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  #51    
Old Posted February 27th, 2011 (03:45 AM). Edited May 13th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
You’re referencing Alghieri? I’m impressed. I’ve actually only read up till Inferno, so tell me, does Purgatorio actually have a place for cowards? Because cowardice almost seems like a cardinal sin.
There are no Circles in Inferno for cowardice, but I'm not sure about terraces of Purgatorio. If I remember rightly, the terraces of Purgatorio simply correspond to the deadly sins, so there shouldn't be.

Anyway:

Chapter Twenty-Three: A Hobo’s Fighting Spirit

“I see. Yes, that’s quite all right. No, it’s excellent news, really.”

Deep, deep beneath the surface of the earth, the man in the ruby-red trenchcoat had his feet up on the desk and his ear pressed against the phone.

“Well, thank you very much,” he said. “Frankly, you’re saving us here. If what you say is true, the blues are close to theirs already. A meteorite, you say? No? I don’t quite... A Meteorite? With a capital ‘M’? How is that diff... Oh, is that so? That’s quite clever, isn’t it? Well, thank you again. Goodbye.”

He put down the phone and pondered for a moment, throwing pieces of dried meat into the blot of inky blackness that skulked in the corner of the room. Occasional snaps told him that the creature within was succeeding in catching them.

“All right,” said Maxie at length, sliding his feet off the desk and sitting up. “Tabitha!”

A tall, hooded figure in red stepped into the room.

“Yes, sir?” he asked. Maxie looked surprised.

“Who the hell are you?” he roared. Sensing a temper coming on, Tabitha replied in his most soothing tone.

“Tabitha, sir.”

“I thought... What the hell? Tabitha’s a woman’s name! I wanted the other Admin, the pretty young one. Go and get her!”

“Yes, sir.” Tabitha turned to leave, but Maxie called him back.

“Wait!” The Magma Administrator looked patiently in the direction of his boss. “You’ll do, you’ll do,” decided Maxie, with a considered nod of the head. “I need you to do some research for me. It’s about these things called Meteorites...”

---

Monday and Tuesday were, for the first time in ages, pretty normal. Sapphire was out at the Gym all day, and I was left to my own devices; I spent most of Monday asleep, purely because I had that luxury, and the better part of Tuesday exploring Mauville. I’d never been there before, and I have to say I was a little disappointed: from the name, I was expecting a lot more purple than I got.

Other than that minor chromatic deficiency, however, I found I rather liked Mauville. Smaller than Rustboro and Slateport, yet larger than Dewford, it was just the right sort of size for wandering around. I found parks and clubs, clock towers and skyscrapers, all within a comfortable walk of each other, and I took pleasure in the continually varying scenery. The weather brightened up, too, returning to gloriously clear blue skies, and so, taken in all, it was a thoroughly pleasant day.

Then came Wednesday. What is it about Wednesdays that makes them so awful? Maybe it’s because it comes in the middle of the week, a halfway point between weekend and weekend where you look back with pride at how far you’ve come, but forwards with dismay at the long slog ahead of you; maybe the day’s just bitter because no one pronounces all three syllables of its name, as they do for Saturday. Either way, Wednesdays in my experience are generally days of despair, and this one was no exception.

It started well – deceptively well. Sapphire invited me to come to the Gym with her, because she was going to challenge Wattson. I accepted, we arrived and she led me into the yellow room at the back that I’d glimpsed on Sunday. Despite the grim exterior, this area of the Gym was pretty nice inside; I’d have classified it as Neo-Classical in design, but Puck stopped me.

I’ve had quite enough of that, he snapped irritably. I really hate it when you steal my descriptions of architecture.

The room was punctuated by a series of electrified fences, blocking off the way to Wattson; the man himself sat on a large beanbag at the back of the room, the long-suffering Shawn standing next to him and occasionally making comments that were lost in the sound of the old Leader’s raucous laughter. Around us, and scattered about the huge room in between the fences, pairs and quartets of Trainers were battling each other or simply teaching their Pokémon moves. Gouts of fire, flashes of light, and, above all, bursts of electricity kept erupting with roars or crackles; I saw a scarred white creature, armed with a pair of formidable talons, duelling with a huge, blade-covered snake, and some sort of long-haired serpent coiling around a furious Electabuzz, pulses of transparent energy bursting periodically from its brow. It was quite a spectacle, and I stared around, entranced, for a good five seconds before Sapphire tugged at my sleeve and recaptured my attention.

“Come on,” she said. “I have an appointment.”

“OK, OK.” I glanced around as she pulled me to the first gate in the fence. “This is all... well, it’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“If you like it so much, why’d you never become a Trainer?” asked Sapphire cattily, showing a nearby guitarist a ticket of some sort, along with her Trainer Card. He opened the gate for us, and we went through.

“Oh, I wouldn’t like to do it,” I replied, horrified. “No, not at all! Way too dangerous. But it’s cool to watch.”

Sapphire sighed.

“I don’t get how someone like you can exist,” she said. “Do you really have no aspirations at all?”

I thought for a moment.

“No,” I concluded, with a bright smile. “Not really.”

Sapphire sighed again, and we reached the final fence. Here, Shawn himself wandered over to us.

“Oh, hey Sapphire,” he said, idly picking at the strings of his guitar. “And hi, er—”

“Kester,” I reminded him. “My name’s Kester.”

“Right,” Shawn said. “Kester. So, Sapphire, you’re going to take on Wattson today, hm?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Can you let me in?”

“Yeah, sure.” Shawn unlocked the gate, let Sapphire through, and shut it carefully in my face. I walked into it and felt a faint tingling, but no pain.

Mm-mm, said Puck happily, that’s some good electricity. So much better than that stuff going round in your brain.

“Hey!” I cried, “why’d you shut it?”

“Challengers only beyond this point.” Shawn locked the gate again and started playing with his guitar. “You can watch fine from where you are.”

I glowered at him ineffectively, then took a step back to see better.

Wattson’s beanbag was positioned at the back of a bright yellow stage, the steps of which Sapphire was currently mounting; the lights reflected so harshly off the polished surface that I felt I might well develop snow blindness if I looked at it for too long. The old man got to his feet at her approach, and smiled amiably.

“It’s you,” he said.

“Yes,” Sapphire agreed. “It is me. Whatever you mean by that. I’m here to challenge you to a battle – I have an appointment?”

Kester, Puck said, do you think you could walk into the fence again? I want a bit more of that stuff.

“No,” I replied. “I categorically refuse to engage in active self-harm purely so you can have a snack.”

You’ve a heart colder than Estella’s, Puck said, with an aggrieved air. Fine, I guess I can’t make you.

“That’s right,” I said, feeling very self-satisfied. It was good to be in control.

“Does she have an appointment?” Wattson asked Shawn. Shawn nodded.

“Yeah, she does,” he replied.

“I just said that!” protested Sapphire, but Wattson simply turned to her and laughed loudly into her face.

He really is crazy, isn’t he? Puck remarked.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Total nutcase.”

“What sort of strength?” Wattson said, taking three steps back and pulling out a Great Ball from his pocket. “Which team do I use?”

“I’m going to use two Pokémon,” Sapphire told him. “Level 22 and 24, respectively.”

She had already told me that she didn’t plan to use the Sableye. He was too strong, and too unreliable.

“That’s all right,” said Wattson, smiling broadly, replacing the Great Ball and drawing out another. “I’ll use two weaker ones, then.”

Sapphire took Rono’s ball from her belt, and tossed it down on the ground; the Aron was visibly agitated, shifting anxiously from foot to stubby foot. Wattson sent out a smaller version of the Electrode he had used before, with angrier eyes and no mouth: a Voltorb.

“If you’re ready,” Shawn said, holding out one hand. “The match begins – now!”

He dropped his hand, and immediately two conflicting voices rang out:

“Mud-Slap!”

“Go round and round!”

Rono kicked up a cloud of dirt from somewhere, but the Voltorb was already moving, whizzing around the arena in a blur of red and white; Rono’s attack missed, and the Voltorb settled into a steady orbit around him, circling like some weird cross between Poké Ball and shark.

“What are you doing?” asked Sapphire.

“Wahahahahaha!” laughed Wattson. “Round and round and round and round!”

“Oh, God, you really are insane, aren’t you? Rono, wait for it, and Headbutt!”

It took him a couple of tries, but eventually the Aron managed to land a solid hit on his whirling opponent; it flew backwards like a thrown ball and bounced off Wattson’s broad chest. As it landed, I could see whatever vitriol simmered in its eyes flaring; it obviously didn’t like being maltreated like that.

“All right, all right,” Wattson said. “Let’s get down to business. Spark!”

“Mud-Slap and dodge!”

Just as the Voltorb zoomed forwards, plastic hide glowing, Rono’s dirt-cloud appeared; the spherical Pokémon vanished from sight and emitted a high-pitched grinding sound that I took to indicate distress. At the precise moment that it emerged from the muddy mess, spattered with brown and looking somewhat confused, Rono curled up and rolled to the side. The Spark dissipated on the surface of the Voltorb, and Rono took the chance to give it a judicious Headbutt.

“Oho!” cried Wattson, producing an enormous pink umbrella from somewhere, unfurling it and advancing on the Aron. “What’s this?”

“I’ll take that,” said Shawn gently, relieving him of his weapon and pushing him back a few steps.

“Finish him!” Wattson shouted. “He’s almost gone!”

This was patently a lie, but it seemed to convince the Voltorb; despite its injuries, it narrowed its evil little eyes and rolled towards Rono once more. This time, the Spark hit, yellow electricity arcing over the surface of his steel skin; as the Voltorb rolled back, preparing for a second blow, he staggered back a pace, squeezing his blue eyes shut in pain.

“Keep going,” Sapphire said softly. “Come on, Rono. Another Headbutt.”

She really does like that Aron, observed Puck. How sweet.

Rono jumped forwards unenthusiastically, and caught the Voltorb a glancing blow. The latter monster was so light that even that small hit threw it back about a metre; it landed in between Wattson’s feet. The Gym Leader picked it up and examined it minutely.

“Some new kind of apple?” he pondered, scratching his head. “I wonder what it t—”

“No!” cried Shawn, darting forwards and dashing the Voltorb from his hand, moments before it would have reached his lips. “No, don’t eat that!”

Wattson gave him a long and inscrutable look, then nodded firmly.

“Yes,” he said, appearing to regain some modicum of sanity. “I should... this is a battle, yes?”

“Yes,” called Sapphire.

“Right. Yoghurt, SonicBoom!”

The Voltorb spun rapidly on its axis, and a deafeningly loud crack rent the air; it seemed that whatever had happened, its focus was on Rono, because a strange, unnatural vibration passed through his body, and a massive crack appeared in his rocky underbelly. He gave a weak, gravelly cry, and Sapphire cried out:

“One more! Just hang in there for one more move, Rono!”

Rono didn’t seem to be able to move his back legs, but he dragged himself forwards and waited, eyes following the Voltorb as it pursued its rapid path around the stage.

“Finish this,” Wattson said, “Spark it.”

The Voltorb darted forwards, towards Rono’s unmoving form—

—and was met with a resounding smack of steel on plastic, the Aron’s head swinging forth to crash into his opponent’s face. The Voltorb cracked from top to bottom, and as it flew backwards, something hot and glowing started to trail from its forehead. Wattson recalled it hurriedly, and it was back in the ball before it hit the ground.

“Yoghurt is unable to battle,” called Shawn. “One point to Sapphire Birch.”

Good call on Wattson’s part, Puck said. It was about to go off, and that’s never a good thing.

“Go off... like a bomb?”

No, like a freaking lollipop lady. Yes, like a bomb.

“All right, all right,” I said, stung. “No need to be so... nasty about it.”

Wattson threw down a ball that disgorged another ball – or so I thought. The Pokémon that emerged was featureless, spherical and made entirely of steel; it had one large, staring white eye, which appeared to be painted on, and when it came out everything made of metal started to float towards it.

“Rono, come back!” called Sapphire, and he flew towards the ball; however, the magnetic Pokémon’s field seemed to draw him back, sliding slowly across the floor with a grinding sound.

Magnet Pull, Puck said appreciatively. Wattson’s a nutter, but he’s a clever nutter.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

That thing’s a Magnemite, Puck told me. They’re magnetic. Rono’s made of steel...

“So he’s stuck out?”

That’s right. And since it’s an official League match, Sapphire can’t use an item to heal him... I should think he’s screwed.

As I watched, a bolt of lightning lanced from the Magnemite’s unblinking eye to Rono’s face; the Aron’s limbs convulsed, his eyes shut and he slumped down onto his cracked belly.

“Rono is unable to fight,” said Shawn, playing a little celebratory riff on his guitar. “One point to Wattson.”

Damn, Gina, said Puck, this lightning so deadly!

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

You are so little fun that I think there must be something wrong with you. Ever been to see a doctor about it? Or maybe a stand-up comedian would be better. Or maybe even just the Internet. Heard of it?

Sapphire looked upset, but sent out Toro without saying anything.

“Ember!” she ordered.

Good move. Magnemite has high defence, so it’s more likely to survive Double Kick than Ember, despite being weak to both.

I didn’t get that, but I did note with some surprise that Toro was able to defeat the Magnemite in a single hit with Ember; the flames flared up in what I recognised as a critical hit, and they packed enough punch to make the sphere pass out. This didn’t make it close its eye, but it fell straight down like a lead weight, cracking the plastic covering of the stage, and rolled away to come to rest stuck to Rono.

“Gigaremo is unable to battle. Sapphire Birch wins the match!”

“Wahahaha!” laughed Wattson, and sat heavily down on his beanbag. “You ended up giving me a thrill!”

“Who’s he talking to?” asked Sapphire, for he was looking intently at the light fixtures.

“You, probably,” replied Shawn. “Here, have one of these things.” He handed her a Dynamo Badge, and this time she accepted, staring at it happily for a moment before pocketing it.

Like I said, Wednesday began deceptively well. Sapphire won her match, very few weird things happened; all in all, it was good – especially since I later learned that it was rare to beat a Gym Leader straight away like that. I guess it helped that Wattson wasn’t in his right mind.

Now I’m going to start on the bad.

---

Fabien stopped in front of the Mauville Memorial Centre, turned to face his colleagues, and cracked his knuckles in the manner of one about to do something decisive.

“OK, gang,” he said, “let’s split up and look for clues!”

Goishi gave him a look, and he hastily elaborated.

“What I mean is, Blake and I are going to go and look for the Rotom-kid in here” – he indicated the Memorial Centre, three floors of prime shopping and dining opportunities – “while you are going to search the Gym, and the Pokémon Centres.”

The Golbat stared at Fabien, depressed, then, unable to muster enough emotion even to protest, flapped off to find the Gym. Apparently, he thought, he was Velma.

The Magmas had, much like when Kester had first bested them, spent some time constructing a large and elaborate reason for their defeat; that is to say, Fabien had spent some time constructing a large and elaborate reason, while Blake nodded and admired it, and Goishi closed his eyes and thought dark and exasperated thoughts. The explanation thus devised was this: the boy had, using the not inconsiderable resources of Team Aqua, hired a large quantity of actors of the same age and general build as himself, and, utilising hair dye, make up and many sets of identical clothing, had disguised them so that, in the dim light of sunset, they might be mistaken for him. Blake had then asked why he had done this; Fabien’s reply had been that, of course, he had wanted to throw them off the scent and frighten them. Fabien had been somewhat less clear about precisely how the Rotom-boy had known that they were lying in wait up the path, but it was generally understood amongst the three Magmas that Fabien was almost certainly correct.

Once this explanation had been provided, they had been able to laugh at how foolish they were and climb down the support in peace. However, they had been chased back up again by a pack of wild Manectric that seemed averse to allowing them safe passage through their territory; with this and other obstacles, it had taken them rather longer to get to Mauville than they would have liked. ‘Longer’, in this case, signifying several extra days.

From there, they had swiftly reached the city’s main shopping centre, the Mauville Memorial Centre – although what it was a memorial to was something that no one could have told you – and that was where Fabien had conceived a plan to split up and search for their targets. He and Blake would search the Memorial Centre, and Goishi would search at the Gym and Centres.

Fabien strolled into the mall, and inhaled deeply, taking in the scents of sophistication and civilisation that gathered in the air around him. It was good to be back in a city, he decided.

“Right, Blake,” he said. “A light meal, and I think we’ll be ready to proceed, don’t you?”

“A’righ’.” His partner nodded his assent, and they went off in search of food.

---

Barry came to in the back of a moving van, slumped against one wall. He immediately divined that his shoulder hurt, and gave a corresponding groan of pain; a second or two later, he worked out that his neck also hurt, due to his position, and made a second groan of equal or greater value.

“Is this a hangover?” he wondered. “No... I wasn’t drunk...” He snapped his fingers. That was it – that weird white Sableye had blasted him with a Power Gem. Or it might have been a wrecking ball; judging by the pain, it could have been either. “Where am I?” he asked, banging on the van’s wall.

“Quit it,” came a terse reply. “I’m taking you to Mauville, moron. You got beaten up by those kids.”

The tone of the voice so clearly conveyed contempt that Barry was forced to consider the prospect of it being what is commonly known as ‘scathing’; after a moment’s reflection, he decided that, regrettably, it was. He let out a long sigh, and settled into a marginally more comfortable position.

“Did we get them in the end?” he asked.

“What do you think?”

Barry was silent for a moment. Then, hopefully:

“Yes?”

“Dear God. Is this what our organisation’s come to these days? Hiring lobotomised monkeys as grunts?”

“Shut up,” Barry rumbled.

“Or what?” the voice countered. “I don’t have to drive you to Mauville, you know. I could drop you off here, if you’d prefer, and then you can walk and explain to Matt why you’re late.”

Barry’s manly heart sank; it was a piteous sight to behold, like an ageing dog that can no longer refuse to be dressed up by small girls in a hat and coat.

“Matt’s in Mauville?”

“Yes, questioning your partner. She’s not going to be happy with you.” The voice sounded almost gleeful, and Barry wondered who his driver was. “Word is, though, she’s the one in charge of your group. You turning soft for a pretty girl, Barry?”

“Tchaikovsky?” asked Barry in a low growl. “Is that you?”

“Do Gyarados eat ships?”

Tchaikovsky was not, as one might have thought, a 19th century Russian composer, but a driver for the Aquas whose path had crossed Barry’s many times in the past; an incurable smart-aleck, the diminutive Johtonian had never really been highly esteemed by the giant, and indeed over the years had become an object of positive loathing. He was also something of a fan of twentieth-century British music.

“Does Matt want to talk to me as well?” Barry asked.

“You better you better you bet,” sang out Tchaikovsky. “After all, from what I gather you actually had the kid in your hands before you got beaten up by a Sableye. Of all the things...!”

“It was a strong Sableye,” Barry rumbled defiantly.

“‘Strong’, in this case, meaning something different to what it usually does, I suppose,” Tchaikovsky replied. “Seriously, Barry, did you ever know a Sableye to be strong?”

Barry thought about it, and concluded that the one he had met yesterday did indeed fit neatly into that category.

“Yes,” he said.

Tchaikovsky made an exasperated noise.

“Honestly,” he said. “I don’t know why you don’t just carry a gun. Shoot these things. Felicity’s a smart girl, she knows what she’s doing. But you, you rely too much on your strength.”

“Shut up.”

“Not now, I’m just getting into this speech. Where was I? Oh yeah: you know what they say about this sort of thing, don’t you? Happiness is a warm gun. That’s what they say.”

“That’s a Beatles song,” Barry pointed out, in an uncharacteristic flash of insight.

“Well... the Beatles had it right, then,” Tchaikovsky countered. “They were smart boys.”

“Huh.”

Barry didn’t know enough about the Beatles to know if they were smart or not, but he wanted to give the impression that he did, and that he disagreed with Tchaikovsky on that point.

“I’m guessing that by ‘huh’ you mean you don’t know anything about the Beatles,” Tchaikovsky said. “Which is quite difficult; are you sure you don’t know? Perhaps you have some sort of memory problem. You probably ought to get your head checked, by a jumbo jet. That wouldn’t be easy, I suppose – but then again, nothing is, is it?”

“What’re you on about now?” growled Barry. Tchaikovsky snickered.

“Never mind,” he said. “Some day you’ll find what I meant. You know, caught beneath a landslide, in a champagne supernova.”

“You’re doing that... that thing you do again,” Barry said. “Stop it.”

“Or what? We’ve come right back to my threat to make you walk.”

Barry sighed, and forced himself to shut up. There was no point talking to Tchaikovsky. The little man would run verbal rings around him. Instead, he decided, when the van stopped, he would rip him from the driver’s seat and beat the living daylights out of him.

Comforted by this thought, he settled down in the back of the van to wait.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #52    
Old Posted March 1st, 2011 (01:20 PM).
Xilfer's Avatar
Xilfer
'twas fun.
Community Supporter
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Your mind
Gender: Male
Nature: Naughty
Hey again, it may not have occured to you but i've been following your story since it started, it's amazing! i'm not one for details or reviews. but your story is just something else! it's funny and serious at the same time, and i can't stop telling myself "Poor Kester" sometimes, anyway, i just finished your latest chapter, all your work is just great! making Puck english and adding all those english literature comments and such was one of the bests.

Puck's comments are sometimes the best bit and he's by far my favorite character in the story, and i like how you made Sapphire so cruel and annoying, and it's hilarious how poor old Kester has no control of his situation at all. anyway, the true purpose of this post: PLEASE IN GOD'S NAME MAKE ANOTHER CHAPTER! PLEAAAAAASE! ILL DIE WITHOUT IT! XD.
__________________
Presently gone from PC. Not sure if I'll ever return.
  #53    
Old Posted March 2nd, 2011 (11:21 AM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Xilfer, this one's for you.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Bad Day Bad Day Bad Day!

First off: have you ever tried to separate a Magnemite and an Aron?

It’s not easy, let me tell you that. I got recruited to help – which basically means that I grabbed Rono and Shawn grabbed Wattson’s Magnemite, while the two Trainers stood around and did nothing at all to aid us. The little steel ball had a lot of power in it, because it took the better part of twenty minutes to work the damn things apart; they were stuck as fast as two limpets that had accidentally suckered themselves to each other.

As soon as we had them apart, Wattson recalled his Magnemite, which nullified the magnetic field instantly; I tumbled over backwards and down the steps to the stage, with Rono’s hard, heavy body crushing my ribs and belly. I lay there, winded, until Sapphire recalled him, and then slowly got back up.

“Couldn’t you have recalled your Magnemite earlier?” I asked Wattson, aggrieved. “You know, like before it got stuck to Rono and I had to try and prise them apart?”

“Wahahahahaha,” laughed the old Gym Leader. “You ended up giving me a thrill!”

I turned to Sapphire, ignoring him and trying to quell the rage building up inside me.

“We should go,” I said. “Rono looks like he could use the Pokémon Centre.”

“Thanks, Shawn, Wattson,” Sapphire said, nodding at me. “It’s been absolutely a pleasure to meet you.”

“All mine, Sapphire,” replied the guitarist. “And I’m sure Wattson’s delighted, too.”

“He certainly seems it,” I muttered under my breath, listening to his laughter; Puck chuckled.

You’re getting the hang of this joking lark, aren’t you? he remarked happily. Well, good for you.

We made our way back out of the training hall, and upon entering the Gym’s little entrance corridor, were immediately confronted by a five-foot-tall blue bat, its great mouth spread wide and about a metre and a half of tongue lolling out and lying on the floor in a lazy coil.

I never forget a face
, said Puck, but in his case, I think I’m willing to make an exception.

“Ee-ee-E-E-E-eek,” it said malevolently, and I raised my hand to ThunderShock it; before I could do anything, it whipped its tongue through the air and vomited out a stream of sparkly lights. Surprised at this sudden move, I stood and gaped while they hit me in the face. It didn’t hurt, but almost immediately, I felt like I was suffering the effects of deciding to get drunk on a roundabout: dizzier than any rational human being can ever want to be.

Oh dear, Puck said. Seems you’ve been confused.

I’m not entirely sure what happened next, because I did a lot of walking into walls and tangling my feet together; none of my limbs would do what I want, and all of them had their own ideas about who we were meant to be attacking. At one point, I even managed to ThunderShock myself in the face, which was, though not unduly painful, very annoying.

I was vaguely aware that something was happening to my right, where Sapphire was; she’d tried to turn back and get into the training hall again, I think, but somehow the Golbat stopped her.

That is one mean stare that Golbat’s got, Puck remarked, as I smacked my face against the wall. Probably because it’s using Mean Look, but you know.

“No, I don’t!” I managed to say, through lips that didn’t seem to recognise words.

Toro appeared. That was the next thing I remember. However, she didn’t stay out for long; the Golbat swiped at her head with one wing, and she crumpled to the floor, instantly defeated. I had no idea why, and I didn’t really care, because I was trying to stop punching myself.

Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, said Puck. Heh. Did you ever get bullied and have someone punch you with your own fist while saying that? I didn’t – no one bullies a Ghost, and I don’t have fists anyway – but I’m fairly certain of its prevalence amongst humans.

“I’m trying to stop!” I answered, anguished. “I really am!”

I believe you, Puck said. I’ll always believe in you. Unless you do something stupid, in which case I’ll inform you of it in no uncertain terms.

“Be more helpful!” I blundered forwards and, by sheer luck, crashed into the Golbat; together, we tumbled to the floor. Its heavy wings beat against my back, and my electricity crackled along its tongue; it screeched in pain and threw me off, struggling back to its feet. I tried to get up and ended up kicking Sapphire in the leg. Unprepared for the blow, she fell over too, and she, Toro and I co-existed in an undignified tangle of limbs for a short, uneasy period of time. The reason for its being short was this: once we had all been incapacitated, the Golbat lurched forwards, wrapped its tongue around my waist and dragged me away down the hall.

Your health is slowly being sapped, Puck informed me brightly. This is the move known as Wrap. Or maybe he’s just got his tongue wrapped around you, I can’t really tell. It’s almost the same thing.

“You’re no help!”

We’re confused. We can’t do anything. It’ll wear off soon, don’t worry. About the confusion, that is. You probably should worry about this whole kidnapping business.

The Golbat headbutted the Gym door open, and flapped out; it struggled and strained, and managed to lift me into the air. It flew away, misjudged the height and let me smack headfirst into the fence.

EEEEEK!” it said angrily, dropping me a swift and painfully-terminated six feet to the ground; at this point, Sapphire and a couple of other Trainers burst out of the Gym, and, deciding that it would prefer to survive to fight another day, the Golbat flew off hurriedly. A large, four-winged Pokémon with massive eye-shaped antennae erupted from its ball and rapidly gave chase.

I picked myself up off the tarmac, the last vestiges of confusion swirling in my head. I clung to the fence for stability, and blinked sluggishly as a barrage of questions assailed my ears. ‘Are you OK?’ was the one that I heard most often, and consequently the one I answered first.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, head clearing. “I’m fine.”

“Did that Golbat just come in here and—?” asked a kid a few years younger than me, the one who’d set the four-winged Pokémon on the Golbat’s tail.

“Yeah,” I replied. “It beat up Sapphire’s Combusken, confused me and then just – took off.” I made a little motion with one hand. Maybe I was in shock, maybe I wanted to make myself seem cooler, but I was making very light of this indeed.

“We should tell Shawn about this,” said another Trainer.

“No, the police!” argued the first.

“Kids,” I said, and when they glared at me regretted it. “I mean, guys, let’s just... be cool.”

Be cool, honey bunny, Puck said, in a deep American-accented voice. Be cool. Then, as usual after he made an abstruse referential joke, he laughed quietly to himself.

“Are you sure?”

Yes,” said Sapphire forcefully. “We’re both fine. That Golbat... we’ve met it before. Kester has, anyway. It’s our business.”

With a jolt, I realised she was right: the Golbat had to be the Team Magma one that had attacked me last Monday, in the back alley in Rustboro near where Puck had stashed the goods.

That sounds so cool, Puck said. ‘Where Puck had stashed the goods.’ I feel cooler than Huggy Bear.

Who? I thought back, as the four-winged Pokémon returned; it moved slowly, bleeding from a series of small, crescent-shaped cuts on its belly.

“You didn’t catch it, then?” asked its Trainer; the Pokémon buzzed dumbly and I wondered if he’d really expected an answer. He was talking to an insect, after all. He sighed, sprayed a Potion on it and recalled it. “You’re sure you can handle this yourselves?” he asked of Sapphire and I.

“Yes.”

“Yeah.”

He exchanged glances with the other Trainer; they sighed and said:

“All right.”

Then they turned and went back to the Gym.

Who brings a Masquerain to an Electric Gym? Puck wondered. They’re so weak to those moves. Unlike diamonds, which are forever.

“Come on,” Sapphire said, looking around in case the Golbat returned. “We should leave. Team Magma have caught up with us, it seems – and the Golbat’s using different tactics now. It’s not taking any chances.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Let’s get back to the Centre.”

As we walked down the street, a thought struck me.

Puck? I just got your last reference!

To
Diamonds Are Forever? I thought you might – I seem to remember you knowing who James Bond is.

Well, yeah. The world is not enough to contain his fame.

Oho! Puck seemed genuinely impressed. That’s good, Kester. Knowing that you can actually make jokes gives me a quantum of solace.

We both burst out laughing then, much to Sapphire’s surprise; she gave me an odd look, and I shook my head, pointing to my brain. She rolled her eyes and ignored me.

OK, OK, I thought. Let’s have a competition—

—To see who can reference the most Bond film titles? Puck asked. You’re on! Time’s up when we run out of films, and you can’t use any of them twice.

Fair enough, I agreed, and immediately started thinking of ways to relate the things I was seeing to James Bond.

Don’t rush it
, Puck cautioned. Let it come naturally. This is going to be fun, and it’ll be best if we do it at a natural sort of pace.

“Right,” I said aloud, and schemed all the way back to the Pokémon Centre.

---

Goishi landed with a clatter in the centre of the table, scattering dishes and leaving a splatter of saliva over Fabien’s lobster terrine.

“Oh, come on!” cried Fabien, who was mere moments away from taking a mouthful, and now put down his knife and fork in disgust. “You know that’s my favourite!”

The Golbat eyed him with the sort of distaste usually reserved for foul and unidentifiable gunk that attaches itself to the sole of one’s shoe, and said:

“Eee-ee-EEEE-eek.”

Fabien listened intently, then asked:

“So they were at the Gym? Then why didn’t you catch them?”

Again, the withering stare; Fabien, completely impervious to it, nodded and smiled.

“I see,” he said sympathetically. “It was obviously too much for you.”

“Excuse me, sir,” interrupted a waiter as politely as possible, unwittingly forestalling any retribution on Goishi’s part, “I’m afraid I will have to ask you and your friend to leave. You can’t bring Pokémon in here; not non-domestic ones, anyway.”

He cast an unloving look at Goishi, who, affronted, slapped his cheek with the tip of his tongue; Fabien and Blake rose hurriedly, tossing a few notes onto the table to cover their ruined meal, and left before things got out of hand.

“Honestly,” Fabien said despairingly as they trudged through the Memorial Centre, “you really must be more sensitive, Goishi. That man didn’t deserve that.”

Goishi gave him up as a lost cause and shook his heavy head.

“Fabien,” said Blake.

“Yes?”

“I’ve acciden’ally stolen a fork.”

Fabien looked. He was right: the utensil was still clasped firmly in Blake’s meaty hand, and Blake himself was staring at it as if trying to figure out how it had got there.

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

“Do I take it back?”

“Too late now,” sighed Fabien. “Just... put it down somewhere. In that bin, that’ll do.”

Dutifully, Blake tipped the fork into the bin, which drew the ire of an old lady wandering nearby; she addressed them in no uncertain terms about the moral wickedness of failing to recycle metal items, and chased them down a flight of stairs, laying about their heads and shoulders with a stout umbrella.

Goishi flapped lazily along above his two masters, watching them flee the Centre in a panic, and sighed. He missed Stheno.

---

You may recall I said that Wednesday was an awful day, and be wondering quite what was so bad about it beyond having to separate Rono from the Magnemite and almost being kidnapped by a Golbat. I might well respond that that was bad enough – but it did actually get worse, and it started when we retired to the Centre’s living-room after lunch to see if there was anything on TV.

Sapphire and I were the only ones there – generally, Trainers were out for most of the day – and had thus managed to gain control of the sofa directly in front of the TV.
Comfortably seated and feeling almost normal, we flicked on the television and stared in surprise at the screen.

Hey, Puck said. It’s our old friend from Slateport.

There he was, topping the news, his sharp eyes shining like factories far away; he was grinning wildly into the lens of a CCTV camera, while his cohorts tore up books behind him. Talking over the frozen image was the voice of Gabby van Horne, Hoenn’s favourite newsgirl and one half of a partnership with the country’s most famous and reckless cameraman, Tyrone de’Medici.

Seriously? He belongs to the House of Medici?

“Ssh,” I hissed. “I’m trying to listen.”

“...attacks have spread to Verdanturf and Mauville over the last few days,” Gabby was saying. “Professor Birch is currently working with the Pokémon Rangers in order to try and find out what exactly is agitating the Sableye, and how best to calm them down.”

“Kill Stripe, that’s my guess,” I muttered. “He’s the one stirring them up. I thought I’d got him back in Slateport, but I guess he never dies. Just like tomorrow.”

Oh! Puck cried. You sneaky—! I’ll have to keep my guard up against you.

“This is bad,” Sapphire said. “We let those Sableye out. Aren’t we kind of responsible?” She looked at me, worried. I shrugged.

“Is it our fault that the lead Sableye’s crazy?” I asked.

“I guess...”

“Besides, what do you care? You’re fairly abusive as it is.” Sapphire looked hurt.

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“...the first recorded injury,” Gabby said, which snapped us out of what would doubtless have been a long and protracted argument. “Mrs. Deagle, 52, of Verdanturf, was thrown from a first-floor window by her stair-lift, which had been altered to run at dangerously high speed by the Sableye. She is currently in hospital, where her condition is said to be critical.”

Mesprit’s pink pigtails, Puck exclaimed, this joke is rapidly becoming my favourite. And you still aren’t getting it, you moronic Hoennian meatfaces!

Sapphire and I exchanged a vaguely guilty glance.

“Is that our...?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Can’t be our fault. We were just escaping, right? Couldn’t be helped.”

“Besides,” Sapphire added, “they can’t know for sure that it was the Sableye, can they?”

“The tracks of several Sableye were found nearby, and tufts of hair confirmed to be from the Darkness Pokémon were caught in some mechanical parts of the stair-lift,” Gabby went on, “marking them out as the obvious perpetrators of the crime. It is still uncertain why this gang of Sableye have developed criminal tendencies, but early studies indicate that there is a leader among them, instigating the violence. We’ll bring you more as it comes.”

Wow, said Puck mildly, it’s like this broadcast was tailored for you, the way it answered Sapphire’s question like that. You might even say it was... for your eyes only.

“Now is not the time, Puck—”

It’s always time for a Bond joke, Kester.

