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Old March 13th, 2011 (08:54 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Whew. Finally got my update schedule back on track: English coursework is over.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Girl Who Trained With Fire

“Closed?” I asked, stupefied. “This can’t be right.”

“Sorry,” said the man, “but that’s right. The Cable Car up to Lavaridge is closed until further notice.”

We were at the Cable Car station at the foot of Mount Chimney, in the heart of the Madeira Mountains. All around us, mighty volcanoes raised their heads skywards, forming a cage of stone that seemed intent on trapping the heavens themselves. Scraggly trees clung to their reddish flanks, and flocks of dusk-flying Altaria wheeled around overhead, trailing white dust from their cotton wings. Occasionally, one would alight on the cliff-face, clinging to the sheer rock with powerful talons, and tear away a piece of stone to drop to the ground below. I later learned that they were dropping Torkoal to break open their shells, which made it quite a lot less appealing, but at the time it seemed almost magical.

The Cable Car building itself was shuttered of window and bolted of door, with two rather burly men standing outside to dissuade anyone from even thinking about getting in.

“This can’t be right,” Felicity said impatiently. “We have to get to the top.”

“No can do,” the other man replied. “It’s closed.”

The group of young people who’d been travelling with us murmured soft curses to each other and walked off back to the train station, disconsolate; we weren’t ready to give up quite yet.

“Can I ask exactly why it’s closed?” Sapphire inquired suspiciously.

The two men looked at each other.

“Er...” said one.

“Um...” said the other.

“Damn it,” said the first one. “Our cover appears to be blown.”

“You work for the Magmas, don’t you?” I said. Everyone looked at me in mild surprise. “What? I haven’t said anything for a while.”

“That’s right,” the second man said. “And I’ve got a big knife, so I don’t think it really matters if you know or not. You’re not getting to Lavaridge.”

“Right,” I said. “So what if we were to beat you up?”

The second man produced his big knife, and, true to his word, it was very big. And also a knife. However, something appeared to be wrong with it.

“Is that a butter knife?” Sapphire asked.

The second Magma inspected it.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “Wrong one.” He put it back in his pocket and came out with a machete instead; I had no idea how it fit in his breast pocket, and I wasn’t really too fussed about finding out.

All three of us took a step back.

This is a farce, said Puck. Now I really am certain that everyone in Hoenn is certifiably insane.

“Tell me about it,” I muttered.

“I still want to ascend to the top,” Felicity said. “I’m... I work for Zero.”

The two Magmas exchanged looks again.

“Zero?” said one.

“How did you get that name?” the second demanded to know, bringing his knife to her throat.

“I work for him,” she replied coolly. “And I’ve come to report. I can describe him if you like. He’s tall and thin, and wears a cloak and mask.”

Who is this guy, the Phantom of the Opera?
Puck wanted to know.

“Sounds like him,” the second Magma said, withdrawing his machete.

“Shall we let her through?” the first one asked.

“Yeah,” nodded the second, who seemed to be in charge. “You other two – clear off.”

“They’re with me,” Felicity replied. “Or do you want to upset Zero?”

“Girlie, we don’t want to upset Zero,” said the second Magma, with the air of one who has explained this so many times it has lost all meaning to him, “but we want to upset Maxie even worse. Because he’s the boss, and he’s got the temper of a Sharpedo.”

“So,” concluded the first Magma, unlocking the door, “you can go up, but not these two.”

Felicity glanced at Sapphire and I in mild desperation.

“Go,” I said. “We’ll meet up with you somehow.”

She nodded and went into the darkened interior; it was funny, I thought, how every building we came to seemed to have nothing but darkness behind the door before you went inside and saw they were perfectly normal.

It’s a tileset thing, Puck explained, which didn’t clarify things at all.

The Magmas shut, bolted and padlocked the door again, then brandished knives at us until Sapphire and I agreed to leave. We stopped at the edge of the car park, by the trees, to watch the carriage creak its way out of the station and up the cable. We kept watching until it was out of sight, then turned back to the road and wandered back to the train station.

