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Old December 20th, 2010 (08:52 AM). Edited February 13th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Well. Despite having no feedback at all to my last story, I've been working on another. I guess I'm either stupid or determined.

This one is kind of a parody of the storyline in the Johto region, like my last one parodied the Kanto story, and so there are references between the two - though you don't have to have read the last one to read this one.

Rating's always tricky, but I'm going to go for a 14, maybe a 15, mostly because of the torture scenes and some a fair bit of swearing. Expect darkness, bleak attitudes, graphic violence and suchlike. I really need to lighten up in my next story.

Without further ado, then...

The Rocket Revival

Prologue

If you go down to Mahogany Town on a moonlit night, and you walk down to the lakeside, you can see the remains of the old concealed fort, where the warriors of the hills once dwelled, aeons before the unification of Johto. You can see the fishermen, grizzled and grey, sitting on the docks or out on their boats, half-asleep, dreaming of the times when you could catch whole schools of Magikarp in a day. You can see the lovers, the young enjoying the moonlit night and the old remembering the days when they, too, possessed the charm of youth and could be carefree on wild nights such as these. You can even, when the mists over the lake are clear, see the backs of the occasional Gyarados as they stir like wolves to the touch of the lunar rays, coasting below the waves like huge, sinuous sharks.

But on that night, there was more to see than fishermen, or lovers, or historical ruins. Four figures stood silhouetted against the gentle waters, and if you looked hard, you could just about make out a fifth, skulking unseen a short way off.

The leftmost figure blew a plume of smoke into the air from a cigarette, and broke the silence.

“What do you mean by calling us all the way out here?” he asked.

“You have to see it yourselves,” another replied. He was stooped, and swathed in a thick dark cloak that billowed out in all directions. “Look.” He swept his free hand commandingly out towards the lake. “I think I told them to do it now – ah, yes, there it is!”

His companions obeyed, and watched as something huge rose up from the dark water, a colossal, craggy face surrounded by spines and fins, as tall as a man. Glazed eyes, the size of car wheels, stared out, unseeing, at the four people on the bank.

“Wha...” The smoker recoiled, startled at the speed and silence of the beast’s appearance.

“It was a perfect success, then,” breathed the third figure. Her pale hair gleamed in the moonlight. “I don’t see any defects. Unless...?”

“There are a few,” admitted the man in the cape. “A few persistent tumours. But nothing like with the last one.”

The fourth figure, much shorter than the others, now posed his own question.

“Will he be as... tractable as this one?”

“No, no,” answered the second man. “This one was immediately exposed to Signal 2.”

“So if he... when he returns, he will be... completely back to normal?” He sounded faintly hungry, like a starving wolf that has sighted a sheep.

“Completely,” the man with the cane assured him. “Everything will be exactly as it was before.”

The fourth figure grinned. “Perfect.”

Without being prompted, the giant head sank back beneath the waves, as silently as it had appeared.

“That’s the end of tonight’s show,” the man wearing the cloak told his companions, turning to face them. “Now get back to work, there’s still a lot to do before we’re ready.”

And, if you had still been there at the water’s edge that night, very soon you would have seen nothing more than the ruins and the fishermen again, and the dark air would have been calm once more, as if nothing had ever happened.



Chapter One: My Thoughts on the Matter

Mahogany Town. One of Johto’s premier tourist destinations, a Mecca for those interested in the ancient; the town was the oldest in the country, and it was there that you could find buildings surpassed in age only by the Ruins of Alph down by Violet City. In just a day, if you were so inclined, you could take in the tour of the lakeside ruins; the Rage Candy Bar shop, where you can watch the confectioners at work; the houses from which sprang the historically illustrious, down in the Old Town; and the exhibition in the Gym that chronicled the remarkable history of the area.

That was what they put on the brochures, anyway; that’s what lured in the crowds of holidaymakers eager to see the famed wonders of our town. But what did they find when they got there? The same things as in Ecruteak, or in Goldenrod – or wherever it was they’d come from. Johto’s proximity to Japan had meant that any culture we had of our own had been swamped in the last three years as they exported their media and technology here; the building of the airport and the connection of our PC network to the Internet had seen to that. Ironically, in a world afflicted by Westernisation, we were the victims of exactly the inverse: Johtonians were watching their country being Easternised, or, more specifically, Japanised.

That was where I lived, or used to, before the Rampage. And I can tell you that it didn’t wash away the sin and darkness, no matter how biblical a spin they put on it; it was just the biggest disaster in a town that had been full of them for decades.

Maybe I’m biased. I was never anyone important, and I never had much money. I worked as an assistant in the confectioners’, and helped out at Pryce’s Gym at the weekends, one of the few Trainers left in the town. I lived in a run-down apartment on Kayro Street where the wind came in the windows and the rain in through the ceiling. My existence wasn’t as luxurious as some who lived in Mahogany.

But I knew that town, I lived and breathed it for nineteen years, from birth until just a few months ago, and I know that it was nothing more than another Viridian, or a smaller Saffron. Mahogany was a large town like any other, and it carried with it all the baggage that that entails: crime, unemployment, the apathy that comes with a lifetime of not daring to dream.

However, there were a few days – just a couple – when it stopped. When the daily battle to stay alive in Mahogany stopped and became something more. One bitter day in February of last year, when there was snow lying a foot deep on the streets and fingers of ice creeping in under my door, I met Silver, and everything began to change.

Chapter Two: The Mugger

“Good afternoon, how can I help you?”

Sometimes I smiled at the customers, but today was one of the days when I just couldn’t face it. What did I have to smile about?

“Could I please have four Rage Candy Bars?” asked the woman. She was pushing fifty and had a train of small children in tow; doubtless a tourist hoping to try Mahogany’s famous specialty. She would be disappointed – everyone was, they were just pounded rice cakes – but I wrapped them up and gave them to her anyway.

“That’s 1200 Pokédollars, please.”

I put the money away in the till and gave her the change, then watched her leave with her children, leaving the shop silent once more. I doubted there would be many other visitors today; the only people who really wanted to buy things from this store were the tourists, and there were precious few of those in winter.

Wandering away from the till, I slumped down in the armchair near the back wall. From here, I could see the door; if anyone came in, I could be back at the till in a flash.

Without much energy, I dug around in my bag and found my Pokéball, which I pressed the button on. There was a brief flash of light, then a low chirp, and Tercier swung elegantly out to come to rest on a nearby shelf, almost tipping over a bell jar full of sugar.

“Sss,” he said, gazing around with a look that suggested he’d have liked better surroundings, but had long since given up expecting them. I’d found him in the woods near the lake when I was eleven, ostracised from his pack, and kept him ever since; if he still harboured any hopes that our situation might improve, he was sorely mistaken.

“There’s some paper over there,” I said, waving in the general direction of the till. “Knock yourself out.”

Tercier gave me a long look that left both of us in no doubt about his superiority to me, then stalked off towards the counter. Climbing agilely onto the counter, he regarded the paper disdainfully before flicking his long, prehensile tail over his shoulder and starting to draw. For a few minutes, all that could be heard was my breathing and the scratching of his nib.

I sat up a little and looked at my watch. The time was five past four; in winter we closed at half-four, and I could leave as soon as the shop was tidy after that. Since we’d had two customers today, the shop was spotless, and I would be leaving as soon as the minute hand crawled laboriously onto the six.

“Twenty-five minutes to go.”

Tercier looked up slowly with a vaguely aggrieved air. I raised my hands in mock apology.

“Sorry for interrupting you, master draughtsman.”

He tipped his nose skyward and shut his eyes, either offended or pretending to be, and then returned to his work.

Time passed, and eventually it was time to leave. With the most enthusiasm I’d had all day – slightly more than none at all – I called Tercier over to my shoulder, and put his drawings in my bag. As I forced the shop door open against the snowdrifts, a wave of cold air blasted in at me, and I turned my face away to avoid it; slamming the door shut as best I could, I struggled up the street, knee-deep in snow. I had only one pair of boots, and they’d been ruined quite a while ago – as had the pair of jeans I was wearing. The winter was colder than any on record, and my thin clothes just hadn’t been able to take the relentless, driving snow.

“I hate this weather,” I told Tercier. He gave a delicate cough and huddled into the hood of my coat. Feeling sorry for him for once, I recalled him to his Pokéball and put him in my bag.

It was a long, long walk back, and every step soaked my feet and calves in icy water. Even if I had been able to afford the bus, no one had cleared the roads for days now, with most people preferring to stay inside. Activity in the town had come to a virtual standstill.

“Hey, you!”

I realised with a jolt that someone had been calling for some time now; I’d been too wrapped up in my thoughts to notice. I glanced around and discerned a figure struggling across the road towards me. Wondering if they wanted me, I looked around. The street was deserted aside from me.

“Yeah, you! Goth!”

“I’m not a Goth,” I replied wearily. “There’s a difference between Goths and people who just wear black.”

I’ve always maintained that. I hate being labelled as something I’m not by people who don’t know me.

“Fine, girl-who-just-wears-black,” amended the figure, and I could make out now that it was a guy my own age or a couple of years younger. He had long, crimson hair – as long as my own – and his clothes were scuffed and ripped. There were bruises on his face and hands and a cut on his cheek. Despite his jovial words, his face was hard and maybe even a little desperate.

“What do you want?” I asked warily, as he came to a halt in front of me.

“Money,” he said simply. “Mercury!”

A dark flash passed before my eyes; I blinked and there was a Sneasel balanced on my chest at an impossible angle, clawed feet snagging the fabric of my coat and taloned hands at my throat.

“Give me everything you’ve got,” he said.

I tried very, very hard to keep calm, despite my suddenly dry mouth and pounding heart, and formed what I thought was a coherent response.

“This is stupid,” I cautioned him, “we’re in broad daylight in a residential street with everybody at home.”

“Don’t care.” His eyes had gone hard. “In case you hadn’t noticed, girl-who-just-wears-black, I can’t afford to discriminate right now. Besides, this snowstorm is hardly broad daylight.”

He was right; no one would see us through the snow, and he did look like he needed it; I suspected he’d been sleeping rough. God knows how he’d survived in the snow.

“I don’t have any.”

“Liar. Everyone has some. I’m sure you mean you don’t have much. That’s different.” He indicated my bag. “Give that here.”

I did so, aware that if I failed to comply, I would probably have my throat cut. This guy was desperate. While his Sneasel held me hostage, he rooted through it with hands blue from cold.

“Purse.” He took it out, opened it, and found a single 2000-dollar note. He glanced up at me. “That’s it?”

I nodded.

“Whatever. It’ll do.” He continued to rummage, while the Sneasel glared up at me from behind those strange Clockwork Orange-style eyelashes that they have. Shortly after, he came up with Tercier’s Pokéball. “What’s in here?” he asked cautiously.

“My Arcanine.”

“Well, that’s a lie. You’re nowhere near rich enough for that.” He dropped it back into the bag and gave the lot back to me. “You can keep it, I guess.” He looked away. “I... wouldn’t steal something like that.”

Despite my situation, I almost asked him what was wrong; he looked so angry and sad that it took all my willpower not to.

“I’m not like them,” my mugger said, so quietly I nearly didn’t hear him. Then, louder: “Mercury!”

The Sneasel back-flipped off my chest in a split second, landing lightly on the surface of the snow without sinking in, and looked up at its master.

“Goodbye,” said the guy, and turned to walk away, the Sneasel zipping ahead of him. I stood there, half in shock and half torn up with pity, and the spell was only broken when he stopped a few steps away and looked back. “I forgot to say,” he said, “thanks.”

Then he walked away and was soon obscured from view by the falling snow. I watched him go, confused about what exactly had just happened, and started walking again only when I realised that I was drenched from head to foot in freezing water.


Chapter Three: Gold

By the time I’d got home, I had recovered. Who cared if another kid was dying on the streets? There were hundreds of them in Mahogany – and probably thousands in Goldenrod or Saffron. Most of them were angry and sad, in all likelihood; what made the guy who mugged me any different?

The previous day, I’d been driven by the ice-cold draughts to seal my windows shut with plastic cement; it hadn’t helped, as the walls were too thin to keep out the cold and the roof was leaking semi-frozen water at strategic points, under which I’d placed buckets. Now, I was poorer by the cost of a tube of plastic cement, and just as cold. I’d also lost what money I had left for this week to the mugger, and I thanked the heavens it was Friday. If I could make it through to Sunday evening, it would be fine: I’d get a few thousand dollars from Pryce for my work at the Gym. Not for the first time, I wondered if I wouldn’t be better off moving in with my cousin in Ecruteak – but then I remembered that that wasn’t an option.

Firstly, I had to change before I got hypothermia; I only had a few sets of clothes, and most of them are the same: black shirt, black jeans, black coat. Once I’d done that, I was marginally warmer, and got into bed to further warm myself up. It didn’t really work, but I was soon asleep anyway, exhausted by the cold and my current lack of food.

Saturday morning came, and I woke early to an odd clattering noise; it took me a few moments to work out that it was coming from my teeth: they were chattering while I slept. Annoyed, I got up and checked the time, and found it was quarter to six. I thought that Pryce might be at the Gym by now – and if I turned up, he was bound to offer me something hot to drink at least. Cheered by this thought, I picked up my bag and went to see if my boots had dried out. They hadn’t, but they had frozen solid from all the water. I hit them on the floor a bit, to see if I could crack the ice off, but it remained staunchly attached, and I had no choice but to force the now-rigid leather back onto my feet.

I stepped out into the early morning air, and it was colder, if anything, than yesterday. I wished I owned a Fire-type Pokémon, like the family who lived across the road; there was always a path neatly seared into the snow from their front door to the pavement, and at night, you could see orange light glowing in their windows from the fires they had. Cursing everyone who owned a Vulpix, I hurried down the street and off towards Pryce’s Gym.

---

The Gym, the Gym, the Gym. It was thirty minute’s walk from my apartment, in the heart of the Old Town. It dated from the time of the hill warriors – the ones they now called ninja, to attract more tourists – and was the only part of the ancient fort complex still standing. It had been restored more times than there had been Presidents of Johto, and was a simple, solid building constructed of huge stone blocks. There had once been a complex series of battlements and walkways atop it, but those had collapsed hundreds of years ago, and no one had known exactly how to go about rebuilding them, as there were no records of how they had been arranged. So the job had been left, and still, several centuries later, it hadn’t been done.

The doors were open, as they were from five in the morning, when Pryce got in, to eleven at night, when he left. I went inside and immediately felt the cold recede; this might be a haven for Ice-type Trainers, but Pryce was old and his bones ached, so he’d put the central heating on full blast as soon as the snow started falling. Properly warm for the first time in days, I slipped through the darkened reception area and through into the staff training area. The ice on the floor had long since been replaced by special slippery plastic, and it was just as warm in here as in the lobby. I put my coat on a hook by the door and slid over to Pryce, who I’d spotted at the other end of the room.

“You’re here early,” said the old Gym Leader amiably. He was boiling something on a stove set up behind his podium, next to a cupboard that I knew was full of chocolate biscuits – his personal weakness.

“It was cold. I couldn’t sleep.” I released Tercier from his Pokéball and let him go and sit on the radiator.

“Now you know how I feel.” He gave a wheezy chuckle and coughed. “’Scuse me, Monique. You want some tea?” Pryce gestured to the pot boiling on the stove. I nodded. His tea was from the foothills of Mt. Mortar, real Johto stuff – not green tea from Japan.

“I was mugged yesterday,” I said. “I was wondering if you knew the guy, because he had a Sneasel.”

“Sneasel? Tricky things, those.” Pryce poured out two cups and handed me one. My hands felt like they were on fire, even through the ceramic mug; it was fantastic. “If you don’t treat ’em just right, they betray you. But if you do get it right, there aren’t many things so loyal. Very serious about everything they do.” He paused, aware that he was getting carried away with his favourite topic, Ice-types. “But wait. Mugged?”

“Yeah, by this weird guy with red hair. Not like ginger hair – properly red, like—”

“Crimson?” Pryce asked, staring at me.

“Y-eah,” I said, taken aback. “How did you know?”

“I know that one,” he said, shaking his head. “A bad sort. A Pokémon thief.”

“Really? He said he wouldn’t steal mine.”

“Aye, well, it probably wasn’t rare enough for him. He stole a rare Pokémon in New Bark about a month ago. Totodile, it was – right from Professor Elm’s lab!”

I’d heard about that. It had caused uproar; there had been rumours of Team Rocket returning and resuming their Pokémon theft business before a kid called Gold had been discovered as a witness and told the police it was another boy. Of course, the Rockets couldn’t have returned; since the death of their leader and around eighty of their number three years ago in a failed experiment in Saffron, they’d pretty much disbanded.

“That was the same guy? I thought he seemed... I don’t know. Weird. Kind of like he wasn’t a real mugger at all.”

Pryce shrugged. “I don’t know anything about that. I’d report him to the police, if I were you.” He took a gulp of his tea, and I took a sip. I regretted it instantly as I burned my tongue, remembering too late that Pryce could drink tea at stupidly high temperatures. He grinned and stood up, reaching around for his stick. “Ah, shall we get to it, then?”

He beat me three times and called it training, by which time it was eight o’clock and the other Trainers were arriving. There were two other than Pryce who worked there full-time, and three more (including me) who came there in their free time. The two permanent Trainers were Kirsten and Jake, both of whom, like Pryce, used only the Ice-type; in contrast, we part-timers had an eclectic mix of types, from my Smeargle to Francis’s Golduck to Marion’s Electabuzz. We couldn’t afford to specialise; we were just ordinary people who happened to have a Pokémon that they liked to train with. Pryce no longer had the luxury of being picky about who worked in his Gym, with so few Trainers around, and took us in gladly.

We trained together for a few more hours, and talked about holding the tournament again sometime. That was how Trainers from outside the Gym could win Pryce’s Badges: defeat the Gym Trainers, or, if there were enough, the other contestants, and then beat Pryce. The last tournament had been held four years ago, and there had been a meagre five entrants; Pryce hoped the interest in battling that had been sparked in Kanto by the rise of the spectacular Gym Leader of Saffron, Russell Curtis, and his nephew, Red, of Viridian City, might have percolated into Johto by now. I was quietly dismissive of his optimism. No one wanted to battle anymore; it was just a thing of the past, unless you were in a fight and it became a necessity for self-protection. That was why there were so few Trainers nowadays.

In the end, nothing got decided, because the telephone in the lobby started to ring, and when Pryce came back after answering it, his face was so grave that it cut through all the conversation like a knife.

“I’ve just had a message from Professor Elm – the Pokémon researcher, down at New Bark,” he added for Francis’s benefit, since he looked confused. “Do you know of his Pokédex project?”

We murmured our assent; everyone did. It was a duplicate of Oak’s initiative in Kanto: getting wide-ranging, powerful Trainers to spread out across Johto, capturing specimens of every species of Pokémon they found to be sent back to New Bark, so that a comprehensive database – the Pokédex – could be established, containing in-depth information on each one. Since its inception, a Trainer called Lyra had already discovered a new species: the sly and devious mimic that had been named Sudowoodo.

“He’s got a Trainer out on it – Gold, you’ll know him from the news story about the stolen Totodile. Gold started on his way to Mahogany from Ecruteak a week ago, going on foot and promising to call Elm to make sure he arrived safely – but he hasn’t made contact.”

We all drew in a sharp breath. With the snows as they were, it was quite likely that this Gold had either got lost or been trapped out on Route 42; I hoped he’d had the sense to take cover in Mt. Mortar’s caves or something.

“Anyway, Elm’s asked me to orchestrate a search for young Gold,” Pryce said. “You’re all helping me, right?”

A general noise of assent went around the room, echoing off the high walls and ceiling. It would, I supposed, be an adventure – and I was keen that Gold should reach Mahogany, if only because he would probably want to challenge the Gym, and we badly needed business.

“Right,” said the old Leader. “There are six of us, and I want us to pair up in terms of strength: the three strongest each with one of the three weakest. That way, if any of us do get into any trouble out there, we should be OK.”

I was paired with Francis, as I was relatively strong; Pryce went with Marion, the weakest of us, and Kirsten and Jake went with each other. Before we left the Gym, Pokémon fully healed up and dressed warmly, Pryce insisted on giving each pair a flask of tea to take with them, ‘in case of emergency’. I smiled for the first time all week: I could only really smile when at the Gym; the one part of my life that wasn’t utterly bleak was the part that involved the kindly old man.

Since this was an emergency, Kirsten, who had passed her driving test a few months ago, volunteered the use of her car to get out of the town; Pryce sent his Piloswine ahead of us to clear the roads, and we made good time, reaching the outskirts in just a few moments. When we reached the motorway, we stopped in a lay-by, and Pryce spoke again:

“Elm got that computer man in Goldenrod, Bill, to trace Gold’s Pokégear signal,” he said. “We should be looking around the easternmost entrance to Mt. Mortar’s cave network.”
It didn’t take long to get there – there were no cars on the motorway, and it was wide enough for three Piloswine to travel abreast, clearing a wide path for us. We parked in the Mortar Memorial Car Park, its namesake the Mortar Memorial completely buried in snow, and split up in our pairs to scour the area, agreeing to meet up again at four o’clock if no one had found him.

I don’t know how long I spent walking effortfully up and down the riverbank with Francis, struggling past frozen brambles and through the snow-laden trees, but it was far too long. Every so often, a branch would give way under the weight of the snow on top of it, and a wet white wave would descend onto our heads, soaking us even through my hat and Francis’s hood; once, Francis lost his balance and fell onto the icy river, skidding out several metres before coming to rest against a log embedded in the glassy surface. It took me twenty minutes to get him back up – unlike me, he had money to spend on food, and so while I was slipping lithely through the gaps in the forest and springing to my feet when I fell, he was waddling around like the fat lump he was. It was one of the few times when I was glad I was poor – because I sure as hell didn’t want to be as useless as Francis.

All the while, the snow kept falling, and as the light began to fail, I knew that if we didn’t start back soon, we too would become lost. I was reaching the limits of what I could stand, especially when I hadn’t eaten since Friday morning, and I was just about to suggest to Francis that we turn back when he raised a pudgy, gloved finger and cried:

“Look!”

I followed his pointing finger and saw a figure, lying out on the ice, half-buried by drifting snow. A Pokéball was clenched in his fist, and as I watched a weasel-like face peeped over the snowdrift. When it spotted us, a Quilava flowed up and over the prone body, jumped up and down, and ignited its head. The signal was clear: we need help.

Quickly, we rushed over to him, and I felt for a pulse with fumbling fingers. He was still alive – but obviously in a bad way. If it hadn’t been for the Quilava’s fire, I doubted he’d have survived.

Francis gave me a worried look.

“It’s OK,” I told him, “he’s alive. Just.” I stared at Gold for a moment. “You can drive, right?”

“Yeah...?”

“Go back to the car, borrow Pryce’s Piloswine and bring it here. We need to get this guy to a hospital fast. You have a mobile, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do—”

“Then call the others as you go. Make sure they don’t get left out here.”

“Got it.”

Francis hurried off back the way he came; I hoped he wouldn’t get lost. If all else failed, I was fairly certain his Golduck would show him the way back – it was considerably smarter than he was.

“OK, Quilava,” I said, crouching down and looking at the serpentine Pokémon, “help me here. We’ve got to get him off the ice.”

The Quilava and I tried to tug Gold along, but succeeded only in rearranging his limbs. He was far too heavy – maybe it was the cold sapping my strength, but he felt like a lead weight, and my arms like strips of fabric.

“I see you found him.”

I looked up sharply, recognising the voice. Sure enough, there was the mugger, standing on the opposite riverbank, his dark coat flapping slightly in the wind. His long hair blew across his face; if I hadn’t known that he wasn’t there a moment ago, I would have accused him of having set the situation up so that he would look good. As it was, I just stared.

“Help me,” I shouted into the wind. “I need to get him to a hospital!”

The mugger leaped down lightly and landed on the ice without skidding.

“Why should I help you?” he asked, over the wind, which had begun to howl. “I hate that guy.”

“What? He’s dying!”

He shrugged. “So what. He’s not a good person.”

“Who are you to judge that?” I was furious now, half because of his attitude and half because this guy was getting under my skin and irritating me in a way that no one else had ever been able to. I pride myself on not losing my temper – ever.

“I know him well enough.” He took a step closer. “He informed on me when I took the Pokémon from Elm’s lab – though I guess I did deserve that, stooping to that same act that I swore I would stamp out of existence.” An ugly look of self-hatred crossed his face. “Believe me, I wouldn’t have done that if there had been a way around it. But he’s attacked me several times now. He beat me up near Ilex Forest, and in the Burned Tower in Ecruteak. The guy’s a psychopath.” I stared at him, not believing a word. This guy definitely had some nerve. “You know, he even claimed I stole my Sneasel from some guy in Cianwood. I’ve never even been to Cianwood. I’ve had Mercury for as long as I can remember.” The mugger looked down at Gold’s body, and the Quilava next to it, which was starting to growl at him. “You can shut up and all,” he snapped at it. Then he sighed. “But despite all that...” He looked up at the sky, and then back down at Gold. “Despite all that...”

He gave another, bigger sigh, and reached down to haul Gold up, slinging him over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift, grimacing as the leaden weight settled.

“Come on then,” he sighed once again. “Where do you want him?”

Still, I just stared. I didn’t understand this guy at all.

“But...”

“But what?” he asked. “You’re right, he’s dying. I’m a terrible person, I guess, for not wanting to save him. But I’ll do it anyway, even though I really, really want to leave him to freeze to death here. Where do you want him?”

Wordlessly, I pointed, and he began to trudge towards the riverbank, the Quilava following him distrustfully, still emitting the occasional snarl.

“What’s your name?” he asked, as he clambered up the bank, with some difficulty. Seeing that Gold was slipping, I rushed over to help.

“Monique,” I answered.

“Mine’s Silver,” the mugger-turned-saviour replied. “Funny, isn’t it? Gold and Silver. Like we were destined to be enemies.”

I didn’t say anything; I wasn’t entirely sure he was sane. He scared me, even while he was helping me.

Silver let Gold fall gently from his shoulders and laid him down on the snow. Rubbing his shoulder, he looked towards the trees, and said:

“Your friends are on their way. I should probably leave.”

In an instant, the snow had obscured him, and he was gone; maybe it was his Sneasel’s control over ice, or maybe it was just a trick of the weather, but it seemed like magic at the time. I didn’t have any time to wonder at it, though, because just then two Piloswine smashed through the trees in front of me, snorting and panting, and Karen’s car pulled up next to me. I saw it had been towed here by the Pokémon, and had to wonder at their seemingly inexhaustible strength.

Then the rest was a blur of snow and pulling and pushing, and a long drive through white snow while I half-slept, and then a mishmash of doctors and Pryce talking in worried voices; I was so overcome with fatigue that I was pretty much unconscious, but I must have walked home somehow, because the next thing I remember was waking up in the freezing cold on Sunday morning.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #2    
Old December 20th, 2010 (11:35 AM). Edited December 29th, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Whew. I probably write too fast.

Chapter Four: Silver

I groaned and struggled out of bed, numb all over. I looked in the fridge before remembering I didn’t have any food left, and sighed, sitting back on my heels and wondering what to do. Going to the Gym again seemed like a good idea – it was ten past six and Pryce would definitely be there – so I did.

Just like yesterday, the old Leader was boiling tea; I think he anticipated my arrival, because as soon as I arrived he handed me a cup.

“How’s Gold?” I asked him.

“Hard to say,” he said, a meditative look on his face. “Doctors say he’s fine, the Blissey say he isn’t.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

Blissey were a common sight in hospitals; since Elm had discovered how to force evolution in a Chansey, the healing Pokémon had been almost magnetically attracted to medical institutes, wishing for nothing more than to devote themselves to the preservation of life – at all costs. Their dedication was actually kind of frightening, sometimes.

“The doctors say he’s going to make a full recovery – he should be out by tomorrow. But the Blissey say there’s a disturbance in his life force or some such crap. I don’t know.”

“I think I’d trust the doctors,” I told him. Pryce shrugged.

“I guess it’s down to personal opinion,” he said. “But we’ll see, I guess.”

“Yeah.”

We sat and drank for a while in silence. Tercier let out an almighty sigh from the background, and Pryce offered him tea too, an expression of faint amusement on his face. The Smeargle accepted with regal grace, and sipped at it carefully.

At about seven, Kirsten arrived and asked after Gold. Pryce told her what he’d told me, and added his thanks for the loan of her car.

“It was nothing,” she replied, raising a hand as if to ward off compliments, “it was the least I could do.”

“No, I think you basically saved his life,” I told her. “We wouldn’t have got him to the hospital in time if it weren’t for your car – wouldn’t even have got to him in time.”

“What about you? You’re the one who found him.”

“Actually, it was Francis who spotted him.”

The bizarre, modest game of dodge-the-glory continued in this vein for a while, until at length Francis arrived and sang my praises, mentioning my quick thinking and swift reaction to the crisis, and after that I wasn’t able to avoid taking the credit. Even Tercier, impressed by the actions I’d evidently got up to while he was in his ball, gave a short movement that might have been a bow.

No one came to the Gym today, either, but we knew no one would: few people were even leaving their houses in this weather, and so no one came even for the exhibition in the other room. That evening, Pryce gave me six thousand dollars, plus two extra thousand-dollar notes ‘to cover the mugging’, and I went home via the shops, where I bought a loaf of bread and a few other things. As soon as we got in, Tercier and I ate, and the effects were amazing after nearly three days without food: a lot of our poor temper and lethargy vanished, and we felt almost normal again.

I sat down on my bed and closed my eyes. From the other room, I heard Tercier scratching, and knew that he was drawing on the walls again. I didn’t care; we couldn’t afford any paper and whoever would buy this place from us if we moved out wouldn’t be in a position to care about a few murals here and there.

“Tercier,” I said aloud, “I need to talk to you.”

He came in quickly, obviously sensing the concern in my voice – when it mattered, he could, in fact, put his airs and graces aside.

“I kind of forgot to tell you,” I continued, “but the other day, I met this guy called Silver...”

---

When I was done, Tercier was silent for a long time. Then he exhaled slowly, a long, appreciative noise like that emitted by a gourmand after an excellent meal. He took up his tail in his hand and scrawled on the wall:

This is all very strange.

I always appreciated the fact that Tercier is intelligent. It made my life less lonely; if I’d had a Sandshrew or a Geodude, something more like a dog or a cat than a pretentious self-proclaimed polymath, I’d probably have gone insane years ago.
“I know,” I said. “I can’t even work out if he’s crazy or not.”

I’m sure I don’t know. It’s not really a fitting problem for a mind such as mine to work on.

“It is if you want any food,” I told him, and he made a small ‘humph’ noise.

It’s none of our business. Who cares about him?

“Yeah... you’re right. He’s Gold’s enemy, he can deal with it when he gets out of hospital.”

I sat there for a while more, thinking about everything, then bid Tercier goodnight. It was late, and I was tired.

---

From eight until two, no one visited the confectioner’s. I’d noticed a substantial drop in business since the management changed last month; before then, it had been run by the Gatz family. When they’d moved to Blackthorn, they’d sold the business to a group of Kantan businessmen, who seemed to spend most of their time off the premises, leaving me and my immediate superior alone in the shop. My superior, a swarthy man called Aaron, never came out into the front area unless it was to lock up or our bosses arrived unexpectedly – and so I was left on my own, to sit behind the counter and while away the hours staring at the shelves of unsold sweets and cakes.

As you might have guessed, at about two we did actually get a customer. I got slowly out of the armchair, not quite believing it, and, yawning, wandered over to the counter.

“Hello, how can I...”

I faltered and stopped. Standing before me was a familiar face, framed by spiky black hair and a pair of goggles pushed up onto the forehead; I’d last seen it on its side on the ice of the river, pale as death, and now it was glowing faintly red from the cold air.

“Excuse me,” said Gold politely, “are you Monique Anderson?”

“Uh... yeah.” I was too surprised to think of anything more eloquent.

“You might recognise me from the other day, my name is—”

“Gold, I know,” I interrupted. “Um, can I ask why you’re here?”

“I came to thank you,” Gold said, very earnestly. “You saved my life on the river – the doctors said so. Well, you and Explotaro, anyway.” I guessed that must be the Quilava. “I went to the Gym, but the Leader said you weren’t a full-time Trainer, and I’d find you here.” He looked around, and finding nothing much to look at, looked back at me.

“Oh – well – um, it was nothing really,” I said hurriedly. “I just happened to be the one to find you—”

“The Leader also said you’d be modest like this,” Gold chuckled. “Look, I’m really grateful, OK? Accept my thanks.”

“O-OK. Accepted.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Gold paused. “Now, if there’s anything I can do to repay you...?”

“No,” I said, “it’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” Gold indicated the shop. “Business doesn’t exactly seem to be booming. I’d like to help you if I can.”

I hesitated, then shook my head.

“No, sorry,” I told him. “I’m absolutely certain.”

“Well, then,” he said. “How many Rage Candy Bars can I buy for 20,000 Pokédollars?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Don’t play tricks with me.”

“I’m not,” Gold replied, eyes wide with innocence. “I just really like them.”

“Fine.” I knew his game, of course – basically donate a quantity of money to me under the pretence of buying sweets – but I guess he felt he had to do something to make it up to me. I almost told him he should be thanking Silver, not me, but decided against it and did some mental calculations instead. “You could buy... sixty-six. And have some change.”

“Then I’ll take sixty-six Rage Candy Bars,” Gold said, “and leave the change as a tip.”

Which is exactly what he did, before walking out, thanking me again and wishing me good health.

Feeling somehow cheated, I sat back down on the armchair and puzzled over this. Silver had said Gold was psychotic, a guy who’d attacked him for no reason several times – but he’d seemed reasonable just now. No, more than reasonable! He’d seemed a kind and generous person, though 20,000 dollars was probably far less for him than it was for me. Then again, weren’t psychopaths meant to be all normal and charming until they killed people? I had no idea who to believe; in the end, I decided it didn’t matter, since I would hopefully never see either of them again, and dozed in the chair until it was time to go home.

---

“Hey, you! Girl-who-just-wears-black! Monique!”

I looked at Tercier, who was today riding on my shoulder. I was beginning to get tired of people calling after me in the snowbound streets.

“Silver?” I turned to see, and it was, of course; he was slipping and sliding towards me, his Sneasel leaping in and out of his path with the precision and speed of a bullet.

“Monique,” he repeated, coming closer. “I need your help.”

“Sorry,” I said. “You took my money once, but not again.”

Tercier struck what he thought was an imposing attitude on my shoulder; since he’d Sketched the move Rock Smash some years ago, he actually would stand a chance if it came to him fighting the Sneasel.

“Not money,” he said, with a worried look. “I need you to come with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I said, and turned away, but a strong, ice-cold hand grabbed my wrist before I could walk off.

“Please!” he said, and instinctively I turned to look at him. He looked cold, and worried – but most of all, desperate; those mixed emotions in his eyes, anger and sorrow, were burning bright, and something about the raw emotion there made me hesitate.

“Please,” he repeated, more quietly. “You’re the only one I know here – and I need someone to help me...”

“Help you do what?” I asked warily.

“Stop Gold,” he said. “He’s at the Lake of Rage – and if I don’t stop him, he’s going to kill it—”

“Kill what?”

“The Red King!” Silver cried.

I stared at him. I’d been doing quite a lot of that over the last few days.

“The Red King,” I repeated. “You went to the exhibition at the Gym?”

The Red King was a legend, a myth from hundreds of years ago, when there was nothing here but a fortified base for the hill tribes. They used to believe there was a certain Gyarados in the lake, far larger than any other and red rather than blue, that was essentially a king – the rightful ruler of the region, having been there far longer than any of the human settlers. They gave it sacrifices of succulent roasted Miltank and Girafarig each month, leaving them on the riverside and only retreating to watch in safety when the King surfaced to feast. I’d always been sceptical of this – if only because I found it unlikely that the other Gyarados would pass on a free meal out of fear of this mythical red one. They were just too stupid to fear anything. Over the years, there had been several attempts to find out whether the King had ever existed, and it was true that a great number of semi-fossilised red scales had been unearthed – but it was difficult to tell if they were from Magikarp or Gyarados. The exhibition at the Gym had a detailed history of the legend, as well as a massive tooth, larger than any I’d ever seen, that purported to be from the King’s jaw. Unfortunately, that had been stolen about a month ago, and was never, as far as I can remember, recovered.

“No,” Silver said impatiently. “Do you seriously think I could go to the Gym? I’m a wanted man, remember? But – look, come to the lake if you don’t believe me.”

“I’m going home.” I turned to walk away, but he still held firmly onto my wrist. “Let go!” He did, but I could feel his eyes on the back of my head. “Save your King yourself. I don’t see why you should care, anyway.”

I took a few steps away, through a faceful of snow, and heard his voice cut through the wind like a knife.

“You don’t get it, do you?” I’d never heard a voice like it, so cold and clear it put the vicious winter to shame. No one had ever been that angry at me before. “How can you say that I should help you save Gold’s worthless hide but refuse to stop him killing a King? Don’t you ever see something and know it’s wrong, that you need to interfere and stop it?” He gave a short bark of a laugh, mocking and full of hate. “Oh no, of course not. You’re too concerned with your own survival, aren’t you? I guess you think you struggle. Let me tell you, you know nothing about hardship and struggling. You’ve got a home, a little food at least, a bed. And when you were a kid, you had it even better, I bet – parents, or someone to care for you; you probably went to school as well. What if you had none of that? What if you were born to the darkness, what if you were born with a curse on your head?”

Silver was screaming now, livid with fury. I couldn’t move; I wanted to run, but my limbs seemed to be stuck in place. As if from a great distance, I felt Tercier quivering with fear on my shoulder.

“If that was you...” His voice was quiet again now, tightly controlled. I could feel the anger vibrating just beneath its surface. “If you were me, would you refuse to care about things that were nothing to do with you, just because you were poor? I don’t. And yet you, you consider yourself poverty-stricken, even though you haven’t woken up every day half-covered in snow, and you use that as an excuse not to care about what happens to anyone else.” Silver’s voice changed again, suddenly weary, as if he no longer cared whether I came with him or not. “I guess I just answered myself there. You aren’t coming. I’ll go by myself.”

I heard his footsteps recede, down the street, until there was nothing but the sound of the wind. I sighed and looked at Tercier, who looked uncharacteristically cowed. He looked back at me with anxious eyes, and I shook my head and walked on towards home.
Silver was right. It wasn’t my business; I was going nowhere but back to the apartment.

Chapter Five: The Red King

“I knew you’d be back,” said Silver scornfully. He was leaning against the wall of one of the many fishing huts that ringed the lake, arms folded and ever-present Sneasel at his side.

“You seemed pretty sure I wouldn’t be,” I said warily.

“No, you’re just easily to manipulate,” he stated baldly.

“You were lying?”

“No, it’s all true.” He sighed and straightened up. “I just used the truth... efficiently.”

Tercier eyed Silver’s Sneasel, judged himself to be superior, and sniffed haughtily. The Sneasel raised one eyebrow and then ignored him. The small charade amused me for a moment, then I looked back at Silver.

“Where’s this King, then?”

Silver gestured out over the bright expanse of the lake, free of ice thanks to the frenetic activity of the great serpents within. I couldn’t see far out over it due to the falling snow; in fact, it seemed like there was nothing at all beyond a couple of metres out. It didn’t seem like there was a soul out here; the lights in the fishermen’s huts were out, the men themselves at home with warm drinks and fires, no doubt.

“Gold’s out on the lake,” he said, “Surfing. He’s fighting the Red King.”

“But... the King,” I protested. “It isn’t real. Even if it ever was, it’s been dead for hundreds of years.”

“Yeah,” agreed Silver enigmatically. “He has.” He gestured at Tercier. “Does he know Surf?”

“No.”

He grimaced. “I was hoping he would. I’ve got a Murkrow that could Fly me out there, but I don’t know how I’m going to get you to the King.”

“What do you expect me to do, exactly?” I asked, anxiety beginning to rise within me. “Fight Gold?”

“Yes – if you would.”

I stared at him. Me, fight the Trainer who had conquered all the Gyms from Violet to Cianwood? He would be far too strong for me, so powerful that I couldn’t ever hope to match him.

“Don’t worry,” Silver said quickly, “I’ll be fighting with you. I just need you to impress Gold, to look strong – he won’t feel confident about taking on two people at once, and if we can act tough he’ll back off for now.”

“I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this,” I muttered. “But I’ve got a plan to get us to the centre.”

“How?” asked Silver.

“Your Sneasel knows Icy Wind, right?”

“Ye-es?”

“Then get him to use it there...”

---

Five minutes later, Silver, Tercier, the Sneasel and I were balanced precariously on a miniature iceberg, drifting out across the lake. Silver’s Croconaw swam laboriously behind us, pushing the hunk of frozen water towards a shadow in the snow ahead. Occasionally, it would utter a low groan, and the Sneasel would glance at it; it seemed to defer to the Dark-type Pokémon, and would immediately shut up when it looked round.

“Nice idea,” Silver congratulated me.

“Thanks. Is that—?”

“That silhouette up there? That’s him. The King.”

I stared as it slowly resolved itself into a coherent shape: I made out a massive, arching neck, spearing up into the sky a full thirty feet – as long as a whole juvenile Gyarados. At its tip was a colossal head, ragged with fins and spines, and the trademark ever-gaping mouth. I heard a roar echo across the waves, a vast, alien sound that belonged to an era long since past, and almost fell off the iceberg as I started.

