Cassandra smiled as she gently pulled the blankets up on Karen’s bed to cover the girl’s shoulders. She felt strangely motherly toward her now; she wasn’t quite sure why.
Fluffy stood behind her, wagging its tail slightly as she headed for the door. It knew to be quiet when someone was asleep. Last night, Cassandra had allowed all her Pokémon to curl up with her in the bed. She had tried not to disturb Karen as she softly cried herself to sleep, and her Pokémon had helped her; Swablu had gently dabbed her tears with its wings, Finny had laid beside her and hugged her, and Fluffy had cuddled up to her front, putting his cold nose on her neck and sniffling every once and a while.
Cassandra picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. She hadn’t called her mother yet; she was planning on doing that later this morning. She had, however, talked to the lady who ran the PokéLove, and she had agreed to let Cassandra stay for a reduced price because of the length of time she needed the room. Cassandra wasn’t leaving Fallarbor Town until she won the Super Rank Contest.
No ash was falling outside; a grateful Cassandra stuffed her umbrella in her backpack and made her way around the back of the building, where she liked to train. She frowned when she noticed a thin draft of smoke wafting up from the back of the building. It wasn’t big enough for anything to be on fire…what was going on?
As she turned the corner, a strange sight met Cassandra’s eyes; a girl she had never seen before was leaning against the wall, a cigarette to her lips. She had red hair that tumbled down her shoulders, and she wore jeans and a gray sweater. A Glaceon stood by her side, but it wasn’t normal at all. Instead of being blue, its coat was a dusty blue-gray color. Also, a normal Glaceon’s shoulder would come about to mid-shin; this Glaceon’s shoulder came to the girl’s knee, almost Mightyena-size.
The girl turned her head and smiled slightly, and Cassandra recognized her—it was Sakura Konohana.
“Well, hello, Cassandra.” She took another drag of the cigarette and blew a smoke ring into the air.
Fluffy, down by Cassandra’s ankles, started growling in the back of his throat. “Hello, Miss Konohana.”
“Oh, it’s Miss Konohana now? Did I do something wrong?” She turned fully toward Cassandra, flicking the ashes of her cigarette toward the ground and smiling as the Glaceon at her feet wound itself around her legs like a giant cat…or Persian. “I guess I did beat you yesterday…are you a bit sore about that?”
Cassandra looked at the demure smile and realized it for what it was—devilish. No longer could she see Sakura as a kind, quiet, confident girl. No. She was evil. “I’m just a bit upset about your methods.”
“Methods?” Sakura’s smile broadened and her eyes narrowed. “Whatever do you mean, Cassandra dear?”
Joanna’s face flashed into Cassandra’s mind. “You know exactly what I mean. You and I both know what you did, and I’m pretty sure we both know it’s wrong.”
Sakura brought the cigarette to her lips once more and surveyed Cassandra as she puffed on it. “All’s fair in love and war, sweetie. I do what it takes to win.”
Cassandra took a step toward her; the Glaceon made a soft warning hiss. “Who’s this?” she asked, gesturing to the Pokémon.
“This? Oh, this is Isis.”
“She doesn’t look like a normal Glaceon. Come to think of it, Deena’s been looking a little larger than a normal Goldeen.”
Sakura smiled gently. She reached down; Isis shoved her head into the palm of Sakura’s hand. “No. I find that giving my Pokémon certain…medications increases their chances of winning.”
“Somehow I don’t think you’re talking about Protein.”
Sakura laughed; it was a sinister sound. “You catch on quickly. Unfortunately, the medicine I gave poor Isis depleted the color of her coat, so she’s no longer contest-worthy. She is, however, perfect for fending off anyone who decides they want to pick a fight with me.” With that, Sakura’s green eyes found Cassandra’s blue ones and locked on. “She doesn’t differentiate between human and Pokémon.”
Cassandra heard Fluffy’s growling get louder. “Hm. So she doesn’t care who she hurts?”
“No. She does not.”
“Sometimes…neither do I.” Cassandra took another step forward; Isis leapt toward her.
