View Full Version : Choice and Consequence

July 6th, 2005, 6:51 PM
Okies, finally finished editing the first chappie... this fic is PG-13, for violence, swearing, and reference to drug-like substances.

Now, highly recommend you read my other fic, Heart of the Magma (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=41159), beforehand. Not required, but things would make a helluva lot more sense.

Also this first chappie is in two posts... <_< I set my limits according to the post limit on SPPf, which is larger than it is here. Ah well, what can ya do?

'Nways. Comments appreciated - posting here is the final step before posting on ff.net, and I want to catch all the mistakes before I do :P

~ I ~


The streets of Alto Mare were quiet, darkness hanging over the city like a thin layer of fog. Moonlight glinted off the graceful steel curves of the citys various window frames and railings, their reflection rippling in the black canal water. Comfortably slumbering within their homes, the inhabitants of Alto Mare were unaware of the two shadows which flashed over the rooftops on silent feet, mirrored only in the water below.

Stealthily Keegan jumped from one rooftop to the next, crouching cautiously and looking around to make sure her presence had gone unnoticed. Like a shade, her eevee Hazel appeared at her side, her fluffy tail twitching with tension. Throwing a quick, slightly forced grin at the pokmon, Keegan lay on her stomach over the edge and rapped lightly on the glass pane of balcony door below.

Ross! She hissed. Something inside the room rustled and Keegan heard the sound of someone fumbling for the lamp nearby before light flashed on inside the room. She saw Ross rubbing his eyes sleepily, sitting up in his quilted bed, the white stripes on his otherwise blue shirt looking orange in the dim glow. Blinking, he slipped out from under the covers and padded across the wooden floor, running a hand through his sleep-tousled brown hair.

Keegan? He threw open the window, almost hitting Keegan in the face, and winced at her expression. They said no, huh?

Good guess, Keegan retorted, her voice unintentionally angry. Her cheeks were beginning to look flushed from hanging upside-down and her blonde hair glinted in the light from Rosss room. Listen, can we talk?

Sure, Ross yawned. It looked to be a nice night at sunset.

I didnt see, Keegan admitted reluctantly. Usually all she looked at was the night sky unless she was too angry at her foster parents to notice. She swung back up to the tiled roof as Ross clambered onto the balustrade of his balcony and hoisted himself up onto the edge to sit with his legs hanging down. Keegan brushed her hair out of her eyes and smiled gratefully, the faint burn scars on her arm looking shiny in the dim light. Sorry for waking you, she apologised, settling down beside him with her legs crossed.

Ross just waved a hand and smiled good-naturedly, the slight breeze tugging at his hair and clothes. Its no problem, He assured her, and chuckled. I should be used to this by now. He gave her a quick squeeze around the shoulders and leaned back on his hands as Hazel crawled onto Keegans knees, a bundle of warmth compared to the chill night. So whats up?

Keegan stroked Hazels fur absently, taking comfort in her pokmons presence as the eevee yawned and snuggled into Keegans lap soothingly. Its not fair, she said, her tone frustrated beyond words. Its like my foster parents are trying to stop me from having a life. I mean, this is Alto Mare, for Gods sake, but they wont even let me participate in the water chariot races!

You know theyre only trying to protect you, Ross pointed out mildly, gazing up at the stars winking down from the heavens. There was a multitude up there, the only witnesses to Keegans nightly rooftop walks.

Then theyre screwing up, Keegan retorted viciously, glaring down at the water of the canal below where Rosss boat bobbed gently. Hazels ears twitched and she looked at Keegan mournfully upon hearing her tone of voice. Because theyre going too far. Theres a difference between protecting and coddling, and they crossed the line years ago.

Yeah, Ross agreed sympathetically. But when Pete and Simon found you, you were half dead. Ever since then you cant stand the open sea or being under water. I guess they cant see the difference between that and surfing.

Surfing I can control, Keegan grumbled. Out in the ocean youre at the mercy of the waves and underwater you cant breathe. Thats the difference; how is that difficult to understand? She plucked at her fire stone pendant with her spare hand broodingly. It flashed in the dim light emitting from Rosss window and Hazel licked Keegans hand sympathetically. But its not just the chariot races, Keegan continued angrily, squeezing the pendant so the chain dug into the palm of her hand. Its like they think Ill break apart if anything bad happens to me. I dont even remember what happened that night, why do they assume I cant handle the bad stuff?

Ross shook his head, regarding his frustrated friend with a slightly sorrowful look. He didnt want Keegan to be hurt as much as her foster parents, but he was closer to her in age and knew when to let well enough alone. But theyre good people. Sometimes I get the feeling she wants to do more and more dangerous things just because theyre trying to stop her. Instead of speaking the words which leapt to his lips, he said something else.

You know what I dont get? Interested, Keegan looked up to find him studying the sky and followed his gaze. The wind whispered past, making goosebumps rise on her bare arms. You come out onto the rooftops every night, which some people would say is practically trespassing, and your parents would definitely disapprove.

Keegan snorted a little derisively. Of course they would. I could fall off, I could get hurt, I could come across a real criminal and it breeds mischief.

All valid points, you know. Was Rosss immediate thought, but he squashed it. He wanted to give Keegan his support, not more doubts. If she felt he was the only one to whom she could rant, how could he estrange her by seeming to take her foster parents side? ****, but theyre gonna hate me for saying this Ross turned and shot a slightly forced grin at her. So why havent you just entered the chariot races, with or without their permission?

Keegan blinked and remained silent, thinking about the answer. Because thats crossing some major lines, she said at last. They dont know about what I do at night, so we cant argue about it but if I entered a race, then theyre sure to see it.

So? Ross shrugged, his next words honest. Youre eighteen. Thats old enough to make those kinds of decisions in my book. If only you would listen to them once in a while

Hazel put her paw in Keegans hand and the girl looked down at her. Bui, Hazel mewed encouragingly.

Keegan chewed the inside of her cheek and gazed up at the stars thoughtfully. She remembered the fight shed had with Miriam and Peter, her foster parents, mere hours ago, and again felt the anger rise. Ross and Haze are right, she thought to herself, her jaw clenching with determination. I should be able to choose for myself. I should be able to choose if I want to enter the race, and I should be able to choose if I want to leave Alto Mare. Then she remembered something and groaned, the excitement which had been building vanishing in an instant.

Its tomorrow, she said dispiritedly. And because its not the open chariot race, theres no more time to enter.

Ross laughed, covering up a twinge of guilt. Hey, no sweat. You can take my place. I just hope none of you overreact maybe itll end up with a fight. Maybe youll start listening to each other. Discreetly he crossed his fingers, praying for the latter.

Serious? Keegan exclaimed, her blue eyes suddenly blazing with anticipation.

Sure, Ross shrugged. I can redeem my loss next year. He grinned truthfully this time. I just have to hope Mistys not there.

Keegan laughed and threw her arms around him, disturbing Hazel. Fondly miffed, the pokmon scrambled out of Keegans lap and instead curled up beside her. Thanks a ton, Ross, Keegan hugged him fiercely. Ross just chuckled and put his arm around her shoulders while she twined the fingers of her spare hand into Hazels fur. The three of them looked up at the stars visible over the line of the buildings, listening to the lap of canal water against the curb long into the night.

The next morning Keegan hardly noticed her lack of sleep; she was too charged up, knowing she was about to participate in the water chariot race for Alto Mare citizens only. The fact that it was a secret from her parents just made the tension worse she had to pretend she was still angry when really she wanted to jump for joy. Although she was directly disobeying them, the freedom of knowing she had made her decision was intoxicating.

She deliberately wore her denim shorts and her cut-off, sleeveless top. It could be cold, but at least her customary jeans wouldnt weight her down. Okay, Firefoot, today is gonna be different, Keegan sat cross-legged on the wooden floor of her room, stroking Firefoots orange pelt. The growlithe pup gnawed playfully at her hand, making small growling noises in the back of his throat as his shaggy orange paws danced over the wooden floor. He wasnt as good at climbing as Hazel or Keegan and so had to remain behind during the night.

Keegan grinned and tousled the white tuft of fur on the top of his head. Were gonna go to the library like usual, she told him, lowering her voice so Peter or Miriam couldnt hear. But well sneak out the back window first chance we get. Im gonna enter the water chariot race, Firefoot.

Graawlth! Firefoot barked, cocking his head and wagging his thick, fluffy white tail furiously.

Keegan chuckled. So I guess its okay if I leave you and Hazel with Ross on the sidelines, right? She glanced up at Hazel, lying on Keegans bed and chewing on her white-tipped tail.

Eebui, Hazel mewed, her brown eyes sparkling with her own excitement and not a little bit of pride that Keegan was finally making her own choice.

Keegan! Miriam called from down below. Were leaving for the library soon!

Alright! Keegan yelled back, tugging on her running shoes. Hazel jumped off the bed, leaving behind an imprint and moulted fur on the quilt, and shook herself. Cmon, Keegan gestured to her pokmon, unable to resist a grin as she trudged downstairs. Firefoot followed closely, his wet nose occasionally bumping the backs of her legs, while Hazel squeezed past to lead.

While they walked to the library, Keegan barely listened to Miriam as the plump, good-natured woman chattered on. Her gaze was set absently on the cobblestone path in front of her and her mind dwelled on the race she was to run. Hazel and Firefoot bounded ahead of them, darting and playing blithely, dodging the other citizens of Alto Mare who were enjoying the early morning.

When they reached the library, Keegan was beginning to feel nervous, because she had to get away in time to reach the canal where the race was to begin. But that day luck was with her, for Miriam left her in the back room with orders to unpack the books stored in boxes while she herself went into the main area to watch over the looming shelves.

With a deep breath Keegan set to her task. Switching on the television to make some noise, she worked in the light of the round window overhead, illuminating the otherwise darkened room. Firefoot, nosing around a pile of books in the corner, squeezed past the perilous stack. Hazel, however, jumped nimbly onto the round table where Keegan worked to settle down and watch her trainer.

The next thing Keegan heard was a creak and she turned around just in time to see the tall, unsteady pile of books tumble down around Firefoot, making dust billow. Firefoot, sitting back on his haunches among the books with a look of utmost surprise, sneezed and shook his head, blinking owlishly. Keegan giggled, stepping carefully through the mess of books and removing a loose page which had floated down to land on Firefoots head.

Bui, Hazel sighed in a long-suffering manner, rolling her eyes skyward and licking her paw delicately.

Keegan began stacking the books carefully, checking the time, as Firefoot watched. The fine dust settled about him turned his black stripes grey and made Keegans eyes water annoyingly.

Oh, I cant take this anymore, The girl groaned finally, grabbing Firefoot around the belly and lifting him up onto the top of the bookcase in front of the window. The growlithe, moving carefully against the slight rocking of the shelves, put his paws on the round windowsill and nosed open the latch. The window swung open as Keegan lifted Hazel up to the top and Firefoot bounded through, onto the slight ledge outside.

Within seconds, all three had escaped the stuffy office. Keegan pulled the window closed behind her and clambered down, catching each of her pokmon as they jumped from the ledge. Okay, lets hurry, Keegan urged, checking the clock just visible through the glass for the umpteenth time, and the trio hurried off.

Behind them, the television blared to an empty room.

Ross scanned the multi-coloured crowd anxiously, searching for Keegan. I hope she didnt get caught. I hope nothings happened. I wish she didnt have to sneak away at all in the canal beside him, his wailmer tugged impatiently at the leash, almost pulling him into the rippling water. Most of the other contestants were already at the starting line, waiting for the race to begin.

Finally Firefoot bounded out of the crowd, tongue lolling happily. Hazel squeezed her way past two legs and Keegan pushed through the crowd, tugging off her shoes almost as soon as shed reached a relieved Ross.

Good luck, he murmured, handing her the leash. Maybe this will prove to Miriam and Pete that they dont need to worry I just hope you dont forget why theyre so strict. He thought inwardly, his soft eyes regarding Keegan with unseen seriousness.

Thanks, Im gonna need it, Keegan answered with a nervous laugh, stepping uncertainly onto the slick, streamlined chariot. She almost tipped over right there and then as the chariot rocked, making the water splash over the curb and drenching Firefoot and Hazel, but after a moment she regained her balance and Wailmer motored its way to the starting line.

Keegan found herself staring into the clear water. She could almost see the bottom, fragmented and distorted by the waves, and shivered. Falling in wasnt going to be fun but she wasnt intending to fall in. She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. When she looked again at the glittering water track in front of her, her blue eyes were determined. Water, yes. Im not under it, so it doesnt matter.

Okay, Wailmer, ready to show em what weve got? she said to the round, rubbery blue pokmon. It nodded, making waves rock nearby chariots, and Keegan found herself grinning. Who cares if we win? She thought silently to herself, enjoying the bob of the chariot. Im on the water, Im about to go fast and Im sticking to my decision for once. What does it matter if we win or not?

She cast a quick glance to the side, fleetingly touching her pendant for good luck, and Ross gave her a thumbs up sign; then she heard the xatu crow. Wailmer surged forward, already speeding through the water and throwing up two curtains of foam on either side of Keegans chariot.

Blonde hair lashing in the wind, Keegan leaned back on the leash the way Ross had taught her during one of the memorable nightly excursions. Someone cut in front of them, spraying Keegan with water, and Wailmer cut their speed abruptly to avoid the collision as Keegans spare arm windmilled frantically. Oh God, dont fall in! With a jerk the whale pokmon rushed forwards, dodging a spiky, scaled seadra to dart around the corner, hauling the chariot behind him as it skidded on the surface of the track against the force of its momentum.