“OK,” I said. “Now I believe you.”

Silver made an amused noise.

“We’re still quite a way off,” he said, “so you can’t see him yet, but Gold is there, right by the waves. Watch where the King attacks.”

A purple flash pierced the veil of drifting snowflakes as the King jabbed his head downwards; I guessed he’d used Dragon Rage or something. Someone cried out.

“Did you see where he was aiming? That’s where Gold is. We’re trying to come up behind him, so we can surprise him.”

“Why are we doing this?”

Silver looked surprised. “To save the King, remember? Gold won’t hold back if we don’t stop him. The King will die.”

“But why is Gold fighting the King? Where did the King come from? I – argh, I don’t understand any of this!”

“If we pull this off,” said Silver, keeping his eyes fixed on the distant shape of the King, writhing and roaring in the snow, “then I promise I’ll tell you everything. And if you decide you want to do something, if you decide you want to help me, then I’ll tell you even more.”

I didn’t tell him that he wasn’t making any sense; he looked too distant to bother right now. I waited a few moments, and then suddenly realised I could see Gold. His goggles were pulled down tightly over his eyes, and he was balancing precariously on a column of water generated by his Surfing Politoed. Simultaneously, three more of his Pokémon were clinging to the giant Gyarados’s neck.

The King himself was amazing, like nothing else I had ever seen. I had seen Gyarados before – if you lived in Mahogany, it was just a matter of time – but he was enormous, each of his blood-coloured scales as large as my face. His fins would have spanned the Gym’s central hall, and his mouth could have taken Kirsten’s car whole.

But there was something wrong with him, too: a vast, bulging growth pressed his left eye half-shut, and more tumours studded his bloated lips and thick neck. One of his barbels was shredded and ragged from the battle, and a crop of boils on his crest were oozing a foul yellow fluid. His huge eyes were full of rage and pain; I’d never seen a creature in more agony than the Red King.

As I watched, Gold sent out a Togepi and hurled it towards the King’s pustule-ridden crest; it immediately started ramming the boils with its spiked head, causing the Gyarados to roar again in pain. We drew closer, and I realised that the three Pokémon clinging to the King’s body were doing their level best to burn, slash and bite their way through his thick skin. Part of the red colouring on his sides wasn’t natural at all, but was just fountains of blood, freezing slickly on his skin as it poured from the raw muscle that Gold’s Pokémon were exposing.

“That isn’t a battle,” I whispered. “That’s butchery.”

“You see why I have to stop him?” asked Silver. “You haven’t even seen his eyes yet. He’s loving this. When his Quilava bit a chunk from my Murkrow he boasted that he’d eaten it, and I think I believe him.”

“What do we do?” I asked, suddenly terrified. Silver was right, Gold was a monster, and I was scared witless of him.

Silver’s eyes were like chips of flint, utterly unmoved.

“We threaten him,” he said simply. “And we don’t back down, even if it comes to a fight. We have to scare him away before he makes the King really angry.”

“What?” Now I was more confused than ever, and a glance at Tercier confirmed that he was, too. “You said he’d kill the King.”

“He will, in the end. But when you manage to trap a Gyarados, when you push it into a corner where the only way out is death, something bad happens.”

A chill ran down my spine, and I remembered the old story of how the Lake was formed. A Gyarados that lived in the rivers nearby mistook a Zapdos for lunch, and almost got itself killed – and that had made it angry. Angry enough to tear several thousand tons of soil and rock out of the ground: angry enough to excavate the entire Lake of Rage in a single day.

“They call them the Atrocious Pokémon,” I said. We were about a hundred feet from Gold now, and closing in fast. I was colder and wetter than ever, but somehow it didn’t seem to register; nothing felt entirely real right now. Gold might kill me, or the Gyarados might kill me – and two ways in which to die is more than enough for someone who’s never had their life threatened before.

“That’s right,” Silver said. “And if Gold tries the King’s patience much more, he’s going to find out why. Idiot!” he spat suddenly, grinding his teeth. “I hate people like him!” He swung around to face me and nearly overturned the iceberg. “It’s people like Gold who made cities like Goldenrod and Saffron,” he said darkly.

I didn’t know what to say, so said nothing, just scooped Tercier up into my arms. I’d just noticed that he was hopping from foot to foot, and realised that he must be freezing. Too cold to remain aloof, he swallowed his pride, harrumphed and snuggled deeper into the breast of my coat.

“OK,” said Silver. “Fifty feet away. You ready?” He glanced at me, but I kept staring rigidly ahead, not really hearing him. “Hey? You ready?” I blinked and looked at him.

“What?”

“Are you ready?” he asked, more gentle this time. His cold hand touched mine and gave it a squeeze; I took a deep breath and nodded. “It’ll be easy,” he assured me. “Now, look imposing.”

Tercier seized his chance and climbed onto my shoulder, where he struck a carefully calculated pose of aggression. Silver’s Sneasel gave the iceberg another blast of Icy Wind, just to keep it going, and leaped in one fluid motion onto Silver’s outstretched wrist, balancing on his slim arm like a falcon.

“Let’s do this,” he muttered, and shouted out: “Guess who, Gold!”

Instantly, Gold swung around; we were about twenty feet away from him now and I could clearly see his eyes behind his goggles, shining like crazed diamonds in the blizzard. They frightened me more than the Red King, and I instinctively took a step backwards, so I was slightly behind Silver.

“You!” he cried. Then he saw me, and looked confused. “And you?” He didn’t seem to recognise me, and I didn’t have any desire to tell him who I was.

“Both of us, Gold,” Silver called back. The King roared and flipped Gold’s Togepi off his head; Gold swore and sent his Quilava to catch it. This close, I could feel the blast of foetid air that rolled out with the Gyarados’ breath.

“What do you want?” he shouted.

“We’re here to stop you!” Silver told him. “I won’t let you kill that Gyarados!”

“But it’s the Rockets’!” Gold replied. “You know about the signal, right?”

“That doesn’t mean anything. If you make that thing angry enough, you know what will happen!”

Gold tipped his head on one side and grinned; he looked like a parody of a boy, a puppet whose strings had been pulled at random by some cosmic puppeteer.

“Yeah,” he said, in a wheedling tone, “but what does that matter? There’s nothing here.” He swept his arm around in a wild circle, cutting through the frigid air. “Just water and fish, and who cares if he rips that up?” He pointed up at the Gyarados, which was thrashing his head from side to side in an attempt to dislodge the trio of attackers; their grip was strong and they hung on grimly.

“Conveniently forgetting about Mahogany Town,” Silver replied. “But that’s not the point; we could argue all day. You’ve got a choice, Gold! Fight me, and Mahogany Gym’s top Trainer, and the Red King – or you can sod off now, and stay in one piece.”

Gold’s sharp eyes flicked from the Gyarados to Tercier; the Smeargle seemed to decide it for him. I guess he was wary; you could never tell what moves they might be packing. With a sound halfway between a cough and a snarl, he recalled all of his Pokémon simultaneously, and sped away across the waves, his Politoed’s Surf bearing him swiftly over the lake.
The King looked at him, confused, for a moment, then squinted at us through his damaged left eye. I could almost see his tiny brain clicking through the possibilities open to him, before he decided that the best course of action was submersion, and descended into the water with surprising speed and silence. The only hint that he’d ever been there was a dark ring on the water, a pool of blood that was swiftly dispersed by the waves.

I sank to my knees, suddenly aware that I had been holding my breath since Silver had begun speaking to Gold. My hands were trembling, and I stared at the ice between my legs and tried not to hyperventilate.

“Oh God,” I began to gabble, “oh God oh God oh God.”

“Are you OK?” Silver knelt next to me, his Sneasel leaping down from his arm, and looked inquiringly at me. “Hey, it wasn’t that bad, was it?”

“N-no,” I managed. “It’s just... I could have died, couldn’t I?”

“I wouldn’t have let that happen,” he said. “I couldn’t have that on my conscience. I’d have got my Murkrow to fly you out of here if Gold or the King had turned on us.”

He stood up.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go. Thanks for your help – I think it was your Smeargle that scared him off.”

“You said you’d tell me everything if we scared Gold away,” I reminded him, as he pulled me back to my feet.

“I will,” said Silver, “just as soon as we get somewhere warmer. Your fingers are blue.”

“So are yours,” I retorted. He inspected them.

“You’re right,” he said. “And now I know you’re feeling better, since you’re up to insulting me.”

He gestured to the Croconaw, and the iceberg turned around and began to drift back towards the shore.

---

Sometimes, I wonder if it was all intentional. Was Silver seeking an ally like him? Did he let her do it, did he let me get hurt just so I, like him, would be able to hate like he did?

Then I remember everything else about him, and I’m not so sure. He might have been capable of doing that, but I didn’t really believe he would have done it.
The only thing I can be sure of is that there’ll never, ever be anyone else like him. He was Silver, one of a kind, a hero the likes of which I’ll never see again if I live to be a hundred.

And all that’s left of him now is that silver locket.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #3    
Old December 21st, 2010 (06:03 AM). Edited December 21st, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Chapter Six: The Rocket Lair

“This is where you live?” asked Silver, looking around at the cracked plaster and dripping ceiling.

“Yeah,” I replied, setting Tercier down.

“Your Smeargle did these?” He indicated the ink drawings on the walls.

“Yeah.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask about that. What happened to his tail?”

I looked at it. The tuft of hair that most Smeargle used as a brush was missing on Tercier, and in its place was a metal nib, as you would expect to find on a fountain pen.

“He picked a fight with a blender,” I answered shortly. “He lost.”

“And the nib?”

“It was all they had. They welded it on; it’s enough for him to draw with.”

“I see.”

The Sneasel, Mercury, hopped onto the three-legged table and adopted a watchful pose. Tercier looked at him, sniffed, and went over to the wall to complete an extra-large study of a tree that he’d been working on for the past week.

I offered Silver the only chair I had, and he declined, giving it to me instead; he leaned against the wall as he had by the lake.

“So, tell me what the hell is going on,” I said. Silver let out a long breath.

“Where do I start?” he wondered aloud. “The Red King, I suppose.”

“That’s good.”

“OK. Like you said, he’s been dead for centuries. That was before the Rockets got to him.”

“Team Rocket?” Silver nodded, a hint of steel in his eye.

“Yes,” he said dispassionately, “they’ve returned. Not as they were, but in secret.”

“But... their leader... he died, didn’t he? The Executives were arrested, most of rest were killed – it was in the news.”

“True,” he agreed. “But think for a moment. There were hundreds of Rockets, spread throughout Kanto. A whole army. And armies don’t just shrivel up and disappear. All they needed was a leader.”

“And they’ve found one? Here, in Mahogany?”

Silver smiled, and it was utterly mirthless.

“I don’t know. I know they’re from Johto, or at least live here. There are four of them: a boss, and three Executives, just like the old days. They’ve moved the base to somewhere in Mahogany, which is why I’ve been here; I’ve watched them for a while now.”

“I still... I still don’t get it. Why are they here?”

This was all too much; first the Red King, and Gold, and now this? It was huge, so huge that I couldn’t wrap my head around it; this morning I’d been normal, if a little spooked by Silver’s appearance on Saturday, and now I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Was I the same Monique who didn’t care, who minded her own business, who did nothing more than work in a shop and help at the Gym? Or was I someone else, a new Monique, who was part of some huge, secret conspiracy, led around in merry rings by this mysterious stranger with the crimson hair and the cold-eyed Sneasel? My head was beginning to spin, and it was all I could do to maintain a steady grip on reality.

“I don’t know about that,” Silver said. “Not entirely. But I have a rough idea of what they’re doing. They’re investigating how to control Pokémon remotely – any one, not just Psychic types. I was watching them last night on the lakefront, and I saw them testing it on the Red King; somehow they brought him back to life – in the same sort of way as they do with fossils, I think. But the process has given him those cancers you saw, as far as I can tell.”

“I...”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. This was impossible. None of this could be happening; you couldn’t bring myths to life, couldn’t resurrect the dead. And yet... why would he lie? What had Silver got to gain from deceiving me?

I remember how confused I was then, completely unable to work out what was happening and what Silver had to do with it. Confusion was, thankfully, something I would get over with time, but at that moment it raged within my head like a maddened Tyranitar.

“I can understand if you don’t believe me,” Silver said. “Resurrection of the dead, controlling wild Pokémon in armies. It must be hard to believe. But think about it: it makes sense that they’d want it. The Rockets have always wanted power, absolute power. Those experiments in Saffron that destroyed them three years ago? A bid for power. The Black TMs thing? Another one, more successful. Imagine what you could do with a swarm of Gyarados, a few hundred Tyranitar, or even a flock of Dragonite. The ability to control them all at will... no one would be able to stop them. Total control over the entire Johto region.”

---

There was a long silence, while I tried to shuffle all the information I’d just absorbed.

“This is utterly insane,” I said at last.

Silver nodded.

“I agree.”

“It’s completely impossible.”

“That’s right, too.”

I frowned.

“Are you going to disagree with me at all?”

Silver shook his head.

“No. It’s crazy, I get that. But it’s also happening, and if I don’t stop it, I won’t be able to live with myself.”

The line was hackneyed, a pastiche of clichés from a dozen movies, but when Silver said it, in his clinical, matter-of-fact voice, I believed it. There was a sincerity about him that I’d never experienced in anyone else before; maybe, I thought, he had nothing to lose by telling the truth. Given his battered condition, it seemed a fair guess.

“Why?” I asked. “Why you?”

Silver smiled again, but there was still no happiness in it.

“I can’t tell you that,” he said. “Not yet. All I can say is that I have a long-standing feud with the Rockets.” I shook my head.

“Whatever you say. I – actually, I don’t think it matters.”

There was another silence, during which we both tried to figure out what it was that I’d meant by what I just said. Eventually, Silver broke it.

“So,” he began, “can you guess what my next question is?”

“Will I help you?”

“In one.” He flicked a strand of hair from his eyes and gave me a questioning look. “So? Will you?”

“I—”

He held up a hand. “And before you say it, think. You’re going to say ‘No’ out of habit, because you’re girl-who-just-wears-black from the Rage Candy Bar shop, who doesn’t think she has the time or money to worry about others’ problems. But today you helped me stop a psychopath from butchering a one-of-a-kind Gyarados, and indirectly, a massive rampage that would probably have destroyed half the town. Whether you think it or not – whether anyone else knows it or not – you are technically a heroine.”

“Shut up,” I said, genuinely displeased. I hate being complimented, as you probably guessed earlier from when I denied saving Gold, and when I refused his rewards. It’s not that I’m modest – I wish I was as good a person as that. It’s more a – an inexplicable desire to shy away from attention, to get on with my life in the dark cracks of the town, where the happy families and the tourists don’t venture. The place where the tramps live, if there were any still alive in this weather, and the poor folk.

And people like Silver.

“What’s it to be?” he asked. “Are you girl-who-just-wears-black, who lives in a run-down dump and never dares come to life? Or are you Monique, the girl who knows that the Rockets are doing unspeakably evil things, and wants to stop them?” Those sharp, cold eyes fixed on my own; terrible eyes in their own way, almost as frightening as Gold’s. They were so bleak, and they knew so much...

“Tercier?” I asked, looking over to where he was drawing. He seemed to have stopped a while ago, and was staring at Silver with shock written all over his aristocratic features. Blinking, his eyes flicked over to mine and he shrugged helplessly, nib-tipped tail scratching against the floor. Your decision, his eyes seemed to say.

“What do I have to do?” I asked at length. Silver gave that trademark mirthless smile.

“It’s simple, really,” he said. “My plan goes like this: find out exactly what’s going on, stop Team Rocket, and stop that psychopath Gold, before he ruins everything.”

“When you put it like that...”

“See?” Silver spread his arms and did his best to look disarming. He was quite good at it. “Nothing to it.”

If only it had been that simple.

---

“So Gold is after the Rockets too?”

Silver nodded. “At Slowpoke Well, by Azalea, they tried to revive the Slowpoketail business – but Gold beat them there. I think they were just gathering money; all the things they’re doing are pretty damn expensive. There are rumours that they took over the gambling rackets in Goldenrod – establishing themselves in the capital, just like they did in Kanto. Gold had a run-in with an Executive there, code-named Petrel. Huh.”

“What was that for?” I asked, puzzled.

“Their lack of imagination,” Silver explained. “They’re reusing the old codes from their time in Kanto.

“Anyway, that doesn’t matter. The point is, Gold is after them as well, but he’s insane, like you saw. I don’t know what he’s up to – but it isn’t good.”

“Can we go to the police? Or to Pryce? Wouldn’t they be able to help us?” I asked. Silver snorted.

“No one will listen to me,” he said. “After all, I’m a crook, remember? Pryce might believe you – but you wouldn’t be able to keep me out of the story, and then you’d get arrested as my accomplice.”

“What you’re saying is, you’ve dragged me down to your criminal level now, and if I don’t help you, you’ll get me arrested.”

Silver looked pained.

“I wouldn’t like it to come to that. I do genuinely like you, Monique. But I’ve been focused on stopping these guys for...” He hesitated. “A long time. Years and years now.”

I didn’t probe; it didn’t seem like a good idea. I had a feeling that the more I knew about Silver, the more danger I would be in.

“What are we going to do?” I asked him. “To stop the Rockets?”

“It was you who gave me the idea,” he said. “Your shop.”

“My shop?” I asked, puzzled.

“I did some research over the weekend; this town has quite a nice library. It was bought a while ago by Kantan businessmen, right?”

“Right...?”

“And they don’t seem to spend much time on the premises, do they?”

“No—” My eyes flew open wide. “You can’t be serious!”

“I don’t joke about the Rockets.”

“The shop’s really just a front for Team Rocket’s hideout?”

“‘Hideout’ is a weak word,” Silver replied mildly, raising his eyebrows – at least, I thought he did, but I couldn’t see them properly through his long fringe. “I would say... lair. That suits them. Lair, like rats and ogres.”

He stepped forwards and extended a hand. I looked at it for a while, then I realised what he wanted.

“We’re going now?

Silver shrugged. “No time like the present.”

With that, he grabbed my hand and whisked me out of the door. Under different circumstances, it would have been exciting, or possibly even romantic – but as it was, I was just a little bit pissed-off that this was the second time I’d been dragged off by Silver like a doll by a child.

---

“You’d better be sure about this,” I muttered, as we stood in the snow outside the shop. The window was so rimed with frost that it had gone completely opaque; I wondered when the snow would stop falling. It was a foot and a half deep now, and if it got much thicker the entire town would come to a standstill.

“I am,” Silver said. “I – ****! Quick, here!”

He pulled me into the alley next to the shop and held a finger to his lips; then pointed out into the snowy streets. I watched, puzzled, then saw what he had already glimpsed: Gold, stalking down the street, his Quilava melting a path for him.

But that wasn’t all: beside him was a tall man swathed in a cloak, his head covered in a fiery growth of red hair that almost seemed like it ought to be melting the snow around it. I couldn’t see his face, but there was an incredible amount of dynamism packed into his figure, as if a god had taken a thunderbolt and compressed it into a man. I noticed there was no snow on his shoulders, as if even the sky itself was impressed by him. I didn’t need any help identifying him: this was Lance, the Champion of the Indigo League and the strongest Trainer in either Johto or Kanto. He even had his own epithet: Lance, the Dragon Master.

“Oh my God!” I whispered fiercely. “That’s—”

“Sssh!” hissed Silver. “If he sees me, we’ve already lost. This is the man who can control three Dragonite simultaneously.”

That sent a shiver down my spine. Proud, vain, and conscious of their superiority over humans in every single way, it took a lifetime of dedication to gain a single Dragonite’s trust. You might as well try to catch a Gyarados, or a Tyranitar; they were just too strong for anyone to control. The thing was, Lance also had a Gyarados – and, if the rumours were to be believed, had his sights set on training the ‘untameable’ Tyranitar.

We watched, Mercury and Tercier perched on our shoulders, as Lance and Gold stopped outside the store. They spoke in low voices, words whipped away on the wind, but I knew they’d probably be talking about everything Silver had told me. A few minutes later, Lance drew a long-barrelled revolver and shot the lock off the door, firing through a snowball to mask the sound. It didn’t carry far in the blizzard, anyway. The pair entered the shop, and Silver and I slipped back around to the front. Mercury and Tercier both lunged for the door, and both got a foot in it, keeping it open just a crack. The four of us pressed our eyes to the tiny gap, and instantly recoiled, wincing, as a brilliant flash of light seared across the room, accompanied by a noise that reminded me of the one Tercier had made when his tail got caught in the blender.

Silver exchanged looks with Mercury, and the latter shrugged.

“What is it?” I whispered.

“We’re trying to work out if someone could survive that Hyper Beam,” he replied. “I hope so. Jesus, I didn’t know Lance was so... mediaeval.”

“Neither did I.”

Tercier made a noncommittal motion, as if to say: Well, I had an inkling, but naturally I didn’t say anything. I gave him a look, but he gazed back with an air of superciliousness, utterly unrepentant. I was about to say something about how people whose heads looked like berets didn’t have any right to pretensions, but it didn’t seem the right time.

“I think the coast is clear,” Silver said, peeping through the gap in the door. “Yeah, no one’s there. Let’s go.”

We slipped in, out of the cold; for some reason, the heating was still on. Then I realised that it wasn’t, and in fact we were just standing in the remnants of the Hyper Beam, a pocket of warm air that marked the path the attack had taken.

“Monique,” said Silver in a low, urgent voice.

“What?”

“Whatever you do, don’t look in the corner,” he said. He sounded sick. “Believe me... I don’t think you want to see this. Go wait by the counter, I’m going to talk to him.”
I walked over there, studiously ignoring the lines of blood and ash on the floor that led towards the corner. When I heard the soft, wheezing groan of the injured man, I almost turned around, but I held tightly to the counter, knowing that Silver was right, that I didn’t want to see anything.

Silver spoke to the man, but I heard neither what he asked nor the replies; I was concentrating hard on Tercier’s back, which bore a black paw-print, witness to the colour of his ink. I didn’t want to know anything about whatever was in that corner.

“I think he’ll live,” Silver said. “I hope he’ll live. But he said that Lance went down the stairs.”

“There aren’t any...” I began, but then I saw the armchair had been hauled out of its corner and a trapdoor beneath it opened. Below, stairs descended into the dark. “Oh.”

“Are you OK?” asked Silver, as Mercury zoomed down the stairs to scout ahead.

“I’m fine,” I told him, which was mostly true. “But I just have to ask... why did you ask me to come with you, Silver? I – I’m not part of this world... I don’t deal in corpses.”

“Because there’s something different about you,” he said simply, as Mercury returned and asserted that the route was all clear. “You’re scared, but you came with me anyway. That’s what you call bravery – or what they used to call it, back when it mattered.”

Nostalgia doesn’t fit young people, and usually it comes across as laughable, but Silver somehow made it sad. He made a lot of things sad, now that I think about it; he was a sad young man.

Mercury gave a short, sharp exhalation, and pointed down the stairs.

“Sorry,” Silver apologised. “Come on. There was another reason, but I’ll tell you later.”

The stairs were narrow and dark, with tall, damp walls hewn from unfinished rock. They seemed to go on forever, and eventually, I saw a glimmer of light at the bottom. Mercury, from atop Silver’s shoulder, pointed towards it. Tercier, somewhat put out at taking a back seat to the Sneasel, sniffed and turned his head away.

When we reached the light at the bottom, we seemed to have stepped into an archaeological dig like the one at the hill forts; we were standing in a great stone hall, harshly illuminated by arc lights set at intervals across the floor. The walls were covered in moss and lichen, and some sort of pallid slime, but I could make out the shapes of carvings beneath: a tail here, a fin there. I realised they were Gyarados, and then I realised where we were.

“This is... This is part of the old hill fort!” I cried in a whisper. Silver looked puzzled.

“How do you know?”

“The carvings... see, behind the moss? They’re Gyarados. The symbol of Mahogany, the Pokémon that the hill warriors used to worship.”

Silver looked at me, somewhat impressed.

“Not just a pretty face,” he mused. “OK, that explains how they’re getting to the lake so easily. The part of the fort that’s been discovered is down there, right?” I nodded. “Then it must all connect up somewhere. The Rockets never have to leave their lair.”

We walked through the hall as quietly as we could, but only Mercury could move completely silently in that vast space – everything just echoed. I worried that someone might hear us coming, but when we got to the huge door at the other end I saw that any resistance we might have faced had already been dealt with.

“Silver?”

“Yeah?” Then he saw them too. “Oh...” He looked at me, face pale. “I wouldn’t look at them if I were you,” he said weakly.

“It’s a bit late for that,” I told him, eyes fixed on the Rockets.

“I didn’t know you could do something like that with Thunderbolt.”

“Don’t say that. That’s just... nasty.”

“Growing a conscience? That’s good, it’s part of healthy, normal human development.” Silver grabbed my hand and pulled me past the Rocket guards; I think I might have just stayed there, staring at them in shock, all day if he hadn’t moved me. “Come on. We need to find Gold and Lance. I didn’t think the Dragon Master would be as bad as Gold, but he might just be worse.”

I made a noise that might have been agreement. Any liking I ever had for the Champion was rapidly melting away.

The hall led into a confusing maze of tunnels that seemed to run around and around the inside of Mahogany’s hills like dizzy worms. Every so often, we’d come across a life-sized statue of a Persian on a plinth, obviously from the times of the hill warriors, and about fifty per cent of them had had their heads smashed. We couldn’t work out why, until we found one spitting sparks and realised there had been cameras in the statues’ eyes. The Rockets had been tracking Gold and Lance’s progress. After that, we just followed the trail of broken statues.

It was strange, following in the wake of someone else’s attack. I’m sure that if Gold and Lance had been coming after us, we would have seen Rockets everywhere, or at least encountered a modicum of resistance. As it was, it was like wandering through a shopping centre long after it’s shut, or a theme park after closing time. There was a sense of utter abandonment about the place that was far creepier than any lurking gunmen.

After a while – I don’t know how long, but it was enough for Tercier to decide that these cold, dark tunnels weren’t fit to witness his genius and demand (unsuccessfully) to be let back into his Pokéball – we came to a dead end. It wasn’t a natural one – it wasn’t a cave-in, nor was it the end of the corridor. It was just that the Rockets had built a massive steel door over it, sealing it off entirely.

Silver and I stared at it for a moment.

“Could,” he said hesitantly, “your Smeargle tear it down?”

I looked at him incredulously.

“What do you think?”

“Sorry, sorry, just asking.” He raised his hands in a placating gesture. “You never know with Smeargle, do you? He might know... er... Blast Burn or something.”

That was a fair point. To my knowledge, Tercier knew Rock Smash, Sharpen and Charge Beam – an eclectic combination of moves that I don’t think any other Pokémon could have assembled.

“Fair enough,” I agreed. “But no. How about your Pokémon?” Silver shook his head.

“Nothing doing,” he said. “My Ursaring might be able to, if we had a few hours, but we don’t have that long. So... I guess we need a code.” He was looking at the little number pad and screen on the left-hand side of the doors.

“If Gold and Lance were here too,” I observed, “then they must have had the same problem. Look, you can just see a dent in the door.”

Silver squinted, and saw what I saw: a faintly sizzling mark in the centre, the site of a Hyper Beam’s impact.

“That door is ridiculously strong,” he said, eyes wide.

“Yeah. The point is, though, that they must have gone somewhere else to find a code. Were there any turnings with broken statues that we missed?”

We doubled back to search, and found that there were. They led to a set of stairs that had once been blocked off by a steel-barred fence and a couple of Rocket grunts. The fence lay in a twisted heap around the two unconscious Rockets, binding them tightly together. I wondered what sort of strength you needed to treat steel bars like string.

Silver knelt by the two men, and sent out his Croconaw. He nodded to it, and with great pleasure, the monster drew its head back and spat about a bathful of water into the Rocket’s face. Instantly, the man jerked into wakefulness, yelling incoherently and spitting through the water. He stared around wildly for a moment, then his eyes settled on Silver and I – and finally on Silver’s Croconaw, which had its massive jaws unnervingly close to his head.

“Start talking,” Silver told him. “What did they want?”

“T-the code,” stuttered the hapless Rocket, too startled not to reply.

“Obviously you don’t know it,” Silver continued. “Where can we get it?”

“O-only the higher-ups know,” he gasped.

“The Executives?”

“T-that’s right.”

“Where are they?”

“P-preparing for – for Lance and – the boy.”

“So they did see them coming,” said Silver, straightening up. He glanced at me. “That could work to our advantage.”

“How?”

“I’m trying to think of that myself,” he told me. “Don’t rush me.” He thought a moment. “No, it couldn’t work to our advantage at all. Magyar!”

The Croconaw nodded and headbutted the Rocket on the forehead, a solid hit that sent him back to sleep in a split second.

“Thanks.” He held out the Pokéball and recalled him, then started to go down the stairs.

“Hey – wait!” Not at all keen on staying in the dark, cold corridors by myself, I flung myself after him and almost bowled us both down the stairs. When we’d recovered our balance, with a few harsh words exchanged on both sides, we continued to the lower floor, and met a sight that completely took our breath away.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #4    
Old December 21st, 2010 (11:14 AM). Edited December 21st, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Chapter Seven: Voltorb Snap

Deep underground, probably several hundred metres, in the centre of a subterranean fortress once inhabited by ninja, we stepped out of the shadow of the stairwell and into—

—a gleaming, stainless steel laboratory, like the photographs of Professor Elm’s research lab down in New Bark. The stone floor had been covered over with spotless linoleum; the metal worktops glowed like lines of grey fire in the light of the fluorescent tubes mounted on the ceiling. Computers beeped, liquids bubbled and a little Ditto made small, high-pitched ‘boop’ noises on a counter in the corner.

“What the hell?” said Silver, staring around in confusion. “I didn’t expect this.”

“No,” I agreed, “this is really, really weird.”

Tercier looked around, clapped a palm to his head in a gesture that signified his exasperation with such worldly pursuits as scientific knowledge, and shook his head sadly at the profanity of the world. Mercury looked at him as if he’d just turned into a potato.

We walked into the lab area, wary of Rockets, but it seemed to be abandoned; Gold and Lance’s footprints were visible on the floor, leading towards a door on the far left wall, and I supposed they’d scared everyone off. I trailed a hand absently across a desk, stopped suddenly, looked again at what I’d just brushed it against, and called out:

“Silver?”

“What is it?”

“Come look at this.”

He did, and together we stared at it, nonplussed. A book, bound in ancient leather and adorned with the sharp teeth of an Arcanine or Nidorino, lay before us.

It was titled A Grimoire of Sorcerie.

“Any ideas?” I asked. Silver picked up the book and opened it.

“Um... no,” he said, as if my question had been completely redundant. “How am I supposed to know why Team Rocket is researching magic, of all things?”

“Well, I – hey, look, another one!”

This was covered in what may or may not have been human skin, and was titled in old Johto runes that I couldn’t read – the same ones that you found at the Ruins of Alph:



“This is crazy,” Silver murmured, putting down the Grimoire and picking up the other book. “What are they doing here?”

“A more fitting question would be: what are you doing here?”

He popped up out of nowhere, like a Jack-in-the-Box; in one hand he had a gun of the size you only see in movies, and in the other a Pokéball. Its recent occupant was between us and him, and also highly illegal: the size of a car, with a mouth several metres wide and holes in its body from which sand continually poured. Its dull, red eyes glared balefully at us from beneath bloated eyebrows. Ponderously, the Hippowdon opened its mouth, so wide that it managed to completely obscure the man behind it, and then snapped it shut with frightening speed.

“Holy ****,” breathed Silver. “What is that?”

I looked at him oddly. So did the man.

“It’s a Hippowdon,” I told him. “You’ve not heard of them? They’re from Sinnoh. Thus, illegal to import here.”

He shook his head.

“I know nothing about anything outside of the Johto-Kanto area.”

The man coughed.

“If you wouldn’t mind?” he asked, and our eyes returned to him. He was middle-aged, balding, and wearing a white lab coat, so I assumed he was a scientist. “Thank you. Now, who the **** are you and what are you doing here?”

“We’re concerned individuals,” Silver told him, “and we’re here to stop just about everything you’re doing.”

The scientist seemed distinctly unimpressed, as did his Pokémon, which snorted and caused another ten gallons of sand to puff out of its back.

“How are you going to do that, exactly?” he asked. Silver pointed to the Hippowdon.

“Well, that’s a Ground-type, isn’t it?”

“Ye-es?” I could tell he was intrigued despite himself. I was too, to be honest.

“In that case, this all depends on how good a shot you are.” Silver flashed him the mirthless smile. “Because Ice moves will take down your Pokémon in an instant – and, by coincidence, that’s exactly the amount of time you’re going to get to react. Mercury!”

The Sneasel’s outlines blurred and it suddenly vanished, moving with such speed that it seemed near invisible. A line of bullets ricocheted off the desk in front of us, exploding a retort and shredding a third spell-book, and I ducked down just as I heard a roar come from the throat of the Hippowdon, followed by a horrific gargling sound that sent a chill down my spine. There was one more gunshot – and then a soft whoosh.

Then silence.

Slowly, I stood up, shaken by the speed of the battle. It was nothing like an official Trainer’s battle, where you abided by the rules and took your time; that was brutal, bloody and frighteningly fast. Just like what Pokémon did in the wild.

The Hippowdon was lying with its eyes closed on its belly, a wide ring of red visible all around its thick, stubby neck; blood seeped from its mouth and I knew that the gargling had been the sound of it drowning in its own blood. Mercury stood over the fallen scientist, bloody claws on his closed, tremulous eyelids. The gun lay on the floor a few feet away; the hand that had held it was drenched in blood and had red stringy things coming off it. I didn’t know what the Sneasel had done, but I was certain that that hand wasn’t going to work for quite some time.

“Oh,” said Silver, picking up the scientist’s gun. “Looks like you were too slow.”

“Please,” gasped the man, through ragged breaths of air, “please don’t kill me!”

“I’m not going to kill you,” Silver said, as if that was a ridiculous suggestion. “I’m going to ask you a few questions, and – what?”

The Hippowdon’s bulky body had begun to blur and melt, and was slowly receding, losing its dark colour and becoming somewhat... purple. Within a second or two, it had resolved itself into a small blob of jelly with a dazed, smiling face: a Ditto.

“Boop,” it burbled happily.

“It wasn’t even real?” I said. At the sound of my voice, the Ditto turned to face me and gave another ‘boop’.

“Of course it wasn’t,” said Silver. “It was a rushed transformation; if you hadn’t panicked, you’d have seen that it was too soft to be real. Teeth don’t bend when your mouth shuts.”

“I’m sorry,” I said sarcastically. “It’s strange, but I’ve never actually broken into a secret lair and fought an immortal shape-shifter before.”

Immortal was the right word; the Ditto was completely unharmed. It’s pretty much impossible to kill them – whatever damage they take, they can just turn back into jelly and be fine.

Silver waved me aside.

“Whatever,” he said dismissively. “The point is, we weren’t actually in any danger.”
A low whimper reminded us of the scientist on the floor. We both looked down at him.
“Sorry,” I said to him. “We got a bit distracted by your Ditto.”

“Yeah, you have my sincere apologies,” deadpanned Silver. “Now, what the hell are you guys doing here? Why’ve you got all this black magic stuff?”

“Research,” the scientist gasped. “Necromancy, mostly. It’s what we did with—”

“Necromancy?” Silver and I spoke simultaneously, in exactly the same disbelieving tone. We looked at each other and he let me speak.

“You’re trying to bring the dead back to life?”

“Yes, you have to believe me! It’s what we did with the Red King – it wasn’t like with fossils, where you clone them from the DNA—”

“Hold it a moment,” said Silver. “Let me get this straight. That’s the actual Red King? Not a clone from a scale or a tooth or something?”

“That’s right,” the scientist confirmed. His head twitched, like he was about to nod, but the prick of Mercury’s claws on his eyes seemed to discourage him. “It’s not a hundred per cent successful, of course – I assume you saw the tumours – but that is the King. Fifteen hundred years old and now... reborn.”

“But why?” I had to ask. Even if you accepted the fact that you could bring a Gyarados back from the dead – and really, was it any harder to believe than the fact that an Entei could create a volcano, or an Absol predict disasters? – there didn’t seem to be any reason for it. I knew enough about the Rockets to know that whatever they did, there was something in it for them, but I just couldn’t see what attraction the King held for them.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I was just assigned to work here, on the project – with the others, the ones that the man in the cape and the guy with the goggles took with—”

“Lance and Gold!” Silver started. “Damn it, we forgot all about them! Mercury, Icy Wind!”

The Sneasel blew a chill breeze onto the scientist’s forehead, and he twitched slightly before lying still, unconscious.

“Come on!” Silver cried. “God knows how far ahead they’ve got. We have to catch them!”

Of course, it was already too late, but we didn’t know that yet. We just pelted out of there, desperate to stop whatever it was the nefarious duo was up to.

---

Another maze of deserted tunnels, this time with laboratories branching off them; more smashed Persians, more Gyarados carvings cloaked in thick coats of slimy lichen. We were going too fast to really take in the view, but I got the gist of it. Tercier tried to keep up with me for a while, to prove he could, but his short legs couldn’t do it and he had to submit to being carried.

After a few minutes, I began to hear noises: crashes, and explosions, and raised voices. I glanced at Silver, and noted he’d heard them too. They got louder and louder, and more frequent, until we came to a corner and they threatened to deafen us, echoing a thousandfold off the high stone walls. Slowing, we peered around the corner, and looked on at what can only be described as an epic battle.

The stage was another hall, very similar to the one at the entrance; this one, however, was full of empty cages with earth on top of them. It didn’t take a genius to realise they had slid up through the floor, presumably triggered by a motion sensor.
The cage’s one-time occupants formed one side of the battle: a horde of Voltorb, all as pissed at humanity as only a Voltorb can be. They swarmed up the walls and rolled around the floor; the air was blurry with the lightning that arced from ceiling to floor and back again, flicking around the room in harsh white zigzags. Every so often, one would give a scream of defiance and detonate, blowing strings of blood and fire everywhere; the stone blocks of the floor and walls were covered with splattered guts and shiny teeth, and a lot of the lichen was on fire. An eyeball smacked into my face and I almost cried out; Tercier slapped an ink-stained hand over my mouth and plucked the offending organ from my cheek.

Despite these obstacles, the other combatants were winning. They were Gold and Lance, standing back to back in the centre of the room, their faces streaked with the gore from the exploding Voltorb. Gold’s Quilava – Explotaro, I thought its name was – was burning wide rings through the seething mass of angry plasma; its Flame Wheels were more than enough to take down two or three at once. Lance, on the other hand, was using a Dragonite, which simply hovered, an utterly awe-inspiring sight, above the battlefield, firing Ice Beams down at individual attackers, taking them out with the speed and accuracy of a well-trained military sniper. Lightning bolts kept hitting it, but it was obviously powerful enough to simply not care, despite its half-Flying typing; it kept its cold, black eyes locked on the ground below, its sinuous body completely motionless. The only parts of it that moved were its head and wings, the latter to keep it flying and the former to adjust its aim.

“I think,” Silver shouted at me over the din, “that we should let them clear those out for us.”

“I agree!” I yelled back, and we retreated back around the corner, where it was slightly quieter.

“Maybe it’ll weaken them a bit,” Silver suggested, though he didn’t sound hopeful.

“Maybe,” I agreed, equally disbelieving.

“At the very least, it’ll stop us being weakened by the Voltorb,” he said. I gave him a puzzled glance.

“You’re saying you’d be able to get through that swarm? And you would just be weakened?”

“Of course.” Silver looked at me askance. “I am as strong a Trainer as Gold, whatever you might think. I’d get through there, I’d just be weakened in the process. The thing is, Lance is the kind of guy who won’t be fazed at all. His Dragonite doesn’t even care about those Thunderbolts; it’s got to be at least Level 60.”

Suddenly, a deep, commanding voice cut through the tumult from the trap hall.

“Enough of this. Return your Quilava and stand back!”

Half a second later, there was a crash and the floor began to shake violently; I lost my balance and toppled over, almost squashing Tercier. Silver fell, too – in fact, the only one who kept their balance was Mercury, who flipped off Silver’s arm and landed perfectly on the quivering ground.

Crawling forward on my stomach, I looked into the hall – and watched in amazement as Voltorb after Voltorb burst like balloons, screaming wildly as shock waves rolled out through the ground from the Dragonite’s feet. Chunks of masonry fell from the roof, flattening a few more; one almost hit Lance but the Dragonite punched it into gravel mid-fall. It didn’t even stop the Earthquake.

A second later, it was all over. The tremors were gone, and all that was left of Team Rocket’s Voltorb trap was a bloody paste of rock and gore, spread evenly around the hall. Even Gold looked slightly shaken, before grinning and nodding at the destruction. Lance seemed to take this more as a compliment on his technique than the approval of a connoisseur of murder, and inclined his head graciously. Then he strode off towards the door at the other end of the room, a plain steel one that the Rockets had destroyed half a Gyarados carving to put in. Behind him, the long, sinuous Dragonite flowed through the air like mercury, fanning up piles of Voltorb fragments with its wings. Gold rushed after them, eager not to be left behind. The cages retracted into the floor, and suddenly everything was silent – eerie after the riot of noise a few moments ago.

