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.”
“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.”
Felicity tapped the barrel of the weapon she was holding.
“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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
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.”
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:
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?