She wasn’t sure what happened next; all she knew was that there was a brilliant flash of light, and then she was sitting on the ground close to where she had been standing, a Mightyena standing in front of her in a way that his entire body blocked hers, hackles raised and growling. Isis stood across from him, hair on her back rising up. She hissed; Mightyena responded with a vicious snarl. Sakura, too, was on the ground; she stood up and dusted herself off.
“Well, well…what do we have here? It seems your little Fluffy made me lose my cigarette. Isis, make him pay!”
The Glaceon opened her mouth as if to blow ice at him, but the Mightyena bounded forward and closed his jaws around her neck. He shook her twice before tossing her several feet away.
Cassandra smiled grimly and got to her feet, brushing dirt off the back of her jeans as she did so. “Looks like my little Fluffy also made you lose your Glaceon.”
Sakura angrily reached for her belt, where three other Poké Balls were lined up. Fluffy stepped forward and snarled. With satisfaction, Cassandra observed that he had somehow become larger than a regular Mightyena—his back would be almost above her hip if he stood next to her.
“Don’t you dare reach for another Pokémon,” Cassandra snapped. “Get the hell out of Fallarbor Town. Go on and win in Slateport—I don’t give a crap. But if we ever meet again, Sakura Konohana, I will beat your cheating ass so hard you’ll wish you’d never been born—and I don’t mean in a battle.”
Sakura glanced over at Isis, lying unconscious several feet away, and then back to Fluffy, growling severely close to her stomach. With a scowl, she turned away, returning Isis to her Poké Ball and marching off around the side of the building.
“Don’t think this is over, Cassandra Étoile,” Sakura snapped before she disappeared. Cassandra smiled as the redhead swished away.
“I don’t,” she murmured, and Fluffy turned to her, perking up his ears and wagging his tail as if nothing had happened.
At around lunchtime, Karen came outside to join Cassandra. She wore a pastel blue sweater and thick white leggings underneath a blue-and-white checked miniskirt, and her pink braids bounced on her back as she skipped out from the building, a picnic basket on one arm. When she arrived at Cassandra’s favorite training ground—a patch of grass protected by trees so that ash didn’t fall on it—she and Tuffly spread out a blanket and waited for Cassandra to take a break.
“What time is it?” Cassandra asked, sitting cross-legged on the blanket and picking up a sandwich. It was obviously from the small dining room in the PokèLove.
Karen folded her legs under her. “It’s around noon.”
“I’ve been out here that long?” She sighed, looking down at the pieces of white bread. She still needed to call her mother and inform her of her loss.
“Mm-hm!” Karen said brightly. “So, we’re staying in Fallarbor Town until the next contest, right?”
“Right,” Cassandra replied. “Why? Do you not want to stay with me?”
Karen grinned. “Of course I want to stay with you. I would be disappointed if you wanted to go back home.”
Cassandra laughed quietly and took a bite of her sandwich. Fluffy wandered over and laid next to her, pushing his head against her leg and closing his eyes. Swablu landed gently on her head, tucking herself to look like a giant hat, and Finny sneakily stole a sandwich.
A sound broke the peaceful silence—something was in the bushes nearby. Since she was surrounded by forest, Cassandra was a bit nervous. Anything could be hiding behind the trees. Fluffy sat up, his ears perked up, a growl starting in the back of his throat. He stood up and prowled around behind Cassandra, staring into the trees.
And then something burst out; it was white and red and black, a blinding blur of colors as it streaked by. Barking, Fluffy turned and ran after it.
“Ah!” Cassandra dropped her sandwich onto the blanket and stumbled to her feet, running after Fluffy. Finny dropped to all fours and followed; Swablu lifted gently from her head and flew in front.
Fluffy’s barking got louder as Cassandra ran; she was so glad that she had worn tennis shoes. She leapt over a confused Spinda and followed Finny’s bouncing tail, breathing hard.
