anyway. Devon would find them soon enough. They couldn’t take them down to Slateport to the big unit, since the Angels would pick them up there.”

“Must’ve fled south,” Blake agreed. “Petalburg or Littleroot.”

Fabien stood up and snapped his red-tinted sunglasses to his face.

“To the train station,” he cried, and looked about expectantly for Blake and Goishi to leap up. They got up slowly, grumbling, and Fabien recalled the Golbat in disgust. “You,” he told Blake, “will never make admin. You’ve got to talk all smooth, like a mafia kingpin, and you’ve got to have a sense of style.”

“I ain’t jumpin’ round for no reason,” Blake said in tones that brooked no argument, putting on his own sunglasses. “Now, let’s get on the kid’s tail.”

---

Trees, trees, trees; that was all I could see out of the windows, a blur of foliage as the train raced through the Petalburg Woods. Sapphire, being the daughter of a famous Professor, was pretty rich and had procured two tickets for the fast train from Rustboro to Littleroot. As she had explained, she was doing this as a favour to me – she could just as easily have kept me in my ball for the fifty-six-minute train ride.

She sat across from me in our otherwise vacant compartment, blue eyes boring into mine with an expression of triumph in them. By now, I wished I were back at Devon. Sapphire was one of the nastiest people it had ever been my misfortune to meet – even worse than the guy from that business last year.

You’re too judgmental, Puck told me. It’s just because you’re cross.

“Shut up,” I replied, mustering all of my available wit.

“Talking to him?” asked Sapphire. I nodded glumly.

“Why have you decided to ruin my life?” I asked plaintively. Sapphire looked vaguely surprised, as if she expected me to know.

“You’re so pathetic,” she told me. “Just. So. Pitiful.”

She has a point there.

“Don’t interrupt, Puck. Is that why?”

“I haven’t decided to ruin your life,” sighed Sapphire angrily. “I’ve saved you from your own monumentally stupid decision to go home to a mother who’d give you straight back to the company that kidnapped you.”

Put like that, her argument was quite convincing, and I had to concede that she had a point.

“You might have something there,” I admitted. “But – why do you have to be so horrible to me?”

“I’m not horrible,” protested Sapphire indignantly. “You’re just really difficult to work with.”

“It’s because I don’t want to be worked with.”

“You need to be worked with. If you don’t fight, you won’t get stronger; if you don’t get stronger, we haven’t got much chance of getting any further ahead with this mystery.”

“Here you go with the ‘we’.”

Kester! Puck snapped. For once, he sounded quite angry. You’re being inordinately rude and pig-headed! Accept you need this girl’s help, and that the only course of action available to you is to go with her, and just try to be nice, for once in your life.

Stunned into silence, I sat there for a moment, while Sapphire looked hurt, furious and confused at the same time.

“Why can’t you accept that this is the only way forwards for you?” Sapphire asked angrily. “There’s nothing else you could do other than go with me, even if I didn’t force you to!”

“That’s basically what Puck just told me,” I replied. “Except he told me I was rude and pig-headed, too.”

“He’s right, you are.” Sapphire looked at my forehead. “Thank you, Puck.”

I like her.

“Why are you both on the same side?” I asked. “It’s eight o’clock, I just want to go home and sleep...”

“Kester, get it into your thick head that you can’t. Just because you keep saying it doesn’t mean you can,” sighed Sapphire. “God, this is like talking to a three-year-old.”

It’s probably the head injury, and the stress. The combination can’t be doing you any good.

I told Sapphire what Puck had said, and she conceded that that might have something to do with it.

“But if that’s true, I’m only going to accept this sort of stupidity today,” she warned me. “If you’re like this tomorrow, I’m going to put you in your ball and throw you in a lake.”

“OK, OK.” I kneaded my forehead with the heel of one palm. “It’s just – I have no control at all. About anything that’s happened today. The clock breaking, Mum leaving early, the crash, Puck, being captured...”

For once, Sapphire didn’t snap at me, just looked at me with those big, blue eyes of hers. “It must have been horrible,” she said in the end, quietly.

“It has been.”

For a while, there was silence except for the rattling of the train tracks. Then:

Ask her what we’re going to do when we get to Littleroot for me.

I relayed Puck’s question.

“Go see my dad,” Sapphire replied. “Ask him about the goods.”

“Is that it?”

“Can’t plan any further ahead unless we have some more information,” Sapphire said reasonably.

“You’re planning on pursuing this further than just finding out about the goods?”

Seems sensible enough.

“Of course,” replied Sapphire, looking puzzled. “That’s what any Trainer would do.”

“Dear God,” I moaned. “You mean all Trainers are like you?”

“Pretty much,” she confirmed. I threw up my hands in despair.

“Why have I been admitted into this hellish world?” I cried theatrically. “Why couldn’t I have taken the bike this morning and not had a Rotom rammed into my brain? Why, why, why me?”

A short twinge of pain shot through my head.

Shut up, said Puck disparagingly. You’re beginning to annoy me – and I think you’re annoying Sapphire, too.

“Oh, sure, take her side,” I muttered, but went no further than that. Between them, Puck and Sapphire had a lot of power over me, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to irritate them.

The scenery had, at some point, changed to houses, and I realised that we had reached the outskirts of Petalburg. Halfway there, then; this train didn’t stop until it reached Littleroot, and didn’t go on the longer route via Oldale.

“Why are you so opposed to all this?” asked Sapphire.

“Because it’s dangerous,” I told her, in the same sort of voice I use when talking to small children or foreigners who don’t speak Hoennian. “This is going to get me killed.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Sapphire said, waving my concerns aside. “You’re the only person ever to be able to use the powers of a Pokémon; if either of the Teams or Devon gets hold of you, they’ll probably keep you alive to experiment on.”

“You honestly believe that’s reassuring?”

“It’s better than being dead, isn’t it?” she replied practically. “Besides, they won’t even get you, thanks to me. I’ll train you up, you’ll learn new moves, and you’ll easily take care of anyone who attacks us.”

“I got thrashed by a baby bird,” I said flatly.

“Yes, but that’s because you’re ignorant,” Sapphire said. “You don’t know anything about type match-ups except Electric is good against Flying, you know nothing about statuses or tactics or special abilities; I bet you’re the kind of guy who watches the Championship Tournaments for the explosions.”

It was true, but I didn’t have to like it. I glowered at Sapphire, and maintained a disgruntled silence for the rest of the journey.

---

“That’s him.” Fabien tapped the door gently, so as not to alert the occupants of the compartment.

“That it is,” agreed Blake. “Do we nobble ’im now?”

Both men were disguised, so as not to give away their identities as Magma grunts. Blake had turned his red suit inside out, revealing that it looked like an ordinary black one on the inside; he had also removed his sunglasses.

Fabien, for his part, had donned a long, tan-coloured trenchcoat and a snap-brimmed fedora in the style of the 1950s film noir detective. This was due to his so-called ‘sense of style’, and it made him, if anything, even more conspicuous.

“No,” said Fabien. “Think about it. We’re on a moving train; where do we escape to?”

Blake considered.

“We could,” he said at length, “climb onto the roof and—”

“No,” interrupted Fabien, “that sounds like a bad idea. What we’ll do is stalk him and his girlfriend to the Aqua safe house, then tail the guys who pick it up and steal the goods off them. That way, we get the location of an Aqua safe house, potentially the names of some Aqua administrators, and the goods.”

Blake looked at him admiringly.

“Now, that is a fine plan an’ no mistake,” he said. Fabien looked pleased with himself.

“I know,” he said. “Now, we’ll just get in this compartment next door, and wait.”

They did; however, it was full, and, apologising profusely, they backed out and looked for another. They were all occupied, and in the end they had to sit between a pair of old ladies who bounced astoundingly inane chatter back and forth between them at the same time as simultaneously knitting opposite ends of the same massive, multicoloured scarf. Next to these were a mother and her twin babies; these two were, despite the increasingly violent efforts of their mother, endeavouring to discover who could scream the loudest.

“—and I said to Ethel, I said—”

“What did you say, dear?

“—waaaaAAAhhaaaahaaaha—!”

“—sssshhh—”

“I said, ‘Ethel, I—’ – do listen, dear—”

“—please be quiet, Jonny, Jessie—”

“I am listening, dear—”

“—aaAAAAAaaahaaaahAAAahaa—!”

“—I’m sorry, I thought you weren’t. I said, ‘Ethel, I—’”

“—aaaaaAAAaaaahh! WaaaahhhAAAhha—!”

“SHUT THE HELL UP!”

“What did you say to Ethel, dear? I didn’t hear—”

“I said, ‘Ethel, I—’”

Fabien looked at Blake, and Blake looked at Fabien, and together they gritted their teeth.

It was to be a long trip.

---

Littleroot’s main train station was small, dingy, and had two hobos warming their hands over a small fire in a trash can. We didn’t linger there any longer than we had to, and Sapphire led me through the streets to Birch’s lab.

“Actually,” she said, “I’d better show you my two old Pokémon, since they’re now your colleagues.”

I was about to say something, but Puck advised otherwise.

Don’t say that, he said. I can’t believe you just thought of that. Such foul words ill befit a maiden’s ears.

“I don’t know about English girls,” I murmured angrily, “but Hoennians have heard plenty worse.”

I know. It’s the same in England, too; I’m just a bit of a traditionalist, I guess. Still, don’t say it – it’s extremely rude to mention that sort of thing to a lady.

Leaving aside the thorny issue of whether or not Sapphire constituted a lady – she did, after all, spend most of her time beating up wild animals in forests – I nodded at Sapphire, who took the two balls from her belt and dropped them. The orange bird from before appeared, and a strange little beast with stubby legs and a huge, iron head with big, liquid blue eyes. The two Pokémon scampered around Sapphire’s legs before settling into a steady pace beside her.

“This,” Sapphire said, indicating the bird, “is Toro. She’s a Torchic, which is a Fire-type. She’s very rare and was a present from my dad for starting my journey with.”

“OK,” I said, giving Toro a wary glance. The bird looked vapidly back at me; I don’t think she remembered who I was. “What does Fire-type mean?”

“Fire-types have to do with fire, stupid. They’re weak to Water-type attacks, obviously, and also to Rock- and Ground-type moves.”

“OK. I’m going to forget that, but OK. Who’s this guy?” I indicated the metal-headed thing.

“This is Rono,” Sapphire said. “He’s an Aron, a Rock/Steel type. I've had him since I was little. Both the Rock and the Steel types are very defensive, so he’s good at taking hits, but has severe weaknesses to Fighting- and Ground- type moves.”

“So your team is screwed over by Ground-types?” I stated, as we rounded a corner and edged our way around Littleroot’s famous roundabout network.

“Uh... at the moment, yes,” admitted Sapphire. “Especially with you added. The Electric-type is weak to Ground, too.”

Ah, put in Puck, sounding pleased with himself. Rotom float, you see, so we’re immune to Ground-type attacks.

“Puck says Rotom float and are immune to Ground-type attacks.”

Sapphire looked at my feet, which were planted firmly on the ground.

“Well, you’d better learn to float then,” she said shortly, and led me down Littleroot’s main street, which was mostly pedestrianised. By ‘mostly’, I mean that it was, but the rules weren’t always strictly observed, and every so often a car would burst, horn blaring, through the crowds of pedestrians, taking a shortcut to try and cheat the one-way network. It didn’t work, of course; the system was designed to thwart that kind of cheating.

We kept to the side of the street, staying out of the way of the crowds, and so we made reasonably good progress; in fifteen minutes, we reached the large, blocky building that was one of Hoenn’s most famous landmarks: the Birch Pokémon Lab.

“It’s a bit... dull,” I said, staring at it. It looked like a large concrete shoebox with windows.

“It’s old,” replied Sapphire. “They built it in the sixties.”

She walked up to the door, which was made of steel and deeply inset, as if designed to withstand a nuclear explosion; there was a small window made of bulletproof glass next to it, and she waved at a vacuous-looking man through this. He blinked and pressed a button; something buzzed and the door clicked. Sapphire pushed it open, and pointed me in.

The inside of the Lab was tiled with slabs of pale ceramic as large as paving-stones; these covered the walls and ceilings, and gave me the unwelcome feeling that I was back in the Poké Ball. It seemed to be one huge room, but towering bookcases and large, abstruse machines divided it into smaller segments, each little area containing various piles of books, humming computers and ancient cups of coffee. It was like a hospital crossed with my bedroom.

From the dark recesses of the Lab came the growls, whines and chirps of various captive Pokémon; I recognised the pugnacious shrilling of a Taillow, but that was about it.

“Come on,” Sapphire said. “Dad’ll be in here somewhere, I hope.”

“You hope?” I queried, following her between two precariously balanced stacks of CDs, each about nine feet tall.

“He’s out all the time doing fieldwork,” she replied. “I used to go with him, until I convinced him I could be a good Trainer, too.”

“Is that why you’ve only just started?”

“Yes,” replied Sapphire, looking cross. “I did want to start when I was ten. But he needed me to help him.”

“What about all these aides?” I gestured left and right at the men and women in white lab coats who stood in the corners, rotating slowly on their own axes.

“Do they look like they’re any use?” asked Sapphire disgustedly. “Talk to one.”

I did.

“Hi,” I said.

“Prof. Birch is studying the habitats and distribution of Pokémon,” he told me. “The Prof. enjoys May’s help, too. There’s a lot of love there.”

“O-K,” I said, backing away from his vapid grin slowly. “I see what you mean.”

“They’re all like that – don’t even know my name. Bad reactions to some PoisonPowder or something.”

I didn’t know what that was, but I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of knowing that.

It’s a highly toxic dust given off by certain Pokémon, Puck said. From a Tangela, it’d make you sick; from a Shroomish, it’d melt your brain. He sighed. I really hope I don’t just become your dictionary of battling terms.

“Hey, here he is,” Sapphire said, rounding a tall pillar of mysterious computing apparatus. “Dad!”

Prof Birch was broad and flat, like a piece of paper, and he had a small head and short, powerful limbs. He was also much taller than he looked on TV, and was currently engaged in poking a green and beige kangaroo with a stick through the bars of its cage. He looked up at Sapphire’s words.

“Sapphy!” he cried, dropping his stick and rushing forwards to hug her. Neatly sidestepping him, Sapphire pulled out the letter from her pocket and thrust it under his nose.

“What do you mean by this?” she demanded. Birch winced and drew back, and I felt a surge of sympathy for him. It seemed I wasn’t the only one Sapphire overpowered.

“Er – what is it?” he asked, taking the letter from her.

“You know what it is,” she snapped. “The letter you sent me to take to Devon’s President. The one that says I’m a courier for Angel Laboratories.”

Birch recoiled as if stung.

“Ah – Sapphy – you don’t get it—”

“Then tell me!”

Birch sighed and sat down heavily on a nearby crate. The green kangaroo Pokémon watched his discomfort with savage pleasure, much as I would have watched Darren Goodwin being burned alive.

“A couple of Team Aqua grunts came around and told me that if I didn’t get you to get whatever it was from Devon, they’d release a Carvanha in here and let it destroy everything. And eat me.”

Sapphire looked stunned, and turned to me.

“They’re after them too,” she said. “What the hell can be in that bag?”

Haven’t the foggiest, Puck reminded me.

“I don’t know,” I replied, ignoring him, “and if you remember, I don’t really want to.”
Birch looked at me in vague confusion.

“Who’s this?”

“My new Po – partner in crime,” Sapphire told him, “just ignore him. The important thing is these Team Aqua guys. What did they tell you to do with the goods once I gave them to you?”

“They said they’d come back tomorrow to get them,” replied Birch. “Sorry, I didn’t get your name?”

“Kester Ruby,” I said, wondering why he was so calm.

And Robin Goodfellow, at your service.

“He can’t hear you,” I murmured under my breath.

I know, but good manners don’t cost a thing.

“Who are you, my grandmother?” I blinked and returned my attention to Birch.

“I’m Professor Birch,” he said, “but you can call me Alan.” He held out a hand and I shook it; I think I accidentally electrocuted him a little, because he withdrew sharply with a yelp.

“Sorry,” I ad-libbed with a smile. “Static.”

That’s not actually my ability, said Puck, but never mind.

“Dad! What about Team Aqua?” Sapphire demanded, and Birch turned back to her with a sigh.

“Sapphy, it’ll be fine. Just give them the goods tomorrow, and we’ll be fine. No one will eat me or destroy my Lab.”

Sapphire looked at me. I looked at Sapphire.

“You did bring the goods, didn’t you?” Birch sounded worried.

No one said anything.

“Oh God,” said Birch, putting his head in his hands, “I’m going to die.”

---

Little has been said of the man and the woman who exited that overheated living-room in the small hours of that morning. They were just as important as Blake and Fabien – which is to say, not very – and they also wore coloured suits. In their case, they were a deep ultramarine, rather than the red of the Magmas.

At the moment, they were attempting to negotiate Littleroot’s famous one-way road system.

Originally a large roundabout at the centre of town, subsidiary roundabouts had been added to it, and then a few subsidiary subsidiary ones; at this point, it had been felt that some straight roads ought to be added, so that people didn’t get dizzy, and so they had been. The council had spread them across town with the crazed fervour of a drunken spider building a particularly convoluted cobweb; so confusing did they become that the entirety of central Littleroot was converted into a one-way network, in order to make things easier.

Needless to say, it made them much, much harder.

“You should have turned right there,” said Felicity, pointing at a road that was rapidly dwindling into the distance.

“Shut up,” growled Barry, a vein twitching in his temple. “I know where I’m going.”

“Men,” sighed Felicity, leaning back in her seat and twirling a strand of her hair between her fingers. “You can never admit you’re wrong, can you?”

“Shut up, woman.”

At the respectable age of forty, Barry was as manly as they come in the underworld; six foot eleven and muscled like an Ursaring, he held matters of honour and fighting spirit close to his heart, and a healthy disregard for all women even closer. How a man who had a personal code of honour came to be a common crook is a story in its own, but not one that anyone would care to read.

Felicity was almost his exact opposite: a slim, willowy woman of tender years, headstrong and devious; she would rather have worked for herself instead of her current employer, but Kester Ruby was not the only one who had ever had a bad day, and as a result of one of those she was not able to leave the organisation at the moment. In a flagrant breach of uniform rules, she continually wore a single large, stylish grey headphone, which appeared not to be connected to anything.
The two were utterly incompatible – and as such, fate had ordained that they become partners. Barry would complain about the music that leaked faintly from Felicity’s headphones, and Felicity would complain about Barry’s misogyny; it was a relationship that hinged on mutual hatred.

Right now, Felicity was enjoying herself at Barry’s expense.

“I could drive,” she said slyly. “You could rest your old bones for a bit in the passenger seat.”

“Are you even old enough to drive?” rumbled Barry furiously.

“Irrelevant,” replied Felicity. “The point is I can drive. Something that you’re struggling to do.”

“I can do it, woman.”

“You said that an hour ago.”

“Shut up,” growled Barry again, his stock of responses exhausted.

The car turned a corner and slid onto the main roundabout again. Barry gave an incoherent roar of rage and slammed his head into the steering wheel. This would have set the horn blaring, but he had broken it some time ago doing just this.

“That’s good for neither the car nor your head,” observed Felicity. “So don’t do it, because the car isn’t yours.”

Barry made a noise similar to a volcano that was thinking of erupting. Felicity smirked.
They drove around the roundabout, navigating the tricky mini-roundabouts that were dotted around its rim, and shot off down another street towards the east.

“This is the right way,” Barry said triumphantly.

Felicity glanced at the map spread out on her knees, which was a mess of ‘One Way’ arrows and black lines, and raised her thin eyebrows.

“Sure,” she replied.

Barry drove around a corner, and they emerged where they had started again, on the roundabout.

Roar. Slam. Drive around again.

“Don’t want to rush you,” Felicity said, “but we need to be there before noon. That’s when the goods arrive.”

“I know,” growled Barry. The car clock read 11.43. Felicity raised her eyebrows again.

“Just making sure, big guy.”

“I said we would be there at twelve, and we’ll be there at twelve. Leave me alone, woman!”

There was now a pause, broken only by the forlorn cries of trapped commuters, and the faint warble of music.

“Turn the damn music off,” Barry commanded.

“I don’t take orders from you.” Felicity gave him a belligerent look that made her seem especially attractive; angered at this underhand assault on his nature as a man, Barry gripped the steering wheel so hard the plastic cracked with an audible snap.

“Turn the music off, woman!”

“I have a name, you misogynistic jerk.”

“And I have my pride as a man! Now turn the music off!”

Felicity smiled, which made her look like a cat; it was this that had earned her her current name.

“Ah, the ‘manly pride’ thing again.”

“Shut up, woman.”

Felicity threw her hands up in the air.

“And back to square one.”

The car drove into the central roundabout nexus again, and Barry roared like a bull as Felicity started sniggering.

---

It had taken a lot of effort to stop Birch fleeing the town that night; having had the situation explained to her, his wife – who seemed of a similar disposition to Sapphire – had told him that he was going to stay and sort it out or she would eat him.

I’d stayed the night there, thankfully as a human guest and not in my Poké Ball; apparently, it was fairly common for Trainers to form small groups, and neither Birch nor his wife commented on my presence with Sapphire. The only thing that was asked – in between Birch’s fretting about the Team Aqua hitmen – was what Pokémon I had; I had replied ‘Rotom’, and instantly drew a storm of questions from Birch, eager to see a rare Pokémon. It was only with Sapphire’s help that I’d managed to avoid having to show him.

Now, Sapphire, Birch and I sat on crates at the back of the Lab, next to the green kangaroo thing, which I now noticed appeared to be wearing a large hat. We’d had to leave the house to escape Sapphire’s mother, who I had realised wasn’t at all like Sapphire – she was worse.

“I should have skipped town,” Birch worried. “They’re going to kill me...”

“Shut up, Dad,” snapped Sapphire. “It’s fine. There are two Trainers here; we’ll match their numbers, beat them up and send them on their way.”

“Yeah,” I said, “about that—”

“God, you’re as bad as he is,” Sapphire groaned.

For once, Puck said, I think I agree with you. You can’t use enough of my powers to be able to fight a Carvanha, and Sapphire’s team is very weak to Water.

“Puck says—” I stopped and looked at Birch, who was muttering prayers and hadn’t noticed. “Puck says,” I whispered to Sapphire, “that I can’t use enough of his powers to fight Carvanha yet. And that you won’t be able to because you’re weak to Water.”

“Water!” cried Birch, having picked up on the last word. “Oh, great! Carvanha are Water/Dark-type; if they do come with one – which they will – it’ll beat Toro and Roboy easily, Sapphy!”

“Yeah, Sapphy,” I agreed slyly. “Too dangerous. We should get out of here.” Sapphire gave me a look that stopped my heart for three whole seconds, though whether she was angry because I’d sided with Birch or because I’d called her ‘Sapphy’ was unclear.

“The boy speaks sense,” Birch said, slapping me firmly on the back and almost knocking me off the crate. “You know a lost cause when you see one!”

“I try,” I said modestly.

“Although,” continued Birch, not listening to me, “you have a Rotom, right? Half Electric-type!”

Tell him also half Ghost!

“Also half Ghost,” I said, trying to sound knowing. Birch looked very impressed.

“Quite right, quite right,” he said, stroking his beard. “I see your point. Right! Kester, Sapphy, we’re leaving town!” He leaped to his feet, and Sapphire tripped him up with one extended leg, eliciting riotous wheezy laughter from the kangaroo-thing.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said forcefully. Birch climbed to his feet and sat back down ruefully.

“I bet you didn’t want to get involved in this ‘Devon goods’ business either, did you?” he asked me. I shook my head, and Birch lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Sapphy’s always like this. Very stubborn, and very, er, belligerent.”

“I can hear you,” said Sapphire, sounding bored. “I’m right here.” She flipped a mobile phone from her pocket and checked the time on it. “You said they were coming at noon?”

“Yes.”

“They should be here... now.”

There was a knock at the door, and then a click and buzz. Birch had sent all his assistants, including the one at the door, home for the day to keep them out of the way.

“Hello?” called a young female voice. “Professor?”

Birch and I peered around the edge of the bookcase that shielded us from view, and saw a woman in a blue suit standing near the door. She wore, incongruously, a single grey headphone on one ear that didn’t seem to be connected to anything, and had very straight, snow-white hair that fell to her waist. I stared at her, for three reasons: one, she looked like a movie star; two, she was easily the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes upon; and three, she looked like she wasn’t any older than me.

Hey, look, a pretty girl with elements of character design! cried Puck. I just bet she’s a main character.

I ignored him – he wasn’t talking sense anyway – and was just working up the courage to get up and speak when Sapphire rudely pushed Birch and I into her line of sight. Sprawled inelegantly on the floor, we stared up at the intruder, then I hissed to Birch:

“Is she one of the Aquas?”

“Who’s ‘she’, the cat’s mother?” asked the white-haired girl irritably. “Get up, Professor, and your goon as well.”

“Goon!” Indignantly, I leaped up; Puck chuckled softly in my head. “Who are you calling a goon?”

“Stop it,” said Sapphire quellingly, stepping out and giving her father a hand up. “That won’t get us anywhere.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the intruder. “A woman! At last, I can have an intelligent discussion with someone.”

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire, “sorry about my friend. And my dad,” she added, grabbing his arm as he tried to slide back behind the bookcase. She pulled him back out again. “I assume you’re here for the Devon goods.”

The Aqua girl sighed.

“I would be,” she said, “but I’m waiting for my partner. He insisted on driving, so I walked.” Sapphire smiled, evidently sympathising; I glared at her, but it didn’t have nearly as strong an effect on her as her death-stare had had on me. “He has the Carvanha,” the Aqua girl added by way of explanation.

“What do you have?” asked Sapphire, evidently seeing possibilities open up.

“A shotgun,” replied the Aqua, pulling one out from behind her back. “So don’t think about doing anything stupid. We’re going to sit here until my stupid partner arrives, then you’re going to give us the goods. Then we’ll leave, and you’ll all get to live.” She smiled, and it was like a frozen rainbow had just appeared; I forgot all about the gun and stared at her, rapt.

Guard your thoughts, Kester, warned Puck. I suspect you haven’t got any wish for me to see them right now and I don’t want you broadcasting them to me either.

I coughed, embarrassed, and tried to think of things that weren’t the Aqua girl.

Why are there monkey wrenches and feathers dancing before my eyes? Is this how humans reproduce? If so, that’s nast—

“Puck! Please, don’t say any more!” I begged, then realised that everyone was staring at me. “Er, sorry. Just... talking to myself.”

The Aqua girl narrowed her eyes and tilted her head to one side; faint strains of music escaped her headphones.

“Right,” she said. “What’s your name?”

Startled that this vision would actually condescend to talk to me—

You’re getting near that thought again—

—I fumbled for a response:

“Er, um... Kester.”

“Unusual,” she said. “I’ll remember that name.”

There was the sound of squealing brakes outside, then some deep, Northern cursing, like they have in the cop movies from Fallarbor.

“Here’s my partner,” the girl sighed. “I apologise for him in advance.”

The door slammed against the wall, and a massive man, even taller, broader and more muscular than Professor Birch, burst in, glowing with fury.

“Those roads!” he roared, picking up a nearby computer and throwing it unnecessarily into the wall, turning it into scrap. His partner winced.

“We aren’t here to trash the place, big guy,” she said, and he swung around to face her; his shout of rage died on his lips when he saw the shotgun, and he coughed hastily.

“Right,” he said, turning to us. “Hand over the goods, Professor!”

Birch looked like he wished the ground would swallow him up.

“Er...”

“We refuse to hand them over,” Sapphire said authoritatively. “We won’t aid you, Team Aqua!”

The two Aquas looked surprised; within a second, though, the huge guy had recovered, and one of his hands dived into his pocket, to re-emerge a second later clutching a Poké Ball.

“I’m warning you!” he shouted. I don’t think he could speak normally, only growl, shout or roar. “Hand over the goods or the Carvanha gets released.”

“Ugh. So brutish,” said the Aqua girl absently. “Get on with it, please. I’m going to need to charge my headphones soon.”

“Please!” cried Birch. “Don’t kill me! I – we don’t even have the goods!”

“Hah! You can’t fool me,” growled the big man triumphantly. “Your daughter’s here, isn’t she? So she must have come back to deliver the goods!”

“What kind of logic is that?” cried Sapphire. “And Dad, I was trying to bluff!”

Now’s the perfect time to say ‘You know, this isn’t exactly how I imagined an encounter with the mafia would go’, if you’re interested, Puck remarked.

“You know,” I said, never too proud to take good advice when it was offered, “this isn’t exactly how I imagined an encounter with the mafia would go.”

The Aqua girl and Sapphire exchanged glances and delivered twin withering death-stares; I staggered back a step under the combined assault and cursed Puck, who was laughing heartily.

Oh, that was good, he managed in between chuckles. You are so gullible.

“Just give us the goods,” sighed the Aqua girl.

“I’ll be honest with you,” I said, trying to regain some standing amongst the group. “We don’t have the goods. We found out that Birch’s letter was a front to steal the goods, and just came back here to find out what was up.”

“So you don’t have them?” the man demanded to know.

“No.” Birch and I smiled weakly. “Sorry,” we said simultaneously.

He gave a grin that belied both his lack of intellect and the brutal rage that simmered behind his eyes.

“Fine,” he snarled, dropping the ball.

And Hell with teeth exploded out of it.

Note With regards to the pronunciation of Goishi - you could say Go-ishi or Goi-shi, whichever. I tend to use both.

Cutlerine
January 23rd, 2011, 12:35 AM
Sorry. I think I write too fast.

Chapter Six: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

“I ’ave to ’and it to yer,” said Blake, “you’ve done all righ’ this time, aintcha?”

It took Fabien a moment or two to work out what his partner meant, then he nodded agreeably.

“Yes. They’re right here. I expect the exchange is happening as we speak.”

“We just need to tail ’em when they come out.” Blake nodded at the black car parked at an angle on the pavement a few metres away.

“Goishi will do that. He’s fastest.”

The Golbat nodded, which in his case meant bowing; his chin was more or less the same thing as his waist.

“EE-e-E-eek,” he said.

“You said it,” Fabien told him.

Eyes on the door and minds full of dreams of promotion, the trio of Magmas settled down to wait.

---

Duck!

“Duck!”

“Duck!”

Puck, Birch and Sapphire all shouted it at exactly the same time and we dived for cover behind a rack of thick manila files; a blue-red blur shot past above us a split second later, for all the world as if it were a streak of summer lightning.

“Puck!” hissed Sapphire. “Toro and FR can’t do this – guide Kester through it!”

Will do, replied the Rotom. OK, Kester, time to get moving.

“What?” I cried, but it was too late; Sapphire pushed me out into the main area of the lab. I heard a whoosh behind me and threw myself to the floor, scattering papers everywhere, as what seemed to be a set of serrated fangs propelled by rocket engines zoomed by.

Get up, Kester! We need to concentrate to take on this one!

“That’s it!” Birch encouraged. “Now, your Rotom!”

“Rotom?” roared the giant Aqua man. “It’s him! He’s the Magma thief!”

At the sound of its Trainer’s voice, the fanged blur paused in midair, and I got a quick glimpse of a round body, blue-backed and red-bellied, with long, jagged yellow fins and shiny red eyes before it swivelled around to face me and disappeared in a flash of metallic grey light—

—and reappeared to ram me savagely in the ribs, knocking into a pile of books that offered no support at all. I stumbled back onto my feet, and realised that I felt, oddly, fine.

“What was—?”

We resist Steel moves, said Puck tersely. Get some cover and retaliate!

I leaped behind a bookcase as the monster slammed into the other side.

“Puck? Help?”

OK, first up, Carvanha are fast.

“I hadn’t noticed!” I cried, hurling a ThunderShock at the fanged thing as it exploded through the bookcase, sending a cascade of literature to the floor; I was too slow, and missed it by a mile. It executed a U-turn and sped towards me again, teeth shredding the air before it.

And they know a move called Bite, Puck continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. It’s super-effective against Ghosts – so don’t let it bite us, or we’re out, game over.

“I wasn’t intending to,” I hissed as the Carvanha rammed into a computer next to me, destroying it and starting a small fire.

“Finish it before it destroys the lab!” shouted Sapphire.

Somewhere in the distance, the Aqua girl laughed. It was a very beautiful laugh, I mused; it brought to mind delicate harpsichord music, and angelic choi—

The Carvanha smashed directly into my face.

For a second, I had the weird sensation of being a bubble, and then it was gone – had passed clean through me as if I weren’t there.

Or as if I had been a ghost.

“What the—?”

Rage, interrupted Puck. Normal-type move, hence we’re immune to it, seeing as we’re Ghost. He won’t make the same mistake again, get moving!

Slightly dazed, I discarded the ruined bookcase that had formerly sheltered me and stepped out into the open central aisle of the lab, where the Carvanha was spinning around like a top, looking very confused.

“What just happened?” asked Birch, who sounded even more confused. “Did it just—?”

“Quiet, Dad.”

Now! While it’s confused from going through you!

I raised a hand and the blue lightning of ThunderShock spun across the room; a split second before it would have connected, the Carvanha regained its senses and sped off in the direction of the two Aquas, destroying a ceiling light as it went.

Damn it! One good hit will kill it – they have poor defences, and they’re weak to Electric – but it’s too fast!

“I know, I know!” I replied, aiming a series of ThunderShocks at the fleeing Carvanha’s blurred form. “I can see, you know!”

The Carvanha circled the two Aquas – who looked as shocked and confused as Birch, the shotgun hanging forgotten at the girl’s side – and zoomed back at me, snapping its jaws like castanets, expelling little puffs of dark smoke with each bite.

This is it! This is Bite – and you die if this connects!

I yelped and threw myself to the side; having anticipated this, the Carvanha swung around to face me, and I ducked behind a cage containing a blue fishy thing. My pursuer crashed into it, denting the bars inwards and setting the fish-thing screaming. Breathing hard, I shot lightning between the bars, aiming for the red, dazed eye I could see beyond—

—only to hit the fish-thing between the eyes, sending it flying backwards into the bars of its cage, unconscious.

“Oops.”

This isn’t working! Let me think, let me think...

The Carvanha tried to move over the cage, but went too fast and slammed into the far wall; as an attack, this was quite effective, because it broke a shelf and sent enough boxes and books crashing down to completely bury me.

Thrashing around in the mess, bruised and aching all over, I felt my hand brush against something like sandpaper; ignoring the pain, I tried to ThunderShock it, but it broke away and then returned, slamming into my hand and snapping the bones in it like twigs.

What I said next was a mixture of a scream and a curse; what Puck said was this:

Kester, I’ve worked out how to beat him.

Trying to ignore the pain in my throbbing hand, I broke the surface of the sea of debris and saw the Carvanha circling like a shark; I raised my good hand and shot a ThunderShock at it to buy us some time. The strategy worked and it fled back to the central aisle of the Lab.

“Talk to me,” I gasped, pulling myself back to my feet.

At your level, you should be able to use three more moves of mine other than Astonish and ThunderShock, Puck said, very quickly, Trick, Confuse Ray and Thunder Wave.

“Which one do I need?” I asked, spotting the Carvanha coming back. I charged at it, which seemed to surprise it; however, it countered this competently by rising a foot into the air so that I ran straight past underneath it and crashed into a bookcase. I then felt it ram me in the back again, knocking me to the floor, but no teeth drove into me and I knew I’d escaped its Bite.

I rolled over, pinning it beneath me, but it broke free, shredding the back of my jacket with its file-like skin and rising into the air above me, clacking its teeth.

Thunder Wave. It’s like ThunderShock, but weaker, and more difficult – it just paralyses the opponent, slo—

“Slowing them down,” I breathed, rolling to the left as the Carvanha’s thick skull ruptured the pale tiles where my head had been a moment before. “So I can hit it...” I leaped up and took three steps back from the Carvanha as it rose back into the air. “How do I use it?”

“I think he’s insane as well as impossible,” said the big Aqua man in hushed, awed, tones, listening to me talk to myself. His partner didn’t reply – she was busy staring at me as if she’d seen a ghost.

Good pun, Puck complimented. Right, Thunder Wave is just... I guess the only way you can learn is by trying it out. Now!

The Carvanha rushed towards me, and while I leaped aside I tried to create a Thunder Wave; all that happened is that a few sparks rippled off my fingers, and the Carvanha passed by so closely that its rough skin ripped about three millimetres of skin from my fingertips.

The pain was excruciating, a thousand times worse than breaking my other hand; I’d never felt anything that bad before. I recoiled, sucking my bleeding fingers, and was too slow to react to the Carvanha’s next attack: a charge followed by a Bite to the shoulder.

Puck was almost right; I didn’t quite die, but I felt blackness crawl across my vision, and when it cleared I was lying on the floor, the Carvanha drawing back above me for another one.

Kester, Puck said grimly, we can’t take another one of them – Kester? Kester, are you listening?

I couldn’t think. My mind was paralysed; I learned later that this was the flinching effect that Bite causes.

Move, Kester! Puck sounded desperate. The Carvanha began to fall towards my face, mouth gaping wide. It’s a miracle we survived one Bite, but two—

“Got it,” I said suddenly, the Carvanha a foot from my face, and raised my bleeding hand. A shimmering ring of blue lightning appeared; the Carvanha looked alarmed, desperately tried to stop, failed and crashed helplessly into the Wave. Every muscle in its body tensed simultaneously and then relaxed and it fell, limp, onto my chest.

I sighed and sat up. The room was covered in a thick layer of dead silence; every single person was staring at me in shock. I glanced at the Carvanha on my chest, and did a double take.

“Puck,” I said, “this is a fish.”

Yes? Just zap it, quick!

“But how was it flying?”

Carvanha travel at incredible speeds, Puck informed me. Fast enough to become airborne when removed from water.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “Then again, nothing has done for quite some time now.”

I stood up slowly, letting the Carvanha fall to the floor, then took careful aim and ThunderShocked it five times. When the smoke had cleared, I kicked its twitching body back to the Aqua grunts.

Once was enough to knock it out, Kester.

“Don’t care,” I told him. Then, to the Aquas: “Now, take your damn flying fish and get out before I get any angrier.”

It seemed they’d forgotten they had a shotgun, because they did exactly what I told them to. I watched them leave, then turned around to face Sapphire and Birch across the trashed lab. They were still peering at me from behind the rack of folders.

“Sapphire,” I said tiredly, every bruise, break and cut throbbing like mad, “have I ever told you exactly how much I hate you for getting me into this mess?”

Red light pulsed beneath my eyelids, and I sat down with a sigh on the cold steel floor of the Master Ball.

Talk about gratitude, Puck said disgustedly, and that was the last I heard before I passed out from the pain.

---

“Get ready, Goishi,” whispered Fabien. “Here they come!”

The two Aqua grunts emerged from the Lab; the big one looked vaguely shell-shocked, and the little one faintly angry. They came up to the car, found it had been clamped for improper parking and started arguing.

“Huh?” Fabien’s smile slipped. This was not what he thought would happen.

In the end, the two Aquas parted ways: the girl walked off down the street to take the train, and the man, in an impressive and probably impossible display of strength, ripped the clamp off the car wheel – something that caused Goishi to have grave misgivings about following him.

“Ee-ee-EE-eek?” he demanded in a furious whisper. Unsure of what he meant, Fabien decided to interpret it as a query about which Aqua to follow.

“You just follow the big one,” he told the Golbat, “and we’ll follow the girl – ow!”

At this, Goichi had wrapped his enormous tongue around Fabien’s arm and tightened it with all the force of a python suffocating its prey. Aware that he was in imminent danger of having the bones of that arm reduced to dust, Fabien thought up a new plan.

“All right,” he said, wincing in pain, “you follow the girl, and we’ll follow the big guy. Right, Blake?”

His partner did not seem happy with the arrangement, but gave a sullen nod. Goishi released Fabien’s arm and flapped off after the Aqua girl.

“Right, then,” said Fabien with relief. “Come on, Blake.” The two Magmas got up and crept over to the road, keeping crouched behind the Lab’s low boundary wall.

“’Ow’re we followin’ that guy when ’e’s got a car?” asked Blake sourly. Fabien paused, momentarily thrown. Then his eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers, just as the Aqua grunt drove off.

Fabien jumped to his feet and flagged down a convenient taxi.

“Blake,” he called, “I need your gun.”

Blake stood up, gun aimed through the taxi’s windscreen at the spot between the driver’s eyes; at this, the cabbie decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and, leaping from his vehicle, ran off down the street.

“I ’ave to say, Fabien,” Blake said, as they got in and began to drive, “you do ’ave some good ideas. You get things done.”

“Why thank you,” replied Fabien modestly. “Now – follow that car!”

---

I woke up to find myself blissfully free of pain, and apparently floating. I lay with my eyes shut for a while, pondering the situation, and decided that there were two possible explanations: I was on a lot of morphine, or I was dead. At that moment, either seemed OK.

Open your eyes, Puck said. They’ve been shut for hours, and I’m bored.

I grimaced. Not dead then, or Puck would be gone. With the utmost reluctance, I opened my eyes to see that I was on the bed in the guest room where I had spent the night. I sat up and looked at my hands to see why they were so very much not painful, and was pleasantly surprised to see there wasn’t the slightest trace of any injuries on them.

A Full Restore, Puck told me. Good stuff, that. Fixes you right up.

“What do Pokémon do in the wild?” I asked, pushing open the door and stumbling downstairs.

If they’re lucky, they might survive injuries like that. More often than not, they either can’t hunt properly and starve or become easy prey for predators.

“Tough life,” I commented, scratching my head.

Depends. If you’re a Ghost or a Psychic, you’re usually smart or intangible enough to survive most situations.

“Kester?” It was Birch, coming out of the living room to see what was going on. “You’re all right?”

“As much as I ever will be while I’m still enslaved to your daughter,” I said, more bitterly than I intended. He looked rather taken aback. “Sorry. That sounded less vicious in my head.”

“Er... OK. Come in and sit down. Sapphire’s told us everything.”

The Birch family were seated on the sofas, Sapphire looking vaguely put-upon and her mother looking very disbelieving.

“Aha!” she said, upon spotting me. “You’re the boy who Sapphy insists fought off a Carvanha with your bare hands?”

“Yes,” I replied warily. From the look in her eyes, I thought she might go for my throat.

“That isn’t true, is it?” she asked. “That can’t be true.”

My brain crashed for a moment while I tried to imagine how pig-headed she must have been to not believe it even when Sapphire brought me home battered and sparking like a faulty television; I recovered half a second later and smiled congenially.

“It is true,” I contradicted her. “I blasted it with my super powers.”

I wiggled my fingers and sparks dripped from them to fizzle out in midair. She stared at me in disbelief, then shut her eyes tightly and started counting down from one hundred.

“Er... sit down,” Birch encouraged me. I did, sliding into the space between Sapphire and the armrest of the sofa.

“Is – is your wife all right?” I asked him, concerned. He sighed.

“Sometimes I wonder,” he replied. “No, she’s fine. This is her way of dealing with uncontrollable things outside her area of expertise.”

I didn’t see how her behaviour would help, but didn’t say anything.

Obviously, she hopes they’ll have gone away again by the time she opens her eyes, Puck said. Honestly. What do they teach them in the schools these days?

“Don’t reference allegory disguised as children’s fantasy in my head!” I muttered angrily under my breath. “It makes me mad.”

How can you justify that stance? And how do you get that reference, but not know who Sherlock Holmes is? What is wrong with you?

I chose to ignore him and the inconsistencies in my knowledge of English literature, and instead make conversation with Sapphire and Birch.

“So,” I said brightly. “We’ve driven off the bad guys now. Sapphy, what say you to calling an end to this insanity?”

She drove an elbow viciously into my ribs in such a way that Birch didn’t see; it hurt almost as much as having my fingertips ground off by the Carvanha’s rough flank.

He’s not exaggerating. Puck winced. These little pain receptor thingies are firing off like crazy. Gives me a headache.

“No,” Sapphire said. “We still don’t know what those goods are.”

“Devon have them,” I pointed out. “They’ll get to Angel Laboratories, neither Team will get hold of them – it’s all good.”

“Er – Sapphy – I agree with Kester,” Birch put in. Sapphire looked at us both in disgust.

“You spend most of your time outside poking dangerous wild animals with sticks,” she told her father. “How can you be afraid of a challenge? Besides, you don’t have to come. This is the sort of thing Trainers do, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” I asked. “Really? I’ve never heard anything about this.”

Sapphire snorted.

“Of course this is what they do,” she replied. “You must have heard the stories. Those kids Red and Green from Kanto, and that guy Russell Curtis – they thwarted an evil team’s plan, didn’t they? And Monique Anderson from Johto – didn’t she stop the same team there?”

“Wasn’t Russell Curtis in his thirties?” Sapphire waved the question aside.

“Red and Green were what, twelve? And Anderson was nineteen.”

“I thought she had the help of several expert Trainers – one of whom died during their quest.”

“... one... zero!” cried Sapphire’s mother, flinging her eyes open. When she saw I was still in the room, she got up and left without comment.

“Are you sure she’s OK?” I asked Birch. He shrugged.

“Best just to leave her,” he told me. “She usually gets better in an hour or so.”

“Kester! Dad!” We both turned to look at Sapphire. “Listen to me. We’re going to continue with this, and Kester, you are coming with me. You belong to me, remember?” She held up the Master Ball.

“Er – about that,” Birch said. “Sapphy, I’m not sure if this is entirely ethical. I think you should release Kester.”

I turned towards him, eyes shining with love for this kind beacon of reason. Before I could say anything, however, Sapphire snapped:

“If I release him, Dad, he’s never going to help me. Your only daughter, darling Sapphy, will be off on a tour of Hoenn chasing the bad guys, without the help of the country’s very own superhero. Remember what he said? One of the Trainers who went to help Monique Anderson in Johto died.”

Birch wavered. Evidently, he didn’t wish death upon Sapphire nearly as much as I did, despite the fact that she’d been annoying him for far longer than she had been annoying me.

“Besides,” Sapphire continued ruthlessly, “you know that both Teams think he’s working for the other one, right? In Rustboro, when he met Team Magma, they thought he was an Aqua agent; back in the Lab, the Aquas thought he was a Magma thief. He’s in as much danger as me if we don’t stay together, because the only way he’ll survive any assaults on his life they may make is if a Trainer trains him. Not to mention the fact that Devon are after him, and if I release him he’ll go straight home – where his Devon worker mum will take him right back to the evil corporation’s clutches.”

Silence followed this tirade. Faintly, I wondered how Sapphire had managed to make my slavery into a favour for me.

You’ve got to admit, Puck said admiringly, the girl is good.

“You could release me,” I said at length, “and then I could come with you. Because I do accept that I don’t have any alternatives.”

Sapphire stared at me in a way that clearly said: you expect me to believe that?

“How about we discuss this later?” she asked. That surprised me; she obviously wanted to say something she couldn’t in front of her dad, but I didn’t see what that could be.

“Fine,” I agreed. “This isn’t going to be sorted out quickly anyway.”

“All right, then,” said Birch. “So I take it you two are going, then? To investigate these goods?”

“Yes,” said Sapphire.

“Yeah,” I said morosely.

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

“I thought you might know something about it,” Sapphire said, “but you were just Team Aqua’s idiot stooge, so you wouldn’t. I do know that Devon have the goods right now, and they’re sending them to Angel Laboratories according to Kester.”

“Who are based in Slateport,” I added, not wanting to be left out.

“So I guess we’ll... go to Slateport,” Sapphire said. Birch looked doubtful.

“But Sapphy – you know how you get with w—”

“Shut up, Dad,” she hissed. “Look, I know what I’m doing, OK? Slateport is the nearest city with a strong Aqua presence, right? So that’s where the Team Aqua guys will be going, to report to their superiors or whatever. And the Devon people, too, in order to get the goods to Angel. And probably Team Magma as well, because they’ll still want to steal the goods, I guess.”

“All right,” said Birch, defeated. “Just do it. Whatever. I wasn’t even talking about that, I was talking about your s—”

“Shut up!” Sapphire hissed again, jerking her head towards me.

I’m detecting a few faint signs that she might be concealing a weakness from us, Puck remarked dryly.

Birch sat back in his chair, hands held high in a placating gesture and mouth shut.

“Finally,” Sapphire said. “A respite.”

Her mother’s head crept around the side of the door, gave a shrill squeal and retreated again. From the next room, I heard frenzied counting – starting at one thousand this time.

I glanced at Birch, and Birch glanced at me, and then we both glanced at Sapphire.

“I think it might be best if we stayed at the Pokémon Centre tonight,” I said tactfully.

“That’s a good plan,” agreed Birch. “Look – it’s only half-four. If you leave now they’ll be serving food by the time you get there.”

“Hey, wait—” began Sapphire, but Birch and I bundled her unceremoniously out of the door, through the hall and into the street; I held her on the front doorstep while Birch got her bag and put it out after us.

“Goodbye,” he said, “it was nice meeting you, Kester. Bye, sweetheart!” he added to Sapphire, and shut and locked the door.

“What – what was that about?” Sapphire wondered crossly, staring at the door.

“I’m having an adverse effect on your mother,” I told her.

“But we could have stayed and just put you in the Poké Ball!”

“For a whole night? You’re such a wonderful mistress. You really care about your Pokémon’s feelings.”

“Most Pokémon are fine with it!”

“Most Pokémon aren’t human.” I sighed. “Come on, Sapphy. Let’s go.”

“Another thing,” snapped Sapphire.

“What?”

“Don’t ever call me ‘Sapphy’ again, or I will beat your face into a bloody pulp, then heal it with a Potion and do it again.”

I regarded Sapphire thoughtfully for a moment. She was shorter than me, yes, and a girl, yes – but I could see just from looking at her that she was way stronger and much fitter than me. I’d got tired running down a flight of stairs, and could easily get out of breath just running for a bus. She, on the other hand, had spent the last seven-odd years of her life (Some very odd, Puck couldn’t help but interject) sleeping in the woods and defending herself from wild Pokémon without even the resources of a Trainer.

Your reasoning is sound, Puck told me. If you didn’t cheat and zap her – which she’d probably be able to avoid anyway – she would wipe the floor with you.

“OK,” I said. “What can I call you?”

“Sapphire. Or Mistress, since that’s what I am to you.”

“That’s going too far. Not to mention very weird and with slightly disturbing implications. I’ll just call you Sapphire.”

With that, I walked off purposefully down the road, heading for the Pokémon Centre. Then I stopped, and turned around.

“Sapphire?”

“Yes?”

“Where exactly is the Pokémon Centre?”

Cutlerine
January 26th, 2011, 07:23 AM
Chapter Seven: No Peace for the Wicked

“That boy!” Felicity’s blue eyes flashed with anger, and she chewed ferociously on her fingernails. “He’s... he doesn’t know. But it has to be...”

There was no one else in her bedroom, and no answer seemed forthcoming, so she lay back on her bed and sighed, twisting her hair through her fingers. Her headphones were off for once, plugged into the wall socket and resting on top of her bedside cabinet, next to the lamp.

“What was his name...?” Felicity swapped her fingernail for a knuckle, pinching the loose skin between her teeth. “Kester, that’s right.” She paused and chewed some more, ivory skin reddening in her mouth. “This isn’t good at all. Especially if he’s with the Magmas...” She sat up again, long hair falling back to its usual dead-straight style as she did so. “I need to do some independent investigation, without that chauvinist dirtbag – and without that guy looking over my shoulder.”

She got up and checked the little light on her headphones’ charger; it had turned off, signifying that the batteries were fully replenished. Unplugging them, she laid them on the bed and changed clothes, from Aqua uniform to something more normal – for her, at least.

Done, Felicity slipped her headphones back onto her head and turned them on; waves of electronic Japanese music began seeping into her ears. She glanced at herself quickly in the mirror before she left, and then came back to look again, frowning. The white of her right eye were slightly off-colour, faintly tinged with yellow as if she were suffering from jaundice. Felicity swore and recoiled, mingled fear and anger on her face.

“When does this stop?” she asked of no one at all, voice trembling. “I... Damn it!”

She punched the dresser hard, making the items on its top jump. She stayed there, breathing heavily, for a moment, then pulled away and fumbled in her drawer for sunglasses. They were blue Team Aqua ones, but they would do; she just couldn’t face looking at her eyes right now.

“Calm,” she told herself. “Tranquillity.” She took a deep breath. “Time to go.”

Felicity left her apartment, no sign of conflict on her pale face. There was still time. She was going to fix this – but first, she had some spying to do.

---

“I thought Trainers hiked through the wilderness to get between towns,” I said.

“Only when you don’t have to get to Admiral’s in time to get a ferry to Slateport today,” Sapphire replied. “We’ll do all that hiking stuff another time, when I want to train you and my other Pokémon up.”

“Must you treat me as subhuman?” I asked. “It makes me feel like – like—”

Just then, Puck gave me a very crude and highly immoral simile to fill the gap at the end of my sentence, which reminded me of that business last year; I had to remind myself quickly that what had occurred then was technically legal, in Hoenn at least.

“Never mention that again,” I said hoarsely, with such vehemence that Sapphire looked at me in alarm.

“What?” I pointed to my head. Sapphire sighed. “I wish I could hear what he says,” she said. “It must be good, to always get you so worked up.”

“He talks more sense than you,” I replied belligerently. “It was him who worked out how the beat the Carvanha. Where were all your Trainer tactics then?”

“I’m not getting drawn into this,” said Sapphire, looking like she desperately wanted to do the opposite. “Just sit back and enjoy the ride. I’m paying for you, aren’t I? You could be in the ball.”

It was actually quite an effort for her to resist the temptation; neither of us had endeared ourselves to the other last night. Firstly, Sapphire had had to smuggle me into the Centre inside the Master Ball, since I wasn’t a registered Trainer and couldn’t use it; then, I had discovered the soulless and unsatisfying nature of Pokémon Centre food, and complained vociferously in a way that had resulted in Sapphire returning me to the ball, taking me back up to her room and releasing me into the wardrobe before locking it shut. This was infinitely less pleasant even than being in the Poké ball, and I spent a very miserable night banging forlornly on the door, wedged uncomfortably into a forest of coat hangers. In fact, that conversation on the train was the first time we’d spoken since last night.

“You don’t have to treat it like an honour for me to be out of the ball,” I said. “It’s kind of my right, as a free human being and citizen of Hoenn. Are we not part of the UN? Do we not accept the UN’s list of basic human rights?”

“It’s not your right,” she snapped. “You’re a Trainer’s Pokémon. Freedom doesn’t enter into it.”

That was particularly nasty, even for her, and I sat and sulked in silence for the rest of the journey. For once, Puck commiserated with me; he was, I reflected bitterly, nothing if not fair – which regrettably meant that most of the time, it was I who was in the wrong.

Admiral’s Berth: a dock and port that was curiously detached from both of the nearest cities, Rustboro and Petalburg. It had started as the cottage of a retired sailor who called himself Mr. Briney; he’d died in the 1960s, and when his possessions were retrieved it was found out that he had actually been a famous admiral of the Sinnoh navy. This surprised everyone, since all he had done since he moved into the lonely cliff-top house was sit on a rocking-chair on the veranda, stroking an ancient, devious-looking Wingull called Peeko and plotting to overthrow the Emperor of the Moon; nevertheless, it had proved incentive enough for the cottage to be preserved as the official Admiral Briney museum. This had swiftly grown into a tiny town, almost entirely composed of its rambling docklands. That town was Admiral’s Berth: one of Hoenn’s three main seaports, along with Slateport and Lilycove.

It was into the bustling train station of this town that the train pulled into, grinding to a halt on salt-rusted rails. People poured off like water; this was the end of the line, and Admiral’s Berth was always a popular destination. Sapphire disappeared into the crowd, and I spent several minutes searching for her before she lost patience and recalled me instead of waiting.

“What the – Sapphire!” I cried, kicking the wall of the ball. “That was unnecessary!”

Leave it, advised Puck. She can’t hear you, and I doubt she cares.

“Why is she like that?” I asked despairingly, dropping to the floor in a sitting position.

I can’t tell you, Puck answered. I’m not the sort of Ghost that can read minds. I just play with machines.

“But you seem to know so much – why can’t you work it out?”

I’m not that perceptive. It’s just that you’re so very puerile and stupid.

“Don’t you pick up on anything but my flaws?”

Yes, but the flaws are what I need to work on if I’m going to survive my incarceration here.

“Thanks.”

Sorry. Forget I said anything. You’re perfect, and I can’t see any reason why Sapphire hates you.

“You mean you do know why?”

Sort of. You two are just too different to get along without a lot of work. She’s strong, self-confident and assertive – and you’re, well, somewhat weedy and pathetic. I don’t think Sapphire can stand that about you.

“Again, thanks.”

Any time.

“Huh.” I lay down and scratched my neck. “Why does she keep me then?”

Sheer bone-headed stubbornness, Puck replied succinctly.

“S’pose you’ve got something there,” I admitted thoughtfully.

About an hour later, Sapphire saw fit to let me out of the ball again; now, I found myself in a small, white plastic room with a rich blue carpet.

“Sapphire! Why’d you— hey, where are we?” I looked around. Nothing graced the walls to hint at our location, so I looked at Sapphire instead.

“On a ferry,” she said, sounding uncharacteristically nervous. “Going to Slateport.”

“What’s this place?”

“An empty room I found to let you out in.” She glanced around. “We need to get back to the main room.”

We left, and passed down a short corridor before emerging into a large, semicircular room that seemed to be a cross between an airport departure lounge and a café. Round tables with arcs of cushioned seats around them were scattered about the room, and the walls were punctuated by wide, tall windows that showed the slate-coloured waves beyond. A counter ripped from a bar or light restaurant stood at the far end, and at it sat a dispirited-looking man in a green overcoat that I recognised immediately as Darren Goodwin.

“Sapphire!” I hissed, pointing. “It’s the Devon guy who caught me!”

She looked concerned.

“It is? I thought he looked familiar... It’s OK, he doesn’t have to see us. Let’s just... sit down somewhere.”

I looked at her oddly; she seemed much less belligerent than usual. Nevertheless, I followed her to a free table, dodging a couple of excited kids, and sat down.

“Are you OK?” I asked. Sapphire started, and looked like I’d stabbed her.

“I’m fine!” she protested unconvincingly. “Never better. Who said I wasn’t fine?”

The boat wobbled slightly, and she went pale. I smiled, the light dawning.

“You’re seasick, aren’t you?”

“No!” The boat went over another wave, and Sapphire gripped the table tightly. “Yes,” she admitted.

I laughed; I couldn’t help it. Sapphire glowered weakly.

“It’s not funny,” she said petulantly.

“Yes it is,” I replied. “You were completely calm in the face of a shotgun and a Carvanha, but you can’t deal with a bit of water?”

“Shut up,” she grumbled. “The Devon man will hear us.”

“He’s on the other side of the room,” I pointed out, “separated by about eighteen families, a group of noisy youths and a crying baby. It’s a miracle he can hear anything.”

Sapphire made an attempt to reply, but a medium-sized wave rocked the boat slightly and she ended up grabbing onto my arm, expecting some sort of support. With any other girl, this might have been quite enjoyable (the Aqua girl came to mind) but since it was Sapphire, I looked at her as I might look at something stuck to the sole of my shoe, and gently but vigorously shook her off.

“God...” she muttered. “This sea...” She looked out of the window, then looked away again rapidly. “Is this a storm?”

“No,” I replied, “it’s pretty calm.”

Ordinarily, Puck said, I would be sympathising with Sapphire right now, but... well, I’m a Ghost, and I like to laugh at humans.

“Anyway,” I said, a thought coming to me, “what was it you wanted to discuss later? You mentioned it yesterday, at your house?”

“Yes,” she replied. “About releasing you... What I wanted to say was that I will. After you help me unravel this mystery about the goods.”

“You’re... Actually, what are you doing? Is that bribery, because you’re going to give me my freedom? Or is it threatening, because you’re not going to do so if I don’t help?”

“Neither. Just a deal.” Sapphire looked at me seriously. “You help me, I set you free. Deal?”

“This is shady,” I remarked. “I can see why you didn’t want Birch to know.” Then I sighed. “But I don’t have a choice, so...” I held out a hand, and she shook it.

This is good, noted Puck. You’re learning to work together.

After that, the conversation dried up a bit; we didn’t really have anything in common, nor did we know each other well enough to keep us entertained. I sat and watched the waves, my trance only broken when, at sporadic intervals, Sapphire emitted almighty groans of nausea.

---

Naturally, Kester, Puck and Sapphire were not the ferry’s sole passengers. There were several others of note aboard; Darren Goodwin, the man Devon called ‘researcher’, has already been touched upon, but elsewhere we might find our man Barry of Team Aqua, partaking of whiskey at the bar, and the two charmingly bumbling goons, Barry and Fabien. You might perhaps have thought that our other character, Felicity, was to be found here – but she, by means of her feminine efficiency, had arrived at Slateport the previous night. There, if you remember, she had returned to her apartment to cogitate and recharge her headphones.

Barry was, thanks to a curious quirk of fate, sitting right next to Darren, on his left. The barman regarded each of these men with the knowing eye of his profession; if any there was a man who knew the intricacies of the human soul, it was a bartender. Who else has had so many passionate tales poured out to him, who else knows best how to soothe a broken heart or a deep-seated grief? Not even a psychiatrist can claim to rival the barkeep in this regard, for the latter can not only cure all ills of the mind but gently and firmly remove drunks from his bar in such a way that they will come back tomorrow for more drinks. This is a feat that the psychiatrist wishes he could manage, for then his practice would be far more lucrative.

This bartender was not, at first appearance, one of those wise men. At the centre of a bustling ferry at midday, it seemed he must have been unable to procure better employment – but that assumption would have been incorrect. When night fell, and the lonely midnight service ran between Dewford and Slateport, he came into his own; for the witching hour is the time when the broken-hearted, the down on their luck, and the retired, melancholy sailors travel the ocean, and need the comforts of the professional barman. His talents were as sharp as a razor, and so it was that he set a pair of drinks before Barry and Darren, and uttered the immortal greeting of the professional barkeep:

“So, fellas. Why the long faces?”

Barry glanced at Darren and Darren glanced at Barry; the two men seemed to reach an agreement that Darren was to go first, and so he did.

“I’m a Devon researcher,” he said with a sigh, pulling at his drink, “and someone stole an important weapon we’re developing – it was this Team Aqua girl, wearing a blue coat. I’ve been dispatched to go and retrieve our weapon by our President, and I’ve also got to deliver this to Slateport.” He held up a black bag, and Barry’s eyes widened. “It’s just all a bit much, really. It’s my wedding anniversary tomorrow, and I’m going to miss it because of this.”

The barman shook his head dolefully. “Perhaps you can catch the ferry back in time for tomorrow evening.”

“Only if I catch that girl in time,” sighed Darren. “She’s got to be heading for Slateport, I guess, which is some small consolation.”

“Did you have any plans for the evening?”

Here was where Barry stopped listening; thoughts were whirling around his tiny brain like dervishes. A Devon researcher! This was terrible news. He was acutely aware of the fainted condition of his Carvanha, and the fact that Felicity had taken the gun with her. If the researcher discovered his identity... well, Barry didn’t like to think about what would happen then. He might have his pride, but Barry knew when to keep his head down. It was best to act as if he had nothing to do with the Aquas at all.

Yet... the Devon guy had mentioned an Aqua girl. That couldn’t have been Felicity, since he knew she didn’t have whatever it was the man was after. At that moment, a tiny circuit sparked into life somewhere in the morass he called a brain, and he realised with a jolt that he must be talking about the girl in the blue coat from yesterday. The girl who was working with the Rotom kid. She was undoubtedly a Magma employee, rather than Aqua; the blue coat was probably a ruse to throw Devon off the track.

“And what about you?” the barman asked, turning to him.

“Ah... I made a mistake in my work,” Barry told him. “Didn’t deliver what I was supposed to. Probably going to get fired.”

Despite his sorrowful tones, Barry was inwardly exultant; here was a fantastic snippet of information for the boss, and one that would more than make up for his failure to obtain the goods. Team Magma had stolen Devon’s secret weapon.

And that was it: then he had one of those blinding flashes of genius that occasionally rushes upon you like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. These inspired moments come to even such dolts as Barry, and this one was a good one.

The secret Devon weapon was the boy with the lightning powers.

This connected in his mind with the Rotom thief; Ghosts could possess things, and Electric-types could shoot lightning – thus, Barry concluded, his fit of genius coming to an end, that the boy was somehow one with the Rotom, perhaps due to some sinister Devon experiments.

Astounded at his own intellect, Barry sat and gaped for a long moment, during which both the barman and Darren Goodwin regarded him curiously. When at last he recovered, he coughed uncomfortably and hastily threw a handful of coins onto the table to cover the drink before hurrying off to vanish into the crowd, eager to contact his superiors.

Darren and the barman watched him go.

“Odd guy, that,” remarked the barman. Darren nodded in agreement.

“Yes.”

From a nearby table, Fabien looked on through holes cunningly cut into his newspaper, in a clichéd display that would have made any decent criminal groan; thankfully, neither he nor Blake were decent criminals.

“Did you hear all that?” he murmured to Blake. Both men were still disguised, though Fabien had an inkling that his disguise might actually be attracting a little more attention than even a Team Magma uniform.

“Yeah, I got it,” replied his comrade. “Secret Devon weapon?”

“I was thinking that too,” Fabien said. “It’s that kid, isn’t it?”

“Gotta be,” affirmed Blake, nodding his heavy head. “When ’e broke out, or the Aquas stole ’im or whatever, ’e must ’ave taken the goods with ’im.”

“Those cunning Aquas!” Fabien shook a theatrical fist of rage. “Is there no end to their depravity?”

“I s’pose it ends in abou’ the same place as ours,” suggested Blake.

“You may have something there,” admitted Fabien. “Well, anyway, we have to steal that kid from the Aquas! It was an Aqua girl wearing a blue coat, he said – we must find her.”

“D’you think it was that girl we saw yesterday?”

Fabien shook his head. “He’d have mentioned the headphones.”

“Fair enough. That reminds me – ’ave you got a message from Goishi yet?”

“No, not yet. I think his target went to Slateport on the late ferry last night.”

The two men sank into the same sort of contemplative trance that had occupied them shortly after fleeing from Kester in the alleyway, trying to puzzle out what to do next, what to tell the boss and where the girl with the secret weapon might be.

Funnily enough, both she and the so-called ‘secret weapon’ were sitting just seven tables away, trying not to be sick and watching the waves respectively.

---

The ferry took an hour and a half to reach Dewford Island, where we were to change for Slateport; by this time, Sapphire had been sick twice and was paler and shakier than a reanimated skeleton. This pathetic sight managed to touch me despite my dislike for her, and I helped her off the boat and back onto dry land, eliciting approval from Puck.

That’s right, he said. Good old-fashioned manners, that’s what count.

“I’m not doing it out of politeness,” I retorted. “I’m doing it because she looks so pathetic.”

“I can hear you, you know,” muttered Sapphire weakly. “God! The ground is swaying...”

“Oh, come on,” I said, exasperated. “You’re not even at sea any more.”

Just sit her down on a bench or something, Puck advised. The world will soon stop swaying. I got something similar once, he added, as I steered Sapphire down the crowded pier and onto the promenade, when I first possessed a fan. It was like the world’s most terrifying Ferris Wheel. A shiver ran down my spine that didn’t belong; I presumed it belonged to Puck.

I found a bench that overlooked the ocean and dumped Sapphire on it with some relief. The view was fantastic; to our left, on the north, there was the bustling pier from which we had just extricated ourselves; in front of us, a golden expanse of beach stretched out beneath the noonday sun, slipping under bejewelled waves to the east; and to our right, you could see the outlines of Dewford’s sole town, imaginatively named ‘Dewford’. I didn’t dwell too much on it, because it was mostly a hellish mix of cheap holiday resort and theme park, and quickly returned my attention to the sea. It was pockmarked with ferries and little sailing boats, and I wondered whether it was any fun to go out to sea like that, with the open air and the spray on your face.

No, it isn’t, Puck told me. Believe me, I went out to sea on a boat at Brighton once, and it was awful. Got cold seawater right the way through my plasma – and some of it was heavy, which didn’t go down well, he added darkly.

“Er... right.”

You don’t get it, Puck said insistently. Heavy water contains isotopes of hydrogen that are suitable for nuclear fusion. With the energy in my body, they could do that – I had a nasty little cold fusion reaction going on in my eyes. Felt like a bomb had gone off in my brain—

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said, “and I don’t care.” I sat down next to Sapphire. “When does the boat to Slateport leave?”

“Quarter to two,” she replied. I looked at my watch, which told me that the time was currently 12.37.

“We have some time then,” I remarked. “Shall we get something to eat in the town?”

Sapphire gave a deep and heartfelt shudder that started at her toes and moved all the way up to her forehead.

“No,” she said firmly. “I can’t even think of eating like this.”

“OK, let me re-phrase that. Can I go and get something to eat in the town?”

“I’m not stopping you.”

I sighed.

“Will you give me some money?”

“Don’t you have any?”

“This trip was sprung on me by surprise, so I left my wallet in my room.”

Sapphire made a disgruntled noise, but handed over a couple of notes. I looked at them: two thousand-Pokédollar bills. In total, enough for, say, nine or ten Potions.

“Is this it?”

“What are you eating? A three-course meal with roasted Swellow?”

“Fine, I’ll just take it.” I stomped off towards Dewford, muttering angrily. “Come on, Puck, agree with me here. She’s rich, right? So why can’t she be generous?”

She hates you. I thought you knew that.

“I suppose that’s right,” I agreed, passing the entrance to The Wurmple World of Adventure, probably Hoenn’s least likely theme park. “She just doesn’t want to give me anything.”

It might help if you were nice to her.

“If she won’t be nice to me...” The sentence didn’t need finishing, so I let it hang there in the air as we arrived at Dewford’s main street.

It was horrible. That’s all I can really say about it. There was a crowd, yes, a nasty, hot, sticky crowd that pushed and shoved and jostled all over the road; I caught a glimpse of a car, hopelessly trapped in a sea of people, a little way off and felt a pang of sympathy for its harassed-looking occupants. As soon as I entered the crowd, I wanted to get out again, but as I turned around the entrance disappeared; a current in the wave of humanity engulfed me and sucked me deeper in despite my protests. At one point, I became stuck to the back of a fat guy and was carried along for several yards before I managed to peel myself free; at another, someone’s pet Pelipper sat on my head and slowly crushed me to the floor before I sent it packing with a weak ThunderShock.

That was close, commented Puck of that last.

“Yeah,” I gasped, struggling to avoid being stepped on. “It almost squashed me.”

No, I mean you came very close to killing it. Water/Flying – quadruply weak to Electric. It’s a good thing that you weakened the attack.

I thought about reprimanding him, but decided it wouldn’t do any good and said instead:

“This was a mistake. I need to find a bench and – and regain my bearings.”

It was lucky Puck was inside my head; if he’d been anywhere else, there’s no way he would have heard me over the clamour and tumult of the crowd. Unable to get to my feet in the crush, I wormed my way forwards between the legs of passers-by and eventually reached a lamppost, which I used to as support to draw myself up against. My sudden appearance startled a family of holidaymakers, especially as I popped up, exultant at my achievement, directly behind the young daughter of the group; I think it was the expression of triumph on my face that drove them to believe I had criminal designs on her, and caused them to flee into the crowd in a panic.

Did you see their faces? chuckled Puck. Mew’s Liver, that was funny.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” I said as I wormed my way through the crowd, looking for higher ground, “what is with all these weird curses you keep spouting? Mew’s Liver, Dialga’s Orb, Arceus – what do they mean?”

They’re the names of legendary Pokémon, the Rotom replied. Like you say ‘Oh, God’, I blaspheme using their names.

“I see,” I panted, and then: “YEAH!”

I had managed to break free of the crowd, and now stood just in the entrance of a small, sunlit courtyard, surrounded by tastefully built little houses and consequently deserted.

These buildings are lovely, admired Puck. Those philistines out there really prefer the gift shops and stuff to this?

“Yep,” I confirmed. “My mum insisted on me taking Taste at school, so I like this.”

Ah, Taste! Puck sighed with happiness. When I lose faith in the education system, despairing at what it teaches youngsters, I just have to think of Taste to wash all my worries away. What could be finer than a class that actually teaches you good taste? You—

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up,” I interrupted, looking around. “Let’s see... if we go straight on here, maybe we’ll get to a normal street that isn’t full of tourists.”

I left the little courtyard and continued on my way, feeling very hungry now; due to Sapphire incarcerating me in the cupboard, I had missed breakfast that morning. The sun shone down, Puck babbled pleasantly in my head, and the buildings around me were tall and beautifully designed; for once, it seemed as if things were going all right for me. There was no one here to mock or wound me, and I was away from Sapphire, which meant she couldn’t recall me; I even entertained thoughts of running off and leaving her, but in the end had to face the reality that that wasn’t going to happen, since I had almost no money and, after all, we had a deal.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t know at the time was that there were, in fact, people at Dewford Island out to spoil our day. Later, I was going to wonder how I could have felt so carefree.

Because while I was wandering happily around Dewford, someone I’d met the day before yesterday, someone who, in fact, might be pointed to as the one who landed me in this mess, had found Sapphire.

Note Yo. This is the Cutlerine. I appreciate that there's probably no one reading this - but if there is, would it kill you to at least let me know I'm not talking to myself here? That's all. Ciao.

Ragnia
January 26th, 2011, 03:30 PM
Yeah, yeah, yeah Cutlerine I'm reading and enjoying your third story. I have to say that it is much lighter than your first two and in turn I think a bit better.

Cutlerine
January 30th, 2011, 10:18 AM
Chapter Eight: A Grand Day Out

“I found you,” said a dry, matter-of-fact voice. Sapphire looked up and sighed. It was Darren Goodwin.

“So you did,” she replied. “What of it?”

“Give me back the boy,” Darren ordered.

“Or what?” Sapphire was unimpressed. What could a Devon researcher do to her – especially here, in broad daylight?

Darren Goodwin smiled a very cold, tired smile.

“You don’t know what a Devon researcher is, do you?”

Sapphire’s heart skipped a beat, but she kept her eyes on Darren’s, and didn’t let her gaze waver. Something bad was coming, she just knew it – but she wasn’t going down without a fight.

“You sit in a laboratory and research stuff,” she replied. “So, what are you going to do to me?”

“I could kill you in any of a hundred different ways,” Darren informed her. “Given the right materials, naturally. And then there are my Pokémon – more, I’m certain, than a match for yours.”

“I don’t believe you,” Sapphire began, trying to bluff, but Darren saw through it and interrupted by holding a Poké Ball very close to her face. A sticker bearing the number 1 adorned the top.

“This is my first choice,” he told her. “Then this is the second” – he drew out another – “and this is third, and so on. Until we get to this one.” He pulled an Ultra Ball from his capacious pockets and held it in front of her. “This is my last resort. It’s not often I have to use it, and when I do, people always start doing what I want them to.”

“What kind of researcher are you?” murmured Sapphire, feeling for the balls at her belt.

“Don’t touch those,” Darren told her. “And you know what sort of a researcher I am. I’m a Devon researcher.” He withdrew the Ultra Ball and grabbed her forearm, dragging her roughly to her feet. “Give me the boy.”

“He and I have a deal,” Sapphire said stubbornly, face just inches from Darren’s own. “I don’t break promises.”

“Touching,” snapped Darren. “If you won’t do the sensible thing, I’ll just take him from you and bring you back to Devon for questioning.” He took the Master Ball from her belt; as he did so, Sapphire smacked her forehead into his nose and felt it crunch.

Warm blood spattered onto her face, but she didn’t stop to look closely; she snatched the Master Ball from Darren and ran, easily twisting free from his slackening grip.

He gave a yelp of pain and cried out – “Ah! What – the same trick twice?” – but Sapphire didn’t stop to see what the Devon man was doing, nor did she want to; she heard the small noise of a Poké Ball opening, and then a hoarse, rumbling shout that set her teeth on edge. A couple of people cried out; Sapphire didn’t want to know what was scaring them. “After her!” came Darren’s voice, and whatever monster he’d summoned started running after her, heavy feet pounding the ground, utterly heedless of the crowd around it.

Sapphire ran along the promenade, past the docks, ducking and slipping between the people who flocked in her path. Her pursuer was less delicate; she could hear it ramming into people, giving deep, booming cries as it did so. People around her started running too – and then it became chaos, and it was all Sapphire could do to work out where she was.

A way off the street presented itself: a little fence between two buildings, marked with a ‘No Entry’ sign. Sapphire vaulted it and freed herself from the panicked crowd, pelting now down a dirt track between palm trees. Behind her, she heard the scream of tortured steel as the monster chasing her ripped it aside. She shivered and bit her lip. Whatever it was, neither Toro nor Rono were going to be able to help her with it.

Speed, speed, speed; Sapphire was good at running away, and she had the speed and stamina to back up her talent – but whatever was chasing her was so much bigger than her that its strides were too long. It was eating up the ground between them slowly but relentlessly, and her only hope now was to find some kind of shelter.

She ducked under a low-hanging branch, hoping it would the monster down – but a second later, there was a sharp crack! and splinters of wood flew over her shoulders, jagged fragments catching on her hair and clothes. Sapphire let out an uncharacteristic cry of fright and went faster, turning a corner—

—only to find that this was a dead end. A cliff rose from nowhere in front of her, a rocky wall that blocked any further attempts at escape. A vast, hulking shadow appeared on its brown surface, and Sapphire gulped. In a flash, she understood what Kester was driving at: it was all very well to fight a fair Pokémon battle, but when the Pokémon were attacking you, it was completely, terrifyingly different.

The hoarse bellowing sounds and the pounding footsteps were close behind her now, but still Sapphire didn’t turn; she was locked in the rapid roar of her heart in her ears, in the shadow on the rock wall and the little shiver that was running down her forearms. For a second, the pattern of abject fear gripped her as tightly as a vice – and then suddenly she noticed that here was a sharp turn in the path, and it snaked off between the thick trees and the wall to the right. There was no dead end after all.

Something big swiped through the air behind her, but Sapphire was already gone, feet barely touching the ground as she leaped into a sprint along the wall. The something crashed painfully into the rocks, and Sapphire gave a small grin of satisfaction at its pained cry. This swiftly faded when the pain turned to anger, and a huge, primeval roar ripped through the air like a thunderclap.

Sapphire swore and doubled her pace, and before she knew it her trainers were stumbling over soft sand, and the warm sun was smiling benevolently down upon her unveiled by palm fronds. She blinked, and realised that she had somehow emerged onto a beach – and, unfortunately, a deserted one, with no one here to help her.

She picked a direction at random, and ran left, slipping and sliding on the powdery sand. This beach would have been amazing had she not been running for her life, she noted detachedly; the sand was wonderfully soft, and the sea here was the brilliant blue of her own eyes.

Suddenly, another rocky wall materialised in front of her, and Sapphire almost screamed in frustration and fear; as if sensing her agitation, her pursuer bellowed out something that sounded like a bass harmonica trying to laugh. Sapphire ran left along the rocks, but they circled up to the left and cut off her route off the beach; to the right, there was nothing except a small gap in the rocks, just past the surf—

The gap in the rocks!

Sapphire darted in there and kept going, surprised to find that there was a good-sized cave here. Behind her, the Pokémon that chased her slammed its great head against the entrance, roaring in fury: it was too big to follow. Once she’d worked that out, Sapphire flung herself onto the sand, not caring that it was covered in half an inch of water, and looked back at what she’d been running from.

A single, baleful red eye looked back; the other lay somewhere outside the view through the cave mouth. Below it was a huge, gaping mouth armed with a formidable array of blunt tusks, set into a knobbly, gnarled face wrought of light purple skin. It looked like a hippopotamus that had been killed a long time ago and put out in the sun to dry.

“An Exploud,” Sapphire breathed, staring at it. “I wonder—”

She broke off abruptly and stood up; the Exploud was lining itself up so that its huge mouth fitted over the cave entrance, sealing off the outside. Sapphire had a horrible feeling that she knew what it was going to do next, and began to run—

—just as the Pokémon began to inhale, a massive breath that tore pebbles from the ground and Sapphire’s hat from her head, sucking them down into the bottomless pit of the monster’s throat. Sapphire slowed instantly, colossal forces tearing at every part of her body at once, and grasped wildly for the wall; her fingers slid off the wet stone and she stumbled, almost falling. At the last moment, she grabbed a projection of rock, and hung there, horizontal in midair, as the Exploud’s breath screamed by. The roar of the wind was unbelievable; it howled and whirled and screamed as it tore down the passageway, picking up sand and stones and throwing them into Sapphire’s eyes.

Sapphire knew that the Exploud could keep this up for hours; thanks to the pipes on its head and tail, it was capable of maintaining a single breath continuously, without any loss of oxygen in its blood. In sharp contrast, she couldn’t hold onto the rock for more than a few more minutes. For the logical Professor’s daughter, the meaning was clear: she had to move.

She took a deep breath, which was difficult in the roaring, sandy air, and forced one foot to the floor, trying to get some grip. Her shoe struck a pebble embedded in the sand, and she wedged her leg firmly against it before stepping forwards with the other foot. At the same time, she pulled hard on the rock she was holding, dragging herself forwards against the air currents.

As soon as her leading foot slipped Sapphire knew it was hopeless. There was nothing she could do; the Exploud’s breath was too strong. In a curiously disconnected manner, she wondered if Darren would kill her. It didn’t seem that big a deal, just a minor spot of unpleasantness in a business transaction; somewhere in the back of her head, a tiny voice screamed at her that she was in shock, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear it, and, closing her eyes, let go of the rock.

---

“Bullet Punch!”

A flash of scintillating steel; a blur of screaming rock. Sapphire’s eyes opened in midair to see a huge red block fly past her, even faster than the wind of the Exploud’s breath. For a millisecond, she was surprised – and then there was a curious strangled wail, and the gale stopped abruptly, dropping Sapphire softly into the wet sand.

“What a loathsome creature,” remarked a voice; it was rich and full of culture, the voice of a man who has not only power and wealth but remarkable good taste as well. “Are you quite well?”

A hand reached down to Sapphire and drew her to her feet; she felt like she was still floating, and swayed back and forth as a second hand descended to her shoulder to hold her upright.

“Who – who are you?” she asked uncertainly.

A face emerged from the darkness, tapering below to a pointed chin and topped above with spiky silver-blue hair, impeccably styled. This face housed malachite-green eyes that were presently engaged in looking concerned, as well as a fine nose of much merit and a rather handsome mouth. Below this countenance was a dark suit and red tie, and together it all formed a tall, good-looking young man who looked like he might have been more at home in the streets of the central business district than in a wet sea cave.

“My name,” this young man said, “is Steven. This,” he added, indicating into the darkness behind him, “is my trusted partner, Deep Thought.”

Something moved in the shadows, and the light flashed off it for a second, highlights dancing on polished steel. Twin red eyes opened and burned in the blackness. Sapphire stared hard, as if she could peel away the dark and illuminate the lurking Pokémon purely with her eyes.

“Is that... a Metagross?”

“Yes, it is,” replied Steven, almost absently. He didn’t seem to know, or perhaps didn’t care, that the creature standing behind him was quite possibly the rarest non-legendary Pokémon in the world; that it was a terrifying combination of supercomputer and predatory instincts, the planet’s most powerful calculator in a sheath of adamantine steel. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I think so.” Sapphire couldn’t take her eyes away from the red lamps. They were inexpressibly cold, devoid of all emotion; Metagross could not feel pain or pleasure. Their computer-like brains made them the closest that organic life could come to machines.

“I’m glad to be of service,” Steven said, walking her towards the cave entrance. His shoes looked expensive, but he didn’t seem to care about ruining them with the water. Sapphire could only conclude that he was either very rich or very stupid – and she suspected it was the former.

“Your Metagross... are you leaving him there?”

“Deep Thought is a little large to fit through this entrance,” explained Steven. “I don’t want it to destroy it, so I’ll recall it once we have left.”

They stepped out into the sun, and regarded the Exploud dispassionately. It lay on its side on the sand, twitching and uttering piteous moans.

“What did you do?” asked Sapphire with some interest, retrieving her hat from where it lay next to the Exploud’s back, having passed through its throat and out of its rear pipes.

“Deep Thought Bullet Punched a handy Nosepass into it mouth.” Steven nudged the Exploud with a toe, and got no response save a half-hearted twitch. “And ninety per cent of Exploud suffer from a serious Nosepass allergy, you know.”

“Thank you,” said Sapphire, sincere for once. She already knew about the allergy, being the daughter of Hoenn’s Professor, and thus was not surprised. “Thank you very much.”

There were very few people in the world for whom Sapphire had an out and out respect. Phoebe, of the Elite Four, was one, as was Wallace, Hoenn’s current Champion; Steven had just joined their ranks and gone on to eclipse them all. He was a man who possessed one of the oldest, rarest and most powerful creatures on Earth, and he didn’t seem to care unduly; he was obviously intelligent, rich and powerful; he was beautifully well-spoken; and he had a face that most other men would kill for. In short, he was the cloth from which heroes were cut. If anyone was cut out to be idolised, it was undoubtedly him.

“That’s perfectly all right,” Steven smiled. “I was just passing by in the caves, you know – looking for rare stones. And I saw you needed help...” He turned around and recalled Deep Thought, the beam of red light lancing from the ball deep into the dark mouth of the cave.

“Well, I’m thankful anyway. I suppose I was lucky that someone was here – I can’t imagine many people come here.”

Sapphire gazed out on the empty beach and lapping waves. Steven took her by the arm and began to walk back towards the path with her.

“It used to be quite well-known,” he informed her. “Only someone was stung to death here eight years ago by a very hungry Tentacruel, and people stopped coming. Now, no one remembers it.”

“Oh.” Sapphire didn’t know quite what to say, and so said no more. When they reached the path, Steven spoke again.

“Are you a Trainer, Miss – oh! I don’t even know your name. It is...?”

“Sapphire. My name’s Sapphire. And yes, I am a Trainer.”

“Wonderful,” Steven breathed. “Few continue the trade as long as you have. It’s a hard road.”

“Oh – I’ve just started,” admitted Sapphire, realising he thought she was a veteran Trainer and colouring slightly. “My dad needed me around before.”

Steven nodded sympathetically.

“I have a father who required a great deal of maintenance,” he remarked. “But I find that now I can just leave him alone, and he minds himself well enough. He sets himself little challenges, you see, and won’t stop until he completes them.”

“I see,” said Sapphire, who didn’t.

“Well, beginning Trainer,” Steven said, regarding her with renewed interest, “are you here for your first Badge?”

Sapphire remembered with a jolt that there was a Gym on this island, and she regretted that there wouldn’t be time to go there.

“It’ll be my second,” she lied, “I got one from Roxanne in Rustboro.”

“Very good. Rock-types can be tough. What Pokémon do you use?”

“A Torchic and an Aron. Both fairly low-level, I’m afraid to say.” Sapphire felt almost ashamed to admit this to someone who so obviously possessed such strength, but tried not to let it show. Perhaps Steven sensed this, though, because he gave her a gentle smile.

“That’s not so bad,” he noted. “I am a Steel-type aficionado myself, though I dabble with others. I have an Aggron – something you will have one day too, if you train your Aron well. As for a Torchic – well! They are rare indeed. If you have beaten one Gym Leader already, I should think yours should begin to evolve soon, for they start young.”

“Really?” asked Sapphire eagerly. “What about my Aron?”

“Wait a little longer, I think,” Steven replied, eyes twinkling. “They evolve late and become all the stronger for it.”

They reached the bend in the path, and heard hurried footsteps and laboured curses; a second later, Darren Goodwin appeared, one hand covering his nose and covered in blood.

“You!” he cried on seeing Sapphire. “Got you!”

Steven regarded Darren with some distaste, and asked Sapphire:

“Is this a friend of yours?”

