For those of you who actually believe that stuff about a picture being worth a thousand words, there's now one in the first post. It's big, so it's in a spoiler. Have fun.
Now, back to the increasing scale that is TMG2DW:
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Raiders of the Lost Kester
There had been some pretty protracted silences so far on our trip. There had been some pretty stunned ones, too.
But this one took the biscuit.
At a conservative estimate, it lasted well over a minute, throughout the whole of which Sapphire and I just stared at the phone that was, for now at least, Puck’s mouthpiece.
“Well,” I said at length. “That was... unexpected.”
“What, you were expecting some sort of temple that can only be found if you use a jewelled staff to focus rays of light onto a secret map of the area?” Puck asked. It wasn’t up to his usual standard of quip, but I put it down to having an idea in his head that he couldn’t get rid of, or something of the sort.
“No, but... something more secret,” Sapphire said.
“Well, it doesn’t matter what you expected,” Puck replied. “Because we need to get a move on and safeguard that Red Orb sharpish.”
“Because,” Puck explained, with the exasperated patience of one who is intellectually light years above his companions, “if you recall, this isn’t Maxie’s plot. This is Zero’s. Remember what Felicity said: Zero is using both Teams for his own ends. There’s no way someone who plans things out as well as Zero wouldn’t know that the real Groudon is at Mount Pyre.”
“So why did he get the Magmas to go after its corps—?”
“Think, Kester. It doesn’t even seem that Groudon’s Zero’s main aim. Everything he’s done so far has been whipping the Teams up into a frenzy, setting them against each other with more fervour than they’ve had since the gang wars of ’98.”
I remembered those. Things had got so bad that the government declared martial law, and the country almost descended into civil war, with the army fighting the Teams. No one left their homes for a week, and by the time we could go out again both the Magmas and the Aquas were reduced to a near-literal handful of members hiding out in disused warehouses. It had taken them thirteen long years and a pair of spectacular new leaders to reach their previous size, but they had learned from the mass arrests and shootings: they hadn’t fought seriously again.
“So, is Zero trying to destroy them again, or...?” I couldn’t quite see what the objective was. Setting the Teams against each other could only be a good thing in the long run; it was pretty much the only way to eradicate them. They would smash each other to pieces, and the government would mop up the bits. Simple, neat, effective.
“That much I don’t know,” Puck said. “But I have a sneaking suspicion that it must be something more, and something worse. Remember, there’s a beast other than Groudon that Rayquaza sealed in sleep. Kyogre, the sea monster. Which is under the sea. Now, I don’t know what you think, but Team Aqua like the sea, and we found out in Slateport that they were having a submarine built. I leave it to you to put those pieces together.”
“So either the Magmas or the Aquas—”
“—or Zero,” I put in.
“Or Zero,” agreed Sapphire, “has Rayquaza killed so that it can’t interfere, and then both Teams try to raise one of the legendary Pokémon...” She swore softly. “Team Aqua are going to know now that Groudon and Kyogre are dead, aren’t they? So they’re going to be—”
“—heading for Mount Pyre as well,” I finished, shaking my head. “Because if Groudon’s soul is the Red Orb, I’m willing to bet that the Blue Orb—”
“—it’s Kyogre’s soul, yes,” Puck said. “In short, the forces of evil will converge on Mount Pyre, and Zero’s pulling every single string going to make sure they pull it off. Doubtless he’s going to arrange for them to arrive at the same time, so there’s some sort of battle.”
“And we’ve got to stop them,” I said uneasily, “or they call up two Pokémon with whose power they’re going to end up killing thousands and thousands of people just to get at each other.”
“Pretty much,” confirmed Puck. “Not to put a downer on the conversation or anything, but yeah, the safety of all Hoenn rests on your little teenage shoulders.”
Sapphire and I stared at our plates. Neither of us had much of an appetite any more.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Zero?” snarled Maxie.
The masked man stared back impassively. Either he was very stupid or very brave, because Magma men held a gun to each side of his head.
“Well?” Maxie’s voice was at its most dangerous, the low tone that he used after he had passed through the unthinking stages of rage and entered the cold, logical end phase.
There was a third reason why Zero might not be bothered by the guns. He might have been very confident.
“My dear Maxie,” he said, “this was a test run. I couldn’t let you know, or the Aquas would have found out. They now think they’ve stopped you getting at Groudon – my mole confirms this. She is quite tractable now, after you gave her that little session.”
“Don’t mess with my head,” Maxie snapped. “The blues have stopped us getting at Groudon. We’ve failed. And it’s your fault.”
Simultaneous clicks sounded on either side of Zero’s head. The guns were ready to fire.
“But they haven’t,” corrected Zero mildly. “I think you’ll find this was a scam, a decoy test mission. Maxie, Groudon is sleeping still, and is ripe for the taking. All it needs to return to life is enough raw flesh to rebuild his body.”
