Chapter 7 - Dude, Where's My Capitalism?
I'd been psyching myself for all of the oddities awaiting me on Dewford Island, but a marijuana grow-op?
The rain had let up and while the clouds still threatened to burst with a second volley, for now it was dry enough to scrabble up the rocky shoreline in search of settlements. I'd been wondering if the island was nothing but miserable gray rocks when I found myself up to my shoulders in a crop of skunky-smelling plants waving their thin and finger-like leaves in the breeze. Welcome to cannabis country! The fact that I could tell that the plants were pot probably said something about my past life. I was probably really, really into botany.
Robin, Amon and I had to run for our lives at that point. The plantation was patrolled by very angry little meditite monkeys, but they backed off once they saw we were scared and running. Business, nothing personal. For all of Norman's doom and gloom, I figured these Dewford islanders were pretty chill if they bothered to grow so many recreational crops. Their town was probably some tropical resort along a palm-shaded beach. Sure, they were being controlled by a despotic leader but one bad apple couldn't spoil the whole bunch.
Beyond the plantation stood a tall, roadside billboard. The mural depicted a blue-haired surfer dude balancing at the head of a family-sized surfboard. Lined up behind him were a doctor, a teacher, a farmer and three school kids of various skin colours. Everyone was dressed in their occupational uniforms and mimicking their leader's cheesy smile and spread-armed surfing pose. The caption read, "Dewford: Riding a Wave of Prosperity!"
So I was rather stunned to discover the real-life Dewford Town was kind of a dump.
Buildings? Well, there were little huts slapped together from molding, white clay. Infrastructure? I think the more accurate term for the driftwood shacks was 'hovels'. The whole town looked as though a titan had scooped it out of the ocean, dumped it into his jumbo-sized kitchen blender and hit 'puree'. There was nothing here but ruins. As for the residents, I did find plenty of islanders relaxing in the sand but that was because they were too weak to pick themselves up off the street corners. Remember when I pondered the effects of starvation on your self-regenerating body? Well one look at Dewford's citizens told me that hunger wouldn't end you, but your imagined body would suffer from food depravation all the same. The people here were nothing but famished ribs and hollowed eyes.
I opened my radio channel back to Petalburg. "Norman, help me out here. I'm in Dewford Town but this place is completely run down! What happened here?"
"The handiwork of Leader Brawly," crackled my answer. "Dewford's Leader has an interesting way of running things. He doesn't believe in private property. On Dewford Island everything belongs to the state, which gives everyone gets an equal share of everything. The man's like a druddigon sitting on a mountain of treasure. Food, fuel, tools - he hoards it all in his warehouses and rations it out in scraps to those who have meal cards. No one is allowed to have more than anyone else."
"I'm beginning to see why you 'tolerate' Leader White," I muttered.
"Listen Virgil, this is important: if you pick a fight with Brawly -" but I had to switch off my pokenav. One of the stronger residents, a wispy-haired old man who hung off a gnarled walking staff, was making a bee-line for me, staring hungrily with eyes lit up like coals.
"An outsider," he rasped. I tried to back away but the old prune had latched a hand over my shoulder, and hunger and desperation gave him a grip like an iron vice. Amon and Robin growled at his advance. "Nice doggy," he fussed. "No need to growl; I won't hurt your master. But you will get hurt if the Leader's spies find you carrying so many personal possessions," he added. Right, my backpack. The people here had been eyeing me like I was an ice-cream vendor outside the gates of a fat camp. Not only was I loaded with goodies from Linda, but the Rustburo monks had generously topped off my supplies. I had a long journey ahead of me and don't think I was too keen on sharing.
"The name's Zebedee," prattled the old man. "You've come from across the waters, yes? Here, let me show you to Dewford Hall. You can rest there, yes." I didn't have much choice in the matter. The geezer dragged me across town to a larger, semi-decent looking warehouse, which I guess was their community center. Inside, several adults were chatting around a table while their children played with rag-doll surfer dudes. When we entered everyone froze but the silence was only a momentary hiccup - the grown-ups resumed their chat and the children scooted away to the far corner. A bald muscle-man sitting on a storage crate glared daggers at me.
