September 7th, 2011 (11:55 PM).
A/N: This fic was inspired by Lull, so Breezy, thank you. However, it is a different breed from Lull, as it will probably notice. The Pokemon Battles (the Cynthia vs Black; partial Black vs Susan Riche) draw stylistic influences from Lamora's Game of Champions and the Sun Soul. Check those two Pokemon fics out when you get the chance; they're wonderfully written.
Dedicated to tonnes of people, but mainly: Sike Saner, Diddy (thanks for the convos), and Psychic. Believe it or not, Psychic was the one helped start this story for me. Years and years ago, she made a small remark that Champion Lance notably helped the protagonist of G/S/C. In comparison to that, Cynthia and Alder pale a little. And a story idea was germinated.
Also dedicated to a guy called MattSilver (the beta) and another guy called enembee (a mentor-of-sorts from an awesome but scary forum called DLP)
One more thing: Before you ask, yes, it is the B/W protagonist. I rendered him nameless for thematic/stylistic reasons. It gives him an interesting "every-man" quality and ties in with the identity theme. I also didn't like the name "Hilbert".
========================================================Under the Same Sky
Chapter Seven - The Finale Sonata
Summary: A nameless teenager is heralded as the Champion of the Unova League. However, he's not ready to bear that cross. In order to deal with his inner demons, he absconds to Undella Town - and meets a certain blonde Sinnoh Champion.
Warning(s): Swearing and violent scenarios.
Verse: B/W Games (Gen. V)
“You cannot live under the same sky as your father’s murderer.”
-Proverb from the philosopher Confucius-
I try to open my mouth. Air bubbles escape before my own eyes, like little translucent marshmallows. The taste of sea salt blisters my tongue, while the din of turbulent waves rolls over me. Vicious tentacles start to wrap around my neck and throttle. My own grip loosens, and a few flashes of pink are swept away. As I struggle, I can see only the black expanse of the sea. It’s like ink.
I think I’m drowning.
NOIR. Cheren gives me an intense glare.
“Champion of the Unova Pokémon League,” he repeats.
I confirm it.
He’s incredulous. “It’s a little sudden, don’t you think?”
I open and close an empty Pokéball. Fuck, for once, I agreed with Cheren.
BLANCHE. Bianca collapses against a wall.
“Why?” she asks. “Why does it have to be like this?”
Her voice is thick with phlegm and pity.
“Champion? But what about Alder?”
I don’t know what to tell her. Is there anything I can say?
I don a smile; I don’t think it reaches the eyes.
NOIR. Professor Juniper has her back against me.
“The Elite Four?” She sighs. “My, my, have you grown.”
I wonder what she’s doing with the computer.
“I’m making modifications to the latest Pokedex – Prototype #B06.”
She swivels around in her chair. “Do you want to volunteer for the beta model?”
BLANCHE. My mother is silent.
Her voice sounds from the Xtransceiver. “You’re too skinny.”
I ignore her comment.
“Are you eating well?” Another question.
She wrings her hands. “I can’t stand seeing you… like this.”
I switch off the video-call.
I still dream about it, sometimes. About that day.
A flash of green hair shimmers before me, like a mirage. He holds onto his next Pokémon, as I do to mine. The rubble of the Pokémon League surrounds us, while fire and lightning shatter the black sky. The Menger sponge was already on the floor. The cuts through my shirt are starting to sting, while small spots appear in front of my eyes. We’re both exhausted and about to faint, maybe. I never wanted to do this, fight him. And I think N is crying.
The white dragon then aims downwards. A pillar of red.
I’m sprinting, but it’s too late. Of course.
That day has changed things.
And people ask me why Zekrom isn’t with me anymore?.
The first time somebody calls me “Black”, I'm seven. My baby teeth haven't popped out yet, and ironically, Bianca is the tallest kid in class. I'm the shortest, but that doesn't faze me. At least to the best of my recollection. When you're a preschooler, there are only so many times that matter to you.
One of them is your choice of friends.
I’m on the seesaw, pushing myself on and off the ground. The seat opposite mine is vacant. Because my family had only recently moved into town, none of the other children seem to want to talk to me. The perks of being “the new kid”.
It surprises me when somebody approaches me. A bespectacled boy, with straight-laced hair and an even more straight-laced expression.
“I’m Cheren,” the boy declares. “What’s your name?”
I tell him.
Cheren wrinkles his nose. “That’s your name? It sounds stupid.”
I tell him that his face is stupid.
“Your name is stupider,” replies Cheren, in a breezy way that only a seven year-old can muster. “I’m gonna call you something else.”
Curious, I ask him what.
“I dunno. What’s your favourite colour?”
“Really?” Cheren sits on the seesaw. “Isn’t it too gloomy? Dad says you only wear black when somebody dies.”
Black is cool. Black is my favourite sweet: shaved liquorice. Black is the colour of my sneaky shadow, which follows me everywhere.
“Weirdo. You probably only like black ‘cause you’re not ordinary or normal.” Cheren rolls his eyes. “How did Dad say it? ‘The black Mareep in the flock’.”
I tell him that I’m not a weirdo.
“Whatever. If you like Black so much, that’s what I’ll call you.”
Although I want to insist that my name isn’t “Black”, I’m too eager for Cheren’s approval to disagree. I meet Bianca soon after, and Cheren introduces me as “Black” to her. She giggles and likes Cheren’s reasoning. The name catches on.
Years after, people grow up, and the playground nickname fades out of use. Cheren graduates from juvenile insults like “weirdo”. Bianca prefers to mispronounce and butcher my real name. “Black” is a leftover of my childhood.
But now? Do most people even call me by my real name? I’m not an ordinary boy to them. I’m always something else.
Maybe that’s why I like to refer to myself as “Black” in my head. Nobody else calls me that name, but that’s part of the appeal. I haven’t been “ordinary” in a long time, anyway.
Fuck, I’m going crazy. Caitlin is right. I do need a break.
I check the map she gave me. Her cursive writing spills out.
“‘Undella Town – A Town of Rippling Waves’,” I read aloud.
East of Unova, huh?
I fold the map with my definite destination in mind.
/fin of Overture/
The storm beat down. The sky was cluttered with murky clouds, while gales of wind streaked like arrows from a bow, angling the raindrops against the wet pavement. Snarling, the ocean itself gnawed at the coastline. Undella Town’s famous beaches – the soaring plains of white – had temporarily become nothing more than mere soggy sand dunes. Indeed, Undella had transformed herself into a desolate wetland, as the residents and tourists alike scurried to the warmth of shelter. The main road, normally packed with weekend stalls selling trinkets and 50-Cent Snow Cones, was empty.
A hurricane in a hamlet.
Through this baleful weather, a lone figure walked down the road. A boy, aged fifteen. He wasn’t a particularly inspiring fellow. He was neither short nor tall, and his messy, brown hair was insipid, plastered with water against the slender nape of his neck. An official Pokémon League hat was squashed down on his head, hiding the face.
In his mind, the boy liked to call himself “Black”. It was nothing like his real name, or what others called him, but it worked for him.
Black wasn’t too fussed about the storm. He actually enjoyed the cool feel of the rain, as Arctic fingers trailed over his spine. It could have been worse. The cold was preferable to the hot, anyway. He still remembered the burning scorch of the Resort Desert. Wouldn’t you rather die by ice than die by fire? Freezing numbed the senses, ensuring that the victim could no longer feel. No more pain – just a blanket of sleep.
The C-Gear on his wrist beeped, signalling a video call. Black checked the screen. The caller ID: Bianca. Hastily, he turned off the C-Gear. This was the third time in two days that Bianca had attempted to contact him, even though he had made it abundantly clear that he wished to be left alone. Yes, he was avoiding her, but could one blame him? He wasn’t ready to talk about what had happened. No meant no. A concept which Bianca didn’t comprehend.
Eventually, Black reached the end of the road. A series of buildings were clustered by a picket fence. He walked into the largest one.
As he trudged through the lobby, Black heard the whispers and gasps of the people around him. A young waiter nearly knocked over the wine cooler. A mother of three tried to quieten her suddenly agitated children. Ignoring the pointed stares, Black stepped in front of the concierge’s desk.
“Welcome to Undella Town,” recited the concierge in a dull tone. “How may I help you?”
“I would like to rent a villa,” said Black.
“There are no villas available today. You will have to find alternative accommodation.”
“I don’t think that’s an option,” said Black brightly.
Bored, the concierge typed into her computer. “I’m sorry, sir, but we have no more rooms. You’ll have to wait like everyone else. No exceptions.”
“I think you can make an exception with me.”
The concierge flicked her eyes towards Black, who took off his hat. A young tanned face emerged in the light. A face that had been sandblasted across billboards and television screens. The concierge dropped her jaw.
“Why don’t you check the computer again,” said Black. His amber eyes glimmered. “There might be a vacancy.”
“O-Of course, let me check.”
Black flattened the hat over his hair again, as the flustered concierge scrutinised the database.
“There is one villa available, but you will have to share with another person,” said the woman.
Nervously, she returned her gaze to Black. The copious cakes of makeup could not hide the deep, red flush in her starstruck face. Immediately, Black was reminded of that beret-wearing girl from Altomare City.
“Is this arrangement to your liking?” asked the woman, her upper lip trembling.
A little exasperated, Black nodded.
“O-Okay. Firstly, I need to call the other party to confirm that she’s also fine with sharing a villa.”
Picking up a fancy receiver, the concierge dialled the phone. She waited for the tone, before speaking.
“Hello, Ma’am? I’m sorry for intruding upon your evening, but we have another client who wishes to share your villa. I understand that Lady Caitlin herself had rented you the villa, but Undella’s policy states that – ”
The concierge paused. Black wondered what the other person was saying. Was the person upset with the concierge? Not everybody could have been happy sharing what was once a peaceful, empty villa. People tended to dislike change. Black had seen how possessive people could become. Then, why could he hear laughter from the phone?
“Yes, Ma’am. It’s the Unova League Champion,” the concierge said.
Surprised, the woman buckled forward. “‘Send him up?’ Now? Y-Yes, Ma’am. Thank you for your time.”
The concierge set down the phone. Nervous, she turned her head towards Black, chewing her lip. She straightened the hem of her pencil skirt. Black rolled his eyes, but did not falter his smile.
“The villa is available, sir. I’ll arrange for bellhop to take your luggage,” said the woman.
Black forced a placid smile. “No need. I can take my satchel myself.”
The concierge fumbled with a knot of keys. She detached one from the bunch and called out to him.
“Here’s your key,” she said, passing the lacy metal to Black. “Your villa is the second one from the right. It has two blue shutters; you cannot miss it.”
Black nodded, pocketing the key. When he began to step away from the desk, the concierge called out:
“Sir! My son is a huge fan; he wants to be just like you.”
“Really?” Black replied, trying to keep his tone cheery and detached.
“Yes. If I could get him your autograph, he’d be over the moon. You’re the greatest hero and Champion to him.”
Chuckling, Black pressed his lips into a thin, bitter line. “I’ve done nothing worth noting.”
“But – ”
“Tell your son to find a better role model.”
Without another word to the concierge, Black wheeled around and walked out of the lobby. People scuttled away from him, trying to avoid looking him in the eye. A fat tourist dropped his grease-stained camera; deliberately, the businessman with the tame Liepard headed in a different direction to him. Even the Plusle and Minun, playing by the granite fountain, squeaked upon seeing Black. Swiftly, they scurried behind their Trainers’ pants.
The Minun’s Trainer, a mousy haired girl with baby-fat cheeks and a ridiculous ‘Hello Skitty’ sweater, pointed at Black.
“Papa, it’s the boy from television! The one who fought the scary man!”
As Black lowered his hat, he overheard the girl’s father whispering to the girl, telling her that it was rude to point. Black didn’t miss the franticness in the man’s voice. It was dark and glossy, like a prowling Luxray. Black was familiar with it; he had witnessed it glisten in the eyes of far lesser men.
After exiting the lobby and enduring a few minutes of rain, Black arrived at his chosen villa. It was as the concierge had described: adorned with blue shutters, and impossible to miss. Large and ostentatious, sun-bleached walls stretched outwards. Like a fisher’s trawl, lush ivy dragged across the Grecian colonnade. A matching set of polished, mahogany doors completed the image of luxury and affluence.
Typical. Caitlin was spoilt sweet, preferring her cucumber sandwiches to have their crusts off. Everything had to be perfect with her, from her Pokémon battles to her laundered Lilycove skirts. Her vacation villas couldn’t be an exception.
Fitting the key into the door, Black entered the villa. A spiralling, burnished staircase and a darkened marble floor greeted him, like a groomed butler. Black threw his bag on a coffee table. He chuckled when mud and rainwater seeped across the clean glass, dripping down the table-legs. That should give Caitlin a nasty shock; the girl cared far too much about cleanliness than was considered healthy.
Black remembered the first time he met Caitlin. Dressed in a white sundress, she was the epitome of grace and chastity. He didn’t like her from the start. She claimed that he had no place challenging the Unova Elite Four. What was the phrase she used again? “dim-witted little boy”.
The moniker wasn’t entirely false, though. Once upon a time, he was a small boy from the smallest town in Unova. However, he had high hopes: he wanted to be the greatest Trainer of them all. The only thing bigger than his dreams was his toothy smile. His first Pokémon, a pig with orange fur brighter than the sun, liked his smile the most. Not even the tastiest Poffin could elicit from Tepig a squeal of delight more than his toothy grin. However, that was back in the old days, when Black’s grin was genuine. Sure, the motions were the same: the dimples still curled at the edges, and his teeth still shone through.