Her heart pounding, Keegan caught her breath and her balance as they streaked towards the man in the lead, the walls and canals of Alto Mare blurring past her in a rush of exhilarating wind.

Back at the library, Miriam lifted the pile of old books she had just sorted from the shelves, heading to the back office where shed ask Keegan to pack them away into a box for shipping to the library on the mainland. The salty water around Alto Mare made it difficult to maintain the library properly, so the oldest and most precious of books were kept elsewhere.

As she came to the door, Miriam heard the sound of the television and smiled. Of course Keegan would want to watch Ross in the water chariot race. Using her elbow, Miriam levered the door open and was greeted by an empty room. Shocked, she blinked, setting the books down on the table and looking around.

And newcomer Keegan just taken the lead with former champion Rosss wailmer, but Marlin and his golduck arent gonna let the race go that easily, as he tails her close behind

Miriam whirled about to stare at the screen incredulously, sure shed heard wrong. But no, there was Keegan, balanced perilously on a speeding, streamlined chariot with her rival pulling up beside her. Miriams heart leapt to clog her throat as the water shifted, throwing the chariots together. The plump woman let out an involuntary cry of distress, clutching herself fearfully as they scraped each other, the announcers voice merely noise in the background. Keegans chariot rocked wildly, almost sending her plummeting into the water. Dont let her fall, dont let her fall, dont let her fall! Marlin leaned away, narrowly avoiding a second, more serious collision as the foamy plumes sprayed up around them, and Miriam let out a breath she didnt know shed been holding.

She could have gotten herself hurt! Miriam thought tearfully, covering her eyes with frustrated apprehension. I dont care how old she is, she acts like an irresponsible child! Thats half the reason were so strict with her, doesnt she realize that? How could Ross have let her enter she shuddered. Without looking again at the screen Miriam hurried out of the office, her adrenaline-weak legs fuelled by worried anger.

Back at the race Keegan swerved around the last, sharp corner, the chariot wobbling dangerously. The side scraped the brick wall and Keegan winced, her cheeks flushed with windburn and her fringe threatening to lash in her eyes. Not far ahead, Marlin was speeding towards the finish line.

Lets go! Keegan urged Wailmer. With a deep rumble, Wailmer picked up the pace. His watery backlash made Keegans chariot veer from side to side but she had a firm grasp of its capabilities now and balanced skilfully against its roll as they drew abreast of Marlin. He glanced over at her and found the time to grin at her under his beard. Catching Keegans gaze, she grinned back as Wailmer slowly pulled in front, the water around them and the rainbow coloured audience ranged on the streets a mere blur.

The next thing Keegan knew, the finishing banner had flashed overhead and Wailmer came to a halt, slinging the chariot around as Keegan struggled to maintain her balance. Her adrenaline-weak legs collapsed on her, sending her careening into the clear, lapping water. Her shoulder jarred the chariot, making her hand tingle numbly as water closed over her head with a shocking of gasping panic. Nonono, God this was supposed to be fun! Terrified, choking on water, she scrambled for the surface as Wailmer came up beneath her, lifting her on its rubbery blue back to safety.

Trembling and weak with relief and exhaustion, Keegan coughed and took in a gulp of blessed air to calm her pounding heart, sitting with her legs sprawled on Wailmers back as she brushed her wet hair from her eyes with a shaky hand. She suddenly became aware of the shouts and calls coming from the sidelines and looked up to see Marlin give her a fleeting salute, which she returned with a weak, slightly forced smile. She glanced over to the side to see a worried-looking Ross, prepared to jump in the canal for rescue her. She threw him an unsteady grin and a thumbs-up. Relieved, Ross settled for waving his hands with reproachful elation as Firefoot jumped about excitedly, accidentally knocking Hazel into the water. Drenched, looking remarkably like a wet rattata, Hazel scrambled out of the water and glared at Firefoot, long fur dripping.

And then it finally began to dawn on Keegan, something completely unexpected: shed won.

The medallion flashed in the light of the day, the path barely visible through the rippling, tinted glass. Keegan studied it, rocking it back and forth and admiring the way the sun brought out the different hues.

Ross chuckled, poling his boat along the canal beside her. Youve seen that thing a million times, you know, he reminded her.

Keegan grinned. Yeah, but thats always after youve won it. She rubbed her hand proudly over the raised glass outlines of Latios and Latias circling the Soul Dew, unaware of the troubled look which passed over Ross face.

She didnt learn anything, he thought with the chill of sorrow. She got dunked in and she didnt even realize why Miriam and Petes fears might be justified. He shuddered, remembering the look of terror on her face as Wailmer lifted her through the thin, crystalline sheet of the surface; the look which no one else had seemed to notice.

Firefoot jumped up onto his hind legs, forepaws stabbing in the air as he struggled to see the medallion, so Keegan lowered the medallion to let the growlithe pup take a look. Up ahead, Hazel stopped in her tracks with a gasp, then darted back and hid behind Keegans legs. Keegan giggled elatedly, too much on a high to realize something dire might have happened. Whats the matter, Haze?

Grawlth, grrra, Firefoot backed away slowly, nervously. Keegan finally looked up to see Miriam bearing down on them with hard steps, her brown curls accenting her furious scowl. She didnt see the worry buried deep in her foster mothers brown eyes.

Uh oh, Keegan went pale, having completely forgotten about the consequences of entering the race. Listen, Ross, I Ill see you later, okay? No point in her getting angry at the both of us.

Ross nodded, leaning on his pole and staring at Miriam between the long fringes framing his face. Yeah, sure He felt a pang, knowing that the upcoming argument was his fault. Im the one who let her enter, I was just hoping that maybe without finishing his thought or figuring out exactly what hed been hoping he pushed off the curb, turning down a thin canal, and waved after him. Keegan raised a hand in answer, then glanced down at the medallion.

Once again she rubbed her thumb over the raised glass, her eyes darkening. It was worth it, she thought defiantly, and raised her chin to face her foster mother.

What were you thinking?! Miriam shrieked in her shrill voice once Keegan was in hearing range.

<<Shes not happy>> Firefoots ears went down and he slunk behind Keegans legs to look at Hazel. His head lowered near the ground and his mournful eyes darted back to Miriam, his fluffy tail twitching.

Hazel rolled her eyes apprehensively in his direction, ears flickering. <<You think?>> she answered, her tone heavy with sarcasm as she rubbed her furry head against Keegans legs comfortingly. Oh Latias, when will this conflict end? She thought sadly, regarding Miriams round, red face.

I was thinking about having fun, Keegan snapped back to her foster mother heatedly, only half aware of the exchange which had gone on beneath her. Miriam grabbed her hand and began dragging her back home, while Hazel and Firefoot exchanged a worried glance and trailed after.

Theres a reason your father and I stopped you from entering those races! Miriam said angrily between breaths, yanking Keegan under a bridge down one alley and then another. It was as much for punishment as for safety, didnt you see that?

Keegan tried to tug her hand away, but for a plump woman Miriam was amazingly strong. Petes not my father! the girl retorted, her tone just as angry as Miriams. Her spare hand was clenched around the medallion, the metal edges digging into her palm and the chain trailing behind her. And youre not my mother! You have no right to tell me what to do! Miriams stride faltered and she gave Keegan a stricken look, stopping in the sheltered alley. Keegan wrenched her hand out of Miriams grasp, massaging her fingers, and ignored Miriams hurt eyes as Hazel and Firefoot crowded supportively at her legs.

She doesnt think of us as her parents? Miriam swallowed through the hurt lump in her throat and took a deep breath. Weve been your only family for eight years, Keegan, she began, her tone thick with forced calm. Keegan scowled into the ground, trying to fight off the feelings of guilt which were warring with her anger. There was already a lump in her throat and her eyes began to shine with unshed tears; she hated arguing. I would have thought that meant something to you. Miriams voice was unintentionally accusing.

Keegan gritted her teeth, looking away. How dare she use guilt on me like that! She raged inwardly, angry enough to say something shed regret forever. Well, it doesnt! she choked. All youve done is hold me back! You wont even let me compete in harmless chariot races! You wont even let me leave Alto Mare! she gestured wildly with the hand clutching the medallion, looking up finally to meet Miriams shocked eyes.

Keegan took a deep breath, tears spilling down her cheeks. All I want to do is make my own decisions, she continued stubbornly. I want to be able to decide what I do and where I go, but you wont even let me do that!

And until you learn to look at life seriously, I wont! Miriam snapped, finally finding her voice. I cant! You might get hurt, you might accidentally hurt other people! So far all you care about is having some fun and getting up to mischief! Id thought that reading about Lance the dragon master and the other Elites might make you realize just how dangerous it is out there, but so far it doesnt seem to have worked! Keegan flushed and Miriam continued relentlessly, brushing her curls behind her ear as she tried passionately to make her stubborn foster daughter see, make her understand You of all people should know how dangerous the world is, Keegan. Its because of those dangers that we came to call you our daughter.

Its because of those dangers that youve chained me here to Alto Mare! Keegan retorted in a trembling voice, her cheeks still pink under the tear tracks. Youre afraid Ill break apart or Ill get hurt, but you dont know that at all! How am I meant to prove myself if you wont let me shoulder any responsibility? Facing danger is just part of that!

Facing danger is being stupid, Miriam countered angrily. You dont go looking for danger, you have to take it as it comes.

I cant take it as it comes if I cant live my own life! Keegan shouted, her voice shaking dangerously. I dont even know what I want to do with myself, because this city is all I remember! she gestured around at the shadowed, ivy-swathed brick walls. I dont even know where where I got this, she tugged at her pendant vehemently, her wet eyes boring furiously into Miriams face. When am I going to find out who I am, what Im meant to do?

When you finally realize that life isnt all fun and games, Miriam answered heatedly. The people here in Alto Mare know that better than anyone the sea is dangerous, you have to take it seriously! Its not a game! No matter where you go and what you do, there are always rules to follow but you seem to dedicate yourself to breaking them! Until you learn a little responsibility and respect, youre not ready to go out into the world.

Wha how dare you decide that for me! Keegans fists were clenched, and she was shaking and crying with fury.

Miriam sighed, her frustration draining out of her like a sieve. Come on home, little fox, she held out a hand, her tone as gentle as she could make it. Please, please come home. Im only trying to protect you.

Dont call me that! Keegan screamed, covering her ears childishly, and Miriam flinched with a jolt. You cant! Youre not allowed! With a ragged, choked sob, she dodged down the alley, shoes pounding the stones.

Grawlth! Firefoot barked, darting after her. Hazel paused and looked up at Miriam with sad, accusing eyes; then she bounded after Keegan and Firefoot. Shocked, angry and guilty, Miriam watched them vanish around the next corner.

July 6th, 2005, 6:52 PM
Keegan trudged down the path, wet eyes staring dully at the cobblestones before her. Hazel backed away in front of her, cocking her head to gaze at Keegans tear-stained face. Firefoots own stride reflected Keegans depression. He walked so close behind her his nose occasionally bumped the backs of her legs, as was his wont.

The usually slate-grey streets now looked golden in the late afternoon sun that flashed from across the ocean and most people had retreated into their homes to enjoy a clear, brisk evening. But not Keegan.

The breeze gusted through the lanes and canals of Alto Mare, making the water lap against the curb. It wrapped around Keegan and she shivered, suddenly coming out of her reverie to realize the day was cooling and she was still only wearing her denim shorts hardly enough to keep her warm.

But she kept walking. Walking was the only way she had to exercise her frustration; and though her stomach rumbled with hunger and her limbs with weary with lack of energy, she felt she couldnt stop.

The wind tugged insistently at her hair, drawing her ponytail over her shoulder and playing with it, shaking it in her eyes. Idly, Keegan brushed it out of her face and behind her ears, but it tangled annoyingly around her hand. Hazel tripped over a loose stone and tumbled backwards, her fur fluttering in the playful fingers of the breeze.

Suddenly Keegan realized she had reached the edge of Alto Mare and gazed out over the gold and orange lit ocean. The horizon was dyed with purple and red, the clouds etched over the sun dimming its bright glow. Keegans jaw clenched momentarily and she glared out at the sea. The snowy-white wingull cawed, darting and diving in the final hour or so of daylight. Look at them, Keegan said enviously, feeling wrung out and emotionally exhausted. Theyre free. As she watched, a mantine broke the surface of the glittering water, rising in a graceful arc before vanishing back beneath the crystalline ocean with hardly a splash.

Bubui, Hazel mewed sympathetically.

Gawlth, Firefoot whined, and sat at Keegans feet, his orange-and-black fur blazing in the setting sun.

Theres no way, Keegan said bitterly, eyes following the wingull. They can go where they want, when they want. Like Lance and the Elites, she added broodingly. Sure, they have responsibilities, but they chose to take on those responsibilities. I bet you if Lance were in my position he wouldnt take all this guff. Hed go out and do what he thought was right, no matter what anyone said.

Graaw, Firefoot cocked his head, soft puppy eyes looking up at Keegan.

Keegan sighed, depressed, and realized she still held the medallion. She lifted it, examining it in the golden light. Distantly, from the last house, she heard the sound of radio music, and tilted her head to listen.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance;
Never settle for the path of least resistance.
Living might mean taking chances, but theyre worth taking

Keegans heart skipped a beat; it was as though the radio echoed her frustration. Miriam and Peter just didnt seem to understand that sometimes, to find your dream, you had to take risks. They truly were afraid of those mountains

If I stay here, she thought to herself, would I be bowing to Miriam just to avoid a fight? Just to avoid hurting her? She tuned in to the song again, idly wondering what other advice it could give her.