"We don't get many newcomers," Zebedee offered. "They're really all quite nice." I had my doubts, though. I think everyone was calculating how much of their collective food would be diverted to the newcomer's stomach. The only nice-looking parts of this town were the inspirational posters glued over the walls: Dewford: Less is More! Dewford: We Have Nothing to Envy! and Dewford: Real Men Eat Only Two Meals a Day!
Zebedee started asking me questions. "Do you work a skilled trade? It's fine if you don't - we'll find a role for you, newcomer. Here in Dewford, everyone works for the good of the community. Famers send their crops to the Leader, weavers send their clothes, and bakers their bread. Then our Dear Leader, Arceus bless him, decides how these spoils will be distributed amongst the people. This week he's given us butter with our bread!"
In what messed-up world was a slice of lard a cause for celebration? "Well what if I want jam with my bread? Don't you have stores where you can buy extra food, or clothes?" I didn't realize it but my mouth had just soiled the air with blasphemy. The children all gasped; a mother ran to cover her girl's ears. Zebedee pulled me close.
"Everything we have is given to us by our Dear Leader. Trading goods for personal profit is a crime against the state!"
"Well that sucks."
The fire in Zebedee's eyes smouldered. "We have a place for heretics such as yourself," he snarled, and dragged me towards the muscle-man and his crate.
"Good day to you, Brother Zebedee," the bodybuilder growled. "Have you been keeping up with the latest trends?"
"Indeed I have, Brother Samson, and these days there's nothing trendier than Adamant Emerald."
The muscle-man nodded solemnly and rose to his feet, lifting the hollow crate from over a secret staircase. "Perhaps you should acquaint the outsider with our latest trend."
Indeed he would. Zebedee used his walking stick to prod me and my pokemon down the stairs. Yeesh, ten minutes in town and I was already a pariah. How did I keep doing this? I was bracing myself for a cavern of spiky torture equipment or underground prison cells but a hall of shopping kiosks?
Okay, seriously, what was with the unexpected reversals on this island?
"Welcome to the lifeblood of Dewford," Zebedee grinned, now amiable and ready for business. We were in an underground marketplace; no, more like an auction house or a stock exchange with dozens of sellers hollering prices for old vegetables or hand-stitched tunics hidden from the Leader's warehouses. Buyers swapped goods and stuffed them into their robes or anonymous burlap sacks. Once they all spotted Linda's fine tailoring and the mountain of a backpack I carried I was the star of the show!
"Friend, I have oddish leaves for sale! Super-effective against any ailment!"
"Friend, trade me your shirt for these magikarp livers - they're small but a delicacy!"
"Friend, that combusken will only be a burden on your travels! Trade me her for this marvelous bidoof!"
The people here were mad for goods; even Amon's barking did little to keep them at bay. "I thought you guys didn't believe in private property," I shouted.
"A curse on Leader Brawly!"
"Yeah, he's run this town into the ground!"
"What the Surf Boy doesn't know won't hurt him, eh? Besides, he'll never find this place!"
Then the ceiling rattled from an above-ground impact and the muscle-man Samson came rolling down the stairs in a heap. The merchants and hagglers went silent as the assailant plodded into their secret market. It was the spiky-haired surfer dude from the town billboard, looking noticeably less friendly in person. Angry veins throbbed over his forehead like barely-contained monsters, and his teeth ground together so tightly they threatened to snap through his jaw. Like the cigarette butt dangling from his lips, Leader Brawly smoldered with an internal fire.
A second man scampered down after the Leader. "There they are, Dear Leader, just like I told you! They've even brought an outside salesman!" The merchants swore at the turncoat but Brawly silenced the mob with a glare. He dismissed his informant with a loaf of bread, took a final puff of his cannabis cigarette and addressed the crowd.
"So what've we got here, huh? A bunch of money-hungry swinubs rolling in the filth of private enterprise? Stockpiling the wealth we've worked so hard to distribute? Taking advantage of your brother's hunger to cheat him of his day's bread?" Leader Brawly took a long and soothing drag from his joint. "Dude, that is so not cool."