But the joy wasn’t there.
Abruptly, the clicking of heels brought Black out of his thoughts. Instantly, his hand snapped to his Pokébelt. He skimmed across each of the five capsules. Unfezant would provide the quickest attack, flying like a bullet to rip out a throat. Scrafty and Simisage could break the assailant’s bones, while Carracosta would create enough Rock Slides to disinter the villa’s underbelly. Even Beheeyem would be more than surfeit: two silent Psybeams would neutralise any threat. Avoiding the empty sixth slot, Black tried to make his final decision. He had two seconds to pick, before the other person would utilise her chance to attack him first –
“Isn’t it a little late for a Pokémon Battle?” a female voice remarked from the stairwell. “I am more than ready for a good match, but I would much rather do this when I’m not so tired.”
A tall figure stepped forward, allowing the moonlight to illuminate her body. She was a statuesque woman, with willowy legs and a generous bust. A black nightgown, verging on indecent and see-through, hugged her hips. Her long, blond hair cascaded downwards in rivulets, while grey eyes glinted with amusement. Pointed cheekbones, angled upwards. A silver ring, inset with an odd brown stone, twinkled from her middle finger. She stood akimbo, smiling slightly.
The woman was a household name. A breakfast cereal in Jubilife was designed in her honour. Black spoke without thinking: “Cynthia.”
Cynthia tilted her head. “That would be my name.”
“What are doing here? Aren’t you meant to be in Sinnoh?”
“I decided to travel around the world, so Caitlin rented me a few overseas villas as a favour,” said Cynthia.
She yawned and stretched her arms, causing the robe to open slightly at the chest. Black reddened at the glimpse of soft, pink skin.
“And I am not needed in Sinnoh anymore. My duties as a former Champion have been delegated,” she explained gently.
Smoothly, Cynthia gestured at him. “I have some coffee in the kitchen. You’re more than welcome to join me.”
Black shot a doubtful look at Cynthia, who was starting to swan towards the hall. After a moment of contemplation, he followed her. So, this was the person with whom he was sharing a villa? In all honesty, Black was apprehensive. Champion Cynthia was many things, but predictable wasn’t one of them. Indeed, Cynthia had frustrated the Sinnoh officials with her sporadic and random stopovers at interesting historical sites, throwing her schedule into disarray. Once, she had disappeared for four days, forcing Lucian to substitute for her as Champion. The press was in an uproar. Where was she for half a week? Visiting the Solaceon Ruins, because the “glyphs intrigued her”. Living with her was bound to be a challenge.
As expected of Caitlin, the kitchen was well furbished. The marble benchtops had in-built ovens, courtesy of Devon Corp. An assortment of blenders, mixers and food processers clung to the walls, aligned in sleek, polished rows. Next to one of these blenders were some of Cynthia’s belongings: an Everstone, a sketch of an Unown, and her notebook, which was open. Black barely caught the words “Chi-Ro: King?”, before Cynthia had closed it. Accompanying Cynthia’s curios was also a pasta machine and a series of non-essential, luxury trinkets.
One of these trinkets was a Silph espresso machine, which Cynthia approached and adjusted. Within minutes, the blond woman produced two cups of steaming coffee. She handed one to Black, who carefully took it with two hands.
He sipped it in silence.
“We should get you out of those wet clothes. Otherwise, you might get hypothermia,” said Cynthia, glancing at Black’s soaked jacket and cargo pants. “Allow me – ”
“No, I’ll deal with it,” Black replied.
Taking out a Pokéball, he released the Scrafty inside it. The hoodlum-like biped materialised with a flash of white light. The Pokémon’s face, ordinarily besmirched with mischief and malicious glee, was scrunched in mild concern. Scrafty stared questioningly at Black.
Donning a warm facade, Black tried to focus on the task at hand.
“Scrafty, I’m a little wet from the rain,” he said.
He leaned towards the Pokémon, giving a small smile. “Could you help me?”
Scrafty growled affirmatively. Cynthia raised an eyebrow when the Pokémon belched a shroud of soft flames around Black. The fire was rather weak in intensity, carefully controlled not to burn the boy. After another minute, Scrafty closed his mouth, and the flames self-extinguished.
Black was dry and unburned.
“Thanks, mate,” was Black’s muttered reply as he returned the scowling Pokémon back to his capsule.
“That was impressive, using Incinerate to dry your clothes,” Cynthia said kindly.
Black shrugged. “It was nothing.”
“You’re too modest. We both know a Scrafty cannot naturally control fire like that, at least without being trained specifically. You taught him well.”
Cynthia finished her coffee and set down the mug in the sink. “You must be a talented and powerful Trainer. As expected from the Hero of Unova.”
Black nearly dropped his cup. Cynthia sauntered past him and patted him on the shoulder.
“The guest’s bedroom on the second floor is yours,” she said, as she left the kitchen. “Please turn off the espresso machine when you’re finished.”
Black didn’t respond. His grip around the coffee mug tightened.
Somehow, the press finds out what happened. I guess it’s inevitable, since nobody could have missed the sight of a fucking castle suddenly encircling the Pokémon League. Websites and newspapers discuss the events of that day. Witnesses say that they remember two gods – one white and the other black. They remember that a teenager controlled the white dragon. They remember that I controlled the black one.
The Nimbasa Daily has the bright idea of calling me the “Hero of Unova”. The name catches on.
Then, the blog of some fatass sources photos of me and Reshiram; Reshiram is clearly in pain. Using this evidence, the bitter jackass lambasts me as a “god-killer” and “danger”. The name catches on.
Even though Zekrom isn’t with me anymore, people still ask how I subdued and captured the god. How I chose to become a Hero.
I didn’t. Zekrom had dictated my destiny. Fuck, all this attention. It’s everywhere.
Only my mother seemed to remember my real name.
The next day began as usual for Black. He woke up at daybreak and, after yawning loudly, stretched his limbs to maintain his flexibility. He brushed his teeth using a cheap brand of toothpaste (‘Morning Budew with Extra Fresh™’), following with a wash in the nearest water source. In this case, that was the en-suite shower. The clothes for the day were the typical: fresh underwear, as his mother had always insisted, and the standard tee-shirt and cargo pants.
He fitted on his League cap. Nothing had changed, at least on the surface.
Grabbing his jacket off a chair, Black walked out of the guest’s bedroom and headed towards the kitchen. Cynthia was probably there already. The woman looked like an early-starter.
As he strolled down the stairs, he heard a soft knocking at the villa’s entrance. Within seconds, Cynthia appeared. With a smile, she opened the front door.
A weedy teenager, older than Black, stood on the other side. He was gawky and gangly, as though he had grown too quickly in too short a period of time. A few pimples dashed across his nose. Braces complemented a narrow face, which showed a wispy attempt at a five o’clock shadow. The feather-shaped logo on the teenager’s shirt was telling: ‘RUFFLET PIZZA: 24/7 Service. Wherever, Whenever.’
“One medium pizza for a Miss Chard?” said the scraggy teenager. He read off a piece of paper. “Vegan special, but with anchovies, kidney beans, and extra feta. No shallots and no beetroot.”
Serenely, Cynthia nodded. “That’s my order.”
“That will be $19.55.”
As Cynthia opened her purse, the pizza deliverer finally caught a good look of the woman in front of him. His eyes widened when he realised that this wasn’t any blonde, it was Cynthia. The former Sinnoh Champion, biannual winner of the Lily Valley Conference for 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006. She was one of the League’s living legends, not to mention a cultural icon. Even those who didn’t follow the Pokémon Battle circuit would recognise her from the ‘Hoenn Disaster Appeal’ commercials, back when the region was experiencing freakish flooding and droughts.
Black rolled his eyes when the geeky teenager started sputtering.
“Here’s twenty dollars,” Cynthia said, pulling out a green banknote. Black twitched when he saw Alder’s familiar face stamped across the watermarked side. It brought back his memories of the League, of meeting the Elite Four. Of meeting him.
Cynthia pressed the note into the spluttering deliverer’s hands. “Why don’t you keep the change?”
As she snagged the pizza from his hands, the weedy teenager squeaked, as though he was bursting at the seams. His ears became pink.
She blinked. “Pardon?”
“May I have your autograph please?” The teenager took a deep breath, slowing down.
“Oh! You want my autograph?” said Cynthia slowly.
From his semi-hidden spot on the stairwell, Black wondered how Cynthia would react. Would she indulge this recurrent request? She must have been exhausted from more than a decade of signing autographs. Wasn’t she now free of such obligations? She was no longer Champion – it was not her duty or her concern.
To Black’s surprise, she took out a pen. “Sure, why not. What’s your name?”
“Matt Johansson. It’s spelt with two ‘s’s.”
Cynthia picked up a napkin and scribbled something on it, flourishing the pen in wide strokes. Black thought that she was making a small spectacle out of it, as though she was conducting a ceremony of sorts. Matt Johansson, however, was spellbound. His face became as red as the tomato paste which had been slathered over Cynthia’s pizza.
Cynthia returned the napkin, now adorned with some sort of trite platitude and her signature, to Johansson.
“Here you go,” she said warmly.
Taking the napkin, the delivery boy read its message out loud: “‘To Matt Johansson. Never give up on your Pokémon dreams. They’ll come true someday. Yours, Cynthia.’”
Johansson cradled the napkin, as though it would disintegrate at the slightest touch. Reverently, he gawked at Cynthia.
“Shit, thank you! Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome,” was Cynthia’s response as she shut the door with a low thud.
Black watched Cynthia grab the pizza, humming a strange tune to herself. Opening the box, the former Champion chose a slice and bit into it. A pleasant aroma of melted cheese and roast vegetables wafted upwards. Black felt his mouth water a little. Abruptly, he was reminded that he hadn’t eaten a decent meal in days. Yes, there were the water crackers and freeze-dried fruits which had proven to be staples of his diet while travelling the wildness, but those were ration-issue foods. They would provide sustenance but not satisfaction.
Lowering his League hat, he climbed down the stairs. Cynthia had already finished her first slice. She was halfway through the kitchen when she spotted him.
“Good morning, did you sleep well?” she asked.
“Better than usual.”
Black tore off a piece of the peculiar pizza. Up close he could perceive the toppings, and he realised that while the pizza smelled palatable, it wouldn’t necessarily have a good taste. He spotted shavings of anchovy, kidney beans, and oven-roasted broccoli, all held together by hot nets of feta cheese. What a bizarre combination. Did Cynthia always have such… specific tastes? It reminded Black of Bianca, who was encouraging him to try new foods whenever they reached their next Gym. “Try the Casteliacone, it’s a local specialty!”, “Rabuta Berries aren’t just for Pokémon!”, or “Moomoo Milk is a great aphrodisiac!” More often than not, Black regretted listening to Bianca; her peculiar taste in food didn’t quite match with his. She was annoying that way.
Glancing back at the pizza slice, Black felt his empty stomach grumble. No matter. At this point, he was hungry enough to eat raw Krokoodile. Losers couldn’t be choosers.
He chewed. Immediately, there were sharp bursts of saltiness, outset by the sweetness of pumpkin and the mild taste of broccoli. All in all, it was surprisingly pleasant. Swallowing, Black wolfed down the pizza, as the hot cheese burnt the inside of his mouth.
Cynthia leaned against the kitchen counter. “It must have been difficult travelling so much. The bad food, the constant camping. Didn’t you ever get homesick?”
“I managed,” Black stated.
“When I was starting out as a Trainer, I missed my grandmother terribly,” said Cynthia, sprinkling a few more olives on her pizza.
She gave a low, throaty laugh. “I couldn’t wait to arrive at the next PokéCenter so that I could use the video-phone to call her. If the booth was already occupied, sometimes I would cry until the person let me go ahead of him.”
“That sounds a little – ” Black tried to sound polite. “needy.”
“I was young and inexperienced,” she said, smiling. “People mature over time.”
Black glanced at the blond former Champion, who was humming to herself again. A shred of curiosity pricked him, like a metal needle. The small detail about Cynthia’s life had piqued his interest; what was a younger Cynthia like? How different was she to this statuesque woman?
“Did you travel alone?” he asked, unable to resist.
“Initially, but not for long. When I was visiting Canalave City, a boy stole my bike. I was visiting the famous library to research Gible’s evolutionary cycle. I come out with my books, and my bicycle was gone.” Absently, Cynthia pushed a stray blond strand out of her eyes. “Moreover, when I finally found it behind a dumpster, someone had broken the chains and the spokes. In his haste, the thief had accidentally destroyed my bike.”
Black gaped, while she languidly toyed with silver ring on her hand. The inset brown shard shimmered at certain angles of light.
Unaffected, Cynthia continued: “I was understandably upset at the time. Eventually, I found the thief and confronted him.”
“You challenged him to a Pokémon Battle,” Black speculated.
“Not everything in life involves fighting,” said Cynthia carefully. She nibbled on the end of her pizza. “No, it turned out that the boy’s Bronzor was very ill and needed urgent medical attention. The boy had to get to Canalave PokéCenter quickly. My bike just happened to be nearby.”
“What happened to the Bronzor? Was it okay?”