It was a curious place, all alone in the middle of a patch of the dense forest that carpeted the Madeiras; no one lived here, and the only reason it existed was so that people could get to the Cable Car. It made me wonder why they hadn’t just built the Cable Car going up from Verdanturf or Fallarbor, but doubtless there was a reason.

“Well, that was a short-lived alliance,” Sapphire said. “What do we do now? Battle the guards and force them to let us in?”

“Yeah, because we’re totally a match for two hardened criminals,” I replied. “I bet they have more than machetes.”

They do, Puck said. A Ghost of some kind between them; didn’t see what. Seems to be around Level 31, kind of homesick.

“You see?” I said to Sapphire, then remembered she couldn’t hear what Puck had said and told her.

“Fair enough,” she conceded. “We won’t fight them. But how are we going to get to Lavaridge? Scale the mountain? Harness an Altaria?”

I winced; the sarcasm was so concentrated it could have been used as battery acid.

“Look,” I said, “there’s got to be another way to Lavaridge, right? You know more about travel than me, you tell me how we get there.”

“There aren’t any roads,” Sapphire answered, “because you can’t get cars up through the Madeiras. There’s a helicopter every two days from Fallarbor, I suppose, but that’s really expensive.”

“Any other way?” I asked. Secretly, I hoped there weren’t; I wanted Sapphire to have to pay up.

“There’s a project to extend the Rustboro Tunnel up to Lavaridge,” she said, after a moment’s thought, “but that won’t start until the construction workers start work again.”

“Oh yeah, I heard about that. It’s the protestors, right?”

Sapphire nodded.

“They say the noise will scare on the Whismur in the mountain caves. It’s stupid – Whismur are scared of their own shadows, so the machines won’t make much difference – but they’ve got friends in high places, so the project’s been cancelled until further notice.”

Damn hippies, Puck said. Pokémon aren’t people. We don’t feel the same way about things; hell, most of us don’t even notice our own existence. When people treat things like Whismur as if they were children dressed up with big floppy ears, it makes me as angry as... as that German kid.

What German kid?

I’m starting to doubt that Hoenn has any Internet access at all
, he sighed. Look it up.

Whatever. Then, aloud: “Sorry. Puck was just babbling about hippies.”

A train roared into the station, paused, and left; it seemed like no one had got off, until a girl of seventeen or eighteen ran past us, streamers of crimson hair flying out behind her.

“It’s no use,” I called after her, “the Cable Car’s closed.”

Hey, triple alliteration, Puck remarked. Tripliteration, you might say. Though that would be tantamount to asking to be punched.

She stopped dead, turned on one heel and screamed at me:

What?”

Sapphire and I started, surprised; the girl stomped back to us and thrust a heavily-pierced face into ours.

“What did you say?” she demanded to know, through a tongue and a lip piercing. As well as these, she had three silver rings through each ear, along with one through her left eyebrow and two in the right. She wore a short black T-shirt that exposed an improbably slim midriff complete with pierced navel, and bleach-spattered, baggy jeans held up by a thick red belt; this, combined with the peculiar styling of her ruby-red hair and the sinuous tattoo on her left arm, made her look strange enough that she just had to be a Trainer.

Puck whistled.

The spirit of ’80s punk has returned, he said. Haven’t seen anyone like her around for a while. In fact, not since the ’80s, oddly enough. Which is really weird, because I wasn’t alive in the ’80s.

“I – er – said the Cable Car was closed,” I said. “Seems like Team Magma have seized it.”

The pierced Trainer swore loudly.

“I need to get to Lavaridge,” she said angrily. “I have to get home!”

“Um... we were going to go around to Fallarbor and get the helicopter,” I told her. “I don’t know if you want to come with us...”