The beach bum started pontificating. "You guys, like, need to mellow out! Embrace the richness that is simplicity! How many times have I got to say it - these 'possessions' you guys love so much? Well they're possessing you! All you people think about is 'stuff, stuff 'n more stuff'! They're spiritual ball-n-chains, man, and they are holding you all back from soaring free like the braviaries!"
Brawly stopped in front of a trembling young woman loaded with bread. "M-my children ..." Brawly shushed her and laid his hand on her head. "Relax," he smirked, soothing as a cool breeze. "I came to this island with a simple message: love your bro, and break bread evenly. That's not hard, is it?" The woman shook her head 'no'.
Brawly smiled, then sucker-punched her face. "So how come you people keep screwin' up, huh? What's it gonna take to ram my gospel down your money-hungry throats?" That cool breeze had whipped into an angry tempest. Brawly's gaze raked over the merchants, daring them to fight back and stoke his rage. The crowd only trembled and averted their eyes. It fell to Zebedee to speak for the people.
"Leader Brawly, you ask us to put our trust in the state, but we can't live on so little!"
"Whoa, whoa - chillax, bro. I explained it all before: we're on a five year plan. Y'see, we spend five years growin' and stockin' up on goods; then we spend five years sellin' the surplus t'the other provinces. We grow the green, we rake in the green."
Another voice grew bold. "But what have we got to sell? You've burned down all our crops and made us farm your worthless smoke weed!"
Brawly snorted and took another toke. "Dude, Mary Jane is a lady of many talents. We can make like, cooking oil, rope, fabric..."
"Those are made from hemp, you ignorant bottom-feeder, hemp! Marijuana is an inferior strain that's only good for sending up in flame!"
Brawly was silent a long while, probably scrambling through his mental filing cabinets to hunt down a non-existent counter-argument. "Yeah, well, y'know that's just like, your opinion, man."
"It's a scientific fact!"
"Yeah, well so's your mom."
Zebedee was at his breaking point. "That doesn't even make any sense!"
"Enough!" The irritation in Brawly's bloodshot eyes had come to a full boil. "Don't think you can distract me with your capitalist mumbo-jumbo, man, 'casue the Brawlster is not for sale. Now, I've asked you dudes nicely to shut down these corporate money farms but you keep going soft. So maybe it's time I gave you all another lesson."
Brawly shut his eyes and closed a fist over his heart. A prayer? That was his trump card? Well it sure unnerved the islanders - everyone was suddenly screaming and trampling over each other to reach the stairs. Maybe these people truly did deserve to starve if they couldn't realize this was the perfect opportunity to dog-pile the stoner! I had half a mind to sic Amon on him when I noticed the blue halo emanating beneath Brawly's fist. No it's not possible. I'd seen that glow before when a certain Oracle had powered up her world-shifting magic. This angry beach bum was another omnipotent, human-shaped 'thing' like Roxanne!
Leader Brawly could sense he still had an audience. "Anyone who doesn't wanna hang ten better get out of the pool, cause it's about to get wet."
I sprinted up the stairs. Zebedee was clanging an emergency bell and evacuating people to the outskirts of town, where the islanders fought each other to claim a perch on rooftops or tall boulders. The sea had boiled into a tempest and a supernaturally-tall tidal wave was surging towards the shore, more than enough to wipe Dewford out of existence. Is he really that crazy? But as the sheet of water neared the island the torrent concentrated itself into a single spout that powered forward like an angry gyrados. The water snake crashed into the shoreline and threw itself at Dewford Hall, annihilating the underground market in a watery explosion.
Droplets from the blast sprinkled the crowd, waking us from our collective stupor. People started wailing - merchants yelled at Brawly's loyalists; bystanders cursed the marketplace resistance and children howled in confusion. If not for his crooked staff, old Zebedee would have collapsed in despair. "This is the way of life in Dewford, outsider. Whatever we build up for ourselves is swallowed by the wrath of the waves." I looked upon the driftwood hovels of Dewford, homes constructed from the flotsam of Brawly's destructive lessons, and Norman's age-old warning surfaced in my mind. These leaders, they look human, but they ain't natural...