Silver and I stepped cautiously into the now-empty hall, our footsteps loud in the vast space.

“Jesus,” said Silver. There didn’t seem to be any way that I could add to that, so I didn’t say anything.

Where the cages had been were exactly square areas devoid of blood or rubble; these clean spots were so incongruous it was almost funny. The main reason it wasn’t was because of all the gore, though I didn’t actually care about Voltorb. Who did? They were an accident of nature, a by-product of Pokéball production that had no natural right to existence, and every single one hated humans with a passion unrivalled even by Rhydon.
When we were halfway through the room, the cages rose out of the floor all around us, refilled with piles of something small, dark and round. Before I could even begin to panic, the doors opened and the inhabitants leaped out—

—revealing themselves to be a pack of Geodude, trying desperately to look ferocious. Slowly, they rolled across the floor to meet us, murder in their little eyes, and Tercier leaped down from my shoulder, cracking his knuckles.

“Not quite as threatening as Voltorb, is it?” Silver remarked, watching the living boulders drag themselves over. “Maybe they just choose random round things?”

“Maybe.” I wasn’t concerned either. If I started walking, no Geodude would ever be able to catch me; the fact that they weighed about twenty kilos and had no legs made it difficult for them to catch anything. It was a good thing they ate rocks, or they’d have died out long ago.

“Shall we just... walk past them?” Silver suggested. His Sneasel bounced over to one Geodude and carefully and deliberately turned it upside down, from which position it struggled to get up.

“No, not yet.” I was watching Tercier, who had adopted the light-footed pose of a boxer. “I think Tercier wants to show me something.”

I knew exactly what he wanted to do, and it was going to waste a little time – but it would be hilarious, and so I was going to let him.

Tercier beckoned one Geodude closer to him. Emboldened, the little rock dug in its fingers and dragged itself closer. Tercier flashed it an aristocratic smile, and proceeded to drive his fist into the spot between its eyes. The effect was immediate and electrifying: the Geodude exploded into hundreds of tiny shards and a pair of arms, flying apart like a chocolate orange that had just been kicked. The pieces came to rest a few metres away, the arms waving forlornly.

“He knows Rock Smash,” said Silver.

“Yep,” I told him happily. “That he does.”

The Geodude’s mouth, which was still somehow intact, gave a mournful sigh and its arms began crawling over to it. It would put itself back together, given time; their blood was cement, and it would fuse together easily.

The other Geodude stared at Tercier in horror, their vacant eyes filled with as much emotion as they could muster. Then slowly, effortfully, they turned around and started rolling as quickly as they could back towards their cages.

Silver laughed for the first time since I’d met him; it was accompanied by a real smile, not the cold one he usually wore.

“That was worth seeing,” he admitted. “Just for their faces.” His smile vanished and his tone became serious once more. “But we need to go,” he said. “We need to find out what the Rockets are doing here – and why Lance is involved.”

That hadn’t occurred to me, and I felt like an idiot. Why was Lance here? I hadn’t even questioned his presence, maybe because of the violence he’d wrought, maybe because I wasn’t as clever as Silver. Quickly, I adopted a knowing expression, as if I’d considered it already. I wasn’t about to lose face.

“Yeah, definitely,” I agreed. “Tercier!”

He returned to my shoulder and we followed Silver and Mercury through the door. Beyond was a short corridor with two rooms coming off it; one contained, when we looked, Lance and Gold, beating up a scientist; the other was covered by another steel door and was locked.

With some reluctance, we had just decided to go into the first room and confront Lance when one of the Rocket goons from the top of the stairs stumbled past us, rubbing his head. I had no idea how he’d got free from the fence, but I pointed at him and Tercier leaped for his face, looping his long tail around his throat and holding it just a fraction too tight. At the same moment, Mercury materialised atop the man’s head, holding his claws over the Rocket’s eyes.

“Freeze,” said Silver, raising the stolen gun. I started; I’d forgotten he still had that. “Remember me?”

I realised that it was the same Rocket he’d woken up earlier, and felt kind of sorry for him.

“Oh Christ,” said the Rocket despairingly, “you two again.”

I almost laughed, but Silver cut me off.

“Ssh,” he hissed. “In the next room are Lance the Dragon Master and the psychopathic Pokémon Trainer Gold. You do not want to attract their attention.”

The Rocket shut his mouth tightly.

“Now,” continued Silver, “where were you going?”

The Rocket pointed timidly at the locked steel door.

“To report to your boss?”

Very slowly and carefully, the man nodded, hoping he didn’t irritate the two Pokémon on his head too much.

“How were you going to get in?” I asked, feeling left out.

The Rocket’s hand went to his pocket; thinking he was going for a gun, Tercier reflexively tightened the noose about his neck, but it was only a card key that he withdrew, and the Smeargle relaxed a little.

I took it from him. “Thank you.”

“N-no problem,” he managed to whisper dryly. The guy must have had quite a sense of humour to be able to joke at a time like that.

“Now, knock him out.” Tercier looked uncertain at how to do this, so he throttled him a bit and then punched him a few times in the face. It seemed to do the trick and he and Mercury returned to us as the Rocket fell over.

“Good one,” remarked Silver. “What was that about having never having broken into a secret lair before?”

“I think I’m learning fast.”

He nodded, faintly amused, then suddenly recalled Mercury.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Switching,” he said. “I think Lemuel would be better here.”

There was a low cackle, and a scruffy black bird appeared, about the size of the Sneasel but darker in colour, with eyes full of mocking laughter.

“Why a Murkrow?” Silver shrugged.

“Mercury hasn’t slept for three days,” he said. “If it comes to a fight, he won’t be that much use.”

I found that hard to believe – the Sneasel seemed nearly as strong as some of Pryce’s Pokémon – but said nothing; after all, he knew his own monsters best.

“Ready?” I asked. Silver nodded as Lemuel fluttered to his shoulder. I slid the card key through the slot and a green light came on. Silver kicked the door open and we burst through, Silver’s gun raised. Then we stopped, surprised once again.

We were in a large, dark office, with a desk, chair and a few pot plants. Filing cabinets stood here and there, and there was even a half-finished cup of coffee on the desk.
But there was no one here at all.

I looked around, and ascertained that the place was indeed deserted.

“This... makes no sense.”

“You can say that again,” Silver replied.

“I won’t, though.”

“I know.”

All at once, the door slammed shut behind us and concealed lights came on. Standing in front of us, where there was definitely no one before, was a tall, pale-haired woman in her early twenties, dressed in the signature black and red of Team Rocket.

“Got you,” she said, satisfied. Then she blinked. “What? You... you’re not the guys who’ve been smashing up our base.”

“No,” Silver assured her. “We’re not.” He raised the gun so that it was pointing directly at her head. “We just hitched a ride.”

The pale-haired woman looked disconcerted. This was probably not how she’d imagined her ambush going. At all.

“Um...”

“Tell me,” Silver asked, “how did you do that trick with the darkness?”

“You don’t recognise me?” The woman looked more offended than anything now.

“No. Do I know you?”

“I know who you are,” I cried, suddenly realising. “You’re Karen – of the Indigo Plateau Elite Four!”

Karen gave me a slow handclap.

“Well done, little girl,” she said sarcastically. “You successfully identified one of the country’s most famous people.”

“You’re not really in a position to insult my friend,” Silver told her. For some reason, he looked a little shaken. “But that does explain it. Controlling the shadows, yes?”

“Yes.” Karen didn’t seem nearly as scared as she ought to be. Maybe she was just cool-headed, but something didn’t seem right here. Why wouldn’t she be frightened, when she was clearly in mortal peril?

“So, you’re working with the Rockets,” Silver said. “That would mean... that man’s involved, wouldn’t it?”

Karen’s eyes narrowed. “What do you know about him?”

“Too much,” Silver replied, and then, through my confusion over what they were saying, I got it: Karen couldn’t control the shadows without a Dark-type Pokémon, could she? And I hadn’t seen her recall it...

I flung myself into Silver and knocked him to the floor just as a dark streak leaped for the back of his head; it tangled in my hood and ripped itself free angrily, slashing me across the shoulder as it leaped away to Karen’s feet. It crouched and growled, and a dark miasma formed around it as the yellow marks on its body glowed brighter: this was an Umbreon, half cat, half wolf and mostly evil.

“Oh, you dodged it,” said Karen, disappointed. “That would have looked really good.”
She leaned against the far wall and sighed, while Silver and I scrambled to our feet.
“See, what’s important in life is style,” Karen continued, as if she hadn’t just tried to kill us. “Think cinematically, and you won’t go wrong. That’s what I always say.”
Her Umbreon snarled and launched itself at Silver’s throat; Lemuel met it in midair and the two Pokémon tumbled to the floor, scratching, biting and pecking without even bothering to use moves. Tercier watched distastefully, then, with a sigh, leaped down to join in.

“Another thing to remember,” Karen said, “is that there should always be a back-up plan, too.”

All at once, her Umbreon seemed to explode in a ball of darkness; a Dark Pulse flung Lemuel and Tercier away, smashing them into the walls, and the vicious creature bounded back to its feet, looking to Karen for further orders. She ignored it, preferring to keep speaking.

“I wouldn’t bother looking for that gun, by the way,” she said, as Silver began to scrabble around in the darkness for it, “because I’m holding it.”

He looked up sharply, and saw it was true; he shouted something, and Lemuel swooped out of nowhere to snatch it from her grasp – or he would have done, had not the Umbreon leaped up and caught his leg in its mouth, dragging down to the floor before worrying it like a dog would a bone.

“Tercier!” I cried, and the Smeargle wobbled over from where he’d hit the wall; he was obviously dazed, but he managed to Rock Smash the Umbreon anyway. It was the first hit that did any damage, being super effective, and the cat-dog-thing let go of Lemuel and yelped, one of its rear legs crippled.

“Now that’s not very nice,” Karen said, and kicked Tercier in the head, sending the little artist spinning through the air before he slammed into the wall, beret first, and slid down like they do in cartoons, to lie still on the floor.

I don’t quite know why I did what I did next. Maybe it was revenge for Tercier, maybe it was just frustration, but I did it nevertheless: I punched Karen in the face. My fist connected squarely with her jaw, and as soon as she’d recovered from it she shot me and everything went black.


Note:Everything here is pretty much accurate, by the way. The Rocket Hideout in Mahogany used to be a ninja lair; the scientist with a Ditto really is on the second floor down, and his name is Mitch. Obviously, I took a slight liberty with the Executive they face in the office in the end - but Petrelis around, and will show up next chapter.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #5    
Old December 22nd, 2010 (03:05 AM). Edited December 22nd, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Chapter Eight: Lance

That was the thing that made me realise that it was real. Everything. Real danger, real death. I’d been frightened of dying before, but I don’t think I could believe I might die, or that Tercier could, until Karen shot me. It had been an adventure up to then, if a slightly scary one – but after that point, there was nothing fun about it at all. All I can think of now is the way Tercier smashed the Geodude in the trap room, and how Silver and I laughed, and how Silver cut that laughter short. Those gunshots inducted me into a part of the darkness that Silver lived in, the world where any laughter was fleeting, tainted by memories of dark things, and knowledge that those dark things were coming around again.

Lemuel had lost a leg, Silver told me later, and, even if he could be taken to a Pokécentre, wouldn’t have recovered for months. That was Silver’s world: a universe of blood.

And it had just admitted a new inhabitant, Monique Anderson. Shop assistant, part-time Gym Trainer, and now Silver’s partner in crime.

---

She was stirring now. I didn’t know how long she’d been out, but it was long enough to get me worried. After shooting her, Karen had walked out, assuming I’d stay with her.
She was wrong, of course. I knew what kinds of wounds you’d die from, and that shot wasn’t fatal. I didn’t think Karen would be back, so I left Monique there with Magyar watching over her, and went after Lance and Gold.

They’d left a trail of destruction through the labs, breaking computers and beating up Rockets, so I found it easy to find them, in a large, blank stone room, facing off against another guy I recognised: the Elite Four Trainer named Will. I shuddered as I looked on from the doorway, a few nasty memories surfacing. What was this, a school reunion?

“It’s him!” Gold was saying. “It’s Petrel, from Goldenrod!”

I swore softly. This wasn’t good. If Will was Petrel, then Karen was definitely another Executive – which meant that that man had to be the Rockets’ new boss.

“You are the Executive known as Petrel, Will?” Lance asked contemptuously. “I have to say, I never thought I’d see the day when a member of our League would stoop to this.”

The Dragonite by his side uttered a low growl. It was difficult to tell under his mask, but I thought Will was uneasy. I know I would have been – especially since his Xatu was lying, unconscious and smoking gently, on the floor some distance away.

“Lance,” he said. “Old Lance.” He chuckled uneasily and took a long drag on his cigarette. “Look, you don’t... You don’t think I’m here by choice, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

Will smiled with relief.

“Yes, you’ve got it! Th-they’ve lured me here – false pretences – quite—”

“Shut up,” Lance commanded coldly. Will did so, flinching slightly, the cigarette falling from his lips. He was shaking in his ridiculous purple suit. “You are here not because you were ‘lured here’. You are here because your leader has ordered you to be – though you would rather be elsewhere.”

Will started, and seemed to forget he was talking to Lance.

“What do you know about my leader?” he demanded.

“Not enough, regrettably,” Lance replied. “I know that you and Karen are his puppets. I know that he wears a mask.”

“He shares your ridiculous penchant for capes,” offered Will, before remembering that Lance could kill him at any moment. The Dragonite scratched at the floor with one clawed foot, and Will eyed it anxiously. He was a moron. What kind of an idiot insults a guy like Lance? Even Gold wouldn’t go that far – he was looking at Lance almost as anxiously as Will was.

“I shall ignore that,” said Lance at length. “This time, at least. But now, to business. I want to know what it is you are doing here, and what your goal is.”

Will stared at him for a moment, then laughed.

“You don’t even know!” he cried, guffawing. “Oh, you came all the way here, past all the laboratories and all the clues, and you haven’t got the slightest idea of what we’re doing!”

Lance shot him in the leg, and his laughs turned to shrieks; Will stumbled and fell over backwards, clutching at his shin. I didn’t flinch, but forced myself to watch the wound, to look at the spreading patch of blood and remember what that felt like.

Never forget, Silver, what it feels like to bleed...

“My Dragonite and I will take it in turns,” Lance said. “Since I just shot you, the next time is Dragonite’s turn.”

The orange dragon looked pleased, and Will started shaking again, stuttering through his own groans of pain:

“Please – no – ah! – I can tell you, I can tell you.”

“Go on,” said Gold eagerly.

“Ah! – we were trying – to restore the dead to life.” Will’s voice was quick now, his breathing shallow and fast. A lifetime of chain-smoking and no exercise had not left him in good health. “We – ah! – resurrected the Red King, from – his remains at the bottom of the – ah! – lake, regrew his skin and muscle.” He paused to catch his breath.

“Dragonite, your turn.”

“No! No no no! Stop!” It was too late. The dragon’s head drew back and then whipped forwards. The Fire Blast was carefully aimed, and only caught Will’s right arm, incinerating the fancy suit and burning the flesh beneath to the bone. His skin shrivelled and blackened in a way I’d seen only once before. I was pretty sure that arm was useless forever now, and winced slightly.

Will’s scream wasn’t so quick. It was long and drawn-out, echoing around the room, growing and swelling until it blocked out everything else. Gold stood there, eyes burning with ecstasy as he drank in the cries of pain. Lance, by contrast, just stood still, stern expression unwavering.

After a while, there was no sound except Will’s sobbing, a low, desperate noise that affected me much more than the scream. I knew those sobs, had heard them before long years ago, back in a life before this one...

“Keep talking,” Lance said, breaking my reverie.

“What’s the point?” asked Will listlessly, snivelling. Part of his mask had been burned off, and now the rest of it fell away from his face, revealing the thin features beneath. “Things can’t get much worse.”

“Yes, they can,” Lance assured him. “Ask other people who have refused me information.”

“No...” whispered Will, eyes widening. “No, not that. Please, anything other than that!”

I didn’t know what ‘that’ was, and had a feeling I didn’t want to.

“Talk, then.”

“OK,” gasped Will, fearful. “We wanted to bring the dead back to life, and we wanted – wanted a signal that could control wild Pokémon.”

“A signal?”

“A radio signal,” Will explained. “Based on the – ah! – brainwaves of an Alakazam.”

“You wanted to control Johto,” Lance stated.

“Yes – that was it. That – was my job. Karen was – ah! – the one who was in charge of – necromancy.”

“There are three Rocket Executives,” Lance said. “You and Karen are two of them. Who is the third?”

“The – Mastermind,” Will gasped. For the first time, Lance actually looked shocked.

“He is still alive?”

“Better than ever,” Will grinned at Lance’s surprise. “The ideas – are his, of course.”

“Naturally.” Lance nodded.

“What’s going on? Who is this Mastermind?” asked Gold. Lance glanced at him.

“Someone who has been with Team Rocket since the beginning,” he said. “A founding member, and the criminal genius behind Giovanni. You might have heard of him as the architect of the events in Saffron three years ago.”

Gold looked as stunned as I felt.

“The Meowth?”

Lance nodded.

“The very same.” He turned back to Will. “You trust that creature?”

Will shook his head. “No – but – ah! – my leader does.”

“Which brings me back to my first question,” Lance said. “Who is your leader?”

“I don’t know,” said Will, and Lance shot him in the gut. “I don’t know his real name!” he screamed, clutching at his belly, pouring blood through his silk shirt.

“The next turn is Dragonite’s, I must remind you.”

“You have to believe me!” shrieked Will, living proof that the strength of your Pokémon didn’t matter at all if you yourself couldn’t take what they could. “I don’t know a thing!”

“You must call him something. He must go by some sort of name.”

“I call him Master!” Will slumped backwards suddenly, his breathing ragged. “He calls – himself – the...” His last words were a barely a whisper, and I couldn’t hear them.

“The Mask?” Lance demanded. “What was that?”

The Dragonite readied itself to blast him again, but Lance stopped it with a hand. Another shot would have killed Will, if only through shock.

“The Mask of Ice,” I whispered to myself. I’d seen enough, and turned to leave, slipping back through the laboratories in the direction of the office. In my arms (with only one leg, he couldn’t have perched on my shoulder), Lemuel looked up at me gravely, the laughter in his eyes dimmed for once.

“The Mask of Ice,” he repeated in my voice, making me jump. Murkrow are like parrots – they can mimic voices. This time, though, he’d chosen to repeat a phrase that I never, ever wanted to hear again, and I recalled him to the Pokéball.

Shortly afterwards, I heard a sharp crack echo through the corridors, and a thin, keening wail followed afterwards.

Will – the Elite Four member, foppish second ‘child’ of the Mask of Ice, Rocket Executive petrel – was dead.

My brother was dead.

---

I had been away for quite a while, and I was glad that Monique was finally stirring when I got back. She wasn’t alone, either – the Ditto that had been posing as a Hippowdon was wobbling next to her head. It had turned its own face entirely upside down, which was quite disturbing, especially since it still wore that creepy grin.

“Boop,” it said. I wasn’t sure whether it actually spoke the sound, or whether it came from the movement of its jelly-like body, but it still unnerved me. Actually, Ditto are unnerving in general, I find.

“Magyar, what’s this doing here?” The Croconaw looked up at me stupidly, not understanding. They aren’t known for their intelligence. He’d probably tried to attack it and found it didn’t do anything. “Whatever. Monique?”

Her eyes opened blearily and she blinked twice, slowly, like a lizard.

“What...” She coughed. “What happened?” Her voice was dry and croaky.

“Karen shot you.”

Monique sat up slowly, using a nearby filing cabinet to lean against.

“My shoulder...?”

“The Umbreon slashed you there, I think. And that’s where you got shot.”

“I remember...” Her eyes suddenly widened, and she suddenly spoke in a more normal voice. “Tercier!”

We both looked over to the Smeargle, who seemed to have been awake for quite some time, because at just that moment he let out a great, theatrical groan and rolled over.

“He’s fine,” said Monique dismissively, turning away from him. Tercier stopped halfway through a slow, pained sitting-up manoeuvre, and looked at her with loathing. He pointed to a massive bruise on his beret, and dusted himself down before climbing stiffly onto Monique’s uninjured shoulder.

“Here,” I said, pulling off my jacket and folding it into a rough sling. I tied the sleeves together on the left side of her neck, and helped her get her arm into it, since she seemed to have difficulty moving it on her own. As I was doing so, the locket fell out of my shirt, and I pushed it back in hurriedly. I thought Monique had seen it, but thankfully, she didn't mention it.

“Thank you,” she said. “And thanks for doing the narrative while I was unconscious.”

“Not a problem,” I replied. “Though I can’t say I’ve done first-person before.” I paused, to let the fourth wall recover, and continued. “It was a good thing I did, because a lot happened while you were out, and I need to tell you all about it. First, though, we need to get back to that massive door. I think I’ve worked out the code.”

“Don’t you think I need medical attention first?” Monique asked hesitantly, as I helped her up.

I cast a critical eye over her shoulder. From what I saw, there was a lot of blood but not too much damage. To be safe, though, I peeled back her coat and T-shirt to make sure. It didn’t look too bad – the bullet had entered the soft flesh below her shoulder blade and didn’t seem to have hit the bone – and the bleeding seemed to have mostly stopped.

“Nah, you’ll be fine for a while. I’ll get you to a doctor later.” She looked doubtful.

“If you’re sure...”

“I am.”

I took a step towards the door, slipped on something, and fell over, knocking Magyar off his feet. My head thwacked painfully into the floor, and I sat up to see the Ditto in front of me, grinning like crazy and watching me with tiny pinprick eyes.

“Boop.”

“Damn slimeball,” I muttered, getting back up.

“What’s it doing here?” asked Monique.

“I don’t know, it came after you or something. It was here when I got back from eavesdropping on Lance. Come on, let’s go!”

I returned Magyar to his ball and we left the office, turning left and back to the trap hall. Apparently, it didn’t work when you went through it the other way, because nothing happened – the cages stayed below ground, and no Voltorb or Geodude came out to threaten us.

Retracing our steps along the trail of broken statues, we came once again to the stairs, at the foot of which the scientist still slumbered with frost on his glasses. Soon after, we reached the steel door once again.

Note: Yeah, that was the torture scene I mentioned in the first post. Lance really isn't a very nice person, it seems. Who'd have thought it?
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  #6    
Old December 22nd, 2010 (12:48 PM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
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Chapter Nine: The Mask of Ice

“Boop.”

I stumbled around – I wasn’t up to whirling just yet – to see the Ditto smiling up at me from behind. I wondered how it made that weird, high-pitched noise.

“How did that thing get here so fast?” asked Silver, annoyed. He would probably have kicked it away, but I bent down and scooped it up, ignoring the pain that flared in my shoulder.

“I think it’s following me,” I said. Tercier prodded it experimentally with a finger, and withdrew with a shudder to crouch behind my head, peering fearfully out at the blobby monster. It gave him a wide smile, and I felt him shiver on my back. Obviously, the Ditto frightened him.

Silver watched the charade with a trace of amusement in his eyes.

“It’s amazing how easily he abandons all pretence of grandeur when things get tough, isn’t it?”

Tercier drew himself up to his full height of three feet and eleven inches and subjected Silver to his most withering stare, to absolutely no effect whatsoever. The Trainer raised his eyebrows, shook his head and turned away, walking over to the little number pad and screen to the left of the doors.

He had just started to type in a combination when a shot rang out above our heads, and I instinctively ducked.

“Stop!” called a deep voice, and I knew Lance was here. I looked up to see him striding down the hall, Gold on one side and that huge Dragonite on the other. It had to have been at least the size of a pickup truck, maybe slightly larger.

“Boop?” went the Ditto. It sounded confused.

“Hmph,” said Tercier, then, when the Dragonite’s eyes fixed on him, did his best to shrink back behind my head.

“Who are you two?” demanded Lance, coming closer.

“I know!” cried Gold eagerly. “The one with the red hair is the Pokémon thief! From Elm’s lab!” He turned to me, and started. “And you... You’re Monique Anderson.” He sounded amazed. “But... aren’t you the one who saved my life?”

“If I’d known exactly who I was saving, I’m not so sure I would’ve done,” I retorted. “Besides, you should be thanking Silver, not me. He did most of the work.”

“No,” said Gold, pressing his hands to his temples. “No, that doesn’t work—”

“Be quiet, both of you,” Lance commanded. “I demand to know what you two are doing here.”

Silver drifted over to join me, and pulled me a step away from Lance, who had come too close for comfort.

“Trying to stop Team Rocket, just like you,” he sighed. “Not that you’d believe that.”

“On the contrary,” Lance said. “I believe you entirely.”

Gold stared.

“No,” he said again, “no, Lance, they can’t be—”

“Why not?” Lance asked him. “Not all thieves stick together. These two are obviously as unfriendly with the Rockets as anyone else. They’ve been shot at.” He indicated my shoulder.

“That was Karen, of the Elite Four,” Silver said sourly. “She’s been hanging around here, melting into the shadows.”

“She probably went behind that door,” I added. “It seems to be where all the important things are.”

I had no idea if that was true or not – but who cared? At that point, I was mostly trying not to end up dead at Lance’s feet before I’d got a chance to kill Karen.

“Karen,” mused Lance. “I thought she might turn up here. I knew she was working with Will.”

“And what about you?” Silver asked Lance. “Why are you here?”

“I suspected Karen and Will of subterfuge for some time now,” he said smoothly. “My investigations led me to Team Rocket.”

“Will? Will was here too?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you later,” Silver responded. “Meanwhile, Dragon Master, I propose a temporary alliance. Until the Rockets are defeated here. After that, you can arrest me or whatever.”

Lance frowned.

“What benefits do I incur from this arrangement?”

“I know the code to that door,” Silver told him, pointing. “And I see from that mark that not even your Dragonite can break through it.”

We glanced up at the dent in the steel door again. Lance coughed.

“Yes, well,” he said, “your idea sounds fine. Unlock that door.”

“OK.”

Silver went over to the number pad and punched in four digits. While he did so, I drifted over and whispered to him:

“How do you know this?”

“It’s a guess,” he replied. “Based on what I overheard. I’ll tell you later.”

“OK. One more question: can we trust these two?”

Silver shook his head. “Not at all. But we’re going to have to, just until we’ve stopped whatever’s behind here.”

He hit the button marked ENTER, and there was a buzzing sound as a green light lit up. Smoothly, silently, the steel doors retracted into the walls, and a blast of cold air rolled out of the newly-opened void to greet us.

“Come on in,” proclaimed a booming voice from the depths of the cavern. “Come on home to me, my son.” It echoed and rolled and reverberated, as if it were too big for the tunnel and kept hitting the sides and roof, and something about it set alarm bells ringing in my head. I glanced over at Silver, and was surprised to see him looking utterly terrified: eyes wide, face pale, his teeth sunk deep into the flesh of his lower lip.

“He’s here,” he whispered. “He’s really here.”

“Who is here?” Lance demanded, catching his words. “Who is it?”

But who it was Silver couldn’t say. He was stiff and silent, staring at the scene beyond the doorway – seeing something that no one else could.

---

Beyond the door, the tunnel extended for only about a hundred more feet before ending in a sheer wall. Extending up this wall was colossal metal tower, bristling with buttons and levers, and more than one hatch; extending up and around this, and sprawling over the walls, was a network of steel catwalks.

Stood in front of this machine was a figure swathed in a cloak several times as large as Lance’s; it covered him completely, save for a mask shaped like twisted gargoyle’s face. Four spikes projected from its edges, and plumes of ice-white hair fountained from its back. Beside the masked figure stood Karen, and for a moment I considered rushing her; however, I saw the gun she'd taken from Silver in her hand, and thought better of it.

“Silver,” came the booming voice again, and it emanated from the man in the mask and cloak. “I knew you would come back. You can’t stay away forever, can you? Not from your father.”

I glanced at Silver, unsure of what to do, but he was still frozen, eyes fixed on the masked man.

“You are the man who calls himself the Mask of Ice?” asked Lance, striding forwards. Gold hung back, as uncertain as myself about what to do.

“And you are Lance, the Dragon Master,” replied the Mask of Ice. “This is nothing to do with you.”

“It is everything to do with me,” the Champion informed him. “I will not have Team Rocket reform, nor will I have them resurrecting long-dead monsters. And I will certainly not have them controlling the Pokémon of this country like puppets!”

His Dragonite roared out a challenge. Beside the Mask, Karen looked uncertain and took a step back.

“You can destroy all this, if you like,” the Mask told Lance. “I have no objection.”

“I assume this is the machine that emits the radio waves?”

“You assume correctly.” The Mask glided past Lance – yes, glided was the right word: he seemed to slide around on oiled castors. He swept past me without acknowledging my presence, and came to a halt in front of Silver.

“Silver,” he crooned, hunching down to bring his head down to the right height; it was only then that I realised how monstrously tall he was, well over ten feet. How could he be so tall? He cupped Silver’s chin in one hand and raised his face towards the hideous, gnarled mask. “I’m so glad you’re back. The other children were getting bored.”

Karen started suddenly.

“That’s Silver?” she cried. “I didn’t – I didn’t recognise him...”

“Stupid girl,” said the Mask harshly. “I—”

“I will not be ignored!” Lance’s voice seemed to split the still, cold air asunder. “This boy is not going with you. He is to be arrested on charges of larceny – and you are, too, on the grounds that you have violated Articles 14 and 73 of the 1951 Ecology Act!”

Johto had learned from Kanto’s mistakes; the latter had allowed Spanish settlers to disrupt the Kantan ecosystem, and the result had been disaster. The President at the time had acted swiftly, with the result that interfering in almost any way with the environment was very much illegal in our region.

“Be quiet,” hissed the Mask of Ice. “You’re so noisy.”

A flash: from the Pokéball sprang a Delibird, a bizarre mixture of bird and midget, adorned with antlers and carrying its own sack-shaped tail. Even before it hit the floor, it opened the mouth of its bag and let loose a Blizzard that obscured Lance’s Dragonite completely from view; snow and ice and opaque white mist filled my entire field of vision, and when it cleared, I saw that the dragon was frozen solid. Taken aback, Lance flipped a Pokéball from his pocket and unleashed another orange dragon – but this one taller, with longer limbs and a smaller head. It whipped its tail from side to side, leaving lines of fire in midair, and literally returned fire at the Delibird: a Flamethrower caught the Ice-type full in the face and lifted it bodily from its feet. It flipped over once, twice, and lay still, black and smoking, on the floor.

“Ice beats Dragon,” Lance conceded. “But Fire and Dragon go hand in hand, and there is no ice that cannot be melted.”

The Mask wavered for a moment, then fled unexpectedly, gliding away wordlessly down the huge corridor and recalling his Delibird as he went. He left so suddenly that no one had any time to react; even Lance didn’t have time to do more than glance in the direction he’d taken before the cloaked figure disappeared entirely. Silver was left in the same position he’d been in since the door opened, shaking slightly, eyes fixed straight ahead in fear.

“Charizard!” Lance called, and the second dragon launched itself down the corridor after the Mask. He recalled his frozen Dragonite and spun around as an extension of the movement, aiming his long-barrelled revolver at Karen’s head just as she made a move to run. “Fleeing would be inadvisable,” he said.

He sounds like the Terminator, I thought. Acts like him, too.

Gold recovered and sent out his Quilava, which draped itself across Silver’s shoulders, positioning its head directly under his chin. If it ignited, its flames would spring right into his head – the equivalent of firing a flamethrower into his mouth.

“I’ve got this one,” he called to Lance. The Dragon Master did not look away from Karen.

“Good. I trust you agree our truce is now terminated?”

Silver made no reply.

“Silver?” I asked. He blinked and looked around, breathing heavily.

“Is he gone?” he gasped, eyes wide with fear.

“Yeah, but—”

“Don’t move!” Gold cried. “Your life is in my hands!” His eyes were shining with the same light as when he was attacking the King, a lustrous gleam redolent of diamonds. It was just as frightening now as it was then, and I instinctively stepped away from him.

The Quilava, growled warningly, and Silver froze up again, only this time it wasn’t out of pure terror, but caution.

“What’s under my chin?” he asked, only a hint of anxiety in his voice.

“Explotaro,” Gold told him.

“Your Quilava?”

“Yes. His head is up against your neck. If I tell him to ignite...”

“I get it, thanks.”

Silver sighed, being careful not to squash and irritate the Pokémon around his neck.

“Are you done, children?” asked Lance. I glanced over and found that in the few seconds my attention had been away from him, he had managed to disarm her, produce some cord from somewhere and bind Karen’s hands firmly behind her back. He held the ropes firmly in one hand, and kept his gun close to her head with the other.

“Yes,” said Gold.

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” said Silver.

“Silver, you’re not actually going to let yourself get arrested, are you?” I asked in alarm. “I thought you had a plan!” I had been utterly confident that Silver would have got us out of this situation; he’d been so calm when he was proposing the truce that I’d assumed he had our escape planned out.

“As he said, he has no choice,” Lance told me. “I shall take you into custody too, for questioning, to determine what part you have played in this boy’s crimes.”

“She’s done nothing,” Silver said sharply. “Let her go.”

“You are not to be the judge of that,” Lance snapped. His Charizard returned at that moment, head bowed, empty-handed. “You didn’t catch him?” The dragon snorted in disappointment. “Very well. We shall pursue this Mask of Ice another time. Grab that girl and her Pokémon!”

Before I could even react, a rush of warm air pushed against me, and a thick, muscular arm clasped me around the waist as the Charizard hauled me into the air. With its free hand, it snagged Tercier by the back of the neck; it didn’t bother with the Ditto, which just climbed into my coat and huddled there, terrified.

“Put me down!” I yelled, forgetting momentarily that I was talking to a dragon, and felt its huge chest heave as it gave a convulsive snort that might have been a laugh. I kicked back at its belly, but the hard scales and vast size of the monster meant I might as well have lashed out at a wall. All I achieved was making my shoulder hurt with the sudden movement, and I sank back onto the dragon’s chest, gritting my teeth against the pain.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Lance, ignoring me. “I shall return to destroy this machine later.”

He started walking, dragging Karen roughly along after him. I could see fire in her eyes, but she bit her lip; obviously, she didn’t want to run the risk of annoying him. I wouldn’t, too, because there was one question that was on both her mind and mine: if Lance was taking us to be arrested, what the hell had he done with Will?

Gold fell into step just beside the Charizard, and I glanced over at Silver, worried. He caught my eye – and winked. It just took a split second, but I saw it, and sighed with relief: he had a plan after all. I might just get out of there alive after all.

The light glittered off Gold’s goggles, blanking out his vicious eyes for a moment. He caught me looking and glared at me, and I snapped my eyes back to the front, heart pounding.

I was definitely going to make it out of this, I told myself. Silver had a plan. I was in the company of a pair of psychopaths, with only a thief, a Smeargle and a ball of jelly for help. Yes, I was definitely going to make it out of this.

“Damn it,” I whispered to myself. “I’m going to die.”
__________________

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  #7    
Old December 23rd, 2010 (09:32 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
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Chapter Ten: Imprisoned

It had been about an hour now, and I was regretting ever coming with Silver on his stupid quest.

“At least it’s warm in here,” Silver remarked after a while.

“Shut up,” I warned him. “I’m not happy.”

“Having second thoughts?”

“I’m way past those. Now I just wish I’d never met you.”

“Ouch.” Silver leaned back and let out a long breath, head flopping back into the wall.

“I said I’d tell you everything I found out,” he added, after a couple of minutes had passed.

I turned to him.

“Silver, it might surprise you to realise this, but I have bigger concerns than what you saw while I was out. We’re in jail, Lance is returning to interrogate us tomorrow and I’ve been shot in the shoulder.”

Silver paused for a moment, considering my words.

“Well,” he said. “My Pokémon have been confiscated, and you’ve bled all over my jacket.”

“Are you suggesting that makes us even? They’ve taken mine too, you know.”

“It’s called a joke. They’re usually intended to make people laugh.” Silver’s face fell. “Sorry. I haven’t told one in a while, I guess I’m out of practice.”

“How long is a while?” I asked, unable to help my curiosity. Silver tipped his head forwards and let his hair cover his face.

“Seventeen years,” he said quietly.

“How old are you?” I’d guessed the answer, but I had to hear it.

“Seventeen.”

We were silent for a while longer. I looked around me for the hundredth time, but nothing had changed: same benches, same grey walls, same high, barred window. I didn’t know what the time was, but it was long after dark.

The police had deferred immediately to Lance when he’d shown up, especially when he’d given a brief explanation of what was happening. He’d basically been loaned the station for as long as he wanted – so he’d left us here, and informed us he’d return in the morning.

“Where do you come from, Monique?”

The question came from nowhere, and I was surprised into answering.

“Mahogany. Here. Obviously.”

“No, I mean, what kind of home? You’re too well-spoken to be born and bred at your level of poverty.”

This was true. You can probably already tell it from the way I write, but it hadn’t been birth that had landed me in my situation.

“Same goes for you.”

Silver sat up so I could see his face and grimaced, eyes closed.

“I had the best education money could buy,” he said, “and then I had the best education you could smash into someone’s head with a stick.”

“What does that even mean?”

“I had rich parents. Then I had a richer guardian. Then I left.” He opened one eye and looked at me. “That’s all you’re getting until I hear about you. I’m curious.”

I felt another sudden surge of anger at Silver, at his maddening calm, at the way he could say things in a matter-of-fact, clinical way while still obscuring the meaning. But I wanted to know, so I took a calming breath and began to explain.

“You’re right, I was from a richer family. I had a good education, until I was sixteen. There... there was an accident. A Lapras had come down into the lake from the mountain streams; the water wasn’t pure enough and it got sick...” I stopped, forcing a lump out of my throat. “It got angry. We were at a picnic and...”

“In an instant, they weren’t there anymore,” finished Silver slowly. “Like dust on the wind.”

“Yeah.”

We sat in silence for a while, then I continued.

“My only other family was my cousin in Ecruteak, but I couldn’t go with him, and I couldn’t stay in school... I had to work. And I lost everything, and I ended up where I am now.”

“Boo ****ing hoo,” came a voice from the other end of the cell. I jumped – I’d almost forgotten Karen was here, too. She was curled up against the wall, pallid hair obscuring her face save for a single, baleful eye. “Tell her your story, little brother. Turn that pretty black hair of hers white.”

“Say anything else and I’ll kill you,” said Silver flatly. I looked at him, and believed him. “You’ve done more than your fair share of harm here.”

Karen must have believed him too, because she didn’t speak again. After a few moments, Silver continued.

“I was born in Viridian City,” he said distantly, as if he could see it. “I don’t remember it very much, because I wasn’t there for very long. I” – Silver swallowed – “I was the son of the Gym Leader there, Giovanni Malatesta.”

“What?” I cried, sitting bolt upright and smashing the back of my head into the wall. “Team Rocket Giovanni?”

“Yeah,” Silver confirmed in a quiet voice. “That one.” His dark mood settled over me like a lead weight, curbing my outburst. “I’m not proud of that,” he continued.

“So... was that Giovanni in the tunnel? Calling himself the Mask of Ice?”

“No, he’s long dead,” Silver told me. “Dead and gone to hell, the bastard. No, that man was – was my other father, who had me kidnapped when I was just a kid. He was searching for people who... I don’t know what he was looking for. People with potential as Trainers, maybe. He got hold of three others, too. There was Will and Karen, who you know are in the Elite Four now, and a girl called Blue.”

“We came willingly,” said Karen smugly. “Will and I. We begged for power, and the Mask in his grace lent it to us.”

“I told you not to say anything,” Silver snapped at her, then turned back to me. “Yeah, he kidnapped me and Blue, and Will and Karen came willingly. That’s why that *****” – he indicated Karen – “keeps calling me brother; we were all raised together. It’s how I knew the code to that door; once I knew the Ma – Mask of Ice was behind the Rockets, I knew he’d use the same code he always did. He’s that kind of guy. What the M-Mask wanted was an Elite Four, I think, entirely owned by him.” He snorted. “He got half of it. Blue and I escaped, eventually. About five years ago. We went to Kanto, stayed there a few years, trying to find Blue’s parents, but...” Silver swallowed again. “There was a Snorlax – it wanted food – and when you’re that big and that hungry, you don’t – don’t care what you eat, what you destroy...” He trailed off, eyes damp and downcast.

“I’m sorry,” I said after a pause.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he replied, then wiped his face on his sleeve and looked up. “You know the rest,” he said. “I came to Johto a few months ago, because I heard that Team Rocket were here. I stole the Totodile from Elm’s lab. I ended up here.”

“Why did you steal it?” I asked.

“I had no choice,” he said. “Mercury had fainted a couple of days ago, knocked out by a Machoke. I didn’t have any others at the time, and if I hadn’t taken it, Gold would have got me. I was going to give it back, but I couldn’t get near the lab after that without being arrested. Now, he doesn't want to go back.”

I didn’t like to think about what he meant by ‘got’.

“Why did you decide you had to come here after hearing the Rockets were here?”

For the first time in quite a while, Silver looked at me.

“Giovanni was my father,” he said quietly. “Isn’t it natural that I would feel responsible for what – all the things he did? I don’t want you to say that it isn’t my fault” – he held up a hand, pre-empting what I was going to say – “because I know it isn’t. But I still have to make amends, because no one else can. So I came here, after Team Rocket. And I’m going to stop whatever it is they’re doing. I’ll keep on doing that, until I die or they do.”