“No.” Sapphire shook her head. “He’s the one with the Exploud.”

“I see.” Steven let go of Sapphire, took one step forwards and punched Darren firmly on the jaw; there was a surprising amount of force there, because the Devon researcher tumbled sideways into the undergrowth, apparently unconscious. “That will do nicely.”

Sapphire watched, impressed. Steven was stronger than he looked. She glanced at Darren’s body, but didn’t see the black bag of goods anywhere; he must have left it somewhere else.

“I would be concerned about him,” Steven told her, taking her arm again and resuming the walk back towards civilisation. “From the look of him, he is a Devon man, so I think it might be best not to contact the police. Are you quite sure you will be all right on your own?”

“Yes, thank you,” Sapphire replied, as the fence came into view. “I just... need to train up a little more.”

“That’s a good idea,” Steven said, and the metal fence came into view; he climbed over it and graciously helped her over, as she imagined a gentleman might. Sapphire would not ordinarily have stood for anyone helping her like that – but she felt that if anyone had the right to do so, it was Steven.

The promenade had made a full recovery, and crowds were bustling this way and that as if they’d never heard of an Exploud; the injured people that the monster had rammed were nowhere to be seen, and no trace of its passage remained. It was as if the event had been entirely everyday and commonplace, and thus just swallowed up into the chaos of Dewford’s docks. Sapphire looked around, puzzled that this could be the case, and Steven chuckled.

“Did you expect one rampaging Exploud to shut down the port?” he asked. “Remember, they transport all kinds of things through here. Just the other week a Dusclops got loose and stole forty dreams. They still haven’t found it yet – or the dreams.”

“So they’re used to that sort of thing?”

“Oh, yes.” Steven nodded. “Very much so. Well,” he continued, looking around, “I’m afraid I’d best be off. I have some things to do, if you’re quite all right now...?”

“Yes. Yes, I’m fine,” Sapphire assured him, and with a bow and a smile, Steven vanished into the crowd. Sapphire searched vainly for him for a moment, wanting to say goodbye properly – but he was gone, melting away as if he had never been.

---

Yo, Kester!

“Since when do you say ‘yo’?” I asked, swallowing a lump of burger.

Since I decided I was cool, Puck told me, so about five seconds ago. I think I’ll make it my catchphrase. What do you think?

“I think that every time I think you’re a sensible, rational being you prove yourself a raging lunatic,” I replied affably, and took another bite.

I was sitting on a wall at the side of one of Dewford’s side streets; below me, the world and its family sweated and laughed on a wide expanse of golden sand. If I had chanced to fall, it would have been a drop of about thirty feet onto the spike of a fat family’s parasol, but the view was so good, and the sun-warmed stone so pleasurable to the touch, that I had decided to risk it. Here I sat, eating the most expensive burger I could find and afford (just to spite Sapphire) and watching the sun dance on the crests of the waves that lapped gently at the shore.

Anyway, I wanted to say: look down there.

I looked down at the beach, and saw nothing but a sprawling city of blankets and parasols.

To the left a bit... down... There! By that rock!

I found it, and gaped.

“Whoa,” I said. “Is that really him?”

Looks like him to me... Isn’t that cool?

The man in question was tall and heavily tanned from long exposure to Dewford Isle’s blazing sun; his face was rugged rather than handsome, but he was so lithe and muscular that he had attracted a fair number of female watchers, and a couple of male ones too. His blue hair stood up in ragged spikes, stiffened by the salt of the sea, and he was shirtless, revealing the powerful muscles of his chest; these muscles were straining and rippling right now, and his arms were locked around the torso of the Machoke he was wrestling in the surf.

“Brawly,” I breathed. “So cool...”

As I watched, something seemed to give, and Brawly was suddenly hurling the Machoke onto its back in the water. A moment later, he had leaped onto it, driving his shoulder onto the Pokémon’s chest and holding it down.

“That guy is strong,” I commented. “Imagine being able to do that!”

Yeah, Puck agreed. Very strong. And we probably could do that, with some work. We’d have an advantage, in that we, as a Ghost, are immune to Fighting-type moves.

“I hope that’s not a suggestion to try it.”

Er... Of course it wasn’t.

We sat in silence and watched Brawly beating up the Machoke for a while longer; for a monster that was supposed to have to wear a belt to reduce its power to non-self-destructive levels, it was putting up a pretty poor fight.

Yo, Kester.

“What?”

Did you notice I used my new catchphrase? Anyway, that’s not the point. What I was going to say was that we probably ought to get back to the docks. It’s twenty past one, and it’ll take at least ten minutes to navigate the main street.

“You’re right,” I agreed, turning around and slipping off the wall back onto the pavement. “Let’s go.”

Puck was right. It took me eleven minutes to pass through the sweat-fest that was Dewford’s main tourist street; when I finally emerged, I was slick with perspiration – both mine and that of others. I also sported a spectacular bruise on my forehead where an extraordinarily bony lady in a straw hat had elbowed me.

Quickly, urged Puck. Ideally, we’d like to be on the boat before it pulls out of the dock.

“I know, I know,” I muttered, making my way back up along the seaside road. “I promised Sapphire and all that.” I paused for a moment, leaning against a palm tree. “Do you think I have to keep that promise?”

What? Of course you do! Puck cried, astounded. You can’t just go around giving out false promises. Think what poor old Kant would say! That’s his prime example.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

You need a basic education in philosophy. Try Sophie’s World, it’s an easy one to read – and I think there’s a Hoennian translation. Puck stopped, aware that he was heading steadily away from the topic. But what I meant was that you can’t start breaking promises. It never goes anywhere good, I can assure you of that.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I told him. “Fine, let’s just go.”

I arrived back at the bench where I’d left Sapphire, only to find she wasn’t there. A quick search of the docks found her sitting on the plinth of some kind of sea-related statue, on the pier.

“Sapphire! You weren’t at the bench.” I sat down next to her, then blinked and looked at her again. Her hat was crumpled and the feather dusty; there were streaks of dirt on her face and hands and a liberal sprinkling of cuts and bruises down her arms and cheeks. “What happened to you?”

“Darren Goodwin,” she replied shortly. “And the Exploud he brought with him.”

“What? He found you?”

“Don’t worry, he’s lying unconscious somewhere in the woods,” Sapphire replied, sounding tired. “This man called Steven and his Metagross showed up.”

“A Metagross...” The way Sapphire said it left me in no doubt that it was something special, and I tried to say it in a knowing, wondering way. Puck sighed.

Picture coming up, he told me, and moments later the image of a massive, steel-skinned monster appeared; it was like a flying saucer, ringed with four great legs that resembled nothing so much as pile drivers. In addition, its front was marked by a huge metal ‘X’ shape, with two deeply-set spherical eyes burning out from the inner corners, as blood-red as the fires of hell.

I gulped. “A Metagross...”

“Yes, I know. It was amazing.” Sapphire seemed to be seeing something that wasn’t there for a moment; then she looked at me and a stern expression appeared on her face.

“Where’s the change?”

I gave her a 100-dollar coin, and she stared at it.

“What the hell did you buy?” she asked incredulously.

“Just a burger,” I shrugged.

It was nine inches wide, Puck reminded me.

“For nineteen hundred dollars*?” Sapphire asked.

“Just a burger,” I repeated.

Also six inches tall, Puck added thoughtfully.

“I...” Sapphire snorted angrily and stuffed the coin back into her purse. “That’s the last time I ever trust you with my money again.”

“It was only two thousand Pokédollars...”

“Only!”

At that point, a voice burbled through the pier’s speaker system that the ship to Slateport was now boarding, and Sapphire returned me to the ball to avoid paying for my ticket.

“Cheapskate,” I muttered, and proceeded to argue with Puck about whether or not I was whining.

*Assuming the in-game Pokédollar has a value roughly equivalent to the Japanese yen, Kester’s burger cost (at the time of writing) about £14.40, or US$33.87.

Cutlerine
January 31st, 2011, 01:05 PM
Since I missed an update on Saturday, enjoy two consecutive days of chapters now.

Chapter Nine: The Biggest Bet in Human History

It was, I reflected as I sat in the centre of the metal sphere, definitely one of the least pleasant ways of fare-dodging I had ever encountered. I seemed to have been here a suspiciously long time, too; how long did it take Sapphire to get on board and find somewhere quiet to release me?

I waited another five minutes or so until I finally found myself free again; I was in a small room similar to the one I’d appeared in aboard the other ferry. The main difference was that the windows in here were tiny and round, and there was a steel floor with a ring-shaped pattern on instead of carpet.

“This another empty room?” I asked Sapphire. She shook her head.

“This is a Training room,” she replied. “I had to pay extra, but it’s a three-hour trip to Slateport, and I want to train Toro and Rono.”

“Do I have to do anything?”

“No, I just thought you might appreciate being let out.” I stared at her for a moment, surprised, then thanked her profusely and went to sit in a corner and watch.

Sapphire, who was a little pale but seemed to be holding up, sent out Toro; the little orange bird blinked and bobbed its head a couple of times before looking to her for instructions.

“OK,” Sapphire said, leaning against a wall. “Toro, use Ember.”

Obediently, the Torchic sent out a puff of flame from her beak; at the sight, I winced, remembering my battle against it.

Grow a spine, Kester, Puck said, sounding disgusted. It’s what, all of two feet tall? Actually, he continued, now sounding disquieted, that’s pretty tall for a Torchic. I wonder if it’s drawing near to evolution?

“Good. Now, Growl.”

Toro let out such a cute little chirrup at that that I felt my heart melt; I wanted to rush over there and hug her.

Don’t do that, Puck advised. That’s what Growl’s meant to make you do.

“Focus Energy!”

Toro suddenly tensed, dim black eyes sharpening as it concentrated effortfully. After a few moments, she relaxed.

“OK. Now, keep trying Ember!”

The little bird breathed repeated flames; on the third try, the fire expanded into something that looked like it belonged in a coal-fired power station, and coated the wall in soot with a ferocious whumph.

“Whoa!” I cried. “What was that?”

“Focus Energy raises the chance of attacks being ‘critical’,” Sapphire answered. “That means they’re stronger than normal. Like you just saw. OK, Toro,” she said, turning her attention back to the Torchic, “that was all good. Now, let’s try that move we’ve been working on. I want you to Peck.”

The bird looked blankly back at her.

“Peck. You know. Like this.” Sapphire made a jabbing motion with one hand. The Torchic hesitantly fluttered a wing. “No! Like – with your beak.”
Toro swung her head forwards and rammed her beak into Sapphire’s leg. She stepped backwards with a muffled curse; I tried not to laugh.

“Good – I think,” Sapphire said uncertainly. “Do it again, but don’t hit me.”

Toro pecked savagely at the floor.

“Peck,” Sapphire repeated. Toro looked blank. “Peck!” Sapphire cried. Still the bird made no motion. Sapphire sighed, and repeated the word a third time, this time making the hand motion again. Toro got it then, and pecked.

This continued for quite a long time, until Sapphire was fairly sure that Toro knew what she wanted when the word ‘Peck’ was mentioned. She then motioned for the Pokémon to stand to one side, and released Rono instead. For some reason, the Aron made a beeline for me as soon as it appeared, and launched itself into my lap at high speed; the overall effect was like having an anvil land on my stomach. I yowled and sat bolt upright, but couldn’t dislodge Rono – he was easily as heavy as the Vespa, at just under the size of the average cat.

“Sapphire! What’s he doing?”

“I think he likes you,” she replied, smiling her lopsided smile. “Rono! Get off Kester, now.”

Evidently the Aron possessed more brain than Toro, because he understood even this complex command relatively easily and scampered away to Sapphire. His stubby legs clacked noisily on the metal floor, and when he blinked his great blue eyes, the lids made a noise like scissors closing.

“Rono,” Sapphire said, “try and avoid Toro’s attacks, OK?”

“What if he gets hit?” I asked.

Won’t do anything, Puck told me. Steel/Rock’s a good defensive typing. He resists all of Torchic’s moves except Ember, and he seems to be about Level 19 to me – he’ll take that easily.

“He’ll be fine,” Sapphire replied, more succinctly. “Toro, Ember!”

The Torchic leaped forwards, trailing fire from its beak; Rono curled up and rolled agilely to one side, then sprang open and turned to face the bird again.

“Now, Peck! Try to find a weak point!”

Rono’s weak point was obviously his eyes, but Toro didn’t seem to possess the intellect to understand fully what a weak point was, because she Pecked him square on his nose with a resounding metallic ring; her beak bounced off and she tumbled over backwards.

“Try that again,” Sapphire commanded wearily. “Toro, use Peck and look for a weak spot.”

This time, Toro missed completely; Rono curled up, rolled backwards and uncurled again, leaving the bird’s face to impact painfully with the floor. I was impressed by the little Aron’s agility – he didn’t look like he could move fast at all.

Basic error, Puck said. You come across a Donphan or an Aron, and they look really heavy and slow. But you have to watch out – lots of Pokémon have ways of moving that don’t rely on their legs. And sometimes they can be unexpectedly fast.

“Toro, Peck again.”

“Why do you keep doing that if it isn’t a good move?” I asked, watching Toro’s beak slide harmlessly off Rono’s back.

“Because she needs to learn the move properly,” Sapphire replied. “She’ll forget it unless she uses it properly, in a real battle. It’s taken me ages to get her to learn Peck even to this standard – Torchic are pretty stupid until they evolve. She isn’t like Rono. Toro, Peck and look for a weak spot.”

“I see.”

Whether by chance or design, Toro’s beak found its way into Rono’s cavernous eye socket; before it connected with the delicate organ itself, though, the Aron had hurled himself forwards and caught Toro in the chest in some sort of flying tackle. The Torchic uttered a dismayed cheep as she flew backwards and slid across the floor to come to rest at Sapphire’s feet.

“Hey, get up,” Sapphire said, kneeling and setting Toro on her feet again. “Go on. Give it another go. Peck!”

Toro gave it a good run up this time, bounding forwards on legs that seemed to stretch longer and longer with every stride—

—and launched an unexpected kick into Rono’s face, sending the little iron monster tumbling head over heels; landing on one toe and spinning, she snapped the other foot into his belly, and the Aron flew through the air and hit the far wall with a metallic clang. She came to rest crouched in the centre of the floor, legs longer and covered with a thin layer of down; her wings were slightly longer too, and a single claw protruded from the feathers of each one. Her head had shrunk a little, and her plumage seemed slightly lighter. All in all, she looked like a rather scruffy turkey on a pair of fluffy stilts.

“What just happened?” I asked, confused.

“She’s starting to evolve,” Sapphire cried, delighted, and went down on her knees to examine Toro further. “Look!”

I came over, and saw that slowly, like those time-lapse photography films of plants growing, Toro was altering before my eyes; millimetre by millimetre, her feathers were lengthening, and shade by shade, their colour was changing. She seemed to be getting taller, too.

“That’s amazing,” I breathed. “Like... wow.”

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire. “I’ve never seen a captive Pokémon evolve before.”

“I thought it was slower than that?” I said, as Toro regarded us with steadily widening eyes.

“It is in the wild,” Sapphire answered. “In the wild, Pokémon life cycles are pretty much entirely natural: there’s a slow transition from form to form. You know those black Pokémon you get around the edges of the cities – about this tall, really thin, with a slender head? Those are Transition Poochyena, in a growth stage between Poochyena and Mightyena. It usually takes a year for a Poochyena to attain maturity from birth. Same for a Torchic going to a Combusken – though to get to its final form, a Combusken will take about five years.”

“So why is this so fast?” I asked.

“Catching a growing Pokémon screws around with it,” Sapphire told me. “It makes their growth come in fits and bursts, like this. It’s fine for things that don’t evolve, but if they do evolve, they end up doing it like this – all at once, instead of a slow, gradual change.”

“Do Rotom evolve?” I asked, suddenly nervous.

“No.”

No. We’re perfect just the way we are.

“Good,” I said, relieved. Then I glanced up from Toro and noticed Rono wasn’t moving. “Hey! Sapphire – is Rono OK?”

She looked up sharply, and then ran over to her Aron’s side, pulling something diamond-shaped from her bag.

“He’s fainted,” she said uneasily. “I didn’t mean for that to happen... Toro, what the hell did you use on him?”

The Torchic-Combusken – I guessed Sapphire would call her a Transition Torchic – tipped her head on one side and glanced at her Trainer, but otherwise did nothing.

“Ugh,” Sapphire said, shaking her head. “Sorry, Rono.”

A sudden surge of hatred welled up within me, and I was about to shout at her when Puck interrupted.

Hey. I know you’re going to say, ‘Why do you care about those Pokémon so much and not at all about me?’, but shut up. Seriously, Kester, that’s going to damage your relationship – which has improved slightly, if you’re too stupid to notice. If you remember, she’s had that Aron for years, since she was just a little kid. You can’t spend that much time with someone and not get attached to them at all. On the other hand, you’ve just entered her life and have made things very complicated and annoying.

“Well, sorr-y,” I muttered angrily, but held my tongue; Puck was right, and I hated him for it. How was it that he was always in the right, and I in the wrong? It just wasn’t fair.

I’m wiser than you. Now stop moaning.

Sapphire pushed the little diamond-thing she held into Rono’s mouth; a second later, the Aron opened his eyes and struggled to his feet. One spray from a Potion and he seemed as good as new, scampering around the semi-evolved Toro and looking at her with wide, amazed eyes.

“A Revive brings around a fainted Pokémon,” she told me. “But you still need a Potion to heal them up fully.”

Rono noticed me and regarded me with his large, soulful eyes; carefully, he climbed onto my lap, making sure not to crush me this time.

“I like him,” I pronounced. Sapphire raised an eyebrow.

“What, because he likes you?”

“He’s the only one around here who does,” I said darkly, and stroked the Aron’s large metal head. Despite the fact that its skin was made of steel and it must have been difficult for him to even feel my fingers, he seemed to enjoy this and shut his eyes, emitting a little aura of contentment.

“Huh.” Sapphire returned her attention to Toro, whose legs were thickening and lengthening.

“You going to keep training?” I asked. Sapphire shook her head.

“Not Toro. She’s using up a lot of energy growing right now; I don’t want her fainting from exhaustion or anything. Give me Rono.”

I prodded the Aron, and somehow, he felt it; he opened one lazy eye and I pointed towards Sapphire. He got to his feet and scuttled over to his Trainer, who proceeded to put him through his paces: he used Headbutt, Metal Claw, Mud-Slap and Iron Defence. Sapphire then started to teach him a move called Roar, but Rono didn’t seem to have the necessary vocal capacity to pick it up – though he certainly understood what she was trying to get him to do. After a while, she gave up and just sat stroking him instead, looking like she was desperately trying not to be sick and gazing at Toro, who was still slowly mutating.

She was over twice her original height now at nearly three feet, with longer, thicker feathers of orange and yellow. Her wings seemed to be halfway through the process of becoming arms, though they still only had one finger each. Her head was in proportion to her body now, and her eyes seemed to gleam with new intelligence. The most striking change, though, was in her legs; no longer were they tiny and useless, stumpy limbs that seemed more hindrance than help. They were long and lithe and powerful, and armed with wicked-looking talons.

“This is a Combusken?” I asked.

“Not quite yet,” Sapphire said, and there was a knock at the door; swiftly, she recalled me. I guessed that a member of the ferry’s staff had come to tell her that her time in the room was up, or that we’d arrived in Slateport; it turned out to be the latter, because the first thing I saw when she let me out of the ball again was the Wharf.

It was the most famous dock in Hoenn: the Slateport Wharf, over a mile long and a full six hundred yards wide at its broadest point. It stretched from east to west, parallel to the main streets of the city, and it roared with life at all times of the day and night; no one noticed a lone boy appear out of a Pokéball amidst the confusion and bustle of the sailors, of passengers, of Pokémon; of the cargo cranes, swaying their long necks like huge drunken Girafarig; of the ships, the ferries and the supertankers, luxury liners and rowing boats, docking and undocking and gliding this way and that through the water. Some wrapped themselves in revealing cloaks of steam, others were dressed more demurely in puffed canvas sailcloth; some were large and some were small, and all were part of the great forest of masts and chimneys and funnels and spires that covered the sea on either side as far as the eye could see.

And all around them swarmed the people and their Pokémon: sailors on shore, and sailors on boats; passengers too, and I could hear shouting and laughter, curses and commands, and through it all the high wail of the omnipresent Wingull, screaming in the sky and from every available wall and roof.

“Whoa,” I breathed, looking around. “Now this is cool.”

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire, similarly dumbstruck. “I think I have to agree with you there.”

We stood there for a while, until someone pushed into us; Toro, who was still out of her ball, made a movement that suggested she might be going to hit them, but Sapphire held her back.

“No,” she said. “Stay. Be good and don’t hurt anyone.” She looked at me. “Come on. It’s quarter to five and I want to get rooms at the Pokémon Centre here.”

“‘Rooms’? Plural?” I queried, following her and Toro down the pier onto the Wharf proper; it was an uphill struggle, with the crowds as they were. “You’re going to get me a room?”

“Sorry. Slip of the tongue.” Sapphire flashed me a grin. “You know I can only get one room. You aren’t a registered Trainer.”

“You could let me spend the night outside the cupboard tonight,” I suggested hopefully.

Fat chance, Puck said.

“I don’t think so,” Sapphire said. “There’ll only be one bed, so it’s either the cupboard or the ball. I can’t have you sleeping in the same bed as me. You’re a boy.”

“I thought I was a Pokémon,” I muttered sulkily. Sapphire smiled, grabbed my wrist and forcefully dragged me through the crowd and onto the streets of Slateport proper.

It took us about half an hour to find and get to the Centre; since I didn’t want to go back in the ball, Sapphire made me wait outside while she got a room and dumped her stuff there. She reappeared fifteen minutes later, and immediately started walking again.

“Wait!” I cried, chasing after her. “Where are we going?”

“To investigate the Devon goods, of course,” she called back over her shoulder. “Come on!”

Oh boy, murmured Puck. This is where things get messy.

I ignored him, and followed Sapphire. I hoped to God she knew what she was doing, because there was a horrible feeling brewing in my stomach that told me that some kind of trouble was coming.

I should have expected it. I mean, looking into the goods had brought me nothing but bad luck so far.

But I was still a bit surprised when someone almost killed me that evening.

---

“Blast! You’ve won again.”

The young man threw his hands up in the air and settled back into his chair, looking unhappy. Stone smiled benevolently at him.

“I have,” he agreed happily. “I knew I could do it.”

They both stared at his pen for a while. It was perfectly balanced on its razor-sharp point, a slim vertical line of steel that looked as if it must be held up by some preternatural trick.

“Here’s the money, then,” the young man said, grudgingly handing over several billion Pokédollars in notes. “I can’t believe I lost that one! I was sure it was impossible.”

“Well, I’m afraid you were wrong,” Stone replied kindly. “Would you like another biscuit?” He proffered a dish, and his companion accepted eagerly.

“These are very good,” he remarked through a mouthful of crumbs. “Where do you get them?”

“I have a man who steals them from the kitchen at the TV station’s office.”

“Why don’t you just buy them?”

“I don’t know what they’re called.”

The young man and President Stone went back a very long way; they had known each other for years, one mega-billionaire to another, and had a habit of making rather extravagant wagers. These could be on anything from what the weather might be tomorrow, to whether or not Stone could buy a certain company within a certain amount of time, to the outcome of the other man’s attempts to convince his friends and relations that today was National Centipede Advocacy Day.

Or they could be about whether or not Stone could balance his pen on its nib. Having dropped by earlier and watched, with some interest, as Stone attempted this feat, the young man had bet that it was impossible. Now, he was forced to admit otherwise, though he didn’t seem particularly worried about parting with the money.

“Here’s a thought,” he said, leaning forwards and brushing fragments of biscuit from his shirt-front. “How about another little bet?”

“What would this one be?”

“The very greatest,” the young man said, with a self-satisfied nod. “The biggest, most spectacular bet in the history of mankind.”

Stone was interested now. This would be worth hearing.

“Do go on.”

“I wager that I can destroy the world,” his companion said, spreading his arms. “All of it – break it into pieces – and that I can do it, moreover, in less than, say, six months.”

Stone was flabbergasted, a word that does not suit many people, but fitted him admirably; his peculiar face seemed perfectly designed to express that emotion, with just the right slackness of jaw and roundness of eye.

“But – surely not!” he cried. “That’s quite impossible!”

“You might think so,” replied the young man, leaning back and steepling his fingers. “But I have a plan. In fact, I’ve already spent a month and a half preparing the first bit. It’s quite elaborate.”

“Well, I suppose I don’t have any choice but to accept your wager, then,” Stone said good-humouredly, not for a second believing that he was capable of losing the bet. “You’ve gone to all this trouble.”

“It’s settled, then?”

“No, first we must agree on the stakes.”

“Ah! Of course, the stakes.” The young man made a big show of thinking, stroking his chin and adopting a studious air. Then: “How about this: if you win, the world is saved, since I won’t have destroyed it.”

“And if—”

“—and if I win,” the young man continued with a grin, “then the world is over. That’ll be it. End of the game.”

Stone thought about it, and came to the conclusion that this bet was very heavily weighted in his favour – and it wasn’t as if he stood to lose anything by it. He smiled genially and held out a hand.

“Right.” The young man took the hand and shook it, and they both sat back and laughed over fine Rhenish wine.

Stone didn’t know it, but he had just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. It was a mistake that was going to cost a lot of people very dear, and the person it was going to damage the most was the supremely unlucky Kester Ruby, who was, at present, already in more danger than one could have safely shaken a stick at.

---

“Stay very still,” whispered a voice in my ear. “If you move, I’m going to shoot you.”

I froze instantly; if the threat wasn’t enough, the ring of steel pressing against the back of my head definitely was.

“Step to your right. Into the alley.”

I threw a glance at Sapphire, still walking down the road ahead of me, and thought about shouting for help – but decided I valued my life more than that, and meekly obeyed.

A hand spun me around, and I found myself looking unexpectedly into the face of the Team Aqua girl from the day before. She was no longer in uniform – she now wore sunglasses and a short, sleeveless blue dress that appeared to be held up predominantly by her neck – but I would have known her anywhere; no one else was even half as good-looking.

“Oh,” I said. “Er, hi.”

“Shut up,” she hissed, poking me in the chest with the barrel of her shotgun. “Go further into this alley.”

Remember what I was saying a few days ago about what would happen if you got shot? Puck asked. I don’t actually want to find out, so please do what she said.

I obeyed both of them, stepping cautiously into the depths of the alleyway. It terminated halfway down the length of another alley, each side of which led into darkness; here the Aqua girl stopped me and pushed me backwards into the wall, cold slime seeping through my coat from the bricks. The shotgun pushed up underneath my chin.

“OK, Kester,” she said; I realised for the first time that she had a slight accent. Hoennian was definitely not her first language. “You and I need to have a talk.”

“OK,” I replied readily, eager to maintain the state of life that I currently enjoyed. “Whatever you say. What do you want to talk about?”

“That Pokémon,” she told me, jabbing a finger painfully into the side of my head. I noted distractedly that for some strange reason, she was wearing sleeves of transparent plastic attached to armbands clamped around her upper arms. “What is it? How did it get there?”

I stared at her, amazed.

“How did you kn— ”

“Answer me.” She didn’t shout like Sapphire would have done; her voice was quiet and somehow old, and it was far scarier than anything Sapphire could have done. I practically gabbled my answer.

“A-a Rotom, his name’s Robin Goodfellow but he likes to be called Puck, and he got in there because of a horrible brain-scanner accident—”

More detail! More detail! Don’t die on me here!

“—because I crashed a Vespa—”

“Enough, enough,” the girl interrupted. “It was an accident, you said?”

“Yes, that’s right, I crashed—”

“I don’t care about that. Tell me about this brain-scanner.”

It’s a P-L.O.T. Device, tell her that!

“It’s called a P-L.O.T. Device, and the Rotom possessed it and when they scanned me it sort of... blasted him in...” I tailed off in response to the gun barrel shifting.

“A pure accident,” the girl muttered, more to herself than me. “But it can’t be... it can’t just be a coincidence that you...”

Quick! While she’s distracted, make a break for it!

“Are you crazy?” I murmured. “She’ll shoot me!”

“Don’t talk to him,” the Aqua girl said, jiggling the shotgun so that it stuck yet more painfully into my throat. “Or I’ll shoot you.” She seemed to size me up for a moment, then added: “My name is... You can call me Felicity.”

“Er... Hello, Felicity.”

“Just like a man. Glib to the end.” Felicity’s eyes cast a sardonic gaze over my face.

I wanted to shout: “How is that a defining male characteristic?” but wisely held my tongue.

“Kester, we need to talk,” Felicity said. “There are things you ought to know. Things to do with that Rotom.” The headphones clamped to her ears buzzed suddenly, and the faint music that escaped them changed to a low voice that I couldn’t make out properly; listening, Felicity grimaced. “Something’s come up. Another time, then,” she said, and without another word of explanation she withdrew the gun and vanished down the left-hand alleyway.

I stood there for a long moment, unsure of exactly what had just happened.

Kester, said Puck. Is it just me, or was she the weirdest person we’ve met yet?

“Don’t know about that,” I said. “President Stone takes some beating. But she was definitely the scariest.”

Oh yeah, Puck agreed. Without a shadow of a doubt.

I walked unsteadily back to the main street, and bumped into Sapphire, coming the other way to look for me.

“Where the hell did you go?” she demanded furiously.

“I just had my life threatened by that Aqua girl from yesterday,” I replied tiredly. “She rammed a shotgun into my neck and told me to tell her about the Rotom in my head.”

Sapphire looked taken aback.

“How did she know about that?”

“I don’t know. She said she had things to tell me that I ought to know, but she got some sort of message through that earpiece thing she wears and just ran off without telling me.”

“Her bosses must have called her with a job or something.” Sapphire scowled. “I don’t like this.”

“Funnily enough, I didn’t exactly enjoy it, either.”

“Shut up. Come on, this doesn’t change anything. We still have to find out about those goods.” Sapphire began walking briskly down the road, back in the direction we’d been going before Felicity showed up.

“Wait!” I cried, running to catch up. “You still haven’t told me where we’re going!”

Sapphire paused and looked back over one shoulder.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked. “Where else would you go to find out about the goods than Angel Laboratories?”

“Ah – hold on!” I cried, alarmed. “That sounds like it could be just as dangerous as going to Devon.”

Sapphire shrugged and started walking again.

“Potentially. If they realise who we are, then yes.”

She’s right. They’re probably nastier than the Devon guys down there – weirder, too.

“You’re not helping!” I hissed violently. Sapphire sighed, stopped again and turned to me. At her side, Toro chirruped impatiently.

“Look,” she said, “if you can think of another way to find out about these goods, I’m all ears.”

“Well – I – er...” I trailed off, disheartened. Sapphire nodded triumphantly.

“Thought so,” she said. “So – to Angel.”

“I really hate you,” I told her. “You know that, right?”

Sapphire’s quirky grin twisted her face into something unexpectedly pretty.

“I know,” she replied winningly. “Let’s go.”

And she walked off down the street, Toro at her heels and me trailing disconsolately behind her.

---

Fabien and Blake stood and stared.

“You think ’e’s alive?” asked Blake, prodding the ragged heap of skin and fur before them with the tip of one shoe.

“Maybe.” Fabien crouched down for further analysis; the subject of this examination was freezing cold to the touch, and beads of icy water had formed on its blue hair. The delicate wing-skin was cracked, a net of reddish lines running across its surface like crazy paving.

Most arrestingly of all, Goishi’s massive tongue was frozen into a rigid spiral, wrapped around his body as if it were a python caught in the act of suffocating him. His whole body was stiff, and his great mouth gaped in an even more motionless grin than usual.

But the most chilling feature was not his tongue, or his mouth: it was his eyes, those small, beady white eyes; they were fixed wide open, and the pupils had shrunk to tiny pinpricks of abject terror.

Cutlerine
February 2nd, 2011, 12:09 AM
Chapter Ten: A Disguise Too Far

Angel Laboratories: a vast, perfectly cubic mass of brown-green stone, pockmarked with tiny windows that looked like the first symptoms of some ungodly tropical disease. I later found out that the company researched new naval technologies, but for all the clues the façade gave me, they might as well have made sweets.

“How did you know where it was?” I asked. We were a long way from the Pokémon Centre, down at the Wharf, about thirty blocks east of the pier where we’d arrived. It had also taken an unreasonably long walk on our part to get here – it was now a little past six, and I was hungry and tired in equal measure.

Stop complaining, Puck said wearily. It makes my plasma quiver.

“It’s not my first visit,” Sapphire said. “About two years ago, Dad brought me here to get some radio tracking beacons to tag migratory Swellow with.”

“Oh. So, do we...”

“Go in, yes.” Sapphire strode confidently up to the revolving doors and into the lobby. I hesitated – partly due to a rational fear of Angel Laboratories, and partly due to an irrational fear of revolving doors (born from the business that happened last year) – and then followed.

Much to my surprise, there wasn’t actually a lobby; the doors opened straight onto what seemed to be some sort of shipyard, half greenish tiles and half water; cranes arced around the vast, girder-braced ceiling like Gothic fan vaulting, dangling cables and hooks as thick around as my waist. A cobweb of catwalks criss-crossed the upper reaches of the chamber, and in the pool of seawater lay the near-complete hulk of a colossal submarine, the letters S.S. CANGREJO painted neatly on its gleaming white flank. Workmen scuttled over and around it like ants stripping a carcass, and scientists dashed to and fro with alarmingly large quantities of number-stained paper tucked under their arms. Every wall space that didn’t house a crane or a random girder seemed to have a computer terminal built into it, and every single terminal had four or five men and women fighting to use it. Overall, it seemed to me we’d stumbled into a nightmarish mish-mash of low-quality disaster movie and a whaling novel.

Hey! Puck cried, annoyed. That ‘Gothic fan vaulting’ thing is my description!

“Who’s point of view is this?” I asked under my breath.

Do you even know what fan vaulting is?

“Shut up. Whatever thoughts are in my head are my property – regardless of who thinks them.”

That’s not fair...

“My head, my rules. If you don’t like it, get out.”

At this point, a round-faced man in a pale blue suit with violently green hair (his hair, not the suit’s) came over to us, and asked if he could help.

“Yes,” answered Sapphire. “Yes, you can. We’re here about the goods.”

The man looked shifty all of a sudden.

“What goods? We don’t have any goods. Do we have any goods?” he called out to the rest of the room. All two hundred-odd workers stopped simultaneously and answered with a deafening:

“No!”

“There you go,” said the man. “There are no goods.”

“We’re from Devon,” Sapphire said. “We’re... researchers.”

The man’s expression changed again, now to a politely disbelieving smile.

“Really?” he asked. “You don’t look it.”

“Undercover,” Sapphire said.

“Deep undercover,” I put in, feeling left out.

“So deep that we seemed to have fooled even your self-evidently sharp senses,” Sapphire concluded. “The point is, we’ve... we’ve been assigned to guard the premises while the operation takes place. I’m sure you know that Devon has a vested interest in its success – we’re not disparaging your own guards or anything.” She nodded sagaciously. I was so impressed by the sheer audacity of the lie that I almost believed her. Obviously, the man in the blue suit was taken in as well, because he replied:

“I see. I didn’t know that, but that’s to be expected. Huh! Mister Michaelangelo never tells me anything.”

That is most definitely not how you spell ‘Michelangelo’, Puck said suspiciously.

“Mind you,” said the man, “that is a masterly disguise. The Combusken’s a nice touch – really gives that air of hopeless newbie Trainer. Anyway,” he continued, “we ought to continue this discussion somewhere quieter.” He glanced around at the chaos that filled the rest of the room, and led us to a small door to one side. We passed through it into a narrow, dimly-lit corridor that reminded me of the Akumano Hospital back in Rustboro; as soon as the door shut behind us, the noise of the shipyard entirely ceased. “That’s better,” said the man. “If you’ll just follow me to my office...?”

We did so, and it turned out to be a small, Spartan affair, furnished with nothing more than two old chairs, half a candle, and one old jug without a handle. The lack of filing space was acute – papers were piled waist-high in several stacks in the corner.

“I’m sorry about this,” the man said apologetically, “but I don’t have a desk. Or enough chairs, it seems.”

“Don’t worry,” Sapphire said brightly. “My partner will stand.”

“Wh – yes, I suppose I will.” I gritted my teeth and watched as Sapphire dropped happily into the nearer of the two chairs; to my eternal disappointment, it failed to give way beneath her. The blue-suited man sat across from us.

“My name is Usher,” he told us, holding out a wide hand for us to shake, “Usher House.”

“Sarah Willow,” Sapphire replied. “And this is my partner, Jack Tennyson.”

At this, Usher’s eyes widened, and he shook my hand with no small amount of reverence and fear.

“A Tennyson,” he breathed. “Devon thinks this is that important?”

“Um, yes,” I admitted, not understanding at all but happy to have upstaged Sapphire. “It’s a matter of, er, stupendous gravity.”

“Well – um – I’m honoured,” Usher said. “Is there anything I can get you, sir? Tea? Coffee?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” I assured him, though I would have liked both, and a massive sandwich to go with them.

If you ask for that, he’ll get them for you, Puck said with amusement. ‘Tennyson’ is the highest rank of Devon researcher – semi-mythical, the stuff of urban legends. He’s terrified of you.

“Er – OK. What was it you wanted to talk about, then? Sir?”

Sapphire jumped in with the answer, obviously angry at being outranked by me.

“The goods,” she answered. “We’ve been so deep undercover we don’t have any idea what they actually are. I was wondering if you could help us with that.”

Usher looked regretful.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, addressing me, “but I can’t help you there, sir. You see, a Goodwin researcher was meant to deliver them a short while ago, but he hasn’t arrived. And I don’t actually know what they are – only Mister Michaelangelo knows that. I do know they’re of vital importance, though.”

“We already knew that,” I replied authoritatively. “It’s a pity you can’t help us. Is there a way we can speak to Mister Michelangelo?”

“Ah! Sir, if you’ll permit me to correct you” – here he flinched a little, as if afraid I might see fit to strike him for this insubordination – “you have to pronounce the extra ‘a’. It’s not Michelangelo, like the Renaissance artist – it’s Michaelangelo. Quite a different name, sir.”

It sounded the same to me, but I repeated the question anyway.

“Goodness me, no,” Usher said. “No one sees Mister Michaelangelo. Not even I do – and I run Angel for him. He’s always out, you see.”

“You must have an idea of where he goes? Or have some other way to communicate with him?”

“No, sir,” replied Usher mournfully. “That’s why I run Angel for him. He never turns up to work; we’d have him fired but he’s the boss, and we can’t. I met him only once, sir, when I came to apply for my job here – he said he would be out a lot, pursuing his hobby.”

“His hobby?”

“Needlessly harassing young Trainers, sir.” Usher regarded us for a moment. “Actually, you might be able to lure him in, you know – with your disguises and all.”

“Well, thank you for your time,” I said, hauling Sapphire from her seat. “We’ll be in touch soon, to make further arrangements for the guarding.”

“We need to sort out our lodgings,” Sapphire explained, wrenching her arm free from my grip and surreptitiously treading on my foot. Usher smiled broadly.

“But sir, we can put you up here,” he told me. “Angel is like Devon, you know – we have luxury suites for honoured guests such as yourselves. Why, we own the Calavera Tower.”

I tried very hard not to look surprised; the Calavera Tower was famous throughout Hoenn as the most enigmatic and unnerving edifice in the country. One hundred and forty-three floors of black glass, topped with a massive skull carved of a single, colossal block of jet, it stood near the Slateport Wharf, staring out to see like the reanimated corpse of Rhodes’ Colossus; no one seemed to know what it was for, only that the gates were always locked, and not a soul went in or out. In that respect, it was rather like a chocolate factory.

“Yes, we were aware of that,” lied Sapphire. “We – er – didn’t think we’d receive quite such an offer from you.”

“It’s nothing, sir, I assure you,” beamed Usher. “I’ll take you there right away.”

Sapphire looked helplessly at me, and I looked back, similarly worried. This was an unforeseen and not at all welcome development. It didn’t help that Puck was laughing like a hyena in the back of my head.

Usher got up and, beckoning to us, left the office, threading his way through the surprisingly expansive corridor network until he reached a large, intimidating steel door, beside which was a black stone plinth with what appeared to be a mantrap mounted on top. Before I could fully appreciate the nonsensical nature of the set-up, however, Usher plunged his hand between the jaws of the mantrap, and a red light passed over his palm. The door slid open, revealing another dark corridor beyond, and I guessed that if he hadn’t had authorisation to go beyond that point the trap would have taken his hand off.

The corridor beyond was so dimly-lit that the only way to progress was to follow the faint, inexplicable glow of Usher’s brightly-coloured hair; Sapphire, Toro and I felt for the walls more than once, but they always seemed to elude our hands – despite welcoming our heads with open arms.

“Why is it so dark?” Sapphire asked.

“Security reasons,” Usher replied. “There are certain guardian Pokémon in here that... react badly to light.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“But sir, of course a Tennyson like yourself will know,” Usher protested. “Wasn’t it one of your own who designed the system?”

“Uh... yeah. Just – just testing you.”

“Ah. Of course, sir. Very good.”

After some time, Usher stopped, and all three of us bumped into his back; he made sure I was all right, then scanned his palm again and unlocked a door, setting loose streams of blinding light that we stumbled into with varying degrees of grimacing and screwing-up of eyes. When I could stand to open them again, however, I was amazed.

We stood to one side of the fanciest lobby I’d ever seen; a richly-patterned carpet cloaked the floor in a thick, shaggy veil of red and gold; Corinthian columns of white Pentelic marble (such as you would find at the base of some of the columns at the Pantheon) made a ribcage of the walls, and a splendid example of fake lierne quadripartite vaulting executed in moulded plaster turned the ceiling into a veritable work of art. Even the desk was carved from a beautiful piece of solid Imperial Porphyry.

Kester! cried Puck. Stop stealing my descriptions! You don’t even know anything about architecture.

“Like I said,” I whispered, “my head, my rules.”

Usher exchanged a few words with the beautiful lady at the desk, and she glanced reverentially in our direction, though Sapphire and I were mostly distracted by our amazing surroundings, and by our gnawing worry about what was going to happen to us when Darren Goodwin arrived with the goods and recognised us.

Before we could discuss any of it, though, Usher ushered us – Ha! That’s the worst joke we’ve had all day, and that includes this new running gag about architecture – into a lift that ascended with the speed and silence of a striking cobra. If I’d been in there for more than the twelve seconds it took it to reach the top of the Calavera Tower, I probably would have been in more awe of the mirrored walls, solid gold handrails and the string quartet, but as it was we left too quickly for me to take them in properly.

Usher led us down another corridor, this one light and airy rather than claustrophobic and dark, and stopped at one of three widely-spaced red doors.

“This is our finest penthouse suite, sir,” he told me. “I hope you find it to your satisfaction.”

He opened the door, and I stared in to see a veritable profusion of glamour and good taste; across a wide expanse of Persian rug, I noted a pair of windows that displayed beautiful reticulated tracery, with foliated ogees—

You’re taking this too far, Puck said sourly. Seriously. The same joke three times in two thousand words? It’s just not acceptable. He paused. Also, those are ordinary French windows, you stupid meatface. This is an apartment, not a cathedral.

“Sorry,” I whispered. “I couldn’t resist. I’ll skip the rest of the description, then – I’m sure they can guess what it looks like.”

“There are several bedrooms,” Usher was saying. “I’m sure you can find ones to your satisfaction.” He let us get in, then continued. “Is there anything else you require, sir?”

“Er... not right now,” I said, thinking hard. “Um... I don’t want to be rude, but Devon flew us in from Kanto for this. We’re pretty tired, so could you please leave us alone to get some sleep, and tell us when the goods get here?”

“Of course, sir.” Usher bowed a bow made up of obsequiousness and terror in equal parts, and left hurriedly, shutting the door behind him. I let out a sigh of relief and dropped onto the sofa, placing one hand on my brow and shutting my eyes wearily.

“God. That was tense.”

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire, pushing my legs out of the way and taking the lion’s share of the available sofa space. “What was with that ‘Tennyson’ thing?”

“It’s the highest rank of researcher, apparently,” I told her. “Puck? Further explanations?”

Devon researchers are named in code. Their first name is their real first name – but very few people know their true surnames, because when they become researchers they have it replaced with a ranking. ‘Keyes’ is the lowest, and ‘Tennyson’ is the highest. Our mutual friend Darren is a Goodwin – third-highest rank, authorised to use lethal force as and when they see fit.

I relayed this information to Sapphire, who asked another question:

“What is a Devon researcher, really?”

Believe me, kid, you don’t want to know.

“Look,” I said, after giving Sapphire the message and regretting it, “we should be thinking about how to get out of here.”

“I have no idea how we do that,” she replied. “You think of something.”

“No, you think of something,” I snapped angrily. “I wanted to get some food and sleep, but you were like, oh, let’s go to Angel, see what we can find out about the goods. Now we’re in the lap of luxury in a beautifully-decorated building!”

I think you placed emphasis on the wrong aspects of your situation there, Puck pointed out, but I ignored him. Sapphire looked surprised at my sudden outburst; I think she’d got used to me as nothing more than irritating background noise, and certainly not anything with feelings or a spine.

“What do you expect of me?” she asked at length, all the pugnacity gone from her voice. “I’m seventeen and kind of arrogant. I made a mistake, and I really don’t know what to do.”

I almost felt sorry for her, I really did; she sounded so small and defeated, and looked so lost with her shoulders slumped and her head down – but she was cruel and oppressive, and so I just glowered and said:

“You got us into this mess. You get us out again.”

A long, heavy silence settled over us; we sat at opposite ends of the sofa, resolutely not looking at each other, faces set into the same expression, beloved of teenagers the world over, of petty fury mingled with loathing. A large, ornate cuckoo clock told us in a clicking voice that exactly ninety-one minutes passed before either of us moved; it was me, reaching for the TV remote. As soon as I touched it, however, sparks crackled around my fingers and the gigantic screen opposite us burst into life, displaying a round orange face with curious bisected blue eyes.

“Yo, kids,” Puck said, “this is Robin Goodfellow broadcasting. Kester, don’t drop the remote or this picture disappears.” He paused, presumably to see if I would let go of the remote – but I was too busy staring at his image onscreen in slack-jawed astonishment to do so. “Right. Explanation: I’m a Rotom, we can control machinery, blah blah blah. More importantly: will you two stop acting like you’re twelve?”

Sapphire and I simultaneously jerked backwards, as if we’d been slapped.

“Yes, you heard me. Grow up, the pair of you. You need to get out of here soon – or haven’t you realised that dear old Darren probably woke up in time to catch the evening boat to Slateport, which means he’ll be getting here at about nine?”

I exchanged a brief glance with Sapphire. She hadn’t thought of that either; like me, she’d worked out he’d come here, but not when.

“So,” continued the Rotom, “you’d better swallow your pride, make up fast and get us out of here. Because it’s now almost eight o’clock, and at this rate you’re going to be right where Darry-boy can get you.”

He gazed insolently at us for a while after that, as if expecting us to say something in our defence – but we were still too surprised at his sudden appearance.

“Go on,” he urged. “Say you’re sorry, give each other a hug and get over it.”

I looked at Sapphire, and Sapphire looked back. The expression of revulsion on her face was probably only equalled by the one on mine; the idea of either of us going anywhere near the other was completely out of the question.

“Kester, if you don’t do this I’ll fry your brain again,” Puck said, sounding bored, “and Sapphire, if you don’t, well... Darren’s getting closer.”

“Fine,” I said slowly, after great deliberation. “Sapphire... I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” she replied, speaking as if through a mouthful of treacle. “Really... sorry.”

“Now hug, to make sure you’re completely reconciled.” Sapphire nodded at me, and I hurled the remote across the room; as soon as it left my grasp, the TV flickered and died, the picture disappearing.

Aw, said Puck, disappointed. I was enjoying that.

“I know you were, you sadistic little freak,” I murmured. “That’s what worries me.” Then, more loudly and to Sapphire: “So... what do you suggest we do?”

“I could put you in your ball and drop it out the window,” Sapphire suggested. “When it hit the ground, you’d be released. Then you could... um... get help, or something.”

That would actually destroy the ball, Puck objected. It would break on impact, then Kester would take all the force of falling a hundred and forty-three floors by himself.

I relayed this interesting piece of information to Sapphire, who conceded that perhaps that plan wasn’t the best after all.

“I don’t really have any other ideas,” Sapphire said, anxiously chewing a fingernail. “Kester? Anything?”

“Er... Toro?” I asked, hoping against hope that she’d have a plan. The Combusken – for such she was now; I think she’d fully finished evolving – was obviously blessed with greater intellect than she had been as a Torchic, because she shook her head and gave a distinctly mournful chirp.

“This is really, really bad,” Sapphire noted unnecessarily.

You’re telling me, said Puck. I really don’t wish to... um... you know what? Forget I just said that.

“Puck, stop alluding to things and then not telling me what they are. It’s getting really annoying.” I sighed. “Sapphire, I think we’re stuck here. Really. You think Darren Goodwin will fall for being headbutted on the nose for a third time?”

She raised one sardonic eyebrow, and I sighed again.

“Thought not.”

Silence fell again, only it was now a desperate one full of frantic thinking; however despite the speed with which we schemed, we came up with nothing. At least, Puck and I did – but twenty-five minutes later, Sapphire said slowly:

“What do you suppose they do if there’s a fire, and someone’s trapped up here?”

“I guess they have – a way out!” I replied, seeing the light. “Sapphire, that’s brilliant!”

Immediately after I’d said it, I regretted praising her – but it was too late, and the quirky smile spread across her face, turning it into a picture of triumphant glee.

Actually, I think she’s just happy to be praised, Puck ventured, but I ignored him.

“So,” Sapphire said. “Either there’s a fire escape – which is impossible on a skyscraper like this – or there’s some sort of emergency lift.”

“What about a warp?” I asked. “Or an Abra or something?”

Sapphire shook her head.

“Warp panels tend to malfunction at very high or very low temperatures,” she told me. “They’re not safe during a fire. And an Abra couldn’t take more than one person at a time – nothing less powerful than an Alakazam would be able to Teleport two or more at once, and they’re too expensive. No, there’ll be an emergency lift.”

“OK,” I said. “So, how do we find this lift?”

“Not sure,” Sapphire replied. “I guess I might not be right. There are lots of different ways to get people out of a fire, I suppose.” She grinned.

“How will we find out?”

“How do you think?” Sapphire asked. “We start a fire, of course.” As one, we looked at Toro.

“That’s a bad idea,” I pointed out. “What if we don’t get out?”

“We will, though." Sapphire sounded so certain that I was almost convinced. "Look, Kester, this is a very valuable building. Correct?"

"Correct," I replied.

"Belonging to a rich, powerful organisation?"

"Correct."

"This organisation has just received a pair of very important guests?"

"Correct."

"So, in short, there is no reason why this building shouldn't be fully fire-protected!" cried Sapphire triumphantly. "They wouldn't put us here otherwise, and they definitely have the money to defend it."

"OK, OK," I said wearily. "You win. But if this doesn't work, I am going to be so angry."

Sapphire raised an eyebrow.

"You? Effectively angry at me? Dream on, Kester. Toro, Ember!”

The Combusken made a curious motion that looked something like a salute and extended her arms, placing her hands together at the wrists with the palms outspread; a plume of fire shot out from her hands and consumed the coffee table. Taken in all, the action seemed to be one the sort found in films of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nature.

“She’s much stronger,” I commented with no small amount of alarm; the fire spread swiftly over the carpet, and Sapphire and I retreated to the doorway.

“Cleverer, too. She must have finished evolving,” Sapphire said, recalling Toro. The fire alarm suddenly began to shrill from some unseen location; fat blobs of black smoke were beginning to fill the air in the penthouse apartment, and the nasty smell of burning luxury to waft towards our noses.

“So,” I said, as the fire reached the door, and we were forced to back down the corridor, “how was this supposed to reveal where the exit is?”

“I’m sure there’ll be some sort of instructions,” said Sapphire as calmly as possible; we had our backs to the lifts now, and most of the corridor was ablaze. The size and speed of the fire was uncanny – almost as if the place had been soaked in petrol. The lights had all gone out, and the sole illumination came from the red-orange glow of the flames, throwing flickering, creeping shadows against the walls. Pungent black smoke swirled above our heads, obscuring the ceiling.

“Sapphire,” I said.

“Yes?”

“Please admit that I was right, and this was a bad idea. It would mean a lot to me, seeing as it’s the last thing I’m ever going to hear.”

There was a long pause.

“OK,” she said at length, “I’ve made a mistake, and I think we’re going to die.”

nokyo-chan
February 3rd, 2011, 09:28 AM
Oh my goodness!! This story is so amazing that I'm quite surprised there aren't any reviews; it's simply hilarious. I absolutely love your characterization of Rotom. He's mischievous yet lovable, and Kester reacts to him exactly the way you would expect a person to react. I've only read the first two chapters, and I'm working on the rest, but I just had to pop in and let you know how much I'm enjoying your story! XD

Cutlerine
February 4th, 2011, 12:15 AM
Oh my goodness!! This story is so amazing that I'm quite surprised there aren't any reviews; it's simply hilarious. I absolutely love your characterization of Rotom. He's mischievous yet lovable, and Kester reacts to him exactly the way you would expect a person to react. I've only read the first two chapters, and I'm working on the rest, but I just had to pop in and let you know how much I'm enjoying your story! XD

Why, thank you. As thanks for taking the time to read it, and for your kind words, I shall put up another chapter later on today.

Cutlerine
February 4th, 2011, 08:09 AM
Chapter Eleven: The Power of the Goodwin

Fabien and Blake sat on hard plastic chairs in the waiting room in the Pokémon Centre’s medical wing; Goishi was somewhere in its depths, being ministered to by the doctors. Rarely did they find themselves in this position; of their two Pokémon, Goishi was by far the more reliable, and he hadn’t been injured badly enough to be hospitalised for about a year. That time, Fabien recalled uneasily, had been during the battle for Lilycove’s Shamuta Canal, when a Sharpedo’s lucky Ice Fang had clipped his wing and sent him tumbling to the asphalt; the frozen flesh had shattered into four pieces and had required intense surgery.

Ordinarily, of course, no Pokémon Centre would serve a Magma or an Aqua, in the same way they wouldn’t serve a Devon researcher or an axe murderer, but as long as you weren’t obviously a crook they would do it, fearful of reprisals from the Teams. As long as the appearance of respectability could be maintained, the Centre management were happy to do pretty much anything.

“Mister Latch?”

Fabien and Blake looked up, to see a Nurse Joy emerging from the double doors, carrying a clipboard. Traditionally, the role of Nurse to Pokémon was allocated to women – but this one was a rare male, perhaps in his mid-thirties, looking tired and harassed with two days’ worth of stubble on his chin.

“Yeah?” Fabien stood up; it was he who possessed the surname ‘Latch’.

“Your Golbat is... more or less OK.” Fabien exchanged a relieved glance with Blake, then turned back to the doctor sharply.

“Mostly OK? What does that mean?”

The doctor took a deep breath.

“He’s been fully thawed out and the bleeding stopped, don’t worry about that. But... he does seem to have acquired some sort of mark on his back that we can’t seem to get rid of.”

“A mark?” Fabien looked puzzled. “Can I see him?”

“He’s right here.”

The doctor handed him Goishi’s ball, and Fabien released the Golbat; he took one glance at his master and turned away from him in disgust.

Fabien and Blake stared.

On Goishi’s back was a curious, claw-like symbol, like a talon crossed with a broken sword, printed in very light blue and outlined with dark. It looked like it was done in paint – but it didn’t seem to have been brushed on.

“Do you have any idea how this happened?” Fabien asked, crouching down to examine it.

“No,” admitted the doctor. “We do have a Kirlia here for reading thoughts and memories in cases where it’s necessary, but we can’t use her on a Golbat – it’s the Poison typing, you see. Psychic moves just kill them.”

“Yes,” Fabien agreed, recalling Goishi. “They do that.” He straightened up and shook the doctor’s hand. “Well, thank you very much anyway.” With that and a pleasant smile, he walked out, Blake trailing behind him.

---

“If I were free,” Felicity muttered to herself. “Oh, if I were free...”

She was back in Aqua uniform, still wearing the sunglasses and trying to ignore a headache. Around her, the Aqua’s main Slateport garage dripped acidic water from its cracked ceiling; the tarpaulins on a hundred nondescript cars of varying model, make and colour rustled gently in accordance with some unknown wind. It was not the most pleasant garage she’d ever been in by a long way, but here she was and here she had to stay, for now at least.

The man who she worked for – unwillingly, she would have stressed – had ordered her to return to an Aqua base, where the Team would have orders for her. These orders now required the arrival of her absent partner; despite her earlier words to Barry, Felicity did not know how to drive. She had never needed to.

Felicity sighed and started chewing her knuckle. She knew, and her boss knew, that the two Magmas that Team Aqua had just ordered her and Barry to detain had not appeared for the express purpose of taking the goods from Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch. She knew this because her boss had told her that Ruby wasn’t working for the Magmas at all; he and Birch were just trying to unravel the mystery. The goods themselves were in the possession of Devon – though the Aquas seemed to think that Ruby and Birch had somehow stolen them back again, based on reports of a rampaging Exploud mysteriously defeated on Dewford Island.

Why, then, was there a Magma duo in the city? Felicity could only imagine that they were heading for Angel Laboratories, hoping to catch Devon’s man as he delivered the goods. She scratched her head. It was all ridiculously complicated; the main point was, she thought, that both Teams had the wrong end of the stick, and that the only person in possession of all the facts was her boss.

At that point, Barry came into the garage, stubbing out a cigarette on the palm of his hand; doubtless this was meant to be impressive, but Felicity just found it mildly repulsive.

“I’m here,” he announced, though his size rendered this statement somewhat unnecessary.

“Get in the car,” Felicity ordered. “I’ve been here long enough.”

“Shut up,” growled Barry, but he got in anyway, and Felicity slid into the passenger seat.

“We’re headed to Angel Laboratories,” Felicity said, as they drove out into the sunlit evening streets. “That’s where the Magmas are going.”

“How do you know?” asked Barry. “Why would they be going there? I saw the Devon man on the boat to Dewford, and I think the Magma weapon-boy stole the goods off him on the island.”

Felicity resisted the urge to pound the truth through his thick skull and simply replied:

“We have information. I don’t know why they’re going there.”

“Well, if we have information...” Barry’s tone of voice made it very clear that he would rather the Team gave him all the information rather than pass it to him via this woman, but he turned left in the direction of Angel anyway.

A few minutes later, Barry spoke again.

“Turn off the music.”

Felicity sighed.

“No.”

“Do it.”

“No.”

“I’ll break your headphone—”

“I’ll shoot you,” Felicity replied baldly, waving her shotgun precariously near his face. At this, Barry seemed to accept he’d lost the battle – for now, at least. Red-faced with anger, he hunched low over the wheel and muttered darkly to himself in whispers of a similar resonance to the rumble before a volcanic eruption.

And so on they went, the two Aquas, as if nothing untoward was happening; as if Felicity was normal and free, and as if there wasn’t something growing inside her that wanted to come out, and as if she wasn’t currently bound in slavery to a certain young man who had a certain unfathomable hankering for the apocalypse.

---

Tomorrow was his wedding anniversary, and Darren Goodwin was not pleased.

His wife knew what he was, and what his job entailed; she knew that he often had to go away for periods of time – and she had been so understanding when he had told her that he had to miss their anniversary. If anything, that had made it worse, just deepening the guilt and distemper that rotted like a misshapen cancer in his mind. He had walked out of his little house in Rustboro in leaden spirits, and, if anything, those spirits had dropped further over the course of the day.

All this and more he contemplated as he lay on his back in the dirt next to an obscure path on Dewford Island, staring up at the ultra-blue sky and the occasional scudding cloud.

After a little while, he closed his eyes and hauled himself to his feet. There was a slight pain in his cheek from where he had been punched – but Darren was a Goodwin, and he did not let such trifling injuries hold him back.

He walked down the path, following the small footprints left by Sapphire and the large ones of Giga; the sun grew oppressively warm on his back, and he found that he had to remove his green overcoat and carry it over one arm.

When he got to the beach, Darren was discouraged but not surprised to find Giga stretched out on the sand, apparently unconscious, taking great wheezy breaths through all his pipes at once. Red blotches had appeared all over his leathery hide, and his eyes, wide and unseeing, were so bloodshot as to resemble a pair of tomatoes.

“So much for ball number one,” the Goodwin said aloud, and bent down to dislodge the Nosepass from the back of his Pokémon’s throat. Shoving the stone monster’s body into the cave, Darren recalled Giga and put his ball back into his pocket. Next time he met the Aqua girl or Kester, he thought, he would use his second Pokémon. There was little or no chance that either of them would be strong enough to tackle that – not at their current levels of strength, anyway.

Darren walked back to the docks, and inquired about the next boat to Slateport; an hour later, he was aboard a ferry, this one full of day-trippers making their way back home after a day at Pickly Towers or whatever the current fashionable Dewford theme park was.

He read a little, after examining the goods to make sure they hadn’t been damaged, and the time passed swiftly for him. It was not long until he arrived at the roaring tumult of the Wharf, and he walked through the gathering twilight to Angel Laboratories. A faint hope fluttered in his breast that perhaps the girl and Kester would be here, and that he could detain them tonight. That would be perfect; he could catch the midnight ferry and be back in Rustboro by six in the morning, or even earlier if he was lucky.

The great blocky body of Angel rose before him, like some vast, cubic fungus, whose hyphae, unseen, ranged underground all over the city, feeding off the chaos it generated. Darren scowled at it, and walked up to the lobby.

At this point, two men in red suits stepped out of the shadows, blocking his path.

“You’re the Devon man, I presume,” said the one on the left. Darren’s hand went to his pocket, but there was a warning click and the man on the right had raised a gun, aiming it directly at his head. Absently, Darren’s combat-trained mind categorised it as a Browning nine millimetre.

“You’re here for the goods?” the Goodwin asked coolly.

“What do you think?” rejoined the one on the left. He had withdrawn a Poké Ball from his pocket, and now dropped it to the ground. “Goishi!”

From the ball emerged a lithe Golbat, possessed of a larger-than-average tongue; it looked around wildly for a moment, adjusting to its new surroundings, then fixed its eyes on Darren’s.

“When the nice Devon man decides to hand over the goods,” its Trainer said, “get them and bring them over here.”

“Ee-e-eeek,” agreed the blue bat, and cycled through several expressions before settling on a pugnacious glare. Darren was mildly surprised that it could express itself so well using only its eyes, but said nothing.

“Well?” asked the Golbat-owning Magma.

The Goodwin thought of the goods, and of what they were for; he thought of his imminent wedding anniversary, and of his wife back home in Rustboro; he thought of the gun, and of the Golbat, and of the blank red glass discs that hid the Magma men’s eyes.

And he reached into the black bag on his back and pulled something out, something wrapped securely in oilcloth and tightly tied with a steel cable, and held it out to the Magmas with a smile.

“Catch,” he said, and hurled the Devon goods high into the air with all the strength he possessed.

Both Magmas traced its upward flight with their eyes; their Golbat screeched, beat its wings and launched itself after it. Darren reached into his pocket, fingers scraping over the sticker marked ‘2’, and rushed forwards, intent on disarming the gunman—

—when a blue car ground to halt, tyres spinning and fishtailing wildly, just in front of him. He stopped dead and leaped back as the door in front of him opened, disgorging a giant in Team Aqua uniform and a lightning blur that could only be a Carvanha.

“If anyone moves,” said the accented voice of a young woman, “I’m going to kill them.”

Darren froze. Until he knew what this new threat was, it was best to take her words as truthful. He searched with his eyes, and found the woman on the other side of the car, holding a shotgun.

“Where are the goods?” growled the giant, grabbing Darren by the lapels of his greatcoat; in response, the Devon man looked up.

The oilcloth package had, by some strange whim of fate, become lodged in the corner of a telegraph pole and its wire. The Magma Golbat had landed on the wire and badly electrocuted itself; it was flying in circles, dazed and confused. For a moment, no one could do anything but stare; then, as one, the Magmas and the Aquas leaped for the prize, the giant tossing Darren aside as he went.

The gunless Magma was the first to get there, being closest, and he jumped onto the hand- and footholds projecting from the pole’s sides, scrambling for the top. The giant was hot on his heels, and rammed one mighty shoulder into the wood; it splintered and the whole pole began to sway ominously. The goods dropped from the top, past the first Magma, and landed in the outstretched hand of the second.

“Blake! Get away!” cried the first one in what was, though Darren didn’t know it, a rare act of altruism; the other needed no encouragement and, firing off a few bullets at the Goodwin and the Aquas, leaped into the abandoned Aqua car.

Darren leaned casually against the ruined pole as the Magma frantically revved the engine and the Aqua giant tried to rip the door off the car. Next to him, the girl kept the first Magma trapped at the top of the pole with the threat of her shotgun. It was, the Goodwin thought, all rather amusing.

The car finally started, and Darren took a few steps back as its interior exploded into a violent, blinding storm of yellow lightning, sparking from every exposed surface and blowing out each window in a great screaming buzz; the Magma driving slumped in his seat, unconscious and scorched, whereas the giant – who had been touching the metal door – convulsed violently and was flung bodily away, coming to rest on the other side of the street.

His partner stared in disbelief for a moment; that moment was all the Goodwin needed. He stepped forwards and twisted the shotgun lightly from her hands, then swung it hard into her head; it made an odd crunching sound, softer and somehow more ethereal than the usual sound of breaking bone, and she crumpled to the floor before he put a shell in her chest.

At this point, the Goodwin turned around and kicked at the weakest point of the telegraph pole, as he had calculated while he had been leaning against it. It snapped easily and the first Magma fell to the pavement with a despairing wail. The pole then descended onto him with the sort of crash that is rarely heard outside cartoons.

“Simple,” said Darren aloud, and glanced around at the street. It was deserted, as he knew it would be. No one sensible stayed around to watch a gang fight.

Unseen by him, two forms converged on him from above, so blurred by speed that it was all you could do to tell that they were blue; as they sped downwards, the setting sun flashed on tooth and claw, and on long strings of soot-blacked saliva...

“Raiders,” Darren said quietly, and twin beams of electricity shot into his would-be assailants with a crack! that split the air asunder; the smoking, charred bodies of a Golbat and a Carvanha fell heavily to the tarmac behind him.

For a long moment, there was nothing but silence; then, very suddenly, an odd, growling, buzzing sound started, its pitch and volume continually varying. It sounded like the ghost of microphone feedback.

A moment later, a cluster of metallic orbs floated out through the destroyed car window, bobbing and swaying around each other in response to the vagaries of some unseen force. They often moved closely, but never touched; the magnetism that bound their simple brains together repelled as strongly as it attracted. Each ball bore a single, blank eye, made of unblinking white enamel, and these roved around continually, examining their surroundings with all the fervour of a group of forensic investigators. Around this apparition floated various pieces of metal debris – the Magma’s watch, and his gun, and the metal core of the gearstick, along with some bolts and keys. Foremost, however, was a little oilcloth package, bound with twine; upon drawing level with their master, the set of orbs fanned out into a ring around it, holding it dead in the centre with uncanny precision. While the others had been scrambling to recover the goods, Darren had taken the opportunity to casually toss their Poké Ball into the car.

“You did well, Raiders.”

If the metal balls understood him at all, they didn’t show it; their bodies did not lend themselves to expressing emotion. They spun their rigid eyes, which could have meant anything, and drew back into a loose cloud shape as Darren took the goods from them – wrenching quite hard to free it from their magnetic grip – and put it back into the bag. He recalled the Raiders, letting their collection of magnetic objects clatter to the ground, and began to edge around the ruined car, fastidiously stepping over the giant on his way to the Angel Laboratories building’s main entrance.

It was then that he heard it. One of the most terrifying cries anyone could ever dream of, a great, stretched out wail of sorrow and despair, mingled with hunger and wracked with heavy sobs. The Goodwin froze, then spun around, to find the Aqua girl’s face inches from his own – only now her eyes were shut, sealed by dry blood, and her mouth was open to reveal that her teeth were too small and too numerous to be true to humanity, and too sharp as well.

Darren stumbled back, crying out in fear, but the girl’s long hair stretched forth and clutched at his shoulders, forming into thick, rope-like fingers that squeezed his torso tightly. Her body seemed to hang limp beneath her head, as if she was a marionette and the puppeteer scorned the use of any strings save those attached to the scalp.

The arms of white hair drew him slowly closer to her, to that awful mouth and the small, pointed purple-black tongue within; he struggled, but it was no use. Whatever force had hold of the girl was far too strong.

“Raiders!” Darren hissed, from between clenched teeth, and wrenched the ball from his pocket; he dropped it and the cluster of orbs appeared again, lighting up the darkening street with another display of lightning; the girl was either wounded or frightened by their assault, because she drew back sharply, gave another blood-curdling, despairing squeal, and sped away, moving under the influence of something other than her legs.

Darren stared at her retreating back, leaning on his knees and breathing heavily. He had half a mind to give chase, but that probably wouldn’t have been wise; he distinctly remembered crushing her skull and shooting her in the chest – and if that hadn’t stopped her, he had no idea what could.

“Raiders, you did it again,” the Goodwin said at length, straightening up. “Follow me and watch. If she returns, let me know.”

He continued towards the Angel building, mind whirling. Who was that girl? What was she? In a way, she reminded him of Kester Ruby, oddly human and animal at once – but he had a Rotom in his head, whereas she... she was more like something out of an old story, a vampire or a gan-zuka, one of the monster women who wandered the winter nights in Hoennian legend, feasting on lone male travellers to assuage their never-ending hunger.

There was very little that could spook Darren Goodwin, but the Aqua girl could. He shivered, and resolved to contact Devon at the earliest opportunity as he slid into place between the revolving doors.

He made his way to Usher House as soon as he got in; that was what you always did, if you were visiting Angel. Mister Michaelangelo never visited the company he had created, merely pocketing the money it generated. He had hired House soon after Angel’s creation, and then left, never to return save to raise his own salary. House himself worked for a pittance; perhaps the man did not realise what a genius he was, to have built Angel from nothing to what it was today, but he had never, it seemed, even so much as considered changing jobs – though a thousand other companies would have walked over hot coals to get him.

“You’re the Devon man?” asked House. Darren nodded.

“That’s correct,” he said. “I have the goods.”

He held out the black bag, and House took it reverently, staring at it hard as if, with enough effort, he would be able to see through the fabric.

“These,” he proclaimed, holding the rucksack high, “will be of vital importance to us, Mr—?”

“Goodwin,” Darren told him. “Darren Goodwin.”

House’s eyes widened, but not as much as Darren would have expected.

“A Goodwin,” he repeated. “Devon has really outdone itself today!”

Darren frowned.

“What?”

“Well, earlier today, we had a Tennyson come around,” House told him. “He was with a Willow. They were here to guard the goods once they arrived.”

A Willow... Darren knew that rank. It was a women-only class, five levels below Goodwin. A peculiar sinking feeling gripped his stomach, and he glanced at the Raiders as if for reassurance. No response was forthcoming from them, so he looked back to Usher.

“These researchers,” he said, “they wouldn’t happen to be quite young, would they?”

House nodded. “That’s right. They were deep undercover, disguised as a pair of young Trainers. They even had a weedy little Combusken with them, to complete the disguise.”

“Where are they?” asked Darren Goodwin, voice low and urgent; House looked somewhat taken aback.

“What?”

“They’re imposters, you fool!” shouted Darren. “Now, where are they?”

Quailing before this unexpected onslaught, Usher pointed over to the little door in the side of the room. Before he could so much as twitch, Darren had grabbed him by the lapels of his ridiculous pale blue suit and was dragging him out through the door, the Raiders close behind.

The Devon man’s face curved into a grim smile. It seemed like he was back on track at last.

---

It was Fabien who came to first. With the sort of groan more usually heard between the lips of dying soldiers on the battlefield, he rolled slowly out from under the wrecked telegraph pole and came to rest on his back, arms splayed wide, staring at the evening sky.

“Cops,” he said at length, to no one in particular. “The cops will get here soon.”

There existed a tacit understanding between Hoenn’s police force and the two Teams that the former would give the latter half an hour after they had a battle, to allow the fighters to evacuate. This had come about after it transpired that interfering any sooner was quite likely to result in heavy police casualties.

Fabien dragged himself to his feet and surveyed the debris. It had not, he felt, been a very productive battle. There was something he and Blake had done wrong here.

“Blake?” he called, then stopped. The bruises on his chest made speaking something of a chore. He glanced around, but there was no one there to answer; the citizens of Slateport were too wary to dare interfere in a gang fight, and the people at Angel never came outside, too distracted by their own little world of noise and confusion.

A few metres to his left, Fabien saw the Aqua giant sprawled in the middle of the road; his partner, the girl, was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the Devon man.

“Blake?” Fabien repeated; the response was no more forthcoming than before. He wondered for a moment where he could have got to, then remembered in a flash: the car! Blake was in the car!

He hurried over and wrenched open the door, burning his hand on the lightning-heated metal. Within, he found his partner, slumped over the steering wheel, scorched and distinctly lacking in consciousness.

“Blake?” Fabien shook his shoulder roughly. “Blake!”

A sudden fear gripped him; surely it couldn’t be that Blake was...?

He groaned and sat up, pushing his sunglasses back up his nose to their usual spot and blinking slowly. Immediately, Fabien pretended not to be relieved.

“What the ’ell was that?” he mumbled, half-stepping and half-falling out of the car.

“I don’t know,” admitted Fabien. “He must have put a Pokémon in there at some point.”

“Did – did you get...?”

“No. But it doesn’t look like the Aquas did, either.” Fabien gestured to the Aqua grunt. “We need to get out of here. The cops will be here soon.”

“Goishi?”

Fabien clapped a theatrical palm to his forehead.

“Of course!” he cried, and began frantically searching the area for him; he found him near the Aqua giant, next to a frazzled Carvanha. He seemed to have been struck by lightning, or perhaps lightly roasted. Recalling him, Fabien stood up, and he and Blake limped slowly off into the alleys, just as the thin shriek of sirens began to ring out in the distance.

---

darkcoldhungrydarkhungrysoHUNGRY...

Felicity’s eyes flew open and she gave a small cry: where was she? How had she got here?

She took the former question first, and sat up, which hurt. Looking around, she saw she was in a back alley somewhere, literally in the gutter; filthy water had soaked her blue Team Aqua suit, and her sunglasses were gone, long since lost in the battle or her escape.

The second question was easier to answer. It had happened again. The thing inside her had come out again. Felicity thought back to the fight and bit her lip. She wondered if she had killed anyone; she very much hoped she hadn’t. Violence was one of the things she had left her native country to escape, after all.

wateriwantwaterhungry...

“Shut up!” hissed Felicity, clamping her hands over her ears; her left hand found her headphone, and twisted the volume dial up to the maximum. Something melancholy and Korean blasted into her head, and immediately the voice receded, growing fainter, dwindling and disappearing like mist burning away under the sun.

Felicity kept the volume at maximum for at least five minutes, curled into a tight ball in the corner of an alleyway, then slowly turned it down and climbed to her feet. Her fingers were trembling, and she pressed them together to her chest to hold them still; they came away bloody, and she looked down to see a huge bloodstain marring the front of her suit.

Her mouth fell open, and for a moment she was paralysed; the next thing she knew, she was tearing away the cloth, trying to see how badly she was hurt; she ripped her shirt open and saw—

—nothing at all, beneath a thin layer of crimson blood. There was no wound at all, and Felicity sank back against the wall in relief, suddenly weak. She’d been hurt before, and badly – but never seriously enough to put her life at risk. She supposed that she owed the thing inside her, that monster with the dark thoughts, for once; without its powers, she suspected that she would have been dead.

Felicity breathed out in a long sigh of relief, and got unsteadily to her feet, re-buttoning her shirt as she did so.

“I – I have to get back,” she said, more to hear the sound of her voice rather than anything else, and set off shakily down the alley, heading for the roads.

If she had had a mirror handy, she would have seen that the whites of her eyes were now the colour of lemon peel, and the irises the hue of a summer sky.

Mizan de la Plume Kuro
February 5th, 2011, 05:20 PM
Well hello there, a magnificent story you’ve got going here, and I am really not surprised that you have a distinct lack of reviews in relation to your quality of writing. PC’s frequent FF community’s not incredibly active until prompted into action, and a majority of commenters who give praise to works either know the author or just happen to stumble into the plot and get enthralled by the writing style. If I were to categorize myself, I’d fall into the latter, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important currently is that we get on to the review to get you some well deserved praise and or a critical view of your work.

But first, a note on a certain other post born of my pedantic nature.
Title: The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World
Link: http://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=240675
Summary: Kester Ruby has one of the worst days of his life, with the result that he is stuck - along with a Rotom who doesn't believe in the fourth wall and the insufferably arrogant Sapphire Birch - in the centre of a bizarre tangle of gang warfare, evil corporations and one man's grand scheme to destroy the planet.
Genre: Comedy, Parody, Adventure
Degree of Completion: Ongoing
ChapteredIt isn’t entirely accurate to classify your piece as a parody. A parody, if you recall, is a piece of work created to satirise the subject-matter at hand by an occasional use of comedic or ironic imitation. Your work for one, while comedic, does not really satirise anything. To call it a parody of the Pokémon series would be inaccurate because the underlying plot of the story does not make and satirical jabs at the series in question. I admit that while you do mock the very idea of the Trainer-Pokémon relationship, this isn’t an integral part of the plot and Kester’s reluctance to be captive is really a natural reaction.

Anyway, I just thought I’d get that off my chest before we start.

Okay, review:

First section: Quote-based Critique.
The P-L.O.T. Device whined loudly and gave off a shower of sparks; its operator recoiled in shock and motioned desperately for someone to get the patient out of it. Hurriedly, a couple of nurses tugged at the gurney, pulling it free from the Device’s clamps with a rough crunch of breaking plastic.One of the most overused clichés with regards to electrical machinery is the spark and breakdown malfunction. A cliché that persists in cartoons (anime) and writing to this day because movies back in the day needed an easy way to show that something was broken to non-tech&engineering savvy people. In reality, a machine will only spark that way if it short-circuits and, even then, the sparks won’t be as dramatic. The fuse will give way first, naturally. Still, I guess you could argue that Rotom being an electric ghost in the machine could have bypassed the fuse and overheated the machine. Even so, the mental image I get when reading, what with the sparking machines, is a bit jarring.

Unfortunately for the patient, however, the orange light was of vital importance; in fact, it was going to be the biggest thing in his life for quite some time to come.
---
I opened my eyes and blinked groggily; I tried to sit up but someone pushed me back down. Generally, switching between two POVs isn’t a good idea for authors to use as it’s seen as an incredibly unorthodox manoeuvre. If I’m not mistaken, it could almost be taken as a taboo in some circles, seeing as how rarely it’s done, and in chapters (not alternating) too! What most authors usually do with rotating perspectives is to switch between two characters, but never between two perspectives unless the third person just happens to be someone telling a story. My advice to you: either stick with one perspective or make the third person POV into Rotom’s first person POV. However, seeing as the story seems to be more flexible currently, I’ll let it slide. You know, of course, –and this is for the benefit of anyone reading reviews—that creativity has no set rules and whatever works, which --in this case-- works incredibly well, goes.

I was speaking to a doctor, who was standing next to the bed I was lying on. No need for a comma there.

It was one of those things where you think it’s important, but when you think about it, it turns out not to be important... Puck tailed off.Have I told you how much I love your humour? No? Well then there.

Team Magma and Team Aqua; there hadn’t been a more famous set of rivals since the Montagues and the Capulets. Two crime syndicates, both alike in aspect, both calling themselves Hoenn’s Mafia, locked in a never-ending battle for supremacy over the nation’s underworld; their agents were spread over the region, scattered into fighting units in every town and every city. From the knife-fights in the treetops of Fortree to the shootouts in the depths of Lilycove, not a week went by without news of another skirmish, another clash between the two Teams’ forces. Neither was large enough to eradicate the other, and so the fighting wore on, little, indecisive victories won – the Magmas won this street, the Aquas won that dock – that didn’t really take anything away from the other Team. Their gang war had been raging on for fifty years, and showed no signs of letting up; the current underworld situation had developed against the backdrop of the fight, and now you could pretty much be certain that almost every crook in Hoenn supported, directly or indirectly, either the Magmas or the Aquas. The worst of it was that everyone in the country knew all about it, and the government did nothing: the Teams were essentially large armies, and the gang war might just become a civil one if they were interfered with.Ah yes, a mistake most people fail to realise is that Team Magma, Team Aqua, Team Galactic, and Team Plasma are not criminal syndicates per-se like Team Rocket. All the aforementioned Teams, Team Rocket notwithstanding, all work for a supposed greater cause but use unorthodox methods that disrupt the natural balance, thus portraying them as villains. They do not do petty crime like Team Rocket. In this case, Magma and Aqua are both something akin to eco-warriors with their own goals.

It’ll be like Home Alone, only withoutI accept your references to Doyle, a timeless classic, as somewhat understandable seeing as the thing is from England and all, despite being a Pokémon. But don’t you think Puck referencing a contemporary (as far as contemporary goes) movie is going a bit too far?

“He has the Carvanha,” the Aqua girl added by way of explanation.

“What do you have?” asked Sapphire, evidently seeing possibilities open up.

“A shotgun,” replied the Aqua, pulling one out from behind her back. This is easily by far the best exchange of words between two characters in a piece of fanfiction I have ever read. Kudos.

staring at his hands with all the fervour of Lady Macbeth, he did not see
***
“My name is Usher,” he told us, holding out a wide hand for us to shake, “Usher House.”
***
In that respect, it was rather like a chocolate factory. How well read are you really? As a fellow connoisseur of the English literary scene, I find your constant references to literature particularly delightful. I may have missed out some other jokes, but the ones that I have found bring a smile to my face.
We stood to one side of the fanciest lobby I’d ever seen; a richly-patterned carpet cloaked the floor in a thick, shaggy veil of red and gold; Corinthian columns of white Pentelic marble (such as you would find at the base of some of the columns at the Pantheon) made a ribcage of the walls, and a splendid example of fake lierne quadripartite vaulting executed in moulded plaster turned the ceiling into a veritable work of art. Even the desk was carved from a beautiful piece of solid Imperial Porphyry.

Kester! cried Puck. Stop stealing my descriptions! You don’t even know anything about architecture.I was going to jump in with something about the extent of your character’s vocabulary, but you got me there first. Nicely done.

Second section: Critique on the story in general.
I have to say that I’ve been wanting to read your works for a while now and, quite truthfully, I’m blown away. Your comedic prose is excellent, I can only assume that you’re doing something English-related for you’re A-Levels, your characterization is superb, and your general plot is amazing. The only minor annoyance I have with your story is that you keep alternating between a first and third person perspective, but we’ve discussed that so I won’t repeat myself. Quite frankly, I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

Cutlerine
February 6th, 2011, 04:13 AM
Thank you for your review. I accept that it's probably not strictly accurate to call this a parody; that's my mistake. It was intended to be more of one, but, well, I always manage to destroy my plans before they come to fruition. Having said that, it does sort of parody the Hoenn story itself: being accosted by a Devon researcher (wearing green) and taken to see the President, then delivering the mysterious 'Devon goods' to Slateport.

As for the cliché of the machine sparking and breaking down, I'm very much aware that it's a cliché, and have used it intentionally. I do in fact know that this doesn't happen in real life, and originally wrote it without the sparks. However, it just... didn't feel right. I can appreciate it might be slightly off-putting, though, depending on how pedantic you are.

The whole first-person/third person thing is just what comes naturally to me. I've always done it, and never really thought of it as a bad thing. It's something that won't change, I'm afraid. It doesn't detract from the story in my view, and doesn't seem to have stopped you enjoying it; thus, I venture to suggest that, in this case, the rules were made to be broken.

Team Aqua and Team Magma are groups of eco-terrorists, in-game - but from the point of view of the story, it makes much more sense for them to be warring criminal syndicates. Perhaps they started as eco-warriors and slowly evolved into something more resembling the Mafia. I appreciate that this isn't fully explained, and I'll see what I can do about clarifying their status the next time an opportunity to do so arises.

How well read am I? Somewhere in between 'quite a bit' and 'very', I should imagine. I've referenced Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 'Dulce et Decorum Est', Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels and Robert Rankin's work as a whole - and some others that I don't remember. Plus numerous TV shows and movies, and a manga or two as well. Oh, and Puck's name is also a joke based on an old English legend.

As for Puck talking about Home Alone - I'm afraid I don't quite get how that's going too far. I'm pretty certain Puck's seen it, since he's basically a reservoir of popular-culture-based jokes in the same sort of way that I am. (read: Puck is a shameless self-insert.)

Finally, thanks for your comment on my comedic prose. I've actually never written any before, so I wasn't certain how it would turn out. Thanks again for the review, and I'll bear your comments in mind for future chapters.

Oh yeah, and I removed that comma. It was a fly in amber, preserved from a time when the sentence went differently.

Cutlerine
February 7th, 2011, 04:08 AM
Chapter Twelve: Gremlins

The lift, Puck snapped suddenly, press the button!

“The lifts won’t be on during a fire!”

It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

The alternative was a painful death, so I thumbed the button; much to my surprise, the doors slid open immediately – but there was no lift beyond, just the yawning abyss of the shaft.

“What are you doing?” hissed Sapphire. “We can’t go that way—”

Abruptly, she stopped; she had seen what I had seen. Through the smoke that wreathed us, the outline of a set of stairs, looping around the edge of the shaft, was just visible. An internal fire escape that would take us all the way down to the ground floor.

We wasted no time; Sapphire flung herself onto the first step, coughing from the toll this took on her smoke-filled lungs, and I followed straight after, spluttering and running as fast as I could, feet creating a clattering clamour on the iron stairwell.

If running down Devon’s stairs had been hell for me, this was beyond imagination; not only did these steps run for a hundred and forty-three floors, but my lungs were full of sooty particles from the flames. My chest heaved so hard I thought my lungs would burst free from my ribcage, and my heart pounded my sternum as if pleading with me to let it out, so it wouldn’t have to die with me.

We slowed after a couple of flights, thankfully; there was nothing flammable in the lift shaft, and though the fire raged and fumed at the exit to the penthouse floor, it couldn’t follow us. A few steps later, we stopped, and took a short rest to cough and exhale the last of the smoke.

“That,” I said to Sapphire, “was a really bad plan.”

She glowered at me.

“Shut up. We found the exit, didn’t we? And the fire should serve as a useful distraction while we escape.”

Uh, Kester? Puck said. Don’t want to interrupt or anything, but I’m detecting multiple Ghost-types nearby.

“What?” I held up a hand to silence Sapphire, and tried to concentrate.

Ghosts can sense the presence of other Ghosts. It’s pretty simple.

“No, the other bit. About multiple Ghost-types nearby?”

Sapphire blinked, surprised.

“What is it?” she asked, but I shushed her; anxious to know, she obeyed for once.

Well... nothing we can’t handle, the Rotom said, in that wheedling tone that could mean nothing but bad news.

“What is it, Puck?”

About... seventy of them? Coming this way... down the lift shaft.

“What?”

“What is it?” Sapphire cried. I looked to her grimly.

“Puck can sense about seventy Ghosts coming down the shaft after us,” I said, craning my neck to look up. “But I can’t—”

“There.” Sapphire pointed, and I saw what looked like two points of fire in the darkness above the flaming penthouse floor; then they came into the light of the blaze, and I saw that they were twin jewels, set into a round, purple-black head. This head was to be found atop a small, humanoid body, the back studded with more jewels – and this body was crawling down the walls like a spider. “Sableye,” Sapphire breathed.

“Can we beat it?” I asked.