Dont let some hell bent heart leave you bitter;
When you come close to selling out, reconsider.
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance

Spellbound, Keegans gaze was drawn inexorably to the uppermost stars beginning to wink in the slowly darkening sky, and remembered telling Ross the night before that shed been too angry at her foster parents to notice them. She spent too much time being bitter to see the beauty around her

tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
Where those years have gone?

I dont! Keegan felt like shouting, but the lump in her throat stopped her from speaking. The next words she heard with a great deal of irony.

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

No trouble there. She thought with a sigh, her brow wrinkling forward as she stared at the lapping waves.

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens

If I left now, one door would close Keegan thought almost wonderingly. But how many would open for me?

Promise me that youll give faith a fighting chance

I will.

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance...

Keegan lifted the medallion, tilting it from side to side. In the dying light of the sun and with the rippling ocean behind it, it almost looked at though Latios and Latias were doing just that: dancing. Free.

I pray youre dancing
I pray youre dancing
I hope you dance.

For the first time in what seemed like years Keegan took a deep breath, suddenly realizing that her cheeks were once again damp. Though she still felt exhausted, it was a weariness that shed never felt before; not angry or tense, but peaceful.

You know what? she said at last, to her pokmon.

Eeeii, Hazel purred, her voice vibrating. She felt the sudden change in Keegan, her oldest friend.

Yeah Keegan smiled slowly, the breeze wisping past her and drawing her gaze, not for the last time, up to the sky. I think Im gonna dance.

When Keegan got home the horizon was still lit with the glow of twilight. The tentative calls of the hoothoot and noctowl were oddly comforting and the dust the ledyba and ledian scattered in a celebration of impending nightfall gave Alto Mare a strangely mystical aura.

Keegan pushed open the door and marched tight-lipped through the kitchen, ignoring Peter sitting at the table; in all likelihood Miriam was up in their room. Although it seemed that Miriam was the dominant one, because she got angry at Keegans antics more often than Peter, he was really the one who enforced their rules.

And that night there was no way he was going to let the girl go that easily. Keegan, he said, swirling his coffee with a spoon absently. Sitting on the table, his aipom held the sugar bowl, dipping his tiny fingers into the granules and licking them off quickly.

Keegan paused, one hand already on the banister of the stairs, and sighed inwardly. What?

Youre grounded until further notice, Peters voice was bland, somewhat depressed. Im sorry, little fox. He apologised inwardly. I truly am. He had seen the race himself, on a tinny TV in the tackle shed where his sloop was moored. You fell in and you were terrified and it has changed nothing. If you simply refuse to listen, then we have to try something else.

Aipuu? Aipom cocked his head and looked at the girl frozen at the stairs, one paw hovering above the bowl. He exchanged a warning glance with Firefoot, still at the base of the first step.

Whatever, Keegan answered so softly she could hardly be heard. Hazels ear twitched; she was already halfway up the stairs.

No going outside except to the library, Peter continued with a guilty pang. Aipoms tail waved and he looked back at Peter with huge eyes but Pete looked away, instead studying the grain of the table.

Uh huh. Keegan continued on her way up as Aipom watched after her before returning to his sugar. Theres no way they can keep me locked up, the girl thought serenely. Im leaving tonight, and they cant stop that. She glanced down at the medallion, hardly noticing the slight smile that tugged at her lips.

Hazel was sitting in front of Keegans room, waiting patiently. Keegan threw open the door and headed straight for her wardrobe, letting Firefoot nose the door closed behind them while Hazel leapt onto the soft bed.

Keegan draped the medallion around her neck and opened the door to the wardrobe, grabbing her shoulder bag off the inside handle. She snatched up a pile of clothes and other necessities and stuffed them inside the bag. Hazel, standing on the bed, placed a paw on the tubs of pokmon food she had rolled across from the bedside table and Keegan made sure they were full before fitting them into the bag carefully. Firefoot padded over, Keegans belt in his mouth.

Thanks, Keegan murmured, taking the belt and brushing her fingers over his orange-and-black fur before buckling it on. She unclipped Firefoots pokball and expanded it, gazing at it doubtfully. She had never once returned Firefoot to his pokball, but knew that if they were to leave Alto Mare it was necessary. She held out the pokball to Firefoot. I have to return you, Firefoot, she told him gently.

Firefoot cocked his head in an expectant manner. Grrrawlth, grraw! he barked.

Keegan smiled fondly, and gave him one last scratch behind the ears. I dont know what Id do without you two, she told him honestly.

Eebui, bubui, Hazel shook her head from side to side, making her ears flap. Keegan chuckled and raised the pokball, returning Firefoot for the first time in the four years since Officer Jenny had given him to her. The growlithe pup had been too curious and uncommitted to be cut out for police work and a chance meeting on the street made Officer Jenny convinced he should go with Keegan.

Straightening up, Keegan shrank the pokball and returned it to her belt, slinging her bag over her shoulder. Then she turned towards the window and turned the latch to push it open but it didnt budge.

Bubui? Hazel whispered incredulously. With a sick feeling of disbelief, Keegan rattled the latch, but it didnt move. She tried pushing on the window, to no avail. Dropping the bag, she sank to the floor, stunned. Hazel nuzzled her hand, making sympathetic purring sounds. Her huge eyes locked onto something behind Keegan.

How did they find out? the girl choked, entwining her fingers into Hazels long fur.

Officer Jenny, a deep, grating voice, conditioned by a life on the sea, said behind her. Keegan turned around to see Simon leaning against her doorway, his sleeveless T-shirt making his tanned biceps seem even bigger than they were.

Bui? Hazel gasped. Keegan just stared blankly; she hadnt even heard the door open.

She came round while you were out, Simon took a step into the room, his dark eyes studying Keegan over his bearded face. He felt a pang; her eyes looked so lost. She was pretty disappointed, actually. Said she saw you creeping across the rooftops last night and thought we might want to do something about it. Some people wouldnt take kindly to having a girl on their roofs.

But but Tears spilled out of Keegans eyes. But Im grounded I cant A sob wracked her, the peaceful feeling she had managed to sustain shattering. Too emotionally exhausted to even feel angry, she suffered only despair.

Bui, Hazel put her paws on Keegans shoulders, licking at the salty tracks down her cheeks, the pokmons eyes also shining with sympathetic tears. Keegan hugged her tightly, burying her face in Hazel's soft fur.

Simon glanced into the hall and quietly closed the door behind him, kneeling beside Keegan and putting a hand on her shoulder. Come on now, he said quietly. Crying wont help. He held out his hand. But this might.

Keegan lifted her head, wiping her eyes, and picked the key off his palm, staring at it uncertainly. Youre gonna let me out? she asked, her voice wavering.

Ive never agreed with their way of raising you, Simon admitted. Youre a curious, adventurous girl, so trying to lock you up only made you want out even more. Im surprised it took you so long to try and leave. I just wish it didnt have to be like this. You still have a lot to learn about the world, little fox but if you refuse to learn it here, then youll have to learn out there, where the lesson will be harsher.

Keegan stood and unlocked the window, then handed the key back to him as Hazel jumped up onto the windowsill. Here, Simon held out a pokgear, a small device with several purposes; among those serving as a map, a radio and a phone. It looked small in his big hand. This might help. He grinned fervently. And youll need this, too, He held up a ticket. For the next ferry out of Alto Mare. Itll take you to Cianwood from there you should be able to go to Olivine.

Keegan took them, clipping the pokgear onto her belt, and stood staring at the ticket for long moments. This is the point of no return, she found herself thinking. If I use this I cant go back. She tucked it her back pocket and looked up at Simon, utterly speechless. Thank you seemed so inadequate. Finally she hugged him fiercely and whispered it anyway. Thank you.

He squeezed her back. Get going, little fox. There should be one last ferry leaving tonight, but you have to get there quickly. Keegan picked up her bag, slinging it over her shoulder once again. Keegan the girl paused and looked back at Simon, who regarded her seriously. You know they love you.

Keegan hesitated, then nodded, her eyes downcast. I know. Gbye, Simon. Hazel grabbed onto the strap with her teeth and rode the bag as Keegan scrambled out of the window and onto the roof for the last time.

Keegan hurried over the rooftops, ignoring the chill wind that made goosebumps rise on her bare skin and checking the horizon anxiously. The trip to Cianwood City was several days long, and she couldnt afford to miss the last ferry for a week, but she also knew they had to get out of the harbour before full night.

And yet she couldnt leave without first saying goodbye to Ross. She dropped silently down onto his balcony, bathed in the yellow glow of his bedroom light, and rapped at the window. Instantly Ross looked up from the book he had been reading and tossed it aside, coming to the glass doors; Keegan stood away as he pushed them open.

He took in Hazel, standing on the balcony balustrade, and Keegans bag over her shoulder. Youre leaving. It wasnt a question; his soft brown eyes were already resigned. It had to come to this, didnt it? The only way youd learn why Pete and Miriam did what they did the only way theyd realize why you did the same.

Keegan nodded, her own eyes glimmering. I have to hurry theres only one more ferry, and I have to catch it. But I had to say goodbye.

Eebui, Hazel agreed forlornly.

Well, then, here, Ross grabbed an empty pokball from his bedside table and held it out. You cant go around with Hazel free like that. Under the Pokmon Associations rules, if she doesnt have a pokball, shes wild and therefore fair game.

Keegan took it gingerly, knowing he was right but not liking it one bit, as Hazel jumped down from the ledge, her eyes resolute. Keegan tossed the pokball gently; it bounced off Hazel and enclosed her in a flash of red light before dropping to the balcony, rocking only once before locking down. Keegan picked it up and looked down at it somewhat regretfully; it represented just one more change.

Then Keegan drew the medallion from around her neck and looked at it briefly before handing it to Ross. I was gonna keep it, as a reminder but I think itd do better here. Ross accepted it reluctantly, and met Keegans gaze. She managed a shaky grin. Well be okay, she promised.

Ross smiled fondly. I know you will, he said simply before drawing her into his arms. She clasped him around the neck, embracing him tightly for as long as she dared. Then she let him go and gave him one last, fleeting smile before climbing lithely back onto the roof. Ross leaned on the edge of the balcony, the medallion still clutched in his hand, and gazed out into the slowly darkening city with a bitter-sweet pang as the wind whispered assurances in his ears.

Keegan ran as fast as she could, ignoring the stitch in her side and the annoying bounce of the pendant at her throat, her breath coming in short gasps. It was almost full night now, but she could see the ferry up ahead, still moored to the almost deserted pier.

A sailor still on the dock was untying the rope securing the small ship to the wharf. Hey! Keegan shouted breathlessly, and the sailor looked up. He waved to her, gesturing for her to hurry, and called something to someone in the shadow of the awning over the deck.

Keegan pounded up the gangplank, legs aching and chest heaving, and sank to her knees, exhausted. Thanks, she gasped to the sailor unlatching the gangplank from the ship, and he chuckled.

It was a close one, he said, pushing the railing clear of the ship. Keegan struggled to her feet, the salty breeze already cooling her off, and walked to the bow to stand watching the rolling sea as they cleaved through the water.

She looked back only once at Alto Mare. The city was still lit up by the lights of the houses, a glittering metropolis amid the churning, restless ocean. Then she turned forward to their destination and her future.

She was content with her choice; the first of many. Whatever the consequences were she was ready to face them.

July 7th, 2005, 6:25 PM
This is def one of my favorite fics recently :)

A question: who kept the fire stone? You say Ross was holding it as he watch her leave, but you also say that Keegan was wearing a pendant that was choking her as she ran. Just curious.

Do continue.

July 7th, 2005, 7:37 PM
Oh! ^.^ Didn't expect to see you here. I didn't expect anyone to review at all, actually. Go figure. Heh, I'm kinda surprised; no mistakes to point out? :P Don't care what anyone else says - honest reviewers rule. ^.^

To answer your question, Ross was holding the medallion which Keegan won in the water chariot race; yanno, the one of Latios and Latias? She never gave her pendant to anyone.

^.^ Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for recommending HotM for fanfic of the week.

Anyway, I've got the next chappie revised, but I won't post it for a few days to avoid chappie-overload.

July 11th, 2005, 5:12 PM
This chappie will be in two posts too. Heh ^.^; few of them are actually gonna fit into one post, really. I write pretty long chappies.

~ II ~


The harbour glinted in the distance, seeming to signal to the ferry. The ocean sparkled before it with the rare rays of sunlight peeking through the clouds, the crash of the waves distant. Keegan stood at the bow, ignoring the strong breeze which threatened to tangle her hair, and watched with strange detachment as they drew closer. It seemed so surreal that she was actually there, like a dream she would break out of any second. Not just because she was actually free of Alto Mare but because the crossing had seemed to last for years. With every lurch of the ferry her heart leapt into her mouth and the pounding of the waves against the hull at night kept her from sleeping. The closeness of land calmed that particular fear, but raised another

Soon they were close enough for Keegan to pick out the buildings and the rainbow-coloured people scattered over the beach. The surf washed over the sand and she fancied she could almost hear the shrieks and laughter of the kids as they played.

The peaceful scene did nothing to calm her nerves. Okay, Im out of Alto Mare, she thought, trying to force down the panic threatening to overwhelm her. And Im nearly in Cianwood. Now what? She bit her lip uncertainly. Hadnt Simon mentioned travelling to Olivine? What was in Olivine that was of interest to her, anyway?

Keegan closed her eyes, shutting out the sight of the city drawing ever closer and of the now grey, menacing ocean. She thought back to that night long past, when she had stood on the edge of Alto Mare and known that the answers lay beyond the sea. Im doing the right thing. I know I am.