There was another long silence.

“Now,” said Karen, a gleam creeping into the one eye of hers that was visible. “Now, little girl, you tell Silver the truth about your past.”

My heart stopped. My blood ran cold. I never thought it could happen outside of books and films, but it did: I froze completely and skipped a heartbeat, even forgetting to breathe.

“W-what do you mean?” I demanded, too quickly.

“Leave it, Karen,” said Silver in a quelling tone.

“Don’t tell me you believed her, Silver?” Karen raised her head, and I saw she was smiling. “Come on. You know lies as well as I do.”

“You’re right,” Silver said, “and I know Monique was lying about that Lapras. But I’m not going to force her to tell me.”

“I-I...”

“Let me tell you how it happened,” said Karen, fixing me with piercing eyes. “I think there was a Lapras, but it wasn’t angry – at least, not until little Monique couldn’t mind her own business and interfered with it. Is that right? I think it is. Well, you can guess what happens when you interfere with wild animals when they’re in distress, can’t you? They lash out, and that’s what the Lapras did, right—?”

“Stop it!” I shouted, pressing my hands to my ears and shutting my eyes. “Don’t tell me what I—”

“But of course, no loving parents would let their darling daughter be butchered, would they?” continued Karen, unashamed. “They—”

“She told you to stop, Karen!” Silver stood up, but Karen kept going:

“And then they died for you,” she finished, in a light, cold voice. “Here one moment, and gone the next. Like dust on the w— ugh!”

Silver kicked her hard in the head; her left temple slammed into the wall and she flopped back, dazed. Blood was dripping across her face, running along the furrows of her brow and flicking into her eyes.

“I told you to shut up,” he hissed. “In future, you’ll listen to me.”

Karen blinked vaguely, clapping a hand to her bleeding head; through my shock, I wondered if she was all right. “Uhh...”

“Better,” he said, hurling himself back onto the bench.

“Quiet in there!” came a harsh voice from outside, accompanied by four loud bangs on the door.

“Sorry,” Silver called out, but he didn’t look it. I didn’t know what to say or think, or even to feel; Karen had seen straight through me. All I could think was: How did she know? How did she know? Over and over again, until the words started to lose meaning and I just saw the blind fury in the chelonian monster’s eyes, the heavy head as it picked them up and flung them away again like toys...

I didn’t realise I was crying until Silver put his arm awkwardly around me, and pulled me closer; I think I fell asleep sobbing into his chest, because when I woke up I was still there, and he’d been awake all night holding me.

---

I’ll never forget the nightmares I had that night: they were old, first dreamed many years ago, but they’d been absent for a long time, at least eighteen months. It was that awful day all over again, that moment when I’d come across the Lapras and, against Tercier’s advice, had tried to give it a Potion; I remembered the whip-crack of its neck as it snapped through the air and rammed into me; I remembered my screams, the running footsteps, then my parents sailing through the sky, ungainly birds that were never meant to fly, and the crack and crunch of their impact with the earth and trees, unforgiving crash-mats of pebbles and wood.

All over again, a bloodless end to two lives that took with them all my future, all my love, and left me dark and hollow inside. That’s why I always wore black. I was still mourning them.

---

In the morning, after I’d recovered, Silver told me everything he’d seen while I was unconscious. I wished he hadn’t, since Lance was due to return and interrogate us soon – and I didn’t like the idea that for Lance, ‘interrogation’ was what he’d done to Will.
Karen was sullen and uncommunicative that morning; she just sat where she had done all night, curled up and clutching her head where it had hit the wall, occasionally shooting a sullen glare at Silver. I had been slightly worried that the damage to her head might be serious, but there didn’t seem to be any lasting effects other than pain.
Silver himself, after he’d spoken to me about what he’d seen the day before, was utterly still, sitting his chin on his hand and staring into space. He must have been exhausted; I knew for certain that he hadn’t slept since at least half-four on Monday, and probably longer.

“What was your plan?” I asked timidly after a while, when the silence and the thought of Lance’s return became too oppressive.

“Plan?” he mumbled, blinking, seeming to arise from a deep trance. “Plan? What plan?”

“Your plan to get out of here.”

“That plan.” Silver paused. “Need to think it up first.”

“You don’t have one?”

I almost felt like crying again; Karen’s attack on me last night, combined with our general situation and my bullet wound, had left me exhausted, and I didn’t think I could cope with much more.

“I will think of one,” Silver said, noting my expression with alarm. “If I can escape the Mas...” He took a breath. “The Mask of Ice’s fort, I can escape this place.”

“Huh.”

We both looked over in surprise. It was the first thing Karen had said all day.

“You won’t get out,” she said.

“If that’s your attitude, you can’t come with us.”

Karen looked up sharply.

“You mean you know how to get out?”

“I just thought of it when you said ‘Huh’,” Silver replied. “I’ll need your help, though.”

“What... is it OK to let her out, too?” I asked. Silver sighed.

“Not really,” he said. “But if we leave her here, we won’t get out – and besides, Lance will probably end up killing her.”

“He won’t kill me,” Karen said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“He can claim the death of one suspect was an accident, especially if high-level Pokémon were involved. Two just sounds suspicious.”

“Another temporary alliance struck,” Silver said, summoning his signature smile to his face again. “Let’s hope this one ends better for all of us. Karen, come here. I’m going to explain.”

“I can listen from here.”

“Stop acting like such a spoiled brat and get over here,” Silver spat. Reluctantly, Karen climbed unsteadily to her feet and joined us on the bench, sitting on Silver’s right so that he could see the blood matting her pale blue hair. If she was trying to make him feel guilty, it didn’t work. “There are three people in this room,” Silver continued, unfazed. “One of them – that’s you, Monique – isn’t particularly valuable to Lance; another is quite valuable – that’s me – and one of them is very valuable.”

“That would be me, then,” said Karen dully. “I suppose that’s because I’m a Rocket Executive?”

“Yeah. Silver grinned like a shark. “They should have put us in separate cells.”

A flicker of uncertainty crossed Karen’s face. “What are you planning, exactly?”

“You’re not going to get hurt,” Silver assured her. “Not very much, anyway. You’re going to be our bargaining chip.”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #8    
Old December 23rd, 2010 (01:23 PM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
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Chapter Eleven: Flight

Lance arrived at seven o’clock precisely, his black cloak wrapped around him to shield him from both the ceaseless snowfall and any prying eyes. Not that anyone was abroad in the streets: despite Pryce’s ongoing project to bulldoze away the problem with Piloswines, the town was shut down, no cars or bicycles able to cope with the depth of the snow. It was utterly silent, save for the wind.

Of course, Lance did not walk through the snow himself; his Charizard lumbered along behind him, puffing gouts of flame out over his head to clear the path before them. It wasn’t that the Dragon Master was averse to getting wet or dirty – he was an old-school Trainer, the kind that believed in human strength as well as that of Pokémon – but that he would have been late if he had had to struggle through two feet of snow. It was getting ridiculously deep now, almost as deep as it was in Blackthorn; that city and Mahogany were the two most northern settlements in Johto, and had been badly hit by this fierce winter. No weather-altering moves had been able to shift it; Rain Dances had frozen into hail, Sunny Days had failed altogether and Hails and Sandstorms would have merely worsened matters.

Lance frowned and knocked on the police station door, then entered. He wouldn’t wait, but he would at least give the courtesy of letting people know when he had arrived.

The same man was at the desk as last night, and he sat up straight when the Champion entered the room, recalling his Charizard as he did so.

“Good morning,” Lance said.

“Morning, sir,” replied the policeman, still somewhat in awe. “The boy who was with you...?”

Not in so much awe that his powers of observation were impaired, then. Lance approved of that; vigilance was a virtue.

“Asleep, at the Pokémon Centre,” he informed the man. “He appears not to know the benefits of early rising. Besides, he has no need to be here.” Lance glanced around. “Which room am I to use for my interrogations?”

“We have an interrogation room, sir,” the constable said, pointing to the corridor that led off to the left of the lobby. “It’s the second on the right.”

“Much obliged. I will go and prepare, then I shall return to collect the suspects.” Lance started down the corridor, then remembered something. “Oh, and you and all the good officers here will most likely be receiving governmental rewards, for your help in stopping the Rockets and catching the thief. I’ve been in touch with the Ministry.”

The officer looked like he’d discovered he had the Midas touch.

“T-thank you, sir.”

“It’s nothing.”

It wasn’t nothing, Lance thought as he continued on his way; it was a waste. The higher-ups appeared to believe that the awarding of substantial sums of money to these people would encourage them to work harder and help to keep a lid on Mahogany’s sky-high crime rate. In fact, Lance mused, all it would probably do was fuel their avarice. If it had been a League matter, he would have dismissed the idea, but there was never anything he could do when the government became involved.

Lance opened the door and surveyed it: a bare concrete room, with a single table and two chairs. There was a tape recorder on one side of the table; he moved it out of the way. This was not an official police interrogation and there was no need for it to be recorded.

He released his first Dragonite, the one that had been frozen the day before, into one corner. It reared up, hit its head on the ceiling and gave a rumble of displeasure.

“Silence,” ordered Lance, and the dragon stopped immediately. “We have three interrogations to get through today.” The Dragonite’s irritation vanished instantly and its mouth curled into a facsimile of a smile. Lance suppressed a shudder; this Dragonite was the most violent, which made it good for these sorts of activities – but it was too sadistic for his liking. “I may not need your assistance,” he cautioned the beast, “but I probably will, with Karen at least.”

The Dragonite seemed to agree to those terms, as long as there was a possibility of violence ahead, and settled down there. Lance left it and went back to the constable at the desk.

“I’m ready,” he said. “The key to the cell, if you please.”

The boy, Silver, would go first, he thought. Then Karen, to sate the Dragonite, and finally the girl, Monique. He was uncertain about her; she seemed new to everything, as if she had a very limited experience of the criminal world. She might even be an innocent civilian who had somehow been caught up in this sordid affair. If that was the case, Lance reflected, it was going to take more than an apology on his part for the number of her rights he had violated. Arrest with no reason given, unlawful imprisonment without adequate food or water... and that wasn’t even beginning to consider the charges she would be able to press on grounds of psychological trauma, being treated as a criminal and locked up with two decidedly unstable individuals. Lance sighed. He was fiercely dedicated to the law, and would have to take whatever she happened to throw at him if that was the case. Stopping the Rockets would make up for it.

“Sir?”

Lance blinked and took the proffered key.

“Thank you,” he said, and walked off towards the cells. They were all empty at this time of year – all except the one he had filled with the malfeasants from the underground hideout. Even crime had to cease under such extreme weather conditions as these.

As he approached, he thought he heard a faint scuffling sound. Lance narrowed his eyes; were they fighting? Or, worse, were they plotting to escape once he opened the door? He drew his gun and held it ready as he turned the key in the lock.

Since he was prepared, he was not surprised in the slightest when he found Karen standing right in front of the doorway. In a flash, his gun was aimed at her face – and then he spotted the long, rusting nail, evidently ripped from the bench in there, that was pressed against her throat.

Silver’s head appeared to one side of Karen’s, and Lance realised that it was not Karen who was escaping, but Silver. Moreover, he could not risk losing her, as his only link to the Mask of Ice. The boy seemed to read all of this in his face in an instant, and stepped forwards triumphantly, Karen stumbling before him. Lance had to step back and let him through, but he wasn’t stupid, and grabbed the arm of the second girl, Monique, as she followed. Twisting her towards his chest to strengthen his grip, he pressed the barrel of his gun against her head.

“Get back in the cell,” Lance said. “Or I shall execute this girl.”

“If you do that, I’ll kill Karen – and you won’t ever catch the Mask,” replied the boy coolly. “You seriously think he’ll slip up again like he did last night? He was only expecting me to get past that door – and now that he knows you’re after him, he’s not going to make the same mistake again.”

“It changes nothing,” Lance told him. “Return to the cell. Now.”

He felt the girl’s breath quicken against his chest, felt her pounding heart through her coat. Silently, he hoped she wasn’t an innocent civilian – because it looked like he might have to kill her soon.

“You can’t kill Monique anyway,” Silver said, as if reading Lance’s thoughts. “She’s an innocent.”

“I can call for police backup at any moment,” Lance warned.

“There’s no one here except the guy at reception,” Silver countered. “No one can get here through the snow, and no one needs to since there’s no crime in this weather.”

Lance was stymied. He gritted his teeth and let go of the girl. She immediately hurried over to Silver and Karen, looking back at him with wide, scared eyes.

“You...” Lance hated being bested, but Silver had done it. Noting the look of rage on the Dragon Master’s face, the thief smiled without humour.

“I try my best to please,” he said. “Now, follow me.”

Silver backed down the corridor to the lobby, Monique pushing the door open for him. The policeman at the desk started, going for both a gun and a Pokéball, but Lance called out to him:

“Leave it! I need the woman alive.”

“You,” Silver said, without taking his eyes off Lance. “Cop. Get out our Pokémon, and give them to Monique. A bag would be helpful, we’ve got quite a few between us.”

As if in a dream, the policeman did; he reached under the desk and drew out a bag that contained the suspects’ Pokéballs. Lance wished that the officer had been more efficient and had put them away in the evidence locker last night; that would have bought him a little more time. And time was what he needed; if he could just distract Silver for a moment, he could wrest Karen from him...

“Monique,” Silver continued, “look in that bag for a Fast Ball.”

“There are two,” the girl replied after rummaging for a moment. Silver frowned.

“Try one of them.”

Lance tensed. This was it: obviously Silver did not know Karen’s Pokémon, and if it was one of hers that came out of the Fast Ball instead of the one he was expecting, he might just lose concentration...

Monique dropped the ball, and there was a half-hearted laugh as a one-legged Murkrow appeared, balancing badly on the floor.

“Lemuel!” called Silver, still not taking his eyes from Lance, and the Murkrow flapped weakly up to his shoulder. “Karen, what kind of ball is your Flying Pokémon in?”

“Dusk,” she replied shortly, and Monique came up with a Dusk Ball. When she dropped this, there was a brief flash of darkness and a hint of cigar smoke; it cleared to reveal a portly Honchkrow, the size of a two-seater sofa. It resembled nothing so much as a Mafia don, and strutted confidently over to Karen before noticing she was in danger, and turning malevolent eyes on Silver.

“Tell it not to attack!” Silver ordered the Dark-type master, and she did so. The Honchkrow looked vaguely puzzled, but acquiesced.

“Let’s move,” Silver said decisively. He and Karen backed towards the door, the Honchkrow and Monique following. There was a third flash of light and a tired-looking Smeargle materialised on the girl’s good shoulder.

There they stood, Lance and the policeman on one side of the glass, and Silver, Karen and Monique on the other. They faced each other for a moment – and then made their move.

Silver let go of Karen and she threw herself onto the back of her Honchkrow; without even waiting for a command, it flung itself into the air, flapping heavily.

Simultaneously, the Smeargle on Monique’s shoulder concentrated, grabbing its tail in one paw and tracing the outlines of the soaring bird in midair; seconds later, it began beating its arms like wings and it zoomed upwards into the sky, the girl clinging to its hind leg with its good arm.

Lance and the policeman went for the door simultaneously, just as Silver rammed his shoulder into the plate glass, opening it inwards. The edge of the door cracked into the constable’s skull and he fell over backwards, bleeding; Lance, who had ducked aside, quickly burst through the door, shouting for his Dragonite as Silver gripped his Murkrow’s remaining leg and lifted off into the air himself.

The dragon caught up with him by the shortest route: through the walls and door, destroying them. Lance leaped onto it while it was still moving and, speeding ahead of a storm of flying glass, began to give chase.

It was hard to see more than a few metres away, and at first all of them were trying to gain height, to get above the clouds. Lance spotted Silver and the Murkrow off to his right, catching an updraft on the warm air from a factory chimney; the Dragonite was too heavy for such tricks and he had to content himself with exhorting it to flap harder.

Directly ahead of him, little more than a dark blot through the whirling snow and screaming wind, was Karen; to her left was Monique, easily keeping pace with her due to the Smeargle’s speed. Clinging to his Dragonite’s heaving sides with just his legs, Lance pulled up into a vertical climb and simultaneously released two more Pokémon: the primaeval monster Aerodactyl, and the fire dragon Charizard. Surprised at their surroundings, they fell back for a moment before pulling ahead of Lance, far faster than the dragon he was riding. They were also faster, Lance was certain, than Honchkrow and Smeargle – whom even he would be able to catch if they hadn’t had such a head start.

Lance left the two new dragons to it; they were speeding towards Karen and Monique like bullets, and he had no doubt that they would soon catch up. He spurred on the Dragonite, and the beast roared as it beat its wings ever harder, slowly gaining on the Murkrow. Ordinarily, the Dragonite would never outspeed it – but badly injured as it was, the bird Pokémon was having trouble moving, and soon they were in Ice Beam range.

Silver swung himself out of the way of the first one, but Lance could see the concern in his eyes. He shouted something at his Murkrow, but the howling wind smothered it and Lance couldn’t make it out; seconds later, a weak Dark Pulse rippled out from the Murkrow’s trailing tail feathers. It didn’t even slow Dragonite down – but it gave the bird a temporary boost in speed, like a jet.

Lance didn’t let it get to him; this was a matter of time. Silver’s Murkrow looked pained, and blood was pouring from its injured leg; the sustained activity was probably not good for it. Soon, it would fall, and—

“Now!” Lance cried, and another Ice Beam ripped the air apart, screaming towards the fleeing bird. Powered up by the snowstorm, there was no way Murkrow could take it: it froze solid, and then toppled out of the sky. Lance allowed himself a small smile and dived downwards towards where it had fallen—

—only to see Silver still rising upwards, smiling through the snow. In the second it took Dragonite to bank and resume climbing, losing fifty feet on Silver, Lance worked it out: in the snow, it was impossible to see a move being used, or to hear Silver telling his Pokémon what to do – and so he had been completely, utterly fooled by a simple Double Team.

Lance screamed with rage and his Dragonite obligingly launched a stream of DragonBreath towards the fleeing figure; it caught Silver’s leg and Lance got some satisfaction from seeing him cry out, even if he couldn’t hear him. The Murkrow faltered just long enough for Lance to make up some of the lost ground, and now he was almost level with Silver. Just a few more feet and Dragonite would be able to grab him...

At that moment, a black blur zoomed out of nowhere and landed on Dragonite’s head, resolving itself into the wiry frame of a small, weasel-like Pokémon, monochromatic except for the pink-red feathers that adorned its head and back.

Lance stared at it, and watched in horror as the Sneasel’s fist glowed blue-white with energy—

—and slammed into the Dragonite’s head, forcing a quadruply super-effective Ice Punch straight into the dragon’s brain. Though the Sneasel wasn’t strong enough to incapacitate it entirely, it hit the base of the skull, where it joined the spinal cord, and suddenly Lance realised that the great wings were no longer flapping, that the dragon was paralysed, and that they were beginning to fall, down and down and down, towards the unforgiving ground below.

As the Sneasel leaped away, snagging the cloth of Silver’s trousers with one claw, Lance could have sworn it winked. His cool demeanour utterly shattered, the Dragon Master tumbled away, down to earth, with an ear-splitting shriek.

---

At the same time as Lance’s pursuit of Silver, Karen and I were flying neck and neck, insanely high up, just below the clouds. I didn’t know how I was still breathing, and I didn’t want to question it; instead, I focused on holding on to Tercier’s leg and thanking the heavens for the move Sketch. I felt like a character in a cartoon who has run off a cliff but won’t fall until they look down and notice; it seemed utterly impossible that Tercier could be flying, and I had the feeling that if I looked down and saw the ground had gone, vanished in a blur of falling snow, we’d both just plummet to our deaths.

Though Karen’s Honchkrow was stronger and more efficient in flight than Tercier, my Smeargle was doing well and keeping pace with it, which seemed to puzzle the huge bird. Dimly, I remembered that Smeargle are meant to be fast, and put it down to that.

Suddenly, I heard a shrieking roar behind me, far louder than the wind, and reflexively glanced back; immediately, I wished I hadn’t. A monster I’d never seen before was chasing me, a vast, grey, bat-winged abomination with jaws like saw-blades and a wingspan of about sixteen metres. It was also seriously fast; it was catching up, and it seemed to just be cruising, not even flapping its wings.

“Tercier!” I screamed, and the Smeargle nodded; he’d seen it too. He doubled his flapping, and I felt the wind tear at me slightly harder. My arm flew out of the makeshift sling and pain lanced through my shoulder, but I didn’t care; we had to get away. We pulled ahead of Karen – only for her to catch up again, as another, deeper roar sounded behind us, and Lance’s Charizard materialised amid the falling snow. It lagged slightly behind the bat-dragon monster, but it was still faster than either Honchkrow or Tercier.

Fire streaked through the air between us and Karen, and both Tercier and Honchkrow peeled off to the left and right respectively; having separated us, the Charizard banked and shot after Karen, while its companion chased Tercier and I.

The snow and wind beat relentlessly in my face, but I didn’t care: the bat-dragon was all I cared about. As it came closer, effortlessly gliding upwards towards us, I made out more details: a lolling tongue, bouncing around within its gaping mouth, sharp, triangular eyes, short, blunt horns.

Snap!

I cried out and drew my legs up beneath me – the monster had snapped its jaws shut just below my feet. It gave a wheeze that sounded like a chuckle, and floated upwards at incredible speed until it was directly beside us.

It’s just playing with us! I realised, heart beating like a drum. Yesterday hadn’t been a good day, but today was steadily getting worse. The monster could kill me any time it wanted; it was so damn fast!

It made that terrifying noise again, half roar, half screech, and suddenly flitted just overhead, the downdraft from its wings knocking Tercier out of the sky. For a heart-stopping moment, we were falling, surrounded on all sides by blurring white—

—and then Tercier had recovered, flapping hard, chest heaving, trying to haul us away from the monster, heading towards the right, where I could just about make out red and black flashes through the mist. Evidently, Karen was fighting back at the Charizard – but there was no way I could do that, it was all I could to keep hold of Tercier and the bag full of everyone’s Pokémon, and there wasn’t a hope for either Tercier or the Ditto if they went up against the monster that was chasing us. It was too fast, too large, too strong – too everything.

Too fast...

“Tercier, dive!” I yelled above the wind, and he looked back at me, confusion all over his face. “Just do it!” I shouted, and then, the bat-dragon descending towards us again, he did.

Down, down, so fast I couldn’t see anything anymore, just white flashes as snow blew into my eyes. The wind was like a living thing, trying to hold me up, to warn me in its whistling voice that what I was doing was stupid, but even if we’d wanted to, we couldn’t stop now; Tercier was no longer flapping, just falling, like a stone. The cold was overwhelming, and sleep seemed so inviting. If I just slept, I could wake up on the ground below...

No! I had to stay alert! I had to watch for when the rooftops were appearing – and there they were, a patchwork of brown and white spread out below me like the quilt on a giant’s bed.

“Start pulling up!” I screamed into the wind, but Tercier didn’t hear; I repeated myself, suddenly conscious of the bat-dragon’s shadow on my back and the ground just a few hundred feet below, and finally he heard, flapping violently, trying to arrest our downward path. We didn’t stop, or even slow, and I had a horrible moment of doubt: had I killed us both? – but then we levelled out, and zoomed down Castle Street at about a hundred miles an hour, just twelve feet from the snow-cloaked asphalt below.

It must have been a sight to behold, from the safety of your home: look out the window, and see the Smeargle, impossibly flying, dragging a girl behind it at incredible speed. And then the huge shape behind them, with the toothy grin and the long, bladed tail, rushing along faster than anything you’ve ever seen, big enough that the tips of its wings scored furrows in the brickwork of the houses either side.

That was what I wanted: the bat-dragon was too big for these streets, and too fast, and as soon as I told Tercier to turn left at Enich Road, I heard a terrified screech, and the frantic beating of twisting wings, and then a colossal crash as the monster’s stone body drove deep into the facade of the Pokémon Centre.
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  #9    
Old December 24th, 2010 (01:07 PM). Edited December 26th, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
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Chapter Twelve: The Mountain Caves

Mount Mortar. A massive mountain, the southernmost of the Northern Johto Range, and almost as famous as Mount Silver, where the wild Tyranitar made their restless home. Countless attempts had been made to scale its sheer sides, but no one had ever conquered it without using Fly. Gligar nested in tiny hollows on the cliffs, little more than scrapes in the sides, and clambered over the sides like bats. Anyone who came near would be flung from the cliff, bleeding from pincer wounds or already dead from their toxic stings.

But the real interest was in the interior. Underground rivers had carved out an extensive network of tunnels inside it, fuelled by snowmelt from the peaks of the Northern Range, and in those tunnels were Pokémon of the dark, half-blind and exotic. Trainers came from all over Johto to try and catch them, or to battle them and strengthen. Here, you could find White Machop, the ones whose eyes had dwindled away in their heads, leaving empty sockets; you could find Cave Spinarak, twice as large as the regular kind and black as pitch – and you could catch Zubat, too, because the damn things were everywhere.

And you might, if you were very unlucky, encounter the semi-mythical Pokémon that slept deep within the cave, the ones that, when you woke them, would never rest until you were dead, and that could paralyse you, or poison you, or confuse you so you would walk into the caves and get lost rather than running out.

The Land Snake Pokémon, Dunsparce.

Right now, none of us were worrying about them; we weren’t deep enough into the network for them to be near. We were just over thirty metres in, around the first corner to keep out the wind from the cave mouth, which was fifty metres above the ground and only accessible by air.

Karen’s fat Honchkrow was sprawled on the floor nearby, panting; it was overweight and out of shape. Lemuel was in his ball, too injured and exhausted to stay out, and Silver was sitting across from me, examining his leg. Karen was sitting a little way off, arms around her knees and head lowered, staring out at the snow.

“Are you OK?” I asked Silver, crouching by him. He gave me a sour look.

“What do you think?” His leg, though it looked fine (if a little singed around the edges), was useless; it lay limply in front of him, paralysed. “****ing DragonBreath.”

“There’ll be something we can do—”

“Not without going to a hospital,” Silver said. “Damn it!” He slammed his fist down on the stone floor, apparently not feeling any pain.

“You got us out of there,” I said. “That was more than I could do.”

“It’s not worth anything if my leg’s paralysed,” he muttered. “I need to be able to move! I can’t Fly anymore; if I send out Lemuel, he’ll end up dead.”

“Shut up,” said Karen flatly. Silver looked like he was about to argue, then shut his mouth. Now that Karen had her Pokémon back, she was most definitely in charge; I knew from the papers that she had a Houndoom with a battle Level of 66, which would blow any of our monsters away without a second thought.

Silver released Mercury, and the Sneasel looked around for a moment before taking up his usual watchful position on his master’s shoulder.

“What do we do now, then?” I asked. Karen answered without turning around.

“I’m going to meet up with my Master. What you do is of no concern to me.”

“Then why haven’t you left?”

Karen stood up and walked around the corner, out to where the wind and snow blew in. Her Honchkrow watched her pass with a subdued expression on its face.

I slid down to the floor from my crouching position.

“What’s up with her?”

“I don’t know. Does it matter?” Silver was still sulking about his leg, it seemed.

“It does if she’s going to leave us here.”

He didn’t say anything more, and after a while I got up to see where Karen had done.

She was standing right at the entrance, amid the piles of snow that had blown in the cave mouth. The wind was whipping her hair out behind her, like blue snakes.

“Karen?”

“I can’t believe you want to talk to me,” she said. “I shot you. Isn’t that enough of a discouragement?”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” I told her. “I hate you. But I have to ignore that now, because Silver and I won’t get anywhere without you and your Honchkrow.”

“Then you’re getting nowhere. I’m going back to my Master, and I’m not taking you with me.”

“Then why are you still here?”

Karen whirled around and hit me with the back of her fist, knocking me into the stone wall. Pain ignited in my head and my cheek, and I got back up slowly.

“Shut up!” she shouted. “Stop interfering! Isn’t that what killed your parents?”

My turn to punch her now, just like I did in the underground office; I hit her chin and she staggered back a step.

“Why do you have to attack everything I do?” I shouted back at her.

For once, Karen didn’t have an answer ready; she stared for a moment, and then punched me again, this time in the space beneath my breastbone, where my diaphragm is. Winded, I doubled over and took a step back. I didn’t think Karen would be this strong.

“Leave me alone,” she said, more quietly. “Go back to Silver, or better, go home. You don’t belong here.”

“Now you’re going to go all noble and quiet, like Silver does,” I coughed, straightening slowly. “It doesn’t suit you.”

Karen didn’t say anything.

“Talk,” I told her. “I’m not going away until you tell me why you’re still here.”

“Honchkrow can’t make it to Goldenrod yet,” she said. “He needs to rest.”

“I thought you’d be a better liar,” I replied.

“Do you want me to leave?” Karen snapped.

“No, I want to find out why you haven’t, and then exploit it. I thought you knew that.”

Karen closed her eyes, all the energy gone from her body.

“He’s my brother,” she said, “and I thought he was dead.”

That was it. Silver.

“You care?” I couldn’t help sounding surprised, and Karen looked hurt – the first time she’d betrayed any sign of weakness.

“Do you know how I felt when the Master told me that was Silver and I didn’t recognise him?” Karen’s eyes flashed. “I came to the Mask when I was eleven. I knew Silver for five years; he was my little brother. But just a few years later, I don’t recognise him. He’s like a stranger – I thought he was dead.” She stopped, eyes bright with a different light now – there were tears there.

“I...”

Why was everything so complicated? Before I met Silver – hah! It seemed like years ago, but it was only a few days – no one had been this complex; everyone had said what they meant, and there hadn’t been any of this deceit. I’d known that bad guys were bad guys, and good guys were good guys. And now all of that was gone, all the rules broken; Silver and Gold and now Karen too were witnesses to that.

“But I can’t stay,” she said at length, blinking furiously. “My Master needs me, and – and if I stay, Silver just complicates things.”

“Just drop us off somewhere,” I pleaded. “Just so I can get Silver to a hospital. And me, too,” I added as an afterthought, feeling a sting of pain in my shoulder. I hadn’t looked at it recently, but the skin felt tight, and I thought it was starting to swell up.
Karen was silent for a long time. Then she spoke.

“All right,” she said. “But I’m never going to help you again, you got that?”

“Yeah.” I nodded eagerly, then stopped when my shoulder flared in pain again. It was definitely getting worse; the long flight hadn’t helped it at all.

Karen started stalking back towards where Silver lay, then paused.

“One more thing,” she said. “I’m only taking Silver. If you’re coming, it’s not on my Honchkrow.”

I wondered if I could survive another flight with Tercier without my arm coming off. I hoped I could, and nodded again despite the pain.

“Fine,” Karen said, but she looked troubled. “We’ll leave now, before Lance expands the search.”

Silver had told us about what he’d done to the Dragonite, and Karen herself had broken the Charizard’s wing with repeated Night Slashes, but none of us believed Lance was dead; probably he wouldn’t even be injured. He’d lost to Silver only because of the snow strengthening the Ice Punch, and his other Pokémon had held their own even without their Trainer to direct them, losing purely because they didn’t have the human intelligence to formulate advanced strategies. If he pursued us again, we wouldn’t get off so lightly.

And then there was Gold. He hadn’t done anything to me yet, but I was more scared of him than Lance, by a long way. Those eyes of his, full of the jewelled fire of madness, burned right through you like the thunderbolts of Raikou. He hadn’t come with Lance to the prison – I guessed he was sleeping in, like a normal teenage Trainer, in the Pokécentre – but I knew he’d be back. He had chased Silver as doggedly as he had the Rockets, after all; we’d have to be careful.

I went to see what Karen was doing, and found her easing her Honchkrow back to its feet. The big bird seemed somewhat irritated that they were leaving so soon, but it didn’t complain.

Silver watched from on the floor.

“You’re going, then?”

Karen seemed to have to think for a moment before replying.

“With you. You’re coming.”

“What?”

“You heard me.” Karen turned around, saw me and pointed. “You’ve got your girlfriend to thank for that.”

“What – Monique, how did you do that?” Silver looked very, very confused.

“Tell him any of what I said and I’ll throw him off in midair,” warned Karen. Wisely, I kept my mouth shut and helped her haul Silver onto the Honchkrow’s back.

Returning to the cave entrance, I sent out Tercier. He was worn out from the effort of carrying me, and his tail dragged along the floor, but when I explained what he had to do he nodded wearily. Moments later, the heavy footsteps of the Honchkrow sounded behind us, and we stepped aside as the Pokémon flung itself into the air. Karen leaped after it, and it swooped a little so she could grab onto its trailing talons.

“Come on, Tercier,” I said encouragingly. “Let’s go!”

The Smeargle sighed and started to flap his arms; I clutched at his leg and soon we were once again flying through the snowstorm, following the dark silhouette of the Honchkrow.
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  #10    
Old December 25th, 2010 (11:42 PM).
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This looks pretty good. I'll give it a more thorough read later. Kinda sad with the lack of responses though haha.
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  #11    
Old December 26th, 2010 (05:42 AM). Edited December 26th, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
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Quote originally posted by Willer:
This looks pretty good. I'll give it a more thorough read later. Kinda sad with the lack of responses though haha.
Eh, I'm used to it. I just write because I enjoy writing.

Speaking of writing:

Chapter Thirteen: Zane Escher

Young people love Ecruteak; everyone else hates it. The city had been the hardest hit by the trend of Japanisation, and now you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a mock-Shinto temple, or a neon sign in katakana. I wasn’t that bothered by it – Ecruteak was a concrete wasteland before, so it couldn’t have got much worse – but I knew my cousin, who lived here, hated it with a passion; he had a position of some prominence in town, and had been able to at least stop the development of the area around his home.

But the area we were now, Eon Plaza, was hidden under a veil of snow, and so looked beautiful anyway. The snow wasn’t falling here anymore, and it was only a couple of inches thick, but it was enough. It was also a relief: it almost felt like spring after Mahogany.

Karen helped me slide Silver off the Honchkrow’s back, and he sat down heavily on a nearby bench, not caring that it was soaking wet with snow.

“Next time we meet,” Karen said, not looking at either of us, “I’m a Rocket Executive again, not your friend.”

“I get it,” replied Silver wearily.

“Goodbye,” I said.

“Nothing good about it,” Karen snapped, and, mounting her Pokémon, flew as fast as she could away from us. I watched the big bird dwindle into the distance, then turned to Silver.

“I think now might be the time to risk going to a hospital,” Silver said.

“Yeah – no!” An idea suddenly struck me. “No, I’ve got a better plan. I know someone who’ll help us without giving us away. Hopefully.”

“You do?”

“Do you have any money left?” I asked Silver. My bag, with its purse and about 1800 dollars, was miles away back in my apartment in Mahogany.

He dug a hand into one pocket, and came up with a single 500 dollar coin. If I was quick, that would just about be enough.

“Wait here,” I said, before realising that Silver couldn’t do anything else and blushing. “Sorry.”

“So you should be. I hope that was unintentional, because if it was a joke I really didn’t think it was that funny.”

“Sorry,” I said again, and went off to find a telephone booth. It was a strange sensation, passing people in the street; there was enough snow in Mahogany to trap most people indoors, and I hadn’t seen anyone around for a while. Except Silver, that is, but then he’d been on the streets in the first place – trapped out, rather than in.

I caught sight of a familiar black and yellow box, banded like a hornet, on the corner of the next street. No one was using it, so I went in and dialled my cousin’s number, feeding the slot the 500 Pokédollars and praying he was home.

He was.

“Who is this?” In fact, he sounded like he’d been asleep. He should probably have been at work.

“It’s me, Monique! Listen—”

“Hey, Monique! You should call me more often, I never hear from you. What’s up?”

“Um... the money for the payphone’s about to run out, I need to be quick – can you come and pick me up from Eon Plaza?”

“Sure. When d’you need me?”

“Now—”

There was a click and a buzz, and then nothing. Forty seconds wasn’t a long time.

I hurried back towards Silver, feeling pleasantly surprised at how far I could see through the clear, cold air, and told him what I’d done.

“I called my cousin,” I said. “He’ll be here to pick us up soon.”

“Your cousin? The one you mentioned last night?”

“Yeah, he lives here.” I glanced around, breath misting in the chilly air. “He better not fall asleep again.”

Silver mused for a moment, then asked another question:

“Will he be able to help us?”

“If he can’t, no one else can,” I told him confidently. “He’s Zane Escher.”

Silver looked blank. “Zane Escher?”

“You don’t know him?”

He shook his head. “My knowledge of Ecruteak is basically that it’s full of neon, has one and a half towers and a Ghost-type Gym.”

Just then, a long black car pulled up on the corner, skidding and sliding on the snow until it almost rose onto two wheels. The front right headlight hit a lamppost and broke. From inside the car came the sound of muffled cursing.

I winced.

“That’s him,” I said. “No one else drives that badly. Zane! Over here, I need your help!”

The car door opened and a tall, thin young man got out. He wore white jeans and a black shirt, with a long, ragged purple and red scarf wrapped loosely around his shoulders and held in place with a badge shaped like a Will-O’-Wisp flame. His messy blond hair was trying to escape the strictures of a wide purple bandanna, and he looked vaguely dazed.

Silver looked from me to the approaching man and back again.

“That’s your cousin?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “Zane!”

“Nick-y!” he sang out like a bird; he was the only one who ever called me that. He broke into a run, sliding precariously on one foot, then settling for a walking pace again. “Hiya! Haven’t seen you for ages.”

He drew level with me and wrapped me in a rib-crushing hug. This close, you could see his violet irises – though he had been born with brown.

“Wait,” he said, taking a step back and looking at my shoulder. “What’s wrong? What happened to you?”

“I... I’ll tell you everything in a minute,” I said, “but first, you have to help me get my friend into the car.”

Zane’s eyes wandered around the plaza for a moment, then found Silver right next to me. Divining the problem instantly, he crouched and felt his leg.

“Paralysis... mild scorching... DragonBreath?” On the last word, he looked up sharply, and Silver nodded, startled. “Right,” he said. “I can deal with that. Up you get.”

Zane was taller than Silver by quite some way, and had no difficulty in supporting him. With his help, Silver was soon in the back seat of the car, next to me, and Zane was climbing back into the front. On the seat next to him was a large canvas sack, tied up at the mouth with strings, that kept shaking and twitching.

The car started, and Zane knocked over a dustbin before getting back onto the road.

“So,” he said, tapping one finger on the steering wheel, “going by your hair and face, I’m guessing you’re the Pokémon thief, huh?”

Silver froze, one hand going to his pocket for a Pokéball, but Zane, catching the movement in the rear view mirror, just laughed.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I trust Nicky, so I’m not going to do anything about it until you explain yourselves.” A dark look crossed his face. “Though if you’re the one who shot her—”

“I’m not—”

“—then I’m going to do a lot worse than paralyse your leg,” Zane finished, as if Silver hadn’t spoken.

“He’s harmless really,” I told Silver. Zane looked indignant.

“I am not,” he protested. “I have psionic abilities.”

“Again with those?”

“They’re something to be proud of,” Zane said, in a confiding tone. “I can peel an egg without looking at it.”

“This is one of the reasons they wouldn’t let me stay with him,” I told Silver. “He’s insane. I think the words they used were ‘not fit to look after a hamster, let alone a child.’”

“I am not,” Zane repeated, rather sulkily.

“Watch the road!” Silver shouted suddenly, and Zane looked forwards, swore and span the steering wheel. The tyres whirled, struggling to find purchase in the snow, and at the last moment we turned, narrowly avoiding an elderly couple trying to cross the road.

“Maybe we should continue this conversation after we get back to your house?” I suggested.

“Good idea,” agreed Silver, shaken.

We drove on for a few more minutes in silence, leaving behind the neon wasteland of central Ecruteak and heading towards the more serene, Johto-styled neighbourhood where my cousin lived.

“But just to confirm,” Silver said after a while, “you are who I think you are, right?”

“What’s that meant to mean?” asked Zane.

“Well – you – you’re Mortimer Faust, aren’t you?”

“People usually call me Morty,” Zane admitted, “but that is my stage name, yeah.”

Silver sat back in silence; it was his turn to be amazed, this time by my cousin, Zane Escher, also known as Morty, the Gym Leader of Ecruteak City.

---

You’re probably wondering why I never went to live with Zane after the accident. The simple truth is that they wouldn’t let me: he wasn’t quite sane, he was always busy – at that time he was an apprentice for Eusine, the last Gym Leader – and he lived in a house full of Ghosts, the worst environment for a child to grow up in. Scatterbrained and convinced he was psychic, no one thought he was capable of raising a child; the Ghosts made it worse. While there were a few friendly Ghost-types – like the Haunter belonging to Russell of Saffron City, who was famously afraid of other Ghosts – most were wild and fey, tricksters that lived in the night and preyed off the worst sides of humanity. There were a few Gengar wild up in Ecruteak’s Bell Tower that no one had ever driven off; immortal and ever-cunning, they were behind at least three disappearances every year. They would get in your mind, show you your wildest dreams, and lure you away like the Pied Piper to wherever they came from.

For Ghosts didn’t come from this world, everyone was certain of that. Not even the famous Professor Oak of Kanto had an explanation for how the gaseous monsters formed; they were never observed to breed, or show anything but contempt for their own kind. They flowed from secret places, or formed spontaneously from abandoned objects, and stalked the earth for humans to fool.