“One or two, yes. Seventy, no.” Sapphire pointed again, and I saw more little heads and bodies emerging from the gloom, silently making their way down the walls. It looked like some strange, sluggish waterfall of darkness and gems; the sight was entrancing.

“Do we need to beat them?”

Not really, Puck said. They shouldn’t hurt you if you don’t frighten them.

“Right,” I said. “So, nothing to worry about?”

No.

“There shouldn’t be,” Sapphire said, thinking I was addressing her. “I don’t think they’ll fight us. They probably live here because of the jewels in the penthouse apartments – that’s what they eat, you know.”

“O-K. Shall we go, then?”

“Yes,” she replied, and we began to make our way downstairs again.

Wait! cried Puck. The noise will—

Our feet hit the steps; a loud booming noise erupted from them, echoing around and around the stairwell, drowning out the sound of the fire, and of our breath – but not the piercing screams that the Sableye emitted when they heard it. They shrieked and chattered their teeth, looking around wildly for the source of the racket; it wasn’t long before they found it in us.

—upset them, Puck finished, too late.

As one, the Sableye coursed downwards like a tidal wave, a terrifying, screaming wall of jewels and teeth and talons, and Sapphire and I broke once again into a run.

They reached our level quickly, and started pouring from the wall to the stairs; their little claws made vast, unnaturally loud clicking sounds on the iron floor, and this seemed to drive them into even more of a frenzy, bounding after us on all fours like crazed apes.

“They’re right behind us!” Sapphire yelled in my ear. “You need to go faster!”

“I can’t!” I protested.

“I know!” she replied. “So I’ll help!”

Then she put her palm to my back and pushed.

---

Down, down, down; head over heels, spine over calves, neck somehow knotted with my ankles; an impact on my back, my arm, my foot; a cacophony of crashes ringing in my ears. I hit a wall, bounced off it and rolled down the next flight, and it happened again; and then again, and again, and again, until I no longer knew where I was, and the world had narrowed down entirely to the abuse my body was receiving and the thin, high cry of the Sableye above me.

“Sapphire,” I mumbled weakly, “you’re such a b—”

Then I hit my head yet again, and my teeth snapped shut painfully on my tongue. It was at this point that I knew I couldn’t take it any longer and so passed out.

---

Without Kester in tow, Sapphire was much, much faster; faster than the Sableye, at any rate – though because they could move along the walls as well as the stairs, they had the advantage, and there were always a few of them just behind her, slashing at her heels with their little pin-like claws, trying to stop the noise that so infuriated them.

She tossed Rono’s Poké Ball backwards into the mess of Sableye; he materialised, and instantly curled into a ball and rolled back towards her with a terrific clanging, where she recalled him. Sapphire spared half a second to glance at what he’d done, and was satisfied: many of her pursuers had been knocked aside like skittles, and many more had stumbled and fallen over those.

“Haha!” she cried, brandishing a triumphant fist. “Take that!”

If Puck had been present to hear this, instead of being whirled around and around in Kester’s head, he might well have made some sort of mocking remark about having a violent nature – but he wasn’t, and consequently didn’t.

Sapphire was ahead now, but there were limits to how far and fast even she could run, and she was beginning to flag. In contrast, whenever one Sableye tired, it would fall back, the ones behind it would flow forwards to fill the gap formed in their front line. Their numbers gave them the advantage.

Sapphire looked around for any hint of what floor she was at, but there was no clue; she almost looked down over the handrail, but felt too dizzy to try.

Her breath was coming in ragged gasps now, and her feet felt heavy as they clattered over the steps. Her legs were no longer doing what she wanted them to: the more Sapphire thought faster, the slower they went, stumbling and wobbling like the limbs of a drunk.

Then she tripped, and suddenly the stairs were dragging at her coat as she slid down them, and the lead Sableye, which had a little white stripe on the top of its head, had leaped onto her chest, only it didn’t seem to matter because Sapphire had just realised that instead of pushing Kester down the stairs she could have recalled him.

Sapphire’s head hit something soft, and all at once she was still. The Sableye were leaping down the last flight of stairs, raining down upon her, and she realised that she was on the bottom floor – and that her head was currently resting on Kester’s belly.

Instantly, she snapped out of her trance and jumped to her feet, ripping the white-striped Sableye from her jacket and hurling it away. She tossed down Rono’s ball in front of the advancing horde, and barked a sharp command as she recalled Kester.

Rono kicked at the floor with his stubby front legs and the stairs in front of him vanished into a cloud of mud and dirt. Startled by the Mud-Slap, some of the Sableye retreated a few paces; it was all the diversion Sapphire needed and she rushed over to the doors that would have led out into the lobby.

It was then, as she scrabbled desperately at the sliding doors, that she realised a profound truth about elevator systems. It came to her in one flash of inspiration that lasted a picosecond and felt like a millennium, and left her standing there open-mouthed.

The buttons to open the doors are on the outside of the shaft.

Sapphire swore loudly and turned around slowly. She saw Rono, surrounded by a small pile of fainted Sableye, but moving slowly, as if close to his limits. She saw the blank concrete walls of the lift shaft. She saw the cables stretching high up to the flaming peak of the Tower.

“There has to be a reason why the stairs come down here,” she told herself, backing away from the advancing Sableye. “Think, Sapphire, think!”
The white-striped Sableye dropped from nowhere onto her head; Sapphire snapped her head back and crunched it against the wall. It fell away with a squeal, but more were clutching at her legs, ripping her jeans and shredding her trainers. She felt sharp pinpricks in her shins, and suddenly her feet were slick and sodden with an unexpected rush of blood. Sapphire kicked out, sending some of the Sableye flying, but more swarmed forth to take their place, clawing and biting. Her trainers and the lower halves of the legs of her jeans fell away in rags, and Sapphire could now feel the sharp claws against her thighs as the gremlin-like monsters climbed higher up her body, chattering their teeth and hissing.

Think, Sapphire, think...

Then she saw it. Across from the door to the lobby, there was a fire escape door, a green light burning above it behind the white figure of a man running through an open portal. Sapphire recalled Rono and flung herself without hesitation at the thick bar that ran across the door’s width; surprised, the Sableye fell away from her. The door burst open as she pressed on the bar, and then the harsh light of the streetlamps was streaming in. Ungodly screams echoed out from behind her, and the Sableye vanished in an instant, fleeing to any and every available hiding place to get away from the blinding light.

Sapphire blinked and took an unsteady step forwards, her bare, blood-slick feet making contact with cold concrete. She was in some sort of little courtyard, to one side of the Tower; there were a couple of huge dustbins to her left, and the fence that marked the edge of the Tower’s grounds was directly ahead of her.

“We made it,” she breathed. “I’m... outside.”

Her face cracked into a smile of relief, and a few moments later she was scrambling over the iron border fence, ignoring the pain in her legs, and heading away from the nightmare of Angel Laboratories.

---

Darren Goodwin stalked across the lobby and opened the door to the lift; across from him, another door stood wide open. A lone Sableye with a white stripe on its head hissed at him from the corner, but the Raiders, still floating at his side, sent it packing with a swift Thunderbolt.

“Damn it,” growled Darren. “They knew about the fire escape system!”

“Very cunning,” noted House.

“I’m going to kill you if you say anything else,” snapped the Goodwin, and stomped off back down the tunnel, in more of a tantrum than he would have cared to admit.

---

Midnight: the witching hour, the time when all the dark creatures of the world stalk the earth freely, creeping about under the beds of children and down the shadowed passages of our dreams. The time when the thing that worked for Team Magma paced the verdant slopes of Mount Chimney; the time when the Shuppet colony of Mount Pyre left its hallowed halls and spread out across Lilycove’s suburbs, feasting on fear and doubt.

The time when the streetlight outside the still-open fire escape door of the Calavera Tower went out.

Instantly, the street was plunged into darkness, and a lone figure, recently displaced from its usual home and curious as to what lay beyond its limited world, crept cautiously out of the door.

It moved slowly and carefully, in case it ran into any trouble, but the courtyard was as silent as the grave. It raised its heavy head to peep between the bars of the fence, and saw the street beyond, office blocks and motionless cars laid out before it like a toy city that was desperate to be played with.

On either side of the white stripe on its head, its eyes shone like diamonds. Whatever was out there, the Sableye thought, it had just made the discovery of the century.

It turned around and leaped up and down, emitting a screech too high-pitched for human ears to pick up. A few Sableye heeded the call, emerging cautiously into the courtyard – then a few more, and a few more, and suddenly a vast flood of bejewelled backs was rushing out into the city, and at their head a flash of white, instinctively taking the lead in the headlong rush to explore this brave new world.

---

I regained consciousness on a bed. For one heart-stopping moment, I thought I was somehow back in that affair from last year again; then I realised that this was a Pokémon Centre room, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Once again, I seemed to be miraculously unharmed, which was something I was rather pleased about; I sat up and inspected myself thoroughly for signs of damage, but though my clothes were even more torn and bloodstained than before, the skin and bone beneath appeared to be intact.

Joy of joys, said Puck dryly.

“Shut up,” I replied, then looked around. “Where’s Sapphire?”

I don’t know. I can’t see anything when you’re unconscious.

“All right, all right.”

Sapphire’s bag was open on the floor next to the bed, with a couple of empty bottles next to it; I picked them up and read the labels: ‘Revive’ and ‘Full Restore’.

“I must have been pretty badly hurt,” I remarked. “I wonder what happened?”

Beats me. I couldn’t see much except for that dream you had.

“Dream?”

You know, about that Aqua g—

I coughed hastily.

“Yeah, OK, Puck. Enough about that.” I groped desperately for something to change the subject with, and found a question I’d been meaning to ask him. “Puck, can I ask a question?”

Depends what it is, he replied. But you know what they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“Right. Thanks. Er, what I wanted to ask was, how come you keep trying to save my life when if I die, you go free? You told me to run when the Magmas shot at me, and you told me how to battle the Carvanha, and you were worried when Felicity came at me with the gun...”

There was a long, long period of silence, during which I grew increasingly anxious and uncomfortable. At length, though, the Rotom spoke.

I... have a vested interest in your continued survival, he said evenly, without any trace of his usual sardonic wit. That’s all I’ll tell you.

“A ‘vested interest’? What the hell does that mean?”

This is not something we can talk about. If you continue to ask, I will have no choice but to fry your brain again.

Reflexively, I winced; the memory of the last time he’d done that was still fresh in my mind.

“Why? What’s so important that you can’t tell me?”

Kester! I told you to leave it alone!

Puck had been many things before, but never outright angry; shocked as much at this as at his words, I lapsed into silence, feeling vaguely wounded. We stayed that way until Sapphire came in from outside, carrying a large plastic bag.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re awake.”

“Yeah, I am.” I pointed at the bag. “What’s that?”

“The Sableye from last night ruined my trainers and my jeans, so I went to buy some more.”

“Sableye? What’s that?”

Sapphire looked at me oddly.

“You don’t remember? I guess you did bang your head quite badly.”

“Tell me.”

So she did. She told me everything while she sat on the edge of the bed and changed her shoes; all about the lift shaft, and the fire escape, and the swarm of Sableye that had chased us. She then told me how she’d pushed me down the stairs, and it all came flooding back: the tearing in my chest when I could no longer breathe, and the pain from the fall. When she was done, I was as silent as I had been after Puck’s words earlier. Then:

“I remember that now. It really, really hurt.”

“I should have recalled you, not thrown you down the stairs. Sorry.”

I looked sharply at Sapphire, but couldn’t tell if she was lying or not.

“Seriously? You’re sorry?”

“A bit.” She sighed. “It was reckless of me to endanger one of my Pokémon.”

It was my turn to sigh. For a moment, I’d thought she might have started treating me as an equal. But of course, that could never happen.

“What’s wrong with the world?” I asked quietly. “Something’s gone wrong with it, really wrong, without me noticing. It happened while I was unconscious after crashing the Vespa, I think. It isn’t just me, is it, who thinks that fire escape plan was weird? And that President Stone was weird? And that the whole damn region has gone insane recently?”

Sapphire shook her head.

“No, it’s always been like this – for Trainers, anyway. You just never left your ordinary life. There are more things in heaven and earth, Kester, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”

I sighed again.

“So,” I said. “What do we do now?”

Sapphire stared at me.

“You’re not going to ask if you can go home?”

“I’m in this deep enough now that I couldn’t do that,” I replied pragmatically. “Besides, we had a deal. Find out why the goods are important, then you let me go.”

She stared at me a moment longer, then replied:

“Well, um, I guess the first thing to do is to get you some food.”

It was my turn to stare.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.” Sapphire looked vaguely guilty. “I haven’t been feeding you properly, have I?”

“Not at all,” I agreed.

“So I’m going to start doing so.”

“Great!”

“Just so long as you know this is only because I need you strong,” Sapphire said.

“Of course.” I nodded frantically, to show just how much I knew that it was so.

“And... you also need new clothes.”

“Wow, so many treats. What’s the special occasion?”

“Nothing. You just look like over the last few days you’ve been systematically beaten up by pipe-wielding thugs. You stand out too much.”

“This is all purely to do with what’s best for you and your mission, then? Not for me?”

“That’s right,” Sapphire confirmed.

“OK then,” I said. “Let’s go!”

---

Two hours and twenty-five minutes later, I was strolling down a sunny avenue in central Slateport with Sapphire, hunger satisfied, body cleansed of dried blood, and wearing a new hoodie, jeans and T-shirt. I might still be on the run from Devon – and probably Team Magma and Aqua as well – but right now, life felt surprisingly good.

“It feels like I should be being punched or something right about now,” I told Sapphire. “I’m not used to it all going so well.”

“I can punch you if you like,” she offered.

“Er... no thanks.” Having thus politely declined, I walked on a few paces more before asking: “So, what now, Sapphire? Do we go and raid a Team Aqua base or something?”

“No,” Sapphire replied as we started to cross the road. “That would get us killed. Or rather, it would get me killed and you two captured.”

“Fair enough.” I paused, thinking that Puck would make some sort of remark there, but he didn’t; he had been silent since our conversation earlier that morning. “What, then?”

“I’m not sure.” We crossed and headed on towards a street that rejoiced in the name of Kopalokooza Avenue. “Hang on. Turn left here.”

I obeyed, and we entered a narrow alley that ran parallel to Kopalokooza, but was much closer.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To see a... a friend,” Sapphire told me.

“A friend?”

“Believe it or not, I do have a life outside of being a Trainer,” Sapphire replied. “Before I left school to be a Trainer, I went to Liro Academy, and I knew her there.”

I interrupted with a low whistle of surprise. Liro was the top school in Hoenn; in addition to this, it was privately owned, and was incredibly exclusive, incredibly expensive, and incredibly big. Littleroot was a reasonably large city, and Liro occupied two blocks by itself. Parents had been known to kill to obtain places there for their children – even handing themselves in to the police afterwards, to set a good moral example to their kids.

“She’s the daughter of the curator of the Oceanic Museum here,” Sapphire told me.

“And this is relevant because...?”

“As well as being the curator, her dad’s Angel’s biggest investor,” Sapphire replied.

“Why didn’t we go to see her first?” I asked incredulously. “You set a building on fire and pushed me down over a hundred flights of stairs for nothing?”

“It’s complicated,” Sapphire said shortly. Sensing I was waiting for an answer, Sapphire sighed and went on, “We didn’t part well.”

“Oh?”

“We were good friends,” Sapphire told me. “Then we fell out over something stupid, you know how it is” – I nodded – “and then I got angry and, um, took revenge.”

“Revenge?” This sounded promising. I could well imagine that a vengeful Sapphire was not something to be sniffed at.

“I punched her. I didn't mean to break her nose, I swear.” Sapphire looked at me in a sort of earnest way that brought the scene alive in my head: this girl, and Sapphire, arguing; Sapphire resorting to blows, as I could well imagine she might – and then the sickening realisation that it had gone too far.

I nodded deeply, working it out.

“I know you didn't,” I said.

“Liar,” Sapphire replied. Her face showed an interesting mix of embarrassment and guilt. “I’m sure you think I did it on purpose.”

“Seriously, I don't,” I assured her. "I assume you didn't make up again afterwards?"

Sapphire shook her head. I sighed.

"What was her name again?” I asked.

“I didn’t say. It was Natalie. Natalie Stern.”

“Well, this Natalie is probably about as likely to help us as to saw off her own foot. But maybe we can... I don't know... reason with her? Failing that,” I continued, "you could always punch her again."

“You’re funny,” stated Sapphire, in a way that suggested that nothing could be further from the truth.

We walked on in silence for a while, then emerged from the alley onto a broad, sunny street, lined by massive, neo-Gothic buildings that dated back at least a hundred and fifty years each; this was where the museums were, and once again I had to wonder how Sapphire knew her way around Slateport so well. I asked her how she’d known the way here.

“Been here before,” she replied. “Like I said, Natalie and I were friends. I’ve come to her house before, you know.”

“What, she lives in the museum?”

“Yes. That little towery sort of bit is an apartment. It’s really nice on the inside. I mean, her dad’s really rich.”

“Figures. I mean, if he invests in Angel and sends his daughter to Liro, he’s got to be.”

Sapphire and I drew closer to the Oceanic Museum, which was a curious sensation: the closer you got, less attractive the building seemed. It was as if it had been designed to look nice when the weary traveller glimpsed it from afar, and thought to stop awhile amidst the soothing marine artefacts it housed – and then the architect had decided that he didn’t give a damn how it looked when you got close to it, presumably on the grounds that once you got that near, you were probably going to go in anyway.

“How’re we going to get in, exactly?” I asked Sapphire. She smiled sweetly.

“We’re not,” she said.

“Oh?” I thought I knew what was coming next, but couldn’t be bothered to protest.

“You are,” Sapphire told me. I sighed.

“Huh. Didn’t see that coming at all.”

Ordinarily, Puck would probably have made a comment here, but he remained silent. I would have to speak with him later; I needed to know what was going on.

“You’re going to go in there, convince her I've mended my ways and then get her to let us poke around in her dad’s office to see if we can find out anything about the goods.”

I stared at her despondently.

“Is there something wrong?” Sapphire asked.

“Er, yes,” I replied. “This sounds like it might put me in some considerable danger. What if Natalie decides she wants to break a few noses, too?”

Sapphire held up the Master Ball and wagged it in front of my nose.

“Well, maybe just this once,” I amended. Sapphire grinned her lopsided grin.

“Knew you'd agree,” she said. “Now, come on.”

With that, she grabbed my arm and dragged me into the museum, disregarding my protests entirely.

nokyo-chan
February 7th, 2011, 04:53 AM
Hi again! I finally finished reading Chapter Ten, and when I returned, you had put up TWO new chapters and made my week!

Just a side note, your description of Metagross literally sent shivers down my spine. You are amazing. I would like to marry you and bear your children. (...figuratively.)

Also, I have one criticism. I don't have a lot of time here, and I can't go back and see exactly where, but there is more than one instance where you used the word "span" as the past-tense of "spin". The word "span" means something different altogether, and the word you are looking for is "spun". It's a minor mistake, but I felt that it needed to be pointed out.

Anyway, I can't wait to read the rest of your story!

Cutlerine
February 7th, 2011, 07:36 AM
Hi again! I finally finished reading Chapter Ten, and when I returned, you had put up TWO new chapters and made my week!

Just a side note, your description of Metagross literally sent shivers down my spine. You are amazing. I would like to marry you and bear your children. (...figuratively.)

Also, I have one criticism. I don't have a lot of time here, and I can't go back and see exactly where, but there is more than one instance where you used the word "span" as the past-tense of "spin". The word "span" means something different altogether, and the word you are looking for is "spun". It's a minor mistake, but I felt that it needed to be pointed out.

Anyway, I can't wait to read the rest of your story!

I got that wrong? I have to change that at once.

I'm so sorry about that. I abhor grammatical and spelling errors in others, but seem all too prone to making them myself. Gah. I hasten to assure you, I do know the correct past tense, but have made some almighty error of judgement, much like Macbeth. Only his errors were larger and more numerous than mine, and ended up with him dead. So... not like Macbeth at all.

As for the chapter thing... yeah, I tend to put one up every other day, or thereabouts. So stay tuned for more exciting instalments. There'll be one tomorrow, too, to make up for the fact that I missed my scheduled update yesterday.

On another side note, would this be the Metagross description that Puck provides Kester with, or the one Sapphire uses when she glimpses it in the cave? I'm assuming the former, but I always liked the latter better. In fact, I just liked the bathos of having Steven and Deep Thought appear immediately before revealing the stupid and pointless fact that Exploud are mostly allergic to Nosepass.

You know another weakness of mine? Getting side-tracked. I'm going to click 'Submit Reply' before I write anything really stupid.

Mizan de la Plume Kuro
February 7th, 2011, 04:08 PM
As for Puck talking about Home Alone - I'm afraid I don't quite get how that's going too far. I'm pretty certain Puck's seen it, since he's basically a reservoir of popular-culture-based jokes in the same sort of way that I am. (read: Puck is a shameless self-insert.)It just seems out of place because, so far, he’s only referenced British culture. Still, with an explanatory word of God like that, who am I to argue?

With that said, on to the review:

You know what? I just can’t stop reading this. I’m not even doing this solely for the reviewing challenge anymore. (I’m still going to add this to my reviews list, though.) I’m now reading this because I enjoy reading it, and it’s the best damn thing I’ve read in a long while. And, with your frequent update schedule, I think I’ll even be a frequent reader/reviewer and such.

To begin with, Chapter 12, while not as comedy inclined as your previous chapters, compensates it nicely with the inclusion of an exciting suspense seen, complete with bad plans and blood. It was written nicely, the writing flowed incredibly well, and while I cannot claim that the writing allowed me to visualise the scene as vividly as before, it still managed to make at least a smidgeon of sense. And throughout, despite being a thriller scene, you still managed to retain the lackadaisical narrative that your readers have come to know and love from your previous chapters without straying too far into the overdramatic. By this I mean, the narrative doesn’t slow down and take its time to describe the scene in excruciating detail, it bulldozes right through to reach a satisfying conclusion without and dilly-dally in between. A style befit Douglas Adams surely. Which reminds me, how is it that you’ve not referenced Douglas Adams? Inconceivable! Nevertheless, I’m not here to tell you how to write your story and what plot elements you should or should not include; I’m just here to provide moral support and critique where need be.

Right, for the next part, lend me your ears as I talk about characterization, particularly the characterization for your main characters which don’t act as the funny man to Puck, Sapphire, and Kester’s straight man, if you would regard their antiques as being straight man-esque. Firstly Puck. Puck, on his own, is an incredibly versatile character which, as you say, acts as an incredible repository of pop-culture and classical references that fuels the quotational humor you’ve been cultivating so far. Not that there’s anything wrong with quotational humor (in fact The Simpsons and most family comedies are notorious for this), but you can’t (and I’m addressing any other potential comedy writers here) rely solely on it because there will always be a number of people who will not ‘get the reference’. I’m not saying that you over abuse quotational humor, in fact you use it sparingly, instead choosing to use the far more effective situational humor, but I say this because I write reviews for the benefit of the public as much as for the benefit of my client. Also, if I’ve not made this explicit, quotational humor in this context refers to referential, pop-culture humor. It’s just a term I borrowed from a book I was reading.

Next, we’ll talk about Kester. Kester seems to be the most normal of the lot, the most rational, the archetype straight man, and the Arthur Dent of the entire series. The fact that he is the Arthur Dent makes him the most relatable character, maintaining a link with the sense of realism and avoiding the piece from straying too far into the realm of the absurd to warrant ridicule instead of praise. This is meant mostly as an appraisal of his characterization and how far you’ve managed to cultivate it so far, but also acts as a warning in case Kester suddenly does something completely out-of-character for comedic effect. If not handled properly and you do fall into this trap, Kester will cease to be the loveable, logical Arthur Dent and you may end up offending a number of people by turning your protagonist into another store of gags and stupidity. A comedy needs its straight man after all. Sapphire’s actually less credible than Kester at this point due to certain events following through from a previous chapter, namely setting fire to the building. I’ll explain more in the next paragraph.

On Sapphire. When you first introduced Sapphire as a seventeen year old, you made it clear to the reader that she was the loveable, headstrong tomboy from the Manga that I’ve seen repeated in a number of other fics featuring Sapphire or any derivative of her design. At first, you were consistent with this depiction and you were content to let the character run unchecked because, well, she is a canon character so she does have a predetermined personality. However, a disturbing trend I’ve begun to notice is her antipathy towards non-Pokémon (possible love interests notwithstanding), and her vicious (as in Aristotelian ethics vicious as opposed to virtuous, continent, or incontinent) behaviour with regards to her treatment of the idiots (funny man) which surround her ‘adventures’. I use the term ‘vicious’ here lightly because she’s not entirely vicious, but neither is she wholly incontinent. Since you don’t often delve into her mind, the reader (me) is left unaware as to her true intent most of the times. Understandable since she’s not the main character, but it also makes it difficult to judge whether she is either incontinent or just plain vicious. Her vicious behaviour is most noticeable in her callous treatment of Kester as a Pokémon instead of a fellow human being. Yes, it carries comedic value, but it degrades her character because she acts a tad too cruel at times. You intersperse this cruelty with certain moments of compassion, however, and that’s enough to compensate her moral compass so that she’s not entirely evil. Now, with regards to the latest few chapters, her unthinking behaviour, which might pass as headstrong, seems a bit OOC to me for the sole reason that she’s not really the one to act so foolishly. I accept that since it may be too late to change it now, but, with regards to her vicious temperament, this latest chapter took the cake.
“One night in the dorms, while she was asleep, I superglued her eyes and mouth shut.”Here, you’ve presented her as wholly vicious and really quite OOC. Not only does she show no remorse, she worries on whether or not help will be offered to her. There’s absolutely no moral conflict here. Kester’s right to be ashamed, and I suspect even the audience is a tad uncomfortable. Hell, even I’m uncomfortable with how she’s acting.

Especially with this:
“You’re going to go in there, paralyse her and her father, if they’re in, and poke around in her dad’s office to see if you can find out anything about the goods.” This is a complete, blatant disregard for human life. I see it as a nail in the coffin for Sapphire’s current characterization, and she’s become lost to the audience. Not only does this have no comedic value, not even for a sadist (which I am), it degrades her character, and showcases a more vicious side to her that I’m not sure I completely like. No longer is she the loveable straight man, partner, or foil, she’s now just another side character with extreme follies of her own. Again, let me reiterate that this is disturbing.

Anyway, this concludes my review. Whether or not you choose to accept my advice (if you can extrapolate it from my analysis) on Sapphire is up to you, and I’m quite happy for you to proceed as planned. It’s just that it’s a bit jarring to see Sapphire acting so viciously here. So yeah, good job, I will be reading more.

bobandbill
February 7th, 2011, 06:14 PM
Firstly, I will have to agree with Mizan (having only read the first 3 chapters thus far, mind) that this does not strike me as a parody in the strictest sense of the word - certainly I do quite like the game elements and characters and so forth used in the story but I wouldn't class it as a parody sort of story myself.

What this is though is a very enjoyable story at any rate. ;p The characterisation is great for starters - I certainly emphasis with Kester's dilemmas here, along with his unloving mother (who certainly amuses me thus far). Puck is a great name for the Rotom as well and he's very entertain and possibly my favourite character thus far as well, what with his constant references and manner of speech - I cannot help and feel at this stage that he is hiding more than he is giving on though, so whether I'm right on that guess or not will be interesting to see - along with how they two continue to work with (or not) with each other as the story goes. Certainly an inventive way to have a Human with Pokemon powers, as a beside.

I do feel that the changing of POVs is not jarring to me - my opinion but I thought the pacing and the flow of the story is fine thus far. The first scene was very exciting and intriguing - it certainly held my interest, and the rest that I've read seemed pretty solid as well. I like the portrayal of Magma (and Aqua although I have not seen them actually in person in the story yet) as well, and I look forward to reading to more sooner or later. =)

Some quotes before I go:
The hunt continued, over the tops of a row of cars, the fugitive flitting silently and the pursuer pounding craters in the steel roofs with each bounding step.I do not feel the comma after 'continued' is really necessary - it sounds all right without it to me.
As the chase draws closer, we can see the building more clearly: a huge block of concrete, studded with windows both illuminated and dark.This little bit did feel a touch jarring to me, this comment - it seemed too much to address the reader as the narrator in the middle of the scene.
Voices shouted as the lights died, and the clatter of feet on stairs sounded throughout the building, but neither hunter nor hunted were listening: the chase was all their world, and there was no room for anything else.Might sound a bit better as '...chase was their whole world', but either way works - just a suggestion.
The P-L.O.T. DeviceXD This also reminds me of a similar PLOT device in the show Sheep and the Big City. XD
“What do they want? And what’s Sherlock?” I cried as I started moving again.

You’re disgustingly poorly-read, snapped Puck.I did think that not knowing who Sherlock is was a bit too poorly-read for my liking - although there probably are people out in the world who do not know of him it struck me as a bit too unlikely, personally.
So glad to be of service, he replied, in tones that left me certain he meant the exact opposite. Is this what it takes to cheer you up?'in tones that left me certain he meant the exact opposite' was accidently italicised there.
It’ll be like Home Alone, only without any funny bits and lots of death. Er... What I mean is, we’ll be just fine.XD This amused me a fair bit.
“I’ll get fired?” asked my mother, outraged. It seemed to have been the only part of the conversation she’d picked up on.“Look, are you going or not?” asked the President, suddenly very businesslike. “I’ve got a pen to balance on my desk, you know.”
And so did these lines as well in particular, although truth be told I could quote a lot more as well. =p

Cutlerine
February 8th, 2011, 12:03 AM
Thank you for your review, bobandbill. A quick note on commas: I've read far too much old stuff, and so tend towards putting in as many commas as possible in a style that isn't really used today. Not all of them are necessary, but... yeah, don't know where I'm going with this sentence. I'll just take out the one you mentioned, because you're right.

I'll also de-italicise the accidentally italicised text, but I think I might leave 'all their world'. I like it better.

Once again, thank you.

Oh, I just noticed there was another review from Mizan de la Plume Kuro above this one. I'll go read that.

...

OK, let's start with Sapphire as the manga character. I've never read the part of the manga in which she appears, so it's entirely unintentional if she seems like it. I just looked up her team on Bulbapedia - and that's the extent of the research I did into her.

As for the whole gluing thing... Yeah, that is a bit weird now that I think about it. I'll change that, but right now it doesn't quite work to have Sapphire not argue for paralysis of her old friend. I shall edit that so that it becomes slightly less... vicious, as you say.

The building burning bit? That can't really change now. I'll just see if I can find a way to work around it in the future, and salvage her character. I'm almost entirely certain that I can, if I edit parts of the last couple of chapters and the ones I'm currently working on. EDIT: I've edited the chapter in which Sapphire decides to set fire to the Calavera Tower and also the one immediately following now. Hopefully, this should redeem Sapphire - at least partially.

Oh yes, and I very much enjoyed your analysis of Sapphire, by the way. I've never had anyone go into a character of mine with such philosophical precision.

nokyo-chan
February 8th, 2011, 07:58 AM
On another side note, would this be the Metagross description that Puck provides Kester with, or the one Sapphire uses when she glimpses it in the cave? I'm assuming the former, but I always liked the latter better. In fact, I just liked the bathos of having Steven and Deep Thought appear immediately before revealing the stupid and pointless fact that Exploud are mostly allergic to Nosepass.

The latter, of course--I also meant to compliment you on your spectacular characterization of Steven.

Also, I found another minor grammatical mistake; but I've noticed that you live in the UK, and so I'm not entirely sure if it's a discrepancy between countries, but I'll point it out anyway.

I groped desperately for something to change the subject with, and found a question I’d been meaning to ask him.

You don't actually need a comma there. A comma only precedes a conjunction when there is a subject after it; for instance, this would be correct:

I groped desperately for something to change the subject with, and I found a question I'd been meaning to ask him.

Like I said, I'm not sure if this is only correct in the States or not, seeing as the UK also spells things differently from us ("Centre" as opposed to "Center", stuff like that).

I also saw that you said that Puck was a shameless self-insert; I would have never guessed. He fits flawlessly into the story. Kudos for that!

I hasten to assure you, I do know the correct past tense, but have made some almighty error of judgement, much like Macbeth. Only his errors were larger and more numerous than mine, and ended up with him dead. So... not like Macbeth at all.

I hope you aren't like Macbeth...I hear it's quite troublesome, not being able to have your name mentioned anywhere near a stage.

Cutlerine
February 8th, 2011, 08:21 AM
The latter, of course--I also meant to compliment you on your spectacular characterization of Steven.

Also, I found another minor grammatical mistake; but I've noticed that you live in the UK, and so I'm not entirely sure if it's a discrepancy between countries, but I'll point it out anyway.

You don't actually need a comma there. A comma only precedes a conjunction when there is a subject after it; for instance, this would be correct:


I do not need a comma there, but I think it's legitimised by the reading of the thing; it doesn't work as two sentences, and doesn't work well without a pause in there. My solution was to put in a comma, which, as you have pointed out, isn't needed - but improves it.

I always thought grammar was more a set of road signs than a bunch of strict rules. They direct the flow and pressure of the language, and if that bends a rule just a little, I let them do that.

Anyway, that's my little grammatical rant over. I must now return to editing Chapter Twelve and the upcoming Thirteen.

callumjames3
February 8th, 2011, 12:24 PM
Hey Cuterline. Just to let you know there is definately someone reading you story - and enjoying it at that. I do feel a bit sorry for kester, he never seems to get much of a break. Anyway, i hope you keep up with the story, its been very enjoyable so far.

Cutlerine
February 8th, 2011, 12:27 PM
Which reminds me, how is it that you’ve not referenced Douglas Adams? Inconceivable!

Must... reference... The Princess Bride...

Chapter Thirteen: Believe Me Natalie

“Kester! Get over here!” Sapphire hissed.

I looked cautiously around for any of those hulking security guards that rich people always seem to have in the movies, and crept over as quietly as I could.

“I don’t really want to do this,” I said.

We were standing on a wide, semicircular landing at the top of an odd, squat protuberance that projected from one corner of the museum’s roof; before us was a façade that might have been ripped from one of the fancy townhouses on Rustboro’s Pelenine Hill, and behind us was a long, helical staircase that led back down to the museum proper.

It had taken no small amount of ingenuity to get here. I had wanted nothing more than to leave every time a member of the museum staff challenged our right to see Natalie and her father, and some quite elaborate arguments had been thought up by our opponents – but somehow, Sapphire had overcome each one.

“You’re so pathetic,” Sapphire told me, casting a look over me that managed to somehow be both withering and pitying at once. “What, you’re afraid we’ll get caught? We’re not doing anything illegal, you know.”

“But I might get hurt.”

“Chicken. Knock on the door.”

“No way! You do it.”

“I’m the Trainer. You’re the Pokémon. Knock on the damn door.” She retreated down the stairs a little, so as to be entirely out of view from the doorway.

It seemed that if there had been any goodwill in Sapphire’s treatment of me earlier that morning, it had entirely faded. I sighed, dithered for a moment and then rapped sharply on the door. It was opened a few moments later by a girl my age, her nut-brown skin arguing foreign ancestry.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked, tensing suddenly. I had a funny feeling she might be as capable of violence as Sapphire, so I tried hard to meet her eyes and replied:

“My name is Kester Ruby. I’m here on behalf of someone you used to know.” I took a deep breath. “Sapphire Birch sent me.”

In one fluid movement, her hand shot out, pushing me over backwards, and retracted into the apartment, slamming the door behind it. From the floor, I looked up at the handle, vaguely glad that I hadn’t been more badly injured.

“What kind of a performance do you call that?” snapped Sapphire angrily. “Come on, Kester, don’t you have any social skills?”

I got up slowly, dusting myself off. It seems odd now, but I think my pride was actually stung by that remark.

“I can do this,” I said. “Watch me.”

I knocked on the door again; this time, it didn’t open.

“Natalie!” I called. “I actually came because Sapphire wants to apologise.”

The door burst open and a fist shot out; it caught sharply on the jaw and I leaped back, yelping, as the door shut again.

“Ow... Hey, seriously, Natalie. Sapphire wants to apologise. She... just... didn’t want to get punched, so she sent me.”

The door opened again. Natalie poked her head through.

“She sent you because she didn’t want to get hurt?”

When not threatening me, her voice was soft and faintly upper-class, the way Sapphire’s was when she was calm.

“Yeah,” I replied. “You know how she is.”

“I know,” she said. Her tone of voice made it clear just how well she knew. I waited for a moment, wondering what would happen next. Then, eventually, she said: “Well... sorry for hitting you, I guess. You don’t deserve it.”

I swear, if I had had just an ounce less self-composure, I would have flung myself at her and showered her with adoration for that comment. You don’t deserve it. She was right; I didn’t deserve any of what had happened to me recently. I was wholly and unreservedly the victim.

“Can I come in?” I asked. Natalie thought about it.

“I suppose. I’m not going to hold Sapphire’s brutality against you.”

She turned around and went inside, leaving the door open. I glanced towards Sapphire’s hiding-place and stuck my tongue out at her, then walked in and shut her out.

Inside, the apartment was of a size befitting the scale of a museum – massive windows, high ceilings, wide expanse of polished wooden floor – but it didn’t match the time period at all. While the museum itself was old and dark, this place was light and airy, composed of pale wood and stainless steel, with a generous helping of glass. It also possessed the biggest TV I had ever seen, and which I later found out was one of the largest privately-owned ones in the world at the time.

“Hope you don’t think you’ll get me to change my mind about Sapphire,” Natalie said warningly.

“God, no,” I replied. “Can’t stand her.”

“Why are you helping her, then?” asked Natalie. She indicated a large leather sofa, and I dropped onto it eagerly.

“Blackmail,” I replied succinctly.

Natalie nodded, as if she understood entirely, and asked me if I would like a drink. I was warming to her; it seemed like ages since I’d met anyone who showed me a normal amount of courtesy.

“Yes please,” I replied, and received one for my troubles. Natalie sat down next to me and asked me what exactly it was that I wanted here.

“Sapphire asked me to come here,” I told her, “so here I am. Look, if I can just stay here for a few minutes, then come out and tell her I tried and failed to convince you, that’ll be fine.”

“You might as well try,” Natalie suggested. “Come on. Give it a go.”

“Er...” I wondered where to start, and floundered helplessly for a moment. Then, I threw caution to the winds and told her everything.

It took me a little over twenty minutes, and she didn’t say a word throughout the whole thing. When I was done, she sat very still and very silent, in the same sort of way that a bomb does before it goes off. Hence, I tensed my legs, ready to leap up at the first sign of violence.

“That,” she said at last, making me jump, “is so like Sapphire!” Her hands clenched tightly into fists, the knuckles fairly bursting out through her skin. “I – aagh! You’ve made me really angry!”

“S-sorry,” I offered cautiously. Registering the concern on my face, she visibly calmed herself.

“No – not at you,” she said. “At Sapphire. She’s so... you know?”

I nodded to show that I did, in fact, know.

It’s what you call being headstrong, said Puck sleepily. But who cares? You don’t.

I started. Puck was speaking to me again? No, now wasn’t the time to talk to him about it...

“Look, I can help you if you like,” Natalie said. I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Not Sapphire. You.” She paused. “I mean, if you find out what these goods are, she’ll let you go, right?”

“That’s correct.” A troublesome thought crossed my mind. “Wait a moment. Why did you just accept my story without question? Why didn’t you ask for proof that there was a Rotom in my head?”

“It felt right,” Natalie replied simply. “I trust you.”

Touching, Puck said. How can anyone be this naïve at seventeen?

“Come on,” Natalie continued. “I’ll show you my dad’s office.”

She led me up a spiral staircase—

The correct word is ‘helical’, Puck pointed out pedantically—

—wrought, as most things in this place, of stainless steel; the racket we made as we went up it reminded me unpleasantly of last night’s escapade in the Calavera Tower. At the top was a semicircular landing that looked like the progeny of the one outside, and set into its curved edge were six or seven doors. Glancing up, I could see another floor above us, but was unable to make out any distinguishing features.

“In here.” Natalie pushed open one door and led me inside; it was the second office I’d visited in as many days, and it was definitely the better of the two. While Usher’s was Spartan to a ridiculous extreme, this one was well-appointed and possessed a large, solid-looking teak desk covered in files, papers and two or three lamps that all pointed in different directions.

“Here,” Natalie said, picking up a thick stack of folders and dropping it into my arms. “You look at these, I’ll look at some others.”

We fell into a rather companionable silence then; it was oddly like group revision for school exams, which made me feel a bit nostalgic until I remembered I was too young for nostalgia.

This continued for about an hour, and then Natalie spoke:

“OK. Look at this.”

Natalie pointed to the papers, and I did as she ordered. From what I saw, though, it was just a mess of invoices and letters.

“Can’t you summarise for me?” I asked hopefully.

“It shows that he’s been privately financing the construction of that submarine you said they were building at Angel. The S.S. Cangrejo.”

“OK. Why does he want a submarine?”

Natalie shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s an Aqua, if that helps.”

“What?” I cried.

“What of it?”

“It’s just... You admit it so freely.”

“But it’s not like it matters.” Natalie shrugged. “I mean, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.” She held up a small, stylised letter ‘A’ in white enamel, crafted to resemble the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger. “Look, here’s the badge.”

“Hmm,” I said, still somewhat shocked. “That’s unexpected, but not that useful... let’s keep looking."

After a little while, Natalie tapped my shoulder again.

“Here.”

She handed me a page of small, crabbed handwriting in dark blue ink; I scanned it, picking up such words as ‘Angel Laboratories’ and ‘submarine’ – and, at the bottom, a signature scrawled with ferocious energy: Archie.

“Archie himself,” I breathed. “This is...” I looked up at Natalie. “Whoa. This is probably... something that should go to the police.”

“If you like,” Natalie said. “It won’t matter. The police agree not to interfere with either of the Teams on the condition that their officers don’t get killed.”

I opened my mouth to reply, then realised I didn’t have anything to say and shut it again.

“Anyway, there’s nothing illegal about commissioning a submarine,” Natalie pointed out.

This was indisputably true, and I was forced to admit it.

“The Aquas do like the sea,” Natalie continued. “Remember, they used to be a bunch of weird marine-supremacist-eco-warriors before they went into organised crime. It might be that they just want a submarine to use as their headquarters, or something.”

“Right. You’re right, of course.” I stood up. “Thanks, Natalie.”

“No problem,” she said. “Always happy to strike a blow against Sapphire. But I’m not done.”

“Oh?” I sat down again and she held up another letter; once again I took it to peruse.

“To Mauville?” I queried. “Why are the goods being taken to Mauville? And who’s the ‘Spectroscopic Fancy Company’?”

“Not sure,” replied Natalie. “But look more closely. It’s not the goods themselves being taken to Mauville. They’re going to be built into a ‘Y-38P SuperBlast Module’, and then sent up to the Spectroscopic Fancy Company in Mauville.”

“What’s a Y-38P SuperBlast Module, do you know?”

Natalie shrugged. “No idea. But this Spectroscopic Fancy Company needs investigation. Both the Aquas and the Magmas want the goods, right? So my guess is that this Y-38P SuperBlast Module is something that both Teams want.”

“Or whatever Spectroscopic Fancy is doing with the Module is something that will negatively affect each Team,” I suggested. Natalie nodded and looked impressed, which went some way to restoring my rather dented sense of self-worth.

“That might be it,” she agreed. “You’re clever.”

Unlike Sapphire, she meant it. I hadn’t realised how much I needed real, heartfelt compliments in my life, and positively glowed with happiness.

“Well, thank you very much,” I said, standing up. “I’d better go now. I’ve kept Sapphire waiting long enough.”

“I don’t think you could do that if you tried.” Natalie smiled, and it was a very pretty smile.

“Maybe you’re right,” I replied. “But I’d better go anyway. It’s gone midday.”

“All right.” Natalie showed me to the door, though of course I remembered the way, and as I bade her farewell and left I rather thought I’d made a new friend today, and a charming one at that.

I’m not charming enough for you? Puck asked in mock horror. Gasp!

Sapphire uncurled from where she was sitting uncomfortably on the steps.

“Did you have fun?” she asked sourly.

“Masses,” I replied. “I really like Natalie.”

Sapphire looked like she was bridling at the insult, but managed to contain herself.

“What did you find out?”

“I might tell you that,” I replied, “if you’re nice.”

So of course the next moment I was back in the Poké Ball, and Puck was laughing his head off.

---

“And we go live to Jessica Colburn, our Pokémon Affairs correspondent, at Blackfriars.”

A pretty young woman in a neat suit and a fluffy coat was standing at the southern end of the bridge, the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral just visible off to her right. Though it was summer in Hoenn, England was firmly in the grip of winter, and she had a vivid red scarf wrapped snugly about her neck. The tassels on its end kept breaking free of control and dancing around in the wind.

“Thank you, Pete,” Jessica said to the camera. “Here with me is Harrison Morrison, Professor Emeritus of Pokézoology at Oxford University.”

The camera swivelled left a little, to include Harrison’s weathered face. It had the look of an old paper bag about it: battered and with a few crumbs sticking to the corners. Despite its roughness, there was a gentle kindness in it, and excitement too.

“Good morning, Jessica.”

“Thank you very much for being here, Professor. Now, when exactly is it going to pass over?”

“Well, you can see that the skies are completely clear,” Harrison replied. “That would indicate that it is literally minutes away: its ability doesn’t extend more than a few miles ahead.”

“I see. For those viewers who perhaps don't know, can you explain again why it’s here?”

“That’s a simple enough question. As most people probably know, it circles the globe continually, each circuit taking it a year. What you may not know is that it alters its flight path slightly each year, which some scientists believe is a result of minute shifts in the earth’s magnetic field. This year, for just the third time since records began, the it will be passing over England.”

“Exciting stuff. Professor—”

“Look!” cried Harrison, pointing. “It’s here!”

And it was: a great, twisting band of dark green against the clear blue sky, worming its way sinuously across the heavens as no other beast on earth could do. Glittering yellow tracery adorned its massive flanks, and its fins flashed red along the edges in the winter sun. It came from the north-east, and, with the morning sun behind it, seemed to blaze with divine fire.

Across the country, mouths dropped and eyes popped; in London itself, people crowded against windows and burst into the streets, staring up into the skies at the monster that had once been known to the ancient world as Ziz, and now rejoiced in the name Rayquaza.

It passed over London at impossible speed, but from the ground it looked as if its progress were slow and stately; as it drew closer to the cathedral, it tipped back its vast head and let out a long, incredibly loud roar that shook the air and sent birds into the air all over the city.

“Incredible,” breathed Jessica.

“Marvellous,” agreed Harrison, but then a frown passed over his face. “But – what’s that?”

He pointed, and the camera followed; there was a blot on the bright sky, a dark patch a little to the east of Rayquaza, and drawing nearer.

Harrison and Jessica squinted, and the camera zoomed in as much as it could, but it was much too far away. All that could be seen was a dark, bulky shape: some sort of aerial vehicle or perhaps a Flying Pokémon – though admittedly, few that could Fly grew to that size.

“What’re they doing?” cried Harrison.

His question was soon answered. The shape drew up alongside Rayquaza’s head, and one great eye rolled over to investigate it.

Then there was a distant boom, and an earth-shattering roar, and Rayquaza began to fall.

It spiralled down like a stricken kite, the air screaming in protest as gravity hauled Rayquaza through it; its tail smacked against the dome of St. Paul’s and the lead gave way with a booming whine, crumpling like tissue paper under the blow. Its head drew closer and closer, and now people on the bridge were leaving their cars and running as fast as they could for the shore—

—before Rayquaza crashed headfirst into Blackfriars Bridge, its jaw ripping up the tarmac as it slid along, throwing up cars and pedestrians like confetti. The ground bucked and swayed beneath its weight; people screamed and shouted; metal burst and stone shattered; and finally it ended with a colossal splash as the dragon’s sinuous body hit the surface of the Thames and sank from sight, throwing up walls of water a hundred feet into the air.

Dead silence followed. The camera was lying on its side, the lens cracked and nothing but the base of a lamppost visible through it. Then, shakily, it rose up, and panned back towards the crash site, where Jessica was picking herself up.

The Professor was already on his feet and running towards Rayquaza’s head, clambering over upturned cars and stumbling over chunks of stone and asphalt. The camera followed, moving jerkily as its operator struggled beneath its weight; it stopped at the edge of the wrecked area, and zoomed in to follow Harrison’s path.

Across the country, a million gasps rang out.

The Pokémon had landed with the left side of its head forwards, and it could be clearly seen that its left eye had been replaced with a bloody pit of gore and smoke; the skin around it was blackened with smoke and slick with the juices of its ruptured eyeball and brain.

Harrison slapped a palm to the point where Rayquaza’s neck met its head; ordinarily, the sight of a man attempting to take the pulse of such a vast creature would have been amusing, but now it was deadly serious. Millions of people looked on with bated breath, waiting for Harrison’s pronouncement.

“It’s dead,” he said softly, turning to face the camera. “Rayquaza is dead.”

Cutlerine
February 10th, 2011, 10:08 AM
Sorry for the recent lack of humour in this. It's just that I felt I owed it to Rayquaza's awesomeness to send him off solemnly. I promise that the chapter after this will be back to normal.

Chapter Fourteen: Gemstones Rampant on a Field Sable

Once I’d told her about the SuperBlast Module, Sapphire had wanted to leave for Mauville straight away and consequently we returned to the Pokémon Centre to pick up her bag; however we never got much further than the Centre lounge. We came in and ran straight into the back of a tightly-packed crowd, gathered around the TV and blocking off all the exits.

“What the—?”

Sapphire shoved angrily to the front of the crowd, and I slipped through the gap she left, throwing apologies left and right with more than one worried glance at a guy whose Swellow seemed about to fling itself at my face in rage.

Then we reached the TV, and stopped dead.

The picture was one of utter devastation; I didn’t recognise the area but there was a bridge, and it had been completely wrecked by the partially flattened body of a colossal Pokémon that even I recognised. It was the one that everyone knew, the one that had been flying around the globe since time immemorial.

Rayquaza.

The Sky High Pokémon was currently anything but. It looked like its brain had exploded and blown out one of its eyes, and the impact of hitting the ground had caused its body to flatten vertically. This had driven hundreds of its ribs out of its flanks; they projected like ivory cannon from the side of a great green galleon, ready to fire the streamers of red and white-yellow gore that hung from their tips. And this was only the first third of its body: the rest lay underwater, in the depths of the river that the bridge spanned.

“Oh my God,” I muttered. “It’s... it’s dead?”

“Ssh!” hissed Sapphire violently. “I want to hear.”

“—ave said that the precise cause of death is uncertain; however, it is likely to have been some form of rocket launcher, or possibly a powerful Pokémon attack such as Hyper Beam,” the English reporter onscreen told us, via a dubbed Hoennian translator. “Harrison Morrison, Professor Emeritus of Pokézoology at Oxford University, has been assisting police with their investigations. Professor Morrison, what can you tell us about this attack?”

The scene changed; now we were at night, facing a tangled web of police tape and floodlights. In front of these was a man in late middle age, with salt-and-pepper hair and a lined, tired face that bore testament to having recently suffered through a great deal of stress. A little box flashed up in the corner, reading ‘LIVE from Blackfriars Bridge, London’, and I remembered that there was an eleven-hour time difference between Hoenn and England.

“Well,” said the Professor (or at least the translator who was being dubbed in), “it would actually have been a fairly easy thing to do. Rayquaza has been protected by its enormous size – and, more recently, international law – for many, many years now. It has become used to being unchallenged, and so it failed to register its attacker as a threat.”

“Would there ever have been anything that could threaten Rayquaza?” asked the reporter. “Presumably, this is the sort of thing we’re looking for when searching for its killer.”

“We don’t know,” replied the Professor simply. “Rayquaza is what’s known as a legendary Pokémon: something so powerful it’s become deified, and has passed into myth and culture across the world. Most of these so-called ‘legendaries’ are either exaggerated memories of Pokémon now extinct, or never existed at all; there are only seven such species other than Rayquaza known to exist: Mew, Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, Raikou, Entei and Suicune. But none of these save Mew have ever been captured and studied, only glimpsed – their power is completely unknown. We can rule out Mew as the attacker because of its size and relative weakness, and the three legendary beasts on account of their lack of flying ability. My guess is that one of the legendary birds, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres, is behind this.”

“But what reason could there be for this?” the reporter persisted. Professor Morrison shrugged and sighed.

“We just don’t know,” he replied helplessly. “It’s generally held to be impossible to capture most legendary Pokémon, even with a Master Ball, but there’s no reason for these legendaries to fight amongst themselves without human intervention. I can only surmise that someone killed Rayquaza – but who they are or how they gained control over a legendary is entirely beyond me.”

“Thank you, Professor,” said the reporter. “Those of you watching at home, don’t go anywhere: in an hour’s time, the police will be holding a press conference...”

Sapphire turned away abruptly and shoved her way back through the crowd, heading for the stairs and her room. Apologising again, I followed.

“Sapphire!” I cried, rushing up the first flight. “Sapphire, what is it?”

“Three hundred million years,” Sapphire said quietly, not stopping. “That’s how old they think it is. Three hundred million years as king of the sky. The metabolism powering that was the most amazing on earth; that’s why it was always flying, and why it had fins – to cool itself down. No one knows where it came from or whether there was ever more than one. Three hundred million years, and never known to show even the slightest sign of eating or drinking. Three hundred million years of life that defined the myths and legends of a thousand different cultures all over the world. Three hundred million years, Kester, and some worthless, gutless monster comes along and has the presumption to end that existence!”

She was practically screaming now; I recoiled and let her storm up to the room by herself. I should have known she would feel strongly about it. She was the daughter of a Pokémon Professor, after all.

I sighed and sat down on the steps, not knowing what to do. It seemed pretty likely that we wouldn’t be going anywhere today, and I had no idea how to go about comforting Sapphire without getting beaten up or paralysing her.

Well, well, well, remarked Puck. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting that.

“Puck?” I sat up. “I meant to ask you about that. You’re speaking to me again now?”

I was thinking.

I waited for him to continue that sentence, but it became apparent that that was it, so I ventured:

“What were you thinking about?”

How much I can tell you. Puck sighed. Look, Kester, when I say you should stay out of something, you should, well... You should take my advice.

“Forget I said anything,” I told him, happy to have someone to talk to.

It’s touching that you want to be friends – or perhaps pitiful that you’re desperate enough to talk to a voice in your head – but you’ve asked. I will answer. Just not fully.

“OK. That’s fine, too.”

I’m... not one of the good guys, strictly speaking, Puck said slowly. And... there are things about me that would place you in quite a bit of danger if you knew them. And like I said, I have a vested interest in your survival, so I’m keen to avoid that.

“OK.” I shut my eyes and tried to absorb this knowledge, but it didn’t seem to fit particularly well with anything else I’d found out so far. I still couldn’t see Puck’s connection with the whole ‘Devon goods’ business, or why he was in Hoenn.

On a lighter note, the death of Rayquaza, Puck said, brightening. Oh. Wait. That’s a darker note. Never mind. So: what’s our opinion, boys and girls?

“I don’t know. Some lunatic shot it down?”

Half right. Someone shot it down – but they were no lunatic. They had a reason.

“You know about this?”

No. I suspect about this. I’m pretty sure it’s connected to all the stuff that’s happening here, too. I just don’t know how yet.

“Why does talking to you always put me in mind of trying to set fire to snow?” I asked exasperatedly. “Would it kill you to speak plainly for once?”

Most definitely yes.

I sighed and got up. “Fine. Any ideas about what to do next, then?”

Sapphire’s not coming back until she’s worked off that anger... I guess we could go and watch TV. See if any leads have been found about Rayquaza’s killer. I know it doesn’t mean that much to you, being a non-Trainer meatface – I mean, human – but we ought to show some small modicum of respect.

It was the only plan I had, so I wandered back into the lounge and wormed my way through the crowd of Trainers until I got to a point where I could see the screen again.

“...in other news, a rash of strange Pokémon attacks have broken out across Slateport during the night,” a Hoennian reporter said, the picture behind her flickering to a shot of a gutted shop with smashed-in windows. “CCTV images show that the cause of this has been, of all things, a group of Sableye.”

I frowned as the image changed to grainy black and white, and a swarm of the little monsters broke the window, pouring into the shop like rats out of Hamelin.

Sableye? queried Puck. Surely they aren’t....?

All at once, an ovoid head popped up in front of the camera, just inches away from the lens. Two massive diamond eyes adorned the front, on either side of a white stripe, and beneath them was a wicked little grin. Then the picture cut to static, and changed back to the studio.

“Professor Birch is here with me to discuss this. Professor, Sableye are usually docile, are they not?”

“Um. Er, yes, they are...”

I didn’t need to hear any more; I struggled out of the lounge and back into the lobby, where I dropped onto a bench.

“Puck,” I said, “is it me, or was that Sableye a bit... familiar?”

It was the leader of that group in the lift shaft, Puck said. I recognised its convenient white stripe. You were probably too busy fleeing and falling to remember it very clearly.

“A white stripe,” I said. “Is this another joke?”

Probably, Puck replied amiably. I think it might go on for a while, too. He paused for a bit, presumably thinking, then said: Look, we aren’t going to get to Mauville today. Let’s go exploring.

“What, and get lost in Slateport?”

You won’t get lost.

“OK then. How about run into Darren Goodwin?”

You won’t run into Darren Goodwin.

“Team Magma?”

They aren’t exactly a threat, Puck reminded me.

“Fair enough. What about Team Aqua?”

There, Puck paused. Like me, he was evidently remembering our encounter with the Aqua girl the day before.

I see your point, he admitted. But come on, Kester! Let’s live a little. Sapphire’s not here, and while the cat’s away, the mice will play...

“Shut up.”

Your mind is made up, I see, Puck said sorrowfully. We will just sit here all day in the Pokémon Centre, doing absolutely nothing.

“That’s right,” I agreed, and leaned back against the wall.

Five minutes later, I glanced at my watch. It was one o’clock.

“Fine, you win,” I conceded, getting to my feet and realising that my legs had gone to sleep. “It’s too boring. Let’s go.”

Puck snickered, and we headed off into Slateport.

---

My wanderings eventually took me down to the Wharf again, which was welcome because it was one of the few places within walking distance where I didn’t have to pay to see something amazing. I spent a happy while pacing along the waterfront, looking at the ships, their crews and Pokémon, and would probably have spent another hour or so there before heading back if I hadn’t been accosted by a strange old sailor who sported an impressive beard.

“There was a ship,” he told me earnestly, gripping my arm with a skinny hand. I shook him off and backed away a couple of paces, ready to Thunder Wave or Astonish him if necessary – but he didn’t seem to be making any threatening movements.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked. He gave me some sort of stare, which was probably meant to hold me to the spot, but it didn’t really work, coming as it did from a very nonthreatening old man.

Whoa, said Puck. Now that’s what I call a long grey beard, and glittering eyes.

“The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared—”

“What?”

“Merrily did we drop—”

“What?”

“Below the kirk, below the hill—”

“What?”

He paused, and tried again to hold me with his glittering eye– but it was no more successful this time than it had been before.

“Below the lighthouse top,” he finished disconsolately. “You don’t wanna hear my story?”

“No,” I said. “Just... leave me alone!”

“It’s a good one,” he persisted.

Haha! He’s such a grey-beard loon.

“I don’t want to hear it! Let me through!”

With that, I pushed past him and stalked off through the crowds.

“Any idea as to who that was?” I asked Puck.

I... I’ve come across something like that before, he answered.

“Right.” There was a pause. “Are you going to tell me about it?”

No.

“Didn’t think so.”

We wandered along a little further, watching the ships come and go and keeping a weather eye out for any more ancient mariners; thankfully, there seemed to be none around, and our walk from then on was uneventful, at least until we realised that we were lost.

---

“Felicity,” said the young man, “it looks like you might need to hurry up a little, or it might get too late.”

“Shut up,” she growled weakly, but there was nothing she could do to stop him. He was the only one who could help her now.

“I don’t care how much pain you’re in, you know.” The man seemed eager to impress that fact upon her. “You have to keep going.”

“Why?” Felicity’s eyes flashed angrily. “Why do I have to do this? Why can’t I go home? Why, why, why?”

The young man regarded her with unruffled eyes. He had not moved an inch.

“Because I need you with the Aquas,” he said. “It’s part of the plan.”

“Plan. Plan. Always on about this plan. What is it, Zero?” spat Felicity. She spat the name out as if it were poison; it was not, as it happened, but it was certainly a little melodramatic.

“My own little project,” Zero replied. “A hobby; a game; a bet; call it what you will, it’s all the same. Now, Felicity, report to your superiors. Go and tell them that you have information detailing the precise times of the movement of the Module from Angel Laboratories to Mauville.” He tossed her a CD in a blank case, and she caught it one-handed. “This is a taped conversation between Usher House of Angel and Melton Mowbray of Spectroscopic Fancy. It will suffice as evidence.”

“Why do you need me?” Felicity asked helplessly, looking from Zero to the disk and back again. “Why? What did I do to deserve this?”

Zero looked at her, and there was infinite kindness in his eyes.

“Nothing, Felicity,” he said. “You did nothing at all.”

---

“Puck?” I asked hopefully. “Anything?”

Nope. Let’s see... we could go back the way we came, if you can remember it.

We were standing at the point where a road that went by the ominous name of Evisceration Street crossed another named, perhaps more ominously, Clownbeater Avenue. So far, I had resisted the urge to say 'I told you I'd get lost' to Puck, but the temptation was strong.

Yo, Kester.

“If this isn’t helpful advice, I don’t want to hear it.”

Do you think ‘Clownbeater’ means someone who beats clowns, or a clown who beats things? Puck wondered.

“Shut up! That isn’t helpful advice!”

But how can you define ‘helpful’ in this crazy modern world of ours? Puck persisted. It’s so... so... Damn it. OK, that joke failed. Can I try again?

“No. Be quiet.”

The Rotom sighed, but obeyed, and I headed down Clownbeater Avenue on the grounds that I would rather either beat or be beaten by clowns than be eviscerated.

This road seems to be going south, Puck commented, as we followed the curve of the pavement. It might take us to the Wharf. That’d be good.

“Yeah,” I agreed, and so continued.

The street didn’t seem to have an end, and was curiously deserted; it was still bathed in bright afternoon sunlight, and I could still hear the traffic and the Wingull – but something about it struck me as creepy.

Yo, Kester, Puck said, after we’d been walking for about fifteen minutes.

“Yeah?”

Ghosts. To the left.

I glanced left and saw the ruined shop that had made the news earlier.

“This is too much of a coincidence,” I said aloud. “This just can’t be happening—”

You’d best believe it, Puck said, because that little stripy chap looks like he wants your throat for nest lining.

Wincing at the mental image this conjured up, I looked around wildly for the striped Sableye, and found him atop a lamppost, squatting like a gargoyle and baring his teeth. Immediately, I launched a ThunderShock at him; it missed and hit the lamppost, but, being made of steel, the current passed through it and neatly zapped the soles of his feet. He screeched in pain and leaped down into the road; in response to his cry, about eight more of the little monsters emerged from the wrecked shop.

“Puck!” I cried.

We can handle this! His response was cool, calm and focused. Sableye are fairly weak; they can’t handle repeated hits. You’re strong enough now that if you can get a good ThunderShock in, you can probably take them out in a couple of hits each.

I had no time to reply: the Sableye were leaping forwards, their clawed hands moving so fast as to sound like fan blades. I didn’t even have time to move before they were on me, scything their claws down again and again—

—and doing absolutely nothing, the talons passing straight through me – much to their consternation.

Fury Swipes, Puck said. Normal-type. Counterattack, now!

I wasted no time in doing so: first one of my strong Astonishes, which froze about half of them in their tracks, then a frenzy of ThunderShocks, raining down like blue meteors. Puck was right. The Sableye were actually about as threatening as wet blotting-paper, and three of them fainted dead away from that first assault alone.

The remaining Pokémon darted back quickly, wary now, and circled me like sharks under the hissed direction of their striped leader.

For the sake of space, time and a reference, Puck said, let’s just call that one Stripe from now on.

Suddenly, as one, the Sableye stopped dead in their tracks, and line of blackness shot across the ground from their feet to mine faster than I could blink; it felt like someone had knocked my legs from under me with a lead pipe, and I fell over heavily, crying out in pain.

Damn it! Shadow Sneak! Puck sounded agitated now. Kester, get up and out of the way!

I tried to get to my feet, but the Sableye did it again; this time I saw what the darkness was: it was their shadows, stretching out from beneath them to ram me savagely in the shins. Except now, of course, they were hitting me all over, not just my shins, and it was excruciating; if it was possible for it to be worse than falling down the fire escape, or the Carvanha’s Bite, it was.

I might have screamed. I don’t know. I do know that Puck was trying to speak to me, but his voice was faint and flickering, like a badly-tuned radio. Then there was a brief period of nothing, and after that, I remember sitting up shakily in the middle of the street, surrounded by a rather drunken-looking troupe of Sableye.

Kester! Kester!

“P-Puck?”

No time to explain! Just ThunderShock something – anything! They’re about ready to run away...

I did, weak sparks flaring at my fingertips and arcing across to Stripe, who shrieked and staggered off, his limbs moving as if they were under someone else’s control. With some difficulty, the rest of the Sableye followed him, swaying and tripping like Spinda.

“What – what happened?” I asked, my head clearing somewhat. The pain was fading; now that I looked, there didn’t seem to be any marks on my legs, either.

They were using Shadow Sneak, Puck told me. That’s a Ghost-type move, which we’re weak to. Six of them together like that and it was too much. You know, like when you make a sandwich that’s just too tall for you to bite into, but you still go and try anyway, and it all ends in doom and tears—

“But – how did I...?” I interrupted, before he got too involved in his ridiculous simile.

Chase them off? Uproar, my friend. Uproar. That crazy drunken gait of theirs? Disorientation caused by the sound waves.

There were probably plenty of eloquent replies to be made, but I wasn’t quite up to finding one.

“Uproar?”

It’s... well, officially it’s a Normal-type move, so it shouldn’t have affected those half-Ghost Sableye. But in reality, it can hit anything with ears. The clue is in the name: it’s basically a screaming and shouting attack, like Astonish, that affects everyone around you. The only downside is that you can’t turn it off once you start. You have to keep doing it for a certain period of time.

“That’s so stupid it must be true,” I said, regaining my full senses at last, and getting up. “I have to say, though, I really hate Sableye.”

Then... you won’t want to look down.

I did so, of course, and saw that amongst the three fainted Sableye was a fourth one – only this wasn’t like any Sableye I’d seen before. Its short fur was a pure, snowy white, and its eyes were massive rubies rather than diamonds.

“What the hell is that?”

Er... an albino Sableye? suggested Puck. Seriously, your guess is as good as mine. I’ve never seen anything like him before.

I stared at the albino Sableye, and he ducked his head, hiding it beneath his little hands, as if self-conscious. He took a few steps away from me, and crouched behind one of his fainted brethren. Unless he was incredibly devious and sneaky, it seemed unlikely that he would attack me, so I started walking again, moving slowly now in case my legs gave out unexpectedly.

After a while, I turned around and saw that the Sableye was following me; as soon as my eyes alighted on him, however, he dived for cover behind a dustbin and lay there quivering.

You know, Puck said, he reminds me of you a bit.

“Shut up,” I muttered. “I’ve done enough dangerous things now that you couldn’t call me a coward.”

No, that’s not what I meant. He’s like you because he’s pale and useless.

If I could have punched him, I would. As it was, I thought very long and very hard about the beautiful Felicity instead, and then about the less-beautiful-but-still-attractive Natalie. This, I was pleased to discover, caused him no small amount of discomfort.

By then, I had, as hoped, reached the Wharf, and knew roughly where to go. It was going to take me a hell of a long time to get back to the Centre, but I didn’t care; I was just glad that I wasn’t being threatened by bejewelled monkey demons anymore.

As I began the slow walk back to the Pokémon Centre, I knew the Sableye was still following me, but it didn’t seem important any more. All I wanted now was a long rest and a cold drink.

Huh. I doubt Sapphire’s going to let you have either of those, Puck said darkly. I mean, she isn’t in a good mood and we went out without her permission.

“Oh, shut up,” I said wearily, and trudged on.


Note:Technically, I guess the Sableye ought to have been shiny, but I kind of don't care.

Cutlerine
February 12th, 2011, 11:20 AM
Chapter Fifteen: Pokéfan Kaleb Would Like to Battle

I was about to knock on the door to Sapphire’s room at the Pokémon Centre when I heard sobbing from within. My hand stopped half an inch from the wood, and I regret to say that my first thought was that she must have been torturing someone.

Kester... Puck said warningly. That’s not a nice conclusion to jump to.

“Sorry,” I whispered, not wanting to let Sapphire know I was there. “I know, I know, it’s terrible.”

She’s probably upset about Rayquaza, he said. You should go and comfort her.

“Still upset?” I asked, more incredulously than I’d meant to. “Really? It’s just a big flying sna—”

Kester! Arceus knows I shouldn’t expect it of you, but show some damn sympathy here! Or, he added, I’ll fry your brain.

“OK, OK,” I said hurriedly. “But I’m warning you, I don’t know how to do this.”

I knocked on the door and it opened seemingly under its own power; this startled me until I saw Toro with one claw on the handle. She jerked her head across the room and I looked over to see Sapphire curled up on her bed with her back to me. I could just see the top of Rono’s egg-shaped head behind her.

“Sapphire?” I called softly. This, I felt, would be a good start. When she made no attempt to reply, though, I had to re-evaluate that particular fact. “Uh... Sapphire? Are you OK?”

I stepped quietly over to her, avoiding treading on her discarded hat, and cautiously put a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t throw it off, which must have been a good sign.

Excellent start, commented Puck. Now, go in for the kill.

The idiom was so singularly inappropriate that I almost burst out laughing, and it took quite a lot of effort not to do so. I sat down next to Sapphire and waited for her to say something.

“Why?” she asked eventually, in a level voice. From where I sat, I could see that the tears had dried on her face, though her eyes were still wet.

“I don’t know,” I replied truthfully.

“What possible reason could anyone have to... to do that?”

Kester has started well, Puck said, but can he maintain the pressure? Looks like a tricky question to negotiate...

The last thing I needed right now was a commentary, but I struggled gamely on and tried to ignore him.

“I don’t know,” I said again. “But Puck thinks there was a reason.”

“There was?” Sapphire sat up a little, and wiped her eyes. I could see she was trying to still look tough, but it wasn’t too convincing.

“Yeah,” I confirmed. I wondered if squeezing her hand in a comforting manner would be going too far, and decided that it was – and also that I really didn’t want to touch her that much. “He thinks it’s linked to all this – all this ‘Devon goods’ stuff.”

“Linked...” Sapphire echoed the word without emotion.

“I don’t know what the link is,” I said. “But I think if we continue the way we’re going—”

“We’ll catch them,” breathed Sapphire. “We’ll catch the person who murdered Rayquaza.” A flame ignited behind the watery veil in her eyes.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Maybe.”

“We have to.” Sapphire looked directly at me for the first time during our conversation. “It’s not optional.”

“No,” I said. “I suppose it isn’t.”

Her eyes communicated to me something I’d never seen before; it was a blazing passion that far outstripped any trivial ambition I might have had, and a steely determination unequalled in human history; it was a deep-seated respect for the Pokémon that had been called Rayquaza, and a quiet, powerful will like a tiger crouched to spring. In that moment, I thought I understood her entirely, and why it was important that Rayquaza was dead. I felt like I could see right into her soul and out the other side, all the way through time and space to the core of the universe itself.

I blinked, and the wild, dizzying illusion left me; I found my heart was beating like a drum, and my mouth was as dry as the Bone Desert.

So, Puck said, bringing me firmly back down to earth, figured out why Sapphire doesn’t deserve to be hated by you?

I didn’t answer. Even if I’d wanted to, I wasn’t sure that my tongue could take it; it was stuck firmly to the roof of my mouth with some strange dry adhesive.

“Kester?”

“Huh?” I managed, remembering Sapphire. I looked at her, and saw, with a sinking feeling, that she looked like she was mostly back to normal.

“I wanted to know,” she said, “what that is.”

She pointed to her bag, which appeared to have sprouted tiny white legs and was currently engaged in stumbling around the floor. Toro and Rono were staring at it suspiciously, wondering if it constituted enough of a threat for them to beat it up.

“Oh. Ah. Er, I went out, and I got attacked by that gang of Sableye—”

“All of them?”

“No, just the leader with the stripe and eight others. But there was this other one that was hiding, and came out afterwards.”

I pulled the bag off to reveal the albino, clutching a Poké Ball. Sapphire just had time to gasp in astonishment before he glanced around wildly, realised that we were all looking at him, and prised the two halves of the ball apart with his claws before leaping in and slamming the lid shut behind him.

Wow, said Puck, after a considerable period of silence. Self... capture? That Sableye is so stupid that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“Did it just...?”

“Yes,” I confirmed. “He just caught himself.”

Sapphire looked at me and I looked at Sapphire; together, we looked at Toro and Rono. All of us were completely nonplussed.

Now you’ve performed your little pantomime, Puck said snidely, you might want to let that Sableye out again. It would probably be morally wrong to leave him in there. He paused for a moment, thinking. Do you think his action counts as akrasia?

“What are you talking about?” I asked him; Sapphire looked at me inquisitively, but I pointed to my head and she nodded, understanding. “Puck thinks,” I told her, “that we should let that Sableye go. Since he accidentally caught himself.”

“It didn’t look like an accident to me,” Sapphire pointed out. “He ripped the ball open and climbed in. Somehow.” At the last word, her face twisted into an expression of exaggerated confusion.

“He might have been.... look, I’m just saying that Puck thinks we should let him go.”

Sapphire picked up the ball and tossed it down on the floor again. Immediately, the Sableye reappeared; he took in his situation at a glance, cowered in fear for a moment, and then leaped into Sapphire’s bag and stayed there shivering.

“He’s... not exactly normal, is he?” Sapphire said.

“I’d be forced to agree with you there.”

Me too. I’ve not seen anything as surprising as this since Macbeth beat Macduff at the end of a production I saw in London.

As usual, Puck’s comment was ignored.

“I can’t release him,” Sapphire pointed out. “I don’t think he’d get very far before he got killed, do you?”

I admitted that there might be some truth to this.

“And I can’t let him get killed. I don’t think there’s ever been a recorded albino Sableye before.”

Yeah. Kind of makes a mockery of their name, doesn’t it? Sable-eye, the Darkness Pokémon. Puck chuckled, then realised no one was joining in and stopped hurriedly.

“I’ll see if I can get any information on him.”

Sapphire reached into her pocket and pulled out a curious flat device composed mostly of white plastic. This apparently opened up to reveal a small screen, and she pointed it at the bag-cloaked Sableye.

Her eyes widened.

“What?”

“What is it? What’s that machine?” I asked.

“It was a satellite navigation system, but Dad altered it so it picks up information from the Pokémon Index Project. It can also detect a Pokémon’s level...” She showed me the screen, and my eyes widened too.

“Level... Eighty-Four?”

She nodded, and we both looked down at the cowardly Sableye with a great deal of new respect.

“How did he get to that level?” I wondered.

Don’t worry yourself about the plotholes, Puck said. If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves...

“That saying is totally irrelevant,” I snapped. Then, to Sapphire: “So... I guess we’re keeping him, then.”

“Not we. Me. He isn’t yours.” Sapphire recalled the Sableye, and set his ball in the fourth slot on her belt.

“Right. Of course. Should’ve expected that.”

Sapphire gave me a quizzical look.

“What, you think you’ve got some right to him? I caught him.”

“He caught himself. Besides, it was me he followed back here.”

“He caught himself with one of my balls.” Sapphire stopped and held up a hand. “No, I’m not doing this. This won’t end well.”

The girl speaks sense, said Puck appreciatively. Which seems to be quite difficult for people to do in this country. Give her a medal.

“I’ve been speaking sense since the beginning!” I cried, wounded, but Puck didn’t reply. Before I met him, I had no idea you could win an argument purely by refusing to respond to your opponent – but he was a master of the art.

“Kester!”

“Yes?”

“Shut up and get ready,” Sapphire said. “We’re leaving.”

Having no possessions, I was already ready; nevertheless, I looked around in that forlorn way you do when you don’t have anything, just hoping that there might be something lying around that’ll present itself to you. Of course, nothing did, so I just shrugged and waited for Sapphire to finish packing her bag.

Five minutes later, we’d checked out of the Centre and caught a bus north through Slateport; though Slateport’s buses were renowned for being late, it would have been impossible to walk to the city’s northern border. For some reason, foreigners have the idea that all the towns in Hoenn are really small, with about fifteen houses each, but this just isn’t true. They’re the same size here as everywhere else.

The bus arrived precisely fifteen minutes after it was supposed to, and took about an hour to reach the northern suburbs. If I felt bored at all, I chased it away with cheering thoughts about Sapphire seemingly haven forgotten to recall me in order to avoid paying for my ticket.

It didn’t take long to negotiate the suburbs, and then we were out of the city, taking the footpath up Route 110. From the overpass that arced north to Mauville, the traffic roared and rumbled, but it was so far away that it scarcely seemed real. Trees stood tall and proud either side of me, and stretched away forwards as far as the eye could see; despite myself, I smiled. This was it: the real Trainer’s life, the road less travelled, and I, Kester Ruby, unathletic, unadventurous, unassuming and un-Trainerish in general, was walking on it.

“What’re you grinning about?” snapped Sapphire. “It’s a solemn occasion. Rayquaza’s dead.”

“Sorry.” I wiped the smile from my face, but it lingered unaccountably on the inside. I couldn’t understand it, but I had an inkling that maybe – when I wasn’t being beaten up – this trip might turn out to be fun.

---

“I’m tired,” I moaned.

Sapphire said nothing.

“I’m hungry,” I moaned.

Sapphire said nothing, but her lips were tightly pressed together.

“I’m bored,” I moaned.

Still Sapphire said nothing. Her hands balled into fists.

“I’m—”

For Pete’s sake, shut up! Puck snapped irritably. We’ve only been walking two hours.

“Two hours is a long time,” I said, reasonably.

You have all the stamina of an anaemic earwig, he told me.

“What’s an earwig?

Oh, for the love of—!

He broke off abruptly, disgusted, and I turned my eyes to Sapphire.

“No,” she said, before I could speak. “We’re not stopping. You can either get used to walking long distances or you can go in the ball.”

Sulkily, I lapsed into silence and started dragging my feet; a few steps later, I realised that doing this along the dirt path was ruining them and stopped hurriedly.

We were now walking along beside the Bay of Cadavers, the massive wedge of water that cut into Hoenn’s southern shore just east of Slateport. With calm waters, a large, fertile island, and the River Acheron running into it from the north, it seemed a perfect place to moor at – but it hadn’t got its name for nothing. Its bottom was laced with a naufragous network of sandbanks and reefs, and a great many sailors had gasped a last, watery breath there.
From where we were, we could see right across to the island; the grass sloped down from the road to the rocks at the water’s edge, marked here and there with low bushes. The sun was dancing the same number on the Bay’s waves as it had on those at Dewford’s beach.

On the island itself, very little could be seen except the hulking shape of the Cadaver Nuclear Power Station: the burned-out shell of Hoenn’s very own Chernobyl. A thrifty builder had diverted funds for the reactor’s safety mechanisms, and the result had been a mess that had taken fifty years to reach its present state of almost-kind-of-safe.

Sensing my thoughts were verging a little to the depressing, I brought myself back to the present moment, and immediately regretted it. My feet hurt and I really wanted something to eat.

Please stop complaining, begged Puck. It’s so damn annoying.

“Make me.”

“If you’re going to talk to Puck, can you talk quieter?” Sapphire asked. “I’ve had enough of your voice for about five hundred years over the last two hours .”

“Charming,” I said. “Can’t a guy voice a few of the inconveniences of foot travel? Is it not an inalienable right for me to complain?”

Only if you’re British, and only then in a quiet undertone to the person next to you, Puck told me.

“No, it isn’t,” replied Sapphire shortly.

“Why didn’t we take the train? Or the bus?” Bus! Train! Short words, but sweet to my ears; of course, there could be no finer way to travel. Train was, of course, preferable, conjuring up as it did images of warm carriages chugging through snowy mountaintops, with exotic passengers and, joy of joys, readily-available seating—

You’re thinking of the Orient Express, remarked Puck. You know, it’s not really that exciting. Well, not unless you get a little detective with an egg-shaped head on board. Then things get interesting.

I ignored him and continued my mental pontification. The bus, too, was glorious, the noble steed that bore so many to their packet holidays and back in safe stead. It would have taken us to Mauville in style, I thought wistfully. And it would have had seats.

I don’t think buses have been like that since the fifties, Puck pointed out, but I ignored him. The noble bus was—

“The reason we haven’t gone by bus is because they’re not going to be able to make the goods into a working item in less time than it’ll take to hike to Mauville,” Sapphire said. “Manufacturing takes time, and Angel already seem to be stretched to their limit making that submarine. So I thought we’d take the opportunity to walk, and train everyone up a bit. Well, except him.”

Sapphire tapped the albino Sableye’s Poké Ball. Toro and Rono were walking with us, but the Sableye had crawled back into his ball in fear when Sapphire had sent him out.

“Oh.” The reason was actually quite reasonable, but I’d still have preferred to go by train. “Er, all right then.”

We walked on, and then on some more; it was probably about half an hour later that I first glimpsed another Trainer on the path.

He didn’t seem to be going forwards or backwards, but was rather sitting on a chequered blanket under the trees on the west side of the trail. He wore a black T-shirt with something yellow emblazoned on it, and was cradling what appeared to be an oversized Pikachu with so much joy that I almost winced upon looking at him. As we drew closer, he looked up, noticed us and gave an ecstatic whoop.

“Oh!” he cried, leaping to his feet, eyes brimming with passion and love, “you’re Trainers?”

Sapphire and I glanced at each other. This guy was weird.

Not as weird as President Sto— Oh, wait, that’s not a Pikachu. That’s a small child dressed as a Pikachu. OK, this guy is definitely as weird as President Stone.

I looked closely. Puck was right. It was a small girl of about four or five, looking somewhat irritable and wearing a Pikachu costume. Now that I’d noticed that, I realised that the yellow thing on the man’s shirt was a Pikachu head, its face bearing a grin so sickly-sweet that it made my gums crawl just looking at it.

“My name’s Kaleb,” the weird man said. “I’m a Pokémon Fanatic!”

“I – er – I can see,” Sapphire replied.

“You’re Trainers?”

“Yes,” answered Sapphire cautiously. “What of it?”

“Do you want to battle?” Kaleb asked eagerly. “I have got just the cutest pair of Pokémon you ever saw!”

“O-K,” Sapphire agreed warily. “That’s fine. Double or single?”

“Double battle, please,” Kaleb said. “Come over here, to the side of the path.”

I followed Sapphire and whispered in her ear:

“Is this how you start a battle? Trainers just randomly pull you off the road?”

“Usually,” she murmured back. “But they aren’t usually as weird as this guy.”

Toro and Rono took up positions in front of Sapphire; Toro adopted the stance often used by martial arts masters in films, and Rono simply lowered his head and did his best to look menacing. The little girl on the blanket looked at them with interest.

In response, Kaleb dropped two Poké Balls and released a pair of lithe, cream-yellow rat-like creatures; they had large, round heads and small bodies, with long colourful ears and creepy little grins. They kept clapping their tiny hands together and bobbing their heads from side to side, and frankly they disturbed me a little – but I could see how someone like the Pokémon Fanatic could find them cute.

Disgusting, Puck said sniffily. Minun’s the blue one, and Plusle’s the red one. Their existence is an affront to other Electric-types.

“What’s wrong with them?” I asked under my breath.

Foul-mouthed as leprechauns, Puck told me, a little oddly. I wondered for a moment if that was a valid simile, then let it slide. It didn’t really matter.

“OK,” said Kaleb. “Shall we begin?”

“All right,” replied Sapphire. “Rono, Mud-Slap! Toro, Double Kick!”

Before she had even finished, Kaleb’s Plusle had clapped its hands extra-hard, and weird green light enveloped the Minun; then, just as Toro was running forwards, the Minun threw itself into her face, yellow sparks flying from its body. There was the sound a cow carcass makes when picked up by the abattoir’s meat hook, and the Combusken slammed heavily into the ground, burns and bruises decorating her head and neck. The Minun retreated happily, but Rono was already on its case: a cloud of trammelling mud flew up around it, which seemed, for no real reason, to cause it intense pain.

By this point, Toro had climbed to her feet, looking angry, and she clenched her fists before performing the kicking move she’d used on Rono aboard the ferry on the Minun. Combined with the Aron’s Mud-Slap, this seemed to be too much for her opponent, which fainted with a despairing squeal.

“Wait!” cried Kaleb. “My Minun!”

“Finish this. Throw him,” Sapphire ordered, ignoring him, and Toro glanced at Rono, who nodded his heavy head. So quickly that the Plusle could only stare, Toro snatched up the Aron from the ground, threw him up in the air and kicked him hard into the opponent’s face. The Plusle was squished almost flat with the force, and gave a weak squeak as Rono climbed slowly off its head.

Clever, noted Puck. Using Toro’s lower body strength to increase the power of Rono’s Headbutt. Sapphire’s got a knack for this Trainer lark.

Kaleb was staring at Sapphire and I as if he’d just watched us share a barbecued baby.

“You... Minun... Plusle...you!” He sank to his knees and gave a little squeak that mirrored those his Pokémon had made before they fainted. It became clear that he wasn’t going to say anything else: he held that position for a long time, quivering slightly and saying ‘eep’ at periodic intervals.

Sapphire and I exchanged glances again.

These Fanatics, Puck said, they remind me of Pericles. You know, in that they’re nothing at all like him.

“Are – are you OK?” I ventured to ask of Kaleb. The little girl got up from the blanket and pulled off her Pikachu hood.

“It’s OK,” she said dispiritedly. “He’s always like that when they lose.”

“You’re sure he’s fine?” I persisted.

“You heard her,” Sapphire said, spraying a Potion into Toro’s face and miraculously removing her wounds. “Besides, a Trainer has to expect their Pokémon to get hurt. It’s what happens.”

“You can go,” the little girl said. She was wriggling out of the Pikachu costume; underneath it, she was dressed normally.

“Takes a long time to snap out of it?” asked Sapphire. The girl nodded, shaking her leg out of the costume and dumping the bundle of yellow cloth unceremoniously in the leaf litter. “OK. We’ll be on our way, then. It was... nice to meet you both.”

“Lying is bad,” the little girl pointed out, which caused Puck to laugh uproariously, and Sapphire and I walked off down the path. When we’d been going for about five minutes, I glanced back, but Kaleb was still there on his knees, looking at his Pokémon and shaking like a leaf, and the little girl was poking him in between the eyes with a stick.

---

“Sapphire?” I asked.

“Yes?”

“Are all Trainers as weird as that guy?” I’d been doing a lot of thinking about this. It was a little after four now, and I had figured out a trick to make me forget about the ache in my feet: distract myself with odd, circuitous trains of thought.

That may well work, said Puck, but I need to caution you about that. It didn’t work out well for the Prince of Denmark.

Since I had almost given up on the Rotom ever speaking anything that resembled sense, I ignored him and listened to Sapphire’s response instead.

“No,” she replied. “Yes. Kind of. Trainers... don’t lead a normal lifestyle. It’s not unknown for them to go a little crazy if they keep it up for a few years. That’s why all the ten-year-olds seem mostly normal, and the older ones are generally strange.”

“So... that would make you—”

“I’m completely normal,” Sapphire interrupted. “Remember, I started late.”

I looked at her stupid hat and feather, unconvinced, but said nothing.