Cynthia gave Black an approving look. “Your concern for Pokémon, even those who aren’t yours, is admirable.”
Reflexively, Black’s hand darted to his belt. His fingertips ghosted over each of the five Pokéballs, protective and defensive. Suddenly, a strong emotion seared through him, like a comet, parching his throat; he found it a little hard to breathe.
“And the Bronzor was fine. But as a result of this ordeal, the Bronzor’s Trainer and I became close,” Cynthia elaborated. “We decided to travel together, at least until he could recompense me for my bicycle.”
Black picked at the pizza box. “Did he?”
“Eventually, yes. However, by then we were already good enough friends that I decided to stay with him anyway. His presence made the wilderness much easier to tackle. It was nice not to be alone.”
Reaching for her purse, Cynthia pulled something out and showed it to Black. It was a faded photograph, blotched with coffee spills and crinkles from excess handling. A younger Cynthia was leaning over a leering Gabite and an unidentifiable, pink-skinned slug, whose visage on the photo was smudged out. If Black didn’t know any better, he would say that the latter Pokémon had been crossed out with a permanent marker – and then scrubbed at a much later date, in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the obscuring ink. Strange.
Black drifted his gaze up the photograph. The younger Cynthia looked different: her signature blond hair was cropped short, while her smile showed baby teeth. Instead of those signature Umbreon hairclips, a vibrant pastel flower balanced behind her ear. Black ironically noted that even the younger Cynthia had a disproportionate bust, though. Next to the Gabite and the pink slug was a dark-haired figure. The face was motion-blurred, but one could make out what appeared to be tinted, silver-framed glasses. The younger Cynthia held a victory V-sign over her human companion, who was clutching some sort of thick book.
Black was guessing that this photo was a picture of Cynthia and her bike-stealing friend.
“We’re still friends, even today,” said Cynthia.
She pocketed the photograph. Black threw the last pizza slice back into the box. A shiver of sadness tinged his mind; Cynthia’s picture was reminiscent of that summer day in Nacrene City. Cheren had made everyone sandwiches, while Bianca lay back on the grass. She said that the clouds reminded her of cargo ships, with great, white sails which billowed in the wind.
“What about your own friends?” Cynthia asked, breaking him out of his stupor. “I heard from the Professor that you had journeyed through Unova with a few companions. Aren’t you still in contact with them?”
Black froze. Inscrutably, he spun around and faced Cynthia.
“It’s better if I stay alone.”
When Caitlin and Grimsley approach me, I’m sitting in the top most tower of the Pokémon League. From my vantage point, I could see the bulldozers and construction cranes rumbling around the wreckage. The builders aren’t alone. Trained Gurdurr cringe at some of their orders, but obey nonetheless. Would the builders understand what their Pokémon feel? Judging from their confused chain of command, the construction crews probably barely understood each other.
Grimsley is smoking. Fuck. That’s not a good sign – he only does that when he’s stressed.
“We need to talk,” said Caitlin.
I try to be a smart alec. “You know I don’t feel that way about you, but if you insist.”
“Please stop blathering,” she replied, in a sleek but waspish voice. “This is rather important.”
Caitlin and Grimsley sit down next to me. When they finish talking, I’m on my feet. I give a small laugh and I ask if she’s kidding.
Caitlin leans closer.
“I think you need to take a vacation.”
/fin of Chapter One/
September 8th, 2011 (11:00 AM).
<3! You posted it~ :3 Indeed, I will now proceed to take full credit to dragging you here and getting you to post- jk jk x3
Haha, you may just get one at some point. ;3
You've written pretty much all of the already, right? I remember you mentioning something like that... x3
"To ride a horse is to ride the sky."
Possession - Winner of Fic of the month! (September... 2006) xD
September 9th, 2011 (06:52 AM).
Quote originally posted by katiekitten:
<3! You posted it~ :3 Indeed, I will now proceed to take full credit to dragging you here and getting you to post- jk jk x3
Haha, you may just get one at some point. ;3
You've written pretty much all of the already, right? I remember you mentioning something like that... x3
I have written the entire thing, yes. In fact, I started and finished the story in one productive two-week period. Yes, I know! 40,000+ words in two weeks. I'm still shocked. D= But I'll be a cocktease and hoard those chapters for now. XD
And I'd love a banner for UtSS. My current one isn't so good (probably because I'm technologically illiterate. xp)
September 17th, 2011 (05:30 PM). Edited October 9th, 2011 by Draco Malfoy.
Double-post, but I needed to post the next chapter. Corrections of others will begin to filter into these chapters, so don't surprised if somethings are different upon a second read. =O
Here's Chapter Two.
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
The man opposite me is ugly. While his bulging forehead reminds me of a Crustle under its grimy shell, the extravagant jewels on his rings make those fat fingers look like sausages. The expensive business suit struggles to contain that enormous stomach. The nameplate pinned to his Lilycove blazer identifies him as a Director, one of the highest ranked officials in the League. When I glance at his chubby legs, I have to wonder how much funding he had diverted to pay for those expensive dress-pants. In short, the man looks like a pig in fancy clothing. Very fancy clothing.
The fatass passes me a vanilla folder. Inside are a number of forms. Each paper bears the picture of a black and white Pokéball, the official logo of the Unova Pokémon League.
“The Board of Directors has discussed the situation,” says the man. “In light of recent events, we have decided to supersede Subsections 1B and 1E.”
“What the hell is this?”
“Champion Alder has already completed his paperwork.” The man smiles. “All you need to do is sign.”
Feathers flurried. Sunlight gleamed off the jagged beak, as a great, grey bird soared upwards into the sky. The Unfezant’s yellow eyes narrowed, locking onto her prey. She started flapping her wings. All around the arena, sharp coils of wind blustered outwards and gorged the earth, like a ravenous beast. Rocks flew everywhere, buoyed by the gales. One particular rock, shaped like an overgrown snail with a face that was both viscous and aflame, shrieked. Terrified, the rock-snail belched a plume of scarlet fire at Unfezant.
The sweltering blast spurted towards the bird, singeing the heat-retardant tail-feathers. However, Unfezant remained unharmed. Imperturbable, she released a curiously echoing cry.
“Giga Impact,” Black ordered.
Unfezant spread her wings, which began to shine with brilliant, purple iridescence. Orange flecks of light overlay the violet glow, like the afterimage from a camera flash. A second later, the bird was entirely encased in a seethed cocoon of energy. The rock-snail tried to crawl away from Unfezant. As characteristic of its species, acrid smoke gushed from the Pokémon’s pyroclastic shell, signalling its distress.
“Maggy! Magcargo!” cried the girl in the petticoat. “Stone Edge!”
Listening to its Trainer, the rock-snail struck the ground. A chasm opened underneath Unfezant, and sharpened stones shot upwards, like recalcitrant bullets. However, to no avail. The rocks disintegrated upon the Giga Impact’s energy cloak, crumpling into harmless shards. Magcargo floundered, its panic becoming palpable. As Unfezant plunged at the rock-snail, Black crossed his arms. Ordinarily, Normal-type attacks such as Giga Impact would not be effective against Rock-types, like Magcargo. It was, along with the rest of the Type chart, one of the first lessons from the Trainers Academy. A typical Trainer would have opted instead for a Fighting-type attack, such as Focus Blast, or a powerhouse deluge, like Hydro Pump.
However, Black wasn’t a typical Trainer. Far from it.
What many people didn’t know was that Magcargo’s lithic shell was brittle. Made of the same pebble-like residue from volcanic discharges, it did not rank high on the Mohs scale of mineral strength. Furthermore, the shell was circular. With a clear centripetal centre – and a weak point.
With the force of a freight train, Unfezant spiralled into the side of Magcargo’s craggy shell. The keen beak pierced the bull’s eye. An explosion ballooned outwards, as smoke and bits of dirt went flying. As the aftershock released a clamouring blast, the girl in the petticoat yelped and blocked her ears from the splintering noise. Black merely blinked.
The dust finally settled. Unfezant materialised; her plumage was a little charred, but she was still intact. The same could not be said of Magcargo, who was eerily motionless. Shattered shards of magmatic rock strewed the ground.
“M-Maggy!” the girl whimpered, running to her fallen Pokémon.
Black nodded at Unfezant, before returning her to the Pokéball. Weary, he frowned. It was his second day in Undella, and this was already his second Pokémon battle. Since he had arrived in Undella for intimate, personal reasons, Black had sworn off matches in the meantime.
However, the challengers were persistent; once they discerned his identity as Unova Champion, the ones who weren’t deterred by his past pursued him. Hour after hour, like a predatory Warrgle and its Wurmple prey.
The girl in front of him was the leader of the more relentless ones; she had managed to force his hand. In fact, the only one more aggravating than her was the small kid whom he had battled yesterday. That youngster, pinch-faced and needle-chinned, used his immense wealth as a cudgel. Brat.
“Life goes on,” Black muttered, pocketing Unfezant’s Pokéball.
The girl in the petticoat called out again. Her voice corded with horror, drawing her opponent’s attention.
Carefully, Black looked at the girl and sighed. Huge tears were welling up in her eyes, when he walked up to her. Quietly, he handed her a handkerchief.
“There are two subdermal cuts, and a severe open fracture,” said Black.
“Magcargo can regenerate new shells, though. They simply need to cool down a little,” he continued, as though the girl hadn’t spoken. “Just get him to a PokéCenter, and he’ll be fine.”
The girl’s face brightened. “R-Really? Maggy will be alright? How do you know?”
“What’s your name?”
“Susan,” replied the girl.
“Well, Sue, I know because of this.”
Black fished out a peculiar, chess-black machine that was around the size of his right palm. The familiar Pokéball logo gleamed on the metallic cover. When he pressed a button, a 3-D image of Susan’s Magcargo flickered onto the bottom screen. A number of statistics accompanied the image.
Susan gawped. “What is that?”
“It’s called a Pokedex – Pokémon Encyclopaedic Index,” said Black, as he scrolled up the machine’s screen. “Using the latest Poké-technology, it scans information specific to each Pokémon and analyses the data.”
Impassively, he showed the device to the fascinated girl. “Take a better look, if you want.”
Her eyes widened upon inspection:
Pokémon Encyclopaedic Index (POKEDEX) – Prototype #A05
Species #219: Magcargo
-Strength Lv.: INTERMEDIATE
-ABILITY: Flame Body
Description: Magcargo, the LAVA Pokémon. Lives primarily in volcanic regions and occasionally emits the lava from its back that circles its body. Its inner body temperature is roughly 18,000 degrees F. Its shell, which is actually skin that has been hardened as a result of cooling, is very brittle and fragile - just touching it causes it to crumble apart. Rejuvenates its shell upon respite, followed by gradual cooling.
H. Status: FAINTED; subdermal cuts and shattered pyro-armor.
“So you don’t need to worry.” Black calmly told the girl, who blew her nose on the handkerchief. “Magcargo isn’t in particular danger. Holding him in Pokéball stasis will stabilise his condition.”
Snivelling slightly, Susan aimed her Luxury Ball at the fallen Magcargo. The lava Pokémon disappeared in a shimmer of red light.
“Thank you,” she mumbled.
Black forced a smile.
“Y-Your Pokémon are amazing. Unfezant had a Type disadvantage, yet it trounced Maggy completely,” Susan said in wonder.
She looked down, blushing. “I-I shouldn’t have pressured you so much into battling me. Magcargo had reached a winning streak, and I got arrogant.”
“You got impulsive, not arrogant,” said Black coolly.
“I wanted to fight you when I heard you defeated my brother,” Susan said, brushing dust off her expensive, Celadon blouse.
“Brother? You mean the blond kid in the sweater-vest and bowtie?”
Susan giggled. “That sounds like Draco, definitely. He’s a good battler, but he hasn’t yet outgrown the snotty phase.”
The girl straightened her lilac sundress for creases. Her crimped, auburn hair emanated the scent of fresh strawberries, probably from an organic shampoo. It reminded Black of an elegant but disdainful Trainer from the Elite Four, another native to Undella – Caitlin. Indeed, Susan’s handbag contained certain, tell-tale items: Luxury balls, Full Restores, Balm Mushrooms. Like her brother, Susan also held an inexpressible air of affluence and having been well cared for. Someone who had coasted through life without any hitch, who hadn’t spat into the maw. Content, but oblivious.
Undella Town – the Retreat of Rippling Waves – must have been Susan’s birthplace and home.
“Thank you for finding the time to battle me,” Susan piped in. “You must be very busy as Champion, saving Unova and jetting around the world. And it’s only your second day in Undella, and already you’ve had to deal with my brother and me…”
“It’s nothing,” said Black. “You asked me for a match, I gave you one.”
As per standard Unova League rules, Susan handed Black a wad of cash. However, he refused with a straining smile, citing that he had enough winnings to live two times over. The Riches family could keep their money, he assured. There was another reason for refusing the reward, though. While he talked to Susan, a sinking feeling of anger, discomfort, and something indefinable was pooling in his stomach.
In reality, Black simply wished to get away from the sheltered socialite as swiftly as possible.
“What you did was very brave, by the way,” murmured Susan, as she pocketed her rejected cash.
Vacantly, Black stared at the auburn-haired girl.
“We saw what you did to that white-tinted Pokémon in the giant Castle. Nobody else could have committed to the sacrifice you chose to make. If it weren’t for you, I-I would no longer have Maggy – or my Teddiursa. Humans wouldn’t be able to befriend Pokémon anymore.”