She looked like she was weighing up the options, then nodded. It wasn’t uncommon for Trainers to travel in small groups, usually with people they didn’t know. There was safety in numbers, or at least there was if the news was to be believed: wild Pokémon were dangerous, and were more likely to attack those travelling singly.

“When’s the next train?” she asked in a calmer voice, walking with us back onto the station’s single platform and across to the ticket office.

“It comes in half an hour,” Sapphire replied, pushing open the door. Inside, the office was perhaps the most depressing place on earth; full of long-dead pot plants and dog-eared leaflets advertising day trips to the Coast of Despair (‘It’s Sorrow-tastic!’), it housed a clerk who was as close to brain death as anyone could be without actually being comatose. He sold us tickets numbly, and we left as swiftly as decency would permit, eager to escape the choking aura of boredom that surrounded him. “My name’s Sapphire, by the way,” Sapphire added as we sat down on a bench to wait for the nine-thirty train.

It was dark now, and the Altaria were singing, a distant sound on the very edge of my capacity to hear; it was inexpressibly beautiful if you reduced the pitch so you could hear it properly, but to the Altaria who sang it, it was just a series of bloodthirsty threats about what would happen to those who invaded their territories, stole their mates or looked at them funny. I had learned that last month from a documentary, and had been rather surprised to discover that Altaria were nowhere near as cute as they looked.

“I’m Flannery,” replied the punk Trainer, “but I hate it, so people call me Spike.”

It wasn’t a girl’s name, but she certainly deserved it: most of her piercings had spikes on, and her boots had them too.

Do you think those piercings are like buttons? wondered Puck. I mean, if I took them all out, would her face fall off?

“And I’m Kester,” I told her.

There was a long and awkward silence. Spike stared straight ahead resolutely, gripping the wood of the bench so tightly that her knuckles stood out white through the skin. I noticed she had crimson eyes to match her hair, and wondered if either colour was natural.

“Sorry,” she said after a while. “For shouting at you. I just... I really need to get home.”

“You live in Lavaridge?” I asked.

No, she lives in Stockholm, Puck said scathingly. Where do you think she lives, genius?

“Yeah,” she replied. “My granddad...”

Unexpectedly, she slumped over forwards then, catching her head in her hands; at first, I thought the weight of all the metal in her face had dragged her over, but when I heard her sobbing I realised she was just crying. Sapphire and I looked at each other, startled, over her shaking shoulders, then asked cautiously and simultaneously:

“Are – are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” managed Spike, sitting back up and pressing her knuckles into her eyes. “I’m fine. It’s just he – he died the other day, and I have to – to get back...”

Then she lapsed back into incoherent sobs. Mentally girding my loins, as the saying would have it, I gamely struggled to comfort her while Sapphire stared at me and tried hard not to laugh. I didn’t blame her: it was sad that Spike’s grandfather was dead, but I was very bad at consoling people.

You’re no consoler of the lonely, that’s for sure, Puck said, and unaccountably started singing:

Haven’t seen the sun in weeks
My skin is getting paaale—

Shut up!
I thought furiously.

Eventually, when Sapphire started helping as well, we got Spike more or less calm again, and the story came out: her grandfather was – or had been – the Gym Leader at Lavaridge Town, Uriah Moore, who had been killed by Team Magma. It seemed she didn’t know that he had been murdered yet, only that he was dead, and neither of us had the heart to tell her.

“I haven’t seen him since I was ten,” Spike explained, sniffing back the last few tears. “My parents died when I was little, and he looked after me, but we didn’t get along. I became a Trainer as soon as I could, so I could get out of there, and never went back.”

“And now you feel bad about it,” I finished for her; it was a plotline ripped from a soap opera, tired and predictable.

Hey. I should be the one commenting on that, not you.

“Yeah,” Spike said. “I... sorry, this is stupid.”

“No,” Sapphire assured her. “I’d feel the same way if my grandfather died.”

