Champion Game [M]
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July 8th, 2011 (1:19 AM).
Waiting for the rain
Doctor Drakken's lair
Pretty long chapter today, though it doesn't exactly look it thanks to the large number of blocky paragraphs towards the end rather than my usual, dialogue-heavy prose. This is also the start of Arc 2 of Champion Game, where we move out of the 'introductory' stages of the fic and into the real meat of things. I wanted to put this out today as it's essentially the start of the second half of the year. We've passed the two-month milestone recently as well, so although it's not much, I'm happy to have stuck it out this long. Even though
ran for far longer, it had less chapters, a less regular update schedule and a lower wordcount. I've tried chaptered fics unsuccessfully several times, but each attempt goes longer than the last by a significant margin, and I'm really hoping that
is the one where I reach the tipping point and finish it. I do visualise this going on for a couple of years, though. I can't promise weekly updates until I get to university, but
how goddamn cool would that be?
I've let myself ramble. I'll step back now, say thank you again for reading, and allow you to get into the meat of this fic (finally).
Arc 2 – Episode the First
Mein Haus Ist . . .
First move goes to Vila,” Roxanne said. “Battle begin!”
For a few seconds, Vila remained silent. Just as Ren was about to say something, however, she took a deep breath and spoke one word. “Dig.”
With a sudden flurry of dirt and powerful digging paws, Sandshrew disappeared through the grass and into the earth below, leaving only a small mound of soil to show it had ever been there.
Rens' eyes flickered around the battlefield as he tried to work out what to do. Manectric was completely vulnerable when facing a Dig-using Pokemon like Sandshrew, but then again, he had faced similar opponents with Manectric before. “Run!” he commanded.
Manectric leapt into action immediately, knowing through long experience what was required. Accelerating sharply, it soon became nothing more than a blue and yellow blur, circling rapidly around the arena.
Ren waited patiently.
At that speed, Manectric shouldn't be vulnerable to Sandshrew's attack. But all it would take would be one glancing blow . . .
Manectric continued to circle for a full ten seconds before anything happened. Suddenly, the ground erupted and Sandshrew shot upwards, narrowly missing Manectric, who had been forced to bank sharply to avoid the attack.
Take advantage of the opening
, Ren said to himself as he saw Sandshrew flailing in midair, its missed attack having taken it far further from the ground than it had expected. “Ice Fang!” he said sharply.
Manectric turned on a dime and leapt to intercept the still-helpless Sandshrew. Spontaneous clouds of frost issuing from between its fangs, it clamped its teeth down on the small Pokemon and shook it furiously. “Easy!” Ren cautioned. He didn't want the other Pokemon to get too seriously hurt.
With a reproachful glance at its master, Manectric tossed the limp form of the Ground-type Pokemon aside. It tumbled across the grass and slid to a halt. It didn't get up.
Sandshrew is . . . unable to battle,” Roxanne said, sounding slightly more subdued than she had earlier. “Ren wins . . .” She seemed a little taken aback by the swift, ferocious battle.
Return, Manectric,” Ren said quietly, holding out its Poke Ball. With a final, slightly put-out growl, the Electric Pokemon dissolved into red light. “I hope that was educational?” Ren said mildly, glancing down the field at Vila.
His eyes widened as he saw the venomous glare with which the normally emotionless woman had fixed him. Fists clenched at her sides, Vila's face displayed such pure, unadulterated hatred that Ren almost took a step back.
You . . .” she hissed, her voice wavering. “You bastard . . .”
Ren blinked, trying to work out where her rage was coming from. Sure, she had lost, but she couldn't seriously have been expecting to win, could she? “I'm . . . sorry?” he ventured, at a total loss for words.
Do not give me 'sorry', you sad excuse for a man!” she spat as she stalked across the battlefield towards him, stepping over her unconscious Pokemon as if it wasn't even there. Ignoring the protesting Roxanne and the cowering Marcus, she jabbed Ren hard in the chest with her finger. “Do you hear me? I will defeat you!”
With that, she marched out of the courtyard, not looking back once.
Did I . . . do something wrong?” Ren asked blankly, his head spinning.
Well, ah . . .” Roxanne started, but tailed off uncomfortably, staring worriedly at the door through which Vila had just departed. “Class dismissed!” she snapped suddenly.