Susan surveyed him; her blue irises glistered with innocent gratitude. “S-Some people might be frightened of you, but I’m not scared. You did a noble thing. You’re the Hero of Unova.”
Black clenched his fists. A savage feeling spiked his chest, like a spear. Susan actually staggered backwards when she caught the dim glint in Black’s eyes. He took a step forward.
“You don’t –”
A loud crash interrupted him. The two Trainers wheeled around. Removing his gaze from Susan, Black discerned a hazy shape in the distance. It was approaching from the plateau above. A raucous buzzing, not dissimilar to the sound made by the blades of a lawnmower, boomed from the cliff’s edge. Bits of turf were flung outwards, as the blurry form rocketed down the slope at an absurd velocity. The creature came to a skittering halt in front of Susan. Alarmed, the girl stumbled.
Black tilted up his League cap; his eyes studied the beast before him.
The monster was lithe and streamlined, in an optimal aerodynamic design. A jagged fin, medalled with crisscrossing scars from overlapping battles, sprouted from the back. It was this, alongside the wide wingspan, which granted the Pokémon its infamous agility and manoeuvrability. Curved claws jutted out; a thin layer of dirt coated the tips, signalling that the creature had used them as grappling hooks. Its tail swayed back and forth, like a foul pendulum. The face was next. Serrated fangs furnished a hammer-shaped head, from which glowered a pair of beady eyes.
“Hm.” Bemused, Black said, “I didn’t know Garchomp could use Rock Climb.”
There was a shuffling behind Garchomp. To Black’s correct prediction, a mane of silky, blond hair emerged. Cynthia hopped off her Pokémon in one, fluid motion.
“It was an HM for a while, before the Silph Co. phased it out of the market,” Cynthia replied.
Laggardly, Susan recovered from the shock of meeting Garchomp. When she looked at Cynthia, her jaw unhinged comically.
“You! You’re the Champion of the Sinnoh League!”
“Former Champion,” Cynthia corrected.
“My mother and I were there in Sunyshore when Volkner challenged you,” said Susan breathlessly. “You’re a role model to female Trainers all around the world. The Sunyshore Exhibition Match of ’06! The way you finished that Raichu was ingenious.”
Susan clapped her hands; the Silcoon-silk gloves rustled together. “You’re an incredible Champion. My favourite, actually. ”
What was he? Chopped liver? Sardonically, Black wondered what Susan thought of him. Probably not this much. She wasn’t nearly as dewy-eyed when he first met her. Instead of gushing about his achievements, the girl announced that she was challenging him to a Pokémon match. Impertinent and haughty.
Black didn’t mind, though. At least she didn’t ask for his autograph – or shudder and whisper behind his back.
“That’s very flattering, Susan,” said Cynthia softly. “I’m honoured that you think so highly of me.”
“You know my name?!” Black winced at the high-pitched squeal.
“Yes, your mother and I have become acquainted over the past few days. She often speaks of you.”
Garchomp growled something incomprehensible in its Trainer’s ear. Cynthia listened and nodded, as though she understood.
“And that reminds me, your mother sent me over, Susan. Apparently you have a rehearsal dinner with Grandmother Clairdonna in one hour. Your mother wants you to come home immediately in order to prepare.”
Susan actually squeaked. Panicking, she packed her belongings and arranged her hair, presumably into an acceptable manner.
“Shit, I totally forgot about that! Mum’s going to murder me,” Susan said to herself.
A Pokéball soared into the air. In a flare of white, a tall hare with strong hindlegs and floppy ears manifested. Black’s Pokedex identified it as a Lopunny.
“Thank you for the heads up,” Susan told Cynthia, as she climbed onto her Lopunny.
The girl gave Black a furtive look, which he disregarded.
“Loppy, try your best, okay?” Susan tightly gripped the brown fur. “Loppy, Bounce.”
Cynthia and Black watched as the Lopunny launched itself upwards with one, powerful kick. Within seconds, Susan and her Pokémon passed halfway up the cliff. Another jump, and the pair vanished over the edge.
Black tried to muster a polite smile, but failed.
“ – And you are going through with this? Isn’t there a rule designed to prevent to this sort of thing?”
Shauntal is protesting, although I doubt that it is solely for my benefit. For somebody who often chooses to take a backseat and write instead of speak, Shauntal is surprisingly vociferous in her argument. Perhaps the news is jarring, even to her. She and the other Elite Four members do seem shocked at what the Board of Directors is proposing. I don’t even need to look at Marshal to know that he is, at that moment, only two sandwiches away from a picnic. Caitlin isn’t any better. She has set her face in default setting #10: haughty disdain.
The pig in the expensive clothes gives a simpering smile.
“Miss DuNoir,” he says to Shauntal, “the Board has the authority to supersede provisions in Sections 1 and 3, granted that the League has been put under a State of Emergency. If I am to understand, Champion Alder is yet to reverse that status?”
“That was so the repair work wasn’t impeded by bundles of red tape,” rebuts Shauntal.
“Nevertheless, our decision is quite legal. We have deemed that Champion Alder is unfit for duty. The fact that Team Plasma was able to build their headquarters here, undetected, is surfeit. Indeed, you are all lucky that you even retained your positions as the Elite Four. If the Gym Leaders hadn’t rejected our offers, they would have replaced you.”
When Shauntal reels back, the official in the laundered clothes glanced at me. The look in his eye is predatory.
“Besides, our new Champion is a prodigy, like the Champion of Sinnoh,” says the man. “He shall meet our expectations most wonderfully.”
Everybody in that room turns to stare at me. The indignity on Marshal’s face, the shock on the others… The conceited, knowing look on the wealthy official. I hate that self-satisfied gleam. What would he know about survival? About Pokémon?
At that moment, I decide that I hate rich people.
On the outskirts of Undella Town, there was a splendid mansion of crystalline windows and marble walls. At over 8,500 square feet, the mansion was the largest of Undella’s residences. Indeed, it even surpassed the villa of Lady Caitlin, Former Frontier Brain and Psychic mistress of the Unova Elite Four. Such opulence was matched by the identities of the mansion’s owners: the Riches Family. Led by the patriarch Albus Riche, the family had become a staple of Undella Town. The women of Undella attempted to emulate Trish Riche’s fashion, while sycophants offered rare artefacts to the item-maniac Albus, in hope of impressing him.
Even the three Riches children – Miles, Susan, and Draco – were treated with such respect by the townsfolk that they had become anchored on their own egos. Not even the sight of the Unova League Champion daunted them. They even had the conceited gall to challenge the Champion to a Pokémon Battle. While Susan and Draco had endeavoured and lost, Miles was already planning his move.
Such was the wealth of the Riches Family. Therefore, it was no surprise that the family possessed their own, private arena, designed for Pokémon Battles. The arena – located behind the colossal Riches Mansion – was an empty plateau that lay sandwiched between a high-rising cliff and the ocean itself. Devoid of wildlife, barring the tall evergreens and occasional flowers, the plateau was isolated and hard to reach.
The perfect place for an undisturbed Pokémon match.
It was on this plateau that Susan Riche had engaged in a battle with the reigning Unova League Champion. Of course, she had lost, leaving behind rubble and her pride. Susan was content, though, for she had gotten to meet Cynthia Chard, Former Champion of the Sinnoh League and the first female winner of a Grand Pokémon Tournament. Susan’s idol.
Currently, that idolised woman and the Unova Champion were standing on the Riches’ plateau. The Unova Champion, “Black”, had just concluded his victory against Susan, who was climbing up the cliff with her Lopunny. He and Cynthia examined the girl, as her figure became more and more distant in the horizon.
Black spoke as soon as Susan had completely vanished over the cliff: “How long were you watching?”
“What do you mean?” Cynthia’s tone was evasive.
He gave her a gimlet look.
“I’m not stupid,” said Black, scrutinising Cynthia as she touched the silver ring on her left hand. “I sensed your Garchomp ten minutes ago.”
“Yes, really,” he replied. “So answer the question. How long?”
Cynthia raised her eyebrows at him; Black did not waver.
“Long enough,” she admitted, finally.
Placidly, she brushed back her blond bangs. “I liked your use of Lucky Chant. It was very inspired.”
“You noticed that?” He was surprised. “But it was a non-verbal command; only Unfezant should have known.”
“Stone Edge has a high critical-hit ratio,” she said plainly.
Black peered at Cynthia; her acuity impressed him. By all reasons, Magcargo’s Stone Edge should have demolished Unfezant, even after factoring in Unfezant’s superior level and experience. A critical hit, which would have surpassed Giga Impact’s protective energy sheath, should have landed. Magcargo’s Type advantage should have triumphed. Why didn’t Unfezant lose?
Simple. Unfezant was also known as the Super Luck Pokémon. Near the end of her Razor Wind attack, she slipped in a surreptitious Lucky Chant. Lady Fortune had weakened the Stone Edge, diverting the worst of the barrage.
That Cynthia noticed all of this was remarkable. In fact, the last person to have perceived his strategies was –
A memory of those piercing green eyes resurfaced:
“Do you believe that Pokémon battles help us understand one another?”
No. He wasn’t going to remember, not now. Tautening, Black banished the thought.
Cynthia glanced at him.
“You look a little pale. How are you feeling?” she asked.
Brusquely, Black batted away Cynthia’s hand. “I’m fine.”
Concern laced her voice. “Are you sure?”
Black glared at her, as though she had slapped him. There was something galling about Cynthia’s demeanour. Although it seemed amiable and tranquil, her expression was knowing. Age and experience echoed in her eyes, dredging up memories of Professor Juniper and her apposite advice. However, there was more: optimism, cold logic, and… Was that a twinge of… empathy?
“Why are you so nice?” he demanded.
“Why are you so nice to me?” Black repeated, warily. “Not just me, but to other people as well.”
“You’ll have to be more specific,” said Cynthia.
“You know!” Black gestured, frustrated. Cynthia’s Garchomp snarled protectively when he drew closer to the inexpressive blond woman. “Like that girl and the deliveryman from yesterday.
“Why? You’ve never met them before, you’ve never met me before. Yet you sign autographs and talk as though you’ve known us for years. We’re total strangers. The truth is that we have different ideas and incompatible beliefs. We don’t share yours.”
Cynthia cocked an eyebrow at Black’s darkening voice.
“Those other people and I, we can never understand you,” he retorted. “We don’t really want to either. Why do you bother, then?”
“Because I can,” she said.
Black bolted up. His heart hammered against his ribcage like a drum.
“True, in an ideal world we would all understand each other. Yet reality dictates a different existence,” said Cynthia in a firm tone. “People have different dreams and different priorities. Thus, we come into conflict and competition.”
“You told the delivery boy that all his Pokémon dreams would come true,” said Black heatedly.
“Yes, I did.”
“Why?” Black’s voice became clinical. “Johansson’s life is fucking predictable: his father owns the local, Undella pizza shop, ‘Rufflet Pizza’. Two older sisters, both married. His mother died when he was ten. Aged nineteen, he wishes to become a Pokémon Trainer, specifically a Water-type Master.”
Cynthia said nothing. Her serene smile waned imperceptibly, like Darkrai’s moon.
“Johansson’s favourite region is Johto, because of the famous Whirl Cup and the Tour de Alto Mare. He doesn’t own any Pokémon, but he once befriended a wild Wailmer. When the seasons changed, though, the Wailmer herd had to migrate to the warmer oceans in Hoenn. Johansson never saw his friend again.”
“You’ve done your research,” said Cynthia.
“Undella’s a small resort town. When it rains, the locals gossip,” Black replied. “The information wasn’t hard to find.”
Cynthia sighed. “Of course not.”
“Standard age for the Trainer Qualifying Exam is eleven; Johansson is eight years too late,” said Black coldly. “You knew this. To expect otherwise is stupid. Why did you lie and give him false hope?”
“It’s not false hope.”
“You’re setting him up for massive disappointment,” he growled.
Poised, Cynthia petted her Garchomp, who cooed in appreciation. “This isn’t just about the advice I gave Matt Johansson, is it? This is about you as well. About your own conflicts, perhaps over recent events? About Alder, or maybe someone else?”
Words choked in Black’s throat, incoherent.
“Caitlin told me how you feel about your new fame,” said Cynthia, stroking Garchomp’s tough skin. “She thinks you’re not handling it well.”
“Caitlin should mind her fucking business,” Black snapped.
Cynthia didn’t reply. Instead, she gazed into the environment around her.
A summer breeze drifted through the evergreen ferns which arrayed in the vicinity. Luxuriant, the leaves rustled, as Dwebble and Crustle scurried into the loamy sand. A Wingull glided through the sky’s crisp canvas, like a white paintbrush. Nestled under the exuberant sun, a row of cerise flowers swayed, secreting a faint aroma of honeyed freesias. Despite his situation, Black had to acknowledge the natural serenity of Undella Town. Cynthia appeared to be breathing in these beautiful surroundings, instead of responding to his anger.
The breeze whistled again, fanning out Cynthia’s long hair. Troubled with a strong emotion, Cynthia touched her silver ring and stroked the strange brown stone.
“Caitlin is not the only one,” she said at last. “Your friend Cheren had expressed similar concerns, as did your girlfriend, Bianca.”
Black tensed. “Bianca isn’t my girlfriend.”