“Where is it? What is it?”
Zero held up a photograph, and Maxie’s eyes widened.
“Yours for the taking,” Zero said, eyes hooded. “Almost defenceless.”
Maxie waved a hand, and the guns were removed. He was smiling again now.
“You slimy old bratchny,” he said with relief, slapping Zero on the back. “Damn good plan.”
“Planning is what I do best,” Zero said, and his eyes were laughing at a joke no one else could hear.
Tchaikovsky tapped the steering wheel with his fingers, and sucked in a thoughtful breath through his teeth. He was certain now. Something was definitely up.
One of the benefits of working as a driver was that he was pretty anonymous, even with his strange habits. He had seen both the Magmas and the Aquas at work, neither of then suspecting for a moment that he drove for the others too, and he was sure now that there was someone controlling the actions of both groups. The same person, playing the Teams off against each other for their own ends, the king or queen of the butterfly collectors.
Tchaikovsky nodded thoughtfully. He was going to get to the bottom of this. He had to break out of the conflict between his head and his tail and get the cool shoeshine.
The driver frowned. That wasn’t right. That song had come out after the year 2000.
Feeling that this was a sign, and probably a bad one at that, Tchaikovsky drove on, brooding.
“Look, Fabien,” said Blake, “we should prob’ly move on now, righ’? Given tha’ we’re bein’ pursued an’ all?”
“Pursued?” It took Fabien a while to work out what he meant, then he said: “Oh yes, pursued.”
They had been in the bar for three hours now, and Blake was getting worried. He didn’t want to get caught by those Aquas whom Fabien was so sure that were pursuing them; his gun hadn’t been replaced since its loss in the Meteor Falls debacle, and Goishi, although powerful, could only protect them so well.
“Well,” Fabien said, “I think we might have outrun them. So it’ll be fine.”
“Yes.” Fabien drank deeply, and stared ahead moodily. “You know, if they go to the zoo they’ll lose our trail, because of all the confusion.”
“Oh. Righ’.” Blake supposed that Fabien did know best, but this abrupt change of direction seemed a little unlikely, to say the least. “Are – are you sure? I mean, you said they wouldn’ give up.”
“They won’t, but they won’t find us.” Fabien looked dead at him. “You have my word as a C-sensor.”
That was all right, then, Blake supposed, but he still had a few doubts; today, Fabien had swung from genius to idiot and back again with such frequency and regularity that it had done more harm to his image than good. For the first time, Blake was beginning to think that perhaps Fabien wasn’t entirely the master criminal he claimed to be, and a small, unexpected thought was creeping into his head.
“What is it?” snapped the smaller man.
“Er... are you sure there’re Aquas after us?”
Fabien gave him a long, inscrutable look.
“Blake,” he said at length, “do you want to know something?”
“Absolutely nothing I said today is true,” he said despondently. “I’ve lied and cheated every step of the way, and I got caught out by that zookeeper, and it’s put me in an awful mood, and I’m seriously considering sitting here for a few more hours before walking out of Team Magma, leaving Hoenn and going to Korea to study linguistics.”
“I can speak Korean.”
Blake paused, uncertain about whether or not this was true.
“Was any of tha’ true?”
“No. All lies. I speak nothing but the truth. Forget I said anything.” Fabien returned his attention to his drink, and Blake wondered what to do next. He glanced over at Goishi, who rolled his yellow eyes and motioned for him to ignore him.
Full of doubt, Blake hunched himself up on his bar stool and pondered. It seemed there was more than one dimension to his partner after all, and he wasn’t sure that this one was one he cared to know about.
“We’ll call the police,” I said suddenly. “This isn’t something we can do. Call the police.”
Sapphire didn’t say anything, and I felt a wave of anxiety break on my skull.
“Sapphire? You agree, right?”
She raised her head to look at me, and her eyes told me everything I needed to know, with a little more besides.
“What do you think they’ll do, exactly?” she asked.
“Well...” I said. “They’ll, um, arrest them or something...”
“OK,” Sapphire said, “that’s assuming they believe a story we’ve based on an ancient legend that was relayed to us through a terminally facetious ball of plasma.”
“None taken,” said Puck huffily, and I put Sapphire’s phone down. He would only make things worse.
“When you put it like that,” I said, “it does sound kind of unbelievable.”
“That’s because it is,” Sapphire pointed out. “Two monsters of unimaginable age and power, being summoned by rival underworld factions to kill each other off, and the whole being orchestrated by a criminal genius with some unknown but grandiose goal? That isn’t real life, that’s a film.”
Or a novel, Puck added.
“Isn’t that what Trainers do?” I asked helplessly. “I thought you said weird things happened to Trainers all the time!”