The class, by now consisting only of Marcus Price, headed uncertainly towards the door in Roxanne's wake. The Gym Leader slipped quickly through the door and disappeared from sight, leaving Ren and Natasha alone in the suddenly silent courtyard.
That was . . . unusual . . .” Ren said quietly, the wind suddenly taken out of his sails. He had been all fired up just a minute earlier, yet after Vila's unexpected outburst, he found he had suddenly lost his will to battle.
You're telling me!” Natasha snorted. “That woman's bad news, Ren.”
Ren didn't say anything. Instead, he crossed to the nearest bench and sat down, resting his head in his hands and massaging his temples with his thumbs. He had won, followed the rules of the battle exactly as they had been set out . . . so why had Vila exploded like that?
It doesn't feel like I won that battle
, he realised.
Or at the very least . . . that the battle isn't over.
'I will defeat you',” he murmured. Somehow, the words sent a shiver down his spine. Taking a deep breath to clear his mind, he stood up and stretched. With the issue of the world of dreams still weighing heavily on the back of his mind, he could not afford any extra distractions.
Let's go home, 'Tash,” he said with a sigh. “I've had just about enough excitement for one trip.”
There was no sign of Roxanne, Vila or Marcus outside the Academy, but the car he had arrived in was still there. After being dropped off at the railway station, Ren left a message with the driver for Roxanne to apologise both for his sudden departure and for what had happened at the Academy.
Ren realised soon after entering the station that they were far too early for the midday express, so he found a small newsstand – at Natasha's request – and bought two books. Natasha happily withdrew into hers for a couple of hours, but Ren found himself unable to concentrate; letters kept floating off the page and rearranging themselves in front of his eyes, spelling out 'Vila' and 'Elly' and 'yekhtira', among other things. Perhaps the most disturbing of these was 'doom'. Whenever that particular jumble of letters appeared, Ren rubbed his eyes furiously and tried to banish the image, but it kept returning, unbidden, to dance tauntingly in front of him with what seemed to be a kind of malicious glee.
In the end, Ren stashed the book away in his backpack and kept himself occupied by counting columns on the far wall of the station. Every couple of minutes or so, a train would pass in front of him, causing him to lose count and start again. The cycle continued for almost an hour and a half before Ren realised how ridiculous he was being.
Come on, Natasha,” he said tiredly. “The express should be here any minute.” With a sigh, he levered himself off the bench and headed for the platform. Anything, he decided, to distract himself from the multitude of complicated things running around his tired mind.
Sure enough, the express arrived at midday on the dot. After making sure that they both had tickets this time around, Ren ushered Natasha onto the train, feeling his inexplicable tiredness gradually intensifying. By the time he found his way to a seat, he was having trouble keeping his eyes open.
Why . . .
With a final disgusted puff of air at his own apparent feebleness, Ren let his head rest on the uncomfortable back of the seat.
I'll wake you up when we get there,” he vaguely heard Natasha saying before he drifted out of consciousness.
Afro Glameow looks kind of pissed. Ren raises his hands apologetically, but the furious feline does not seem to be at all mollified. Rather, it stalks towards him once again, tiny yet threatening fangs bared in a frustrated grimace. It's as if it knows that Ren's going to get away again.
But he's not sure that he is. He looks around hopefully for any sign of a portal to the second ring, but there's no sign of anyone except him and the prowling Glameow, its ridiculous hairdo wobbling slightly as it tilts its head to regard him suspiciously.
It's only now that Ren realises they're not in the candy maze anymore. Instead, they appear to be standing between two massive concrete columns. It's dark. Ren looks up, suddenly noticing a constant rumbling noise that may or may not have been there the whole time. The sky isn't visible – not directly above him, at least. Above him, all that's there is more concrete . . . or something. It's a bit hard to see. He's standing in a veritable forest of concrete columns, he realises, all reaching up towards the dark mass blotting out the sky. Some light leaks in from far to his left, and more from far to his right, but it's not enough to clearly see where he is. And the rumbling goes on.
Taking the initiative, Ren turns and runs. It's a little cold. Afro Glameow is following, but at no great speed. Ren senses it could easily catch him if it wanted to. He ducks past another concrete pillar and just about trips over a massive roll of wire. Reacting at the last moment, he jumps over it, but catches his shin on a protruding spike of some sort. There's blood, but not much. No pain either, so he keeps running and decides to worry about it later. Afro Glameow is close, he can tell – even without looking back, it's apparent he is being toyed with.