“That does not diminish the sentiment any less.” Cynthia’s grey eyes gleamed, like the ash at a fire’s end. “Many people are worried about you, and they wish that you’d return home presently, whether that is Nuvema Town or the Unova Pokémon League.”
Trembling, Black asked almost inaudibly. “When did you talk to my friends?”
“I didn’t,” she said. “When I mentioned to Professor Juniper that you were cohabiting Caitlin’s villa, she forwarded their messages. They miss you, it seems.”
Cynthia wandered to the murmuring ferns behind her Garchomp. Bending over, she scooped the flowers from underneath the foliage. Blushed petals floated in sea-bound zephyrs, wafting past Black’s shoulders, like a mother’s hands. A cherry aroma lingered.
“These flowers remind me of a spring blossom from Sinnoh,” said Cynthia offhandedly.
She lifted the bouquet to her nose. “They’re called ‘Gratia’ or ‘Kansha no Hana’ in a few of the Ancient Languages. Nowadays we call them Glacideas.”
“Your point?” Black was brusque.
“Legend says that Glacideas are a symbol of celebration and gratitude,” she said smoothly. “They bloom only every few years, and only under a certain angle of moonlight. The circumstances have to be right, or else the petals won’t open at all.”
Black knew how finicky it was to grow Glacideas. His own mother had tried to cultivate the flowers when he was younger. She had purchased heirloom seeds, yet the saplings stubbornly refused to bloom. Extra water, Charizard manure, Growth Mulch imported from Goldenrod. Nothing could persuade the Glacideas.
A hollow pain panged when Black remembered his mother. At this time of year, Nuvema Town would have decked itself with migrating Tranquill and kids in sweaty singlets, trying to catch the stray Sewaddle. His mother would probably be in a flour-dusted apron, watching some rerun of a ‘80s Lifetime Original. Would she be worried? Was she thinking about him? Outside their house, in the paddocks, Professor Juniper would tend to her Pokémon – Snivy and Oshawott, among others – for the next generation of Trainers.
Nuvema Town… It had been so long.
Too much had changed.
Cynthia loosened her hand; the flowers hung between the fingers, like lonely teardrops.
“In the west of Sinnoh, there is a town gilded with Glacideas,” she said quietly. “It’s called Floaroma. Its prime export is the famous Sonoo Honey, which had been produced by Combees, using the nectar of vivid, regional flowers.”
“Yes, Sonoo Honey. However, that’s not why I’m interested in Floaroma,” Cynthia explained. “You see, the elders of Floaroma have a myth about Glacideas. They claim that under the shadow of a dark moon, a legendary Pokémon would leave the Paradise of the North and visit the Glacidea fields. In the presence of the untainted Glacideas, the Pokémon would shift forms and take flight.”
Against the ocean wind, Cynthia’s flowers emitted another coil of sweet perfume. It was subtle fragrance, this time of raspberries and blackcurrants.
“In this new winged guise,” Cynthia resumed, “the Pokémon would confer its gifts of thanks to the townspeople, even though they never asked for anything. The Pokémon was simply glad that the Glacideas of Floaroma were untarnished. Mythology actually states that it’s because of this Pokémon’s mystical gifts that the Combee of Floaroma work so effectively, producing the town’s almost preternatural Sonoo honey.”
“What are you saying?” asked Black.
Cynthia fixed him with a stare. Grey orbs met amber. “Do you wonder why the Floaroma Pokémon is called the Spirit of Gratitude?”
Her eyes flashed. “It is because the Pokémon’s gift was not requested, yet freely given. Because that gift to humanity was the Pokémon’s only way of expressing the joy it felt upon seeing those blossomed Glacideas.”
Black’s pulse quickened.
“Gratitude is like the Glacidea flower: it’s something so delicate and ephemeral, blossoming under exceptional circumstances, only to fade too quickly,” Cynthia ruminated.
Radiantly, she smiled. “But however rare, it is breathtaking… Can you truly hate something that is this beautiful?”
Black fell silent. The inside of his mouth was dry.
Cynthia called out his name, causing him to look up. She approached from her Garchomp.
“You’re not a bad person,” she told him. “I saw the way you interacted with Susan Riche. Even though she was rude and far from understanding, you chose to comfort her.”
“What, no…” Black mumbled.
“You showed her your Pokedex, although you had no need,” continued Cynthia. “You chose to use your Unfezant instead of your Carracosta, who would have completely annihilated her Magcargo. Despite everything, you didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
Black fingered his collar, which felt oddly tight around his neck.
“I don’t like her – and the rest of them,” he said darkly. “They act like I’m their idol or something, as if they understand me. ‘The Hero of Unova’. Either that, or they treat me like a walking time-bomb. I’m dangerous.”
“You’re not dangerous.”
He laughed. “Who are you trying to kid? I brought down a fucking god.”
“I know a Sinnoh girl who did worse in the Distortion World, and she was twelve,” said Cynthia.
Garchomp roared at that moment. Cynthia dropped the fragrant bouquet, which slid towards Black’s feet. He picked up the flowers and scrutinised them. They were undeniably beautiful: the petals were splayed out in a hexagon pattern, extending in rose-coloured tips. A long stigma stretched daintily from the centre, like the leg of a prima ballerina. It was familiar…
Then, Black remembered. This pink flower, it was in Cynthia’s photograph. The younger Cynthia had worn it in her cropped hair.
Cynthia spoke again: “You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.”
Black’s hand flitted to the Pokébelt, feebly.
“You insist on the truth, and reality can be harsh,” she said gently. “But ideals can still exist. Yes, some people will never understand, and conflicts will continue to arise. However, others can change. Their gratitude can be sincere; you have no reason to fear it. Don’t reject it.”
Cynthia moseyed to her Garchomp and climbed onto its scaly, blue back. As she secured her footing on the hammer-head Pokémon, Black crouched down. Tired, he hugged his arms.
“I need to leave now; I have to arrive at Undella Bay in thirty minutes,” she said. “A few people are coming from Sinnoh to discuss… business. Leave when you want.”
Black remained silent.
Sighing, she turned away. She whispered a command in Garchomp’s ear and wrapped her arms around its neck.
“And the answer to your question,” called out Cynthia, as the Mach Dragon prepared to take off. “I was nice to Johansson because somebody had to. Although his dreams are unlikely, possibilities still remain. If you don’t dare to wish, nothing will change.”
Black glanced up.
“Even the harshest truths need the lens of idealism to mellow it,” she said earnestly. “Just as ideals have to tempered with a rational view of reality. Yin and Yang. Balance for balance.”
“You spout neo-philosophical shit,” retorted Black.
Cynthia was impervious to the insult. “I have the age and experience to back it up.”
“I don’t buy it.”
Cynthia chuckled knowingly. She said only one more thing before Garchomp vanished in a Dragon Rush.
“I never said you have to.”
Alder doesn’t seem as bothered as I would’ve expected. He is folding a map to the Celestial Tower when I walk towards him. I work hard to keep my composure.
“Why did you do it?” I ask him. “They said that you conceded… willingly, when they told you their plan.”
Alder wears a weary expression. “You mean resign as Champion?”
I don’t respond.
“I choose to leave my position when the Board approached me,” says Alder, solemnly, “Because I realised that I needed to undo my mistakes.”
“I saw what Reshiram’s boy did to you in that castle,” he says.
His black eyes flash. “I promise you, I will catch him.”
“ – I’m not putting them on. You can’t make me.”
“They’re swimming trunks, and you’re putting them on,” said Cynthia, reclining in the armchair. “It won’t kill you. I am not asking you to jump in toxic waste.”
A deadpan response: “I’d take the toxic waste.”
Amused, Cynthia raised an eyebrow. “How are you supposed to go swimming without swimming trunks? Are you expecting me to lend you a bikini?”
“Keep your two-piece,” said Black, “because I’m not going swimming. Period.”
“I’ll be wearing my black swimsuit.”
Black glanced up. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” was the noncommittal reply. “I thought boys your age always want to know what women are wearing.”
It was a sprightly Monday morning, and the two Champions were talking in Caitlin’s villa. The banter was friendly… it felt nice. Surprising, in fact. After their little ‘chat’ on Sunday, Black had expected things to become awkward between him and Cynthia. He had lost his composure and lashed out. It wasn’t something he was especially proud of.
Half of him had anticipated that Cynthia would shun him, perhaps lodging a complaint to Caitlin. The Unova Elite Four were already on a knife’s edge, after his sudden “vacation”. Indeed, Marshal would have wet himself with glee at the chance to beat the living shit of him. Caitlin would have found another reason to whinge, while Grimsley had to play peacekeeper.
Shauntal would have just stood back and added extra notes to her (unauthorised) biography on him. What a “unique” personality.
However, Cynthia’s complaint never came. When the blonde former Champion returned to the villa from her rendezvous, she sashayed to the kitchen cupboard. She opened a tub of mixed nuts, added a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, and topped off the infernal mixture with extra-salty Slateport fish sauce. Black waited for the cold shoulder.
Instead, the woman had offered him a spoon. “If you wait around for too long, the ice-cream will melt. That would ruin the dish.”
Black made a sarcastic comment.
“It’s nothing like that,” she said, giving some of the mixture to her Garchomp. Enthusiastic, the Pokémon scoffed down the gelatinous mess. “Garchomp thinks it’s palatable.”
Hesitant, Black took the spoon. He licked the smallest tip of the discombobulated blend. Instantly the mixture stuck to the underside of his tongue, like unprocessed glue. Granules of bitterness coated his throat as he swallowed. Afternotes of sweet-and-sour followed.
It tasted nice. He took another bite.
Cynthia chuckled, before returning to her own dish. The two Trainers ate in comfortable silence. Any awkwardness had already evaporated, like the morning mist. And so, the heated conversation went unmentioned, leaving Black back where he started.
Blithely, Cynthia had reverted to peppering him with coy and cryptic remarks. Currently, she had decided that the weather was apt for swimming at Undella Beach; the last vestiges of storm clouds had finally parted. She was trying to wheedle him into joining her in a swimsuit.
“I am sure that you’ll enjoy yourself,” argued Cynthia. “You won’t be bored with me.”
“You’re nearly twice my age,” Black said flatly.
“You wouldn’t know what my generation does for fun,” he explained, without looking up from his book: Old as Dirt – the autobiography of Bertha Brunt, Elite Four. “For all you know, you’d think that a game of Beach Connect-Four is the ultimate pastime.”
Cynthia gave an analytical look, while Black closed his tome and set it back in the bookcase, next to the Collected Historic Anthology of Sinnoh Gym Leaders: From Byron to Volkner.
“What an uncanny resemblance,” she murmured.
Cynthia shook her head. “It’s surprising to meet another Trainer who has the same clipped tone as that girl…”
“Oh, the horror,” Black deadpanned.
As the two Trainers stood at an impasse, outside the villa, a flock of Wingull squawked and bickered over the leftovers of greasy Fish-and-Chips. There was a faint screech of a car steering on the dirt road.
Then, an unusual gleam manifested in Cynthia’s eyes. Apprehensive, Black retreated slightly when the woman opened her mouth:
“Why come to a beach town if you don’t plan to visit the beach?”
“Lots of other reasons.” Black felt mischievous. “I have an unhealthy appetite for blistering sea-salt and skin disease.”
Cynthia carried on: “Nevertheless, the expectation is that when you abscond to a beach resort, you use the beach. That fact remains.”
“The Unova Elite Four are toiling through a string of matches,” she said vaguely. “Specifically, Grimsley and Caitlin are pulling double-duty, in the absence of their eminent Champion.”
Black buckled forward.
“I wonder how they would react if they hear you refuse to leave the villa and enjoy yourself. Marshal Kunz had not vacationed in four years – ”
Black raised his hand, interrupting Cynthia. Shuddering, he dismissed the mental image of an outraged Conkeldurr and a further outraged Trainer. The dark-skinned man had flexed his arms, announcing to “prevail the strength of conviction” – with his fist.
“You win,” Black said, sighing. “I’ll get changed now. Give me the swimsuit.”
Widening her smile, Cynthia reached into her duffel bag and pulled out a black material. She tossed it to him.
With an ease honed from years of handling Pokéballs, he effortlessly caught the material. However, his eyes popped out when he examined the costume. It wasn’t a pair of swimming trunks; it was a speedo. Complete with little Sharpedos on the rear area.
“This is a speedo,” Black retorted.
Cynthia shrugged. “You were so against the swimming trunks that I had to choose something else.”
“It’s a speedo.”
“Yes, it is.” Cynthia sounded distinctly amused.
“It’s a speedo.”
The former Champion lounged in her armchair, like a smug Glameow.
“Did you bring your own swimsuit?” she asked. “I am not referring to the torn pants you’ve used when Surfing, the ones I’ve unfortunately had to throw away.”
At the mention of his ruined shorts, Black scowled. Cynthia’s Garchomp thought it would be hilarious to practice Fire Fang on some of his belongings. The damn sand-shark had barked with laughter when Black gawked at the sight of his charred possessions. Needless to say, the shorts were burnt, along with some assorted curios: a Cleanse Tag, two Miracle Seeds, a Lava Cookie from Cheren, and a half-eaten Rage Candybar. Black was incensed. Not even Cynthia’s sincere apology could help.
Cynthia had insisted that it was all a grave misunderstanding; Black had muttered that Cynthia’s Garchomp was the groin-spawn of some flea-ridden incubus. The stupid Dragon hated him.
