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Old February 12th, 2011 (11:20 AM). Edited February 22nd, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
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.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.