Perhaps half an hour later, the Trainer’s path slipped back amongst the trees again, the Bay to our right no longer visible, and I caught a glimpse of a tall splurge of colour in the distance. Yellow, red, blue, pink; there were so many hues represented that I couldn’t even tell what the thing was. I pointed and asked:

“What’s that?”

“That?” Sapphire pointed, too.

“No, that tree. Yeah, that.”

“No one really knows,” she replied. “It’s some sort of building, and someone called Javier* lives there.”

“Javier?”

“Javier,” Sapphire confirmed. “He’s a weird recluse of some sort. No one’s ever seen him come out.”

“Then how do you know he’s called Javier?”

“Sometimes someone sends him letters,” she said. “And apparently ‘Javier’ is what they write on the envelopes.”

Javier’s house was much, much further away than it looked, and it wasn’t until six o’clock that we came close enough to see it properly. It was about five storeys tall – or more, or less: you couldn’t tell, because the windows were dotted across the façade at random, like craters across the Moon or eyes on Argus’ body. The colours were splattered over the walls as if someone had hurled balloons full of paint at them, and the door was in the curious shape of a trapezium rotated onto one of its slanting sides. The lintel was decorated with an enormous sunflower made of brass, and from one upstairs window a waterfall cascaded onto a balcony lower down, to flow back inside. When you looked up, you saw that there wasn’t a roof – there was a massive sombrero instead.

“That is the strangest house I’ve ever seen,” I stated unnecessarily, as we stopped to stare.

I don’t know. Ever been to Holland?

“It is really weird,” agreed Sapphire.

“Do you think Javier might let us stop there for the night?” I asked hopefully.

“It’s only six,” Sapphire said. “We don’t need to stop.”

“I think we do,” I argued. “Come on, we’ve reached the intersection with Route 103, right?”

Another trail leading off through the forest to the left proved the point. That was Route 103, at the other end of which lay a popular white-water rafting resort.

“Come on,” I wheedled, sensing Sapphire’s will bending.

“Javier’s never let anyone in before,” she said.

“Has anyone ever asked before?”

“No one’s dared to set foot in there.” I followed Sapphire’s eyes and noticed that the door knocker was, in fact, a large and grotesquely-deformed skull with eyes made of, incongruously, balled-up bubble wrap.

“Well, you go on then,” I said, striding up to the door and seizing the skull’s lower jaw. “I’m going to ask.”

I pulled on the knocker and was somewhat startled when the bubble wrap eyes exploded in a shower of double cream, spraying my face with fatty white fluid. A pre-recorded scream resounded in my ears from hidden speakers.

“Whuh—?” I spluttered, spitting out cream. Sapphire was doubled up with laughter, and in my head Puck echoed her with his own sounds of glee. Wiping my face, I glared at her. “It’s not funny.”

“It is,” she insisted, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.

She’s right, Puck said. It is.

Toro cheeped, as if to agree. I turned to Rono imploringly.

“Rono,” I began. “You don’t agree with these idiots, right?”

He looked uncomfortable for a moment, and then shook his head unconvincingly. I glared at him.

“Traitor.”

I turned back to the door, and was surprised to see that it was open; beyond, there seemed to be nothing but darkness.

“Hey!” I cried. “Did anyone... did anyone see it open?”

Sapphire shook her head.

“No.” She peered in through the doorway, but the darkness was absolute.

“Shall – shall we go in?” I asked.

Wow, Puck said mildly. You actually suggested a reckless course of action. Way to go, Kester.

Sapphire looked at me as if I were an idiot.

“No one’s ever been in before,” she told me. “Of course we have to go in.”

With that, she grabbed my wrist and tugged me into the shadowy interior of Javier’s mysterious house.

*Pronounce it like a Spaniard: Habier. Man, Quartz was a funny game.

bobandbill
February 12th, 2011, 05:59 PM
Up to chapter eight now, and continuing to enjoy this story. =) Sapphire is making for a pretty interesting character herself here, and her 'partnership' with Kester is proving to be quite fun to read thus far as well! I was amused by her 'weakness' with the seasickness (I guessed as much that was her problem when it was first hinted towards). Puck is continuing to amuse as well, and I like how he is giving more and more advice and information on Pokemon to Kester as well. I also enjoy how both Magma and Aqua's grunts believe the other have the 'boy' and that Sapphire works for the other group as well - it seems to have a lot of potential, that (but what may happen is likely already partly written, so I guess I'll just wait and see when I read more. =p) On that note I like the new grunt characters that were also introduced, as well as Birch who certainly felt realistic and accurate in portrayal to me, given his fear of wild Poochyena/Zigzagoon in the games. XD

I do wonder about how if Puck can read Kester's thoughts (given he was remarking on Kester's insta-attraction to the Aqua girl) and Kester can't communicate to him without having to talk directly then - it seems a bit odd to me (maybe I missed something or it is explained later however?). The sixth chapter felt much longer than the other ones as well - I'm not one to talk about inconsistent chapter lengths myself but I did feel it was a touch imbalanced nonetheless, if not entertaining. The battle within it was quite good - you carried it well and also made it realistic having Kester overcome that challenge the way you did, with some help from Puck of course. =)
His subordinates hurried out as the glass smashed against the wall where they’d been moments before. I feel it tends to be better to keep abbreviations to within dialogue in cases like "they had/they'd", personally - maybe something to consider?
“He’s right, you are.” Sapphire looked at my forehead. “Thank you, Puck.”

I like her.Heh. XD I have to say I really like how you manage all the character interactions as well - quite enjoyable and what they say feels pretty... 'real' and believeable as well to me.
They were all occupied, and in the end they had to sit between a pair of old ladies who bounced astoundingly inane chatter back and forth between them at the same time as simultaneously knitting opposite ends of the same massive, multicoloured scarf.
“Do they look like they’re any use?” asked Sapphire disgustedly. “Talk to one.”

I did.

“Hi,” I said.

“Prof. Birch is studying the habitats and distribution of Pokémon,” he told me. “The Prof. enjoys May’s help, too. There’s a lot of love there.”

“O-K,” I said, backing away from his vapid grin slowly. “I see what you mean.”This part was probably what amused me the most in those four chapters I read - nice usage of that NPC from the games. XD Certainly the comedy is another favourite part of mine as well.
I didn’t know what that was, but I wasn’t going to say.ask over say, perhaps?
“What just happened?” asked Birch, who sounded even more confused. “Did it just—?”
“Quiet, Dad.”Minor presentation thing, but you need an extra gap there between those two lines.
Blake stood up, gun aimed through the taxi’s windscreen, between the driver’s eyes; at this, the cabbie decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and, leaping, from his vehicle, ran off down the street.I can see why you use all those commas there but it made the sentence feel too awkward with all the pauses there personally, and some minor rewording of the sentence or splitting it into two sentences might be better imo.
“Er – Sapphy – I agree with Kester,” Birch put in. Sapphire looked at us both in disgust.
“You spend most of your time outside poking dangerous wild animals with sticks,” she told her father. “How can you be afraid of a challenge? Besides, you don’t have to come. This is the sort of thing Trainers do, isn’t it?”Again, another line gap is needed there between those two pieces of dialogue.
“... one... zero!” cried Sapphire’s mother, flinging her eyes open. When she saw I was still in the room, she got up and left without comment.Birch's wife also amused me a lot. XD
This surprised everyone, since all he had done since he moved into the lonely cliff-top house was sit on a rocking-chair on the veranda, stroking an ancient, devious-looking Wingull called Peeko and plotting to overthrow the Emperor of the Moon; nevertheless, it had proved incentive enough for the cottage to be preserved as the official Admiral Briney museum. XD I also enjoyed that piece of information thrown in as well. =D

Looking forward to reading more sometime!

Cutlerine
February 13th, 2011, 03:13 AM
Thank you for your review, bobandbill. Character interaction actually really isn't that difficult to do for this. I model all the dialogue on my own interactions with my friends, and that's why they're believable. By happy coincidence, this also makes them funny, since I hold that the main purpose of conversation is the entertaining bouncing back and forth of ideas.

As for the other little things you mentioned - I'll get right on those. Thanks for pointing them out.

Oh yes, and Chapter Six is actually slightly shorter than most of the other chapters. I'm not sure why it feels so long; perhaps it's because it begins with a battle and doesn't end when the action does.

Cutlerine
February 14th, 2011, 10:59 AM
Chapter Sixteen: I Am the Main Character!

Blake. Fabien. Goishi. Three names that have gone unmentioned for some time in this narrative. What they were doing the day that Kester and Sapphire found an albino Sableye and set off for Mauville has not so far been revealed; now, the great moment has come, and we shall rejoin their tale on the morning of that day, to find them lying on a set of dingy mattresses on the floor of the run-down warehouse in Slateport’s Runcible District that served as one of Team Magma’s Slateport hideouts.

“Blake,” said Fabien, staring at the ceiling.

“Yeah?” replied Blake.

“Do you ever get the feeling that... well, that this isn’t our story?”

“Eh?” Blake’s tone seemed to indicate that metaphysics were not a welcome topic for discussion.

“I mean... we’ve done quite a lot. This all started with the order to go and get the Devon goods, and then we ran into that Rotom boy who works for the Aquas. Then that Devon researcher got involved” – here Blake winced; his memories of that man were not happy ones – “and here we are.” Fabien paused thoughtfully. “This is a quest. An adventure. A – a story. You see what I mean?”

Blake grunted.

“But somehow, I don’t think...” Fabien broke off, searching for the right words. “I don’t think... that I’m the main characters – I mean, that we’re the main characters.”

Blake grunted again, and rolled over to face away from his partner. From the grimy rafters came a slow, lazy ‘ee-EEEE-eek’; this was, in all likelihood, Goishi-speak for ‘shut up’.

“It’s been worrying me quite a lot,” Fabien admitted. “I mean, how can I not be the main character – how can we not be the main characters – of our own story?”

“Fabien.”

“Yes, Blake?”

“Shuddup.”

Fabien was silent for a while, disturbed.

“But Blake—”

“Fabien, I gotta headache, an’ firs’-degree burns, an’ – an’ now my stupid phone is ringin’!”

It was, and Blake sat up angrily, ramming fingers so hard onto the little keyboard that it cracked.

“Whadja wan’?” he growled furiously into it, then his face went pale and the mobile slipped between his fingers. He swore softly.

“Who is it?” asked Fabien.

“The boss,” whispered Blake. “Er, Fabien, you answer it. I don’ think ’e liked my tone o’ voice.”

Fabien picked up the phone gingerly, between finger and thumb, and raised it to his ear; immediately, a violent blast of invective surged out, and he threw the mobile away reflexively, bouncing it between his hands as if it were red-hot before catching it properly and replacing it by his ear.

“Sir?” he said timidly. “This is Fabien Latch.”

Five minutes of furious speaking ensued, during which Fabien was roundly lambasted, then abused, put down and, in short, made subject to almost all forms of verbal assault in existence. He bore it with the sort of expression usually worn by people who have mistaken lemon juice for water, then said cautiously:

“Sir? What was it you wanted?”

A second torrent of words spewed forth from the receiver; as far as could be made out by the discerning observer, it was composed of equal parts fury, rage, and ire. As Goishi put it, it was a perfect anger trifecta, but since he phrased it ‘Ee-eee-ee-EEK’, no one understood him.

“I see,” Fabien said patiently. “And what exactly is it that you want us to do?”

For the third time, the boss communicated his precise feelings to Fabien. This time, he included some choice speculation on the decency of Fabien’s mother and sister, as well. Fabien did not actually possess a sister, but the insult still smarted.

“Yes. I’m sure – I’m sure she would, sir,” he said through gritted teeth. “But what is it you want us to do?”

Not for the first time in his career as a Magma, Fabien pondered the long-term health consequences of Maxie’s legendary tempers. Hopefully, he decided, they would lead to a heart attack of fatal proportions, and thus to the election of a calmer, more reasonable leader.

It seemed that the boss was ready to talk properly now, and hence Fabien merely listened, going ‘Mm’ at periodic intervals as one does when listening to a monologue on a telephone, and eventually said something along the lines of ‘Yes sir, right away sir’ before thumbing the disconnect button and hurling the phone savagely at Blake.

“Next time you make him angry, you’re answering for it,” he said warningly. “I’ve had more than enough of this.”

Blake nodded, shamefaced. Then he said:

“What was it ’e wanted, then?”

“We’ve got information from the Benefactor,” Fabien said, standing up. “Team Aqua have been tipped off by someone that the Module’s going to leave town for Mauville in a week.”

“So what d’we do?”

“Our Benefactor also gave us some other knowledge,” Fabien continued. “The Rotom-boy and the girl with him are heading north this afternoon, for Mauville.”

“Why?” asked Blake sharply. “Ain’t nothin’ there for ’em...”

“That’s what we’ve been told to investigate,” Fabien said. “Since we’re in the area. My thinking is that either they’re a distraction to occupy us while the Aquas snag the Module from Angel while it’s being transported, or they’re heading for HQ.”

Blake’s eyes widened with mingled astonishment and admiration.

“You think...?”

Fabien shrugged nonchalantly, as if it were nothing for him to generate such stellar ideas. In fact, it wasn’t, since the ideas were the boss’s; this was, however, something he chose not to inform Blake of.

“It’s a possibility,” he said. “You have to remember, that Rotom-kid’s a pretty powerful weapon.”

Goishi flapped down from the rafters and screeched his agreement.

“Well,” Blake said. “We should go then. Righ’?”

Fabien nodded.

“Yes. We’ll take the car to the city outskirts, and then go by the Trainer’s path – that’s the one those kids will take. We can ambush them or something.”

The three Magmas began making their way towards the warehouse’s door, talking as they went.

“If the boss calls again, I want you to answer it. Even if he’s angry.” The memory of Maxie’s verbal abuse was still fresh in Fabien’s mind.

“A’righ’.”

“I mean, I don’t mind taking the occasional bullet for you,” Fabien said, beginning to warm to his theme. “I am the main character, after all. It’s my viewpoint we’re working in right now. And as the main character, I have to be heroic like that.”

Blake looked like he might say something, then closed his mouth again and shook his head deeply, perhaps in speechless wonder at Fabien’s willingness to sacrifice himself for his sake.

“But still,” Fabien continued, “you have to learn to take hits yourself.” He pulled upon the warehouse door, which did not open; then he pushed it, and much the same happened; finally, he slid it, and continued out into the bright morning sunlight. “I admit it’s tricky. It hurt even me a little when the boss mentioned that incident at the Christmas party last year.”

“You were pretty drunk,” Blake ventured.

Fabien waved his words aside as they rounded the corner and entered the gloom of the hideout’s garage.

“I didn’t know she was his daughter,” he said. “How can I be blamed for it? A man has a couple of drinks, of course a few amusing incidents will occur! He should thank me for it. It’s a nice colourful anecdote for the future!”

“E-e-e-eeeee-eeek,” Goishi put in. Neither Fabien nor Blake understood this, which was probably for the best, since it was a very crass – yet very faithful – description of exactly how far from an amusing incident the event in question had been.

They got into the car, argued about who was driving, swapped seats and finally left, with Fabien behind the wheel.

“I mean – what’s that?” Fabien almost turned around to see what Goishi was fussing over, then remembered he was driving and asked Blake to look.

“There’s a dead Wurmple on the back seat,” he reported.

“What?” Fabien’s brain whirred. “A big one?”

“A foo’, maybe?”

“A foot... that is quite a big one.” Fabien thought for a moment. “Goishi, eat it.”

The volume of the screeching from the back seat left him in no doubt as to Goishi’s opinion of this course of action, as did the large, thick tongue that darted forth in between the seats and slapped him in the face.

“All right,” said Fabien evenly. “Just throw it out the window.”

The blood-dimmed tide of the Golbat’s fury rose again in a cacophony of shrieks that impressed upon Fabien the fact that Goishi lacked for hands, and thus could not, as he had suggested, open the window.

“This is ridiculous!” Fabien cried. “Blake, go and open the window.”

The big man undid his seatbelt and turned around, crawling back between the two front seats to reach the back. Fabien leaned to one side, trying to avoid being kicked in the face, and realised that his view of the cars coming around the next corner was now blocked by Blake’s legs. Unwilling to wait, he made a wild guess and drove forwards, hoping that he wouldn’t be hit by a bus; thankfully, he had guessed well, and there was no more than a blaring of annoyed horns as the car slewed around the corner far too fast, narrowly avoiding a harsh impact with a traffic jam.

“Come on!” Fabien said. “Blake, what’s taking you so long?”

“’Andle’s stuck,” came the reply. “’Ang on, I’m tryin’...”

The sound of cracking plastic came from the back seat, and then cursing.

“What was that?”

“I’ve snapped the ’andle off,” Blake said unhappily. “That window ain’t gonna open now.”

“Try the other one,” Fabien replied. “But be careful. This isn’t our car.”

Fabien tried to see if anyone was coming up behind them, but the rear-view mirror showed him nothing but Blake’s red-suited back. He shrugged, trusting intuition, and drove on, crashing into the side of a bus.

It wasn’t a hard impact, just enough to smash the headlights and dent the grille; Fabien’s body jerked forwards, struggling to free itself from his seatbelt, and Blake slid back almost entirely into the front, one foot going through the windscreen and his broad shoulders wedging themselves firmly between the front seats.

Fabien swore violently and reversed, only for the back of the car to hit the front of another; he cursed even more vehemently and turned left, driving over the centre of a roundabout and turning the wrong way onto a one-way street.

“Blake!” he shouted. “Get down, get down!”

“I’m stuck!” yelped his partner, wriggling violently and not moving an inch.

Fabien struck one palm against his forehead and yelled at the heavens with all the passion of Hamlet after meeting Fortinbras’ captain; his words were unprintable, but carried the general message that fortune was a strumpet, and that God was, as Beckett’s blind cripple would have it, not only nonexistent but also born out of wedlock.

The Magma car slalomed at unnecessary speed down the street, desperately avoiding the other cars that were all going in the correct direction; it reached the other end and shot onto a normal road, heading north in the correct lane. By this time, adding up the heart rates of its occupants would probably have netted you a three-digit figure.

Fabien took a deep, calming breath.

“OK,” he said. “Everyone calm down. We’re in a normal road now. We’re OK.”

“Pull over, Fabien!” shouted Blake violently, thrashing his trapped foot around and widening the hole in the windscreen to an alarming size. This did have the advantage of allowing him to withdraw his foot, but disadvantaged Fabien in that the windscreen was now so covered in cracks that it failed to remain transparent. It also showered him with broken glass, something he was understandably keen to avoid.

“I can overcome this,” he told himself, swinging the car left and bringing it to a halt on a double yellow line. “I am the main character! I can do this!”

He opened the door and leaped out, then went around the other side to try and help Blake; with Goishi’s help, he managed to twist Blake’s broad body free of the seatbelt, and pass him out through the remnants of the windscreen. He slid down the bonnet, then stormed furiously over to the back door and wrenched it open, grabbed the dead Wurmple and flung it hard at the nearest shop window. This promptly shattered, setting off a burglar alarm, and a wild-eyed shopkeeper appeared at the door with a cry of rage. In one hand he held a stout cudgel, in the other the Wurmple; behind him, there was a rather large and savage-looking Grovyle.

Blake and Fabien exchanged glances, then leaped back into the car and drove off as fast as they could. Behind them, they heard a faint whistling, as if of something flying through the air; a second later, the rear window smashed, and the malodorous corpse of a Wurmple landed on the back seat again.

---

So much for Team Magma. What was Team Aqua doing? More importantly, what was that most manly of manly men, Barry Hawksworthy, doing?

The answer is simple. Barry was getting over his recent electrocution in the way that only someone as much a man as he could: he was drinking himself into an alarming state of temulency, and it was not even eleven of the morning clock.

Owing to their dominance in that city, the Aquas had a rather well-appointed base in Slateport. This fact has already been touched upon in reference to their large garage, and will be expounded further in the mention of the bar that sat in its centre.

It is a tradition, or perhaps merely a cliché, that criminal activities must take place behind the façade of a faintly disreputable tavern of some description. Team Aqua had taken this tradition and turned it on its head: within the nest of their criminal activities, there existed a faintly disreputable tavern. It was located right in the centre of the building, for it was the beating heart of the place; the founders of the Team had been sailors of a piratical bent, and those sorts of sailors had always been more than partial to a good stiff drink. Hence, the right for Team Aqua members to become blind drunk at the slightest provocation had been enshrined in the organisation’s rules, and thus there was a bar in all of the larger headquarters. This brings us neatly back to the bar in the Slateport base, and thus back to Barry himself, sitting there and getting very drunk far too early.

“You want – you want to know something?” he asked the barman.

The barman, being a barman and therefore possessing, as described in Chapter Seven, infinite sagacity, nodded warmly and leaned upon the bar, polishing a sparkling cut-glass decanter for no reason whatsoever. Emboldened, Barry waved an arm extravagantly and nearly knocked over his empty glass.

“I really hate my partner,” he whispered in a confidential tone, loudly enough for everyone in the building to hear. “She’s – she’s such a – a stupid...”

Here, words seemed to fail him, and Barry groped around in midair with one hand, as if he might find a suitable insult in some invisible cupboard. The barkeeper quietly mixed him another cocktail, which appeared to mostly consist of tequila, and pushed it across the table towards him. Barry inspected this with one eye, shutting the other firmly, and then nodded in deep satisfaction before drinking it off in one go. This was fairly impressive considering its large size, but the bartender didn’t react; Barry had been doing this for about two hours now. It was amazing, really, that he was still conscious, and we must put this down to his tremendous size.

“What was I saying?” Barry wondered. “I think – I think...” His brow furrowed into lines of deep thought for a few seconds, then he shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. You’re my bestest friend, you know that?” The barman assured him that he did indeed know that. It was true, after all; the barman is the bestest friend of all those who need an ear and who can pay for a glass of alcohol. He raised his glass to his eye and examined it carefully to see if there was anything left in it, then staggered unsteadily to his feet. “I – I better – butter? – better be going,” he managed, and dropped a handful of notes on the bar’s polished surface. The barkeep kindly placed twelve of these back in Barry’s pocket, realising that he had overpaid by approximately eighty thousand Pokédollars, and sent him on his way with a gentle word and a pat on the shoulder.

Barry stumbled down the corridor, bumping into other Aquas but receiving no rebukes on account of his height and width; at length, he arrived at the door to the living quarters, and, after several all-too-successful attempts to outspeed the automatic doors, he emerged into a bland lobby, now sporting a bruised nose and forehead. He asked the receptionist for directions to his room – for he had, somewhere around the fifth glass, forgotten where it was – and staggered back there, whereupon he engaged in a protracted battle with the keyhole. At length, he got the door open and himself inside.

The room was one of about seventy identical chambers in this area of the building; many Aquas who had cause to be in Slateport did not necessarily own a domicile there, and this was where they stayed. Barry did not give it so much as a cursory glance, merely fell face-first onto his bed and passed into a deep and dreamless sleep, approximately twenty minutes before the phone rang.

Still drunk, Barry raised his groggy head and lunged for his mobile where it buzzed and sang on the bedside table; much like the keyhole had earlier, it seemed to be a master of evasion, but he eventually cornered it against the lamp and got it into his hand. By this time, it had stopped ringing, and he was on the verge of putting it down again when it started again.

“Yo!” he cried ecstatically into the mouthpiece, which was both very unlike him and probably not the best thing to say to Felicity, who treated him to a cold, snappish remark that made his excessive manliness a bad quality. This had the effect of sobering him somewhat – not completely, but enough for him to understand what she was saying. “Felicity?”

“Oh good. For a moment, I thought you were going to say ‘woman’. Like you usually do.” Felicity paused. “Anyway, we have work to do. We’re going after Ruby and Birch.”

“Who?”

Felicity gave a frustrated sigh.

“The Rotom kid and his girlfriend,” she replied. “Don’t you listen to anything anyone says?”

Barry felt that this was an unfair remark, but at that moment he lacked the words to express this sentiment fully. Instead, he said:

“Huh.”

“I’m going to take that as meaning ‘why are we doing this, Felicity, when we’ve been assigned to the Devon goods case?’ The answer’s simple enough even for you to understand. The goods aren’t leaving Devon for a week, so the boss has decided to employ our – well, my – talents elsewhere, and leave Hans and Molasses in charge of watching Angel in the meantime.”

Barry was certain Felicity had insulted him at least twice just then, but he couldn’t quite work out how. Vaguely irritated, he said again:

“Huh.”

“Charming. Meet me in Cadogan Square at noon. We’re leaving for Mauville.”

“Mauville?” This change of subject puzzled Barry. He had been under the impression that they were hunting for the Rotom-boy.

“Yes, Mauville, you big lump of meat. Our benefactor has given us information that this afternoon they’ll be leaving for Mauville, on Magma business with Spectroscopic Fancy.”

“How does he know?” Barry was quite proud of managing a full sentence, but Felicity didn’t seem to share this view.

“He knows a lot of things, doesn’t he? How am I meant to know?”

It was indeed a curious fact that the benefactor should know this when neither Sapphire nor Kester knew they were leaving yet, but there it was.

“Just meet me, OK? Cadogan Square. Noon.”

Felicity hung up, and Barry dropped his phone back onto the table, suddenly feeling at least half-sober. The reason for this was Felicity’s comment that the Rotom-boy had business with Spectroscopic Fancy. If that was true, then surely that meant that the company was in collusion with the Magmas?

Barry shook his head and decided he was still properly drunk after all. He couldn’t trust his brain right now – well, he thought, he couldn’t trust it most of the time, but especially not right now. He sighed, got up, and picked up car keys.

Then he fell over on top of a chair, and set to wondering where Cadogan Square was, and how he was going to get there in his current state of insobriety.

---

Blake limped heavily down the Trainer’s path north of Slateport. His leg had been cut up quite nastily by the glass from the windscreen, and the Wurmple’s corpse had left some sort of greasy green stain on his hand that refused to go away. Consequently, he was in the state known to those with pretensions of grandeur as high dudgeon.

Fabien was one such pretentious person, and he was walking along in front of Blake, wrapped up in a minor existential crisis. He had been struck by another bout of uncertainty about whether or not he was the main character, and was wracking his brain for a solution to his problem.

Goishi flapped lazily above them; he could have flown to Mauville in about twenty minutes, but chose instead to keep pace with his Trainer, wings beating only once every five minutes. Alone of the three, he was in high spirits. He’d not had a good time for the last few days – first a ThunderShocking at the hands of the Rotom-boy, then some Ice attack from an assailant he hadn’t seen, topped off with a Thunderbolt from the Devon researcher’s... thing. So, he had been in precisely the state of mind that was necessary to truly appreciate the amusing misadventures of Fabien and Blake that morning.

The three Magmas were acting on an idea of Fabien’s: namely, that they hike up to a spot about one-third of the way to Mauville, and lie in wait there for their quarry. They had recently passed the house of Javier – where Goishi had suggested they situate their ambush, only to have this idea quashed by Fabien.

“That house,” he had proclaimed, in the tone of one who knows, “is a death-trap.”

Blake had wanted to know if Fabien had ever been in there, and asked him. For a moment, Fabien had looked disconcerted, but he had swiftly regained his composure.

“Well – no,” he admitted. “But it is. Look at... the scratches there!”

He indicated a series of apparently random scratches in the paintwork on the lower left corner of the façade.

“What about them?” Blake asked, puzzled.

“What about them? What about them?” Fabien asked incredulously. “They’re secret signs, left by travelling Trainers! Or maybe hobos, I’m not sure. But I do know what they say. They say ‘danger’, that’s what they say. So we can’t go in there. I’ve no idea what’s in there, and I don’t think we want to.”

Awed by Fabien’s knowledge, Blake had acquiesced and they had passed the house by without further incident. Goishi had been more suspicious of Fabien’s assertions’ veracity, but there was nothing he could do to change his masters’ minds, and so simply followed them down the path.

That had been an hour ago. Now, they were out on Coffen Spit, a geographical feature formed by the combination of longshore drift and a sharp bend in the coastline; the path ran along the spit, followed its curved end, and rejoined the mainland on the other side of the water by means of a footbridge.

It was on the spit, in a stand of umbrella thorn acacia trees, that Fabien decided they would wait in ambush. Goishi had some unresolved questions about why there were umbrella thorn acacia trees here, so far from Africa, but had the notion that he wouldn’t receive an answer if he posed them.

They assumed their various positions: Goishi hanging from a branch, hidden amongst the leaves; Fabien standing in what he thought was a cool pose, leaning against a tree trunk; Blake sitting comfortably in the undergrowth, back to a tree and red hat pulled down low over his eyes, preparatory to catching a few minutes’ illicit sleep.

The trap was set. Team Magma was waiting.

Cutlerine
February 16th, 2011, 10:51 AM
Chapter Seventeen: The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing

Wooo, Puck whispered, in a passable imitation of a ghost. Spooky.

We were in pitch darkness, the door having shut behind us as we entered. This had caused me to have some grave misgivings about the wisdom of entering Javier’s house.

“Sapphire,” I said hesitantly, “I’m no expert on exploring creepy old houses, but I have seen quite a lot of horror movies. And I know that when the heroes go into a dark room and the door shuts behind them, something bad invariably happens. So... can we get out again?”

“Don’t be such a coward,” came Sapphire’s voice, disembodied in the gloom. I could only work out where she was by the warm grip of her fingers on my wrist.

“Look, I’ve decided I’m not tired anymore,” I told her hopefully. “Also not bored, or hungry. I could walk for hours!”

“Shut up.”

Wasn’t there a Circle of Hell for cowards? Puck asked. The sixth one? Oh. Wait. That was heretics. Er, never mind.

“Toro, make some light,” Sapphire said.

A confused chirrup came from my left; it seemed that Toro did not understand the concept being communicated.

“Fire, then,” amended Sapphire; a plume of orange flame erupted from the shadows, blinding me, and I heard, to my delight, a yelped curse from Sapphire.

“Toro!” she shouted angrily, and the flame vanished in a flash of red light, leaving a bright afterimage burned into my eyes. Sapphire had recalled her.

“Are – are you OK?” I asked, doing my best to sound concerned.

“Yes. Fire is... a bad idea,” Sapphire said. “I don’t think Toro could see where she was Embering.”

I’d have thought our experience in the Calavera Tower would have taught her that if you play with fire, you get burned, remarked Puck. Just use the Sableye, already.

“Puck says use the Sableye,” I said.

“Oh. That’s a good idea.” I wondered if Sapphire would have said the same thing if I had passed it off as my own idea. Probably, I decided, she would have rejected it out of hand.

There was a brief pulse of blue light, and suddenly two polygonal red lights appeared near the floor, casting long beams of crimson light across what I now saw was a wooden floor.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Convenient,” I said. “I didn’t know Sableye could do that.”

At the sound of my voice, the Sableye crouched down hurriedly and put his hands over his eyes, squeaking in terror. I sighed and rolled my eyes as the lights went out.

“Kester! Don’t scare him!” Sapphire admonished.

“How can I not? He’s scared of everything!”

At that moment, deep, booming laughter echoed around the room, impossibly loud, coming from nowhere and everywhere all at once:

“Muahahahahahahahaha!”

Everyone stopped dead. Silence fell over the dark room, and I felt the Sableye trembling against my foot.

“What,” I said, very quietly, “was that?”

I don’t know, Puck replied, and I don’t particularly care to find out.

“I don’t know,” replied Sapphire. “But I think we ought to find out.”

For a moment, I was speechless; after fighting past my blocked throat, though, I managed a couple of words:

“B-bad idea!”

Definitely! agreed Puck. Very bad idea!

“Puck agrees!” I cried. “Let’s get out of here!”

“We could do that,” agreed Sapphire, “if the door wasn’t locked.”

Instantly, that feeling you get in times of absolute horror, the one where it feels like your last heartbeat pumped a veinful of ice water through you, washed over me.

You should say ‘arteryful’, Puck corrected. Veins go back to the heart, arteries come out of it.

But I wasn’t listening; I had torn my hand away from Sapphire and was desperately feeling for the door handle behind me. I found it and twisted, then pulled, and pushed, and kicked and hammered – but to no avail. We were locked in.

I swore softly and turned back around. The red lights were on, and I could see that this room was longer than I’d thought; the beams shone out into the darkness for at least fifty feet, illuminating cracked plaster on the walls and rough-edged, bare floorboards.

“We’re trapped,” I said unnecessarily. “God damn it, we’re trapped.”

Rono and Sapphire’s leg came into the range of the Sableye’s eye-light.

“Well done,” Sapphire said. “Master of observation that you are. Come on, let’s see if we can find Javier. He can let us out.”

“How is it that you’re not scared witless?” I asked, as we started down the corridor, floorboards creaking with every step we took.

“The dark isn’t scary,” Sapphire replied. “It’s just the absence of light.”

She’s right, Puck said. I’m not afraid of the dark, either. I am a little scared of what might be lurking in it, though.

“How reassuring,” I muttered.

Soon, the Sableye’s eyes cast their light upon a second door, this one battered and chipped, and lacking a handle. I hoped to God it was a push door, because otherwise we were going to be here a while.

Thankfully, it was, and we passed through to find ourselves in another coal-black room; at Puck’s suggestion, I held up the Sableye and waved him around to try and get a more detailed look at our surroundings. Getting the Sableye to overcome his apparent fear of heights (even mere six-foot ones) necessitated about five minutes of coaxing and encouragement, but eventually I got him up in the air without him screaming and shutting his eyes. The only consolation was that he wouldn’t let Sapphire so much as touch him: the little gremlin seemed, if not to like me exactly, then at least to be less terrified of me.

We found that we were in a circular room, its circumference punctuated by battered doors just like the one we’d come through; as I looked, I found myself getting steadily dizzier, and realised after about five seconds that the room was rotating on its axis, and steadily gaining speed as well.

“What the hell is this place?” I cried, putting down the Sableye, who, upon finding that the floor was moving, tried fruitlessly to hide in my shoe.

Javier’s got some strange taste in interior design, that’s for sure, Puck said. Whatever would Phil and Kirstie have to say about this place?

“Let’s get out of here!” Sapphire said, but by this point that was easier said than done: the room was spinning at faster than walking pace, making standing difficult. Rono, with his toeless feet, was sliding around helplessly, and he crashed straight into my legs, cutting them from under me. The next five seconds were quite like falling down the fire escape at the Calavera Tower: I rolled around and banged my head four times on the wall before managing to grab hold of a door handle and haul myself to my feet. As soon as I’d done so, I fell over again, but this time through the door and into another dark room, which was, mercifully, unmoving.

I lay there in the dark for a moment, breathing heavily and suffering from motion sickness, then got to my feet and looked around. This was when I discovered that the Sableye, in his attempt to climb into my shoe, had become entwined in both my laces and my jeans; I pulled him free and, using him as a torch, examined my surroundings.

Whoa, breathed Puck. Is that what I think it is...?

“Yeah,” I replied in tones of awe. “I think – I think it might be...”

Before us, rising tall and proud into the shadowy recesses of the ceiling, was the biggest house of cards I’d ever seen. There must have been hundreds of decks in there, the individual cards balanced delicately in ways I’d never even known were possible; together, they formed effortless spires and great arching vaults, veritable streets of blocky terraces, and even a fountain, its waters forever frozen in time, a spray of hearts bursting prettily from the top.

But without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight was the centre: there rose a colossal castle, its walls borrowed from Troy and its spires from the northwest tower of Chartres Cathedral. It was vast, it was beautiful – and it was completely and utterly breath-taking. I was reminded of that business from last year – but for once, it was in a good way.

Wow, Puck said. Is this what Javier spends his time doing? Building cities of cards?

“Maybe. If it is, he’s incredible.”

“Muahahahahahahahaha!” The laughter from before reverberated around the room like it was trying to break down the walls. I yelped, and the Sableye screamed a thin, high note that seemed to rip my ears apart; he leaped forwards and tried to take refuge in the card castle.

The next few moments are all preserved in slow motion for me; I completely forgot about that terrible, unearthly voice, and just watched, horrified, as the cards fell.

A blizzard of pips; patterned backs flashed like butterflies, and the great citadel simply exploded. One moment there was a castle, the next a storm; the whole mess hung in midair, sojourning in nothing as easily as the stars. It was a players’ tableau of a sandstorm, a volcanic eruption executed in paper and frozen in time; I had never seen anything so beautiful, or so sad. A thousand paper cuts opened up all over my outstretched arms as I desperately tried to halt the destruction, but I didn’t care. I only wanted to save the card city.

It was too late, though. It always is. Time sped up and I fell forwards into a pile of cards, sinking knee-deep into a cardboard sea.

“Oh my God,” I whispered. “Oh my God, you stupid Sableye. What have you done?”

The Sableye seemed to realise that I was angry at him, or possibly was just scared anyway, and burrowed deep under the cards. I didn’t try to retrieve him, despite the dark. I was too angry.

The little... Puck tailed off, fuming. If he wasn’t such a ridiculously high level, I’d suggest we administer a sound beating, but as it is he won’t even feel it.

“What am I going to say to Javier?” I wondered. “How can I explain this?”

We can’t, Puck said. There was a long pause, during which we gave vent to our feelings by cooperatively producing a mental image involving the Sableye that was so horrible I had to forget it as soon as it appeared in my head. Then, Puck spoke again: Hey, where’s Sapphire?

“Sapphire?” I asked. “I guess she fell through a different door.” I stood up and brushed a few stray playing cards from my hoodie.

No, don’t do that, Puck said. Sit down, draw your knees close to your chest and wrap your arms around them.

I obeyed, puzzled.

“What’s this in aid of?”

It’s a scene change, Puck explained carelessly. Now, say something like ‘I wonder where Sapphire ended up’.

“Uh... why? What scene change?”

For the sake of narrative convenience, just do it.

I sighed, and did it.

“I wonder what happened to Sapphire?”

---

At that moment, Sapphire was standing in a room very similar to that which Kester sat in: it was large, dark, and contained something very unexpected. However, she had ended up in there by design rather than accident.

This is what occurred. When the room began to spin, Sapphire had immediately latched onto the nearest door handle and begun to pull herself through; looking back, she had seen, in the intermittent flashes of light that marked the moments when the Sableye opened its eyes, that Rono was experiencing some difficulties in moving. To put him out of his misery, she had recalled him before stepping entirely through the doorway.

Thus, Sapphire was now alone in the new room. This had one important ramification: she had no Sableye to illuminate her path. Reluctantly, she had been forced to let Toro out again, and, after several finger-scorching attempts, the Combusken had succeeded in lighting a small flame around one fist, just enough to see by.

That had revealed the contents of the room, and Sapphire had gasped in wonder and not a little shock.

It was full of middle-aged men, all identical, and all staring fixedly ahead into space; they each had pale skin, from living inside so long, and their hairlines were all receding. Every one of them wore the same white shirt and dark trousers, and stood in the same straight-backed pose.

“Er... hello?” Sapphire said tentatively. No one responded to her.

Feeling slightly unnerved, she took a step forwards and looked directly into the eyes of the nearest man. They stared back glassily, and Sapphire had to look away, disturbed.

“Can any of you hear me?” she asked, but there was still no answer. Sapphire turned to Toro. “Are they hypnotised or something, do you think?”

The Combusken stared up at her blankly. Hypnosis, like light, was not a concept that she had the brainpower to comprehend.

Sapphire sighed, and poked the man in the chest, in the spirit of scientific endeavour; much to her surprise, this elicited a reaction. With the sound of clunking gears and whining flywheels, his whole body convulsed; then, his head slowly turned down so as to face hers, moving jerkily as if on a ratchet.

“Clickety-clack!” he said, in an obviously robotic voice. “Mechadoll Forty-Seven am I! If your answer quizzes correctly, you will go to Mechadoll Fifty. Then you can obtain the secret code.”

“What the hell...?” Sapphire stared at the man in bemusement. “A robot? A secret code? What is this?”

“Mechadoll Forty-Seven quiz,” the robot man said. “One of these Pokémon is eaten as a delicacy in Visbu. Which one is it: Wurmple, Numel, or Teddiursa?”

Reflexively, Sapphire answered:

“Teddiursa.”

Visbu was a place best avoided, or so her father had always told her; some sort of legal error had made the country very, very strange, and so it was that there they sliced the honey-soaked paws from Teddiursa, deep fried them, and ate the resultant sweet, crispy snacks by the dozen, like crisps.

“Congratulations. Correct you are. Go through. Please.”

The sea of androids parted, and Mechadoll Forty-Seven ushered Sapphire down the path thus created. Toro followed, looking confused – but her bewilderment was nothing to Sapphire’s; the Trainer had no idea what was going on at all, or what would have happened had she answered incorrectly.

Mechadoll Forty-Seven stopped in front of another robot, which introduced itself as Mechadoll Forty-Eight. It would probably have asked a question, had not at that moment the laughter from before repeated itself.

“Muahahahahahahahaha!”

At the sound of it, the middle-aged men shut down, heads pointing forwards and staring ahead vacantly; Sapphire herself gave a small cry of fright, before hitting her forearm crossly. She shouldn’t frighten that easily, she told herself.

Sapphire stared around the room for a moment, wondering what she was meant to do now. She didn’t particularly want to be confronted by another trivia-demanding android, so she avoided touching the androids; wandering down the room with Toro in tow, she eventually came to the rear wall. Here, there was a large, blank piece of paper hung across the wall.

“What is this place?” Sapphire wondered aloud, then decided to take a more aggressive line of action, and shout: “Javier!”

There was no response, but she tried again regardless:

“Javier!”

“Muahahahahahahahaha!”

Sapphire swore and jumped, startled. The laughter sounded close, very close. She shared a glance with Toro, and the Combusken looked just as worried as she did.

“Javier?” Sapphire said, more softly this time.

Much to her surprise, a vast plume of green smoke suddenly spewed up from beneath the floorboards in front of her with the bang of a firecracker going off; Sapphire staggered back, coughing, and peered through streaming eyes at the figure cloaked within the smoke.

As it cleared, she got a better look: it was man, tall and broad in stature, and noble in visage; his jaw was strong and his eyebrows prominent, and his eyes looked wildly out from beneath a jutting brow. The crown of his head was shaven, giving him the look of a monk with tonsure – only the rest of his hair stood out around his head in seven-inch spikes, like a bizarre, circular Mohican.

“It is I!” he proclaimed loudly, in stentorian tones. “Javier!”

“Good,” snapped Sapphire, recovering. “Then perhaps I can get some answers.”

Javier gave a deep, booming laugh – the same one that Sapphire had heard before.

“My girl,” he said, “nothing is free in this house. Not answers, not safe passage out. You see, I require you to first solve a fiendish—”

“Here’s ten thousand dollars,” said Sapphire, fishing notes from her purse. “Now talk to me.”

Javier stared at the money, as if weighing it against some unknown variable, then shrugged and snatched it off her.

“Right,” he said, in a normal-pitched, business-like voice. “What was it you wanted to know?”

---

I got up and started scrabbling in the cards for the Sableye. By this point, I’d decided that, no matter how angry I was at him, I needed him in order to find a way out of here that didn’t lead back to the revolving room; thus, I risked yet more paper cuts and the (unlikely, but possible) danger of hidden mantraps to find my little living torch.

“Sableye,” I sang out, to that rising tune you use when calling for lost objects. “Sableye, come out!”

He needs a name, Puck said authoritatively.

“He won’t respond to it, though,” I pointed out. “Not until he learns it.”

He’s not responding to ‘Sableye’, either.

This was true. I was not meeting with much success in my efforts to locate the Pokémon.

“I’ve found a really good hiding place,” I said, hoping this would work.

Still nothing.

Kester, he doesn’t understand Hoennian. He’s a Sableye, for Azelf’s sake. He can barely remember who you are.

“Oh,” I said, feeling faintly foolish. “Er – what now?”

Astonish, said Puck. Or Uproar, but Astonish won’t leave you stuck here for ages, shouting. He’s frightened of loud noises – so smoke him out. So to speak. Don’t actually smoke him out, or the cards’ll go up in flames and we’ll die.

“I know what you mean!” I snapped, then shouted out an overpowered Astonish; due to the Sableye’s high level, he didn’t seem to be hurt by it, but he gave a scream and I heard him scrabbling off to the left. A flash of red light from his eyes pinpointed his location, and I snatched him up with more speed than I knew I could muster. “Gotcha!”

The Sableye continued wriggling and shrieking for a moment, then realised it was me holding him and not some unknown demon, and consequently shut up.

I think he almost trusts you, Puck commented. Probably because of me. You know how it is – we’re a Ghost, he’s a Ghost. There’s some love there.

“Puck, shut up. Now is not the time for flippancy.”

It’s always time for flippancy.

“No, it isn’t—”

“Oh, come on, kid,” said a grumpy disembodied voice. “Solve the damn puzzle already.”

“What?” I cried, swinging the Sableye left and right, searching for the source of the noise. It didn’t present itself, but it did give out a sigh.

“This is the Trick House,” it explained patiently. “I’m the trickiest man in all Hoenn, yada yada yada. You solve a puzzle, you get given a secret code as a reward, and then you write that on the paper at the other end of the room. Then you can leave, or ask any questions, or make a donation.”

“And if I get it wrong...?”

“Then you stay here a week, then try a different puzzle,” the ‘trickiest man in all Hoenn’ said. “And trust me, you won’t be getting the same one twice. I’ve got hundreds of the damn things, though the one you’re in is going to need some mending now.”

I stared around at the cards, squeezed the Sableye vindictively, and apologised.

“Uh... yeah, I’m sorry about that.”

“Nothing doing now,” replied the voice, somewhat enigmatically. “But look, I’ve been laughing eerily for ages now. Just do the puzzle, will you? It’s over to your right, by the wall. There’s a little spotlight you can turn on there.”

Feeling like I was in a dream, I got up and went over to where the voice indicated; it was something like a bizarre playground game, in that I’d take a step in a direction and would receive the reply ‘warmer’ or ‘colder’ depending on whether or not I was closer to the puzzle. After a while, I found my way there, felt around for the switch and turned on the spotlight. A blinding shaft of white light shot down from the ceiling, blinding me and causing the Sableye to wriggle free from my arms in fright; when I’d recovered, I could see that I was now standing in front of a small trestle table, completely covered in bottles.

I examined them closely. Virtually every drink under the sun was here: milks from a thousand different mammals; colas of myriad obscure brands; squashes, cordials and juices from virtually all fruits that had ever grown on earth; whiskies, vodkas, wines, tequilas and even something that claimed to be the product of fermented Petaya Berries. There was a whole lot of other stuff, too, but most of it seemed to have fallen off the back of the table and smashed on the floor.

“You found the puzzle!” cried the voice. “Now... solve it.”

“But what am I doing?” I asked.

“Isn’t it obvious? Observe the glass there!”

I did. There was a dusty glass sitting near the front of the ranks of bottles.

“You must choose the correct drink to drink out of that glass,” the voice told me. “The right one has the secret code in the bottom of it!”

“Can’t I just look at the bottom of the bottles?” I pleaded. “I really don’t want to have to drink a whole bottle of cherry liqueur, or, God forbid, Dr. Pepper.”

“No. That would be cheating. Take your time, make a wise decision. And don’t even think about cheating, because I’m watching you on CCTV.”

With that, the voice seemed to leave, and I was left alone to decide which drink was the right one.

I sighed and picked up a bottle of blackcurrant squash.

“Is it even possible to drink off a whole bottle of undiluted squash?” I wondered.

Eh, said Puck. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Anyway, we’ve got a puzzle to solve. It seems to have been adapted from that bit at the end of The Last Crusade, but never mind. What do you think the right bottle is?

“I have absolutely no idea,” I replied. “And I’m starting to think I don’t care.”

Don’t you want to get out?

“This is insane! Why should I participate in this weird trick?”

This is what Trainers do, Kester, Puck explained, in a voice that I imagine he used to talk to foreigners. They do crazy stuff, for no adequately-explained reason, and travel together in little groups of people who are bound together only by their mutual shared values of sharing and kindness. He paused. Actually, forget that last bit. That only applies to this freakishly pleasant kid called Ash I met once.

“Shut up,” I moaned, “unless, of course, you’ve got any helpful ideas.”

It’s the tequila, Puck said immediately. Definitely the tequila.

I stared at the bottle in question. It easily held a litre of the stuff.

“I’m not drinking a litre of tequila,” I said flatly.

The legal drinking age in Hoenn was eighteen, but the law has never stopped rebellious teenagers; in my case, it hadn’t stopped me becoming somewhat inebriated at a party and attempting to juggle a pair of microwave ovens. This had had the triple effect of losing my then girlfriend through embarrassment (when I picked up the ovens), earning me the undying enmity of the person whose ovens they were (when I threw them in the air) and breaking my foot (when they fell down to shatter on the floor). Since then, I had stayed away from booze at parties in case I ruined my bones and/or social life again.

And now Puck wanted me to drink a litre of tequila.

“What’s your evidence for it being the tequila?” I asked.

Er... Puck thought for a moment. It would be funny to see you drunk, he admitted at last.

“Would it be funny to be trapped in my body while I’m drunk?”

Oh. Um, yeah, it’s probably not the tequila.

“Thought not.”

“You know I said take your time?” said the voice of the trickiest man in all Hoenn.

“Yeah?”

“What I meant was, hurry up because I’m bored and your friend already solved her puzzle and wants to go.”

I threw up my hands in exasperation.

“Oh, of course Sapphire solved hers already,” I said, shovelling sarcasm onto my words with a spade. “Because Sapphire’s just great.”

“Shut up and do the puzzle, Kester,” came Sapphire’s disembodied voice. I groaned.

“You’re there with him?”

“Yes. Get on with it. I want to leave.”

I turned back to the table, and thought for a moment. Then I grinned.

“It’s a trick,” I said.

Well, yeah, we know that— Puck broke off, reading my thoughts. Oh. Oh my, that is a good trick.

“Yeah, I think he might well really be the trickiest man in all of Hoenn,” I agreed. “It’s a good trick. But I’ve seen through it.”

I picked up a small bottle from near the middle of the table. It was filled with ruby-red liquid, and I knew exactly what it was.

You see, in Hoenn very few people drink alcohol on its own. Mostly, we have it in the form of cocktails. And this particular cocktail was the one that had caused me to attempt to emulate the Flying Karamazov Brothers with a pair of microwave ovens.

You don’t know who the Flying Karamazov Brothers are, do you? Puck said.

“Shut up,” I said. “I’m feeling triumphant.”

You do realise it’s a coincidence that you happened to know the name of that cocktail, not a reflection of your genius?

“I’m feeling triumphant,” I repeated.

With that, I tipped the little bottle’s contents down my throat, not bothering with the glass, and as I choked on the piece of paper at the bottom, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was drinking the remnants of a very old, very ruined Queen of Hearts: the ruler of the sea of cards around us.

A sea composed entirely of hearts.

Cutlerine
February 18th, 2011, 09:02 AM
Chapter Eighteen: One Kester, Two Kester, Red Kester, Blue Kester

“Trick Master is awesome, cool and incredibly handsome,” I read aloud, after extracting the small piece of paper from halfway down my oesophagus. “What kind of a secret code is this?”

“Just write it down on the big piece of paper over there,” came the voice of the Trick Master. “Go on. There’s a pen provided.”

I sighed and, picking up the Sableye, used him as a torch to navigate my way to the paper in question. A quick search turned up a four-colour pen, with only the green cartridge still working; I scrawled the so-called secret code on the wall and watched as a little red line worked its way across the words, as if the sentence were a barcode being scanned. It seemed to do the trick, because there was a buzz and the paper suddenly rolled up, disappearing into a slot in the ceiling. Behind it was a door, and I had to wonder what had been stopping me just ripping a hole in the paper and going through.

I bet there’d have been some sort of penalty if you did that, Puck said. Like, maybe the handle was electrified.

“Would that have hurt me, though? Being an Electric-type?”

No, it wouldn’t, Puck said. Well, not permanently. No scars, anyway.

“Come on, Kester.” Sapphire sounded impatient, so I pushed open the door and emerged, disconcertingly, into a normally-lit room. It felt like someone had poured bleach into my eyes; I squeezed them shut as the light seared my retinas. Those weird flashes of colour you get behind your eyelids danced a merry polychromatic jig in my head, and it took me a full four minutes to work my eyes open again.

“Kester! At last!” Since I had my eyes shut, I couldn’t see her, but Sapphire sounded very exasperated.

“Sapphire? Can someone tell me exactly what the hell is going on in here?”

“That would be my cue,” said the Trick Master. “My name, as you might have gathered, is Javier. I make puzzles in my house, then force people to solve them for my own twisted pleasure.”

“Why would you do something like that?”

“I just told you why. For my own twisted pleasure.”

“You’ve wasted about...” I looked at my watch, realised my eyes were shut and asked Sapphire instead. “How much time of my life has he just wasted?”

“Actually, just about twenty minutes,” Sapphire told me. “It didn’t take that long.”

“Right. Well, that’s still twenty minutes I’m never going to get back again,” I said.

“There is a prize,” Javier offered. “I always give people prizes. Well, I would, if anyone ever came in here. You two would be the first, so I guess you get the pick of the prizes.”

“I demand two prizes,” I snapped. “Unless they’re really, really nice, and one of them would make up for twenty minutes on its own.”

That is such a pathetic thing to say, Puck said in disgust. Honestly. It’s like you want to be punched in the gut. Repeatedly.

“All right,” agreed Javier amiably. “No one else is taking them. You can have two if you take the perishable ones, because they’ll go off soon.”

“Good.”

By this time, I was able to open my eyes, and I could see that we were standing in another wooden room, only this one was slightly less bare: it had a table against one wall, which supported a clutch of computer monitors, all showing images of identical wooden rooms from around the house. Javier was sitting at this table, and Sapphire was lounging nearby.

Javier himself was weird, even by my standards – which had risen sharply after meeting President Stone. He looked like a cross between a punk rocker, a monk and a stage magician. The overall effect might have been impressive had he not been in possession of a noticeable middle-aged paunch. I supposed you didn’t see that in the dark, and just registered his height, purple cape and crazy hair.

“Well, show me these prizes then,” I said, and Javier got up and opened a door next to his table; it turned out to lead into a large, walk-in cupboard that was too full to walk into.

“Whoa,” I said, staring in. “That’s a lot of prizes.”

There were all kinds of things in that cupboard, from brightly-coloured notepaper to Poké Balls; the one thing they all had in common, however, was their number: lots. Rivers of round blue sweets ran past mountains of horseshoe magnets; vast heaps of smoky pink orbs sat atop mounds of rocks; a hundred bottles of green fluid rubbed shoulders with a great stack of boxed TMs, colour-coded to show the type of the move they contained.

“Yes,” agreed Javier. “Look, if you wouldn’t mind, would you take some of the Rare Candies off my hands? They’ve almost reached their Best Before date.”

I picked up one of the blue-wrapped sweets. They were about the size of the end joint of my thumb, and unexpectedly heavy.

“What are they?” I asked.

“Eating it instantly gives a boost to a Pokémon’s power, raising it one level,” Sapphire said. “This number of them is probably worth about... 125 million dollars.”

I raised my eyebrows and whistled.

“That’s a lot.”

“You’re telling me,” Javier said. “I was the one who had to buy them all. Here, boy, you have two, since you wanted two prizes.”

This is a very good deal, Puck said. Rare Candies are... well, they aren’t called ‘Rare’ for nothing. Plus, they’ll give us a much-needed strength boost. You realise we’re only about Level 13 right now?

“I was sold at the ‘rare’ bit,” I muttered, and picked up another Candy. I pocketed both for later – I wasn’t going to reveal my strange part-Rotom nature to Javier – and turned to Sapphire. “What are you getting? Another Rare Candy?”

“No,” said Sapphire. “It’s better to train Pokémon without them. That way their battle instinct doesn’t dull.”

Since I didn’t have one of those to begin with, I was still fairly comfortable with keeping my two Candies.

“I think I’ll take...”

“Hurry up,” said Javier, lighting a cigarette. “You said you were in a hurry.”

“That was before you told me what the prizes were,” Sapphire snapped. “Shut up and let me choose.”

The Trick Master raised his hands in defeat and went off back to his desk to smoke his cigarette.

“A Magnet, maybe?” muttered Sapphire. “That would be good for you...”

“A magnet? We could get one of them anywhere,” I said. “And how would that be good for me?”

“Magnets raise the power of Electric-type moves if you hold them,” Sapphire replied. “It’s a physics thing – you know, you must have learnt it at school.”

“Haven’t done Physics since I was thirteen,” I told her.

“Whatever. Just know that they do.” Sapphire pulled out one of the TMs and read the back of the box aloud. “Taunt. Guaranteed to drive the opponent into a rage. Warning: not a guarantee.” She put it back. “I don’t think we want that.”

“Are there any good Electric ones?” I asked hopefully.

“No. They’re all Taunt, which neither you, Toro nor Rono can learn.”

“Have you tried?”

“No, they just don’t work.”

Yeah, TMs are weird like that, Puck said. Like, in Johto they make these Ice Punch TMs, and you can teach them to Wooper. Which is weird, because Wooper don’t have any hands.

“Just hurry up, Sapphire,” I said. “I’d like to get out of here, if that’s OK.”

“Stop whining,” Sapphire said, still with her head buried in the cupboard. “This is an important decision.”

“It isn’t that important,” called Javier from his desk. I glanced over and saw that somehow he had become completely enshrouded in cigarette smoke. This was odd, because there really wasn’t enough smoke for that to happen. “It’s just a few old prizes.”

“Some of them are quite good!” Sapphire protested. “Now be quiet and let me choose.”

“Whatever, kid.”

Javier made a dismissive gesture, put his feet up on the desk and vanished into another cloud of smoke.

“Hey, what’s this?” Sapphire asked, pulling out a strange, dark grey Poké Ball, with two lighter grey bands on the top half; it was wrinkled and puckered where the button ought to have been, as if it were made of skin rather than metal. Something about it sent a shiver down my spine.

Apologies, said Puck. That was my shiver again. Man, that is one creepy ball.

Javier came over, and seemed almost to have a heart attack.

“What the – that, um, that’s not meant to be in there!” he cried, snatching it off her and thrusting it into his pocket. “That’s... not a prize. You wouldn’t want it anyway.”

“What is it?” Sapphire demanded to know.

“A special type of Poké Ball made a long time ago, by someone who should have been left alone,” Javier replied darkly. “Forget about it. Take a prize and go.”

“OK,” said Sapphire. “What’s that?”

She pointed into the back of the cupboard, at some unseen reward, and as Javier leaned forwards to see what she was pointing at, she slipped one hand into the pocket of his cape and grabbed the ball.

Never wear a cloak that loose, Puck said wisely, as the ball vanished into Sapphire’s own pocket. It’s damn easy to pickpocket.

“Did she—?”

Yes, but don’t worry. Javier hasn’t noticed.

“It’s... oh, it’s a toy Dustox,” he said. “You want it? Because I don’t. It’s terrifying.”

“OK,” said Sapphire, “I’ll take it.”

She withdrew from the cupboard with the scariest stuffed toy I’d ever seen: a vaguely egg-shaped purple body with broad, stiff green wings, and crazed, staring compound eyes that surmounted a creepy little grin. All I could think was that I was glad it wasn’t life-sized.

“Thanks,” said Sapphire sunnily. “Goodbye, Javier.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Bye.”

“Good to see you,” Javier replied. “Enjoy your prizes.”

He opened a door for us, and, much to my surprise, I could see Route 110 through the aperture.

“This is the front room?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Javier. “I turned the light off when you guys came through. Now, get out.”

Thus, we were swiftly and somewhat rudely ejected from Javier’s house – and not, in my opinion, a moment too soon.

---

“Fabien.”

“Blake?”

“Why ain’t they ’ere?”

This, Fabien had to admit, was something that had been preying on his mind too. It was now half past six and the sky was aflame with the first tinges of sunset. The waters of the Bay were afire with the orange light of evening, and a group of Volbeat had ventured out high above them, flashing their lights in rehearsal for their performance to the Illumise that night. It was all very picturesque, but there was one large problem with it: the distinct lack of superpowered kids and their feisty accomplices.

They had come across someone earlier, but after jumping out at them, they had discovered it was only a young Trainer, aged eleven or so. There had been some unpleasantness, and, as Blake refused to shoot the child, Goishi had had to be enlisted to thrash the kid in a battle. This was easily accomplished, the child having only a Treecko and some foreign Grass-type with too many ‘e’s in its name, but though Fabien had the satisfaction of watching the kid run off in tears, they still weren’t any closer to encountering the Rotom-boy.

“I don’t know,” he said now to Blake. “They should be. Unless,” he said, an idea coming to him, “unless they stopped in that house. In which case, they’ll be lucky to make it out alive.”

There was a long pause, which took them through to seven o’clock.

“They ain’t comin’, are they?” Blake said.

“They must be!” cried Fabien. “Unless they went past us!”

All at once, there was a short, sharp screech from Goishi: from his lofty vantage point, he had spotted someone coming.

“That’ll be them,” said Fabien, relieved. “I’ll just check.”

He stuck his head cautiously out of hiding, and glanced down the path. Yes: there was the boy, hands in pockets, strolling casually (so casually it might well have been called sauntering) up the path towards them. He was unaccompanied, but that was fine; though it would have been nice to catch the Aqua girl in the blue coat as well, the Rotom-boy was the main objective.

Fabien turned around and gave Blake a thumbs-up.

“It’s him,” he whispered. “Get ready with your gun!”

Blake raised it.

“Got it.”

“Right.”

The ambush went perfectly. The Rotom-boy walked past, the three Magmas jumped out, and Blake whacked him in the back of the head with his gun. He never even saw them before he hit the floor, unconscious.

---

“All right,” I said, drawing myself up to my full height, “go back in there and give that ball back to Javier.”

Sapphire looked distinctly guilty, which was certainly unusual.

“I probably shouldn’t have taken it, should I?” she said.

“Definitely not!” I cried, gesticulating ferociously. “Give it back!”

“It was an impulse,” she said.

“Stop making excuses, and give it back!”

Sapphire turned towards Javier’s door, dragging her feet, and knocked cautiously. There was, however, no reply. She tried to open the door, but it was stuck fast.

“I don’t think we can go back,” she said.

“Put it through a window?” I suggested.

We looked up. All of the windows were ten feet or more off the ground, and were reinforced by a mesh of iron bars. There was no way we could have got anything through them.

“I guess I’ll have to keep it,” Sapphire said reluctantly. “I mean, I don’t have a choice, right?”

Ooh! Some-one’s trying to justify their actions! said Puck.

“I suppose you don’t,” I agreed. “Fine. Shall we get going? I’d rather not camp right outside that place.”

We started walking down the path again, which ran off to the northeast from Javier’s house, sticking out into the Bay of Cadavers; from my somewhat hazy memory of primary school geography, I thought it curved slowly back to the north, whereupon the land ended, and a bridge connected the path to the area just south of Mauville.

The Sableye was riding on my shoulder, clinging to me as if he suspected I might throw him into the sea; the only other Pokémon about was Toro, keeping pace with Sapphire by her side. Since sunset was approaching, there were a few stray Taillow flitting by overhead, catching the evening insects – but for the most part, it seemed we were alone.

Sapphire looked at the Dustox doll she was carrying with disgust.

“Why did I choose this again?” she asked. I shrugged.

“You were desperate, I suppose.”

Suddenly, the Sableye gave a small squeak and reached one claw timidly out towards the toy; noting his interest, Sapphire gave it to him with relief.

“Well, that’s got rid of that,” she said. Perhaps the Sableye thought that that was a rebuke, because he immediately crouched down and hugged his new toy tightly to himself, rocking back and forth slightly. If he’d been human, I had no doubts that he’d be repeating the words ‘I’m in my happy place’ over and over to himself.

Is that meant to be a joke? asked Puck disapprovingly. Low self-esteem is a real problem, you know. For Sableye, as well as for humans.

“He needs a name,” I said, ignoring him. “The Sableye, I mean.”

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire, waving midges away from her face. “Something that might give him a – a confidence boost.”

With some difficulty, I looked at the Pokémon on my shoulder. Hunched over and shivering, he definitely looked in need of confidence.

“Yeah. How about... Supereye?”

Puck and Sapphire snorted simultaneously, with exactly the same amount of derision.

Names not your strong suit? asked Puck innocently.

“That’s terrible,” said Sapphire, more bluntly. “No. Name him after someone powerful. Like... Genghis Khan.”

“Why is he the first person you thought of? Couldn’t it be someone a bit... nicer?”

“Yes, if you can think of one.”

I thought, and thought, and despite Puck’s many, varied and ridiculous suggestions, failed to come up with anyone.

“It’s still a stupid name,” I said defensively.

“Fine,” replied Sapphire. “What about a god’s name? Zeus, or something.”

Oh, Greek. How boring. Let’s mix it up and go Egyptian. We’ve got Horus, Ra, Set, Thoth, Anubis, Amun, Sobek, Khonsu... I could go on. Believe me.

“How about Khonsu?” I suggested.

Sapphire raised her eyebrows. “Khonsu? Who’s that?”

Moon god. Sort of. They changed who he was a bit over the centuries, but basically he’s a moon god.

“An Egyptian moon god,” I said.

“Puck’s idea, right?”

“Damn it! How do you know these things?”

“I seriously doubt you could even find Egypt on a map, Kester, let alone name an obscure god like that.” Sapphire made a pfft noise, and a dismissive gesture to go with it. “It’s better than Zeus, but not good enough. Keep thinking, Puck.”

Will do.

“He says he will.”

We walked on a little further in silence, then Sapphire asked a question.

“Are you going to eat those Rare Candies, then?”

I looked at them in surprise. I’d forgotten all about the blue sweets.

“Yeah, I guess.” I unwrapped one and examined it; beneath the wrapper, it was a pale pinkish-purple that reminded me of a cassis cake I’d once seen.

Revolting stuff, cassis cake, said Puck. I can’t eat it myself, since it isn’t electricity, but... it looks really, really nasty. Rare Candies, on the other hand, just taste of sugar and artificial colourings. So eat up, and get ready for the recoil.

I paused, the sweet halfway to my lips.

“What recoil?”

Just eat it. It isn’t bad.

I popped the Rare Candy into my mouth, and had to agree with Puck about the flavour: it was mostly just generically sweet. It dissolved on my tongue in about ten seconds, and as soon as it was gone I felt my mouth light up as if I’d taken a bite out of a hot coal.

“Yeeooowch!” I shrieked, clutching at my lips. “Aaagh! What the – aaagh!”

Full of energy, Puck remarked. Delicious, fiery energy. Similar to kerosene.

“What’s going on?” asked Sapphire, but I was too busy trying to extract my mouth from my face to answer; it felt like someone had ground chilli seeds into my lips, and then set fire to my tongue.

Then, all at once, the sensation passed, and I was left on my knees in the dirt, struggling for breath and with a strange sense that my entire body was vibrating.

“Oh. My. God,” I breathed, getting slowly to my feet. “That was horrible.”

“Do you feel stronger?” asked Sapphire curiously.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Where’s the Sableye?”

He was no longer on my shoulder, having been knocked loose by my flailings; Sapphire held up his Poké Ball.

“He got scared and crawled back in,” she said.

“OK.” I put one hand over my mouth, just to make sure it was still in one piece, then started walking again. “I don’t want to eat the other one. Would Toro like it?” I held it out, and the Combusken’s eyes lit up – but Sapphire held her back.

“No,” she said firmly. “I don’t use Rare Candies. I told you that already.”

“Fine, whatever.” I was about to throw the second Rare Candy away into the trees, but Sapphire stayed my hand.

“That’s rare,” she said. “And you wanted it. Eat it, and it’ll be over.”

“I don’t want to!”

“You need to!”

She’s right, said Puck. Eat! Eat! Eat!

With people urging me both inside and out, I had little choice: I unwrapped the second Rare Candy and swallowed it.

After the spluttering subsided, Sapphire patted me condescendingly on the back.

“There,” she said, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

I glared at her from the floor.

“Yes, it was,” I replied, and climbed back to my feet. “Ugh. Right. Do we keep going?”

Sapphire checked the time on her mobile phone.

“It’s six-thirty,” she said. “I suppose this is as good a time as any to stop. Let’s get off the path, then. Some people like to travel by night.”

“Who’d want to do that?” I asked, following her into the trees.

“Ghost or Dark users,” Sapphire replied. “Those types like the night. Or people trying to get an Umbreon, I suppose.”

A few moments later, she stopped.

“Here,” she said.

We were only twenty metres from the path, but it seemed like we were miles away from any sort of civilisation; in the imperfect light of sunset, the trees and their shadows conspired to form an impenetrable wall of nature around us, masking the trail completely.

“Kester, help clear the area,” Sapphire ordered. I didn’t really feel like complaining, so I moved most of the sticks and stones in our little clearing away into the forest. As I worked, Sapphire did battle with a recalcitrant tent that was trying its best to stay folded up and in her bag, and Toro kindled flames in the centre of the cleared area. In about ten minutes, the area was as homely as it was ever going to be, and Sapphire and I were sitting opposite each other across the fire, Toro back in her ball like the other Pokémon.

“Is there anything to eat?” I asked. Sapphire nodded and produced a loaf of bread in a sealed bag, along with some dried meat and a pair of apples; I was beginning to get seriously impressed with the capacity of her bag. “How do you hold all that stuff in there?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “But the physics seems to work as long as I don’t question it.”

“Fair enough.”

Rincewind probably knows, suggested Puck, but, as ever, I ignored him.

I munched happily for a while. I wasn’t even aware of it when it happened; it was completely involuntary. The first I knew of it was when Sapphire leaped to her feet and swore.

“What is it?” I looked up, alarmed.

“Which one of you is real?” Sapphire demanded to know.

I blinked. This was not the response I had expected, nor indeed was it one that I knew how to answer.

“What are you talking about?” I asked – and that was when I noticed that I was speaking in stereo: it sounded like my words were coming out of two mouths rather than one. I looked to my left, and I looked back at me. “Wah!”

I jumped up, startled, and to my left, the duplicate did the same.

“Who the hell are you?” we both demanded of each other, followed swiftly by a simultaneous: “Stop copying me!”

“Kester – Kesters – shut up!” cried Sapphire. Both of us glanced at her and fell silent. “I’ve got a feeling I know what’s happened,” she said.

“Tell me,” I and the other Kester said. Then I glared at him, and he glared back at me. “Stop it.”

“Puck,” said Sapphire, “does Rotom learn Double Team naturally?”

Yes indeedy, he said. Ugh. Did I actually just say that? Could you pretend I just said ‘Yes’ without the... the other word, please?

“Yes,” said my duplicate and I.

“What sort of level?”

Fifteen or thereabouts, Puck said. Which... is Kester’s current level, after those two Rare Candies.

My clone and I relayed this information to Sapphire, and asked what Double Team was, precisely.

“It’s a move that creates illusory copies of the user,” she replied. “To fool opponents. Usually, though, the illusions aren’t quite so... talkative.”

“Not my fault,” I said huffily. “I didn’t even know I was using it.”

“I know,” Sapphire said. “Which is a problem. Because if you can’t control—”

There was a faint pop and a third Kester appeared, this time to my right. Both me and the first clone looked at him, and he stared back.

“Sapphire, how do I stop?” we asked desperately. “This is really, really weird!”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Puck? Any ideas?”

I think Kester just needs some practice, he replied. I had a friend who did this once – a Yanma. He fixed it eventually by learning the move properly.

“Puck says I need to practise the move,” we all said. “To get it under control.”

“OK.” Sapphire looked from me to the other Kesters. “First, though... which one of you is real?”

“I am!” we all cried simultaneously, stepping forwards and pointing at ourselves.

Sapphire stared at us, taken aback. There was a pop, and another one appeared.

“Oh, no,” we said, and put our heads in our hands.

---

Fabien and Blake regarded their captives with expressions of deep, deep thought.

“Something’s wrong,” said Fabien.

“I think you migh’ be righ’,” agreed Blake.

There was now a pile of seven Rotom-boys, all identical, in the undergrowth at their ambush point, and as Fabien glanced to the southwest, he saw another one coming up the path towards them.

“Oh God,” he groaned. “Here he comes again! Get back in hiding – he might be the real one!”

Once again, the Magmas concealed themselves amongst the trees. Once again, the boy walked past them without a second glance. Once again, they hit him over the head and dragged him into the bushes.

“D’you think we’ve go’ the real one ’ere somewhere?” wondered Blake, poking the latest addition to their collection with his shoe.

“I don’t know!” cried Fabien in an anguished wail. “I just don’t know, all right?”

“Eek,” said Goishi wearily, motioning down the trail. “Ee-e-e-EEK.”

Fabien followed his gesture and sank to his knees, feeling like his head might burst.

“Dear God, why?” he demanded of the sky. “Why? Why are there so many?”

“Fabien?” Blake’s voice was full of concern. “You all righ’?”

The other Magma stared stonily at the clouds for a moment, then got to his feet, his energy melting away into resignation.

“Fine,” he said wearily. “Just – action stations, everyone. He might be the real one.”

Footsteps. Thump. Drag. Nine Rotom-boys now, and another one coming up the path.

---

“Kester! Try harder!” shouted Sapphire.

“I’m trying!” we cried back, and the noise was deafening; if you’ve ever heard twenty anguished teenagers desperately trying to stop themselves dividing into twenty more, you’ll know the sort of volume we’d reached by then.

For the umpteenth time, I closed my eyes and concentrated on making the clones disappear; once again, all that happened was a quiet pop as yet another doppelgänger sprang into existence.

“For God’s sake!” Sapphire was very agitated now, as well she might be: collectively, the Kesters had trampled the fire out, squashed her tent and come precious close to crushing her.

There is something weird about this, noted Puck. Double Team clones are made of light, so you really shouldn’t be able to touch them like this. Maybe it’s because we’re made of plasma trapped inside meat, but your clones really are unusually solid.

“I don’t care about your speculation, Puck!” I hissed through gritted teeth, but I might as well have shouted it, since the other Kesters said it too.

Pop!

“Damn it! Aren’t there enough of you?”

In my wild frustration, I punched one of the clones in the face, and immediately found a fist crashing into my own nose. All over the clearing, fists hit duplicated faces, and suddenly the whole lot of us were lying on the floor, rubbing our noses.

This is brilliant, laughed Puck. I wish someone was filming this. Or at the very least writing it down for posterity and putting it on the Internet.

“What the hell was that?” asked Sapphire, as we climbed to our feet – joined by yet another new copy of me.

“Doesn’t matter.” We sighed, and it was like a gale had rushed through the clearing: together, our breath scattered the ashes of the fire and almost blew Sapphire’s hat off her head.

“Kester, I’m not waiting any longer,” she snapped. “I’m recalling you.”

There was a flash of red light – and then I was mercifully, blessedly alone.

---

One of the Kesters, from near the middle, dissolved into red light and disappeared. Sapphire looked around, waiting for the other Double Team clones to vanish, but they didn’t.

“Oh no,” she moaned in horror. “Please, just go away!”

As one, the Kesters looked at her, then filed off amongst the trees, heading for the path. Sapphire stared after them, surprised.

“Stop!” she ordered.

They did, halting dead.

A grin spread slowly across Sapphire’s face. Of course! They were illusions, they did whatever the Pokémon they’d spawned from did – and, by extension, whatever the Trainer ordered!

“Go away,” she said. “Go far, far away and never come back.”

The Kesters – who could, by now, have formed an effective army for a small nation – gave her a salute and walked away. Within moments, she was alone, and Sapphire sat down with the contented sigh of one who has solved a tricky problem, and knows they have solved it well.

There was still one thing troubling her, though, and it was the same issue that had occurred to Puck: namely, how was it that the Double Team clones seemed to be so solid, when they ought to be made of light?

“I’ll let Kester out,” she decided, “so I can ask Puck.”

Kester appeared in a flash of blue light, looking haunted.

“Are they gone?” he demanded.

Sapphire nodded.

“Yes.”

Kester sighed in relief, and smiled broadly.

“Thank God.”

Pop!

bobandbill
February 19th, 2011, 04:57 AM
TBH your fast updates seems rather unusual to me - maybe I'm just used to being slow myself and seeing the same from most others too but...man you're going quickly. ._. Is this already written up in advance, or...?

At any rate, up to number 13 now. ~ It continues to be rather entertaining all in all. Steven was pretty cool and I rather like your version of him (although it's hard not to like someone after they punch out a villain, heh). Nice cameo, and I wonder if he'll show up again as well. I am also curious as to what Darren's other Pokemon are as well... I guess we shall see sooner or later (they way he mentioned his others I feel his last battle would involve the last Pokemon he has, no?).

The reveal on Kester not being the only one with a Pokemon stuck in them was nicely done - I did slightly suspect such a thing given her questions in an earlier scene but it was only a faint suspicion and it certainly was surprising given the manner it was revealed, and it certainly explained why she listened to music so much as well neatly. That scene was one of my favourites thus far as well - quite entertaining throughout and full of action as well, and suspense given someone was shot during it as well. (I also laughed when one of the grunts covered up his fear after realising his friend was ok. XD)

I do agree that after reading Mizan's review in full now (because I figured they had SPOILERS) that what you have now with Sapphire is better than before as what was quoted did seem... too drastic and extreme for her. There still seems to be one instance where that was evident in the chapter though, that issue, which was Sapphire pushing Kester down the stairs like that. Even giving the whole 'fire and being chased by angry swarms of sableye which are pretty darn freaky Pokemon in their own right' situation, and her realising later she could have used the Master Ball on him... I didn't really buy it, as I felt she had already gotten very used to the idea of recalling him back and it seemed like a very mean and thoughtless thing to do, given it could have easily killed him, and questionably so. That's the only eak point in her character I see currently, but it stood out significantly to me even before reading Mizan's review.


Anyways onto quotes.
The hoarse bellowing sounds and the pounding footsteps were close behind her now, but still Sapphire didn’t turn; she was locked in the rapid roar of her heart in her ears, in the shadow on the rock wall and the little shiver that was running down her
forearms. For a second, the pattern of abject fear gripped her as tightly as a vice – and then suddenly she noticed that here was a sharp turn in the path, and it snaked off between the thick trees and the wall to the right. There was no dead end after all.Oddly created enter in the middle of that paragraph there - it happens but you might want to fix that for presentation's sake. (Also although it is late and I only just see it... should it be 'The hoarse, bellowing sounds...?')
She took a deep breath, which was difficult in the roaring, sandy air, and forced one foot to the floor, trying to get some grip. Her shoe struck a pebble embedded in the sand, and she wedged her leg firmly against it before stepping forwards with the other foot. At the same time, she pulled hard on the rock she was holding, dragging herself forwards against the air currents.
As soon as her leading foot slipped Sapphire knew it was hopeless. There was nothing she could do; the Exploud’s breath was too strong. In a curiously disconnected manner, she wondered if Darren would kill her. It didn’t seem that big a deal, just a minor spot of unpleasantness in a business transaction; somewhere in the back of her head, a tiny voice screamed at her that she was in shock, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear it, and, closing her eyes, let go of the rock.Another spacing issue here. There was also a number of issues like that at the beginning of Darren's POV and battle scene too in chapter 11 btw.
I hesitated – partly due to a rational fear of Angel Laboratories, and partly due to an irrational fear of revolving doors (born from the business that happened last year) – and then followed.I am rather curious about this irrational fear of revolving doors now, I must confess. XD
“Mind you,” said the man, “that is a masterly disguise. The Combusken’s a nice touch – really gives that air of hopeless newbie Trainer.
That was a nice line given the context. XD

On the note of that scene with them being taken to their luxury room, Toro seemed to be forgotten halfway through to the point that I was surprised when Toro was again mentioned when they were inside - maybe I missed a mention or two of the Combusken during that part but if there isn't there adding that in might be something to consider.
“We will, though." Sapphire sounded so certain that I was almost convinced "Look, Kester, this is a very valuable building. Correct?"
Full stop seems to be missing there after 'convinced'.

I'll probably read more at a later date!

Cutlerine
February 19th, 2011, 06:29 AM
Thank you for your review, bobandbill. I have added in the missing full stop and fixed all the spacing issues that I could find.

Don't worry, Steven will reappear, just like he does in-game. And also in other situations, because the story requires it.

As for whether or not this is written up in advance: no, it isn't. It takes only an hour or two for me to write each chapter, and since I post every other day, I have plenty of time to do it in. I could always write slower if it's overwhelming or anything like that, but I

With Felicity... yeah, things are different for her and the thing in her head to how they are for Kester and Puck. I don't want to give things away yet, but I can say they definitely don't get on so well. Oh, and there is actually a different reason why Felicity listens to music all the time, but it's not something I expect many people to get. But don't worry about that, either, since that's going to be resolved later on too.

Thank you once again for your review, and I hope you continue to enjoy the story.

Cutlerine
February 20th, 2011, 09:25 AM
Chapter Nineteen: Ho Ho Hobo

Half an hour later, with a pile of eleven Rotom-boys behind him, Blake stared down the path to the south and raised his eyebrows.

“Fabien,” he called. “You migh’ wan’ to have a look at this.”

Fabien emerged, trembling a little, from the cover of the trees, and looked to the southwest. He saw them, and his face turned ashen in an instant.

“May God have mercy on our souls,” he whispered.

That was when the three Magmas decided to abandon their plan, and run for the hills.

For there is nothing quite so supremely disturbing as fifty copies of your enemy strolling towards you down a twilit path at sunset.

---

You know, if you keep this up, you’re going to pass out from overexertion, Puck said in an offhand manner. No one can keep using a move forever, and certainly not such a draining one as Double Team.

“Quiet, you,” I hissed, concurrently with the second batch of Kesters. They numbered about thirty, and the sound we produced brought to mind a major gas leak. It also reminded me painfully of that business from last year – especially the part with the Seviper.

You don’t actually have to talk to me either, if you want to communicate with me, Puck added. I can read your thoughts.

Why did you wait so long to tell me that? I thought angrily.

I forgot about it. Puck paused. Hey, it’s a lot quieter if we talk like this. The illusions don’t copy you.

“Kester!” said Sapphire. “Stop Double Teaming!”

“I’m trying!” we cried back.

Pop!

“Not hard enough, it seems,” she said, looking at the newcomer. “I can’t have you generating endless duplicates every time I let you out of the ball!”

“Neither can I,” I and my clones replied. “It’s getting tiring. Puck says I’ll pass out if I keep it up.”

“You will,” Sapphire said. “It’s really bad for you.”

“If I can stop this, I am never using this move again,” I groaned. “I hate it so much!”

Calm down. Deep breaths, Puck said. I tried this, and found that deep breaths were indeed conducive to tranquillity.

OK, I thought at him. What now?

Just keep trying, he replied. Come on, concentrate properly on ending the move, on all your clones disappearing...

I focused hard, and another doppelgänger appeared with a pop.

“Kester!”

Seriously, Kester! This is getting annoying!

“I’m focusing!” I cried, and focused even harder, imagining all the clones vanishing, and no more appearing...

Pop! Pop! Pop!

Three appeared in quick succession, and Sapphire slapped me.

“Concentrate!”

“I am concentrating!” I howled. “It’s just the harder I concentrate... the more seem to appear,” I finished slowly, eyes widening. Sapphire looked at me, and I could see the penny had dropped for her as well.

“The more you think about them—”

“—the more of them appear,” I said. “Yes. I need to ignore them!”

Oh, that should be easy, commented Puck. There are only, what, thirty-five of them?

“Shut your eyes,” Sapphire said. “Think about something else. Something that can take up all your attention.”

I did as I was bidden, and thought about home in Rustboro. I wondered what was happening there, and if my mum had been fired from Devon after all, and what my friends thought of my sudden disappearance, and how it was going to be impossible to mend my relations with the girl I had been trying to get a date with. That thought was kind of depressing, and I hurriedly shied away from it – only to remember all the clones around me.

Damn, Puck said. So close.

“Kester? Keep trying,” said Sapphire.

“I’m working on it, I’m working on it,” I muttered back; I might as well have shouted it for the noise it caused.

I thought of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax, and cabbages, and kings; of why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings; and why exactly the Walrus had thought that these were absorbing topics to muse about in the first place, because they weren’t.

Hey. I found another inconsistency in your knowledge of English literature, Puck said.

Shut up, I thought. I’m trying to think.

I thought about Felicity, the Aqua girl, then; at first in vengeance, but soon in earnest. She was a very absorbing topic, I found, and if, at any point, I tired of her, Natalie was also pretty interesting. So engrossed in my thoughts did I become that I failed to notice the whooshing noise around me, or the sudden rush of air, and only emerged from them when Sapphire delicately prodded my right eye with one finger.

“Ow,” I said, opening my eyes and looking around. “Oh, hey! They’re gone!”

“Don’t mention them,” hissed Sapphire. “I really don’t want you using Double Team again.”

Yes, put any thoughts of duplication far from your mind, Puck hastened to tell me. We don’t want a repeat. Another seventy-odd clones and you’d probably have been dead for a ducat.

“OK, OK,” I said wearily, sitting down and prodding the remnants of the fire with a stick. Sapphire sent out Toro, who reignited it. “God, I’m tired.”

“I’m not surprised,” Sapphire said. “You generated nearly ninety perfect copies of yourself, all of them fully solid and all just as intelligent as you were.”

I had a feeling that she was insulting me somehow, but I was too tired to work it out.

“I’m going to sleep,” I said.

“All right. Goodnight, Kester.”

I got up and was just about to head for the tent when the red light engulfed me.

“Damn you, Sapphire,” I murmured, and lay down on the steel floor to sleep.

---

“OK, OK,” said Fabien, hands trembling. “I think we’re safe now.”

The three Magmas were sitting in a huddled group on one of the crossbars of the supports that held up the overpass road to Mauville; it had taken them about half an hour to get up there, and they had been watching the path below ever since, just in case the army of Rotom-boy clones decided to come and get them.

“Wha’ the ’ell was all tha’?” Blake demanded to know. “There must’ve been fifty of ’em!”

“I know, I know!” cried his partner. “It’s impossible. I would have said he was just doing a Double Team, but they were all real, all solid...”

“Ee-eeee-e-EE-eek,” Goishi put in, with a shiver.

“I know,” repeated Fabien. “I think we had a lucky escape there. Obviously they sensed our presence and...” He broke off into a protracted shiver, which made him look like he was trying to remove his shirt without using his hands.

“Prob’ly best not to think abou’ it,” Blake said. Goishi nodded, a complex manoeuvre that involved bending his mouth in the middle.

“You’re right,” replied Fabien at length. “Let’s just wait here a bit, until we’re sure they’ve gone.”

Blake and Goishi nodded their agreement, and the three Magmas settled down to wait out the night.

---

Felicity and Barry did not set out at noon, as planned. Nor did they set out at one o’clock, or two o’clock, or five o’clock.

In fact, by the time Barry arrived, somewhat sober and rather bruised, at Cadogan Square, it was twenty past seven, and Felicity was nowhere to be seen. He looked around, hoping against hope that she might be there with a car and instructions, but she was gone. The square was broad, with a fountain in the centre and statues at each corner – but there were no people other than the odd tourist and a few workers heading home after work.

Barry sighed, and was about to leave when a nearby payphone began to ring. He knew that would be for him – only the Teams and Devon communicated like that – and answered it.

“This is Felicity,” said Felicity. “I’m calling from Coffen Spit, and I can see Ruby and Birch from where I am. Wherever you are, get over here now, or I’m going to call the boss and tell him you didn’t turn up.”

Barry listened as she hung up, then replaced the receiver sadly.

“I need,” he said to himself, “to sober up. She’s been winning lately.”

What Felicity was winning was the little war that raged between them; Barry was acutely aware that he’d fallen behind her in terms of achievement recently, due to his drunken episode.

He sighed, and hailed a taxi.

“North Canticle Street,” he said, “and quickly.”

---

Felicity was sitting in the upper branches of a tree, about five metres from Birch and her fire. She was chewing on one pale knuckle, and wondering what she ought to do.