Trilling, Cynthia’s voice pulled Black’s attention from his thoughts:
“Judging from your expression,” she said in a light tone, “you don’t have your own swimsuit. Therefore, you will have to rely on what I have to offer.”
“Would you like me to continue?” she said, pleasantly.
Defeated, Black sighed again. “I’ll go get changed.”
He rolled his eyes at the disquieting delight in Cynthia’s velvety voice. The woman had a surprising capacity for mischief. Wasn’t she meant to be renowned for her unflappable poise and rational, mature style? How unbecoming.
Black had outwardly declared that he was protesting these new arrangements. However, under that blank demeanour and messy fringe of brown hair, there was a different story. The corners of lips, curled upwards ever-so-slightly.
For the first time in weeks, he was actually smiling.
The first time I buy a Casteliacone, it isn’t particularly good. The sweltering, summer sun has melted the ice-cream, creating dribbles of vanilla down my wrist. I swear colourfully.
I walk to a garbage can to bin the soft serve. However, Tepig nuzzles my leg. He is looking pointedly at the ice-cream.
Mischievous, I lower the soft-serve and poke it gently into his nose. Tepig squeaks and then licks the Casteliacone off his face. The sprinkles catch on his tongue.
I actually smile.
/fin of Chapter Two/
October 9th, 2011 (02:30 AM).
Double-posting, but I'm posting the next chapter. Read and enjoy. Also, don't forget to leave comments and reviews. Constructive feedback is appreciated.
psyanic, thank you for the nomination. I truly appreciate it. I'm not very active on the Pokemon forums at the moment, but people like you make me want to come back more often. xD
“We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone - but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.”
It’s in Accumula Town where I meet N for the first time.
He’s unimposing in appearance: a rounded face, soft nose, and softer eyes. In fact, his lengthy, green hair is the only thing that stands out about him. That gentleness about him is belying. Curious, I follow his gaze to a platform. He and the rest of the crowd are staring at the stage. Somebody is giving a speech at the podium. I resist the urge to snort, because most of the material is utter crap. Pokémon liberation, really?
The one-eyed man in the florid cloak, the person giving the speech, compares Pokémon Trainers to slave auctioneers.
“Bullshit,” I mutter.
N notices me. His green irises flick to my left ankle, where Tepig is sitting. Cheren, who’s standing next to me, scowls.
“Your Pokémon,” N said. “Just now, it was saying...”
I’m excited. Fuck it, I am.
“You can hear Tepig?!” I exclaim, as I nearly jump on N. “What is he saying? Do Pokémon actually talk?!”
“Yes, they can talk,” he says, slowly.
Cheren doesn’t look impressed.
“Oh.” N realised something. “Then, you two can’t hear it, either... How sad.”
He seems disappointed, almost. It’s as if he had expected another response.
“What’s your name?” I ask, cheerfully.
“My name is N.”
This was Black’s second day at the beach. The first day was as just bad as he had imagined: hot and sticky, with an extra dosage of Cynthia. Cynthia herself wasn’t a problem. In fact, the woman was quite astute and peaceful to be around. No, the problem was her primary associate – Garchomp. The foul creature found an excuse to head-butt him, whenever was possible. It wasn’t a full-on Pokémon attack, more like a “gentle” shove. “Gentle”, but beyond maddening. Buy a Snow Cone without offering Cynthia one, head-butt. Forget to open the parasol for Cynthia, head-butt. Fucking look at Cynthia wrong, head-butt.
It hurt. A lot.
Black knew under no uncertain terms, that Garchomp hated him. He was fine with that; he didn’t like the rabid shark either. The only problem was convincing Cynthia that Garchomp hated him. Either the former Champion was stupid enough to believe that Garchomp’s head-butts were coincidental, or she noticed but was choosing not to do anything about it.
Black was hoping that it was the former.
Cynthia called out his name, grabbing his attention.
“How are you feeling? You look rather peckish,” she said gently.
“I’m a little hungry,” he admitted.
Black set down the (thick) book he was reading. Like many other tomes that he had been selecting lately, it was a history volume. The Annotated History of the Valor Lakefront: Precincts of Arrowroot and Snowpoint (4th Edition). The chapters devoted to the Gym Leader Camellia and her exploits were intriguing, to say the least.
Indeed, the woman had tackled a range of opponents, from cannibalistic Froslass within the Snowpoint Temple to Gym challengers, whom she had named anonymous whilst describing in some detail. Out of the Trainers who battled and defeated Camellia, the shy boy with the shyer Abra and the vivacious girl with the slow-footed Gastrodon were most impressive. All in all, the book possessed interesting material, most definitely. Enthralling content.
However, for some reason Black was far more interested in what Cynthia had to say. Weird.
Shaking his head, he returned his attention to the conversation.
“Do you have any snacks?” he asked Cynthia.
“Apples or muesli bars?”
“Front flap of the duffel bag. Try the second compartment.”
As Black reached over to the bag, Garchomp, who was sitting beside it, bared his wide, yellowed teeth. Draconian nostrils flared, like a spinning fire. Black grabbed the muesli bars as swiftly as he could. Contrary to what Cheren had always claimed, he didn’t want to lose an arm.
“Why don’t you keep Garchomp in his Pokéball?” Black asked Cynthia.
“He likes the fresh air,” she replied. “He has always been a bit more squeamish than my other Pokémon.”
Cynthia lifted her sunglasses. “Why? Do you not like Garchomp. He definitely likes you.”
The corners of Cynthia’s lips curled upwards. A faint but irrefutable hint of amusement lingered, as though the former Champion had witnessed a particularly talented pantomime.
That settled it. It was the latter. Definitely the latter.
Exasperated, Black sighed and looked away from Cynthia. Instead, he tried to adjust his uncomfortable speedo. The damn thing kept on riding up his – well, that wasn’t important. What was important, important and telling, were his surroundings.
The beach which Cynthia had selected was strange. On the first glance, it appeared the same as the rest of the Undella coastline: crisp waters, gentle waves, and white sands. However, Black discovered that the similarities had ended there. Unlike the other beaches, Cynthia’s beach was empty. Although it was two in the afternoon, Black knew that he and Cynthia were the only ones present. Not a single tourist or swimmer in sight. Even the lifeguard's high chair was abandoned, signalling that this was an unmanned beach. The strange arrangement of stones next to that chair's skeleton only compounded the mystery.
Moreover, the reactions of the locals were confusing. Earlier in the day, Cynthia had asked him to head to the beach, while she went to buy some snacks at the convenience store. However, the former Champion had forgotten to give Black the directions to her beach, forcing him to ask the locals. When he did so at the PokéCenter, the effect was electric. The surfer in flip-flops nearly dropped his injured Squirtle, while the Nurse gasped. A schoolgirl standing next to them – a blithe blonde, dressed in a yellow swimsuit – stammered. The grandmother with the Chimecho told Black to “stay away from the Cove.”
There was something... off about the beach. Black knew that the beach, “the Cove”, was probably important to Undella Town. But how? He mentally made a note to research into it later.
A shuffling from beside him brought Black out of his ponderings. Despite himself, Black felt his eyes drift over the source of the sound: the woman next to him.
Languidly, Cynthia had spread herself on the Bronzor-themed towel. She had delivered on her word: she was wearing a black swimsuit. The bikini verged on the obscene, though. Indeed, the bottom consisted of a lacy thong which revealed Cynthia’s long, lissom legs. The top wrapped around her chest, pressing up the breasts in a classy bandeau. When Cynthia stretched her feet around the concentric, Bronzor patterns, the bra shifted. Supple white skin greeted the summer sun, as Black’s eyes met that significant cleavage.
Black felt his cheeks redden. Detecting Black’s stunned gaze, Garchomp snarled. The creature gnashed his teeth, protective.
“You really are a young boy, aren’t you?” said Cynthia, noticing Black’s blush.
Embarrassed, Black turned away.
“Shut up,” he muttered.
She raised her eyebrows. “You’ve never seen in a woman’s body before? It is nothing to be scared of.”
“I’m not scared,” he said in a controlled voice. “Why did you have to wear that today, though? Couldn’t you have worn the white one-piece?”
“The white one is too constricting around my chest,” she said serenely. “I can barely breathe in it. Besides, I thought you would like this one.”
Black tore into a muesli bar, frustrated.
Cynthia clicked her tongue against her teeth. “Shame. You’d think that a boy as well-travelled as yourself would have seen a bikini before.” She wiggled her toes in the sand. “Perhaps your friend Bianca was too self-conscious to wear a swimsuit around you.”
“Bianca wears an orange maillot with cerulean trimmings,” said Black brusquely. “Not a black, near transparent two-piece. That shouldn’t be legal.”
“You know the cut and fashion designer’s name of your friend’s swimwear?” Cynthia absently secured her sunglasses. “Impressive… you must have a very specific eye for detail. A voyeur, perhaps?”
Black slammed his head into the sand.
Softening her gaze, Cynthia uncurled herself and smiled at Black. Mischief slipped from her face, making room for genuine contentment. She twisted the silver ring on her hand; the anomalous brown stone glistered, like a polished cowrie.
“It makes me happy to see you like this,” she said softly. “Hormonal, carefree… you look like a, a – ”
“A loon?” Black snarked.
Cynthia shook her head. “A teenager.”
A strange feeling rose in Black, something different to the familiar burdens of rage and sorrow. It spread across his stomach, like hot chocolate in a winter’s night. Is that how Cynthia saw him? Not as a Champion, or some fictional Hero, but as a boy? The warmth reached his chest. After another moment, Black realised that what he was feeling was hope.
“You’re delusional,” he said, half-heartedly.
Garchomp snorted, while Cynthia took off her glasses.
“I don’t think I am,” she said meekly.
She scratched her Garchomp under the chin. “When I first met you, you had a certain look. Dark circles, chapped lips, and – those eyes. Your eyes were clouded, intense like that girl’s…”
“You’re not making sense.”
“How lonely were you?” Cynthia sounded sad, without pity. “When was the last time you saw your boyhood friends?”
Black was prepared to launch a sardonic remark, but at the last moment, he chose to rein it in. For some reason, he wanted to talk to somebody about that last month, even Cynthia. No, especially Cynthia. The woman had shared her own childhood story; it was only fair that he reciprocated.
“I last met Cheren in Nuvema, after Professor Juniper had upgraded my Pokédex.” He traced the stitched rim of his League cap. “The guy was helping a lab assistant to modify one of those Hoenn PokeNav, apparently for use in Unova. Cheren was always good with electronics, much better than me. When we were younger, I used to call him Gear Head. It pissed the crap out of him.”
“He was helping one of Aurea Juniper’s assistants?”
“It’s Cheren’s thing. He’s a Fix-it guy.” Impassively, Black pulled in his knees. “The stoic, reliable one who knows a solution from this book or that manual. The serious kid you’d sit next to, just so you could lift his test answers. That was Cheren.”
“Did you talk to him?” asked Cynthia.
“I wanted to. I tried, I really did,” said Black. His voice cooled, like an Arctic snap. “But when I approached him, I saw his Samurott standing next to him, like some bodyguard. My body froze up… I choked up, and words wouldn’t come out.”
As Black said those words, a memory of Cheren materialised. The Pidove were chirping in a nearby oak tree, and his shirt was pasted to his back with sweat. There was the peal of laughter, like a chime; a raven-haired boy was kneeling beside a horned sea-lion. That bespectacled boy, normally stoic and apathetic, laughed and bathed in a dusky moment of camaraderie with his Pokémon. His first partner.
“It got worse when Cheren actually spotted me,” Black continued. “He called out my name, and I ran like a fucking pansy. I ran until Cheren was gone, and my lungs were screaming at the seams. I felt sick and nearly threw up yesterday’s Kung Pao Chicken. Probably from over-exhaustion, right?”
Cynthia folded her hands, but didn’t say anything.
“Bianca wasn’t any better,” said Black. “Unlike Cheren, she actually had the balls – or stupidity – to follow me to Castelia City. She wanted to talk to me, so we visited that famous café.”
“Yeah, that one. The café was actually closed when we got there.” Black chewed on his second muesli bar. “Apparently the owner closed shop every Tuesday. That didn’t deter Bianca, though. When she actually set her scatterbrained mind on something, she would try her best to see it through. It was her way of doing things, I guess.”
“What did she do?” Cynthia asked considerately.
Black snorted. “She knocked on the café door continuously, until the owner, who lived in the upstairs annexe, got bothered to tell us off. Bianca then brought out the waterworks. Five minutes later, we were sharing a Casteliacone with hot Chocolate Fudge.”
“That must have been delicious,” said Cynthia, with a smile. “A classic combination of vanilla and chocolate.”
“Maybe,” was Black’s evasive reply. “I wouldn’t know. Bianca ate the entire thing before I could really try. Her appetite was huge for a girl’s. Cheren used to say that she stored an alternate dimension in her stomach.”
It was true. Bianca had demolished the sundae, wielding her spoon like a crusader's sword. Aghast, the owner gaped at her, while Black didn’t even blink. Melted chocolate pooled in the bottom of the empty, glass bowl, as Bianca leaned towards him. Her green eyes were oddly protuberant and glassy. She wetted her pink lips –
Shaking his head, Black returned to the story: “We talked for a while. Nothing happened.”
“Did she ask?” Cynthia was patient.
“About it?” said Black, tearing open another muesli bar. “Yeah.”