A commotion rose over the crowd. Leader Brawly was marching towards us, soaking wet but unscathed. If anything, he seemed re-invigorated by his little shower. "Let this serve as a reminder to you dudes: greed is not good!"
This was the end. My laughable little quest to 'conquer the seven sins' was finished. How could I possibly stand against a demigod who commanded the elements? It was time to sneak away and throw in the towel; settle into a quiet eternity of farming dirt back in Littleroot. While I deliberated on how to spend the rest of my afterlife, Robin was tracking Brawly with her raptor eyes, and when the beach messiah turned his back to address another part of the crowd, my combusken launched a flying kick at the leader's spine.
But Brawly's surfer-senses were tingling. He caught Robin's ankle at the last second and threw her into the ground. "I guess someone here didn't get the memo. You don't mess with the Brawlster!" Amon pounced in for a revenge shot but Brawly just booted the wolf away. "Whose pokemon are these?" The islanders pushed me forward like a sacrificial offering. Now that they couldn't buy my goods, what use was I? Brawly lit a fresh joint and grinned. It had probably been ages since anyone had challenged him directly; I think he was looking forward to this. "You lookin' fer a fight, new kid?"
"No sir! I never saw those pokemon before, sir! I'm not here for any trouble; in fact I was just about to leave!"
"Nobody leaves Dewford," Brawly snarled. "You think you're better than us, huh? Am I gonna have t'knock some humility inta ya? With my fists?" When the crowd failed to chuckle, Brawly sucked his joint dry, whistled and called for his pokemon. "Boxer!"
"Mah!" Somewhere inside the town a door was kicked down. Something terrible had been summoned and its every footstep rattled the pebbly ground beneath our feet. The islanders backed far away from our impromptu fighting arena. I was bracing myself for a mutated abomination to rival Roxanne's tar-statue when a doughy, yellow pokemon with chubby red cheeks and rabbit ears thudded over to Brawly's side. "Dude," I exclaimed, "your Pikachu got fat."
Brawly twisted his face sideways. "Are you high, bro? He's a Makuhita! Oh whatever. Here's how it works, new kid: you wanna fight? That's cool. Boxer flattens your pokemon into the ground, while I use your guts to wax my board. A'ight?"
Let it be known that I was not a stickler for rules. "Winry, Beatrice, Dolce!" Three pokeballs exploded in mid-air and three winged pokemon took to the skies. My beautifly, taillow and newly-claimed zubat all knew their roles, flying over the short-stack makuhita and dive-bombing Brawly's head. The stoner swatted at my flyers but they were all too fast and too agile, spinning around him like a super-sized swarm of gnats.
"Git outta my face! Aw, you are so dead now! Boxer, get that kid!" But with Amon and Robin moving to intercept I could afford a quick time-out to consult my pokenav. "Norman, I kinda got into a fight with Brawly. What were you trying to say before? How do I beat his pokemon?"
The ranger spat out an outraged "What? Virgil, I was saying 'if you pick a fight with Brawly, you're going to lose!' I've seen his makuhita tear a gyrados in half with its bare hands! There's no pokemon alive that can beat Brawly's Boxer!"
Amon and Robin tried double-teaming the doughy sumo wrestler anyway. It looked simple enough to take down - two trained fighters against the fat kid - until the makuhita took a deep breath and flexed. Pecs, abs, biceps, triceps - his body grew hard with muscles to rival a seasoned machamp and his frame puffed up to an incredible bulk! Boxer let their tackles and kicks slam into his rock-solid frame, and then Boxer smashed. Amon and Robin went down in one shot and Boxer started marching towards his next opponent. Me.
By the glowing halos of Arceus, I need a meat shield! I tossed out what I thought was Megumi's pokeball but instead the red sphere puked Trisha over the ground.
Boxer stopped. A mumble rippled over the crowd. Even Brawly's three-on-one fight with my flight crew paused as they all digested this hideous purple slime pulling itself into a humanoid shape. "Who cares what it is," Brawly shouted. "Just smash it!"