Finally she rounded a corner and saw Fluffy growling. He had cornered a white, horse-like Pokémon, with a flowing mane of fire. Its flank heaved and sweat poured from it as it eyed the three Pokémon surrounding it; it had its hindquarters against the side of the glass-maker's wooden house.
“A Ponyta,” Cassandra whispered to herself, taking a step forward. Her fingertips itched, and she imagined herself sitting sidesaddle atop a beautiful Rapidash, hair flowing in the wind.
The Ponyta took a step back, tossing its head; its hindquarters bumped into the wooden house and it started, pawing the ground and glaring at the creatures massed around it. What should she do? Cassandra wanted this Pokémon. She wanted it so bad she could taste it on the back of her tongue.
“Ponyta,” she said, going to stand beside Fluffy. “Do you belong to anyone?”
The Ponyta snorted, almost indignantly, and reared up on its hind legs, lashing out with its front hooves. Cassandra stumbled backwards and almost covered her ears as the Pokémon let loose a high-pitched squeal of rage. So it’s not going down without a fight, Cassandra thought, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. Fine. She needed a challenge.
“Fluffy! Use Bite!”
Fluffy leapt forward as the Ponyta returned to all fours and bit down on its leg; with a squeal, Ponyta brought its other hoof up and clocked Fluffy on the head. He backed away, growling.
“C’mon, Fluffy! You can do this! Bring it down—but not too hard!”
Finny and Swablu stayed around to keep the Ponyta fenced in, and Fluffy leapt at it again. Ponyta blew fire out of its mouth, but Fluffy leapt aside and closed his teeth around its neck. Ponyta squealed with displeasure and attempted to shake the wolf-like Pokémon off; but Fluffy persisted. Finally, he let go and Tackled Ponyta to the ground; it laid on its side, squealing in fear and rage as Fluffy stood over it. It lashed out with its hooves, but Fluffy dodged and lifted up the corners of his lips, revealing his long, sharp teeth. For a moment, Ponyta froze, its eyes widening.
Cassandra reached into her pocket and pulled out a Poké Ball. Unlike most Trainers, she felt no need to yell “Poké Ball, go!” when she threw it; she just tossed it at Ponyta, catching it in its shocked state. The Ball opened and a white light engulfed the Pokémon, drawing it inside the ball.
Now was the worst part, in Cassandra’s opinion. Her eyes remained fixed on the Ball as it wiggled slowly—left, right, pause. Left, right, pause. Left, right—ding! The circle in the middle glowed red for a brief second and the Ball stilled.
“Yes!” Cassandra cried, pouncing on the Ball and holding it up. “Everyone, say hello to your new team member—Ellia the Ponyta!”
After a few congratulatory noises from the Pokémon around her, Cassandra headed back toward Karen and her picnic lunch.
Cassandra headed back to the PokéLove after finishing her lunch, leaving Karen on the checkered blanket. She opened her polka-dotted umbrella so she wouldn’t get covered in ash and walked to the small inn with Fluffy at her side, just in case she ran into Sakura again.
Once in her suite, Cassandra put away her backpack and umbrella and headed to the little video-phone in the corner. She could have done this in the Pokémon Center, but the privacy of her suite was so much more appealing.
Fluffy laid down by her side as Cassandra began dialing the familiar number on her phone. It started ringing, the screen showing static. One ring…two rings…three rings…after six rings, it would go to voicemail. Cassandra leaned forward. Four rings…five rings…
“Hello? Oh, Cassandra!” Dorothia smiled brightly at the screen. “How is everything?”
“Fine,” Cassandra replied, happy that she could have gotten a smiling face first. “Is my mother home, Dorothia?”
“Yes, honey. I’ll go and get her. Miss Joanna!” Dorothia left the frame, and Cassandra looked at the empty kitchen for a few moments, smiling as she took in the familiar diamond-patterned tile floor and the small table where she and her father liked to have lunch. At least the kitchen held nice memories.
Soon, though, the image switched to Joanna’s face. Of course she wouldn’t come downstairs to talk on the kitchen phone—behind her was her tall four-poster bed with elegant white comforter, the vanity with the large gilded mirror and various bottles containing perfume or makeup sitting atop it, the door to the master bathroom.