I ground my teeth and wished I’d never entered into the stupid competition; it was doing nothing but encouraging him.

Didn’t your mother tell you never to grind your teeth?

I tuned him out and returned to the news, but Gabby was talking now about the battle to cope with 140,000 Libyan refugees heading into Egypt and Tunisia, which should, in all fairness, have probably been on as the main story. In Hoenn, though, we’re pretty much unaffected by the events in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, and local news like enraged Sableye tends to top the bill. Our UN representative, if the rumours are to be believed, spends most of her time playing Chinese checkers against her Sinnish counterpart.

“Still, this stuff... it is pretty bad,” I said, worried. “OK, this might be partially our fault.”

“We should do something,” Sapphire agreed.

We looked at each other for a moment, hoping the other had an idea. In true form with days that get worse and worse, neither of us did, and we ended up doing nothing except feeling guilty and watching TV for another hour. After the news, during which we learned that British researchers had just created the highest-resolution optical microscope ever, we sat and suffered through an hour of daytime television, with the result that I felt myself to be in serious danger of a brain haemorrhage.

“We can’t stay here,” I said, determinedly turning off the TV. “It’s going to kill us. Well, it’s going to kill me, anyway.”

“You’re right,” said Sapphire. “We should... go and do something about those Sableye?”

“Yeah, all right,” I replied unenthusiastically. “I guess we could do that. I don’t suppose it said where they were?”

“If you were listening, you would know that that woman’s house is in Panzini District,” Sapphire told me. “If we go there, wander around and ask someone, I expect they’ll know where it is. They won’t still be there, but you don’t study wild Pokémon for seven years without learning how to track them.”

With that, we hit the road. Guilt is, I find, one of the most powerful motives for anything, and also certain to ruin your day.

At around a quarter to three, we arrived at the house of Mrs. Deagle, which was a fine old detached property that would, given fifty years without love, have made a good haunted house; unsurprisingly, there was a ring of police tape around it, and a white marquee erected over the spot in the road where the fateful stair-lift had crashed. The scene of crime officers buzzed around it like flies on a corpse, and a few policemen stood around the perimeter, explaining to us and to everyone else who had come to see that we couldn’t come any further, and that it would be preferable if we would all leave. Being Hoennian cops, they were significantly less polite than this, but the message was essentially the same.

“Come on,” said Sapphire, “let’s get around here.”

We skirted the crowd of onlookers, and managed to get to the left-hand side of the house, where a Sableye-sized hole had been cut into the wall. I had no doubt that the stair-lift was on the other side.

“Hey! You kids!” cried the policeman whose unfortunate duty it was to guard that spot. “Get outta here!”

“Just going,” Sapphire said, flashing her lopsided grin. “We’ve seen all we need to, thanks.”

She walked off down the street, and I turned and ran to catch up.

“Wait!” I said. “What do you mean, you’ve seen all you need to?”

“They went this way,” Sapphire said, pointing down the road. “Sableye like hard surfaces like stone and jewels, so they haven’t used the gardens. Look. There’s black fur on the fence-post there.”

I looked. There was, and I gave an impressed whistle.

“You know your stuff,” I said admiringly.

“Yes,” Sapphire replied, without the slightest trace of irony, “I do.”

I followed her down the road and towards a commercial area in the south of the district. There, the trail ran out, destroyed by the passage of cars and pedestrians; the Sableye could have gone anywhere from here.

“Damn,” I said. “Are you sure there’s nothing?”

“Nothing,” Sapphire said, looking annoyed. “That’s really annoying.”

Yes, I’ll bet it is, Puck said. This is where you need the services of a Ghost.

“Puck? What was that?”

Well, I can sense them, of course, he replied smugly. They’re Ghosts, I’m a Ghost. There’s a deep connection there. Spiritual, baby.

“Whatever. Where are they?”

“He can feel their presence? They’re near?”

I shushed Sapphire and listened to Puck.

I know where they are, he told me. You might call me Dr. Know.

“That was awful,” I replied, “but I appreciate it’s difficult to get that one into normal conversation. Where are they?”

Well, the leader one’s quite smart. You know, for a Sableye. So he remembers you, and not too fondly. Consequently, when he sensed your Ghostly presence, he decided to head this way with a gang of about... oh, maybe fifty friends?

“Oh God,” I said, ramming the heel of my palm into my forehead. “Sapphire, we need to get moving.”

“Why?” she asked, and I told her. “Oh,” she said. “That seems reasonable, I suppose.”

Someone shrieked from up the road. My head snapped around to face the direction of the sound, and I saw them coming: they moved along the walls, like they had in the lift shaft, swarming over the shopfronts and dropping down occasionally to bounce around on the heads of frightened passers-by. People were backing off and running, or staring in shock; the cars just kept rolling past, oblivious to the chaos that reigned on the pavement.

Then I saw Stripe. He was at the head of the column, grinning like a madman and, disconcertingly, gripping a Bowie knife between his teeth.

Seems like he’s been learning while looting those shops, Puck said. Kester, I think we might want to consider running.

“Sapphire, let’s go,” I said.

“Yes. Definitely,” she replied, and we ran.

A great chattering whoop went up from the Sableye, and they doubled their pace; the street degenerated into chaos, a blur of fleeing pedestrians and cars swerving violently to avoid them; the screech of brakes, frightened cries and the shrill battle-shout of the Sableye filled my ears for a brief instant before being blocked out by the thumping beat of my heart. A surge of energy washed over me, and somehow I ended up in front of Sapphire. I forced my way between a couple of slow fat people, and into an alleyway. Thinking back on it, heading for a dark, enclosed space – in other words, home turf for Sableye – probably wasn’t the best of ideas, but at the time I just wanted to leave the chaotic muddle of the street without getting hurt.

The alleys snaked and twisted around like fighting vipers, and I ran down them blindly, without thinking; some quirk of fate brought me out near Blintzkrieg, and I burst into the bright light of day with a strange, high-pitched cry of relief. This, combined with the wild-eyed, dishevelled look of me, frightened a cluster of teenage girls and sent them rushing over to the other side of the street, casting me strange looks.

They should be in school
, Puck remarked. It’s what, quarter past three? Oh wait, maybe the schools have closed now. When I went to school, the day ended at quarter past six. A real man’s working day, that was.

I was too out of breath to reply, or even doubt that Puck had ever actually attended school; I flopped down onto a nearby bench and tried to get my breath back.

“We’re – safe now – right?” I panted after a moment or two.

I think so. They should have lost you in the confusion. You’ll live to die another day.

“Very – funny,” I replied, as sarcastically as I could given the small amount of breath I had to work with. “You never – know – when not to – make – jokes – do you?”

There isn’t much else for me to do
, Puck pointed out. I’m kind of stuck in your head, if you remember.

“Shut up.”

I looked around at the passing traffic. The mess I’d escaped from seemed very far away; everyone here was calm, safe in the security of habit. No monsters were after their lives, and no evil organisations wanted to capture them. No one here was secretly watching another, stalking them until the moment was right to pounce; the street was just a chance combination of lives, coming together once in a unique combination that would break apart when someone turned the corner, and would never form again. I had a brief but profoundly philosophical moment of longing for the random vagaries of everyday life, and then I sighed, the feeling melting seamlessly into a strange, ineffable sadness.

I thought Hoennians were Buddhists?
Puck asked. Shouldn’t you therefore not believe that any event is random?

“I’m not really much of a Buddhist,” I replied, drawing a strange look from a man walking his Growlithe. “I drink alcohol, for one, and I eat meat, and I never meditate... you know how you can be a nominal member of a religion, and not really be a proper member?”

I see, Puck said. It’s like that. Among the Pokémon with higher rational abilities, there are lots like that as well; I can see it applying to humans.

“Pokémon have religions?”

They’re the same ones as yours. When you go back to people as wise as Siddhattha Gautama or Jesus Christ, there isn’t any difference between human or Pokémon; we’re all just looking for something to believe in. Puck sounded pensive, perhaps even sad. It’s the price we pay for intelligence: we have to believe. Have you ever met an Alakazam? They’re very clever, but they’ve choked on their own intellect. All of them are fundamentalists about one thing or another; either that, or they’re insane. Puck sighed. It’s a pity that being smart isn’t a guarantee of wisdom. There’s nothing so valuable in this world, or anything so universally overlooked.

I was genuinely moved by his little speech; there was something about its sincerity and emotion that struck home deep within me, a little bell in my heart chiming the same note as his words. Perhaps it was just because it was so unlike him to engage in serious conversation, or perhaps I was just so new to philosophical discourse that I was overwhelmed by this brief taste of it, but I felt a rush of something new inside me.

“Anyway,” I said, after a brief pause, “we should see where Sapphire’s got to.”

Yes, agreed Puck hurriedly. I hope she got away.

“She will,” I replied. “The Sableye were after me, right? They’ll live and let die when it comes to her.”

Wha—? It’s so unexpected when you make jokes! Puck cried, and, smiling to myself, I got up and went in search of Sapphire.

---

In a long, dark alley behind a small, dark bar, a short man in a hooded coat dialled a number on his mobile telephone.

“Yeah boss, it’s me,” he said. “Tchaikovsky.”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #54    
Old Posted March 4th, 2011 (12:36 PM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
By Omlet's papa spook, I hate this chapter; it's honestly the worst thing I've written since the start of 2010 - and that includes my Theology essays. Bleah. Here it is anyway. I'll give the next one my best shot to bring it back to the usual quality.

Oh yeah, and there won't be an update on Sunday; instead, the next update will come on Tuesday. This is so I can devote this entire weekend to my brand new copy of Pokémon Black Version, which I should come into possession of at around 4.25 tomorrow.

[clears throat] Uh, one more thing: the title is the worst pun I've ever made. Really.

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Convergence of the Main (Characters)

The thing was on the move.

It tore across the country at blistering speed, easily outpacing any human fool enough to try and catch it; swooping from the heights of the Madeira Mountains, it shot southeast, heading for Mauville almost as the crow flies, and from there straight south to Slateport.

In a Poké Ball on a train was not the most dignified way to travel, but the thing cared not; it possessed roughly the same level of intelligence as a watermelon, and was content as long as it had something to chase.

And it did: Maxie had sent it and his most trusted Administrator to secure the SuperBlast Module, and before Thursday was out, they would be travelling back to the mountain, prize in hand.

---

As dawn broke over Slateport City, a tall, thin man with an eyepatch and a wooden leg stood next to a short, fat man with the opposite eye and leg missing; both wore the blue suits and sunglasses of Team Aqua, and also large, ostentatious black hats with the Aqua logo on them. Their names were Hans and Molasses, and they were watching the long, low building next to Angel Laboratories where deliveries were loaded up to be driven away. Attacking Angel itself was out of the question; their security was Devon-standard, and consequently the only option was to hijack the delivery truck as it left the compound.

Molasses, the small one, gestured with a hook-hand.

“Not long now,” he grunted.

Hans, the tall one, nodded.

Around the area were arrayed thirteen other Aquas, each slightly lower-ranking than the last. Like Hans and Molasses, they were wearing the full dress uniform of the Team: hat, hook and wooden leg; eyepatch, suit and sunglasses. Before sunset fell over Hoenn, they would be back at Aqua headquarters, and they would have succeeded just as much as the Magmas.

---

“Kester, I swear I’m going to push you into the traffic if you don’t stop complaining.”

“I’m not saying anything!” I cried in protest, spreading my hands wide.

That’s true, affirmed Puck. You’re too busy trying to think of Bond jokes.

“Well, your eyes are complaining,” Sapphire replied waspishly. “Look happier.”

It was ten o’clock on Thursday morning, and we’d been hanging around the deliveries entrance to the Spectroscopic Fancy building since dawn. Sapphire had woken me at some ungodly hour much as the Bellman’s crew had pursued their target – namely, with forks and hope. She had, typically, displayed zero gratitude for my tracking her down the day before and finding the way back to the Pokémon Centre. As a result of this and the whole ‘waking me up by jabbing me with a fork’ thing, our relations were more strained than usual today.

“Look,” I said, “I’m resigned to the fact that you and I don’t get along. That’s cool now. But I don’t want to be blamed for things I haven’t done!”

Sapphire waved my words aside.

“Fine, fine,” she said. “You’re not complaining.”

“Thank you,” I replied, in a tone that I hoped conveyed slightly ruffled dignity. “Now, let’s all calm down and wait for the SuperBlast Module to arrive.”

---

Darren Goodwin leaned against a pilaster on the surface of a large building whose architect knew the Classical orders well and used them to great effect; a plaque beside the door proclaimed it to be the head office of the Mauville Times. No one challenged him, and if they had they would have swiftly been sent on their way by the threat of the Raiders, hanging in a loose cloud above his head.

The Devon researcher was watching Kester Ruby and the Aqua girl. They were just around the corner from him, and so laughably unaware of his presence that he almost smiled. He had been told that, since he was in the area, he might as well oversee the delivery of the Module; happily, though somewhat unexpectedly given its nature, it seemed his targets also had designs on the device, and so he had decided that, once it had been delivered safely, he would use the Raiders to force the Aqua girl to return the Master Ball, take possession of Kester, and then bring the girl in for questioning.

Darren sighed, and closed his heavy eyelids for a moment. It had been a long week, and he missed the sound of his wife’s voice. But it would be over soon. He would be home by tomorrow morning, and then they would celebrate the delayed anniversary of their third year of marriage together.

And if fate conspired to lead events in a different direction, then Darren would use every power available to him as a Goodwin to alter it.

---

As soon as the truck rumbled out of the garage, the Aqua grunts sprang into action: a blue Aqua lorry was swiftly backed up by the entrance to the car park, and as soon as the truck passed through the gateway, the waiting lorry reversed sharply, lowering its rear ramp and scooping the truck neatly into its interior.

Shouts and gunshots sounded from near the Angel building, and Hans glanced back to see the black-clad security forces of the Laboratories emerging from strategic points around the area.

“Close the door!” he yelled, and two grunts burst from hiding to slam the lorry door shut on the truck, which was trying and failing to reverse. As bullets sang through the air, the Aquas alternately fled and returned fire, grabbing onto a series of straps attached to the side of their lorry as its engine turned and roared.

The Angel men poured into black cars and gave chase as soon as the lorry began to move, and soon the entire conflict had moved into the street, where the traffic parted before the chase in a storm of blaring horns and screaming brakes. Those that failed to do so were tossed aside by the lorry’s reinforced front.

So much fire was now being traded by the Aquas and the Angels that the air between the cars and lorry now seemed to be primarily composed of metal and noise; round holes opened up on the lorry’s rear, but its girth prevented any bullets from finding their mark on the Aquas themselves. Similarly, the armoured Angel cars were more than enough protection to render the Aquas’ firearms useless. Neither side could accomplish anything by the senseless shooting, and both sides’ driving suffered from it: the Angel cars almost crashed multiple times, and the Aqua lorry did crash at least twice – though it was so huge that it merely bulldozed the lampposts and smaller vehicles that had the temerity to stand in its way.

Then came the decisive moment: a corner. The lorry slewed around to a concerto of furious brakes, tipping and turning in a wholly unsafe manner; the Aqua cars tried to pull ahead of it, but were stopped by the unexpected rupturing of the lorry’s wall. It seemed it could not take the weight of the Angel truck leaning against it, and so the delivery vehicle burst through, hit the ground with wheels spinning and sped off back in the direction of the Laboratories.

Immediately, the lorry bounced wildly back to a fully vertical position, flinging grunts high into the air; they rained down like confetti, slamming with cries of pain into cars, tarmac and even roofs. By a strange quirk of fate, it seemed none were seriously injured, although several had lost their peg-legs, and they made their bruised way back to the lorry to turn around and give chase to the now-fleeing Angel vehicles.

The truck with the Module in was in the lead, with the three Angel cars surrounding it to prevent attack from the back and sides. The lorry, after a surprisingly sharp turn, lumbered along close behind, much faster now that it lacked its bulky cargo. Between it and the cluster of Angel vehicles, the air was almost a solid wall of bullets – but they might as well have been blanks for all the damage they did to either the cars or the lorry. Neither the Aquas nor the Angels knew entirely why they were still shooting, but both sides were damned if they were going to give up before the enemy.

The lorry rammed the rearmost Angel car, and the smaller vehicle shot forwards to crunch into the back of the truck; however, it was entirely undamaged, and the chase continued apace. The continuous blam! blam! blam! of gunshots; the shrieks of fleeing motorists and pedestrians alike; the roar of the great lorry’s engine; the sounds of the chase spewed out across the street in crazy waves that battered at the eardrums and demanded to be let in.

The truck tore back into the car park, braking hard and drawing long black lines of rubber across the asphalt; it slewed across three parking spaces, obliterated a parked car and slid neatly into the open door of the loading building. The three Aqua cars pulled up neatly outside the front doors, and their occupants each leaned out of the nearest window and started firing with gusto.

Hans and Molasses, in the cab of the lorry, looked at each other with unease. This was not meant to happen; in fact, nothing since the truck had fallen out of the side of the lorry had been meant to happen.

“Stupid cheap armoured lorry,” muttered Molasses under his breath. “That’s the last time we buy from Notorious Evans.”

“I told you he was called ‘notorious’ because he’s notorious for selling weak-walled lorries,” replied Hans, though in fact this was a complete fabrication; Notorious Evans was notorious purely for being somewhat shady, and employing underhand tactics at the Slateport Citywide Horticultural Show.

This was all they had a chance to say, because at that moment the lorry’s supposedly unbreakable windscreen broke, and they had to duck a storm of glass and bullets and throw the lorry into reverse. Seconds later, the Angel truck re-emerged from the garage, this time with the noticeable addition of a green-haired man in a blue suit standing on the roof. This was not the most alarming thing about him, as noted by Hans as he reversed the lorry furiously up the road; no, the really troubling thing was that he had a very large gun in his hands, of the type generally known to those who know them well as the 7.62mm M134 General Electric Minigun.

This development was both unexpected and unwelcome. The Minigun was far too large for one person to hold or wield safely, but, like Blain with Ol’ Painless, this man appeared to have no trouble doing so.

“This cannot be happening,” Molasses said, and then the blue-suited man opened fire.
How he stayed upright on the moving vehicle, firing a gun more usually mounted on a helicopter, will forever remain a mystery; we will not even touch on the implausibility of him being able to operate the Minigun and keep his arms in their sockets. This was Angel Laboratories, who were as corrupt as Devon and five times as insane; if someone threatened their products, they fought back with all available resources. And as acting head of the company, it was only natural that Usher House would defend it to the death.
We shall not dwell on the results of this attack too much; we shall pass over the whine and hiss of bullets, the rending of steel and the hilarious cries of incredulity that the fleeing Aquas made. What is more important is the conclusion to the episode: namely, that the Angel truck and its accompanying trio of black armoured cars sped past the ruined lorry, and that as they turned onto the motorway the police turned up outside Angel Laboratories.

---

“Yes,” said Felicity. “Goodbye, sir.” She put down the phone and glanced across at Barry. “Change of plans,” she said. “We’re going to Spectroscopic Fancy.”

---

I could tell the truck was from Angel because Usher was standing on the roof, impossibly maintaining his balance against the wind and carrying a gun that was far too large for any normal person to even lift. It tore around the corner at breakneck speed, and behind it came a battered-looking green car and an ominous cloud of darkness.

“Sapphire, I think the goods have arrived,” I said, somewhat redundantly.

The truck screeched to a halt outside Spectroscopic Fancy, but it seemed no one from the company was willing to get involved. Consequently, the cloud of darkness went unopposed as it growled, coiled and sprang up onto the truck’s roof. Usher swung the gun around towards it, but a massive black-grey paw emerged from the cloud and swatted it away like a matchstick.

I don’t know why I did what I did next. It was a stupid thing to do, and against every cowardly bone in my body. But I did it anyway, out of pure instinct: I ran into the road and screamed an Astonish.

For a brief moment, everyone froze: the cloud of darkness, tilting slightly towards the sound; Usher, staring at me in surprise; Felicity and her partner Barry, getting out of their car. There was no sound save the lingering echo of the Astonish, and no movement at all.
Then Sapphire appeared on the roof of the truck and hauled Usher out of the way, and the spell broke. The cloud of darkness leaped down from the roof to land in front of me, leaving a woman behind it on the roof; simultaneously, Felicity’s gun snapped around to point at my face, and Barry launched himself towards the truck.

Kester, Puck said, this guy hates me, and he remembers my scent. He can also kill us any time he likes, so GET OUT OF THE WAY!

I was startled into obeying, darting left just as a set of yellow teeth clashed together where my head had once been; Felicity fired reflexively but missed, and the blast whipped away part of the dark cloud for a moment, revealing a huge, shaggy head like a wolf’s. Then the cloud reformed, snarled, and started chasing me.

I ducked between the Aqua car and the Angel truck, and the shadowy monster tried to follow. Felicity fired again, though, and something within the darkness ruptured: blood splattered over the bonnet of the car, and the monster gave a spine-chilling yowl of pain as it pulled back. I sighed, relieved, then found myself staring down the barrel of Felicity’s gun.

“In the car,” she said. “Now.”

Barry had never fought Courtney before, but he had, of course, heard of her. Everyone had; everyone knew the rumours about her.

In the last five seconds, Barry had been able to confirm almost all of them.

Courtney hadn’t spoken to him since she’d dropped from the back of Maxie’s Pokémon. They both wanted the truck and its contents, and both were willing to fight to it – to the death, if necessary. Hence, the battle had begun as soon as Barry tried to stop her opening the truck’s doors. She had taken up a knife; Barry had made fists. The wordless communication that this fight was serious passed between them, and then they had started.

It was hard, and Barry knew that he was losing, but he had to hold her off; there was no way that he could let the Magmas get hold of the Module. Whatever it was, it was far too important. But Courtney moved around him like smoke on the breeze, tracing red lines across his skin like a child scribbling on the walls; none of his punches connected, her slender frame intangible beneath his fists. In this situation, there was only one thing that could happen: Barry lost it.

Like a wounded bull, he bellowed and threw himself bodily forwards at where he thought Courtney might be; naturally, he missed and fell face-first onto the steel roof of the truck. Surprised, Courtney paused, knife raised to slit his throat – and then the truck started moving.

---

Sapphire and Usher ducked down beside the truck’s cabin, on the other side to the driver’s seat; this was crucial, since that was not the side that Courtney chose to climb down to knock out its occupant. There, as the sounds of battle rained down upon them from the roof, they conferred together without words, formulating a small plan and putting past differences temporarily behind them. Perhaps it might have worked had not Darren Goodwin chosen that moment to storm around the corner.

He grabbed Usher by the lapels and dragged him to his feet.

“You,” he said, “wait around the corner. I’ll see to it that neither of them get it.”

It was at this point that Sapphire noticed the thing floating above the Devon researcher. She might have called it a Magneton if it had been composed of just the three orbs, but, comprising as it did around nine individual Magnemite, she wasn’t entirely sure what it was.
“Raiders,” Darren snapped at this strange apparition, “hold her for a moment.”

Before Sapphire could react, the ring of floating balls encircled her in a tight spiral, lines of lightning crackling into life between each one, sealing her into a cage of electricity. Her hand paused halfway to her belt; any wrong move here would result, no doubt, in death by electrocution.

Darren climbed up into the cab of the truck, pushing the driver onto the passenger’s seat, and was about to start the engine when the cloud of darkness exploded on the other side of the truck, and the biggest Mightyena that Sapphire had ever seen flew out of it to land with a crunch on the tarmac.

---

Kester, said Puck urgently, you want to get through this alive?

Yes?

Obey Felicity, get in the car. Trust me on this.

I did, and she locked the door behind me before slinging her gun over her back and beginning to climb onto the roof.

Now, get in the driver’s seat.

“O-K...”
I shuffled across, over the gearstick and into the driver’s seat.

Now, hold onto the wheel. Don’t worry about the driving, that’s up to me.

“What driving?” I began, but it was too late: I’d touched the wheel, and sparks crackled between me and the plastic as Puck’s powers of possession sprang into action. The engine snarled, and before I’d even registered that we were moving we’d backed up and started hurtling forwards.

Now I saw the reason for Puck’s urgency: the monster in the dark cloud had been coming back, apparently unharmed by the shotgun wound, and he had decided we should—

“Puck!” I screamed, trying to let go of the steering wheel and failing. “Puck, this is a really bad id—!”

CRASH!

The impact distracted Courtney for the single moment Barry needed; he leaped up and was about to punch her when the truck leaped forwards beneath them. In a hopeless tangle, they tumbled over the edge, landed on the Mightyena and struggled back up just as the truck pulled away. The unfortunate Mightyena had just managed to get to its feet, but their combined weight forced it back down and knocked its head against the tarmac, sending it to sleep with a startled yelp.

“After the Module!” Barry roared, though to whom he spoke was anyone’s guess; Courtney’s knife came up, and it was likely that blood would have been spilled on both sides if a voice had not rung out at that moment:

STOP!

Once again, all the combatants froze at a loud noise. This time, however, all eyes turned to Usher, rather than to Kester – who was in no condition to speak right then, anyway. He stepped forwards from the pavement into the silence, and asked pleadingly:

“Will somebody please tell me why all of you people want our Module so much?”

Both Courtney and Barry opened their mouths, but neither of them could actually reply. Felicity watched them from a distance, unimpressed; she knew, or at least had an idea, but she wasn’t going to tell them.

“I don’t know,” admitted Barry at length. “But it’s important!”

“Why? Why would you want an arcade machine that much?”

“What?”

The shout came from Sapphire, Courtney, and Barry; the latter two stormed over to him, and pointed at the truck, which Darren had stopped a few yards down the road to watch the fireworks from.

“In there,” snapped Courtney, “you’ve got an arcade machine?”

“Well, yes,” replied Usher apologetically. “It’s a new model for Spectroscopic Fancy. They supply them. In fact, this one’s for the Mauville Game Corner.”

“I don’t believe it!” rumbled Barry, stomping across to the truck and ripping open the door; he hauled out the large crate within and kicked it to matchsticks. Then he fought valiantly against the polystyrene, and stared with mingled disbelief and fury at the Y-38P SuperBlast Module. “I don’t believe it,” he said again. “It’s an arcade machine.” Then: “Damn it!” He kicked the screen in and thundered back to Usher, at whom he howled in rage for a moment before leaving to find something to beat up.

Courtney was more reserved; she looked around, sighing, and recalled Maxie’s battered Mightyena, now bereft of its shroud. She swore quietly and walked off, rubbing her forehead with one hand.

Usher watched them go with a bemused look on his face, then hurried over to the Angel truck to confer with Darren Goodwin.

For her part, Felicity looked on and felt vaguely sick. It wasn’t just that all the action and effort had been for this anticlimax; it was more the sensation that her arms were no longer working. Neither, it seemed, were her legs. Slowly, very slowly, they crumpled beneath her, and the shotgun slipped from her hands. The ground rose gently up to meet her, a soft grey pillow for her aching head, and her eyes slid shut as the world swam before them.

---

“That was... odd,” remarked Fabien.

“Yeah,” agreed Blake. “I don’ get why Cour’ney said we weren’ to ’elp ’er, though.”

“Pride, my friend, pride.”

They were just around the corner, peering around a wall and trying to establish exactly what had just happened and why; unfortunately, neither of them could come up with an explanation.

“Well,” said Fabien eventually, “I guess we could catch that Rotom-kid now, while he’s still unconscious.”

“There’s a thought,” Blake replied.

They advanced from hiding, and across the street in her electric cage the Aqua girl’s eyes widened.

“Usher!” she yelled. “There are more Magmas coming!”

Fabien looked up the road to see the blue-suited man look up sharply; from the door of the truck next to him came an all-too familiar figure. It was the shape of the Devon researcher who had bested them back in Slateport.

“Blake!” cried Fabien. “Run for the car!”

“That didn’ work last time!” said Blake, but he did it anyway; unfortunately, the Rotom must still have been awake as the boy slept, because the car drove away at their approach, coughing black smoke and trailing the bumper from its smashed-in front.

The researcher shouted something, and his many-headed Magneton ceased their embrace of the Aqua girl and flew over to him. Together, they and their master ran towards the two Magmas.

“Goishi!” cried Fabien. “Distract them!”

“...eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-EEEEEEK!” came a shrill cry from above, growing steadily louder and louder with the descent, and then a bolt of blue and purple lightning shot across their field of view, snatched up the Aqua girl in a blur of pink-grey tongue, and vanished again.

“No!” said Fabien, aghast. “I meant distract the resear— never mind! Blake! Cover us!”

The two Magmas took to their heels and fled, Blake firing wildly behind them; since they had recently had quite a lot of practice at running away, it was not long before they were several blocks away, and alone once more.

---

An arcade machine.

It couldn’t possibly be. This was what the two Teams had been after all this time? A new type of arcade machine? It just couldn’t be. And yet... it was.

Sapphire didn’t even really need the Magneton-thing to hold her in place; she was glued to the floor with shock. An arcade machine...

There had to be a trick. Someone had set the Teams up. They hadn’t been expecting an arcade machine, after all. With a strange sort of horrified calm, Sapphire realised that the mystery of the Devon goods was nothing, just a small step in some larger plan.

No sooner had she come to this realisation than the Magmas turned up, and from then on everything became very confusing. She was released, and then suddenly captured in exactly the same way Kester had been the day before; however, Sapphire was still too shell-shocked to feel embarrassed or even angry.

An arcade machine...

How was it possible that something could have gone so horribly wrong as this little adventure? It had seemed relatively serious, but for the object the two Teams sought to turn out to be nothing more than some stupid video game... it was beyond belief.

Snap out of it!

Sapphire opened her eyes, and that was when she realised that the drama wasn’t yet over. Below her was Mauville, a child’s playset stretched out from horizon to horizon, and all around her was the clear blue sky.

And then Sapphire swore, and gulped, and looked up to see her captor, the Magma Golbat, and the thick python of its tongue twitching and straining at her weight.

Then she swore again, drawing the attention of the Golbat. It tightened its grip around her a little, then a little more; in between her struggles, Sapphire’s last thought before she blacked out was that she hoped to God it knew when to stop. Otherwise, she reasoned in that calm second before complete unconsciousness, she would probably die.

---

“What’s the meaning of this?” demanded Maxie furiously, throwing over the coffee table. A subordinate dashed forwards to clear up the mess, but was swiftly moved to a prone position on the floor by the application of a fist to his face. “Some benefactor you are!”

Zero regarded him with eyes that contained something Maxie didn’t recognise.

“It seems I was misinformed by my Aqua mole,” he replied. “Don’t worry. I shall have them... suitably punished.”

“What the hell does that mean?” roared the Magma boss; he made as if to strike Zero, but something held him back.

“Don’t you see what it means?” Zero said quietly. “It means that this entire thing was an Aqua scam.”

“But they seemed surprised... No!” Maxie looked, if possible, even angrier than before. “You’re right! It’s just like those damned pirates to pull off a trick like this.”

“I suggest you move forwards with the effort to find the orb as swiftly as possible,” Zero told him. “The Aquas must be heading towards war.”

“Wait,” said Maxie, reining in his temper with a tremendous and very visible effort, “what about proof? We have no proof that this was an Aqua scam.”

Zero had already thought of this.

“I will have my Aqua agent brought to you,” he said. “She seems to have fallen ill recently, but I’m sure that won’t matter. You can extract all the information you want from her.”

Maxie nodded; the prospect of a little light torture seemed just the thing to vent his spleen on.

“All right,” he said. “We’ll do it.”

---

“You understand,” Archie said, leaning forwards in his armchair, “this is a serious oversight on your part, Zero.”

Zero nodded.

“Yes,” he replied. “But listen. I do, in fact, have a plan for just this contingency...”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #55    
Old Posted March 7th, 2011 (09:51 AM).
Xilfer's Avatar
Xilfer
'twas fun.
Community Supporter
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Your mind
Gender: Male
Nature: Naughty
How do you DO these things?! you're the best storywriter since J.K.Rowling!

I really like the speech that Puck gave off on the bench after the run from the Sableye, that was good, and rather true. Cleverness isn't a garauntee of Wisdom.

Anywho, your last chapter, i must admit was EXTREMELY surprising, an ARCADE MACHINE?! where did you get that idea from? haha! looks like it's all part of some bigger plan.
__________________
Presently gone from PC. Not sure if I'll ever return.
  #56    
Old Posted March 9th, 2011 (12:20 AM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
I'm not sure your statement regarding the quality of my writing is true, but I'll accept the compliment anyway. As for the arcade machine thing... that was thought up a long time ago, when I was just starting this story.

Oh yeah, and I'm a few hours late; English coursework, the cartoon for the school magazine and Pokémon Black conspired to ensure this chapter wasn't entirely finished until five minutes ago.

Chapter Twenty-Six: A Promise Once Made

When I woke up, I was sprawled over the steering wheel, with the hard plastic digging painfully into my ribs. Dull aches throbbed steadily all over my body, and there was blood on the dashboard.

I groaned and eased myself up into a sitting position, falling back against the seat with some relief.

“What...?” I began, forcing my eyes fully open and looking around. I had no idea where I was, but it wasn’t Spectroscopic Fancy: in fact, it seemed to be a box made of steel, almost like the inside of the Master Ball. “Puck,” I said suddenly. “Puck.”

You called?

“What have you done?” I asked, in tones that revealed murder was not too far from my mind.

Saved our lives, that’s what. They scared the living daylights out of you, but you’re essentially unharmed.

“You rammed that... that thing in the cloud,” I said. “I didn’t even have a seatbelt on.”

It was us or him, Kester, us or him. That effectively gives us a licence to kill.

“Stop doing that,” I growled. “I’ve had enough.” I pointed out of the window. “Where are we?”

In a freight container down near Eastfield Airport, Puck informed me. You’ve no idea how hard it was to get here.

“A freight contai—? Wait! Where’s Sapphire?”

From what I saw as we drove off, I’m guessing that she’s on the way to the Magma HQ. Y’know, on account of being captured by them and all.

“What?”

I sat bolt upright, felt pain flare white-hot in my abdomen and neck, and hurriedly slumped again.

“What?” I repeated, more quietly.

Oh, I knew you’d be like this, Puck said, sighing. You’re so... so human, Kester.

“What does that mean? You’re not concerned at all?”

Of course not! Puck protested. I’m a Rotom, and a noble one at that, maybe the freest there ever was. Humans are of no concern to me.

For the first time, I became aware of the gap between Puck’s mind and mine; we weren’t just different species, or even different animals, but entirely different orders of being: he was a strange thing born of plasma, and I was a mammal. However human Puck seemed to be at times, he couldn’t be further from my kind without being dead.

Besides, he pressed on, you don’t like her anyway. Just forget it, Kester. You fulfilled your obligations to her already – you found out about the goods. Well, you were unconscious by that time, but I heard it because I was in the car.

“You sounded so much more moral before,” I told him. My voice was low; there was something in me struggling to make itself heard, and I was suppressing it as best I could. “When you talked about religion yesterday, and when you told me to go comfort Sapphire.”