With some difficulty, she remembered Ross telling her about the three trainers hed taken around Alto Mare after the open water chariot race not long ago. Hadnt he mentioned they were staying at the Pokmon Centre?

She groaned to herself, much her panic melting away into irritation. Duh. The Pokmon Centre Ill be able to get information there. Keegan sighed, annoyed it had taken so long to remember something so obvious, and opened her eyes to find Cianwood much closer than it had been mere minutes ago.

And it was only several minutes later that Keegan found herself on the quay, dodging the crowd and rubbing her arms against the cool, salty breeze coming off the sea, her bag bouncing at her hip. She was intensely relieved to be off the water, but didnt feel much like battling the throng of people to get into the city.

Instead she turned towards the beach, walking along the uppermost reaches of the soft white sand. The sky was overcast, making the beach almost as cold as the ferry had been; but it was strangely soothing, walking with scraggly bushes atop yielding sand dunes on one side and foamy waves beating up on the shore on the other. Once she turned back to look at her footprints trailing behind her, vanishing around the bend, but after two days confined on the ferry she didnt feel like going back to find the Pokmon Centre. Not yet. The walking made her feel calmer and gave her time to think about what she wanted to do next.

Before she knew it the sky was beginning to darken and Keegan realized she hadnt left enough time for her to walk back before nightfall. Feh, she muttered, scrambling up the slight rise which turned from sand to rock and finding a flat place to sit. She released Firefoot and Hazel in twin flashes of light, the wind catching their fur almost as soon as theyd materialized.

Grrawlth! Firefoot barked happily, prancing about on the gritty surface of the rock. Keegan giggled, tugging at the lid to one of the pokmon food containers nestled in her lap. Hazel hung over her leg eagerly, sniffing at the rim.

Well, at least you guys are gonna get something to eat before we get back, Keegan sighed, tossing a piece of food to Firefoot. The growlithe snapped at it, but it bounced off his nose and landed on the rock several feet away. Hazel rolled her eyes and accepted the food Keegan offered with more dignity than the fiery pup, who snuffled about the rock and quickly wolfed down the food anyway.

Absently Keegan looked back to the ocean, studying the strange islands in the distance. They had passed by them on the ferry and shed heard one of the sailors refer to them as the Whirl Islands, small but still habitable all except the rocky crags to the southernmost edge.

Under the grey clouds, the waves battering relentlessly against the rock and the dark shadows lingering between sharp cliffs looked more menacing than they might have under a sunny sky. Keegan shivered, suddenly profoundly glad she wasnt out there.

Then one of the shadows moved. What? Keegan frowned, pushing the container off her lap and standing to move closer.

Eebui? Hazel, having followed Keegans gaze, cocked her head and stared curiously. Firefoot looked up, mouth full of food, and blinked densely.

A call echoed out from the crags, sending a shiver down Keegans spine. Deep, full and melodious, it resonated eerily. The silhouette rose up on long, slender wings, shadows sliding over slick, silver hide which was either feathers or fur; or both, a strange mixture of beast and bird.

Then, before Keegan could get a proper glimpse, it dived into the ocean like an arrow, stray sunlight glinting off the rows of blue fins on its back. The spray rose and fell, pattering across the bay like fleeting raindrops. What was that? Keegan breathed, mesmerized. Shed never seen or heard anything so graceful and beautiful in her life.

Eebuu, Hazel whispered, her eyes wide. Firefoot just stared in mid-chew, astonished.

Keegan snapped out of her reverie and took a deep breath. We should get going. She turned her back on the ocean, absently brushing the dust off her jeans, and slipped the lid onto the container, tossing each of her pokmon one last piece of food. Firefoot gulped it down enthusiastically, but Hazel just looked out at the water with darkened eyes.

Idiot! Keegan berated herself as she ran. She shouldnt have dawdled on the way back she didnt know if the Pokmon Centre had a curfew, after all, and it would be difficult to find in the dark.

Firefoot bounded at her heels, his bright orange fur like a beacon in the darkness. Overhead the streetlamps gave off their soft glow, barely splashing light over the front of the buildings on either side. Hazel was already tucked securely inside her pokball, but Firefoots ember had helped Keegan find her way off the beach. Now the dim shine of the streetlamps was enough to light the path.

There! They rounded the corner and saw the centre, the huge P over the glass doors illuminated with red light. Inside, the main hall of the centre was brightly lit, and Keegan could see several trainers still lingered, chatting on the comfortable benches.

The twin doors slid apart with a slight hiss as Keegan and Firefoot approached, and they slowed on the threshold to a more comfortable pace. The pink haired young woman dressed in a nurses uniform looked up upon hearing the doors open, her twin looped pigtails swaying gently. Oh, hello, she smiled and raised a welcoming hand. I havent seen you around here before.

Keegan blinked, then realized the nurse was addressing her. Oh! her cheeks went slightly pink, as they often did when she was addressed by a stranger. Yes, I came in on a ferry this afternoon. She frowned slightly; the nurse bore a striking resemblance to the one in Alto Mare. Oh, wait Ross once said all the Pokmon Centre nurses looked the same. Nurse Joy, their names are.

Did you want me to check your pokmon? Nurse Joy suggested.

Um, okay, Keegan agreed, returning Firefoot to his pokball and handing them over uncertainly.

Joy giggled at her doubtful expression, placing the two pokballs in the machine behind the counter. Youre a new trainer, arent you? she asked with a knowing twinkle in her eye.

I just started travelling, yeah, Keegan admitted, slinging her bag more securely on her shoulder, and hesitated. What kind of wild pokmon are there around here? she asked in what she hoped was a casual voice.

Joy smiled, typing at the control panel of the machine. Is there any particular one youre looking for?

Keegan debated whether or not to answer that question. The Joy in Alto Mare had seemed nice enough the few times Keegan needed to go into the centre, but this wasnt Alto Mare... I saw one this evening, she said at last. Out in the ocean near the rocks which mark the beginning of the Whirl Islands. It was silver and had rows of blue fins on its back, but dived into the water before I could get a good look at it.

Oh! Joy looked up from the panel, surprised. Did it have wings?

Seated at a vid-screen phone not far off in the corner, a burly clean-shaven man with hard eyes and dark green hair paused, lowering the receiver at his ear thoughtfully. Then, Ill call you back, he said at the screen and hung up, moving closer to the counter unnoticed.

Um Keegan wracked her brain before remembering that yes, she had seen wings and not arms or fins. Yeah, I think so.

Lugia, the man said instantly, making Keegan jump and spin around, startled. His thick eyebrows overshadowed narrow, calculating eyes which blazed with triumph. Where exactly did you see it? he demanded.

I Keegan flushed. Im not sure. I walked for a long time before I got there. She refrained from mentioning which direction. She didnt like being snuck up upon, and she didnt like the look in this mans eyes. Look, Im not even sure what I saw, she continued, feeling uncomfortable. It was only for a second.

The man just grinned. If you saw a silver pokmon which looked like it was part beast and part bird, then you saw a Lugia, girl. The Whirl Islands, huh? and he turned away, hurrying out of the Pokmon Centre and into the darkness. Keegan watched after him, unnerved.

I shouldnt have said anything. She found herself thinking regretfully.

I hope hes not a poacher, Joy echoed her feelings of trepidation. Sometimes you cant tell unless you see them in action.

You dont think hed try to catch it unfairly, do you? Keegan turned pleading eyes to Joy, but the nurse shook her head uncertainly.

I dont know, she admitted. Sometimes even legendary pokmon hunters become too involved in their pursuit, and make rash decisions. He could be one of them.

Legendary pokmon? Keegan echoed, surprised, but at the same time thinking she should have known. There were few pokmon which could match such grace and beauty.

Joy gave her a faint smile. Oh, yes. Lugia are legendary pokmon around these parts, but especially around the Whirl Islands. Theyre called by some to be the beasts of the sea.

Beasts of the sea. Keegan sighed. It seemed shed never get away from the ocean. So what do I do?

Im afraid there isnt much, Joy told her sympathetically. You couldnt have helped him overhearing, so if something happens dont go thinking its your fault. Keegan smiled reluctantly. That may be so, but it still didnt make her feel any better. She had no doubt if one of the Elites had been there, they wouldve done something about it. Here, Joy handed her the pokballs. Your pokmon are fine.

Thanks, Keegan took them, replacing them at her belt.

If youre interested in legendary pokmon, you should go to Ecruteak City, Joy suggested.

Wheres that? Keegan wondered, tugging her pokgear off her belt and looking at it curiously. Joy pointed out Ecruteak on the tiny map.

Of all the cities in Johto, Ecruteak has the strongest ties with legendary pokmon, she explained. Perhaps because of the Tin Tower. They say at least four Johto legendaries originated from there.

Keegan looked down at the red dot, flashing on the screen, and already knew that she was going. It was as good a goal as any; after all, she didnt have anything else to do. Besides she had vowed to start looking at the beauty instead of the anger. After seeing Lugia what could the other legendaries offer her? By searching for them, she might be able to find something out about herself

* * *

The night was still. The only sounds to be heard were those of the pokmon, echoing in the motionless air. The sky overhead was overcast, making the night darker than it should have been and leaving shadows ominous and threatening to those who feared them, at least. But for Keegan, shadows had always been a source of comfort.

After all, she wasnt the very social type. Ross had been her only human friend in eight years. But that wasnt the reason the darkness saw her stealing her way over the mesh-wire fence just west of Olivine City.

Crouching, her eyes well adjusted to the night, she darted behind one of the metal struts gleaming in the distant glow of the lighthouse. Her high collared black jacket was zipped up to her chin, and together with her black pants would have concealed her well within the shadow of the strut if not for that tell-tale, red-blonde gleam of her hair. But Keegan had spent most of her time roaming the roofs of Alto Mare she knew very well how to counter such disadvantages.

For an instant she stood still, listening hard for the sound of previously unseen security guards or late-night sailors outside the fence. All she heard was the distant crash of the sea. Slowly, a smile crept over her lips, and anyone seeing her would have been struck instantly by the sparkling, almost euphoric elation in her azure eyes. Now this was freedom... freedom she hadnt even realized she had in Alto Mare. Only when it had been taken away did she realize what she possessed.

With silent agility, she scrambled up the side of the strut, using the triangular holes in the metal like a ladder until she reached the uppermost completed platform. From there she could gaze out over the thin strip of shrubbery which separated the half-completed Battle Tower from the edge of Olivine City.

But Keegan wasnt interested in that. Instead she grinned, eyes twinkling, and wandered carefully along the edge of the tower, sometimes skirting obstacles and at other times surpassing them. To the south was the ocean, giving way to the black sky and a sense of openness which made her uneasy. She kept to the shadows, exploring the construction site with an almost childlike curiosity.

Then she heard them.

Voices, below on the ground amid the lofty, half-finished walls of the tower. If not for the stillness of the night, Keegan may not have heard them at all; but as it was she immediately shrank against the thick wall beside her, her black clothing blending with the shadow.

Idiot! She scolded herself for the second time in three days. She knew she wasnt supposed to be there. And shed left her pokmon at the centre Firefoot was fundamentally a police dog, so there was no way hed agree to such a venture. As for Hazel at times such as this she was almost as bad as Miriam

No matter where you go and what you do, there are always rules to follow but you seem to dedicate yourself to breaking them a voice sounding remarkably like her foster mother repeated her words, spoken only a few days ago.

Keegan shook her head subconsciously. Not breaking them. Disregarding them. Theres a difference.

But is there? The deepest part of her whispered, but she ignored it. Instead she crept to the edge of the terrace, laying flat on her stomach to gaze cautiously over the edge. At first she didnt see anything; then she saw a shadow move, and soon her eyes had picked out the faint silhouette of a man dressed in black, standing beneath the gloom of a low balcony.

Now she had marked his position, it was easy to see the white gloves, looking grey in the darkness. Then someone spoke, and she jumped, startled. The voice sounded much closer in the still air.

Where do we put it? It was a male voice, sounding almost too young to be in a darkened construction yard in the dead of night.

The man looked from side to side, obviously searching. His black cap was pulled low over his eyes and Keegan could see the letter R in dark red imprinted on the front of his uniform. Then he shrugged. Put it anywhere, he said impatiently. Theyll find it; no one comes here this late at night anyway.

Those words made Keegans stomach clench uneasily; for the man spoke true. No one would come to the construction yard this late at night. Not unless they were criminals themselves

Who the hell are these people?! Shed heard of criminal organisations before but one name in particular surfaced to her conscious mind: Team Rocket, as evidenced by the giant letter on the uniform. A sudden chill ran down her spine, and she shivered, a sick feeling low in her stomach as she realized exactly where she was and what she was doing and why

Im not a criminal, Im not! Her mind screamed to herself stubbornly.

Ah, but youre here, arent you? The same, smug part of her said ruthlessly. It was then Keegan realized she was gripping the edge of the balcony so tightly her knuckles were white. Her body was like a coiled spring, tense with fear and uncertainty. Closing her eyes, she made herself take a long, deep breath, and relaxed.

I can argue my morals with myself later. For now, watch. She made herself focus on the scene below, just in time to catch the unseen agents words.

I dont get it, the young-voiced man grumbled, moving for the first time from behind the crane which had been hiding him. All this cloak and dagger stuff. Why cant we just pass it on face to face? This is a waste of time.

Security, the other man said shortly. After the Lake of Rage incident, the Executive Triad judged it best to keep all parts of an operation separate.

What happened at the Lake of Rage? Keegan wondered, her nervousness intensifying, and she watched with fascinated apprehension as the younger agent place a small bundle inside a broken concrete block.

You took your time, the more experienced agent snapped, his arms crossed impatiently. The ferry needs to leave in a few hours, and we need to get out of here before the pick up.

