As we come closer and closer to the climax of the story, the Cutlerine gets so excited he starts talking about himself in the third person!
Also, he starts writing way too quickly, and tells himself crossly that he really must stop doing a chapter every day, or he's going to swamp those few certifiably insane people who reads his crazed ramblings in a tsunami of text and stupid jokes.
Chapter Sixty-Nine: One Orb, Two Orb – Damn it, I've Used that Joke Already. Twice.
“I can't believe it,” said Courtney, as she ran with Zero through the halls of the Magma headquarters. “We're doing it! We're actually doing it!”
“Wait,” said Zero, tearing off his mask for ease of breathing, “we have to get out of here first!”
The two of them burst out onto the Jagged Pass, past the guards who were just heading in to respond to Maxie's call, and collapsed breathlessly onto the back of Zero's flying transport.
“Get us out of here!” cried Zero, and the Pokémon began to rise obediently into the air, moving straight upwards in a way that was impossible for any normal creature.
Three seconds later, they felt it take.
It was a sound like a fire bursting into life, a fierce, muffled whumph from deep under the ground; the whole mountain shook slightly, and flocks of Swablu burst, cheeping in alarm, from the pine forests on its sides. A thin plume of smoke shot out from the top of the volcano and—
—silence fell over the Madeira Mountains. The only testament to what had just happened in the mountain's bowels was the smoke dissipating on the wind above the crater.
“Now we can say we did it,” said Zero, after a long pause. He glanced at Courtney, a half-smile of relief and disbelief tugging at his lips; her expression mirrored his own, and within moments they were weak with hysterical laughter: the plan had come off! They had just entered into the ranks of history's greats – and the best part was that no one knew yet. No one so much as suspected...
“Kiss me,” demanded Courtney, suddenly recovering, and proceeded to take the initiative without waiting for an answer. Zero, mildly surprised for once, responded in kind, and as the sun rose over the Monday that would start the end of everything, their bodies closed together in a passionate, savage kiss.
“You can do anything,” Scott said eagerly, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Pick any facility in the entire Frontier – you can be the Brain of whatever you want.”
The boy with jade eyes – or, as we now know him to be, Sebastian Emerald – stood still and did not reply.
“Come on,” Scott continued. “I mean, aren't you happy? You beat all the best Trainers in the world to be here! You're phenomenal!”
“I'm the best Trainer the world has ever produced,” Sebastian replied, without a trace of arrogance. “I knew I would win.” He sighed. “I only came here because I was looking to scratch an itch, to find someone who wouldn't lose right away. But there was no one who could take down more than one of my Pokémon.”
“All the more reason to stay as a Frontier Brain,” Scott went on, sensing his star battler was slipping out of his grasp. “The best will come here, and—”
“I am the best,” Sebastian retorted. “And I already know that no one as good as me will come here.” He sighed. “I apologise. That was rude. But I'll have to decline your offer, Scott.” He held out a hand for the older man to shake. “No hard feelings?”
“Sure I can't persuade you?” he asked pleadingly. “You'd be the best opening publicity this place could have...”
“I don't work for you,” Sebastian replied. “Shake my hand and let's have done with this.”
They did, and Sebastian turned to leave the office. Something, however, made him pause – and in his breast, Scott's heart skipped a beat. Was he reconsidering?
“By the way, Scott,” Sebastian said, “can I ask you a favour?”
“Sure,” replied Scott eagerly. “Anything. What can I do for you?”
“Can I borrow your helicopter?”
“Would you just sign for this and be done with it?”
Steven held out the clipboard beseechingly; looking into his eyes, the heart of the Space Centre clerk melted, and he signed without a second thought.
“I cannot thank you enough,” said Steven with feeling.
“Why did they send you with the fuel, anyway?” asked the clerk.
“My father believed that Team Magma might break into your institute, steal the fuel and use it to make the volcano erupt,” he said.
The clerk shook his head sadly.
“He's not any better, then?”
“Lamentably, no,” replied Steven. “But his lunacy does at least keep him entertained. Thank you, and goodbye.”
He walked out, and tossed the clipboard into the first rubbish bin he saw.
“Sumvahoo!” I cried and leaped upright, looking around wildly; however, I perceived nothing other than Sapphire, Blake and Fabien.
Blake and Fabien?