Because we had to!
Puck said violently. To stay with her and maintain the cover!

“What cover?” I shouted back.

There was a long silence.

That’s none of your concern, the Rotom said at length. It’s entirely my own affair.

“Your affairs are my affairs,” I replied coldly. “My head, my rules, remember?”

It would put you in danger—

“And I’m not in danger already?” I cried. “Puck, I’m in a stolen car in a freight container in an airport warehouse, with Team Magma and Team Aqua after my head, as well as the Devon Corporation. I’ve been in danger since last Sunday!”

Fine. Puck’s voice was colder than anything I’d heard before; colder than Sapphire’s, colder than Felicity’s. It didn’t sound truly human, and I wondered if this was what thoughts were like: raw emotion, undiluted by words. Do you want the truth, Kester? Is that what will satisfy you? Well, here it is: I’m no friendly trickster Rotom who happened to land in your head and makes stupid jokes all day. I live in the real world – more real than yours, at any rate. I’m a professional thief, and I came to Hoenn to hide after a heist went wrong in Italy. As soon as I hit Lilycove, that Zero guy approached me to steal the Devon goods, and told me he’d turn me over to the authorities if I didn’t. I stole them, but like Felicity said, that guy has everything planned out beforehand: he knew I’d be chased into the P-L.O.T. Device and end up in your head. And that, Kester, Puck told me, that is your truth. Do with it what you will.

I sat there for a moment, head spinning, and aching with every revolution. I closed my eyes, and thought for a long, long moment.

“I’m going to find Sapphire,” I said quietly, and got out of the car.

What? No!
cried Puck. Don’t do that!

“Why not?” I asked in a voice lacking tone, pushing open the door and stepping out of the container into bright sunlight. “After all, you only live twice.”

---

Loading...

I stared at the computer screen for a moment, waiting for the little bar to fill up.

TM detected: TM57 (S) -- CHARGE BEAM.
Is this correct?


“Yes,” I said, and clicked it.

Point Tutor Unit at Pokémon and click 'Continue'.

I obeyed, with a small amount of contortion, and a few moments later I was walking out of the Pokémon Centre, Sapphire’s bag slung over one shoulder and a new move burning in my mind. I was refreshed in body, having used one of Sapphire’s Full Restores to fix up ribs that I thought were probably broken, but my mind remained stubbornly out of sorts.

Kester, for the last time, Puck said despairingly, don’t do this.

“Doesn’t matter to you, does it?” I replied, drawing odd looks from passers-by and not caring. “If I die, you go free.”

You’re the perfect cover, he told me. The way things are right now, I won’t be able to show my face anywhere for another six months. This is the only place no one can find me.

“So you lied about wanting to leave, as well?” I asked. I thought I should feel angry, but I didn’t. I felt empty, as if I’d been sick until there was nothing left within me. I didn’t know if I was worried about Sapphire or shocked or what, but I knew I wanted to get her back. The two Magmas who’d tried to apprehend me in Rustboro hadn’t been the best criminals in the world, but their Team hadn’t attained its power through being idiotic, and I was willing to bet that they had more threatening people on their side.

Yes, of course! Puck snapped. It doesn’t matter, does it? You humans lie continuously, why can’t I?

“Because it’s wrong,” I replied, turning a corner.

You don’t even know where Sapphire is, Puck said, changing the subject.

“You said she was on her way to the Magma HQ,” I said. “And everyone knows that that means Lavaridge.”

She could still be in the city
, Puck reasoned. Then you’d never find her. So you have about as much chance of finding her as of finding Nemo. Though of course they did find him, in the end. Wait. Now is not the time for jokes.

“Make all the jokes you want,” I said. “No one laughed before, and no one’s laughing now. The Magma grunts will know where she is, so we’ll find them first. And I’ve got a feeling I know how to do that.”

I rounded another corner, and was immediately turned back by a policeman in a fluorescent jacket; behind him, a police barricade sealed off Zinfandel Avenue.

“What happened?” I asked him, looking past the barrier at the wreckage of the street. It was splattered with dabs of thick dark blood, from the giant Pokémon’s wounds, and the Angel van was still there, dented, battered and full of bullet-holes. Usher’s improbably large gun lay on its side a few metres away.

“Aquas and Magmas,” the policeman replied. I did a good show of looking surprised.

“Aquas?” I asked sharply. “Was there a girl about my age, very pretty, long white hair, in a Team Aqua uniform here?”

The man narrowed his eyes at me, crumpling his weather-beaten face into something that resembled a weathered piece of limestone. My heart rate soared; this was a gamble that would only pay off if someone had seen Felicity here...

“There was,” he said. “How did you know that?”

I held in a sigh of relief, and looked worried instead.

“She’s my girlfriend,” I told him. The cop looked surprised at this, then made the face of one about to impart unwelcome news.

“I’ll get a car to take you to the hospital,” he said, deciding not to tell me. “Come with me.”

---

Smooth operating, I have to admit, Puck said grudgingly. I didn’t expect you to get this far.

I was sitting on one of those hospital chairs that look comfortable but are, in actual fact, supremely ill-suited to sitting upon, looking at Felicity. She lay on a hospital bed, discoloured eyes shut and face paler than ever; it no longer had any colour in it at all, but was the pure white of fresh paper, or of clothes in washing powder adverts. A tube ran into a cannula in her arm, and its other end was connected to a bag of blood, since she appeared to be lacking a substantial amount of it. The ever-present grey headphone was on the bedside cabinet, the antenna neatly retracted and the whole switched off. If the situation hadn’t been so serious, I might have compared it to that nasty business that happened last year, because something along these lines had occurred as a result of it.

“How can you talk like that?” I asked him. “As if nothing had happened?”

Because that’s how we survive in this world, Puck replied. Live and let die.

“If that’s a joke, you already used that film.”

It wasn’t a joke. Call that a joke? This is a joke.

I waited, but no joke was forthcoming. Puck sighed.

That, he explained patiently, was the joke. Never mind.

“I don’t get it.”

I said never mind.

“Explain it.”

You never ask me to explain my jokes. I’m touched. I might not have got his jokes, but I picked up on the Rotom’s ironic tone immediately. I chose to do nothing about it, though, and let him explain. Look, there’s this film called Crocodile Dundee, yes? The eponymous hero is cornered at one point by a mugger with a knife, but he laughs and goes, ‘Call that a knife? This is a knife’ and pulls out a much, much bigger knife. It’s a classic film moment, like when the alien comes out of Kane’s chest.

I genuinely wished I hadn’t asked; put like that, it made Puck seem clever, when right now I wanted to be able to think he was stupid, and that he was advocating the wrong course of action.

The doctors had said they didn’t know what was wrong with Felicity; the only symptom she presented other than the discoloured eyes and skin was the fact that about a litre of her blood seemed to have been replaced with mineral water. They had told me this much earlier, in between asking me about her family; it seemed she didn’t carry an I.D. card, and I had told them she was an immigrant and that her family hadn’t come over with her.

“Kusou,” Felicity murmured, stirring. Immediately, I got up and went over to her.

“Felicity,” I said. “How are you?”

Her eyelids fluttered open, and the yellow-and-blue orbs behind them settled on me.

Kusou,” she said again. “Of all the people... where am I?” She tried to sit up, but she was so weak I could hold her down just by resting one hand on her forehead.

“In hospital,” I told her. “You’ve run out of blood, it seems.”

Felicity’s eyes flicked over to the blood bag and back.

“I am glad,” she said simply. “I don’t want to turn to water.” She regarded me with distaste. “I don’t have to thank you, do I?”

“No,” I told her.

As I told Milton’s Paradise Lost, Puck said, get to the point already.

“I need to find those two Team Magma grunts who’ve been tailing me,” I said. “Do you know where they would be?”

“Why should I tell you anything?” Felicity asked calmly. Her eyes were full of winter.

“You can’t really refuse,” I pointed out mildly. “I mean, I could kill you right now.”

She uttered a hollow laugh.

“Even if you wanted to, you could not. Not while I am like this.”

I had no idea what she was getting at there. Did she mean I didn’t have the stomach to kill her? That was right, of course. I could no more kill her than myself.

“Just tell me,” I said. “Tell me and... and I’ll help you.”

Felicity’s eyes widened slightly.

“Promise me,” she said. “Then I’ll help you.”

I hesitated.

Palkia’s claws
, Puck said, don’t do that! You’re in enough trouble as it is.

That decided me. I’m slightly ashamed of it, but I did it purely to spite Puck: I held out a hand and she shook it weakly.

“Deal,” I said. Felicity managed half a smile.

“Fine,” she said. “I know exactly where they have gone. This is part of Zero’s plan, and he told me this much. They have caught Sapphire, haven’t they? She will go to Lavaridge, to the Magma base. They will figure out that you are captive to that Master Ball, and when you get there, they’re going to recall you with it. Then you’ll be theirs.”

I made a face.

“When does this train leave?” I asked.

“That’s easy enough to work out?”

“You know the train, don’t you?” I said. “Which train are they taking, Felicity?”

Felicity blinked.

“The next express one,” she replied, as if it were obvious. “Which, if I am correct, leaves Crescelton at half past four.”

I looked at my watch, and realised it had broken in the crash; I glanced over at the clock above the door, swore, apologised, thanked Felicity and left at a sprint.

Behind me, the clock ticked, and the minute hand rolled over onto fourteen.

---

Fabien looked at the station clock; it read fourteen past four, and he sighed and tapped one foot.

“This’ll show Maxie,” he said, to cheer himself up. “Think of it, Blake! Courtney fails completely – and we capture the Aqua handler!”

“It’s good, ain’t it?” agreed Blake.

The two of them were standing on Platform 4 at Crescelton, a small station in the northeast of Mauville’s Bannine district; the only object of note on the premises was the wrought-iron lamppost in the centre of Platform 5, which Fabien had been staring at for a while and had been unable to divine the purpose of.

Goishi had found them cowering behind a dumpster after a protracted search that almost merits its own story. He had met with a homing Tranquill that had got seriously off-course and circled halfway around the globe looking for Castelia City; he had spoken with something that might have been the ghost of Solomon; he had fought off the unwanted attention of a harlot Zubat of low repute in a back alley; and he had even come close to crashing into a large man on a flying motorbike. It seemed to him that all the strange things in life had collected in the air above Mauville, but he hadn’t pondered the matter further. Life was too short – especially so in his case, since he was seven years old and due to die in another three. If he could evolve, he would easily make twenty at least – Crobat were significantly more long-lived than their blue pre-evolutions – but given his opinions of Fabien, he had long ago resigned himself to an early death.

Returning from that digression, he had found his two comrades behind a dumpster, and he had presented them with the Aqua girl; they had then congratulated him – for once – and divested her of her four Poké Balls. A quick search through her pockets had revealed her identity to be Sapphire Birch, daughter of Alan, which was surprising but of no real consequence.

They had made enquiries about the next express to Lavaridge, and proceeded to Crescelton Station with all possible speed, stopping only to purchase a large steamer trunk on the way. Hopefully, Fabien thought, the money used could be claimed as expenses from the Team, because it had been his credit card they used, and the trunk was rather on the dear side. Now, they were arrayed along the station, two men, a bat and a girl, in various attitudes: Blake was standing, Goishi was fluttering gently, Sapphire was curled up within the trunk, and Fabien, for reasons best known to himself, was striking such Anglo-Saxon attitudes as would have rendered the King’s Messenger himself green with envy.

“Whatcha doin’?” asked Blake, in some confusion; Fabien lowered his hands and was about to give a response when some primaeval instinct warned him that danger was behind him. Perhaps he caught a reflection of yellow light in the glass of the lamppost, perhaps he felt the static charge in the air, perhaps he was even experiencing the awakening of some latent criminal wisdom, but he flung himself flat on the floor just as a lemon-coloured beam of crackling energy blasted by overhead.

Blake rounded on this intruder, whipping his gun from its concealed holster; around them, the few other people waiting for the train suddenly found more important places to be.

“We had this discussion last time we met,” the Rotom-boy said, stepping out onto the platform from the station doorway. “Which is faster, lightning or bullets?”

Fabien climbed back to his feet indignantly, ramming his hat firmly back onto his head.

“Now, look here,” he began, but the Rotom-boy made a gun of his hand, extending thumb, index and middle fingers while clenching the others, and fired another noisy bolt over the Magma’s shoulder. He gulped and shut his mouth as his attacker glowed orange slightly.

“What was that?” he wondered aloud, then seemed to hear an answer from somewhere. “Oh, I see. It raised the power. Anyway,” he continued, returning his attention to the Magmas, “give me back my friend. Now. Or I’m going to have to shoot you.”

Fabien glanced at Blake, and Blake glanced at Fabien. Mental calculations were made, the answers multiplied by three and then tested to see if they conformed to the laws of propriety; the object of their rapid thoughts was simple: to see if the Rotom-kid would kill them or not. After a moment, Fabien had three reasons in mind why he, in fact, would.

Point one: their value. They were inordinately low in the Magma pecking order, and no one would mind particularly if they died.

Point two: this kid worked for the Aquas. They hated the Magmas, and didn’t baulk at killing them.

Point three: he was clearly a criminal genius. The way he had fooled them with his ‘identical actor’ stunt back on Route 110 was proof enough of that. Someone so hideously intelligent and amoral was certain to have to include murder in their plans at some point – and so it was likely that killing anyone would probably not cause the Rotom-kid to lose any sleep at night.

Fabien gulped again.

“Fine,” he sighed. “She’s in the trunk.” He gestured.

The Rotom-boy went over to it, and found it locked.

“Open it,” he ordered, and Fabien did so. Then he stepped back, and the Rotom-boy hauled out Sapphire’s sleeping body from within. “Her Poké Balls, please.”

Please. How pleasant the boy was, Fabien thought, as he gave them back. It was almost a pity that he now had both hands full, and so was unable to resist the attack he was about to order.

“Goishi!” cried Fabien. “Now!”

The bat looked startled, and the Rotom-boy dropped Sapphire Birch reflexively to zap him between the eyes with another line of yellow light. Goishi gave a cry halfway between a scream and a sizzle, flew backwards about five metres and came to an unhappy rest with his head rammed into a trash can.

“Thunderball,” grinned the Rotom-kid. “One point to me.”

Fabien stared at him. How had he ever hoped to outwit this guy? Not only had he swift reflexes and excellent forward planning skills, he was able to make referential jokes at the drop of a hat. Truly, he was a criminal to give Maxie himself a run for his money.

He was still staring when Blake waved a hand in front of his face, snapping him out of what appeared to have been some sort of trance state.

“Fabien, ’e’s gone,” the big man told him. “An’ ’e took Birch with ’im.”

Fabien looked from Blake to the trunk to his fainted Golbat, gave a despairing sigh and flung himself theatrically onto a bench. Once again, and without any apparent effort on their enemy’s part, they had been well and truly thwarted.

---

For the second time that day, I sat at the bedside of an unconscious girl. In different circumstances, I might have counted myself a lucky man, but unfortunately both girls hated me with what is generally known as a vengeance.

OK, that was less dangerous than I thought, Puck admitted. I thought she’d be at Lavaridge already.

“Shut up. I’m not talking to you.”

Shall I apologise? I’m sorry, Kester. There. I said it. Can we forget about this unpleasantness and go back to normal now?

“How can we? You’re a liar, a – a world-class thief!”

Amongst other things, he said modestly. I am quite good, if I do say so myself. Forget the Mona Lisa – I had my eyes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Which was, in fact, the Italian job that went wrong.

“I can’t tell if that’s the truth or a joke,” I said dispiritedly. “That means there’s something wrong with you.”

It’s a joke. I stole it from somewhere else, but I’m not going to tell you where.

“Whatever.”

“Uhhh...”

I looked over at Sapphire, who was stirring beneath the covers. Her eyes flickered open hazily, and focused blearily on me.

“Yo,” I said. “Knight in shining armour, at your service.”

“Kester?” She sat up slowly. “Where – what happened?”

“You got caught by the Magmas, I went and rescued you,” I said. All at once, my frustration seemed to melt away; I felt like a hero from a storybook, a fairy tale prince. Unfortunately, I seemed to have inadvertently rescued the fire-breathing dragon rather than the princess, but it was still an accomplishment.

“You... I remember,” Sapphire said. She looked around for something, and her eyes fell on the Poké Balls on her bedside cabinet. Taking up the Master Ball, she squeezed the two hemispheres that formed it and twisted; they fell apart and a surge of red light burst out, only to fade half a second later. “There,” she said, setting down the ruined Ball. “You’re free. Go home.”

I stared at her.

“What?”

“You were right,” Sapphire said awkwardly. “It’s dangerous. You fulfilled your end of the bargain, anyway. And you saved me. So... this is my thank you.”

“I...” I was completely at a loss for words.


‘Thank you’ would be a start.

“Thanks,” I said. “Thanks, Sapphire. A lot.” Then I took a deep breath, and continued: “But I’m not going anywhere. Not yet.”

“What?” It was Sapphire’s turn to stare.

“I’m not done here,” I told her. “You can go on, if you like. But I’m in this too deep to back out now.” I was thinking of Felicity. “So I’m not going home yet.”

Oh, Giratina have mercy on us all, Puck said despairingly. The boy’s serious.

Sapphire gave me a long look.

“You’re not really a coward at all, are you?”

I shook my head sadly.

“I wish I was,” I admitted. “It would make it so much easier to give up and go back.”

“OK,” replied Sapphire slowly, her eyes still searching my face for something. “Then I’ll come with you.”

“Huh?”

Sapphire gave me her lopsided grin.

“Come on, Kester,” she said. “You didn’t think you could leave me out of this, did you?”

I smiled at her, possibly the first time I’d done so sincerely.

“I guess not,” I said. “OK, here’s the deal. There’s this guy called Zero...”
__________________

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  #57    
Old Posted March 12th, 2011 (02:05 AM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Oops. Have to apologise for the delay again. Blame Pokémon Black. That, and History of Art.

I wonder if these chapter titles even have anything to do with the chapters any more?

Chapter Twenty-Seven: All The Pretty Faces

“Will you please tell them you’re going to take me home?” asked Felicity. “I hate being here, and they won’t let me leave unless someone comes to collect me.”

She was sitting up in bed, a stick-thin figure of corpse-flesh limbs covered by crumpled sheets. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but she was still extraordinarily beautiful despite her emaciation.

Really? Those creepy eyes put me off, Puck said. I mean, if you ignore the blue bit, she’s got... GoldenEyes.

Shut it, I thought back. We were still not on speaking terms; I couldn’t find it in me to forgive him. I hadn’t told Sapphire about his past yet, and was not sure I was going to.

Huh. Everybody loves Ferris, but no one loves Robin. And really, what’s the difference in character between us?

“We’ll do that,” I said to Felicity. “You’ll want to come with us, I suppose.”

She nodded.

“Yes. I am finished with those bumbling pirates.”

It took me a moment to work out she meant Team Aqua, then I replied:

“OK.”

Sapphire was hanging around in the corner, looking uncomfortable, as if she didn’t belong.

“So,” she said. “Shall we... make a move?”

“Find a doctor,” Felicity ordered. “Tell them you’re taking me home.” I started to leave, and Sapphire stayed; Felicity sent her out after me with another terse command: “Leave then, so I can get dressed.”

“I don’t think I like her very much,” Sapphire whispered to me as we left the room.

“She’s... not well,” I said defensively. “I think worse things might be happening to her than to me, and God knows that could make a demon of a saint.”

Odd turn of phrase, Puck mused. Unexpected, like the Spanish Inquisition. He chuckled. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! he shouted, then lapsed into giggles.

I gritted my teeth and ignored him. I didn’t see how he could so easily slip back into his usual persona and pretend that nothing had happened between us; I certainly couldn’t.

“Why are you defending her?” asked Sapphire curiously. I felt the sudden heat that accompanies the swift flushing of the cheeks.

“No reason,” I said, far too quickly. “No reason at all.”

Sainted Cobalion, that’s the worst lie I’ve ever heard that wasn’t part of a trashy film, Puck said. Sapphire gave me a long, even look, which made me increasingly uncomfortable the longer it went on, and then walked on without comment. Ah, the fair sex, Puck said fondly, so very perspicacious when it comes to matters such as these.

“Shut up,” I muttered, and hurried after Sapphire’s retreating back.

We located Felicity’s doctor and wrangled a reluctant agreement to remove her from hospital care from him; then we returned to her room, where she was waiting for us, sitting on her bed and dressed in her battered blue suit.

“I need to go to the Aqua base before we do anything else,” Felicity said. “All my stuff is there. Including normal clothes.”

“What sort of ‘anything else’ are we planning on doing, exactly?” I asked, as we started walking out. Felicity moved oddly, as if on wheels; she almost didn’t seem to move her legs at all. “You never actually said how we’re going to take down Zero.”

“Do you think this is part of his plan?” Felicity asked suddenly, stopping. “Do you think we’re just furthering his cause?”

Sapphire and I exchanged glances.

Shrewd, remarked Puck. Insightful. A thought from outside the box. How many words can I come up with before you tell me to—?

Shut up, I thought.

There it is, he said with satisfaction.

“I don’t know,” I told Felicity. “But I managed to get away from his plan once. Maybe we can do it again.”

“Maybe.” She didn’t sound convinced.

“Look,” said Sapphire, “can we please just do something? This standing around is not getting us anywhere.”

“If you know what you’re doing, go ahead,” snapped Felicity, baring her teeth in a curiously feline gesture. “I’m sure you can do this without me.”

“You—!”

Sapphire’s hand darted to her belt; I grabbed her wrist and yanked it back.

Cat-fiiiiight, sang out Puck. This could only be more entertaining if we were in some sort of weapons storehouse!

“Will you two stop it!” I cried, harassed. “Sapphire, stop being angry! Felicity, stop... um...”

I was suddenly and unpleasantly reminded of my time in Birch’s lab, because they subjected me to a pair of withering death-stares that hit me so hard that I actually stumbled over backwards.

Ouch, said Puck, unimpressed. I can see this is going to be a fun trip.

---

“All right,” Maxie began. “Have you found a Meteorite, then?”

Tabitha nodded.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, go and get it, then,” he said. Then, a thought striking him, he said: “Wait. How hard will this be to get? I don’t want to have to divert anyone from the volcano project.”

“Not very,” Tabitha judged. “The only potential obstacle is this Cozmo guy, but by all accounts he isn’t the most courageous of characters. He ought to be a pushover.”

“OK, then,” Maxie said. “In that case, you can have those losers we have looking for the Aqua’s Rotom-kid. Go call them and get them sent up on the train.”

“Yes sir,” Tabitha said, heart sinking. Those two were notorious throughout the Team; a pair of clowns to rival anything you might see at the circus, they had bungled their way through over fifty disastrous missions during their years with the Team, and only maintained their jobs through consistent and well-timed unction. “Should I replace them, sir?”

“Oh. Yes, I suppose you’d better. Send...” Maxie’s eyes roved around the room, searching for inspiration; at that moment, there came a knock at the door and Courtney walked in. His gaze lighted on her and he pointed. “Courtney! Organise someone to replace the two grunts we have tailing the Rotom-kid.”

Somewhat startled, she blinked, nodded, and left again.

“No, don’t go!” cried Maxie. “For God’s sake, woman, you’re too pretty to wait outside! Come in here until Tabitha’s done, then say what you want to say, then leave.”

Courtney came back in, suppressing a sigh. Maxie made a face that indicated the exasperation inherent in running an organisation like his, and spoke to Tabitha, keeping his eyes firmly locked on Courtney.

“So, Tabitha, go and get me this Meteorite. I’m going to build some sort of improbable machine to extract the power from it now, and I don’t want to be disturbed until it’s done. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly.” Another man might have questioned Maxie’s sanity, but Tabitha knew him better than that; the Magma leader was nothing short of a genius. A genius who was prone to objectify women and lose his temper, but a genius nevertheless. He nodded, gave a little bow, and walked out.

---

How much moxie would Maxie have if Maxie could mock sea? Puck pondered. Nah, I can do a better tongue-twister than that. Give me a moment...

“I hate you with a passion that eclipses rational understanding,” I murmured in a flash of lyricism, and ignored him.

“I’m ready now,” Felicity announced, emerging from the mouth of the alleyway that led to the Team Aqua base. She was wearing the same outfit she had the day she had accosted me in Slateport, and during our disastrous lunch at Blintzkrieg; the only difference were her shoes, which were blue and appeared to be made of either plastic or painted steel. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Sapphire asked.

“To Lavaridge,” Felicity said, starting to walk.

“Why Lavaridge?” I asked.

“Because Team Magma is based there, and they are starting to make a move,” Felicity replied without looking at either of us. “You won’t know this, because they’re forcing the police to keep it quiet, but they have killed Uriah.”

Sapphire and I stopped dead.

Uriah?

“Uriah,” she confirmed. “Evidently they don’t want him interfering with whatever they have planned; I suspect they will have a hand in choosing his successor, so they can have a puppet figure and do whatever important thing it is they plan to do – or should I say, that Zero plans for them to do – without interference.”

Moxious Maxie mocked Mickey...

Shut up! You’re ruining our stunned silence!


“So, do we want to go to the train station?” asked Sapphire. I could tell she was trying very hard not to leap at Felicity’s throat, and I liked it.

“Yes,” Felicity replied. “Unless you would like to pay for plane tickets.”

“I wouldn’t,” Sapphire said with forced cheer. “So I suppose we’re going to the train station.”

It wasn’t far to the station, and we only had to wait fifteen minutes or so for the express to Lavaridge. In all, it could have been no more than an hour before we were sitting in a compartment full of uncomfortable silence, accompanied by two young men and a woman who looked in danger of suffocating on the tension we were generating.

“This should be nice,” the woman said to one of the men, in an attempt to break the oppressive silence.

“Yeah,” he replied quietly.

“Don’t you think?” she persisted, turning to her other companion.

You’ve got to admit, Puck said admiringly, the girl’s tenacious. I like that.

“I swear to God,” I muttered in low, dangerous tones, “I have a view to a kill here, and I’m going to make good on it.”

Whoa, Puck said. Another Bond joke, but... also a death threat. I can’t tell if you’ve forgiven me or not.

“I haven’t.”

“Is it annoying you?” Felicity asked me. All eyes in the carriage turned to her, and she pushed her sunglasses further up her nose self-consciously. They no longer fully hid the discolouration, but it seemed to make her feel better.

“Um, a lot,” I replied, shifting uneasily under the scrutiny of the three holidaymakers.

“Does it hurt?”

“Ah...”

I couldn’t quite remember ever being so embarrassed before, save for during that business that occurred last year; I was bright red and as capable of sitting still as eating my own head.

“No,” I managed eventually. “I don’t – it doesn’t hurt.”

“OK.” Felicity nodded, and we lapsed into silence once more.

That was some serious tension, Puck remarked. In fact, it’s still pretty tense now. If I could get that knife off Will, I could probably cut it. But then I’d be contributing to the decay of the multiverse due to the escape of Dust, so, y’know, it might not be such a good idea.

“For the love of all that is holy, shut up!” I cried, and everyone stared at me again. If it was possible, I went even redder; I muttered something about a pestilential thief and a liar, and tried to retreat into the seat.

“He hears voices,” I heard Sapphire explain apologetically. “They tell him... horrible things. We hope the water at the spas in Lavaridge will help him.”

“I – I see,” came the reply of one of the two men.

Crazy now, are you? Puck asked. Funny, because I’m sure we ruled that possibility out twice already.

Well, I am hearing voices, and they are telling me horrible things. Like how they’re a liar and a world-famous thief who’s managed to land me in more trouble than anyone should ever be landed in!

Hey, I thought you weren’t a coward anymore? You said you were up to continue this quest.

I’m OK to stop Zero. That has to do with me, remember? And there’s a chance I can get rid of you by doing it. However, I’m not OK to get involved with international art theft!

I thought we were going to put that behind us
, Puck wheedled. Let bygones be bygones. Or Zygons, if you’re an ardent Tom Baker fan. Which I’m not, but only because he’s a bit before my time. I’m a Tennant man myself – you always love the one you grew up with, don’t you?

I have no idea what you’re talking about—

It’s the Doctor—

—and I don’t care
, I finished. Now shut up.

I looked at my watch, and groaned silently. We had only been travelling for ten minutes, and there was at least an hour and a half to go.

---

“I got one question for you, Matt,” Archie said. “Is he a Sicilian?”

Matt looked confused.

“No sir,” he said, slowly and deliberately. “I believe they’re from Admiral’s Berth.”

They were in the overheated sitting-room that was the Aqua Leader’s private sanctum; the Admin was reporting to his boss about whether or not to promote a certain high-ranking grunt to the status of Administrator, and struggling, as ever, with the man’s conviction that the Team was equivalent to the Family.

“No, not like that,” Archie said, a trace of annoyance creeping into his voice. “Is he a Sicilian? Does he act like a Sicilian?”

“I honestly don’t know, sir,” Matt said. “I’ve never been to Sicily.”

“Some consigliore you are,” Archie replied dismissively. “Fine. Is he a man?”

“No sir.”

“Then no.”

“If I might be permitted to say so, sir, that’s kind of sexist.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You can’t not promote her just because she’s a woman, sir,” pointed out Matt reasonably.

His boss swore floridly in fluent Italian. He was not actually Italian – he had been born in S****horpe – but he had learned the language many years ago, in the hope of one day carrying out a conversation with a Turkish drug dealer and a crooked cop in a small Italian restaurant, before killing them both.

“That’s not what I meant,” Archie said. “I meant, does this person possess manly qualities? Are they Administrator material?”

“Oh. Well in that case, yes sir.” Matt smiled brightly and stupidly.

“Then promote her!” cried Archie. “You are a fool, Matt. A shameless fool.”

“Right. Thanks then, sir,” said Matt, and he turned around to walk out. As the door shut behind him, Archie put his head in his hands and gave an almighty moan, slipping out of character for a moment.

“At least,” he said, trying to console himself, “she can’t be any worse than him.”

After a moment, he stood up and stretched, shaking lethargy from his body like water.

“I need a walk,” Archie decided, and stepped out into the corridor. Immediately, and to his great dismay, he bumped into Matt, coming the opposite direction with a young woman in tow. She had a great mass of curly hair the colour of carrots, and a distinctly evil look on her face. Archie had pity for people like that. An evil-looking face often drove its bearer to a life of crime they would not otherwise have chosen. “Oh, Matt. Who’s this?”

“This is Shelly, sir,” said Matt. “The new Admin.”

Archie inspected her with renewed interest.

“You’re Shelly, are you? I see. Well, good to see you.”

He walked past them both and would have made good his escape had not Shelly called out:

“Wait, sir!”

Archie stopped, gritted his teeth and turned around.

“Yes?”

“Don’t you have any orders for me...?”

He thought for a moment.

“No,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t.”

“What about the W.R.I. stuff, sir?” suggested Matt helpfully.

Archie paused, struck. A sound thought, coming from him? Bizarre.

“Yes,” he said. “Tell Shelly all about that. It will be her responsibility from now on.”

And then, at long last, Archie was able to escape his incompetent Administrator and the confines of the headquarters, and get some fresh air on the coastal path above the beach.

---

The boy with jade eyes was restless.

He paced around the gardens like a caged lion; there was still a week until the official trials began, and though there was plenty to do he couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the fight that had got away.

He passed a bed of hydrangeas, paused by a fountain that, in a phenomenally unsuitable clash of cultures, depicted Poseidon wrestling a Lapras, and continued down to the town. Despite its many attractions, there was nothing that held any interest for him; he cared not for cinemas, or theatres, or shopping malls. Right now, the only thing he craved was the battle that those two Trainers back in Mauville had refused him.

“Damn it!” he exclaimed, punching a wall and regretting it when his knuckles hurt. “I want to fight them!”

A blue-skinned Pokémon lumbered up to his side; being lamentably slow of pace on land, he had taken a long time to catch up with him. Usually, the boy would only keep Machina out of his Poké Ball, but he was currently training this creature and so had him with him instead.

“Coast,” he said. “Coast, go and beat something up for me.”

The creature – Coast – tilted his beaked face up towards him and uttered a long, questioning noise that sounded something like Currrrrr?

“Oh, for God’s sake!” cried the boy, displeased. “Remind me never to train anything less intelligent than an Arcanine again.”

Coast could understand this no more than he understood the previous command, and went Currrrr again.

“Nothing. Be quiet.”

This Coast could understand, and he fell silent.

The boy with the jade eyes walked on, his Pokémon struggling to keep up. Everyone he passed on the streets was an expert Trainer – some were, perhaps, even as good as he was – but he didn’t want to challenge any of them. There was only one battle he wanted to fight, and he’d left it behind in Mauville.

“If I were the main character,” the boy told the armoured Pokémon as it plodded ponderously along, “I wouldn’t have any of these problems.”

“Currrrrr,” stated Coast, blinking laconically.

“Why do I keep talking to you?”

The boy with the jade eyes left the town and started up the stairs that wound around the tower; at its peak lay the helipad, though there was no point going there. He’d signed the contract; he couldn’t go anywhere until this was all over.

There were around a hundred and fifty steps, but though he wasn’t particularly strong, the boy was used to extended periods of physical exertion and managed it in just a couple of minutes. When he got there, however, there was no sign of Coast; the reptilian Pokémon had fallen behind some time ago, since he was supremely defective with regards to stair-climbing.

A strong wind gusted into the boy’s face, and his hair stood out in a fan behind his head; he narrowed his eyes against the cold air and squinted across the hard expanse of steel. The helicopter was gone today, and Scott with it; doubtless, he was searching for a few more competitors at the last moment. The boy wondered how long the contest was going to be – there were already sixty-three entrants, and all of them were either incredibly talented or incredibly experienced. None of them, as far as the boy knew, were from anywhere other than Hoenn, which was one reason he was keeping himself to himself. He wasn’t entirely sure he approved of this country, with its rampant crime, cheerful insanity and singularly weak government.

“President Loganberry,” he mused, “has a lot to answer for.”

He turned and started back down the stairs. Halfway down, he met Coast struggling to reach the next step, and in a moment of compassion recalled him. There was no sense tiring him out before they got any work done, and it was time for a spot of training.

For despite his impatience, the boy with jade eyes had no intention of losing this tournament. He had never lost before, and he didn’t intend to start now.

---

“Hot springs,” mused Zero. “They’re supposed to be good for illness.”

“Lies,” spat Courtney. “Lies, all of them.”

They were leaning on a low stone wall, looking out over the sunset-illumined water. It was a mark of his trust that he was not wearing his trademark mask for once; it was tucked under one arm.

“You’re not in a good mood,” observed Zero.

“Of course I’m not,” replied Courtney. “Do you know what I’ve been through today?”

“Yes,” Zero said.

“Right. I forgot about that,” Courtney said sourly, and flicked a piece of gravel into the pond.

“You can complain to me if you like, though,” Zero offered. “I am human, remember.”

Courtney’s furrowed brow softened a little.