They liked children best of all, which was the strongest argument against my going to live with Zane. Even if you tame a Ghost – which is no mean feat – they can’t resist a nearby child. They’ll play with them, taking the shape of another kid, or a fabulous monster of some kind, and slowly gain their trust. The real world will pale in comparison to the Ghost’s dream world; gradually, the child will dwindle and grow weak and pale, lost in a world of thoughts. And just when the Ghost reveals what their world is really like – just when they show a hint of the nightmares lurking beneath the bejewelled surface – then they’ll want to turn back, and realise it’s too late.

All that you see when that happens are faint strands of black mist rising off them, and then they’re dead. You might hear a spectral chuckle as the Ghost drifts away, its hunger satiated, or you might hear nothing at all.

That was why I could never live with Zane. Until you’re about twenty, the Ghosts will love you as best they can; they will love you literally to death.

Living with Zane was my dream, really – the thing that kept me going through the poverty and the despair of those years after the accident. I was too old for the city to be required to help me after the death, and not cute enough to capture the public heart, so I had to fend for myself. That’s when I decided I was going to Zane’s house one day. I would work, and I would survive, and when I was twenty I would come home.

It’s at this point that people usually say: “Why didn’t you move to Ecruteak, and live near Zane, so that he could help you? You didn’t need to suffer.” They’re wrong. I did need to suffer. It was my fault my parents were dead, and that sort of blood doesn’t wash off easily. I always used to remember my English classes at school – I was one of the few that took English as a foreign language instead of Japanese – and the words of the English poet Coleridge, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he, `The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.'


I had done penance – I had been forbidden to live with Zane. But I couldn’t help but feel that that was only the start; like the Mariner, I had penance more to do.

So I lived like a pauper in an apartment made of rust and holes, working for a few thousand dollars a week, barely enough to survive. Four years, I thought, would be long enough – two for each death I’d caused. That would take me to the age of twenty, when everything would be all right again, when everything would be forgiven and I could begin again with a clean slate.

Maybe that was why I went with Silver that day into the Rockets’ lair, too; maybe that was self-punishment, another penance. I carried the weight of my parents’ death around my neck like the Mariner carried the Albatross, and I didn’t waste an opportunity for atonement.

But that’s enough from me; you don’t care. No one ever did, except for Silver and Zane, and I don’t expect you to, either. I learned the hard way that most people have hearts of stone. It was one of the things that made Silver special – if anyone had the right to harden their heart, it was him, after all he’d been through, and yet he didn’t.

Sometimes, when it snows and I’m out, I think I can hear him calling to me, a distant voice from down the street, slipping and sliding, with Mercury at his side.

---

“...top story, Mahogany’s main Pokémon Centre was partially destroyed earlier this morning,” said the newsreader. Behind her, blurry CCTV footage of a tangled mess of stone wings and startled eyes replayed over and over. “An Aerodactyl at approximately Level 65 crashed into it at approximately 130 miles an hour.” The footage switched to a photograph of the wreckage as it currently stood, captured through the snow: the entire facade had collapsed inwards, leaving nothing but rubble visible. “It seems likely that this Pokémon belonged to Lance of the Pokémon League, for this is not the first dragon to crash today in Mahogany.”

Cut again, to grainy footage of a Charizard spiralling out of the sky, one wing shredded by countless slashes and trailing black smoke.

“A Charizard was reported crash-landing in Alarum Station Park, while a Dragonite with rider was seen falling over the industrial district.” The newsreader gave the camera a grave look. “The Charizard and Aerodactyl are each being treated at subsidiary Pokécentres, but the Aerodactyl’s condition has been given as ‘dire’ by doctors, and there are concerns as to whether it will survive. It has suffered a fractured skull and broken neck, and its wings have sustained multiple lacerations and breaks.”

The picture changed again, to stock footage of Lance, standing at the top of the steps to the Indigo Plateau building, welcoming in Trainers to the Championship Tournament with a stern, kind face.

“Dragon Master Lance Sørenson, famed for achieving feats of training long since thought to be impossible, and the world’s third most powerful League-recognised Trainer, is thought to have been the Dragonite’s rider, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Two other members of the Indigo Plateau League are missing, William Valentine and Karen Estragon. It is unknown whether this is related to the Champion’s disappearance, but it seems likely.”

Photographs of Will and Karen faded into focus on either side of the video of Lance, which froze and zoomed in to just show his face.

“Whatever the reason, and whatever has happened in Mahogany today,” the newsreader continued, “it has not gone unnoticed. Pryce Willow, this town’s Gym Leader, gave us a few moments of his time to discuss what he plans to do.”

The studio disappeared, replaced by footage of Pryce, dressed in his trademark long coat and white scarf, standing outside his Gym. He looked commanding, not at all as old men in the snow usually look.

“Something is wrong here,” he said, in his gruff smoker’s voice. “I’m launching a full-scale search for Lance and the others, starting here in Mahogany. The dragons are all here – and where those” – Pryce’s next word was bleeped; the old man spoke too bluntly for daytime TV – “are, Lance isn’t gonna be far behind.”

“Do you have any words for the citizens of Mahogany?” asked the interviewer from off-screen.

“Aye.” Pryce turned to look directly at the camera. “If you see any of my Trainers around, lend them a hand. Maybe you’ll learn something. Oh, and if there are any other Gym Leaders watching, you lot should do something, too. Organise some searches. I’m talking to you, Clair,” he added disapprovingly.

The footage froze and disappeared, and the screen displayed the studio once more.

“There you have it,” said the newsreader. “In other news, the acclaimed engineer Michael O. Angel of Visbu has announced a new project, to be overseen by one F. H. Usher...”

---

Zane flicked off the TV and looked at us.

“That proves part of your story, I guess,” he said. “I believe you anyway, but... yeah.”

We’d been in his house for an hour now, watching the news while Zane offered us medical treatment. Parlyz Heals, it seemed, worked perfectly well on humans, too, because that was how he cleared up Silver’s leg; my shoulder had given him more trouble, but he knew how to clean and stitch up a wound from his time with Eusine (who had spent a lot of time getting comprehensively beaten by a Pokémon named Suicune), and once he’d got the bullet out it went fine. If painfully. He wasn’t so sure about the swelling, but asked a Gastly to suck out any toxins that might be there, which seemed to work. He’d also made a better sling for me than Silver’s jacket, out of a black curtain that he would probably come to regret tearing up later.

Zane’s house was a natural Ghost haven: it was a decrepit cross between the Bates Motel and the Addams Family’s mansion, a tall, rickety structure that practically screamed Ghost! at anyone who passed. Inside, it was dark, with high ceilings and stuttering lights; we were currently in the living room, which had a massive fireplace, a few sofas with torn coverings, and a cobwebbed grand piano in the corner. The TV was a prochronism, completely separate from the age in which the rest of the room seemed to exist.

Since Silver and I were both young enough to be affected by Ghost activity, Zane had returned them all to their Pokéballs before letting us into the house, just in case any of them sensed our presence. Even though there were none there, I had the strange feeling that I was being watched; despite its current lack of spectral inhabitants, the house still had an air of the supernatural about it.

Silver finished another sandwich and sat back, full for now. Neither of us had eaten for a long time, and Zane had, reluctantly, tried to make us some food. He’d lost concentration halfway through, as he sometimes did, and one or two of the sandwiches contained tinsel rather than ham – but most of them were good, and we’d eaten them ravenously.

“What do we do now?” I asked. Silver looked at me.

“I guess you can stay here, if you want,” he said. “I’m going to Goldenrod.”

“What? Why Goldenrod?”

“Karen flew off south, Team Rocket has established itself pretty well there – all the signs seem to point to Goldenrod as their main base.”

“If you go, I’m coming with you,” I told him.

“Er – Nicky – is that a good idea?” Zane asked hesitantly. “I mean – you’ve been shot, and... I don’t want you to get hurt any more than you have been...”

“Team Rocket are aiming to control all the Pokémon in Johto,” I replied. “Isn’t that reason enough to try and stop them?”

“Why not let Lance?” Zane asked. “Or this Gold guy?”

“Lance is evil—”

“I’ve met him, I know he is, but he gets the job done.” Zane shrugged. “And Gold seems like he knows what he’s doing.”

I know what I’m doing,” Silver told him. “Let Monique choose what she wants to do.”

“I’m going with Silver,” I said stubbornly. “I can’t let the Rockets—”

“You don’t even know what the Rockets are doing,” Zane observed.

“What? Yes, we do,” Silver said.

“Yeah, but that isn’t the scary bit,” Zane said. “You’re forgetting the nec...” He frowned. “What’s the word again? Necromancy, that’s it.”

“Oh.” It was true, we had been glossing over this; I’d actually kind of forgotten about it.

“That’s what you should be focusing on.” Zane’s eyes shone; if there was one topic he knew a lot about, it was magic and the supernatural. “Why would a criminal organisation investigate magic? They’ve always had a scientific approach. Think about the experiments in Saffron.”

Zane had a point. The Rockets had always taken a very analytical view of the world; they were empiricists, not mystics.

“But how can we know what they want?” Silver asked. “It’s impossible.”

Zane shook his head. “Nah. It’s obvious, isn’t it? If I was this Mask of Ice guy, and I wanted to recruit Team Rocket to my cause, and I knew a bit about raising the dead, I know what I would do.”

“I don’t get it.”

“There’s a man the Rockets respected a lot,” Zane said. “A man who made them what they are, who most of them hero-worshipped.”

I suddenly realised, what he was driving at, and my blood ran cold. Silver froze, and his eyes went wide.

“No...”

“You got it.” Zane nodded, eyes focused for once. “If I’m right, Team Rocket is trying to bring Giovanni Malatesta back from the dead.”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #12    
Old December 27th, 2010 (03:01 PM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Posts: 1,030
Chapter Fourteen: Truth and Reconciliation

Tercier, Silver and I stared at Zane, dumbstruck. Giovanni Malatesta, infamous leader of Team Rocket, the man behind, among other things, the Black TM affair and the mysterious experiments that destroyed his criminal gang and ended his life. He had been dead three years, during which time the Rockets had quietly closed their nightclub and vanished, melting out of Saffron and, seemingly, out of existence.

And now they were planning to resurrect him, and set the criminal mastermind at the head of their organisation once again.

“No...”

“It makes sense, though,” I whispered, light suddenly dawning. “The radio signals, the spell-books... They brought the Red King back via radio waves, didn’t they? And in Goldenrod...”

“The Radio Tower!” Zane blinked. “You think...?”

“It has to be,” I said, gaining confidence. “They’re going to broadcast the spell from the Radio Tower. It’ll reach Saffron from there...”

“And Giovanni will be back,” finished Silver. His eyes had gone hard again, like flint. “I can’t let that happen!” He leaped to his feet, fists clenched. “I won’t let that – that bastard be brought back to life!”

“Whoa, steady,” Zane said, swaying away from him a little. “Calm down, we need to think this through.”

“‘We’?” I queried. Zane’s eyes flickered around the room; I repeated myself and his attention snapped back to me.

“I can’t ignore this,” he explained simply. “I’m a Gym Leader. It’s my job.”
He picked up the phone and began to dial, still talking.

“I’m calling Whitney, in Goldenrod,” he told us. “She’ll...” He trailed off, frowning, as he listened to a message on the phone. “OK, she’s on holiday in Costa Rica,” he said with distaste. “God. She’s more ditzy than me.”

“No, she isn’t. What are you going to do then, Zane?” I asked.

“Will you come with us?” Silver added. Looking put-upon, Zane took a step back, tripped over a footstool and fell heavily onto the coffee table, splintering it. He leaped back up a moment later.

“I’m OK!” he cried. “I’m OK.”

“I know you are, you do that all the time. Answer the question.”

“Er...” Zane seemed reluctant to reply, and I thought he would say ‘no’; the phone he was clutching saved him before he had to answer, and rang loudly. He was so surprised he dropped it, and scrabbled around for it in the wreckage of the table before finding and answering it. “Hi?” His eyes widened. “Ah, I mean, hello, sir... What? No, not at... Sorry! Really? I would have thought... I see. Goodbye, then. Sir.” He pressed the button and threw the phone down to the sofa, letting out a long breath. “That was Lance. He’s calling up all the Leaders, asking if anyone’s seen you. Seems that Pryce has made this personal because of you, Nicky, and he’s gone off God-knows-where to look for you.”

“Me?”

“I don’t get it either.” Zane flung himself down onto the sofa. “Look, I can’t come with you, guys. I have to do what Lance says.”

“What did Lance say, exactly?” asked Silver. I looked at him, and could tell by his expression that he’d picked up on a lie, or at least an omission.

“Uh...” Zane threw an uneasy look at Silver; without speaking, the latter dropped a Pokéball and released Mercury, who leaped onto the sofa next to Zane, claws ready. “OK, OK! God, so violent...” Zane sighed. “Lance has worked out that the Rockets are based in Goldenrod, and he asked me to meet Gold and help him there, since Whitney’s away.”

“You are not helping Gold,” I said flatly. “He’s a monster.”

Zane looked torn.

“But Lance said—”

“You agreed that Lance is evil!” I retorted. “How can you still support him?”

“Even with three of his Pokémon out of action, he has a Gyarados and two Dragonite!” Zane cried back. “He also uses them on people, at any opportunity. Why do you think he’s the Champion? The guy’s ruthless!”

“I get it,” Silver nodded. “You had a choice, do what was right, or do what Lance said. You chose the option that was right for you.”

“Yeah – wait, that makes it sound bad,” said Zane, sounding confused. “I—”

“Shut up,” I interrupted. “Silver, let’s go.”

I never thought I could get angry at Zane, not properly, but right then I could have hit him; he knew the truth, not just what Lance had said, and he still chose to obey the Dragon Master. He even knew what Lance did, how ready he was to torture people – how ready he had been to torture me. If Zane didn’t care about that, then what did he care for me at all?

“You don’t understand – it’s different when you’re a Gym Leader—”

“She told you to shut up.”

A line of blood appeared on Zane’s cheek; Mercury’s claw had a red bead on the end of it. Silver’s eyes were cold.

“Let’s go,” I repeated. “Don’t – just leave him.”

Silver and I turned to leave. The last I saw of Zane, he was still sitting there, open-mouthed, one finger shakily probing the blood on his cheek.

---

It was ungrateful, yes. And it was also unfair. Zane didn’t have the strongest will in the world; he wasn’t Silver, he was just a normal guy with a mild form of insanity, and I couldn’t expect him to be a hero.

But that afternoon, I didn’t care; I stormed out of his house, furious in a way that would have been inconceivable just last week. I didn’t lose my temper, I never lost it – but since Silver had shown up, I’d done so with frightening regularity. As soon as I thought of that, I just got angrier, and so it went, in a vicious circle.

Forty minutes in the cold outside air was enough to cool me down; we were at the entrance to the Johto National Park when I finally told myself that I’d acted unfairly, and accepted it.

“Silver?”

“What is it?”

“I think I might have been a bit harsh back there.”

“I know what you mean.” Silver glanced through the wrought-iron gates of the Park; some kids were building a snowman on one of the fields. “But the Rockets have to be stopped.”

“This is about your father, isn’t it?”

Silver was silent for a while. Then:

“Yeah.” He wiped his nose on the back of his hand and sniffed. “If it weren’t for that, I might be able to forget, but...” Suddenly, he punched the gate. “Damn it! Why did it have to be Giovanni?”

His teeth were clenched; his eyes, wild. I put a hand on his arm, but he shook it off.

“We could go back,” I offered. “We could stay with Zane, he won’t turn us in. I’m sure Gold and Lance can handle it—”

“No!” Silver turned around with blind fury in his eyes; I leaped backwards, slipped on the snow and almost fell. “No, I can’t. I have to do this, because this is Giovanni! And then there’s the Mask, too! I have to stop it – all of it – but...” The anger melted away, replaced by a harrowing, depthless sorrow. “But... It’s too much, Monique, it’s too much!”

On impulse, I hugged him, holding him close; at that moment, I felt like his older sister, and wondered if that was how Karen felt, or how Blue had felt. His face was cold and his body was warm; he shivered in my arms and drew closer. It was easy to forget, I thought, that he was younger than me, because he acted so much older, a trick that life had taught him to help him out of tough situations.

“Let’s go back,” I said, and he didn’t protest. “Let’s go back, and stay with Zane – at least for now. We need to rest, Silver. The Rockets aren’t going to start broadcasting today; the radio would have gone weird.”

Silver pulled away from me a little, but kept hold of my hand. The same silver locket I’d seen before fell from his shirt, and he tucked it away with his free hand. I wanted to ask him about it, but decided to leave it for later; the news about Giovanni had hit him too hard. He was just a kid, like me. He might have pulled off the invasion of Team Rocket’s lair in Mahogany, but that had been through sheer audacity; he had no idea where in Goldenrod the Rockets were, or how to stop their scheme.

Together, hand in hand, we walked back to Zane’s house, two figures in the snow, like the lovers who wander along the lakefront at Mahogany.

---

“How was the flight?” snickered the Mastermind, leaning against a table leg.

Karen picked up an ashtray and flung it at the Meowth, who sjirachied and leaped up onto the tabletop, dodging it.

“Enjoy your reunion?” he persisted. His voice marked him out as American, for that was the land of his birth; a native of Hollywood, he had once been the controller of the widely-feared Rocket assassins Jessie and James, before they perished in what the media had reported as ‘the experiments’ in Saffron.

“Shut up,” she snarled.

“I know ya don’t like me, but this is ’specially bad.” The Mastermind sat on the edge of the desk like a child would sit on a swing. “Hard day?”

“I don’t want to talk to you.” Karen flung herself down onto a chair and brushed her hair out of her eyes. “I hate this flat.”

The Mastermind looked around. It was large, but somewhat minimalist; whether this was a deliberate style choice or due to lack of funds was a moot point.

“Nothing wrong with it. I gotta say, it is inconvenient that we have to share, but” – he shrugged – “whatcha gonna do? We ain’t got the money we used to no more.”

“I know that. I wouldn’t have objected to sharing with Will, or my Master. It’s just you.”

“Ya brother’s dead, Karen.”

“You made this whole plan. It’s your fault!”

“Funny. I thought it was the tall guy in the cape.”

Karen got up and walked out, slamming the door to her bedroom behind her. The Mastermind whistled tunelessly for a while, then, having achieved his goal of removing Karen, slipped off the table and padded out, exiting via the window.

The apartment was seven floors up, but the Mastermind scrambled down the drainpipe as easily as a monkey. He’d often had cause to do this during his life – when he’d had to break into prison to get close to Giovanni’s cell just over three years ago, for example.

There was no snow on the ground here in central Goldenrod; the roads were too important, and had been salted and gritted at the first sign of snowfall. He did not get his paws yet as he slunk through the streets, moving on all fours like a normal alley cat. It gave him a sense of nostalgia for the past; once he had been an alley cat, just another Meowth in a Hollywood street gang, scavenging food from the bins. But he’d seen more, seen a better world beyond the veil that separated man from animal – and so he’d pursued it.

The Meowth’s lip curled. That dream had been broken, and he had never forgiven the man who did it. But his revenge had been ruined once, by an interfering private investigator, and the loss had hit him hard; for a long time, he’d just run, almost becoming feral again, wandering throughout Kanto, avoiding the police and living off the Rattatta he caught. It had taken him seven months to fully regain his senses, and another nine to come up with the makings of a plan.

But none of the Rockets knew him, that had been the problem; if a talking Meowth showed up, they wouldn’t recognise him as the one-time second-in-command of the Team. So he’d needed a human ally, to recruit the lost, leaderless Rockets to his cause, and it had taken him another year to locate a suitable one and negotiate a deal with him. The Mask of Ice drove a hard bargain, and the Mastermind was certain that he was planning to double-cross him – but that was fine, because he was planning to double-cross the Mask, too.

A Growlithe passed by, being taken on a walk, and its hackles rose as it scented a cat. It growled deeply, and began to bark; the Mastermind almost stabbed it with his flick-knife, but then remembered that he was meant to be in character and just hissed, springing backwards behind some bins. The Growlithe’s owner tugged at its leash, pulling away, and the Mastermind returned to the streets and its long trip between the legs of passers-by. He had a certain respect for Pokémon with a modicum of intelligence – in particular, he recalled a Magmar he had encountered once – but he had nothing but contempt for lowly creatures like Growlithe or Sandshrew, ones that acted purely out of instinct.

So distracted by his thoughts was the Mastermind that he almost walked straight past the meeting place; however, a cough from the alleyway reminded him.

“Hey, Maskie boy,” he said, leaping up onto a fire escape to bring him to the Mask’s head height. The Mask, somewhat less impressive when seen without his trademark cloak and mask, replied harshly.

“I told you not to call me that.”

“And Giovanni always told me not to call him Vannie,” responded the Mewoth, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

“Is Karen back?”

“’Bout half an hour ago. What did ya wanna see me about?”

“Lance is closing in. He’s sending in that kid, Gold, and Mortimer from Ecruteak.”

“They know what we’re doin’?”

“Not yet. They know about Signal 2, and they know the Red King was revived with black magic.”

“They won’t stop us,” the Mastermind said dismissively. “Not if we can still make the scheduled broadcast time.”

“Can we? That’s your field.”

“I think so.” The Mastermind was not so named for nothing; he was from the Professor Moriarty school of villainy, and a certified genius with an IQ of 298 – two points below, he always remembered with irritation, the notorious Dr. Ivo ‘Eggman’ Robotnik. “Now we’ve got Karen back, I can fine-tune the signal and get rid of the cancer side-effect.”

“Good.” The Mask glanced left and right, as if fearful that he might be spotted and recognised. “That’s all, then.”

“Ya called me all the way out here, just for that? It ain’t as easy for me to walk here as it is for humans.”

“If you had a phone—”

“Don’t like ’em,” the Mastermind said. “Ya know what? Don’t worry about it, I’m goin’.”

The Meowth jumped down and stalked off. That had been a waste of time, but at least he knew about Gold now. He’d have to look him up; he didn’t know who the guy was.
He was back in the flat before Karen came back, her hair wet from a long-overdue shower. She never knew he had left at all – which was good, because the Mastermind was of the opinion that the less she knew, the better. If he was going to pull this trick off, he needed as much secrecy as possible.

---

“Nicky? Silver?”

Zane was only too happy to see us back; from the look on his face, he’d been worried sick.

“We’re back,” I said tiredly. As a Ghost user, Zane was particularly sensitive to emotions, and so he didn’t say anything else; he’d worked it all out from the looks on our faces. He just pulled us into the hall and shut the door behind us.

“It’s only four o’clock,” he said, half-tripping over the rug, “but I bet you’re tired; if you want to sleep—”

“Yes please,” said Silver, voice barely above a whisper. Zane had evidently predicted his emotions perfectly.

“Nicky, can you take him to a room? Any of them that aren’t mine will do.”

“OK.”

Tugging gently on Silver’s hand, I led him upstairs, and into the first room I saw. It was small and filthy, the only items of furniture a three-legged cabinet, a splintered chair and a four-poster bed with ragged curtains. Immediately, Silver went over to the bed and fell heavily onto it, landing on his back with his eyes closed.

“Do you want to talk?” I asked. He shook his head.

“I just... I want to forget everything – just for a few hours,” he said quietly. “I’ll feel better after I’ve slept.”

“OK.”

I turned to go, but Silver raised a hand.

“Wait...”

I looked back to see him sitting up, looking vaguely embarrassed.

“Would you mind – staying a while?” he asked. “I – you’re—”

“It’s fine,” I agreed, sitting down next to him on the bed, as it was the only safe piece of furniture in the room.

“Thanks.”

He lay there for a moment, half-asleep, and within a couple of minutes, his breathing deepened and his eyes closed. Maybe I reminded him of Blue, the girl who’d obviously meant so much to him; maybe he just needed someone to comfort him. Whichever one it was, I was happy to oblige. He had put too much on himself for one person, and anything I could do to lessen it could only be a good thing.

When I was sure he was asleep, I left him there and went back downstairs, to find Zane channel-hopping, not really watching the TV but trying to occupy his hands and mind. As soon as I came in, he jumped up, stamping on the fallen sandwich plate and breaking it in half.

“Is he OK?” he asked hurriedly.

“No, not really,” I replied. “He’s trying to do too much, and he doesn’t even know how to do it.”

“Is that why you’re helping him?”

“I don’t know why I’m helping him. Will he be all right, asleep?”

Zane looked blank for a moment, then nodded.

“I think so,” he said. “The Ghosts shouldn’t be able to sense him from within their balls.”

When you slept, you were most vulnerable to ghostly mind-games – and those were literal games with minds; Zane had described them to me once as something like rugby with nightmares instead of a ball.

He sat down again, then stood up, too nervous to stand still. “I can’t go disobey Lance,” he said eventually.

“I know.”

Zane was currently the only person in the world who knew and believed our side of the story. Going against Lance’s commands would expose him as being on our side – and then we’d lose our only ally. It made perfect sense for him to obey the Champion, now that I thought about it.

I sat down, and he did too, next to me. I brushed the bloody cut on his cheek.

“You didn’t treat it.”

“It’ll be fine. I deserved it.”

“No, you’re doing the right thing.”

It was funny, really: we were now arguing completely the opposite to what we had earlier.

“There’s a challenger with an appointment for quarter to five,” Zane said, after a pause. “I need to go soon.”

“What kind of level are they?”

“They told me they were trained to the mid-20s, so I’ll just bring a few of the weaker Haunter and Gastly. It won’t take long.”

When you took a Gym challenge, the leaders didn’t fight you with a fixed team; that would be hideously unfair. They battled you with teams scaled to your level, so they were always just a little bit stronger than you.

“Come back soon,” I said. “I...”

I trailed off, not knowing why I wanted him to be here.

“Don’t worry,” Zane said, smiling. “You’re my cousin, my last relation, and I haven’t seen you for three years. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

He got up and picked up a black rucksack from the sideboard.

“See you later,” he said, and walked out. I heard the door shut, a muffled cry of pain – Zane must have slammed his fingers in it – and then the sound of the car starting up. There were a couple of minor thumps and bumps, and then it sped away, the sound fading into the distance. For anyone else, it would have been a disastrous exit, but for Zane it was normal. His problem was that he was continually zoning out, thinking about psychic powers and whatever else it was that filled his head.

I drew my feet up onto the sofa and curled into the arm, resting my head on the battered cushion. Zane had left the TV on, and I flicked through the channels until I found the news again, wanting to know more about what Lance was up to. The current story was something about a huge bird-like Pokémon that had been photographed flying over the S.S. Aqua, and they had Professors Oak and Elm to talk about it. Oak thought it was a Pelaron, a colossal creature long since thought to be extinct and whose bones had been found at the Whirl Islands to the south. Elm, however, was of the opinion that it was a Pokémon from the old Johto myths, Lugia, the existence of which had never been confirmed.

Vaguely annoyed, I turned off the TV. I wanted helpful information, not a couple of old men arguing about birds. I closed my eyes for a moment, and the next thing I knew Zane was gently poking my shoulder, looking worried.

“Oh, great!” he cried, relieved. “I thought you might be dead.”

“Why would you think that?” I sat up and rubbed my eyes, wondering how long I’d been asleep.

“I don’t know anything about kids, do I? You might die any time.”

“You’re being stupid again,” I warned him. “What time is it?”

“Half-five. The battle took longer than I thought – he had a Drowzee and we kept putting each other’s Pokémon to sleep.”

“Did you win?”

“Yeah. He’s coming back next week to try again.”

“Was he any good?”

“No. He won’t beat me without rethinking his strategy.”

Zane dropped his bag and let himself fall backwards onto the sofa next to me. He put his arms around me and gave me another hug; I guess he’d really missed me the last three years.

“It’s great to see you again,” he said. “Why don’t you ever visit?”

“I can’t,” I replied simply. “It’s complicated.”

Zane nodded, as if he understood, and let me rest my head on his shoulder.

“Tired?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Want to go to bed? There’re plenty of spare rooms.”

“I think I will.” I got up slowly, shoulder starting to burn. “Goodnight, Zane.”

“’Night, Nicky.” Zane pecked me on the cheek, in a gesture that reminded me of my dad, and watched me go.

I wandered upstairs, moving slowly and rubbing my shoulder gently. It hurt, but I didn’t want to burst the stitches. Idly, I thought it was sometimes a good thing that Zane was so clumsy; if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t need such a well-stocked first-aid kit.

On my way, I stopped to look in on Silver; he was still fast asleep, curled slightly as if to defend himself from the troubles of the world. The silver locket had fallen out of his shirt again, and, unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I picked it up and flicked it open.

Inside was a picture of a girl a year or two older than Silver, with long brown hair and eyes full of laughter. She was much, much prettier than me, so much so that I almost felt a pang of jealousy. I guessed that this was Blue, whom he had loved so much, and who had died and left him alone; that moment must have been when he’d changed his quest, no longer interested in seeking out Blue’s parents, in finding a place to live; that must have been when he decided that he had to find and stop the Rockets – that was the only meaning he could find in the remnants of his life. I knew exactly what it must have been like; I too had felt the emptiness after all the people vanish from your life, and had had to find a new reason to carry on. I’d chosen penance; he had chosen vengeance.

I closed the locket and put it down, more tired than ever. I left Silver to his sleep, and went off to get some of my own.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #13    
Old December 28th, 2010 (01:03 PM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Chapter Fifteen: Interlude

Gold sat on the back of a Piloswine, one of the few creatures capable of navigating the snow-crippled motorway. The beast belonged to one of the Trainers from the Mahogany Gym – Kirsten, he thought her name was; she was in front of him, on another one. She was an old-fashioned kind of Trainer; she’d acquired her first Pokémon, a Smoochum, at the age of ten, and in the seven years since then had matured into a five-Badge-holding Trainer. If Pryce had been around, Gold would have had slightly more powerful transport, but no one knew where the old man had disappeared off to: he was after Monique in particular, but no one had been able to work out where she and Silver had gone – neither of them had seemed in good enough health to chase the Rockets to Goldenrod.

At the thought of those two, Gold’s blood began to boil, and he dug his nails into the palms of his hands, teeth pressed tightly together. It didn’t make any sense; no one disliked him, no one hated him – and yet Silver kept coming after him, kept trying to stop him. Everyone loved Gold; he was a good guy. But Silver would never let up, would never, ever let him be.

Even more troublesome was Monique. The girl had saved his life and now she had joined Silver; the contradictions made his head hurt. The only explanation Gold could think of was that Silver had somehow got to her, had infected her mind with his insanity. He would have to find a way to cure her – and if he couldn’t do that, he would have to kill her, like he would Silver. People who didn’t like Gold were wrong, stupid, crazy; they couldn’t be allowed to live.

“You OK?” called back Kirsten, a blur in the snow. Gold blinked behind his goggles and uncurled his fists, trailing blood from his fingertips.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“We’ll stop in an hour or so,” she said. “The light’s fading and with this snow, the wild Pokémon will be desperate for food.”

Gold nodded. He’d had a close encounter with an Electabuzz on the way to Mahogany; the simian monster had stalked him through the frozen woods by the side of the road for days. Even weak from hunger, it had almost killed him through sheer perseverance, and he’d only escaped by smashing its head in with a stone.

The Piloswines powered on stolidly, ploughing through the snow like a pair of placid bulldozers. Ordinarily, no Trainer would take the road to another town – you wouldn’t find any Pokémon there to battle or catch – but today they were travelling via the long-closed roads. Piloswine were slow even in clear weather, and in order to make Ecruteak before the end of the week it was necessary to take the motorway.

The light was dull and grey through the sheets of falling snow, and it wasn’t long before it began to fade, the little colour that remained in the sky quickly leaking away. Kirsten directed the Piloswine off the road, and they burst through the railings with a shriek of tortured metal, walking on as if there were no obstacles in our way.

“I forgot about them,” Kirsten admitted, and Gold grinned.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

She smiled nervously and pointed to a nearby stand of trees; the Piloswine trundled over there and they dismounted.

“Clear the area,” she ordered, and the two Piloswine started to circle, shovelling the snow aside. While they were engrossed in this task, Gold took a small, jagged-edged stone from his bag and set it on the floor.

“Explotaro!” he cried, releasing the Quilava, and it blasted the stone with a jet of fire. Immediately, the rock began to burn brightly, glowing and blazing with tongues of yellow flame.

“A Fire Stone?” asked Kirsten curiously, as the stone started sending pulses of warm air out, creating a ring of warm air around their campsite. “Where did you get one of those?”

“I bought it at the Pokéathlon Dome,” Gold admitted. “It’s been pretty useful in this weather.”

“I’ll bet.” Kirsten looked up at the snow that was no longer falling on them, evaporating on the waves of hot air sent out by the Stone. “I’ll get some wood, to get a fire going.”

“Good idea. The Stone will be stronger with a fire on it.”

A few minutes later, a blazing fire roared in the centre of the clearing, and the Piloswine were growing anxious, snuffling and snorting at this unexpected threat.

“Calm down, stupid,” Kirsten told them, but they just growled and swung their tusks at her; unnerved, she returned them. “I thought they could take a fire.”

“Maybe not a Fire Stone fire,” Gold suggested.

“Maybe.”

Gold sat cross-legged by the fire and smiled contentedly, dry and warm at last after the tribulations of the day. The snow fell all around, but he was here in the bubble of protection offered by the Stone, with another admiring person by his side. This was how it was meant to be: he was made for people to adore, not despise. Silver was just broken, an abomination to be destroyed at the first opportunity.

“I’m going to sleep now,” Kirsten said, extricating a sleeping bag from her rucksack. “Wake me for the next watch.”

Gold nodded; he was familiar with travelling Trainer custom. Trainers almost always travelled in pairs or trios, unless they were ridiculously strong or ridiculously stupid, and often those groupings were dictated purely by who was going in the same direction. Often they didn’t know each other, and would exchange the bare minimum of words – and usually these were the ones Kirsten had just uttered: “I’m going to sleep now, wake me for the next watch.”

He glanced around cautiously. It was hazardous enough travelling under normal conditions, but the snow had driven a lot of Pokémon to the edge of starvation, and they’d become far more aggressive in their desperation, as Gold’s encounter with the Electabuzz had proven. For now, though, the forest around them remained dark, silent and cold beyond the boundaries of the Fire Stone’s aura.

After a while, Kirsten’s breathing deepened, and the sleeping bag no longer twitched. Explotaro leaped into Gold’s lap, tiring of playing around the fire, and the Trainer’s hands found their way to the thick tufts of fur around the back of its head, where the flames came from when it ignited.

“Why do they hate us, eh, Taro?” he asked quietly. “Why can’t they see me the way everyone else does?”

The Quilava made a snuffling sound that might have been an indicator of not knowing, if you credited his species with enough brainpower to understand anything more than battle commands.

“I wonder...” Gold turned his eyes to the sky. It was quite disconcerting to see snow fall and suddenly sizzle out of existence just a few feet above your head. “Is the problem me? Am I the one who’s broken?”

Explotaro licked at its Trainer’s fingertips, begging for food. Gold pulled a squashed sandwich from his pocket and tore it up, feeding it piece by piece to the Pokémon.
“It can’t be,” he said decisively. “I’m Gold Eismann. My motives are completely pure.” Gold glanced down at Explotaro. “I haven’t forgotten it, Taro. It’s been a long journey, but... I’m almost there. I just need to make them do it for me, or show me how. Then things will be back the way they used to be and maybe, just maybe, I can get it this time.”

Gold’s Pokémon made a thin noise and scampered back over to the fire, uncomprehending. Gold sighed. Sometimes he actually envied Silver, purely because he had a companion, Sneasel, he could talk to and who would understand at least a little of what he said. Quilava weren’t really anything more than ferrets full of fire; you could train them, but they would never truly understand what you meant.

“Taro,” he murmured, and the Quilava looked up at the sound of its name. “Taro, listen to me.”

The Quilava blinked, then pulled an ember from the fire to play with.

“Listen to me.”

It patted the ember from paw to paw, mesmerised by the bright light.

“Listen to me.”

Explotaro froze and looked around sharply, surprised at the tone of its master’s voice.

“Listen to me, you ****ing weasel!”

Gold snatched at the Quilava’s hind legs and drew his hand back, raising it high into the air, then swung it down into the fire with a thump and a yowl. Forgetting its training, the Quilava ignited, burning the Trainer’s hand, but he didn’t let go; he brought it down again and again, ignoring the flames that licked at his fingers. With every blow, the fire flared brightly, Explotaro’s flames fuelling the Fire Stone’s power. Blood sizzled in the heat; Gold’s eyes shone like cut diamonds, reflecting the fire.

Then he blinked, and dropped the Pokémon with a curse and pushing his hand into the snow outside the Stone’s area of influence. He turned back to see the Quilava lying prone next to the fire, head a pulpy mess of shattered bone and blood. One of its eye sockets was shattered, and the eyeball itself was pushed partially out and covered in lines of red liquid.

“Oh, damn it,” Gold said. “I did it again.” He put two fingers to Explotaro’s neck and felt for a pulse. Finding one, he returned the Quilava to its ball; in there, it would be kept in stasis, its condition stable, until he could get it to a Pokécentre. He sighed and glared at the darkness all around. “I hate when that happens,” he said, as if it were the fault of the silent woods.

If you had been looking across the clearing from the other side, where the other Trainer lay with her back to Gold, you would have seen that Kirsten’s eyes were wide with fear, her hands tightly clenching the fabric of her sleeping bag.

---

“Oh, ****,” breathed Zane, biting down hard on a fork and looking like he regretted it.

“What is it?” I asked.

We were eating what passed for a breakfast in Zane’s house: something burned that might once have been bacon and eggs. Zane seemed to be eating an incredibly large amount of it, and I wondered how he managed to stay so rake-thin. Perhaps it was the fact that most of the food was charcoal, and I didn’t think that ash was very fattening.

“Did I have a bag in my car yesterday when I picked you up?”

“Yeah, why?” Silver was back to his usual confident self today; there was no trace of the self-doubt that had overtaken him yesterday.

“You know Professor Elm’s Pokédex project?”

“Yeah?”

“He wanted a Dunsparce, yeah, but they’re dangerous, so—”

“He got you to get one?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Zane confirmed, nodding. “And now he’s been in that bag two days...” He went pale. “He’s going to be pissed, isn’t he?”

I nodded sympathetically. “Very.”

“Oh Christ.” Zane paled. “Anyone want to come with me to get him out?”

“Not really,” I admitted. “Why didn’t you use a ball?”

“Are you kidding? It’s a Dunsparce. I wasted about thirty Ultra Balls on that guy, and threw a couple of them twice too. Most of them hit, but he was so damn angry that he kept breaking out.”

I was surprised that only ‘most’ of them had hit. As a Gym Leader, Zane was a crack shot with a ball; either the Dunsparce had been very fast or he’d had to spend a lot of time and effort evading its attacks.

“So you stuffed it in a bag?”

“Not exactly.” Zane looked kind of guilty. “I threw a lump of steak in the bag and wrapped a cloth round the spike on his tail.”

I tried to imagine Zane grappling with a savage Dunsparce, and failed.

“It’s quite rare, isn’t it? Catching a Dunsparce?”

“Yeah. Elm said this would be the third one ever.” Zane got up. “OK. Nicky, you want to see a Dunsparce?”

“Yes – but only if you’re the one holding it.”

“Deal. Come on.”

I followed him out, Silver tagging along after, picking bacon gristle from his teeth. The car was still out at the front, in the same place Zane had left it after driving back. The only noticeable difference was that the bag on the front seat had a large hole in one end. We exchanged glances.

“That’s bad,” I said. “Shouldn’t the Dunsparce still be...?”

“He should be.” Zane looked worried and pulled a Pokéball from his pocket. “Go inside. I need Morticia, and I don’t want her sensing you.”

Silver and I went back inside, and watched from the bay window in the living room. Zane looked around, slipping in the snow, and, when he saw we were safely inside, tossed the ball up in the air. It burst mid-flight and a vague dark mist escaped, hovering in a loose shape above the roof of Zane’s car.

“Firm up,” Zane said, and the ghostly fog coalesced into a broad, bright grin, rows of jagged teeth floating unsupported in midair. Above that, two red eyes suddenly appeared, and then a face slowly materialised around them, like the Cheshire Cat. I blinked, and realised the face was actually a body, with broad, blunt spikes on its back and stubby limbs. This was Morticia, my cousin’s Gengar and his most powerful Pokémon at Level 48. He only brought her out for the very strongest challengers – or for powerful threats. “Take a look inside.”

Morticia giggled telepathically, a supremely discomforting sound that echoed around and around my head, and passed through the roof of the car. A second passed, and then the vehicle began to rock back and forth, low growls and high-pitched laughter escaping through the cracks in the windows. Zane peered in through the window, and a pale blur leaped at his face; he leaped backwards, tripped over the front step and fell in through the front door.

“Zane? You all right?” Silver called anxiously.

“I’m OK!” he cried back. Silver glanced at me.

“How can he have so many accidents and never get hurt?” he asked. I shrugged.

“No idea. He’s been like that since birth – clumsy as hell, but with the luck of the gods.”

Zane stumbled back outside, into our line of sight. His bandanna had come off, and his hair was flailing wildly all over his head; it was much longer than it had looked.

“Er... Hypnosis?” he hazarded, and another giggle echoed out of the car. It was followed by a deep-throated roar, and then a sudden and unexpected silence. Zane slowly approached the car, and looked in the window a second time. “It hit?”