Boxer flexed a muscle-bound fist and did just so, bursting Trisha like a water balloon. Not again. I guess the afterlife was a fickle thing for pokemon. Oh, I could feel those eagle talons resuming their grip around my head! The makuhita dusted off his paws and continued his march.
Then he stopped. Did a double take at the purple gum stuck to his foot. The elastic tendril lead back to Trisha's liquefied corpse, even now forcing an arm and snarling head to resurface. Fingers formed around Boxer's ankle and yanked. You don't touch my baby.
Her survival surprised the pudgy wrestler, but ah well - everyone had their 'off' punches. Boxer smashed her again, splattering Trisha's brains over the rocks. Except now he had goo stuck to his fist, and the sable-gull was pulling herself together twice as fast. Boxer delivered a karate chop, splitting her head in half, but that just got his remaining hand wedged into the honey pot of Trisha's chest. He was stuck!
Brawly had picked up a stick and gained the upper hand by swinging it at my flyers. "Work harder, Boxer!" he yelled. "Bulk it up!"
Of course - if an enemy couldn't be defeated by regular smashing, then it just had to be smashed harder! Boxer pumped up his muscles and started pounding at Trisha's core. "Mah!" he roared, pulverizing the helpless sable-gull until she was flatter than a slab of ground meat. The makuhita paused to inspect his work and to catch his breath. A feathery hand bubbled up and slapped his belly.
Oh no you didn't! The makuhita dialed his muscles up to turbo mode, swinging his fists like a concert timpanist delivering his big drum solo. And whenever he grew tired and needed another breather, Trisha formed a cheeky little hand and slapped him across the face, or pulled his ears, or pinched his nipples. Brawly's pokemon kept ratcheting up his anger and his violence - flexing, gritting and straining his muscles until I was sure he'd gone constipated - but this puny little slime thing kept coming back for more!
Enough! The makuhita brought out his last resort, charging Trisha with locomotive speed to deliver a full-force skull bash! And just when he was about to make contact Trisha went limp. A very surprised makuhita flew over the puddle of ooze and into an equally surprised Brawly, and they didn't stop flying until they smashed through one, two and three driftwood houses.
My pokemon gathered around me and we watched the smoldering wreckage. Nothing, not a sign of life. I turned to the assembled crowd to receive their applause. "I did it," I panted. "I beat Brawly!" So why did the islanders look at me like was the scum of the earth?
"The wrath of the waves," Zebedee scowled. "You've damned us all, outsider."
Oh, right, that whole 'psychic mastery over water' thing. Right on cue Brawly burst from his rubble tomb, scarred, shirtless and seriously harshed out of his mellow mood. He thundered towards us with murder on his mind, and just as horrifying as his expression was the killing blow on chest - the flesh below his rib cage had been compacted into his spine, black from internal bleeding and glittering with fragments of aluminum. Wait, I thought Roxanne's people didn't carry scars...
The Dear Leader's sanity had snapped. "Okay bro - No more Mister Nice Brawly. You've just earned yourself a tsunami's worth of whoop-ass! And 'cause this is Dewford," he grinned, "everybody gets an equal share."
Now the crowd was in a true panic. This was the end - the Leader was going to drag them all into the ocean! Loved ones gripped each other and shut their eyes as Brawly clenched the flesh over his heart...
And looked completely lost. He patted his chest, rifled into his pant pockets and searched his neck for a non-existent necklace. "The badge," he panicked. "Where'd it go? Where'd it -" The crash site. Brawly sprinted for the makuhita-containing mound of rubble but Winry got there first, diving at the mess of wood planks and winging back to my shoulder with a necklace pendant in her talons.
"My badge!" Brawly roared. "You give that back you stupid bird or I'll ... I'll..."
"Or you'll do what?" Zebedee snapped. Brawly turned and found himself surrounded by his islanders. They were cold and bruised and starved down to their bones but they all rose with a new strength. This monster had promised their destruction and failed to kill them all. No one understood the mechanics of the change but they all stood united by a powerful truth: the jig was up. Their omnipotent Leader had no more power.