“I know,” she sighed. “Sorry.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” Zero told her. “We’re moving on. I’ll have it all over soon. No more Teams, no one left to oppress or oppose us at all. Just you and me, and the world’s unresisting population under our feet.”

Courtney smiled.

“God, I love you,” she said with feeling, and leaned into his shoulder. Zero smiled, put an arm around her and gazed at the setting sun.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #58    
Old Posted March 12th, 2011 (01:14 PM).
Xilfer's Avatar
Xilfer
'twas fun.
Community Supporter
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Your mind
Gender: Male
Nature: Naughty
Waddaya mean if my statement wasn't true? why would i lie?

Anyway, good story again. so Puck's a theif huh? cool. i honestly don't have much to say now. except keep on rocking dude.
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  #59    
Old Posted March 12th, 2011 (05:40 PM).
Mizan de la Plume Kuro's Avatar
Mizan de la Plume Kuro
Bass, Bass Everywhere!
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Airstrip One, Oceania
Gender: Male
Nature: Calm
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It's nice to read a story in batches instead of having to wait a few days in between chapters, don't you agree?

So yeah, this isn't actually a review, I'm not in the mood for that right now, but it's more of a post with comments to show that I'm still reading and enjoying the fic. Now, comments:

Quote:
“Wahahaha!” laughed Wattson, and sat heavily down on his beanbag. “You ended up giving me a thrill!”

“Who’s he talking to?” asked Sapphire, for he was looking intently at his left hand.
Oh God, that… that actually came out quite dirty in the context its usually used in. I’m content to imagine that he drew a face on his hand with a sharpie, but the ‘thrill’ part… I’m not sure if this is supposed to be innuendo because I haven’t seen any in this fic before this.

Quote:
“Fabien,” said Blake.

“Yes?”

“I’ve acciden’ally stolen a fork.”
I can’t help but wonder if this was a real life event for you. I mean, I’ve never been out of a restaurant in a hurry before, so I can’t say that I’ve taken any cutlery with me before. Still, this line had me in stitches.

Quote:
There he was, topping the news, his sharp eyes shining like factories far away; he was grinning wildly into the lens of a CCTV camera, while his cohorts tore up books behind him. Talking over the frozen image was the voice of Gabby van Horne, Hoenn’s favourite newsgirl and one half of a partnership with the country’s most famous and reckless cameraman, Tyrone de’Medici.

Seriously? He belongs to the House of Medici?
Yeah… I was going to point out the absurdity of having a Medici in Japan, but then thought better of it. Instead, I somehow managed to get from this Italian reference to Macri the BBC camerawoman from Angels and Demons. You making such a far-fetched reference like that is unlikely, but still.

And that's about it. I'm loving your plot twists, and I'm actually starting to see this as a sort of different version of the R/S/E story.
__________________
.F i c t i o N.
Havisham
"Break his heart, Estella. Break
his heart..." - Cutlerine
---

.F a n f i c t i o N.
The Promise I Made to You

SWC 2012 Second Place
  #60    
Old Posted March 13th, 2011 (03:56 AM). Edited March 13th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Er... It isn't meant to be innuendo, but it is a little weird, now you mention it. I blame Game Freak. They wrote that line.

The whole 'fork theft' thing is sort-of based on a true event, yeah. But no one stole a fork. It's something I'm going to use in a future chapter, so I'll put the story in a spoiler.

Spoiler:
I was in a restaurant with a few friends, and one of us got up to go and get something. They wandered back a few minutes later, looking confused and holding something in each hand.

"I couldn't remember what I was going to get," he said, holding his items up, "so I got some ketchup and a fork."

Cue loud and uncontrollable laughter. It was very funny at the time. In fact, it still makes me smile.


About the Tyrone de'Medici thing - I don't set my Hoenn in Japan. I visualise the Pokémon regions as existing in a sort of cluster in the middle of the Pacific, because there's some space for them there. The inhabitants are probably descended from the same root ancestors as the Polynesians and Indonesians. This, of course, is with the exception of Unova, which I think is somewhere west of Iceland.

I've just realised that this doesn't explain why there's a member of the House of Medici in Hoenn. Er, can we say he's a third-generation immigrant? (Hooray for mildly improbable backstory!)

Oh, and I'm glad that this is recognisable as an alternate version of the R/S/E story. That's pretty much what it's intended to be - only jazzed up quite a lot, and with lots of bits to fill in the gaps where there isn't any appreciable storyline. Oh, and there's a better dénouement.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #61    
Old Posted March 13th, 2011 (08:54 AM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Whew. Finally got my update schedule back on track: English coursework is over.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Girl Who Trained With Fire

“Closed?” I asked, stupefied. “This can’t be right.”

“Sorry,” said the man, “but that’s right. The Cable Car up to Lavaridge is closed until further notice.”

We were at the Cable Car station at the foot of Mount Chimney, in the heart of the Madeira Mountains. All around us, mighty volcanoes raised their heads skywards, forming a cage of stone that seemed intent on trapping the heavens themselves. Scraggly trees clung to their reddish flanks, and flocks of dusk-flying Altaria wheeled around overhead, trailing white dust from their cotton wings. Occasionally, one would alight on the cliff-face, clinging to the sheer rock with powerful talons, and tear away a piece of stone to drop to the ground below. I later learned that they were dropping Torkoal to break open their shells, which made it quite a lot less appealing, but at the time it seemed almost magical.

The Cable Car building itself was shuttered of window and bolted of door, with two rather burly men standing outside to dissuade anyone from even thinking about getting in.

“This can’t be right,” Felicity said impatiently. “We have to get to the top.”

“No can do,” the other man replied. “It’s closed.”

The group of young people who’d been travelling with us murmured soft curses to each other and walked off back to the train station, disconsolate; we weren’t ready to give up quite yet.

“Can I ask exactly why it’s closed?” Sapphire inquired suspiciously.

The two men looked at each other.

“Er...” said one.

“Um...” said the other.

“Damn it,” said the first one. “Our cover appears to be blown.”

“You work for the Magmas, don’t you?” I said. Everyone looked at me in mild surprise. “What? I haven’t said anything for a while.”

“That’s right,” the second man said. “And I’ve got a big knife, so I don’t think it really matters if you know or not. You’re not getting to Lavaridge.”

“Right,” I said. “So what if we were to beat you up?”

The second man produced his big knife, and, true to his word, it was very big. And also a knife. However, something appeared to be wrong with it.

“Is that a butter knife?” Sapphire asked.

The second Magma inspected it.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “Wrong one.” He put it back in his pocket and came out with a machete instead; I had no idea how it fit in his breast pocket, and I wasn’t really too fussed about finding out.

All three of us took a step back.

This is a farce, said Puck. Now I really am certain that everyone in Hoenn is certifiably insane.

“Tell me about it,” I muttered.

“I still want to ascend to the top,” Felicity said. “I’m... I work for Zero.”

The two Magmas exchanged looks again.

“Zero?” said one.

“How did you get that name?” the second demanded to know, bringing his knife to her throat.

“I work for him,” she replied coolly. “And I’ve come to report. I can describe him if you like. He’s tall and thin, and wears a cloak and mask.”

Who is this guy, the Phantom of the Opera?
Puck wanted to know.

“Sounds like him,” the second Magma said, withdrawing his machete.

“Shall we let her through?” the first one asked.

“Yeah,” nodded the second, who seemed to be in charge. “You other two – clear off.”

“They’re with me,” Felicity replied. “Or do you want to upset Zero?”

“Girlie, we don’t want to upset Zero,” said the second Magma, with the air of one who has explained this so many times it has lost all meaning to him, “but we want to upset Maxie even worse. Because he’s the boss, and he’s got the temper of a Sharpedo.”

“So,” concluded the first Magma, unlocking the door, “you can go up, but not these two.”

Felicity glanced at Sapphire and I in mild desperation.

“Go,” I said. “We’ll meet up with you somehow.”

She nodded and went into the darkened interior; it was funny, I thought, how every building we came to seemed to have nothing but darkness behind the door before you went inside and saw they were perfectly normal.

It’s a tileset thing, Puck explained, which didn’t clarify things at all.

The Magmas shut, bolted and padlocked the door again, then brandished knives at us until Sapphire and I agreed to leave. We stopped at the edge of the car park, by the trees, to watch the carriage creak its way out of the station and up the cable. We kept watching until it was out of sight, then turned back to the road and wandered back to the train station.

It was a curious place, all alone in the middle of a patch of the dense forest that carpeted the Madeiras; no one lived here, and the only reason it existed was so that people could get to the Cable Car. It made me wonder why they hadn’t just built the Cable Car going up from Verdanturf or Fallarbor, but doubtless there was a reason.

“Well, that was a short-lived alliance,” Sapphire said. “What do we do now? Battle the guards and force them to let us in?”

“Yeah, because we’re totally a match for two hardened criminals,” I replied. “I bet they have more than machetes.”

They do, Puck said. A Ghost of some kind between them; didn’t see what. Seems to be around Level 31, kind of homesick.

“You see?” I said to Sapphire, then remembered she couldn’t hear what Puck had said and told her.

“Fair enough,” she conceded. “We won’t fight them. But how are we going to get to Lavaridge? Scale the mountain? Harness an Altaria?”

I winced; the sarcasm was so concentrated it could have been used as battery acid.

“Look,” I said, “there’s got to be another way to Lavaridge, right? You know more about travel than me, you tell me how we get there.”

“There aren’t any roads,” Sapphire answered, “because you can’t get cars up through the Madeiras. There’s a helicopter every two days from Fallarbor, I suppose, but that’s really expensive.”

“Any other way?” I asked. Secretly, I hoped there weren’t; I wanted Sapphire to have to pay up.

“There’s a project to extend the Rustboro Tunnel up to Lavaridge,” she said, after a moment’s thought, “but that won’t start until the construction workers start work again.”

“Oh yeah, I heard about that. It’s the protestors, right?”

Sapphire nodded.

“They say the noise will scare on the Whismur in the mountain caves. It’s stupid – Whismur are scared of their own shadows, so the machines won’t make much difference – but they’ve got friends in high places, so the project’s been cancelled until further notice.”

Damn hippies, Puck said. Pokémon aren’t people. We don’t feel the same way about things; hell, most of us don’t even notice our own existence. When people treat things like Whismur as if they were children dressed up with big floppy ears, it makes me as angry as... as that German kid.

What German kid?

I’m starting to doubt that Hoenn has any Internet access at all
, he sighed. Look it up.

Whatever. Then, aloud: “Sorry. Puck was just babbling about hippies.”

A train roared into the station, paused, and left; it seemed like no one had got off, until a girl of seventeen or eighteen ran past us, streamers of crimson hair flying out behind her.

“It’s no use,” I called after her, “the Cable Car’s closed.”

Hey, triple alliteration, Puck remarked. Tripliteration, you might say. Though that would be tantamount to asking to be punched.

She stopped dead, turned on one heel and screamed at me:

What?”

Sapphire and I started, surprised; the girl stomped back to us and thrust a heavily-pierced face into ours.

“What did you say?” she demanded to know, through a tongue and a lip piercing. As well as these, she had three silver rings through each ear, along with one through her left eyebrow and two in the right. She wore a short black T-shirt that exposed an improbably slim midriff complete with pierced navel, and bleach-spattered, baggy jeans held up by a thick red belt; this, combined with the peculiar styling of her ruby-red hair and the sinuous tattoo on her left arm, made her look strange enough that she just had to be a Trainer.

Puck whistled.

The spirit of ’80s punk has returned, he said. Haven’t seen anyone like her around for a while. In fact, not since the ’80s, oddly enough. Which is really weird, because I wasn’t alive in the ’80s.

“I – er – said the Cable Car was closed,” I said. “Seems like Team Magma have seized it.”

The pierced Trainer swore loudly.

“I need to get to Lavaridge,” she said angrily. “I have to get home!”

“Um... we were going to go around to Fallarbor and get the helicopter,” I told her. “I don’t know if you want to come with us...”

She looked like she was weighing up the options, then nodded. It wasn’t uncommon for Trainers to travel in small groups, usually with people they didn’t know. There was safety in numbers, or at least there was if the news was to be believed: wild Pokémon were dangerous, and were more likely to attack those travelling singly.

“When’s the next train?” she asked in a calmer voice, walking with us back onto the station’s single platform and across to the ticket office.

“It comes in half an hour,” Sapphire replied, pushing open the door. Inside, the office was perhaps the most depressing place on earth; full of long-dead pot plants and dog-eared leaflets advertising day trips to the Coast of Despair (‘It’s Sorrow-tastic!’), it housed a clerk who was as close to brain death as anyone could be without actually being comatose. He sold us tickets numbly, and we left as swiftly as decency would permit, eager to escape the choking aura of boredom that surrounded him. “My name’s Sapphire, by the way,” Sapphire added as we sat down on a bench to wait for the nine-thirty train.

It was dark now, and the Altaria were singing, a distant sound on the very edge of my capacity to hear; it was inexpressibly beautiful if you reduced the pitch so you could hear it properly, but to the Altaria who sang it, it was just a series of bloodthirsty threats about what would happen to those who invaded their territories, stole their mates or looked at them funny. I had learned that last month from a documentary, and had been rather surprised to discover that Altaria were nowhere near as cute as they looked.

“I’m Flannery,” replied the punk Trainer, “but I hate it, so people call me Spike.”

It wasn’t a girl’s name, but she certainly deserved it: most of her piercings had spikes on, and her boots had them too.

Do you think those piercings are like buttons? wondered Puck. I mean, if I took them all out, would her face fall off?

“And I’m Kester,” I told her.

There was a long and awkward silence. Spike stared straight ahead resolutely, gripping the wood of the bench so tightly that her knuckles stood out white through the skin. I noticed she had crimson eyes to match her hair, and wondered if either colour was natural.

“Sorry,” she said after a while. “For shouting at you. I just... I really need to get home.”

“You live in Lavaridge?” I asked.

No, she lives in Stockholm, Puck said scathingly. Where do you think she lives, genius?

“Yeah,” she replied. “My granddad...”

Unexpectedly, she slumped over forwards then, catching her head in her hands; at first, I thought the weight of all the metal in her face had dragged her over, but when I heard her sobbing I realised she was just crying. Sapphire and I looked at each other, startled, over her shaking shoulders, then asked cautiously and simultaneously:

“Are – are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” managed Spike, sitting back up and pressing her knuckles into her eyes. “I’m fine. It’s just he – he died the other day, and I have to – to get back...”

Then she lapsed back into incoherent sobs. Mentally girding my loins, as the saying would have it, I gamely struggled to comfort her while Sapphire stared at me and tried hard not to laugh. I didn’t blame her: it was sad that Spike’s grandfather was dead, but I was very bad at consoling people.

You’re no consoler of the lonely, that’s for sure, Puck said, and unaccountably started singing:

Haven’t seen the sun in weeks
My skin is getting paaale—

Shut up!
I thought furiously.

Eventually, when Sapphire started helping as well, we got Spike more or less calm again, and the story came out: her grandfather was – or had been – the Gym Leader at Lavaridge Town, Uriah Moore, who had been killed by Team Magma. It seemed she didn’t know that he had been murdered yet, only that he was dead, and neither of us had the heart to tell her.

“I haven’t seen him since I was ten,” Spike explained, sniffing back the last few tears. “My parents died when I was little, and he looked after me, but we didn’t get along. I became a Trainer as soon as I could, so I could get out of there, and never went back.”

“And now you feel bad about it,” I finished for her; it was a plotline ripped from a soap opera, tired and predictable.

Hey. I should be the one commenting on that, not you.

“Yeah,” Spike said. “I... sorry, this is stupid.”

“No,” Sapphire assured her. “I’d feel the same way if my grandfather died.”

I suppressed a derisive snort. I seriously doubted Sapphire was capable of this sort of emotion.

That’s not nice, and also not true, Puck said. Have you forgotten how she was when Rayquaza died?

Whatever.


The train rumbled into the station, halted and opened its doors; we got on and sat in the first compartment we found. It was empty, as I think the entire train was: no one was travelling to Lavaridge or Fallarbor at this time of night.

Spike leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes; this gave me the first good opportunity I’d had all evening to gawp at her piercings. She really did have a lot of them, and it would have taken me a while to work through them all if I hadn’t been interrupted by Sapphire kicking me in the shin.

“Don’t stare,” she mouthed.

“Who are you, my mother?” I mouthed back. She made an obscene gesture, and I sighed and shook my head. I couldn’t be bothered with this fight.

“Why are you two going to Lavaridge?” asked Spike, and both of us looked at her in alarm; however, her eyes were still shut, and she hadn’t seen our ridiculous farce.

Close one
, said Puck.

“Um, we were going to challenge the Gym,” Sapphire fibbed. “But I suppose we won’t now. We’ve got a friend there, so we’ll just visit her instead.”

“I’m going to take over the Gym,” Spike replied flatly, “so you can challenge it.”

Sapphire raised her eyebrows, though the effect was somewhat lost since Spike’s eyes were closed.

“I thought Gym Leaders were elected by the townsfolk, then approved by the Elite Four?” she asked. “What makes you so sure that you’ll win?”

Spike opened her eyes and sat up. From her bag, she pulled a red and black device that reminded me of something, though I couldn’t think what.

It’s one of those Pokémon Index checking things that Sapphire has, Puck said. Pokémon Index checking thing? That’s a bit wordy. Let’s see, can we contract that? Pokémondex... PokIndex... Pokédex! Yeah, that’s good.

That was it. Sapphire’s was white, but I recognised it now. Spike opened it and pressed a button; the screen lit up and she passed it to Sapphire, whose jaw promptly dropped.

“You see?” Spike said. “I’m good. I specialise in one type, to make things harder for myself, and I have seventy-three Pokémon from Hoenn and even two from Unova, all organised into teams by level. I came fourth in last year’s League Tournament, and I’ve beaten Sidney and Phoebe of the Elite Four.”

“Yes,” Sapphire replied, shaken. “OK, you probably will win.” She handed the Pokédex back to Spike, who turned it off and slid it into a pocket on her bag.

“What type is it that you use?” I asked, glad to be away from the topic of her grandfather, even if we were now on one of my least favourite subjects of all time.

“Fire,” replied Spike, holding up her left arm and showing me the massive, sinuous tattoo that stretched along it from shoulder to wrist. It looked like her hand had caught fire, and was trailing flames all up her arm.

Whoa, said Puck. Now that must have hurt.

For once, we were in perfect agreement. There was no way I could ever have borne the pain of being tattooed – or pierced, for that matter. Spike was one weird girl.

“Why Fire?” asked Sapphire. Spike shrugged.

“It’s as good a type as any,” she replied. “Besides, my granddad uses – used – the Fire type, and I always wanted to prove I was better.” She stared despondently out of the window, and for a moment I thought she might start crying again; my fears were unfounded, however, for she was just staring moodily at the moon through the trees and mountains.

Hey, Puck, I thought, the branches of those pine trees look like they’re raking the moon.

Well done, he said. That’s a tricky one to reference, I have to say. Have you forgiven me, then?

No. Not in the slightest. I just didn’t want to lose our competition.

Puck snorted.

Yeah, yeah. You love me really.


I decided that talking to him wasn’t worth it, and asked if anyone minded if I went to sleep. Obligingly, Spike said she’d wake me when we got to Fallarbor, for which I thanked her, and not long afterwards I was asleep. It had been a long day, and I was tired.

---

Zero watched Felicity through the window. She was bleeding quite badly now, and he decided he had better just warn Maxie not to kill her.

“Please be careful,” he said, putting his head around the door. “Despite her misinformation, she is usually quite a good mole. I would like to use her again after this.”

“Will do!” called back Maxie cheerfully, exchanging his staple-gun for a monkey wrench. “Don’t worry, I’m an exp—!”

Zero presumed that Maxie meant he was an expert, but never actually found out, since at that moment Felicity’s knee broke and her scream drowned out the end of the word. He nodded politely at Maxie and retreated, satisfied.

“Stupid girl,” he murmured disapprovingly, walking away. “You can’t break out of my plan; I accounted for your coming here.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d better make a move.”

In a few moments, he was gone. No one could say exactly how he’d left or where he had gone, but if you had questioned the people of Lavaridge carefully, you might well have find out that something huge and dark had flown away from the town that night, heading east.

---

And I’m down in a tube station at midnight, sang Puck. Oh, I do like the Jam. They were great, weren’t they?

“Never heard of them,” I muttered back.

As Puck had said, it was midnight, but we weren’t in a tube station; we were, however, in a railway station. Specifically, we were in Fallarbor Central, a titanic dome of glass and steel enclosing twenty-seven platforms and a small street’s worth of shopping opportunities. Even now, these shops were all open; this was Fallarbor, the Hoennian Hollywood, and the city never slept. Sapphire, Spike and I, however, worn out by various combinations early rising, grief and a stressful day, wanted nothing more.

Through a haze of fatigue, the three of us searched for the exit; eventually, we found it sandwiched between a burger bar and a tobacconist’s, almost as an afterthought. This reminded Sapphire and I of how hungry we were, having eaten close to nothing today, but we were too tired for food; it could wait until tomorrow.

As we roamed the streets, I was vaguely aware of bright lights and noise, but I really couldn’t be bothered to describe any of the city’s doubtless manifold attractions in any more detail than that. Even Spike, who wanted to get to Lavaridge more than any of us, agreed that we needed sleep before we went any further, and so we searched for a Pokémon Centre.

There was one not far from the station, and Sapphire and Spike took rooms there. Not being a Trainer and no longer contained in a Poké Ball, I anticipated there being some difficulty over what I should do, but the night receptionist either didn’t care about or was too tired to check anyone’s Trainer Cards, and gave us three rooms without asking for anything more than our names.

My room was as bland and unlikeable as any other, but I have to say, it was delightful beyond belief to sleep in a bed for once.

Morning dawned bright and clear, and we slept straight through it; Spike, the least tired, was the first up, closely followed by myself, since I’d had that nap on the train. I met her after breakfast, sitting in the living-room and watching TV with a couple of other Trainers and someone’s Zangoose.

I sat down beside her.

“Morning,” I said.

“Morning,” Spike replied. “Look.” She pointed at the TV, and dutifully, I did.
Once again, Gabby was gracing the screen, only today, thankfully, she wasn’t telling me that my jewel-eyed nemesis had caught up with me. Instead, she was standing in front of old footage of Rayquaza’s crash, talking about recent developments in the case.

“It seems that the cause of death has finally been confirmed,” Gabby was saying. “A potent mixture of the Steel-type move Flash Cannon and a rocket-propelled grenade caused severe haemorrhaging in the brain, causing Rayquaza to lose control of its movements and thus of its flight. The impact was the actual death blow; had it not hit the ground, Rayquaza might well have survived, or even recovered. Professor Xavier Houndsbuck has been studying Rayquaza all his life.”

It cut to Professor Houndsbuck, sitting in a well-appointed office. A little message informed me that this was at Harvard University, America; I didn’t know where in America that was, and sincerely doubted that more than three people did in the whole country.

That’s right, said Puck. You’re all shockingly ill-educated about the rest of the world in this country, aren’t you?

Houndsbuck spoke, and a voiceover man translated.

“From what we know, Rayquaza has actually sustained serious damage before. Observation planes have, for example, spotted large scars on its sides that seem to be from meteor impacts. The post-mortem revealed that it had fractured its skull and neck several times before, apparently without lasting ill-effect, and a large piece of scar tissue in its abdomen has shown that something managed to partially disembowel it in the past. Leaving aside the question of what managed to do that, this seems to indicate that Rayquaza potentially had the ability to regenerate to a degree previously unknown in nature...”

Sapphire walked in.

“Good morning. What’s this?”

“Just a Rayquaza update,” I told her. “The cause of death was a Flash Cannon mixed with a rocket-propelled grenade, they say.”

“Hm.” Sapphire pressed her lips together.

Someone’s still sensitive about the death of the Sky King, Puck said. Best not to talk about it anymore, I think.

“Oh, Sapphire!” said Spike, turning around. “If you’re ready, can we...?”

“You didn’t have to wait for us,” Sapphire said. “You could have left.”

“It’s OK,” replied Spike, getting up and following her out. I sighed, hauled myself to my feet and went after them. “It’s easier to travel with other people.”

She wants company, Puck said shrewdly. The girl’s lonely and depressed; I reckon she met you two at just the right time.

“All right, Mr. Psychology,” I muttered, “now shut your face.”

We checked out and started through Fallarbor towards the heliport; Sapphire said she knew the way, and I believed her. She seemed to know the way to most places.

Fallarbor suited the summer sun. I couldn’t imagine it in winter; it just didn’t fit. There were broad, sunlit boulevards and flashy cars; expensive shops and mansions that belonged to people who were very famous, very rich or both. Real Tropius, part dinosaur, part palm tree and part banana, stood around in the gardens, fanning their leafy wings and lowing softly; all the people seemed to be tanned, well-dressed and handsome. I imagined that this was the sort of place Felicity came from: a haven of glamour, a single city that sucked in the wealth and beauty of a nation and showed it off for the world to see.

Disgusting, was Puck’s verdict. It’s californication, that’s what it is. As my mother used to say: always trust in Anthony Kiedis.

We were walking down a narrow street called, with a depressing lack of imagination, Narrow Street, when three men in red suits and sunglasses swept past us, a white-coated man in their midst. I only saw them for a second, but I was certain of the expression on the man’s face: abject terror. I also saw their faces, and stopped dead in surprise.

Sapphire halted immediately.

“That was Team Magma,” she said. “Kester?”

“We’re going,” I said immediately.

“OK,” she replied.

“What?” asked Spike, confused.

“We’re going to go after those Magmas,” Sapphire told her. “You don’t have to, though. You can keep going to Lavaridge if you like. I mean, this could take a while.”

Spike hesitated for a moment, undecided, then spoke:

“OK. I’m going, then. I – I need to go home.”

Sapphire nodded.

“I understand.”

We stood facing each other awkwardly for a moment. Then:

“Well, good luck,” I said.

“You too,” replied Spike. “Goodbye.”

“Just go straight on,” Sapphire said. “I hope everything goes well.”

“Same to you,” said Spike, starting to walk. “Bye!”

We waved her away, and then turned to follow the Magmas.

I hope she sorts all this stuff out, Puck said. She’s a nice girl under all that metal.

“Kester, this isn’t like you at all,” Sapphire noted.

“Didn’t you see who those goons were?” I replied. “They’re the ones who kidnapped you, Sapphire.” I grinned. “They’re about the only people in the world I’m guaranteed to be able to beat up. It’d be my pleasure to stop whatever nefarious deeds they’re up to.”

Sapphire’s face twisted into the familiar lopsided grin, and we turned a corner into bright sunlight, to see the Magmas bundling their hapless captive into a large black car.

“Now you’re talking my language,” she said, and flagged down a taxi. We climbed swiftly into the back, and I uttered words that I’d wanted to ever since I was a small child:

“Driver, follow that car!”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #62    
Old Posted March 14th, 2011 (03:54 PM).
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Sgt Shock
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Hello. I've been reading your story for quite some time--so I have a lot to say. I'm not going to it all in this review, but I just wanted to inspire you to keep writing. I sat down for one minute just to read a chapter an ended up reading about ten of them. There are plenty things that I found appealing about your chapter. Your writing style in particular is what drew me to keep reading them in such a rate. Its also nice that you update regularly.

Puck is absolutely hilarious. His humor is refined and I know Kester does not respect that all of the time. Sapphire and Kester has great character interactions. That is probably what impressed me the most since I'm character crazy about things. You keep the plot line going while balancing both intelligent humor and action sequences. I'm only at about chapter 11 so I can't say much. I'm giving it my all to catch up though.

The switching between first and third person took a bit of getting used to . However, you seemed to caught the hang of it quickly. It's became smoother as time went on. I had a slight problem with switches at first--but now I understand.

Hope that I can give you some more reviews (you know, the ones with quotes and stuff). I don't want to act too quickly on something that may have already been addressed in writing and other reviews. Expect an actual deep review from me as soon as I catch up.
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"To me, jumping out into the rainy sky on a mad night is nothing more than a bit of fun to go with a drink." -Kinzo
  #63    
Old Posted March 15th, 2011 (01:02 PM).
Cutlerine
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Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Punk’s Tale

If the kind reader will so permit, we shall here make a digression from the main thrust of the narrative. We will not follow Kester, or the Magmas, or even Darren Goodwin. Instead, young Flannery of Lavaridge, more properly known as Spike, will form the focus of our narrative.

Spike had, as has been touched on already, something of a rocky relationship with her grandfather. What has not been mentioned is that the feeling of mutual hatred was one she also happened to share with the townsfolk of Lavaridge. It had all begun long ago, when she was more commonly known as Flannery.

Before her parents had died, Flannery had lived in Lilycove, home to all the youth and allure the country had to offer. By contrast, Lavaridge had seemed, like Denmark, a prison: it was full of the elderly, bursting at the seams with a slow tide of wrinkled age; it was a town that belonged to adults, and especially to the retired. Flannery could remember being eight, catching her first sight of the red rock from the Cable Car, and thinking it was like they had stolen the landscape from Mars.

Upon arrival, she found herself in a cage of tradition, wrapped round with loneliness; gone were the children she had played with in Lilycove, along with the familiar city streets and the bustle and hum of metropolis life. In their place, Flannery found a suffocating haze of stagnation. Lavaridge had nothing to offer a child but warm water and sand, and even that was out of bounds: her grandfather, suffering from the loss of his daughter and son-in-law, could not stand the thought of losing her as well, and would not let her play outside the grounds of his house or, if he couldn’t find anyone to look after her, his Gym.

Was it any wonder, then, that Flannery was a rebel? Lacking stimulation, she had to make her own, and this often took the form of petty vandalism and once, when she was nine, even theft from the vihara up on Jagged Pass. That last cemented the slow crystallisation of old Uriah Moore’s concern for Flannery into bitterness. With the last vestiges of compassion in his possessed, and after a protracted and long-overdue argument with Flannery, he had consented to let her visit Lilycove again in the company of a friend of his, the former Elite Four member Jericho Swolsfell. As the only young woman Moore knew, she was supposed to connect with Flannery and try to get to the root of her troubles.

Jericho was able to do just that – but far better than Moore had hoped. Flannery was ecstatic to be in Lilycove, but Jericho was so exalted in her eyes that the thrill of meeting her eclipsed even that. The Rock-type Master had something magnetic about her (so magnetic, it was rumoured, that she had once been able to inveigle even the normally cold Lance of the Indigo Plateau into accepting her offer of a date) and Flannery had adored her so much that her animosity towards her grandfather could only grow. Why was he old and strict, when Jericho was young and relaxed? Why did he speak to her only to tell her off, when Jericho just spoke to make jokes and have fun? Why, why, why?

Flannery came back from the weekend in Lilycove with her first piercings: her ears. This was normal enough, but, now embittered, her grandfather took grave exception to it; the resultant argument passed into Lavaridge legend, and would be told fondly for years to come.

“You’d never have known that a child could have such a pair of lungs on her,” Mr. Sponge was prone to say; Mrs. Wishpicket of 17 Grazina Avenue had a more colourful turn of phrase:

“She was screaming like a Loudred being raped, dears. You know, some people call that canola.”

Regardless of the way it was described, and whether or not Mrs. Wishpicket entirely understood the concept of canola, the argument was colossal. Jericho defended Flannery as best she could, and took much of the blame on herself – but the girl was still confined to her room for a week, though it wasn’t as if she had anywhere to go anyway. That was the last time she saw Jericho, as well.

Six months later Flannery turned ten, and received the application form in the post to become a Trainer. She had filled it out at once and sent it back without even telling her grandfather it had arrived, sure he would forbid her from going. On the part where she had to fill in her name, she had written Spike Temulence. It was technically illegal, but it didn’t matter; that day, Flannery ceased to be, and Spike rose in her place, twice as fiery and every bit as rebellious.

A week later a letter from the Pokémon League had arrived, informing her application had been accepted; unfortunately, her grandfather got to this one before her, and another argument had ensued. In the heat of it, Spike had snatched the letter from Uriah and fled the house. She swore it would be the last time she ever saw it.

Of course, the police became involved, but by the time they did, Spike was getting off a train in Mauville City, where she rapidly became invisible. She was a little scruffy, but that was the fashion in Hoenn at that time – a fact that had had several tourists rather concerned for the welfare of those they saw on their travels. She got her money by hook and by crook, and begged, borrowed and stole her way to Littleroot just in time to present herself at Professor Alan Birch’s famous Pokémon Laboratory at the appointed date.

It was a wonder she survived, at just ten. It helped, of course, that that was the age Trainers started at, and many people merely assumed that that was what she was. However she did it, she reached the Lab in time, and, her battered body eliciting sympathy from Birch, she received an unusually rare first Pokémon: a small, smoking tortoise, just two months out of the egg. It was a baby Torkoal, difficult to find due to their habit of living in lava and on sheer mountainsides, and it was hers to keep.

From then on, Spike went from strength to strength. She had a natural aptitude for Training, and soon she had defeated Petalburg’s Gym Leader, the Grass user Stephanie. If you know anything of recent Hoennian history, you will be well acquainted with her involvement in the infamous Black TMs scandal that forced her resignation, and the consequent appointment of Norman as her successor.

Spike now had money, through winning official matches, and she earned more by betting on herself. Gradually, over the next four years, she acquired more piercings, at first because her grandfather hated them and later because she liked them; at fifteen, she got the tattoo on her arm and decided to specialise in Fire-types, to rival her grandfather. She challenged all the Gyms (save her grandfather’s) again and swept all the Leaders away with her new team. Entering the League tournament at Ever Grande City, she had beat down the opposition easily, reaching the finals before losing to the man who went on to win. Undeterred, Spike had then gone on to take on the most difficult of challenges: the Elite Four itself. She had beaten Sidney and Phoebe before having to turn back; Glacia had poured an unrelenting wave of Walrein upon her, which in turn had poured an unrelenting wave of water over her Fire-types. However strong they were, they hadn’t been able to take the repeated Surfs, and so Spike had lost.

In short, Spike had turned her life around. She’d escaped Lavaridge and the life she didn’t want. The world was her oyster; she was even considering travelling abroad, to Johto or even America, in order to search for rare foreign Pokémon. Then her grandfather had died, and the bottom had fallen out of her world.

The base for Spike’s life was her hatred of her grandfather, and with his death it dropped away, replaced with soul-wrenching guilt. She could remember the day she left, and the last words she’d screamed at him – the last words she’d spoken to him before he died:

“I hate you! I wish you would die!”

They weren’t eloquent, but they were brutal enough, especially with the right feeling behind them. Spike found herself thinking that perhaps it was her fault; perhaps if she had stayed, had obeyed, he might still be alive. Uriah Moore was a bitter, twisted old man, but he was her bitter, twisted old man, and in a strange sort of way she still loved him.

And so Spike had headed back towards Lavaridge, taking the late train to Fallarbor with the intrepid adventurers Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch; she left them there to continue alone, back to the home she had sworn she would never see again.

