You can guess all you like, I'm still not revealing Morgana's species yet. It's set to be exciting. Or an anticlimax. I won't even reveal that yet. You're also not affecting the plot, or distracting me from writing the story because I'm writing long replies.
Also, I have a chapter for y'all.
I also have wise advice: when waiting for a post to upload, never cross your arms when your bracelets are covered in spikes. I have just discovered that it hurts. Quite a lot.
Chapter Seventy: The Froslass and the Deep Blue Sea
Darren Goodwin. A man of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, if you caught him in the right mood; regrettably, when he was working he never was in that sort of mood. You would have to visit him at home to find him so jovial.
Right now, he was a lot less than jovial. Right now, he wasn't even agreeable. Right now, he was wondering where the hell Ruby and Birch had got to.
For Darren was sitting on a bench in a park in Mossdeep, sipping rapidly-cooling coffee and feeling like he was missing something. He didn't know what it was – but he had the strange sensation that there was some vital piece of information that he was missing out on.
Ruby and Birch had obviously met up with Team Aqua at some point, he thought – but where they had gone after that was completely unknown. He could only hope that at some point they'd be coming back.
In the meantime, Darren had been doing some thinking, and a little research. He had contacted a hacker he knew in order to look into Dahlia's background, and found a suspicious absence of data; he didn't know if perhaps the CIA had erased it to prevent people like him from finding it, but it was still something to be wary of. Giving up on that approach, he had instead instructed his friend to search for information on Mister Zuckerman – and here, in the CIA service files, there had been one solitary page devoted to him.
And all it had said was this:
My dear Mister Goodwin,
You have no doubt realised by now that something is not quite right with your new partner, or her dislikeable superior. Since you won't be reading this until the day before I begin to put an end to this business, I suppose there's no harm in showing off a little and telling you that neither of them are real, and both are working for me.
I wish a very merry Armageddon to you and your lovely wife.
So now, as he sat on the bench on Monday morning and watched the city come alive around him, Darren Goodwin had a new puzzle to solve, and another name to muse upon.
“Hex,” he said, looking over at his ever-silent Shedinja, “this guy's been here all along, hasn't he? All of this... this Zero guy, Ruby and Birch mentioned him in the restaurant in Lavaridge. He's important somehow...”
The Goodwin sighed, and took a mouthful of coffee.
“You're different,” said someone; Darren started and almost dropped the cup. He looked to the left, and saw a young man dressed entirely in black sitting there, pallid skin looking dead in the morning sun.
“Who are you?” he asked suspiciously. It was not every day that someone managed to sneak up on a Goodwin-rank researcher without them noticing.
The youth's green eyes flashed.
“My name is Sebastian Emerald,” he said. His voice, Darren noted, had an American accent; after his misadventures with Dahlia and Zuckerman, that naturally made him even more suspicious. “And there's something different about you. What is it?”
For a moment, Darren did not know what to say; then, he replied:
“Nothing. Go away, kid.”
“Fine. Don't tell me about that. Let me ask something else instead. Have you seen these two people?”
Sebastian held up a piece of paper with two drawings on it; they'd obviously been drawn from memory, but they were accurate enough that the Goodwin stared in suprise.
They were Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch.
“Ah,” said Sebastian happily. “I see you have. Where were they—”
Darren Goodwin caught the boy by the front of his shirt and stood up, hauling him to his feet.
“Let me go—!”
“What do you know about those two?” demanded Darren. “And why are you seeking them?”
Most people answered Darren when he did this. Some people quivered in fear. A select few fought back.
Sebastian Emerald did none of those things.
He just smiled.
It was so quiet, down here under the sea. The only noise was Percival's fins.
“Are you OK?” asked Sapphire quietly, after she'd judged that enough time had elapsed for me to have recovered.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I'm all right. I think.”
You're definitely all right. You might even say you were the full Bill and Ted – that is to say, excellent.
“What – did you see what happened?” she asked.
I shook my head.