The younger agent straightened, brushing off his hands. Keegan couldnt see his face but by the tension in his back she could tell he was annoyed. Then why didnt you do it, he snapped. And save me the trouble of coming out here.

His companion just chuckled. Ill be ****ed if Im going to do all the work around here. Lets go. Still hidden high above their heads, Keegan watched almost breathlessly as they vanished into the shadows. She heard the faint rattle of the mesh fence and then the construction yard was once again silent.

For long moments Keegan lay still, hardly listening to the distant sound of the waves on the beach; not because she feared discovery, but because she was torn between curiosity and caution. She was dying to see what was in the little bundle

Finally, before shed even realized shed decided, she swung down from the balcony onto a strut stretching across the would-be inside of the tower. For several seconds she balanced perilously, then caught her balance and shimmied over to the chain of the cranes winch, dangling to the dusty, concrete floor below.

Within seconds Keegan had reached the bottom, the chain clinking gently. She cringed with every sound, her nerves tightly strung. Like a nervy fox, she scuttled across the half finished floor to the concrete block, and looked about one last time before pulling out the bundle.

The dark, nondescript drawstring bag was no bigger than her fist; it could have been dropped by anyone, used for anything. She opened it up and shook out the contents, wrapped in a piece of soft cloth. Flipping aside the leaves of the cloth impatiently, the object was revealed: a strange, faceted crystal.

Deep within its centre was a swirl of rainbow colours, but the outside surface was pure white. It was warm and seemed to vibrate slightly, almost humming. Keegan turned it this way and that curiously, strangely hypnotised by the smoothness of the facets, the comforting weight in her palm. Like her fire stone pendant, it had a soothing charm to it. Keegan wondered what it was, and how it was linked to Team Rocket.

But she had lingered too long. Her ears caught the sound of the fence jingling for the second time, and Keegan automatically shrank into the shadows, backing carefully through the littered tower interior. Moving with restrained urgency, she was already over the fence and halfway back to Olivines Pokmon Centre by the time she realized the crystal was still clutched in her hand.

Keegan paced the wooden floor of the room anxiously, one hand gripping her pendant as though for comfort. Curled up on the top bunk, Hazel was examining the crystal lying on the light blue blanket curiously, tail twitching. Then she shot a disapproving look at Keegan.

I didnt mean to take it! Keegan blurted jumpily, seeing her. She glanced down at Firefoot to find that his intensely stern glare hadnt changed, his posture as rigid as it had been when she released him. Somehow they both knew whenever she did something bad.

Eebui, bubii, Hazel hissed, her fur bristling as Keegan went to the windows, looking out at the trainers in the yard below before shutting them with a snap.

I know, I know, Keegan muttered, tugging at her pendant nervously. I know this isnt Alto Mare, and I know we were already bordering on illegal acts then. But the yard was just so empty and inviting she trailed off and sighed. Okay, I shouldntve done it. And I shouldve taken one of you along. Im sorry. Immediately Hazels scowl lifted and her fur settled back down, all except for the white ruff around her neck which still stuck up in different directions.

Firefoot, however, just gave a disappointed sort of whine and turned his head away. Keegan fell to her knees before him, trying to catch his gaze. Come on, Firefoot, she pleaded with him. Okay, so I sneak but Id never steal anything deliberately, you know that! He tilted his head to look mournfully at her out of the corner of his eyes; then he licked her resignedly on the cheek. Keegan threw her arms around him thankfully and gave him a squeeze.

Okay, she sat back, brushing her hair out of her eyes and looking up at Hazel. So what do I do with that thing? I mean, I cant give it back she paused, thinking about that possibility, and shivered. They were criminals. Real criminals. Firefoot snuffled at her hand encouragingly. Keegan stared blindly into the blanket of the lower bed. Who knows what they were gonna use it for? she whispered almost mechanically.

Grrralth, graa, Firefoot barked, butting her shoulder with his head.

Keegan jumped to her feet, shocked. You cant be serious?! she exclaimed, pale. Give it in to the police?! That would mean admitting where I was what I was doing!

Firefoots stern look returned and he leapt up at Keegan, knocking her over in what, at any other time, might have been a playful challenge. Grrraa, he rumbled strongly, standing over her, but Keegan just pushed him off.

I cant, she snapped. I dont even know what its for. They say Team Rocket is almost as powerful as the Pokmon Association what do you think would happen if they had an agent watching over the police station and they saw me turn it in? Firefoots ears drooped as he considered this, exchanging a worried glance with Hazel.

<<Shes right, it could be dangerous,>> Hazel conceded, her huge eyes shadowed with worry as Keegan got to her feet, brushing long orange fur off her usual jeans and sleeveless white top.

Firefoot turned his head away and sighed, the white ruff beneath his chin stirring under the force of his breath. <<That doesnt mean I have to like it,>> he whined to himself, and Hazel let out a sound of agreement as they exchanged anxious glances once again.

Then the eevee nudged the crystal towards Keegan and the girl picked it up, her fingers tingling with tension and her expression darkening. Well just have to keep it with us, she decided, wrapping it in the cloth she had inadvertently brought with her and tucking it away into the deepest corner of her bag. And well have to be careful, she bit her lip uncertainly, trying to dispel the heavy feeling the pit of her stomach. It took a moment before she managed to separate the fear from something else: regret. She shouldntve gone into the yard

Then she took a deep breath. It doesnt matter. She told herself sternly. You did it, and you cant change it. So get over it. She shrugged on her sleeveless grey jacket, turning to her pokmon. Lets get out of here, she said simply, praying that somehow, she might be able to leave her self-frustration in Olivine.

Fat chance.

July 11th, 2005, 5:14 PM
* * *

Keegan stepped through the underbrush nervously, eyes darting around at the foliage with guilty paranoia. She was within a day of Ecruteak, but having passed through several towns on the way she felt uneasy being around other people. Unfortunately, the woods werent much better.

Something rustled in the bushes and Keegan froze, one hand flying instinctively to Hazels pokball. Something shiny flashed in a beam of light forcing its way through the canopy, and a magnemite hovered out of the bushes. With a relieved sigh, Keegan lowered her hand. The woods near Olivine and surrounding Ecruteak were filled with the electric pokmon during the daytime, but Keegan hadnt seen any until now.

Maanemiiite The magnemites single eye was heavily lidded and the magnets at its sides drooped lazily. It swayed slightly, floating low to the ground. On a human the posture might have meant intoxication. On a pokmon it just seemed odd.

Keegan took a step back as the magnemite approached relentlessly, weaving unsteadily in a way that made Keegan revise her opinion maybe pokmon could get drunk

But then she lost interest in that subject, because the bushes rustled once more, parting to allow more of the electric pokmon through. Every single one of them was acting in much the same way as the first. Keegan backed away nervously as they approached, chanting eerily.

She jumped, feeling something brush against her, and looked down to find one of the magnemite pressed against her bag, eye closed blissfully. She shook it off and clutched her bag closer, turning around to run only to find herself surrounded by the steely pokmon.

Do they know?! She cried inwardly, her eyes wide with panic as the magnemite once again approached, crowding her. Who cares?! She snatched Firefoots pokball from her waist and threw it into their midst. With the customary flash of light Firefoot appeared, prepped and ready for battle, but the magnemite ignored him.

Firefoot, use flamethrower to clear a path! Keegan ordered, throwing off one of the electric pokmon clinging to her bag and swatting at another. Firefoot opened his mouth wide, showing off his canines, and let loose a stream of blazing flames. Keegan flinched away from it, and the fire licking over the steely bodies of the magnemite seemed to jolt them to their senses until Firefoot closed his jaws, swallowing the last of the flamethrower.

Come on! Keegan took advantage of the momentary path swathed through the swarm of pokmon and fled, Firefoot loping after her. Behind them, several confused-looking magnemite floated off, burns seared across their steel. The rest, their eyes once again drooping dopily, followed an unseen trail left by Keegan.

Keegan jumped over a log, a stitch already growing in her side and her bag dragging at her shoulder. She could still hear the creepy chanting of the magnemite behind her. What the hells their problem?! she gasped to Firefoot, but the growlithe couldnt answer. Not that he had a solution anyway.

Suddenly the woods ended and Keegan skidded to a halt at the edge of the low cliff, making dust billow. Down below, the woods were pressed to the side of the crag. In the distance, looming over the forest, was the Tin Tower. Oh, great, Keegan groaned, clutching the stitch at her side. The cliff was little more than fifty feet tall, but by the time shed climbed halfway down the magnemite were sure to on her, and after that there was no way shed be able to maintain her descent.

Grrrraalth, Firefoot turned and set his paws resolutely, head lowered and fur bristling in preparation for a battle.

Theres too many, Keegan scanned the cliff edge anxiously, searching for a way out. Theyll swamp you! Firefoot just snarled in answer, baring his teeth as one of the magnemite appeared through the trees. Keegan spun about and stopped in shock, touching her pendant fleetingly. The magnemite seemed to fill the air. Everywhere she looked there was another, some with burns from Firefoots previous attack but all with the same dopey look.

Keegan took in a deep breath, knowing they had the type advantage but the magnemite had numbers. Alright, she said as calmly as she could manage against the intimidating mass of magnemite. Her face was pale, but her eyes glittered with stubborn determination. There was the possibility of having Team Rocket on her trail; she wasnt going to let a few wild pokmon faze her.

Firefoot, use flame wheel, Keegan ordered. Firefoot leapt forward into a full run, his fur blazing and paws leaving a trail of fire behind him. The hot air around him crackled and formed into a fiery shield as he ploughed through the magnemite, scattering them to either side. Some, their steel blackened by the fire and their eyes widening to show some glimmer of reasoning, vanished back into the trees. Most ignored the attack, and continued to approach Keegan mindlessly.

Firefoot spun about, charging back through the wall of steel bodies. The magnemite didnt even try to avoid him, hypnotised by something neither Keegan not Firefoot could find. Bursting through the outer edge of the swarm, Firefoot skidded to a halt before the ledge, snow-white tail and ruff fluttering in the air.

Miiite maah the magnemite chanted, drawing ever closer. Firefoot snarled warningly, fur still blazing with the remnants of his flame wheel. Keegan gritted her teeth and lifted Hazels expanded pokball, about to release the eevee for reinforcements; but then the matter was taken out of her hands.

A roar echoed through the woods and Keegan automatically turned her head to see what it was. A raging ball of fire, wrapped with flaming orange veins, streaked past her, hitting the ground in the centre of the swarm. The earth shook, throwing Keegan down, the ball flaring into a swift inferno. It enveloped the magnemite and swept out in a loose, quickly dissipating ring. Keegan covered her head protectively, Hazels pokball still clutched in her hand, while the ring seared overhead, the heat drying her skin and leaving her flushed and blistered.

Keegan looked up, shaking, to find a pokmon standing away from her, watching as the magnemite picked themselves up dazedly and retreated into the trees. Like some great beast it towered over her, long brown fur still ruffling in the after breeze of its attack. Giant paws dug lightly into the burned dirt, the black manacles encircling each leg shining in the light, and a billowing cloud of smoke flowed over two jagged grey wings.

She stared, awestruck, at its awesome presence. The very air around it vibrated with heat, its strong posture screaming power, and she had no doubt that the beast was a legendary.

Then it turned its flat face towards her, revealing a mask-like visage with a yellow forehead flowing towards its rear and red cheeks spiking out to the sides. But what captivated her were its eyes. In them burned a raging fire not unlike the flames that seemed to burn within her pendant. Unconsciously, Keegan touched the stone at her throat, her eyes wide. Then the moment was shattered as the pokmon bounded away, darting into the trees with graceful, restrained speed.

Firefoot was paralysed. Paws set in the blackened dirt, he shook with overwhelmed awe. He could still smell Enteis scent in the air, feel the heat of his attack in his fur. The growlithes heart was racing, and his legs, suddenly robbed of adrenaline, threatened to fail on him; but he couldnt move.

Such power, he thought longingly, unaware of the faint whines deep in his throat. Such speed.

Firefoot? Keegans voice broke through his paralysis and he blinked up at his trainer. The naturally bad eyesight of all growlithe blurred her into nothing more than a faint shape, but he could smell her awe and concern at his reaction. Are you okay? the blurry figure shifted, and he knew she was looking into the trees where Entei had vanished. Do you know that pokmon?

<<Entei,>> Firefoot whispered, feeling ashamed. If he had known that attack, the ultimate of all fire attacks if he was strong and fast like Entei he would have been able to protect Keegan. <<The Lord of Flames.>> his sentence faded into a whimper and he lay down, burying his muzzle in his paws.

He felt Keegan beside him and she ruffled his fur comfortingly. Reassured, Firefoot leaned into her hand and closed his eyes. You want to be like him, dont you? It was hardly a question; Firefoot could smell her certainty. Dont worry. Well get you that power. We can do it together.

Firefoot cocked his head, wondering if she knew; if she realized that power was right in his paw prints. He didnt have to sniff the air to sense it. He could hear it in the burning melody, feel it even...

In the tantalizing beckon of the Ho-Ohs Eye jewel around her neck.

July 12th, 2005, 2:17 PM
Ah ha, I'm here too. Korimura. So nice to see this story here and on fanfiction.net as well.

July 22nd, 2005, 6:55 PM
~ III ~


The setting sun flashed over the forest, gleaming over the Tin Tower and dyeing the timber many different shades of brown. Beneath the canopy, the pokmon of the night were already emerging, while the citizens of Ecruteak, laid at the base of the Tin Tower, were retreating into their homes.