Back to the house of the former Gym Leader Uriah Moore.

---

“Right away, sir,” replied the cabbie amiably, and slammed his foot down on the accelerator with such force that I was almost flung out the back window.

“Do you do this often?” I asked, struggling to fasten my seatbelt.

“Every two days, give or take,” the cabbie answered, slaloming wildly between two lanes of traffic as the Magmas sped ahead. “What’re you filming this time?”

“This isn’t a film!” Sapphire said. “This is an application of the law!”

“Ooh,” went the cabbie, screeching around a corner on two wheels and tipping Sapphire onto my lap, “that’s nice and all. Put my name in the credits, would you?”

Seems he’s mad too, Puck remarked. Ahead of us, the Magma car – a shiny black Buick Century – swerved onto the pavement, scattering pedestrians, and, dodging lampposts and ornamental trees, turned onto a side street. I’m mad, you’re mad – we’re all mad here.

“Just you, I think,” I muttered; the cabbie drove headlong through a fast-moving lane of traffic, losing the rear bumper of his taxi in a welter of horns, and shot out the other side after the Magmas. “OK, him too,” I amended, gripping the handle in the door tightly. “Oh God, this is terrifying.”

“Kester!” said Sapphire, now upright and firmly seatbelted. “Start firing at them!”

I stared at her.

“I’m not leaning out of the window!” I cried back.

“I’d do as she says,” the cabbie offered. “It’ll make the scene a whole lot better.” He paused. “Where are the cameras?”

“Gah!” I cried. Then: “I’m going to regret this...”

I pressed the button and the window slid down; a blast of fresh air rolled in and the sound of screaming tires rang loud in my ears. We were now on a broad, sunlit boulevard, the Century ahead of us parting the traffic like Moses and the Red Sea; all we had to do was follow in their wake.

“Get a move on!” cried Sapphire.

I took a deep breath, undid my seatbelt and leaned out of the window until I could aim effectively, then called up the now-familiar prickling sensation in my fingers. The energy was gathering, I could feel it – and then it was ready. I took aim at the rear window, dodged a telephone pole, and fired.

A streak of yellow energy cut through the air like a knife of lightning; the window exploded into fragments of glass and the Century swerved slightly, its driver surprised by the impact.

“Cor!” cried the cabbie. “That’s some special effect!”

“Come on! Hit the wheels or something!” ordered Sapphire.

“I’m amazed I hit it at all!” I yelled back over the roar of the wind, taking aim again. The Buick turned a corner at the last moment, and the shot went wide, burning a neat, round hole in a Stop sign. This time, I felt myself grow warm for a moment, and glow faintly orange.

You’ve powered up, noted Puck. Now duck.

I looked forwards, yelped and withdrew hurriedly into the taxi as we rounded the corner after the Magmas; I had come within three feet of having my head taken off by a Give Way sign.

“What are you doing?” asked Sapphire. “Get back out there!”

“You can’t order me around anymore!” I snapped back. “I’m free, remember?”

“Dialogue could use some work,” the cabbie said.

“For the love of—!”

I leaned out of the window again, charging another Beam, and loosed it at the fleeing Century. I didn’t hit it this time, either – but that was because I had to avoid being shot by the big Magma, who had just started to return fire of the hole that had once been the rear window.

“They’re shooting at us!” I cried.

“We’re shooting at them!” countered Sapphire.

What a commotion, Puck said. Looks like this might be harder than you’d anticipated.

“Shut up,” I growled, and shot another Charge Beam back at the Magmas. They responded with more bullets, which missed but still terrified me.

“This isn’t going as well as planned,” stated Sapphire. “Kester, you need to think before you act.”

I stared at her incredulously.

“This is coming from the girl who burned down a building to see if there was a fire escape!”

“Friction,” said the cabbie, “I like it. Adds flavour to the movie, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure that you do.”

It’s like we’re in the hall of the mountain king, Puck observed. You know, because madness is reigning.

At that moment, a bullet burst a hole in the windscreen, sang between Sapphire and I, and exited the rear window.

“Oh, hell,” I said despairingly, “this has got really out of hand.”

---

Darren Goodwin pushed open the gate and walked down the path. His steps were slow, his heart calm; around him, wisteria curled over wooden pyramids and bracken tumbled in curly piles over the flowerbeds. Not many people grew bracken intentionally, but Melissa did; she’d always loved the rolled-up heads of the young shoots.

He stopped at the front door, took off his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. It had taken a long time, but they’d agreed to let him go at last. Someone else would take over.

Darren replaced his glasses, opened the door and stepped inside with the silent tread of a Goodwin-class researcher. He put the keys down on the hall table gently, without making a noise, and raised the bunch of long-stemmed roses in his other hand.

“Honey,” he called out softly, “I’m home.”

---

“Drive faster!” cried Fabien. “They’re gaining on us!”

“All right, let’s see action!” replied the Magma driver, pushing the accelerator almost flush with the floor. The Buick bucked slightly and shot forwards across Adnoctis Plaza, scattering pedestrians left and right; they swerved around the fountain in the centre and continued off the other side, heading west.

“Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God—”

“Shut up!” Blake roared at the scientist they’d captured. “Or I’ll shoot you!”

As if to emphasise his point, he loosed a volley of lead at the pursuing taxi, putting three holes in the number plate and destroying a headlight. The Professor squeaked dismally and shut his eyes tight.

“Blake! Kill the driver – or the Rotom-boy!” Fabien shouted.

“What d’you think I’m tryin’ to do?” demanded Blake, ducking a Charge Beam that burnt a fist-sized hole in the roof above. The attacks were getting stronger; Charge Beam’s propensity to raise its own power was really making itself known. Soon, the Rotom-boy would reach maximum Special Attack – and at that point, a direct hit on any of them would reduce them almost entirely to ash.

“I don’t mind not being immortal,” the driver said cautiously, “but I really don’t want to die. So if you two could get your God-damned act together, that’d be great.”

“We’re doing the best we can!” Fabien snapped. “Blake! Shoot more, and shoot faster!”

“This is a Browning, not a Tommy Gun,” growled Blake, “an’ I’m shootin’ it as fast as I can.”

“Well – good, then,” Fabien said, then yelped and threw himself flat as a sizzling Charge Beam blew the back of his seat into shreds of stuffing and fabric.

“Struggle after struggle, year after year,” the driver said philosophically. “The fun never ends with you guys, does it?”

“I’m dying!” shrieked Fabien.

“You’re fine,” Blake asserted. Blam! “Oh, I got ’im!”

“Really?” Fabien sat up and looked back; the taxi was still in hot pursuit. “No you didn’t!”

“Damn,” said Blake, “I hit the stunt dummy in ’is passenger seat.”

“What kind of cabbie has a stunt dummy in the passenger seat?”

“A Fallarbor one,” said the driver knowledgeably. “For a cabbie, death or glory becomes just another story. You know how they like to talk about their exploits.”

“That makes no sense!” cried Fabien.

A Charge Beam blew a hole the size of a cocker spaniel in the boot, and the driver whistled.

“When the lightning explodes, I pray for your soul,” he said.

“Drive faster!” howled Fabien, and, sighing, the driver did.

They shot out onto the motorway, heading west through Route 114 now, and the taxi followed soon after; the speed limit here was eighty miles per hour, but they were going at least ninety. Amid the swerving and dodging, there was a temporary ceasefire as the driver and the cabbie adapted to the faster traffic, then the exchange of lightning and bullets resumed. Horns blared to add to the cacophony, and a passing motorist’s pet Loudred, encouraged by the noise, joined in with an unspeakably loud bellow that cracked the windscreen and caused a minor traffic accident.

“Take us off the road here!” screamed Fabien, clinging tightly to the remnants of his seat; there was a crackling sound and a yellow flash, and a crater opened up in the tarmac next to the left front wheel.

“Will do!” the driver said cheerfully, and spun the wheel; the Century lurched sideways, narrowly missing a white van; a Charge Beam blew the remnants of the roof away, and then they had slipped through the pre-cut section of barrier rail and rolled away into the fertile woods that cloaked the edge of Lake Perspicacity.

---

“They’ve gone off the road!” cried Sapphire. “Go after them!”

“Anything for the movies, little miss,” the cabbie replied amiably.

That guy sure has a strong mind, Puck said. Or maybe he’s just really mad.

We slewed through three lanes of traffic, almost dying several times, and drove straight down a steep slope towards a large stand of trees. Beyond it, I could just see the waters of a lake; if I remembered my geography correctly, the motorway bridged it a few miles to the west, after going past the scenic Prajna Falls.

The Buick, smoking now and partially wrecked, had come to a halt in the trees; we were almost at the edge of the woods when it started up again, accelerating and heading west along the lake’s edge.

“Someone got out!” Sapphire said. “I’ll go after them. Kester, keep following that car!”

“Ooh, diverging storylines,” the cabbie remarked. “Fancy. That ought to be good, if they come to suitably awe-inspiring parallel dénouements.”

He brought the taxi down to about three miles an hour, which hurled me from my seat but thankfully broke nothing, and Sapphire flung her door open and ran for the trees. Immediately, the taxi sped up again, eating up the distance between us and the damaged Century.

We bounced over the rocky plain at the motorway’s edge; we were heading across a barren area, devoid of grass, towards the lake, where the Century was labouring onwards. It took about four minutes to catch up, by which time the Magma car was roaring through the shallows, kicking up massive plumes of water; I was about to launch another Charge Beam when Puck cried out:

No!

What?
I replied, fingers hovering in midair, full of static.

The water – it conducts electricity. Be very careful, Kester, or you’ll end up transmitting a +6 Special Attack Charge Beam into the very water that’s splashing all over this car. It won’t kill you, but it’ll definitely fry the driver.

“Damn!” I exclaimed. “Can you try and drive this guy out of the water?” I asked the cabbie.

“Oh, I’ve got a couple of tricks,” he replied ambiguously, and the taxi lurched forwards a couple of metres, slamming into the back of the Century. Both cars shuddered with the impact, and we lost our remaining headlight, but it had the desired effect: the Buick no longer had the power to outdrive us, and it couldn’t dodge left into the lake – so its driver brought it to the right, back onto the shore.

We drew alongside it now, neck and neck; the bridge was beginning to come into sight in the distance, and if I looked right I could see into the ruined backseat area of the Century.

It’s empty! Both of them must have got out – and taken the scientist guy with them!

“You’re right,” I said. “So this is a decoy...”

All at once, a thought flashed into my head, and the rushing wind and groaning Buick seemed to fade away for a moment. I grinned, and leaned out of the window so my eyes met those of the decoy driver.

“From Russia,” I yelled into the wind, “with love!”

His eyes widened, and I waited for him to fling himself out of the door before I loosed a full-power Charge Beam into the bonnet of the Century.

It was truly a cinematic moment. The battered taxi shot forth, and behind it the Century’s front erupted in a fountain of smoke and flames. I wish I’d been in front of us with a camera, because it would have been a perfect special effect: no one got hurt, and it looked seriously cool.

“Yeaaaahh!” I shouted impulsively as we rocketed past the smoking wreck, watching the driver flee across the plain.

Yeah, that was pretty good, Puck said. Perfect use of that joke, too. You’re as good as the old double-O himself – you might as well be on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The cabbie gave a small cheer too, and slowed to a halt on the rocky shore.

“So then,” he said. “About your fare...”

---

Sapphire hit the ground running, trainers kicking up clouds of ashy dirt behind her. She headed for the stand of trees, and was there in less than ten seconds; ahead, moving swiftly between the branches, three forms moved in tandem. One was pressed against the back of the other, and Sapphire suspected that that was the gun-toting Magma, threatening the scientist with his pistol.

Long years of experience had left Sapphire with the ability to move almost silently through the forest should she need to; most Pokémon had excellent hearing, and the tracking of such species required this skill. Thus, the Magmas didn’t hear her as she approached, at first gaining on them and then staying a constant twenty feet away. They had crashed through the barrier rail on the motorway, which meant they had to have cut it previously; hitting it usually would have been tantamount to driving into a brick wall. Therefore, they had to have a plan – which meant they knew where they were going, and Sapphire wanted to find out exactly where that was.

They pressed on, slowly making their way around the perimeter of the lake; they had just reached its eastern shores, about half an hour later, when the woods ended abruptly and they walked out into the open. Sapphire hung back in the trees, watching.

There was a large burgundy jeep parked about fifty yards away, with a man in a red cloak and hood behind the wheel. On the doors and on the bonnet, the stylised ‘M’ of Team Magma was printed. Sapphire raised her eyebrows. If they were trying to keep a low profile, that jeep wasn’t going to help.

“We got him, sir,” said the shorter, thinner Magma. He sounded out of breath. “We were chased by the Aquas, but we ditched the car and they followed that instead.”

Aquas? They think we’re with Team Aqua? Sapphire’s eyebrows went even higher. How had they come to that conclusion? As far as she knew, there was nothing about Kester or herself that brought the Aquas to mind.

“Very good, Fabien,” said the hooded man, in a deep, slow voice like that of a cold crocodile. “This is Professor Brian Cozmo?”

“Yes sir,” affirmed the shorter Magma – Fabien. Professor Cozmo trembled, but said nothing.

“This almost makes up for the years of blinding incompetence,” the hooded man said mildly. “Blake, put the good Professor in the back of the truck and sit with him to make sure he goes nowhere.

The burly Magma nodded and got in the back of the jeep with Cozmo. Fabien climbed into the front, next to his hooded superior, and the engine started up.

Sapphire hesitated, and the jeep started to roll forwards, towards her; they were taking it around in a U-turn. She could undoubtedly make it to the truck and grab on – but she would almost certainly be found.

What to do, what to do...

The jeep was almost here, and Sapphire darted behind a tree as it rumbled closer.

Come on, Sapphire, think...

Then came the moment when, had it been a cartoon, a light bulb would have come on above her head. In one fluid movement, Sapphire’s hand flew to her belt and tossed a ball underhand under the jeep. She prayed it hadn’t gone under a wheel, and sure enough it hadn’t; unseen by the passengers, an intense blue light shot through with black flared under the vehicle, and once the jeep had passed over, a small white figure was left standing in the dirt, clutching a terrifying Dustox doll and sucking his claws pathetically.

“Grab on!” hissed Sapphire, as loudly as she dared; the Sableye probably failed to understand her words, but it saw her, recognised her as frightening, and instinctively scurried into the nearest dark place it could find: the underside of the jeep.

The vehicle drove away, and Sapphire could just see a flash of white beneath it, where the Sableye was clinging to the dark, oily metal for dear life.
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  #64    
Old Posted March 17th, 2011 (07:24 AM).
nokyo-chan's Avatar
nokyo-chan
Oatmeal? Are you CRAZY?!
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
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Quote:
If I could get that knife off Will, I could probably cut it. But then I’d be contributing to the decay of the multiverse due to the escape of Dust, so, y’know, it might not be such a good idea.
A Dark Materials reference. That really caught me by surprise. You, sir, are possibly one of the most well-read people I have been lucky enough to stumble upon while browsing the Internet.

Quote:
By contrast, Lavaridge had seemed, like Denmark, a prison:
Another reference I absolutely adore, this one to Hamlet—I believe you had another one a few chapters back in which one character told another that there was “more to this world than is dreamt of in your philosophy”. You have what seems like millions of other references that I wish I could post into a (somewhat redundant) review and tell you exactly how much I like them, but that would be quite time-consuming, and possibly a quite boring read on your part.

Your story is progressing quite swimmingly—pardon the lame adverb. The constant shifting of storylines is quite difficult for a writer to manage, and you are doing it with grace, as well as humor that more than rivals that of Terry Pratchett. I love the twist of the goods being an arcade machine. And Puck reminds me a bit of a ghostly Jack Sparrow; I'm not quite sure which thing he's lying about, which makes him rather unpredictable. I knew that there must be some sort of depth about Puck's character that we hadn't yet seen, and now that we've delved a bit deeper into him, I find that I am not disappointed in the least; I can't wait to see what other surprises he has for us.

Going back to the span/spun discussion we seem to be having, I, too, researched this, and found it to be somewhat of a cultural difference; therefore, I offer my apologies. As for any other grammar mistakes, I have found none.

I suppose the point of this review is simply that I am enjoying your story, and I just wanted to let you know this.
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  #65    
Old Posted March 17th, 2011 (09:24 AM). Edited March 17th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nokyo-chan View Post
A Dark Materials reference. That really caught me by surprise. You, sir, are possibly one of the most well-read people I have been lucky enough to stumble upon while browsing the Internet.
Do you find a lot of well-read people while browsing the Internet, then?

Quote:
Originally Posted by nokyo-chan View Post
You have what seems like millions of other references that I wish I could post into a (somewhat redundant) review and tell you exactly how much I like them, but that would be quite time-consuming, and possibly a quite boring read on your part.
It would indeed be time-consuming, but it sounds like something I might have to compile myself at some point. There are 243 A4 pages of The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World (using size 13 Baskerville Old Face font) at present, and I would love to be able to look at the references and say to myself:
"Yeah. That's a lot."
Admittedly, it's not much of a goal to have, but everyone dreams.

Damn. Now I'm going to have to stop writing my pantomime version of Titus Andronicus and start working on a massive compilation of my references.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nokyo-chan View Post
I suppose the point of this review is simply that I am enjoying your story, and I just wanted to let you know this.
Thanks. I like it when people enjoy things I've created.
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  #66    
Old Posted March 17th, 2011 (02:20 PM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Nature: Impish
This is a little shorter than usual, but I seem to have told all the story I needed to for the chapter in fewer words than normal. Meh. Chapter length will return to normal on Saturday.

Chapter Thirty: The Minister

The Magmas’ driver walked cautiously back over to the wreck of the Buick and shook his head sadly.

“That isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “That was one hell of a shot.”

He sighed and turned away. It was going to be a long walk back to Lavaridge, and he had an appointment to keep.

Slowly, Tchaikovsky began trudging back to civilisation.

---

“M-my friend’s the one with the money,” I said swiftly. “She’ll be back in a minute, and she’ll pay you.”

“Oh, OK then,” replied the cabbie amiably.

“In fact,” I suggested, “if you could turn around and go back a bit so we can pick her up, that’d be even better.”

I’ve just had a thought, Puck said. What’s Felicity going to say about this? She’s been waiting for well over twelve hours now.

She’ll be fine, I thought back, as the cab started to turn. We’ll explain that we were thwarting the Magmas, and she won’t mind that. I hope.

As we drew level with the woods again, I glimpsed Sapphire standing by the trees, waving.

“Over here!” she cried, and the cabbie pulled up alongside her. “Right,” she said, climbing in, “Puck, I need to have you track my Sableye.”

Where is it?
asked the Rotom.

“Where is it?” I relayed.

“Underneath a Team Magma jeep, heading south,” Sapphire said.

Puck concentrated for a moment.

Can’t do it, he said. It’s too far away. I need something to extend my range.

I relayed this to Sapphire, who immediately grabbed my hand, yanking me out of my seat, and pressed it against the taxi’s radio. Sparks danced around my fingers, much to the cabbie’s consternation, and Puck’s voice said straight away:

That’s very clever of you. South by south-east of here, but moving steadily southwest. It looks like they might be heading for the road again on the other side of the lake.

“Take us back to the motorway and head south,” Sapphire ordered of the cabbie.

“We’re not done?”

“There’s another scene to do,” I said, deciding to roll with it. “See, in this film I play a talented young cop who tracks down some murderous Magmas who have kidnapped renowned scientist Professor, er, Jamson Horne.”

Jamson Horne? What sort of a name is that?

“Owing to a freak accident, I have a Rotom implanted into my head, and his powers are transferred to me.”

“Sounds complicated but intriguing,” commented the cabbie as we headed back towards the motorway. “What part do you play, little miss?”

Sapphire bridled at being called that, but answered anyway.

“Ah... I’m a criminal gone straight who helps the cop on his way. I do most of the work, really, being streetwise and all that.”

“I think I do most of the work,” I said, quietly but forcefully. “When have you done anything?”

We pulled onto the road and started accelerating again, zigzagging between lanes like a crazed hare—

—How do you know what a hare is?

—and leaving a trail of blaring horns behind us.

“What do you mean?” hissed Sapphire. “I’ve done all the important things!”

“You make me do everything,” I replied, not unreasonably. “You know, because you’re—”

“I assume you want me to go this fast?” the cabbie asked. “Only, without a visible film crew, the police will probably pull us over soon.”

Sapphire and I exchanged looks.

“Keep going,” she urged. “We can’t risk losing them. Puck? Update?”

They’re back on the road, I think – they’re heading dead south.

“Right,” said Sapphire, after I’d told her this. “Go as fast as possible.”

“As fast as I should, or as fast as I can?” asked the cabbie.

“As fast as you can,” clarified Sapphire; and somehow the taxi sped up; the world outside was too much of a blur for me to see properly now, and I had to wonder how the cabbie was steering between the cars. I looked across at him, and saw his eyes twitching left and right at unbelievable speed, his hands jerking the steering wheel back and forth with the precision of a neurosurgeon. In all, it was rather like watching someone building a watch from scratch on the roof of a moving express train.

Amazing, isn’t he?
asked Puck. Just incredible.

Yeah
, I agreed.

I mean, you’d have thought he’d figured out it wasn’t a movie by now.

That’s not – never mind.


It took perhaps half an hour, going at the incredible speeds we were, to reach the bridge, and another three minutes to cross it. To the south, the greyish badlands of southern Route 114 emerged; these were the western foothills of the Madeiras, where all volcanic activity had long since ceased. They were harsh, hostile, and a favourite spot for hikers, who were nothing if not brave.

They’re going west again, Puck said. They seem to be off the road.

At Sapphire’s request, the cabbie took us off the road again, squeezing through a gap in the boundary fence, and shot across a gravelly grey plain. Pebbles shot up behind the car and clattered against the doors and underside, and the wheels jerked and bounced over the rocky ground; the suspension on the taxi was far beyond normal, because it handled the abuse without apparent complaint.

This really is an impressive vehicle, Puck noted. I think it might be some sort of special stunt car disguised as a taxi.

“Do you have any idea where they might be headed?” I asked the cabbie. “Are there any landmarks here?”

He thought for a moment, performed a daring last-moment swerve around a boulder and replied:

“Meteor Falls. It’s a cave network that’s famous because quite a few meteorites have fallen there. Goes right inside the hills and deep underground.”

“How do meteorites get inside a cave network?”

The cabbie shrugged.

“I’ve always wanted to know that myself.”

Despite no longer having the advantage of the smooth tarmac road, we were still maintaining our ridiculous speed; I guessed we must be going at over a hundred miles an hour now, and was getting concerned about what might happen when we stopped.

The signal’s weaker, Puck said. Like they’ve crawled into a lead coffin. Wait, that’s unlikely – more like they’ve gone underground.

“Head for Meteor Falls,” I told the cabbie. “They’ve gone underground.”

“All right!” he cried and swung the taxi around to face almost directly south. At the speed we were moving at, it didn’t take long for the first of the cave mouths to come into view, and then the cabbie started to decelerate. It took him nearly two hundred metres to slow to a halt, but at least he didn’t kill us. “We’re here,” he said. “This is one of the entrances to Meteor Falls.”

I looked out of the window. It wasn’t very impressive, just a barren grey hillside with a yawning dark hole in it. A huge burgundy jeep, painted with the volcano-shaped ‘M’ symbol of Team Magma, was outside, parked at a random angle as if the passengers had vacated it in a hurry.

“Now,” said the cabbie, “about your fare...”

“Later,” interrupted Sapphire, “when we come back. If you can wait for us to take us back, that’d be great.”

“OK!” replied the cabbie. “I’ll be here.”

By the time he’d finished, Sapphire and I were already out of the car and heading for the cave mouth. We checked briefly under the car, but it seemed the Sableye had fled the jeep for the comfort of the darkness. Since that was also where the Magmas were, we decided to follow, and entered the dark embrace of the cave mouth.

---

Kester and Sapphire were chasing criminals, Felicity was being tortured, Blake and Fabien were engaged in nefarious activities, Spike was on her way home; everyone, it has been shown, was up to something interesting at this point.
Except for one man.

This, of course, was Barry. Chauvinistic, slow-witted and quick-tempered; a man’s man and an idiot’s idiot. He never won, unlike Kester or Sapphire; he had no enigmatic past like Puck or Felicity; he was even outclassed by his Magma counterparts, Blake and Fabien, on the basis that they were funnier. Barry Hawksworthy was a man of little worth.

He also had a propensity for acting like a fool, and rushing in where angels fear to tread; it was this that had caused him to storm angrily into the Aqua hideout in East Mauville and demand something to do.

Now, the section head of the East Mauville Team Aqua Hideout was not someone used to having demands made of him. He kept his friends close, and his Bowie knife closer; on more than one occasion, he had carved interesting sculptures into subordinates who disobeyed orders, who failed tasks, or who simply looked too happy. People did not storm into his office, tell him the SuperBlast Module was an arcade machine and ask for new work.

Consequently, he was fairly taken aback; so far, in fact, that he telephoned the Aqua headquarters to try and find out if any jobs were going that would require this large, angry man to be removed from his building. This was how he found out that Shelly currently required some assistance in her W.R.I. project, and why Barry was sent to meet a subordinate of hers, one Scarlett Pimpernel, at Plain Rooke.

Plain Rooke was a short train ride east from Mauville; if it was a town, then it consisted of about three streets just south of the Akela Jungle, surrounded by farms. It was here, in the fertile floodplain of the River Cocytus, that most of Hoenn’s produce was made; here, imported Miltank and Mareep were farmed for wool, milk and meat, while tame Phearsants, a grouse-like Pokémon indigenous to Costa Rica, were reared for eggs. Even Berry plants were grown, by a strange specialist named Runcible Spoone, who insisted upon being called the Berry Master, and only came out of his house to hand out Berries to those deserving of them – which was apparently everyone in the world.

Barry walked through the main street of the town, heading for Plain Rooke’s most famous landmark, Turkey Hill. Atop this hill, a single turkey had been living since time immemorial; this was strange not only because there were no turkeys in Hoenn, and because turkeys are not normally immortal, but because he had, on occasion, been seen to conduct strange little ceremonies with visitors that resembled marriage services. It was considered an omen of extreme good luck to be married by the turkey that lived on the hill, and a sign that the marriage would prosper and live on forever.

The Aqua giant stopped and sighed, looking around. He was attracting a lot of attention – outsiders rarely came to Plain Rooke, unless they were Trainers on their way east, and he was very obviously not a Trainer.

“Left here,” Barry muttered to himself. It was not a hard conclusion to come to, there being fewer than five streets in the whole village, but he seemed to think it a great accomplishment; at any rate, he acquired an extra spring in his step as he turned left and started up the long, winding road to the top of Turkey Hill.

To either side, long fields of barley and of rye fell away; Barry thought he glimpsed four grey walls and four grey towers to the north, on an island in the river, and wondered for a fleeting instant what they embowered – but intelligent thought was an unwelcome stranger in his head, and was turned out before it worked out the answer.

Ahead of him, a small stand hove into view, with a burly man standing on either side of it. That, thought Barry, must be the admissions booth. Though the turkey belonged to no man, Turkey Hill was the property of a local farmer, and he charged admission to see the turkey. You could also, for a small fee, obtain drinks and hot dogs at the booth, as well as – for a mere shilling – a small ring. This last had never been adequately explained, and since no one in Hoenn had a clear idea of what a shilling might be, the ring had gone unpurchased for many years.

As he approached, Barry noted the burly men’s eyes fixing on him. It had only been a month since the last time a crazed chef had attempted to roast the turkey, and they were taking no chances. After he paid admission, he was briefly frisked to see if he might be concealing any culinary utensils about his person, and, once they were satisfied he wasn’t a chef, they let him past to see it.

The turkey was about twenty yards away, standing with his legs planted as wide as decency would allow and staring out at the undulating wall of rainforest to the north. Nearby, a small girl, no more than eleven, sat cross-legged in the grass with a sketchbook in her lap, drawing the turkey. For a strange moment, Barry had the sensation that the turkey was posing for her, but he dismissed it immediately. The turkey was a bird; it wasn’t even a Pokémon. It possessed no strange powers at all.

“Hey,” Barry called out, and the little girl turned around. “Have you seen a woman wearing blue around here? I’m supposed to be meeting them.”

“Are you Barry Hawksworthy?” asked the girl.

Barry nodded, and she got up, sketchbook dangling from one hand.

“I’m Scarlett Pimpernel,” she said, holding out her free hand for him to shake.

Barry gaped, and somewhere in his brain, two gears ground helplessly against each other.

“You... you?” he asked incredulously. The girl withdrew her hand.

“Yeah, me,” she replied. “Mum asked me to take you to her. She’s very busy and can’t come to meet you herself right now.”

“You’re our Magma Administrator’s daughter,” Barry repeated slowly. A gasket blew in the depths of his mind.

“Yeah.” Scarlett tilted her head on one side, and her wavy ginger hair fell across her face. “You’re much bigger than I thought you would be,” she decided. Barry could think of no more eloquent reply than:

“You’re much... smaller.”

“I’m nearly eleven!” cried Scarlett indignantly, drawing herself up to her full height. She looked messy, her T-shirt, sneakers and jeans stained with grass, paint and graphite; Barry, his eyes accustomed to seeking out weapons, noted a Poké Ball stuffed into her pocket. She was a Trainer, then, or at least had a pet. “I’m not small!”

“Um...” Barry’s brain ground to a complete and utter halt.

“Well, come on then,” said Scarlett crossly. “I suppose you’d better see Mum.”

The turkey turned around and made a soft, inquisitive sound, and Scarlett looked at it.

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” she told him. “I’ve finished the sketching, so tomorrow we’ll start painting.” To Barry: “Come on, Barry.”

Barry rankled at being addressed like this by a girl a quarter of his age, but his brain was so fried by his meeting with her that he acquiesced, and allowed himself to be led away down the hill. One thought managed to struggle through the locked-up machinery of his mind: whatever Shelly was going to have him do, it was certainly going to be interesting.

---

The Sableye was hiding under a rock a few metres into the cave; we retrieved him and I held him firmly in my arms, tilting his head this way and that to light our path. Sapphire sent out Rono, and the little metal monster rolled along beside us in fits and bursts.

Meteor Falls was, despite the grey exterior, somewhat yellowish on the inside, and water ran across the tunnel at regular intervals in clear, cold streams barely an inch thick. It didn’t take long before we found where it was all coming from: a vast underground river that flowed through the centre of a great underground cavern, crashing with a deafening roar down a series of waterfalls. Its surface was churned almost entirely white, and amid the flying spray a series of rickety wooden bridges spanned it, passing from one water-pitted island to another.

“Whoa,” I breathed. Then, more loudly: “How come I’ve never heard of this place before?”

“It’s dangerous,” Sapphire shouted back over the crash and roar of the water. “I mean, look at those bridges!”

I did. They looked about as safe as a trampoline made of razor wire.

Now that is dangerous, commented Puck. I wouldn’t like to be crossing those.

Neither would I
, I replied.

“Look!” yelled Sapphire. “The Magmas!”

I looked. They were on the nearest island, one bridge away from our little projection into the raging waters. With them was a white-clad shape: the guy Sapphire had identified as Professor Cozmo.

“We don’t—?”

“Yes!” replied Sapphire. “We have to go over there!”

“No way!”

“Yes way! Go!”

With that, she pushed me savagely in the small of the back, and I stumbled out onto the bridge, over what sounded like the angriest river in the world. I froze solid, water slapping up over the slick wooden slats and drenching me instantly; the force almost knocked me over, and suddenly I realised that if I stood still, the waves would smash me down into the water below, where I would be in serious trouble. If I wanted to escape drowning, I had to—

RUN! shrieked Puck, and somehow I unstuck my legs from the floor and started into a frenzied run, just as another wave crashed down behind me; now I’d started, I couldn’t stop, and I dashed through the spray and madness, skin soaked with water and mind addled with fear.

And then I was free: I stood on the other side, coughing and spluttering and being stared at by three startled Magmas and a scientist.

“Give me – a moment,” I managed, spitting water and, inexplicably, a small fish, “I just need to – catch my breath.”

Whether it was the shock, or I just had a tremendously forceful personality, they obeyed, and I straightened up a moment later, brushing wet hair from my eyes.

“OK,” I said. “I’m OK now.”

“Sure?” asked the smaller hoodless Magma.

“I’m sure,” I replied. “Now, hand over the Professor!”

I raised a hand and a Charge Beam at maximum power charged in an instant; there was a brief explosion of sparks at my fingertips, and then a net of yellow lightning arced all over my body, travelling through the water and blasting my hair out into ragged spikes. I had just enough time to swear before I came to the humiliating realisation that I'd knocked myself out.
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  #67    
Old Posted March 18th, 2011 (05:46 AM).
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Echidna
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Join Date: Aug 2010
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I will begin reading this now..i know i am a lil back on the whole follow up thing...but i am a fast reader..and this seems to be cool, could you send me a link to your other stuff ??? all of them, or are they omly the stuff in your sig ??
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  #68    
Old Posted March 18th, 2011 (08:02 AM). Edited March 21st, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
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Age: 21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PEDRO12 View Post
I will begin reading this now..i know i am a lil back on the whole follow up thing...but i am a fast reader..and this seems to be cool, could you send me a link to your other stuff ??? all of them, or are they omly the stuff in your sig ??
The only stuff I've ever posted online is on this very website, and links can be found in my signature.

Also, @nokyo-chan: I've compiled a list of all the references I can find in my story so far, but I may have missed some. If anyone finds more, please feel free to tell me and I'll add them.

This list has now been moved to the first post.
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  #69    
Old Posted March 19th, 2011 (08:09 AM).
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
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Chapter Thirty-One: The Importance of Being A Meteorite

Sapphire burst through the spray, Rono rolling half a step ahead of her; the sight she met was not a comforting one. Kester was already unconscious, lying almost under her feet, right at the end of the bridge.

“What the—?”

She stepped over him and took a few paces towards the Magmas and their captive. Between them was a large, pitted lump of blackened iron.

“All right,” Sapphire said authoritatively, “whatever you’re doing, stop it and let Professor Cozmo go!”

The tall, thin Magma with the hood looked at her as if she were an interesting butterfly specimen.

“Fabien, Blake,” he said. “Kill her.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Blake, the burly Magma, and started to take a gun from his pocket; before he had it even halfway out, a blur of stone and steel rolled across his feet, eliciting a roar of pain and making him fall over. Rono uncurled and growled a thin, tinny growl.

“Get up,” ordered the hooded Magma. “Try again.”

This was nowhere near as impressive or dangerous as Sapphire had imagined it would be. Blake started to rise, and his partner Fabien took a Poké Ball from his pocket, but Sapphire crossed the distance between them in three giant strides and punched him square on the nose. It crunched satisfyingly beneath her fingers, and he dropped the ball and stepped back, squealing and clutching at his face.