“Weird, yes. Insane, no.” Sapphire’s face suddenly twitched along one side and broke into that lopsided grin. “So the police won’t do anything,” she said, and I could tell that in her heart she’d already accepted the challenge. “But that just means we have to do it ourselves, don’t we?”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” I said, putting my head in my hands. “I was OK to go up against a criminal mastermind for the sake of helping one person break free, and stop some little plot or something. But stopping what amounts to civil war? No. No way, that’s beyond me.”
“After what you did on the top of the mountain?” cried Sapphire. “Come on, Kester, that was proof enough, wasn’t it? You aren’t a normal person, surely you’ve noticed that by now!”
She’s right, Puck said. You attract weird Pokémon, you have all the powers of a Rotom, you keep going through adverse conditions despite all the opportunities to turn back... I hate to break it to you, buddy, but if this was High Fantasy, you’d be the dragon-riding protagonist. You couldn’t make a worse job of it than those losers already did, he added. I think that it was meant to be a compliment, but I couldn’t work it out.
“It’s stupid,” I said, standing up. “I – you know what, I really don’t know why I haven’t gone home already.”
If this was one of those teenagery vampire novels, Puck went on thoughtfully, you’d be the alluring guy who sparkles in the sunlight and fights werewolves.
“Forgotten about Devon?” Sapphire asked. “Sit down, Kester.”
Or, Puck continued, apparently desirous of covering as many genres as possible, if this was a wizards-at-school kind of story, you’d be the kid who survived the unsurvivable death-spell.
“They haven’t come after us for ages now,” I argued. “I haven’t even seen Darren Goodwin since Thursday.”
“Oh? Missed me, did you?”
My blood froze. I knew that voice.
It was Puck who vocalised our thoughts the best.
By the many tentacles of Davy Jones’ beard, he cried floridly, it’s the Goodwin!
It wasn’t hard for Darren Goodwin to track down Kester and Sapphire. An anonymous tipster had told Devon of the Magma plot, and they’d had a Xatu in place to spy on the action, relaying the images back to Rustboro via its psionic powers and a satellite. Regrettably, the so-called Psychic had failed to foresee its death at the talons of a flock of rapacious Altaria, and had perished mid-communication – but they had seen the Magmas gathering, and, crouched behind a rock, the two people they wanted most to find in all the world.
Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch.
If any confirmation that they worked for Team Aqua was needed, this was it. They had obviously been sent there to foil the reds’ scheme, whatever that had been. So Darren had shrugged on his green overcoat, polished his spectacles and taken the express train to the Cable Car station. Two Magma grunts had attempted to persuade him that it was closed, but, with the Raiders’ assistance, he had convinced them that they were wrong, and had made his way to the top of the mountain.
By then, the action was over, and all that was left was more devastation than Darren would have felt entirely comfortable shaking a stick at. Huge chunks of red rock were scattered around the peak, and, oddly enough, they were withering, like cut flowers. A red fog rose from their decomposing shapes, and all in all, the Goodwin had decided that it was probably not the best of ideas to hang about up there. He had made his way swiftly down Jagged Pass – the rocks were no obstacle to him; his extensive training had included a course in hostile-terrain hiking – and immediately set about combing Lavaridge down for his targets. Since it was so small, he had found them within the half-hour.
And that is where we left off, and where, for those of you who are looking forwards to a battle, the good bit begins.
I hadn’t seen him for a while, and I really didn’t feel like seeing him now. The lab coat and overcoat, expensive black shoes and shining eyeglasses; the details of Darren Goodwin’s appearance flooded back into my mind with the terrifying familiarity of the business from last year.
The lone waiter quietly vanished from his corner into the kitchen, and I heard the door lock behind him. He knew trouble when he saw it.
Sapphire was on her feet beside me, and the Combusken materialised between us and Darren, bouncing on the balls of her feet and limbering up for a fight.
“Raiders,” replied the Devon man, and something like nine Magnemite poured out of a Poké Ball, floating around each other in loose synchronicity. A cloud of cutlery immediately flew up to hover around them, performing lazy orbits around the powerful magnetic field.
“Puck,” I whispered, “what is that?”
It’s a Magneton, Puck replied. They’re natural aggregations of Magnemite that occur when three or more decide to bind permanently. It’s rare to see one with over five constituent Magnemite; my guess is that these ones have been artificially fused by Devon. Either way, we’re no match – Toro’s the best bet here.
“I’m going to give you one last chance,” said Darren Goodwin. His face was expressionless; he might have been asking for a pint of milk at the corner shop. “Give me back the Master Ball, and I will leave you alone.”
Sapphire pulled the halves of the ruined ball from her pocket and tossed them across the room; they were caught in the Raiders’ magnetic grip and Darren gave them a cursory glance.
“I meant with Kester still in it,” he clarified, with a trace of annoyance. He let out a long sigh. “This is probably going to get very boring for me, very quickly. And when I get bored, I make things interesting. When I make things interesting, the people around me very swiftly discover precisely how much they dislike being in pain.”