With a slight rustle of leaves, Keegans blonde head poked out among the branches of the oak tree, and she surveyed the horizon with annoyed blue eyes. We shouldve hit Ecruteak by now, she grumbled to her pokmon, both sealed within their pokballs. She turned around, intending to climb back down, when she saw the Tin Tower looming over her, not more than a hundred or so yards off through the woods.

Keegan sighed. Naturally. After the incident with the magnemites, Keegan had discovered she had no idea where the path was. The only landmark she had was the nine-storey Tin Tower visible over the treetops, which was hardly a perfect trail to follow; especially since shed been occupied with wondering why the magnemites had been acting so strangely.

Scrambling back down the tree, Keegan set off purposefully towards the Tin Tower, skirting the spinarak spinning their webs between trees and branches. She reached a high, wooden wall shadowed by the first of many tier roofs and scanned it with twinkling eyes; but before she could make a move, she heard the sound of a noctowl behind her.

Turning, Keegan found the owl pokmon staring at her with huge round eyes shadowed by its cream-coloured crest, resting on a nearby branch. Once she met its gaze it spread long, soft wings and glided silently to the next branch, looking back at her expectantly.

Keegan cast a regretful glance back at the wall of the tower, then followed obediently. The noctowl led her to a wide stone path leading to the entrance of the tower, landing on the bald head of a man dressed in brown robes. He looked at Keegan approaching uncertainly, eyes narrowed with suspicion.

What is your purpose here? he demanded, scowling at her under thick eyebrows, his thin face giving him an almost haunting look.

I I got lost in the woods, Keegan explained. But I managed to find my way to the tower. And then I came across your noctowl she trailed off as the monk looked up to his noctowl in askance. It fluttered off his head to a nearby branch, tipping its head and hooting in confirmation.

Oh! the monks expression cleared. Very well, then. He nodded down the stone steps nearby. Ecruteak is down that way. You had best hurry; at night the spinarak cast webs across the path to stop intruders.

Oh thanks Keegan turned from him and returned down the path. If the monk had seen her face, he would have noticed that her eyes were lit up with sparkling elation. Below, the forest ranged on each side, while a small wayhouse separated the tower from city; however, she had no intention of going into Ecruteak the defences of the Tin Tower appealed to her special sense of adventure.

But at her belt, the pokeballs contained Hazel and Firefoot shuddered, and Keegans pace slowed. She plucked Firefoots pokball off her belt and expanded it; through the surface of the ball she could see Firefoots intensely disapproving look. Dont look at me like that, Keegan protested, her excitement dying down. It was just an idea Hazels pokball quaked once again, registering her objection as well.

With a sigh Keegan shrank Firefoots pokball and replaced it at her belt, knowing they were right; but instead of continuing on her way she looked wistfully at the Tin Tower. Her curiosity and rebellious side wrestled with common sense; the last time shed gone where she wasnt meant to be, shed run into Team Rocket

But this was different this was a well-guarded tower. So how do I know Ill be able to get in there without being caught? She wondered, then grinned. I dont. Thats why I want to do it. It was decided. Not for the first time, nor for the last, her insane curiosity had won over, and she stepped off the path to melt into the forest.

Keegan stared at the noctowl, eyes wide and unblinking. Crouched behind a bush to the left of the pokmon, she felt exposed; but she also knew that any movement would make it easier for the noctowl to spot her.

It cocked its head and scanned the trees again with a soft hoot, resting on a low branch. Keegans eyes began to water and she wished she could sit down; but her stubborn nature made her keep still, even in the face of discomfort. Such ventures required a certain kind of patience, and it was thanks to Keegans obstinacy she had that patience in spades. Finally, the noctowl spread its wings and glided off to patrol a different part of the woods.

Immediately Keegan let out a slow breath and relaxed cautiously. The tower was just ahead, beyond the tree the noctowl had been resting on. Carefully, Keegan crept from cover to cover, eyes darting about anxiously, until she reached her mark. From there she could see the towers wall; but she could also see something else a spinaraks web glistened in the scant moonlight, blocking her way. The instant she touched it, swarms of bug and grass pokmon were sure to descend upon her.

Instead Keegan looked up, thoughtfully considering the trees wide canopy. It was clear of traps, so without another seconds hesitation she swung herself into the branches.

And promptly found herself face to face with a sleeping pineco.

Keegan froze, not even daring to breathe. The slabs of bark layering the pinecos spiky shell had disguised it completely from Keegans hasty inspection. Slowly, without taking her eyes off the slumbering pokmon, Keegan raised her hand to the branch above, levering her foot into a suitable position before raising herself past the pineco with careful, controlled movements.

Unfortunately the pineco wasnt alone in the tree. Sitting tensely on the branch above it, she found herself surrounded by the bug pokmon, all likely to explode at the slightest disturbance.

Keegan winced. Great move, she growled to herself inwardly, climbing carefully around the pineco. Her muscles were already aching with the strain of having to hold her weight for such controlled periods of time, and it didnt help that her skin was peeling and itchy from the heat of Enteis fiery rescue.

But it was already too late to turn back. Even Firefoot and Hazel were wise enough to realize that. If either of them had burst out of their pokballs, it was likely to land Keegan in even worse trouble.

Finally Keegan made it to the branches closest to the tower, where the outermost leaves just barely brushed the gently sloping tier roof. Keegan gathered her bag close to her chest and touched her pendant for good luck before she leapt for the edge of the dark canopy. Her scrabbling fingers managed to catch onto the wooden bar lining the edge of the roof and she swung crazily for several seconds, her bag pulling cruelly at her shoulder, before she pulled herself onto the roof.

Heart pounding, arms and legs feeling weary yet charged with adrenaline, Keegan shrank into the shadows of the next tiers roof. She struggled to keep her breathing to a slow, silent pace while praying the still-rustling leaves of the tree shed just exited would go unnoticed. When she finally judged the coast clear, Keegan shakily rubbed her damp palms on her jeans and turned towards the wide glass windows arrayed behind her.

Digging her fingers into the edges of the window frame, Keegan managed to pry one open; as shed suspected, they were unlocked. The Tin Tower was undoubtedly a very old monument of Ecruteak, and any modern renovations would have destroyed the towers value. Besides, as far as Keegan had heard, it was a shrine honouring a legendary pokmon of the city; a good reason for the pokmon to protect it but hardly enough to install locks. After all, what was in there worth stealing?

Keegan slipped through the open window and dropped silently to the smooth, wooden floor with an intense feeling of satisfaction. Carefully closing the window behind her, Keegan grinned, eyes sparkling, and turned towards the wooden staircase up to the next level.

If she had lingered outside for several moments more, she might have seen three shadows gliding silently towards the tower from the sky above, framed against the dim stars.

Keegan rubbed her hand over the smooth, polished wood of the rail as she made her way up the consecutive staircases of the tower. So far each room had been much the same, boasting bare wooden walls with huge, shining brass bells secured in each corner by an ornate metal frame. At first the bells smooth surface had soothed and interested her, but now it seemed a little more routine. And yet at the top the view would have to be incredible. That thought alone kept Keegans interest.

Yet as she drew nearer the pinnacle of the tower, the air grew strangely warm. Laying a hand on the wall, Keegan noticed that the wood seemed to be retaining heat from a strange source. Looking up the staircases, she could see a strange glow emitting from the topmost chamber.

Is someone else up here? She wondered, gripping her pendant reassuringly as she mounted another staircase. If there was she could get into very serious trouble. What if its someone else? Someone whos not meant to be here? Keegan thought to herself, hardly able to draw breath with uncertain tension as she continued on her way to the next level. The chamber was identical to all the others below, complete with bells and all only this time they were silver, set in a place of honour in the centre of the ceiling.

Keegan touched one gently, revelling in the coolness of its surface. Then she turned towards the stairs up. Hesitating for long, dangerous moments, Keegan considered her options, wiping sweaty palms on her jeans as she ignored the heat which permeated through the tower. After a time she decided; the strange, ethereal warmth left no doubt the tower was devoid of human life. Or so she thought.

With a deep breath, on carefully silent feet, Keegan climbed the last stairs, the air seeming to vibrate around her. As she emerged from the staircase, the first thing to meet her gaze was the biggest bird shed ever seen.

It turned a gold crested head towards her, startled by her sudden appearance, and flared rainbow coloured wings to show a snow-white belly. Instinctively Keegan flinched back as the long, dazzling feathers filled the room. Then in a flash of fiery tail feathers, the bird was gone. Fleeing through the open canopy above, it lit the sky like a tiny sun.

Down below, in the wayhouse separating the tower from Ecruteak, the three guardian monks gaped, astonished, as a shining flurry of feathers lanced out of the tower, vanishing into the night. Ho-Oh, one gasped. Somethings scared her!

At the pinnacle, Keegan was too stunned by the birds size and quick escape to do anything but stare after it. The next thing she knew, something slammed into her with the force of a truck. Keegan sailed back down the stairs, tumbling across the wooden floor to hit the opposite wall with a loud thud echoed by the tinkling of the bells. Her bag slid across the opposite side of the room, lying half open on the wooden floor. Winded, Keegan gasped for air, her ribs and back aching and her limbs strangely unresponsive.

She tried to get up but her head pounded, her vision momentarily searing white. The room spun and distantly something snarled. Instinctively Keegan fumbled for her pokballs, releasing both Hazel and Firefoot to combat her attacker.

Then her vision cleared and she found herself confronted by a snarling, mask-like visage preceding an electric yellow and black striped body. Shocked, Keegan scrambled to the side as the dark rain cloud on the tiger-like beasts back flashed, sending a thunderbolt to sear the wood where Keegan had sat moments before.

Brushing static-charged hair from her eyes, her head throbbing sharply, Keegan saw Hazel rush at another cat-like beast. Blue with white diamonds and a strange long, turquoise crest, it was merely a blur as it dodged Hazel, its twin, ribbon-like white tails sweeping forward. It opened a long muzzle, firing a forceful beam of bubbles towards the eevee as the purple cloud on its back billowed, revealing a slim, quick body, and even in the midst of the chaos Keegan marvelled at its grace and beauty.

The bubblebeam caught Hazel harshly in the ribs and she was sent flying back, hitting the wall and crumbling to the floor, her fur sodden and tangled. With a melodious, almost purring cry, the beast raised its head, a glowing white sphere growing in its mouth. Recognising the onset of an ice beam, Keegan hastily returned her dazed, panting eevee.

But that proved to be a problem, because then the beast directed its ice beam at her. Keegan jumped to the side, flinching away as shards of cold ice splintered against the wall. Several arrowed past her, one leaving a long, shallow red scrape along her upper arm. Shivering in the ice-dust, Keegan scrambled away, eyes searching frantically for Firefoot.

Her stomach lurched when she caught a glimpse of a snarling, battered Firefoot standing up to towering, angry Entei. Then the wind was once again knocked out of her and she was driven back into the wall by a rapid stream of bubbles. Coughing, dazed and wet, chest throbbing hurtfully, Keegan found herself by the electric beast as it nosed feverishly at her bag, short, kinked tail twitching jerkily. It seemed worried, anxious, but Keegan didnt have time to think why.

Grabbing the strap of the bag, she slung it over her shoulder and stumbled to her feet. With a thunderous bark, the beast jumped at her, knocking her over and standing over her, snarling furiously. Desperately, Keegan swung a double-fisted blow at its closest paw, knocking it off balance. It lurched to the side, almost falling on top of her. At the last moment it caught itself, but Keegan was already gone.

Firefoot tumbled head over heels, sprawled over the wooden floor. Sides heaving, fur matted with the blood of numerous cuts and scrapes, he struggled to his feet. Taking a resolute step forward, his right foreleg failed on him, a burn seared across his shoulder rendering it useless. The pup staggered, the scent of his own burning flesh in his nostrils, only to find Keegan beside him.

Keegan held out the pokball, about to return Firefoot, but the pup, eyes blazing with furious determination, leapt for her. Shocked, Keegan only flinched when the growlithe knocked her over. His fangs scraped at her throat as he tore her fire stone pendant from around her neck, leaving a red mark as the chain snapped.

White light rippled over his bloodied fur, his wounds engulfed in the thickening of his coat, and a magnificent snowy white mane swelled over his head and shoulders. Keegan rolled to her side and watched, astonished, as white tufts flared back from his growing paws. Then the light faded, revealing a fiery dog whose size and majesty rivalled that of the beasts arrayed against him. Firefoot lowered his head, fur bristling, and growled as the now dim pendant slipped from his mouth and dropped to the floor with a clunk, sliding on the slick wood towards the beasts.

Keegan reached for it, but Entei roared deafeningly, making her head pound, and she clutched her ears, cowering. Firefoot stepped back defensively, but didnt change his battle-ready stance. The lithe, blue beast drew back its head, about to fire another bubblebeam while sparks flowed over the striped beasts fur.

My pendant! Keegan thought desperately, but Firefoot nudged her urgently. Reluctantly, Keegan reached up with shaking hands, grabbing onto Firefoots thick orange-and-black fur and swinging her leg over his back. With a short bark, Firefoot bounded down the stairs with newfound grace as the thunderbolt and bubblebeam collided on the floor where hed stood, leaving a searing black mark and sending the pendant skittering over floorboards to rest beneath the gently tinkling silver bells.

Keegan hunched over Firefoots back, clutching onto his mane with all her might. Her legs were clenched tightly around his ribs and she struggled to keep her balance against the unfamiliar, supple flow of muscles beneath his skin which threatened to throw her off. Behind them, through the sound of her heart pounding in her ears, she could hear the trio of legendary beasts giving chase, determined to drive them from the tower in a flurry of fire, water and lightning.