Brawly raised his trembling fists. "Stay back," he warned, but the islanders had thrown off their fear. The mob tackled him and forced Brawly to his knees, holding him down until reinforcements could arrive with strong rope. Brawly roared and raged to the bitter end. "You can't do this! I fed you people, I protected you!"
"And now we'll feed and protect ourselves," Zebedee snapped. "People of Dewford, we are free!"
Their triumphant cheer was intercepted by a lone Clap. Clap. Clap. All eyes turned to the one-man audience lounging on a rooftop, a smarmy little prima-donna with a fancy cape, snooty beret and a slashed throat. Neck-boy.
"Bra-vo~" he sang, pausing to munch from a bag of peanuts. "No, really - that was magnificent. I loved the part where you were all about to celebrate your pitiful little uprising like it actually meant something. Hooray and all. I can't wait until Act Two where the Emperor's soldiers come to grind your faces back down into the mud."
The way the people gasped and screamed, you'd think a platoon of golden-plated soldiers had already arrived. "What, you're all afraid of this poofball?"
"Shut your mouth," Zebedee hissed. "Don't you realize who you're talking to? That's Wallace, the Emperor's Right-Hand Man!"
"And the handsomest corpse in this yard of bones," Neck-boy added, fluffing his hair. "Now then..." Wallace pounced off his rooftop, frightening away those closest as he stalked through the crowds.
"You ought to know I had to depart the capital on account of you wretches! You're late with your tribute, again! Give them some incentive to stay on schedule, the Emperor says. So I sail here to your damp and drafty and miserable little chunk of rock, and every minute I'm away from my manicurist my mind stews up all sorts of lovely little 'games' we can play that will make your existences as wretched as you've made mine!" Wallace had caught up with a group of children, and he pulled the youngest boy up by his hair, forcing their eyes to meet. "And then I find you all celebrating open rebellion against our glorious Emperor..."
And Wallace broke out into his patrat titter, giving the little ragamuffin a playful tug of the cheek. "And I must say this delightful little display of fisticuffs has brightened my disposition considerably. I mean, the audacity of you little mud-hut dwellers - it makes me laugh!" He threw his head back to cackle and the scar around his neck bobbed along in a smile.
Brawly sensed this was his final chance. "Wallace, be a bro an' help me out here!"
"Sorry, Brawly-boy, but the people have spoken and they've found you lacking. Viva la revolution~!"
Wallace shooed away the children and plodded over to me, eyeing the necklace Winry still held. "My, my, you're a hungry young go-getter. Only just arrived and you're already climbing the food chain hmm? I'm marginally impressed; I mean we haven't had a Leader deposed since ... well, ever!" He grabbed me by the collar and put his knife to my eye. "One week. You get one week to settle in, whip these miscreants into shape and then I come back for our Emperor's tribute. Don't disappoint me, Leader Virgil."
Wallace whipped his cape around him and pranced out of town with his nose high in the air. "One week!"
Once they were certain he was gone, the islanders turned their gaze on me. They were terrified, staring with the same hopelessness as when Brawly had raided their underground market. They'd just traded a familiar tyrant for a new evil, and this one came armed with six hideous pokemon instead of one. But how could I be the new leader, I wasn't a ... 'whatever' like Roxanne or Brawly. Did succession have something to do with the necklace Winry had plucked? I took the gold chain from her talons, staring at the dangling medallion. The badge, Brawly had called it. A blue fist clenched in an unspeakable wrath.
I cupped the badge in my hand and the world went black.
When I woke it was evening and Dewford burned with celebratory bonfires. The islanders had decided to make the most of their fleeting freedom, putting torches to Brawly's cannabis plants and rounding up the meditite guards into cages. They'd left me alone in the gravel, unwilling to challenge my pokemon sentinels or the Oracle's green-robed monk. "Barclay?" I muttered.
"I came as soon as I could," he protested. "Of course, between the storm up above and the mountainous waves, my swiftness was somewhat abated. When I saw the fires I thought you'd been lost!" Mish-Mush woom-woomed in tearful agreement.
"Brawly lost," I coughed. Ooh, all that smoke from the fields was making me light-headed. I showed Barclay my badge. "I'm the new Leader of Dewford."