“What are you two doing here?” I asked, hands starting to glow with sparks.
Fabien raised his hands.
“We're on your side right now,” he told me, as soothingly as he could. “Really, we are. You don't want the Aquas to get the Orb, we don't want them to get the Orb.”
“I think they mean it,” Sapphire put in. “Come on, Kester, we don't have much time.”
Since I, however misanthropic Sapphire might be, trusted her, I took her word for it and asked what the plan was; while she told me, I had another look around, and noticed that we were in the third chamber, where the Orb lay in the middle of the pool.
“We don't really have a plan,” said Sapphire, “but that” – here she pointed at a blobby blue thing that floated in midair next to Fabien – “said that there's a way to Dive out through the Orb's pool.”
“What are you waiting for?” I cried, choosing for the moment to ignore the question of what precisely the blue thing might be.. “Why haven't we taken the Orb and fled?”
“Because the water's dangerous,” Sapphire said urgently. “Kester, if you could electrify it and get rid of the Pokémon in there—”
There were shouts from the doorway; I whirled around, but no one came through.
“What's happening back out there?” I hissed.
“That Froslass,” Sapphire replied grimly. “They thought they got her, but the more she takes over Felicity, the quicker she gets at healing... Fabien had a look out there. She's killing anyone who gets too close to this room.”
“What?” This was strange; was Skuld actually helping us? “Why would she do that?”
It's the Blue Orb. Its essence is water, and so is Skuld's; right now, Skuld is the Orb's defence system. You see, the beauty of Rayquaza's spell is that not only did Groudon and Kyogre fall asleep, they never want to wake up—
“OK, OK, I didn't ask for your life story.” I looked up at the others. “Puck says the Orb's controlling Skuld to defend itself right now.”
“Hang on,” said Fabien, holding up a hand. “Does that mean that if we remove the Orb...?”
Yep, said Puck cheerfully. Skuld will come after us.
“Yes,” I told Fabien. “If we take the Orb, we become her targets. But that's good,” I said, attempting to look on the bright side. “That'll bring Felicity back to us.”
“No,” said the Magma. “No, I don't think we can do that.”
“But we don' ge' the Orb if we do nothin',” Blake argued.
Yeah, I've been wondering about him. What the hell is someone with an accent like that doing outside London?
“We'll have to risk it,” Sapphire decided. “Kester, electrify the water.”
I went over to the pool apprehensively.
“What's in here that's so dangerous?” I asked, and then saw a tall, triangular fin break the surface.
“Sharpedo,” replied Sapphire quietly. “Remember that Carvanha? These are the same thing, only bigger, angrier and faster. But like the Carvanha, they won't take even one good hit – so shock the water already.”
“All right, all right.”
I put both hands in the water, which was, naturally enough, freezing cold; I did my best not to recoil out of it, and let two Charge Beams go at once. I thought that maybe I’d see sparks dancing over the surface of the pool, but evidently not; all that happened was that the big fin toppled over and some bubbles floated up to the surface, presumably from deeper Sharpedo.
“Is that it?” I asked, straightening up. “I thought it would be more impressive.”
“Can you see the sparks on an electric fence?” asked Sapphire.
“Well – actually, I've never seen one—”
“Never mind. Tell us when the charge has dissipated.”
I poked the water experimentally, and felt no tingling at all.
“Let's go, then.”
Percival appeared in the water and didn't explode in a burst of sparks and smoke, so it seemed safe enough; Sapphire and I got onto his back, while Blake and Fabien stared.
“Is that... diamond?” asked Fabien.
“No,” replied Sapphire, “that would be too expensive. It's rhinestone.”
I could almost see the fuses blowing in the depths of Fabien's mind, but he got on regardless.
“What's rhinestone?” I heard Blake ask him.
“Synthetic diamonds,” Fabien said, sounding vaguely shell-shocked. “Synthetic diamond...”
“Yes,” said Sapphire, as if that were something you saw everyday. “What of it?”
Percival began to swim towards the Orb's little island; we fell silent, and all I could hear was the distant shrieks and gunshots from the room behind us, overlaid gently with Fabien's disbelieving mutterings:
“Artificial! Rhinestone, of all things...”
Quite surreal this, isn't it? Puck remarked. Calm in here, backed up by extreme violence out there, and over the top of it all, a man dressed like a 1950s detective muttering about manufactured gemstones.