I know what happened. Kyogre's soul lost its host, but now he's awake he can't go back to sleep. He's looking for a body, and since there's nothing around that can take his soul as is, he's going to build one for himself.
I flinched; a very, very unpleasant image had just popped into my head.
“Oh no,” I whispered. “Not—?”
Yep, Puck said cheerily. The old boy's going to disassemble Team Aqua cell by cell and recreate his old body. He's probably going to kill them all.
I wasn't certain what the right response was, so I sighed and then swore.
“What is it?” asked Sapphire.
“Puck told me what was happening,” I replied.
“Oh.” She bit her lip. “At the risk of being really, really tactless... what was happening?”
Tactless? Sapphire? Surely you jest!
“Kyogre was taking Team Aqua apart so he could build his new body out of their flesh,” I told her.
Sapphire stared for a moment.
“Damn,” she said. It sounded more surprised than anything. “That's really... unexpected.”
Not really. You just had to think about it. Who was closest to Kester? Archie. So the soul defaults to him when Kester vanished, and, finding that he wasn't capable of holding it without being destroyed, started absorbing other people, one cell at a time, to—
“Puck, I can't think of anything you could say that I want to hear less than that,” I told him.
How about this: I slept with, and then brutally murdered, your sister?
“If I had a sister, that would probably do,” I conceded.
“What?” asked Sapphire.
“Puck's being stupid.” I sat up straight, a thought suddenly striking me. “Oh, crap!”
“We forgot Felicity!”
Now it was Sapphire's turn to swear.
She'll be fine, said Puck, in a voice that let me know precisely how little he cared. She's made of water, she can ooze her way out. Or feed off the life force of those Gastly, whatever floats her freaky human-ghosty boat.
I can't believe you don't care—
She's tried to kill us at least three times, Puck said sharply. As Barry the Baptist might have put it, she's more than good – she's a liability.
“Do you think she'll be OK?” asked Sapphire, looking worried.
“I hope so,” I said.
Otherwise you'll never get the chance to copulate with her, said Puck caustically. What is the human obsession with reproduction, anyway? You live, like, forever.
I chose not to answer that.
“She can swim out, can't she?” Sapphire said. “I mean, she doesn't need to breathe...”
We were both thinking the same thing, I knew, but neither of us wanted to say it. I suppose we hoped that Kyogre didn't have the power to assimilate meltwater into its body.
The best part is, it's impossible to save her, mused Puck. If you go back, you'll be absorbed into Kyogre.
Shut up, you boneless bratchny.
It wasn't long before we reached the surface; we rose straight up, just wanting to get as far away from the deep-sea cavern as possible. Thankfully, the Dive-bubble, Sapphire assured me, negated the need for decompression. Ordinarily, this would be the sort of point I’d ask for evidence to back up, but I didn't really feel up to it.
It was a relief to see the sky again, when it appeared. According to it, it was some time in the morning, and I supposed it must be Monday. We'd spent well over twenty-four hours underwater in all.
“Is there any food left?” I asked, taking a breath of fresh sea air and realising I was starving.
“We ate most of it on the way here,” Sapphire replied.
“But there's still some left?”
“No, it was all ruined when I fell in the water.”
“You fell in?”
Sapphire looked away from me, and started looking intensely at her compass.
“I didn't have you down as the type to fall in,” I said.
“That way, Percival.” Sapphire nudged his glittering flanks with her knees, and he started swimming placidly in the direction of Mossdeep.
Come on, Kester. Not even you're this thick.
“I dived in after you,” she muttered, not turning to look at me. “I thought you might be dying.”
I suppressed a smile.
“I think I was,” I said. “But I also think Skuld dragged me out.”
That reminded us of Felicity, and we stopped talking for a while.
Oh, the long uncomfortable silence, said Puck. They were everywhere in '40s noir, but where are they now? In the middle of the sea, between two rather stupid teenagers.
“You really like her, don't you?” Sapphire asked after a while.