I looked over my assembled pokemon. "For a girl with no eyes you fly pretty well," I told Dolce. The wounded zubat hugged my chest and started licking at my shirt. Okay, a little over-affectionate there. "And Trisha, wow that was nice! Hey, where is she, anyway?"
Robin gestured to the puddle of sludge at the periphery of our group. I tried giving her a congratulatory pat on the ... 'head'. The purple slime only flinched at my touch and spread itself thinner. She felt every blow, I realized, but she kept going no matter how many times that thing ripped her apart. "I uh ... guess you'd better get some rest," I muttered sheepishly. I had something important to do anyway.
The Dewford supply warehouses stood dark and empty, looted by the islander revolutionaries moments after my fainting spell. Now the metal buildings had been converted into garbage receptacles for unwanted trash. Brawly was tethered to a pillar by thick ropes, while metal chains pinned down Boxer. The makuhita had long since given up but I found Brawly struggling and straining against his straps like a wild beast. No one had offered him a replacement shirt and the fibreglass embedded in his crushed abdomen glittered against Barclay's torch.
I took a seat across from the ex-Leader and held up my new trinket. "You wanna tell me how this badge works, bro?"
The stoner spat in my face. "I'm not your bro, you capitalist pignite! Just you wait, I'm gonna bust outta here and mess your face up so bad you'll wish you never had a face!" He rambled on with his meaningless threats but I wasn't afraid of him, and I knew how to work a hungry dog. Brawly shut up the instant I brought out a pilfered tin of hash and some tobacco paper. My fingers knew exactly how to roll the joints and I placed all six of them between us. "Compliments of the state," I smiled.
Brawly made a face. "Ugh, this is that irony thing Winona's always talking about, isn't it?"
I placed the first joint closer to Brawly. "How'd you get this job?"
"By bein' a believer in the revolution, man. I was there when the Emperor started grabbin' power. I fought with him; I was on the frontlines when he knocked down Slateport and Petalburg. The man promised me we'd be the change this world needed, and that he'd give me the power to strip down this money-hungry world 'n create a true brotherhood of man."
I translated. "You were the Emperor's goon. When he took over he gave you a plum position on a quiet island and that shiny badge to enforce your will." Good boy. I gave Brawly a second cigarette. "How does the badge work? How do I get it to make giant tidal waves?"
"The badge doesn't do anything, bro; it just lets you do everything." I'm sure that sounded pretty clever in his head. "It's like a ... a battery, man. You put it on and you can feel the power runnin' through ya. The ocean? It's like I'm wading through a kiddie pool and I can just kick up all the water I want."
"Yeah, well I think it's broken." I gave him a third joint for a good half-answer.
"Honest truth? I couldn't do nothin' with it for a long time. It's like surfin' the waves, man. First few times you're gonna do a major wipe out - you can't even stand up on your board. You gotta get into the rhythm, get used to the water and then it's natural as breathin'."
"And the other Leaders, they all have these badges too?"
"Pretty sure," he shrugged. "I kinda do my own thing here in Dewford. I can tell you I'm the only one who knows how to rock the surf. That 'wrath of the waves' thing? That's a patented Brawlster move."
So they each had their own special 'talent'. One last question. "What memories did it bring back for you?" Brawly squinted as through a fog, so I elaborated. "When I touched the badge, I blacked out. Then I saw things. A scene from my past life."
That got him sjirachiing. "Dude, what have you been smokin'? There's nothin' 'before' or 'after' this world. Life is here 'n now; everythin' else is just Hoenn."
He doesn't know we're dead. Brawly's badge felt cold and lifeless in my palm but it had done something to restore a piece my mind. That flashback, it felt just as real as my nightmare of being tied down in the darkness, and if one badge could restore a single memory...
Satisfied, I gathered up all the joints and left Brawly to scream in the empty warehouse. I was done here. I knew their dirty little secret. Take away the badge and they're just ordinary men.
These Leaders were going to crumble before me.
If you'd like to make a guess as to which sins the other gym leaders will represent, I'd love to hear your predictions!