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.
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.
“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.
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...”
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.