I hesitated before replying. This wasn't usually the sort of thing I’d discuss with anyone outside of Luke or Beatrix, but Sapphire, after our two weeks together, seemed almost to be a third best friend, even if I did cordially despise her.
Give over, Puck said wearily. You don't hate her. You quite like her.
“Yeah,” I said quietly, answering both him and Sapphire. “I suppose I do.”
“There's nothing wrong with that.”
“I know. I never said there was.”
“But just so you know,” Sapphire persisted. “That's nothing to be ashamed of.”
Like being from Basingstoke, added Puck. Now there's a reference they won't get.
“Why would it be?” I asked, puzzled.
Throughout the entire conversation, Sapphire had remained facing away from me; now she sighed, and settled down to steer Percival.
Boy, is this trip going to be a barrel of laughs, Puck said. I haven't had this little fun since that Parrish kid asked me over to play a board game.
The ominous sound of distant jungle drums popped into my head, and then faded away.
“Sapphire?” I asked at length.
“Yes?” She still didn't face me.
Oh dear. This is going to be one of those 'emotional' scenes that come across as being pasted together from a load of fractured rom-coms by a ham-fisted teenager who believes in love at first sight, isn't it?
“I do know, you know.”
Dear God, this is painful. If you need me, I’ll be quoting movie posters to try and distract myself from this.
“What about me?”
I sighed. I was fairly emotionally drained right now; I was in no mood to tiptoe around the issue.
In space, no one can hear you scream.
“You think you're in love with me,” I said tiredly. “But you aren't. This is friendship, and you're confusing it with something more than it is.”
I wrote twice before about the longest pauses we'd experienced on our journey, but I have to correct myself: this was the longest, most pregnant silence of all.
Nothing on earth could come between them.
“Damn,” Sapphire said softly. “Puck's good, isn't he?”
“I hate to say it, but... yeah. He is,” I agreed.
Sapphire turned around and gave me a long look.
“Would you mind...” She trailed off.
It's as real as the feelings you feel.
“Would I mind what?”
“Never mind.” Sapphire blinked. “What do we do now, Kester?”
“For now, let's just get back to land,” I said, glad to be back on more familiar ground. “We'll – we'll talk it over then.”
A Barry Levinso— Ah, damn it, Rain Man didn't have a movie poster tagline.
After that, there didn't seem to be much else to say. We rode on in silence, and watched the sky flush into the full light of midday.
It was midnight again when we reached Mossdeep; we were ridiculously hungry, but we were even more tired, so we decided that sleep would, on this occasion, win the right to come first.
When morning came, I met up with Sapphire at the Pokémon Centre where she'd spent the night, and found her watching the news on TV.
“...will doubtless be held as soon as all the pieces of his body are found,” Gabby van Horne was saying cheerily. “In other news, the gang of marauding Sableye that have been harassing citizens all over the nation have vanished entirely.” Stock footage of the Sableye ransacking shops played. “It is uncertain where they have gone as yet, but police urge everyone to remain cautious and watchful.” It cut back to Gabby. “Foreign affairs now, and it seems that the Volscians and the Romans have at last called for a ceasefire. It's said that a 'merrier day never yet did greet Rome'. In other news, the former Roman general Coriolanus was brutally murdered earlier today...”
She looked up from the sofa and blinked in surprise.
It was only nine o'clock; usually, neither of us would have woken for at least another hour or two.
“I couldn't really sleep much.”
“Neither could I.”
I sat down next to her.
“So,” I said, trying hard to sound cheerful, “what next?”
“I had a thought,” Sapphire replied. “Do you think Zero...?”
I’d had this thought too, and interrupted.
“No,” I replied. “He planned this, I’m sure. He must have known what would happen. He knew Team Aqua would be... destroyed. Whatever he wants, it's not a war between Aquas and Magmas. It's something to do with Kyogre, and he definitely escaped before he could be absorbed.” I sighed. “I still don't really know where that leaves us, though.”
“If anything, we know less than before,” agreed Sapphire. “Shall we list the facts?”