His only chance is the light, he decides. If there's no rescue forthcoming from Elly or the others, he'd rather be able to see properly when Afro Glameow catches up to him. What could be taking them so long?
His leg still doesn't hurt, but it feels like lead. It's slowing down his running. His chest feels tight. He glances down and just about trips over in shock. His leg is soaked with blood, and he's leaving a trail of red on the ground. Running is useless, he decides. There's nobody coming for him. Well, nobody save Afro Glameow, that is.
A gust of cold wind moans through the area as he turns to sit on the ground, his injured yet painless leg dragging awkwardly. A scrap of yellowed newspaper skitters across the ground in front of him, and he automatically reaches for it.
'CITY CEO RUNS FOR MAYOR' says the headline. The article itself is barely legible. Ren squints at it curiously.
Ren frowns, his befuddled, sleepy mind having trouble reading the message in front of him. Spread throughout the text are a handful of words in capitals.
'Ren' . . .” he reads aloud. “'Find the door . . . automatic message. Do not' . . . do not what?” he wonders aloud, but before he can scour the article again, Afro Glameow appears from behind a pillar, slowing as it sights its unmoving target. It pads lightly across the concrete towards Ren, weaving slightly as it comes. It looks a little tipsy.
Door . . . what door?” Ren wonders aloud. Oh, of course. The door to the second ring – if you could even call it a door. But how is he supposed to find that? Last time, Elly reached out and pulled him through it, but judging by the 'automatic message' part of the dispatch, there will be no help forthcoming this time.
Afro Glameow hisses in annoyance as Ren pulls himself to his feet again. Just as soon as he regains his footing, however, his injured leg buckles beneath him, sending him tumbling back down to the ground again. Yet in that split second, Ren has seen his way out – or at least, what he hopes is his way out. A small patch of blackness, ever so slightly darker than the shadowy expanse of concrete. It's only about ten metres away, but by now Ren doesn't trust his leg to get him there.
All he can do is crawl, so it's what he tries. Afro Glameow, strangely enough, doesn't move to attack him. It simply slinks along beside him like a bad smell that just won't go away. Perhaps, he reasons, it doesn't think he can go anywhere.
He's moving even more slowly now. His leg is so much dead weight. One leg of his jeans is sodden with blood, and he can hear the horrible, wet dragging sound it makes as he tugs it onwards through force of will. Although he still can't feel any pain, his head is beginning to spin. Probably with loss of blood, he supposes. Not really a good thing.
As he draws closer, Afro Glameow following him tauntingly, it becomes apparent that the patch of darkness is in fact a square hole of the kind he had passed through the last time. It's still too far away, though. Ren swears loudly and pushes himself up onto his knees, almost blacking out with the sudden rush of blood from his head. Unable to move, he sways on the spot for a few seconds before practically throwing himself towards the hole.
He hits the concrete hard, and this time it does hurt. Pain lances through his face and upper body where it has become scratched and grazed. He lands awkwardly just a foot or so from the hole. All he has to do is reach out to it . . .
Too late, Afro Glameow realises that its prey is about to escape, and leaps forward with a yowl. Ren's fingertip brushes the dark square, and with a
, Afro Glameow and everything else vanish, all colour and light drawn out of the world and spiralling into a single point above his head that vanishes instantly.
The first thing Ren realised was that he was no longer bleeding. He was sore, for sure, but it soon became apparent that that was only because he was lying spread-eagled on the floor of the Devon Corporation's reception area. It only took him a few seconds to stand up and dust himself off, and a couple more to ensure that he had not sustained any grievous bodily harm.
Well, I guess I made it,” he said aloud, his voice echoing oddly in the open, empty space. The last time he had come through here, it had been awash with life and noise, but now it was as silent as a tomb. Ren shuddered involuntarily, remembering his narrow escape from Afro Glameow.
Why did nobody come for me?
he wondered, not for the first time, as he scanned the room. He was obviously in the second ring now – the environment had been created from his recent memories, and there was no sign of life other than himself. The council had promised that somebody would come to meet him the next time he crossed over, but there wasn't a spirit to be seen.