Blake leaped up and loosed off a shot at Sapphire, but it passed harmlessly and improbably through her sodden fedora; Rono made an ineffective leap for his gun hand and landed on his foot again. The Magma cried out again and shot Rono, but his steel hide turned the shot and the bullet bounced, as it could only do in a cartoon, straight back and flicked the gun from his hand. It clattered over the rocks, and he dived after it – but it slithered over the stone and vanished into the depths of the milk-white river.

Meanwhile, Sapphire turned around and swiftly grabbed Cozmo by the hand; she was about to haul him across the bridge when a red flash lit her vision, and something big appeared between her and safety with a thump that shook the ground.

It was large, it was shaggy, it was orange, it was blue; it snuffled and snorted, smoked and smouldered; it began with four flat feet and ended with two stony humps. Its head was low-slung and its eyes cantankerous; its thick tail swished back and forth, and occasional tongues of fire leaked from the volcanic excrescences on its back. It was a Camerupt, and it was not happy.

“You two are absolutely useless,” came the voice of the hooded man, and Sapphire glanced back to see him push his two subordinates out of the way. “I’m amazed you managed to catch him.”

He waved a hand in Cozmo's direction, but the Professor did not seem to appreciate the gesture; he shrank away and retreated to the metallic rock in the centre of the island.

“Let him go!” commanded Sapphire, though with significantly less bravado than she felt.

Fabien sniggered through a torrent of blood.

“Oh, she makes demands at a time like this!” he cried theatrically. “Well, I can tell you that’s not about to work! As the main cha—”

“Fabien,” said the hooded man without emotion, “if you don’t shut up I’ll push you into the river.”

Fabien suddenly acquired an intense interest in picking up and polishing his Poké Ball.

“Little girl,” the hooded man said, “my name is Tabitha.”

Sapphire couldn’t help it; she burst out laughing. Even Cozmo gave a nervous chuckle.

Tabitha?” she asked incredulously. “Your name is Tabitha?”

The Camerupt gave an impatient snort, and Sapphire’s laughter died on her lips.

“I had hoped you might have heard of me, and have cause to fear my name.” Tabitha sounded somewhat disappointed. “Never mind. I am one of the Administrators of Team Magma, and I will do as I please. Including kidnapping the good Professor, and including taking your little Aqua head into our custody, as well as your somewhat...” – he glanced at the prone Kester – “explosive friend.”

“Oh, of course,” Sapphire said sarcastically. “I’m going to let you do that, no question.”

“Good,” began Tabitha, and Sapphire sighed.

“That was sarcasm,” she explained. “I’m actually going to do everything I can to make this harder for you. Rono, Roar!”

The Aron crouched down on his tiny legs, tipped back his ovoid head and let out a spine-chilling roar out of all proportion to his size; it was like the war cry of the Royal Bengal tiger mingled with the bloodthirsty shriek of the hunting Archeops; the Camerupt, startled, bucked and fired a plume of fire thirty feet into the air, instantly boiling the spray that arced over it. Sapphire had planned to grab Cozmo and run in the confusion, but the volcanic Pokémon turned tail and thundered onto the bridge, heavy feet pummelling the slats. It managed to make it to the other side before the whole thing fell away into the all-devouring water, and Sapphire was left staring at the remnants of her only escape route.

There was no time for anyone to react to the sudden destruction, however, for on the back of it came a terrified scream that rose high above the crashing waves: the Sableye had taken offence at Rono’s Roar, and had risen from his hiding place in Kester’s sodden T-shirt to express his fright through a series of arm-flailing manoeuvres.

“What the hell is this?” Tabitha shouted. Sapphire made the only honest reply she could: a shrug. “You’ll pay,” said Tabitha, and a gun appeared in his hand, the black circle of the barrel dead between Sapphire’s eyes.

The roar of the water seemed to fade away; Sapphire could only hear Tabitha, and the furious beating of her heart. She wasn’t afraid – she had faced too many potentially fatal situations over the last week to really be afraid of them – but she was wary.

“I mean, you didn’t have to make everything so difficult,” Tabitha said, aggrieved. The Sableye noticed the gun, identified it as something foreign to his experience and therefore scary, and hid under Kester again. “We were only going to question you and force you to work for us.”

“It’s probably better for you to shoot me, then,” Sapphire rejoined. Tabitha looked stung.

“Why, you—!”

Reflexively, his finger snapped back on the trigger, and a loud report rang out through Meteor Falls.

---

Spike moved down the slopes of Jagged Pass slowly, reluctantly; the closer she got to Lavaridge, the more her pace slowed. The red rocks crunched beneath her feet, and a lone Altaria, one that hunted without a pack, circled the mountain’s peak above her head. She knew that Altaria. It had been circling here for as long as she could remember; whether it had ever dived and killed something was another matter entirely.

At her side, her Torkoal stumped gamely forth on thick legs; it was a mark of how slowly Spike was walking that the Torkoal kept pace with her easily. She left a trail of oily white smoke behind her, like a gaseous snail, and where it touched the rocks it left beads of whitish-yellow liquid: the residue from the fires that burned within her shell.

Spike stopped altogether when the monastery came into view. It was the very same vihara she had robbed all those years ago, and the sight of its low grey walls was enough to strike fear into her heart. The bhikkus would have forgiven her – they forgave everyone for everything – but the townspeople of Lavaridge had never quite got over their animosity towards her. That was assuming they even recognised her now, with her wild hair and piercings.

She chewed her lip, avoiding the ring in it. Could she return? Should she return? Would it be better if she didn’t come back, if she stayed in exile; the delinquent girl who disappeared one day and never darkened anyone’s doorstep again?

Spike released her lip from between her teeth and sighed.

“I...”

The sound of her own voice was almost startling: save for that, Jagged Pass was very nearly silent. Only the swishing of the pine trees in the valleys below and the distant chanting of the bhikkus broke the still calm of the mountain air.

“I’m going to regret this,” said Spike, and walked on.

---

Like some strange love-child of Voltron and Optimus Prime, Rono expanded. Sections of armour slid out from beneath others; his steel skin swivelled in panels, telescoped out and reformed again. Limbs retracted into his body to reveal others in their place; his head rotated into his body and another swung out to replace it.

Unlike the famous Autobot, however, Rono did not change into a truck: he was a larger, meaner version of himself, more resembling a crocodile crossed with an industrial excavator than a cute baby dinosaur. The bullet meant for Sapphire glanced off his metallic forehead with a ping, and his new, considerably meaner blue eyes glared at Tabitha with an expression more usually seen on the face of heavyweight boxers, just before they go in for the kill.

“The hell?” said Tabitha, eyes widening. “How did – how the hell did...?”

“Spontaneous Defensive Evolution,” murmured Sapphire, her eyes, if anything, wider than his. “Now that is rare.”

It was a well-documented phenomenon, the sudden evolution of Pokémon in response to extreme danger; it had happened to a wild Chingling suddenly faced with a landslide, to a Snover that had been on the verge of being devoured by a Luxray, and even, once, to an Absol that had fallen from a cliff – despite the fact that they could not normally evolve. It happened, too, to Trainer’s Pokémon: one of the most famous cases was that of a Poliwag belonging to Red Pastelle, the renowned four-times winner of the Indigo League Tournament. It had evolved once into a Poliwhirl to save him from drowning, and again into a Poliwrath to save him from Lieutenant Surge, the corrupt Gym Leader of Vermilion City.

Now it seemed that Rono had done the same: too low-level to evolve to Lairon, he had done so anyway, purely with the aim of saving her life. If there was ever anything to make a girl feel wanted, surely that was it; in the midst of her surprise, Sapphire felt a warm glow of affection for the steely monster.

“OK,” she said to Tabitha, “let the Professor go. I seriously doubt you can handle a Lairon without your Camerupt.”

Tabitha stared at her.

“You’re an idiot,” he said at last. “I can’t let the Professor go, because the bridge is gone!”

“Ah.” Sapphire’s face fell. “That is a problem,” she admitted.

A mournful sound halfway between the bellow of a cow and the rumble of a trash compactor echoed out across the waves; the Camerupt stared balefully at her through the spray. Tabitha holstered his gun, realising it was useless against Rono, and had an idea.

“Camkor, return!” A beam of red light lanced through the spray and snagged the volcanic camel across the water; it was a risky recalling, for at this range the ball might well have failed and dropped the Camerupt into the river, but it worked. The next moment, Tabitha had sent it out again, and now it stood between him and Rono, blinking and looking very surprised. Its tiny brain looked to be having some difficulty understanding where it was and why.

“Now what will you do?” asked Tabitha. “There’s no way for you to leave here, and there’s no way you can beat Camkor. I also doubt you’ll want to leave your friend there.”

Sapphire glanced at Kester. He looked very wet, and very pale. She’d forgotten about him, and some strange part of her wondered if he was all right. The shape of the Sableye’s head could be discerned beneath his shirt, quivering slightly beneath the waterlogged cloth.

Tabitha took her lack of response for submission.

“I thought you might agree with me,” he said. “Now, Professor, I—”

“Hold it right there!” roared an unknown voice. Everyone on the central island looked around wildly for its source, and it took only moments to find it: a stocky man in a dark blue suit, the jacket buttoned shut over his bare chest, standing atop an island further upriver. A blue bandanna was wrapped around his head, and a thin beard lay snugly about his square jaw. He looked like a rather effeminate pirate, but his presence made everyone stop and stare nevertheless.

Tabitha swore fluidly and screamed a command at Fabien. Reluctantly, Fabien handed his Poké Ball to his superior, and Tabitha recalled his Camerupt. The next moment, he had shoved the metallic rock from the floor into his bag and risen into the air, clasping the legs of a familiar-looking Golbat. Swiftly he fled across the river towards the tunnel that led to the surface, leaving the rest of them to the mercy of this newcomer.

The man in the bandanna and suit strode towards the edge of his island and, for a moment, seemed to walk across the water towards them; it took Sapphire a second to realise that he was walking across a series of strategically-placed Wailmer, and wondered how long he’d spent planning this. A series of blue-suited minions popped up from nowhere to follow him, and with a jolt Sapphire realised who this was.

This was the leader of Team Aqua himself, Archie Taniebre.

“It’s good to see you all,” he said, alighting on the island. Fabien, Blake and Sapphire stared, and Cozmo cowered; he sounded a lot like Marlon Brando. “I trust you know who I am?”

“Pardon?” asked Sapphire. “You’re mumbling.”

Archie frowned.

“You know who I am?” he repeated, this time at a volume audible over the water.

“Oh, that. Yes.”

“Well,” Archie said, “you should be afraid, then, Team Magma. It seems I have interrupted your nefarious deeds once again.”

It sounded like a poor-quality movie script, and Sapphire would have said so if it weren’t for the five gunmen standing behind Archie. Instead, she just exchanged a glance with Rono.

“Now, I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse,” the Aqua Leader went on, spreading his hands. “Come with me freely, right now, and you won’t be killed.”

Blake and Fabien looked at each other.

“Sounds good to me,” said Fabien, and they hurried over to the Aquas and allowed themselves to be searched for weapons. Archie, meanwhile, looked at Sapphire with a raised eyebrow.

“You prefer to die?” he asked. “How honourable.”

“Oh no,” said Sapphire quickly. “It’s just... I’m not with Team Magma. My friend and I were just... nearby and felt we had to stop them.” At the word ‘friend’, she gestured towards Kester. “Er... our sympathies have always been with Team Aqua,” she added for good measure.

Archie nodded slowly and impressively.

“A loyal Trainer and citizen,” he said. “Come, child. We will escort you from this place.”

Sapphire glanced at Rono again. The look in the Lairon’s eyes seemed to say: He’s clearly an idiot, and Sapphire had to agree. Then again, every single member of either Team had turned out to be an idiot so far; why should she be surprised?

She recalled Rono and the Sableye, then hauled Kester upright as best she could. Immediately, a burly Aqua came to take the burden, and hoisted him onto his shoulder.

“And who might you be?” asked Archie of Professor Cozmo. “Some sort of Magma scientist?”

“N-no,” stammered the Professor, in a weak and wavering voice. “T-they kidnapped me... I had to find them a M-Meteorite...”

“You will provide us with useful information,” said Archie flatly. “Come with us, and you can go home later.”

All in all, thought Sapphire as she walked across the chain of Wailmer, which had moved to connect them to the exit tunnel, the situation had turned out quite well. Team Magma had been thwarted, and now Team Aqua were conveniently rescuing her.

However, there was one thing she failed to register, and that was Fabien. He had watched the whole exchange with interest, and it had given him pause for thought. If Team Aqua didn’t know who Sapphire was – and she clearly didn’t work for Team Magma – then what exactly was going on?

---

“Sorry, kid,” said the caretaker of the Gym, after taking a long, faintly disgusted look at her, “Uriah’s dead. Ain’t no one challengin’ this place for a while.”

Spike gave a forced smile. At her side, her Torkoal rumbled uneasily.

“I’m not here to battle,” she said. “I’m here because my granddad’s dead.”

The caretaker’s eyes widened, then narrowed, then widened again.

Flannery?” he asked incredulously. “What the hell’re you doin’ back here?”

“I just told you,” replied Spike. “My granddad died. You might have heard about it.”

“Don’ you get smart with me—”

The caretaker started forwards, but Spike held him back easily with one hand and pushed him aside.

“You always were a grazhny bratchny,” she told him conversationally, and shoved him into a herbaceous border before barging the door open and entering the Gym.

It was just as she remembered it: a maze of long, low rooms, the wooden floorboards covered in sand. This covered a series of holes that would drop you down to a lower level; depending on which room you landed in, you could climb stairs either back to the start or to a different room. It was pleasantly warm without being too humid, and Trainers often chose it as the stage for official battles; today, there was no one here save a few policemen and a man in a red suit, whom Spike could just see in the distance, on the Leader’s podium.

It did not take long for her to negotiate the Gym’s maze. She knew it of old, had run through its halls before the soul-crushing stagnation of Lavaridge had started to get to her. Before the people of the town had decided that children caused more trouble than their cuteness made up for.

“Who’s there?” asked one of the policemen, and they all turned at the sound of her boots crunching on the sand. “How did you get in?”

“I pushed Jenen out the way,” Spike answered. “My name is Spike Temulence, and I’m Uriah Moore’s granddaughter.” Her eyes were shiny with defiance and emotion as she raised her face to the group clustered around the Leader’s chair. “Now, tell me what happened here.”

---

Barry was currently in the middle of wondering when exactly Scarlett was going to shut up.

“... and that’s how I hurt my hand,” she finished, concluding a ten-minute epic on the subject of the origins of a small cut on her thumb. Personally, Barry was of the opinion that the part about the unicorn was just the tiniest bit unlikely, but he didn’t care enough to say. He was more concerned with where they were going.

They had been heading north for about half an hour now, and had just entered the Akela Jungle, following the non-Trainer path, the one with Cleanse Tags hung up to repel any wild Pokémon; it was dark and cool under the great green leaves, and the light was filtered so that it seemed as if they were walking along the bottom of the sea. All around them rose colossal trees that Barry doubted even he could have broken the branches from, and flowers and butterflies filled the undergrowth with a riot of colour and movement. From the distance came the rattling tin-can cries of Skarmory, and the mournful lowing of Tropius; closer, Barry could hear the soft sound of Gloom dragging their feet, though he never once saw one. Once, a blur of brown and yellow had buzzed past, so fast that Barry hadn’t been entirely convinced it was real; only Scarlett’s testimony had been able to make him believe that he had indeed just seen a rare Ninjask.

“What’s a samoflange?” asked Scarlett suddenly.

“Huh?” Barry had not been expecting this. Truthfully, he had expected very little of what had happened today.

“What’s a samoflange?” repeated Scarlett insistently.

Barry thought.

“I don’t know,” he answered after a great deal of deliberation, “but you should keep your foot off it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know!” bellowed Barry, frustrated. “Please be quiet!”

There was a long silence, during which Scarlett was silent and her lip quivered ominously. Then she spoke:

“I’m going to tell Mum that you shouted at me.”

“No!” cried Barry, not knowing the consequences but knowing it would be bad to be on the wrong side of an Administrator. “No, don’t do that!”

“Make it worth my while,” Scarlett replied, dropping the tearful act, “and I won’t say anything.”

Barry halted, looked down and stared at her.

“You’re ten,” he said.

“Yeah!” replied Scarlett happily.

“And you’re blackmailing me?”

“Yeah!”

Barry rubbed one massive, meaty hand over his face and concentrated on not picking up the girl and throwing her headfirst into the nearest tree.

“Fine,” he said, sighing. “What do you want?”

“Do you have any sweets?” Scarlett looked very hopeful, and she currently had more power over him than Barry would have liked, so he dutifully searched his pockets. Regrettably, they were devoid of anything save some keys, loose change, his lighter and half a pack of cigarettes.

“I don’t have any.”

“See that you get some,” said Scarlett coldly. Barry blinked in surprise. For a moment, she had seemed about ten years older than she actually was.

“Uh... OK,” he agreed dismally.

They continued on their way along the path, and Scarlett seemed to revert to her normal self: she started chattering about drawing and how she was the best artist in her class and probably the whole school, and people even paid her for her pictures. Barry was utterly bamboozled; her character was so normal for a ten-year-old that he wasn’t even sure that the blackmailing thing had even occurred. The only unusual thing about her was her artistic talent – which was unquestionably real, given the look she had insisted he had at her sketchbook. It was full of pencil sketches and watercolour paintings, and though Barry knew nothing about art he could tell they were good. He sighed. Being around so many people who were better than him at so many things was starting to get on his nerves.

Eventually, Scarlett turned off the path, grabbing a Cleanse Tag from a tree to take with them in case of Pokémon attack. Barry followed, slightly confused, and they made their way through the trees to a small clearing that contained nothing at all except a small wooden hut, barely the size of a phone booth, adorned with scaly yellow talons at the four corners.

“This is where we’re going?” queried Barry.

“Yep,” confirmed Scarlett cheerily, fiddling with a lock of her hair. “Come on!”

She walked up to the hut and pulled open the door, then motioned for Barry to get in. He did, and with some difficulty, Scarlett squeezed in after him. Then she pulled the door shut, and, as they stood confined in the pitch darkness, something extraordinary happened.

---

“I’ve seen so much I’m going blind,” said Tchaikovsky philosophically, and knocked back another drink. He was in a bar in Fallarbor, and he was talking, as the lonely man does, to the barman.

“That so?” the barkeeper replied, polishing a glass. All barmen polish glasses, almost all the time. It’s a tradition, or an old charter, or a joke shamelessly stolen from somewhere else.

“Yep,” Tchaikovsky affirmed.

“Bodacious,” replied the barman, after giving the matter some thought.

“You must be new,” Tchaikovsky said, indicating that he wanted more alcohol. “No barkeep says ‘bodacious’.” He sighed. “I think I’m seeing a pattern emerging,” he went on. “They’re going up against each other so much more than usual... something’s coming.” He stared into the amber depths of his newly-refilled glass. “But I can’t find the reason for these extraordinary intergalactical upsets. There’s got to be something...”

Tchaikovsky sighed and drained his glass. Unbeknownst to him, he had just entered Zero’s plan, another set of values to be totted up.

And the total did not look good.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #70    
Old Posted March 21st, 2011 (02:08 PM). Edited March 23rd, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Thirty-Two: Aww, She Thinks She’s People

Fifty-nine Manaphy, sitting on a wall,
Fifty-nine Manaphy, sitting on a wall,
And if one of those Manaphy, should accidentally be blasted repeatedly with lightning until its eyes fall out,
There’ll be fifty-eight Manaphy, sitting on the wall...


I should have been used to waking up to the sound of Puck’s voice by now, but I wasn’t. Especially when he was singing.

“Nooooooo,” I mumbled, through a blur of sleep and headache. “I can’t stand this any longer...”

“You’re fine, Kester,” came a familiar voice, and I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could.

“Damn it,” I said, “you’re still here.”

“Thanks for rescuing me from Meteor Falls, Sapphire, it was really considerate of you. Oh, that’s OK, Kester, only doing what anyone would have done in my place. Now open your eyes and get up.”

I groaned. Reality, it seemed, was back and here to stay. I sat up slowly, peeling my eyelids away from the balls, and blinked blearily in what I thought was Sapphire’s direction.

“What happened?”

You Charge Beamed yourself with a maxed-out Special Attack, with surprising results. Wouldn’t have defeated a real Rotom, but your thoughts seem to be made of electricity, so I think it scrambled your brain.

“You got knocked out somehow, and the Magmas failed to do anything productive. Team Aqua turned up and saved us – seems they didn’t realise who we were. Archie himself was there.”

“Archie? Wow.”

I could see now. I was back at the Pokémon Centre; this scenario, waking up in a hotel room after an intense period of weirdness and action, was becoming all to familiar. Sapphire was lounging against the cupboard in the corner, hair wet from a shower, turning her hat over in her hands. It had a bullet hole in it now, which either ruined it or made it really cool – I wasn’t quite sure which.

“The lead Magma got away with a Meteorite, but the two who kidnapped me are still with the Aquas. Oh yes, and Professor Cozmo’s fine. So it all turned out OK in the end.”

Oh good. A happy ending’s always a favourite. Except with me, but only because I like to watch humans suffer.

“That’s good,” I said, relieved. “What time is it?”

“It’s just gone two,” Sapphire replied. “Do you want to get something to eat now, or go straight to Lavaridge?”

“Food now,” I answered. “God, I’m hungry.”

“Come on then.”

It’s nice to see you two getting along so well
, Puck said. Perhaps Sapphire is one of those tsundere characters.

Please don’t say any more, I begged, you’re repulsing me.

We left the Centre and started combing the streets of Fallarbor for somewhere to eat. Every so often, we’d come across one of the streets we’d rushed down during our car chase; you could tell by the holes in the Stop signs and the wrecked cars at the side of the road.

“That reminds me – what happened to our taxi?” I asked. Sapphire looked at me blankly.

“I forgot about him,” she replied. “I wonder what happened?”

I reckon that’s all the explanation we’re going to get, Puck said. Which is a bit lazy, but true.

At this moment, a feathery blur of blue and white fell out of the sky, bounced once off my head, and landed on the pavement.

“What!”

Aaah! The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

I whirled to look for it, and saw a small, powder-blue bird picking itself up on the pavement nearby. It used downy wings to brush flecks of dirt from its feathers, then put on a small hat and one of those pairs of glasses with a fake nose and moustache attached, and walked into a nearby bar.

Oh, it’s just a Swablu, said Puck, disappointed. Let’s keep going.

Sapphire and I exchanged glances.

“Was that—?”

“Yes. Did it—?”

“Yeah...”

Then, without further ado, Sapphire pushed open the bar door and ran in to investigate. I followed close behind: whatever this was, it was probably going to be very weird and worth watching.

Inside, the little bird – and I saw now that Puck had been right, it was a Swablu – had fluttered up onto a stool at the bar, and drawn the attention of the barkeeper and his sole other customer. They were both staring at it, somewhat stupefied.

“Aaarrrk!” squawked the Swablu, and slapped a five-hundred-dollar note on the polished bar.

“Who are you?” asked the other drinker, “who, who, who, who?”

“Is that a Swablu?” the barman said, confused. He reached out to pull the false glasses from it, but it jerked away and shook its head furiously.

“It’s trying to be a person,” Sapphire said slowly, staring at it with
bewilderment.

The barman looked up at our entry, and looked relieved.

“Oh? Trainers, are you?”

Sapphire’s ball-belt made it obvious.

“Yes,” she replied. “Shall I get rid of her for you?”

How does she know it’s a female?
I asked Puck.

How should I know? he retorted. I know a lot of things, but I’m not omniscient.

“OK. You might want to move out of the way.”

Sapphire dropped a ball and Toro appeared, springing from foot to foot; she hadn’t been let out for a while, and was itching for a fight. The barman took three steps back and hastily moved a couple of bottles of whisky out of her reach: mixing fire with alcohol was not going to be good for business.

The Swablu whisked off its false glasses and glared at Toro resentfully. It cheeped, and beat its downy wings; something barely visible parted the air, but the Combusken skipped sideways nimbly and dodged whatever attack it was.

“Ember,” ordered Sapphire, “but gently. We’re catching, not killing.”

Toro punched the air and a small burst of fire shot from her knuckles; it hit the Swablu square in the chest and set light to its feathers. As well as an inevitable screech of pain, the little bird started giving off one of the most unpleasant smells it had ever been my misfortune to encounter.

While it was thus distracted, Sapphire tossed a black and yellow ball at it, and the flaming bird was engulfed in a wave of red light. The ball shook once – twice – three times – and then lay still with a click.

Huh. I like to think I’d put up a better fight than that, Puck said. I’d possess the Poké Ball before it hit me, and then it’d be like Wings Have We, except I’m funnier and I’m too clever to get stuck like that.

I had no idea what he was talking about – but did I ever? I tried to ignore him, and watched Sapphire retrieve the ball.

“Thanks,” said the bartender. The lone drinker raised a glass to us in thanks. There was something familiar about him, but I couldn’t quite work out what it might be.

“Cheers,” he said. “That thing was weird.”

This was undeniable, but most things seemed to be weird nowadays.

“Er... all right,” I said. “Um... good capture, Sapphire.”

“We’ll be on our way.” Sapphire flashed a smile at the barman and his customer and led me back outside again, recalling Toro as she went.

“That was strange,” I said as we started walking again. “Did that Swablu think it was a person or something?”

Sapphire shrugged.

“Don’t know. And it was a ‘she’, not an ‘it’.” She held up the Ultra Ball. “I’m going to keep her to use.”

“You’ve got one hell of a weird team,” I pointed out. “Toro, Rono, a paranoid Sableye and a Swablu that wants to be a person.” I paused. “What’re you going to name it?”

“Her,” corrected Sapphire. “I’m not sure. What do you think?”

Bertha Rochester, said Puck without hesitation, though I didn’t relay the message.

“Stacey,” I said, choosing the first name that popped into my head. Sapphire looked at me oddly.

“I think I like that,” she said. “Yes, she’ll be Stacey.”

Be prepared for a lot of work, Puck warned. Swablu are notoriously moronic.

Unlike Toro?


Puck considered.

Fair point, he admitted at length. I guess Sapphire can handle it.

“Can we get back to the whole ‘finding food’ thing?” I asked. “I’m hungry.”

I really was; nearly two weeks of irregular, widely-spaced meals had engendered a sort of near-continuous background hunger in the pit of my stomach. I felt like I could probably have eaten my way to the end of one of Trimalchio’s banquets.

“Fine,” said Sapphire. “We’ll stop here.”

She halted at a corner café, similar in appearance to Blintzkrieg; warily, I checked the sign, in case it was a chain and it really was another one. Thankfully, it was a completely different place called, for reasons best known to the owner, Fools Rush In, and I entered without fear of pancakes, though with my doubts about whether any angels would tread here.

As we ate, Sapphire let out Toro to sit next to us, since she’d been so restless back in the bar. The Combusken displayed an alarming aptitude for stealing my food, but I let it slide; she could probably break my legs if it came to a fight.

More than your legs, muttered Puck darkly. She could break bones you don’t even know you have.

I’m not sure if that’s a threat or just a logical statement.

Me either
, admitted Puck. I just felt it was the right moment to say something.

“So after this,” I said, “we’ll go up to Lavaridge and meet Felicity.”

Sapphire grimaced.

“She’s not going to be happy, is she?”

“Hopefully she’ll understand,” I said. “We were fighting Team Magma, after all.”

“Well, that’s your opinion,” Sapphire replied. “I thought she seemed pretty nasty, even when she wasn’t working for Team Aqua.”

“She’s... got a lot on her mind,” I said defensively, and somewhat lamely.
Sapphire gave me a look, and threw a scrap into Toro’s mouth.

“Why do you keep defending her?”

“I... just think you’re being unfair.”

It was a better response than the one I’d made last time, but it was still awful.

“Right.” Sapphire arched one eyebrow, and went back to her meal.

“Anyway,” I said quickly, “what’re we doing when we get to Lavaridge, exactly?”

“You tell me. This plan to stop Zero is your idea.”

She’s right, you know.

“Er... let’s meet up with Felicity and take it from there,” I decided.

Loser.

“I’d better challenge Spike at the Gym too, if she gets elected in time,” Sapphire said thoughtfully.

Toro recognised the words ‘challenge’ and ‘Gym’, and looked up inquisitively.

“Not now,” Sapphire said. “You know, we said we were going to fight her?”

“I remember,” I replied. “Do you think you can beat her?”

“If she becomes a Gym Leader, she’ll have a team to match anyone’s level. So as long as she uses the right team, I can win. I’m willing to fight.”

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, Puck said, and that’s Sapphire’s: fortitude. Then, for no reason I could discern, he laughed.

Not long after that, we paid and left. It was a quarter-hour walk from where we were to the public helipad, and when we got there we were told that it would be a further half-hour until the next helicopter arrived. The building at the pad wasn’t the most pleasant of places to wait in – it was glamorous on the outside, like all of Fallarbor, but the seats were damp and the air inside dank – so after Sapphire bought two tickets, we crossed the road to sit in a park. This pleased Toro, because it meant that she could run around and kick some trees. Watching her, I felt vaguely annoyed that I couldn’t be amused so easily.

It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, said Puck, adopting the accent of a New York gangster. If she puts a tree in the hospital, they’ll put her in the morgue.

Sapphire dropped her Ultra Ball and released the Swablu. Immediately, she dusted herself down, adjusted her singed hat and pointed her beak in the air. Toro stopped kicking trees and stared at her.

“OK,” Sapphire said encouragingly, “your name is Stacey. Got it?”

Stacey gave her a long look, then flapped onto the bench and tried to imitate the way I was sitting. It was difficult for a bird – especially one that was near-spherical – but she gave it her best shot.

“Stacey!” snapped Sapphire. “You’re not a human!”

I picked up the little Swablu and tossed it back to her; she caught it and glared at me.

“Don’t throw her!”

“She’s got wings!” I cried. “It’s not like she’s going to fall to her death!”

Abruptly, Toro cheeped loudly; irritated, Sapphire recalled her.

“OK,” she said, “I can see you’re going to need some work.” She raised Stacey up to her eye level and stared into her beady little eyes. “You. Are. Stacey. Now, go over there.”

She put Stacey down and she fluttered over to a discarded newspaper, which she pretended to read.

“Here goes nothing.” Sapphire took a deep, calming breath. “Stacey!”

The Swablu kept reading.

“Stacey!”

Still no reaction.

“Stacey!”

She turned a page. By now, I was almost convinced she actually could read.

“Stacey, I’ve got a magic... humanising potion,” Sapphire tried unconvincingly.

The Swablu gave an almighty screech, shot into the air and landed in her outstretched hands. Sapphire stared at her with undisguised loathing.

“God,” she said, “you’re really weird, aren’t you?” Then she turned to me. “Why is it that every Pokémon you lead me to ends up being strange?”

I shrugged.

“Lots of strange things have been happening to me lately. You might have noticed.”

“I’m not keeping this thing,” Sapphire said in disgust, recalling Stacey. “I’ll send it home to Dad to look at. He’s got a friend who likes to study psychological disorders in Pokémon.”

“Are they common?”

“Not normally. But we’ve got an albino Sableye who’s scared of everything, and a Swablu that’s convinced it must be a human. Something’s definitely up.”

You’re probably some kind of weirdness magnet, Kester, suggested Puck helpfully.

“Thanks,” I murmured ironically.

Sapphire spent the remaining time running over moves with Toro; according to her, Rono had once again leaped ahead of the Combusken in terms of strength. She didn’t even bother with the Sableye. His cripplingly low self-esteem made him all but useless as a fighter – his useful luminous eyes and potential for use as a tracking device were probably the only reasons she hadn’t put him into the PC and emailed him home to Birch already.

At length, I heard a thunderous sound, like a vast flock of Salamence flying in from the distance, and the helicopter shot overhead; I’d never seen one before in real life, and stared open-mouthed as it growled past. It was like an insect, a wasp or a Beedrill, but larger and more angular, and infinitely more angry. I caught a glimpse of a yellow logo splashed across the black side – and then it disappeared behind the helipad’s ticket-office-***-departure-lounge.

“Right,” Sapphire said. “Let’s go. Toro!”

There was no response.

“Toro?”

We looked around, and found her hiding under a bush. Having had some experience of cities, the little Combusken could just about cope with cars and boats, but it seemed the helicopter was too much for her. Sapphire recalled her, and we crossed the road again, heading back to the helipad.

Behind the building, the helicopter was crouched like some great predatory bird, its rotors held still like hooded wings; though there was plenty of bare tarmac around it, it filled the space with its sheer personality. It looked like it was about to jump up and kill someone.

Now that’s a machine, said Puck, with the deep satisfaction of one who knows. I’d like to possess one of those one day.

I thought of what terrifying manoeuvres Puck might put the chopper through if he had control of it, and shuddered.

Not today. Please.

Relax. I’ve piloted a Boeing 747 before.
He paused. Well, when I say ‘piloted’, I mean ‘crashed’. And when I say ‘Boeing 747’, I mean a bus full of orphans. I’m not even sure why I said it in the first place now.

Sapphire and I climbed aboard the helicopter; inside, it had been fitted with benches along the walls, and I judged its capacity to be about twenty people. Much of the area of the sides was occupied with windows, and as I took my seat I found myself eagerly anticipating the view we’d get.

One other person got aboard – it was out of season, and the Gym was currently out of action – and then the doors shut a few minutes later. The seats started to vibrate a little, and I heard the full-throated roar of the engine.

Oh, gorgeous, Puck cried ecstatically. Virizion’s curly horns, this is such a beautiful machine! I want to get right inside it!

That reminded me unpleasantly of that business last year, where several of the wrong things had got inside something else, and my mind came back down to earth with a bump.

That’s... weird, I told him.

If by weird you mean fantastic—

I meant weird.


The rotors started to spin, faster and faster, until the sound reached fever pitch; I hadn’t expected it to be so loud. We started to rise, and my stomach turned over; I glanced over at Sapphire, and saw her face was pale as paper and her eyes were large in their sockets.

“Oh, God,” I groaned. “Airsick too?”

She nodded apologetically, and threw up in my lap.

---

The floor dropped away beneath their feet, descending at least thirty feet in less than half a second; Barry felt like he’d left all of his organs up in the hut, and when Scarlett opened the door again, he almost outright fell over through it. The whole process left him with only one option: emitting a low-pitched incoherent roar.

“Excuse me? Can I help you?”

“I don’t need anyone’s help,” rumbled Barry indignantly, getting to his feet. He was in a tunnel hewn into the living rock, damp from nearby aquifers and supported by great wooden beams, their surfaces pitted with age. This was odd enough in itself, but he was also talking to a man dressed in rags and patches who looked like he would have been more at home in the circus than in a mine shaft.

“This is Barry Hawksworthy,” Scarlett piped up, skipping ahead of him. “Barry, this is Vladimir. He’s hired help.”

“Right,” said Barry dubiously. “Where is this place?”