I suppressed a derisive snort. I seriously doubted Sapphire was capable of this sort of emotion.

That’s not nice, and also not true, Puck said. Have you forgotten how she was when Rayquaza died?

Whatever.


The train rumbled into the station, halted and opened its doors; we got on and sat in the first compartment we found. It was empty, as I think the entire train was: no one was travelling to Lavaridge or Fallarbor at this time of night.

Spike leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes; this gave me the first good opportunity I’d had all evening to gawp at her piercings. She really did have a lot of them, and it would have taken me a while to work through them all if I hadn’t been interrupted by Sapphire kicking me in the shin.

“Don’t stare,” she mouthed.

“Who are you, my mother?” I mouthed back. She made an obscene gesture, and I sighed and shook my head. I couldn’t be bothered with this fight.

“Why are you two going to Lavaridge?” asked Spike, and both of us looked at her in alarm; however, her eyes were still shut, and she hadn’t seen our ridiculous farce.

Close one
, said Puck.

“Um, we were going to challenge the Gym,” Sapphire fibbed. “But I suppose we won’t now. We’ve got a friend there, so we’ll just visit her instead.”

“I’m going to take over the Gym,” Spike replied flatly, “so you can challenge it.”

Sapphire raised her eyebrows, though the effect was somewhat lost since Spike’s eyes were closed.

“I thought Gym Leaders were elected by the townsfolk, then approved by the Elite Four?” she asked. “What makes you so sure that you’ll win?”

Spike opened her eyes and sat up. From her bag, she pulled a red and black device that reminded me of something, though I couldn’t think what.

It’s one of those Pokémon Index checking things that Sapphire has, Puck said. Pokémon Index checking thing? That’s a bit wordy. Let’s see, can we contract that? Pokémondex... PokIndex... Pokédex! Yeah, that’s good.

That was it. Sapphire’s was white, but I recognised it now. Spike opened it and pressed a button; the screen lit up and she passed it to Sapphire, whose jaw promptly dropped.

“You see?” Spike said. “I’m good. I specialise in one type, to make things harder for myself, and I have seventy-three Pokémon from Hoenn and even two from Unova, all organised into teams by level. I came fourth in last year’s League Tournament, and I’ve beaten Sidney and Phoebe of the Elite Four.”

“Yes,” Sapphire replied, shaken. “OK, you probably will win.” She handed the Pokédex back to Spike, who turned it off and slid it into a pocket on her bag.

“What type is it that you use?” I asked, glad to be away from the topic of her grandfather, even if we were now on one of my least favourite subjects of all time.

“Fire,” replied Spike, holding up her left arm and showing me the massive, sinuous tattoo that stretched along it from shoulder to wrist. It looked like her hand had caught fire, and was trailing flames all up her arm.

Whoa, said Puck. Now that must have hurt.

For once, we were in perfect agreement. There was no way I could ever have borne the pain of being tattooed – or pierced, for that matter. Spike was one weird girl.

“Why Fire?” asked Sapphire. Spike shrugged.

“It’s as good a type as any,” she replied. “Besides, my granddad uses – used – the Fire type, and I always wanted to prove I was better.” She stared despondently out of the window, and for a moment I thought she might start crying again; my fears were unfounded, however, for she was just staring moodily at the moon through the trees and mountains.

Hey, Puck, I thought, the branches of those pine trees look like they’re raking the moon.

Well done, he said. That’s a tricky one to reference, I have to say. Have you forgiven me, then?

No. Not in the slightest. I just didn’t want to lose our competition.

Puck snorted.

Yeah, yeah. You love me really.


I decided that talking to him wasn’t worth it, and asked if anyone minded if I went to sleep. Obligingly, Spike said she’d wake me when we got to Fallarbor, for which I thanked her, and not long afterwards I was asleep. It had been a long day, and I was tired.

---

Zero watched Felicity through the window. She was bleeding quite badly now, and he decided he had better just warn Maxie not to kill her.