It wasn’t as if Ruby would be hard to subdue. He barely had control over his own abilities, as the amusing incident with his Double Team had shown her. While Felicity herself wasn’t able to use the powers of the creature within her without it taking control of her body – something she was keen to avoid – she still had a shotgun, and she was certain that she was much stronger than him anyway.

No, the problem was that her Aqua superiors had ordered her to capture Ruby, and if possible Birch as well. Now, Zero had given her no orders other than to obey the Aquas, but she had her doubts about whether or not he wanted her to do this. From what she knew of his plan, it would better serve him if Ruby fell into the hands of the Magmas.

Then, of course, there was Felicity’s own will. She didn’t like Ruby; in fact, she detested him. He was moronic and spineless, a worm of a creature; he was nothing but a pawn that was shunted around the chessboard by Birch and Zero.

And yet...

Felicity, too, was a slave to Zero, and also to Archie of Team Aqua. She had no real say in her life. And despite her animosity towards Ruby, the similarities between his position and hers were too similar to deny, and she couldn’t completely rid herself of a strange sense of solidarity between them, a feeling that it was somehow her and Ruby against the world.

Because of her inability to settle on a course of action, Felicity had opted to not do anything until Barry arrived; she hated to admit that she would ever follow him, but it was easier than making the decision herself.

toohotcoldcoldwantcoldwantfoodHUNGRY...

“Shut up!” Felicity hissed, twisting the volume dial up on her headphone. She had never imagined that she would ever use it to quell a voice in her head, but she was glad of it now; music pulsed through her head and left silence in its wake.

Hot and cold shivers shot through Felicity’s body; her arms and legs felt heavy and useless, with the weight of lead and the flexibility of rags, and she fell back against the tree trunk, almost slipping off to plummet to the ground below. Panicking, she tried to breathe, but her chest wasn’t moving; her body was paralysed, limp and useless. The world was darkening, and there was a strange feeling of lightness coming over her. For a moment, Felicity thought she was dead, and the most frightening part of that was that it seemed a good thing; she felt so calm that she almost forgot Zero and Ruby...

Then, all at once, sound and light returned to the world, and Felicity sat up, gasping for air. Whatever it was, it had gone.

“I’m not going to lose,” she said, clenching her fists so tightly that her nails broke the skin of her palms. “I’m not going to lose to you!”

So saying, she wedged herself securely against the trunk of the tree and fixed her eyes on Birch, who was going into her tent. The monster within was going nowhere.

---

In the morning, Sapphire, in her infinite grace, let me out of the ball so I could pack her tent up for her; this done, we continued up the path towards Mauville. The soft dirt track was covered in thousands and thousands of footprints, all left by my shoes: an unwanted reminder of the armada of fake Kesters that had walked this way the night before.

At around half ten, we encountered a pugnacious green canine with an ovoid excrescence on its head that Sapphire said was an Electrike; Rono, who was in need of training, beat it senseless with ease, and we continued without stopping for longer than five minutes. The casual manner in which Trainers challenged each other or thrashed wild animals was still unsettling me, and I had to think hard about Sapphire’s earlier statement that most Trainers lost their minds at some point during their careers. If this was the way they lived, I thought, it was a wonder we weren’t knee-deep in psychotic sociopaths here in Hoenn.

No, Trainers are usually weird-crazy rather than stabby-crazy, Puck said. Well, I say that, but in England before I left the news was full of this Trainer-turned-serial-killer called Steve Jobbs. He and five Beedrill stabbed their way through about seventy-odd people before they were stopped. It was quite funny – all it took was one Charmeleon, and all those Beedrill just... Poof! Went up in flames. The weird bit was, Steve did too – turns out, he was made of petrol.

“That is so not true.”

OK, so Steve Jobbs wasn’t made of petrol. But the rest is true.

When my watch beeped one o’clock, Sapphire decided it was time to stop for lunch. This was something I happily agreed to, since it involved both food and rest, and we sat down just off the road to eat. I had just started to enjoy my meal when I noticed an old man dressed in ragged brown clothes creeping out of the undergrowth behind Sapphire. Recalling my last experience with an old man, back at the Wharf, I felt it was my duty to warn her.

“Sapphire,” I said, “there’s an old man behind you.”

She turned around, and he froze. He had a very round face, and a bushy grey beard; his mouth was stretched wide in a grin.

“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” Sapphire asked aggressively.

She didn’t actually say that, Puck put in. She said something much, much ruder, but I don’t think we can put it in.

The old man laughed uproariously, which didn’t strike me as the right reaction, and dropped into a seated position next to her.

“I’m just a harmless old hobo,” he said, in a voice roughened by years of cigarettes and alcohol. “Me and Jess are wandering around, heading for Mauville.”

Sapphire looked like the reply she wanted to make was a punch to the face, but what she actually did was say:

“Jess?”

The old man looked around and then shouted:

“Jess! Jessie! Come out here and meet these two nice young people!”

The bushes nearby rustled, shook, and finally disgorged what appeared at first to be a giant Poké Ball; closer inspection, though, revealed it to be the wrong way up, and in possession of a pair of pinprick eyes above a manic grin. Together with a set of pencil-thin eyebrows, these features combined to form the most disturbing face I’d seen since the Sableye’s Dustox doll.

This freakish apparition rolled towards us, heedless of the twigs that stuck into its mouth and eyes, and settled next to the hobo, where it gave an indescribable noise that sounded to me like the death cry of a mortally-wounded electrical substation.

Sapphire leaped to her feet and backed off to the other side of the clearing, Rono’s ball appearing in her hand.

“What the hell!” she shouted. “That isn’t safe at all!”

The old man laughed at that; for myself, I was just confused.

Don’t worry, said Puck. That thing can’t really hurt us. Hurt Sapphire? Yes. Destroy a large area of forest? Yes. Do anything to us? No.

“Sit down, lass, sit down,” said the hobo. “She’s tame, don’t worry.”

The giant ball buzzed, crackled and spin on its axis. What that meant, I had no idea.

Sapphire sat down as far away from the ball as possible, eyeing it and its owner distrustfully.

“We didn’t invite you here,” she said. “Go away, please, and take your Electrode with you.”

So that was what an Electrode was! I had heard of them; they were supposed to hate the entire world with a violent passion, and explode at the slightest provocation. I gave it a look of concern, and edged away from it.

I told you, it can’t hurt us, Puck said. Explosion is a Normal-type move, so we’re immune to it.

The hobo laughed. This was beginning to get on my nerves.

“Don’t be like that,” he said. “We just wanted a chat. Right, Jess?”

The Elecrode somehow leaped about a foot into the air and spun rapidly. It looked like a basketball trick without a basketball player.

“Well, we were just going,” Sapphire said, standing up and shouldering her bag. “Isn’t that right, Kester?”

“Uh – yeah,” I agreed, surprised. I stood up and followed her back to the path.

“Wait!” cried the hobo. “Where are you headed?”

“Mauville,” I replied; Sapphire elbowed me in the ribs.

“Don’t encourage him!” she hissed. “He’s crazy. No one goes around with an Electrode! You do know they’re military-grade weapons? They were deployed in the First World War!”

“Mauville!” said the old man, catching up with us. “That’s great, that’s great. We’re headed to Mauville, too!” He laughed merrily at this happy coincidence.

“Oh, joy,” murmured Sapphire.

With the hobo and Jess the Electrode in tow, we walked on; according to Sapphire, we would make Mauville by the day after tomorrow at the latest, but we travelled so quickly in our attempts to shake off the hobo, that she said we’d probably reach it tomorrow evening.

“Do you like Marmite?” the hobo would say, or: “Have you ever been to Disneyworld?” He peppered us with inane questions, the answer to which was almost always ‘no’, in some bizarre effort to start a conversation. Despite this, however, Sapphire and I remained stubbornly uncommunicative, though by three o’clock I did start pleading with Sapphire to let me back into the Master Ball so that I wouldn’t have to listen to him.

“No,” she replied. “If I have to put up with him, so do you. Besides, I can’t just recall you with him watching.”

Also, put in Puck, he’s quite entertaining. I mean, ‘have you ever inhaled salt?’ These questions are brilliant.

So it was that the day wore on, until finally we stopped in the shadow of one of the piers that supported the elevated motorway. Here, amongst a stand of trees at the crest of the beach, we made camp for the night. Toro lit us a fire, and Sapphire got out the food – though she made a point of not offering any to the hobo. He didn’t seem unduly bothered by this, though, and simply took several long swigs from a hip flask.

“This is nice,” he said. “Three Trainers, sitting round a campfire. Reminds me of my youth.”
Neither Sapphire nor I said anything. He laughed, and asked if anyone wanted to battle him.

“Come on,” he cried. “I’ve just got Jess here. You’ll battle me, right lad?” His face drew alarmingly close to mine, and I caught a whiff of breath that reeked of Tabasco. I wondered if that was what his flask was full of, and, if so, how he’d managed to gulp it down like that.

I withdrew awkwardly and declined his offer.

“Er – sorry – don’t really think that would be a good idea.”

“What about you?” he asked of Sapphire. She answered with the look in her eyes; for the first time, the message that she didn’t want him with us seemed to reach the old man, and he coughed, saying hastily, “Well, doesn’t matter so much, anyway. It’s the being here with other people that counts. Why, that’s what Trainers do! They gather in little groups, and travel together on the road.”

“Yeah. Great,” I said unenthusiastically.

As it turned out, there was actually one good side to having the hobo with us. Since Sapphire couldn’t risk letting him know I was a Pokémon, she couldn’t recall me, and so I was allowed to spend the night outside the ball for once. Better yet, she wanted me to use as a shield in case the Electrode went off in the night, so I was even allowed into her tent. Even if I was only here as a spectral blast wall, I felt extremely privileged – which, as Puck noted, just went to show how low my standards had fallen over the last few days.
Well, he didn’t put it quite that nicely. He said:

Kester, you’ve fallen to the level of a beaten lapdog. Judging from your memories, you didn’t have much dignity before, but this... this is a new low, even for you.

I slept lying across the tent’s doorway, so as to provide maximum protection for Sapphire if the worst happened, and also within easy reach if she need to drag me atop her for use as a shield. This meant that I had her feet jabbing me in the back all night, but I was still lying on a blanket instead of steel and I got the best night’s sleep I’d had for quite some time.

On balance, then, I enjoyed that night, though I wish I could say the same about the next morning. No one had tried to kill, capture or seriously injure me that day – but it was a high that couldn’t last for long. Tomorrow, it would be business as usual, and I was going to hate it.

---

“Birch has acquired a new Pokémon,” Felicity said to Barry as they walked up the path. About five hundred metres ahead of them were their targets; they hadn’t yet looked back, but Felicity was ready to leap into the bushes and hide if they did.

“Urg,” replied Barry. He was hung over; consequently, he was currently very irritable and found it difficult to communicate in words of more than syllable without clutching at his skull and whispering quiet moans of pain.

“It’s a Sableye.”

“Urg?”

“I saw it when they came out of that strange house a few miles back.”

“Urg.”

“Honestly,” said Felicity, with an exasperation that she didn’t feel, “it’s like having a conversation with a caveman.” She paused. “Oh. Wait. I am having a conversation with a caveman.”

“Urg.”

Felicity didn’t know how much longer she could keep up the act. She hated the double identity she was cultivating, but she was doing so on Zero’s orders; her real self didn’t suit him, or perhaps just didn’t amuse him as much as this one. In the end, it didn’t matter. If she failed to follow orders, he wouldn’t remove the creature, and she would die.

“Are you going to keep this up all day? Because it could get boring real quick.”

With a colossal effort, Barry mumbled four rumbling syllables.

“Shuddupwumman.”

Felicity raised her eyebrows.

“Well, someone knows how to endear themselves to a lady.”

Barry attempted to make a rude gesture at her, but found that the effort of raising his fingers gave him a headache, and so desisted.

“Wennwetackem?”

“We’ll attack them tomorrow, at dawn,” Felicity replied. She was still putting it off. “A whole day without us or that Devon researcher coming after them should make them lower their guard.”

“Arright.”

“Got quite a way with words, don’t you?”

Barry gave up on Hoennian and decided to revive the ancient art of preverbal communication.

“Urg.”

Felicity shook her head in exaggerated despair, and the two Aquas walked on.

---

Streamers of light flew from one end of the horizon to another, in all the warm hues in nature’s palette; the early rays of the sun glanced off the waters of Bay of Cadavers. This was dawn on Route 110, and in the shadow of the overpass, within a little copse, two teenagers were asleep in a tent, and Felicity and Barry were standing in front of it. They would have already snatched the kids if there hadn’t been a plump old tramp standing between them and the tent.

The old man laughed, but his eyes were hard.

“You’re from Team Aqua,” he said merrily. “What brings you here?”

“This doesn’t concern you, old man,” rumbled Barry. Today, he was back to his usual self: bold, brash and unable to speak without growling. It also seemed that he was about as ageist as he was misogynistic.

“If Team Aqua is around,” the hobo said, “then it concerns me. I’m a law-abiding citizen.”

“I seriously doubt that,” sneered Felicity, looking him up and down. “Get out of the way, and then I won’t have to shoot you.”

The old man laughed again, but this time it had a distinctly unpleasant edge to it.

“Lass, you’re too young for guns, or Team Aqua.” Felicity raised her shotgun and her finger tightened on the trigger. She had never yet fired it, but she had killed before. Before she had fled her home country, there had been several situations where it had been necessary.

The hobo grinned broadly, and his teeth were very white.

“Jess,” he said. “Rollout.”

An Electrode appeared from behind him and shot forth, rolling towards Felicity at a speed her eyes could barely register; it seemed to be a thick, solid line of red and white rather than a distinct sphere. She lowered the shotgun as fast as she could, and a deafening report cracked the air—

—but the Electrode was already past the shell, and the pellets scattered across the leaf litter. Felicity’s eyes widened fractionally. She could already feel the Pokémon smacking into her shin, shattering the bone—

—and then she was suddenly five feet up in the air, legs dangling beneath her, and the Electrode whizzed past below, a bright blur against the loam.

rockhurtsnotlikedodge...

Felicity dropped back down, spun and shot the Electrode. It lifted bodily into the air and slammed into a tree, then fell to the floor, cross-eyed and bleeding from a dozen small shrapnel wounds. She turned around to face the hobo, who looked significantly less jolly than he did a moment ago. Behind him, Ruby and Birch were scrambling out of the tent, alerted by the two shots.

“What’s going on now?” Birch shrieked, angrily. Then she saw the Aquas, and an Aron and Combusken materialised in front of her. Ruby sauntered as casually as he could behind her, but, as he was taller, it didn’t do a lot to make him less of a target. “You!” Birch cried.

“Warfang!” roared Barry, and everyone turned to stare at him. This statement appeared to make slightly less than no sense. Barry reddened, then pointed to the levitating red and blue fish that had appeared in front of him. “It’s his name.”

The Carvanha darted forwards in a blur of bubbles, smashing Birch’s Combusken in the face and leaving it in a crumpled heap on the floor; before anyone could react, it rammed its spike-finned head into the Aron’s eye and threw it into the fallen Combusken’s side. It made a weak attempt to get up again, but Warfang repeated the assault on the other eye, and it slumped into a daze, thick grey blood trickling slowly from its eye sockets.

Then Warfang dropped to the ground in a dead faint, and Ruby lowered his still-sparking hand with a sigh.

“Look, you two,” he began, and then Barry rushed him and punched him in the face.

bobandbill
February 22nd, 2011, 05:29 AM
And I am now caught up! ~ That only took a good yet enjoyable while of reading in-between shouting at my internet. XD

I like the scenes the grunts continue to get here and there - thoroughly enjoyable what with one declaring himself to be the main character and hero, to one getting very drunk (I quite like drunk characters myself XD) to them running away from 50+ clones of Kester... and then stuff like the Trick House, inspired from the wonders of Quartz no less which is always an entertaining source of inspiration. XD Fairly entertaining overall, and probably more so than the first part of the story, arguably (but that would be a close call tbh).

I did notice that these chapters seemed to have more going on in the way of fourth wall breakage than the others - not a bad thing (I enjoy such things myself) but certainly a notable change there. Natalie's acceptance of Kester's story was unexpected but an interesting choice with plot... and the Rayquazza death was nicely pulled I thought - the mood swing that came from it was noticeable but it did not affect the story's flow too much I feel (maybe could be help with a bit more comedy at the beginning of that scene but certainly the death itself does not need anything, that's likely disrupt. Plus he is pretty awesome too as you said =p). Kaleb the Pokemon fanatic amused me as well - another RSE character I recall from the games, down to his team. I liked the inclusion of his child given the sprite as well - nice attention of detail. =)

I swear, if I had had just an ounce less self-composure, I would have flung myself at her and showered her with adoration for that comment.This amused me a fair bit. XD
“Hmm,” I said, still somewhat shocked. “That’s unexpected, but not that useful... let’s keep looking.Missing a quotation mark at the end there.
“Not sure,” replied Natalie. “But look more closely. It’s not the goods themselves being taken to Mauville. They’re going to be built into a ‘Y-38P SuperBlast Module’, and then sent up to the Spectroscopic Fancy Company in Mauville.”I love these names btw. XD
So my guess is that this Y-38P SuperBlast Module is something that they both Teams want.”That 'they' seems unnecessary (maybe left in after an edit?)
Most of these so-called ‘legendaries’ are either exaggerated memories of Pokémon now extinct, or never existed at all; there are only five such species other than Rayquaza known to exist: Mew, Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, Raikou, Entei and Suicune.I counted more than five there, unless you count one of those trios as one but if so that isn't clear.On a lighter note, the death of Rayquaza, Puck said, brightening. Oh. Wait. That’s a darker note. Never mind. So: what’s our opinion, boys and girls?XD I like Puck's lines quite often.“My own little project,” Zero replied. “A hobby; a game; a bet; call it what you will, it’s all the same.My own speculation is that him saying that, along with mentioning 'a bet' as a possible thing to call it...might indicate some more on who Zero is? I might be reading too much into it but I did recall a similar scene when I read this...
Note:Technically, I guess the Sableye ought to have been shiny, but I kind of don't care. I suppose it might, but oh well? =p I do like the concept of an over-levelled Sableye however, especially one that is afraid of everything (bar a creepy doll), and he's certainly an interesting addition to the team (I had been wondering if he would play any significant part given his earlier mentions in the story...).Me too. I’ve not seen anything as surprising as this since Macbeth beat Macduff at the end of a production I saw in London.I'm not sure as I only vaguely remember the film and not even the title, but was this a reference to a film...? Only reference thus far I am unsure about (the rest I got or missed =p).
Yeah. Kind of makes a mockery of their name, doesn’t it? [\I]Sable-[I]eye, the Darkness Pokémon.Tags failed there.
“That is the strangest house I’ve ever seen,” I stated unnecessarily, as we stopped to stare.

I don’t know. Ever been to Holland?IDK, Holland's houses still have some beating to do with that house. XD
“I’m stuck!” yelped his partner, wriggling violently and not moving an inch.
Fabien struck one palm against his forehead and yelled at the heavens with all the passion of Hamlet after meeting Fortinbras’ captain; his words were unprintable, but carried the general message that fortune was a strumpet, and that God was, as Beckett’s blind cripple would have it, not only nonexistent but also born out of wedlock.More line spacing is needed there.
They do crazy stuff, for no adequately-explained reason, and travel together in little groups of people who are bound together only by their mutual shared values of sharing and kindness. He paused. Actually, forget that last bit. That only applies to this freakishly pleasant kid called Ash I met once.XD interesting...pity I do not know the anime in case this was an anime reference as well (I suppose he did meet one Rotom sometime after all).“I demand two prizes,” I snapped. “Unless they’re really, really nice, and one of them
would make up for twenty minutes on its own.”Enter seems to have been randomly hit in the middle of that sentence.Yeah, TMs are weird like that, Puck said. Like, in Johto they make these Ice Punch TMs, and you can teach them to Wooper. Which is weird, because Wooper don’t have any hands.Hah, that's one example I always liked to mention myself. XD
“Some of them are quite good!” Sapphire protested. “Now be quiet and let me choose.”
“Whatever, kid.”“If Team Aqua is around,” the hobo said, “then it concerns me. I’m a law-abiding citizen.”
“I seriously doubt that,” sneered Felicity, looking him up and down. “Get out of the way, and then I won’t have to shoot you.”Like above, more line spacing is needed there. (The random hobo was an interesting addition as well btw, heh).
Anyways... all in all this is a nice story with great humour and characters and dialogue, so if it wasn't already clear, colour me entertained. =p Keep it up!

Cutlerine
February 22nd, 2011, 09:23 AM
Chapter Twenty: Those Glazzies Clopped Him in the Pletcho

Kester crumpled to the floor, one eye immediately beginning to puff up and darken. The massive Aqua swept him into his arms, completely ignoring the stupefied Sapphire, and turned, heading for the path.

“Woman!” he roared at the Aqua girl. (Was her name Felicity? Sapphire thought it was.) “Get moving!”

Felicity’s shotgun came up towards Sapphire and the hobo, and she backed away slowly, with her partner just behind her. Sapphire herself didn’t really know what she felt then; for as long as she lived, she would never know. Words were a roar of static in her ears, and images were senseless sequences of colours that drifted before her eyes. It might have been fear, it might have been shock, and it has to be left to the reader’s individual jurisdiction as to which they deem it to have been.

“All right,” said the hobo. “I tried to play nice.”

The two Aquas suddenly stopped dead, a faint ringing sound echoing out through the forest. The tramp laughed, and the big Aqua felt the air between them and the path. It looked to Sapphire like he was touching an invisible wall.

“Amadeus,” called the hobo, “you can come out now.”

Something yellow, striped in jagged yellow and black, stalked out of the undergrowth. Its face was a collocation of savage fangs thrown between great bushy whiskers like those of a tiger; its arms a mess of scars in the rough shape of taloned fists. This was an Electabuzz, perhaps the most unfriendly Electric-type in existence after Electrode.

“What did you do?” snapped Felicity.

“Barrier,” replied the hobo. “It’s difficult to get an Electabuzz with Barrier, but it’s a very useful move.”

Felicity fired, and Sapphire jumped, jerking for a half-instant out of her trance-like state; however, the pellets bounced harmlessly off a second Barrier, stopping and scattering mere inches away from her face. The hobo didn’t flinch at all.

“Gah!” The giant Aqua threw Kester down onto the floor, and ran directly at the Electabuzz, which was on the same side of the Barrier as Sapphire and the hobo; he leaped at it, shoulder-first, and, much to their consternation, cracked the air where he hit.

Sapphire opened her mouth to say something, but her mouth didn’t know what to say; her hands were instinctively recalling Toro and Rono, and that was all her body seemed to be capable of right now.

The second hit was unbelievable. The Aqua’s prodigious strength shattered the Barrier, sending pieces of atmosphere flying everywhere, and his vast bulk descended onto the Electabuzz’s rotund figure. There was a yowl of pain, and then the other Barrier melted away.

What happened next was too fast for Sapphire to react to, though she was able to follow it with her eyes. First, there were two flashes of red light, and the Electrode and squashed Electabuzz disappeared; then the hobo was fleeing, shouting something about getting help. The big Aqua got to his feet, and was running after the escaping man as Felicity shouted at him to get Kester instead.

And in the midst of all the confusion, in the midst of the hubbub and pounding feet, Sapphire’s fingers reached down to her belt, and pulled a Poké Ball from it. It was nothing special, just a green Nest Ball she had found in her room a few weeks ago. She dropped it without even noticing she’d picked it up, and a veritable storm of blue light, shot through with ominous black shadows, flew out.

It was as if someone had suddenly turned off the power. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look: the giant Aqua and the hobo paused in their chase, and Felicity ceased trying to drag Kester away. Everyone was startled by the size of the light display, for that was a sure sign that something very powerful was coming out.

Standing in the middle of the clearing was a tiny, pale figure, all white fur and many-sided eyes. His pointed ears were drooped in an expression of utter dismay at the tribulations he had just been called upon to face, and he was clutching a large cuddly moth as if it were the only ray of hope in life.

“Please,” said Sapphire, “please, Sableye, do something.”

The Sableye darted forwards, and, recognising Kester in the figure on the floor, burrowed under his T-shirt to curl up in a quivering heap.

“No!” cried Sapphire. Everyone was still staring, now out of surprise and incredulity; she knew there was, at most, a second or two before things kicked off again. “Sableye, you can do it! You’re powerful! You’re like – like Genghis Khan and his armies!”

Whether at the ludicrous nature of the simile or because he was truly moved, the Sableye peeked out of the neck of the shirt, and looked at her inquisitively.

“Everyone’s scared of you!” said Sapphire encouragingly, pointing. The Sableye, being a creature of very little brain, followed her finger obediently with his large red eyes. He took in the three people staring at him, and their wide eyes; he checked what ‘wide eyes’ meant against a little list in his head, and found that they often meant ‘fear’.

That was when he leaped out onto Kester’s chest, and when his eyes began to glow.

The spell of his appearance was broken; the air trembled around him like a heat haze, and, wary for real this time, Felicity and her partner backed away. The glow grew brighter and brighter, a burning red beacon that obscured entirely the little gremlin, and they turned to run—

—just as a series of searing crimson polygons burst forth from his face, rending the air asunder with a roar as they shot towards the Aquas at breakneck pace. The leaf litter fanned out from the ground beneath them, blown away by the rush of air, and thin furrows were ploughed in their place through sheer air pressure.

Felicity flung herself flat on the ground, and suffered no worse than the assault of the strong wind generated by the Power Gems’ passage; her giant partner was caught in the shoulder by one of the smaller shards, and was tossed aside like a rag doll. He hit the leaf litter hard, and did not get up again.

The remaining Gems smashed into the trees, blasting clear through them and opening up a new path back to the main trail before dissipating, their strength expended. The sound of tortured wood twisted its whining way through the air, but neither Sapphire nor the hobo even tried to put their hands over their ears. They just stood there, somewhat shell-shocked, staring at the destruction and the little white figure standing in front of it, the light fading from his eyes.

Felicity was not so afflicted; she leaped back up – which terrified the Sableye and sent him under Kester’s shirt again, instantly undoing all of Sapphire’s good work – and picked up her gun.

“I can’t take him now,” she said in a low voice. “Well done, you.” Oddly, Sapphire couldn’t tell if she meant that or not. Felicity raised the gun, and advanced on Sapphire. “Listen,” she said. Sapphire noted in a curiously detached way that there was a small stick caught in her hair. “This isn’t a game, Birch. If I were you, I would go home now and forget about the Devon goods. They’re not important anyway, not in the wider scope of things.”

Sapphire stared.

“Who are you?” she managed.

“I’ve been many people. Right now, I am Felicity, and I’m a slave.” Felicity jerked her head at the Sableye. “That won’t protect you for long, Birch. We know its weakness now. So just give me the Master Ball and go home.”

“No.”

Felicity tapped the barrel of the weapon she was holding.

“Yes.”

“No.” This time, it was the hobo speaking. Felicity turned sharply, only to be confronted by a wolf in blue and yellow, bearing a ridiculous conical hairstyle. Its eyes were outclassed in sharpness only by its teeth, and sparks kept flickering away from its paws and dying amidst the leaves. “He’s faster than you,” the hobo assured her. “You won’t shoot him before he has you.”

Felicity made a face, then span around and grabbed Sapphire by the neck, winding her arm around her throat and pressing the shotgun awkwardly against her head.

“Don’t worry,” she said into Sapphire’s ear, as she began to struggle. “Don’t try to get away, and do what I tell you, and you’ll be free in less than two minutes.”

Sapphire ought to have been afraid, but she wasn’t. She was furious. However, nothing could be done about her situation right now, and so she had no choice but to acquiesce.

The hobo regarded the situation with a calm face.

“What do you want?” he asked. At his heels, the Manectric growled, starting forwards at Felicity and her hostage, but its master grabbed the scruff of its neck and hauled it back.

“Just let me get out of this clearing,” Felicity said, backing away towards the pile of tree trunks that separated them from the trail. Sapphire stumbled awkwardly along with her. “It won’t take five seconds. See: one... two...” – she was carefully making her way around the logs now – “three... four...” – and now she was at the path’s edge – “five!”

She let go of Sapphire and ran, heading north. Sapphire immediately whirled, trying to grab her, but the other girl was fast, far faster than her, and she melted away beneath her fingers like mist on the breeze. Once Sapphire had missed that chance, she had no hope of catching up, and Felicity was soon lost to sight.

“Well,” said the hobo brightly, recalling his Manectric, “that was interesting. Do you two make a habit of this sort of thing?”

“Shut up,” replied Sapphire tiredly. “It’s half five in the morning, I almost got killed and Kester almost got stolen. I really don’t want to hear anything you have to say right now.” She headed back to the tent, recalling the Sableye as she did so, then paused in the act of entering it. “Actually, I do want an explanation about why you’ve got so many Pokémon when you’re a hobo, but that can wait. I want another two hours of sleep at least.”

With that, she crawled in and dropped the flap, zipping it shut to firmly seal off the world. She opened it again a second later and came out, dragged Kester in – she still couldn’t return him to the ball, not with the hobo around – and shut it again.

The hobo looked at the tent, then sat down on a nearby tree stump to ruminate.

“I wonder,” he said to himself, “if she noticed I saw how he knocked out that Carvanha.”

---

Well, I started out with nothin’ an’ I stiiiill gooot most of it left, sang Puck loudly. This was singularly unwelcome, as I had a headache to rival the one left after that business that occurred last year.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I growled, then immediately wished I’d just whispered, or, better yet, just thought it.

I’m singing some blues, he said. You know, since we’ve got a hobo in the house.

“Shut up. My head hurts.”

That’s because you have a fractured skull, meatface.

This caused me to open my eyes in alarm. I could see blue-green canvas above me.

“What?”

Only kidding. You’re fine. Bruised, but OK. No damage in here, as far as I can see. Which is probably why Sapphire didn’t use a Potion on you – I mean, you get through them as if you were Jason Voorhees and they were terrified teenagers.

“What?”

Forget it. Puck sighed. I really have to start teaching you sometime, don’t I? Plus, I’ve got a whole bunch of movies you need to watch. Oh, and you need to train. That’d be a good idea. I’ll have you running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in no time. He started singing again. Gonna fly noooow... Flying high noooow...

“Puck, what is this?”

You don’t get it? Da-da-daaa... da-da-daaa... Ring any bells? No? Ah, forget it.

I did not deign to answer; I’d had more than enough of him for now. Instead, I sat up slowly, wincing and holding my head, and looked around. I was in the tent, next to Sapphire. She was still asleep, wrapped in her sleeping bag.

I checked my watch, and it told me that the time was half past eight. Ordinarily, this would be bad, but I didn’t have school today. In fact, that was one bonus to this whole ‘turned into Sapphire’s Pokémon’ thing – I didn’t have to go to school, and Sapphire, being, like me, a teenager, was not one to rise early.

“Puck,” I said, “why do I feel like I’m forgetting something?”

You might be referring to the fact that you got attacked by Team Aqua a couple of hours ago?

That was it. I remembered now. The big guy had punched me in the face. Which had, as I recalled, hurt. A lot. A hell of a lot, in fact.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “I wonder what happened next?”

So do I. I wish you stayed conscious more of the time. It’s really boring when I’m just stuck in your head with nothing to see. Although sometimes I do look at your memories and dreams.

“Hey! Don’t – don’t do that! It’s rude.”

So are some of the dreams. And a fair few of the memories, at that.

I had no adequate response to such an immediate and embarrassing comeback, and so left the tent in silence, squinting against the sun and clutching at my head.

“Morning, lad,” came a familiar voice, and my heart sank. I looked across the clearing and saw the hobo, sitting on a tree stump and looking like The Thinker.

That’s the kind of thing that annoys me, Puck said. You know what The Thinker is but you’ve never heard of Sherlock Holmes. How does that work?

“What happened after I got knocked out?” I asked the hobo. He told me, and I stood there for a while, not quite sure what to make of it all. “Well,” I said at length. “That’s certainly something.”

If by ‘something’ you mean ‘an improbable stroke of good luck that the Sableye managed to temporarily overcome his fear of the world and save you with Power Gem’, then yes, it is. Honestly. It’s not the hopelessly obvious plot device I object to. It’s just so – so very stupid.

“Yes, it is,” agreed the hobo, more simply.

I sat down amongst the leaves and wondered when Sapphire was going to get up.

Fifteen minutes later, she emerged from the tent, looking, all things considered, surprisingly good-tempered.

“Kester,” she said without any preamble, “how’s your face?”

“It hurts,” I admitted, “it hurts a lot.”

“Good, good,” she said vaguely. “Put the tent away, then I’ll give you something to eat.”

I stared at her wrathfully for a moment, then did as she told me. As I did so, I contemplated how her statement showed a new, more underhanded method of ordering me around; she was treating me as poorly as ever, only now she was bribing me as well. That might have been an improvement had not the bribe been the basic human necessity of food.

Some people, eh? Puck remarked. The cheek of it!

“You’re taking my side?” I murmured, as I wrapped the tent around its struts.

You’re in the right, he replied. You commented on my tendency to be fair a few days ago. Keep up.

I sighed and rammed Sapphire’s sleeping bag into her rucksack. I didn’t know how I’d fitted it all in, but it would do.

Sapphire threw me a cereal bar and a bottle of water; I caught the bar, but the water hit me in the shin.

“Thanks for that, Kester,” she said, with a wicked grin. I gave her a rude gesture and started eating.

“So,” said the hobo, after a moment or two, “what are you going to do with him?”

He pointed to the prone form of the Aqua giant, lying sprawled amidst the debris of the Sableye’s Power Gem.

“I don’t know,” Sapphire replied. “Leave him, I should think. If he wakes up and finds us nearby, he’ll probably kill us.” She shouldered her bag and took a bite of a cereal bar of her own. “Right. Eat while we move, Kester. I want to get to Mauville today.”

“I’m in no condition to move,” I grumbled, getting up slowly. “My head’s all broken.”

“It isn’t,” she replied, “and you’ve used up all the Po” – she glanced at the hobo – “all the medicinal stuff. I don’t have any to heal my Pokémon, either, so it looks like we might have to rely on yours to fend off any wild beasts.”

“Whatever,” I said, following her back to the road. “Let’s just go.”

We trudged down the road in silence for a while, and reached the bridge to the Mauville side of the water at about noon. It was made of stainless steel, and much like the back entrance to a dragon’s lair, in that it was wide enough for three to walk abreast. It was also much, much longer than I would have thought possible, and by the end of the first half-hour I was very tired of the sound of the soles of our shoes clacking against the metal. Thankfully, it took only ten more minutes to navigate, and from thereon we plunged back into the forest, following a winding northward trail. We encountered no more wild Pokémon, but at about four we did meet a strange girl sitting cross-legged in the middle of the path, playing cards with an Abra.

She was probably about fourteen or fifteen, with long dark hair that covered most of her face; she looked essentially like one of those creepy possessed girls you get in horror movies. She was also winning at cards, because the Abra didn’t seem to understand the concept of bluffing.

At our approach, she looked up.

“I knew you were coming,” she told us confidently. “I also know you’re going to battle me.”

“You’re wrong,” Sapphire replied. “My Pokémon have all fainted.”

“One of you is going to battle me,” the strange girl said. “I foresaw it. I’m a Psychic.”

I glanced at Sapphire.

“Is she one of those Trainers who’ve been a Trainer too long and gone crazy?”

“Hey!” The so-called Psychic got to her feet. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here!”

Kester, shall we just beat her? Puck asked. It’d be really easy. One Astonish and it’s all over.

Ssh, I thought back.

“Sorry,” I said. “I forgot about... yeah, OK, I’ll battle you.”

“Kester!” hissed Sapphire, glaring.

“I’ll battle you,” I went on, “but you have to be aware that my Pokémon’s had a bit of an... accident.”

The Psychic looked confused.

“Huh?”

Shame she can’t use her psychic powers to find out what that is, Puck snickered.

“He’s a Rotom, and he got stuck in my watch,” I told her, holding up my wrist. Obligingly, Puck made his eyes appear on its LCD display. “Is that OK?”

She shrugged.

“That’s fine. Let’s fight! Holly!”

The Abra – Holly – dropped its cards, vanished, and reappeared in front of her. It startled me; though I knew they could Teleport, I’d never actually seen it in action. The little creature sat with its legs and tail spread out for balance, resting peacefully.

Remember to call out the attacks as you do them, Puck said. To reinforce the illusion that I’m doing them, not you.

“Puck, use Astonish,” I said, and then did a pretty good job of using the move without moving my lips. I even shook my watch to make it seem like the sound was coming from there. Either way, it fooled the Psychic and made Holly fall over backwards, clutching at its bleeding ears.

It leaped back up, hovering in midair in a fighting stance not usually associated with its species, and raised one hand.

“That’s right,” the Psychic told it encouragingly, “Confusion.”

A mild headache struck me, but I’d had a worse one all day and I really didn’t care.

“Puck, same again.”

I repeated my little Astonish charade, and Holly’s ears fountained blood; it dropped to the ground and lay there, motionless.

“Holly is unable to battle,” the hobo said nonchalantly. “The winner is Puck, belonging to Kester.”

I looked at him in surprise. I’d forgotten he was still here.

“I foresaw your victory,” the Psychic said with a knowing nod, recalling her Pokémon.

“Sure,” I replied. “Can we get past now?”

“You don’t believe me, do you?” she asked, looking angry again.

“I didn’t say that—”

“You implied it,” she snapped. “Oh, I hate people like you!” She held out her Abra’s Poké Ball. “Look, I’ll prove it.”

She closed her eyes and held the ball with both hands; then, suddenly, she took both hands away. It would doubtless have been impressive if the ball had stayed floating in midair, but it fell to the ground instead.

“Wait!” she cried. “I can do it... I have psychokinetic powers...”

She tried again, and once more the ball fell to the floor.

“Kester, let’s go,” said Sapphire, and we began to walk away.

“Come back!” shouted the Psychic at our retreating forms. “Just give me a chance! I can do this!”

Sure you can, said Puck. Sure you can.

About half an hour later, we bumped into an old man, staring appreciatively up at the overpass.

“A road each for people and for Pokémon,” he said to us as we passed. “Perhaps that is right and fair.”

“Uh, whatever you say,” I replied, and walked on.

Three more hours passed. My feet weren’t aching any more than they had been this morning – they’d reached their maximum ache level sometime during the day before – but I was seriously tired now, and wanted to stop. Now.

“Sapphire,” I began, but she cut me off:

“I don’t want to hear it. No whining.”

Damn. She’s good.

“Huh.”

It was a quarter to eight in the evening, around the time when the long summer sunset had reached its climax and was starting to wane, when Sapphire next spoke.

“Look!”

There it was: a red-orange roof, the outermost Pokémon Centre of Mauville City; one Centre was always placed at the ends of Trainer paths, so as to let them rest and recover. An incredulous smile broke onto my face.

“My God,” I said, “I actually made it.” I looked at Sapphire. “I made it!”

“Well done,” she said, in her most patronising tones. “Now think of all the ten-year-olds that have done that before you.”

“To be fair, lass,” the hobo put in with a laugh, “most of them don’t have such a hard time as he did.”

Sapphire gave him a hard look.

“You’re really well-spoken for a tramp,” she said suspiciously.

“I used to be someone special.” The hobo seemed disinclined to reveal any more, and so we continued our walk in silence.

As we drew closer to the Centre, I saw we were approaching a rear entrance, built right up against the trees. The overpass arced down to the east, connecting to Mauville’s ring road somewhere, and I realised with dismay that that meant we had another walk tomorrow, to get to the city proper.

“Do you have a Trainer Card?” Sapphire asked of the hobo.

“Yeah,” he replied with a nod. “Yeah, I do.”

Mentally, I groaned; that meant we couldn’t just dump him outside and be shot of him.

That guy helped save you from the Aquas, Puck said. Have a little gratitude, Kester.

Inside, the Centre was like any other, except the desk was to one side rather than at the back – a necessary feature, to accommodate the back door. I hung back, while Sapphire and the hobo asked the receptionist about rooms.

“May I see your Trainer Cards, please?” she asked, and received them; upon seeing the hobo’s, she gave a long, relieved sigh. “Thank God you’re back,” she said. Turning to Sapphire, she went on: “I’m so thankful you picked him up and brought him back.”

“What?” Sapphire looked confused; I came over to investigate.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Don’t you know?” the receptionist asked. “This is Mr. Wattson. Mauville’s Gym Leader.”

“What?”

We stared at the hobo in a new light. If you cleaned the dirt off his face, tidied up his beard a little, and put him in a brown jumper instead of rags...

“Wahahahahaha!” he laughed, and I wondered why I hadn’t realised it before. Wattson was renowned for laughing – and that was exactly his signature laugh. “Thanks for bringing me home, kids!”

I can’t say I wasn’t expecting this, said Puck. It was pretty obvious. All that laughing, and those Electric-types.

“Why...?” I couldn’t quite say it; Sapphire did it for me.

“Why the hell would you dress up as a hobo and go out into the woods, then hitch a ride with us and annoy us all the way here?”

Wattson only laughed.

“I’ll call the Gym,” the receptionist said, searching for the number in an address-book. She leaned in towards us, and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper: “You see, in his old age, he’s... well, he’s not quite right in the head.”

“He’s senile,” clarified Sapphire, unimpressed.

“A... a little,” admitted the receptionist, starting to dial. “Every so often, he wanders off and pretends to be a hobo for a week or so. Someone always brings him back. In fact, there’s a reward for doing so.”

Wattson laughed loudly, and went to sit down on one of the sofas in the waiting area.

“Does he mind us talking about him like that?” I asked. The receptionist shook her head, and then exchanged words with someone at the Mauville Gym.

“Oh, hi, it’s Melanie here... yes, he’s here again... fifteen minutes? Thank you,” she said. “And there are two Trainers who brought him back... OK, one moment.” She cupped one hand over the receiver, and asked our names. “Kester Ruby, and Sapphire Birch,” she continued. “OK. OK. Buh-bye, then.” She put down the phone. “Go there tomorrow and ask for Shawn. He’ll direct you further.”

“What about Wattson?” I asked.

“They’re sending a taxi for him,” she explained. “Now, where were we? Oh yes, rooms. Can I see your Trainer Card, please?”

Oh. That’s bad.

“I... I’m not a Trainer,” I told her awkwardly. “I just travel with her.”

I indicated Sapphire.

Something flickered behind the receptionist’s eyes; I saw her put two and two together, and come up with five. Instinctively, I knew she had leaped to the wrong conclusion, though I didn’t know how wrong just yet.

“I see,” she said knowingly. “It’s like that, is it?”

“Er... what?” I said, at exactly the same time as Sapphire said:

“No!”

The receptionist smiled.

“All right, all right, I get it. Well, since you brought Wattson back, I guess I’ll make an exception to the rules. Just this once.” She reached behind her and picked up a card key from the rack behind her. “Room 74,” she said. “Ninth on the left, third floor.”

We headed for the lifts, and to a night that was scarcely less fractious than the day had been.

---

South of Mauville, in a clearing in the forest, a fifteen-year-old girl called Jaclyn was talking to her Pokémon.

“Why is it that it works now?” she complained.

The Abra shrugged, and watched the Poké Ball floating in a cloud of purple light between its mistress’s hands.



Note: Yeah, another Trainer from the real games again. They're so much fun to abuse like this. Plus, Wattson is as crazy as he looks after all. I mean, he had plans to convert Mauville... into electricity?

Cutlerine
February 24th, 2011, 05:52 AM
My apologies, bobandbill; I clean forgot to reply to your review. Thank you for pointing out spacing errors; they have now been removed, along with the superfluous 'they'.

Without further ado...

Chapter Twenty-One: Styrofoam Peanuts

On a black-velvet-topped cabinet, next to a black-duveted bed in a black-painted room somewhere in a black-painted hotel in a dark, disreputable district of Slateport, Darren Goodwin’s phone was ringing.

“Hello?” he said, waking swiftly and answering it. Then: “You’re joking, right?” There was a pause, and then he said: “Fine. I’ll... I’ll get right on it.”

He hung up, swore softly and slipped out of bed. Once up, he donned suit, lab coat and green overcoat, and left the black-walled hotel as silently as a ghost. His contacts had informed him that his targets were no longer in Slateport.

Twenty minutes later, the Goodwin was speeding north in the first-class carriage of the 1.13 for Mauville.

---

“I can’t believe that woman,” fumed Sapphire, as we strode down the third-floor corridor at Mauville’s Pokémon Centre.

“What was she talking about?” I asked. It seemed to me to be a girl thing – or at least, I couldn’t see it.

It’s not a girl thing. You’re just a moron.

“She thought that you and I...” Sapphire looked physically ill, as if about to throw up. “That we were...”

I got it then, and had to confess that it was the most repugnant thing I’d heard in a long time.

“No!” I cried. “Surely not?”

“You’re an insensitive buffoon for not getting it,” Sapphire said, “but yes. That was it.”

Would it really be so bad to be Sapphire’s lover? Puck asked.

Are you insane? I thought back angrily.

You’ve been listening to me for days now. What do you think?

As he so often did, he had given me something I couldn’t think of an answer to, so I ignored him, and turned to the door of room 74 instead. Sapphire swiped the card key through the lock, and we went in.

The first thing that either of us noticed was the conspicuously large double bed in the centre of the room, but we both pointedly ignored it. Sapphire sat down on it and sighed.

“OK, Kester, the usual choice. Cupboard or ball?”

Go for the cupboard, Puck said.

Why?

Look at it. It’s a walk-in one, and it’s huge.

I glanced at it surreptitiously. It seemed I was in luck tonight.

“Cupboard,” I said.

“OK,” Sapphire said. “Not the big one, though. You can have the other one.”

She pointed to a different one, which was actually a credenza; it was long and low, and although I could have fitted in it, it would have been much like spending the night in a coffin.

“Can I ask why?”

“I need the big cupboard.”

“Why? Everything you have is in the bag, and we’re leaving tomorrow morning anyway.”

“Because I refuse to sleep in that bed.”

“I was psyched up to argue, but I can actually kind of understand that,” I said.

I can’t. It’s probably a human thing, isn’t it?

I think so, I thought back.

Sapphire got up and went over to the door.

“Right,” she said, “come with me. Let’s see if they’re still serving food.”

They were – though they were about to close, and we ate quickly and under the irate gaze of a small crowd of disgruntled kitchen staff who wanted to throw us out and clear up. After that, Sapphire took Rono and Toro to the Centre’s doctors, and, leaving them in the care of a licensed Nurse Joy, came back up to the room, where she and I entered our respective cupboards, bade each other a curt goodnight and shut the doors.

---

The boy with jade eyes sat on the bench, and waited for the midnight bus to Lantzarine Street. Beside him, a brown-skinned Pokémon crouched on the wooden slats of the seat, armoured head lowered against the drizzle. On his other side, a plump man in a blue shirt and sunglasses was reading a newspaper.

“Scott,” said the boy, “where is this place, exactly?”

“Southeast,” replied the plump man. “Out to sea, on an artificial island. Why?”

“Just curious.”

The boy looked to his right, and caught a fistful of raindrops in one hand.

“When’s our flight?”

“Tomorrow, at twelve.”

“Cancel it and book a different one.”

Scott looked up from his paper, the lenses of his sunglasses flashing in the streetlight.

“What?”

“There’s something here,” the boy said. “Something happening. I want to see it first.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s someone here I have to fight.”

Despite Scott’s efforts to make him talk, that was all he would say; eventually, the man gave up, and went back to his paper.

The boy with jade eyes smiled to himself, and watched the rain splash into the puddles on the road.

---

At about ten o’clock the next morning, I rolled sleepily out of the credenza, fell a foot onto the floor and woke up with a jolt.

“Ugh,” I mumbled, staring at the carpet. “What was that?”

Then I remembered where I was, and got slowly to my feet.

Good morning, Dracula, said Puck brightly. How was your coffin?

“Shut up,” I said, heading to the bathroom. “You know I can’t take this first thing in the morning.”

Exhausted by the effort of this long sentence, I almost gave up halfway to the door; with a remarkable exertion of willpower, I dragged myself through, shut the door, and was immediately startled into full wakefulness by my reflection in the mirror.

Wow. Puck gave a low whistle. That eye looks nasty.

Yesterday, the area around my eye had been puffy, tender and bruised; today, the colours had deepened to a rich violet-black, shot through with red-yellow highlights. It actually hurt less, and the swelling had gone down a bit – but it looked incredible. I looked like I’d been set upon by a thug with a lead pipe.

That guy didn’t need a pipe, said Puck darkly. He was a living weapon in himself.

“Thanks for that,” I muttered, and started undressing.

After an extended and long-overdue shower, I emerged into the bedroom to find Sapphire up and considerably more awake than I had been. She had spread a map of Mauville out on the table, and was kneeling next to it with a pencil in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked.

“I’ve already been to breakfast,” she replied. “And I brought some back with me.”

“Any for me?” I asked hopefully.

“Get your own. Not now!” she added, as I headed for the door. “First, come here and look at this.”

Sighing, I sat down next to her, and looked dutifully at the map.

“What am I meant to see?”

“The Spectroscopic Fancy Company HQ, right here.” She jabbed at a small spot on the map, on a road named ‘Zinfandel Avenue’. “That’s where we’re headed today. After going to the Gym, of course.”

“OK,” I said. “Can I have breakfast now?”

Sapphire glanced at the wall clock.

“You have fifteen minutes,” she said, and I left the room at a sprint.

---

Half an hour later, the bus from the Centre pulled up in Mauville Central Depot; public transport was a welcome luxury after so much walking, and both Sapphire and I had agreed we ought to take it rather than walk. Twenty minutes after that, we arrived at the Gym, which was a massive concrete structure that resembled the love child of an electrical substation and a disused factory: its walls were blank and grey, and several of the windows on its upper floors were broken and boarded up; a complex series of wires swooped from pylon to pylon around the roof and perimeter, and some sort of machinery connected to a pair of smokestacks projected from one corner. The whole thing was surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with signs hung from it at intervals; these proclaimed it to be electrified, and also had a small and unpleasantly detailed picture of someone in intense pain being electrocuted.

“Charming place,” I said, eyeing the signs with unease. “How do we get in?”

“Not sure,” Sapphire replied. “Wait. Is that a gate?”

It was, but it too was electrified, and locked anyway.

“Bang on the gate and call for help,” Sapphire ordered.

I stared at her as if she were insane.

“Are you crazy? No way!”

It won’t hurt. You can’t be electrocuted with me in you. I’ll absorb it all and draw power from it. Delicious power.

“Go on,” said Sapphire. “You’re an Electric-type. It won’t hurt.”

I took a deep breath, then grabbed hold of the fence and rattled it; to my intense relief, I felt nothing at all.

“Hey!” I called. “Is this place open?”

A door on the Gym’s façade swung open, and a tall, blonde man ambled out. A guitar hung from its strap around his neck, and his skinny chest was bare. He spotted us, and walked over slowly.

“Hey,” he said. “That’s pretty brave, touching the fence.”

“It didn’t hurt anyway,” I told him. “Can we come in?”

“Sure,” he replied. “You passed the test, after all.”

“What test?” Sapphire asked, as he fumbled with a ring of keys.

“The fence isn’t electric,” he answered, pulling out the right one and unlocking the gate. He hauled on it, and it creaked open with a whine of protest. “It’s just a test of courage.”

“A test of courage, eh?” I remarked, coming in. “That’s surprisingly clever for Wattson. From what I saw of him, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”

And he was looking kind of dumb, with a finger and a thumb in the shape of an ‘L’ on his forehead, added Puck. It was probably meant to be a joke, but as usual I didn’t get it.

The guitarist paused, then leaned close.

“Between you and me,” he said, “that’s just the spin we’re putting on it. Wattson’s been a bit crazy for years now, especially about hobos and electric fences. We’ve had to tell him we’ve electrified the border fence to keep him happy. There are real ones, though – but they’re not strong enough to kill you. You need to get past them if you’re here to challenge him.”

“Very interesting,” said Sapphire, “but we’re not here to challenge him. We’re here to speak to someone called Shawn about claiming the reward for returning him to Mauville.”

The guitarist grinned.

“Hey, that’d be me!” he exclaimed. “I’m the second-in-command here, which means I do everything and Wattson sits around laughing like a madman. You must be Sapphire and Kester, right?” We nodded. “Cool names,” Shawn went on, locking the gate and walking us over to the Gym. “Never come across them before. Which one of you is which?”

“I’m Sapphire, he’s Kester,” Sapphire told him.

“Coolio,” said Shawn. “Well, come on in.”

He flicked the strings of his guitar absently, and ushered us into a grim grey corridor that looked like it had been borrowed from a concentration camp; it terminated in a solid steel door with a tiny hatch in it, through which I got a glimpse of a massive hall painted a lurid shade of yellow.

“That’s the proper Gym area,” Shawn said, pointing at it, “but we’re going in here.”
We stopped at a different door, set into the side of the corridor, and passed through into a small, cramped office; it contained roughly half a forest’s worth of stacked paperwork and files, and buried somewhere in the middle of it all was a desk with a computer on it.

“Sorry about the mess,” Shawn apologised, “but with great Gyms come great responsibility, y’know?” He waded through papers over to the desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a little enamel badge, circular, with a projection on either side. “Catch!” He flipped it across the room, and Sapphire caught it in both hands.

“A Dynamo Badge?” she asked, genuinely shocked. “But... I can’t accept this! I haven’t beaten Wattson!”

Shawn shrugged.

“I’ve got some TMs if you want those instead,” he said. “Wattson usually gives them to people who win the tournaments, but we haven’t had one of those since he went mad. There’s some Shock Wave here, and a couple of Charge Beam. Want one?”

Take Charge Beam, Kester, Puck recommended. We learn Shock Wave naturally, but it’s a hard move to use right, and if you struggled with Double Team I don’t think you’ll get it right.

“Can I have a Charge Beam TM, please?” I asked, and a box flew through the air; I snatched it up one-handed, and put it in my pocket to look at later.

“Sapphire?” asked Shawn. “What do you want?”

Sapphire looked from the badge in her hand to Shawn, and then gave it back to him.

“I’m going to come back later,” she said, “and I’ll get that badge legally, thanks.”

The guitarist shrugged.

“Whatever you want.”

He showed us out, and waved a cheery goodbye as he locked the gates again.

“He was nice,” I commented as we started walking again. “Pretty normal, all things considered.”

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire. “Are you going to use that TM, then?”

I pulled it out of my pocket and looked at it. The label read: POWER: MEDIUM. MAY RAISE POWER OF USER’S SPECIAL ATTACKS UPON USE.

“It’s a good move,” Sapphire continued. “You made the right choice for once. The more you use it, the more powerful your special attacks become.”

“Special attacks...?”

Sapphire sighed and rolled her eyes.

“Physical attacks are... well physical in nature, like punching moves or hitting someone with rocks. Special attacks are non-physical, like psychic attacks or shooting thunderbolts. Left here, it’s only another five blocks to Spectroscopic Fancy.”

“How do you use a TM?” I asked as we crossed the road.

“We need to go to the Pokémon Centre to do that,” Sapphire said. “I don’t have a TM Case. You put the disc into a slot in the case, you see, and follow the on-screen instructions. Or you can do it via Pokémon Center PC, because those have TM disk drives.”

“Oh. OK.”

We walked on for a few minutes, watching the buildings gradually grow in height as we neared the city centre. Then:

“Sapphire, what are we doing when we get to this place?”

“We’re just going to ask when the SuperBlast Module gets there, and what it is,” she said.

“And they’re going to tell us? Just like that?”

“They might,” argued Sapphire. “It’s worth a try, isn’t it?”

“I suppose,” I said, but I wasn’t convinced.

The Spectroscopic Fancy building was one of approximately fifty nondescript grey towers that lined Zinfandel Avenue; tall, broad and inelegant, it looked like someone had built it before realising exactly what an eyesore they were making.

“Here we are,” Sapphire said, glancing up at its somewhat overbearing façade. “Let’s go.”

There were automatic doors, which was good since I preferred them to revolving ones, and once these were navigated I found myself in a large, white-floored room decorated with a large piece of twisted copper hanging from the ceiling. Doubtless this was modern art, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell if there was any merit in it.

I thought you had Taste lessons? said Puck.

Only until last year, I replied. We never got as far as modern art. That’s pretty advanced Taste.

You had to take it to A-Level, I presume?

I guessed A-Level was the British equivalent of our Upper Qualification.

I suppose.

“Hi,” said Sapphire brightly, striding up to the receptionist and smiling broadly at him. “Can I ask who I would speak to if I wanted to find out about a Y-38P SuperBlast Module?”

The receptionist sighed and uttered a long, drawn-out noise of exasperation.

“I keep telling you kids, it’s coming on Thursday, and we’ll deliver it on Friday. Now clear off.”

“Huh?” Sapphire and I stared at him, nonplussed.

“I’ve told you already,” he snapped. “Now get out!”

Mildly intimidated by the ferocious aspect of his face, we left the building, somewhat confused.

Well, that was unexpected, Puck said. Any explanations?

“Puck wants to know – and I would, too – if you have any idea what that was about,” I said to Sapphire.

“Well... obviously, several other kids have been asking about the Module,” she said. “Do you think that means that Felicity has been here?”

I shook my head.

“She left when she did, right? Besides, I’m sure she wouldn’t have asked without that gun to reinforce the point.”

“Fair point.”

I’d actually be more concerned about this delivery that’s taking place, Puck said. They said that after they received it, they’d deliver it. What does that mean?

I relayed his words to Sapphire, who nodded appreciatively.

“You’re right,” she said. “Who are Spectroscopic Fancy going to deliver it to? That’s what we want to find out.”

“How?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she admitted grudgingly. “I can’t think of a way.”

“So we should just wait until Thursday, I guess,” I said. “Er, what day is it today?”

I’d lost track since coming with Sapphire; it just didn’t seem to matter much anymore.

“Sunday,” she replied. “Five days to go. Then we’ll turn up as it’s delivered, find out what it is, and stop the Teams from getting hold of it.”

“What do we do during those five days?” I asked.

Sapphire smiled.

“Remember what I told Shawn? That I’d be back to get the Badge legitimately?”

I raised an eyebrow.

“You’re going to take on Wattson?”

“I am a Trainer,” Sapphire said. “This is what Trainers do. I’m going to train at the Gym, and then challenge Wattson.”

“Fine, fine,” I replied. “Do I have to come?”

“No,” she answered. “You’re an Electric-type, you can’t really train effectively at an Electric Gym. Go and... I don’t know, amuse yourself somehow. Meet me back at the Gym at seven, OK?”

“Can I have some money?”

“Yes, but only if you promise to buy me some more Potions and stuff. Puck will know what to get, right?”

Yeah, you can trust me.

“He says yes, you can trust him.”

“Good. I’ll want status healers, too, but no balls. Hang on, I’ll need to get some money out.”

We found an ATM and soon the size of our available funds was larger by sixty thousand dollars. I wanted to get a glimpse of how much money Sapphire had in her bank account, but she moved in front of the screen so I couldn’t see. It was almost certainly some insane amount that I could only dream of.

Her dad’s the leading Pokémon researcher in Hoenn, Puck agreed, so she’s going to be ridiculously rich.

“OK,” said Sapphire, “see you later.”

With that, she vanished down the street, heading back for the Gym. I watched her go, then spoke to Puck.

“So, what do people do for fun in Mauville?”

We’ll start by buying the Potions, Puck said. They’re more expensive than you think – after you buy them, you won’t have nearly as much money left.

It felt good, walking down the street on my own with sixty thousand Pokédollars in my pocket; I felt free, as if there was no such person as Sapphire, and I was myself again, the old Kester Ruby of Rustboro rather than a weird, human-shaped Rotom in the thrall of a feisty travelling Trainer.

Look, a Pokémon Mart!

I looked as instructed, and found that Puck was right: there was the blue roof and rotating sign of the regulation Pokémon Mart, exactly the same size and shape as every other Mart in the country, and probably the world. There was a notice in the window, informing us that there were currently Eggs for sale, but that there was a limited stock, and it would be advisable to buy them now.

Let’s go, Kester, Puck said, and I’ll tell you what we need to get.

On the inside, the store was surprisingly large, stuffed to the brim with racks and shelves containing every conceivable aid to Pokémon keeping and training in existence; if I looked left, there were piles of magazines, from the famous Pokémon Weekly to the somewhat strange Rock Breeder Gazette; if I looked right, there were stacks of Potions of every colour and strength, along with a mass of items with abstruse functions unknown to me; above me, long strings of Poké Balls in various colours hung from the ceiling like bunches of onions; and in front of me, half-hidden behind a display exhorting the benefits of feeding your Pokémon Devo Flakes, was the clerk, sitting behind a glass counter full of yet more merchandise and reading a copy of Bug Maniac magazine. There were about five other people moving around the store, examining the extensive range of wares on offer.

When you’re done gawping, Puck said, go over there and pick up ten Potions, five Super Potions and two Full Restores.

I looked around for anything that resembled a Potion, found them in the next aisle and pondered how to pick ten up in one go; I went back to the front of the shop, got a shopping basket and swept them in.

“Which ones are Super Potions?” I said under my breath.

Red, with orange lids.

I put five of them in the basket and asked the same about Full Restores.

They’re the square green ones that look like they could fit into a mad scientist’s genetic engineering machine... yes, those ones. Two should do it. Right, now go over there, to that box, and get a packet of Revives. Yeah, a five-pack should do it. OK, look for round bottles with long nozzles now. Status healers.

On Puck’s recommendation, I got seven each of Parlyz Heal, Awakening, Antidote, Burn Heal and Ice Heal; the basket was now rather heavy, and I was beginning to wonder how much this was going to cost.

“Twenty-seven thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars, please*,” said the clerk, sounding bored.

I gaped, but Puck warned me not to comment.

Kester, don’t make a scene. It’s not that much money, really. And we got a discount on the Revives, for buying the packet.

Gloomily, I forked over the money, and received a weighty plastic bag for my troubles. I walked out of the shop to find it was starting to drizzle again, like it had been during the night; I also faced the realisation that I was going to have to carry this bag around all day. I had no idea how Trainers managed to do it.

Don’t complain, Puck told me, it’ll be all right.

“I’ve only got thirty thousand dollars left, it’s raining and I’ve got a very heavy bag to carry,” I said. “I don’t see how this is all right.”

In some countries, thirty thousand Pokédollars is a lot of money, Puck said mildly. You could have a really nice meal out in England with that. Y’know, if you converted it to pounds first. Your currency’s ridiculously strong, considering the decrepitude of the Hoennian economy. I mean, your inflation rate’s amazingly low, isn’t it?

“I don’t know. Ask an economist.”

I walked up the street in the rain, the handles of the carrier bag turning into wires and slicing through the palms of my hand in that unexpectedly agonising way that they do after the first five minutes.

Oh, Uxie’s eyes, said Puck suddenly. She’s here.

“Who’s here?” I asked, but I had already seen her by that time. It was Felicity, wearing the same strange outfit that she had been when I met her in Slateport, and she was coming towards me, working her way purposefully through the crowd. I swore and turned to get away, but she was already right behind me, grabbing my shoulder and stopping me dead.

“Relax, Kester,” she said, “I’m not working for the Aquas right now.” She turned me around to face her. “I’ve got today off,” she continued matter-of-factly, “because of the unexpected resistance you two and that hobo managed to put up. They’ve sent someone down to find Barry – that’s the big idiot – and told me to just keep an eye out for you.”

“What do you want?” I asked warily. I was ready to drop the bag, ThunderShock her and run if it came to it.

“Remember I said we needed to talk?” she asked. I nodded. “Now’s our chance. Come on. You’re buying me lunch.”

Felicity took hold of my hand to stop me running off and led me away down the street. It was all very sudden, and, disarmed by her apparent lack of hostility (and also by the fact that she was actually holding my hand) I did very little to stop her.

I hope you trust her, said Puck, bringing me back to reality with a jolt, because I think you just scored a date.


*Assuming the in-game Pokédollar is of an equivalent value to the Japanese yen, the Trainer supplies cost £202.80, or US$329.49. Huh. Seems being a Trainer is a rich kid’s game. Or maybe everything’s more expensive in Hoenn. Yeah, that’d make sense, because otherwise the economy and relative pricing is not going to work at all in this story.

nokyo-chan
February 24th, 2011, 08:00 AM
Wow, this story is going really well. I noticed that you said something about how it only takes you an hour to fire out a chapter; apart from being extremely jealous of your awesome ability, I'm impressed - not many people can do that and achieve an extremely in-depth plot like you have here.

I noticed one mistake, and I think I called you out on it (for lack of a better phrase =/) earlier, but I wanted to point it out to you again just in case:

Felicity made a face, then span around and grabbed Sapphire by the neck,

The word you need here is "spun". "Span" means to measure.

And by the way, your references are hilarious, not to mention skillful. I mean, a Friday the 13th and a Rocky reference in two paragraphs? Only a pro could pull something like that off.

I've gathered several guesses as to what Pokémon our friend Felicity could have in her head, but rather than blurt them out all over the thread and look stupid if I happen to not have a single one right, I'll just wait (rather impatiently) for the story to reveal it.

Cutlerine
February 24th, 2011, 10:08 AM
nokyo-chan, I think you're probably right when it comes to what Pokémon Felicity has in her head. It isn't that hard to guess. However, the interesting part is what's happening to it, and that's where the fun is. For me, anyway. Not, unfortunately, for poor Felicity.

Oh yes, and both 'spun' and 'span' are, in fact, acceptable preterite forms of the verb 'spin'. I kept meaning to look that up since the last time you mentioned it, and I finally did. So... yeah. That confusion's cleared up now.

And it's more like two hours per chapter, to be honest. It depends how deep into the writing zone I get, and how much I end up going back and changing. Also, being a touch-typist is extremely helpful.

JX Valentine
February 24th, 2011, 02:49 PM
I've been eying this story for weeks to be honest, but I never really got a chance to do much more than skim up until this point. It might take me awhile to get through all twenty-one chapters (well, twenty besides the one I'm about to review), but I can assure you right now that I will definitely be back.

Right off the bat, I can tell this is an awesome story. You have a pretty dynamic opening. The description is vivid enough to submerge us in a mental image right away, and something actually happens. As a reader, I actually want to know what this fuzzy ball of orange light is doing, who's chasing it (assuming of course that the Mightyena isn't wild), and why it's on the run.

Then, you introduce us to the second main character, and you do it in probably the most amusing way I've ever seen. Why, yes, I would like to watch my characters talk to their biological clocks and subsequently slam into a parked car like the derp he probably is get screwed over by fate. But seriously, Kester comes off as a pretty ordinary kind of kid – the kind who wants to just wake up, go to school, go home, and sleep instead of aspire to do something else with his life. Of course, I'm making an assumption without giving the second chapter or beyond a good look-through, but what I'm trying to say is this character is refreshingly perfectly ordinary. Not a trainer. Doesn't want to be a trainer. Has no intention of jumping at the call of destiny. Or he seems like it at this point, given his understandable flipping out over Puck.

And Puck. I always love Pokémon with sarcastic senses of humor, and Puck has that English dry wit about him. He's got a sense of pride about being a ghost, and although he's not outright making fun of Kester's every move, it's easy to tell Puck seems to be the smarter, wittier of the two – or at least he has a better handle on the situation on a practical level. In terms of adjusting to living in the brain of a human, not so much. (That is, I'm thoroughly enjoying how completely oblivious he is to the fact that Kester looks like he's talking to himself when addressing Puck and that this is considered all kinds of crazy in the human world.) Also? The entire scene where Kester wakes up after Puck screws around with his brain was kinda priceless.

So, yes. Watching these two interact looks like it's going to make this story incredibly interesting. It already has for the first chapter. And might I add that the reactions they had towards each other was pretty well done? It's rather nice to see a character freaking out that much over the idea of sharing a body with a Pokémon. The scene in the hospital was rather amusing in itself, in part because Kester's thought processes seemed to have shut down, resulting in the closest Puck will probably ever get to quoting Pulp Fiction. (I'm pretty sure comparing Puck to Samuel L. Jackson makes me a terrible person who needs to stop watching YouTube while writing reviews.)

In short, it was a pretty good read for a first chapter. It has a good balance of action and humor, combined with a plot that actually seems rather interesting. As a final note, I'd like to say I'm equally amused by how self-aware this seems to be. Looking at the PLOT Device in particular here. It almost feels like, thanks to that and the general tone of the story, that I'm looking at what will be a parade of subtle deconstructions – as in, something that's fully aware of any clichés it brings up but knows where to put that lampshade about them. With that in mind, I'll be back later to get through the other chapters.

bobandbill
February 24th, 2011, 05:27 PM
Ha, I quite liked the beginning scene of chapter 20 what with the Sableye finally doing something useful, and the hobo being all badass along with the use of Barrier as well (and then Barry breaking it, which amusingly happened in a fic of mine too only different person and move). I did at that point guess that the hobo was Wattson given the electric Pokemon he used so it was nice to see I was right about that. =)

Sapphire... seems to be sinking ever so slowly towards being even more unlikable given her constant treatment of Kester - not that it's making her a bad character but she's certainly making Kester's complaints about her even more and more warrented by the chapter - one certainly feels for him, and perhaps Puck is as well, or so I feel. I wonder what will come about of the lunch he'll have with Felicity... as a beside I also liked the guitarist character - he had a neat personality and manner of speech even as a minor character, so I wonder if we'll see him again (maybe when/if Sapphire takes on Wattson...). And hurrah for a Rocky reference complete with music renditions, among others. XD

I somehow feel Darren found out Kester and Sapphire weren't in Slateport anymore because they had 'returned' Watson, as a beside... It'll be interesting to see when he'll find them.

That was when he leaped out onto Kester’s chest, and when his eyes began to glow.
The spell of his appearance was broken; the air trembled around him like a heat haze, and, wary for real this time, Felicity and her partner backed away. The glow grew brighter and brighter, a burning red beacon that obscured entirely the little gremlin, and they turned to run—
Needs a touch more (or less?) spacing imo between the first and second line.
Sapphire immediately whirled, trying to grab her, but the other girl was fast, far faster even than her, and she melted away beneath her fingers like fairy gold at dawn, or mist on the breeze.This description actually felt a bit too wordy for my liking given the situation - it felt unnecessary and slowed down the pacing a bit too much given Sapphire had been held at gunpoint only a moment ago - at least I suggest removing one although to be honest either one still feels out of place for me. 'even' also sounds a bit unnecessary as without it it already tells us that Felicity is fast and faster than her.
It was made of stainless steel, and much like the back entrance to a dragon’s lair, in that it was wide enough for three to walk abreast. It was also much, much longer than I would have thought possible,That phrase seemed to crop up a bit too often in those two sentences and hence sounded a bit too repetitive - maybe remove one in favour for something else?
I repeated my little Astonish charade, and Holly’s ears fountained blood; it dropped to the ground and lay there, motionless.The fact the Abra's ears fountained blood seemed a little over-the-top to me from only two Astonishes (even if they are super effective against a rather frail Pokemon).
“Come back!” shouted the Psychic at our retreating forms. “Just give me a chance! I can do this!”Given how convincing the Psychic had been to them (btw I was amused she got the trick working at the end of the chapter after they left), maybe having it as "...shouted the 'Psychic' at our..." might be an idea for very minor added amusement? A suggestion I suppose.
About half an hour later, we bumped into an old man, staring appreciatively up at the overpass.

“A road each for people and for Pokémon,” he said to us as we passed. “Perhaps that is right and fair.”

“Uh, whatever you say,” I replied, and walked on.This inclusion of the NPC amused...however the manner in which he appeared and was left seemed far too abrupt to me, and made it feel like it had been somewhat tacked on - the chapter would feel better with it either removed or edited to flow in more with the story's progression (which'd only take a bit more addition imo).
I can’t say I wasn’t expecting this, said Puck. It was pretty obvious. All that laughing, and those Electric-types.Take Charge Beam, Kester, Puck recommended.
We’ll start by buying the Potions, Puck said. They’re more expensive than you think – after you buy them, you won’t have nearly as much money left.Some cases where the italicising wasn't done with Puck's speech (with the 2nd one it seems odd to me that 'Kester' wasn't italic'd).

Keep it up, oh speedy updater. =p

Mizan de la Plume Kuro
February 24th, 2011, 07:01 PM
Annyeonghaseyo

And I’m back for more, as I said I would be.

I’ve got to say that I’m really enjoying the story so far, and there’s really not much I could point out plot-wise which I would necessarily deem a serious flaw in logic or characterization. Maybe a few small bits and pieces I think would have been better another way, but nothing major.

Firstly, and this, I must stress, is appraisal with slight critique sprinkled throughout, the entire scene with Natalie and how you handled her character and Kester’s handling of the situation was done well, but I couldn’t help but feel it to be a bit of an anti-climax. I’m sure you must have had something planned if she indeed had her eyes glued shut, but I’m standing by my previous statement that it would have been too entirely vicious, even for Sapphire. Anyway, the entire way she acted, all nice and such, felt just kind of…empty, anti-climactic as I’ve said, and I was surprised at how little conflict you had throughout the scene. In fact, it felt as though she was just an info-dump at how nice she was acting. I’m sure she would want to make up for punching him and all, but really, giving him all the information without some form of resistance, kind of like those naïve rich girls who let the spies in the house, was just overdoing it. But still, that’s my opinion and it was really unexpected. Maybe it was there to give a break to Kester, but still… empty.

Besides that, the next few scenes were also quite entertaining, comedy asides (le gasp). The entire sequence of events from Rayquaza’s death to Sapphire’s mourning was done perfectly and I could really feel for her character you know? They way you portrayed her sobbing in bed silently to her sudden transition into a character with a thirst for vengeance was all too perfect, and exactly what I’d imagine a character like her to be doing. In short, you’re almost flawless in her characterization, save for her treatment of non-Pokémon characters I mean. I get that she’s mean, but she just seems a bit too anti-social. I attribute that to the fact that she rarely spends time around the normal people and she’s a bit of a deadpan snarker, always having to explain the oddities of a trainer’s life to Kester while experiencing it firsthand. It’s basically a dead-end for her, having to act as a rational mouthpiece for the author, and it’s a shame to see such a well-developed character being used solely for that. In fact, look at it this way because I have some form of proof. The two times when Sapphire was in a situation that was neither absurd, nor involved any form of exaggeration, her meeting with Steven and her moment of mourning, was when she was at her best, and were really my favourite parts, in terms of character, throughout the entire fic. Real character-defining moments if you catch my drift. So yes, sorry for sticking too much on Sapphire, but she really is my favourite character in this story despite only being a bit of a secondary protagonist, or in this case, foil.

Anyway, I’m going to give credit where credit is due and say that everything besides that was handled hilariously, now that I’m focusing more on the comedic aspect. The entire Magma existential crisis to Barry’s awkward drunken episode was superbly funny. I’m quite partial to Barry’s drunkenness, and also Fabien getting a grip on the situation by saying “I am the main character,” in that self-help book tone was priceless. Quite possibly one of my favourite quotes besides the shotgun exchange from earlier. Also, the entire double-team episode had me figuratively in stitches. I’m glad that I do these reviews in the dark of night.

Final note:
Wasn’t there a Circle of Hell for cowards? Puck asked. The sixth one? Oh. Wait. That was heretics. Er, never mind.You’re referencing Alghieri? I’m impressed. I’ve actually only read up till Inferno, so tell me, does Purgatorio actually have a place for cowards? Because cowardice almost seems like a cardinal sin.

So yes, anyway, thanks for making my day. Truly.


Looking forward to see how Kester's date turns out.

Cutlerine
February 25th, 2011, 01:59 PM
Thank you all for your kind reviews. I have taken on board your criticisms, fixed several little things you pointed out, and, in response to your views on Sapphire, moved the important part concerning her forwards slightly in the story. Hopefully, it should come up in a few chapters, and we ought to see a positive improvement from then on.

I'm now going to post today's chapter before I completely ruin the story for everyone.

Chapter Twenty-two: Blintzkrieg

Of all the bars in all the world, why’d you have to walk into a pancake restaurant? Puck complained. How are pancakes romantic? Come to think of it, how can you even have a restaurant based entirely around pancakes?

Quiet, you, I thought back. Be a silent observer for once.

Neither Felicity nor I had known any of Mauville’s eateries, and we had basically wandered around until stumbling across one that wasn’t too expensive and seemed nice. Blintzkrieg, despite the alarming name, was a light, airy café on a street corner; the day was a warm one, and it would have been nice to sit outside and eat, but the rain during the night had wet the chairs, and so we were forced to take up a table on the inside, near the window for the sun.

“This is odd,” said Felicity. “I didn’t know restaurants like this existed.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Weird. Well, it’ll be an experience, if nothing else.”

That’s it, lure her in with small-talk, Puck whispered. With this sort of attitude, you’ll soon be mati—

This is not a date! I hissed back furiously. Shut up!

“Can I get you any drinks?” asked a rather smiley waitress, coming over with a notebook and pen.

Felicity scanned the menu for a moment.

“Green tea, please,” she said.

“OK, one green tea” – here, the waitress made a scribble on her pad in the alphabet that only restaurant staff can read – “and for you, sir?”

“Er, Coke please,” I replied.

“OK. Are you ready to order or...?”

“Can you give us a few more minutes?”

“Certainly.” The waitress smiled broadly and left.

By the many hands of Arceus, said Puck floridly, that was the most forced smile I’ve ever seen. Does she have drawing pins in her shoes or something?

“What do you want?” I asked Felicity. I was trying hard not to stare at her, but it was proving difficult. She was a powerful eye-magnet, drawing my gaze with her damnable excess of beauty.

You say this isn’t a date, Puck said, but your thoughts seem to suggest otherwise.

Stop looking at those!

If you don’t like me listening in, you should think quieter.

“This is a pancake restaurant,” Felicity said, interrupting our silent quarrel, “so I think we should have the Blintzkrieg.”

I looked at the menu. The Blintzkrieg was a platter of fifty-seven different types of pancake, and the dish from which the restaurant drew its name; it was available in sizes that two, four or eight could share, or, if you were greedy, there was a slightly smaller version of it for the lone diner. It was also the most expensive thing on the menu, at $15,000 for the two-person version.

“Um... yeah, I suppose,” I said, attempting an enthusiastic tone.

Oh, come on, Puck said. How gloomy do you sound? It’s not even your money. Besides, this is how a date works: you treat the girl. Or the sexless cloud of plasma that identifies as female, if you’re a Rotom, but it’s the same principle.

“What was it you wanted to talk about?” I asked Felicity, putting down the menu and leaning on the table. I was trying to convey a businesslike attitude, but I got the distinct feeling I was failing. She opened her mouth to reply, but just then the waitress returned with our drinks; we ordered the Blintzkrieg, and she left to go and see about its creation.

“I – I’m not sure where to start,” Felicity said, once she’d gone. A faintly puzzled expression flitted across her face. I remember noticing at that point that she still hadn’t removed her ever-present grey earpiece; in fact, I could, if I listened hard, hear a faint, fast-paced drumbeat coming from it. “Let me think a moment...” She took a draught of her tea, and I noticed her hands were shaking slightly.

She’s afraid, said Puck, suddenly serious. Someone will find out and punish her for this, or at least she fears so. Not the Aquas; she’s clearly not just an Aqua girl. Something’s up here, Kester, and believe me, it’s bigger than any Y-38P SuperBlast Module.

“Um... There’s a man,” Felicity began.

“Go on,” I encouraged.

“Please don’t interrupt.”

“Sorry.”

“Just stop talking.” Felicity took off her sunglasses, and I flinched slightly. She looked ill – beautiful, but very, very ill. The whites of her eyes were severely jaundiced, and her eyes themselves were a shade of blue that didn’t look natural. Dark circles ringed each eye, but they weren’t the bags of tiredness you might ordinarily see; they were actual bands of discoloured purplish flesh.

“Oh my God,” I whispered, putting one hand to my mouth. “Um – sorry.” I took it away again hurriedly.

“It’s all right,” Felicity replied. “I know it’s horrible.”

“But... how did this happen?” I asked. “You looked fine when you, er, tried to kill us at Birch’s lab.”

Felicity looked faintly sheepish, and the surreality of the situation hit home: here I was, having lunch with a girl who less than a week ago had attempted to kill me, and who had tried to kidnap me yesterday.

“That’s true,” she said. “Like I said, there’s a man. I don’t know his name, but he calls himself Zero.”

Zero? Anyone else smell melodrama?

“Zero?” I asked.

“Yes. Zero. He... actually, I don’t know what he’s trying to do.” Felicity looked frustrated. “But he has some plan laid out, something that involves both Team Aqua and Team Magma, and you as well.”

“Me?” I indicated myself in the way you do when people unexpectedly mention you, just in case they’re mistaken.

“Yes, you.” Felicity’s words were spilling quickly out of her mouth now, uncontrollably; it was as if some dam within her had burst, and there was no stopping the wave that followed. “I don’t know how, but I know that somehow he organised the insertion of that Rotom into your head. I know that Zero has planned this out in more detail than you could ever imagine – and that everything he plans happens exactly as he intended it. It’s like chess, where the grandmasters can think several moves ahead. He’s doing the same thing, only with real life. Whatever he’s trying to do, he’s incredibly good at it. I’m his mole within Team Aqua, and I’m certain you were meant to go to Team Magma. That was the only mistake he made. Somehow, you ended up on your own.”

“Wait, slow down,” I said, head starting to spin. “This is all his fault? All of this conflict over the goods and everything?”

“Yes. All of it,” confirmed Felicity.

Whew. This is too heavy for a first date. Maybe you ought to save this for another time.

Puck, shut up!

“Zero is setting the Magmas and the Aquas against each other,” Felicity continued. “I know that much. But I don’t know why, or exactly how he’s manipulating the Magmas right now.”

“And this guy planned to put Puck in my head?” Whoever this Zero was, I wanted to give him a piece of my mind. The Rotom had been the catalyst for the whole series of unfortunate events that had consumed my life over the last week.

It’s six days, actually, Puck corrected, sounding offended, and these events aren’t that unfortunate, really. We could be orphans being pursued by an evil acting troupe. Now that would lead to a series of unfortunate events.

“Yes,” Felicity replied. “He planned all of this. The only thing that he got wrong was that Team Magma failed to capture you. But his plan has recovered, and I don’t think he needs you with him.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked abruptly. “You’re working with him, aren’t you?”

Felicity pointed to her eyes.

“I’m working for him,” she told me. “Not with him. I have no choice.”

“He did that?”

“He... poisoned me,” Felicity said hesitantly. Her yellow eyes were shiny, as if she were on the verge of tears. “I’ll die unless he chooses to heal me,” she said, and the words sounded like they were forced through one of those lumps of clotted emotion that sometimes congests the throat. “He said he would – he said he would do that if I helped him.”

I stared, not knowing what to say. Team Magma, Team Aqua, Sapphire, Devon; I’d sampled many flavours of evil over the last week, but nothing to rival this one. I couldn’t quite grasp that this was real life; it felt like a scene from a film, or a play. This did not really happen – it could not really happen. People like Zero, who enslaved people and took their own lives hostage, just couldn’t exist.

A tear traced a silver line down Felicity’s cheek.

Kester, said Puck despairingly. There’s something seriously wrong with your dating technique if you make the girl cry.

Can’t you ever be serious? I thought angrily, at the same time as asking Felicity the question that only idiots ask of those who need consolation: “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” she said hurriedly, wiping it away and forcing her voice back to normal. “I’m fine.” She glanced over one shoulder, saw the waitress returning and put her sunglasses back on.

The Blintzkrieg was truly vast. When the waitress put it down, she gave a sigh of relief, and I swear the table groaned slightly beneath its weight. Fifty-seven types of pancake is a lot however you look at it, and when they’re all on one plate it’s the sort of sight that makes your jaw drop and your brain explode.

That is a lot of pancake, Puck said in tones of awe. How very fattening, and how singularly unromantic. Mind you, I hate human food anyway. Give me a nice car battery to suck on, that’s what I say.

“Wow,” said Felicity, staring at the plate. “I... fifty-seven pancakes is a lot more than I thought.” She smiled self-consciously, admitting her mistake in ordering it, and I tried and failed not to laugh; soon, she was laughing too, and it almost seemed like a date after all.

How very romantic comedy, Puck yawned. Please stop it. I’m more of a Tarantino man myself. He chuckled. Hey, you know what they’d call this dish of pancakes in Holland? A Royale dish of pancakes.

Our good humours restored, we made as much of an inroad into the Blintzkrieg as we could. I recall sampling jeon, pannekoeken, laobing, galettes, funkaso, okonomiyaki, bannocks and, of course, blintzes, amongst many others that I can no longer remember; it took us nearly two hours to work through the lot, with frequent breaks to recover, but I enjoyed it. Just five minutes into the feast I decided that, when she wasn’t trying to kill or kidnap me, Felicity was a very nice person to be around. And she was beautiful, which was a bonus.

Actually, I don’t think she’s especially nice. It’s probably got more to do with the fact that everyone else is horrible to you. But still, if you’re looking for a potential mate, then there’s no doubt—

I refused to listen to any more, and plunged into a chapatti instead.

While we tackled the Blintzkrieg, our conversation veered away from Zero, and moved instead to more mundane things. I ended up telling Felicity all about myself and my life before Puck; however, as I would realise later, she in fact told me nothing about herself. Whether this was intentional or whether I just talked a lot I don’t know, but knowing what I do now, it’s hard to imagine that she would have revealed her identity then without a fight.

When at last the plate was cleared, and the Blintzkrieg no more than a fond and rather fattening memory, Felicity and I sat back and resumed the topic – reluctantly, because we were enjoying ourselves – of Zero and his mysterious plan.

“What else do you know about this Zero guy?” I asked. “Would he be able to get Puck out of my head?”

Am I ruining your date that much?

“I think so,” Felicity replied. “He can do anything he wants. But he wouldn’t do it, though. Not unless you agreed to work for him.”

I grimaced.

“I’d rather not.”

Felicity shook her head.

“You definitely wouldn’t. Kester, I told you all of this because you have a right to know – you’ve been screwed over by Zero almost as much as I have. I didn’t tell you because I wanted you to go after him. That would get you killed.”

“That’s it? You told me all of this just because I have a ‘right to know’?” I felt oddly cheated, though I couldn’t say exactly why. “You must expect me to do something, surely?”

Felicity took off her sunglasses and looked at me for a long moment.

“I expect you to be careful,” she said at last. “You have a deal with Sapphire Birch, didn’t you say? To help her find out the secret of those goods?” When I nodded, she continued. “When that deal ends, ditch her, or she’s going to end up dead. This mess isn’t going to end then – the Devon goods must be the tip of the iceberg; there’s got to be more to Zero’s plan than just them. Once you’ve done that, come and find me.”

“Why?” My heart rate had suddenly soared; I knew what she wanted me to do, and it sounded even more dangerous than what I was currently doing with Sapphire.

“Because Zero has to be stopped,” she said simply, “and I can’t do it on my own.”

I could see how much it hurt her to have to ask for help; there was a strange sort of pain in her eyes that I hadn’t seen anywhere before, and I somehow knew instinctively what it meant. It was the easiest decision I had ever made.

“When this is over,” I said, “I’m going home. Zero’s not my problem.”

Felicity stared at me in mingled shock and horror.

“No,” she said, shaking her head, “no, you can’t – you can’t do that!” She slammed one fist hard into the table, making the remainder of her tea leap out of its cup and plunging the restaurant into silence. She looked around at the staring faces, then stood up sharply. “You’ll come to see it eventually,” she said in a low, cold voice. In her anger, her foreign accent came through stronger than ever. “He is your problem. If you think going home will solve anything, you’re a fool. I always thought you were, but I gave you a chance today. I guess I was right after all.”

With that, Felicity stormed out, and I became aware that every pair of eyes in the room was staring at me. I sighed deeply, and asked for the bill.

Well, Puck said. You sure do know how to make a lady feel special, Kester.