It was further than it looked, and it took us a full three minutes to reach the Orb; as soon as we were near enough, Sapphire leaned out and picked it up – and then all hell broke loose.
Immediately, Skuld flew back through the door, screaming at us; I almost fell off Percival with the force of her presence. Sapphire thrust the Orb into my arms and, while I tried desperately to hold onto both consciousness and the big blue ball, Percival submerged.
Skuld hit the water a few seconds after we'd Dived, and it seemed whatever process she moved by worked just as well under the surface as above it. She powered straight down, burst through the side of our air bubble and rushed towards me; something foul and acidic rose in my throat as her yellow eyes met mine, and before I knew it I was once again reminded of that terrible business from last year, because I was falling unconscious.
In the seconds after Kester passed out, a great number of things happened very quickly. To avoid any confusion that might arise from such a mess of simultaneous actions and events, they will here be listed in a calm, clinical manner.
Number One: Kester Ruby fell off Percival's back.
Number Two: He left the air bubble and his body, in a show of rather base selfishness, immediately began the process of drowning.
Number Three: Sapphire Birch released Toro, on Percival's back, within the air bubble.
Number Four: Concurrently with Toro's release, Fabien and Blake glanced at each other, and at Morgana, and decided that the best place to be right now was elsewhere.
Number Five: Team Aqua burst into the room.
Number Six: Toro, displaying a singular sense of balance, managed to strike Skuld with an Ember.
Number Seven: In response to this slightly annoying attack and to recover the Orb, Skuld dived after Kester, at precisely the same moment that—
Number Eight: Fabien and Blake jumped off Percival and into the ocean.
Number Nine: Team Aqua, determining in that astute manner of theirs that the Orb was not on the island, began searching the premises for it.
And since this is where things become marginally less confused, here is where we shall return to conventional narrative.
Sapphire took less than a second to decide what to do next. Without the slightest thought for Toro, she leaped off Percival's back and plunged straight through Skuld.
The water was as cold as ice, and all the breath was knocked from her as soon as she hit it; a moment later, she was even colder as she passed into Skuld's body. All her muscles locked, and Sapphire, paralysed and drifting downwards, had quite a long time to get very, very pissed-off with herself for being so impulsive.
She hadn't so much as mildly inconvenienced Skuld; in fact, it was debatable whether or not the Froslass had even noticed her. Above her head, Sapphire could see the Froslass wrapping strong, white arms around Kester and heading straight for the surface; some detached corner of her mind that hadn't joined in with the rest in abusing its mistress wondered if that was Felicity's work.
Gradually, the sounds and lights receded into the distance; even the cold seemed to fade a little. Sapphire knew very well that she was probably on the verge of hypothermia right now, but what could she do? She couldn't move, not even an inch, and she only had about thirty seconds of breath left anyway.
Her anger was fading away; it was over now. Just relax, she told herself calmly. There's no other way out...
Sapphire almost sighed, but she wasn't quite ready to let out the last little bit of air yet. Instead, she drifted downwards, and wondered when she'd start to float to the surface again. Surely her downward momentum must have been used up by now? She decided that it must be the weight of her bag that was bringing her down.
Then Sapphire saw what was at the bottom of the pool.
A sudden burst of explosive anger rushed through Sapphire's body, and now she was thinking clearly; she didn't want to drown, she didn't want to die, and she most certainly did not want sand all over her! A mighty convulsion, born of sand-induced fury, wracked her body, freeing her trapped limbs – and Sapphire struck out for the surface.
Inch by inch, she rose through the freezing water, powered by hatred and the remnants of a good lungful of breath; six inches higher, a foot, three feet, four yards. She could see Percival's great brown belly above her now, and sounds of the violently percussive sort.
Then she ran out of air, and froze.
So startled was she that she began to sink again for a moment. This couldn't happen. She could feel her lungs burning, filling up with something hot and prickly that chased the last dregs of her breath away.
Oh my God, thought Sapphire. I’m actually going to drown.
And then that violent desire for life took over her again, and she began to swim once more; her muscles screamed at her, told her that there was nothing to power them – but right now, Sapphire didn't care if it wasn't possible, she just – wanted – air—
Her head broke the surface, and she gulped in a great breath; it was stale, from being in the Dive-bubble, but it was without a doubt the sweetest she'd ever taken. Gasping, coughing and even, on occasion, spluttering, Sapphire hauled herself out of the water and back onto Percival.