“Please be careful,” he said, putting his head around the door. “Despite her misinformation, she is usually quite a good mole. I would like to use her again after this.”

“Will do!” called back Maxie cheerfully, exchanging his staple-gun for a monkey wrench. “Don’t worry, I’m an exp—!”

Zero presumed that Maxie meant he was an expert, but never actually found out, since at that moment Felicity’s knee broke and her scream drowned out the end of the word. He nodded politely at Maxie and retreated, satisfied.

“Stupid girl,” he murmured disapprovingly, walking away. “You can’t break out of my plan; I accounted for your coming here.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d better make a move.”

In a few moments, he was gone. No one could say exactly how he’d left or where he had gone, but if you had questioned the people of Lavaridge carefully, you might well have find out that something huge and dark had flown away from the town that night, heading east.

---

And I’m down in a tube station at midnight, sang Puck. Oh, I do like the Jam. They were great, weren’t they?

“Never heard of them,” I muttered back.

As Puck had said, it was midnight, but we weren’t in a tube station; we were, however, in a railway station. Specifically, we were in Fallarbor Central, a titanic dome of glass and steel enclosing twenty-seven platforms and a small street’s worth of shopping opportunities. Even now, these shops were all open; this was Fallarbor, the Hoennian Hollywood, and the city never slept. Sapphire, Spike and I, however, worn out by various combinations early rising, grief and a stressful day, wanted nothing more.

Through a haze of fatigue, the three of us searched for the exit; eventually, we found it sandwiched between a burger bar and a tobacconist’s, almost as an afterthought. This reminded Sapphire and I of how hungry we were, having eaten close to nothing today, but we were too tired for food; it could wait until tomorrow.

As we roamed the streets, I was vaguely aware of bright lights and noise, but I really couldn’t be bothered to describe any of the city’s doubtless manifold attractions in any more detail than that. Even Spike, who wanted to get to Lavaridge more than any of us, agreed that we needed sleep before we went any further, and so we searched for a Pokémon Centre.

There was one not far from the station, and Sapphire and Spike took rooms there. Not being a Trainer and no longer contained in a Poké Ball, I anticipated there being some difficulty over what I should do, but the night receptionist either didn’t care about or was too tired to check anyone’s Trainer Cards, and gave us three rooms without asking for anything more than our names.

My room was as bland and unlikeable as any other, but I have to say, it was delightful beyond belief to sleep in a bed for once.

Morning dawned bright and clear, and we slept straight through it; Spike, the least tired, was the first up, closely followed by myself, since I’d had that nap on the train. I met her after breakfast, sitting in the living-room and watching TV with a couple of other Trainers and someone’s Zangoose.

I sat down beside her.

“Morning,” I said.

“Morning,” Spike replied. “Look.” She pointed at the TV, and dutifully, I did.
Once again, Gabby was gracing the screen, only today, thankfully, she wasn’t telling me that my jewel-eyed nemesis had caught up with me. Instead, she was standing in front of old footage of Rayquaza’s crash, talking about recent developments in the case.

“It seems that the cause of death has finally been confirmed,” Gabby was saying. “A potent mixture of the Steel-type move Flash Cannon and a rocket-propelled grenade caused severe haemorrhaging in the brain, causing Rayquaza to lose control of its movements and thus of its flight. The impact was the actual death blow; had it not hit the ground, Rayquaza might well have survived, or even recovered. Professor Xavier Houndsbuck has been studying Rayquaza all his life.”

It cut to Professor Houndsbuck, sitting in a well-appointed office. A little message informed me that this was at Harvard University, America; I didn’t know where in America that was, and sincerely doubted that more than three people did in the whole country.

That’s right, said Puck. You’re all shockingly ill-educated about the rest of the world in this country, aren’t you?

Houndsbuck spoke, and a voiceover man translated.