---

Darren Goodwin sat on a bench and stared at the wet grass. What, he wondered, was he supposed to do now?

He had made enquiries at all of the central Mauville Pokémon Centres – the ones you would stay in if you wanted to be within spitting distance of the Spectroscopic Fancy Company building, where he presumed the kids would go – but had found no trace of his quarry. He had even made enquiries at the Spectroscopic Fancy building itself, but the receptionist had just told him that lots of kids had been in to ask about the SuperBlast Module, and he couldn’t be expected to remember them all. Dispirited, he had retired to an inner-city park that seemed to have taken a heavier load of rain than the rest of the city last night, and sat down to ponder his next move.

Beside him, the Raiders bobbed and swayed, swapping positions in their everlasting magnetic dance; one of them suddenly span around in circles and, in collaboration with its companions, emitted that indescribable electronic sound again. Darren looked up sharply, and saw a flash of blue and white moving swiftly down the street on the other side of the park’s border fence. It took a moment for him to recognise her out of uniform, but then he got it: it was the Aqua girl with the freakish powers.

There was as good a start as any, he reasoned, and he leaped up to cross the grass, vaulting the iron railings and running up the wet pavement to catch her.

“Hey!” he cried, when he was a few steps behind her. “You!”

She turned, and though he could not see her eyes behind her blue Aqua glasses, the Goodwin thought he detected a hint of fear. He reached out to grab her, but she suddenly put on a burst of speed, and glided away as if on wheels.

Darren frowned, slowed and stopped, watching her vanish around a corner and knowing he couldn’t catch her. How did she do that? How could she move so fast, and how had she come back to kill him mere seconds after being shot and bludgeoned in the head?

He sighed, frustrated, and rammed his hands deep into his pockets.

“There’s something I’m not seeing here, Raiders,” he said aloud. “What is it?”

The Raiders made no reply, merely spinning around a little instead. Darren sighed again, and wished he was at home.

“Come on,” he said. “I need a coffee.”

Off they went, man and Pokémon, down the street at a disconsolate trudge.

---

She’s late.

“I didn’t expect her to be on time.”

Half an hour late?

It was half past seven, and I was shivering in the cool twilight air outside the Gym’s locked gate.

“She did say seven, right? Not half-seven?”

I know what she said, and she said she would meet us at seven.

“Do you think something’s happened to her?”

Like getting killed in a Training accident? That would be inconvenient – she’s still got our Master Ball.

“How nice you are.”

Yeah, I’m just the best.

Since I had no idea whether that was self-deprecating irony or not, I struggled to come up with a response; thankfully, I was spared the effort by the sudden appearance of Sapphire and Shawn the guitarist on the other side of the gate.

“Hey,” I said. “You’re late.”

“It took longer than I thought,” Sapphire replied as Shawn unlocked the gate. “It’s good, though. I haven’t really done proper Gym training before.” The gate swung shut behind her and she waved goodbye to Shawn. “Most of the people there are much stronger than me, but I’ve managed to raise Toro to about Level 17, and Rono to three levels higher than that.”

Good going, said Puck approvingly. I like it. It’ll take strategy more than levels to beat Wattson, though. Even if he’s a lunatic, he’s going to be a wily old customer.

We started to walk, Sapphire leading.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“The nearest Pokémon Centre,” she replied. “What did you do today?”

Somewhat surprised that she was taking an interest, I had to think about what I would say in reply. I had already decided not to tell her about my meeting with Felicity; it didn’t have to concern her, after all. We would go our separate ways after finding out about the Module.

“Um... nothing much. Just wandered around, got some lunch, bought all of your Trainer stuff.” I held up the bag.

“Oh, thanks. Shall I carry that?” I handed it over before she changed her mind, but gave her a strange look. She seemed far too happy and nice to be the real Sapphire, and briefly I wondered if the pod people had landed.

They make emotionless clones, not happy ones, Puck pointed out.

Oh yeah.

“Why’re you so nice?” I asked suspiciously. “What’s going on?”

“I’m just... happy,” she replied sunnily, smiling and swinging the plastic bag around with such wild abandon that she almost broke my leg. “I’ve had so much fun. And done so much.”

I give this mood... four hours to evaporate, Puck estimated. Or until something happens to irritate her.

“Hey!” cried a voice from behind us, accompanied by the sound of rapid footsteps on tarmac. “You two!”

We turned to see a young man, probably my age or a little older, running down the pavement towards us. The first thing that struck me about him was that he didn’t seem real; he looked almost like a lonely artist’s drawing of a vampire, with longish black hair, pale skin and impossibly vivid green eyes. He was dressed in slim black jeans and a black jacket, giving further weight to his hailing from the ranks of the undead, and his black sneakers had a logo with a star and English words on them. I raised my eyebrows; he had to be either ridiculously widely-travelled or foreign.

“You two,” he repeated, stopping a few feet away and leaning on his knees while he got his breath back. “You’re Trainers?”

“I am,” Sapphire said. “Why?”

“There’s something different about you,” he said. “Unless I got the wrong person... no, I’m sure I’m right.”

“What do you want?” Sapphire asked, ready to leave. The stranger straightened up, and I was surprised to see he was only as tall as Sapphire. I had been under the impression that vampires were taller than normal people.

He may not actually be a vampire, cautioned Puck. I’d be careful before I go around accusing people of being soulless haemivorous corpses. Mind you, that’s quite similar to being a Ghost, and that can only be a good thing. Still a bit fleshy for my liking, but...

I tuned his ramble out and returned my attention to the conversation.

“A battle?” Sapphire was saying. “Now?”

“Yes,” the man in black replied. “I mean, I know I’ll win, but there’s something odd about you two.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” the stranger said. “But I want to battle you.” He brushed a hunk of hair from his right eye so as to be able to give us an earnest look, but it flopped back again straight away. “Please?”

“Sorry, no,” Sapphire said. “We don’t have time. Do we?” She looked at me pointedly.

“Er, no,” I said hurriedly. “We’re... really busy.”

We turned and walked away, but the man in black caught up and grabbed Sapphire’s arm.

“Wait,” he said. “Come on. It won’t take a moment.”

“I said no,” snapped Sapphire, rounding on him, “and I meant no. Now get lost!”

His strange eyes flashed with something dangerous that I had never seen in human eyes before, and the stranger turned on his heel, stalking away without another world.

“What was that about?” I wondered. “He was really weird.”

“I don’t know. A crazy guy. Doesn’t matter.” Sapphire’s good mood didn’t seem to have sustained any lasting damage from the man in black’s intrusion, and the remainder of our walk to the Pokémon Centre was, oddly enough, quite pleasant.

---

“They wouldn’t fight me,” the boy with jade eyes said, looking out of the aeroplane window. “Can you believe it, Scott? Trainers who wouldn’t fight?”

Scott agreed that it was indeed unusual.

“There was definitely something odd about them,” the boy went on darkly. “I’m willing to bet that if you meet up with them, you’ll want them for the competition.”

Now Scott was interested.

“Oh yes? They’re good, are they?”

The boy with jade eyes threw up his hands.

“I don’t know. They’re different, or one of them is at least. I didn’t get to fight them.”

“So you don’t know if they’d be good for the contest or not?”

“Trust me, Scott.” The jade eyes whirled away from the window and locked onto Scott’s sunglasses. They seemed to burn through the black plastic and deep into the skull behind, like a pair of green blowtorches. “They’d be good.”

“W-well, they’re gone now,” Scott said, flinching away from the sizzling impact of his look. “We’ll probably never see them again.”

“No,” replied the boy, returning his attention to the clouds again. “No, we’ll cross paths again. I’m not sure when, but I know we will.”

Scott restrained himself from asking how the boy with jade eyes knew all the things that he did, and went back to the in-flight movie with a sigh. The kid was good, but he’d be glad to get away from him when they got there.

Mizan de la Plume Kuro
February 25th, 2011, 07:20 PM
Pryvit

This’ll probably be my shortest review since this chapter didn’t have much in terms of mistakes nor content and I was primarily concerned with how Kester’s date went. In any case, your update schedule is amazing, and I’m going to reiterate bobandbill here by saying, “Are these pre-written or do you actually write these on the spot?” If you do in fact write your chapters daily, I am in awe. Most of us struggle with a chapter a fortnight, let alone a day.

To begin with the review proper, the pancake house scene is the furthest place, I think, that Kester’s going to get with realising his Felicity fantasies, unless of course something unexpected happens further down in the story. As a whole, the scene was enjoyable. Not much in terms of humour but wholly enjoyable nonetheless because here you’re just having two teenagers having breakfast for tea, in what you could call a perfectly normal situation, quite a refresher from the past few day of mayhem. It’s also quite the reveal for Felicity because, here, the reader’s not seeing her as the single-minded, mission-obsessed antagonist. She’s really more of one forced into cooperation, but I digress.

Also, slight nitpick here but:
I refused to listen to any more, and plunged into a chapatti instead.Chapati is a pancake now is it? Not where I'm from. It's more a bread, really. And I can assure you, it's as much a pancake as tea is coffee. That is to say, slight relation with subtle differences.

Anyway, quite a few amusing bits here and there but nothing noteworthy. Overall, a good chapter in terms of pushing the plot ahead. I’m sorry for the lack of a review, but I didn’t really have much to touch on beyond that. Not much even on Sapphire which I haven’t already said. So yes, I will be eagerly awaiting the next release. Also, I hope that these frequent updates won’t end with half-term…

icomeanon6
February 25th, 2011, 09:25 PM
I've just read the first two chapters, and I'm most impressed. It's been a while since I've read a Pokemon fic that felt this original, which is odd because many of the individual aspects of the story are so conventional. The stranger inhabiting the main character's body is nothing new, the whole deal with Magma/Aqua and the Devon Goods are straight out of the game, and the idea of a human having a Pokemon's power has also been done. Make the stranger a Rotom and put it all together, though, and you have gold.

The first thing that really caught my attention was the way the narrative was split apart at the beginning of the first chapter, and the threads gradually got closer together until Puck actually enters Kester's body and the threads converged. Very clever use of structure. It feels like a collision both because of what's actually happening and how you lay it out.

Character-wise, I'm seeing some really good signs. Kester and Puck have good chemistry, and most importantly their interactions are funny. I also like Kester's mom, even if the whole checking to see if the kid is alright and then grounding him routine is a little cliched. The best touch in terms of character, though, is undoubtedly Puck's English nationality. People often forget that the Pokemon world's geography and history at large is mostly like ours, and it makes more opportunity for humor.

If there's one thing that I thought was a little out of place, though, it was the name of the "P-L.O.T. Device." Judging by its name, I'm going to guess that it has some importance later, but when I first read it I thought it seemed closer to straight-up parody, which I didn't think you were going for. Not a big issue, and probably something you can't change now, but I felt I had to say it.

It seems I have a lot of catching up to do, and I'm looking forward to it!

Cutlerine
February 26th, 2011, 12:07 AM
Pryvit

This’ll probably be my shortest review since this chapter didn’t have much in terms of mistakes nor content and I was primarily concerned with how Kester’s date went. In any case, your update schedule is amazing, and I’m going to reiterate bobandbill here by saying, “Are these pre-written or do you actually write these on the spot?” If you do in fact write your chapters daily, I am in awe. Most of us struggle with a chapter a fortnight, let alone a day.

To begin with the review proper, the pancake house scene is the furthest place, I think, that Kester’s going to get with realising his Felicity fantasies, unless of course something unexpected happens further down in the story. As a whole, the scene was enjoyable. Not much in terms of humour but wholly enjoyable nonetheless because here you’re just having two teenagers having breakfast for tea, in what you could call a perfectly normal situation, quite a refresher from the past few day of mayhem. It’s also quite the reveal for Felicity because, here, the reader’s not seeing her as the single-minded, mission-obsessed antagonist. She’s really more of one forced into cooperation, but I digress.

Also, slight nitpick here but:
Chapati is a pancake now is it? Not where I'm from. It's more a bread, really. I may not be Indian, but Malaysia's a mix of races besides Malay, so Chapati's pretty common. And I can assure you, it's as much a pancake as tea is coffee. That is to say, slight relation with subtle differences.

Anyway, quite a few amusing bits here and there but nothing noteworthy. Overall, a good chapter in terms of pushing the plot ahead. I’m sorry for the lack of a review, but I didn’t really have much to touch on beyond that. Not much even on Sapphire which I haven’t already said. So yes, I will be eagerly awaiting the next release. Also, I hope that these frequent updates won’t end with half-term…

I know chapatis aren't technically a pancake; I come from an Indian family on one side, after all. However, I was struggling for different types of pancake by then, as I'm sure you can tell by the dubious pancakeosity of some of the things on that list. And besides, I figured a pancake restaurant in Hoenn, of all places, probably wouldn't know the difference. I did at least leave out roti and parata.

If you can think of any other kinds of pancake that I can replace it with, I'm more than happy to alter it - but my pancake well is dry, I'm afraid.

As for the updates ending with half-term... well, my half-term ended last Sunday evening, so unless someone else has been writing these, my updates aren't going to slow until I need to kick-start some AS revision.

And yes, to repeat myself: I write each chapter in the space of a day or two. Collecting up all the scattered few minutes I spend writing probably adds up to a couple of hours or so. Being a touch-typist helps, as does a lot of experience in writing a lot of text ridiculously fast.

I've just read the first two chapters, and I'm most impressed. It's been a while since I've read a Pokemon fic that felt this original, which is odd because many of the individual aspects of the story are so conventional. The stranger inhabiting the main character's body is nothing new, the whole deal with Magma/Aqua and the Devon Goods are straight out of the game, and the idea of a human having a Pokemon's power has also been done. Make the stranger a Rotom and put it all together, though, and you have gold.

The first thing that really caught my attention was the way the narrative was split apart at the beginning of the first chapter, and the threads gradually got closer together until Puck actually enters Kester's body and the threads converged. Very clever use of structure. It feels like a collision both because of what's actually happening and how you lay it out.

Character-wise, I'm seeing some really good signs. Kester and Puck have good chemistry, and most importantly their interactions are funny. I also like Kester's mom, even if the whole checking to see if the kid is alright and then grounding him routine is a little cliched. The best touch in terms of character, though, is undoubtedly Puck's English nationality. People often forget that the Pokemon world's geography and history at large is mostly like ours, and it makes more opportunity for humor.

If there's one thing that I thought was a little out of place, though, it was the name of the "P-L.O.T. Device." Judging by its name, I'm going to guess that it has some importance later, but when I first read it I thought it seemed closer to straight-up parody, which I didn't think you were going for. Not a big issue, and probably something you can't change now, but I felt I had to say it.

It seems I have a lot of catching up to do, and I'm looking forward to it!

Thank you for the review. The P-L.O.T. Device has no significance further on; it's just a small joke. I don't think it's out of place, considering the number of times Puck breaks the fourth wall, or the number of references that are dropped in.

Oh yes, and I'm aware that the clichéd parts of this story are clichéd. I just use them anyway, either because they're funny in themselves, or because they're funny because they're clichéd. They're just a different-shaped brick in my Lego model of narrative.

Wait. That was a stupid analogy. Forget that. I hope you continue to enjoy the story.

Cutlerine
February 27th, 2011, 03:45 AM
You’re referencing Alghieri? I’m impressed. I’ve actually only read up till Inferno, so tell me, does Purgatorio actually have a place for cowards? Because cowardice almost seems like a cardinal sin.

There are no Circles in Inferno for cowardice, but I'm not sure about terraces of Purgatorio. If I remember rightly, the terraces of Purgatorio simply correspond to the deadly sins, so there shouldn't be.

Anyway:

Chapter Twenty-Three: A Hobo’s Fighting Spirit

“I see. Yes, that’s quite all right. No, it’s excellent news, really.”

Deep, deep beneath the surface of the earth, the man in the ruby-red trenchcoat had his feet up on the desk and his ear pressed against the phone.

“Well, thank you very much,” he said. “Frankly, you’re saving us here. If what you say is true, the blues are close to theirs already. A meteorite, you say? No? I don’t quite... A Meteorite? With a capital ‘M’? How is that diff... Oh, is that so? That’s quite clever, isn’t it? Well, thank you again. Goodbye.”

He put down the phone and pondered for a moment, throwing pieces of dried meat into the blot of inky blackness that skulked in the corner of the room. Occasional snaps told him that the creature within was succeeding in catching them.

“All right,” said Maxie at length, sliding his feet off the desk and sitting up. “Tabitha!”

A tall, hooded figure in red stepped into the room.

“Yes, sir?” he asked. Maxie looked surprised.

“Who the hell are you?” he roared. Sensing a temper coming on, Tabitha replied in his most soothing tone.

“Tabitha, sir.”

“I thought... What the hell? Tabitha’s a woman’s name! I wanted the other Admin, the pretty young one. Go and get her!”

“Yes, sir.” Tabitha turned to leave, but Maxie called him back.

“Wait!” The Magma Administrator looked patiently in the direction of his boss. “You’ll do, you’ll do,” decided Maxie, with a considered nod of the head. “I need you to do some research for me. It’s about these things called Meteorites...”

---

Monday and Tuesday were, for the first time in ages, pretty normal. Sapphire was out at the Gym all day, and I was left to my own devices; I spent most of Monday asleep, purely because I had that luxury, and the better part of Tuesday exploring Mauville. I’d never been there before, and I have to say I was a little disappointed: from the name, I was expecting a lot more purple than I got.

Other than that minor chromatic deficiency, however, I found I rather liked Mauville. Smaller than Rustboro and Slateport, yet larger than Dewford, it was just the right sort of size for wandering around. I found parks and clubs, clock towers and skyscrapers, all within a comfortable walk of each other, and I took pleasure in the continually varying scenery. The weather brightened up, too, returning to gloriously clear blue skies, and so, taken in all, it was a thoroughly pleasant day.

Then came Wednesday. What is it about Wednesdays that makes them so awful? Maybe it’s because it comes in the middle of the week, a halfway point between weekend and weekend where you look back with pride at how far you’ve come, but forwards with dismay at the long slog ahead of you; maybe the day’s just bitter because no one pronounces all three syllables of its name, as they do for Saturday. Either way, Wednesdays in my experience are generally days of despair, and this one was no exception.

It started well – deceptively well. Sapphire invited me to come to the Gym with her, because she was going to challenge Wattson. I accepted, we arrived and she led me into the yellow room at the back that I’d glimpsed on Sunday. Despite the grim exterior, this area of the Gym was pretty nice inside; I’d have classified it as Neo-Classical in design, but Puck stopped me.

I’ve had quite enough of that, he snapped irritably. I really hate it when you steal my descriptions of architecture.

The room was punctuated by a series of electrified fences, blocking off the way to Wattson; the man himself sat on a large beanbag at the back of the room, the long-suffering Shawn standing next to him and occasionally making comments that were lost in the sound of the old Leader’s raucous laughter. Around us, and scattered about the huge room in between the fences, pairs and quartets of Trainers were battling each other or simply teaching their Pokémon moves. Gouts of fire, flashes of light, and, above all, bursts of electricity kept erupting with roars or crackles; I saw a scarred white creature, armed with a pair of formidable talons, duelling with a huge, blade-covered snake, and some sort of long-haired serpent coiling around a furious Electabuzz, pulses of transparent energy bursting periodically from its brow. It was quite a spectacle, and I stared around, entranced, for a good five seconds before Sapphire tugged at my sleeve and recaptured my attention.

“Come on,” she said. “I have an appointment.”

“OK, OK.” I glanced around as she pulled me to the first gate in the fence. “This is all... well, it’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“If you like it so much, why’d you never become a Trainer?” asked Sapphire cattily, showing a nearby guitarist a ticket of some sort, along with her Trainer Card. He opened the gate for us, and we went through.

“Oh, I wouldn’t like to do it,” I replied, horrified. “No, not at all! Way too dangerous. But it’s cool to watch.”

Sapphire sighed.

“I don’t get how someone like you can exist,” she said. “Do you really have no aspirations at all?”

I thought for a moment.

“No,” I concluded, with a bright smile. “Not really.”

Sapphire sighed again, and we reached the final fence. Here, Shawn himself wandered over to us.

“Oh, hey Sapphire,” he said, idly picking at the strings of his guitar. “And hi, er—”

“Kester,” I reminded him. “My name’s Kester.”

“Right,” Shawn said. “Kester. So, Sapphire, you’re going to take on Wattson today, hm?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Can you let me in?”

“Yeah, sure.” Shawn unlocked the gate, let Sapphire through, and shut it carefully in my face. I walked into it and felt a faint tingling, but no pain.

Mm-mm, said Puck happily, that’s some good electricity. So much better than that stuff going round in your brain.

“Hey!” I cried, “why’d you shut it?”

“Challengers only beyond this point.” Shawn locked the gate again and started playing with his guitar. “You can watch fine from where you are.”

I glowered at him ineffectively, then took a step back to see better.

Wattson’s beanbag was positioned at the back of a bright yellow stage, the steps of which Sapphire was currently mounting; the lights reflected so harshly off the polished surface that I felt I might well develop snow blindness if I looked at it for too long. The old man got to his feet at her approach, and smiled amiably.

“It’s you,” he said.

“Yes,” Sapphire agreed. “It is me. Whatever you mean by that. I’m here to challenge you to a battle – I have an appointment?”

Kester, Puck said, do you think you could walk into the fence again? I want a bit more of that stuff.

“No,” I replied. “I categorically refuse to engage in active self-harm purely so you can have a snack.”

You’ve a heart colder than Estella’s, Puck said, with an aggrieved air. Fine, I guess I can’t make you.

“That’s right,” I said, feeling very self-satisfied. It was good to be in control.

“Does she have an appointment?” Wattson asked Shawn. Shawn nodded.

“Yeah, she does,” he replied.

“I just said that!” protested Sapphire, but Wattson simply turned to her and laughed loudly into her face.

He really is crazy, isn’t he? Puck remarked.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Total nutcase.”

“What sort of strength?” Wattson said, taking three steps back and pulling out a Great Ball from his pocket. “Which team do I use?”

“I’m going to use two Pokémon,” Sapphire told him. “Level 22 and 24, respectively.”

She had already told me that she didn’t plan to use the Sableye. He was too strong, and too unreliable.

“That’s all right,” said Wattson, smiling broadly, replacing the Great Ball and drawing out another. “I’ll use two weaker ones, then.”

Sapphire took Rono’s ball from her belt, and tossed it down on the ground; the Aron was visibly agitated, shifting anxiously from foot to stubby foot. Wattson sent out a smaller version of the Electrode he had used before, with angrier eyes and no mouth: a Voltorb.

“If you’re ready,” Shawn said, holding out one hand. “The match begins – now!”

He dropped his hand, and immediately two conflicting voices rang out:

“Mud-Slap!”

“Go round and round!”

Rono kicked up a cloud of dirt from somewhere, but the Voltorb was already moving, whizzing around the arena in a blur of red and white; Rono’s attack missed, and the Voltorb settled into a steady orbit around him, circling like some weird cross between Poké Ball and shark.

“What are you doing?” asked Sapphire.

“Wahahahahaha!” laughed Wattson. “Round and round and round and round!”

“Oh, God, you really are insane, aren’t you? Rono, wait for it, and Headbutt!”

It took him a couple of tries, but eventually the Aron managed to land a solid hit on his whirling opponent; it flew backwards like a thrown ball and bounced off Wattson’s broad chest. As it landed, I could see whatever vitriol simmered in its eyes flaring; it obviously didn’t like being maltreated like that.

“All right, all right,” Wattson said. “Let’s get down to business. Spark!”

“Mud-Slap and dodge!”

Just as the Voltorb zoomed forwards, plastic hide glowing, Rono’s dirt-cloud appeared; the spherical Pokémon vanished from sight and emitted a high-pitched grinding sound that I took to indicate distress. At the precise moment that it emerged from the muddy mess, spattered with brown and looking somewhat confused, Rono curled up and rolled to the side. The Spark dissipated on the surface of the Voltorb, and Rono took the chance to give it a judicious Headbutt.

“Oho!” cried Wattson, producing an enormous pink umbrella from somewhere, unfurling it and advancing on the Aron. “What’s this?”

“I’ll take that,” said Shawn gently, relieving him of his weapon and pushing him back a few steps.

“Finish him!” Wattson shouted. “He’s almost gone!”

This was patently a lie, but it seemed to convince the Voltorb; despite its injuries, it narrowed its evil little eyes and rolled towards Rono once more. This time, the Spark hit, yellow electricity arcing over the surface of his steel skin; as the Voltorb rolled back, preparing for a second blow, he staggered back a pace, squeezing his blue eyes shut in pain.

“Keep going,” Sapphire said softly. “Come on, Rono. Another Headbutt.”

She really does like that Aron, observed Puck. How sweet.

Rono jumped forwards unenthusiastically, and caught the Voltorb a glancing blow. The latter monster was so light that even that small hit threw it back about a metre; it landed in between Wattson’s feet. The Gym Leader picked it up and examined it minutely.

“Some new kind of apple?” he pondered, scratching his head. “I wonder what it t—”

“No!” cried Shawn, darting forwards and dashing the Voltorb from his hand, moments before it would have reached his lips. “No, don’t eat that!”

Wattson gave him a long and inscrutable look, then nodded firmly.

“Yes,” he said, appearing to regain some modicum of sanity. “I should... this is a battle, yes?”

“Yes,” called Sapphire.

“Right. Yoghurt, SonicBoom!”

The Voltorb spun rapidly on its axis, and a deafeningly loud crack rent the air; it seemed that whatever had happened, its focus was on Rono, because a strange, unnatural vibration passed through his body, and a massive crack appeared in his rocky underbelly. He gave a weak, gravelly cry, and Sapphire cried out:

“One more! Just hang in there for one more move, Rono!”

Rono didn’t seem to be able to move his back legs, but he dragged himself forwards and waited, eyes following the Voltorb as it pursued its rapid path around the stage.

“Finish this,” Wattson said, “Spark it.”

The Voltorb darted forwards, towards Rono’s unmoving form—

—and was met with a resounding smack of steel on plastic, the Aron’s head swinging forth to crash into his opponent’s face. The Voltorb cracked from top to bottom, and as it flew backwards, something hot and glowing started to trail from its forehead. Wattson recalled it hurriedly, and it was back in the ball before it hit the ground.

“Yoghurt is unable to battle,” called Shawn. “One point to Sapphire Birch.”

Good call on Wattson’s part, Puck said. It was about to go off, and that’s never a good thing.

“Go off... like a bomb?”

No, like a freaking lollipop lady. Yes, like a bomb.

“All right, all right,” I said, stung. “No need to be so... nasty about it.”

Wattson threw down a ball that disgorged another ball – or so I thought. The Pokémon that emerged was featureless, spherical and made entirely of steel; it had one large, staring white eye, which appeared to be painted on, and when it came out everything made of metal started to float towards it.

“Rono, come back!” called Sapphire, and he flew towards the ball; however, the magnetic Pokémon’s field seemed to draw him back, sliding slowly across the floor with a grinding sound.

Magnet Pull, Puck said appreciatively. Wattson’s a nutter, but he’s a clever nutter.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

That thing’s a Magnemite, Puck told me. They’re magnetic. Rono’s made of steel...

“So he’s stuck out?”

That’s right. And since it’s an official League match, Sapphire can’t use an item to heal him... I should think he’s screwed.

As I watched, a bolt of lightning lanced from the Magnemite’s unblinking eye to Rono’s face; the Aron’s limbs convulsed, his eyes shut and he slumped down onto his cracked belly.

“Rono is unable to fight,” said Shawn, playing a little celebratory riff on his guitar. “One point to Wattson.”

Damn, Gina, said Puck, this lightning so deadly!

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

You are so little fun that I think there must be something wrong with you. Ever been to see a doctor about it? Or maybe a stand-up comedian would be better. Or maybe even just the Internet. Heard of it?

Sapphire looked upset, but sent out Toro without saying anything.

“Ember!” she ordered.

Good move. Magnemite has high defence, so it’s more likely to survive Double Kick than Ember, despite being weak to both.

I didn’t get that, but I did note with some surprise that Toro was able to defeat the Magnemite in a single hit with Ember; the flames flared up in what I recognised as a critical hit, and they packed enough punch to make the sphere pass out. This didn’t make it close its eye, but it fell straight down like a lead weight, cracking the plastic covering of the stage, and rolled away to come to rest stuck to Rono.

“Gigaremo is unable to battle. Sapphire Birch wins the match!”

“Wahahaha!” laughed Wattson, and sat heavily down on his beanbag. “You ended up giving me a thrill!”

“Who’s he talking to?” asked Sapphire, for he was looking intently at the light fixtures.

“You, probably,” replied Shawn. “Here, have one of these things.” He handed her a Dynamo Badge, and this time she accepted, staring at it happily for a moment before pocketing it.

Like I said, Wednesday began deceptively well. Sapphire won her match, very few weird things happened; all in all, it was good – especially since I later learned that it was rare to beat a Gym Leader straight away like that. I guess it helped that Wattson wasn’t in his right mind.

Now I’m going to start on the bad.

---

Fabien stopped in front of the Mauville Memorial Centre, turned to face his colleagues, and cracked his knuckles in the manner of one about to do something decisive.

“OK, gang,” he said, “let’s split up and look for clues!”

Goishi gave him a look, and he hastily elaborated.

“What I mean is, Blake and I are going to go and look for the Rotom-kid in here” – he indicated the Memorial Centre, three floors of prime shopping and dining opportunities – “while you are going to search the Gym, and the Pokémon Centres.”

The Golbat stared at Fabien, depressed, then, unable to muster enough emotion even to protest, flapped off to find the Gym. Apparently, he thought, he was Velma.

The Magmas had, much like when Kester had first bested them, spent some time constructing a large and elaborate reason for their defeat; that is to say, Fabien had spent some time constructing a large and elaborate reason, while Blake nodded and admired it, and Goishi closed his eyes and thought dark and exasperated thoughts. The explanation thus devised was this: the boy had, using the not inconsiderable resources of Team Aqua, hired a large quantity of actors of the same age and general build as himself, and, utilising hair dye, make up and many sets of identical clothing, had disguised them so that, in the dim light of sunset, they might be mistaken for him. Blake had then asked why he had done this; Fabien’s reply had been that, of course, he had wanted to throw them off the scent and frighten them. Fabien had been somewhat less clear about precisely how the Rotom-boy had known that they were lying in wait up the path, but it was generally understood amongst the three Magmas that Fabien was almost certainly correct.

Once this explanation had been provided, they had been able to laugh at how foolish they were and climb down the support in peace. However, they had been chased back up again by a pack of wild Manectric that seemed averse to allowing them safe passage through their territory; with this and other obstacles, it had taken them rather longer to get to Mauville than they would have liked. ‘Longer’, in this case, signifying several extra days.

From there, they had swiftly reached the city’s main shopping centre, the Mauville Memorial Centre – although what it was a memorial to was something that no one could have told you – and that was where Fabien had conceived a plan to split up and search for their targets. He and Blake would search the Memorial Centre, and Goishi would search at the Gym and Centres.

Fabien strolled into the mall, and inhaled deeply, taking in the scents of sophistication and civilisation that gathered in the air around him. It was good to be back in a city, he decided.

“Right, Blake,” he said. “A light meal, and I think we’ll be ready to proceed, don’t you?”

“A’righ’.” His partner nodded his assent, and they went off in search of food.

---

Barry came to in the back of a moving van, slumped against one wall. He immediately divined that his shoulder hurt, and gave a corresponding groan of pain; a second or two later, he worked out that his neck also hurt, due to his position, and made a second groan of equal or greater value.

“Is this a hangover?” he wondered. “No... I wasn’t drunk...” He snapped his fingers. That was it – that weird white Sableye had blasted him with a Power Gem. Or it might have been a wrecking ball; judging by the pain, it could have been either. “Where am I?” he asked, banging on the van’s wall.

“Quit it,” came a terse reply. “I’m taking you to Mauville, moron. You got beaten up by those kids.”

The tone of the voice so clearly conveyed contempt that Barry was forced to consider the prospect of it being what is commonly known as ‘scathing’; after a moment’s reflection, he decided that, regrettably, it was. He let out a long sigh, and settled into a marginally more comfortable position.

“Did we get them in the end?” he asked.

“What do you think?”

Barry was silent for a moment. Then, hopefully:

“Yes?”

“Dear God. Is this what our organisation’s come to these days? Hiring lobotomised monkeys as grunts?”

“Shut up,” Barry rumbled.

“Or what?” the voice countered. “I don’t have to drive you to Mauville, you know. I could drop you off here, if you’d prefer, and then you can walk and explain to Matt why you’re late.”

Barry’s manly heart sank; it was a piteous sight to behold, like an ageing dog that can no longer refuse to be dressed up by small girls in a hat and coat.

“Matt’s in Mauville?”

“Yes, questioning your partner. She’s not going to be happy with you.” The voice sounded almost gleeful, and Barry wondered who his driver was. “Word is, though, she’s the one in charge of your group. You turning soft for a pretty girl, Barry?”

“Tchaikovsky?” asked Barry in a low growl. “Is that you?”

“Do Gyarados eat ships?”

Tchaikovsky was not, as one might have thought, a 19th century Russian composer, but a driver for the Aquas whose path had crossed Barry’s many times in the past; an incurable smart-aleck, the diminutive Johtonian had never really been highly esteemed by the giant, and indeed over the years had become an object of positive loathing. He was also something of a fan of twentieth-century British music.

“Does Matt want to talk to me as well?” Barry asked.

“You better you better you bet,” sang out Tchaikovsky. “After all, from what I gather you actually had the kid in your hands before you got beaten up by a Sableye. Of all the things...!”

“It was a strong Sableye,” Barry rumbled defiantly.

“‘Strong’, in this case, meaning something different to what it usually does, I suppose,” Tchaikovsky replied. “Seriously, Barry, did you ever know a Sableye to be strong?”

Barry thought about it, and concluded that the one he had met yesterday did indeed fit neatly into that category.

“Yes,” he said.

Tchaikovsky made an exasperated noise.

“Honestly,” he said. “I don’t know why you don’t just carry a gun. Shoot these things. Felicity’s a smart girl, she knows what she’s doing. But you, you rely too much on your strength.”

“Shut up.”

“Not now, I’m just getting into this speech. Where was I? Oh yeah: you know what they say about this sort of thing, don’t you? Happiness is a warm gun. That’s what they say.”

“That’s a Beatles song,” Barry pointed out, in an uncharacteristic flash of insight.

“Well... the Beatles had it right, then,” Tchaikovsky countered. “They were smart boys.”

“Huh.”

Barry didn’t know enough about the Beatles to know if they were smart or not, but he wanted to give the impression that he did, and that he disagreed with Tchaikovsky on that point.

“I’m guessing that by ‘huh’ you mean you don’t know anything about the Beatles,” Tchaikovsky said. “Which is quite difficult; are you sure you don’t know? Perhaps you have some sort of memory problem. You probably ought to get your head checked, by a jumbo jet. That wouldn’t be easy, I suppose – but then again, nothing is, is it?”

“What’re you on about now?” growled Barry. Tchaikovsky snickered.

“Never mind,” he said. “Some day you’ll find what I meant. You know, caught beneath a landslide, in a champagne supernova.”

“You’re doing that... that thing you do again,” Barry said. “Stop it.”

“Or what? We’ve come right back to my threat to make you walk.”

Barry sighed, and forced himself to shut up. There was no point talking to Tchaikovsky. The little man would run verbal rings around him. Instead, he decided, when the van stopped, he would rip him from the driver’s seat and beat the living daylights out of him.

Comforted by this thought, he settled down in the back of the van to wait.

Xilfer
March 1st, 2011, 01:20 PM
Hey again, it may not have occured to you but i've been following your story since it started, it's amazing! i'm not one for details or reviews. but your story is just something else! it's funny and serious at the same time, and i can't stop telling myself "Poor Kester" sometimes, anyway, i just finished your latest chapter, all your work is just great! making Puck english and adding all those english literature comments and such was one of the bests.

Puck's comments are sometimes the best bit and he's by far my favorite character in the story, and i like how you made Sapphire so cruel and annoying, and it's hilarious how poor old Kester has no control of his situation at all. anyway, the true purpose of this post: PLEASE IN GOD'S NAME MAKE ANOTHER CHAPTER! PLEAAAAAASE! ILL DIE WITHOUT IT! XD.

Cutlerine
March 2nd, 2011, 11:21 AM
Xilfer, this one's for you.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Bad Day Bad Day Bad Day!

First off: have you ever tried to separate a Magnemite and an Aron?

It’s not easy, let me tell you that. I got recruited to help – which basically means that I grabbed Rono and Shawn grabbed Wattson’s Magnemite, while the two Trainers stood around and did nothing at all to aid us. The little steel ball had a lot of power in it, because it took the better part of twenty minutes to work the damn things apart; they were stuck as fast as two limpets that had accidentally suckered themselves to each other.

As soon as we had them apart, Wattson recalled his Magnemite, which nullified the magnetic field instantly; I tumbled over backwards and down the steps to the stage, with Rono’s hard, heavy body crushing my ribs and belly. I lay there, winded, until Sapphire recalled him, and then slowly got back up.

“Couldn’t you have recalled your Magnemite earlier?” I asked Wattson, aggrieved. “You know, like before it got stuck to Rono and I had to try and prise them apart?”

“Wahahahahaha,” laughed the old Gym Leader. “You ended up giving me a thrill!”

I turned to Sapphire, ignoring him and trying to quell the rage building up inside me.

“We should go,” I said. “Rono looks like he could use the Pokémon Centre.”

“Thanks, Shawn, Wattson,” Sapphire said, nodding at me. “It’s been absolutely a pleasure to meet you.”

“All mine, Sapphire,” replied the guitarist. “And I’m sure Wattson’s delighted, too.”

“He certainly seems it,” I muttered under my breath, listening to his laughter; Puck chuckled.

You’re getting the hang of this joking lark, aren’t you? he remarked happily. Well, good for you.

We made our way back out of the training hall, and upon entering the Gym’s little entrance corridor, were immediately confronted by a five-foot-tall blue bat, its great mouth spread wide and about a metre and a half of tongue lolling out and lying on the floor in a lazy coil.

I never forget a face, said Puck, but in his case, I think I’m willing to make an exception.

“Ee-ee-E-E-E-eek,” it said malevolently, and I raised my hand to ThunderShock it; before I could do anything, it whipped its tongue through the air and vomited out a stream of sparkly lights. Surprised at this sudden move, I stood and gaped while they hit me in the face. It didn’t hurt, but almost immediately, I felt like I was suffering the effects of deciding to get drunk on a roundabout: dizzier than any rational human being can ever want to be.

Oh dear, Puck said. Seems you’ve been confused.

I’m not entirely sure what happened next, because I did a lot of walking into walls and tangling my feet together; none of my limbs would do what I want, and all of them had their own ideas about who we were meant to be attacking. At one point, I even managed to ThunderShock myself in the face, which was, though not unduly painful, very annoying.

I was vaguely aware that something was happening to my right, where Sapphire was; she’d tried to turn back and get into the training hall again, I think, but somehow the Golbat stopped her.

That is one mean stare that Golbat’s got, Puck remarked, as I smacked my face against the wall. Probably because it’s using Mean Look, but you know.

“No, I don’t!” I managed to say, through lips that didn’t seem to recognise words.

Toro appeared. That was the next thing I remember. However, she didn’t stay out for long; the Golbat swiped at her head with one wing, and she crumpled to the floor, instantly defeated. I had no idea why, and I didn’t really care, because I was trying to stop punching myself.

Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, said Puck. Heh. Did you ever get bullied and have someone punch you with your own fist while saying that? I didn’t – no one bullies a Ghost, and I don’t have fists anyway – but I’m fairly certain of its prevalence amongst humans.

“I’m trying to stop!” I answered, anguished. “I really am!”

I believe you, Puck said. I’ll always believe in you. Unless you do something stupid, in which case I’ll inform you of it in no uncertain terms.

“Be more helpful!” I blundered forwards and, by sheer luck, crashed into the Golbat; together, we tumbled to the floor. Its heavy wings beat against my back, and my electricity crackled along its tongue; it screeched in pain and threw me off, struggling back to its feet. I tried to get up and ended up kicking Sapphire in the leg. Unprepared for the blow, she fell over too, and she, Toro and I co-existed in an undignified tangle of limbs for a short, uneasy period of time. The reason for its being short was this: once we had all been incapacitated, the Golbat lurched forwards, wrapped its tongue around my waist and dragged me away down the hall.

Your health is slowly being sapped, Puck informed me brightly. This is the move known as Wrap. Or maybe he’s just got his tongue wrapped around you, I can’t really tell. It’s almost the same thing.

“You’re no help!”

We’re confused. We can’t do anything. It’ll wear off soon, don’t worry. About the confusion, that is. You probably should worry about this whole kidnapping business.

The Golbat headbutted the Gym door open, and flapped out; it struggled and strained, and managed to lift me into the air. It flew away, misjudged the height and let me smack headfirst into the fence.

“EEEEEK!” it said angrily, dropping me a swift and painfully-terminated six feet to the ground; at this point, Sapphire and a couple of other Trainers burst out of the Gym, and, deciding that it would prefer to survive to fight another day, the Golbat flew off hurriedly. A large, four-winged Pokémon with massive eye-shaped antennae erupted from its ball and rapidly gave chase.

I picked myself up off the tarmac, the last vestiges of confusion swirling in my head. I clung to the fence for stability, and blinked sluggishly as a barrage of questions assailed my ears. ‘Are you OK?’ was the one that I heard most often, and consequently the one I answered first.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, head clearing. “I’m fine.”

“Did that Golbat just come in here and—?” asked a kid a few years younger than me, the one who’d set the four-winged Pokémon on the Golbat’s tail.

“Yeah,” I replied. “It beat up Sapphire’s Combusken, confused me and then just – took off.” I made a little motion with one hand. Maybe I was in shock, maybe I wanted to make myself seem cooler, but I was making very light of this indeed.

“We should tell Shawn about this,” said another Trainer.

“No, the police!” argued the first.

“Kids,” I said, and when they glared at me regretted it. “I mean, guys, let’s just... be cool.”

Be cool, honey bunny, Puck said, in a deep American-accented voice. Be cool. Then, as usual after he made an abstruse referential joke, he laughed quietly to himself.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” said Sapphire forcefully. “We’re both fine. That Golbat... we’ve met it before. Kester has, anyway. It’s our business.”

With a jolt, I realised she was right: the Golbat had to be the Team Magma one that had attacked me last Monday, in the back alley in Rustboro near where Puck had stashed the goods.

That sounds so cool, Puck said. ‘Where Puck had stashed the goods.’ I feel cooler than Huggy Bear.

Who? I thought back, as the four-winged Pokémon returned; it moved slowly, bleeding from a series of small, crescent-shaped cuts on its belly.

“You didn’t catch it, then?” asked its Trainer; the Pokémon buzzed dumbly and I wondered if he’d really expected an answer. He was talking to an insect, after all. He sighed, sprayed a Potion on it and recalled it. “You’re sure you can handle this yourselves?” he asked of Sapphire and I.

“Yes.”

“Yeah.”

He exchanged glances with the other Trainer; they sighed and said:

“All right.”

Then they turned and went back to the Gym.

Who brings a Masquerain to an Electric Gym? Puck wondered. They’re so weak to those moves. Unlike diamonds, which are forever.

“Come on,” Sapphire said, looking around in case the Golbat returned. “We should leave. Team Magma have caught up with us, it seems – and the Golbat’s using different tactics now. It’s not taking any chances.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Let’s get back to the Centre.”

As we walked down the street, a thought struck me.

Puck? I just got your last reference!

To Diamonds Are Forever? I thought you might – I seem to remember you knowing who James Bond is.

Well, yeah. The world is not enough to contain his fame.

Oho! Puck seemed genuinely impressed. That’s good, Kester. Knowing that you can actually make jokes gives me a quantum of solace.

We both burst out laughing then, much to Sapphire’s surprise; she gave me an odd look, and I shook my head, pointing to my brain. She rolled her eyes and ignored me.

OK, OK, I thought. Let’s have a competition—

—To see who can reference the most Bond film titles? Puck asked. You’re on! Time’s up when we run out of films, and you can’t use any of them twice.

Fair enough, I agreed, and immediately started thinking of ways to relate the things I was seeing to James Bond.

Don’t rush it, Puck cautioned. Let it come naturally. This is going to be fun, and it’ll be best if we do it at a natural sort of pace.

“Right,” I said aloud, and schemed all the way back to the Pokémon Centre.

---

Goishi landed with a clatter in the centre of the table, scattering dishes and leaving a splatter of saliva over Fabien’s lobster terrine.

“Oh, come on!” cried Fabien, who was mere moments away from taking a mouthful, and now put down his knife and fork in disgust. “You know that’s my favourite!”

The Golbat eyed him with the sort of distaste usually reserved for foul and unidentifiable gunk that attaches itself to the sole of one’s shoe, and said:

“Eee-ee-EEEE-eek.”

Fabien listened intently, then asked:

“So they were at the Gym? Then why didn’t you catch them?”

Again, the withering stare; Fabien, completely impervious to it, nodded and smiled.

“I see,” he said sympathetically. “It was obviously too much for you.”

“Excuse me, sir,” interrupted a waiter as politely as possible, unwittingly forestalling any retribution on Goishi’s part, “I’m afraid I will have to ask you and your friend to leave. You can’t bring Pokémon in here; not non-domestic ones, anyway.”

He cast an unloving look at Goishi, who, affronted, slapped his cheek with the tip of his tongue; Fabien and Blake rose hurriedly, tossing a few notes onto the table to cover their ruined meal, and left before things got out of hand.

“Honestly,” Fabien said despairingly as they trudged through the Memorial Centre, “you really must be more sensitive, Goishi. That man didn’t deserve that.”

Goishi gave him up as a lost cause and shook his heavy head.

“Fabien,” said Blake.

“Yes?”

“I’ve acciden’ally stolen a fork.”

Fabien looked. He was right: the utensil was still clasped firmly in Blake’s meaty hand, and Blake himself was staring at it as if trying to figure out how it had got there.

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

“Do I take it back?”

“Too late now,” sighed Fabien. “Just... put it down somewhere. In that bin, that’ll do.”

Dutifully, Blake tipped the fork into the bin, which drew the ire of an old lady wandering nearby; she addressed them in no uncertain terms about the moral wickedness of failing to recycle metal items, and chased them down a flight of stairs, laying about their heads and shoulders with a stout umbrella.

Goishi flapped lazily along above his two masters, watching them flee the Centre in a panic, and sighed. He missed Stheno.

---

You may recall I said that Wednesday was an awful day, and be wondering quite what was so bad about it beyond having to separate Rono from the Magnemite and almost being kidnapped by a Golbat. I might well respond that that was bad enough – but it did actually get worse, and it started when we retired to the Centre’s living-room after lunch to see if there was anything on TV.

Sapphire and I were the only ones there – generally, Trainers were out for most of the day – and had thus managed to gain control of the sofa directly in front of the TV.
Comfortably seated and feeling almost normal, we flicked on the television and stared in surprise at the screen.

Hey, Puck said. It’s our old friend from Slateport.

There he was, topping the news, his sharp eyes shining like factories far away; he was grinning wildly into the lens of a CCTV camera, while his cohorts tore up books behind him. Talking over the frozen image was the voice of Gabby van Horne, Hoenn’s favourite newsgirl and one half of a partnership with the country’s most famous and reckless cameraman, Tyrone de’Medici.

Seriously? He belongs to the House of Medici?

“Ssh,” I hissed. “I’m trying to listen.”

“...attacks have spread to Verdanturf and Mauville over the last few days,” Gabby was saying. “Professor Birch is currently working with the Pokémon Rangers in order to try and find out what exactly is agitating the Sableye, and how best to calm them down.”

“Kill Stripe, that’s my guess,” I muttered. “He’s the one stirring them up. I thought I’d got him back in Slateport, but I guess he never dies. Just like tomorrow.”

Oh! Puck cried. You sneaky—! I’ll have to keep my guard up against you.

“This is bad,” Sapphire said. “We let those Sableye out. Aren’t we kind of responsible?” She looked at me, worried. I shrugged.

“Is it our fault that the lead Sableye’s crazy?” I asked.

“I guess...”

“Besides, what do you care? You’re fairly abusive as it is.” Sapphire looked hurt.

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“...the first recorded injury,” Gabby said, which snapped us out of what would doubtless have been a long and protracted argument. “Mrs. Deagle, 52, of Verdanturf, was thrown from a first-floor window by her stair-lift, which had been altered to run at dangerously high speed by the Sableye. She is currently in hospital, where her condition is said to be critical.”

Mesprit’s pink pigtails, Puck exclaimed, this joke is rapidly becoming my favourite. And you still aren’t getting it, you moronic Hoennian meatfaces!

Sapphire and I exchanged a vaguely guilty glance.

“Is that our...?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Can’t be our fault. We were just escaping, right? Couldn’t be helped.”

“Besides,” Sapphire added, “they can’t know for sure that it was the Sableye, can they?”

“The tracks of several Sableye were found nearby, and tufts of hair confirmed to be from the Darkness Pokémon were caught in some mechanical parts of the stair-lift,” Gabby went on, “marking them out as the obvious perpetrators of the crime. It is still uncertain why this gang of Sableye have developed criminal tendencies, but early studies indicate that there is a leader among them, instigating the violence. We’ll bring you more as it comes.”

Wow, said Puck mildly, it’s like this broadcast was tailored for you, the way it answered Sapphire’s question like that. You might even say it was... for your eyes only.

“Now is not the time, Puck—”

It’s always time for a Bond joke, Kester.

I ground my teeth and wished I’d never entered into the stupid competition; it was doing nothing but encouraging him.

Didn’t your mother tell you never to grind your teeth?

I tuned him out and returned to the news, but Gabby was talking now about the battle to cope with 140,000 Libyan refugees heading into Egypt and Tunisia, which should, in all fairness, have probably been on as the main story. In Hoenn, though, we’re pretty much unaffected by the events in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, and local news like enraged Sableye tends to top the bill. Our UN representative, if the rumours are to be believed, spends most of her time playing Chinese checkers against her Sinnish counterpart.

“Still, this stuff... it is pretty bad,” I said, worried. “OK, this might be partially our fault.”

“We should do something,” Sapphire agreed.

We looked at each other for a moment, hoping the other had an idea. In true form with days that get worse and worse, neither of us did, and we ended up doing nothing except feeling guilty and watching TV for another hour. After the news, during which we learned that British researchers had just created the highest-resolution optical microscope ever, we sat and suffered through an hour of daytime television, with the result that I felt myself to be in serious danger of a brain haemorrhage.

“We can’t stay here,” I said, determinedly turning off the TV. “It’s going to kill us. Well, it’s going to kill me, anyway.”

“You’re right,” said Sapphire. “We should... go and do something about those Sableye?”

“Yeah, all right,” I replied unenthusiastically. “I guess we could do that. I don’t suppose it said where they were?”

“If you were listening, you would know that that woman’s house is in Panzini District,” Sapphire told me. “If we go there, wander around and ask someone, I expect they’ll know where it is. They won’t still be there, but you don’t study wild Pokémon for seven years without learning how to track them.”

With that, we hit the road. Guilt is, I find, one of the most powerful motives for anything, and also certain to ruin your day.

At around a quarter to three, we arrived at the house of Mrs. Deagle, which was a fine old detached property that would, given fifty years without love, have made a good haunted house; unsurprisingly, there was a ring of police tape around it, and a white marquee erected over the spot in the road where the fateful stair-lift had crashed. The scene of crime officers buzzed around it like flies on a corpse, and a few policemen stood around the perimeter, explaining to us and to everyone else who had come to see that we couldn’t come any further, and that it would be preferable if we would all leave. Being Hoennian cops, they were significantly less polite than this, but the message was essentially the same.

“Come on,” said Sapphire, “let’s get around here.”

We skirted the crowd of onlookers, and managed to get to the left-hand side of the house, where a Sableye-sized hole had been cut into the wall. I had no doubt that the stair-lift was on the other side.

“Hey! You kids!” cried the policeman whose unfortunate duty it was to guard that spot. “Get outta here!”

“Just going,” Sapphire said, flashing her lopsided grin. “We’ve seen all we need to, thanks.”

She walked off down the street, and I turned and ran to catch up.

“Wait!” I said. “What do you mean, you’ve seen all you need to?”

“They went this way,” Sapphire said, pointing down the road. “Sableye like hard surfaces like stone and jewels, so they haven’t used the gardens. Look. There’s black fur on the fence-post there.”

I looked. There was, and I gave an impressed whistle.

“You know your stuff,” I said admiringly.

“Yes,” Sapphire replied, without the slightest trace of irony, “I do.”

I followed her down the road and towards a commercial area in the south of the district. There, the trail ran out, destroyed by the passage of cars and pedestrians; the Sableye could have gone anywhere from here.

“Damn,” I said. “Are you sure there’s nothing?”

“Nothing,” Sapphire said, looking annoyed. “That’s really annoying.”

Yes, I’ll bet it is, Puck said. This is where you need the services of a Ghost.

“Puck? What was that?”

Well, I can sense them, of course, he replied smugly. They’re Ghosts, I’m a Ghost. There’s a deep connection there. Spiritual, baby.

“Whatever. Where are they?”

“He can feel their presence? They’re near?”

I shushed Sapphire and listened to Puck.

I know where they are, he told me. You might call me Dr. Know.

“That was awful,” I replied, “but I appreciate it’s difficult to get that one into normal conversation. Where are they?”

Well, the leader one’s quite smart. You know, for a Sableye. So he remembers you, and not too fondly. Consequently, when he sensed your Ghostly presence, he decided to head this way with a gang of about... oh, maybe fifty friends?

“Oh God,” I said, ramming the heel of my palm into my forehead. “Sapphire, we need to get moving.”

“Why?” she asked, and I told her. “Oh,” she said. “That seems reasonable, I suppose.”

Someone shrieked from up the road. My head snapped around to face the direction of the sound, and I saw them coming: they moved along the walls, like they had in the lift shaft, swarming over the shopfronts and dropping down occasionally to bounce around on the heads of frightened passers-by. People were backing off and running, or staring in shock; the cars just kept rolling past, oblivious to the chaos that reigned on the pavement.

Then I saw Stripe. He was at the head of the column, grinning like a madman and, disconcertingly, gripping a Bowie knife between his teeth.

Seems like he’s been learning while looting those shops, Puck said. Kester, I think we might want to consider running.

“Sapphire, let’s go,” I said.

“Yes. Definitely,” she replied, and we ran.

A great chattering whoop went up from the Sableye, and they doubled their pace; the street degenerated into chaos, a blur of fleeing pedestrians and cars swerving violently to avoid them; the screech of brakes, frightened cries and the shrill battle-shout of the Sableye filled my ears for a brief instant before being blocked out by the thumping beat of my heart. A surge of energy washed over me, and somehow I ended up in front of Sapphire. I forced my way between a couple of slow fat people, and into an alleyway. Thinking back on it, heading for a dark, enclosed space – in other words, home turf for Sableye – probably wasn’t the best of ideas, but at the time I just wanted to leave the chaotic muddle of the street without getting hurt.

The alleys snaked and twisted around like fighting vipers, and I ran down them blindly, without thinking; some quirk of fate brought me out near Blintzkrieg, and I burst into the bright light of day with a strange, high-pitched cry of relief. This, combined with the wild-eyed, dishevelled look of me, frightened a cluster of teenage girls and sent them rushing over to the other side of the street, casting me strange looks.

They should be in school, Puck remarked. It’s what, quarter past three? Oh wait, maybe the schools have closed now. When I went to school, the day ended at quarter past six. A real man’s working day, that was.

I was too out of breath to reply, or even doubt that Puck had ever actually attended school; I flopped down onto a nearby bench and tried to get my breath back.

“We’re – safe now – right?” I panted after a moment or two.

I think so. They should have lost you in the confusion. You’ll live to die another day.

“Very – funny,” I replied, as sarcastically as I could given the small amount of breath I had to work with. “You never – know – when not to – make – jokes – do you?”

There isn’t much else for me to do, Puck pointed out. I’m kind of stuck in your head, if you remember.

“Shut up.”

I looked around at the passing traffic. The mess I’d escaped from seemed very far away; everyone here was calm, safe in the security of habit. No monsters were after their lives, and no evil organisations wanted to capture them. No one here was secretly watching another, stalking them until the moment was right to pounce; the street was just a chance combination of lives, coming together once in a unique combination that would break apart when someone turned the corner, and would never form again. I had a brief but profoundly philosophical moment of longing for the random vagaries of everyday life, and then I sighed, the feeling melting seamlessly into a strange, ineffable sadness.

I thought Hoennians were Buddhists? Puck asked. Shouldn’t you therefore not believe that any event is random?

“I’m not really much of a Buddhist,” I replied, drawing a strange look from a man walking his Growlithe. “I drink alcohol, for one, and I eat meat, and I never meditate... you know how you can be a nominal member of a religion, and not really be a proper member?”

I see, Puck said. It’s like that. Among the Pokémon with higher rational abilities, there are lots like that as well; I can see it applying to humans.

“Pokémon have religions?”

They’re the same ones as yours. When you go back to people as wise as Siddhattha Gautama or Jesus Christ, there isn’t any difference between human or Pokémon; we’re all just looking for something to believe in. Puck sounded pensive, perhaps even sad. It’s the price we pay for intelligence: we have to believe. Have you ever met an Alakazam? They’re very clever, but they’ve choked on their own intellect. All of them are fundamentalists about one thing or another; either that, or they’re insane. Puck sighed. It’s a pity that being smart isn’t a guarantee of wisdom. There’s nothing so valuable in this world, or anything so universally overlooked.

I was genuinely moved by his little speech; there was something about its sincerity and emotion that struck home deep within me, a little bell in my heart chiming the same note as his words. Perhaps it was just because it was so unlike him to engage in serious conversation, or perhaps I was just so new to philosophical discourse that I was overwhelmed by this brief taste of it, but I felt a rush of something new inside me.

“Anyway,” I said, after a brief pause, “we should see where Sapphire’s got to.”

Yes, agreed Puck hurriedly. I hope she got away.

“She will,” I replied. “The Sableye were after me, right? They’ll live and let die when it comes to her.”

Wha—? It’s so unexpected when you make jokes! Puck cried, and, smiling to myself, I got up and went in search of Sapphire.

---

In a long, dark alley behind a small, dark bar, a short man in a hooded coat dialled a number on his mobile telephone.

“Yeah boss, it’s me,” he said. “Tchaikovsky.”

Cutlerine
March 4th, 2011, 12:36 PM
By Omlet's papa spook, I hate this chapter; it's honestly the worst thing I've written since the start of 2010 - and that includes my Theology essays. Bleah. Here it is anyway. I'll give the next one my best shot to bring it back to the usual quality.

Oh yeah, and there won't be an update on Sunday; instead, the next update will come on Tuesday. This is so I can devote this entire weekend to my brand new copy of Pokémon Black Version, which I should come into possession of at around 4.25 tomorrow.

[clears throat] Uh, one more thing: the title is the worst pun I've ever made. Really.

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Convergence of the Main (Characters)

The thing was on the move.

It tore across the country at blistering speed, easily outpacing any human fool enough to try and catch it; swooping from the heights of the Madeira Mountains, it shot southeast, heading for Mauville almost as the crow flies, and from there straight south to Slateport.

In a Poké Ball on a train was not the most dignified way to travel, but the thing cared not; it possessed roughly the same level of intelligence as a watermelon, and was content as long as it had something to chase.

And it did: Maxie had sent it and his most trusted Administrator to secure the SuperBlast Module, and before Thursday was out, they would be travelling back to the mountain, prize in hand.

---

As dawn broke over Slateport City, a tall, thin man with an eyepatch and a wooden leg stood next to a short, fat man with the opposite eye and leg missing; both wore the blue suits and sunglasses of Team Aqua, and also large, ostentatious black hats with the Aqua logo on them. Their names were Hans and Molasses, and they were watching the long, low building next to Angel Laboratories where deliveries were loaded up to be driven away. Attacking Angel itself was out of the question; their security was Devon-standard, and consequently the only option was to hijack the delivery truck as it left the compound.

Molasses, the small one, gestured with a hook-hand.

“Not long now,” he grunted.

Hans, the tall one, nodded.

Around the area were arrayed thirteen other Aquas, each slightly lower-ranking than the last. Like Hans and Molasses, they were wearing the full dress uniform of the Team: hat, hook and wooden leg; eyepatch, suit and sunglasses. Before sunset fell over Hoenn, they would be back at Aqua headquarters, and they would have succeeded just as much as the Magmas.

---

“Kester, I swear I’m going to push you into the traffic if you don’t stop complaining.”

“I’m not saying anything!” I cried in protest, spreading my hands wide.

That’s true, affirmed Puck. You’re too busy trying to think of Bond jokes.

“Well, your eyes are complaining,” Sapphire replied waspishly. “Look happier.”

It was ten o’clock on Thursday morning, and we’d been hanging around the deliveries entrance to the Spectroscopic Fancy building since dawn. Sapphire had woken me at some ungodly hour much as the Bellman’s crew had pursued their target – namely, with forks and hope. She had, typically, displayed zero gratitude for my tracking her down the day before and finding the way back to the Pokémon Centre. As a result of this and the whole ‘waking me up by jabbing me with a fork’ thing, our relations were more strained than usual today.

“Look,” I said, “I’m resigned to the fact that you and I don’t get along. That’s cool now. But I don’t want to be blamed for things I haven’t done!”

Sapphire waved my words aside.

“Fine, fine,” she said. “You’re not complaining.”

“Thank you,” I replied, in a tone that I hoped conveyed slightly ruffled dignity. “Now, let’s all calm down and wait for the SuperBlast Module to arrive.”

---

Darren Goodwin leaned against a pilaster on the surface of a large building whose architect knew the Classical orders well and used them to great effect; a plaque beside the door proclaimed it to be the head office of the Mauville Times. No one challenged him, and if they had they would have swiftly been sent on their way by the threat of the Raiders, hanging in a loose cloud above his head.

The Devon researcher was watching Kester Ruby and the Aqua girl. They were just around the corner from him, and so laughably unaware of his presence that he almost smiled. He had been told that, since he was in the area, he might as well oversee the delivery of the Module; happily, though somewhat unexpectedly given its nature, it seemed his targets also had designs on the device, and so he had decided that, once it had been delivered safely, he would use the Raiders to force the Aqua girl to return the Master Ball, take possession of Kester, and then bring the girl in for questioning.

Darren sighed, and closed his heavy eyelids for a moment. It had been a long week, and he missed the sound of his wife’s voice. But it would be over soon. He would be home by tomorrow morning, and then they would celebrate the delayed anniversary of their third year of marriage together.

And if fate conspired to lead events in a different direction, then Darren would use every power available to him as a Goodwin to alter it.

---

As soon as the truck rumbled out of the garage, the Aqua grunts sprang into action: a blue Aqua lorry was swiftly backed up by the entrance to the car park, and as soon as the truck passed through the gateway, the waiting lorry reversed sharply, lowering its rear ramp and scooping the truck neatly into its interior.

Shouts and gunshots sounded from near the Angel building, and Hans glanced back to see the black-clad security forces of the Laboratories emerging from strategic points around the area.

“Close the door!” he yelled, and two grunts burst from hiding to slam the lorry door shut on the truck, which was trying and failing to reverse. As bullets sang through the air, the Aquas alternately fled and returned fire, grabbing onto a series of straps attached to the side of their lorry as its engine turned and roared.

The Angel men poured into black cars and gave chase as soon as the lorry began to move, and soon the entire conflict had moved into the street, where the traffic parted before the chase in a storm of blaring horns and screaming brakes. Those that failed to do so were tossed aside by the lorry’s reinforced front.

So much fire was now being traded by the Aquas and the Angels that the air between the cars and lorry now seemed to be primarily composed of metal and noise; round holes opened up on the lorry’s rear, but its girth prevented any bullets from finding their mark on the Aquas themselves. Similarly, the armoured Angel cars were more than enough protection to render the Aquas’ firearms useless. Neither side could accomplish anything by the senseless shooting, and both sides’ driving suffered from it: the Angel cars almost crashed multiple times, and the Aqua lorry did crash at least twice – though it was so huge that it merely bulldozed the lampposts and smaller vehicles that had the temerity to stand in its way.

Then came the decisive moment: a corner. The lorry slewed around to a concerto of furious brakes, tipping and turning in a wholly unsafe manner; the Aqua cars tried to pull ahead of it, but were stopped by the unexpected rupturing of the lorry’s wall. It seemed it could not take the weight of the Angel truck leaning against it, and so the delivery vehicle burst through, hit the ground with wheels spinning and sped off back in the direction of the Laboratories.

Immediately, the lorry bounced wildly back to a fully vertical position, flinging grunts high into the air; they rained down like confetti, slamming with cries of pain into cars, tarmac and even roofs. By a strange quirk of fate, it seemed none were seriously injured, although several had lost their peg-legs, and they made their bruised way back to the lorry to turn around and give chase to the now-fleeing Angel vehicles.

The truck with the Module in was in the lead, with the three Angel cars surrounding it to prevent attack from the back and sides. The lorry, after a surprisingly sharp turn, lumbered along close behind, much faster now that it lacked its bulky cargo. Between it and the cluster of Angel vehicles, the air was almost a solid wall of bullets – but they might as well have been blanks for all the damage they did to either the cars or the lorry. Neither the Aquas nor the Angels knew entirely why they were still shooting, but both sides were damned if they were going to give up before the enemy.

The lorry rammed the rearmost Angel car, and the smaller vehicle shot forwards to crunch into the back of the truck; however, it was entirely undamaged, and the chase continued apace. The continuous blam! blam! blam! of gunshots; the shrieks of fleeing motorists and pedestrians alike; the roar of the great lorry’s engine; the sounds of the chase spewed out across the street in crazy waves that battered at the eardrums and demanded to be let in.

The truck tore back into the car park, braking hard and drawing long black lines of rubber across the asphalt; it slewed across three parking spaces, obliterated a parked car and slid neatly into the open door of the loading building. The three Aqua cars pulled up neatly outside the front doors, and their occupants each leaned out of the nearest window and started firing with gusto.

Hans and Molasses, in the cab of the lorry, looked at each other with unease. This was not meant to happen; in fact, nothing since the truck had fallen out of the side of the lorry had been meant to happen.

“Stupid cheap armoured lorry,” muttered Molasses under his breath. “That’s the last time we buy from Notorious Evans.”

“I told you he was called ‘notorious’ because he’s notorious for selling weak-walled lorries,” replied Hans, though in fact this was a complete fabrication; Notorious Evans was notorious purely for being somewhat shady, and employing underhand tactics at the Slateport Citywide Horticultural Show.

This was all they had a chance to say, because at that moment the lorry’s supposedly unbreakable windscreen broke, and they had to duck a storm of glass and bullets and throw the lorry into reverse. Seconds later, the Angel truck re-emerged from the garage, this time with the noticeable addition of a green-haired man in a blue suit standing on the roof. This was not the most alarming thing about him, as noted by Hans as he reversed the lorry furiously up the road; no, the really troubling thing was that he had a very large gun in his hands, of the type generally known to those who know them well as the 7.62mm M134 General Electric Minigun.

This development was both unexpected and unwelcome. The Minigun was far too large for one person to hold or wield safely, but, like Blain with Ol’ Painless, this man appeared to have no trouble doing so.

“This cannot be happening,” Molasses said, and then the blue-suited man opened fire.
How he stayed upright on the moving vehicle, firing a gun more usually mounted on a helicopter, will forever remain a mystery; we will not even touch on the implausibility of him being able to operate the Minigun and keep his arms in their sockets. This was Angel Laboratories, who were as corrupt as Devon and five times as insane; if someone threatened their products, they fought back with all available resources. And as acting head of the company, it was only natural that Usher House would defend it to the death.
We shall not dwell on the results of this attack too much; we shall pass over the whine and hiss of bullets, the rending of steel and the hilarious cries of incredulity that the fleeing Aquas made. What is more important is the conclusion to the episode: namely, that the Angel truck and its accompanying trio of black armoured cars sped past the ruined lorry, and that as they turned onto the motorway the police turned up outside Angel Laboratories.

---

“Yes,” said Felicity. “Goodbye, sir.” She put down the phone and glanced across at Barry. “Change of plans,” she said. “We’re going to Spectroscopic Fancy.”

---

I could tell the truck was from Angel because Usher was standing on the roof, impossibly maintaining his balance against the wind and carrying a gun that was far too large for any normal person to even lift. It tore around the corner at breakneck speed, and behind it came a battered-looking green car and an ominous cloud of darkness.

“Sapphire, I think the goods have arrived,” I said, somewhat redundantly.

The truck screeched to a halt outside Spectroscopic Fancy, but it seemed no one from the company was willing to get involved. Consequently, the cloud of darkness went unopposed as it growled, coiled and sprang up onto the truck’s roof. Usher swung the gun around towards it, but a massive black-grey paw emerged from the cloud and swatted it away like a matchstick.

I don’t know why I did what I did next. It was a stupid thing to do, and against every cowardly bone in my body. But I did it anyway, out of pure instinct: I ran into the road and screamed an Astonish.

For a brief moment, everyone froze: the cloud of darkness, tilting slightly towards the sound; Usher, staring at me in surprise; Felicity and her partner Barry, getting out of their car. There was no sound save the lingering echo of the Astonish, and no movement at all.
Then Sapphire appeared on the roof of the truck and hauled Usher out of the way, and the spell broke. The cloud of darkness leaped down from the roof to land in front of me, leaving a woman behind it on the roof; simultaneously, Felicity’s gun snapped around to point at my face, and Barry launched himself towards the truck.

Kester, Puck said, this guy hates me, and he remembers my scent. He can also kill us any time he likes, so GET OUT OF THE WAY!

I was startled into obeying, darting left just as a set of yellow teeth clashed together where my head had once been; Felicity fired reflexively but missed, and the blast whipped away part of the dark cloud for a moment, revealing a huge, shaggy head like a wolf’s. Then the cloud reformed, snarled, and started chasing me.

I ducked between the Aqua car and the Angel truck, and the shadowy monster tried to follow. Felicity fired again, though, and something within the darkness ruptured: blood splattered over the bonnet of the car, and the monster gave a spine-chilling yowl of pain as it pulled back. I sighed, relieved, then found myself staring down the barrel of Felicity’s gun.

“In the car,” she said. “Now.”

Barry had never fought Courtney before, but he had, of course, heard of her. Everyone had; everyone knew the rumours about her.

In the last five seconds, Barry had been able to confirm almost all of them.

Courtney hadn’t spoken to him since she’d dropped from the back of Maxie’s Pokémon. They both wanted the truck and its contents, and both were willing to fight to it – to the death, if necessary. Hence, the battle had begun as soon as Barry tried to stop her opening the truck’s doors. She had taken up a knife; Barry had made fists. The wordless communication that this fight was serious passed between them, and then they had started.

It was hard, and Barry knew that he was losing, but he had to hold her off; there was no way that he could let the Magmas get hold of the Module. Whatever it was, it was far too important. But Courtney moved around him like smoke on the breeze, tracing red lines across his skin like a child scribbling on the walls; none of his punches connected, her slender frame intangible beneath his fists. In this situation, there was only one thing that could happen: Barry lost it.

Like a wounded bull, he bellowed and threw himself bodily forwards at where he thought Courtney might be; naturally, he missed and fell face-first onto the steel roof of the truck. Surprised, Courtney paused, knife raised to slit his throat – and then the truck started moving.

---

Sapphire and Usher ducked down beside the truck’s cabin, on the other side to the driver’s seat; this was crucial, since that was not the side that Courtney chose to climb down to knock out its occupant. There, as the sounds of battle rained down upon them from the roof, they conferred together without words, formulating a small plan and putting past differences temporarily behind them. Perhaps it might have worked had not Darren Goodwin chosen that moment to storm around the corner.

He grabbed Usher by the lapels and dragged him to his feet.

“You,” he said, “wait around the corner. I’ll see to it that neither of them get it.”

It was at this point that Sapphire noticed the thing floating above the Devon researcher. She might have called it a Magneton if it had been composed of just the three orbs, but, comprising as it did around nine individual Magnemite, she wasn’t entirely sure what it was.
“Raiders,” Darren snapped at this strange apparition, “hold her for a moment.”

Before Sapphire could react, the ring of floating balls encircled her in a tight spiral, lines of lightning crackling into life between each one, sealing her into a cage of electricity. Her hand paused halfway to her belt; any wrong move here would result, no doubt, in death by electrocution.

Darren climbed up into the cab of the truck, pushing the driver onto the passenger’s seat, and was about to start the engine when the cloud of darkness exploded on the other side of the truck, and the biggest Mightyena that Sapphire had ever seen flew out of it to land with a crunch on the tarmac.

---

Kester, said Puck urgently, you want to get through this alive?

Yes?

Obey Felicity, get in the car. Trust me on this.

I did, and she locked the door behind me before slinging her gun over her back and beginning to climb onto the roof.

Now, get in the driver’s seat.

“O-K...”
I shuffled across, over the gearstick and into the driver’s seat.

Now, hold onto the wheel. Don’t worry about the driving, that’s up to me.

“What driving?” I began, but it was too late: I’d touched the wheel, and sparks crackled between me and the plastic as Puck’s powers of possession sprang into action. The engine snarled, and before I’d even registered that we were moving we’d backed up and started hurtling forwards.

Now I saw the reason for Puck’s urgency: the monster in the dark cloud had been coming back, apparently unharmed by the shotgun wound, and he had decided we should—

“Puck!” I screamed, trying to let go of the steering wheel and failing. “Puck, this is a really bad id—!”

CRASH!

The impact distracted Courtney for the single moment Barry needed; he leaped up and was about to punch her when the truck leaped forwards beneath them. In a hopeless tangle, they tumbled over the edge, landed on the Mightyena and struggled back up just as the truck pulled away. The unfortunate Mightyena had just managed to get to its feet, but their combined weight forced it back down and knocked its head against the tarmac, sending it to sleep with a startled yelp.

“After the Module!” Barry roared, though to whom he spoke was anyone’s guess; Courtney’s knife came up, and it was likely that blood would have been spilled on both sides if a voice had not rung out at that moment:

“STOP!”

Once again, all the combatants froze at a loud noise. This time, however, all eyes turned to Usher, rather than to Kester – who was in no condition to speak right then, anyway. He stepped forwards from the pavement into the silence, and asked pleadingly:

“Will somebody please tell me why all of you people want our Module so much?”

Both Courtney and Barry opened their mouths, but neither of them could actually reply. Felicity watched them from a distance, unimpressed; she knew, or at least had an idea, but she wasn’t going to tell them.

“I don’t know,” admitted Barry at length. “But it’s important!”

“Why? Why would you want an arcade machine that much?”

“What?”

The shout came from Sapphire, Courtney, and Barry; the latter two stormed over to him, and pointed at the truck, which Darren had stopped a few yards down the road to watch the fireworks from.

“In there,” snapped Courtney, “you’ve got an arcade machine?”

“Well, yes,” replied Usher apologetically. “It’s a new model for Spectroscopic Fancy. They supply them. In fact, this one’s for the Mauville Game Corner.”

“I don’t believe it!” rumbled Barry, stomping across to the truck and ripping open the door; he hauled out the large crate within and kicked it to matchsticks. Then he fought valiantly against the polystyrene, and stared with mingled disbelief and fury at the Y-38P SuperBlast Module. “I don’t believe it,” he said again. “It’s an arcade machine.” Then: “Damn it!” He kicked the screen in and thundered back to Usher, at whom he howled in rage for a moment before leaving to find something to beat up.

Courtney was more reserved; she looked around, sighing, and recalled Maxie’s battered Mightyena, now bereft of its shroud. She swore quietly and walked off, rubbing her forehead with one hand.

Usher watched them go with a bemused look on his face, then hurried over to the Angel truck to confer with Darren Goodwin.

For her part, Felicity looked on and felt vaguely sick. It wasn’t just that all the action and effort had been for this anticlimax; it was more the sensation that her arms were no longer working. Neither, it seemed, were her legs. Slowly, very slowly, they crumpled beneath her, and the shotgun slipped from her hands. The ground rose gently up to meet her, a soft grey pillow for her aching head, and her eyes slid shut as the world swam before them.

---

“That was... odd,” remarked Fabien.

“Yeah,” agreed Blake. “I don’ get why Cour’ney said we weren’ to ’elp ’er, though.”

“Pride, my friend, pride.”

They were just around the corner, peering around a wall and trying to establish exactly what had just happened and why; unfortunately, neither of them could come up with an explanation.

“Well,” said Fabien eventually, “I guess we could catch that Rotom-kid now, while he’s still unconscious.”

“There’s a thought,” Blake replied.

They advanced from hiding, and across the street in her electric cage the Aqua girl’s eyes widened.

“Usher!” she yelled. “There are more Magmas coming!”

Fabien looked up the road to see the blue-suited man look up sharply; from the door of the truck next to him came an all-too familiar figure. It was the shape of the Devon researcher who had bested them back in Slateport.

“Blake!” cried Fabien. “Run for the car!”

“That didn’ work last time!” said Blake, but he did it anyway; unfortunately, the Rotom must still have been awake as the boy slept, because the car drove away at their approach, coughing black smoke and trailing the bumper from its smashed-in front.

The researcher shouted something, and his many-headed Magneton ceased their embrace of the Aqua girl and flew over to him. Together, they and their master ran towards the two Magmas.

“Goishi!” cried Fabien. “Distract them!”

“...eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-EEEEEEK!” came a shrill cry from above, growing steadily louder and louder with the descent, and then a bolt of blue and purple lightning shot across their field of view, snatched up the Aqua girl in a blur of pink-grey tongue, and vanished again.

“No!” said Fabien, aghast. “I meant distract the resear— never mind! Blake! Cover us!”

The two Magmas took to their heels and fled, Blake firing wildly behind them; since they had recently had quite a lot of practice at running away, it was not long before they were several blocks away, and alone once more.

---

An arcade machine.

It couldn’t possibly be. This was what the two Teams had been after all this time? A new type of arcade machine? It just couldn’t be. And yet... it was.

Sapphire didn’t even really need the Magneton-thing to hold her in place; she was glued to the floor with shock. An arcade machine...

There had to be a trick. Someone had set the Teams up. They hadn’t been expecting an arcade machine, after all. With a strange sort of horrified calm, Sapphire realised that the mystery of the Devon goods was nothing, just a small step in some larger plan.

No sooner had she come to this realisation than the Magmas turned up, and from then on everything became very confusing. She was released, and then suddenly captured in exactly the same way Kester had been the day before; however, Sapphire was still too shell-shocked to feel embarrassed or even angry.

An arcade machine...

How was it possible that something could have gone so horribly wrong as this little adventure? It had seemed relatively serious, but for the object the two Teams sought to turn out to be nothing more than some stupid video game... it was beyond belief.

Snap out of it!

Sapphire opened her eyes, and that was when she realised that the drama wasn’t yet over. Below her was Mauville, a child’s playset stretched out from horizon to horizon, and all around her was the clear blue sky.

And then Sapphire swore, and gulped, and looked up to see her captor, the Magma Golbat, and the thick python of its tongue twitching and straining at her weight.

Then she swore again, drawing the attention of the Golbat. It tightened its grip around her a little, then a little more; in between her struggles, Sapphire’s last thought before she blacked out was that she hoped to God it knew when to stop. Otherwise, she reasoned in that calm second before complete unconsciousness, she would probably die.

---

“What’s the meaning of this?” demanded Maxie furiously, throwing over the coffee table. A subordinate dashed forwards to clear up the mess, but was swiftly moved to a prone position on the floor by the application of a fist to his face. “Some benefactor you are!”

Zero regarded him with eyes that contained something Maxie didn’t recognise.

“It seems I was misinformed by my Aqua mole,” he replied. “Don’t worry. I shall have them... suitably punished.”

“What the hell does that mean?” roared the Magma boss; he made as if to strike Zero, but something held him back.

“Don’t you see what it means?” Zero said quietly. “It means that this entire thing was an Aqua scam.”

“But they seemed surprised... No!” Maxie looked, if possible, even angrier than before. “You’re right! It’s just like those damned pirates to pull off a trick like this.”

“I suggest you move forwards with the effort to find the orb as swiftly as possible,” Zero told him. “The Aquas must be heading towards war.”

“Wait,” said Maxie, reining in his temper with a tremendous and very visible effort, “what about proof? We have no proof that this was an Aqua scam.”

Zero had already thought of this.

“I will have my Aqua agent brought to you,” he said. “She seems to have fallen ill recently, but I’m sure that won’t matter. You can extract all the information you want from her.”

Maxie nodded; the prospect of a little light torture seemed just the thing to vent his spleen on.

“All right,” he said. “We’ll do it.”

---

“You understand,” Archie said, leaning forwards in his armchair, “this is a serious oversight on your part, Zero.”

Zero nodded.

“Yes,” he replied. “But listen. I do, in fact, have a plan for just this contingency...”

Xilfer
March 7th, 2011, 09:51 AM
How do you DO these things?! you're the best storywriter since J.K.Rowling!

I really like the speech that Puck gave off on the bench after the run from the Sableye, that was good, and rather true. Cleverness isn't a garauntee of Wisdom.

Anywho, your last chapter, i must admit was EXTREMELY surprising, an ARCADE MACHINE?! where did you get that idea from? haha! looks like it's all part of some bigger plan.

Cutlerine
March 9th, 2011, 12:20 AM
I'm not sure your statement regarding the quality of my writing is true, but I'll accept the compliment anyway. As for the arcade machine thing... that was thought up a long time ago, when I was just starting this story.

Oh yeah, and I'm a few hours late; English coursework, the cartoon for the school magazine and Pokémon Black conspired to ensure this chapter wasn't entirely finished until five minutes ago.

Chapter Twenty-Six: A Promise Once Made

When I woke up, I was sprawled over the steering wheel, with the hard plastic digging painfully into my ribs. Dull aches throbbed steadily all over my body, and there was blood on the dashboard.

I groaned and eased myself up into a sitting position, falling back against the seat with some relief.

“What...?” I began, forcing my eyes fully open and looking around. I had no idea where I was, but it wasn’t Spectroscopic Fancy: in fact, it seemed to be a box made of steel, almost like the inside of the Master Ball. “Puck,” I said suddenly. “Puck.”

You called?

“What have you done?” I asked, in tones that revealed murder was not too far from my mind.

Saved our lives, that’s what. They scared the living daylights out of you, but you’re essentially unharmed.

“You rammed that... that thing in the cloud,” I said. “I didn’t even have a seatbelt on.”

It was us or him, Kester, us or him. That effectively gives us a licence to kill.

“Stop doing that,” I growled. “I’ve had enough.” I pointed out of the window. “Where are we?”

In a freight container down near Eastfield Airport, Puck informed me. You’ve no idea how hard it was to get here.

“A freight contai—? Wait! Where’s Sapphire?”

From what I saw as we drove off, I’m guessing that she’s on the way to the Magma HQ. Y’know, on account of being captured by them and all.

“What?”

I sat bolt upright, felt pain flare white-hot in my abdomen and neck, and hurriedly slumped again.

“What?” I repeated, more quietly.

Oh, I knew you’d be like this, Puck said, sighing. You’re so... so human, Kester.

“What does that mean? You’re not concerned at all?”

Of course not! Puck protested. I’m a Rotom, and a noble one at that, maybe the freest there ever was. Humans are of no concern to me.

For the first time, I became aware of the gap between Puck’s mind and mine; we weren’t just different species, or even different animals, but entirely different orders of being: he was a strange thing born of plasma, and I was a mammal. However human Puck seemed to be at times, he couldn’t be further from my kind without being dead.

Besides, he pressed on, you don’t like her anyway. Just forget it, Kester. You fulfilled your obligations to her already – you found out about the goods. Well, you were unconscious by that time, but I heard it because I was in the car.

“You sounded so much more moral before,” I told him. My voice was low; there was something in me struggling to make itself heard, and I was suppressing it as best I could. “When you talked about religion yesterday, and when you told me to go comfort Sapphire.”

Because we had to! Puck said violently. To stay with her and maintain the cover!

“What cover?” I shouted back.

There was a long silence.

That’s none of your concern, the Rotom said at length. It’s entirely my own affair.

“Your affairs are my affairs,” I replied coldly. “My head, my rules, remember?”

It would put you in danger—

“And I’m not in danger already?” I cried. “Puck, I’m in a stolen car in a freight container in an airport warehouse, with Team Magma and Team Aqua after my head, as well as the Devon Corporation. I’ve been in danger since last Sunday!”

Fine. Puck’s voice was colder than anything I’d heard before; colder than Sapphire’s, colder than Felicity’s. It didn’t sound truly human, and I wondered if this was what thoughts were like: raw emotion, undiluted by words. Do you want the truth, Kester? Is that what will satisfy you? Well, here it is: I’m no friendly trickster Rotom who happened to land in your head and makes stupid jokes all day. I live in the real world – more real than yours, at any rate. I’m a professional thief, and I came to Hoenn to hide after a heist went wrong in Italy. As soon as I hit Lilycove, that Zero guy approached me to steal the Devon goods, and told me he’d turn me over to the authorities if I didn’t. I stole them, but like Felicity said, that guy has everything planned out beforehand: he knew I’d be chased into the P-L.O.T. Device and end up in your head. And that, Kester, Puck told me, that is your truth. Do with it what you will.

I sat there for a moment, head spinning, and aching with every revolution. I closed my eyes, and thought for a long, long moment.

“I’m going to find Sapphire,” I said quietly, and got out of the car.

What? No! cried Puck. Don’t do that!

“Why not?” I asked in a voice lacking tone, pushing open the door and stepping out of the container into bright sunlight. “After all, you only live twice.”

---

Loading...

I stared at the computer screen for a moment, waiting for the little bar to fill up.

TM detected: TM57 (S) -- CHARGE BEAM.
Is this correct?

“Yes,” I said, and clicked it.

Point Tutor Unit at Pokémon and click 'Continue'.

I obeyed, with a small amount of contortion, and a few moments later I was walking out of the Pokémon Centre, Sapphire’s bag slung over one shoulder and a new move burning in my mind. I was refreshed in body, having used one of Sapphire’s Full Restores to fix up ribs that I thought were probably broken, but my mind remained stubbornly out of sorts.

Kester, for the last time, Puck said despairingly, don’t do this.

“Doesn’t matter to you, does it?” I replied, drawing odd looks from passers-by and not caring. “If I die, you go free.”

You’re the perfect cover, he told me. The way things are right now, I won’t be able to show my face anywhere for another six months. This is the only place no one can find me.

“So you lied about wanting to leave, as well?” I asked. I thought I should feel angry, but I didn’t. I felt empty, as if I’d been sick until there was nothing left within me. I didn’t know if I was worried about Sapphire or shocked or what, but I knew I wanted to get her back. The two Magmas who’d tried to apprehend me in Rustboro hadn’t been the best criminals in the world, but their Team hadn’t attained its power through being idiotic, and I was willing to bet that they had more threatening people on their side.

Yes, of course! Puck snapped. It doesn’t matter, does it? You humans lie continuously, why can’t I?

“Because it’s wrong,” I replied, turning a corner.

You don’t even know where Sapphire is, Puck said, changing the subject.

“You said she was on her way to the Magma HQ,” I said. “And everyone knows that that means Lavaridge.”

She could still be in the city, Puck reasoned. Then you’d never find her. So you have about as much chance of finding her as of finding Nemo. Though of course they did find him, in the end. Wait. Now is not the time for jokes.

“Make all the jokes you want,” I said. “No one laughed before, and no one’s laughing now. The Magma grunts will know where she is, so we’ll find them first. And I’ve got a feeling I know how to do that.”

I rounded another corner, and was immediately turned back by a policeman in a fluorescent jacket; behind him, a police barricade sealed off Zinfandel Avenue.