Two huge red eyes suddenly appeared directly in front of his, followed by a creepy grin; Zane didn’t bat an eyelid, in sharp contrast to the last time.

Morticia’s ghoulish face bobbed up and down in a nod.

Cautiously, Zane opened the door, and Morticia flowed out, losing her shape and returning to a cloud of purple-black gas. She was closely followed by a large, pale head the size of a Weedle, with two closed eyes ringed in blue and a pair of savage pincers.
Zane plucked a stick from his worn-out front garden and poked the Dunsparce between the eyes. Nothing happened, and, gingerly, he pulled the Pokémon out of the car and hefted it into his arms. In all, it was about one and a half metres long, with a bulbous head and body connected by a thin neck and ending in a slim, sinewy tail tipped with a large, drill-like sting. From its back, where the shoulders would have been had it possessed arms, sprang a set of four insectoid wings.

Morticia flowed back into her ball and Zane dragged the Dunsparce back inside, shoving the door open with one shoulder.

“Nicky! Silver! I got him!”

He sounded like a small child running to show his parents the beetle he caught, and it was with a smile that I went into the hall to see.

“Do you think you could get him in a ball now?” Silver asked. Zane shook his head and gingerly laid the sleeping Dunsparce on the carpet.

“The last time I tried that, he woke up and knocked out Wednesday.”

“Who’s Wednesday?” asked Silver.

“My Misdreavus. I didn’t know Dunsparce could learn Bite.” Zane started pulling coats off the coat-rack and dropping them carelessly on the floor. “I think they get so angry at being caught they just wake up... Gotcha!”

He had come across a cluster of chains, inexplicably hanging from one of the coat hangers along with a selection of padlocks and a ring of keys. Tugging them free, he crouched down and started binding the Dunsparce.

“Why do you have those” – Silver nodded at the chains – “in your coat-rack?”

“Don’t bother asking,” I told him. “I bet there isn’t a good reason.”

“Yeah there is!” protested Zane indignantly, looking up from locking the Dunsparce’s tail to its back. “They’re there because... I had... to... actually, why are they there?”

He looked confused, and glanced at Silver and I as if we might know.

“Told you,” I said.

Zane stood up, a firmly trussed up Dunsparce in his arms.

“OK,” he said. “You think that’s good enough?”

We agreed that it was, and Zane dumped the Dunsparce in a spare room with half a steak and a dog bowl full of water.

“When will it wake up?” I asked as we walked back to the living room, where the remnants of breakfast lay scattered over the recently-replaced coffee table. Zane shrugged.

“No idea. I don’t know how strong it is, or what its abilities are. It might be an Early Bird, or it might just be too high level for Morticia to hold for that long. Anyway,” he said, dropping back into his chair and taking a mouthful of coffee, “that was just a tangent. The important thing is what you two are doing next.”

Silver looked at me. Neither of us really had any idea what we should do today. Going to Goldenrod was probably the way forward – but the notion of going into a strange city without any plans or information about the Rockets’ location was daunting.

“We... don’t really know,” admitted Silver. Zane started trying to fit his hair back into the bandanna.

“In that case, stay here. Gold won’t get here for a few days, so you have a while to think about it. What you really need,” Zane continued, struggling with a particularly recalcitrant strand, “are showers and new sets of clothes.”

That was the best idea I’d heard in a long time; our clothes were bloody and grimy, and so were we, only we had bruises as well.

“Now that is a good idea,” Silver said, in heartfelt tones. Zane smiled and lowered his hands, only for his hair to explode outwards again, flinging his bandanna away.

“There are bathrooms somewhere,” he said vaguely. “I never go into any of them, because my room’s en suite. But you’ll find them if you look, hopefully.”

Armed with Zane’s formidably unhelpful advice, we headed upstairs in search of bathrooms, and eventually found them. The hot water was a balm to my battered body, though it stung a little on my shoulder; afterwards, I dressed again and went downstairs, where Zane had finally got his hair under a modicum of control. Silver came down a while later, cleaner than I’d ever seen him before, and I noticed that under the grime that came of living on the streets he was actually quite handsome, in a thin sort of way. Handsome enough that I could have stared at him for a while if I thought he wasn't looking, anyway.

There was no one scheduled to come to the Gym today, and the work-shy Zane had no qualms about leaving his Trainers there alone. He took us out to get new clothes, an experience I hadn’t been through since the year before and which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. Silver seemed to have fun too, taking pleasure in the novelty of it, and for one afternoon it almost seemed like we were just a normal family, without any of the problems that pressed at our heads, weighing us down like lead. I could almost imagine that I was sixteen again, before the accident, and that Silver was a friend from school rather than a vengeance-seeker, and that at any moment Mum and Dad were going to walk in through the door, laughing and smiling like they always did...

Of course, they didn’t really do that. Who walks around laughing and smiling in Mahogany? We might have been rich enough for me to have a good education – but even then, I had had to work hard and get a scholarship for that to happen, and we were never wealthy enough to truly escape the bitterness that flows through the town’s streets like poison in a Grimer’s veins. Our house had been scarred by arguments, heightened tensions exploding into anger at least four times a week.

Still, there had been some good times, like the picnic the day they died, and it was times like those that I focused on, weeding out the bad memories and carefully storing the good. Days like those – that was what that afternoon reminded me of, and it was a happy, almost carefree Monique who returned to Zane’s house that evening, dressed in new black jeans and shirt, and carrying several more in bags.

We went to bed early again, after an almost edible meal, and, exhausted by my day in the life of a normal girl, I was asleep almost before my head touched the pillow.
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  #14    
Old December 28th, 2010 (07:21 PM).
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Hoookay. So I've only read up to the end of chapter three, and I'm afraid that this story is suffering the same fate as a lot of other ones: it's a good story, yes, but nobody seems to be reading it. I don't know the cure for this (if I did, I'd use it on my own fic... /kicks Wings Have We jokingly), but I think part of the problem is your title. It's just one of those generic titles we've all seen a million times before, by newbie authors who either can't or won't think up better names for their stories. Yes, even I thought that before clicking the link for lack of anything else to do on a Tuesday night. You may not want to change the fic's title now (I believe that changing titles on this forum involves writing to an admin or mod), and I can't say I remember the name of your other fic, but it's something to consider.

That said, I do like the idea of having the main character be one of those generic Trainers we see in Gyms and the like (I've done it myself, but in a much more discreet manner), and I think your take on things is interesting to read after the stuff we see from Gold's side of things. I'll need to get reading the rest, I just felt I should say this now~
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Old December 29th, 2010 (04:20 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
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Quote originally posted by Giratina ♀:
Hoookay. So I've only read up to the end of chapter three, and I'm afraid that this story is suffering the same fate as a lot of other ones: it's a good story, yes, but nobody seems to be reading it. I don't know the cure for this (if I did, I'd use it on my own fic... /kicks Wings Have We jokingly), but I think part of the problem is your title. It's just one of those generic titles we've all seen a million times before, by newbie authors who either can't or won't think up better names for their stories. Yes, even I thought that before clicking the link for lack of anything else to do on a Tuesday night. You may not want to change the fic's title now (I believe that changing titles on this forum involves writing to an admin or mod), and I can't say I remember the name of your other fic, but it's something to consider.

That said, I do like the idea of having the main character be one of those generic Trainers we see in Gyms and the like (I've done it myself, but in a much more discreet manner), and I think your take on things is interesting to read after the stuff we see from Gold's side of things. I'll need to get reading the rest, I just felt I should say this now~
You're entirely right. The title is dire. I don't think I was entirely in my right mind when I thought it up, because I distinctly remember that I thought it sounded clever, and ever since I've winced whenever I've looked at it.

Sigh. Such is life; full of mistakes and paths not taken. I shall chalk it up to experience and move on.

EDIT: Actually, I remember why I thought it was clever. I think you'll work it out when you read to the end of Chapter Thirteen. It still doesn't excuse the awful title, though.
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  #16    
Old December 29th, 2010 (08:01 AM).
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Well, you can always talk to one of the admins and ask them to change it to a better one for you? :3
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  #17    
Old December 29th, 2010 (10:37 AM). Edited December 30th, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
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Quote originally posted by Giratina ♀:
Well, you can always talk to one of the admins and ask them to change it to a better one for you? :3
I could, I could. Anyway, a short chapter:

Chapter Sixteen: Eulogy

Lance sat cross-legged on the floor of his office, eyes closed and back to the door. He didn’t feel much like working now, even though he still had the Rockets to chase after, and the next Championship Tournament was scheduled for next month. The reason: Aoki, his Aerodactyl, had been pronounced dead earlier that morning at the Pokémon Centre on Silver Street in Mahogany.

The Dragon Master sighed. It had been a noble death, in the pursuit of wrongdoers so that justice might be administered – but that did not make it hurt any less. Aoki had been with him for six long years, and would have outlived him by fifty more. All that they had, and all that they would have made together – gone in an instant, cut off by five tons of brick and mortar.

Lance could not even really blame Monique. She had been trying to escape with her life, and he would have done the same in her situation, using Aoki’s prodigious size and speed to her advantage. If she had not been an accomplice of Silver’s, he thought bitterly, she might have made an excellent Trainer; it had not surprised him to learn she was a part-time employee at Pryce’s Ice Gym.

But still, because of her, Aoki was...

He remembered when he had first obtained Aoki, during his quest to catch and tame a Gyarados. He had been diving near the Sevii Islands, hunting for the seagoing variant of the species, when he’d come across that yellow rock, gleaming through the sediment of the seafloor. Like any Trainer who came across amber, he’d grabbed it immediately and checked to see if it had an insect fossilised in the centre; it did, and he’d taken it to the scientists in Pewter to check if it contained any DNA. Hundreds of prehistoric Pokémon had been resurrected in this manner, but his Aoki was the first Aerodactyl to be cloned. Lance remembered the tiny hatchling that had emerged from the incubator, all bones and wide, curious eyes like a baby bird. He did not often let his emotions get the better of him, but they plucked at his heart-strings that day with the aptitude of a jazz bassist. Within a day, Aoki had learned her name and seemed to think Lance was her mother; it took him only a week to teach her the three elemental Fang moves and Supersonic. In a single month, she had mastered flight and earned a permanent place on Lance’s team, as the fastest Pokémon ever recorded.

But now, Aoki was...

There had been one incident, four years ago, when Lance had been up at Mount Silver, looking for Larvitar in the hope of raising a Tyranitar. The babies always kept close to their mothers until they reached the pupal stage, during which they were more or less uncatchable. He had found one near the peak, apparently unattended, and had just thrown a ball at it when the mother had turned up, twenty feet of muscled granite and rage that did not appreciate Lance’s attempts to steal her young. Lance would probably have become meat for the baby had Aoki not swooped out of nowhere and snapped a Thunder Fang into the back of the Tyranitar’s head, acting without orders and distracting the dinosaur long enough for Lance to make his escape. The Tyranitar had swatted her out of the sky easily with one paw, and Lance had never forgotten the pained screech she had emitted as her ribs caved in. It had taken three long months for her to fully recover, and Lance had hated himself for the rest of the year, furious that he could have allowed Aoki to risk death purely for his sake.

But now, loyal to the end, Aoki was...

They never kept the DNA data from each prehistoric Pokémon; the cloning practice was strictly controlled, to minimise the environmental impact of reviving monsters long extinct. Thus, even if he wanted to, Lance could never obtain another Aerodactyl like Aoki; her DNA was long gone, and her body had returned to stone at the moment of death, her flesh and blood petrified in an instant. Even if her genetic material could somehow be recovered, who could say if the new Pokémon would have the same personality as Aoki, have her trusting, loving nature?

Lance got slowly to his feet and left, leaving the pile of Tournament-related paperwork untouched on the desk. His footsteps echoed in the empty corridors; the League building was huge, with few workers to fill it. A few minutes later, he emerged into the bright sunlight of the Plateau, deep in the mountainous land on the borders of Kanto and Johto. High above him, a flock of Farfetch’d blared like geese as they flew east in a ‘V’; he glanced up, shading his eyes against the light, and watched them go.

“Aoki,” murmured the Dragon Master with a sigh. Then he sent out his newly-healed Charizard and took flight, heading west towards Mahogany.
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  #18    
Old December 30th, 2010 (11:27 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
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Chapter Seventeen: Mediaeval Methods

“What’s wrong?” Gold asked Kirsten, as they progressed steadily down the abandoned motorway.

“Nothing.” Her answer came too soon, and Gold detected a hint of fear in her voice. What, he wondered, could have caused that? Perhaps it was a private matter, something she didn’t want to share. That was fine. Gold might not balk at murder, but he wasn’t a snoop; there was no need for him to know everything about a person.

“OK. It’s just... you’re kind of quiet today.”

Kirsten didn’t answer, just kept riding on ahead. For about an hour and a half, the only sound was the wind, blowing more gently now that they were away from Mahogany. But within Gold’s head, thoughts were whirling and turning, full of suspicions. He’d thought she was asleep, but... could it be that Kirsten had witnessed everything that had happened last night?

“Is it something to do with me?” he asked her as innocently as possible.

“No,” replied Kirsten, again too quickly. Gold’s eyes narrowed behind his goggles. Now he was certain that it was about him.

“You saw, didn’t you? Or heard?”

Kirsten’s hands were trembling, Gold noted; the air was clearing, the snowfall thinner, and he could see them clearly.

“Tracey, run away! Sinbad, go!”

Gold’s Piloswine suddenly swerved off to the left, running at full pelt away from Kirsten’s, which began to rush at the same pace down the road towards Ecruteak. Without thinking, Gold flung himself from the monster’s hairy back and hit the road hard, rolling in the snow and struggling back to his feet. He looked in the direction Kirsten had taken, and hurled a Pokéball after her; it hit the ground and exploded into a tall, dark shape with long arms and wide-tipped splayed fingers.

“Corinth! Kill that Piloswine!”

The Sudowoodo’s eyes glittered and it raced forwards, catching up with the fleeing Piloswine in a matter of seconds. It drew one arm back and brought it crashing into the Ice-type’s side, a swingeing Brick Break that bowled it over and sent Kirsten sliding across the snowy tarmac.

“Finish it!” howled Gold, and Corinth sliced its other hand through the air above the fallen Piloswine, leaving a trail of floating pebbles behind it that quickly grew into boulders, crashing down onto the other Pokémon and splattering parts of it over the road. From beneath the Rock Slide came an anguished moan, and then there was silence.

Gold walked slowly up the road, pacing towards Kirsten, who was scrabbling at the floor, trying to get up. Corinth placed one heavy foot on her neck, and she froze; the Sudowoodo turned to Gold for further orders.

“Get her up,” he ordered, in a low voice. The Sudowoodo gave a gravelly cough and grabbed her by the shoulders, hauling her to her feet. It ran its two antennae over her face, feeling the textures of it; for a monster that spent most of its time deceiving the eyes of others, it had very poor eyesight.

Gold slipped an arm into Kirsten’s bag, and drew out four Pokéballs; he tossed them away, off the side of the road. Then, he leaned in close to her face, and watched her eyes; they were fixed on his, wide and full of terror. Her mouth was slightly open, and her breath was coming rapidly, the warm air hitting his face twice a second.

“You’re frightened of me,” he said. “Aren’t you?”

“Y-yes,” replied the older Trainer, shaking in Corinth’s grip. Gold nodded slowly.

“I can’t have that,” he said simply. “You don’t like me now, and I can’t have that. People like me; I’m a good guy, I have pure motives. But some people don’t get it.” He tilted his head to one side, ear almost touching his shoulder. “You don’t get it, do you?”

Kirsten seemed unsure of what to say, so Gold took out his knife and plunged it swiftly into her right eye to hurry her along. She screamed unpleasantly loudly, and Gold winced at the sound. Soon, her cry died down to a strange, ululating whimper, and he recognised this as the moment when it was usually time to start talking again.

“It’s best when you talk to me,” he said, taking a step back. “Still, this will be fun. I haven’t had anyone to play with for a long time. Corinth, follow.”

It nodded bleary eyes and put an arm around Kirsten’s neck, then started walking forwards. Its captive stumbled before it, following Gold to the side of the road, where it used its free arm to rip a section of the railing away so it could pass. When they were a little way into the woods, Gold stopped and turned to Kirsten, who now hung limply in Corinth’s arms, motionless.

“You’re not dead,” Gold said. “I know you aren’t, because I only stuck the knife in up to the first mark.” He had marked various points on his knife some time ago, in order to more easily maim instead of kill. “Get up.”

Kirsten did, shuffling around on her feet, eager to do anything that might let her escape with her life. Gold plucked the knife from her eye, being careful not to take the whole ball with it – he didn’t want her bleeding to death. She gave a small cry as he did so.

“Well, there isn’t any information I need from you,” Gold said pensively, regarding her ruined eye with some satisfaction, “so I think I’ll gag you, if that’s OK. I don’t want you to spoil things by screaming again.”

He felt around in his bag and came up with a rolled strip of thick cloth about two metres long; he fed this into Kirsten’s mouth, forcing it in until there was no more left and her cheeks bulged. He then sealed her mouth with tape.

“In the movies,” Gold remarked, “they just use the tape. But that way, you can still make enough noise to be annoying, and you can get it off by opening your mouth. That’s a tip for you, in case you ever need it.” He grinned. “Corinth, hold her against that tree.”

The tree in question was an ancient oak, about four metres in diameter, that rose up above them to dizzying heights. Corinth, having done this before, knew exactly what Gold wanted, and grabbed each of Kirsten’s wrists and pinned them to the bark. Gold took out a couple of iron spikes from his back, and a large rock from the ground; he then used the rock to hammer a spike into each of her wrists, fixing them to the tree. Her remaining eye bulged, and a faint whisper escaped her mouth.

“It does hurt,” admitted Gold. “But what are you going to do? I don’t have any rope on me, so I can’t tie you there. These nails take up less space.”

He picked up the knife again, and weighed it in his hand, as if testing its weight for throwing. He glanced up at Kirsten, and dimly, through the blood and pain and the blinding dark agony in the right side of her head, saw his eyes shine like diamonds through his goggles, burning with a cold fire that chilled her to the core.

“I don’t have much to work with,” Gold said softly, “but I promise I’ll play with you as best I can.”

As the knife came down, Kirsten could almost see sympathy in his face, blotting out the dark fire in his eyes—

—and then there was just pain, and a long, silent scream that ripped up her throat like the knife did her face.

---

I bit into a biscuit (thankfully not home-made), savouring it; I hadn’t had one for a long time, since Pryce had last tried to give up chocolate digestives and had given them away to everyone in a desperate attempt to remove the object of his desire.

“We need to think about Goldenrod,” I said through a mouthful of crumbs. Silver nodded.

“Definitely,” he replied. “Gold will be here in a day or two, and he’s going to be coming straight here.”

“We can go through the National Park to get there,” I suggested. “Since the roads are open, we won’t be able to go directly south unless we hitchhike – which is too risky.”

“Yeah, but what do we do when we get there?” asked Silver.

“I don’t know. You said the Rockets had taken over the gambling scene. Where would you find the casinos in Goldenrod?”

“Hacieran District,” he replied without hesitation. “But that’s only about a twentieth of the city – and it’s the capital, Monique, it’s huge.”

I didn’t really know how big Goldenrod was, and I wouldn’t until I went there. It was easily the largest city in the country; in fact, I think it was one of the biggest in the world, larger than Jubilife, Lilycove and Saffron by far, even rivalling Tokyo in size.

“But surely the whole district can’t just be casinos? There must be a way to track down the right places.”

“You’ve never been to Goldenrod, have you?” Silver’s mouth jerked into a crooked smile and he took a gulp of tea.

“No.”

“Then you don’t know that each district is basically a different city, only dedicated to one thing. Hacieran for gambling, drugs and general sleaze; Dantalion for young people and especially nightclubs; Tochinza for offices and business – it’s completely different from other cities.” Silver leaned forwards. “We’re just two people; we don’t have the resources to track them through the whole district.”

“What are we going to do, then?” I cried, frustrated. Silver sighed and sat back, throwing up his free hand.

“No idea. We could ask Zane when he gets back.”

He was out at the Gym, and had been all day, making up for yesterday.

“You might as well ask him why he has chains in his coat-rack, for all the sense you’ll get out of him.” Silver looked put out.

“Damn. Now you remind me, I can’t stop wondering why they were there.”

“You’ll get used to it. Think, Silver! We need to figure out how to find the Rockets!”

“We could just hang out near the Radio Tower until they break in to broadcast their signal,” Silver suggested.

“That’s... actually not a bad idea,” I said, surprised that we’d come up with something. “But how do we know when they’re doing it?”

Silver shrugged. “We don’t. Nothing we can do about that except hope we get there first.”

I sighed, and swallowed the last of the biscuit.

“I guess you’re right.” I looked around at our comfortable surroundings, and sighed a second time. “We should leave soon.”

“Tomorrow morning,” decided Silver. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Or tonight?”

“If you want,” Silver said. “I thought you might want to stay one night more. And night is when the Pinsir come out.”

“Good point. We’ll go tomorrow.” Pinsir were dangerous; despite being wild, and therefore mostly ignorant of how to use moves, they had a knack for slicing you in half and beating you to a pulp, often simultaneously. Fists of steel combined with spike-studded pincers and a raging temper would bring out the worst of anyone – but Pinsir were something else.

At that moment, the phone rang once, then stopped, then rang again – the prearranged signal that it was Zane calling, and that it was therefore safe to answer.

“Zane?”

“Nicky!” His voice was tight and anxious. “Be outside in five minutes.”

“Why? What’s happened?” Hearing my alarm, Silver looked up sharply.

“The Trainer who was taking Gold here just turned up – and she’s in the hospital.”

“What? Someone from the Mahogany Gym?”

“That’s why I called you; I thought you might know her.”

There was only one female Trainer who worked at Pryce’s Gym besides me: the kind girl who had lent her car to help rescue Gold, Kirsten Holt.

“Kirsten? What did he to her?”

“Nicky—”

What did he do to her?”

Why was I so angry? I don’t remember ever feeling such rage; it was as if someone had turned on a tap and let it all burst out at once. Maybe it was the fact that I knew Kirsten, maybe it was the fact that I now let myself care about what happened to people – or maybe it was the fact that Kirsten had given more than anyone else to help rescue Gold from the snow, and now the heartless psychopath had attacked her. I couldn’t quite believe anyone capable of that.

“Come to the hospital with me and you’ll find out,” replied Zane grimly. “I’m coming down the street now – Christ!”

I heard a distant crash, dropped the phone and ran outside, where the long black car was spinning wildly down the road, a dent in the bonnet and a half-toppled telephone pole behind it. Somehow, Zane drew the car up to a perfect halt at the end of the drive, and I flung myself onto the passenger seat without a second thought. Before I’d even closed the door, Zane had spun the car around and started us flying back up the road again, leaving Silver standing, very confused, in the doorway.

“What happened?” I demanded.

“Her Piloswine turned up about an hour ago,” he told me, eyes fixed on the road for once, “starving and weak; it had been out there since yesterday morning, obeying a ‘run away’ command. They called me, we followed it out there and found the rest of her Pokémon in their balls in the snow.” He paused. “And most of another Piloswine.”

“Most of?”

“Rock Slide. It never stood a chance.”

“Was Kirsten there?”

“No, but it wasn’t hard to find her. We followed the trail of blood.”

The car tore into the hospital car park at breakneck speed, and swung to a halt with screaming tyres, burning black streaks onto the asphalt. I burst out, closely followed by Zane, and he directed me through a blur of grey-white hospital corridors. It seemed only seconds until we stopped outside one white door in a hall of identical others, halted by a thin doctor with a jagged profile like a bolt of lightning.

“Who are you?” he asked, infuriatingly slowly.

“Mortimer Faust,” replied Zane, snapping into semi-professional mode, “and a friend of her in there.” He nodded to the wire-reinforced glass of the door. “Let us in, she’s worried.”

“She isn’t in any condition to talk,” the doctor warned me, “and I’ll have to ask you not to touch her—”

“Fine,” I snapped, “now let me in.”

He stood aside and I pushed the door open so hard it banged against the wall as I stormed in. Then I stopped dead, the wind knocked out of my sails by the figure on the bed before me.

If Zane hadn’t told me it was her, I’d never have known it was Kirsten; the shape lying in front of me barely seemed human. Wires and tubes ran into her prone form at irregular intervals; bandages and dressings covered her so completely that she seemed like a white patchwork doll. A nurse stood by her, injecting something into an IV, and she glanced up as I entered.

“Multiple stab wounds to the chest,” a soft voice started behind me. “Several lacerations to the face; missing one eye, nine teeth, four fingers and five toes; notches cut into the ears; hair and much of the skin of the scalp removed; multiple fractures to both arms; both legs broken; four broken ribs; cracked skull; partially skinned; both nipples removed; parts removed from the nose, tongue and...”

I listened mutely, unable to take my eyes away from what had once been Kirsten Holt. Dimly, I became aware of a change in the doctor’s words; no longer a list of her wounds, now a catalogue of what could be expected of her. She would be able to walk again, eventually, but not talk; she would need help and care for the rest of her life; she was going to need therapy from a Psychic-type to fully recover her mind from the shock...

Then I couldn’t hear even that, could only see: see the gentle rise and fall of Kirsten’s mutilated chest, the light glowing on the face of the respirator, the ruined, broken profile of her face. It was as if I was slowly shutting down, one sense, one thought at a time, until there was nothing left but shock and terror that all of this could happen to one person, that anyone could bear to inflict this on anyone else...

I felt Zane’s hand on my arm, and I leaned into his chest instinctively, letting him hug me without taking my eyes from the ragged body on the bed.

“Nicky,” he whispered, “Nicky, you don’t have to look—”

“Yes, I do,” I said, voice suddenly hard and cold as steel. I whirled to face him, ripping out of his arms. “How can he do this? How can anyone do this?”

“Nicky—”

“I’m going to ****ing kill him!” I shouted. “I’m—”

“Excuse me!” the nurse hissed, coming towards us. “What do you think you’re doing, making that kind of noise in here—?”

“Ah – er – sorry!” Zane cried, as quietly as he could. “She’s very upset—”

“Don’t talk for me!”

Abruptly, I found myself being pushed out of the room; in about half a second, I was at the end of the corridor and I wasn’t sure how I’d got there.

“Please, Nicky,” said Zane in my ear, “just... calm down a moment. Please.”

All at once, I had; it was as if Zane really did have psychic powers, and had just beamed a shot of tranquillity into my brain. The anger retracted into a black ball in the middle of my head and sat there, occasionally flaring a little but mostly background noise, furious static on the borders of my mind.

“Wh- what was that?” I gasped.

“Hope you believe me now. About the psionic powers.”

I looked at Zane, and saw that his violet irises were glowing faintly; as I watched, the light receded and an exhausted expression wandered slowly onto his face.

“I...”

I didn’t know what to say. It was all too much; first Kirsten and now psychic abilities. I just stared. Zane put an arm around me and began to lead me away from the room, back through the corridors to the exit.

“It’s how I was able to start raising Ghosts so young,” he said as we walked. “They can’t get me, you see. I’m like them.” He was silent for a while longer, then blinked slowly and began again, no longer avoiding the subject. “Nicky, I know you’re angry. I would be. If I were you, I’d go and do to Gold what he did to Kirsten.” Zane sighed. “But you can’t. Sure, when you next see him beat him up – but you can’t kill him, can’t disfigure him. That would make you just the same as him, see? So, if you want vengeance, the best way is to show the world what Gold really is, show everyone that he’s a bad guy, not a hero. We can’t rely on Kirsten to speak up about him, because she’ll be terrified, and can’t write or talk anymore – and we can’t use a Psychic-type to read her mind without her consent, which she’s in no condition to give. So the only way is for you to make him lose his temper in front of me, when I take him to Goldenrod.”

“Then you can arrest him,” I said, seeing the light.

“More than that. I saw Kirsten in the woods, before the bandages and the doctors, Nicky. I saw her crucified. I’m willing to bend the rules a little when we get him, OK?”

I didn’t ask what he meant; I didn’t want to. I preferred to let my imagination fill in that particular blank.

“Come on,” Zane said, glancing around for the car, which was parked at an odd angle in the centre of the car park. “No reason for you to stay here. Let’s go, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I replied quietly. Whether it was Zane’s mental powers or plain shock, I was quiet for the rest of the ride home, even when we almost hit a traffic light. I don’t remember what I thought about, if I had any thoughts: it all seemed somewhat irrelevant and distant. The black ball of anger was quiescent, numbed by whatever it was that had touched the rest of my mind – or at least it was, until we got back to Zane’s house and found a flood of water pouring out of the space where the door once was.

Notes: Wow. Gold is nastier than Lance. By a long way.
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  #19    
Old January 1st, 2011 (01:35 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
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Age: 21
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Chapter Eighteen: Goodbye, Zane Escher

I was pretty surprised when Monique took off like that, and worried, too – she seemed terrified, or at least shocked. I would have gone after her, but Zane didn’t stop and just drove away, narrowly missing the same telephone pole he’d knocked askew on the way here.

Confused and anxious, I closed the door and went back inside, hoping no one had seen and recognised me. I put the phone back on the hook and sat down on the sofa to wait, since I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

What was so alarming that Monique had had to rush off like that? I tried to think back to what I’d heard her say on the phone. Something about someone called Kirsten, I thought – wasn’t that someone she worked with at Pryce’s Gym? Maybe something bad happened to her – but I didn’t think Monique really knew her that well. Then again, what the hell did I know about Monique’s friends or anything? She’d said ‘What did he do to her?’... something must have happened to this Kirsten, and Monique had had to go and see her.

I heard the haunting, wind-chime cry of a Gastly, reproduced in a high-pitched monotone. For a moment, I was confused – then I worked out that that was Zane’s doorbell.

Warily, I got up and crept towards the bay window, crouched so that no one outside could see me. I released Mercury from his ball, and he leaped lightly onto the windowsill, lying low on all fours and concealed in the drape of the curtain. He glanced back at me with dismay, and I read all I needed in his sharp little face.

Gold was here.

The bell rang again, and I heard footsteps outside as he came to look in the window. Hurriedly, Mercury jumped down and flattened himself against the wall below. I joined him, and held my breath as the other Trainer tapped the glass. I couldn’t afford to be discovered – if it came to a battle, I had about a fifty per cent chance of beating him. That wasn’t good enough, because I needed to keep Zane out of this. Monique and I needed an ally, and if the authorities found out he was helping us we’d lose that pretty fast.

The footsteps receded, and I stood up cautiously – to see Gold standing at the end of the drive, looking right back at me.

It was hard to say which of us was more surprised, but I recovered first, running into the hall with Mercury. This was going to come to a fight, and I didn’t want to ruin Zane’s living room.

“Get ready,” I hissed, and the Sneasel leaped onto my arm, like a falcon, ready to spring forwards. As soon as Gold came through that door, we would attack...
Suddenly, the door exploded, bursting off its hinges in a cloud of splinters and sawdust. I recoiled sharply – who knew he’d blast it to pieces like that? – and almost fell over. Through the dust lunged a huge, dark shape, which brought one massive arm down—
—and completely missed me, slamming into the floor a foot to my left. I blinked, and saw a Sudowoodo peering through the dust like an old man that had lost his glasses.

“Mercury!”

He leaped from nowhere, skimming past the tree monster’s head and Brick Breaking it firmly on the temple. Dazed, it staggered back and almost fell onto Gold, who was just walking in. The whole thing messed up his dramatic entrance pretty badly.

“Again,” I said, and once more Mercury appeared, struck the Sudowoodo in midair and vanished. “Keep it – get back!”

Boulders crashed down in the space between Gold and I, and Mercury leaped back to my arm. The Sudowoodo glared at us with piggy eyes, lobed fingers hovering over the debris.

“Silver,” said Gold, putting a hand on his Pokémon’s arm. “What are you doing here?”

“Why would I tell you that?” While we spoke, we were both scrutinising each other minutely, alert for any weaknesses or openings that would let us get in a decisive attack.

“Well, you’ve broken into a Gym Leader’s house,” Gold said. “Morty wouldn’t have left the door unlocked.”

I disagreed. From what I’d seen of him, Zane would have not only left the door unlocked but all his valuables on the hall rug if he’d been in a hurry.

“Now why would you do that?” Gold pondered. “I suppose I’ll have to find out, won’t I? We—”

“Now,” I hissed, and a black blur raced across the room, scoring a bloody line across the Sudowoodo’s face. Ordinarily, Slash wouldn’t have done anything – but even Rock-types have eyes. The monster wailed and clutched at its face with one hand, swinging its free arm wildly around and destroying the coat rack.

“Stay calm!” Gold ordered, and the Sudowoodo froze, its training kicking in. “To your right!”

With unexpected accuracy, the great greenish hand shot out and struck Mercury in the chest; he flew backwards and smashed into the wall. I didn’t stop to look – if I took my eyes off Gold, he’d be past his Pokémon with the knife – and hurled down another ball without checking what it was. Magyar appeared, blinking and staring around wildly.

“Hydro Pump!” I shouted, crossing my fingers. I hadn’t finished teaching him the move yet, but there was always a chance...

The Croconaw drew back its head and launched a thin, wavering jet of water at the Sudowoodo’s bleeding face. More Water Gun than Hydro Pump, it did its job, ripping chunks of rock from the bloody sockets. The rock tree gave another screech and lashed out again, this time hitting Magyar. Unlike the coat rack, Magyar didn’t break: he took the hit on his thick skull without even blinking.

“Mercury! End this!”

The last Brick Break snapped one of the Sudowoodo’s spindly legs in half, sending the monster crashing to the floor amid the remnants of its own Rock Slide. Ragged bone spikes jutted from the wound, and blood pooled amongst the boulders.

Blue and red lights flashed simultaneously, and as the Sudowoodo returned to the Pokéball a Togetic and Aipom appeared from theirs.

“Two on one isn’t fair,” Gold said. “This is much better.”

I shrugged. “Whatever. Magyar, Surf.”

Mercury appeared back on my arm as the Croconaw swung its heavy tail into the ground. I took a few steps back as the floorboards shattered, water spewing upwards from some unknown source. It rose up for a moment, towering above the Croconaw – and crashed down before it, knocking Gold’s Pokémon off their feet.

Before they could get back up, Mercury sprang forwards again, fist extended, and Ice Punched the Togetic between its savage yellow eyes; its head snapped back and a long string of blood flew from its mouth, freezing into red crystals in the air. Mogyar lunged for the Aipom, but the monkey was too fast and leaped for the light, swinging with its tail and leaping for my face.

It hit me like a purple furry bullet; small claws dug into my cheeks, and I felt blood trickling down my face. All I could see were its two huge eyes, staring into mine, and the crazed grin beneath them. Panicking, I reached for it, trying to rip it away – but its tail suddenly looped around my throat and tightened. My fingers faltered on the Aipom’s back, and darted to my neck. Stars started to dance before my eyes, in the midst of a blackness that spread across my vision like a blanket—

—and then it was gone, and I was on my knees, gasping for breath, on the water-soaked floor, and Mercury’s talons were dripping red in front of me.

“Aibo?” Gold’s voice sounded odd, almost fearful. I’d never heard him like that before.
Coughing, I got to my feet and looked at the battle. Magyar and the Togetic were scuffling between Gold and I, where the rocks were, but neither of us was looking at them. We were looking at the strips of meat that had once been an Aipom, spread out across the floor in a pool of reddish paste that had once been fur and entrails. The head lay a few inches away, the spine trailing like the tail of a kite; the eyes were still blinking, and the toothy mouth twitched convulsively.

“Fury Swipes,” I remarked, as casually as I could. I desperately wanted to be sick, but I forced it away. “He’s good at that, isn’t he?”

“You...” Gold looked from the mess to me, face pale. “You...”

The blade flashed and he was at my throat before I could blink, knife edge pressed against the red weal from the Aipom’s tail. His eyes burned with the light of hell, and I knew he’d lost it. I didn’t bother reasoning with him, just snapped a punch into his diaphragm, winding him and knocking back a step. In the same movement, I span around and fled down the corridor, a plan forming in my head. There was a low bellow from behind me, and I knew the Togetic had got Magyar, but I still didn’t stop: battling with Gold was a matter of life and death, not winning or losing, and I had no desire to lose.

I counted the doors, one, two, three, trying to remember which one I was aiming for. Close behind me were Gold’s footsteps, hollow thuds against the threadbare carpet.
I stopped.

The knife hissed through the air behind me, I turned to face it—

—and sidestepped, letting Gold drive the blade into the thick wood of one of the doors.

“In you go,” I said, and drove my shoulder hard into his back. The door fell open, he tumbled forwards, and a deep-throated growl sounded from within the room. I smiled. It was the right door. “Looks like you made a friend.”

I slammed the door shut and held onto the handle, leaning backwards to stop Gold opening it again. I felt him pulling on it a couple of times, then a sharp tug as something dragged him away, scraping him across the floorboards. There was a shriek, and a startling roar like a lion’s, and then noises like sacks of flour being thrown around. I began to tremble a little, thinking about what I’d just done – about what Mercury had just done. The image of the deconstructed Aipom flashed before my eyes, and the blind, legless Sudowoodo, and what might be happening to Gold in the room with the Dunsparce. This hadn’t been a battle. In a battle, you didn’t kill other Pokémon deliberately, you didn’t directly attack other Trainers. This was just a fight, a brawl that could easily have ended with me dead on the floor, a knife in my neck.

“Fight fire with fire,” I whispered, clutching the doorknob. “****, what have I done?”
Suddenly, something slammed into the side of my head, and I felt the floor rush up to meet me. Vision blurring, I looked up from the carpet to see the Togetic crouched on my chest like a goblin, eyes burning in exactly the same way as Gold’s. It hissed, and its head whipped forwards towards my neck, beak blurring—

—only to stop dead millimetres from the bruised skin, a thin rime of ice forming over its body. It toppled gently off me, and I saw Mercury standing behind it, the glow of an Ice Punch fading from his fist.

“The door,” I whispered, becoming aware of a crippling pain in my head where the Togetic had hit me. Mercury glanced towards the door and nodded, then breathed out a steady stream of ice crystals, sealing it shut. He left bloody footprints on my shirt, and I suddenly realised what a violent loyalty it was that he possessed. He would fight for me, to the death – whether his own or that of my enemies. Even though I’d had him since before the Mask kidnapped me, I shivered. It was at times like this that Mercury scared me – that Sneasel scared me. They were a species forged in ice and dipped in blood, savage warriors that didn’t fear death. No wonder they were so rare among Trainers. Being a Trainer was dangerous enough already, as messing around with superpowered animals so often is, and no one wanted to increase the risks.

“Mercury,” I said, “stand guard for a moment, will you? I just need to – to – my head hurts...”

Then, abruptly, everything went black.

---

“Whoa,” breathed Zane, glancing around. “What happened here?”

I glanced at him askance.

“Aren’t you concerned? This is your house.”

“Yeah, but – oh, what’s that?” He pointed to a sticky red mess on the floor beyond the rug. Bounding over, he bent down to investigate, and stood up sharply. “Er – oh. On second thoughts, Nicky, don’t look too closely at it.”

I heard the faint lapping of water, and glanced up to see Mercury emerging from the corridor at the far end of the hall. Where he walked, the pools of water were stained with red; his body was splattered with blood.

“Mercury?”

The Sneasel beckoned and retreated to the corridor. Zane and I exchanged glances, a sudden paroxysm of anxiety overtaking me, and then bolted after him, kicking up plumes of bloody water behind us.

“Silver!”

He lay on his back a few doors down, prone and apparently lifeless. I covered the distance between us in five huge steps and crouched beside him, heart somehow managing to choke me.

“He’s OK,” said Zane abruptly, coming up behind me. “I can feel it. He’s just unconscious.”

I felt for a pulse, just to confirm it, and relief flooded my system, drenching me like the water that covered the floor.

“What...” My eyes roamed around, and suddenly it clicked. “Gold.” I stood up, the anger bursting free inside me again. “It was him, Zane. He did it, I know it!”

“Yeah,” agreed Zane. “But I think Silver won this fight.”

He pointed to the door next to us, which was coated with frost, sealed shut with ice.

“What?”

Zane gave a lopsided little grin.

“Where’s the Dunsparce, Nicky?”

I got it, and my eyes went wide, anger replaced with surprise as quickly as it had replaced relief.

“In... there...”

As if to underline my words, a sudden loud growl sounded from within the sealed room, and the noise of chains clinking.

“He should be mostly OK,” Zane said. “The chains should stop the Dunsparce flying or spiking him. But I left his mouth free.”

“Good,” I replied savagely. “That’ll teach him.” Suddenly, a thought struck me. “Wait. Gold must be wondering why Silver’s here...”

Zane clapped a hand to his mouth and cursed loudly.

“You’re right,” he cried. “This is bad! OK, Nicky, you and Silver need to get your stuff and get out of here quick, before Gold realises I’m helping you. Did you have some idea as to where to go from here?”

I nodded.

“Yes, but—”

“Good, now go!” Zane paused, struck by our lack of movement. “Oh yeah,” he said, the light dawning. “Silver’s unconscious, isn’t he?”

“Yeah.” I looked at him. “Can you wake him up? With your mind powers?”

Zane shook his head. “No, I can only read things... it’s really hard to interfere with people. I only managed it with you because I used to do it to you all the time when you were a kid—” He clapped his hand over his mouth again.

“What was that?” I asked, suspicion temporarily overriding anxiety.