Slightly nervous, Ren wondered what he was supposed to do next. The square hole that he had just passed through was still there, floating innocently about a metre off the ground, but he wasn't sure he could go back just yet. If there were any
hanging around – and it was quite possible there were, he imagined – they would follow him back through the first ring into his own world, and Arceus only knew what they'd get up to there.
Swallowing forcefully, he decided to at least find some means of defending himself in case he was attacked. Casting his eye around the reception area, nothing particularly jumped out at him, so he pushed through the immobile spinning door into Rustboro City.
Which promptly disappeared. Ren blinked, realising that the revolving door had in fact taken him to the battlefield of the Rustboro Gym. He was standing in Roxanne's place at the far end of the field, facing the door he had walked through just hours ago . . . or so it seemed. He had no sooner started to wonder what was going on, however, than the doors banged open and two dark shapes slipped out.
Ren swore as he recognised them. While smaller than the three that had confronted him and Elly the previous night, the
were still bigger than he was. They were also less humanoid-looking than those he had seen, with hunched backs and elongated heads that probed towards him curiously, seeming to sniff the rapidly cooling air. He cast around for a weapon, but there was nothing in the arena that he could possibly use. With no time to do anything else, he made a dash for a door he had glimpsed on the wall to his left. His hand grasped the handle and the Gym disappeared. Struggling against a sudden, overbearing pressure, Ren forced the door open and fell through, into . . . what? A storage cupboard? A passageway?
His bedroom. That was odd. Ren blinked. The air was warm again, and a cloud of dust motes, stirred up by his sudden entry, swirled in the air. Somewhere, a Wingull squawked irately.
Am I . . . safe?
Ren wondered, shutting his bedroom door behind him and looking around. There was no sign of pursuit. Perhaps they had been lost with the Gym. Ren pressed his ear to the door and listened, but there was no sound. Suddenly realising how heavily he was breathing, he sat down on the bed with a
, startling further dust motes into flight. They drifted in and out of the rays of sunlight slashing through the window, muted, dancing explosions of golden light.
Letting his breathing slow, Ren slumped back onto his bed, legs dangling across the floor.
. Hadn't Elly said there would be someone here to meet him? He had managed to find his way from the first ring into the second safely enough, but he didn't suppose he would have the same luck getting into the third ring. And simply returning to the first ring wasn't an option any more now that he knew there were
on the prowl. Of course, to do that, he'd have to know where the portal back to the first ring was. His only option, as much as he disliked to admit it, was to wait around until one of the spirits appeared. Fighting was a possibility, but not an attractive one. Ren didn't fancy his chances, especially unarmed.
Praying to every obscure deity he had ever heard of that he would be safe where he was for the time being, Ren crossed to the window. Outside, the ocean glistened serenely, stretching all the way across to the barely visible southwestern peninsula of the Hoenn region, which was nothing more than a greenish smudge on the horizon. Somewhere over there was Rustboro, where Steven was probably mired in paperwork associated with his newfound responsibility; where Roxanne might be teaching a class. That was where it had all started, and now he was back at home as if nothing had happened. He cracked open the window absently, feeling a cool breath of salty air brush his face like a feather.
A Wingull swooped past the window, something small and wriggling held in its beak. That in itself was not especially abnormal, but something struck Ren as strange nonetheless. He watched with some interest as the Wingull corkscrewed upwards, banking and twitching its wings to ride an updraft. It was not until it was out of sight completely that Ren realised it had been flying upside down.
The sea was a light shade of lilac. Why had he not noticed that before? It hadn't changed while he was looking at it, but he could have sworn that just seconds before it had been its usual greenish blue. Ren blinked, half-expecting to see the sea return to its normal colour.
Instead, it was a deep, impenetrable black, and rising up to meet him. Ren stepped back involuntarily as the tide reared up, up, far higher than it should have been able to reach. It climbed level with his window and kept going, a massive, solid wall of blackness. It intercepted the rays of the morning sun, and the room was plunged into shadow. Ren shivered uncontrollably as the temperature dropped, despite the sweat breaking out on his forehead.
Then the wave dropped. Watching the enormous mass sink towards his house at frightening speed, Ren was paralysed. He wanted to move, to run, but some kind of morbid fascination kept him rooted to the spot, watching the blackness rush straight for his bedroom window. As it neared, it seemed to condense and shrink, becoming more and more solid and opaque – a transformation difficult to pin down with the eye, but somehow clear enough to be noticed regardless.