“What happened?” I asked him, looking past the barrier at the wreckage of the street. It was splattered with dabs of thick dark blood, from the giant Pokémon’s wounds, and the Angel van was still there, dented, battered and full of bullet-holes. Usher’s improbably large gun lay on its side a few metres away.

“Aquas and Magmas,” the policeman replied. I did a good show of looking surprised.

“Aquas?” I asked sharply. “Was there a girl about my age, very pretty, long white hair, in a Team Aqua uniform here?”

The man narrowed his eyes at me, crumpling his weather-beaten face into something that resembled a weathered piece of limestone. My heart rate soared; this was a gamble that would only pay off if someone had seen Felicity here...

“There was,” he said. “How did you know that?”

I held in a sigh of relief, and looked worried instead.

“She’s my girlfriend,” I told him. The cop looked surprised at this, then made the face of one about to impart unwelcome news.

“I’ll get a car to take you to the hospital,” he said, deciding not to tell me. “Come with me.”

---

Smooth operating, I have to admit, Puck said grudgingly. I didn’t expect you to get this far.

I was sitting on one of those hospital chairs that look comfortable but are, in actual fact, supremely ill-suited to sitting upon, looking at Felicity. She lay on a hospital bed, discoloured eyes shut and face paler than ever; it no longer had any colour in it at all, but was the pure white of fresh paper, or of clothes in washing powder adverts. A tube ran into a cannula in her arm, and its other end was connected to a bag of blood, since she appeared to be lacking a substantial amount of it. The ever-present grey headphone was on the bedside cabinet, the antenna neatly retracted and the whole switched off. If the situation hadn’t been so serious, I might have compared it to that nasty business that happened last year, because something along these lines had occurred as a result of it.

“How can you talk like that?” I asked him. “As if nothing had happened?”

Because that’s how we survive in this world, Puck replied. Live and let die.

“If that’s a joke, you already used that film.”

It wasn’t a joke. Call that a joke? This is a joke.

I waited, but no joke was forthcoming. Puck sighed.

That, he explained patiently, was the joke. Never mind.

“I don’t get it.”

I said never mind.

“Explain it.”

You never ask me to explain my jokes. I’m touched. I might not have got his jokes, but I picked up on the Rotom’s ironic tone immediately. I chose to do nothing about it, though, and let him explain. Look, there’s this film called Crocodile Dundee, yes? The eponymous hero is cornered at one point by a mugger with a knife, but he laughs and goes, ‘Call that a knife? This is a knife’ and pulls out a much, much bigger knife. It’s a classic film moment, like when the alien comes out of Kane’s chest.

I genuinely wished I hadn’t asked; put like that, it made Puck seem clever, when right now I wanted to be able to think he was stupid, and that he was advocating the wrong course of action.

The doctors had said they didn’t know what was wrong with Felicity; the only symptom she presented other than the discoloured eyes and skin was the fact that about a litre of her blood seemed to have been replaced with mineral water. They had told me this much earlier, in between asking me about her family; it seemed she didn’t carry an I.D. card, and I had told them she was an immigrant and that her family hadn’t come over with her.

“Kusou,” Felicity murmured, stirring. Immediately, I got up and went over to her.

“Felicity,” I said. “How are you?”

Her eyelids fluttered open, and the yellow-and-blue orbs behind them settled on me.

“Kusou,” she said again. “Of all the people... where am I?” She tried to sit up, but she was so weak I could hold her down just by resting one hand on her forehead.

“In hospital,” I told her. “You’ve run out of blood, it seems.”

Felicity’s eyes flicked over to the blood bag and back.

“I am glad,” she said simply. “I don’t want to turn to water.” She regarded me with distaste. “I don’t have to thank you, do I?”

“No,” I told her.

As I told Milton’s Paradise Lost, Puck said, get to the point already.

“I need to find those two Team Magma grunts who’ve been tailing me,” I said. “Do you know where they would be?”

“Why should I tell you anything?” Felicity asked calmly. Her eyes were full of winter.

“You can’t really refuse,” I pointed out mildly. “I mean, I could kill you right now.”

She uttered a hollow laugh.

“Even if you wanted to, you could not. Not while I am like this.”

I had no idea what she was getting at there. Did she mean I didn’t have the stomach to kill her? That was right, of course. I could no more kill her than myself.

“Just tell me,” I said. “Tell me and... and I’ll help you.”

Felicity’s eyes widened slightly.

“Promise me,” she said. “Then I’ll help you.”

I hesitated.

Palkia’s claws, Puck said, don’t do that! You’re in enough trouble as it is.

That decided me. I’m slightly ashamed of it, but I did it purely to spite Puck: I held out a hand and she shook it weakly.

“Deal,” I said. Felicity managed half a smile.

“Fine,” she said. “I know exactly where they have gone. This is part of Zero’s plan, and he told me this much. They have caught Sapphire, haven’t they? She will go to Lavaridge, to the Magma base. They will figure out that you are captive to that Master Ball, and when you get there, they’re going to recall you with it. Then you’ll be theirs.”

I made a face.

“When does this train leave?” I asked.

“That’s easy enough to work out?”

“You know the train, don’t you?” I said. “Which train are they taking, Felicity?”

Felicity blinked.

“The next express one,” she replied, as if it were obvious. “Which, if I am correct, leaves Crescelton at half past four.”

I looked at my watch, and realised it had broken in the crash; I glanced over at the clock above the door, swore, apologised, thanked Felicity and left at a sprint.

Behind me, the clock ticked, and the minute hand rolled over onto fourteen.

---

Fabien looked at the station clock; it read fourteen past four, and he sighed and tapped one foot.

“This’ll show Maxie,” he said, to cheer himself up. “Think of it, Blake! Courtney fails completely – and we capture the Aqua handler!”

“It’s good, ain’t it?” agreed Blake.

The two of them were standing on Platform 4 at Crescelton, a small station in the northeast of Mauville’s Bannine district; the only object of note on the premises was the wrought-iron lamppost in the centre of Platform 5, which Fabien had been staring at for a while and had been unable to divine the purpose of.

Goishi had found them cowering behind a dumpster after a protracted search that almost merits its own story. He had met with a homing Tranquill that had got seriously off-course and circled halfway around the globe looking for Castelia City; he had spoken with something that might have been the ghost of Solomon; he had fought off the unwanted attention of a harlot Zubat of low repute in a back alley; and he had even come close to crashing into a large man on a flying motorbike. It seemed to him that all the strange things in life had collected in the air above Mauville, but he hadn’t pondered the matter further. Life was too short – especially so in his case, since he was seven years old and due to die in another three. If he could evolve, he would easily make twenty at least – Crobat were significantly more long-lived than their blue pre-evolutions – but given his opinions of Fabien, he had long ago resigned himself to an early death.

Returning from that digression, he had found his two comrades behind a dumpster, and he had presented them with the Aqua girl; they had then congratulated him – for once – and divested her of her four Poké Balls. A quick search through her pockets had revealed her identity to be Sapphire Birch, daughter of Alan, which was surprising but of no real consequence.

They had made enquiries about the next express to Lavaridge, and proceeded to Crescelton Station with all possible speed, stopping only to purchase a large steamer trunk on the way. Hopefully, Fabien thought, the money used could be claimed as expenses from the Team, because it had been his credit card they used, and the trunk was rather on the dear side. Now, they were arrayed along the station, two men, a bat and a girl, in various attitudes: Blake was standing, Goishi was fluttering gently, Sapphire was curled up within the trunk, and Fabien, for reasons best known to himself, was striking such Anglo-Saxon attitudes as would have rendered the King’s Messenger himself green with envy.

“Whatcha doin’?” asked Blake, in some confusion; Fabien lowered his hands and was about to give a response when some primaeval instinct warned him that danger was behind him. Perhaps he caught a reflection of yellow light in the glass of the lamppost, perhaps he felt the static charge in the air, perhaps he was even experiencing the awakening of some latent criminal wisdom, but he flung himself flat on the floor just as a lemon-coloured beam of crackling energy blasted by overhead.

Blake rounded on this intruder, whipping his gun from its concealed holster; around them, the few other people waiting for the train suddenly found more important places to be.

“We had this discussion last time we met,” the Rotom-boy said, stepping out onto the platform from the station doorway. “Which is faster, lightning or bullets?”

Fabien climbed back to his feet indignantly, ramming his hat firmly back onto his head.

“Now, look here,” he began, but the Rotom-boy made a gun of his hand, extending thumb, index and middle fingers while clenching the others, and fired another noisy bolt over the Magma’s shoulder. He gulped and shut his mouth as his attacker glowed orange slightly.

“What was that?” he wondered aloud, then seemed to hear an answer from somewhere. “Oh, I see. It raised the power. Anyway,” he continued, returning his attention to the Magmas, “give me back my friend. Now. Or I’m going to have to shoot you.”

Fabien glanced at Blake, and Blake glanced at Fabien. Mental calculations were made, the answers multiplied by three and then tested to see if they conformed to the laws of propriety; the object of their rapid thoughts was simple: to see if the Rotom-kid would kill them or not. After a moment, Fabien had three reasons in mind why he, in fact, would.

Point one: their value. They were inordinately low in the Magma pecking order, and no one would mind particularly if they died.

Point two: this kid worked for the Aquas. They hated the Magmas, and didn’t baulk at killing them.

Point three: he was clearly a criminal genius. The way he had fooled them with his ‘identical actor’ stunt back on Route 110 was proof enough of that. Someone so hideously intelligent and amoral was certain to have to include murder in their plans at some point – and so it was likely that killing anyone would probably not cause the Rotom-kid to lose any sleep at night.

Fabien gulped again.

“Fine,” he sighed. “She’s in the trunk.” He gestured.

The Rotom-boy went over to it, and found it locked.

“Open it,” he ordered, and Fabien did so. Then he stepped back, and the Rotom-boy hauled out Sapphire’s sleeping body from within. “Her Poké Balls, please.”

Please. How pleasant the boy was, Fabien thought, as he gave them back. It was almost a pity that he now had both hands full, and so was unable to resist the attack he was about to order.

“Goishi!” cried Fabien. “Now!”

The bat looked startled, and the Rotom-boy dropped Sapphire Birch reflexively to zap him between the eyes with another line of yellow light. Goishi gave a cry halfway between a scream and a sizzle, flew backwards about five metres and came to an unhappy rest with his head rammed into a trash can.

“Thunderball,” grinned the Rotom-kid. “One point to me.”

Fabien stared at him. How had he ever hoped to outwit this guy? Not only had he swift reflexes and excellent forward planning skills, he was able to make referential jokes at the drop of a hat. Truly, he was a criminal to give Maxie himself a run for his money.

He was still staring when Blake waved a hand in front of his face, snapping him out of what appeared to have been some sort of trance state.

“Fabien, ’e’s gone,” the big man told him. “An’ ’e took Birch with ’im.”

Fabien looked from Blake to the trunk to his fainted Golbat, gave a despairing sigh and flung himself theatrically onto a bench. Once again, and without any apparent effort on their enemy’s part, they had been well and truly thwarted.

---

For the second time that day, I sat at the bedside of an unconscious girl. In different circumstances, I might have counted myself a lucky man, but unfortunately both girls hated me with what is generally known as a vengeance.

OK, that was less dangerous than I thought, Puck admitted. I thought she’d be at Lavaridge already.

“Shut up. I’m not talking to you.”

Shall I apologise? I’m sorry, Kester. There. I said it. Can we forget about this unpleasantness and go back to normal now?

“How can we? You’re a liar, a – a world-class thief!”

Amongst other things, he said modestly. I am quite good, if I do say so myself. Forget the Mona Lisa – I had my eyes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Which was, in fact, the Italian job that went wrong.

“I can’t tell if that’s the truth or a joke,” I said dispiritedly. “That means there’s something wrong with you.”

It’s a joke. I stole it from somewhere else, but I’m not going to tell you where.

“Whatever.”

“Uhhh...”

I looked over at Sapphire, who was stirring beneath the covers. Her eyes flickered open hazily, and focused blearily on me.

“Yo,” I said. “Knight in shining armour, at your service.”

“Kester?” She sat up slowly. “Where – what happened?”

“You got caught by the Magmas, I went and rescued you,” I said. All at once, my frustration seemed to melt away; I felt like a hero from a storybook, a fairy tale prince. Unfortunately, I seemed to have inadvertently rescued the fire-breathing dragon rather than the princess, but it was still an accomplishment.

“You... I remember,” Sapphire said. She looked around for something, and her eyes fell on the Poké Balls on her bedside cabinet. Taking up the Master Ball, she squeezed the two hemispheres that formed it and twisted; they fell apart and a surge of red light burst out, only to fade half a second later. “There,” she said, setting down the ruined Ball. “You’re free. Go home.”

I stared at her.

“What?”

“You were right,” Sapphire said awkwardly. “It’s dangerous. You fulfilled your end of the bargain, anyway. And you saved me. So... this is my thank you.”

“I...” I was completely at a loss for words.


‘Thank you’ would be a start.

“Thanks,” I said. “Thanks, Sapphire. A lot.” Then I took a deep breath, and continued: “But I’m not going anywhere. Not yet.”

“What?” It was Sapphire’s turn to stare.

“I’m not done here,” I told her. “You can go on, if you like. But I’m in this too deep to back out now.” I was thinking of Felicity. “So I’m not going home yet.”

Oh, Giratina have mercy on us all, Puck said despairingly. The boy’s serious.

Sapphire gave me a long look.

“You’re not really a coward at all, are you?”

I shook my head sadly.

“I wish I was,” I admitted. “It would make it so much easier to give up and go back.”

“OK,” replied Sapphire slowly, her eyes still searching my face for something. “Then I’ll come with you.”

“Huh?”

Sapphire gave me her lopsided grin.

“Come on, Kester,” she said. “You didn’t think you could leave me out of this, did you?”

I smiled at her, possibly the first time I’d done so sincerely.

“I guess not,” I said. “OK, here’s the deal. There’s this guy called Zero...”

Cutlerine
March 12th, 2011, 02:05 AM
Oops. Have to apologise for the delay again. Blame Pokémon Black. That, and History of Art.

I wonder if these chapter titles even have anything to do with the chapters any more?

Chapter Twenty-Seven: All The Pretty Faces

“Will you please tell them you’re going to take me home?” asked Felicity. “I hate being here, and they won’t let me leave unless someone comes to collect me.”

She was sitting up in bed, a stick-thin figure of corpse-flesh limbs covered by crumpled sheets. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but she was still extraordinarily beautiful despite her emaciation.

Really? Those creepy eyes put me off, Puck said. I mean, if you ignore the blue bit, she’s got... GoldenEyes.

Shut it, I thought back. We were still not on speaking terms; I couldn’t find it in me to forgive him. I hadn’t told Sapphire about his past yet, and was not sure I was going to.

Huh. Everybody loves Ferris, but no one loves Robin. And really, what’s the difference in character between us?

“We’ll do that,” I said to Felicity. “You’ll want to come with us, I suppose.”

She nodded.

“Yes. I am finished with those bumbling pirates.”

It took me a moment to work out she meant Team Aqua, then I replied:

“OK.”

Sapphire was hanging around in the corner, looking uncomfortable, as if she didn’t belong.

“So,” she said. “Shall we... make a move?”

“Find a doctor,” Felicity ordered. “Tell them you’re taking me home.” I started to leave, and Sapphire stayed; Felicity sent her out after me with another terse command: “Leave then, so I can get dressed.”

“I don’t think I like her very much,” Sapphire whispered to me as we left the room.

“She’s... not well,” I said defensively. “I think worse things might be happening to her than to me, and God knows that could make a demon of a saint.”

Odd turn of phrase, Puck mused. Unexpected, like the Spanish Inquisition. He chuckled. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! he shouted, then lapsed into giggles.

I gritted my teeth and ignored him. I didn’t see how he could so easily slip back into his usual persona and pretend that nothing had happened between us; I certainly couldn’t.

“Why are you defending her?” asked Sapphire curiously. I felt the sudden heat that accompanies the swift flushing of the cheeks.

“No reason,” I said, far too quickly. “No reason at all.”

Sainted Cobalion, that’s the worst lie I’ve ever heard that wasn’t part of a trashy film, Puck said. Sapphire gave me a long, even look, which made me increasingly uncomfortable the longer it went on, and then walked on without comment. Ah, the fair sex, Puck said fondly, so very perspicacious when it comes to matters such as these.

“Shut up,” I muttered, and hurried after Sapphire’s retreating back.

We located Felicity’s doctor and wrangled a reluctant agreement to remove her from hospital care from him; then we returned to her room, where she was waiting for us, sitting on her bed and dressed in her battered blue suit.

“I need to go to the Aqua base before we do anything else,” Felicity said. “All my stuff is there. Including normal clothes.”

“What sort of ‘anything else’ are we planning on doing, exactly?” I asked, as we started walking out. Felicity moved oddly, as if on wheels; she almost didn’t seem to move her legs at all. “You never actually said how we’re going to take down Zero.”

“Do you think this is part of his plan?” Felicity asked suddenly, stopping. “Do you think we’re just furthering his cause?”

Sapphire and I exchanged glances.

Shrewd, remarked Puck. Insightful. A thought from outside the box. How many words can I come up with before you tell me to—?

Shut up, I thought.

There it is, he said with satisfaction.

“I don’t know,” I told Felicity. “But I managed to get away from his plan once. Maybe we can do it again.”

“Maybe.” She didn’t sound convinced.

“Look,” said Sapphire, “can we please just do something? This standing around is not getting us anywhere.”

“If you know what you’re doing, go ahead,” snapped Felicity, baring her teeth in a curiously feline gesture. “I’m sure you can do this without me.”

“You—!”

Sapphire’s hand darted to her belt; I grabbed her wrist and yanked it back.

Cat-fiiiiight, sang out Puck. This could only be more entertaining if we were in some sort of weapons storehouse!

“Will you two stop it!” I cried, harassed. “Sapphire, stop being angry! Felicity, stop... um...”

I was suddenly and unpleasantly reminded of my time in Birch’s lab, because they subjected me to a pair of withering death-stares that hit me so hard that I actually stumbled over backwards.

Ouch, said Puck, unimpressed. I can see this is going to be a fun trip.

---

“All right,” Maxie began. “Have you found a Meteorite, then?”

Tabitha nodded.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, go and get it, then,” he said. Then, a thought striking him, he said: “Wait. How hard will this be to get? I don’t want to have to divert anyone from the volcano project.”

“Not very,” Tabitha judged. “The only potential obstacle is this Cozmo guy, but by all accounts he isn’t the most courageous of characters. He ought to be a pushover.”

“OK, then,” Maxie said. “In that case, you can have those losers we have looking for the Aqua’s Rotom-kid. Go call them and get them sent up on the train.”

“Yes sir,” Tabitha said, heart sinking. Those two were notorious throughout the Team; a pair of clowns to rival anything you might see at the circus, they had bungled their way through over fifty disastrous missions during their years with the Team, and only maintained their jobs through consistent and well-timed unction. “Should I replace them, sir?”

“Oh. Yes, I suppose you’d better. Send...” Maxie’s eyes roved around the room, searching for inspiration; at that moment, there came a knock at the door and Courtney walked in. His gaze lighted on her and he pointed. “Courtney! Organise someone to replace the two grunts we have tailing the Rotom-kid.”

Somewhat startled, she blinked, nodded, and left again.

“No, don’t go!” cried Maxie. “For God’s sake, woman, you’re too pretty to wait outside! Come in here until Tabitha’s done, then say what you want to say, then leave.”

Courtney came back in, suppressing a sigh. Maxie made a face that indicated the exasperation inherent in running an organisation like his, and spoke to Tabitha, keeping his eyes firmly locked on Courtney.

“So, Tabitha, go and get me this Meteorite. I’m going to build some sort of improbable machine to extract the power from it now, and I don’t want to be disturbed until it’s done. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly.” Another man might have questioned Maxie’s sanity, but Tabitha knew him better than that; the Magma leader was nothing short of a genius. A genius who was prone to objectify women and lose his temper, but a genius nevertheless. He nodded, gave a little bow, and walked out.

---

How much moxie would Maxie have if Maxie could mock sea? Puck pondered. Nah, I can do a better tongue-twister than that. Give me a moment...

“I hate you with a passion that eclipses rational understanding,” I murmured in a flash of lyricism, and ignored him.

“I’m ready now,” Felicity announced, emerging from the mouth of the alleyway that led to the Team Aqua base. She was wearing the same outfit she had the day she had accosted me in Slateport, and during our disastrous lunch at Blintzkrieg; the only difference were her shoes, which were blue and appeared to be made of either plastic or painted steel. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Sapphire asked.

“To Lavaridge,” Felicity said, starting to walk.

“Why Lavaridge?” I asked.

“Because Team Magma is based there, and they are starting to make a move,” Felicity replied without looking at either of us. “You won’t know this, because they’re forcing the police to keep it quiet, but they have killed Uriah.”

Sapphire and I stopped dead.

“Uriah?”

“Uriah,” she confirmed. “Evidently they don’t want him interfering with whatever they have planned; I suspect they will have a hand in choosing his successor, so they can have a puppet figure and do whatever important thing it is they plan to do – or should I say, that Zero plans for them to do – without interference.”

Moxious Maxie mocked Mickey...

Shut up! You’re ruining our stunned silence!

“So, do we want to go to the train station?” asked Sapphire. I could tell she was trying very hard not to leap at Felicity’s throat, and I liked it.

“Yes,” Felicity replied. “Unless you would like to pay for plane tickets.”

“I wouldn’t,” Sapphire said with forced cheer. “So I suppose we’re going to the train station.”

It wasn’t far to the station, and we only had to wait fifteen minutes or so for the express to Lavaridge. In all, it could have been no more than an hour before we were sitting in a compartment full of uncomfortable silence, accompanied by two young men and a woman who looked in danger of suffocating on the tension we were generating.

“This should be nice,” the woman said to one of the men, in an attempt to break the oppressive silence.

“Yeah,” he replied quietly.

“Don’t you think?” she persisted, turning to her other companion.

You’ve got to admit, Puck said admiringly, the girl’s tenacious. I like that.

“I swear to God,” I muttered in low, dangerous tones, “I have a view to a kill here, and I’m going to make good on it.”

Whoa, Puck said. Another Bond joke, but... also a death threat. I can’t tell if you’ve forgiven me or not.

“I haven’t.”

“Is it annoying you?” Felicity asked me. All eyes in the carriage turned to her, and she pushed her sunglasses further up her nose self-consciously. They no longer fully hid the discolouration, but it seemed to make her feel better.

“Um, a lot,” I replied, shifting uneasily under the scrutiny of the three holidaymakers.

“Does it hurt?”

“Ah...”

I couldn’t quite remember ever being so embarrassed before, save for during that business that occurred last year; I was bright red and as capable of sitting still as eating my own head.

“No,” I managed eventually. “I don’t – it doesn’t hurt.”

“OK.” Felicity nodded, and we lapsed into silence once more.

That was some serious tension, Puck remarked. In fact, it’s still pretty tense now. If I could get that knife off Will, I could probably cut it. But then I’d be contributing to the decay of the multiverse due to the escape of Dust, so, y’know, it might not be such a good idea.

“For the love of all that is holy, shut up!” I cried, and everyone stared at me again. If it was possible, I went even redder; I muttered something about a pestilential thief and a liar, and tried to retreat into the seat.

“He hears voices,” I heard Sapphire explain apologetically. “They tell him... horrible things. We hope the water at the spas in Lavaridge will help him.”

“I – I see,” came the reply of one of the two men.

Crazy now, are you? Puck asked. Funny, because I’m sure we ruled that possibility out twice already.

Well, I am hearing voices, and they are telling me horrible things. Like how they’re a liar and a world-famous thief who’s managed to land me in more trouble than anyone should ever be landed in!

Hey, I thought you weren’t a coward anymore? You said you were up to continue this quest.

I’m OK to stop Zero. That has to do with me, remember? And there’s a chance I can get rid of you by doing it. However, I’m not OK to get involved with international art theft!

I thought we were going to put that behind us, Puck wheedled. Let bygones be bygones. Or Zygons, if you’re an ardent Tom Baker fan. Which I’m not, but only because he’s a bit before my time. I’m a Tennant man myself – you always love the one you grew up with, don’t you?

I have no idea what you’re talking about—

It’s the Doctor—

—and I don’t care, I finished. Now shut up.

I looked at my watch, and groaned silently. We had only been travelling for ten minutes, and there was at least an hour and a half to go.

---

“I got one question for you, Matt,” Archie said. “Is he a Sicilian?”

Matt looked confused.

“No sir,” he said, slowly and deliberately. “I believe they’re from Admiral’s Berth.”

They were in the overheated sitting-room that was the Aqua Leader’s private sanctum; the Admin was reporting to his boss about whether or not to promote a certain high-ranking grunt to the status of Administrator, and struggling, as ever, with the man’s conviction that the Team was equivalent to the Family.

“No, not like that,” Archie said, a trace of annoyance creeping into his voice. “Is he a Sicilian? Does he act like a Sicilian?”

“I honestly don’t know, sir,” Matt said. “I’ve never been to Sicily.”

“Some consigliore you are,” Archie replied dismissively. “Fine. Is he a man?”

“No sir.”

“Then no.”

“If I might be permitted to say so, sir, that’s kind of sexist.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You can’t not promote her just because she’s a woman, sir,” pointed out Matt reasonably.

His boss swore floridly in fluent Italian. He was not actually Italian – he had been born in S****horpe – but he had learned the language many years ago, in the hope of one day carrying out a conversation with a Turkish drug dealer and a crooked cop in a small Italian restaurant, before killing them both.

“That’s not what I meant,” Archie said. “I meant, does this person possess manly qualities? Are they Administrator material?”

“Oh. Well in that case, yes sir.” Matt smiled brightly and stupidly.

“Then promote her!” cried Archie. “You are a fool, Matt. A shameless fool.”

“Right. Thanks then, sir,” said Matt, and he turned around to walk out. As the door shut behind him, Archie put his head in his hands and gave an almighty moan, slipping out of character for a moment.

“At least,” he said, trying to console himself, “she can’t be any worse than him.”

After a moment, he stood up and stretched, shaking lethargy from his body like water.

“I need a walk,” Archie decided, and stepped out into the corridor. Immediately, and to his great dismay, he bumped into Matt, coming the opposite direction with a young woman in tow. She had a great mass of curly hair the colour of carrots, and a distinctly evil look on her face. Archie had pity for people like that. An evil-looking face often drove its bearer to a life of crime they would not otherwise have chosen. “Oh, Matt. Who’s this?”

“This is Shelly, sir,” said Matt. “The new Admin.”

Archie inspected her with renewed interest.

“You’re Shelly, are you? I see. Well, good to see you.”

He walked past them both and would have made good his escape had not Shelly called out:

“Wait, sir!”

Archie stopped, gritted his teeth and turned around.

“Yes?”

“Don’t you have any orders for me...?”

He thought for a moment.

“No,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t.”

“What about the W.R.I. stuff, sir?” suggested Matt helpfully.

Archie paused, struck. A sound thought, coming from him? Bizarre.

“Yes,” he said. “Tell Shelly all about that. It will be her responsibility from now on.”

And then, at long last, Archie was able to escape his incompetent Administrator and the confines of the headquarters, and get some fresh air on the coastal path above the beach.

---

The boy with jade eyes was restless.

He paced around the gardens like a caged lion; there was still a week until the official trials began, and though there was plenty to do he couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the fight that had got away.

He passed a bed of hydrangeas, paused by a fountain that, in a phenomenally unsuitable clash of cultures, depicted Poseidon wrestling a Lapras, and continued down to the town. Despite its many attractions, there was nothing that held any interest for him; he cared not for cinemas, or theatres, or shopping malls. Right now, the only thing he craved was the battle that those two Trainers back in Mauville had refused him.

“Damn it!” he exclaimed, punching a wall and regretting it when his knuckles hurt. “I want to fight them!”

A blue-skinned Pokémon lumbered up to his side; being lamentably slow of pace on land, he had taken a long time to catch up with him. Usually, the boy would only keep Machina out of his Poké Ball, but he was currently training this creature and so had him with him instead.

“Coast,” he said. “Coast, go and beat something up for me.”

The creature – Coast – tilted his beaked face up towards him and uttered a long, questioning noise that sounded something like Currrrrr?

“Oh, for God’s sake!” cried the boy, displeased. “Remind me never to train anything less intelligent than an Arcanine again.”

Coast could understand this no more than he understood the previous command, and went Currrrr again.

“Nothing. Be quiet.”

This Coast could understand, and he fell silent.

The boy with the jade eyes walked on, his Pokémon struggling to keep up. Everyone he passed on the streets was an expert Trainer – some were, perhaps, even as good as he was – but he didn’t want to challenge any of them. There was only one battle he wanted to fight, and he’d left it behind in Mauville.

“If I were the main character,” the boy told the armoured Pokémon as it plodded ponderously along, “I wouldn’t have any of these problems.”

“Currrrrr,” stated Coast, blinking laconically.

“Why do I keep talking to you?”

The boy with the jade eyes left the town and started up the stairs that wound around the tower; at its peak lay the helipad, though there was no point going there. He’d signed the contract; he couldn’t go anywhere until this was all over.

There were around a hundred and fifty steps, but though he wasn’t particularly strong, the boy was used to extended periods of physical exertion and managed it in just a couple of minutes. When he got there, however, there was no sign of Coast; the reptilian Pokémon had fallen behind some time ago, since he was supremely defective with regards to stair-climbing.

A strong wind gusted into the boy’s face, and his hair stood out in a fan behind his head; he narrowed his eyes against the cold air and squinted across the hard expanse of steel. The helicopter was gone today, and Scott with it; doubtless, he was searching for a few more competitors at the last moment. The boy wondered how long the contest was going to be – there were already sixty-three entrants, and all of them were either incredibly talented or incredibly experienced. None of them, as far as the boy knew, were from anywhere other than Hoenn, which was one reason he was keeping himself to himself. He wasn’t entirely sure he approved of this country, with its rampant crime, cheerful insanity and singularly weak government.

“President Loganberry,” he mused, “has a lot to answer for.”

He turned and started back down the stairs. Halfway down, he met Coast struggling to reach the next step, and in a moment of compassion recalled him. There was no sense tiring him out before they got any work done, and it was time for a spot of training.

For despite his impatience, the boy with jade eyes had no intention of losing this tournament. He had never lost before, and he didn’t intend to start now.

---

“Hot springs,” mused Zero. “They’re supposed to be good for illness.”

“Lies,” spat Courtney. “Lies, all of them.”

They were leaning on a low stone wall, looking out over the sunset-illumined water. It was a mark of his trust that he was not wearing his trademark mask for once; it was tucked under one arm.

“You’re not in a good mood,” observed Zero.

“Of course I’m not,” replied Courtney. “Do you know what I’ve been through today?”

“Yes,” Zero said.

“Right. I forgot about that,” Courtney said sourly, and flicked a piece of gravel into the pond.

“You can complain to me if you like, though,” Zero offered. “I am human, remember.”

Courtney’s furrowed brow softened a little.

“I know,” she sighed. “Sorry.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” Zero told her. “We’re moving on. I’ll have it all over soon. No more Teams, no one left to oppress or oppose us at all. Just you and me, and the world’s unresisting population under our feet.”

Courtney smiled.

“God, I love you,” she said with feeling, and leaned into his shoulder. Zero smiled, put an arm around her and gazed at the setting sun.

Xilfer
March 12th, 2011, 01:14 PM
Waddaya mean if my statement wasn't true? why would i lie?

Anyway, good story again. so Puck's a theif huh? cool. i honestly don't have much to say now. except keep on rocking dude.

Mizan de la Plume Kuro
March 12th, 2011, 05:40 PM
It's nice to read a story in batches instead of having to wait a few days in between chapters, don't you agree?

So yeah, this isn't actually a review, I'm not in the mood for that right now, but it's more of a post with comments to show that I'm still reading and enjoying the fic. Now, comments:

“Wahahaha!” laughed Wattson, and sat heavily down on his beanbag. “You ended up giving me a thrill!”

“Who’s he talking to?” asked Sapphire, for he was looking intently at his left hand.Oh God, that… that actually came out quite dirty in the context its usually used in. I’m content to imagine that he drew a face on his hand with a sharpie, but the ‘thrill’ part… I’m not sure if this is supposed to be innuendo because I haven’t seen any in this fic before this.

“Fabien,” said Blake.

“Yes?”

“I’ve acciden’ally stolen a fork.”I can’t help but wonder if this was a real life event for you. I mean, I’ve never been out of a restaurant in a hurry before, so I can’t say that I’ve taken any cutlery with me before. Still, this line had me in stitches.

There he was, topping the news, his sharp eyes shining like factories far away; he was grinning wildly into the lens of a CCTV camera, while his cohorts tore up books behind him. Talking over the frozen image was the voice of Gabby van Horne, Hoenn’s favourite newsgirl and one half of a partnership with the country’s most famous and reckless cameraman, Tyrone de’Medici.

Seriously? He belongs to the House of Medici?Yeah… I was going to point out the absurdity of having a Medici in Japan, but then thought better of it. Instead, I somehow managed to get from this Italian reference to Macri the BBC camerawoman from Angels and Demons. You making such a far-fetched reference like that is unlikely, but still.

And that's about it. I'm loving your plot twists, and I'm actually starting to see this as a sort of different version of the R/S/E story.

Cutlerine
March 13th, 2011, 03:56 AM
Er... It isn't meant to be innuendo, but it is a little weird, now you mention it. I blame Game Freak. They wrote that line.

The whole 'fork theft' thing is sort-of based on a true event, yeah. But no one stole a fork. It's something I'm going to use in a future chapter, so I'll put the story in a spoiler.

I was in a restaurant with a few friends, and one of us got up to go and get something. They wandered back a few minutes later, looking confused and holding something in each hand.

"I couldn't remember what I was going to get," he said, holding his items up, "so I got some ketchup and a fork."

Cue loud and uncontrollable laughter. It was very funny at the time. In fact, it still makes me smile.

About the Tyrone de'Medici thing - I don't set my Hoenn in Japan. I visualise the Pokémon regions as existing in a sort of cluster in the middle of the Pacific, because there's some space for them there. The inhabitants are probably descended from the same root ancestors as the Polynesians and Indonesians. This, of course, is with the exception of Unova, which I think is somewhere west of Iceland.

I've just realised that this doesn't explain why there's a member of the House of Medici in Hoenn. Er, can we say he's a third-generation immigrant? (Hooray for mildly improbable backstory!)

Oh, and I'm glad that this is recognisable as an alternate version of the R/S/E story. That's pretty much what it's intended to be - only jazzed up quite a lot, and with lots of bits to fill in the gaps where there isn't any appreciable storyline. Oh, and there's a better dénouement.

Cutlerine
March 13th, 2011, 08:54 AM
Whew. Finally got my update schedule back on track: English coursework is over.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Girl Who Trained With Fire

“Closed?” I asked, stupefied. “This can’t be right.”

“Sorry,” said the man, “but that’s right. The Cable Car up to Lavaridge is closed until further notice.”

We were at the Cable Car station at the foot of Mount Chimney, in the heart of the Madeira Mountains. All around us, mighty volcanoes raised their heads skywards, forming a cage of stone that seemed intent on trapping the heavens themselves. Scraggly trees clung to their reddish flanks, and flocks of dusk-flying Altaria wheeled around overhead, trailing white dust from their cotton wings. Occasionally, one would alight on the cliff-face, clinging to the sheer rock with powerful talons, and tear away a piece of stone to drop to the ground below. I later learned that they were dropping Torkoal to break open their shells, which made it quite a lot less appealing, but at the time it seemed almost magical.

The Cable Car building itself was shuttered of window and bolted of door, with two rather burly men standing outside to dissuade anyone from even thinking about getting in.

“This can’t be right,” Felicity said impatiently. “We have to get to the top.”

“No can do,” the other man replied. “It’s closed.”

The group of young people who’d been travelling with us murmured soft curses to each other and walked off back to the train station, disconsolate; we weren’t ready to give up quite yet.

“Can I ask exactly why it’s closed?” Sapphire inquired suspiciously.

The two men looked at each other.

“Er...” said one.

“Um...” said the other.

“Damn it,” said the first one. “Our cover appears to be blown.”

“You work for the Magmas, don’t you?” I said. Everyone looked at me in mild surprise. “What? I haven’t said anything for a while.”

“That’s right,” the second man said. “And I’ve got a big knife, so I don’t think it really matters if you know or not. You’re not getting to Lavaridge.”

“Right,” I said. “So what if we were to beat you up?”

The second man produced his big knife, and, true to his word, it was very big. And also a knife. However, something appeared to be wrong with it.

“Is that a butter knife?” Sapphire asked.

The second Magma inspected it.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “Wrong one.” He put it back in his pocket and came out with a machete instead; I had no idea how it fit in his breast pocket, and I wasn’t really too fussed about finding out.

All three of us took a step back.

This is a farce, said Puck. Now I really am certain that everyone in Hoenn is certifiably insane.

“Tell me about it,” I muttered.

“I still want to ascend to the top,” Felicity said. “I’m... I work for Zero.”

The two Magmas exchanged looks again.

“Zero?” said one.

“How did you get that name?” the second demanded to know, bringing his knife to her throat.

“I work for him,” she replied coolly. “And I’ve come to report. I can describe him if you like. He’s tall and thin, and wears a cloak and mask.”

Who is this guy, the Phantom of the Opera? Puck wanted to know.

“Sounds like him,” the second Magma said, withdrawing his machete.

“Shall we let her through?” the first one asked.

“Yeah,” nodded the second, who seemed to be in charge. “You other two – clear off.”

“They’re with me,” Felicity replied. “Or do you want to upset Zero?”

“Girlie, we don’t want to upset Zero,” said the second Magma, with the air of one who has explained this so many times it has lost all meaning to him, “but we want to upset Maxie even worse. Because he’s the boss, and he’s got the temper of a Sharpedo.”

“So,” concluded the first Magma, unlocking the door, “you can go up, but not these two.”

Felicity glanced at Sapphire and I in mild desperation.

“Go,” I said. “We’ll meet up with you somehow.”

She nodded and went into the darkened interior; it was funny, I thought, how every building we came to seemed to have nothing but darkness behind the door before you went inside and saw they were perfectly normal.

It’s a tileset thing, Puck explained, which didn’t clarify things at all.

The Magmas shut, bolted and padlocked the door again, then brandished knives at us until Sapphire and I agreed to leave. We stopped at the edge of the car park, by the trees, to watch the carriage creak its way out of the station and up the cable. We kept watching until it was out of sight, then turned back to the road and wandered back to the train station.

It was a curious place, all alone in the middle of a patch of the dense forest that carpeted the Madeiras; no one lived here, and the only reason it existed was so that people could get to the Cable Car. It made me wonder why they hadn’t just built the Cable Car going up from Verdanturf or Fallarbor, but doubtless there was a reason.

“Well, that was a short-lived alliance,” Sapphire said. “What do we do now? Battle the guards and force them to let us in?”

“Yeah, because we’re totally a match for two hardened criminals,” I replied. “I bet they have more than machetes.”

They do, Puck said. A Ghost of some kind between them; didn’t see what. Seems to be around Level 31, kind of homesick.

“You see?” I said to Sapphire, then remembered she couldn’t hear what Puck had said and told her.

“Fair enough,” she conceded. “We won’t fight them. But how are we going to get to Lavaridge? Scale the mountain? Harness an Altaria?”

I winced; the sarcasm was so concentrated it could have been used as battery acid.

“Look,” I said, “there’s got to be another way to Lavaridge, right? You know more about travel than me, you tell me how we get there.”

“There aren’t any roads,” Sapphire answered, “because you can’t get cars up through the Madeiras. There’s a helicopter every two days from Fallarbor, I suppose, but that’s really expensive.”

“Any other way?” I asked. Secretly, I hoped there weren’t; I wanted Sapphire to have to pay up.

“There’s a project to extend the Rustboro Tunnel up to Lavaridge,” she said, after a moment’s thought, “but that won’t start until the construction workers start work again.”

“Oh yeah, I heard about that. It’s the protestors, right?”

Sapphire nodded.

“They say the noise will scare on the Whismur in the mountain caves. It’s stupid – Whismur are scared of their own shadows, so the machines won’t make much difference – but they’ve got friends in high places, so the project’s been cancelled until further notice.”

Damn hippies, Puck said. Pokémon aren’t people. We don’t feel the same way about things; hell, most of us don’t even notice our own existence. When people treat things like Whismur as if they were children dressed up with big floppy ears, it makes me as angry as... as that German kid.

What German kid?

I’m starting to doubt that Hoenn has any Internet access at all, he sighed. Look it up.

Whatever. Then, aloud: “Sorry. Puck was just babbling about hippies.”

A train roared into the station, paused, and left; it seemed like no one had got off, until a girl of seventeen or eighteen ran past us, streamers of crimson hair flying out behind her.

“It’s no use,” I called after her, “the Cable Car’s closed.”

Hey, triple alliteration, Puck remarked. Tripliteration, you might say. Though that would be tantamount to asking to be punched.

She stopped dead, turned on one heel and screamed at me:

“What?”

Sapphire and I started, surprised; the girl stomped back to us and thrust a heavily-pierced face into ours.

“What did you say?” she demanded to know, through a tongue and a lip piercing. As well as these, she had three silver rings through each ear, along with one through her left eyebrow and two in the right. She wore a short black T-shirt that exposed an improbably slim midriff complete with pierced navel, and bleach-spattered, baggy jeans held up by a thick red belt; this, combined with the peculiar styling of her ruby-red hair and the sinuous tattoo on her left arm, made her look strange enough that she just had to be a Trainer.

Puck whistled.

The spirit of ’80s punk has returned, he said. Haven’t seen anyone like her around for a while. In fact, not since the ’80s, oddly enough. Which is really weird, because I wasn’t alive in the ’80s.

“I – er – said the Cable Car was closed,” I said. “Seems like Team Magma have seized it.”

The pierced Trainer swore loudly.

“I need to get to Lavaridge,” she said angrily. “I have to get home!”

“Um... we were going to go around to Fallarbor and get the helicopter,” I told her. “I don’t know if you want to come with us...”

She looked like she was weighing up the options, then nodded. It wasn’t uncommon for Trainers to travel in small groups, usually with people they didn’t know. There was safety in numbers, or at least there was if the news was to be believed: wild Pokémon were dangerous, and were more likely to attack those travelling singly.

“When’s the next train?” she asked in a calmer voice, walking with us back onto the station’s single platform and across to the ticket office.

“It comes in half an hour,” Sapphire replied, pushing open the door. Inside, the office was perhaps the most depressing place on earth; full of long-dead pot plants and dog-eared leaflets advertising day trips to the Coast of Despair (‘It’s Sorrow-tastic!’), it housed a clerk who was as close to brain death as anyone could be without actually being comatose. He sold us tickets numbly, and we left as swiftly as decency would permit, eager to escape the choking aura of boredom that surrounded him. “My name’s Sapphire, by the way,” Sapphire added as we sat down on a bench to wait for the nine-thirty train.

It was dark now, and the Altaria were singing, a distant sound on the very edge of my capacity to hear; it was inexpressibly beautiful if you reduced the pitch so you could hear it properly, but to the Altaria who sang it, it was just a series of bloodthirsty threats about what would happen to those who invaded their territories, stole their mates or looked at them funny. I had learned that last month from a documentary, and had been rather surprised to discover that Altaria were nowhere near as cute as they looked.

“I’m Flannery,” replied the punk Trainer, “but I hate it, so people call me Spike.”

It wasn’t a girl’s name, but she certainly deserved it: most of her piercings had spikes on, and her boots had them too.

Do you think those piercings are like buttons? wondered Puck. I mean, if I took them all out, would her face fall off?

“And I’m Kester,” I told her.

There was a long and awkward silence. Spike stared straight ahead resolutely, gripping the wood of the bench so tightly that her knuckles stood out white through the skin. I noticed she had crimson eyes to match her hair, and wondered if either colour was natural.

“Sorry,” she said after a while. “For shouting at you. I just... I really need to get home.”

“You live in Lavaridge?” I asked.

No, she lives in Stockholm, Puck said scathingly. Where do you think she lives, genius?

“Yeah,” she replied. “My granddad...”

Unexpectedly, she slumped over forwards then, catching her head in her hands; at first, I thought the weight of all the metal in her face had dragged her over, but when I heard her sobbing I realised she was just crying. Sapphire and I looked at each other, startled, over her shaking shoulders, then asked cautiously and simultaneously:

“Are – are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” managed Spike, sitting back up and pressing her knuckles into her eyes. “I’m fine. It’s just he – he died the other day, and I have to – to get back...”

Then she lapsed back into incoherent sobs. Mentally girding my loins, as the saying would have it, I gamely struggled to comfort her while Sapphire stared at me and tried hard not to laugh. I didn’t blame her: it was sad that Spike’s grandfather was dead, but I was very bad at consoling people.

You’re no consoler of the lonely, that’s for sure, Puck said, and unaccountably started singing:

Haven’t seen the sun in weeks
My skin is getting paaale—

Shut up! I thought furiously.

Eventually, when Sapphire started helping as well, we got Spike more or less calm again, and the story came out: her grandfather was – or had been – the Gym Leader at Lavaridge Town, Uriah Moore, who had been killed by Team Magma. It seemed she didn’t know that he had been murdered yet, only that he was dead, and neither of us had the heart to tell her.

“I haven’t seen him since I was ten,” Spike explained, sniffing back the last few tears. “My parents died when I was little, and he looked after me, but we didn’t get along. I became a Trainer as soon as I could, so I could get out of there, and never went back.”

“And now you feel bad about it,” I finished for her; it was a plotline ripped from a soap opera, tired and predictable.

Hey. I should be the one commenting on that, not you.

“Yeah,” Spike said. “I... sorry, this is stupid.”

“No,” Sapphire assured her. “I’d feel the same way if my grandfather died.”

I suppressed a derisive snort. I seriously doubted Sapphire was capable of this sort of emotion.

That’s not nice, and also not true, Puck said. Have you forgotten how she was when Rayquaza died?

Whatever.

The train rumbled into the station, halted and opened its doors; we got on and sat in the first compartment we found. It was empty, as I think the entire train was: no one was travelling to Lavaridge or Fallarbor at this time of night.

Spike leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes; this gave me the first good opportunity I’d had all evening to gawp at her piercings. She really did have a lot of them, and it would have taken me a while to work through them all if I hadn’t been interrupted by Sapphire kicking me in the shin.

“Don’t stare,” she mouthed.

“Who are you, my mother?” I mouthed back. She made an obscene gesture, and I sighed and shook my head. I couldn’t be bothered with this fight.

“Why are you two going to Lavaridge?” asked Spike, and both of us looked at her in alarm; however, her eyes were still shut, and she hadn’t seen our ridiculous farce.

Close one, said Puck.

“Um, we were going to challenge the Gym,” Sapphire fibbed. “But I suppose we won’t now. We’ve got a friend there, so we’ll just visit her instead.”

“I’m going to take over the Gym,” Spike replied flatly, “so you can challenge it.”

Sapphire raised her eyebrows, though the effect was somewhat lost since Spike’s eyes were closed.

“I thought Gym Leaders were elected by the townsfolk, then approved by the Elite Four?” she asked. “What makes you so sure that you’ll win?”

Spike opened her eyes and sat up. From her bag, she pulled a red and black device that reminded me of something, though I couldn’t think what.

It’s one of those Pokémon Index checking things that Sapphire has, Puck said. Pokémon Index checking thing? That’s a bit wordy. Let’s see, can we contract that? Pokémondex... PokIndex... Pokédex! Yeah, that’s good.

That was it. Sapphire’s was white, but I recognised it now. Spike opened it and pressed a button; the screen lit up and she passed it to Sapphire, whose jaw promptly dropped.

“You see?” Spike said. “I’m good. I specialise in one type, to make things harder for myself, and I have seventy-three Pokémon from Hoenn and even two from Unova, all organised into teams by level. I came fourth in last year’s League Tournament, and I’ve beaten Sidney and Phoebe of the Elite Four.”

“Yes,” Sapphire replied, shaken. “OK, you probably will win.” She handed the Pokédex back to Spike, who turned it off and slid it into a pocket on her bag.

“What type is it that you use?” I asked, glad to be away from the topic of her grandfather, even if we were now on one of my least favourite subjects of all time.

“Fire,” replied Spike, holding up her left arm and showing me the massive, sinuous tattoo that stretched along it from shoulder to wrist. It looked like her hand had caught fire, and was trailing flames all up her arm.

Whoa, said Puck. Now that must have hurt.

For once, we were in perfect agreement. There was no way I could ever have borne the pain of being tattooed – or pierced, for that matter. Spike was one weird girl.

“Why Fire?” asked Sapphire. Spike shrugged.

“It’s as good a type as any,” she replied. “Besides, my granddad uses – used – the Fire type, and I always wanted to prove I was better.” She stared despondently out of the window, and for a moment I thought she might start crying again; my fears were unfounded, however, for she was just staring moodily at the moon through the trees and mountains.

Hey, Puck, I thought, the branches of those pine trees look like they’re raking the moon.

Well done, he said. That’s a tricky one to reference, I have to say. Have you forgiven me, then?

No. Not in the slightest. I just didn’t want to lose our competition.

Puck snorted.

Yeah, yeah. You love me really.

I decided that talking to him wasn’t worth it, and asked if anyone minded if I went to sleep. Obligingly, Spike said she’d wake me when we got to Fallarbor, for which I thanked her, and not long afterwards I was asleep. It had been a long day, and I was tired.

---

Zero watched Felicity through the window. She was bleeding quite badly now, and he decided he had better just warn Maxie not to kill her.

“Please be careful,” he said, putting his head around the door. “Despite her misinformation, she is usually quite a good mole. I would like to use her again after this.”

“Will do!” called back Maxie cheerfully, exchanging his staple-gun for a monkey wrench. “Don’t worry, I’m an exp—!”

Zero presumed that Maxie meant he was an expert, but never actually found out, since at that moment Felicity’s knee broke and her scream drowned out the end of the word. He nodded politely at Maxie and retreated, satisfied.

“Stupid girl,” he murmured disapprovingly, walking away. “You can’t break out of my plan; I accounted for your coming here.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d better make a move.”

In a few moments, he was gone. No one could say exactly how he’d left or where he had gone, but if you had questioned the people of Lavaridge carefully, you might well have find out that something huge and dark had flown away from the town that night, heading east.

---

And I’m down in a tube station at midnight, sang Puck. Oh, I do like the Jam. They were great, weren’t they?

“Never heard of them,” I muttered back.

As Puck had said, it was midnight, but we weren’t in a tube station; we were, however, in a railway station. Specifically, we were in Fallarbor Central, a titanic dome of glass and steel enclosing twenty-seven platforms and a small street’s worth of shopping opportunities. Even now, these shops were all open; this was Fallarbor, the Hoennian Hollywood, and the city never slept. Sapphire, Spike and I, however, worn out by various combinations early rising, grief and a stressful day, wanted nothing more.

Through a haze of fatigue, the three of us searched for the exit; eventually, we found it sandwiched between a burger bar and a tobacconist’s, almost as an afterthought. This reminded Sapphire and I of how hungry we were, having eaten close to nothing today, but we were too tired for food; it could wait until tomorrow.

As we roamed the streets, I was vaguely aware of bright lights and noise, but I really couldn’t be bothered to describe any of the city’s doubtless manifold attractions in any more detail than that. Even Spike, who wanted to get to Lavaridge more than any of us, agreed that we needed sleep before we went any further, and so we searched for a Pokémon Centre.

There was one not far from the station, and Sapphire and Spike took rooms there. Not being a Trainer and no longer contained in a Poké Ball, I anticipated there being some difficulty over what I should do, but the night receptionist either didn’t care about or was too tired to check anyone’s Trainer Cards, and gave us three rooms without asking for anything more than our names.

My room was as bland and unlikeable as any other, but I have to say, it was delightful beyond belief to sleep in a bed for once.

Morning dawned bright and clear, and we slept straight through it; Spike, the least tired, was the first up, closely followed by myself, since I’d had that nap on the train. I met her after breakfast, sitting in the living-room and watching TV with a couple of other Trainers and someone’s Zangoose.

I sat down beside her.

“Morning,” I said.

“Morning,” Spike replied. “Look.” She pointed at the TV, and dutifully, I did.
Once again, Gabby was gracing the screen, only today, thankfully, she wasn’t telling me that my jewel-eyed nemesis had caught up with me. Instead, she was standing in front of old footage of Rayquaza’s crash, talking about recent developments in the case.

“It seems that the cause of death has finally been confirmed,” Gabby was saying. “A potent mixture of the Steel-type move Flash Cannon and a rocket-propelled grenade caused severe haemorrhaging in the brain, causing Rayquaza to lose control of its movements and thus of its flight. The impact was the actual death blow; had it not hit the ground, Rayquaza might well have survived, or even recovered. Professor Xavier Houndsbuck has been studying Rayquaza all his life.”

It cut to Professor Houndsbuck, sitting in a well-appointed office. A little message informed me that this was at Harvard University, America; I didn’t know where in America that was, and sincerely doubted that more than three people did in the whole country.

That’s right, said Puck. You’re all shockingly ill-educated about the rest of the world in this country, aren’t you?

Houndsbuck spoke, and a voiceover man translated.

“From what we know, Rayquaza has actually sustained serious damage before. Observation planes have, for example, spotted large scars on its sides that seem to be from meteor impacts. The post-mortem revealed that it had fractured its skull and neck several times before, apparently without lasting ill-effect, and a large piece of scar tissue in its abdomen has shown that something managed to partially disembowel it in the past. Leaving aside the question of what managed to do that, this seems to indicate that Rayquaza potentially had the ability to regenerate to a degree previously unknown in nature...”

Sapphire walked in.

“Good morning. What’s this?”

“Just a Rayquaza update,” I told her. “The cause of death was a Flash Cannon mixed with a rocket-propelled grenade, they say.”

“Hm.” Sapphire pressed her lips together.

Someone’s still sensitive about the death of the Sky King, Puck said. Best not to talk about it anymore, I think.

“Oh, Sapphire!” said Spike, turning around. “If you’re ready, can we...?”

“You didn’t have to wait for us,” Sapphire said. “You could have left.”

“It’s OK,” replied Spike, getting up and following her out. I sighed, hauled myself to my feet and went after them. “It’s easier to travel with other people.”

She wants company, Puck said shrewdly. The girl’s lonely and depressed; I reckon she met you two at just the right time.

“All right, Mr. Psychology,” I muttered, “now shut your face.”

We checked out and started through Fallarbor towards the heliport; Sapphire said she knew the way, and I believed her. She seemed to know the way to most places.

Fallarbor suited the summer sun. I couldn’t imagine it in winter; it just didn’t fit. There were broad, sunlit boulevards and flashy cars; expensive shops and mansions that belonged to people who were very famous, very rich or both. Real Tropius, part dinosaur, part palm tree and part banana, stood around in the gardens, fanning their leafy wings and lowing softly; all the people seemed to be tanned, well-dressed and handsome. I imagined that this was the sort of place Felicity came from: a haven of glamour, a single city that sucked in the wealth and beauty of a nation and showed it off for the world to see.

Disgusting, was Puck’s verdict. It’s californication, that’s what it is. As my mother used to say: always trust in Anthony Kiedis.

We were walking down a narrow street called, with a depressing lack of imagination, Narrow Street, when three men in red suits and sunglasses swept past us, a white-coated man in their midst. I only saw them for a second, but I was certain of the expression on the man’s face: abject terror. I also saw their faces, and stopped dead in surprise.

Sapphire halted immediately.

“That was Team Magma,” she said. “Kester?”

“We’re going,” I said immediately.

“OK,” she replied.

“What?” asked Spike, confused.

“We’re going to go after those Magmas,” Sapphire told her. “You don’t have to, though. You can keep going to Lavaridge if you like. I mean, this could take a while.”

Spike hesitated for a moment, undecided, then spoke:

“OK. I’m going, then. I – I need to go home.”

Sapphire nodded.

“I understand.”

We stood facing each other awkwardly for a moment. Then:

“Well, good luck,” I said.

“You too,” replied Spike. “Goodbye.”

“Just go straight on,” Sapphire said. “I hope everything goes well.”

“Same to you,” said Spike, starting to walk. “Bye!”

We waved her away, and then turned to follow the Magmas.

I hope she sorts all this stuff out, Puck said. She’s a nice girl under all that metal.

“Kester, this isn’t like you at all,” Sapphire noted.

“Didn’t you see who those goons were?” I replied. “They’re the ones who kidnapped you, Sapphire.” I grinned. “They’re about the only people in the world I’m guaranteed to be able to beat up. It’d be my pleasure to stop whatever nefarious deeds they’re up to.”

Sapphire’s face twisted into the familiar lopsided grin, and we turned a corner into bright sunlight, to see the Magmas bundling their hapless captive into a large black car.

“Now you’re talking my language,” she said, and flagged down a taxi. We climbed swiftly into the back, and I uttered words that I’d wanted to ever since I was a small child:

“Driver, follow that car!”

Sgt Shock
March 14th, 2011, 03:54 PM
Hello. I've been reading your story for quite some time--so I have a lot to say. I'm not going to it all in this review, but I just wanted to inspire you to keep writing. I sat down for one minute just to read a chapter an ended up reading about ten of them. There are plenty things that I found appealing about your chapter. Your writing style in particular is what drew me to keep reading them in such a rate. Its also nice that you update regularly.

Puck is absolutely hilarious. His humor is refined and I know Kester does not respect that all of the time. Sapphire and Kester has great character interactions. That is probably what impressed me the most since I'm character crazy about things. You keep the plot line going while balancing both intelligent humor and action sequences. I'm only at about chapter 11 so I can't say much. I'm giving it my all to catch up though.

The switching between first and third person took a bit of getting used to . However, you seemed to caught the hang of it quickly. It's became smoother as time went on. I had a slight problem with switches at first--but now I understand.

Hope that I can give you some more reviews (you know, the ones with quotes and stuff). I don't want to act too quickly on something that may have already been addressed in writing and other reviews. Expect an actual deep review from me as soon as I catch up.

Cutlerine
March 15th, 2011, 01:02 PM
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Punk’s Tale

If the kind reader will so permit, we shall here make a digression from the main thrust of the narrative. We will not follow Kester, or the Magmas, or even Darren Goodwin. Instead, young Flannery of Lavaridge, more properly known as Spike, will form the focus of our narrative.

Spike had, as has been touched on already, something of a rocky relationship with her grandfather. What has not been mentioned is that the feeling of mutual hatred was one she also happened to share with the townsfolk of Lavaridge. It had all begun long ago, when she was more commonly known as Flannery.

Before her parents had died, Flannery had lived in Lilycove, home to all the youth and allure the country had to offer. By contrast, Lavaridge had seemed, like Denmark, a prison: it was full of the elderly, bursting at the seams with a slow tide of wrinkled age; it was a town that belonged to adults, and especially to the retired. Flannery could remember being eight, catching her first sight of the red rock from the Cable Car, and thinking it was like they had stolen the landscape from Mars.

Upon arrival, she found herself in a cage of tradition, wrapped round with loneliness; gone were the children she had played with in Lilycove, along with the familiar city streets and the bustle and hum of metropolis life. In their place, Flannery found a suffocating haze of stagnation. Lavaridge had nothing to offer a child but warm water and sand, and even that was out of bounds: her grandfather, suffering from the loss of his daughter and son-in-law, could not stand the thought of losing her as well, and would not let her play outside the grounds of his house or, if he couldn’t find anyone to look after her, his Gym.

Was it any wonder, then, that Flannery was a rebel? Lacking stimulation, she had to make her own, and this often took the form of petty vandalism and once, when she was nine, even theft from the vihara up on Jagged Pass. That last cemented the slow crystallisation of old Uriah Moore’s concern for Flannery into bitterness. With the last vestiges of compassion in his possessed, and after a protracted and long-overdue argument with Flannery, he had consented to let her visit Lilycove again in the company of a friend of his, the former Elite Four member Jericho Swolsfell. As the only young woman Moore knew, she was supposed to connect with Flannery and try to get to the root of her troubles.

Jericho was able to do just that – but far better than Moore had hoped. Flannery was ecstatic to be in Lilycove, but Jericho was so exalted in her eyes that the thrill of meeting her eclipsed even that. The Rock-type Master had something magnetic about her (so magnetic, it was rumoured, that she had once been able to inveigle even the normally cold Lance of the Indigo Plateau into accepting her offer of a date) and Flannery had adored her so much that her animosity towards her grandfather could only grow. Why was he old and strict, when Jericho was young and relaxed? Why did he speak to her only to tell her off, when Jericho just spoke to make jokes and have fun? Why, why, why?

Flannery came back from the weekend in Lilycove with her first piercings: her ears. This was normal enough, but, now embittered, her grandfather took grave exception to it; the resultant argument passed into Lavaridge legend, and would be told fondly for years to come.

“You’d never have known that a child could have such a pair of lungs on her,” Mr. Sponge was prone to say; Mrs. Wishpicket of 17 Grazina Avenue had a more colourful turn of phrase:

“She was screaming like a Loudred being raped, dears. You know, some people call that canola.”

Regardless of the way it was described, and whether or not Mrs. Wishpicket entirely understood the concept of canola, the argument was colossal. Jericho defended Flannery as best she could, and took much of the blame on herself – but the girl was still confined to her room for a week, though it wasn’t as if she had anywhere to go anyway. That was the last time she saw Jericho, as well.

Six months later Flannery turned ten, and received the application form in the post to become a Trainer. She had filled it out at once and sent it back without even telling her grandfather it had arrived, sure he would forbid her from going. On the part where she had to fill in her name, she had written Spike Temulence. It was technically illegal, but it didn’t matter; that day, Flannery ceased to be, and Spike rose in her place, twice as fiery and every bit as rebellious.

A week later a letter from the Pokémon League had arrived, informing her application had been accepted; unfortunately, her grandfather got to this one before her, and another argument had ensued. In the heat of it, Spike had snatched the letter from Uriah and fled the house. She swore it would be the last time she ever saw it.

Of course, the police became involved, but by the time they did, Spike was getting off a train in Mauville City, where she rapidly became invisible. She was a little scruffy, but that was the fashion in Hoenn at that time – a fact that had had several tourists rather concerned for the welfare of those they saw on their travels. She got her money by hook and by crook, and begged, borrowed and stole her way to Littleroot just in time to present herself at Professor Alan Birch’s famous Pokémon Laboratory at the appointed date.

It was a wonder she survived, at just ten. It helped, of course, that that was the age Trainers started at, and many people merely assumed that that was what she was. However she did it, she reached the Lab in time, and, her battered body eliciting sympathy from Birch, she received an unusually rare first Pokémon: a small, smoking tortoise, just two months out of the egg. It was a baby Torkoal, difficult to find due to their habit of living in lava and on sheer mountainsides, and it was hers to keep.

From then on, Spike went from strength to strength. She had a natural aptitude for Training, and soon she had defeated Petalburg’s Gym Leader, the Grass user Stephanie. If you know anything of recent Hoennian history, you will be well acquainted with her involvement in the infamous Black TMs scandal that forced her resignation, and the consequent appointment of Norman as her successor.

Spike now had money, through winning official matches, and she earned more by betting on herself. Gradually, over the next four years, she acquired more piercings, at first because her grandfather hated them and later because she liked them; at fifteen, she got the tattoo on her arm and decided to specialise in Fire-types, to rival her grandfather. She challenged all the Gyms (save her grandfather’s) again and swept all the Leaders away with her new team. Entering the League tournament at Ever Grande City, she had beat down the opposition easily, reaching the finals before losing to the man who went on to win. Undeterred, Spike had then gone on to take on the most difficult of challenges: the Elite Four itself. She had beaten Sidney and Phoebe before having to turn back; Glacia had poured an unrelenting wave of Walrein upon her, which in turn had poured an unrelenting wave of water over her Fire-types. However strong they were, they hadn’t been able to take the repeated Surfs, and so Spike had lost.

In short, Spike had turned her life around. She’d escaped Lavaridge and the life she didn’t want. The world was her oyster; she was even considering travelling abroad, to Johto or even America, in order to search for rare foreign Pokémon. Then her grandfather had died, and the bottom had fallen out of her world.

The base for Spike’s life was her hatred of her grandfather, and with his death it dropped away, replaced with soul-wrenching guilt. She could remember the day she left, and the last words she’d screamed at him – the last words she’d spoken to him before he died:

“I hate you! I wish you would die!”

They weren’t eloquent, but they were brutal enough, especially with the right feeling behind them. Spike found herself thinking that perhaps it was her fault; perhaps if she had stayed, had obeyed, he might still be alive. Uriah Moore was a bitter, twisted old man, but he was her bitter, twisted old man, and in a strange sort of way she still loved him.

And so Spike had headed back towards Lavaridge, taking the late train to Fallarbor with the intrepid adventurers Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch; she left them there to continue alone, back to the home she had sworn she would never see again.

Back to the house of the former Gym Leader Uriah Moore.

---

“Right away, sir,” replied the cabbie amiably, and slammed his foot down on the accelerator with such force that I was almost flung out the back window.

“Do you do this often?” I asked, struggling to fasten my seatbelt.

“Every two days, give or take,” the cabbie answered, slaloming wildly between two lanes of traffic as the Magmas sped ahead. “What’re you filming this time?”

“This isn’t a film!” Sapphire said. “This is an application of the law!”

“Ooh,” went the cabbie, screeching around a corner on two wheels and tipping Sapphire onto my lap, “that’s nice and all. Put my name in the credits, would you?”

Seems he’s mad too, Puck remarked. Ahead of us, the Magma car – a shiny black Buick Century – swerved onto the pavement, scattering pedestrians, and, dodging lampposts and ornamental trees, turned onto a side street. I’m mad, you’re mad – we’re all mad here.

“Just you, I think,” I muttered; the cabbie drove headlong through a fast-moving lane of traffic, losing the rear bumper of his taxi in a welter of horns, and shot out the other side after the Magmas. “OK, him too,” I amended, gripping the handle in the door tightly. “Oh God, this is terrifying.”

“Kester!” said Sapphire, now upright and firmly seatbelted. “Start firing at them!”

I stared at her.

“I’m not leaning out of the window!” I cried back.

“I’d do as she says,” the cabbie offered. “It’ll make the scene a whole lot better.” He paused. “Where are the cameras?”

“Gah!” I cried. Then: “I’m going to regret this...”

I pressed the button and the window slid down; a blast of fresh air rolled in and the sound of screaming tires rang loud in my ears. We were now on a broad, sunlit boulevard, the Century ahead of us parting the traffic like Moses and the Red Sea; all we had to do was follow in their wake.

“Get a move on!” cried Sapphire.

I took a deep breath, undid my seatbelt and leaned out of the window until I could aim effectively, then called up the now-familiar prickling sensation in my fingers. The energy was gathering, I could feel it – and then it was ready. I took aim at the rear window, dodged a telephone pole, and fired.

A streak of yellow energy cut through the air like a knife of lightning; the window exploded into fragments of glass and the Century swerved slightly, its driver surprised by the impact.

“Cor!” cried the cabbie. “That’s some special effect!”

“Come on! Hit the wheels or something!” ordered Sapphire.

“I’m amazed I hit it at all!” I yelled back over the roar of the wind, taking aim again. The Buick turned a corner at the last moment, and the shot went wide, burning a neat, round hole in a Stop sign. This time, I felt myself grow warm for a moment, and glow faintly orange.

You’ve powered up, noted Puck. Now duck.

I looked forwards, yelped and withdrew hurriedly into the taxi as we rounded the corner after the Magmas; I had come within three feet of having my head taken off by a Give Way sign.

“What are you doing?” asked Sapphire. “Get back out there!”

“You can’t order me around anymore!” I snapped back. “I’m free, remember?”

“Dialogue could use some work,” the cabbie said.

“For the love of—!”

I leaned out of the window again, charging another Beam, and loosed it at the fleeing Century. I didn’t hit it this time, either – but that was because I had to avoid being shot by the big Magma, who had just started to return fire of the hole that had once been the rear window.

“They’re shooting at us!” I cried.

“We’re shooting at them!” countered Sapphire.

What a commotion, Puck said. Looks like this might be harder than you’d anticipated.

“Shut up,” I growled, and shot another Charge Beam back at the Magmas. They responded with more bullets, which missed but still terrified me.

“This isn’t going as well as planned,” stated Sapphire. “Kester, you need to think before you act.”

I stared at her incredulously.

“This is coming from the girl who burned down a building to see if there was a fire escape!”

“Friction,” said the cabbie, “I like it. Adds flavour to the movie, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure that you do.”

It’s like we’re in the hall of the mountain king, Puck observed. You know, because madness is reigning.

At that moment, a bullet burst a hole in the windscreen, sang between Sapphire and I, and exited the rear window.

“Oh, hell,” I said despairingly, “this has got really out of hand.”

---

Darren Goodwin pushed open the gate and walked down the path. His steps were slow, his heart calm; around him, wisteria curled over wooden pyramids and bracken tumbled in curly piles over the flowerbeds. Not many people grew bracken intentionally, but Melissa did; she’d always loved the rolled-up heads of the young shoots.

He stopped at the front door, took off his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. It had taken a long time, but they’d agreed to let him go at last. Someone else would take over.

Darren replaced his glasses, opened the door and stepped inside with the silent tread of a Goodwin-class researcher. He put the keys down on the hall table gently, without making a noise, and raised the bunch of long-stemmed roses in his other hand.

“Honey,” he called out softly, “I’m home.”

---

“Drive faster!” cried Fabien. “They’re gaining on us!”

“All right, let’s see action!” replied the Magma driver, pushing the accelerator almost flush with the floor. The Buick bucked slightly and shot forwards across Adnoctis Plaza, scattering pedestrians left and right; they swerved around the fountain in the centre and continued off the other side, heading west.

“Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God—”

“Shut up!” Blake roared at the scientist they’d captured. “Or I’ll shoot you!”

As if to emphasise his point, he loosed a volley of lead at the pursuing taxi, putting three holes in the number plate and destroying a headlight. The Professor squeaked dismally and shut his eyes tight.

“Blake! Kill the driver – or the Rotom-boy!” Fabien shouted.

“What d’you think I’m tryin’ to do?” demanded Blake, ducking a Charge Beam that burnt a fist-sized hole in the roof above. The attacks were getting stronger; Charge Beam’s propensity to raise its own power was really making itself known. Soon, the Rotom-boy would reach maximum Special Attack – and at that point, a direct hit on any of them would reduce them almost entirely to ash.

“I don’t mind not being immortal,” the driver said cautiously, “but I really don’t want to die. So if you two could get your God-damned act together, that’d be great.”

“We’re doing the best we can!” Fabien snapped. “Blake! Shoot more, and shoot faster!”

“This is a Browning, not a Tommy Gun,” growled Blake, “an’ I’m shootin’ it as fast as I can.”

“Well – good, then,” Fabien said, then yelped and threw himself flat as a sizzling Charge Beam blew the back of his seat into shreds of stuffing and fabric.

“Struggle after struggle, year after year,” the driver said philosophically. “The fun never ends with you guys, does it?”

“I’m dying!” shrieked Fabien.

“You’re fine,” Blake asserted. Blam! “Oh, I got ’im!”

“Really?” Fabien sat up and looked back; the taxi was still in hot pursuit. “No you didn’t!”

“Damn,” said Blake, “I hit the stunt dummy in ’is passenger seat.”

“What kind of cabbie has a stunt dummy in the passenger seat?”

“A Fallarbor one,” said the driver knowledgeably. “For a cabbie, death or glory becomes just another story. You know how they like to talk about their exploits.”

“That makes no sense!” cried Fabien.

A Charge Beam blew a hole the size of a cocker spaniel in the boot, and the driver whistled.

“When the lightning explodes, I pray for your soul,” he said.

“Drive faster!” howled Fabien, and, sighing, the driver did.

They shot out onto the motorway, heading west through Route 114 now, and the taxi followed soon after; the speed limit here was eighty miles per hour, but they were going at least ninety. Amid the swerving and dodging, there was a temporary ceasefire as the driver and the cabbie adapted to the faster traffic, then the exchange of lightning and bullets resumed. Horns blared to add to the cacophony, and a passing motorist’s pet Loudred, encouraged by the noise, joined in with an unspeakably loud bellow that cracked the windscreen and caused a minor traffic accident.

“Take us off the road here!” screamed Fabien, clinging tightly to the remnants of his seat; there was a crackling sound and a yellow flash, and a crater opened up in the tarmac next to the left front wheel.

“Will do!” the driver said cheerfully, and spun the wheel; the Century lurched sideways, narrowly missing a white van; a Charge Beam blew the remnants of the roof away, and then they had slipped through the pre-cut section of barrier rail and rolled away into the fertile woods that cloaked the edge of Lake Perspicacity.

---

“They’ve gone off the road!” cried Sapphire. “Go after them!”

“Anything for the movies, little miss,” the cabbie replied amiably.

That guy sure has a strong mind, Puck said. Or maybe he’s just really mad.

We slewed through three lanes of traffic, almost dying several times, and drove straight down a steep slope towards a large stand of trees. Beyond it, I could just see the waters of a lake; if I remembered my geography correctly, the motorway bridged it a few miles to the west, after going past the scenic Prajna Falls.

The Buick, smoking now and partially wrecked, had come to a halt in the trees; we were almost at the edge of the woods when it started up again, accelerating and heading west along the lake’s edge.

“Someone got out!” Sapphire said. “I’ll go after them. Kester, keep following that car!”

“Ooh, diverging storylines,” the cabbie remarked. “Fancy. That ought to be good, if they come to suitably awe-inspiring parallel dénouements.”

He brought the taxi down to about three miles an hour, which hurled me from my seat but thankfully broke nothing, and Sapphire flung her door open and ran for the trees. Immediately, the taxi sped up again, eating up the distance between us and the damaged Century.

We bounced over the rocky plain at the motorway’s edge; we were heading across a barren area, devoid of grass, towards the lake, where the Century was labouring onwards. It took about four minutes to catch up, by which time the Magma car was roaring through the shallows, kicking up massive plumes of water; I was about to launch another Charge Beam when Puck cried out:

No!

What? I replied, fingers hovering in midair, full of static.

The water – it conducts electricity. Be very careful, Kester, or you’ll end up transmitting a +6 Special Attack Charge Beam into the very water that’s splashing all over this car. It won’t kill you, but it’ll definitely fry the driver.

“Damn!” I exclaimed. “Can you try and drive this guy out of the water?” I asked the cabbie.

“Oh, I’ve got a couple of tricks,” he replied ambiguously, and the taxi lurched forwards a couple of metres, slamming into the back of the Century. Both cars shuddered with the impact, and we lost our remaining headlight, but it had the desired effect: the Buick no longer had the power to outdrive us, and it couldn’t dodge left into the lake – so its driver brought it to the right, back onto the shore.

We drew alongside it now, neck and neck; the bridge was beginning to come into sight in the distance, and if I looked right I could see into the ruined backseat area of the Century.

It’s empty! Both of them must have got out – and taken the scientist guy with them!

“You’re right,” I said. “So this is a decoy...”

All at once, a thought flashed into my head, and the rushing wind and groaning Buick seemed to fade away for a moment. I grinned, and leaned out of the window so my eyes met those of the decoy driver.

“From Russia,” I yelled into the wind, “with love!”

His eyes widened, and I waited for him to fling himself out of the door before I loosed a full-power Charge Beam into the bonnet of the Century.

It was truly a cinematic moment. The battered taxi shot forth, and behind it the Century’s front erupted in a fountain of smoke and flames. I wish I’d been in front of us with a camera, because it would have been a perfect special effect: no one got hurt, and it looked seriously cool.

“Yeaaaahh!” I shouted impulsively as we rocketed past the smoking wreck, watching the driver flee across the plain.

Yeah, that was pretty good, Puck said. Perfect use of that joke, too. You’re as good as the old double-O himself – you might as well be on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The cabbie gave a small cheer too, and slowed to a halt on the rocky shore.

“So then,” he said. “About your fare...”

---

Sapphire hit the ground running, trainers kicking up clouds of ashy dirt behind her. She headed for the stand of trees, and was there in less than ten seconds; ahead, moving swiftly between the branches, three forms moved in tandem. One was pressed against the back of the other, and Sapphire suspected that that was the gun-toting Magma, threatening the scientist with his pistol.

Long years of experience had left Sapphire with the ability to move almost silently through the forest should she need to; most Pokémon had excellent hearing, and the tracking of such species required this skill. Thus, the Magmas didn’t hear her as she approached, at first gaining on them and then staying a constant twenty feet away. They had crashed through the barrier rail on the motorway, which meant they had to have cut it previously; hitting it usually would have been tantamount to driving into a brick wall. Therefore, they had to have a plan – which meant they knew where they were going, and Sapphire wanted to find out exactly where that was.

They pressed on, slowly making their way around the perimeter of the lake; they had just reached its eastern shores, about half an hour later, when the woods ended abruptly and they walked out into the open. Sapphire hung back in the trees, watching.

There was a large burgundy jeep parked about fifty yards away, with a man in a red cloak and hood behind the wheel. On the doors and on the bonnet, the stylised ‘M’ of Team Magma was printed. Sapphire raised her eyebrows. If they were trying to keep a low profile, that jeep wasn’t going to help.

“We got him, sir,” said the shorter, thinner Magma. He sounded out of breath. “We were chased by the Aquas, but we ditched the car and they followed that instead.”

Aquas? They think we’re with Team Aqua? Sapphire’s eyebrows went even higher. How had they come to that conclusion? As far as she knew, there was nothing about Kester or herself that brought the Aquas to mind.

“Very good, Fabien,” said the hooded man, in a deep, slow voice like that of a cold crocodile. “This is Professor Brian Cozmo?”

“Yes sir,” affirmed the shorter Magma – Fabien. Professor Cozmo trembled, but said nothing.

“This almost makes up for the years of blinding incompetence,” the hooded man said mildly. “Blake, put the good Professor in the back of the truck and sit with him to make sure he goes nowhere.

The burly Magma nodded and got in the back of the jeep with Cozmo. Fabien climbed into the front, next to his hooded superior, and the engine started up.

Sapphire hesitated, and the jeep started to roll forwards, towards her; they were taking it around in a U-turn. She could undoubtedly make it to the truck and grab on – but she would almost certainly be found.

What to do, what to do...

The jeep was almost here, and Sapphire darted behind a tree as it rumbled closer.

Come on, Sapphire, think...

Then came the moment when, had it been a cartoon, a light bulb would have come on above her head. In one fluid movement, Sapphire’s hand flew to her belt and tossed a ball underhand under the jeep. She prayed it hadn’t gone under a wheel, and sure enough it hadn’t; unseen by the passengers, an intense blue light shot through with black flared under the vehicle, and once the jeep had passed over, a small white figure was left standing in the dirt, clutching a terrifying Dustox doll and sucking his claws pathetically.

“Grab on!” hissed Sapphire, as loudly as she dared; the Sableye probably failed to understand her words, but it saw her, recognised her as frightening, and instinctively scurried into the nearest dark place it could find: the underside of the jeep.

The vehicle drove away, and Sapphire could just see a flash of white beneath it, where the Sableye was clinging to the dark, oily metal for dear life.

nokyo-chan
March 17th, 2011, 07:24 AM
If I could get that knife off Will, I could probably cut it. But then I’d be contributing to the decay of the multiverse due to the escape of Dust, so, y’know, it might not be such a good idea.

A Dark Materials reference. That really caught me by surprise. You, sir, are possibly one of the most well-read people I have been lucky enough to stumble upon while browsing the Internet.

By contrast, Lavaridge had seemed, like Denmark, a prison:

Another reference I absolutely adore, this one to Hamlet—I believe you had another one a few chapters back in which one character told another that there was “more to this world than is dreamt of in your philosophy”. You have what seems like millions of other references that I wish I could post into a (somewhat redundant) review and tell you exactly how much I like them, but that would be quite time-consuming, and possibly a quite boring read on your part.

Your story is progressing quite swimmingly—pardon the lame adverb. The constant shifting of storylines is quite difficult for a writer to manage, and you are doing it with grace, as well as humor that more than rivals that of Terry Pratchett. I love the twist of the goods being an arcade machine. And Puck reminds me a bit of a ghostly Jack Sparrow; I'm not quite sure which thing he's lying about, which makes him rather unpredictable. I knew that there must be some sort of depth about Puck's character that we hadn't yet seen, and now that we've delved a bit deeper into him, I find that I am not disappointed in the least; I can't wait to see what other surprises he has for us.

Going back to the span/spun discussion we seem to be having, I, too, researched this, and found it to be somewhat of a cultural difference; therefore, I offer my apologies. As for any other grammar mistakes, I have found none.

I suppose the point of this review is simply that I am enjoying your story, and I just wanted to let you know this.

Cutlerine
March 17th, 2011, 09:24 AM
A Dark Materials reference. That really caught me by surprise. You, sir, are possibly one of the most well-read people I have been lucky enough to stumble upon while browsing the Internet.

Do you find a lot of well-read people while browsing the Internet, then?

You have what seems like millions of other references that I wish I could post into a (somewhat redundant) review and tell you exactly how much I like them, but that would be quite time-consuming, and possibly a quite boring read on your part.

It would indeed be time-consuming, but it sounds like something I might have to compile myself at some point. There are 243 A4 pages of The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World (using size 13 Baskerville Old Face font) at present, and I would love to be able to look at the references and say to myself:
"Yeah. That's a lot."
Admittedly, it's not much of a goal to have, but everyone dreams.

Damn. Now I'm going to have to stop writing my pantomime version of Titus Andronicus and start working on a massive compilation of my references.

I suppose the point of this review is simply that I am enjoying your story, and I just wanted to let you know this.

Thanks. I like it when people enjoy things I've created.

Cutlerine
March 17th, 2011, 02:20 PM
This is a little shorter than usual, but I seem to have told all the story I needed to for the chapter in fewer words than normal. Meh. Chapter length will return to normal on Saturday.

Chapter Thirty: The Minister

The Magmas’ driver walked cautiously back over to the wreck of the Buick and shook his head sadly.

“That isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “That was one hell of a shot.”

He sighed and turned away. It was going to be a long walk back to Lavaridge, and he had an appointment to keep.

Slowly, Tchaikovsky began trudging back to civilisation.

---

“M-my friend’s the one with the money,” I said swiftly. “She’ll be back in a minute, and she’ll pay you.”

“Oh, OK then,” replied the cabbie amiably.

“In fact,” I suggested, “if you could turn around and go back a bit so we can pick her up, that’d be even better.”

I’ve just had a thought, Puck said. What’s Felicity going to say about this? She’s been waiting for well over twelve hours now.

She’ll be fine, I thought back, as the cab started to turn. We’ll explain that we were thwarting the Magmas, and she won’t mind that. I hope.

As we drew level with the woods again, I glimpsed Sapphire standing by the trees, waving.

“Over here!” she cried, and the cabbie pulled up alongside her. “Right,” she said, climbing in, “Puck, I need to have you track my Sableye.”

Where is it? asked the Rotom.

“Where is it?” I relayed.

“Underneath a Team Magma jeep, heading south,” Sapphire said.

Puck concentrated for a moment.

Can’t do it, he said. It’s too far away. I need something to extend my range.

I relayed this to Sapphire, who immediately grabbed my hand, yanking me out of my seat, and pressed it against the taxi’s radio. Sparks danced around my fingers, much to the cabbie’s consternation, and Puck’s voice said straight away:

That’s very clever of you. South by south-east of here, but moving steadily southwest. It looks like they might be heading for the road again on the other side of the lake.

“Take us back to the motorway and head south,” Sapphire ordered of the cabbie.

“We’re not done?”

“There’s another scene to do,” I said, deciding to roll with it. “See, in this film I play a talented young cop who tracks down some murderous Magmas who have kidnapped renowned scientist Professor, er, Jamson Horne.”

Jamson Horne? What sort of a name is that?

“Owing to a freak accident, I have a Rotom implanted into my head, and his powers are transferred to me.”

“Sounds complicated but intriguing,” commented the cabbie as we headed back towards the motorway. “What part do you play, little miss?”

Sapphire bridled at being called that, but answered anyway.

“Ah... I’m a criminal gone straight who helps the cop on his way. I do most of the work, really, being streetwise and all that.”

“I think I do most of the work,” I said, quietly but forcefully. “When have you done anything?”

We pulled onto the road and started accelerating again, zigzagging between lanes like a crazed hare—

—How do you know what a hare is?

—and leaving a trail of blaring horns behind us.

“What do you mean?” hissed Sapphire. “I’ve done all the important things!”

“You make me do everything,” I replied, not unreasonably. “You know, because you’re—”

“I assume you want me to go this fast?” the cabbie asked. “Only, without a visible film crew, the police will probably pull us over soon.”

Sapphire and I exchanged looks.

“Keep going,” she urged. “We can’t risk losing them. Puck? Update?”

They’re back on the road, I think – they’re heading dead south.

“Right,” said Sapphire, after I’d told her this. “Go as fast as possible.”

“As fast as I should, or as fast as I can?” asked the cabbie.

“As fast as you can,” clarified Sapphire; and somehow the taxi sped up; the world outside was too much of a blur for me to see properly now, and I had to wonder how the cabbie was steering between the cars. I looked across at him, and saw his eyes twitching left and right at unbelievable speed, his hands jerking the steering wheel back and forth with the precision of a neurosurgeon. In all, it was rather like watching someone building a watch from scratch on the roof of a moving express train.

Amazing, isn’t he? asked Puck. Just incredible.

Yeah, I agreed.

I mean, you’d have thought he’d figured out it wasn’t a movie by now.

That’s not – never mind.

It took perhaps half an hour, going at the incredible speeds we were, to reach the bridge, and another three minutes to cross it. To the south, the greyish badlands of southern Route 114 emerged; these were the western foothills of the Madeiras, where all volcanic activity had long since ceased. They were harsh, hostile, and a favourite spot for hikers, who were nothing if not brave.

They’re going west again, Puck said. They seem to be off the road.

At Sapphire’s request, the cabbie took us off the road again, squeezing through a gap in the boundary fence, and shot across a gravelly grey plain. Pebbles shot up behind the car and clattered against the doors and underside, and the wheels jerked and bounced over the rocky ground; the suspension on the taxi was far beyond normal, because it handled the abuse without apparent complaint.

This really is an impressive vehicle, Puck noted. I think it might be some sort of special stunt car disguised as a taxi.

“Do you have any idea where they might be headed?” I asked the cabbie. “Are there any landmarks here?”

He thought for a moment, performed a daring last-moment swerve around a boulder and replied:

“Meteor Falls. It’s a cave network that’s famous because quite a few meteorites have fallen there. Goes right inside the hills and deep underground.”

“How do meteorites get inside a cave network?”

The cabbie shrugged.

“I’ve always wanted to know that myself.”

Despite no longer having the advantage of the smooth tarmac road, we were still maintaining our ridiculous speed; I guessed we must be going at over a hundred miles an hour now, and was getting concerned about what might happen when we stopped.

The signal’s weaker, Puck said. Like they’ve crawled into a lead coffin. Wait, that’s unlikely – more like they’ve gone underground.

“Head for Meteor Falls,” I told the cabbie. “They’ve gone underground.”

“All right!” he cried and swung the taxi around to face almost directly south. At the speed we were moving at, it didn’t take long for the first of the cave mouths to come into view, and then the cabbie started to decelerate. It took him nearly two hundred metres to slow to a halt, but at least he didn’t kill us. “We’re here,” he said. “This is one of the entrances to Meteor Falls.”

I looked out of the window. It wasn’t very impressive, just a barren grey hillside with a yawning dark hole in it. A huge burgundy jeep, painted with the volcano-shaped ‘M’ symbol of Team Magma, was outside, parked at a random angle as if the passengers had vacated it in a hurry.