Oh joy, said Puck dryly. I just love it when we feel the need to recap for all those readers who weren't smart enough to pick it all up as we went along.
“OK,” I said. “We know Zero is planning something with Kyogre.”
“We know he's been using Courtney to influence the Magmas,” put in Sapphire.
We know he's really, really cool, Puck added.
That's not helpful. Or true.
Hey! It's not helpful, yeah, but it is true. He's a perfect example of the super-cool supervillain.
“We know...” I trailed off. “We don't actually know anything.”
We know Felicity's gone, and that she was part of Zero's plan before she broke free.
I don't want to think about her right now. Mention her again and there will be consequences.
“We know – hang on, what was that?” Sapphire's head snapped around to face the TV, and, somewhat bewildered, I looked to see what was going on.
“...activity at Mount Chimney,” Gabby was saying urgently, as a banner bearing the words 'BREAKING NEWS' scrolled by beneath her. “The quake has destroyed part of the vihara on the volcano's southern slopes, but it is not known yet whether was anyone was injured.” Footage shot from a helicopter showed us that part of the vihara had indeed collapsed, and that there had been a large landslide on Jagged Pass. “Scientists believe an eruption may be imminent...”
I was no longer listening to her. I was staring at Sapphire, and she was staring back. We had both just had the same thought.
Bravo, said Puck; I heard a slow clap from somewhere inside my head. It only took you 513 pages to work that one out.
“You knew?” I said, thunderstruck. “Puck, did you know about this?”
Of course not, he replied. I just like insulting you.
“Puck knew about this?” asked Sapphire.
“No,” I answered. “Turns out he was just abusing us.” I stood up. “Sapphire, this is huge. Zero never wanted civil war. He didn't want to set the Magmas and the Aquas against each other. He saw that they were the only two organisations in Hoenn big enough to provide enough flesh to rebuild Groudon and Kyogre's bodies!”
“So he started increasing the tension between the Teams—”
“In order to make sure that they'd want to get hold of the Orbs above all else,” I finished. “He must have researched it all beforehand—”
“And that way he could feed them information that would lead them steadily closer to the Orbs,” Sapphire concluded.
“Finally, he had Rayquaza killed to get him out of the way, leaving no obstacles.” I paused. “That just leaves two questions.”
“What?” asked Sapphire. I could tell she was very impressed; I was actually making it up as I went along, but it sounded like I was being clever. And, much to my surprise, all of what I was saying was making sense.
“One: how does Zero manage to calculate every move we make in advance. That's what gives his plan such power,” I added knowledgeably. “And two: why? Why is he doing this?”
I’d have thought that was obvious.
“Give me your phone,” I said to Sapphire. “Puck has ideas.”
It didn't work so well since its immersion in the sea, but it still had speakers and that was all Puck needed.
“It's fairly simple, when you think about it,” he said in a very crackly voice. “How do Team Aqua and Team Magma – or how did they, given their current state of disassembly – feel about each other?”
“They hate each other,” Sapphire replied. “Everyone knows that.”
“And how do Groudon and Kyogre feel about each other?”
“They... hate each other,” Sapphire said, the light dawning. I could see it myself, now; it was simple, now I thought of it.
“So what Zero's trying to do—”
“Is use the Teams' hatred of each other to kickstart Groudon and Kyogre into beginning their battle again,” I finished.
“There was no need to interrupt,” said Puck sniffily, “but essentially, yes. Archie is the primary host for Kyogre; I’m willing to bet that Maxie is for Groudon. Their hatred of each other is strong enough that it'll probably get sucked into the mix and remind Groudon and Kyogre that they haven't finished killing each other yet. As soon as they're conscious again, they'll start moving towards each other, and when they meet...” Puck made a noise that clearly indicated that there were few things he would like less than being present at that meeting. “Well, let's just say that 2012 is going to look pretty tame in comparison.”
After Puck had finished speaking, both Sapphire and I were very still. My mouth had gone dry and there was a sort of roaring in my ears; I’m fairly certain I could no longer hear the TV.