As they burst down into another of the identical rooms, a startled, darkly clad woman with orange hair looked up. Paws scrabbling on the slick wooden floor, Firefoot tried to dodge around her. She dove to the side as he flashed past, and Keegan caught a glimpse of two astonished men dressed in the same uniform. Then the floor rose up around her and they vanished from sight as Firefoot continued on his downward escape.

Keegan turned away, eyes tightly shut and teeth gritted. The next instant she heard alarmed shouts and pain-filled cries amid the sound of roaring flames, shattering ice and cracking electricity.

Those disturbing noises were soon left behind and they finally exploded out of the towers entrance. But their worries werent over yet, as they came face to face with a leering, red-eyed gengar. Instinctively, Firefoot jerked aside, his jaws already open to bathe the gengar in flames; but the gengar wisped away into nothingness, hidden in the darkness, and the flames washed uselessly over the wide, white stones of the path.

You! a familiar voice shouted. Keegan winced, then raised her throbbing head and blinked blearily towards several blurry figures. She could feel Firefoots rumbling growls and blinked rapidly, trying to coalesce the figures into something recognisable.

Theres - she began, but then cut off short as her lungs complained about the damage theyd taken. Coughing harshly, it was several moments before she caught her breath, one hand pressed weakly to her chest. When she did, she looked up to find the same monk clasping his hands fitfully, his thick eyebrows drawn forward in an expression of utmost anguish.

I told you to leave! he cried accusingly, wringing his hands. Behind him were two other monks, one plump and the other elderly. Both peered past her with anxious eyes. Pale, Keegan shook her head helplessly, unable to speak, then regretted it instantly; it made the world spin dizzily.

You say you saw this girl at sunset? A blue-haired woman who was a perfect match for the Officer Jenny in Alto Mare demanded. Keegan took a deep, slow breath, stifling an outbreak of coughs.

The monk nodded worriedly. She said she was lost in the woods I told her to return to Ecruteak. He turned to a yellow haired young man with a blue headband, staring thoughtfully at Keegan. His blue and yellow jumper stood out brightly in the darkness. I should have guided her down there, he apologised earnestly. Im sorry, Morty. Morty nodded absently. At his side, a proud-looking brown-haired young man was glaring at Keegan suspiciously, arms crossed over his purple suit. His white cape fluttered slightly in the night breeze.

Right, Officer Jenny said briskly, and pointed accusingly at Keegan. Youre under arrest for trespassing and breaking into the Tin Tower. Instantly Firefoot growled, his hackles rising.

No, Keegan found her voice finally, her fist clenching momentarily in Firefoots striped fur. There were there were - she coughed and continued determinedly through the tickle in her throat. There were three people in there, she managed at last. A woman and two men.

Jenny glanced questioningly at Morty, followed by the three monks. He gazed at Keegan piercingly through lidded eyes, as though he could see into her very soul. Uncomfortably, Keegan flushed and looked away, her heartbeat finally slowing down. Shes telling the truth, he said at last, confidently. The monks gasped.

Lead the way, Jenny ordered. Firefoot glanced back at Keegan, his eyes concerned at the sight of her pale face and the red graze down her arm. Nonetheless, she touched him on the shoulder. Obediently, Firefoot turned around, only to find the gengar had blocked their escape back into the tower.

The gengar dissolved and reappeared at Mortys shoulder, its grin widening. Firefoot padded into the tower, the slight breeze tugging at his fluffy white tail as Officer Jenny and her companions followed. He carefully stepped up the staircase and Keegan closed her eyes, leaning forward and taking slow, steady breaths in an effort to keep the room from spinning. The headache was beginning to make her feel sick.

As they ascended, Keegan listened intently for the sounds of the legendary beasts, but to her relief the tower was silent. And yet when they reached the correct floor, Keegans stomach lurched, and she swallowed hard. The room smelled of burned flesh, and she stared with horror at the scene as Firefoot entered, giving the others room to come in.

One of the men was pinned halfway up the wall with icicle spears. One had pierced his shoulder, but the edges of the wound were turning black with the sheer cold, stopping it from bleeding. He was unconscious, limply hanging from his icy restraints. His skin was pale, almost purple in the cold. His black-and-blue uniform and the navy-coloured bandanna covering his head were coated in a thin layer of glittering ice crystals. Keegan could see he was alive in the small puffs of cold breath.

Almost directly beneath him was the second man, in a bundle on the floor. His bandanna and the brown hair peeking from beneath it were sticking up with static electricity, and he still twitched occasionally. His body was scored with electrical burns and Keegan shuddered, absently fingering the pearly scars on her arm.

The third of the trio, the orange-haired woman, was slumped against the wall behind the staircase, her chest rising and falling slowly in evidence of life. The right half of her face was red and bloody, badly burned, and her hair and bandanna still smoked, almost completely gone. Her uniform, however, seemed more intact than the mens. It also smoked, shiny with residue of flames, but appeared to be resistant to fire.

Firefoot backed away and Keegan slid off his back, finally noticing every ache and pain which afflicted her. Her legs almost collapsed, but Firefoot braced himself to hold her weight and she leaned on him weakly. Looking at the three other intruders, she felt a chill, realizing just how lucky she had been to get away with a few scrapes and bruises.

Of course, you led those pokmon straight into these guys she thought to herself guiltily.

Goodness, the elderly monk gasped, paling as he entered. The plump monk clapped a hand over his mouth, horror-struck eyes travelling over the three unconscious intruders. He immediately waddled hastily up the stairs, evidently to escape the room and to be sure the upper levels were undamaged. Jenny checked the brown-haired intruders pulse, finding that he was alive, while Morty, seeing there was no threat, returned his gengar to its pokball.

Tell your arcanine to melt this ice, the caped young man ordered, touching one of the icicles, then drawing his hand away with a hiss at its burning frostiness.

Firefoot, Keegan said faintly, leaning back against the wall and sinking to the floor. With a worried glance, Firefoot padded over and breathed gentle flames over the ice, slowly melting it until the half-frozen intruder fell into the young mans arms. He set him down by the wall gently, tugging the ragged edges of the uniform over the frozen wound.

Youve defiled the sacred tower, the thin-faced monk murmured anxiously. Look look at what youve done he swept an arm around the room, but Keegans head snapped up.

I didnt, she denied, horrified. I didnt!

If you didnt attack these people, then who did? Jenny demanded, looking up from the three compact hang-gliders resting in the corner. She held out a scrap of black material. And whats this? Keegan looked. Imprinted on the fabric was a blue emblem, similar to the tiny symbols on the intruders bandannas. In the centre was a circle, while at the bottom were two short lines, with a third at the top, making it look vaguely like an A

I dont know, she admitted, her words muffled by her knees. With her spare hand, Jenny reached for her radio, preparing to call for paramedics. But I guess they were attacked by Entei and those other two beasts.

At this, the caped mans head snapped around, his blue eyes suddenly kindling with passion. What other two beasts? he demanded, rising from his crouch.

Entei? the elderly monk echoed at the same time. Jenny halted for an instant, also surprised, but then turned away and covered her ears to speak into the radio.

Keegan nodded, shifting her position to sit cross-legged. I didnt expect to come across any pokmon, truly I didnt! she appealed to them honestly. Which was the truth. The last thing shed expected to find in the tower was legendary pokmon after seeing Entei and Lugia, what were the chances shed see others? Quite high, it now seemed.

Tell us exactly what happened, Morty turned around from checking the female intruder, his baggy jeans rustling, and fixed her once again with that eerie, intense gaze as his friend crossed his arms impatiently.

I went up to the top of the tower, Keegan explained, looked down at the now slick, wet floor as Firefoot lay heavily down beside her. And it was getting hot, all of a sudden. When I went into the top room, there was a giant bird her voice turned wistful. Like a phoenix. The monks exchanged astonished looks and Mortys eyes went wide as sudden, fleeting envy flashed over his face.

Except I guess I startled it, Keegan admitted. Because it flew off. And the trio of beasts attacked me. She fiddled with the hem of her jeans uncomfortably, absently breathing through her mouth to avoid smelling the air. There was no avoiding the fact she wasnt meant to be up there, which had obviously been reason enough for Entei to attack her when hed helped her before.

She looked at Firefoot proudly, and ruffled his fur fondly. Firefoot carried me out. On the way down we ran across those three, she nodded her head towards the intruders, ignoring the sudden stab in her temple which reminded her of the dull ache behind her eyes. I guess they distracted the beasts.

Legendary dogs, the caped man supplied, no longer seeming to care about her. His eyes turned elsewhere.

Huh. They looked more like cats to me, Keegan thought to herself idly, but seeing the young mans sudden fervour kept her from saying so. She blinked, surprised, as he moved with swift, barely controlled zeal towards the stairs leading higher.

Eusine, Morty grabbed his arm and Eusine pulled away with a jerk, his eyes alight with smouldering passion. Nows not the time.

For an instant Eusine glared at him, and Keegan thought he would hit his friend; but then he calmed out of whatever desire had gripped him and turned his gaze back to her, frowning at her with intensity altogether different from Mortys. But all that doesnt explain what you were doing up there in the first place, he snapped.

Keegan flushed again. I Officer Jenny also looked at her sternly, apparently prepared to arrest her on the spot.

Its just as well, the elderly monk pointed out suddenly, and bowed towards Keegan. If these criminals knew that the legendary dogs and Ho-Oh were in the tower at the time, they could have injured one or all of them.

Her intentions werent malicious, Morty agreed, and glanced at Jenny. Im inclined to let it slide. This time. His last words carried a hint of warning which Keegan didnt miss, and she nodded silently, her stomach roiling with annoyance. But it wasnt irritation that shed given in to her rebellious impulse; it was because shed gotten caught she felt a chill as she realized that, and bit her lip, disturbed.

Jenny stood, brushing her hands absently off on her blue skirt. Ill wait here until the paramedics arrive, she volunteered calmly.

Good, Morty agreed, and pointed a finger at Keegan. You should go to the Pokmon Centre. Youre not in perfect shape yourself. And with those parting words he threw a stern look at Eusine and ascended the tower, followed by the last two monks.

Keegan held out Firefoots pokball and returned him, then scrambled to her feet, anxious to escape the stifling, smoky air of the chamber. Eusine scowled up the stairs, then sighed and went to her side. He understood Mortys wishes, and acknowledged it was probably for the best he remained behind. He wasnt a guardian of the tower, after all, and really had no business being there.

Keegan took a deep breath, shunting off the dizziness that momentarily overwhelmed her. Then she obediently followed Eusines light touch on her arm as he led her back down the tower, hitching her bag more securely on her shoulder. Absently, her hand went to her neck in reassurance, only for her to remember that her pendant was still at the pinnacle of the tower.

July 22nd, 2005, 6:59 PM
* * *

The sun shone through the open window, splashing morning light over the wooden floor of the wide room. Within were two bunk beds, carved from richly coloured timber; but only one was currently occupied.

Keegan rose unwillingly out of her sleep to find herself burrowed comfortably under the warm blankets, hugging her pillow soothingly. Or it would have been comfortable except for the fact she ached in places she didnt even know she had. With a groan, Keegan rolled over, reaching up to touch her tender head. The action stretched the scabbed graze on her arm, and the events of the previous night came back to her.

Oh yeah blearily, Keegan sat up, cross-legged under the blankets. Oooh, Hazels gonna kill me, she groaned, hiding her face in the pillow. Her stomach was already twisting with apprehension and she wished the day was over. Why, oh why, couldnt she learn?

With a sound of utmost disgust, she threw aside the blankets, turning to sit on the edge of the bed with the pillow still on her lap. Unfortunately she forgot about the bed above hers, whacking her forehead painfully on the frame.

Her head throbbed, reminding her it had already put up with enough damage in the past night. Leaning over the pillow, Keegan wished she could crawl back into bed. No, I shouldnt stay here longer than necessary, she told herself sternly. Its your own fault you know it is none of them are going to trust you as long as youre around. Besides, that Morty guy is kinda creepy...

For several moments she sat there, trying to convince her body that yes, it was fine, and it would be able to handle getting out of bed. Finally, her muscles complaining the whole way, she tossed the pillow aside and got up.

Several minutes later she stumped wearily downstairs to find Eusine in the lobby of the Pokmon Centre, waiting impatiently. Oh, boy maybe theyre not letting me off the hook as easily as I thought She hesitated at the base of the stairs, but there was no other way out and the caped young man had already spotted her.

Nurse Joy peered at her as she approached the Pokmon Centres counter silently, not at all sure what to say. Are you sure you should be up? the pink-haired nurse asked with a frown. You looked terrible when you came in last night.

Keegan grinned, hiding any evidence of her aches and pains. It wasnt the first time that she got herself injured, and probably wouldnt be the last. Yeah, sure, she answered in a perky voice which belied the graze on her arm and the dark circles under her eyes. What about my pokmon?

Joy held out the two pokballs with a slight smile. Theyll be fine. Gratefully, Keegan took them and added them to her belt before turning to Eusine.

Look, she began, looking down at the floor. Im really, really sorry I went into the tower last night. It was pretty stupid of me.

Eusine shrugged, white cape flapping gently. Im not the one you should be apologising to, he said honestly, but his tone of voice sounded aloof, as though she were a peasant and he the envoy of a greater power. Im Mortys friend, but that doesnt mean I have the right to enter the tower without permission either. His expression darkened, the thin lock of hair which hung over his eyes making them seem slightly more accusing. But I also know when to show respect where it is due, he added, and Keegan flushed. That was very similar to what Miriam had said before Keegan left Alto Mare

Eusine turned towards the exit, looking at her expectantly. Come along. We have to go to the gym. And he strode out of the Pokmon Centre. Wondering whether she should be worried or not and feeling slightly annoyed at his superior tone, Keegan trailed after.