“Now,” said the cabbie, “about your fare...”

“Later,” interrupted Sapphire, “when we come back. If you can wait for us to take us back, that’d be great.”

“OK!” replied the cabbie. “I’ll be here.”

By the time he’d finished, Sapphire and I were already out of the car and heading for the cave mouth. We checked briefly under the car, but it seemed the Sableye had fled the jeep for the comfort of the darkness. Since that was also where the Magmas were, we decided to follow, and entered the dark embrace of the cave mouth.

---

Kester and Sapphire were chasing criminals, Felicity was being tortured, Blake and Fabien were engaged in nefarious activities, Spike was on her way home; everyone, it has been shown, was up to something interesting at this point.
Except for one man.

This, of course, was Barry. Chauvinistic, slow-witted and quick-tempered; a man’s man and an idiot’s idiot. He never won, unlike Kester or Sapphire; he had no enigmatic past like Puck or Felicity; he was even outclassed by his Magma counterparts, Blake and Fabien, on the basis that they were funnier. Barry Hawksworthy was a man of little worth.

He also had a propensity for acting like a fool, and rushing in where angels fear to tread; it was this that had caused him to storm angrily into the Aqua hideout in East Mauville and demand something to do.

Now, the section head of the East Mauville Team Aqua Hideout was not someone used to having demands made of him. He kept his friends close, and his Bowie knife closer; on more than one occasion, he had carved interesting sculptures into subordinates who disobeyed orders, who failed tasks, or who simply looked too happy. People did not storm into his office, tell him the SuperBlast Module was an arcade machine and ask for new work.

Consequently, he was fairly taken aback; so far, in fact, that he telephoned the Aqua headquarters to try and find out if any jobs were going that would require this large, angry man to be removed from his building. This was how he found out that Shelly currently required some assistance in her W.R.I. project, and why Barry was sent to meet a subordinate of hers, one Scarlett Pimpernel, at Plain Rooke.

Plain Rooke was a short train ride east from Mauville; if it was a town, then it consisted of about three streets just south of the Akela Jungle, surrounded by farms. It was here, in the fertile floodplain of the River Cocytus, that most of Hoenn’s produce was made; here, imported Miltank and Mareep were farmed for wool, milk and meat, while tame Phearsants, a grouse-like Pokémon indigenous to Costa Rica, were reared for eggs. Even Berry plants were grown, by a strange specialist named Runcible Spoone, who insisted upon being called the Berry Master, and only came out of his house to hand out Berries to those deserving of them – which was apparently everyone in the world.

Barry walked through the main street of the town, heading for Plain Rooke’s most famous landmark, Turkey Hill. Atop this hill, a single turkey had been living since time immemorial; this was strange not only because there were no turkeys in Hoenn, and because turkeys are not normally immortal, but because he had, on occasion, been seen to conduct strange little ceremonies with visitors that resembled marriage services. It was considered an omen of extreme good luck to be married by the turkey that lived on the hill, and a sign that the marriage would prosper and live on forever.

The Aqua giant stopped and sighed, looking around. He was attracting a lot of attention – outsiders rarely came to Plain Rooke, unless they were Trainers on their way east, and he was very obviously not a Trainer.

“Left here,” Barry muttered to himself. It was not a hard conclusion to come to, there being fewer than five streets in the whole village, but he seemed to think it a great accomplishment; at any rate, he acquired an extra spring in his step as he turned left and started up the long, winding road to the top of Turkey Hill.

To either side, long fields of barley and of rye fell away; Barry thought he glimpsed four grey walls and four grey towers to the north, on an island in the river, and wondered for a fleeting instant what they embowered – but intelligent thought was an unwelcome stranger in his head, and was turned out before it worked out the answer.

Ahead of him, a small stand hove into view, with a burly man standing on either side of it. That, thought Barry, must be the admissions booth. Though the turkey belonged to no man, Turkey Hill was the property of a local farmer, and he charged admission to see the turkey. You could also, for a small fee, obtain drinks and hot dogs at the booth, as well as – for a mere shilling – a small ring. This last had never been adequately explained, and since no one in Hoenn had a clear idea of what a shilling might be, the ring had gone unpurchased for many years.

As he approached, Barry noted the burly men’s eyes fixing on him. It had only been a month since the last time a crazed chef had attempted to roast the turkey, and they were taking no chances. After he paid admission, he was briefly frisked to see if he might be concealing any culinary utensils about his person, and, once they were satisfied he wasn’t a chef, they let him past to see it.

The turkey was about twenty yards away, standing with his legs planted as wide as decency would allow and staring out at the undulating wall of rainforest to the north. Nearby, a small girl, no more than eleven, sat cross-legged in the grass with a sketchbook in her lap, drawing the turkey. For a strange moment, Barry had the sensation that the turkey was posing for her, but he dismissed it immediately. The turkey was a bird; it wasn’t even a Pokémon. It possessed no strange powers at all.

“Hey,” Barry called out, and the little girl turned around. “Have you seen a woman wearing blue around here? I’m supposed to be meeting them.”

“Are you Barry Hawksworthy?” asked the girl.

Barry nodded, and she got up, sketchbook dangling from one hand.

“I’m Scarlett Pimpernel,” she said, holding out her free hand for him to shake.

Barry gaped, and somewhere in his brain, two gears ground helplessly against each other.

“You... you?” he asked incredulously. The girl withdrew her hand.

“Yeah, me,” she replied. “Mum asked me to take you to her. She’s very busy and can’t come to meet you herself right now.”

“You’re our Magma Administrator’s daughter,” Barry repeated slowly. A gasket blew in the depths of his mind.

“Yeah.” Scarlett tilted her head on one side, and her wavy ginger hair fell across her face. “You’re much bigger than I thought you would be,” she decided. Barry could think of no more eloquent reply than:

“You’re much... smaller.”

“I’m nearly eleven!” cried Scarlett indignantly, drawing herself up to her full height. She looked messy, her T-shirt, sneakers and jeans stained with grass, paint and graphite; Barry, his eyes accustomed to seeking out weapons, noted a Poké Ball stuffed into her pocket. She was a Trainer, then, or at least had a pet. “I’m not small!”

“Um...” Barry’s brain ground to a complete and utter halt.

“Well, come on then,” said Scarlett crossly. “I suppose you’d better see Mum.”

The turkey turned around and made a soft, inquisitive sound, and Scarlett looked at it.

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” she told him. “I’ve finished the sketching, so tomorrow we’ll start painting.” To Barry: “Come on, Barry.”

Barry rankled at being addressed like this by a girl a quarter of his age, but his brain was so fried by his meeting with her that he acquiesced, and allowed himself to be led away down the hill. One thought managed to struggle through the locked-up machinery of his mind: whatever Shelly was going to have him do, it was certainly going to be interesting.

---

The Sableye was hiding under a rock a few metres into the cave; we retrieved him and I held him firmly in my arms, tilting his head this way and that to light our path. Sapphire sent out Rono, and the little metal monster rolled along beside us in fits and bursts.

Meteor Falls was, despite the grey exterior, somewhat yellowish on the inside, and water ran across the tunnel at regular intervals in clear, cold streams barely an inch thick. It didn’t take long before we found where it was all coming from: a vast underground river that flowed through the centre of a great underground cavern, crashing with a deafening roar down a series of waterfalls. Its surface was churned almost entirely white, and amid the flying spray a series of rickety wooden bridges spanned it, passing from one water-pitted island to another.

“Whoa,” I breathed. Then, more loudly: “How come I’ve never heard of this place before?”

“It’s dangerous,” Sapphire shouted back over the crash and roar of the water. “I mean, look at those bridges!”

I did. They looked about as safe as a trampoline made of razor wire.

Now that is dangerous, commented Puck. I wouldn’t like to be crossing those.

Neither would I, I replied.

“Look!” yelled Sapphire. “The Magmas!”

I looked. They were on the nearest island, one bridge away from our little projection into the raging waters. With them was a white-clad shape: the guy Sapphire had identified as Professor Cozmo.

“We don’t—?”

“Yes!” replied Sapphire. “We have to go over there!”

“No way!”

“Yes way! Go!”

With that, she pushed me savagely in the small of the back, and I stumbled out onto the bridge, over what sounded like the angriest river in the world. I froze solid, water slapping up over the slick wooden slats and drenching me instantly; the force almost knocked me over, and suddenly I realised that if I stood still, the waves would smash me down into the water below, where I would be in serious trouble. If I wanted to escape drowning, I had to—

RUN! shrieked Puck, and somehow I unstuck my legs from the floor and started into a frenzied run, just as another wave crashed down behind me; now I’d started, I couldn’t stop, and I dashed through the spray and madness, skin soaked with water and mind addled with fear.

And then I was free: I stood on the other side, coughing and spluttering and being stared at by three startled Magmas and a scientist.

“Give me – a moment,” I managed, spitting water and, inexplicably, a small fish, “I just need to – catch my breath.”

Whether it was the shock, or I just had a tremendously forceful personality, they obeyed, and I straightened up a moment later, brushing wet hair from my eyes.

“OK,” I said. “I’m OK now.”

“Sure?” asked the smaller hoodless Magma.

“I’m sure,” I replied. “Now, hand over the Professor!”

I raised a hand and a Charge Beam at maximum power charged in an instant; there was a brief explosion of sparks at my fingertips, and then a net of yellow lightning arced all over my body, travelling through the water and blasting my hair out into ragged spikes. I had just enough time to swear before I came to the humiliating realisation that I'd knocked myself out.

Echidna
March 18th, 2011, 05:46 AM
I will begin reading this now..i know i am a lil back on the whole follow up thing...but i am a fast reader..and this seems to be cool, could you send me a link to your other stuff ??? all of them, or are they omly the stuff in your sig ??

Cutlerine
March 18th, 2011, 08:02 AM
I will begin reading this now..i know i am a lil back on the whole follow up thing...but i am a fast reader..and this seems to be cool, could you send me a link to your other stuff ??? all of them, or are they omly the stuff in your sig ??

The only stuff I've ever posted online is on this very website, and links can be found in my signature.

Also, @nokyo-chan: I've compiled a list of all the references I can find in my story so far, but I may have missed some. If anyone finds more, please feel free to tell me and I'll add them.

This list has now been moved to the first post.

Cutlerine
March 19th, 2011, 08:09 AM
Chapter Thirty-One: The Importance of Being A Meteorite

Sapphire burst through the spray, Rono rolling half a step ahead of her; the sight she met was not a comforting one. Kester was already unconscious, lying almost under her feet, right at the end of the bridge.

“What the—?”

She stepped over him and took a few paces towards the Magmas and their captive. Between them was a large, pitted lump of blackened iron.

“All right,” Sapphire said authoritatively, “whatever you’re doing, stop it and let Professor Cozmo go!”

The tall, thin Magma with the hood looked at her as if she were an interesting butterfly specimen.

“Fabien, Blake,” he said. “Kill her.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Blake, the burly Magma, and started to take a gun from his pocket; before he had it even halfway out, a blur of stone and steel rolled across his feet, eliciting a roar of pain and making him fall over. Rono uncurled and growled a thin, tinny growl.

“Get up,” ordered the hooded Magma. “Try again.”

This was nowhere near as impressive or dangerous as Sapphire had imagined it would be. Blake started to rise, and his partner Fabien took a Poké Ball from his pocket, but Sapphire crossed the distance between them in three giant strides and punched him square on the nose. It crunched satisfyingly beneath her fingers, and he dropped the ball and stepped back, squealing and clutching at his face.

Blake leaped up and loosed off a shot at Sapphire, but it passed harmlessly and improbably through her sodden fedora; Rono made an ineffective leap for his gun hand and landed on his foot again. The Magma cried out again and shot Rono, but his steel hide turned the shot and the bullet bounced, as it could only do in a cartoon, straight back and flicked the gun from his hand. It clattered over the rocks, and he dived after it – but it slithered over the stone and vanished into the depths of the milk-white river.

Meanwhile, Sapphire turned around and swiftly grabbed Cozmo by the hand; she was about to haul him across the bridge when a red flash lit her vision, and something big appeared between her and safety with a thump that shook the ground.

It was large, it was shaggy, it was orange, it was blue; it snuffled and snorted, smoked and smouldered; it began with four flat feet and ended with two stony humps. Its head was low-slung and its eyes cantankerous; its thick tail swished back and forth, and occasional tongues of fire leaked from the volcanic excrescences on its back. It was a Camerupt, and it was not happy.

“You two are absolutely useless,” came the voice of the hooded man, and Sapphire glanced back to see him push his two subordinates out of the way. “I’m amazed you managed to catch him.”

He waved a hand in Cozmo's direction, but the Professor did not seem to appreciate the gesture; he shrank away and retreated to the metallic rock in the centre of the island.

“Let him go!” commanded Sapphire, though with significantly less bravado than she felt.

Fabien sniggered through a torrent of blood.

“Oh, she makes demands at a time like this!” he cried theatrically. “Well, I can tell you that’s not about to work! As the main cha—”

“Fabien,” said the hooded man without emotion, “if you don’t shut up I’ll push you into the river.”

Fabien suddenly acquired an intense interest in picking up and polishing his Poké Ball.

“Little girl,” the hooded man said, “my name is Tabitha.”

Sapphire couldn’t help it; she burst out laughing. Even Cozmo gave a nervous chuckle.

“Tabitha?” she asked incredulously. “Your name is Tabitha?”

The Camerupt gave an impatient snort, and Sapphire’s laughter died on her lips.

“I had hoped you might have heard of me, and have cause to fear my name.” Tabitha sounded somewhat disappointed. “Never mind. I am one of the Administrators of Team Magma, and I will do as I please. Including kidnapping the good Professor, and including taking your little Aqua head into our custody, as well as your somewhat...” – he glanced at the prone Kester – “explosive friend.”

“Oh, of course,” Sapphire said sarcastically. “I’m going to let you do that, no question.”

“Good,” began Tabitha, and Sapphire sighed.

“That was sarcasm,” she explained. “I’m actually going to do everything I can to make this harder for you. Rono, Roar!”

The Aron crouched down on his tiny legs, tipped back his ovoid head and let out a spine-chilling roar out of all proportion to his size; it was like the war cry of the Royal Bengal tiger mingled with the bloodthirsty shriek of the hunting Archeops; the Camerupt, startled, bucked and fired a plume of fire thirty feet into the air, instantly boiling the spray that arced over it. Sapphire had planned to grab Cozmo and run in the confusion, but the volcanic Pokémon turned tail and thundered onto the bridge, heavy feet pummelling the slats. It managed to make it to the other side before the whole thing fell away into the all-devouring water, and Sapphire was left staring at the remnants of her only escape route.

There was no time for anyone to react to the sudden destruction, however, for on the back of it came a terrified scream that rose high above the crashing waves: the Sableye had taken offence at Rono’s Roar, and had risen from his hiding place in Kester’s sodden T-shirt to express his fright through a series of arm-flailing manoeuvres.

“What the hell is this?” Tabitha shouted. Sapphire made the only honest reply she could: a shrug. “You’ll pay,” said Tabitha, and a gun appeared in his hand, the black circle of the barrel dead between Sapphire’s eyes.

The roar of the water seemed to fade away; Sapphire could only hear Tabitha, and the furious beating of her heart. She wasn’t afraid – she had faced too many potentially fatal situations over the last week to really be afraid of them – but she was wary.

“I mean, you didn’t have to make everything so difficult,” Tabitha said, aggrieved. The Sableye noticed the gun, identified it as something foreign to his experience and therefore scary, and hid under Kester again. “We were only going to question you and force you to work for us.”

“It’s probably better for you to shoot me, then,” Sapphire rejoined. Tabitha looked stung.

“Why, you—!”

Reflexively, his finger snapped back on the trigger, and a loud report rang out through Meteor Falls.

---

Spike moved down the slopes of Jagged Pass slowly, reluctantly; the closer she got to Lavaridge, the more her pace slowed. The red rocks crunched beneath her feet, and a lone Altaria, one that hunted without a pack, circled the mountain’s peak above her head. She knew that Altaria. It had been circling here for as long as she could remember; whether it had ever dived and killed something was another matter entirely.

At her side, her Torkoal stumped gamely forth on thick legs; it was a mark of how slowly Spike was walking that the Torkoal kept pace with her easily. She left a trail of oily white smoke behind her, like a gaseous snail, and where it touched the rocks it left beads of whitish-yellow liquid: the residue from the fires that burned within her shell.

Spike stopped altogether when the monastery came into view. It was the very same vihara she had robbed all those years ago, and the sight of its low grey walls was enough to strike fear into her heart. The bhikkus would have forgiven her – they forgave everyone for everything – but the townspeople of Lavaridge had never quite got over their animosity towards her. That was assuming they even recognised her now, with her wild hair and piercings.

She chewed her lip, avoiding the ring in it. Could she return? Should she return? Would it be better if she didn’t come back, if she stayed in exile; the delinquent girl who disappeared one day and never darkened anyone’s doorstep again?

Spike released her lip from between her teeth and sighed.

“I...”

The sound of her own voice was almost startling: save for that, Jagged Pass was very nearly silent. Only the swishing of the pine trees in the valleys below and the distant chanting of the bhikkus broke the still calm of the mountain air.

“I’m going to regret this,” said Spike, and walked on.

---

Like some strange love-child of Voltron and Optimus Prime, Rono expanded. Sections of armour slid out from beneath others; his steel skin swivelled in panels, telescoped out and reformed again. Limbs retracted into his body to reveal others in their place; his head rotated into his body and another swung out to replace it.

Unlike the famous Autobot, however, Rono did not change into a truck: he was a larger, meaner version of himself, more resembling a crocodile crossed with an industrial excavator than a cute baby dinosaur. The bullet meant for Sapphire glanced off his metallic forehead with a ping, and his new, considerably meaner blue eyes glared at Tabitha with an expression more usually seen on the face of heavyweight boxers, just before they go in for the kill.

“The hell?” said Tabitha, eyes widening. “How did – how the hell did...?”

“Spontaneous Defensive Evolution,” murmured Sapphire, her eyes, if anything, wider than his. “Now that is rare.”

It was a well-documented phenomenon, the sudden evolution of Pokémon in response to extreme danger; it had happened to a wild Chingling suddenly faced with a landslide, to a Snover that had been on the verge of being devoured by a Luxray, and even, once, to an Absol that had fallen from a cliff – despite the fact that they could not normally evolve. It happened, too, to Trainer’s Pokémon: one of the most famous cases was that of a Poliwag belonging to Red Pastelle, the renowned four-times winner of the Indigo League Tournament. It had evolved once into a Poliwhirl to save him from drowning, and again into a Poliwrath to save him from Lieutenant Surge, the corrupt Gym Leader of Vermilion City.

Now it seemed that Rono had done the same: too low-level to evolve to Lairon, he had done so anyway, purely with the aim of saving her life. If there was ever anything to make a girl feel wanted, surely that was it; in the midst of her surprise, Sapphire felt a warm glow of affection for the steely monster.

“OK,” she said to Tabitha, “let the Professor go. I seriously doubt you can handle a Lairon without your Camerupt.”

Tabitha stared at her.

“You’re an idiot,” he said at last. “I can’t let the Professor go, because the bridge is gone!”

“Ah.” Sapphire’s face fell. “That is a problem,” she admitted.

A mournful sound halfway between the bellow of a cow and the rumble of a trash compactor echoed out across the waves; the Camerupt stared balefully at her through the spray. Tabitha holstered his gun, realising it was useless against Rono, and had an idea.

“Camkor, return!” A beam of red light lanced through the spray and snagged the volcanic camel across the water; it was a risky recalling, for at this range the ball might well have failed and dropped the Camerupt into the river, but it worked. The next moment, Tabitha had sent it out again, and now it stood between him and Rono, blinking and looking very surprised. Its tiny brain looked to be having some difficulty understanding where it was and why.

“Now what will you do?” asked Tabitha. “There’s no way for you to leave here, and there’s no way you can beat Camkor. I also doubt you’ll want to leave your friend there.”

Sapphire glanced at Kester. He looked very wet, and very pale. She’d forgotten about him, and some strange part of her wondered if he was all right. The shape of the Sableye’s head could be discerned beneath his shirt, quivering slightly beneath the waterlogged cloth.

Tabitha took her lack of response for submission.

“I thought you might agree with me,” he said. “Now, Professor, I—”

“Hold it right there!” roared an unknown voice. Everyone on the central island looked around wildly for its source, and it took only moments to find it: a stocky man in a dark blue suit, the jacket buttoned shut over his bare chest, standing atop an island further upriver. A blue bandanna was wrapped around his head, and a thin beard lay snugly about his square jaw. He looked like a rather effeminate pirate, but his presence made everyone stop and stare nevertheless.

Tabitha swore fluidly and screamed a command at Fabien. Reluctantly, Fabien handed his Poké Ball to his superior, and Tabitha recalled his Camerupt. The next moment, he had shoved the metallic rock from the floor into his bag and risen into the air, clasping the legs of a familiar-looking Golbat. Swiftly he fled across the river towards the tunnel that led to the surface, leaving the rest of them to the mercy of this newcomer.

The man in the bandanna and suit strode towards the edge of his island and, for a moment, seemed to walk across the water towards them; it took Sapphire a second to realise that he was walking across a series of strategically-placed Wailmer, and wondered how long he’d spent planning this. A series of blue-suited minions popped up from nowhere to follow him, and with a jolt Sapphire realised who this was.

This was the leader of Team Aqua himself, Archie Taniebre.

“It’s good to see you all,” he said, alighting on the island. Fabien, Blake and Sapphire stared, and Cozmo cowered; he sounded a lot like Marlon Brando. “I trust you know who I am?”

“Pardon?” asked Sapphire. “You’re mumbling.”

Archie frowned.

“You know who I am?” he repeated, this time at a volume audible over the water.

“Oh, that. Yes.”

“Well,” Archie said, “you should be afraid, then, Team Magma. It seems I have interrupted your nefarious deeds once again.”

It sounded like a poor-quality movie script, and Sapphire would have said so if it weren’t for the five gunmen standing behind Archie. Instead, she just exchanged a glance with Rono.

“Now, I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse,” the Aqua Leader went on, spreading his hands. “Come with me freely, right now, and you won’t be killed.”

Blake and Fabien looked at each other.

“Sounds good to me,” said Fabien, and they hurried over to the Aquas and allowed themselves to be searched for weapons. Archie, meanwhile, looked at Sapphire with a raised eyebrow.

“You prefer to die?” he asked. “How honourable.”

“Oh no,” said Sapphire quickly. “It’s just... I’m not with Team Magma. My friend and I were just... nearby and felt we had to stop them.” At the word ‘friend’, she gestured towards Kester. “Er... our sympathies have always been with Team Aqua,” she added for good measure.

Archie nodded slowly and impressively.

“A loyal Trainer and citizen,” he said. “Come, child. We will escort you from this place.”

Sapphire glanced at Rono again. The look in the Lairon’s eyes seemed to say: He’s clearly an idiot, and Sapphire had to agree. Then again, every single member of either Team had turned out to be an idiot so far; why should she be surprised?

She recalled Rono and the Sableye, then hauled Kester upright as best she could. Immediately, a burly Aqua came to take the burden, and hoisted him onto his shoulder.

“And who might you be?” asked Archie of Professor Cozmo. “Some sort of Magma scientist?”

“N-no,” stammered the Professor, in a weak and wavering voice. “T-they kidnapped me... I had to find them a M-Meteorite...”

“You will provide us with useful information,” said Archie flatly. “Come with us, and you can go home later.”

All in all, thought Sapphire as she walked across the chain of Wailmer, which had moved to connect them to the exit tunnel, the situation had turned out quite well. Team Magma had been thwarted, and now Team Aqua were conveniently rescuing her.

However, there was one thing she failed to register, and that was Fabien. He had watched the whole exchange with interest, and it had given him pause for thought. If Team Aqua didn’t know who Sapphire was – and she clearly didn’t work for Team Magma – then what exactly was going on?

---

“Sorry, kid,” said the caretaker of the Gym, after taking a long, faintly disgusted look at her, “Uriah’s dead. Ain’t no one challengin’ this place for a while.”

Spike gave a forced smile. At her side, her Torkoal rumbled uneasily.

“I’m not here to battle,” she said. “I’m here because my granddad’s dead.”

The caretaker’s eyes widened, then narrowed, then widened again.

“Flannery?” he asked incredulously. “What the hell’re you doin’ back here?”

“I just told you,” replied Spike. “My granddad died. You might have heard about it.”

“Don’ you get smart with me—”

The caretaker started forwards, but Spike held him back easily with one hand and pushed him aside.

“You always were a grazhny bratchny,” she told him conversationally, and shoved him into a herbaceous border before barging the door open and entering the Gym.

It was just as she remembered it: a maze of long, low rooms, the wooden floorboards covered in sand. This covered a series of holes that would drop you down to a lower level; depending on which room you landed in, you could climb stairs either back to the start or to a different room. It was pleasantly warm without being too humid, and Trainers often chose it as the stage for official battles; today, there was no one here save a few policemen and a man in a red suit, whom Spike could just see in the distance, on the Leader’s podium.

It did not take long for her to negotiate the Gym’s maze. She knew it of old, had run through its halls before the soul-crushing stagnation of Lavaridge had started to get to her. Before the people of the town had decided that children caused more trouble than their cuteness made up for.

“Who’s there?” asked one of the policemen, and they all turned at the sound of her boots crunching on the sand. “How did you get in?”

“I pushed Jenen out the way,” Spike answered. “My name is Spike Temulence, and I’m Uriah Moore’s granddaughter.” Her eyes were shiny with defiance and emotion as she raised her face to the group clustered around the Leader’s chair. “Now, tell me what happened here.”

---

Barry was currently in the middle of wondering when exactly Scarlett was going to shut up.

“... and that’s how I hurt my hand,” she finished, concluding a ten-minute epic on the subject of the origins of a small cut on her thumb. Personally, Barry was of the opinion that the part about the unicorn was just the tiniest bit unlikely, but he didn’t care enough to say. He was more concerned with where they were going.

They had been heading north for about half an hour now, and had just entered the Akela Jungle, following the non-Trainer path, the one with Cleanse Tags hung up to repel any wild Pokémon; it was dark and cool under the great green leaves, and the light was filtered so that it seemed as if they were walking along the bottom of the sea. All around them rose colossal trees that Barry doubted even he could have broken the branches from, and flowers and butterflies filled the undergrowth with a riot of colour and movement. From the distance came the rattling tin-can cries of Skarmory, and the mournful lowing of Tropius; closer, Barry could hear the soft sound of Gloom dragging their feet, though he never once saw one. Once, a blur of brown and yellow had buzzed past, so fast that Barry hadn’t been entirely convinced it was real; only Scarlett’s testimony had been able to make him believe that he had indeed just seen a rare Ninjask.

“What’s a samoflange?” asked Scarlett suddenly.

“Huh?” Barry had not been expecting this. Truthfully, he had expected very little of what had happened today.

“What’s a samoflange?” repeated Scarlett insistently.

Barry thought.

“I don’t know,” he answered after a great deal of deliberation, “but you should keep your foot off it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know!” bellowed Barry, frustrated. “Please be quiet!”

There was a long silence, during which Scarlett was silent and her lip quivered ominously. Then she spoke:

“I’m going to tell Mum that you shouted at me.”

“No!” cried Barry, not knowing the consequences but knowing it would be bad to be on the wrong side of an Administrator. “No, don’t do that!”

“Make it worth my while,” Scarlett replied, dropping the tearful act, “and I won’t say anything.”

Barry halted, looked down and stared at her.

“You’re ten,” he said.

“Yeah!” replied Scarlett happily.

“And you’re blackmailing me?”

“Yeah!”

Barry rubbed one massive, meaty hand over his face and concentrated on not picking up the girl and throwing her headfirst into the nearest tree.

“Fine,” he said, sighing. “What do you want?”

“Do you have any sweets?” Scarlett looked very hopeful, and she currently had more power over him than Barry would have liked, so he dutifully searched his pockets. Regrettably, they were devoid of anything save some keys, loose change, his lighter and half a pack of cigarettes.

“I don’t have any.”

“See that you get some,” said Scarlett coldly. Barry blinked in surprise. For a moment, she had seemed about ten years older than she actually was.

“Uh... OK,” he agreed dismally.

They continued on their way along the path, and Scarlett seemed to revert to her normal self: she started chattering about drawing and how she was the best artist in her class and probably the whole school, and people even paid her for her pictures. Barry was utterly bamboozled; her character was so normal for a ten-year-old that he wasn’t even sure that the blackmailing thing had even occurred. The only unusual thing about her was her artistic talent – which was unquestionably real, given the look she had insisted he had at her sketchbook. It was full of pencil sketches and watercolour paintings, and though Barry knew nothing about art he could tell they were good. He sighed. Being around so many people who were better than him at so many things was starting to get on his nerves.

Eventually, Scarlett turned off the path, grabbing a Cleanse Tag from a tree to take with them in case of Pokémon attack. Barry followed, slightly confused, and they made their way through the trees to a small clearing that contained nothing at all except a small wooden hut, barely the size of a phone booth, adorned with scaly yellow talons at the four corners.

“This is where we’re going?” queried Barry.

“Yep,” confirmed Scarlett cheerily, fiddling with a lock of her hair. “Come on!”

She walked up to the hut and pulled open the door, then motioned for Barry to get in. He did, and with some difficulty, Scarlett squeezed in after him. Then she pulled the door shut, and, as they stood confined in the pitch darkness, something extraordinary happened.

---

“I’ve seen so much I’m going blind,” said Tchaikovsky philosophically, and knocked back another drink. He was in a bar in Fallarbor, and he was talking, as the lonely man does, to the barman.

“That so?” the barkeeper replied, polishing a glass. All barmen polish glasses, almost all the time. It’s a tradition, or an old charter, or a joke shamelessly stolen from somewhere else.

“Yep,” Tchaikovsky affirmed.

“Bodacious,” replied the barman, after giving the matter some thought.

“You must be new,” Tchaikovsky said, indicating that he wanted more alcohol. “No barkeep says ‘bodacious’.” He sighed. “I think I’m seeing a pattern emerging,” he went on. “They’re going up against each other so much more than usual... something’s coming.” He stared into the amber depths of his newly-refilled glass. “But I can’t find the reason for these extraordinary intergalactical upsets. There’s got to be something...”

Tchaikovsky sighed and drained his glass. Unbeknownst to him, he had just entered Zero’s plan, another set of values to be totted up.

And the total did not look good.

Cutlerine
March 21st, 2011, 02:08 PM
Chapter Thirty-Two: Aww, She Thinks She’s People

Fifty-nine Manaphy, sitting on a wall,
Fifty-nine Manaphy, sitting on a wall,
And if one of those Manaphy, should accidentally be blasted repeatedly with lightning until its eyes fall out,
There’ll be fifty-eight Manaphy, sitting on the wall...

I should have been used to waking up to the sound of Puck’s voice by now, but I wasn’t. Especially when he was singing.

“Nooooooo,” I mumbled, through a blur of sleep and headache. “I can’t stand this any longer...”

“You’re fine, Kester,” came a familiar voice, and I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could.

“Damn it,” I said, “you’re still here.”

“Thanks for rescuing me from Meteor Falls, Sapphire, it was really considerate of you. Oh, that’s OK, Kester, only doing what anyone would have done in my place. Now open your eyes and get up.”

I groaned. Reality, it seemed, was back and here to stay. I sat up slowly, peeling my eyelids away from the balls, and blinked blearily in what I thought was Sapphire’s direction.

“What happened?”

You Charge Beamed yourself with a maxed-out Special Attack, with surprising results. Wouldn’t have defeated a real Rotom, but your thoughts seem to be made of electricity, so I think it scrambled your brain.

“You got knocked out somehow, and the Magmas failed to do anything productive. Team Aqua turned up and saved us – seems they didn’t realise who we were. Archie himself was there.”

“Archie? Wow.”

I could see now. I was back at the Pokémon Centre; this scenario, waking up in a hotel room after an intense period of weirdness and action, was becoming all to familiar. Sapphire was lounging against the cupboard in the corner, hair wet from a shower, turning her hat over in her hands. It had a bullet hole in it now, which either ruined it or made it really cool – I wasn’t quite sure which.

“The lead Magma got away with a Meteorite, but the two who kidnapped me are still with the Aquas. Oh yes, and Professor Cozmo’s fine. So it all turned out OK in the end.”

Oh good. A happy ending’s always a favourite. Except with me, but only because I like to watch humans suffer.

“That’s good,” I said, relieved. “What time is it?”

“It’s just gone two,” Sapphire replied. “Do you want to get something to eat now, or go straight to Lavaridge?”

“Food now,” I answered. “God, I’m hungry.”

“Come on then.”

It’s nice to see you two getting along so well, Puck said. Perhaps Sapphire is one of those tsundere characters.

Please don’t say any more, I begged, you’re repulsing me.

We left the Centre and started combing the streets of Fallarbor for somewhere to eat. Every so often, we’d come across one of the streets we’d rushed down during our car chase; you could tell by the holes in the Stop signs and the wrecked cars at the side of the road.

“That reminds me – what happened to our taxi?” I asked. Sapphire looked at me blankly.

“I forgot about him,” she replied. “I wonder what happened?”

I reckon that’s all the explanation we’re going to get, Puck said. Which is a bit lazy, but true.

At this moment, a feathery blur of blue and white fell out of the sky, bounced once off my head, and landed on the pavement.

“What!”

Aaah! The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

I whirled to look for it, and saw a small, powder-blue bird picking itself up on the pavement nearby. It used downy wings to brush flecks of dirt from its feathers, then put on a small hat and one of those pairs of glasses with a fake nose and moustache attached, and walked into a nearby bar.

Oh, it’s just a Swablu, said Puck, disappointed. Let’s keep going.

Sapphire and I exchanged glances.

“Was that—?”

“Yes. Did it—?”

“Yeah...”

Then, without further ado, Sapphire pushed open the bar door and ran in to investigate. I followed close behind: whatever this was, it was probably going to be very weird and worth watching.

Inside, the little bird – and I saw now that Puck had been right, it was a Swablu – had fluttered up onto a stool at the bar, and drawn the attention of the barkeeper and his sole other customer. They were both staring at it, somewhat stupefied.

“Aaarrrk!” squawked the Swablu, and slapped a five-hundred-dollar note on the polished bar.

“Who are you?” asked the other drinker, “who, who, who, who?”

“Is that a Swablu?” the barman said, confused. He reached out to pull the false glasses from it, but it jerked away and shook its head furiously.

“It’s trying to be a person,” Sapphire said slowly, staring at it with
bewilderment.

The barman looked up at our entry, and looked relieved.

“Oh? Trainers, are you?”

Sapphire’s ball-belt made it obvious.

“Yes,” she replied. “Shall I get rid of her for you?”

How does she know it’s a female? I asked Puck.

How should I know? he retorted. I know a lot of things, but I’m not omniscient.

“OK. You might want to move out of the way.”

Sapphire dropped a ball and Toro appeared, springing from foot to foot; she hadn’t been let out for a while, and was itching for a fight. The barman took three steps back and hastily moved a couple of bottles of whisky out of her reach: mixing fire with alcohol was not going to be good for business.

The Swablu whisked off its false glasses and glared at Toro resentfully. It cheeped, and beat its downy wings; something barely visible parted the air, but the Combusken skipped sideways nimbly and dodged whatever attack it was.

“Ember,” ordered Sapphire, “but gently. We’re catching, not killing.”

Toro punched the air and a small burst of fire shot from her knuckles; it hit the Swablu square in the chest and set light to its feathers. As well as an inevitable screech of pain, the little bird started giving off one of the most unpleasant smells it had ever been my misfortune to encounter.

While it was thus distracted, Sapphire tossed a black and yellow ball at it, and the flaming bird was engulfed in a wave of red light. The ball shook once – twice – three times – and then lay still with a click.

Huh. I like to think I’d put up a better fight than that, Puck said. I’d possess the Poké Ball before it hit me, and then it’d be like Wings Have We, except I’m funnier and I’m too clever to get stuck like that.

I had no idea what he was talking about – but did I ever? I tried to ignore him, and watched Sapphire retrieve the ball.

“Thanks,” said the bartender. The lone drinker raised a glass to us in thanks. There was something familiar about him, but I couldn’t quite work out what it might be.

“Cheers,” he said. “That thing was weird.”

This was undeniable, but most things seemed to be weird nowadays.

“Er... all right,” I said. “Um... good capture, Sapphire.”

“We’ll be on our way.” Sapphire flashed a smile at the barman and his customer and led me back outside again, recalling Toro as she went.

“That was strange,” I said as we started walking again. “Did that Swablu think it was a person or something?”

Sapphire shrugged.

“Don’t know. And it was a ‘she’, not an ‘it’.” She held up the Ultra Ball. “I’m going to keep her to use.”

“You’ve got one hell of a weird team,” I pointed out. “Toro, Rono, a paranoid Sableye and a Swablu that wants to be a person.” I paused. “What’re you going to name it?”

“Her,” corrected Sapphire. “I’m not sure. What do you think?”

Bertha Rochester, said Puck without hesitation, though I didn’t relay the message.

“Stacey,” I said, choosing the first name that popped into my head. Sapphire looked at me oddly.

“I think I like that,” she said. “Yes, she’ll be Stacey.”

Be prepared for a lot of work, Puck warned. Swablu are notoriously moronic.

Unlike Toro?

Puck considered.

Fair point, he admitted at length. I guess Sapphire can handle it.

“Can we get back to the whole ‘finding food’ thing?” I asked. “I’m hungry.”

I really was; nearly two weeks of irregular, widely-spaced meals had engendered a sort of near-continuous background hunger in the pit of my stomach. I felt like I could probably have eaten my way to the end of one of Trimalchio’s banquets.

“Fine,” said Sapphire. “We’ll stop here.”

She halted at a corner café, similar in appearance to Blintzkrieg; warily, I checked the sign, in case it was a chain and it really was another one. Thankfully, it was a completely different place called, for reasons best known to the owner, Fools Rush In, and I entered without fear of pancakes, though with my doubts about whether any angels would tread here.

As we ate, Sapphire let out Toro to sit next to us, since she’d been so restless back in the bar. The Combusken displayed an alarming aptitude for stealing my food, but I let it slide; she could probably break my legs if it came to a fight.

More than your legs, muttered Puck darkly. She could break bones you don’t even know you have.

I’m not sure if that’s a threat or just a logical statement.

Me either, admitted Puck. I just felt it was the right moment to say something.

“So after this,” I said, “we’ll go up to Lavaridge and meet Felicity.”

Sapphire grimaced.

“She’s not going to be happy, is she?”

“Hopefully she’ll understand,” I said. “We were fighting Team Magma, after all.”

“Well, that’s your opinion,” Sapphire replied. “I thought she seemed pretty nasty, even when she wasn’t working for Team Aqua.”

“She’s... got a lot on her mind,” I said defensively, and somewhat lamely.
Sapphire gave me a look, and threw a scrap into Toro’s mouth.

“Why do you keep defending her?”

“I... just think you’re being unfair.”

It was a better response than the one I’d made last time, but it was still awful.

“Right.” Sapphire arched one eyebrow, and went back to her meal.

“Anyway,” I said quickly, “what’re we doing when we get to Lavaridge, exactly?”

“You tell me. This plan to stop Zero is your idea.”

She’s right, you know.

“Er... let’s meet up with Felicity and take it from there,” I decided.

Loser.

“I’d better challenge Spike at the Gym too, if she gets elected in time,” Sapphire said thoughtfully.

Toro recognised the words ‘challenge’ and ‘Gym’, and looked up inquisitively.

“Not now,” Sapphire said. “You know, we said we were going to fight her?”

“I remember,” I replied. “Do you think you can beat her?”

“If she becomes a Gym Leader, she’ll have a team to match anyone’s level. So as long as she uses the right team, I can win. I’m willing to fight.”

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, Puck said, and that’s Sapphire’s: fortitude. Then, for no reason I could discern, he laughed.

Not long after that, we paid and left. It was a quarter-hour walk from where we were to the public helipad, and when we got there we were told that it would be a further half-hour until the next helicopter arrived. The building at the pad wasn’t the most pleasant of places to wait in – it was glamorous on the outside, like all of Fallarbor, but the seats were damp and the air inside dank – so after Sapphire bought two tickets, we crossed the road to sit in a park. This pleased Toro, because it meant that she could run around and kick some trees. Watching her, I felt vaguely annoyed that I couldn’t be amused so easily.

It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, said Puck, adopting the accent of a New York gangster. If she puts a tree in the hospital, they’ll put her in the morgue.

Sapphire dropped her Ultra Ball and released the Swablu. Immediately, she dusted herself down, adjusted her singed hat and pointed her beak in the air. Toro stopped kicking trees and stared at her.

“OK,” Sapphire said encouragingly, “your name is Stacey. Got it?”

Stacey gave her a long look, then flapped onto the bench and tried to imitate the way I was sitting. It was difficult for a bird – especially one that was near-spherical – but she gave it her best shot.

“Stacey!” snapped Sapphire. “You’re not a human!”

I picked up the little Swablu and tossed it back to her; she caught it and glared at me.

“Don’t throw her!”

“She’s got wings!” I cried. “It’s not like she’s going to fall to her death!”

Abruptly, Toro cheeped loudly; irritated, Sapphire recalled her.

“OK,” she said, “I can see you’re going to need some work.” She raised Stacey up to her eye level and stared into her beady little eyes. “You. Are. Stacey. Now, go over there.”

She put Stacey down and she fluttered over to a discarded newspaper, which she pretended to read.

“Here goes nothing.” Sapphire took a deep, calming breath. “Stacey!”

The Swablu kept reading.

“Stacey!”

Still no reaction.

“Stacey!”

She turned a page. By now, I was almost convinced she actually could read.

“Stacey, I’ve got a magic... humanising potion,” Sapphire tried unconvincingly.

The Swablu gave an almighty screech, shot into the air and landed in her outstretched hands. Sapphire stared at her with undisguised loathing.

“God,” she said, “you’re really weird, aren’t you?” Then she turned to me. “Why is it that every Pokémon you lead me to ends up being strange?”

I shrugged.

“Lots of strange things have been happening to me lately. You might have noticed.”

“I’m not keeping this thing,” Sapphire said in disgust, recalling Stacey. “I’ll send it home to Dad to look at. He’s got a friend who likes to study psychological disorders in Pokémon.”

“Are they common?”

“Not normally. But we’ve got an albino Sableye who’s scared of everything, and a Swablu that’s convinced it must be a human. Something’s definitely up.”

You’re probably some kind of weirdness magnet, Kester, suggested Puck helpfully.

“Thanks,” I murmured ironically.

Sapphire spent the remaining time running over moves with Toro; according to her, Rono had once again leaped ahead of the Combusken in terms of strength. She didn’t even bother with the Sableye. His cripplingly low self-esteem made him all but useless as a fighter – his useful luminous eyes and potential for use as a tracking device were probably the only reasons she hadn’t put him into the PC and emailed him home to Birch already.

At length, I heard a thunderous sound, like a vast flock of Salamence flying in from the distance, and the helicopter shot overhead; I’d never seen one before in real life, and stared open-mouthed as it growled past. It was like an insect, a wasp or a Beedrill, but larger and more angular, and infinitely more angry. I caught a glimpse of a yellow logo splashed across the black side – and then it disappeared behind the helipad’s ticket-office-***-departure-lounge.

“Right,” Sapphire said. “Let’s go. Toro!”

There was no response.

“Toro?”

We looked around, and found her hiding under a bush. Having had some experience of cities, the little Combusken could just about cope with cars and boats, but it seemed the helicopter was too much for her. Sapphire recalled her, and we crossed the road again, heading back to the helipad.

Behind the building, the helicopter was crouched like some great predatory bird, its rotors held still like hooded wings; though there was plenty of bare tarmac around it, it filled the space with its sheer personality. It looked like it was about to jump up and kill someone.

Now that’s a machine, said Puck, with the deep satisfaction of one who knows. I’d like to possess one of those one day.

I thought of what terrifying manoeuvres Puck might put the chopper through if he had control of it, and shuddered.

Not today. Please.

Relax. I’ve piloted a Boeing 747 before. He paused. Well, when I say ‘piloted’, I mean ‘crashed’. And when I say ‘Boeing 747’, I mean a bus full of orphans. I’m not even sure why I said it in the first place now.

Sapphire and I climbed aboard the helicopter; inside, it had been fitted with benches along the walls, and I judged its capacity to be about twenty people. Much of the area of the sides was occupied with windows, and as I took my seat I found myself eagerly anticipating the view we’d get.

One other person got aboard – it was out of season, and the Gym was currently out of action – and then the doors shut a few minutes later. The seats started to vibrate a little, and I heard the full-throated roar of the engine.

Oh, gorgeous, Puck cried ecstatically. Virizion’s curly horns, this is such a beautiful machine! I want to get right inside it!

That reminded me unpleasantly of that business last year, where several of the wrong things had got inside something else, and my mind came back down to earth with a bump.

That’s... weird, I told him.

If by weird you mean fantastic—

I meant weird.

The rotors started to spin, faster and faster, until the sound reached fever pitch; I hadn’t expected it to be so loud. We started to rise, and my stomach turned over; I glanced over at Sapphire, and saw her face was pale as paper and her eyes were large in their sockets.

“Oh, God,” I groaned. “Airsick too?”

She nodded apologetically, and threw up in my lap.

---

The floor dropped away beneath their feet, descending at least thirty feet in less than half a second; Barry felt like he’d left all of his organs up in the hut, and when Scarlett opened the door again, he almost outright fell over through it. The whole process left him with only one option: emitting a low-pitched incoherent roar.

“Excuse me? Can I help you?”

“I don’t need anyone’s help,” rumbled Barry indignantly, getting to his feet. He was in a tunnel hewn into the living rock, damp from nearby aquifers and supported by great wooden beams, their surfaces pitted with age. This was odd enough in itself, but he was also talking to a man dressed in rags and patches who looked like he would have been more at home in the circus than in a mine shaft.

“This is Barry Hawksworthy,” Scarlett piped up, skipping ahead of him. “Barry, this is Vladimir. He’s hired help.”

“Right,” said Barry dubiously. “Where is this place?”

“This is your Team Aqua’s secret tunnel, formerly an abandoned chromium mine,” Vladimir said. He had a faint accent, but Barry couldn’t quite place it. “My friend and I, we were hired to help man it, since it appears that none of your Team can be spared to come here.”

“Right,” said Barry. The dubious tone had not yet disappeared. “What’s all this about, then?”

“Come with me,” Vladimir said. “Shelly will explain.”

“Shelly’s here?” Barry’s head felt like it was on the verge of exploding. This was all far too nonsensical for him; he had been sent here to assist his Administrator, and he had ended up in an old mine with a ten-year-old girl (almost eleven, she would say) and a foreigner. He found himself thinking almost wistfully of Felicity, wishing she hadn’t gone AWOL after the Spectroscopic Fancy debacle; she might have made his life a living hell, but at least he was on firm, mostly sane ground with her.

“Yeah, Mum’s here,” confirmed Scarlett. “Come with me!”

As usual, Barry’s mind, fully aware of its own intellectual shortcomings, simplified the decision process here, narrowing it down to two options: go with Scarlett and Vladimir, further into this madness, or beat the hell out of them and leave Team Aqua, then the country. After wavering for a moment – he did hate Scarlett, after all – he decided, and not without some regret, that his loyalties to the Team demanded he stay, and took the former course of action.

The eccentric duo led him through a network of tunnels, illuminated only by a series of rather unreliable arc lamps attached to the beams; the flickering light turned the rough walls into seas of light and dark, tiny pitch-black shadows rubbing shoulders with crests of glistening highlight. Occasionally, one would go out, and Vladimir would poke it experimentally until it came back on, or he got an electric shock – whichever came sooner.

Eventually, they ended up in a small, roughly circular room, in which someone had, amazingly enough, installed a large sofa, a desk and a filing cabinet. Seated at the desk was a tall, thin woman surrounded by a great mass of her own violently-ginger hair; she wore a modified Aqua uniform, as was the right of an Administrator, and she was inspecting some papers through horn-rimmed spectacles when they came in.

“Oh! You must be Barry,” she said pleasantly, getting up and taking off her glasses. “I’m Shelly. It’s so nice that they finally sent someone to help out here.”

Barry looked around at the paintings somehow fixed to the walls, and the folder on the desk marked ‘INVASION PLANS’, and replied in a guarded rumble.
“Yeah. Here. Where exactly is ‘here’, and what exactly do you mean by help...?”

---

“They what?” Maxie leaped to his feet, found he was too angry to stand, and sat down again. Then he leaped up once more, and started pacing. “They what?”

“They caught Blake and Fabien, sir,” Tabitha said, eyeing his boss uneasily. “You know, the useless ones.”

“I know they’re the useless ones!” howled Maxie, his mouth an inch away from Tabitha’s eyes. The blast of saliva-laden air, hot and moist, forced Tabitha’s eyes shut, and he leaned backwards a little. “I know who everyone in this goddamn organisation is, Gerald!”

“Tabitha, sir.”

Tabitha was a tall man, but Maxie had no trouble in lifting him bodily from the floor and ramming him furiously into the wall.

“What the hell! You’re Gerald if I say you’re Gerald!”

“F-fine, sir,” gasped Tabitha, fighting for breath. He had seen this happen to many others in his time, but Maxie had never directly vented his spleen on him before – and the man had a seriously strong grip.

Maxie dropped him and turned away, scowling ferociously.

“Those two idiots could blow our entire operation,” he growled. “We can’t change the date of the Meteorite project, so I want you to go and get those two morons before Team Aqua gets so much as a word from either of them. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly, sir.” Tabitha licked his lips nervously; they had suddenly dried out. The resuscitated Mightyena was crouched in its puddle of darkness in the corner, and it seemed to have picked up on the heightened tension in the room; it was growling and snapping at thin air as if it wanted to bite him right now.

“Well, what the hell are you still doing here!” roared Maxie. Despite the phrasing, it wasn’t a question.

“Leaving, sir,” said Tabitha, and slithered out from beneath his descending fingers to exit the office at a run.

---

Felicity was sleeping.

She lay on an old iron cot in a darkened room, water flowing freely over her naked body from a hole in the ceiling. It would take time, but it was knitting together flesh and blood, reattaching tendons, locking pieces of bone back in place.

Zero watched her heal from his seat across the room, pondering. It had taken a surprising amount of torture for Maxie to wind down; he had been on the verge of stopping him when he finally ended Felicity’s torment. He really was an expert; despite the pain, she had been awake during the whole thing. Zero supposed that having your eyelids shaved off made it difficult to sleep.

In the end, the Magma boss had got all the information he wanted out of her. Before handing her over, Zero had told her what to say, muttering it in her native language so no one else would understand: the whole thing was an Aqua plot, and their goal was to delay the Magma’s progress in the grand scheme. She hadn’t wanted to say anything, but he had promised her that her torture would be swifter if she gave Maxie the information he wanted. As it turned out, that had been a lie, but that did not bother Zero. Very few things did.

A distant door clicked; Zero got to his feet and left the room. As he locked the door behind him and started to climb the stairs to the ground floor, he shifted persona: from the man who played chess with Hoenn to the loving partner to Courtney Staunton.

“Is that you, honey bunny?” he asked, hands on his mask.

“Yeah,” she called back, and he removed the mask; it didn’t matter if Courtney saw his face. He had ensured she would never reveal his identity to anyone, if she even knew who he really was.

“How was your day?” he asked, passing through the hall and into the kitchen, tossing his mask carelessly onto the table. Courtney sighed and dropped into his arms, exhausted.

“Awful,” she murmured. “Maxie’s furious.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

She smiled.

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Make everything better.”

Zero pondered.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, genuinely uncertain for once. “I don’t know, honey bunny.”

“Maybe it’s love,” said Courtney thoughtfully. Zero kissed the top of her head.

“Perhaps,” he said, eyes as dark and tumultuous as Heathcliff, “perhaps that’s exactly what it is.”

And he smiled that cold cruel smile that terrified Felicity and melted Courtney’s heart, and a little more of his plan fell into place.

Echidna
March 23rd, 2011, 07:35 AM
Dude, i have only read 5 chapters so far, but this story is genius !!!! (understatement) ...man i am enjoying it....pokemon related yet with a sensable touch of reality and violence and some comedy (especially puck) ...it is awesome, by far the best peice if , well ANYTHING, i have ever read..lol....keep on going, i'm a fast reader, i will catch up soon enough....

Cutlerine
March 23rd, 2011, 01:41 PM
PEDRO12, thank you for your compliments. I aim to please.

In other news, the next couple of chapters might be slightly late. I need to get working on a short story for a competition back in the real world.

Oh, and apologies for those of you who use dark skins - Zero's signature in his letter only looks as it should on a white or light-coloured skin. You may wish to change it temporarily, to get the full effect.

Chapter Thirty-Three: Lavaridge is Neither a Ridge Nor Lava. Discuss.

I don’t know about you, Puck said, but I’m finding it pretty difficult to think of any more Bond jokes.

Oddly enough, that isn’t really worrying me right now.

Sapphire had apologised, and attempts had been made at cleaning me up, but the foul stench of vomit still clung to me, as did several of the stickier pieces of our last meal in Fallarbor. Consequently, I was in a very bad mood – though Sapphire said she was now feeling a little better.

Let’s see, Puck continued blithely, we’ve got The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy who Loved Me, Octopussy and Casino Royale to go. Damn, those are hard.

Shut up, I thought back. I’m sick of the sound of your voice.

Technically, I have no voice – these are my thoughts. But whatever.

The helicopter roared on, though within it we were silent; out of the windows, I saw the mountains rising like the teeth of the earth high into the sky, piercing clouds and shaking off the forests that cloaked the valleys. A flock of Altaria parted hurriedly at our approach, screaming abuse from their great white-cheeked mouths.

“We’re now approaching Mount Chimney,” crackled the pilot over the PA system. “If you look to your left, you can see the crater itself.”

I looked left, and could indeed see the crater; it was dark and full of bilious smoke that streamed out across the mountainside like a wave of black tears.

In a bit of a dark mood, aren’t you?

There were some barely-discernable figures atop the mountain, setting up some sort of machine; we couldn’t go any closer, but the pilot informed us of their probably purpose:

“You can see what are probably Lavaridge’s resident team of volcanologists, keeping an eye on things,” he said. You could tell he was proud of the long word he used. “Mount Chimney hasn’t erupted in seventy-three years, but the risk is always there, especially with the recent tremors.”

The other passenger, a man in middle age, looked up sharply.

“Tremors?”

“Tremors,” confirmed the pilot. “There have been a few minor earthquakes recently in the Lavaridge earlier. The scientists think that the tube that carries up the lava is probably blocked, and that the pressure has got to the point where it’s slowly forcing the blockage out, causing little earthquakes.”
It’s called ‘magma’ below ground, not ‘lava’. Puck sniffed. And to think this man flies over the volcano all the time! What other criminal activities does he get up to? Strangle kittens in his spare time?

I didn’t know what a kitten was, but thought it unlikely that the pilot strangled anything in his spare time, since so few people do.

We passed through a cloud, and the windows misted over; when they cleared, all I could see was red-brown rock, surrounding us on every side. I looked down, and as well as inflicting a stupendous case of vertigo on myself, I saw a medium-sized town spread out below, in a high alpine valley. Pools of dark water, almost black from this height, were liberally scattered across Lavaridge Town, congregating on the east side, where they nestled amongst the hot sand that cloaked the volcanic rock.

“We are now entering Lavaridge,” the pilot told us, somewhat pointlessly, and we descended towards the helipad. It was set about five hundred yards away from the main body of the town, atop a small hill, so as not to spoil the atmosphere of the place. I thought it was a futile trick, since the helicopter was loud enough to be heard all over town anyway, but that was how it was, and after disembarking we had quite a long walk to get to Lavaridge proper.

Upon reaching the town, we found it to be eerily empty; it didn’t necessarily appeal to families like Dewford, and relied mainly on elderly and cultured people for tourism. No one came there in the summer, either; it was a place that people retreated to in the autumn and the winter, to dispel the chill from their bones with the searing water that bubbled up from beneath the earth. I’d been once before, and had developed burns on the soles of my feet; I had seen the sign that cautioned against walking across the volcanic rocks without shoes a little too late.

You are such a moron, Puck said.

Easy for you to say, I thought back. You don’t even have feet.

The streets were lined with houses that were either four hundred years old or very well-disguised; they were built in the old Hoennian style, with mansard roofs and Tudor arches.

Oddly enough, that wasn’t my description, Puck commented. You learned that in Taste class?

Yeah.

“Kester,” said Sapphire, “come over here!”

I turned to look; she’d found a sign that bore a simplified map of the town.

“Here,” she said, pointing at a large red ‘G’, “is the Gym, but first we’d better find Felicity.”

Heh, Puck said, I wonder if that’s an original G?

“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind us, “did you say you were looking for Felicity?”

We turned sharply, Sapphire’s hand reaching for a Poké Ball out of instinct – but it was just an ordinary-looking man, dressed in a shabby grey suit and holding his battered hat in front of his chest as if halfway through doffing it.

“Who are you?” Sapphire asked suspiciously.

“No one,” he answered, turning his hat over in his hands. “I was just paid to tell you she’s gone.”

Sapphire stared.

“Gone?”

“Yes,” nodded the man. “Oh, and is your name Kester Ruby?” He looked at me inquisitively.

“Yeah,” I answered guardedly. He held out an envelope.

“Zero sends his regards,” he told me as I took it, and walked off.

I looked from the envelope to the man and back again. Sapphire seemed on the verge of running after the man, punching him to the floor and forcing him to tell us more, but I laid a hand on her shoulder to hold her back.

“Leave it,” I said. “If Zero’s half as intelligent as Felicity made out, that guy won’t know anything about his plans.”

Sapphire sighed and nodded.

“Fine,” she said irritably. “Open the letter, then.”

I did, and drew out a single sheet of paper, which, when unfolded, was revealed to bear a short, typed letter:


Dear Kester,

You really are doing spectacularly well, but I’m afraid you’re not going to
get much further in this matter. I applaud your audacity in attempting to stop me, but it simply isn’t going to happen. My plans are too well-laid.

However, you are affording me no end of amusement, so I’m happy for you to continue if you wish. Should you choose to do so, the next phase of my plan goes into operation two days from now, on the top of Mount Chimney. I’ll be sure to be there, so I can say hello if you turn up.

Yours sincerely,

http://img833.imageshack.us/img833/7491/zerosig.gif


Wow, said Puck admiringly, I like that signature. Makes me wish I had hands.

“He took back Felicity, didn’t he,” I said. It was not a question.

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire quietly. “Almost certainly.”

There was a long pause.

“What now?” I wondered.

“We can’t give up,” Sapphire replied. “I don’t do giving up. Especially not against people like Zero.”

“Right. But what do we do?”

Sapphire looked at the letter.

“Two days from now, we go to the top of Mount Chimney,” she said. “That’s where it’s happening. Zero’s obviously really arrogant, and doesn’t think we’ll succeed, so he’s given us directions to try and stop him.”

“Those people on the mountaintop,” I said, recalling them from our flight. “They’ve probably got something to do with it.”

Sapphire nodded.

“Right.” There was another pause, and she looked at the map. “So, we have until Sunday, and we promised we’d challenge Spike...”

“You want to go to the Gym at a time like this?”

“Got a better idea?”

I thought for a moment.

Hey, wait a moment, Puck said uneasily, I don’t like the sound of that thought...

“We could investigate what’s happening at the top of the mountain,” I said. “You know, try and stop whatever’s going on before it happens.”

“Well, I’m going to the Gym,” Sapphire said firmly. “You can sneak around on mountaintops by yourself.”

I decided not to argue. I might be technically free now, but Sapphire was still definitely in charge.

“Regrettably, I can’t,” I sighed. “I have to take this moron with me.” I pointed at my head.

That’s not very polite, Puck said. And this spying idea is bad. I had a lover who was a spy once – and she died.

Are you complaining or making Bond jokes?

There was a pause.

Both, he admitted at length.

“Let’s go to the Pokémon Centre then,” Sapphire said. “We’ll get set up there, and we can go our separate ways.”

The Pokémon Centre was marked on the map with a yellow ‘PC’, about which Puck, surprisingly, had no joke to make, and since the town was so small, it took only a few minutes to get there. It was as similar to every other Centre I’d seen as it could be without actually being the same one, and the receptionist had the same weird dyed-pink hair.

“Good afternoon,” she said brightly. “May I see your Trainer Cards, please?”

I had forgotten about that. I closed my eyes and let out a silent groan.

---

Tabitha sat in his jeep and tapped his fingers against his thigh nervously. He hoped to God that everything was all right in there.

Two blocks away was the main Aqua stronghold in Fallarbor; this was Magma country, but the other Team had a presence here too. Excepting Slateport and Lavaridge, no settlement fell entirely under the control of either gang.

About half an hour ago, Tabitha had pulled up here – he never trusted anyone else to drive for him – and told his group what to do. They were the SHNB1, his personal troops and so elite and secret that not even he knew what the letters in their name stood for. Like all serious Magma units, they wore clothing of a darker red than mere field agents: these were men and women who killed by stealth, not with brute strength.

The SHNB1 force had immediately vanished, melting into the shadows like leaves blowing through the bars of a fence. Where they were now, Tabitha could only guess at; they were mist on the breeze, stealthy as leopards and vicious as Mernimblers.

“They’d better get them back,” he muttered for the hundredth time, clenching his hand into a nervous fist. “Or the boss will be...”

As it happened, the SHNB1 was having no difficulty at all finding and releasing Fabien. They had scaled the walls and climbed into the base through upper windows; from there, they had slipped from shadow to shadow and slit the throats of any unsuspecting Aquas in their path.

They moved in a needlessly complex and eerily silent series of acrobatic manoeuvres, from leaps and somersaults to pirouettes and flips; they clung to the ceilings and dropped onto their blue-clad foes, or popped improbably out of cupboards and garrotted them with thin, sharp red ligatures.

The SHNB1 had, in fact, killed the entire population of the top floor before anyone noticed they were there. They were alerted to this fact by the cutlass that removed the leg from one of their vanguards, and the Aqua in full piratical dress holding it. He then proceeded to pull a Horatius, and defend the stairs down against their superior numbers for an unreasonably long time.

By the time they managed to kill him, the SHNB1 faced a small army of Aqua shock troops, massed at the bottom of the stairs; a short but bloody battle ensued, in which rather a lot of guns were fired and katanas slashed about. The SHNB1, being considerably better-trained, better-armed and more prepared than the Aquas, took five minutes to butcher every last one of their opponents, having only lost three men, and proceeded to comb the building for signs of the two captives.

It turned out that they were actually confined to a chamber on the fourth floor, meaning that the battle had been a sickening and pointless waste of human life, but, never ones to let the past drag them down, the SHNB1 agents simply got on with their job. They picked the lock – they did not believe in breaking down doors – flitted in and dragged two very confused Magma field operatives out with them. They tossed them out of a window, and four of the SHNB1 inexplicably materialised down on the ground to catch them. From there, it was a swift thirty-second somersault-leap-walk back to Tabitha’s jeep, into the back seat of which four of them dropped from an unlikely height. They deposited Fabien and Blake there, then informed Tabitha that they had met with ‘slight resistance’ and left for Lavaridge by their own means.

“All right, you two,” snapped Tabitha, slamming a foot down on the accelerator, “did they get any information out of you?”

“What – what the hell was that?” Fabien asked, somewhat in shock.

“Answer me!”

“They didn’ get nothin’,” Blake said, more cool-headed. “We refused to talk.”

“Good,” said Tabitha, relieved. “That’s... brilliant.”

He rounded a corner at high speed and made an obscene gesture in the general direction of the honking horns that ensued.

“All right,” he said. “Listen up, morons. You two need to lie low for a while. You got that? Get out of uniform, go to the North District or something. Just for God’s sake, don’t attract any attention.”

“Why?” asked Blake.

“Because my unit just told me they’d met with slight resistance,” said Tabitha grimly, “and that means they killed everyone again. So Team Aqua aren’t going to be happy, and you two are the ones they’ll blame. So lie low, get drunk and stay off the radar. Capische?”

“What?”

Tabitha growled with impatience.

“Do you understand?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Blake nodded, glanced at Fabien, and said, “'E does too.”

“Good.” Tabitha thought of something. He pulled Goishi’s Poké Ball from the glove compartment and tossed it back; Blake caught it in one massive hand. “That’s yours, I believe.”

“Much obliged, sir,” said Fabien somewhat stiffly, relieving Blake of the ball. “Could you drop us at the train station?”

“If you’re going to make demands of me, Fabien,” Tabitha said, a vein pulsing in his temple, “you can get out here and walk.”

So saying, he braked sharply, slewing onto the pavement, and threatened to shoot the pair of them if they didn’t leave in the next fifteen seconds. They hurriedly acquiesced, and Tabitha was left to complete his journey alone, half relieved but also half furious. Blake and Fabien really were maddening company.

---

Well, I can’t say this isn’t a pretty disheartening situation.

I was sitting on the kerb, and had been since I’d been thrown out of the Pokémon Centre. While this had amused Puck and Sapphire enormously, I hadn’t enjoyed the experience that much.

Cheer up, Puck said, things could be worse.

“Tell me how?”

You might be an undesirable person living in Germany during the war, Puck said thoughtfully, and be shipped off to the concentration camps. Or you might be chained to the Atlas Mountains, where an eagle eats your liver every day. Or you might be horribly smelly. Oh. Wait. You stink of vomit.

“Somehow, I’m not comforted.”

It had been a quarter of an hour now, and Sapphire still hadn’t emerged from the Centre.

Let’s run away, Puck said. Come on, we’ll go investigate Mount Chimney.

“You said you didn’t want to.”

Yeah, but life’s no fun without a good scare.

“Are you quoting?”

Absolutely.

“All right,” I said, standing up stiffly and stretching. “I guess Sapphire’s having a shower or something.” I glanced down at my sick-stained jeans. “Not that I couldn’t use one.”

I started to walk off back towards the sign with the map on, in the hope of finding directions to a tourist information centre where I could find out how to get to Mount Chimney.

I found one a few doors down from the low brick building that called itself Lavaridge Town’s Pokémon Gym. I was about to go in, but my curiosity got the better of me and I went to investigate the Gym sign, to see if Spike had actually been inducted as Gym Leader in the space of less than twenty-four hours.

Lavaridge Town Pokémon Gym, read Puck. Leader: Flannery, ‘One with a fiery passion that burns!’

“That’s odd,” I said. “I thought she hated being called Flannery?”

Maybe she thought she needed a more serious name or something, suggested Puck. What amazes me is that she was made Leader so quickly, and that they managed to get a new sign painted up so fast.

“It is unusual, I’ll admit,” I agreed. “But I guess they don’t have much else to do here.”

True enough. Can we stop off at a power station and lick the transformers? I’m hungry.

“No,” I replied firmly, “and if you ask again I’m going to think about Felicity. Lots.”

Eeurgh, groaned Puck, how can you find a creature in such obviously poor physical condition attractive? Surely it points to a lack of suitability as a mate?

“It’s different for humans.”

Nah, not really. You’re no higher than other sentient beings with preferences – top-tier stuff.

“What?”

Read your Singer, Kester. Preference utilitarianism, you know? It’s my kind of morality. Or it would be, if I had morality in the human sense.

“This conversation is going nowhere,” I said loudly, startling a few passers-by. “Let’s go to the tourist centre.”

Not stopping to say hi?

“Sapphire’s coming by soon,” I reminded him, one hand on the glass door, “she can do it.”

Inside, the tourist information centre was like a bird’s nest of leaflets; I’d never seen so much wasted paper in my life. Red, green, blue, purple; all parts of the spectrum were represented on their shiny surfaces. They burst from racks, formed stacks on shelves, sat neatly side-by-side in self-satisfied piles on a small table by the door. I felt a sudden and inexplicable urge to set fire to the lot of them, and, quelling it with effort, made my way across to the abandoned desk.

Sorry, said Puck, that was my sudden and inexplicable urge to burn these pamphlets. I once had a bad experience with some waste-paper, the Professor and Mrs. Flittersnoop, and I’ve been kind of phobic of vast quantities of loose paper since.

On the desktop was a small bell of the kind that you press, and, since there was no one around, I pressed it. It failed to make a noise, and the little button part stuck fast with a quiet but audible crunch.

Way to go, Kester, Puck said. You broke the bell.

“Shut up,” I whispered furiously. Then I called out, more loudly: “Er – hello? Is anyone here?”

With startling speed and silence, an elderly man with a long, flowing mane of white hair and matching beard materialised on the other side of the desk.

“My name is Hinzelmann,” he told me, with enough earnestness to crush my soul. “How can I help you?”

“Ah... er...”

Another weird guy, eh? Puck gave a sigh. Never mind, we’ll get through it.

“I wanted,” I managed at last, “to know if it would be possible to go up onto Mount Chimney. Right up to the peak.”

“That’s pretty dangerous,” Hinzelmann said, his massive eyes fixed on mine with such intensity as was never known before. “Even the tunnels are dangerous.”

“It’s OK,” I said, as reassuringly as I could. “I... I’m a Trainer. I have experience of danger.”

“Oh, in that case,” Hinzelmann said, fishing out a small map from within a drawer of his desk, “you should take the Fiery Path.”

The map was of a network of tunnels that ran through the interior of Mount Chimney; I could see at a glance that it would be a long trip up to the top, and probably one that was interrupted multiple times by wild Pokémon.

“Isn’t there any other way?” I asked helplessly.

“You could walk up Jagged Pass,” Hinzelmann replied, after a short pause for thought, “but that’s tricky. It’s very—”

“Jagged?”

Hinzelmann beamed.

“Why, yes,” he said. “That’s exactly what it is. And, of course, there’s the Lone Altaria, but if you’re a Trainer he won’t bother you.”

“The what?”

“There’s an Altaria without a flock that circles the mountain above the Pass,” Hinzelmann explained. “He can be quite dangerous, but he’ll know you’re too much bother, since you’re a Trainer.”

I weighed up my options. I could go through the Fiery Path, take forever and be continually attacked, or I could climb the Jagged Pass, run the gauntlet of the Lone Altaria and get there quickly.

“Thanks,” I said. “How do I get to this Pass?”

---

“... so you see, this place is a forward base for mounting an attack on the W.R.I.,” finished Shelly. “I moved in recently to get the project moving again – it’s been two years – and hired Didi and Gogo to help.”

“Who’s that?” asked Barry, confused. The only other people he’d seen so far were Vladimir and Scarlett – and Scarlett was surely just here because of her mother. He seriously doubted she was hired help.

“Our nicknames,” explained Vladimir. “I’m Didi. Gogo’s not here right now, but he’ll be along shortly.”

“Is he sitting by the road again?” asked Shelly. Vladimir nodded sadly.

“It’s difficult for him,” he said soulfully. “He can’t quite kick the habit.”

For the sake of the preservation of his sanity, Barry decided not to ask what they meant by that.

“What am I supposed to do?” he rumbled instead.

“Well, tunnelling would be a start,” Shelly said, looking him up and down. “You look strong.”

“Strong? There’s no one stronger.” Barry was pleased with this new development. When physical power was involved, he was in his prime; he could probably have given Brawly a run for his money in a wrestling match.

“Splendid,” cried Vladimir. “The north tunnels need expanding if they’re ever to reach the W.R.I.”

“That’s true,” agreed Shelly. “Until we get there, Archie has refused to send any more troops. He says it won’t do to alert them to our presence.”

This, Barry thought, was fair enough. The Gorsedd Hoenn already guarded its compound with enough force to stop even the government interfering with whatever went on in there; if they got wind of a potential Team Aqua attack, the place would become virtually impregnable.

“Anything other than digging?” he asked, hoping there wasn’t. He would prefer to spend his time alone with a drill and pickaxe than have to consort with Vladimir, the mysteriously absent ‘Gogo’ and Scarlett.

“Yes,” Shelly said, “your record says you have a Pokémon, yes?”

“Yeah...?”

“So you’ll be responsible for buying in supplies from Plain Rooke – I know there are Cleanse Tags, but it pays to be prepared, and I’m too busy to do it myself.”

“I can do it,” began Scarlett, but Shelly cut her off.

“Sweetpea, you already tried and you couldn’t carry it back. Mr. Hawksworthy will handle it.”

Mr. Hawksworthy... Barry nodded thoughtfully to himself. Shelly was a woman, which lowered her worth in his eyes, but she knew how to treat a man with respect, it seemed. It had been a long time since someone had called him ‘Mr. Hawksworthy’ rather than ‘Barry’ or ‘moron’ or ‘that big guy who just broke the table’.

“Didi!” cried a thin voice from outside. It had the same accent as Vladimir. “Someone came!”

“He already came, Gogo,” replied Vladimir wearily as another man in rags and patches rushed in, wild-eyed.

“I know, I know,” Gogo replied, “but it surprises me every time. It was a Trainer. We talked.”

“About?”

“The brevity of human existence,” Gogo said. “I made him cry.” He looked thoughtful. “Then again, he was only eleven.” Just then, he caught notice of Barry. “Hello! Who’s this?”

“This is Barry Hawksworthy,” Shelly said. “Barry, this is Estragon, our other hired worker.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Estragon said, doffing his broken hat. “Wait. Is this my hat, Didi?”

“It’s Lucky’s.”

“Whose?”

“You never remember him.”

Barry turned to Shelly before his brain melted.

“Where do you keep your mining equipment, ma’am?” he asked. “I – er – think it would be a good idea to start.”

Shelly beamed.

“Fantastic,” she said. “Gogo will show you the way.”

Barry suppressed a roar of rage, and let himself be led helplessly away by Estragon. Somewhere in the middle of his bottled fury, he wondered how long he would last before going completely insane.

Cutlerine
March 25th, 2011, 01:26 PM
Chapter Thirty-Four: Someone Holds a Candle to Sapphire

Sure is jagged here, Puck remarked, as I tripped for the fortieth time.

“That so? I hadn’t noticed,” I replied sarcastically, from between clenched teeth. I climbed back to my feet wearily; I had long since stopped checking to see if I’d cut or bruised my legs after each fall, because I invariably had – and now my knees were very unpleasant to look at. My jeans were also even more ruined than they had been already.

Jagged Pass was bordered by pine forest to the east and west; at least, it was until you got to the higher parts, where the red rock rose stark and bare, bereft of all covering. Precisely why no trees grew on the Pass itself was beyond my understanding. I also didn’t know why it was even called a pass – it wasn’t a gap through the mountains at all, but a long slope that formed one side of Mount Chimney. I was, however, certain that I knew why it was called ‘jagged’: it was covered in ledges, uneven terrain and boulders, and the ground was almost completely obscured by scree and talus that seemed to have been carved by the elements into natural knives.

Mount Chimney isn’t very high, is it? said Puck. I mean, I know Lavaridge Town is really high up, but it looks like you’re going to get to the peak by five at the latest.

“Best not to question these things,” I said wisely, clambering up another rocky ledge and wishing someone had thought to bulldoze a path up the mountain. My hands and forearms were scratched, bruised and filthy; my clothes were as ripped and battered as they had been after my previous misadventures. I sighed. I was going to need a new outfit again.

I staggered onwards, slipped and gave myself a bruised forehead with a cut in the centre. Hauling myself up onto a boulder, I sat down heavily and cupped my bleeding head with one hand, staring down at the distant town below.

“This isn’t going well,” I stated. “I’m halfway and I’m not sure I can go any further.”

It’ll be at least as bad going back as it is going up, Puck pointed out. Greater chance of slipping, too.

“I suppose.” I glared sullenly up at the sky, and the distant shape of a larger-than-average Altaria, circling eternally. “I hate to say it, but I think Sapphire could really have helped here. She’s better than me at this stuff, anyway.”

Ah, don’t say that. We’re like a drifter – born to walk alone. We’ll make it.

“I suppose it might have been worse if we’d gone through Fiery Path,” I said. “We’d probably have got lost, and made a positively Shandian digression.”

I don’t believe you’ve read that, so I’m going to assume you’ve just heard someone say ‘Shandian digression’ and thought it sounded clever.

Blast. Caught out.

“Damn. How did you know?”

Kester, you’re the last person in the world who would read Laurence Sterne.

“Who?”

Exactly.

I decided that that was enough, and it was time to start climbing again. Tucking my palms inside the lacerated sleeves of my hoodie, I grabbed onto some larger, more stable rocks, and began to guide myself carefully up the sea of stones.

Shortly afterwards, I passed a walled compound that I assumed was the vihara; the walls were made of pleasantly cool grey stone, mined from somewhere distant, and I could see the roofs rising above them like hills of slate. As I hiked past, I wondered what it was like to be a bhikku, and spend your days in meditation and learning.

Happy, if you’ve the mind for it, Puck answered. He sounded almost wistful. I’m too attached to things, though. I’d be the world’s worst Buddhist, let alone bhikku.

“I guess.”

It took me the better part of an hour to reach a point at which the ground levelled out a little; by that time, it must have been around half past four, and though the sun was still high in the sky, I was beginning to feel cold. We had to be close now.

Come on, urged Puck. There’s about twenty feet more, and we’ve reached the top.

With a tremendous effort, I forced myself up onto the flattened top of Mount Chimney, and saw, laid out before me as if by some divine hand—

“Absolutely nothing,” I said, crestfallen. “What the hell?”

There was the peak, an expanse of rough red stone, and the crater at the other end of the space, spewing its dark smoke to the north. All in all, it looked rather like a suitable place to destroy a ring, but of the supposed volcanologists or their strange machine, there was no sign at all.

“What happened?” I wondered. “Where are they?”

Coffee break? suggested Puck.

“Funny,” I said, in tones that I hoped suggested it wasn’t. “Let’s have a look around. I didn’t climb this mountain for nothing.”

I wandered over the mountaintop, searching for any signs of life; however, I came across nothing save the occasional scraggly bush and, once, a small and rather weedy Slugma, who chased me very slowly twice around a boulder before I decided I’d had enough and walked away, leaving him making furious bubbling noises at my back.

“This is stupid,” I said angrily, leaning against a rock near the heaving smoke of the crater. “Where – huh?”

The rock did not feel like rock. There was a sharp edge digging into my back, and something that felt like cloth dragging over it. I turned around, but there was only a boulder there; I reached out cautiously and touched it.

I don’t believe it, said Puck. It’s a shroud.

Dyed the rough red colour of the surrounding stone, the cloth was a perfect disguise as long as no one touched it; I hauled the sheet of fabric away and the boulder stood revealed as something very different indeed.

“What,” I wondered, staring, “is that?”

I don’t know, Puck said slowly. But it looks vaguely octopus-y to me.

It was the strange machine the ‘volcanologists’ had been setting up earlier, a great metallic box with a vast number of pipes rooting it to the stone as if it were some artificial mangrove tree. They actually seemed to go into the rock, and I wondered if they extended all the way down to the magma beneath. Atop the gleaming chrome body was a glass structure that put me in mind of a bell jar, and inside this was a set of clamps that were currently notable for not actually clamping anything.

“Putting that awful joke aside,” I said, “can you possess this and find out what it is?”

I can try, said Puck, but I warn you, it doesn’t look like it’s going to do anything without someone putting something in that jar.

“Just try.”

I laid a hand on one pipe, and blue sparks danced around my fingertips. A light flickered on the side of the machine, and it began to hum – then it cut out abruptly and the light died.

OK, bad news, said Puck. It doesn’t seem to do anything. I tried everything I know – and let me tell you, the things I don’t know about machinery aren’t worth knowing – but it seems that it won’t do anything until that jar has something put in it.

“All right.” I sighed and withdrew my hand, then looked around. Even if this had been a wasted trip, the view was spectacular: the Madeiras raised their rust-coloured hears all around me, like a great crown of thorns perched on Hoenn’s head. Up here, I was level with the Altaria; the flocks wheeled and cawed above the valleys in their endless search for food. The only things above me were the clouds and the Lone Altaria, which flew at such heights that it probably had problems breathing.

I dragged the camouflage sheet back over the machine and wandered over to the crater, going as close as I dared to the edge and trying to catch a glimpse of lava or something behind the veil of black smoke.

You’re lucky the wind’s blowing northwards, observed Puck, or you’d be covered in ash. Also, it probably isn’t very safe to be doing this. The volcano’s obviously not very stable right now, and it might erupt. Which would kill you as surely as a bullet. Fired from Scaramanga’s golden gun.

“Er, yeah, you’re probably right,” I agreed, taking several hurried steps back. “I should probably leave.”

I walked back over to the end of Jagged Pass and was about to make my way down when I saw a group of figures coming up the slope, slipping and sliding on the scree.

Figures in red.

“Magmas,” I breathed. “Puck, Team Magma’s coming!”

Thanks for that. It’s not like I can see them or anything.

“Shut up.” I looked around wildly. “See any hiding places?”

In the crater?

“Correction: any hiding places I can survive in?”

I don’t know, just go behind some boulders or something. They’re going to go to the machine, so just make sure they can’t see you from there.

“Gotcha.”

I ran back to the disguised machine, checked its camouflaging sheet was more or less how it had been left, then darted behind the nearest pile of rocks. I wanted to be able to hear what they said. I crouched down and flattened myself against the warm red stone, heart pounding like a drum, and I waited for them to reach the peak.

And waited.

And waited.

That pass really is jagged, isn’t it? remarked Puck, as the sound of distant cursing reached my ears. It’s at times like this that I’m glad I don’t have feet.

I sighed and relaxed a little, leaning back against the boulder. It looked like I was going to have a long wait on my hands.

---

Sapphire stood outside Spike’s Gym and wondered how she’d been elected so quickly. It usually took at least a week for Leaders to be decided on; the League had to approve them, and the townspeople needed to all cast their vote. She frowned. She knew something about this – something that was odd about the election – but she couldn’t remember it.

“It’ll come back to me,” she decided, and went over to read the Gym sign. She was surprised to discover that Spike had chosen her real name to use, despite her hatred for it. Shrugging, she walked up the steps, ignoring the caretaker’s efforts to inveigle her into small talk, and pushed open the door.

Inside, the Gym was long, low and ankle-deep in warm, powdery sand. Sapphire looked at it with distaste, then sighed and waded in, feeling it rush into her trainers and fill them with grittiness.

“Sandy,” she said, shutting the door behind her and beginning to walk. “I hate sand.”

Sapphire could take mud, water or leaves; she’d been covered in ash and soot before, and slime, and even banana pulp – but sand was the one thing she couldn’t stand to get in her clothes. It hung around for days and turned up in her hair, in her shoes and under her nails; it got everywhere, and she hated it for it.

The room Sapphire was in was only a small part of the Gym, that much she could tell; the place was divided up by walls formed of wooden palings driven into the ground, and through a small gap in the fence she could see further rooms – and, in the distance, the flash of Spike’s dyed-crimson hair.

Sapphire took one more step, and found to her alarm that there was no more floor beneath her feet: she plummeted face-first into the sand, fell through it and landed hard on another layer of sand below.

“Whuh...?” She picked herself up slowly, and a thin stream of sand fell down on her head with a soft pitter-patter sound. Sapphire got to her feet, brushing sand from her clothes, and gave a groan of frustration. “Dear. God. So. Much. Sand.”

She shook her head vigorously, and sand flew out of her hair; she took off her hat and emptied about a pint of the fine granules onto the floor. The Swellow feather, she decided regretfully, was ruined, and she pulled it out, resolving to get a replacement at the first opportunity.

Then, reasonably clean, Sapphire began to explore this lower room, figuring out the Gym’s puzzle as she went. She always refused to read up on Gyms before challenging them; the traps installed by the Leader were supposed to be a test of the Trainer, just as the battles were a test of the Pokémon. Here, it was fairly easy to see what she had to do: drop through the right concealed holes, avoiding the others, and climb the stairs to come out in different rooms. The difficulty lay in actually managing to do any of it.

Sapphire tried one set of stairs and almost immediately fell down another hole; she picked herself up and tried to think. She got a notebook and a pencil from her bag, and started trying to map the Gym, drawing in two levels and trying to figure out how the rooms and holes linked up. For a full forty minutes, she just wandered, working on her map – and after that time, she had a pretty good diagram of the building’s interior. The only thing that eluded her was the method of reaching the Leader’s podium itself, which, if her map was correct, was at the heart of the maze.

Since her map showed every sand-pit and staircase that she had found so far, Sapphire was pretty sure she must have missed a hole somewhere, and spent a further twenty minutes pacing over the surface of every room in the Gym, trying to find another concealed hole. She found two, but they led into rooms she’d been in before, and didn’t help.

Sapphire stopped on the lower floor, the one with the stairs, and rubbed her head, doing her best to ignore the gritty crunch of the sand against her skin. She was missing something. There had to be something obvious that she wasn’t seeing. She sat down to think – and the floor gave way beneath her, the soft sand swallowing her up like the gelatinous flank of a Muk. She experienced a brief second of flight and then – whumph! She landed flat on her back, on an even lower floor that she had never even suspected the existence of.

“This is worse than that Corsola hunt Dad dragged me along to,” Sapphire murmured to herself, watching sand drift down in loose coils from the ceiling to her chest. She staggered upright, made a futile attack on her new, grainy outer shell and set off to see where this floor led, adding it to her map as she went.

Five minutes later, Sapphire emerged from the subterranean depths of the Gym’s lower floors and stepped up onto the Leader’s podium. At her approach, a girl with bright crimson hair stood up and turned to face her, whereupon Sapphire noted with some surprise that it wasn’t Spike at all.

This girl wore her hair in a similar style to Spike’s, and she was the same age, but she had no piercings, and was dressed in a plain, faded red T-shirt and normal, undamaged jeans. That, Sapphire thought, would be why the sign said ‘Flannery’ – Spike hadn’t made Leader, and someone else had been elected in her place.

“Oh!” said Sapphire. “Er – sorry. I was expecting someone else.”

The girl raised an eyebrow.

“Who else would you be expecting?” she asked. She was well-spoken, unlike Spike – but the voice was undeniably the same. “It’s me, Sapphire.”

Sapphire stared.

“What?” she asked. “That... you’ve had a major style change.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Spike opened a large chest behind her; Sapphire could see it was filled with a multitude of Poké Balls, in all colours and sizes. “How strong are you?”

“Um... mid to late twenties,” Sapphire told her, thrown by the curt response. “Two Pokémon.”

She wasn’t going to use Stacey or the Sableye; both were far too mentally disturbed to be of any real help in battle.

“Fine.” Spike withdrew two balls from the chest and shut the lid. Sapphire noted that her knuckles were white against her skin; it was obvious now that something was up with her. “You’re my first challenger,” she admitted. “I shall make this a victory to remember.”

With that, she tossed down her first ball, and a small, round creature in shades of pastel yellow appeared, blinking confused eyes and smoking gently from an aperture in its back. This was a Numel – and one day, if trained enough, it would become a Camerupt such as the one Tabitha had used at Meteor Falls.

Sapphire responded with Toro; the Combusken seemed fully recovered from her fright at the helicopter, bouncing from foot to foot like a professional boxer.

“Cheee,” she chirruped pugnaciously, making fists of her clawed hands. “Cheee.”

“Double Kick,” Sapphire ordered, and Toro lunged forwards, legs whipping forwards into a blur of feathers—

—but she missed completely, the Numel dissolving in a flash of light beneath her feet. She landed heavily on her side, but sprang back up nevertheless, looking around alertly for her opponent.

Spike threw down another ball, and, of all things, a large, fat candle burst forth from it, sitting completely motionless in the middle of the podium. The only sign that it wasn’t anything but an ordinary candle was the large purple flame that burned at the end of its wick.

Toro looked at the candle. Sapphire looked at the candle. Then they both looked at each other.

“I’ll let you make the first move here,” Spike said. “Go on.”

“Double Kick,” Sapphire said, and obediently Toro tried again; however, she passed straight through the candle as if it weren’t there, and crashed