The sound of the window shattering was ridiculously loud after the heat-draining silence of the last few seconds, spurring Ren into action. Desperately, he threw himself backwards as the deep clot of darkness flowed into the room in amidst a shower of glass shards. He felt small spikes of pain erupt all over his body as glass flew everywhere, but tried to concentrate on getting away.
By now a gelatinous blob about the size of a large beanbag, the mass of blackness fell to the floor and split into two smaller pieces. As Ren backed towards the door, trying not to step on any more glass, each of the two seemed to shift and elongate, rising over Ren's head and solidifying into vaguely humanoid shapes – the two
that had appeared in Roxanne's Gym. Their appearance spurred Ren into action, and he made a leap for the door, expecting it to take him somewhere else – hopefully, somewhere that he would be safe for a little longer.
There was no such luck. As soon as Ren's hand closed on the doorknob, there was a lurching sensation in the pit of his stomach and the world seemed to dissolve slightly, becoming blurry and indistinct, before abruptly sharpening again. Without the liberty to wonder what the sudden nausea bubbling in his stomach signified, Ren yanked the door open and charged through, hearing the susurrous hissing of the
rapidly approaching behind him.
What Ren saw almost made him stop dead, which would certainly have been fatal. As it was, he collapsed forward out of his door and fell onto the ceiling; the rest of his house, it seemed, had turned entirely upside-down. Tripping over a light fitting that normally lit the way to his bedroom, Ren made his way along the hallway, stumbling along the ceiling rather than the floor.
When he reached the stairs, however, a new problem presented itself: the stair vault in Ren's house had been designed to be big and airy, and as a result, the ceiling did not slope down with the staircase. With the carpeted stairs climbing above him upside-down to the ground floor, Ren glanced behind him. The
had followed him out of his bedroom, and were closing on him quickly.
Hoping he wouldn't regret it, Ren reached up – or was it down? – to the banister that ran alongside the stairs. Somehow, he managed to pull himself up onto the railing, half-crouching with his feet between the bars that now stretched upwards from the handrail to the stair-shaped ceiling. The handrail, when right side up, didn't quite come up to Ren's chest. As a result, he found he couldn't straighten up fully on his makeshift, sideways ladder.
Awkwardly, Ren loosed his right foot from its perch and swung it further up, hooking it into the banister and pulling himself upwards. The distance he had gained seemed minimal, and the
almost caught him. Ren, galvanised into action, started to climb in earnest as a shadowy, claw-like appendage slashed through the banister millimetres from his feet, shearing through the ancient polished oak as if it were paper.
Once out of the beasts' reach, Ren secured himself a foothold and risked a glance back down. The two nightmares – was it easier just to call them that? – were glaring at him without eyes, pacing back and forward on the ceiling. They seemed flummoxed as to how to reach him, and he took some small comfort from that. Still, he knew he was in danger as long as he remained near them, so he kept climbing, making sure not to slip.
The top – or rather, the bottom; Ren was beginning to get dizzy – of the stairs came fairly quickly, it seemed. Ren carefully hoisted himself off the banister and edged himself around a corner, which placed him safely on the kitchen ceiling, but still within arm's reach of a terrifying drop. He hadn't realised quite how much of a death trap his own house was.
Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, Ren looked around. There, seemingly glued to the floor a metre or so above his head, was the kitchen table where he had briefly spoken with his mother just the previous day. That warm, sluggish Saturday morning suddenly felt like it had been years ago.
Standing up, Ren cautiously took hold of the edges of the heavy wooden table and pulled downwards. It lifted slightly towards him, and his arms protested at the strain, as if he was lifting it up instead of down. Ren swore and dropped it, and it fell back up with a clatter. It seemed that gravity was working normally for everything except him and – thankfully – the nightmares that were, he hoped, still prowling around on the first floor.
Wondering what to do next, Ren stood and crossed to the front door, absently looking through the glass pane set into it, which had remained at roughly his eye level. Outside, the world looked much the same as it usually did, save for the fact that it was upside-down. A little scared of what might happen, Ren stretched a hand up towards the handle, which was well within his reach.
Sometimes you have to make choices that determine the future at the drop of a hat
. Ren swallowed and grasped the handle, and the world disappeared.
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