“Hoenn,” I said at last. “It...”
“There won't be any more Hoenn,” Sapphire managed. “Between them... they'll destroy it, won't they?”
“'Fraid so,” replied Puck. “Bummer for you guys. Won't affect me, though; once Kester's dead, I can hijack a satellite communication and bounce myself out of the country.”
Hoenn was going to be destroyed. It wasn't the sort of concept you could get your head around easily. This was harder to believe than the assertion that two prehistoric monsters could have their souls fossilised into Orbs and come back millions of years later.
It was... unbelievable.
“So, how does everyone feel about fleeing the country?” asked Puck brightly. “Look, I’m being generous. If you like, we could stop off in Littleroot and Rustboro and pick up your friends and fami—”
I dropped Sapphire's phone; we could both do without Puck's jabbering.
Hey, what was that for? I’m actually suggesting we perform an action that will save your lives. Seriously.
“We have to stop them,” I said.
“Definitely,” agreed Sapphire.
We were silent for a little while longer.
“How?” asked Sapphire.
“I don't know,” I replied.
I can help you with that. Give me the phone; I promise I’ll be good.
I picked it up cautiously.
“First off, we need to work out how long it'll take Groudon and Kyogre to rebuild themselves,” Puck said rapidly. “Now, no one can say for certain, but I reckon we've got a couple of days at least; they're pretty big. After that, Groudon will head south-east towards Kyogre, and Kyogre will head north-west towards Groudon, and that'll probably take a few hours.”
“How will we know when they start moving?” I asked.
“Do you really need to ask, Kester? We're talking about monsters bigger than the entire nation of Andorra here. When they start moving, they'll notice it in Turkey.”
“But how do we stop them?” asked Sapphire, agitated. “Puck, this is our entire country at risk here!”
“The thing is, the rest of the world will barely notice you're gone,” observed the Rotom. “That would be funny if it weren't so sad. Oh, wait, it's still funny.”
“Puck!” I snapped.
“Oh, OK, OK. Listen, there isn't really much you can do now except go to the government. Actually, go through the League; they're more likely to believe you.”
“We couldn't contact them earlier,” Sapphire pointed out.
“Look at the telly. I’m pretty sure you can contact them now.”
We looked, and and we saw a very familiar figure standing by Mount Chimney, talking to the camera in deliberately-roughened tones.
“Spike,” I said. “Sapphire, we can get the number of her Gym from the website and call her! She's actually in the League, so—”
“She'll be able to get us heard,” finished Sapphire, nodding furiously. “Kester, that's brilliant!”
Felicity and our awkward conversation at sea forgotten, we rushed out of the room and over to the Centre's computer room, where Sapphire logged on and searched for the Lavaridge Gym website. A couple of minutes later, Puck was forcing Sapphire's phone to keep working while we called her – and two hours after that, we were on a plane to the heart and soul of Hoennian Pokémon Training, the place where every wannabe Trainer dreams of ending up; the place where the elite test their mettle, and where the world-class Trainers come to find their equals.
Ever Grande City.
Zero settled deeper into his seat, and sighed to himself. Felicity was out of the picture now, he knew, which made one out of three threats destroyed. Granted, she was the least dangerous – but she was also the most driven, which made up for it. Both she and Skuld would be gone soon enough, nothing more than blood in Kyogre's veins.
That just left Kester and Sapphire, he mused. If his calculations were correct, they were even now heading to the League building at Ever Grande City. Steven would be there already, he thought, waiting for them. It was a risk to let him meet them at this late stage – but it didn't matter; there was very little that could be done now. Nothing could stop the two great Pokémon from resurrecting themselves; anything that came close would simply be assimilated into their bodies.
In fifty-three hours, Groudon and Kyogre would meet for the first time in sixty-five million years.
Within a week, the average surface temperature of the earth would be somewhere around minus eighteen degrees centigrade.
And twenty-two weeks after that, precisely six months after Zero had made the bet, humankind would be extinct.