“Oh my God,” she gasped, trying feebly to sit up. “Oh my God...”
Next to her, Toro cheeped in alarm; she might not recognise incipient hypothermia when she saw it, but she could see her mistress needed warming up and drying, and so breathed a gentle flame over her. Blessed heat began to burn its way back into Sapphire's bones, and she managed to sit up, almost setting her hair on fire in the process. She sat there, gasping and panting, for a moment, and then worked up the breath to say:
She patted the Combusken on the head, and received an affectionate squawk and another slow flame in return. Sapphire, now mostly dry (except her bag; she didn't even want to think about the state of everything inside it) recalled her, and ordered Percival to the surface.
As they rose, Sapphire's mind began to race again. She was out of danger for the moment, but what had happened to Kester while she was down below? How long had she spent drowning? What exactly was she planning on doing?
Oh. That was a tricky one, she thought, but it was too late to come up with a plan; the top of her Dive-bubble had just broken the surface. Thankfully, it seemed that no one was too concerned with her, since Team Aqua were facing in the opposite direction to her, looking at Archie, who was making some kind of speech.
“...Orb,” he was saying. “Our Benefactor has been contacted, and he is on his way to witness our crowning glory.”
A cheer went up from the massed grunts; issuing from two thousand mouths, it was deafening enough – but it also rebounded from the ceiling and walls, multiplying itself a hundredfold and making Sapphire wince.
“He will be here at any moment,” Archie continued. “Apparently he was already on his way.”
Sapphire nodded cynically; that was like Zero – always knowing what was going to happen far in advance. She bit her lip. It seemed like things were going very much against her right now. And where was Kester?
“Incorrect, Mister Taniebre,” came a dark, quiet voice, like oil on ice. “I am, in fact, already here.”
The Aquas murmured amongst themselves; Sapphire couldn't see Zero from here, but she was willing to bet that he'd appeared from nowhere, like a ghost.
“I hope you don't mind,” continued Zero, “but I brought a friend.”
“No,” said Archie. He sounded shaken. “Wait. Is that—?”
“Ah yes,” Zero interrupted. “This is the delightful Courtney, who has been working for me for quite some time now.”
Courtney! Sapphire almost cried out in surprise; the Magma Administrator had been an accomplice of Zero? Was that how he'd made everything run to his plan?
“Well, I...” Archie broke off and laughed. “That's how you always knew what the reds would do!”
“Guilty,” Zero replied, sounding vaguely amused. “Now, go ahead as we discussed, my good man; I've been looking forwards to this for some time.”
“Right,” Archie said. “Loyal underlings, soldiers, friends – we are on the brink of a new age. Today, we resurrect Kyogre from his age-old sleep. Today, we bring him back, here at the very heart of the sea we adore. Today, we fulfil the twin imperatives of our charter. One, we will complete our original goal of expanding the sea!”
There was smattering of polite applause; it seemed that your average Aqua grunt wasn't actually that interested in the ideology that had led to the Team's formation.
“Two, we will become an unstoppable superpower, capable of destroying the Magmas and forcing the world to bend to our will!”
The applause was much more heartfelt this time; several people raised their hands right up above their heads, and more than one person whooped and whistled.
“Now,” said Archie, calming his Team with a word, “as you know, the Blue Orb contains Kyogre's soul. We cannot place him back into his original body; that has long rotted. Thankfully, we have one here that has two lives wound into it; one that is capable of withstanding Kyogre's tremendous power – and one that, conveniently, I have already captured and contained in this Poké Ball.”
The bottom dropped out of Sapphire's stomach; she felt very sick and not a little frightened.
“Please welcome the latest addition to our Team,” Archie went on, “someone who I’m sure you've all met before: Mister Kester Ruby!”
The last thing I remembered before passing out was Skuld's eyes; the first thing I saw when I woke up again was a massive crowd of Aquas, stretching out across the cavern. I coughed, and an alarming amount of water forced its way out of my mouth; after that, I felt slightly better, and was able to register the fact that I was standing on some sort of makeshift podium, with Archie and the Blue Orb on my right, Barry behind me holding my arms, and Zero and Courtney on my left.