Joanna pushed her platinum blonde bangs out of her blue eyes and fixed Cassandra with her gaze, a cold smile appearing on her lips. “It’s so nice to hear from you, Cassandra dear,” she said, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear to reveal a lovely pearl earring. “It seems as though it’s been forever.”
“It certainly has been a while, Mother,” Cassandra replied. “I wonder…did you watch my contest on television?”
“I did not, dear. I had some important things to do.”
Fluffy growled a bit.
Cassandra tried to keep the scowl off her face. While a part of her had known her mother hadn’t watched the contest, she had still harbored a small hope that she would. “And what were they, Mother?”
“Nancy came down and just insisted that I take her to that little bistro in Rustboro. We spent so long there we lost track of time; that food is to die for. I’m afraid I simply couldn’t watch it, Cassandra dear.”
Fluffy sat up, his head coming to about her shoulder, and snarled at the screen. He hadn’t forgotten Joanna’s voice.
“Oh my!” Joanna said, jumping. “What is that wretched thing?”
“This is Fluffy, Mother. Certainly you remember Fluffy?”
“Why, yes, but…Fluffy was a small black thing, was he not?”
Cassandra smiled sweetly. “Oh, but he’s evolved, Mother. Now, back to my contest. I have some bad news.”
Joanna picked up a glass of wine and sipped it daintily, a scowl on her features. She did not like vicious-looking creatures, and she did not like bad news.
“I lost the Fallarbor Contest.”
There was a pause. Joanna glanced up over the rim of her wine glass, frozen. Slowly, she pulled it away from her lips, watching her own arm as she set it down on the table on which the phone rested. After a minute of staring at her hand holding the glass, she slowly pulled her arm back toward her and let it sit in her lap. And then, ever so slowly, a smile crept onto her face, full of malice, coming straight from her cold heart.
“You lost?” Joanna said almost happily, looking up at Cassandra through the video phone.
Cassandra bit back her remark and simply nodded.
But then there was the sound of a door being thrown open, and a big, manly voice boomed, “I’m home, dear! Oh—sorry. Didn’t realize you were on the phone. Who are you talking to?” Cassandra smiled as Joanna glanced over her shoulder and Gerald walked into the frame, loosening his tie. He leaned down over Joanna’s shoulder and grinned broadly. “Sandy-bear! It’s so nice to hear from you! How long has it been, sweetie? Where’s that other chair, Joanna? I wanna talk to her too!” Gerald looked around and briefly disappeared from the frame; then, scowling, Joanna scooted over to allow him to set a chair on the floor and sit beside her, grinning into the phone. “Goodness gracious, a Mightyena! That can’t be our old Fluffy!”
Fluffy barked, wagging his tail. He remembered Gerald’s voice as well.
“Ah, good boy! He’s doing well, then?”
“Very well, Father,” Cassandra replied. “Actually, he’s bigger than a regular Mightyena.”
“That’s very interesting,” Gerald said thoughtfully, stroking his goatee. “Well, how was your contest?”
“She lost,” Joanna said, a thin-lipped smile crossing her face. Gerald frowned at the phone.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sandy-bear. I’m also sorry I couldn’t watch. The President called an emergency meeting, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I had been planning on showing up and surprising you.”
Cassandra smiled happily. “It’s okay, Da—Father.”
“What do you think we should do?” Joanna asked, turning to Gerald.
Gerald frowned, looking at his wife. “What do you mean?”
“Well, she lost a contest. Don’t you think she should give up this silly nonsense and come home now? We can’t have her wasting our money up there.”
“Come now, Joanna, everyone makes mistakes!” Gerald laughed, his voice booming through the phone. “Even the best Coordinators lose some! Our Sandy-bear losing one contest isn’t enough to make her give up and come home! This is her dream—right, Sandy-bear?”
Cassandra nodded, smiling happily.
“Good, good. Now…where will you be staying until the next contest?”