“Nothing! Forget it, I didn’t say anything – look, don’t we have bigger problems?”

I had to admit we did.

“Come on then,” said Zane, sounding harassed. “Help me get him in the recovery position.”

“What’s that?”

Zane threw up his hands in despair. “For God’s sake, Nicky! It’s – it’s...” A faraway look fell over his face. “Actually, what is it?” he mumbled to himself. “Do you put them on their side, or...” I poked his cheek and he snapped out of it. “OK, um, let’s just get him on the sofa,” he suggested. “It’ll be better than this floor. Hopefully.”

With Zane’s help, I lugged Silver’s prone body out through the hall and into the living room; he sort of woke up halfway through and insisted on getting back up on shaky legs.
“Wh – where’s Gold?” That was the first thing he asked.

“In the room with the Dunsparce, I think,” I replied. He nodded, as if remembering, and said:

“Yeah, I remember that now... Is my head bleeding?”

It wasn’t, but it had been; scabs were crusted over the side of his head, matting his hair and sticking it to his scalp and ear. There was also a nasty-looking ring of bruises circling his neck, but I didn’t ask about them – there would be time enough later.

“You probably shouldn’t be moving around after an injury like that,” said Zane, “but you’re going to have to get out of here before Gold realises I was sheltering you.”

“Yeah... sounds right,” agreed Silver. “Can I just – can I go and get changed first? I’m all—”

“Bloody?” I suggested. Silver nodded again, winced and stopped.

“Yeah.”

The Dunsparce growled again, and Zane looked up worriedly.

“OK,” he decided. “But quickly! Nicky, help him up the stairs.”

We found Magyar, Silver’s Croconaw, near the top step, blinking and repeatedly biting the skirting-board, a spectacular bruise between his eyes. Silver recalled him and stumbled into his room.

“Tell Mercury to go wash himself,” he called out to me, and I did so with some trepidation; a Sneasel slick with blood is not a comforting sight. He seemed to take the order well, though, and obeyed soon enough.

A few minutes later, Silver re-emerged, looking marginally better. His eyes were a little more focused, and my hopes that he was back to normal proved to be pretty well founded. I helped him downstairs and found Zane frantically shovelling stuff into two backpacks in the sodden hall.

“I thought I’d help,” he said, trying to fit five Hyper Potions into one small pocket and wondering why they wouldn’t go. “But these bags are evil!”

“Let me,” I told him wearily, and did it for him, packing our new clothes as well as various things from Zane, like Potions, Full Heals and 60,000 Pokédollars. For a few minutes, there was no sound but the rustling of cloth and the clinking of bottles. Then, I straightened up and handed one pack to Silver. “Get your coat,” I said, “if it’s still in one piece.”

The contents of the coat-rack had been spread liberally over the wet hall floor, but Silver’s coat seemed to be OK, as did mine. We put them on and shouldered the packs, then sort of stopped, just looking at Zane for a moment.

“I guess... Goodbye, then,” said Zane awkwardly. “Er... come back when you’re done?”

I smiled as best I could; I didn’t want to go, and the pack was making my shoulder hurt.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Definitely. So I won’t say goodbye, because we’ll see you again soon.”

Zane nodded. “OK.” He glanced down the corridor to the frozen door. “You’d better go. I don’t think I can leave Gold in there much longer.”

“Yeah,” agreed Silver. “Monique?”

We turned and left. I made sure not to look back or say anything else, because I was certain that if I did I wouldn’t go.
__________________

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  #20    
Old January 2nd, 2011 (11:09 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Chapter Nineteen: Familiar Faces

For the first time in days, Tercier was out of his ball and riding on my shoulder again. I hadn’t meant to keep him penned up, I just hadn’t remembered to release him. He seemed slightly insulted by the amount of time I had managed to survive without his glorious presence, and so was ignoring me, glaring stonily around at Ecruteak as we walked. The Ditto, on the other hand, was happy to be free, and was gazing happily out from inside my coat, where it was nestled.

“There’ll be Pinsir in the Park, won’t there?” I said, to break the silence. We were a couple of blocks from the National Park entrance, and the thought of spending a night in the same place as the big bugs didn’t appeal to me.

Silver almost nodded, but stopped himself before he hurt his head again.

“Yeah,” he agreed instead. “There will. We’ll be OK, though.”

“How do you know? Mercury is Dark/Ice – he won’t stand a chance against Pinsir. Tercier’s Normal, which is just as bad.”

“Yeah, but I have an Ursaring that you haven’t seen yet,” Silver told me. “He knows Fire Punch.”

“Don’t Ursaring have bad defences and speed, though?” Silver shrugged.

“So do Pinsir.”

I didn’t think that was right, but he seemed so sure that I assumed I was wrong.
We walked on a little while longer in silence, and arrived at the National Park entrance at about two o’clock. It was a square, whitewashed building that served as information kiosk, Pokémon centre and basic Pokémart for the hundreds of Trainers that passed through, searching for new monsters. At 5,600 acres, it was the largest nature reserve on the continent, beating Kanto’s Safari Zone by a full 700 acres, and contained about 90 discovered species of Pokémon. Most were Bug-types, and more were discovered every month.

There were a few people huddled in one corner, talking excitedly about the possibility of finding some Vurmie; a quick glance at them told me they were bug collectors. I thought for a moment, and worked out it must be Thursday – which meant the Bug Catching Contest would be on. Hence the nerds in coke-bottle glasses carrying nets in the corner. Above their heads hovered a wasp the size of a seven-year-old, front legs armed with a pair of wicked stingers. Its red eyes gleamed with suppressed anger, and I hoped it wouldn’t take exception to our presence: when a Beedrill stings you, it impales you on those needles.

Silver looked over at them curiously as we joined the queue to see the Nurse Joy.

“What’s a Vurmie?” he asked.

“You know Weedle or Caterpie?”

“Yeah...”

“It’s like them. It’s from Germany, but some got over here a few years ago by accident on a cargo ship. They started turning up here every so often, but they’re pretty rare, so no one’s been able to find them all to kill them.”

Silver looked interested.

“Do they evolve?”

I shrugged, felt my shoulder protest and regretted it.

“Don’t know. Does it matter?”

“Not really.”

We got to the head of the queue and Silver kept his head down as he handed over his Pokémon to be healed; they had taken a few hard hits in his battle against Gold, and we’d probably need them in the Park. Luckily, the Nurse Joy didn’t seem to recognise him; she was probably tired and bored, and didn’t really care.

As we walked out, the group of bug collectors pushed past us into the Park, talking excitedly. The Beedrill glanced at us, then followed them.

The Park itself was not that exciting to look at in winter: from this entrance, you could just see acres of long, waist-high grass stretching out to the west and north, and the edges of a forest to the south, bare of all leaves. The grass was crushed down into paths by the number of people who came here, and the whole thing was coated in slushy, half-melted snow that obscured most of the fine details anyway.

“Where do we go from here?” I asked, stepping out into the winter sunlight.

“According to the map, if we follow the trails marked with green signposts we’ll get to the Goldenrod entrance,” Silver said, holding up a leaflet from the desk inside. “Look.”

I looked, and discerned a small wooden placard, half-hidden by the grass, next to the nearest trail. Bending down for a closer look, I saw it had a blue line on it.

“Not this one, then.” I straightened up. “Tercier, go find it.”

He looked affronted, then dropped to the floor with a sigh. Colour was, after all, his specialty – as an artist, he had to know its ins and outs. He loped off into the grass, and came back a moment later to point us to a path a little way to the south.

“Thanks,” I said, and set him back on my uninjured shoulder.

We walked on, not speaking much except when we needed to change paths; every so often, we would startle a Caterpie from the grass and it would wriggle away slowly, wide eyes rolling in fear. At one point, I saw a Fearow in the distance, the huge bird falling out of the sky to snatch something small and writhing from the grass; at another, I caught a glimpse of a triangular green head in the grass before it melted away like a mirage. A chill ran down my spine as I realised I’d just spotted a Scyther – one of the rarest and most dangerous of the Park’s inhabitants. Thankfully, they were more wary of humans than Pinsir; they knew that the people who came in here often brought with them other Pokémon, which might turn out to pose a threat.

Being winter, the sky began to darken at about four, and I began to glance at it uneasily.

“We need to find somewhere to stay,” I said. “Unless we want to get lost and then be eaten by Pinsir.”

“Easy,” Silver replied, and from his voice I knew he had a plan. “Follow me.”

He said it with such confidence that I did, even when we left the path and plunged into the depths of the skeletal forest to the south. We wound our way through the tangled web of snowy twigs for about an hour, until I almost began to lose faith in Silver’s sense of direction – and suddenly I saw a flicker of light in the distance: a campfire.

Tercier and I glanced at Silver in amazement.

“How did you...?”

He smiled.

“I’ve seen those bug catchers before,” he said, “on my way up here to Mahogany. They were talking about having a week-long expedition here, and took a little detour through the woods to drop off some camping supplies. I followed them to steal a few, and I got Mercury to Slash the trees when I left so I could find my way back there if I needed to.” He pointed to a neat gouge in the bark of a nearby tree.

“Is there anything you can’t do?” I asked him as we made our way towards the distant camp. Silver thought for a moment, then replied brightly:

“Probably not.”

I knew then that he’d recovered from the head injury, and from the shock of realising that Giovanni was returning: this was the Silver who’d accosted me in the street and brought me to the Lake of Rage, the confident, cheerful guy who had an idea for every situation.

There was no snow on the ground this deep into the woods: the trees formed an impenetrable barrier above, and the earth was cold but dry. Around the campfire sat three kids of about thirteen or fourteen, two boys and a girl; the Beedrill I’d seen before hovered above them like a watchful guardian angel. As we approached, the three looked up, and the Beedrill emitted a warning bzzzt.

“We come in peace,” said Silver, raising his hands in a placating gesture. “Mind if we join you? We’ve wandered a little off-track.”

The two boys looked at the girl; she was obviously in charge. She sat straight, like Tercier always did, and her chin was raised slightly as if she was balancing something on it; she was either incredibly arrogant or incredibly important. Her eyes were the blue of midnight, and her hair a weird silver-blue I’d never seen before.

“All right,” she said, after a pause. “You can sit down.”

Silver and I took seats by the fire, and Tercier scrambled down from my shoulder to warm his hands.

“I’m Silver,” said Silver, “and this is Monique.”

“Hi,” I said, vaguely nervous; I’d never been a travelling Trainer, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable meeting random people who had a Beedrill hovering over my head.

“We’re just wandering Trainers,” confided Silver, “in search of something to expand our teams with. Who are you guys?”

There was a short silence, during which the boys looked at the aristocratic girl again.

“I am Crystal, but you may call me Crys,” said the girl, as if granting a rare privilege upon us. “I collect rare Pokémon.”

Silver looked at the two boys expectantly. “You...?”

Reluctantly, one answered; he had dark brown hair and a pinched face.

“I’m Thom,” he said. “I’m a—”

“Bug collector?” asked Silver.

Thom looked confused. “How do you know that?”

Silver flicked his eyes upwards.

“The Beedrill keeps looking at you,” he said. “You’re its owner. No one apart from a Bug-type enthusiast would use a Beedrill.”

I was impressed, and Thom certainly was: he looked at Silver in a way that suggested he’d just decided that he wanted one day to become as expert a Trainer as the older guy.

“My name’s Aaron,” said the other guy. He had floppy hair, the colour of the inside of a lime, that kept getting in his eyes. He seemed kind of nervous; maybe he was as new to this as I was. Visibly plucking up courage, he asked: “Um... what is that Pokémon you have there?”

He pointed to Tercier, who, sensing that he was now the centre of attention, ceased rubbing his hands together by the fire and puffed out his chest.

“That’s Tercier,” I said, “my Smeargle. The Painter Pokémon.”

“Those are rare,” stated Crys. “Very rare in captivity.”

Tercier span around to face her with an expression of disbelief on his face: at long last, here was someone who knew his worth! He and Felicity examined each other closely, and both seemed to accept the other as a potential equal. I had to try very hard to keep from laughing; their haughty, vaguely surprised expressions matched perfectly.

“I s-see,” stammered Aaron. “Thank you. I’m from S-Sinnoh, so I don’t know much about this place...” He glanced around at the surrounding dark trees and shivered.

“What are you doing here?” asked Silver, gamely keeping the conversation going.

“I...” Aaron didn’t seem to have expected the question. “M-my dad was brought up here – it was where he got his f-first Pokémon. So he wanted me to start my journey here, too.”

“It’s a good place to do it,” Silver advised. “Very interesting region. Just be careful if you go to Mt. Mortar.”

“W-why?”

“Dunsparce,” Silver said darkly, and I suppressed another laugh; he was playing these kids expertly.

“Those are also rare,” Crys put in. “Rarer even than Smeargle.”

Tercier looked like he’d been slapped in the face, and stalked away from her haughtily to sulk in my lap.

“We met a Dunsparce, didn’t we, Silver?” I said, eager now to join Silver’s game.

“Yeah,” he nodded, and gave a shudder that might have looked involuntary. “Those jaws!”

“Don’t think about it,” I advised.

“I think that’s best,” agreed Silver.

“You’re trying to scare him,” snapped Crys. “Don’t. I have to look after these two.”

Silver looked at her, one eyebrow raised, utterly unrepentant.

“You’re sharp,” he said. “I like that. Though we did actually meet a Dunsparce.”

“You’re not looking after us,” protested Thom. “We’re going with you. There’s a difference.”

“No, I’m looking after you,” replied Crys shortly.

“What’s this?” asked Silver curiously. “Disharmony and discontent?”

“It doesn’t concern you.”

She’s Professor Elm’s daughter,” said Thom, “and she thinks she’s better than everyone else. So her dad—”

“I said it didn’t concern them!”

“—her dad sent her off with a Chikorita to work on the Pokédex project to teach her a lesson,” Thom continued blithely. “We went to get our first Pokémon from the lab at the same time, and ended up going with her. Which was a mistake.”

It had once been the norm to get your first Pokémon at ten, but few did that nowadays – Training was just too dangerous. Aside from the normal dangers of wandering the country alone at such a young age, there were the unique hazards associated with Pokémon, such as incineration, disembowelling, or mind erasure. All of these could be inflicted upon a hapless child by wild Pokémon, or even in accidents in training their own; not all Pokémon were as intelligent as Tercier or Mercury. In fact, most were more like animals than anything else.

“A mistake—?” began Crys angrily, but Silver cut across her smoothly.

“What did you two get, then? For your first Pokémon? Mine,” he said, adopting an expression of fond nostalgia, “was a Sneasel.”

“Mine was Tercier,” I added, patting his beret.

“I got a Maggyo,” Thom said, somewhat glumly. Silver looked at me, and when I looked blank, at Thom.

“What,” he inquired, “is a Maggyo?”

“It’s this really weird flat brown fish-thing,” Thom said unhappily. “I don’t think it evolves, and it doesn’t really listen to me because it doesn’t have ears. Every time I touch it, it electrocutes me.”

“I’ve never heard of that one,” I said. “Where’s it from?”

“Isshu,” he said.

I whistled. That was very, very far away; Isshu was in the Atlantic Ocean, on the other side of the world. It was an old country, thrust to prominence when it became a powerful colony of the British Empire – and now it was one of the most advanced and prosperous in the Commonwealth.

“What did you get, Aaron?” Silver asked.

“A Wurmple,” he replied happily. Obviously, this was better than a Maggyo – which made sense, since Aaron seemed to be, like Thom, a Bug-type fan. “She’s a B-Beautifly now.”

“Don’t know what that is, either,” admitted Silver. “That’s not from Johto or Kanto is it?”

Aaron shook his head.

“N-no,” he replied, “you find them in Hoenn and Sinnoh, in forests.”

“They’re like big butterflies,” I added, for Silver’s benefit.

“Ah, OK,” he said, “like Venomoth or Butterfree.”

“Kind of.” I couldn’t be bothered to explain any further. “How’d you get permission to keep out-of-region Pokémon in Johto?”

“There’s a new law,” explained Thom. “If it’s just one, and you don’t release or breed them here, you can bring them in and battle with them.”

“I see,” I nodded. “Interesting.”

My starter was rarest,” sniffed Crys. I glanced at her. The girl irritated me; I got enough arrogance from Tercier, and even then I knew that he could put it aside if he needed to. With Crys, I got the feeling that she’d probably spit on me if she knew my poor background.

“So? In a straight fight against a Beautifly, a Chikorita loses. And being rare isn’t a good thing. There are about 200 Chikorita, Bayleef and Meganium left in the wild. They’ll be extinct soon, if they can’t figure out how to breed them in captivity. And you think that makes them desirable?”

Crys looked like I’d placed a bowl of squashed grasshoppers in her lap. I cursed Elm for inflicting her on the world – but I could understand why he’d sent her out; I’d have done the same if she was my daughter. In fact, I’d probably have put her up for adoption years ago.

“It would not lose,” she said frostily. I raised my eyebrows.

“Prove it, then,” Silver told her. “It’s what, twenty past five? You got plenty of time. Aaron, want to show Crys she isn’t the world’s greatest Trainer?”

“Uh!” Aaron looked startled, then shook his head vigorously. “N-no!”

“Oh.” Silver looked kind of put out. “OK, then.”

Silence fell upon us for a while. The Ditto oozed out of my coat via my sleeve, and collected itself by the fire, staring into the flames with its vacuous little face.

“Where did that come from?” cried Thom, catching sight of it.

“Oh – it’s mine,” I said. “It rides in my coat.”

“Is that w-what you call a D-Ditto?” asked Aaron timidly. I nodded.

“Yeah. The one that can transform into anything it’s seen.”

At the word ‘transform’, the Ditto gave a little ‘boop’ and looked around at me.

“Not now,” I told it, and it went back to staring into the fire.

“It’s kind of c-creepy,” Aaron said.

“Yeah,” agreed Silver. “That little smile...”

They shared a shudder, and we lapsed back into silence; after a while, I broke it, uncomfortable.

“Why did you come to the Park?” I asked.

“I was after Bugs,” Thom said, “and so was Aaron. But Crys wants some—”

“I can speak for myself!” Crys snapped. Then, more calmly: “I want to catch a Golmon.”

“A what?”

“It’s rumoured that the Vurmie here can evolve, given the right conditions,” Crys said. “They go into cocoons, like Weedle or Caterpie, and emerge in larger, more powerful forms.”

“You’re going to catch a Vurmie?” I asked. “That’ll be hard.”

She shook her head, youthful eagerness temporarily overpowering her arrogance. “No, no! No one knows how to make them evolve yet – so I’ll catch a Golmon, which is what they say they evolve into. Then my father can examine it to see how it evolv—”

The Beedrill above us suddenly started spinning like a Catherine wheel, buzzing frantically and emitting weird hisses from its mandibles.

“Vex? What is it?” Thom asked, looking worried.

Then the Beedrill’s leg fell into the fire.

It happened so fast I never really saw it: a few clicks and pops, then a swish noise as something grey-brown passed overhead, slicing off the limb as it went.

Instantly, we were all on our feet, and blue flashes of light went off all around as Pokémon materialised: a blue-grey Skarmory with wings the colour of blood; a flat brown fish-thing that I supposed must be Maggyo; a sly-eyed Pidgeotto; and, finally, a huge, biscuit-coloured mass of shaggy fur and muscle, the brutal powerhouse they called Ursaring. The Beedrill vanished in a red light.

For my part, I had a Smeargle, and also a Ditto that, frightened by the sudden appearance of the Ursaring, had taken shelter in my coat again.

“W-what was that?” whispered Aaron, after a couple of seconds of dead silence and stillness.

“The speed would indicate a Scyther—” began Crys, but Silver and I both shook our heads.

“Pinsir,” we said together. “Scyther don’t click,” I added.

“What – ah!”

The ground vibrated slightly and a cloud of dust rose up; the fire was snuffed out in an instant, plunging us into darkness.

“No one move,” said Silver sharply.

“Pinsir can’t do that,” whispered Crys. “Pinsir can’t—”

Shut up!” hissed Silver. “Pinsir hunt by hearing—”

A loud click echoed out from right behind me; I span around with a cry and lashed out blindly into the dark. My hand made contact with something smooth and very hard: an insect’s carapace. I withdrew my hand in pain, staggering back a step and bumping into Silver, who grabbed my arm to steady me.

“You OK?” he asked, voice barely above a whisper.

“Y-yeah,” I replied, shaken. “Silver, this thing is hunting with moves – Quick Attack to hit the Beedrill, Smooth Over to put out the fire. How does a wild Pinsir know how to use moves?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Ssh.”

“Maggyo,” whispered Thom. “Use Flash.”

There was an odd squelching noise, and then a searing blaze of white light exploded out through the clearing, forcing everyone’s eyes shut. I heard an agonised screech, and then silence. I opened my eyes, and saw a bulky shape circling the Maggyo, illuminated harshly by the fish-thing’s glowing body.

“It’s there!” I cried. “By the Maggyo!”

“Fire Punch!”

“Aerial Ace!”

“Air Slash!”

Voices mixed in a muddled babble; three Pokémon leaped for the Pinsir in a confusion of fur and steel, feather and talon. I caught a glimpse of flames and blue light, and heard a loud, angry click; the next thing I knew, something beige and feathery shot past my shoulder, knocking Tercier off his perch and crashing into a tree. Something screamed like rending metal, and something else bellowed like a wounded bull. I did the only possibly thing: I ducked down and waited for the confused mess to clear.

All at once, it was silent again, and I stood up to survey the results of our attack. Silver’s Ursaring was getting laboriously to its feet, blood dripping from its mouth, and the Skarmory was lying still on its back, its chest pitted and dented. I glanced over my shoulder to see the Pidgeotto staggering around, looking vaguely drunk.

“How the...?” Crys was white with shock, staring from the spot where the Pinsir had been to her fallen Skarmory.

“Seismic Toss, Close Combat, Stone Edge,” Silver listed, staring around. “I don’t think we’re dealing with a regular wild Pinsir here.” There was a flash of blue light and the Ursaring disappeared.

“W-what are you doing?” asked Aaron nervously.

“Getting the hell out of here,” Silver said. “You should do the same.”

For once, Crys listened, returning her Skarmory straight away and picking up the bag that lay next to her.

“I’m coming,” she said.

There was another series of clicks, and we glanced around uneasily, but there was no sign of the Bug-type monster.

Thom gingerly scooped up his Maggyo, but didn’t return it; we needed the light. Aaron recalled his Pidgeotto and looked at us anxiously.

“You’re all coming, then?” I asked. The three kids nodded. Tercier scrambled onto my uninjured shoulder. “Silver, lead on. Get us out of here with your secret Slash-marks or whatever.”

“Right.”

Silver began to wind his way through the trees again, retracing the path we’d taken to get here. This time, I tried to see the marks on the trees, but they eluded me; maybe it was because I was continually looking over my shoulder, searching for the Pinsir.
I found it about half an hour into the walk.

It was standing on a tree branch about five feet above us, looking down with myopic eyes, vertically-toothed mouth mumbling open and shut without a noise. The great pincers on its head were held wide apart, ready to snap shut on anyone it saw.
I froze and Crys walked into my back.

“Ow!” she whined. “What was—?”

“Shut up,” I hissed. “I can see it.”

Instantly, everyone went as still as I did. We must have held that position for about thirty seconds before anyone dared speak.

“Where is it?” asked Silver, as quietly as possible.

“Up and to your left,” I whispered back. Everyone’s eyes moved slowly to where I’d indicated, and there they saw it: the huge beetle-like creature, starkly illuminated by the glow of Thom’s Maggyo.

“W-what d-do we do?” asked Aaron, voice so quiet I could barely hear it.

“Distract it,” whispered Silver. “Hang on...”

Slowly, slowly, he began to remove his backpack; we all watched with bated breath, wondering whether the Pinsir would hear. I knew it was virtually blind, but its whitish eyes still chilled me to the core: here was a predator, and I was its prey. I was the Nidoran caught in the eyes of the Arbok; the rabbit in the gaze of the snake.

Silver opened the back, tearing apart the Velcro as slowly as possible – and the Pinsir twitched, twisting its head so that the hole of its right ear was facing us. Immediately, we all froze again, breath held, waiting for it to pounce—

—but nothing happened, and after a minute Silver reached into the half-open bag, gradually slipping in his arm. It took him a while, since he was moving so slowly, but eventually he withdrew it, with a black and yellow Pokéball in one hand: one of Zane’s Ultra Balls.

“This won’t catch it,” he whispered, “but it’ll buy us about eight seconds to escape with. So when it hits it, everybody run. Got it?”

We all nodded, unwilling to speak.

“All right,” Silver said. “Now, things are about to get fast.”

He sprang into motion as if returning from the dead, drawing his arm back and hurling the ball straight at the Pinsir. It had no time to move; it struck it between the eyes, and the monster was sucked into it in a blur of red light.

RUN!” shouted Silver, and we did, following him through a tangle of roots and branches and trunks, our pulses beating at our temples and breath loud in our ears.

Then, without really knowing where the forest had gone, I found myself out in the open air, running onto the path in the long grass and drenching my right calf in icy water. I stopped abruptly, breathing heavily, and felt a sharp pain flare in my shoulder; I put a finger to it to find that it was bleeding again. A loose cord told me that our escape had badly messed up the stitches. Wincing, I tried to ignore it and looked back towards the forest instead.

We were all here, all outside the forest and, hopefully, the Pinsir’s territory.

All except...

“Where’s Aaron?” Silver asked urgently, following my gaze.

Crys and Thom looked around, as if he might be hiding in the grass nearby.

“Did anyone see him run after us?” Silver demanded. They shook their heads, and Silver rolled his head skywards. “You idiots!” he shouted, startling a low-flying Hoothoot. He swung his head back down and turned to me. “I’m going to get him. Monique, stay here and look after these two.”

“Wait!” Silver paused and looked back at me. “Silver... don’t... Just come back alive, OK?”

He gave me one of those mirthless smiles.

“You should know me by now,” Silver said. “I survive everything.”

With that, he ran back off into the woods, his tall shape disappearing amongst the shadows of the trees.
__________________

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  #21    
Old January 3rd, 2011 (09:45 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
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Chapter Twenty: Crys

“Do you think Aaron’s OK?” asked Thom, looking worried.

“I don’t know,” said Crys shortly, kicking a stone. I could see she didn’t like it when things got outside her control; hopefully, this experience would teach her she wasn’t the greatest after all.

“He’ll be fine,” I said soothingly. “I’m sure of it. Silver will find him and help him out of there.”

“His Ursaring couldn’t stand up to the Pinsir’s attack,” said Crys sourly, “even when it had two other opponents distracting it.”

“His Ursaring isn’t his strongest Pokémon.”

“What is?”

“His Sneasel.”

Crys gave a short, derisory laugh.

“A Sneasel! Yes, that will take down a Pinsir easily!”

“He won’t be using his Pokémon anyway,” I said. “If the Pinsir appears, he’ll try and catch it again, then he’ll get a few seconds to run away before it breaks out.”

There was a creaking sound from the woods, then the sound of splintering wood followed by a heavy crash. All three of us were silent for a moment.

“What was that?” asked Thom.

“A tree falling over?” I hazarded. “Nothing to worry about.”

“What if the Pinsir cut it down, and it fell on Silver and Aaron?”

“I’m sure that didn’t happen.” Actually, now I thought about it, it might well be the case. What if Silver was lying crushed and broken on the forest floor right now? What if...?

No! That was impossible. Silver survived everything; even in the short time I’d known him, he’d pulled us both through some impossible situations. He’d broken us out of jail, he’d beaten Gold... There was no end to his ingenuity. He’d survive this.

“What if—?”

“Please, just shut up!” I cried. “You’re not helping at all!”

Thom recoiled as if stung, and looked hurt.

“Sorry,” I said, more calmly. “But that kind of attitude doesn’t help at all. It just gets on other people’s nerves.”

“I—”

“Look!” Crys pointed towards the woods, to where two figures were emerging from the gloom, one taller than me and one a bit shorter. The moonlight caught their hair, and I saw red and green. They were back.

“Are you OK?” I called to Silver and Aaron as they approached.

“Yeah,” said Silver, looking tired. “Aaron ran the wrong way.” The younger boy looked sheepish.

“You’re OK!” cried Thom, looking relieved. For a moment, it looked like he might hug Aaron, but he ended up just standing there instead.

“I f-figured out why the P-Pinsir could use m-moves,” Aaron told us. “It was f-feral. S-someone m-must have released it a-after training it.”

“That makes sense,” I nodded. Crys said nothing, just snorted as if she’d known all along. I ignored her and continued: “Good thinking, Aaron.”

He smiled shyly, evidently unused to such praise.

“Don’t want to interrupt,” said Silver, and there was a tone in his voice that made me look up sharply, “but while we’re literally out of the woods, we – well, we aren’t out of the woods just yet.”

Click-click!

It leaped out of the tall grass like a lion, the massive, spike-studded pincers glinting in the moonlight. The Pinsir crouched onto all fours, and I knew what that meant.

“Get out of its way!” I shouted, and practically threw Crys into the long grass, leaping after her as the Pinsir charged down the path with the speed of a cheetah, moving like a gorilla. I felt like I’d plunged into the sea; the snow and frost that covered the grass drenched me instantly, and I scrambled back to my feet, struggling for breath as I inhaled in shock.

Around me, the others were doing the same; briefly, I noted that Crys looked half-angry and half-shocked, and wondered what she would have to say to me later. The more important thing was that I could no longer see where the Pinsir was – and that made it deadly.

“Can anyone see it?” I whispered.

No response. I took that as a no. On the other side of the path, Silver brushed wet hair from his eyes.

Click.

We all started, and Crys cried out.

“Shut up!” I hissed. “It wants you to scream, to give away your posi—”

Then Crys screamed properly, and the grass rustled behind her as I heard something ripping; without thinking, I launched myself onto the patch of moving grass and landed hard on the Pinsir’s back. It made a very un-Pinsir-like squeak and fell flat beneath me; for my part, I was winded, since its back was heavily armoured and I felt like I’d body-slammed a bollard.

“Monique!”

At the sudden noise, the Pinsir bucked beneath me, tossing me away as easily as a leaf; it leaped back onto its hind legs and turned to me, murder in its eyes. From where I lay amidst the grass, too winded to move and with pain tearing up my shoulder like barbed wire, I couldn’t do anything; unable to even cry out, I watched the jagged fist rip towards my face—

—and bury itself in the earth right next to me, the Pinsir toppling over like a felled oak, part of the carapace of its head cracked and dented inwards. I looked up to see, of all people, Crys standing there, a rock the size of a grapefruit clasped between her thin hands. She looked like she was straining to hold it up, even with both arms.

“Th-thanks,” I said, as she dropped the stone and offered me a hand up. I looked down at the fallen Bug and let out a long, shaky breath. “Tercier?”

He tugged at the leg of my sodden jeans, and I bent down to pick him up, replacing him from where he had fallen on my shoulder.

“Monique!” cried Silver again. “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” I said, coughing. “Crys, what about you? I heard something tearing...”

“The Pinsir just got my coat,” she said. Now that I looked, I could see a long tear down the sleeve, revealing a stretch of thin, pale arm. It was strange; I couldn’t see any evidence of muscle beneath the skin, as if she had only bones.

“Boop,” came a noise from my chest. I glanced down and peeled a flat Ditto from my shirt.

“Sorry,” I said, as it slowly popped back into three dimensions. “I think I fell on you.”

“Boop,” the Ditto repeated, and, taking that to be a sign of forgiveness, I recalled it and put its ball in my pocket. I turned to the others.

“We really are out of the woods now,” I told them. “Crys smashed it on the head with a rock.”

“Make sure it’s out,” said Silver sharply, wading over through the grass. “It’s got a thick shell, it might just be dazed.”

I picked up the rock and hit the Pinsir again, hard, in the same spot. It squeaked again, bashed the ground with its fists and lay still.

“It’s out.”

I dropped the rock.

“What now?” asked Thom. “What do we do now?”

“Make camp again,” Silver said. “Did anyone bring any of the stuff from your campsite?”

Thom and Aaron exchanged glances.

“I did,” said Crys, holding up the bag she’d grabbed from the fireside. “Here.”

“Good,” said Silver. “We’ll camp just inside the woods tonight, then, unless you want to walk all the way back.”

The three kids shook their heads.

“All right, then. I’ll take the first watch.”

We were soon ensconced around a fire again, our clothes steaming in the heat, and Aaron and Thom fell asleep not long after. Silver glanced at Crys and me, from the other side of the campfire.

“You can sleep, if you like,” he said. “I’ll wake one of you up in a couple of hours for the next watch.”

“In a minute,” I replied, and he nodded. I looked at Crys, who was fiddling with a loose thread from her torn coat. “Crys?” She looked up. “Thank you. For hitting the Pinsir.”

“It was nothing.” She looked away. “Anyone would have done it.”

“No,” I told her. “Not anyone. I’ve met people who would have let the Pinsir break my neck – quite a few of them, actually,” I continued, dismaying myself with the number of people I could think of. “But you didn’t. And that means you’re not as much of a brat as I thought you were.”

Crys almost smiled then.

“Very well,” she said. “I can take a compliment.”

“It’s true, though. This is something you’re allowed to be pleased with yourself about, for once. You obviously had trouble lifting that rock, but you still—”

“What did you say?” Crys snapped. Taken aback, I floundered.

“I said – I just said you had trouble lifting that—”

“You saw, didn’t you?” Tears were budding in the corners of her eyes, but she wasn’t sad – she was furious. “My arm?”

“Well – yeah, but—”

“Leave me alone!” Crys shouted, getting up and storming away, to the furthest reaches of the fire’s light. She threw herself down on the ground, heedless of her wet clothes, and turned her back to me.

I glanced across the fire at Silver, who was staring at her. He gave me a look that told me he was just as confused as I was.

“Tercier? Any ideas?” The Smeargle shrugged, perplexed. “Crys?” I called.

No reply was forthcoming. Bewildered, and not a little troubled, I lay down myself, and gave in to sleep.

---

The sun rose late; it wasn’t properly light until eight in the morning, and it was then that we set off, after a quick breakfast. There had been no sign of the Pinsir all night, but we still didn’t want to hang around in the forest.

Crys, Thom and Aaron had, it transpired, come in through the Ecruteak entrance at about ten o’clock the previous morning, and wanted to head into the heart of the Park, the part to the northwest of Goldenrod. Hence, they were coming, for now at least, in the same direction as us. I wondered why they still wanted to go after the Pinsir attack, but didn’t question them; in fact, we barely spoke at all, the tension between Crys and I ruining the mood.

They slowed us down a little, since they stopped several times to catch Pokémon; we ran into several Yanma, one of which Thom actually managed to hit with a Pokéball and catch, and Aaron literally stumbled across a baby Heracross with a polio-ruined leg, left behind by its mother to die. It was easy to catch, unable to put up a fight, and he spent the rest of the day carrying it in his arms, which seemed to earn him the baby’s undying devotion. I decided I liked Aaron; he made a refreshing change from people like Gold and Lance.

By the time it started to get dark, we were at about the point where our paths diverged; we decided to camp there that night and split up in the morning. Crys still refused to speak, but Thom seemed to have got past the tense atmosphere she’d conjured up, and was trying to teach his new Yanma his name, much to Silver’s amusement.

“Echo!” he said; the goggle-eyed dragonfly flew into the fire again and then zoomed away, smoking.

“Just like a moth,” said Silver. “Look, Thom, Yanma are insects, they’re about as clever as rocks. Give him a name with some ‘z’s in it, something he can understand.”

“Like what?” Thom looked at him crossly.

“I don’t know. Bzzzt.” The Yanma swung around to hover in front of Silver’s face, surprised at this human who could speak his language, and buzzed back. “Bzzzt.” Bzzt, went the Yanma. “Bzzzt. See, it’s easy.”

Thom tried. “Bzzzt.”

The Yanma flew into the fire and then away with a high-pitched, buzzing whine. I laughed, and Thom recalled it crossly.

“Stupid dragonfly,” he said sulkily.

“Nah.” Silver waved aside his complaints with one hand. “It’s just your buzzing technique. Work on it.”

“You’re lying, aren’t you?” I asked. Silver nodded.

“Absolutely.”

We lapsed back into silence again, and I watched Aaron feeding his Heracross on the juices of a battered plum he’d found in his pocket. Far more intelligent than the Yanma, it already had a tenuous grasp of the word ‘Aaron’; every time it was mentioned, it pressed its head into Aaron’s chest.

That night, as I sat up by the fire, trying to ignore the wind and scanning the horizon for any signs of attacking Pinsir, I felt a cold hand on my arm. I almost jumped out of my skin, but it was only Crys, who had sat up behind me.

“Monique,” she whispered.

“Yeah?” I felt like asking her if she’d forgiven me yet, but it didn’t seem the time.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Well. That was unexpected. I didn’t have Crys down as the type to apologise.

“Oh. OK.”

“I – I’m ill.” She sounded like she might cry; I turned around and put a hand on her arm, trying to comfort her somehow. “I was born... most of my muscles...” She dissolved into tears, and I drew her close like I had done with Silver when he broke down after leaving Zane’s house.

“I’m sorry,” I said, patting her shoulder. “It was thoughtless—”

“You didn’t know,” interrupted Crys. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I’m so stupid,” she said, sitting up and pulling away from me. “I shouldn’t get worked up so easily.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. I mean, you’re only – what, thirteen?”

“Fourteen,” she corrected.

“Right. The point is, you’re still just a kid. You’re allowed to have tantrums once in a while.” I sighed. “In fact, I think if you did – if you stopped being so controlled all the time – people would like you more.”

Crys picked at her fingernails; quite a few of them were broken, and she pulled at the flaky edges.

“I don’t suit being a Trainer,” she said abruptly. “I want to go home.”

“Why did you come out here, then?”

Crys gave a cynical little smile.

“I know my own shortcomings. What would you do with me if I was your daughter?”

“Point taken.”

I felt guilty then: it was only yesterday that I’d thought I would put her up for adoption.
We sat in silence for a little while, then I thought of something to say.

“Why did you tell me all this?”

“I don’t know,” Crys said, and then she smiled properly, like a normal child. “I was sorry, I suppose.”

“That’s a start,” I replied. “To being more likeable. Oh, and smile more. You have a pretty smile; boys will like it.”

This was a lie. At the age of nineteen, I had yet to ever have a boyfriend, or even to kiss anyone. Before I stopped going to school, I had had my eye on a guy called Scott, but he moved to Hoenn before I worked up the courage to talk to him. It seemed to work, though, because Crys smiled again, blushing slightly.

“I’ll try,” she promised; I knew she would, for a short while at least, before she slipped back into her old ways and became a little brat again.

Maybe that was pessimistic; children change more easily than adults, after all, and Crys probably had as good a chance as any. Perhaps Crys could be normal.

“Do that,” I said, patting her arm again. “’Night, Crys.”

“Goodnight, Monique,” she said, and lay down again. I wondered if she was cold, and decided she probably was; even with the fire, we had no blankets between us thanks to leaving the bulk of the camping stuff back in the woods. For a moment, I debated whether or not to give her my coat, but decided against it in the end. I was cold too, and besides, she was Crys. I couldn’t imagine her deigning to accept it, even after our little heart to heart.

I shook my head, trying to ignore the pain it incited in my shoulder (I didn’t yet have the courage to have a look at the wound), and woke Thom for the next watch.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #22    
Old January 4th, 2011 (01:40 PM). Edited January 4th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
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Age: 21
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A very short chapter today:

Chapter Twenty-One: Interlude

The next morning, we bade farewell to the three kids – or intended to.

“I want to go back,” said Crys. “Take me with you.”

“What?” Silver didn’t appear to quite understand, so I came to the rescue.

“We had a talk last night,” I told him. “Crys... wants to go home.”

“So I will travel south to Goldenrod with you,” Crys said. Then she seemed to remember something, and added, “Please.”

Silver looked like he’d been hit with a brick.

“Uh – OK, I guess.” He looked at me. “Monique?”

“She can come.” I turned to Thom and Aaron. “You two are still going on, yeah?”

Thom nodded.

“Bye, then. Nice to meet you. Crys, give me that bag of camping stuff.”

She did, puzzled, and I handed it to Thom.

“You can keep that,” I said. “You’ll need it.”

“Thanks,” Thom replied, looking puzzled, “but – doesn’t Crys want it?”

We all looked at Crys. She closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and gritted her teeth; I’d never seen anyone prepare so much for so little.

“No,” she said at length, “you can have it.”

It was now Thom’s turn to sport the ‘bricked’ look.

“Oh – er – thanks!” he said, sharing a disbelieving glance with Aaron. “Well – goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” added Aaron, quietly.

“Bye,” Silver and I said, starting to walk away.

“Goodbye.” The last, sharp word came from Crys; after that we were silent, just walking south down the long, grassy path. Thom and Aaron stood there for a while, watching us go – I think they expected more of a farewell, even from two people they’d known for less than forty-eight hours. I glanced back after five minutes and saw them standing there, looking kind of lost; I hoped they’d be all right. The Park was large and full of dangers, and they looked small standing there in the middle of it.

We walked on, making good time now that we didn’t have to stop at every wild Pokémon that appeared; I saw a couple more Caterpie and a slow-moving Weedle with the red nose of the confirmed alcoholic, but nothing as impressive as the Scyther and Fearow I’d spotted on the first day. I must have been lucky that time.