“This is your Team Aqua’s secret tunnel, formerly an abandoned chromium mine,” Vladimir said. He had a faint accent, but Barry couldn’t quite place it. “My friend and I, we were hired to help man it, since it appears that none of your Team can be spared to come here.”

“Right,” said Barry. The dubious tone had not yet disappeared. “What’s all this about, then?”

“Come with me,” Vladimir said. “Shelly will explain.”

“Shelly’s here?” Barry’s head felt like it was on the verge of exploding. This was all far too nonsensical for him; he had been sent here to assist his Administrator, and he had ended up in an old mine with a ten-year-old girl (almost eleven, she would say) and a foreigner. He found himself thinking almost wistfully of Felicity, wishing she hadn’t gone AWOL after the Spectroscopic Fancy debacle; she might have made his life a living hell, but at least he was on firm, mostly sane ground with her.

“Yeah, Mum’s here,” confirmed Scarlett. “Come with me!”

As usual, Barry’s mind, fully aware of its own intellectual shortcomings, simplified the decision process here, narrowing it down to two options: go with Scarlett and Vladimir, further into this madness, or beat the hell out of them and leave Team Aqua, then the country. After wavering for a moment – he did hate Scarlett, after all – he decided, and not without some regret, that his loyalties to the Team demanded he stay, and took the former course of action.

The eccentric duo led him through a network of tunnels, illuminated only by a series of rather unreliable arc lamps attached to the beams; the flickering light turned the rough walls into seas of light and dark, tiny pitch-black shadows rubbing shoulders with crests of glistening highlight. Occasionally, one would go out, and Vladimir would poke it experimentally until it came back on, or he got an electric shock – whichever came sooner.

Eventually, they ended up in a small, roughly circular room, in which someone had, amazingly enough, installed a large sofa, a desk and a filing cabinet. Seated at the desk was a tall, thin woman surrounded by a great mass of her own violently-ginger hair; she wore a modified Aqua uniform, as was the right of an Administrator, and she was inspecting some papers through horn-rimmed spectacles when they came in.

“Oh! You must be Barry,” she said pleasantly, getting up and taking off her glasses. “I’m Shelly. It’s so nice that they finally sent someone to help out here.”

Barry looked around at the paintings somehow fixed to the walls, and the folder on the desk marked ‘INVASION PLANS’, and replied in a guarded rumble.
“Yeah. Here. Where exactly is ‘here’, and what exactly do you mean by help...?”

---

“They what?” Maxie leaped to his feet, found he was too angry to stand, and sat down again. Then he leaped up once more, and started pacing. “They what?”

“They caught Blake and Fabien, sir,” Tabitha said, eyeing his boss uneasily. “You know, the useless ones.”

I know they’re the useless ones!” howled Maxie, his mouth an inch away from Tabitha’s eyes. The blast of saliva-laden air, hot and moist, forced Tabitha’s eyes shut, and he leaned backwards a little. “I know who everyone in this goddamn organisation is, Gerald!”

“Tabitha, sir.”

Tabitha was a tall man, but Maxie had no trouble in lifting him bodily from the floor and ramming him furiously into the wall.

“What the hell! You’re Gerald if I say you’re Gerald!”

“F-fine, sir,” gasped Tabitha, fighting for breath. He had seen this happen to many others in his time, but Maxie had never directly vented his spleen on him before – and the man had a seriously strong grip.

Maxie dropped him and turned away, scowling ferociously.

“Those two idiots could blow our entire operation,” he growled. “We can’t change the date of the Meteorite project, so I want you to go and get those two morons before Team Aqua gets so much as a word from either of them. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly, sir.” Tabitha licked his lips nervously; they had suddenly dried out. The resuscitated Mightyena was crouched in its puddle of darkness in the corner, and it seemed to have picked up on the heightened tension in the room; it was growling and snapping at thin air as if it wanted to bite him right now.

“Well, what the hell are you still doing here!” roared Maxie. Despite the phrasing, it wasn’t a question.

“Leaving, sir,” said Tabitha, and slithered out from beneath his descending fingers to exit the office at a run.

---

Felicity was sleeping.

She lay on an old iron cot in a darkened room, water flowing freely over her naked body from a hole in the ceiling. It would take time, but it was knitting together flesh and blood, reattaching tendons, locking pieces of bone back in place.

Zero watched her heal from his seat across the room, pondering. It had taken a surprising amount of torture for Maxie to wind down; he had been on the verge of stopping him when he finally ended Felicity’s torment. He really was an expert; despite the pain, she had been awake during the whole thing. Zero supposed that having your eyelids shaved off made it difficult to sleep.

In the end, the Magma boss had got all the information he wanted out of her. Before handing her over, Zero had told her what to say, muttering it in her native language so no one else would understand: the whole thing was an Aqua plot, and their goal was to delay the Magma’s progress in the grand scheme. She hadn’t wanted to say anything, but he had promised her that her torture would be swifter if she gave Maxie the information he wanted. As it turned out, that had been a lie, but that did not bother Zero. Very few things did.

A distant door clicked; Zero got to his feet and left the room. As he locked the door behind him and started to climb the stairs to the ground floor, he shifted persona: from the man who played chess with Hoenn to the loving partner to Courtney Staunton.

“Is that you, honey bunny?” he asked, hands on his mask.

“Yeah,” she called back, and he removed the mask; it didn’t matter if Courtney saw his face. He had ensured she would never reveal his identity to anyone, if she even knew who he really was.

“How was your day?” he asked, passing through the hall and into the kitchen, tossing his mask carelessly onto the table. Courtney sighed and dropped into his arms, exhausted.

“Awful,” she murmured. “Maxie’s furious.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

She smiled.

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Make everything better.”

Zero pondered.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, genuinely uncertain for once. “I don’t know, honey bunny.”

“Maybe it’s love,” said Courtney thoughtfully. Zero kissed the top of her head.

“Perhaps,” he said, eyes as dark and tumultuous as Heathcliff, “perhaps that’s exactly what it is.”

And he smiled that cold cruel smile that terrified Felicity and melted Courtney’s heart, and a little more of his plan fell into place.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #71    
Old Posted March 23rd, 2011 (07:35 AM).
Echidna's Avatar
Echidna
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Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Vaniville Town
Age: 20
Gender: Male
Nature: Brave
Dude, i have only read 5 chapters so far, but this story is genius !!!! (understatement) ...man i am enjoying it....pokemon related yet with a sensable touch of reality and violence and some comedy (especially puck) ...it is awesome, by far the best peice if , well ANYTHING, i have ever read..lol....keep on going, i'm a fast reader, i will catch up soon enough....
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  #72    
Old Posted March 23rd, 2011 (01:41 PM). Edited March 28th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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PEDRO12, thank you for your compliments. I aim to please.

In other news, the next couple of chapters might be slightly late. I need to get working on a short story for a competition back in the real world.

Oh, and apologies for those of you who use dark skins - Zero's signature in his letter only looks as it should on a white or light-coloured skin. You may wish to change it temporarily, to get the full effect.

Chapter Thirty-Three: Lavaridge is Neither a Ridge Nor Lava. Discuss.

I don’t know about you, Puck said, but I’m finding it pretty difficult to think of any more Bond jokes.

Oddly enough, that isn’t really worrying me right now.


Sapphire had apologised, and attempts had been made at cleaning me up, but the foul stench of vomit still clung to me, as did several of the stickier pieces of our last meal in Fallarbor. Consequently, I was in a very bad mood – though Sapphire said she was now feeling a little better.

Let’s see, Puck continued blithely, we’ve got The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy who Loved Me, Octopussy and Casino Royale to go. Damn, those are hard.

Shut up, I thought back. I’m sick of the sound of your voice.

Technically, I have no voice – these are my thoughts. But whatever.


The helicopter roared on, though within it we were silent; out of the windows, I saw the mountains rising like the teeth of the earth high into the sky, piercing clouds and shaking off the forests that cloaked the valleys. A flock of Altaria parted hurriedly at our approach, screaming abuse from their great white-cheeked mouths.

“We’re now approaching Mount Chimney,” crackled the pilot over the PA system. “If you look to your left, you can see the crater itself.”

I looked left, and could indeed see the crater; it was dark and full of bilious smoke that streamed out across the mountainside like a wave of black tears.

In a bit of a dark mood, aren’t you?

There were some barely-discernable figures atop the mountain, setting up some sort of machine; we couldn’t go any closer, but the pilot informed us of their probably purpose:

“You can see what are probably Lavaridge’s resident team of volcanologists, keeping an eye on things,” he said. You could tell he was proud of the long word he used. “Mount Chimney hasn’t erupted in seventy-three years, but the risk is always there, especially with the recent tremors.”

The other passenger, a man in middle age, looked up sharply.

“Tremors?”

“Tremors,” confirmed the pilot. “There have been a few minor earthquakes recently in the Lavaridge earlier. The scientists think that the tube that carries up the lava is probably blocked, and that the pressure has got to the point where it’s slowly forcing the blockage out, causing little earthquakes.”
It’s called ‘magma’ below ground, not ‘lava’. Puck sniffed. And to think this man flies over the volcano all the time! What other criminal activities does he get up to? Strangle kittens in his spare time?

I didn’t know what a kitten was, but thought it unlikely that the pilot strangled anything in his spare time, since so few people do.

We passed through a cloud, and the windows misted over; when they cleared, all I could see was red-brown rock, surrounding us on every side. I looked down, and as well as inflicting a stupendous case of vertigo on myself, I saw a medium-sized town spread out below, in a high alpine valley. Pools of dark water, almost black from this height, were liberally scattered across Lavaridge Town, congregating on the east side, where they nestled amongst the hot sand that cloaked the volcanic rock.

“We are now entering Lavaridge,” the pilot told us, somewhat pointlessly, and we descended towards the helipad. It was set about five hundred yards away from the main body of the town, atop a small hill, so as not to spoil the atmosphere of the place. I thought it was a futile trick, since the helicopter was loud enough to be heard all over town anyway, but that was how it was, and after disembarking we had quite a long walk to get to Lavaridge proper.

Upon reaching the town, we found it to be eerily empty; it didn’t necessarily appeal to families like Dewford, and relied mainly on elderly and cultured people for tourism. No one came there in the summer, either; it was a place that people retreated to in the autumn and the winter, to dispel the chill from their bones with the searing water that bubbled up from beneath the earth. I’d been once before, and had developed burns on the soles of my feet; I had seen the sign that cautioned against walking across the volcanic rocks without shoes a little too late.

You are such a moron, Puck said.

Easy for you to say, I thought back. You don’t even have feet.

The streets were lined with houses that were either four hundred years old or very well-disguised; they were built in the old Hoennian style, with mansard roofs and Tudor arches.

Oddly enough, that wasn’t my description, Puck commented. You learned that in Taste class?

Yeah.


“Kester,” said Sapphire, “come over here!”

I turned to look; she’d found a sign that bore a simplified map of the town.

“Here,” she said, pointing at a large red ‘G’, “is the Gym, but first we’d better find Felicity.”

Heh, Puck said, I wonder if that’s an original G?

“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind us, “did you say you were looking for Felicity?”

We turned sharply, Sapphire’s hand reaching for a Poké Ball out of instinct – but it was just an ordinary-looking man, dressed in a shabby grey suit and holding his battered hat in front of his chest as if halfway through doffing it.

“Who are you?” Sapphire asked suspiciously.

“No one,” he answered, turning his hat over in his hands. “I was just paid to tell you she’s gone.”

Sapphire stared.

“Gone?”

“Yes,” nodded the man. “Oh, and is your name Kester Ruby?” He looked at me inquisitively.

“Yeah,” I answered guardedly. He held out an envelope.

“Zero sends his regards,” he told me as I took it, and walked off.

I looked from the envelope to the man and back again. Sapphire seemed on the verge of running after the man, punching him to the floor and forcing him to tell us more, but I laid a hand on her shoulder to hold her back.

“Leave it,” I said. “If Zero’s half as intelligent as Felicity made out, that guy won’t know anything about his plans.”

Sapphire sighed and nodded.

“Fine,” she said irritably. “Open the letter, then.”

I did, and drew out a single sheet of paper, which, when unfolded, was revealed to bear a short, typed letter:


Dear Kester,

You really are doing spectacularly well, but I’m afraid you’re not going to
get much further in this matter. I applaud your audacity in attempting to stop me, but it simply isn’t going to happen. My plans are too well-laid.

However, you are affording me no end of amusement, so I’m happy for you to continue if you wish. Should you choose to do so, the next phase of my plan goes into operation two days from now, on the top of Mount Chimney. I’ll be sure to be there, so I can say hello if you turn up.

Yours sincerely,




Wow, said Puck admiringly, I like that signature. Makes me wish I had hands.

“He took back Felicity, didn’t he,” I said. It was not a question.

“Yes,” agreed Sapphire quietly. “Almost certainly.”

There was a long pause.

“What now?” I wondered.

“We can’t give up,” Sapphire replied. “I don’t do giving up. Especially not against people like Zero.”

“Right. But what do we do?”

Sapphire looked at the letter.

“Two days from now, we go to the top of Mount Chimney,” she said. “That’s where it’s happening. Zero’s obviously really arrogant, and doesn’t think we’ll succeed, so he’s given us directions to try and stop him.”

“Those people on the mountaintop,” I said, recalling them from our flight. “They’ve probably got something to do with it.”

Sapphire nodded.

“Right.” There was another pause, and she looked at the map. “So, we have until Sunday, and we promised we’d challenge Spike...”

“You want to go to the Gym at a time like this?”

“Got a better idea?”

I thought for a moment.

Hey, wait a moment, Puck said uneasily, I don’t like the sound of that thought...

“We could investigate what’s happening at the top of the mountain,” I said. “You know, try and stop whatever’s going on before it happens.”

“Well, I’m going to the Gym,” Sapphire said firmly. “You can sneak around on mountaintops by yourself.”

I decided not to argue. I might be technically free now, but Sapphire was still definitely in charge.

“Regrettably, I can’t,” I sighed. “I have to take this moron with me.” I pointed at my head.

That’s not very polite, Puck said. And this spying idea is bad. I had a lover who was a spy once – and she died.

Are you complaining or making Bond jokes?


There was a pause.

Both, he admitted at length.

“Let’s go to the Pokémon Centre then,” Sapphire said. “We’ll get set up there, and we can go our separate ways.”

The Pokémon Centre was marked on the map with a yellow ‘PC’, about which Puck, surprisingly, had no joke to make, and since the town was so small, it took only a few minutes to get there. It was as similar to every other Centre I’d seen as it could be without actually being the same one, and the receptionist had the same weird dyed-pink hair.

“Good afternoon,” she said brightly. “May I see your Trainer Cards, please?”

I had forgotten about that. I closed my eyes and let out a silent groan.

---

Tabitha sat in his jeep and tapped his fingers against his thigh nervously. He hoped to God that everything was all right in there.

Two blocks away was the main Aqua stronghold in Fallarbor; this was Magma country, but the other Team had a presence here too. Excepting Slateport and Lavaridge, no settlement fell entirely under the control of either gang.

About half an hour ago, Tabitha had pulled up here – he never trusted anyone else to drive for him – and told his group what to do. They were the SHNB1, his personal troops and so elite and secret that not even he knew what the letters in their name stood for. Like all serious Magma units, they wore clothing of a darker red than mere field agents: these were men and women who killed by stealth, not with brute strength.

The SHNB1 force had immediately vanished, melting into the shadows like leaves blowing through the bars of a fence. Where they were now, Tabitha could only guess at; they were mist on the breeze, stealthy as leopards and vicious as Mernimblers.

“They’d better get them back,” he muttered for the hundredth time, clenching his hand into a nervous fist. “Or the boss will be...”

As it happened, the SHNB1 was having no difficulty at all finding and releasing Fabien. They had scaled the walls and climbed into the base through upper windows; from there, they had slipped from shadow to shadow and slit the throats of any unsuspecting Aquas in their path.

They moved in a needlessly complex and eerily silent series of acrobatic manoeuvres, from leaps and somersaults to pirouettes and flips; they clung to the ceilings and dropped onto their blue-clad foes, or popped improbably out of cupboards and garrotted them with thin, sharp red ligatures.

The SHNB1 had, in fact, killed the entire population of the top floor before anyone noticed they were there. They were alerted to this fact by the cutlass that removed the leg from one of their vanguards, and the Aqua in full piratical dress holding it. He then proceeded to pull a Horatius, and defend the stairs down against their superior numbers for an unreasonably long time.

By the time they managed to kill him, the SHNB1 faced a small army of Aqua shock troops, massed at the bottom of the stairs; a short but bloody battle ensued, in which rather a lot of guns were fired and katanas slashed about. The SHNB1, being considerably better-trained, better-armed and more prepared than the Aquas, took five minutes to butcher every last one of their opponents, having only lost three men, and proceeded to comb the building for signs of the two captives.

It turned out that they were actually confined to a chamber on the fourth floor, meaning that the battle had been a sickening and pointless waste of human life, but, never ones to let the past drag them down, the SHNB1 agents simply got on with their job. They picked the lock – they did not believe in breaking down doors – flitted in and dragged two very confused Magma field operatives out with them. They tossed them out of a window, and four of the SHNB1 inexplicably materialised down on the ground to catch them. From there, it was a swift thirty-second somersault-leap-walk back to Tabitha’s jeep, into the back seat of which four of them dropped from an unlikely height. They deposited Fabien and Blake there, then informed Tabitha that they had met with ‘slight resistance’ and left for Lavaridge by their own means.

“All right, you two,” snapped Tabitha, slamming a foot down on the accelerator, “did they get any information out of you?”

“What – what the hell was that?” Fabien asked, somewhat in shock.

“Answer me!”

“They didn’ get nothin’,” Blake said, more cool-headed. “We refused to talk.”

“Good,” said Tabitha, relieved. “That’s... brilliant.”

He rounded a corner at high speed and made an obscene gesture in the general direction of the honking horns that ensued.

“All right,” he said. “Listen up, morons. You two need to lie low for a while. You got that? Get out of uniform, go to the North District or something. Just for God’s sake, don’t attract any attention.”

“Why?” asked Blake.

“Because my unit just told me they’d met with slight resistance,” said Tabitha grimly, “and that means they killed everyone again. So Team Aqua aren’t going to be happy, and you two are the ones they’ll blame. So lie low, get drunk and stay off the radar. Capische?”

“What?”

Tabitha growled with impatience.

“Do you understand?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Blake nodded, glanced at Fabien, and said, “'E does too.”

“Good.” Tabitha thought of something. He pulled Goishi’s Poké Ball from the glove compartment and tossed it back; Blake caught it in one massive hand. “That’s yours, I believe.”

“Much obliged, sir,” said Fabien somewhat stiffly, relieving Blake of the ball. “Could you drop us at the train station?”

“If you’re going to make demands of me, Fabien,” Tabitha said, a vein pulsing in his temple, “you can get out here and walk.”

So saying, he braked sharply, slewing onto the pavement, and threatened to shoot the pair of them if they didn’t leave in the next fifteen seconds. They hurriedly acquiesced, and Tabitha was left to complete his journey alone, half relieved but also half furious. Blake and Fabien really were maddening company.

---

Well, I can’t say this isn’t a pretty disheartening situation.

I was sitting on the kerb, and had been since I’d been thrown out of the Pokémon Centre. While this had amused Puck and Sapphire enormously, I hadn’t enjoyed the experience that much.

Cheer up, Puck said, things could be worse.

“Tell me how?”

You might be an undesirable person living in Germany during the war, Puck said thoughtfully, and be shipped off to the concentration camps. Or you might be chained to the Atlas Mountains, where an eagle eats your liver every day. Or you might be horribly smelly. Oh. Wait. You stink of vomit.

“Somehow, I’m not comforted.”

It had been a quarter of an hour now, and Sapphire still hadn’t emerged from the Centre.

Let’s run away, Puck said. Come on, we’ll go investigate Mount Chimney.

“You said you didn’t want to.”

Yeah, but life’s no fun without a good scare.

“Are you quoting?”

Absolutely.

“All right,” I said, standing up stiffly and stretching. “I guess Sapphire’s having a shower or something.” I glanced down at my sick-stained jeans. “Not that I couldn’t use one.”

I started to walk off back towards the sign with the map on, in the hope of finding directions to a tourist information centre where I could find out how to get to Mount Chimney.

I found one a few doors down from the low brick building that called itself Lavaridge Town’s Pokémon Gym. I was about to go in, but my curiosity got the better of me and I went to investigate the Gym sign, to see if Spike had actually been inducted as Gym Leader in the space of less than twenty-four hours.

Lavaridge Town Pokémon Gym, read Puck. Leader: Flannery, ‘One with a fiery passion that burns!’

“That’s odd,” I said. “I thought she hated being called Flannery?”

Maybe she thought she needed a more serious name or something, suggested Puck. What amazes me is that she was made Leader so quickly, and that they managed to get a new sign painted up so fast.

“It is unusual, I’ll admit,” I agreed. “But I guess they don’t have much else to do here.”

True enough. Can we stop off at a power station and lick the transformers? I’m hungry.

“No,” I replied firmly, “and if you ask again I’m going to think about Felicity. Lots.”

Eeurgh, groaned Puck, how can you find a creature in such obviously poor physical condition attractive? Surely it points to a lack of suitability as a mate?

“It’s different for humans.”

Nah, not really. You’re no higher than other sentient beings with preferences – top-tier stuff.

“What?”

Read your Singer, Kester. Preference utilitarianism, you know? It’s my kind of morality. Or it would be, if I had morality in the human sense.

“This conversation is going nowhere,” I said loudly, startling a few passers-by. “Let’s go to the tourist centre.”

Not stopping to say hi?

“Sapphire’s coming by soon,” I reminded him, one hand on the glass door, “she can do it.”

Inside, the tourist information centre was like a bird’s nest of leaflets; I’d never seen so much wasted paper in my life. Red, green, blue, purple; all parts of the spectrum were represented on their shiny surfaces. They burst from racks, formed stacks on shelves, sat neatly side-by-side in self-satisfied piles on a small table by the door. I felt a sudden and inexplicable urge to set fire to the lot of them, and, quelling it with effort, made my way across to the abandoned desk.

Sorry, said Puck, that was my sudden and inexplicable urge to burn these pamphlets. I once had a bad experience with some waste-paper, the Professor and Mrs. Flittersnoop, and I’ve been kind of phobic of vast quantities of loose paper since.

On the desktop was a small bell of the kind that you press, and, since there was no one around, I pressed it. It failed to make a noise, and the little button part stuck fast with a quiet but audible crunch.

Way to go, Kester, Puck said. You broke the bell.

“Shut up,” I whispered furiously. Then I called out, more loudly: “Er – hello? Is anyone here?”

With startling speed and silence, an elderly man with a long, flowing mane of white hair and matching beard materialised on the other side of the desk.

“My name is Hinzelmann,” he told me, with enough earnestness to crush my soul. “How can I help you?”

“Ah... er...”

Another weird guy, eh? Puck gave a sigh. Never mind, we’ll get through it.

“I wanted,” I managed at last, “to know if it would be possible to go up onto Mount Chimney. Right up to the peak.”

“That’s pretty dangerous,” Hinzelmann said, his massive eyes fixed on mine with such intensity as was never known before. “Even the tunnels are dangerous.”

“It’s OK,” I said, as reassuringly as I could. “I... I’m a Trainer. I have experience of danger.”

“Oh, in that case,” Hinzelmann said, fishing out a small map from within a drawer of his desk, “you should take the Fiery Path.”

The map was of a network of tunnels that ran through the interior of Mount Chimney; I could see at a glance that it would be a long trip up to the top, and probably one that was interrupted multiple times by wild Pokémon.

“Isn’t there any other way?” I asked helplessly.

“You could walk up Jagged Pass,” Hinzelmann replied, after a short pause for thought, “but that’s tricky. It’s very—”

“Jagged?”

Hinzelmann beamed.

“Why, yes,” he said. “That’s exactly what it is. And, of course, there’s the Lone Altaria, but if you’re a Trainer he won’t bother you.”

“The what?”

“There’s an Altaria without a flock that circles the mountain above the Pass,” Hinzelmann explained. “He can be quite dangerous, but he’ll know you’re too much bother, since you’re a Trainer.”

I weighed up my options. I could go through the Fiery Path, take forever and be continually attacked, or I could climb the Jagged Pass, run the gauntlet of the Lone Altaria and get there quickly.

“Thanks,” I said. “How do I get to this Pass?”

---

“... so you see, this place is a forward base for mounting an attack on the W.R.I.,” finished Shelly. “I moved in recently to get the project moving again – it’s been two years – and hired Didi and Gogo to help.”

“Who’s that?” asked Barry, confused. The only other people he’d seen so far were Vladimir and Scarlett – and Scarlett was surely just here because of her mother. He seriously doubted she was hired help.

“Our nicknames,” explained Vladimir. “I’m Didi. Gogo’s not here right now, but he’ll be along shortly.”

“Is he sitting by the road again?” asked Shelly. Vladimir nodded sadly.

“It’s difficult for him,” he said soulfully. “He can’t quite kick the habit.”

For the sake of the preservation of his sanity, Barry decided not to ask what they meant by that.

“What am I supposed to do?” he rumbled instead.

“Well, tunnelling would be a start,” Shelly said, looking him up and down. “You look strong.”

“Strong? There’s no one stronger.” Barry was pleased with this new development. When physical power was involved, he was in his prime; he could probably have given Brawly a run for his money in a wrestling match.

“Splendid,” cried Vladimir. “The north tunnels need expanding if they’re ever to reach the W.R.I.”

“That’s true,” agreed Shelly. “Until we get there, Archie has refused to send any more troops. He says it won’t do to alert them to our presence.”

This, Barry thought, was fair enough. The Gorsedd Hoenn already guarded its compound with enough force to stop even the government interfering with whatever went on in there; if they got wind of a potential Team Aqua attack, the place would become virtually impregnable.

“Anything other than digging?” he asked, hoping there wasn’t. He would prefer to spend his time alone with a drill and pickaxe than have to consort with Vladimir, the mysteriously absent ‘Gogo’ and Scarlett.

“Yes,” Shelly said, “your record says you have a Pokémon, yes?”

“Yeah...?”

“So you’ll be responsible for buying in supplies from Plain Rooke – I know there are Cleanse Tags, but it pays to be prepared, and I’m too busy to do it myself.”

“I can do it,” began Scarlett, but Shelly cut her off.

“Sweetpea, you already tried and you couldn’t carry it back. Mr. Hawksworthy will handle it.”

Mr. Hawksworthy... Barry nodded thoughtfully to himself. Shelly was a woman, which lowered her worth in his eyes, but she knew how to treat a man with respect, it seemed. It had been a long time since someone had called him ‘Mr. Hawksworthy’ rather than ‘Barry’ or ‘moron’ or ‘that big guy who just broke the table’.

“Didi!” cried a thin voice from outside. It had the same accent as Vladimir. “Someone came!”

“He already came, Gogo,” replied Vladimir wearily as another man in rags and patches rushed in, wild-eyed.

“I know, I know,” Gogo replied, “but it surprises me every time. It was a Trainer. We talked.”

“About?”

“The brevity of human existence,” Gogo said. “I made him cry.” He looked thoughtful. “Then again, he was only eleven.” Just then, he caught notice of Barry. “Hello! Who’s this?”

“This is Barry Hawksworthy,” Shelly said. “Barry, this is Estragon, our other hired worker.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Estragon said, doffing his broken hat. “Wait. Is this my hat, Didi?”

“It’s Lucky’s.”

“Whose?”

“You never remember him.”

Barry turned to Shelly before his brain melted.

“Where do you keep your mining equipment, ma’am?” he asked. “I – er – think it would be a good idea to start.”

Shelly beamed.

“Fantastic,” she said. “Gogo will show you the way.”

Barry suppressed a roar of rage, and let himself be led helplessly away by Estragon. Somewhere in the middle of his bottled fury, he wondered how long he would last before going completely insane.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #73    
Old Posted March 25th, 2011 (01:26 PM). Edited March 28th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Thirty-Four: Someone Holds a Candle to Sapphire

Sure is jagged here
, Puck remarked, as I tripped for the fortieth time.

“That so? I hadn’t noticed,” I replied sarcastically, from between clenched teeth. I climbed back to my feet wearily; I had long since stopped checking to see if I’d cut or bruised my legs after each fall, because I invariably had – and now my knees were very unpleasant to look at. My jeans were also even more ruined than they had been already.

Jagged Pass was bordered by pine forest to the east and west; at least, it was until you got to the higher parts, where the red rock rose stark and bare, bereft of all covering. Precisely why no trees grew on the Pass itself was beyond my understanding. I also didn’t know why it was even called a pass – it wasn’t a gap through the mountains at all, but a long slope that formed one side of Mount Chimney. I was, however, certain that I knew why it was called ‘jagged’: it was covered in ledges, uneven terrain and boulders, and the ground was almost completely obscured by scree and talus that seemed to have been carved by the elements into natural knives.

Mount Chimney isn’t very high, is it? said Puck. I mean, I know Lavaridge Town is really high up, but it looks like you’re going to get to the peak by five at the latest.

“Best not to question these things,” I said wisely, clambering up another rocky ledge and wishing someone had thought to bulldoze a path up the mountain. My hands and forearms were scratched, bruised and filthy; my clothes were as ripped and battered as they had been after my previous misadventures. I sighed. I was going to need a new outfit again.

I staggered onwards, slipped and gave myself a bruised forehead with a cut in the centre. Hauling myself up onto a boulder, I sat down heavily and cupped my bleeding head with one hand, staring down at the distant town below.

“This isn’t going well,” I stated. “I’m halfway and I’m not sure I can go any further.”

It’ll be at least as bad going back as it is going up, Puck pointed out. Greater chance of slipping, too.

“I suppose.” I glared sullenly up at the sky, and the distant shape of a larger-than-average Altaria, circling eternally. “I hate to say it, but I think Sapphire could really have helped here. She’s better than me at this stuff, anyway.”

Ah, don’t say that. We’re like a drifter – born to walk alone. We’ll make it.

“I suppose it might have been worse if we’d gone through Fiery Path,” I said. “We’d probably have got lost, and made a positively Shandian digression.”

I don’t believe you’ve read that, so I’m going to assume you’ve just heard someone say ‘Shandian digression’ and thought it sounded clever.

Blast. Caught out.

“Damn. How did you know?”

Kester, you’re the last person in the world who would read Laurence Sterne.

“Who?”

Exactly.

I decided that that was enough, and it was time to start climbing again. Tucking my palms inside the lacerated sleeves of my hoodie, I grabbed onto some larger, more stable rocks, and began to guide myself carefully up the sea of stones.

Shortly afterwards, I passed a walled compound that I assumed was the vihara; the walls were made of pleasantly cool grey stone, mined from somewhere distant, and I could see the roofs rising above them like hills of slate. As I hiked past, I wondered what it was like to be a bhikku, and spend your days in meditation and learning.

Happy, if you’ve the mind for it, Puck answered. He sounded almost wistful. I’m too attached to things, though. I’d be the world’s worst Buddhist, let alone bhikku.

“I guess.”

It took me the better part of an hour to reach a point at which the ground levelled out a little; by that time, it must have been around half past four, and though the sun was still high in the sky, I was beginning to feel cold. We had to be close now.

Come on, urged Puck. There’s about twenty feet more, and we’ve reached the top.

With a tremendous effort, I forced myself up onto the flattened top of Mount Chimney, and saw, laid out before me as if by some divine hand—

“Absolutely nothing,” I said, crestfallen. “What the hell?”

There was the peak, an expanse of rough red stone, and the crater at the other end of the space, spewing its dark smoke to the north. All in all, it looked rather like a suitable place to destroy a ring, but of the supposed volcanologists or their strange machine, there was no sign at all.

“What happened?” I wondered. “Where are they?”

Coffee break?
suggested Puck.

“Funny,” I said, in tones that I hoped suggested it wasn’t. “Let’s have a look around. I didn’t climb this mountain for nothing.”

I wandered over the mountaintop, searching for any signs of life; however, I came across nothing save the occasional scraggly bush and, once, a small and rather weedy Slugma, who chased me very slowly twice around a boulder before I decided I’d had enough and walked away, leaving him making furious bubbling noises at my back.

“This is stupid,” I said angrily, leaning against a rock near the heaving smoke of the crater. “Where – huh?”

The rock did not feel like rock. There was a sharp edge digging into my back, and something that felt like cloth dragging over it. I turned around, but there was only a boulder there; I reached out cautiously and touched it.

I don’t believe it, said Puck. It’s a shroud.

Dyed the rough red colour of the surrounding stone, the cloth was a perfect disguise as long as no one touched it; I hauled the sheet of fabric away and the boulder stood revealed as something very different indeed.

“What,” I wondered, staring, “is that?”

I don’t know, Puck said slowly. But it looks vaguely octopus-y to me.

It was the strange machine the ‘volcanologists’ had been setting up earlier, a great metallic box with a vast number of pipes rooting it to the stone as if it were some artificial mangrove tree. They actually seemed to go into the rock, and I wondered if they extended all the way down to the magma beneath. Atop the gleaming chrome body was a glass structure that put me in mind of a bell jar, and inside this was a set of clamps that were currently notable for not actually clamping anything.

“Putting that awful joke aside,” I said, “can you possess this and find out what it is?”

I can try, said Puck, but I warn you, it doesn’t look like it’s going to do anything without someone putting something in that jar.

“Just try.”

I laid a hand on one pipe, and blue sparks danced around my fingertips. A light flickered on the side of the machine, and it began to hum – then it cut out abruptly and the light died.

OK, bad news, said Puck. It doesn’t seem to do anything. I tried everything I know – and let me tell you, the things I don’t know about machinery aren’t worth knowing – but it seems that it won’t do anything until that jar has something put in it.

“All right.” I sighed and withdrew my hand, then looked around. Even if this had been a wasted trip, the view was spectacular: the Madeiras raised their rust-coloured hears all around me, like a great crown of thorns perched on Hoenn’s head. Up here, I was level with the Altaria; the flocks wheeled and cawed above the valleys in their endless search for food. The only things above me were the clouds and the Lone Altaria, which flew at such heights that it probably had problems breathing.

I dragged the camouflage sheet back over the machine and wandered over to the crater, going as close as I dared to the edge and trying to catch a glimpse of lava or something behind the veil of black smoke.

You’re lucky the wind’s blowing northwards, observed Puck, or you’d be covered in ash. Also, it probably isn’t very safe to be doing this. The volcano’s obviously not very stable right now, and it might erupt. Which would kill you as surely as a bullet. Fired from Scaramanga’s golden gun.

“Er, yeah, you’re probably right,” I agreed, taking several hurried steps back. “I should probably leave.”

I walked back over to the end of Jagged Pass and was about to make my way down when I saw a group of figures coming up the slope, slipping and sliding on the scree.

Figures in red.

“Magmas,” I breathed. “Puck, Team Magma’s coming!”

Thanks for that. It’s not like I can see them or anything.


“Shut up.” I looked around wildly. “See any hiding places?”

In the crater?