“That must have upset you.”
“I’m not a fucking kid. I can handle myself,” Black said keenly. “I didn’t cry or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“It did make you angry, though.”
“No, it didn’t. By that point, I had gone beyond caring,” he murmured. That horrible weight pulled on his chest again, like a puppeteer with his strings. “The words didn’t really register.”
Dispassionate, Black hugged his knees. “But then she took out her Serperior, I don’t know why, maybe to feed him. Instantly, she realised her mistake. She returned her Pokémon to the ball and apologised over and over again.”
Cynthia twisted the silver ring on her finger.
“I couldn’t stand the pity in her eyes,” said Black, directing his voice into that familiar placid and detached tone. “Bianca used to respect me. I wasn’t so much her rival as her admiration. But now… I was something to feel sorry for?”
Bianca’s green eyes were glazed with sympathy and commiseration. The long lashes were tipped with tears, giving the impression of cut blades of grass after the morning’s dew. Why did she feel sorry for him? Why? He was the Unova Champion, as he had always dreamt in his childhood of race-car beds and sticky-taped posters. The Elite Four respected him, and the media called him “the latest in the dynasty of prodigy Champions”. But those green eyes. Piercing green eyes…
The Ferris wheel turned, and that murmured apology –
Instinctively, Black reached for his Pokébelt. The Garchomp growled.
“What did you do?” asked Cynthia quietly.
“Nothing,” Black intoned. “I paid the shopkeeper. Bianca and I then shook hands and parted ways. Life goes on.”
“Where did you first meet your Pokémon?”
N is gazing at me, inquisitively. Wiping my mouth, I set down the Rage Candybar and look back at him. His face is blank and enigmatic. I suspect that he already knows the answer to his own question, but I decide to indulge him.
“I met Elgyem last.” I start in a careful voice. “He was a shy little thing from the Celestial Tower; he still cries at the sight of his own shadow.”
I pocket the half-eaten Rage Candybar.
“Pansage is from the Dreamyard, and Lenora revived Carracosta from a fossil. And I met Scraggy in Route 4.”
“Tranquill and Pignite?” asks N.
“They’re my best friends, I’ve known them the longest,” I reply. “Tranquill is my first capture, actually. From Route 3.”
N seems sad. “And your Pignite was your Starter?”
“Yeah, Pignite was Tepig, my first Pokémon. Why ask?”
The morning sunlight breaks upon N’s face; his green eyes are inscrutable, as they reflect the pale glow. He brushes away some dust from my face. I frown when N sighs.
He leans towards me. “Do you think that if we were two ordinary Trainers, if we weren’t heroes, we could have been friends?”
Black sat on the balcony of the villa, watching the sun rise in the eastern horizon. Golden fingers of light seeped through the darkened sky. The underside of cumulus clouds were tinged with splashes of pink and orange, like acrylic paint on a well-worn easel. The smallest of sunbeams flecked the surface of Undella Bay’s stirring waters, which broke upon the white beach in imperceptible waves. Black wondered if daybreak had a bell, and what that would sound like. A soft peal? A trumpeting cry? An indefinite echo, Black decided.
Dawn was always his favourite part of the day. There was something hushed and gorgeous about that early, basking glow. It was soothing, balmy. The best part, though, were the first five seconds before the sun actually broke through. In those seconds, you were unsure of whether the world would continue turning in darkness or awaken for one more day. At that moment, the world’s fate rested on a butterfly’s wing.
Then, time marched again, and sunlight streamed through the clouds. As the sky ignited with brightness, the world went on as usual.
Black liked those first few seconds of dawn because the moment was crystallised in uncertainty. At that moment, it felt as though anything could happen. Anything.
Leaning forward, he smiled and petted his Unfezant, whom he had early released from her Pokéball. Unfezant enjoyed sunrises as much as he did, and Black didn’t want to deprive her. He tickled the Pokémon under her chin. The bird squawked happily.
“Remember when I first met you?” Black said to Unfezant. “It was right before dawn, wasn’t it?”
Unfezant cawed in affirmation. She was the first Pokémon he had ever caught. It was early spring, and a brisk chill had permeated Route 3. Buoyed with the excitement of his first Pokémon journey, Black was racing down the road; he wanted to beat the Striaton Gym before Cheren did. Daybreak had opened, illuminating the pine trees which skirted the route. Spindly branches had started to cast defined shadows on the earth. Curious, a lone Pidove was perched on one of these branches. She angled her head, viewing Black as an intellectual oddity. Black grinned.
A Pokémon battle followed. Ember wisps whirled. After another Tackle, Black threw a red Pokéball, and what followed was the start of a great Pokémon career.
Unlike the rest of Black’s Pokémon, Unfezant never went through a rebellious phase. She didn’t complain when Black, in a foolish beginner’s mistake, deployed her against a wild Roggenrola in the Wellspring Cave. She didn’t whine when he asked her to learn the HM move, Fly, even though it would subject her to perilous loads. She didn’t say “fuck it” and disobey him in the midst of a battle, like Scrafty (who, even as a young Scraggy, was a malicious fucker). All in all, Unfezant was a rational Pokémon who enjoyed simple pleasures.
She was the most diligent and second-most faithful Pokémon that Black had ever owned.
“What do you think of Cynthia?” Black asked Unfezant. “Do you think she’s trustworthy?”
The bird ruffled her tail feathers.
“Really? That much?” Black was surprised.
Unfezant answered by pecking the wooden guardrail. She struck the dove-tail joint, four times.
Black rolled his eyes. “I do not have avoidance issues. And Cynthia isn’t that pretty.”
Squawking, Unfezant gave him a disapproving nip on the finger. A numb pain hummed, as Black winced and squeezed the wounded forefinger. A tiny droplet of blood began to form.
“You didn’t have to do it,” said Black, glaring at the bird. “I get it. I shouldn’t be so cynical. You didn’t have to engrave my hand to make your point.”
Unfezant slanted her head to the left, and then to the left. As the morning sun rose higher in the sky, the bird gave her Trainer a gimlet look. She looked serene and unflustered. Black wondered if Unfezant’s calm demeanour was a vestige from her Tranquil days.
“I know I owe Caitlin. Both her and Grimsley,” Black responded. He stared vacantly at the horizon, which was wrapping the ocean in a golden embrace. “Tonnes of people are helping me, for some reason.”
He sighed. “I don’t deserve their attention. I don’t want their attention, either.”
Extending her talons, Unfezant scratched the guardrail, twice.
“Don’t say that,” said Black, biting his lip. “The reality is that I’m not like that anymore. I've grown up, I’m their stupid Hero now. I can’t afford to be idealistic.”
Unfezant squawked irritably.
“It’s the cold truth.”
Unfezant adjusted her mottled plumage.
“I wish I could,” he replied quietly. “Cynthia’s helped a lot, and the nightmares are lessening. But… I only tolerate her because she doesn’t pity me or try to treat me any differently.”
Sombre, Black lowered his League hat. “She doesn’t bring up what happened, like everyone else. I don’t know how I’d react if she did, though.”
Unfezant lifted her right wing and waved it.
“Thanks,” he murmured, stroking Unfezant’s tail feathers. “That’s what you think, huh? You were always the unlikely optimist.”
Unfezant nuzzled her head against Black. She cooed, three times in succession. When Black felt his chest tighten uncomfortably, the bird cawed.
“Of course I miss Cheren and Bianca,” he said hastily. “Mum, Professor Juniper – even the Elite Four. I want to see them, but… they wouldn’t understand. Maybe Alder, but his situation was different. Nobody is fucking congratulating him for it.”
Unfezant whistled, in a low, melancholic dirge.
Black trembled. “I miss him too.”
Making a split-second decision, Unfezant hopped off the guardrail and flew behind Black. She tried to fold her wings around her Trainer’s head, in an avian simulacrum of a hug. Long, grey feathers brushed against Black’s cheeks, comfortingly.
Black felt a rush of affection towards Unfezant.
“One of these days,” he said brightly, “I’ll need to buy you a nice, tasty sack of Poffin Pellets. You silly bag of feathers.”
Unfezant trilled elatedly.
After returning Unfezant to her Pokéball, Black glanced at his Mudkipz wristwatch. It was already six thirty. Shit. He had been talking to Unfezant for nearly an hour? He had to get ready.
He walked back into his bedroom and headed into the en-suite bathroom. After grabbing his toothbrush from the Sesmitoad-shaped holder, he reached for his ‘Morning Budew™’ toothpaste. However, when he squeezed the tube, nothing would come out. Not even the smallest smidgeon of paste.
“Great,” Black muttered, as he binned the empty tube.
Right. New toothpaste. Surely, Grimsley – or whoever had last stayed in this guestroom – must have stored some extra tubes? Maybe the hulking man with the flyaway, blond hair – Parnell? Pelmer? – had stashed his toiletries in the bathroom cabinet. He did visit the villa during the winter, whenever Caitlin had allowed it.
Black opened the wooden cabinet, which was installed under the sink.
“Toothpaste, toothpaste,” he said to himself.
He rummaged the drawers, wading through Grimsley’s Solitaire-brand aftershave and bottles of foul cologne. Disgusting. The astringent stench from the perfume bottles reminded Black of Rapidash piss. Did people actually use that stuff? That was surprising.
Reaching further into the cabinet, Black took out a double-step. The footstool, marketed to children, wasn’t even tall enough to reach the bathroom mirror. Black turned it over. On the side, was engraved “Property of Thorton”.
When Black reached into the cabinet once more, he finally found the toothpaste. It was a fancy brand, the kind with “organic” ingredients sourced from this rainforest or that oceanic trench. The tube itself was embellished with pictures of Delcatty and Liepard designed to entice the wealthy clientele, who wished to bolster their own sense of wealth and superiority.
However, the most noticeable feature about the toothpaste was the note taped on the tube. Black ripped it off.
His eyes narrowed when he read its contents:
TO: You know who you are.
Like everything else in this bathroom, this toothpaste is a premium brand. It slides through pearly teeth with the gentlest ease, cleansing the gums and the tongue’s pink underside. The beautiful bubbles from the emulsion will be soothing to the mouth, like warm bowl of silky Minestrone.
Come home soon, fucker. I miss your pathetic whining.
“So I’ve evolved from ‘little boy’ to ‘fucker’?” said Black, folding the note.
He uncapped the expensive tube and squeezed the paste onto his toothbrush. “For a supposedly well-bred lady, Caitlin isn’t stingy with her swearing.”
After brushing his teeth, Black took a cold shower and slipped on a fresh set of clothes. He was grabbing his League cap, when he saw Caitlin’s folded note, still lying on the sink. A compulsion pricked Black. Suppressing a tingle of emotion towards Caitlin, he picked up the note.
“She misses my whining, huh?” Black flicked the note between his fingers.
Pocketing the paper, he left the room and headed down the stairs. To Black’s surprise, Cynthia was waiting at the bottom. She was wearing her standard outfit: slick, black pants and a long, elegant coat. The one-size too-small blouse supported her ample bust, while revealing certain glimpses of pale skin.
“What are doing up so early?” asked Black, dismissing a few lurid thoughts. “Were you waiting for me?”
“Good morning to you, too,” said Cynthia, unperturbed. “And yes. As a matter of fact, I was hoping you’d come down a bit earlier.”
She tilted her head, knowingly. “Busy watching the beautiful sunrise?”
“Walk with me,” she said, gesturing at him.
When Cynthia strolled down the hall, Black followed. The two Champions walked in silence, only the sound of their shoes echoing against the polished patio.
“How did you sleep?” asked Cynthia.
“Fine,” said Black, as he scrutinised her through careful eyes. “Whose stuff is that? Those orange bottles of cologne in the guest’s bathroom.”
“Orange bottles?” Cynthia chuckled, after a pause. “Let me guess: viscous, yellow liquid which smells like urine.”
Black stopped. “Yeah… How did you know?”
“That’s not cologne,” said Cynthia in a rather entertained tone. “That’s double-processed Regal Jelly, mixed with brine as a pickling agent.”
“Vespiquen excrement,” summarised Cynthia.
Black dug his heels into the wooden floor, hearing the panels creak under his sneakers. Shocked, he spun around to Cynthia.
“Who the hell stores Vespiquen shit?!” Black shuddered, remembering that he handled those bottles. “Why would you?”
“Alder does. He orders it from Aaron Greengrass in Sinnoh,” said Cynthia. “Those would have been his bottles in the bathroom. He uses it to slick his hair.”
Gently, she smiled. “The substance is non-toxic, water-soluble after a certain time period, and has great adhesive properties.”
Black opened his mouth to question the sanity of using Regal Jelly for hair care, when he realised that he was talking about Alder. The man who had left him to– No. Raw anger scorched through him, fresh and seething like magma. He tried to take some deep, calming breaths. Slowly, he relaxed. This was not the time to think about that. The topic was too sensitive, too recent.
Cynthia seemed to notice the change in Black’s demeanour. Crossing her arms, she studied him, as though he were an intriguing myth to uncover. The brown stone in her silver ring gleamed.
“What are you looking at?” said Black.
“Something interesting,” was her cryptic reply.
Black frowned; the two Champions continued to stride down the hall, without sharing a word.