I’m... at a loss. Is that a good line or a bad one? It’s certainly threatening.
“Look here.” Darren suddenly became very businesslike. “There are two potential outcomes here. One is that Kester comes with me, we leave and no one gets hurt. The other is that the Raiders and I comprehensively beat you, recapture Kester and leave with everyone having got hurt. I’d like you to make the decision now as to which one you’ll take.”
Sapphire appeared to give the matter some serious thought, which wasn’t exactly comforting, but certainly understandable.
“Er, how about – Toro, Ember!”
Ah. It had been a ploy.
Before Darren or his Magneton could react, Toro had darted forwards and a gout of flame had shot across her foe’s metallic surface; emitting a noise like gears grinding, the orbs that made up the Pokémon drew together and raised themselves higher up off the ground, obviously in pain. Their steel surfaces blackened with soot, they whirled on the spot and shot a Thunderbolt straight down with a thunderous blast.
The room filled with blinding light and the smell of burned carpet; squeezing my eyes shut, I blundered backwards, desperate not to be grabbed by Darren. I tipped over a table and heard it crash behind me. Something warm brushed my wrist – so I grabbed it and discharged a Charge Beam through it.
The howl was full of agony and anger, and also in a very familiar voice. I let go of Sapphire’s arm abruptly and cried out:
Thank the heavens for your low level, Puck said. Seriously, Kester, you could have killed her!
“Now is totally not the time for that!” I hissed back, forcing open my eyes. I was just in time to see Toro being hit by something bright - Flash Cannon, explained Puck - and dived out of the way as she flew through the air towards me.
I hit the floor, twisted and fired a Charge Beam in the direction where I thought Darren was; I still couldn’t see properly.
“Where the hell did you go?” he roared, which seemed to indicate I’d missed.
Sapphire tripped over me and fell onto my face, which hurt a great deal, and I struggled out from under her in a welter of confused swearing. I had just regained my balance and taken in the scene around me when I noticed that Darren had recovered his wits and vision, and had taken a Master Ball from his pocket; thinking quickly, I grabbed a nearby chair and threw it at him with every ounce of strength I had.
This did the trick: the ball bounced off one leg and landed amid the leaves of a pot plant on the windowsill. The chair kept going, but Darren’s Magneton rose up and let it splinter over its iron-hard bodies, apparently suffering no ill effects whatsoever.
Sapphire was back on her feet, and emitting a strong smell of burned flesh; I glanced at her arm and looked away again hurriedly.
Whoa, Puck breathed, if she doesn’t get that seen to she’s going to end up with the same number of arms as the drummer from Def Leppard.
Way to be reassuring, I snapped back, as Toro leaped forth in response to Sapphire’s command, legs streaking forwards to crash into one of the Magneton’s constituent orbs, the Double Kick crumpling the steel into scrap and throwing the ball clear of the rest of the organism.
The Raiders tipped its eyes skywards, making a loud and very unpleasant screeching sound; the creature looked visibly pained by the extraction. This was quite an achievement, since it could only really communicate with its eyes – and those seemed to be painted on.
“No!” he cried. “Don’t—”
“It’s artificial, isn’t it?” snapped Sapphire. “The links between the Magnemite are weak. Together, I bet they’re stronger than any normal Magneton. But apart...”
The Raiders were shivering and twitching uncontrollably, sparks bouncing off its surfaces; it did not look at all well. It reminded me of a broken machine on the verge of exploding, or a small crate that contains a large and angry Salamence.
Toro rounded on it for another volley, but this time her feet never met steel: Darren Goodwin had whipped off his greatcoat and caught the little bird mid-flight in its folds, holding it out like a toreador. With a flick of his forearms, he had her firmly entangled, and let her momentum carry her on into the wall. Something cracked inside the tangled coat, and Toro let out an almighty screech, thrashing wildly in her prison.
Sapphire’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped slightly; I think she might not have entirely grasped the Devon man’s skill until then. For me, less used to Training, it didn’t seem so strange, but it was almost unheard-of for a human to mess with a strong Pokémon mid-move and come away as the victor.
“Two down,” Darren said calmly. He wasn’t even out of breath. “I suppose it’s time for my third Pokémon now, isn’t it?”
He recalled the Raiders – all of it, including its lost orb – and produced a white Premier Ball from somewhere. There was a large sticker, emblazoned with a number ‘3’, stuck to the upper half. Rather than throw down the ball immediately, though, Darren hesitated.
“One more chance,” he said. “Give in now?”
I glanced at Sapphire.
“What are you looking at me for?” she asked tersely. “It’s your freedom.”
“But your Poké—”
Puck’s words came just a little too late. Distracted by my conversation with Sapphire, I had no chance of evading the Master Ball, and consequently was captured within the second.