Courtney? That's unexpected. I mean, I didn't have Zero down as the kind of guy who was after forming a relationship.
I blinked, dazed; Archie was saying something and the Aquas were cheering, but I didn't quite get it.
Kester, you were captured while you were out – with a regular Poké Ball, too. Quite disgraceful. But the point is, they're probably going to implant Kyogre's soul into you.
That woke me up.
“What!” I cried. Or at least, I tried; it actually came out as a low mumble.
Look, I told you that Groudon and Kyogre's bodies are gone, right? So they need new ones that they can grow back into their old ones. Your body is one of very few that's suitable: you've got me inside you, which makes your body a lot stronger than a human one – that's why you weren't outright killed when Matt's Swampert attacked you. I also serve as a massive source of energy. If Kyogre wanted to grow back to his full size once he was in you, he'd get halfway there in one go if he absorbed me. Puck sighed. How barbaric is this? I mean, I almost expect some guy to come up to us, yell 'Kali Ma!' and rip your heart out.
I couldn't think. I had barely regained consciousness (though I was getting better at that; I’d been getting a lot of practice) and now this? All I could do was look around wildly, and notice that Zero was leaning towards me ever so slightly, and hear the soft-whispered word that passed between him and I.
“Checkmate,” he said quietly, and I imagined a thin, satisfied smile on his face.
You have to think, Puck said, was this his plan all along? Did he really mean what he said back in Lilycove, or was that all a lie? Or is he lying now, and does he have some further diabolical scheme we don't know about yet?
“Way to blow the subtext,” I muttered, regaining some of my composure.
Just shut up and listen. Because I’m cunning and mighty on a scale not heard of since Odysseus, I have a plan to get us out of here – but for now, we need to listen to Archie and get more information.
“...and now to awaken the Orb!” finished Archie, raising the artefact aloft; whatever his speech was, it had whipped the Aquas into a real frenzy, and they were baying and howling like mad dogs.
Oh, for Pete's sake, Puck said crossly. You talked all through the exposition. I just hope Sapphire was listening.
What's your escape plan? I demanded urgently.
Still, er, fine-tuning it. Hang on a moment...
Archie, with some small assistance from Zero, had done something to the Orb; it began to glow now with an unearthly ultramarine light that pulsed outwards in steady waves. As if from a great distance, I heard the bellowing cry of some great sea creature, and the splash of a primaeval tide. Below me, the Aquas looked like a collection of strange deep-sea monsters, lit by the Orb's flickering rays, and suddenly I noticed Percival, the light glittering spectacularly off his body in the distant pool, and Sapphire atop him. She looked about as scared as I felt; our eyes met and something that might have been companionship, or might have just been plain terror, passed between us.
Then the waves of light halted, focused themselves, and formed a steady stream that shot straight towards my chest.
Got it, Puck said. Kick Barry in the balls.
Immediately, I went to Rotom-speed; my leg curled up behind me and connected with soft flesh. Barry yelped at a surprisingly high pitch and doubled up – and I threw myself off the stage, just as Kyogre's soul passed through the spot where my heart had been a moment ago.
I hit the ground, rolled and leaped up again, eyes wild. I didn’t care who I hurt just then, only that I escaped; shouts and cries went up, but no one could stop me: I moved too fast, Charge Beams hitting those Aquas closest to me. I glanced back, and saw that the ray had rebounded from the wall and turned back into waves, spreading out over the whole cavern. I heard screams and shouts, and people running – but I didn't care, I was running as fast as I could towards Sapphire and the glittering Relicanth she sat on.
Don't stop me now! sang Puck as I broke free of the crowd. Man, Queen were great, weren't they? I met someone who looked a lot like Freddie Mercury once. He wasn't, but he signed my album anyway. I got it at home – Steve Briggs, his name was.
I wasn't listening; I wanted no more than to get away from whatever was happening behind me. I could hear ripping flesh, screams, footsteps; I didn't even care what it was, just that Percival was right in front of me, and he would let me put a large distance between me and whatever horrors lurked back at the podium.
Sapphire held out a hand; I grabbed it and leaped for Percival's back. I slammed into it hard, chest-first, and had the wind knocked out of me, but it didn't matter, we were sinking away, the world disappearing into the dark, blue-black waters of the sea, and all the terrible noises fading away to nothingness.