“At this little inn called the PokéLove.”
“That’s quite a quaint little inn! Wouldn’t you say, Joanna? We stayed there once!”
“Indeed,” she replied, tight-lipped. Cassandra wanted to laugh.
“When’s the next contest?”
“Next month,” Cassandra replied. “About…five weeks away.”
“That’s plenty of time to get everything together!” Gerald said, clapping his hands. “We’ll keep sending you money, so work hard! Right, Joanna?”
“Certainly,” Joanna replied, snatching up her wine glass. She went to drain it, but Gerald took it from her.
“It’s not even five o’clock yet, dear. So, any good news, Sandy-bear?”
“I caught a Ponyta today. I nicknamed her Ellia.”
“A Ponyta, hm?” Joanna gently swept more hair behind her ear. “I suppose that’s a decent Pokémon. And you named her Ellia?” She smiled as scorn edged into her voice.
“A darling name!” Gerald proclaimed happily, and Joanna’s smile slid off her face as easily as half-melted butter. “And Ponyta evolves into Rapidash, no? Beautiful! That will be absolutely beautiful!”
“Thanks, Dad,” Cassandra said. “Well, I guess I’d better be going. My traveling companion is due back any minute. Did you ever meet Karen, Father, Mother?”
“Karen?” Joanna asked. Gerald tapped his finger to his lips thoughtfully.
“She hangs around the Rustboro City PokéCenter all the time.”
“Oh, Karen Lowell!” Gerald said, snapping his fingers. “Yes, I did meet her. She has that Wigglytuff she calls Tuffly!”
Joanna’s eyebrows raised. “Wigglytuff?”
“And she has that long pink hair!”
Joanna’s eyebrows raised even higher. “Pink hair?”
“That’s right,” Cassandra said, smiling. “She’s traveling with me. Her parents are hippies, and they believe in the harmony of humans and Pokémon.”
Joanna’s eyebrows were in danger of disappearing into her hair. Her mouth fell open in surprise.
Just then, the suite door opened and Karen came in, her umbrella in one hand and the picnic basket in the other. Tuffly shut the door behind them. “I’m home!” Karen called happily.
“Oh, you’re just in time! I’m about to say good-bye to my parents; you should come over here and say hello!”
“Oh—hello!” Karen leaned into the frame, her pink braids swinging down to precede her. “It’s nice to meet you!”
“Lovely to meet you, too!” Gerald said. Joanna spluttered speechlessly.
“Oh, Karen, would you like to call your parents?”
“Oh, no, we don’t have a phone,” Karen replied cheerily. “We don’t believe in them. Well, good-bye, Mr. and Mrs. Étoile!”
“Good-bye!” Gerald said. “Love you, Sandy-bear!”
“Love you too, Dad.”
And the screen went blank, Joanna still gaping as it did. Cassandra laughed and turned away from the screen, patting Fluffy and heading over to her bed.
“No offense, Cassandra, but…I got the feeling that your mom is kinda evil.” Karen went to her own bed and plopped down, grabbing a coloring book.
Cassandra only laughed harder.
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Well, I talked to Konohana today.
She has a giant Glaceon called Isis (isn’t that a goddess of fertility? 0.o) that’s all gray, and she says she gives her Pokémon medications to make them perform better. She sort of admitted to cheating, but not really. She annoyed the hell out of me, so I tried to fight her and her weird big Glaceon tried to fight me, but Fluffy evolved into Mightyena and fought back, sooooo…
I also caught a Ponyta. I named her Ellia. Isn’t that pretty? I need to try to train with her—I want to ride her!!
Yeah, I got Belle’s last email. She’s not telling me anything—I get the exact same emails as you. She just sends us the same one. I’m so worried about her…something’s definitely not right.
It sucks about your mission, but hey! It’s your FIRST MISSION! *confetti confetti* Be happy anyway!!
Love lots and lots,
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
I know you know we’re worried about you, but I’m telling you again: we’re worried about you. Please stop keeping us in the dark. That’s all I’ll say.