“From what we know, Rayquaza has actually sustained serious damage before. Observation planes have, for example, spotted large scars on its sides that seem to be from meteor impacts. The post-mortem revealed that it had fractured its skull and neck several times before, apparently without lasting ill-effect, and a large piece of scar tissue in its abdomen has shown that something managed to partially disembowel it in the past. Leaving aside the question of what managed to do that, this seems to indicate that Rayquaza potentially had the ability to regenerate to a degree previously unknown in nature...”

Sapphire walked in.

“Good morning. What’s this?”

“Just a Rayquaza update,” I told her. “The cause of death was a Flash Cannon mixed with a rocket-propelled grenade, they say.”

“Hm.” Sapphire pressed her lips together.

Someone’s still sensitive about the death of the Sky King, Puck said. Best not to talk about it anymore, I think.

“Oh, Sapphire!” said Spike, turning around. “If you’re ready, can we...?”

“You didn’t have to wait for us,” Sapphire said. “You could have left.”

“It’s OK,” replied Spike, getting up and following her out. I sighed, hauled myself to my feet and went after them. “It’s easier to travel with other people.”

She wants company, Puck said shrewdly. The girl’s lonely and depressed; I reckon she met you two at just the right time.

“All right, Mr. Psychology,” I muttered, “now shut your face.”

We checked out and started through Fallarbor towards the heliport; Sapphire said she knew the way, and I believed her. She seemed to know the way to most places.

Fallarbor suited the summer sun. I couldn’t imagine it in winter; it just didn’t fit. There were broad, sunlit boulevards and flashy cars; expensive shops and mansions that belonged to people who were very famous, very rich or both. Real Tropius, part dinosaur, part palm tree and part banana, stood around in the gardens, fanning their leafy wings and lowing softly; all the people seemed to be tanned, well-dressed and handsome. I imagined that this was the sort of place Felicity came from: a haven of glamour, a single city that sucked in the wealth and beauty of a nation and showed it off for the world to see.

Disgusting, was Puck’s verdict. It’s californication, that’s what it is. As my mother used to say: always trust in Anthony Kiedis.

We were walking down a narrow street called, with a depressing lack of imagination, Narrow Street, when three men in red suits and sunglasses swept past us, a white-coated man in their midst. I only saw them for a second, but I was certain of the expression on the man’s face: abject terror. I also saw their faces, and stopped dead in surprise.

Sapphire halted immediately.

“That was Team Magma,” she said. “Kester?”

“We’re going,” I said immediately.

“OK,” she replied.

“What?” asked Spike, confused.

“We’re going to go after those Magmas,” Sapphire told her. “You don’t have to, though. You can keep going to Lavaridge if you like. I mean, this could take a while.”

Spike hesitated for a moment, undecided, then spoke:

“OK. I’m going, then. I – I need to go home.”

Sapphire nodded.

“I understand.”

We stood facing each other awkwardly for a moment. Then:

“Well, good luck,” I said.

“You too,” replied Spike. “Goodbye.”

“Just go straight on,” Sapphire said. “I hope everything goes well.”

“Same to you,” said Spike, starting to walk. “Bye!”

We waved her away, and then turned to follow the Magmas.

I hope she sorts all this stuff out, Puck said. She’s a nice girl under all that metal.

“Kester, this isn’t like you at all,” Sapphire noted.

“Didn’t you see who those goons were?” I replied. “They’re the ones who kidnapped you, Sapphire.” I grinned. “They’re about the only people in the world I’m guaranteed to be able to beat up. It’d be my pleasure to stop whatever nefarious deeds they’re up to.”

Sapphire’s face twisted into the familiar lopsided grin, and we turned a corner into bright sunlight, to see the Magmas bundling their hapless captive into a large black car.

“Now you’re talking my language,” she said, and flagged down a taxi. We climbed swiftly into the back, and I uttered words that I’d wanted to ever since I was a small child:

“Driver, follow that car!”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.