When Cynthia and Black entered the lounge, somebody else was already inside. It was a tall, blond woman. She was sitting on the green futon, her back as rigid as a wooden board and a stiff posture that would give Cheren a run for his money. Long legs were crossed under the coffee table, next to her shabby briefcase. In her hands were a series of manila folders. If Black didn’t know any better, he would say that this woman was a police officer or a Private eye.
However, the woman wore a much too familiar face. Ash-grey eyes that were framed with long lashes; tapered cheeks; a delicate nose.
How was that even possible? What the fuck?
“You are the one who met the white dragon, yes?” asked the Cynthia on the couch, setting down the folders. “I see that you are a powerful Trainer already. This is why I have arrived here!”
The other Cynthia said Black’s name, snagging his attention.
“This is Looker,” she said, motioning at the other Cynthia. “Looker, this is the region’s current Champion.”
Black stammered. “‘Looker’? But she’s you. Or you’re her? What the hell…”
Couch-Cynthia blinked, as though she were confused by Black’s words. She scratched her blond head and contemplated what the Unova Champion was saying. After a moment of thought, however, Couch-Cynthia clicked her fingers.
“Oh! I still wear my disguise,” she exclaimed. “Pardon! I shall remove, and change into a more suitable appearance. Please wait.”
Couch-Cynthia began to change. Her face bubbled, as invisible insects scampered under her skin. Blond hair swooped back into the skull, while the jaw became more defined. A tan crawled up her arms and legs, tinting and drying that creamy, moist skin. Even the clothes transformed: Couch-Cynthia’s cloak lengthened into a brown trench coat, while her blouse blossomed, combining with the pants to become a crisp business suit. A five o’clock shadow dashed across the cheeks.
A second later, and the Couch-Cynthia had disappeared, leaving behind a scruffy man in her place. Black stared dumbly.
There was an odd pop, as though a plug had been pulled from the drain. Gradually, a pink, disembodied blob oozed down the man’s arms and fell onto the floor. When Black snapped out his Pokédex and aimed it at the pink splodge, the machine beeped the word ‘DITTO’.
“My code name, it is Looker,” said the man, holding the Ditto in his hand. “I am a globe-trotting elite of the International Police.”
Cynthia chimed in: “The two of you have already met before.”
“We have?” Black was a little dazed.
“In the Town of Nuvema, yes,” said Looker. “I had tea with your mother, but you were busy with the act of – how do you say it in this language? – running away.”
Black flushed. He remembered now: his mother was sharing a home-made teacake with a person who was essentially her duplicate, in appearance. When she saw him walking down the stairs, the copy-mother transformed into a brown-haired man. The man had then tried to talk to him, but Black spotted Cheren outside and sprinted after him.
It was the day that he had seen Cheren laughing with his Samurott. The day that he threw up.
“You were busy that day, but I hope that you are busy not now,” said Looker sternly, interrupting Black’s train of thought.
Black sighed. “No, I’m free.”
“Ah, that is excellent news! I have had some fright, to be honest, that you would not be able to oblige.” Looker set down the Ditto. “May I ask you a series of questions?”
“What do you know about Team Plasma and the Seven Sages?”
“They tried to separate people from Pokémon,” said Black, modulating his tone. “I’ve met them a few times. Why?”
Looker fanned out his folders on the table. There were seven of them, each one bearing the official stamp of the International Police – the Interpol. Black leaned closer; his heart dropped. Familiar names and photographs were stapled to the folders: Zinzolin, Ryoku, Giallo, Bronius…
“Even beyond Unova, the riotous activities of Team Plasma have created upset,” said Looker, as Black picked up the photographs. “This I have heard, and therefore the Interpol has tasked me with apprehending the criminals.
“Thanks to the Gym Leaders and to you, yes, the castle of Team Plasma had fallen. The Interpol have already arrested several Grunts of Plasma.” Looker explained briskly. “But, however! However, but… The leaders known as the Seven Sages have eluded us.”
“They still hide themselves in Unova,” added Cynthia.
Black was still clutched Ghetsis’s photograph; the sage’s one eye glinted in the morning light.
“And so, Champion, I come to the request which I attempted to ask you in the Town of Nuvema,” said Looker, with conviction. “Travel the Unova region. Search it up and search it down for the Seven Sages. The International Police need your assistance, more so than any other’s.”
Black slid Ghetsis’s photograph back into the folder.
“Why me?” he said tersely. “Why not Cheren? Or the Unova Gym Leaders? They’ve all had dealt with Team Plasma. And they don’t have my other responsibilities.” He grimaced. “As the Unova League Champion.”
“Ah, but only you have met the true leader, yes?” said Looker firmly. “Out of Unova’s Trainers, you have had the greatest experience and exposure, when one comes to the dealings of the Seven Sages.”
“That’s not true. I’ve only dealt with Ghetsis and –” Black took another breath. “Alder probably had more encounters with the other Sages. I’m sure he’d be happy to help you, now that he has plenty of free time.”
At the mention of Alder’s name, everyone froze. Silence descended, like rain. Cynthia became preoccupied with the patterns on the futon, while Looker had the decency to look sheepish. Black gave a bitter smirk, as though he had willingly swallowed a gallon of herbal medicine.
“Former Champion Alder is engaged in personally important pursuits,” said Looker, finally. “I cannot divulge the details, but I do respect that his quest cannot be postponed.”
The Ditto squeaked, attracting its Trainer’s attention. Looker fished out a Sitrus Berry and tossed it to the Pokémon. Eager, the pink blob swallowed the fruit in one gulp, dissolving the rind into smaller, soluble pieces. The creature made small, giggling noises. Black glanced between Looker and the slurping Ditto; he tried not to be disgusted.
“To your interest, the renowned Former Champion was the one who recommended you to my notice,” said Looker solemnly. “He claimed that you are a Trainer of amazing skill, and that your powers as the Hero of Unova would accelerate this search like no other.”
“Really now, he said that?” Black was sarcastic. “Did he also pet you on the head and give you a dogtreat?”
Cynthia cut in, smoothly. “Helping Looker would be in the best interests of Unova.”
Black snapped around so quickly that Cynthia almost flinched. Almost.
“Butt out, Cynthia. This is none of your business.”
“Please think this through,” said Cynthia calmly. “The remaining Sages could easily reform Team Plasma. Don’t you remember what happened at the Goldenrod Radio Tower, a few years years ago?”
Looker agreed: “The esteemed Cynthia raises a valid point. The Interpol seeks your assistance, Champion, in order to avoid a fiasco like the Team Rocket Revival of ’08.”
“If the Interpol were even halfway competent,” said Black, “Team Rocket would have been completely dissolved in ’05, when Champion Red destroyed their Sevii outpost.”
Cynthia said Black’s name; he looked at her.
“Think about all the troubles you can prevent,” she said to him. “All the potential lives you could save. You’re their hero. You owe it to Unova. If you don’t do this, then – ”
Black slammed his fist against a wall. A tumult of emotions seethed in his stomach, like an Antarctic hailstorm. He couldn’t believe Cynthia. Shock merged with betrayal. How could she? He was beginning to trust her, share his inner thoughts. Out of all the people he knew, she was one of the last people whom he had expected to – No. He had opened up to her, and what did she do? Throw those words in his face. ‘Hero’? He didn’t want to be anyone’s fucking hero. All he wanted was some peace. To be left alone.
“What’s next, Cynthia?” said Black in a deceptively sweet voice. “Pull out the ‘Unova Champion’ card? Say that I should be grateful I even got the opportunity to meet, not to mention fight, the great Elite Four? That I’m living a kid’s dream?”
Cynthia touched her silver ring, ignoring Black’s acrimony. The brown stone glistened.
“I think you should go, Looker. This isn’t a particularly good time,” she said tranquilly.
The man nodded. “I shall come back at a more opportune moment, yes? I will not waste your time any longer.”
Looker picked up his Ditto and placed it inside his coat. As he collected his folders and papers, Cynthia arranged her face into a pensive expression. Black clenched his fists, tightly. The skin around the knuckles pulled white.
“Ah, that’s the rest of the folders. I shall be leaving now,” declared Looker, as he closed his briefcase.
“I’ll show you out,” said Cynthia.
Without looking at Black, the two adults strolled out of the lounge. The clicks of Cynthia’s high heels and Looker’s heavy footsteps clacked in tandem. Sunlight streaked through the windows, splashing at Black’s feet, as he gritted his teeth. How could she, why did she –
Jumping to his feet, Black made a speedy decision and sprinted out of the room. He tore down the hall. As he approached the open front door, he saw that Looker and Cynthia were standing on the porch. They were deep in conversation. An argument, almost.
“ – I do not have time to decide using likelihoods! Guarantees are what I need,” Looker was saying. He appeared somewhat agitated.
“It doesn’t work like that,” asserted Cynthia. “Give him some space. He’s still a child.”
“Miss Chard, I appreciate your concern,” said Looker urgently. “But you did not show the same attitude with Champion Dawn during the Coronet Crisis, yes? Surely, there are parallels between these two stories!”
“What happened to Dawn is my responsibility.” Cynthia seemed regretful. “However, I promise you. He’ll become what Alder saw in him. But first, he needs to learn to breathe.”
“Can you guarantee that?”
Cynthia became resolute. “Yes, I can.”
“If you say so, I must urge that we – ” Looker closed his mouth when he noticed Black, who was watching from the door.
Looker stroked his chin; he appeared to be mulling something over. A mental lightbulb switched on, as the detective strode up to Black. He pulled out a business card and shoved it between Black’s fingers. The Unova Champion forced his lips into a thin line.
“That is my phone number and office address,” said Looker.
He bumped Black’s fist with his own. “Contact me when you are ready.”
Black didn’t respond.
Uneasy, Looker massaged his temples. After throwing Black another imploring look, the man reached out his arm. The pink Ditto lolled out of the sleeve, like a Herdier’s tongue. The blob squealed.
“Friend Ditto,” greeted Looker. “Transform for Transport.”
Ditto squeaked, reminding Black of cling-film and bubble-wrap. Its entire body morphed and churned, perniciously. Appendages grew out of nothingness, and contours formed from gelatinous plains. A drill-like beak emerged. Next was the flexible neck. Two enormous wings followed, accompanied by coarse tail feathers.
The traditionalists called it ‘Onidrill’. Black called it ‘Fearow’.
“Good day to you,” said Looker, as he mounted the Transformed Fearow, “Esteemed Cynthia Chard.”
After tipping an imaginary hat at Cynthia, Looker focused on Black. “I hope to meet you again.” He grinned. “Hero of Unova.”
Black scrunched the business card in his hands, as Looker flew away on his Ditto. The man eventually disappeared over a few pine trees, leaving behind nothing but a trace of residual restlessness. Cynthia gazed into the cloudless sky, as though she sensed no tension from Black. A flock of Pidove glided on the upward draft, bolstering the façade of peace. There was the rhythmic sound of waves breaking against the shore, a few fathoms away from Caitlin’s villa. Black closed his eyes, trying to control the rage fuming in his chest.
“When will you learn to let go of your anger?”
Black spun around.
Cynthia was straightening her cloak. Her grey eyes had darkened from their normal colour of ash, swimming in near coal-black. They gleamed not in enmity, but in disappointment.
“My anger?” repeated Black, incredulous.
“That bitterness is crippling your potential,” said Cynthia staunchly. “You need to start recognising that nobody will be able to help you if you can’t even help yourself.”
“Is that so?” Black heard his voice rise in volume. “You know what, Cynthia? I’ve had it with your bullshit.”
To her credit, Cynthia remained graceful and composed.
“You dole out these maudlin platitudes, like they’re Pez candies,” said Black, furiously. “What am I, your latest pity project? You try to meddle with my life and patronise me – all with a big, pretty smile.”
“Patronise you? What?” Cynthia was bewildered. “That was never my intention. I would never.”
Derisive, Black snorted.
“Please stop this,” said Cynthia, as her face became irritated ever-so slightly. “You’re behaving like a preschooler.”
“And the patronising starts early today,” Black announced, in a falsely cheery voice.
Cynthia brushed back her blond bangs; her shattering gaze never left Black’s face.
“If you take Agent Looker’s offer, you will help many people’s lives,” she said unfalteringly. “Please reconsider. With your strength and experience with Team Plasma, you could –”
Black growled, interrupting her. “Why is everybody so interested in what I can do? What am I to the world? Just stats and numbers?”
“Your cynicism blinds you,” Cynthia told him. “Why can’t you accept that the world is more than black and white? There are things and powers that are and always will be out of your control.”
She said, almost inaudibly: “What happened in the Plasma Castle is not your fault.”
He slowly turned around. Cynthia had to restrain herself from flinching when she saw the pure fury burning in Black’s amber eyes. His Unova League cap had fallen to the ground; the wind rolled through his uncombed, brown hair, splaying it out like a fan.
Black grabbed a Pokéball from his belt.
“That’s it,” he said, giving a cold smile. “I think it’s about time I showed you, Champion Cynthia, what exactly I can do.”
I smile at N.
“Yeah, I think we could have been friends.”
/fin of Chapter Three/
April 22nd, 2012 (01:52 AM).
Great story. Follows the original BW storyline but in a creative way. Amazing. Looking forward to more.
White Friend Code: 2795 6057 7398
April 22nd, 2012 (04:48 AM).
Please don't bump fics over a month old since the last post, let alone half a year.
Going to close - Draco, if you want to continue this PM myself or Astinus and we'll reopen.
All times are UTC -8. The time now is 06:00 PM.