A little after noon, when we stopped to eat what was pretty much the last of the supplies Zane had given us, Silver took the opportunity to ask me, in his own words, ‘what the hell is up with Crys?’

“We had a talk last night,” I told him, “and I think I convinced her to try and mend her arrogant ways.”

“I love your way with words.” Silver grinned. “You write well, don’t you?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never tried.”

“Maybe you should.” He glanced over to Crys, who was looking curiously in our direction. “Talk to you later.”

The rest of the day was uneventful, and the night was long, cold and full of the gnawing annoyance of hunger. Silver and I both had a bite or two of food left, which we donated to Crys, since she was younger, less used to hunger and also ill.

It was Silver who came to speak to me at midnight that night; he was curious to know more about Crys. I told him everything we’d said the night before, and he nodded slowly, pondering.

“That’s weird,” he said. “She doesn’t seem like the type to pour her heart out like that.” He frowned. “Do you think she might have recognised us, and be going to turn us in at Goldenrod?”

I hadn’t thought of that, but now that Silver mentioned it, it sounded reasonably likely. Then again, Crys had actually cried last night – and given her proud nature, was it really feasible that she would lower herself so much in front of me? Besides, how many fourteen-year-olds could cry so well on command?

“I don’t know,” I told him. “Could she really cry like that if it wasn’t real?”

“Maybe,” Silver mused. “Some people can cry on demand. Blue always could. She was a great con artist.” His face fell, and he looked in need of a hug, so I gave him one. “Wha – oh, you didn’t have to do that.”

“You looked like you needed it.” I paused. “You’re also really warm, which is nice.”

“No, you’re just cold. Get off, your fingers are like ice blocks.”

Reluctantly, I pulled away and drew my coat more tightly around me. Silver looked at my face and sighed.

“Oh, go on then. Warm yourself on my glowing flesh.”

“Thanks.” I threw myself onto him and rested my head on his shoulder, absorbing the warmth. “How are you so warm?”

“Rapid metabolism, I guess... does it matter?”

“No.”

We sat there for a while, looking out over the snow-sodden grass. For a few minutes, everything seemed good; I don’t think I’d just sat and enjoyed someone’s company since the accident. It was beautifully tranquil; Silver’s presence soothed me in a way no one else had since I’d lost my friends.

Was it then that it started? That night, under the cloud-bruised sky, the cold, wet grass all around like frigid polar seas? I’ve thought about my time with Silver over and over again, and I keep coming back to that night; I’m sure it was then that I realised I’d fallen in love with him. It had happened slowly, a gradual process that overtook me a little more every hour, every day. We’d been acquaintances when we went to save the Red King, friends when we were arrested by Lance, and from that point forth I think my feelings deepened, like the waves depositing sand on the shore to build a beach. Silver was handsome, intelligent, courageous; he broke us out of prison, he outwitted Lance and Gold, he saved us from the feral Pinsir. By anyone’s reckoning, he was a hero – and in true storybook style, the hero won the heart of the heroine.

But all of that’s in the past now. Silver is gone now; he left, and is never coming back. He left me his locket and moved on, and nothing I said or did could stop him going.


Note: Since I have a new idea for a story, and this one is seriously starting to depress me, I think I'm going to try and wrap this up within the next week; I'll stick to an update a day, and that should finish it off in time, since I've already written ahead up to a point close to the start of the Radio Tower finale.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #23    
Old January 9th, 2011 (07:26 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
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OK. I think I need a break from this to pursue something more light-hearted, so this will be the last update for a while. Not that anyone's reading, but...

Chapter Twenty-Two: Goldenrod

The next day, we reached the Goldenrod Park entrance at around noon; it was another whitewashed building, as nondescript inside as it was outside. We passed through – and into the famous Yatzin Terminal.

Goldenrod took my breath away; it was as big as they say and bigger still. Tall buildings shot up and pierced the sky all around; they were dominated by a great Gothic toad of a train station, crouching like a tiger directly across from us. From behind it came the clatter of the bullet trains, and massive blue buses coughed their way out of the Terminal like asthmatic carpenter bees.

Then there were the people: they ebbed and flowed like water, a human tide that coursed through the sea of the streets. They clattered and chattered, walked, ran and jumped; their mobile phones buzzed and their headphones thumped faintly. A hundred tame Growlithe barked, and a thousand Meowth mewled back from the rooftops; a million Spearow fought for control of the bus-shelter-tops, and a billion Rattatta scuttled silently through the alleys and the sewers.

This was Goldenrod: modern, dynamic, and utterly terrifying for an out-of-towner like myself. I read recently that its population just reached 13 million, surpassing even Tokyo Metropolis; it was a true world city, the only one in the Grand Pacific Cluster. It was the only place in Johto where you would commonly find foreigners; every nationality was represented. Japanese, English, American, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean... people from all over the world came here, and all partook in the crazed, the frenetic life that throbbed in the city’s veins; everyone danced to the eccentric rhythm that beat in the streets.

“Impressed?” Silver said, smiling. I nodded dumbly and stared around; I’d never seen so many people, so many buildings, so many Pokémon, so many vehicles – so many anything. And then, I’d never seen any foreigners, except for the English exchange students years ago at school, nor had I seen any skyscrapers or segmented buses. “Thought you might be. What about Tercier?”

The Smeargle sat on my shoulder, looking dazed; one glance at his face told me he’d fallen hopelessly in love with the metropolis at first sight. I poked him, and he didn’t do more than half-raise one hand, too enraptured by the city to care.

“Monique?” asked Crys. I looked down at her. “Can you take me to the Pokémon Centre? I am capable of making my own way from there.”

I turned to Silver, who looked surprised.

“You don’t need my permission,” he said. “The nearest Centre is somewhere on Bronze 88.”

“Is that a real street name?” I asked, disbelieving. Both he and Crys nodded.

“It’s famous,” added the younger Trainer.

“What for?”

“Statues,” explained Silver. “You’ll see when we get there. Come on, it’s on our way.” He took a few steps out onto the square, somehow avoiding being swept away by the crowd, then stopped and came back. “Monique. How much money did Zane give us?”

“About 60,000 dollars, I think.”

“We’ll take the train,” he decided. “After all, that’s the only way to travel in Goldenrod.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah,” he said, grabbing the hands of Crys and myself and dragging us into the square, “Goldenrod is huge, yes? It grew out of the five original cities of Puceton, Honeygrove, Goldenrod, Magentopolis and Tealian, which expanded into what is basically a conglomeration of twenty-three cities that coexist under the banner of Goldenrod. If you live here, you can’t know the whole city, it’s impossible – so most people travel around by railway, and just know various areas around each train station.” He ducked and somehow transported us around three buses without breaking stride; I stumbled, but regained my balance. “Cyclists are also fairly common,” he remarked, suddenly stopping us dead as a fleet of cyclists cut across our path. “There’s a lot of air pollution from the cars in this city, and bikes are cleaner.”

He pulled us into the interior of the train station, where it was cool and brightly-lit, but still very crowded; people flowed endlessly back and forth through the turnstiles, either forwards towards the darkened other end of the room or back towards us, to emerge into the sunlit square.

“This way.” Silver’s voice echoed in the vast space as he pulled us out of the crowd, towards a complicated map made up of a great many interlinked coloured lines, with circles on them that represented stations. He examined it for a few moments, then nodded. “OK, I worked out where we’re going. That turnstile there.” He indicated one about two rows away from us. “Monique, we each need 300 dollars for the ride.”

“That’s... cheap,” I said, as I pulled money from my bag and handed it out.

“It has to be,” Crys pointed out. “Very nearly everyone uses it, at least twice a day. It has to be affordable.”

“OK. Silver, help me, since I’m from little old Mahogany, where they don’t have any trains.” He smiled and led me over to the turnstile in question, somehow finding gaps in the crowd to tug me through; he fed a 500 dollar note into the slot in the turnstile and passed through, collecting his change on the other side.

“See? Simple.”

I followed, and annoyed Crys by taking too long to pick up my change; when I’d got it all, I found myself standing in between two barrier rails. Silver beckoned us further along, and we descended into a downward-sloping corridor, dimly lit by flickering fluorescent lights.

“I thought trains went above ground?” I asked as we went down. Silver smiled; I think he found my ignorance cute, in the same sort of way as the ignorance of small children.

“Some do,” he said, “but these don’t. This is the underground network.”

“The Goldenrod Metropolitan Underground Network,” Crys clarified.

“Yep,” Silver agreed, “but you just call it the Net.”

We were caught up in a crowd that surged down the corridor behind us; Silver snagged my hand again and steered me to the left as we came to a split in the tunnel.

“It’s divided, East Platforms and West,” he told me, mouth close to my ear to be heard above the clamour of the crowd. “Eastward platforms are always on the left, and we want to go east to Bronze 88.”

“What if you want to go north or south?”

“You take a different line,” Crys told me, “one that goes north or south rather than east or west.”

“Oh.” My head was spinning; this was all so new. “This is really confusing.”

“After we stop the...” Silver tailed off, glancing at Crys. “After we finish our business here, I’ll take you all over Goldenrod, and we can see the sights. You’ll get used to it then, it only takes a couple of journeys to get the hang of it.”

The platform was uncomfortably warm after the cool air outside, and consisted of a long, crowded strip of concrete that projected out of the wall of a circular tunnel. Below and beyond the edge of the platform, the rails snaked out of the darkness at one end and into the darkness at the other.

“Net trains usually arrive every three to five minutes on busy lines like this one,” Silver told me. “In fact... here we go.”

The clicking and clacking of wheels on tracks reminded me uncomfortably of the Pinsir; I think Silver and Crys had the same thought, because we all shared an uneasy glance before the train itself roared into the station, doors sliding open even before it had stopped moving. Immediately, a steady river of humanity poured off, everyone leaving in one huge burst, and then Silver dragged us on board, one step ahead of the surging crowd behind us.

There were no free seats, so we had to stand; the train was so packed that slim, short Crys looked in danger of snapping in half like a twig. Silver put her up against the wall and stood in front of her, bracing his arms against the handholds, so that no one could crush her.

“Is it always like this?” I hissed. Silver considered for a moment.

“Not always,” he answered, after a while, “but often.”

The train was loud, hot and fast; when it started, it accelerated so much it almost threw me from my feet, and when it stopped about three minutes later, it did the same thing.

As we joined the tide of disembarkers, I asked Silver if we couldn’t have walked the distance, if it had only taken three minutes. Crys laughed, a sound that started off as a sneering sjirachi and which she hurriedly changed into something less condescending.

“No,” she said, before Silver could answer. “The train moves as the Murkrow flies, while we have to walk along the roads. We also walk about ten times slower than the train goes – and even that meagre speed is impossible in Goldenrod’s crowded streets.”
“What she said,” added Silver, and took my hand to guide me through the crowd and up the stairs.

It was a blessed relief to get outside again; even if it was cold, it had been far too hot and crowded down in the Net tunnels. We were now at one end of a long, broad, pedestrianised street, old-fashioned Johtonian townhouses in the Asymmetric style rising tall on either side. However, the street’s most striking feature was the line of statues that ran down the centre.

They had to be seen to be believed: colossal bronzes, none of them under fifty feet tall, mounted on great plinths of the golden sandstone that gave Goldenrod its name. I wandered up to the one closest to us and stared; it was the eponymous hero of the Johtonian epic Lazula of En, and his massive leg stretched up and away from me for an almost unimaginable distance. In fact, I couldn’t see much more of him, and had to step back about twenty paces to truly take Lazula in. He gripped the severed head of the demon Andromalius in one hand and a sword in the other; for any other hero this would have been a victorious pose. In this, however, his head was bowed, turned towards the viewer who stared up from below, and huge metal tears rolled down his cheeks, for the demon had been his brother.

“That’s amazing,” I breathed, staring up at it. “It’s... huge.”

“They’re all down this road,” Silver told me. “Eighty-eight of them. Hence the name, Bronze 88.”

Tercier uttered a heartfelt sigh; I glanced at him and watched his eyes flame with artistic fervour. If there had been paper around, I didn’t doubt he would have started drawing immediately.

The crowds were here in as much force as they had been in Yatzin Terminal, and it was a battle to get anywhere; with Silver’s talent for slipping between the gaps, however, we managed to progress about eight hundred yards down to the Pokémon Centre.

“It’s not usually as bad as this,” Silver assured me as I half-fell into the lobby, exhausted. “But Bronze 88 happens to be really good for shopping, and I think it’s Rail Day.”

Rail Day: one of Johto’s few national holidays, which celebrated the anniversary of the opening of the Magnet Train line between Goldenrod and Saffron, linking Johto and Kanto in a way that had never happened before; it was something akin to the opening of the Channel Tunnel between England and France, though I’m not sure if that warranted a holiday in either of those countries.

“I think it is,” I agreed, counting the days in my head. “It’s the 26th of February.”

We turned to Crys, ready to say goodbye, but she wasn’t there; I looked around and saw her at the front desk of the Centre, talking to the receptionist – and pointing at us.

****!” exclaimed Silver, turning on his heel and running towards the door, “I was right!”

I followed hastily, just as a few nearby Trainers who had been lounging around looked up, overhearing Crys; the last I saw of that Pokécentre, blue flashes were going off like crazy.

“That *****!” I raged as Silver dragged me through the crowd, pushing now as well as weaving, trying to get as far away as possible. “I – she promised she was going to try and change!”

“Maybe she meant that,” growled Silver, “but she didn’t promise not to recognise and betray us.”

“If I ever see her again—”

“Save it,” hissed Silver, “you need your breath to run. Recall Tercier, he’s too noticeable.”

I did, ignoring the Smeargle’s protests, and suddenly heard someone scream behind us; I glanced back as I stuffed the ball back into my pocket, and caught a glimpse of three or four Beedrill buzzing over the crowd, bulbous red eyes scanning for us.

“They won’t catch us with those,” Silver told me, catching my sleeve and motioning for me to follow him into an alley between two buildings. “They’ve got bad eyesight.”

There was a loud sniffing sound, and some more cries of alarm, and a large, triangular head poked its way into the alley entrance. It was adorned with a moustache that stretched out a full foot on either side, and attached to a small, slim body with a massive fluffy tail. In one hand, this strange apparition clutched a spoon: it was a Kadabra, and it gave a warning sniff as it stalked down the alley towards us.

That, on the other hand, will track us easily,” said Silver. “Mercury!”

The ball opened in his hand, before he had even thrown it; the blue light streamed out towards the Kadabra, coalescing into a talon for just a second, tracing black lines through the air and across the Kadabra’s face, before dissolving and retreating into the ball. The Kadabra recoiled, head spinning around in a full circle and trailing blood, before collapsing where it stood, knocked out in one hit.

“Keep moving,” Silver said, and, grabbing my hand, pulled me deeper into the alley.

“What was that?” I demanded to know.

“A sort of Night Slash mixed with Quick Attack,” he replied, apparently not out of breath at all. “I call it Sucker Punch. Took a lot of practice to get it so fast that we could use it like that. Only really works on fragile Pokémon – but Kadabra is one of the most fragile out there.”

The other end of the alley led onto another shopping street, but without the statues; once into the heart of its crowd, Silver deemed us safe and let me stop to catch my breath.

“We had too much of a head start for them,” he said. “Though I’m pissed about Crys.”

“Not as much as I am,” I replied. “I was the one who trusted her.”

“Don’t beat yourself up about it. We’re OK now.” Silver glanced left and right, as if reminded to check for followers. “But the cops will know we’re here now. Of all the people... Why did Crys have to recognise me?” He sighed. “Come on, let’s get out of here. We need to get to the tower and do some skulking.”

We took another Net train and changed at Antoine’s Cross to get to Tower Road. Here, there was less traffic, and there were fewer pedestrians, too; the buildings seemed to be mostly offices and suchlike. The street was dominated by the spire of the Radio Tower, a swooping, tubular edifice that soared upwards like a rising eagle; it was the crowning glory of a horrendously ugly building that housed the Johto Broadcasting Company. It wasn’t just radio, of course; they broadcast television from there too, but old names die hard, and it was still universally referred to as the Radio Tower.

“This is it, I guess,” I said, craning my neck to look up. “The Radio Tower. The goal.”

“It felt like we were never going to make it.” I had to agree with Silver. It had taken just a few days to get here, but it had felt so much longer; Gold and the Pinsir had conspired to fill the time so that I was sure it had to have taken us a month. That was leaving aside the issue of Lance, who had recently been conspicuous by his absence from our lives.

“Do we just sit out here and wait?” I asked.

“For as long as it takes,” Silver affirmed. “They won’t wait long, not now Lance has worked out where they’re based. First, though,” he continued, brightening, “let’s have lunch. We’ve got money now, and Goldenrod is full of restaurants.”

He strode off confidently in a random direction, and ended up at a café a block away. From the window tables, you could just about see the front entrance of the JBC building, and that was where Silver and I sat and dined on piles of absurdly small pork sausages, each the size of the first joint of my thumb. Neither of us had eaten properly since leaving Zane’s, and we fell upon them like ravening wolves; for a long time, all that passed between us was the sound of clinking forks.

No one appeared at the Tower during our meal, and afterwards, replete, we strolled back to take the guided tour. This was to be, as Silver put it, our reconnaissance of the area. Something about the way he spoke struck me; his voice sounded slightly odd, with something indefinably different about it. I thought that perhaps our proximity to our goal was getting to him, that the knowledge that we were close to stopping the resurrection of his father was causing the stress and strain on his mind to build up.

“Are you OK?” I asked as we climbed the short flight of steps to the JBC building entrance.

“Yeah,” Silver replied, nodding. “Just... we’re so close now. The Rockets are right here, in this city.” He looked around, stopping on the top step. “Maybe they’re watching the building right now.” He took a shaky breath. “Maybe someone’s coming to kill us. But whatever the Rockets are doing, it’s... almost time. They’re really going to – to bring him back.”

I thought for a moment, Silver’s earnest eyes locked on my face; I wanted to make my next words good ones. In the end, I couldn’t do it, and settled for these.

“We’re going to win,” I told him, taking hold of his hand. “We’re going to win, Silver. You know that, right?”

He looked at me uncertainly for a moment, then smiled.

“Of course,” he agreed. “No question.” He looked towards the revolving doors in front of us. “Shall we?”

“Yeah.”

We went inside; the lobby was paved with wide, flat tiles of elegant variegated marble, and the walls had delicately carved coffers inset into them. There were about four other people standing around, obviously tourists by their large cameras and faintly bored expressions.

The receptionist was a pretty young woman with tan that matched her smile in that it was about as genuine as Mawile tears.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Silver, suddenly acquiring a Hoennian accent, “what time is the tour?”

His expression and posture had suddenly shifted; he seemed smaller, weedier and vaguely annoying, though I couldn’t tell you exactly how he’d done it. Presumably it was a trick he’d picked up somewhere during his wanderings.

“There’s one starting in ten minutes,” was the reply. “If you like, you could take a brochure while you wait.”

“Thank you,” Silver said, looking like he meant it with all his heart and soul. “I will.”

He plucked one from a rack, and we retreated to the seats beyond where the four tourists were standing.

“How’d you do that?” I asked.

“Blue taught me,” he replied shortly, and flipped open the brochure. I winced at my own insensitivity; of course Blue would have taught him – she had been a con artist, after all. “Look,” Silver said, interrupting my thoughts, “there’s a floor plan.”

He spread out the pamphlet and we pored over the map for a while.

“This could be useful,” I said. “Especially this.”

I jabbed a finger at a door on the ground floor marked Basement: Storage/Generator Units, Strictly Off-limits.

“If it came down to it, we could shut off the power,” Silver noted, seeing what I was driving at. “That would stop any transmissions, at least for a little while. Then maybe we could use the confusion to attack the” – here he inhaled deeply – “the Mask of Ice, and get him arrested. Or kill him, of course.”

I couldn’t quite tell whether he was joking, and didn’t dare ask.

“Wouldn’t the other Rockets stop us?”

“Nah,” replied Silver. “I think that if Karen, the Mask and the Mastermind were out of the way, they’d be pretty much useless. They usually are without their commanders.”

“Who’s the Mastermind?”

“Don’t you remember?” Silver raised an eyebrow. “The guy behind the Saffron experiments three years ago?”

Of course. I remembered that; it had been the biggest news of the decade. The architect of the ideas, and of the Rockets’ downfall, had been a former Rocket Executive and, once, Giovanni’s second-in-command; he had also, more unusually, been a talking Meowth from distant America. Since no one knew his name, or even if he had one, the media had dubbed him ‘the Mastermind’ – and the moniker had stuck.

“If you recall, I told you that Will told Lance he was involved,” Silver continued.

“Yeah, I remember. Although... that doesn’t quite make sense. I thought he wanted to kill Giovanni?”

The Mastermind’s goal three years ago had been, according to Russell Curtis (the private investigator who had solved the case and beaten his scheme), to torture Giovanni to death as slowly and painfully as possible; this didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would want to bring him back from the dead again.

“He did. I’ve been wondering about that myself.”

“Excuse me!” came a high, upper-class voice. I looked up and saw that the group of tourists had increased to a reasonable size, and a petite, somewhat elderly woman had materialised amongst them. A badge on her lapel proclaimed to the world that she rejoiced in the singularly unlikely name of Havoc. “Excuse me, would everyone taking the tour please gather around!”

Silver folded up the pamphlet and we joined the group. When we were all gathered, Havoc began talking.

“The Radio Tower,” she began, “or, to give it its full name, the Johto Broadcasting Company Spire, was built in 1952, when the French entrepreneur Marcel Fournier brought radio technology to Johto. Just three months after the work was completed, the government forcibly expelled Fournier from the country and set up a company of its own, the Johto Broadcasting Company. This company still exists today, and occupies the same headquarters.” Havoc looked around at her guests with an eager smile. “Now,” she said, “I’ll be taking you around just the radio half of the building; the television part is larger and has a tour to itself, which you can catch at half past three. We’re going to go to the recording studios, the technicians’ area and, unfortunately for those of you who don’t get excited by paperwork, the administration and production centre. However,” she added, smiling, “I will also show you to the actual broadcasting machine itself to make up for it – so don’t worry!”

There was a murmur of laughter throughout the group.

“Now,” said Havoc again, “let’s make our way to the studios up on the first floor. For those of you who don’t want to climb the stairs, the lifts are just over there.” She began to walk briskly off towards the stairs, shoes clacking on the marble floor, and the tour group drifted along behind in the vacuous way tour groups do. A few elderly and very fat people took the elevators, but the majority of us followed Havoc up the stairs, which had a strip of rich, ruby-red carpet running down the centre and a gilded teak handrail. I ran my fingers up it tentatively; I’d never seen anything as sumptuous as these decorations before.

The stairs took us up to a long corridor, one wall made entirely of soundproofed glass above waist height; through it, I glimpsed people wearing headphones, sitting in front of microphones. The doors on that side of the corridor all had red and green lights above them, and most of them had some lit up.

“This is where the magic happens,” grinned Havoc. “From here, all of the JBC shows are broadcast. Just take a look through here” – everyone crowded closer to look through the nearest window – “and you’ll see Buena of Buena’s Password.”

A plump young Spanish woman was talking animatedly into a mike; she glanced up at us and smiled for a moment before resuming her speech.

“That’s Buena herself,” Havoc assured us, and the awe in her voice surprised me; she must have seen Buena hundreds of times, but she still loved to see her, loved to see the magic of radio at work. I decided in that instant that I liked Havoc very much. Someone so dedicated to, and enthusiastic about, their occupation could only bring happiness into the world. “I’ll let you in on a secret,” she added conspiratorially. “Today’s password is Zuppenkrab – the Steel Crab Pokémon from Germany.”

Several members of the tour group smiled involuntarily; Havoc’s enthusiasm was infectious.

“If you move along a little – yes, that second studio’s not currently in use – then in the third studio you’ll see Ted from the Variety Channel; I think he’s doing a radio play at the moment, that’s why there are those three other people in there.”

The voice actors were all crowded around Ted, an old man with a face crumpled by his grin. He stood head and shoulders above the rest – in fact, he was so tall he reminded me unpleasantly of the Mask of Ice, and briefly I wondered if they were the same person. Scripts hung all around him from wires on the ceiling; each was open at a different page, presumably so that they didn’t have to be touched and no rustling got onto the recording.

“Yes, it’s a play,” confirmed Havoc, checking something written in esoteric techie-speak on the studio door. “It’s an adaptation of In Ilex We Rode. But moving on,” she continued, rushing over to Studio Four as if she were the excited tourist rather than the guide, “we’ve got the Lucky Channel. I’ve never won,” she added in a confidential tone. “In Studio Five, we’ve got DJ Ben and his Music; today we can look forwards to marching tunes, I expect, or something of that kind.”

I peered through the glass, curious to see what DJ Ben looked like; I’d often heard him on his show, before my radio broke. He was in his mid-twenties, with a bristly beard that was the result of not shaving for a week; upon his nose were perched spectacles with thick frames and thin lenses. He was speaking into a microphone with all the fervour of Cicero delivering an important speech.

“This next studio is currently being used by some of the scientists overseeing the Pokémon Index Project, or Pokédex. They’ve just discovered a new species, I believe.” Havoc studied the sign on the studio door. “Yes, that’s right. It’s called Fureech, and it’s been called the Shriek Weasel Pokémon by its discoverer, one Ethan of New Bark.”
Havoc paused dramatically before the final studio, savouring the moment of anticipation before revealing its contents.

“In here,” she said in hushed tones, “in here, is Professor Oak himself.”

Everyone turned to look, and there was even a little pushing and shoving; Oak was one of the most famous men in the Grand Pacific Cluster. Before the trade in evolution stones was restricted by law in the late ’60s, he’d been a hotshot Trainer specialising in those Pokémon that evolved via the stones; after that, unable to legally expand his collection, he’d set up a laboratory to study Pokémon themselves – the first in the Cluster. After his discovery of a potential military application for the fine powder from inside Nidoqueen spines, the Kantan government had been eager to support his research in any way possible. Now, Oak had all the grants and evolution stones he needed, and was in charge of a massive, rambling institute with over 800 staff in the Kantan town of Pallet.

“He’s recording a brand new show,” Havoc said, as I wormed my way through the crowd. “It’s to be called Prof. Oak’s Pokémon Talk, broadcast across Johto and Kanto, informing Trainers of the current locations of the rarer Pokémon of the region.”

I reached the front and stared through the glass. Oak looked younger than I thought he’d be; if I hadn’t known he was older, I would have thought he was in his mid-forties. He had a kindly, lined face, and he wore a grey suit and white lab coat – just in case anyone failed to recognise him as a scientist, I supposed.

“So this is the world-famous Professor Oak,” muttered Silver next to me. “He looks younger than I thought.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We all stared in for about three minutes before Oak looked up and noticed us; his face suddenly assumed, as if of its own accord, a broad, showman’s smile in the style of the old-fashioned gentleman. I couldn’t see the appeal of it myself – and Oak was way too old for my taste – but it made the old ladies of the group swoon, one of them almost literally. That one was, predictably enough, our tour guide, Havoc.

When she’d recovered, she continued with her talk.

“Er – yes, well. Let’s continue, shall we?”

We headed towards the stairs up, and arrived in a long, high-ceilinged office area, filled with cubicles containing workers dutifully tapping away on keyboards. At the other end of the room was an office with frosted glass walls.

“Here is the production and administration area,” Havoc said quietly. “In this room, we write shows, discuss what new shows are introduced and what gets cut, and manage the rest of the JBC building.” She smiled. “We also pay the bills, or pretend to.”

That got a few laughs, but not me: a strange feeling had just overtaken me, a sense that something was wrong. I didn’t see anything amiss – to the left, there were cubicles; to the right, there were cubicles; ahead, there were cubicles – but something about this floor set the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

“Something’s up,” Silver whispered to me. I nodded.

“I feel it too,” I replied. “Something isn’t quite right.”

The tour group moved quickly and quietly through the office, trying not to disturb the workers; we paused briefly at the other end, next to the frosted glass wall.

“In here,” Havoc told us, “is the woman in charge of the whole floor, Ms. Prendergast. I’m sure she won’t mind if we pop in a moment to say hello.” She rapped on the door and opened it a crack; speaking through the gap, she nodded and turned to us. “If you’ll go in, Ms. Prendergast will take any questions you have regarding the production side of things – something I’m not so well up on myself,” she admitted.

Dutifully, we filed in, to see a business-like young woman seated behind a desk. She had long, black hair and wore thick glasses that obscured most of the upper half of her face. The sense that something was wrong here whirled in my head, growing stronger and stronger – but I still couldn’t see what the problem was; there was no one obviously dangerous around, no lurking Rocket assassins.

“The *****!” hissed Silver in my ear. “She’s right here!”

“What?” I looked at Ms. Prendergast, then at Havoc, then anywhere – but couldn’t see what he was talking about.

“Prendergast,” he whispered. “She’s Karen.”

As soon as he said it, I could see it: the hair was dyed, the sharp eyes just visible through the glasses. Even cloaked in lipstick, the tight, sneering lips were recognisable.

“What do we do?” I asked.

“Nothing. She can’t do anything either since we can unmask her, too, and besides, she hasn’t seen us yet.”

Silver pulled me further towards the back of the group, just in case, and I vaguely caught the tail end of someone’s question:

“...a day?”

Ms. Prendergast – Karen – gave an answer that I didn’t pay any attention to; I was too busy trying to think why she was here. Were the Rockets using her to scout ahead? Or was she to be their mole, the person who would give the signal to unleash the attack? Perhaps then she would attack from within, while the Rockets invaded from the outside; a neat pincer movement that would leave the Radio Tower firmly in the grip of the Mask of Ice. I voiced this theory to Silver, and he nodded in agreement.

“It’ll be something like that,” he said. “We must have got here just in time; if Karen’s here, the Rockets must be close to making their move.”

The questions over, we retreated gladly from the office, eager not to be spotted by the master Dark user. Havoc led us all over to the next set of stairs, and once again pointed out the lifts for those who wished to use them.

On the third floor was another large open space; this one, however, was full of computers, banks of screens and switches everywhere. Technicians rushed back and forth, pressing buttons, or wandered casually around, glancing at the monitors; the whole impression was that very little got done in that room.

“Here is where all the technical aspects of the broadcasts are taken care of,” Havoc said unnecessarily. “These machines over here control the frequencies each show is broadcast on, and these ones are basically giant CD players – they play back pre-recorded shows. Those big round ones...”

Silver unfolded the map and started scribbling the locations of each type of machine on the third floor. I supposed that Team Rocket had probably created their Giovanni-resurrection signal back at Mahogany, and that they would just be using a pre-recorded disk here; if that was so, it would be worth knowing which machines to destroy in order to stop it being broadcast.

“Now,” Havoc said, “the fourth floor is all offices, including that of the Director of the JBC. For security reasons – and because it’s boring – we won’t be going there today, but we will go up to the top floor, the observation post at the very top of the radio mast. Please follow me.”

We crowded into two lifts that moved so fast that they seemed to be racing each other to the top; if I hadn’t been so firmly wedged between Silver and a fat guy in a pink shirt, I probably would have fallen over when they started moving. When we emerged, it was to a large, circular room, with the lifts set into a central column that held up the roof. The walls were entirely made of glass, and the view took my breath away.
Goldenrod stretched out on all sides, a living blanket of bricks and mortar, rippling with traffic, groaning under the weight of humanity. It seemed to hold the whole world in its glittering towers; I looked from every pane of glass on the observation deck, and couldn’t see the outskirts. We were hundreds of metres up – and still the city cloaked the landscape to the horizons, and beyond.

“Wow,” I breathed. “This is amazing.”

“It’s beautiful,” Silver said, joining me. “And ugly, and alluring, and terrifying; it’s fantastic and horrific, full of freedom and full of traps; a fount of wisdom and a fool’s paradise. It’s the city, the greatest and the most terrible invention of all time.”

I looked at him admiringly.

“That was good,” I said. “Did you make that up?” He nodded with a smile.

“Yeah, but I’ve had it ready since I decided we’d take the tour, because I knew this would happen.”

I suppressed a laugh.

“Did you want to impress me?” Silver nodded again.

“Of course,” he replied. “I always want to impress you. It keeps you nicely in awe of me.”

I smiled and shook my head, and we turned back to look out over Goldenrod again. The notion of kissing him popped into my head, but it exited again as fast as lightning and the moment passed.

After a while, Havoc drew our attention back to her with a series of polite coughs.

“Well,” she said, “I hope you’ve enjoyed your trip around one of Goldenrod’s most famous landmarks. If you’d like to see the areas where the television shows are produced, then please come back at half past three or another day. Thank you so very much for attending.”

The tourists, Silver and I clapped politely; one or two of them offered her tips, which she accepted graciously. Then she somehow managed to clear us all out of the building in under thirty seconds, and to this day I don’t know how she did it.

As the tourists scattered, fanning out and dissipating into the background of the street, Silver led me to a bench across the road; here, we sat, and discussed a plan of attack.

“If Karen is already in there, and we, Lance and Gold are all on their tail,” Silver said, “then it’s safe to say the Rockets are probably coming to the Tower very soon, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Plus, Gold and Zane are probably already in the city, if Zane managed to drive them down here in one piece.”

“Lance is also likely to be here,” Silver said. “Since he can Fly on pretty much all of his Pokémon, and he knows the Rockets are here. So, everyone’s here. All the pieces are on the chessboard.”

“The Rockets are playing white, I guess,” I said. “We have to wait until they make their move.”

It was Silver’s turn to look at me admiringly.

“Did you make that one up?” he asked. I nodded.

“But unlike some people, I didn’t have to do it in advance,” I told him. “I guess I’m just smarter than you.”

He laughed.

“Maybe one day, Monique. Maybe one day. Anyway, back to the Rockets.”

“Yeah. When they arrive, what do we do? We can’t stop them from actually taking over – there are only two of us.”

Silver stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“We could always strike up another alliance with Gold and Lance – but I don’t think either of them will accept it after what happened last time. Besides, we can’t count on their support.”

“Zane will be here, though,” I pointed out. “We’ll have his help. By the time we all meet up, he’ll have to either openly support us or keep going with Gold – and he’ll definitely choose us.”

“Either way, you were right before. We’d probably be able to get past all the standard Rocket goons – but then we’d be too weak to fight the Mask when we got to the centre of operations.”

“Would we have to?”

Silver shrugged. “The Mask will want to set the signal off himself, I expect. Wouldn’t you?”

“I suppose so.”

“Then he’ll be guarded heavily as he does so; Rockets will be posted around the building to stop the JBC employees from escaping, and to stop people like us from interfering. The Mastermind will probably be with him, since this plan was his idea and he developed it, and Karen... I don’t know where she’ll be. Either in charge of guarding the place, or helping with the necromancy signal, since Will said she was in charge of the necromancy research.”

“Basically, you’re saying there’ll be way too many for us to stop them taking over.”

“Essentially, yes. In order to guard the building that heavily, I guess most of the Team’s Trainers and gunmen will be here.”

“Well then,” I said. “Let’s turn off the power. The generator’s in the basement, right? We don’t need to break very far in to get to it.”

Silver looked thunderstruck.

“That,” he said slowly, “is brilliant!” He swept me up in an excited hug and planted a kiss on my forehead, which made me feel vaguely faint. “I knew there was a reason I brought you along!”

“Er – thanks,” I said, feeling somewhat flustered but in no hurry to disentangle myself. “You did mention it before—”

“Yes, but I’d forgotten – and besides, you thought of it first. You keep having really good ideas,” Silver told me. “Like when you figured out how to get us to the middle of the Lake of Rage.” He gave me another squeeze, then let go of me. Reluctantly, I pulled away as well.

“Um, like I said – I suppose I’m smarter than you.”

“I guess you are,” Silver agreed. “But back to your plan. If we can just break into the lobby, then, we can get to the basement – in fact, we can send Tercier and Mercury down there to break the generator, then get to the Mask and Mastermind and tell them they won’t be able to broadcast.”

“What’s the point of doing that? We could just break the generator.”

“No!” Silver cried, slamming his fist into his knee. “No, I need to – to confront that man.”

“The Mask of Ice?”

“Yeah. I won’t...” Silver broke off; when he resumed talking, his voice was calm, collected and as cold as the grave. “I have to confront him. He showed up like a ghost, Monique, and turned me back into a kid again, scared and crying at the foot of the stairs while my mother’s corpse cooled at the top.”

I stared at him; he had never mentioned this before.

“I’ve never feared anyone as much as him. He stole me from my home, from everything I thought I knew and loved – though that turned out to be a sham, too, didn’t it? I thought the past was behind me when I escaped; when Blue said things were all right now, I believed her. I really thought that the Mask was gone forever.

“Then he turned up then – me. And I realised that the past hasn’t gone away, and it won’t until I make it. So I’m going to catch him, when he comes to the Radio Tower to broadcast his spell. I’m going to rip that mask off and take away the only thing I can from him: his secrecy. If I can see him as a man, not a monster – if I can see past the gargoyle face – then I can break him, I know I can, Blue!”

His impassioned speech had filled his face with colour and his eyes with fire; his fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles strained white against the skin. Once again, I was entirely thrown, and had no idea what to say to him; the only sounds were the rumble of traffic and the clatter of footsteps, the background music of the city landscape. All I could think of was: Did he just call me Blue?

Silver stared at me for a moment, eyes unfocused; suddenly, they snapped back to normal and he started apologising.

“Sorry!” he cried, leaping up and turning to face me, back to the Tower. “I’m sorry, Monique, I didn’t mean to – to say that...” He might have been crying then, I wasn’t sure; his eyes were full of anguish, as if all the sorrow he’d kept bottled inside him since Blue had died was threatening to burst out of him, kicking and screaming.

“It’s OK,” I said softly, taking hold of his hand and pulling him down again. The words came out of my mouth without any input from me whatsoever; it was as if I’d always known what to say, had had these words ready for a long time, just waiting for this moment. “It’s OK, Silver, I understand. You need someone to talk to, right? A friend, an older sister, whatever. Blue was that to you and more, and now you’ve found someone else who can do something similar and everything’s starting to come out again...”

Now I was sure Silver was crying: the tears were flowing freely down his face, his facetious, confident façade utterly demolished; he was no more than any other kid then, like me, like anyone who’s seen the world and tells everyone they can take its worst blows, when in fact all they can do is pretend not to care as the pressure inside their outer shell grows stronger and stronger. Silver’s shell had cracked when the Mask spoke to him under Mahogany; a chip had fallen from it when he had learned of the Rockets’ scheme; now, he had involuntarily shattered it, and his real self – bereaved, alone, terrified – lay revealed for the world to see.

“I’ll be Blue for you,” I whispered in his ear as I drew him close, remembering that he was younger than me; remembering that, ultimately, he depended on me. There must have been others on the street, pedestrians on their way around the roads of Goldenrod, but whenever I revisit that memory I don’t see any of them: there’s just the long road, empty and gloomy in winter’s thrall, and Silver and I in the middle of it, two lonely figures in a vast, unfriendly world.

My watch had broken a year ago and I’d never had the money to have it repaired, so I’ve never known how long we were there; it seemed like the blink of an eye, but the sky was darkening when I next looked up, and the romantic in me likes to think sometimes that we spent hours together there, aware that something had changed but not sure exactly what it was.

“Monique,” said Silver after a long time, his voice very quiet.

“Silver,” I replied.

“What must you think of me?” He sat up, rubbing his face on his sleeve. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what – what came over me.”

“I do,” I told him. “You came over you. The you who has emotions that need releasing now and then, not the Silver who slides from one situation to the next, as slippery and uncatchable as an eel, with an answer for everything.” Silver’s face twitched into something that was almost half a smile.

“Did you make that one up?” he asked quietly. I nodded. “You are smarter than me,” he said. We were both silent for a while. “You’re right,” he said eventually. “You’re just like her.”

“Blue?”

“Yeah.” He stared out at the other side of the road, at the Radio Tower. “Did you mean what you said? About being Blue?”

“Yes,” I answered, more strongly than I’d intended. “I’ll help you, Silver. Always.”

He looked back at me. “You’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had,” he said with feeling. “But... you’ve known me for what, about a week? Six days, maybe? How – how did we get here, best friends, closer to each other than to anyone else in the world, and so utterly different from when we started, with me stealing your money in the snow in Mahogany?”

I didn’t know. It was a question that no one could answer; the reason was lost somewhere in the middle of our time together. This week with Silver felt as long as the whole of the rest of my life, and I had no idea why.

“I don’t know,” I said at length. “I want to say it’s magic, but I don’t know.”

Silver smiled properly then – and not the mirthless one he usually used, but a real, human smile, such as I hadn’t seen on his face for, it seemed, aeons.

“I’m willing to believe it’s magic,” he said. “No other explanation, right?”

“Right,” I agreed, and a police car pulled up in front of us.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #24    
Old February 15th, 2011 (10:39 PM).
sandersjake16 sandersjake16 is offline
 
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Please don't let this die, it's an amazing story, and in terms of the games shows you everythings not black and white. I need this Pleaseeeeee
  #25    
Old February 16th, 2011 (12:54 AM).
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bobandbill bobandbill is online now
I'M AN ANGRY SCIENTIST!!
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Sorry, but you cannot bump threads that are over a month old since the last post. (That and all reviews have to be constructive too and say something specific about the story - you are kinda doing that but it's more a 'please continue' sort of post overall).

I'll close this as per fanfic rules - Cutlerine, if you want to post another chapter in this just PM Astinus or myself to open it for you again.
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