“Correction: any hiding places I can survive in?”

I don’t know, just go behind some boulders or something. They’re going to go to the machine, so just make sure they can’t see you from there.

“Gotcha.”

I ran back to the disguised machine, checked its camouflaging sheet was more or less how it had been left, then darted behind the nearest pile of rocks. I wanted to be able to hear what they said. I crouched down and flattened myself against the warm red stone, heart pounding like a drum, and I waited for them to reach the peak.

And waited.

And waited.

That pass really is jagged, isn’t it? remarked Puck, as the sound of distant cursing reached my ears. It’s at times like this that I’m glad I don’t have feet.

I sighed and relaxed a little, leaning back against the boulder. It looked like I was going to have a long wait on my hands.

---

Sapphire stood outside Spike’s Gym and wondered how she’d been elected so quickly. It usually took at least a week for Leaders to be decided on; the League had to approve them, and the townspeople needed to all cast their vote. She frowned. She knew something about this – something that was odd about the election – but she couldn’t remember it.

“It’ll come back to me,” she decided, and went over to read the Gym sign. She was surprised to discover that Spike had chosen her real name to use, despite her hatred for it. Shrugging, she walked up the steps, ignoring the caretaker’s efforts to inveigle her into small talk, and pushed open the door.

Inside, the Gym was long, low and ankle-deep in warm, powdery sand. Sapphire looked at it with distaste, then sighed and waded in, feeling it rush into her trainers and fill them with grittiness.

“Sandy,” she said, shutting the door behind her and beginning to walk. “I hate sand.”

Sapphire could take mud, water or leaves; she’d been covered in ash and soot before, and slime, and even banana pulp – but sand was the one thing she couldn’t stand to get in her clothes. It hung around for days and turned up in her hair, in her shoes and under her nails; it got everywhere, and she hated it for it.

The room Sapphire was in was only a small part of the Gym, that much she could tell; the place was divided up by walls formed of wooden palings driven into the ground, and through a small gap in the fence she could see further rooms – and, in the distance, the flash of Spike’s dyed-crimson hair.

Sapphire took one more step, and found to her alarm that there was no more floor beneath her feet: she plummeted face-first into the sand, fell through it and landed hard on another layer of sand below.

“Whuh...?” She picked herself up slowly, and a thin stream of sand fell down on her head with a soft pitter-patter sound. Sapphire got to her feet, brushing sand from her clothes, and gave a groan of frustration. “Dear. God. So. Much. Sand.”

She shook her head vigorously, and sand flew out of her hair; she took off her hat and emptied about a pint of the fine granules onto the floor. The Swellow feather, she decided regretfully, was ruined, and she pulled it out, resolving to get a replacement at the first opportunity.

Then, reasonably clean, Sapphire began to explore this lower room, figuring out the Gym’s puzzle as she went. She always refused to read up on Gyms before challenging them; the traps installed by the Leader were supposed to be a test of the Trainer, just as the battles were a test of the Pokémon. Here, it was fairly easy to see what she had to do: drop through the right concealed holes, avoiding the others, and climb the stairs to come out in different rooms. The difficulty lay in actually managing to do any of it.

Sapphire tried one set of stairs and almost immediately fell down another hole; she picked herself up and tried to think. She got a notebook and a pencil from her bag, and started trying to map the Gym, drawing in two levels and trying to figure out how the rooms and holes linked up. For a full forty minutes, she just wandered, working on her map – and after that time, she had a pretty good diagram of the building’s interior. The only thing that eluded her was the method of reaching the Leader’s podium itself, which, if her map was correct, was at the heart of the maze.

Since her map showed every sand-pit and staircase that she had found so far, Sapphire was pretty sure she must have missed a hole somewhere, and spent a further twenty minutes pacing over the surface of every room in the Gym, trying to find another concealed hole. She found two, but they led into rooms she’d been in before, and didn’t help.

Sapphire stopped on the lower floor, the one with the stairs, and rubbed her head, doing her best to ignore the gritty crunch of the sand against her skin. She was missing something. There had to be something obvious that she wasn’t seeing. She sat down to think – and the floor gave way beneath her, the soft sand swallowing her up like the gelatinous flank of a Muk. She experienced a brief second of flight and then – whumph! She landed flat on her back, on an even lower floor that she had never even suspected the existence of.

“This is worse than that Corsola hunt Dad dragged me along to,” Sapphire murmured to herself, watching sand drift down in loose coils from the ceiling to her chest. She staggered upright, made a futile attack on her new, grainy outer shell and set off to see where this floor led, adding it to her map as she went.

Five minutes later, Sapphire emerged from the subterranean depths of the Gym’s lower floors and stepped up onto the Leader’s podium. At her approach, a girl with bright crimson hair stood up and turned to face her, whereupon Sapphire noted with some surprise that it wasn’t Spike at all.

This girl wore her hair in a similar style to Spike’s, and she was the same age, but she had no piercings, and was dressed in a plain, faded red T-shirt and normal, undamaged jeans. That, Sapphire thought, would be why the sign said ‘Flannery’ – Spike hadn’t made Leader, and someone else had been elected in her place.

“Oh!” said Sapphire. “Er – sorry. I was expecting someone else.”

The girl raised an eyebrow.

“Who else would you be expecting?” she asked. She was well-spoken, unlike Spike – but the voice was undeniably the same. “It’s me, Sapphire.”

Sapphire stared.

“What?” she asked. “That... you’ve had a major style change.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Spike opened a large chest behind her; Sapphire could see it was filled with a multitude of Poké Balls, in all colours and sizes. “How strong are you?”

“Um... mid to late twenties,” Sapphire told her, thrown by the curt response. “Two Pokémon.”

She wasn’t going to use Stacey or the Sableye; both were far too mentally disturbed to be of any real help in battle.

“Fine.” Spike withdrew two balls from the chest and shut the lid. Sapphire noted that her knuckles were white against her skin; it was obvious now that something was up with her. “You’re my first challenger,” she admitted. “I shall make this a victory to remember.”

With that, she tossed down her first ball, and a small, round creature in shades of pastel yellow appeared, blinking confused eyes and smoking gently from an aperture in its back. This was a Numel – and one day, if trained enough, it would become a Camerupt such as the one Tabitha had used at Meteor Falls.

Sapphire responded with Toro; the Combusken seemed fully recovered from her fright at the helicopter, bouncing from foot to foot like a professional boxer.

“Cheee,” she chirruped pugnaciously, making fists of her clawed hands. “Cheee.”

“Double Kick,” Sapphire ordered, and Toro lunged forwards, legs whipping forwards into a blur of feathers—

—but she missed completely, the Numel dissolving in a flash of light beneath her feet. She landed heavily on her side, but sprang back up nevertheless, looking around alertly for her opponent.

Spike threw down another ball, and, of all things, a large, fat candle burst forth from it, sitting completely motionless in the middle of the podium. The only sign that it wasn’t anything but an ordinary candle was the large purple flame that burned at the end of its wick.

Toro looked at the candle. Sapphire looked at the candle. Then they both looked at each other.

“I’ll let you make the first move here,” Spike said. “Go on.”

“Double Kick,” Sapphire said, and obediently Toro tried again; however, she passed straight through the candle as if it weren’t there, and crashed into the wall beyond. There was a crack, and for a heart-stopping moment Sapphire thought Toro had broken her leg – but it was just the wood splintering beneath the attack.

Sapphire started and cried out; the candle was a Ghost? Almost as soon as she thought it, she wanted to kick herself: the purple flame was the giveaway. Only Ghosts could make fire like that. And most Ghosts could also learn—

“Pallas, Psychic,” ordered Spike, and, though the candle didn’t move, Toro emitted a piercing cry before toppling over, blood pouring from her ears. Her whole body went limp at once, and she crumpled to the floor like a paper bag.

Sapphire swore under her breath and recalled Toro, sending out Rono in her place. The Lairon roared, happy to be of use, looked around for an opponent, and dropped a small boulder on the spectral candle. Where the stone for the Rock Tomb came from was unknown, but Sapphire never questioned it.

The attack had the desired effect: made of wax and evil, the candle stood no chance, and was squashed flat. Rono bellowed happily, but Sapphire was still tense: she already knew that Spike’s other Pokémon was a Numel, and if it managed to get Rono with a Ground-type move, the battle would basically be over – especially if that move was Earth Power, and it would make perfect sense if it was.

The Numel appeared, and Sapphire’s voice rang out concurrently with Spike’s:

“Rock Tomb!”

“Dig!”

The boulder crashed down, but the floor was sandy and soft, ideal for digging in, and the rocks simply made shallow craters in the dirt. All at once, the action stopped; Rono froze, trying to work out where his foe was, and Sapphire cautioned him:

“Stay still! Listen for it.”

Spike said nothing, just kept her eyes fixed on the ground.

The time stretched out; it might have been seconds, or it might have been minutes. Still, the Numel did not reappear.

Sweat trickled down Sapphire’s brow; she’d never fought anyone who had been in such total command of the battle. From the switching in of the candle-Ghost to the fear tactics induced by the Numel’s long absence, Spike’s stratagems had been perfect. What was more, she was formulating these on the spot – there was no way she could have known what Pokémon Sapphire would use against her in advance. This was what real battles were like, Sapphire thought: these were the kind of tricks the Trainers in the League Tournament used, or the Elite Four. You could tell that Spike was at their level: her skill was nothing short of masterful—

With a rush of earth, the Numel surfaced – behind Sapphire.

“Earth Power!” snapped Spike, and Rono, unable to see where the attack came from, was tossed a foot into the air by the force of the exploding ground beneath him. From nowhere, plumes of lava and dirt blasted out of the floor as if it had been laced with mines; a pained roar echoed through the room, and when Rono crashed back into the sand, his rocky underbelly had holes punched in it the size of Sapphire’s fist. He struggled once to rise – twice – and fell back against the ground, eyes glazed and breath ragged.

“Return,” said Spike, recalling her Numel. “It seems you weren’t good enough. Come back another day.”

With that, she swept away through a concealed door at the back of her room, slamming it shut behind her. Sapphire was left standing there, looking at her defeated Lairon and wondering why, throughout the whole of her time in the Gym, Spike had never once met her eye.

---

“... and all I said was, ‘I don’t tip.’”

“You don’t tip?”

The voice sounded incredulous. There were eight of them, and they had just made their way over the crest of Jagged Pass. Their conversation, though inane, was somehow compelling, and I found myself listening harder.

“No, I don’t believe in it,” said Magma No. 1.

“You don’t believe in tippin’?” asked Magma No. 2, as if trying to straighten the matter out in his head.

A third voice broke in:

“You know what those chicks make? They make nothing.”

“Don’t gimme that,” Magma No. 1 said. “If she don’t make enough money she can quit.”

Someone chuckled, and over him Magma No. 2 spoke:

“I don’t even know a damn blue who’d have the guts to say that.” He paused for a moment, presumably to wrap his brain around the concept of not tipping. “Let me just get this straight. You never tip, huh?”

“I don’t tip because society says I have to,” argued Magma No. 1. “All right, I’ll tip if someone really deserves it – if they really put forth the effort I’ll give ’em somethin’ extra – but just tipping automatically... that’s for the birds.”

Magma No. 2 laughed incredulously.

“As far as I’m concerned,” went on Magma No. 1, “they’re just doin’ their job.”

My God, Puck said, in hushed tones, they’ve learned the entire opening scene, haven’t they?

“What?” I whispered back.

Nothing. Just – oh, Kester, you’ve got so many films to see.

“Here’s the machine,” said Magma No. 1.

Oh, said Puck, disappointed, they stopped.

“Just where we left it,” said Magma No. 2.

“I don’t even see why we need to keep checkin’ on this thing anyway,” complained Magma No. 3.

“It’s the boss,” replied Magma No. 1. “You know, he’s determined this goes off without a hitch or anythin’. So we make sure nothin’ goes wrong, that this thing’s not been tampered with.”

There was the sound of shifting cloth, and a beep and a hum from the machine. I had an unpleasant thought – what if they could tell we’d messed with it?

What do you think I am, a common footpad? asked Puck haughtily. I’m a professional art thief. I cover my freakin’ tracks, man.

All right!
I thought at him. Sorry, sorry.

You damn well better be.


“Looks fine to me,” said Magma No. 3. “No one even comes up here, do they? Not with the volcano like it is.”

“I really hope it don’t erupt on Sunday,” Magma No. 2 put in. “I mean, we’ll be up here.”

“Nah, the boss has it all figured out,” Magma No. 1 said. “It’ll be fine.” There was a pause, and I guessed they were all staring worriedly at the smoking crater. “Mind you...”

“We should get outta here,” suggested Magma No. 3.

“I second that,” said Magma No. 2.

“Me too,” Magma No. 1 said. “All right, let’s get back. It’s definitely not safe here.”

The sheet was replaced with a whoosh, and I heard their footsteps retreat; peeping out from my hiding place, I saw them crunch their way down onto Jagged Pass, and I stood up with a sigh, massaging my legs – I’d been crouching for quite a long time now.

“What do you make of that?” I asked quietly.

They’ve all got great taste in films, Puck replied. Oh, you mean about the whole Magma plot thing? Yeah, I didn’t get anything about that. Except that Maxie’s pretty anxious that it goes off well, which means it’s important – which we already knew, because Zero told us.

“You’re right,” I said despondently. “We didn’t learn anything, did we?”

We sort of did, Puck said thoughtfully. I mean, think about it. Where did those Magmas come from? They sort of appeared halfway up Jagged Pass. Which would seem to suggest to me—

“A secret passageway, leading into an evil volcano lair!” I cried “Like in the movies!”

Actually, I was going to say it suggested that Team Magma use the Fiery Path to get around, Puck admitted, but your idea’s cool too. Hey, he added, shall we follow them?

I hesitated.

“Puck, that’s... really stupid. They’ll see me coming from a mile off on Jagged Path, and they’ll know I must have been on the peak at the same time as them, and even then, walking into the secret Magma lair would be really, really stupid...”

All these are valid points, Puck conceded, but I think we should follow them.

“No.”

Ah, you’re no fun.

“Whereas you seem to think life is one great big casino royale, where the stakes are death and sanity, and you gamble life and limb in the hope of winning entertainment.”

Well done, that boy! Puck cried admiringly. Casino Royale’s got to be one of the hardest ones! It’s also the last one, he added thoughtfully. Which means we need to decide a winner.

“Have you been keeping track of who got more?” I asked, hoping I would beat him.

Er... Damn it. No.

And so our Bond film referencing contest came to a singularly disappointing end, much like this chapter.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #74    
Old Posted March 28th, 2011 (01:18 PM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Thirty-Five: Blood, Sweat and Swablu

Sapphire was standing outside the Pokémon Centre, leaning against the wall and waiting for Kester. It had gone seven o’clock now, and the first hint of sunset was stealing across the evening sky.

She wasn’t at all worried about Kester’s long absence.

The lamppost across the street flickered briefly into life, decided it wasn’t necessary and turned off again. A car containing an elderly couple drove slowly past, at the pace of those who have come to the realisation that nothing in life is so important it can’t be done later, or not at all. A few Murkrow flew over the town, drawn from their lairs in the mountain forest north of the town by the prospect of the encroaching dusk. They weren’t native to this region, but Murkrow got everywhere: wherever humans went, they would follow, secure in the knowledge that there would always be something they could steal from them.

Sapphire watched all of this with half-lidded eyes; she wasn’t worried about Kester at all.

A bell struck the quarter hour in the distance. Something rustled, and a far-off car rumbled. A rolling breeze danced a playful fandango down the road, tossing a few leaves on its heels, and a large grey rat slunk out of a broken drainage grill and into a hole in someone’s garden wall.

Sapphire unfolded her arms and trailed a finger along the wall, the tip bouncing over the worn-mortar gulf between the bricks. She wasn’t concerned about where Kester might be in the slightest.

Suburbia trundled quietly into evening, its elderly inhabitants ensconcing themselves on sofas in front of televisions, or behind bingo tables in the hallowed halls of the community centres; one man walked past Sapphire on the other side of the street, a tame Ovame from Turkey trotting before him on a leash. It wasn’t common to see Pokémon from as far afield as Europe in Hoenn – but Sapphire had already seen one that came from even further today; the candle Pokémon, she had found out from Wikipedia, came from Unova.

Sapphire listened to the clopping of the Ovame’s hooves, and told herself that she wasn’t anxious about what might have happened to Kester.

A few lines of black smoke scrawled lazy loops across the sky; they had evaded the southerly wind, and somehow floated south to decorate Lavaridge’s evening. Between them and the ground, a hundred darting insects darted back and forth in a frenzy, searching for something that only they could name. Two Taillow flitted through the swarm, circled around and flew back again, scooping up bugs in their beaks and devouring them on the wing. It was the very model of a Hoennian summer’s evening.

Sapphire kicked at a stone, and it rolled across the road. Kester’s absence was not troubling her in the slightest.

The street was almost entirely deserted, and a layer of silence sat atop it like a toad crowning a lily-pad. Old people do not make much noise, and are not keen to venture abroad after dark. The only people in sight were the man with the Ovame, and the ragged, stiff-legged figure walking down Sapphire’s side of the road.

Sapphire frowned, then smiled.

“Kester!” she cried, and took three steps towards him before she caught herself and stopped. “Where have you been?” she snapped.

He did not answer, but drew closer, and she saw that his clothes, his skin and, presumably, his dignity were in tatters. His arms and face were covered in cuts, and a spectacular series of bruises covered virtually his entire body. As he moved, his lacerated skin released small quantities of blood; all in all, he looked something like a beaten-up goblin.

“I’ve been on a walk,” Kester said sourly. “You know, up a mountain covered in knives. As you do.”

Sapphire fixed him with a steady look.

“I told you I was going,” he went on, seeming not to care. “By the way, nice of you to take so much notice of the marks of my brush with death.”

“Are you OK?” asked Sapphire, somewhat alarmed. Kester was definitely out of sorts.

“Just peachy, Sapphire,” Kester replied. “The world is my oyster. Except for the fact that I just fell down the side of a mountain.” He paused thoughtfully. “You know, I’m starting to see why they call it Jagged Pass now.”

“You took the Jagged Pass... up the mountain?”

“Yep,” agreed Kester, with false cheer. “It was just great. Fantastic view.”

Sapphire stared, and then she gaped. After that, she did both at once.

“Do you have an answer?” Kester pressed her.

“Oh... My... God...” Sapphire’s voice was barely a whisper. “How are you still alive?”

“I’m not entirely certain that I am. In fact, I think this might be hell. You’re here, he’s here” – he pointed to his head – “and I’m in a town inhabited only by old people and mobsters. Next to an active volcano. Yeah, must’ve died and been reborn in the hell realm.”

“Er... I think you need to sit down,” suggested Sapphire. “You seem... tense.”

“Tense. Yeah, I’m tense. I’m very tense,” Kester muttered angrily.

“Let’s go inside, shall we?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not welcome in there,” he said. “Give me some money and let me go to a hotel. I’ll see you in the morning, if I manage to wake up again.”

Abandoning Kester in his current state didn’t seem like the wisest course of action, but Sapphire gave him twenty thousand dollars for something to eat and let him limp away, trailing a large chunk of shoe from one heel. She was all too aware that he was perfectly capable of killing her if he chose, and he was definitely angry enough that he might just have done it.

And he’s going to need new clothes again,” she murmured, shaking her head and turning back to the Pokémon Centre. “Damn, Kester. Why does nothing last with you?”

Sapphire sighed, and went back inside. She was feeling hungry, and there’d be something to eat in the canteen.

---

“How are you feeling?”

Felicity didn’t look up. She didn’t want to meet Zero’s eye. She hunched her back and curled further into a ball, arms clasped firmly around her shins.

“Are you traumatised, Felicity?”

She told herself not to answer. There was nothing she could do here except lose, or refuse to play.

“Felicity. I’ve asked you two questions. I’m afraid that if you don’t answer me, I shall have to move house.”

What sort of a threat was that, Felicity wondered. That gave her a location, though – she was in Zero’s home, probably in a basement or something.

“Naturally, I would do so after bricking up the cellar door.”

Involuntarily, Felicity’s eyes flicked upwards and alighted on Zero’s, shining out from behind his mask. He smiled.

“That’s better,” he said. “Now talk to me.”

Felicity’s mouth hurt; it felt so dry it might crack. Her tongue was fat and stiff between her teeth.

“I...”

Her lips were bleeding, but it wasn’t any sort of blood she was familiar with. It was pinkish rather than red, diluted with more water than was good for it.

“I’m scared,” Felicity managed, frankly. “What did you do to me, Zero?”

“She’s growing,” he replied, his smile unwavering. “You’ll have to hurry up. She gets stronger every day. The more you rely on her powers, the more she will consume you; the more you actively resist her, the more she is encouraged to attack. Only one of you can possess that body in the end, Felicity, and unless you help me swiftly, it will not be you.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Felicity asked in a hoarse whisper. “Why would you...?”

“Quite frankly, you are of absolutely no concern to me,” Zero replied. “In case you hadn’t yet noticed, I’m more or less entirely amoral.” His smile broadened, and he gave a soft laugh. “Ah, rest up, Felicity. I’ll be back tomorrow and you can leave again for Team Aqua.” He stood up and strode towards the door.

“I’m not going back,” she said defiantly, and Zero turned suddenly, grabbing her by the throat and pressing her back against the wall. Stars exploded before her eyes as her head cracked against the stone.

“You’ll do what you’re told,” he said simply, “or you’ll die.”

Then he was gone, and Felicity was alone once more. Except that she was never alone, because there was someone with her; someone who had been with her for a while now, who was slowly changing her into something beyond her comprehension and who was, day by day, eroding her will to live.

licityhellolicitykillyoulicitykilleatwatereatkillkillkill

Felicity shivered, and curled up again, pressing her hands over her ears and trying to block out the voices in her head.

---

Mirror in the bathroom, please don’t freak
The door is locked, just you and me...


I seriously considered the merits of putting my head through the windowpane, but decided in the end that since that would actually free Puck, it wasn’t the most desirable option.

Don’t you like that song? asked Puck. I like it.

“I don’t understand it,” I replied, rubbing my head. “You’re singing in English.”

I can do more than that.

“I don’t want to know.”

Listen to me: Is this a dagger that I see before me?
The handle toward my hand—


“Stop it.”

I’m afraid I can’t do that right now, Dave.

“If there’s anything worse than you talking in my head, it’s you talking in English in my head,” I growled. “Now shut up or get out.”

Fine, Puck said sniffily. I know when I’m not wanted.

Thankfully, it seemed he actually did for once, so I finished drying my hair and started to shave; I hadn’t done that since my weird journey with Sapphire began, and since there was a razor in the room I thought I’d better make the most of it. I was halfway done when he suddenly said:

Yo, Kester.

I jumped and opened up one of those incredibly tiny, incredibly sore cuts you get if you make a mistake while shaving. Considering all my other cuts and bruises, it was disproportionately painful.

“Puck!” I yelled, punching the wall as a substitute for his face. “Don’t do that!”

Sorry, he said sheepishly. I didn’t know that would happen.

“I’m holding a razor next to my face, what did you think would happen?”

All right, all right, Puck said. I admit it, I made a mistake. Lighten up a little.

“I’m bleeding!”

You were bleeding already. The cleaner’s going to think someone died in here.


This was true. I hadn’t moved much in my sleep since I was so tired, but I had done so enough to open up all the half-closed wounds that covered my body. Consequently, my hotel room was rather bloody at present, and the bed – well, it looked like I’d committed a violent murder there. Jagged Pass had a lot to answer for.

I pressed a finger to my cheek to try and staunch the blood flow, finished shaving and tried to get dressed one-handed. It didn’t work, and I was forced to use both hands and also bleed quite a lot.

“I have to say,” I muttered, trying to button jeans that resolutely remained unbuttoned, “I’m going to be glad to see a Full Restore.”

Yeah, agreed Puck. You really took a beating when you tripped like that.

I winced.

“Don’t remind me.”

That was the cause of all my injuries. Partway through my descent of Jagged Pass, I had stepped on a rock that ought not to have been stepped on: it had slid to one side, twisting my ankle and causing me to fall an alarming distance down the side of the mountain, rolling over the sharp stones so that nothing broke but everything bruised. It was up there with that business that occurred last year as one of my least favourite experiences of all time.

That’s it! snapped Puck. You keep referring to this ‘business that occurred last year’, in all sorts of situations, and I’m getting sick of it. What happened?

“I can’t say,” I said with a shiver, pulling the remnants of my hoodie over my head. “I swore I’d never speak of it again.”

I can look it up in your memories, warned Puck.

“Fine. Do that. But on your own head be it.”

Well, that’s ominous, said Puck cheerfully. I picked up my room key, slid it into my pocket and left to the sound of pages rustling in the distance.
Halfway down the corridor, the Rotom spoke again.

Whoa, he said. Seriously? How did that.... how could such a thing happen?

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

But seriously, Kester! Was that girl even human?

“I said I don’t want—”

And those children... I swear humans can’t do that. It doesn’t obey the laws of thermodynamics, for Terrakion’s sake!

“It was technically legal,” I said quickly.

You have laws about that kind of thing?

I decided to quit before I revealed too much, and stopped talking as I left the lobby for the bright outdoors. I looked at my watch, but it hadn’t worked since the car crash, and after being electrocuted, soaked in water and battered by razor-edged stones it was almost unrecognisable as a timepiece. I peeled the plastic strap thoughtfully from my wrist, and dropped it into the nearest bin.

You don’t need that anyway
, Puck said. I mean, it looks like it’s late morning, maybe noon-ish, right?

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Do you think Sapphire will be at the Pokémon Centre?”

Puck chuckled; it was one of those chuckles that indicates that someone knows more than they are letting on.

I bet she is, he said. I bet she is.

“What’re you talking about?” I asked, turning left and heading for the Centre.

I’m sure you’ll find out. Plot-wise, it seems the logical thing to happen.

“Whatever.” I gave up on it. “Do you think she won her Gym Battle?”

I doubt it. Wattson was crazy, and Spike’s about three million light years above him, I know it. There aren’t very many Trainers who can last more than a minute against even one of the Elite Four, from any country.

I remembered that Spike had beaten both Sidney and Phoebe – an impressive achievement, to be sure. It was very, very infrequently that anyone managed to defeat all four of them; in the last three years, only two people had managed it. From the sounds of things, Spike would probably join their ranks soon.

The Pokémon Centre was not far off, and soon hove into view, the orange-red roof vivid against the backdrop of pine trees that cloaked the lower slopes of the mountains. I walked in, doing my best to avoid being noticed by the receptionist, and glanced around the lobby in search of Sapphire. She wasn’t there, and I had to ask the woman who’d thrown me out yesterday where she was.

“She’s in the lounge,” she replied curtly, dyed-pink hair bobbing. “What happened to you?” she added, looking at my tortured body and tattered clothes.

I decided to go with the easiest explanation.

“Cut myself shaving,” I replied, and walked off to the living-room.

Sapphire was the only person there, which wasn’t surprising. She was watching the news, and I hovered in the doorway a moment, eyes on the TV.

“...in other news, the Venetian law courts have finally given their ruling on the case that has whipped the city into a frenzy,” Gabby van Horne was saying. “It was ruled that the contract was legal and binding, and the court ordered Antonio Pugliese, speculative merchant, to pay the debt owed. However, an unusual appeal was launched just this morning: the contract fails to mention blood, and the lawyer for the defence, Balthazar, has claimed that only if Shylock is capable of removing the flesh without spilling blood is he within his rights to do so...”

“Wow,” I said aloud, “international news.”

The TV clicked off; Sapphire turned around and sat up. She looked at me for a long moment, as if looking for words to use.

“You look awful,” she said at last.

I spread my arms and gave myself a once-over with my eyes.

“Yep,” I agreed. “Feel awful, too. In fact, I’m pretty generally awful right now.”

“Wait here,” said Sapphire, and left the room. I sat down on the arm of the sofa to wait, and she was back within a few minutes. “Full Restore?” she said, holding out a bottle like a waiter offering a drink.

I almost snatched it from her in my eagerness.

Please.”

I emptied it into my face and instantly felt so much better that I leaped upright and punched the air.

“Man, that’s good!”

“If you’re quite done?” Sapphire asked. I coughed, stopped dancing and turned to face her.

“Uh. Yeah. So, did you beat Spike?”

She gave me a sour look and shook her head.

What did I tell you? Puck asked smugly.

All right, I thought back, no need to gloat.

I told you she’d lose, that’s what I told you.


All right!

“She’s ridiculously good,” Sapphire said. “She surprised me with a Pokémon I’d never seen before, and even with just that and a Numel, her tactics were too good.”

Ask her what the new Pokémon was.

“Puck wants to know what the other Pokémon was.”

“A little candle thing... it was called Litwick.”

Ghost/Fire. I know those things – we have them in England. They only really live in cooler, northern climates, hence why there are a grand total of zero Litwicks in Hoenn.


“Puck says he knows all about Litwicks.”

“Really,” said Sapphire, narrowing her eyes thoughtfully, “now that might be useful. But,” she went on, “that can wait. What happened to you yesterday? When you got back you were... uncommunicative.”

“Yeah...” I recalled that exchange with a small amount of shame. “Sorry about that.” I wasn’t sure if I was actually sorry – this was Sapphire, after all – but it seemed the right thing to say.

I told her about my misadventure on Mount Chimney, and how it had been a failure. Sapphire expressed a desire to infiltrate the Magma lair, if indeed there was one; however, I dissuaded her, with more success than I’d had with Puck. She conceded that it was, upon reflection, a bad idea, and agreed with me that the only thing we could do was wait until tomorrow to see what was going on.

“So that gives me today for training,” she said. “Do you want to come with me? You can train too, if you like.”

“There’s nothing else to do in this town,” I said despondently. “Fine. Let’s do that.”

And we left the Pokémon Centre, heading for the tourist office. We needed to know how to get to the Fiery Path.

---

The time: Saturday evening, six o’clock.

The place: Genessoum Street, Fallarbor Town.

The characters: Fabien Latch, Blake Henderson, and Goishi the Golbat.
Fabien looked at Blake, and nodded. Blake looked at Fabien, and nodded. Goishi looked at both, and sighed.

They had free time, and where better to spend it than in the heart of Fallarbor itself, in a heady mix of roulette and alcohol, spinning around towards financial oblivion for one night only before waking up in a gutter smelling of rum, and staggering off back to their hotel? Fabien certainly couldn’t think of anything finer to do, and so it was that they headed straight for the casinos, Goishi in tow in case the two of them got so drunk that they had difficulty telling when they were losing.

All was set for as grand a night out as any on the moon. The only question was what would happen tomorrow, and if they’d known the answer to this question, the Magmas might well have had a quiet night in.

For by half past eight on Sunday, things would have gone wrong, and in the most hilarious of ways.

---

“Jagged Pass was jagged. Fiery Path is heated. What is it with the unimaginative names around here?”

We had gone from the tourist office to a cave in the mountainside, cloaked by the forest, making two stops on the way for my breakfast and some new clothes. I think Sapphire must have felt sorry for me, because I couldn’t imagine her ever usually doing that.

Now, here’s the thing, Puck had said as we climbed up the hill. Assuming Spike keeps her team the same, the way to beat her is with – get this – Stacey.

I’d relayed his words to Sapphire and she had grimaced.

“I thought it might come to this,” she’d said, resigned. “I need to evolve her, yes?”

Right on, She-Trainer
, was Puck’s slightly odd reply. She’ll become a Dragon, so she’ll resist Fire; as a Flying-type, she’s also immune to Ground. You win all round.

So, with Stacey fluttering along beside us, doing her best to convince us that she was a human by cheeping loudly whenever anyone said anything, we came to the Fiery Path.

It certainly lived up to its name: we had scarcely been in five minutes when Sapphire had shed her coat and I my hoodie. We were close to the boiling heart of the volcano, and from what I could see I believed it was still beating. The rocky walls were completely dry, and occasional puffs of steam rose from cracks in the floor. At one point on our way in, we’d passed a place where the tunnel wall was gone on the left, and a river of lava flowed in its place. I had never seen anything so awe-inspiringly dangerous, nor felt anything as hot; we moved past quickly, for fear of boiling.

“There are more Pokémon the further in you go,” Sapphire said. “Or at least, that’s what that Hinzelmann guy said.” She shivered despite the heat. “He was strange, wasn’t he?”

“Very,” I said.

Inordinately, added Puck.

You’re one to talk, I thought back, but he didn’t deign to reply.

“Stop,” said Sapphire, putting a hand on my stomach and pushing me back a step. Stacey fluttered on forwards, so Sapphire grabbed her tail and yanked her back again. “When I say stop,” she muttered at the little bird dangling from her fist, “I mean stop. Understand?”

Stacey gave a faint-hearted chirrup, and Sapphire put her on her shoulder. This was un-humanlike, so Stacey flew down to the floor and stood next to us on the warm rock.

“What is it?” I asked Sapphire. She nodded ahead.

“Take a look.”

I did, and saw nothing; then I looked again, and saw a short blue creature, roughly the size and shape of a small child, hiding behind a boulder and watching us warily.

“That’s a—”

“Machop, yes.” Sapphire nudged Stacey forwards with one foot. “Go on. Kill it.”

I looked at her.

“Don’t you need to give more specific commands than that?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed,” Sapphire replied, “Stacey doesn’t respond to specific commands. Unless you promise her magic potions that’ll turn her into a human.”

There was a brief swish, and we glanced forwards again to see Stacey standing over the broken, bleeding body of the Machop. Following this was the most stunned silence I’d ever taken part in.

At last, I dared to speak:

“Is – is it really dead?”

Sapphire walked up to the Machop, and poked it with one foot. It did not move. Stacey lifted her bloodstained beak and chirruped happily.

“I didn’t think she’d do that,” Sapphire said slowly. “My God.”

“So... it is dead, then?”

“No, just horribly injured,” Sapphire replied, picking up Stacey and turning around. “She’s just a Swablu. They can’t actually kill things.”

Looking at Stacey’s blood-spattered face, I had my own thoughts on the matter, but kept them to myself.

Swablu do evolve to Altaria, said Puck darkly. They kill things. They kill and kill and kill until there’s nothing left. And then they kill each other. And when they’ve killed each other, they kill themselves. And after that... they don’t do anything. They’re dead. All of them.

Slowly but firmly, I whacked my head against the wall.

“Please,” I said, “never, ever speak to me again.”

OK! Oh wait, too late. Never mind. Next time, hey?

It looked set to be a long, long day.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #75    
Old Posted March 28th, 2011 (01:45 PM).
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Echidna
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Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Vaniville Town
Age: 20
Gender: Male
Nature: Brave
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cutlerine View Post
“I’m here,” he announced, though his size rendered this statement somewhat unnecessary.
AHAHAHAHAHAHA
man you're great, that line just made my day... HAHAHA !!!!
This story's unique sense of comedy is awesome, aspecially with puck, a little with kester, and a lot with the magma and aqua duos... hahaha
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