She quickened her pace so she could catch up to Eusine as they passed a few early-morning trainers heading into the Pokmon Centre. Are the other intruders okay? she asked anxiously. Even though she knew they meant nothing but harm, she still felt guilty for getting them hurt.

Eusine glanced at her, his blue eyes serious and yet distant. Theyre fine, he answered shortly. They looked a lot worse than they are. The legendary dogs arent bloodthirsty by nature; most pokmon arent. He frowned slightly in brooding contemplation. No, thats a disposition reserved for humans. Keegan fell silent, considering that as they passed by a man opening his shop. Ecruteak City was beginning to wake up, the early morning making the air fresh.

Why are we going to the gym? Keegan asked after a while, her eyes flickering to the Tin Tower in the distance. The sun gleamed off the canopy at the apex, making it seem serene compared to the battlefield it had been the night before.

Because thats where the closest arena is, Eusine answered flatly. And Im not letting you leave Ecruteak without a battle. Keegans head snapped around to look at him apprehensively, suddenly charged with adrenaline. She couldnt remember ever being in a proper battle in her life. And Morty wanted to see you about something, Eusine added after a moment, a slightly amused smile twisting his lips at her expression. It softened his eyes slightly, making them seem more down-to-earth and less superior. I think hes going to offer you a reading.

A what? Keegan blinked, confused and hardly listening, wondering whether Eusine would accept a rejection. Somehow she didnt think so

Morty has a very special psychic ability, Eusine explained. Called distant vision. He can see things other people cant.

Like what? Keegan demanded, her heart skipping a beat in excitement and her mind leaving the issue of the battle in an instant. Like, people? Pokmon? Lost objects? her hand drifted automatically up to her throat, where she sorely missed the weight of her pendant.

Many things, I suppose, Eusine acknowledged thoughtfully, and his eyes darkened slightly, the amusement leaving his face. Ive asked him to scry for Suicune, on occasion; but legendary pokmon seem to be beyond even his sight. Seeing her confused expression, he added, Suicune is the legendary dog of water. His tone was reverent, and Keegan realized exactly why hed reacted the way he had the night before as his voice turned wistful. Ive been searching for her many years. The closest time I ever came to battling her was right here in Ecruteak.

I can understand that, Keegan agreed quietly, remembering the utter grace of Suicune. While Entei had presence, Suicune had elegance, and the third beast had been somewhere in between; tough and quick. For an instant Eusines eyes flashed jealously and he glanced at her sharply to find she was gazing at the ground in remembrance. In her eyes he could see the same appreciation of beauty he possessed and his mistrust faded. He met very few people who could understand, let alone match, his respect for Suicune. Perhaps shes worthy after all he found himself thinking.

So whys Morty offering a reading to me? Keegan asked suddenly as they approached the gym.

Eusine broke out of his reverie and shrugged, sending his thoughts scattering to the wind. Worthy or not, hed soon discover. But dont think its going to come cheap, he warned. Just because hes a gym leader doesnt mean hes set for life in terms of finances. Keegan nodded, and Eusine pushed open the doors to the gym, leading her inside. He looked with a hopeful gleam in his eyes around the arena, but then Morty emerged from a room to the side and disappointment crossed over his features.

The yellow-haired gym leader gazed at Keegan sympathetically with lidded eyes. You dont remember much of your past, he said, but it wasnt a question. It was clear from his tone that he knew. Mutely, Keegan shook her head, and Morty held up her pendant, complete with a new chain.

Keegan gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. Oh! I thought

Youve had this a long time, Morty held the pendant back, its new golden chain dangling over his fist. It was a gift; and it was given with a great deal of love.

You you can tell that? Keegan faltered, her heart pounding with excitement. If he knew that what else could he tell me? She took a step forward, her eyes pleading. Can you tell me who gave it to me? she implored him, eyes wide. Where they are? If theyre alive?

I could try, Morty admitted. But you received this a long time ago, he waved the pendant. And what I see might not be to your liking. Many things may have changed since it was given to you.

I dont care! Keegan cried passionately, her eyes shining, and she clenched her fists. Do you have any idea what its like to know that youre missing half of your own life?! Eusine gazed at her speculatively, taking note of her fervour.

Morty nodded, accepting that as truth. Pressing the index and middle fingers of his right hand firmly to his forehead, he closed his eyes, gripping the pendant tightly. Your arcanine used this to evolve itself, he observed idly.

Yes, Keegan nodded, her eyes riveted him tensely.

Morty expanded to scope of his vision, searching for someone he knew could well be too far away even for him to see. And then I see a red-haired man, dressed in crimson and black black or grey, I cant tell. Hes the one who gave this pendant to you. Keegans cheeks went slightly pink. The first person to leap to mind was Lance the dragon master. But I cant see his face Morty trailed off. Theres also fire. And water.

Fire and water. Keegan sighed. Fire and water. Why is everything fire and water? **** ocean.

Morty was silent for several seconds longer before opening his eyes and lowering his hand. Thats all save that this man is currently in another region. Too far for me to see anything detailed. He held out the pendant. Distractedly, Keegan reached out to take it, and as their fingertips brushed, Morty experienced an unexpected flash.

- hazy figures which looked vaguely like birds; they soared in the sky, the wind lifting them through the clouds -

Then Keegan pulled back and Morty blinked, startled. Usually for him to see anything he had to look for it first. However, sometimes passionate people unintentionally projected their inner values so strongly he could catch a glimpse of them. Eusine was one of these; that was how Morty had discovered his distant vision ability, and how theyd become friends in the first place. You should go to Kanto, he blurted before hed had a chance to think.

Keegan looked up from her pendant. While it no longer had the flickering fire in its centre, the weight of it in her palm was comforting. Why?

Because I saw birds, Morty explained, and smiled briefly at her startled expression. The last thing I saw. In Kanto are three legendary bird pokmon, the winged mirages. You should search them out.

Keegan considered this, fastened her pendant back around her neck. After all, shed come to Ecruteak for inspiration, and Morty had given her nothing if not inspiration. Besides, she thought to herself, her fist clenching around the pendant. He said the man who gave me this pendant is in another region. Kanto is as good a place as any to start looking.

She reached into her bag, looking for her wallet. I understand that your services arent free, she said honestly. I may have snuck into the Tin Tower illegally, but Im not a criminal. What do I owe you?

Morty named his price and Keegan handed over the money as Eusine fidgeted, casting impatient glances at the bare, wooden arena. There was only one thing on his mind Suicune. And the fact that Keegan had seen Suicune, even by accident he wanted to show her the real power of a Suicune-hunter before Morty tried to send her away and prevent him from reminding her of his challenge.

So when Morty opened his mouth to bid Keegan farewell, Eusine cut him off. Are you still up for a battle? he demanded of Keegan, his eyes determined and one fist clenched. Mortys mouth snapped shut, his expression resigned.

For a few moments Keegan only stared at Eusine mutely, studying the resolve in his features. With a pang she realized that despite his superior attitude, he was a kindred spirit. He would search the world over, seeing beauty wherever he went, struggling to discover where his true place in life was. Thats why he chases Suicune. For inspiration. Idly, she wondered what her inspiration was; then she remembered. Her inspiration was the song shed heard in Alto Mare the one which had encouraged her to leave the city. The one which told her to dance.

Slowly, Keegan nodded, accepting his challenge.

August 2nd, 2005, 5:11 PM
Ookay, little bit of swearing in this chappie, but it shouldn't be anything people can't handle :P

~ IV ~


If nothing else, you have to admire his passion, the gym leader thought to himself, standing on the sideline of the arena as referee. On one side, Eusine was waiting grimly for Morty to begin the battle; on the other, the girl whose name they still didnt know was looking uncertain but determined. But sometimes its like he thinks hes the only one worthy of seeing Suicune like with Ash a few weeks ago. A slight smile touched the gym leaders lips. Although I am surprised he managed to wait until after I finished talking to her.

Keegan expanded Firefoots pokball, releasing him in a flash of light. Arrcth! The arcanine barked, prancing happily about on the cleanly swept field with his tongue lolling.

Cmon, Firefoot, this is a battle, Keegan told him. He looked over his shoulder with the exact same, sternly mournful eyes hed possessed when he was a growlithe, and cocked his head severely. Aw, dont do that, Keegan groaned. Okay, you were right and I was wrong. Happy? Firefoot gave a short nod and turned back towards Eusine, eyes bright.

Eusine followed Keegans lead, releasing a female alakazam onto the field. The dark brown armour on her forearms, torso and knees almost seemed to absorb the light. Keegan had never seen an alakazam before, but she had seen abra around Alto Mare, and gritted her teeth. How am I meant to contest a psychic pokmon? She wondered nervously.

Ka? the alakazam tilted her head, puzzled. The next thing Keegan knew she had teleported right in front of her. Kaahza? Crossing her twin silver spoons, the psychic pokmon seemed to examine the girl through the scope, the two utensils travelling over her face and then down to her bag. Startled, Keegan stepped back, and Firefoot blinked densely.

Alakazam! Eusine snapped, also surprised. Instantly Alakazam teleported back to his side of the field in battle position.

This will be a one-on-one match, Morty declared, his tone resigned. No time limit. He raised his hands. Begin!

Okay. Lets do this. Firefoot, use flamethrower! Keegan ordered, and Firefoot drew back his head, firing a stream of flames towards Alakazam as rainbow light swept over the field.

Mirror coat! Eusine returned. Raising her spoons, Alakazam narrowed her eyes, generating a barrier of pure energy to deflect the fire. Morty jumped to the side, raising an arm against a streamer of the flames which coursed past him before disintegrating into nothingness.

Quick attack! Keegan cried, and Firefoot darted forward, avoiding the reflected attack. He flashed across the ground, but just as he was about to hit Alakazam the psychic pokmon teleported behind him. Startled, Firefoot tried to stop as Alakazam raised her spoons once again, aiming a shaft of psychic energy towards the arcanine. Before Firefoot had a chance to dodge, it engulfed him in rainbow flashes of light.

Firefoot skidded across the arena under the force of the psybeam, shaking it off as best he could. Flamethrower! Keegan commanded again, her own fists clenched and her eyes sparkling with excitement. Obediently Firefoot sent another ribbon of flames towards Alakazam. The psychic pokmon just generated another mirror coat; except this time Keegan was prepared. Follow it up with take down!

Firefoot bounded forward through the flames of his own attack, but Eusine had seen Keegans plan. By the time Firefoot burst through the mirror coat, it was only to find a maze of the gleaming barriers, each one reflecting Firefoots startled expression and the strangely warped image of Alakazam.

Tackle it, Firefoot! Keegan shouted, and Firefoot leapt forward to tackle what he thought was Alakazam, only to have the mirror coat shimmer and vanish.

Psybeam, Eusine ordered calmly. Keegan watched keenly, waiting for Alakazam to reveal her position. The multiple images of Alakazam raised her spoons, firing a psybeam, not at Firefoot, but at one of her own mirror coats. With iridescent flashes of light, the psybeam ricocheted off the glimmering barriers with increasing power until it reached a confused Firefoot, engulfing him once again in light and sending him sprawling across the field.

The mirror coats faded, revealing Alakazam on the opposite side of the field as Firefoot staggered weakly to his feet. Physically he was fine; psychic attacks drained the spirit, an altogether different but nonetheless effective technique. Use psychic, Eusine told Alakazam, and she crossed her spoons.

Ahhllaa, she grunted, her eyes flashing bright, cerulean blue. Surrounded in that same colour aura, Firefoot was suddenly raised into the air, fur fluttering. Pointing with one of her spoons, Firefoot was thrown against the ground, the wind expelling from his lungs in a swift burst. Then Alakazam raised him up again; but this time his fur flared, flames veining their way through his mane and down his shoulders as his tail blazed.

Seeing this, the onset of a fire pokmons blaze ability, Keegan quickly ordered a fire spin. Firefoot opened his shaggy jaws, driving a roiling twister of flames towards Alakazam. They swept over the field, warming the ground and engulfing the psychic pokmon in fire.

Keegan grinned, confident shed scored a hit. Firefoots blue aura faded and he plummeted to the ground, landing with a heavy thump. Arrcnn, he snarled, lurching to his feet.

Take down, Keegan ordered, and Firefoot leapt forward at a full run. The next instant the inferno glowed blue, shooting out in a blazing ring. Keegan ducked instinctively as the halo shot over her head, but the circle caught Firefoot in the chest and sent him tumbling back, his fire-resistant fur smoking. He hit the ground, slewed across the field, but didnt rise. Alakazam, panting, still remained standing. Her armour was blackened, seared by the fire, and her golden skin held evidence of burning.

Arcanine is unable to battle, Morty declared. Alakazam is the winner. Anxiously, Keegan ran to Firefoot, kneeling beside him. She made to place a hand on his heaving side, but jerked back with a curse; his black and orange coat was scorchingly hot.

The arcanine rolled onto his paws and struggled to get up. Gingerly, Keegan put a hand on his nose, ignoring the uncomfortable warmth of his fur. Its okay, she assured him, raising his pokball, and smiled. You did great for your first real battle. With that she returned him to the safety and comfort of his pokball.

Eusine also raised Alakazams pokball, his expression pleased. Excellent work, Alakazam, he complimented his pokmon, and she turned a weary but grinning face towards him before disintegrating into the customary beam of red light.

Keegan stood, feeling dispirited. Her aches and pains, forgotten in the excitement of the battle, seemed to return tenfold. No wonder we were getting thrashed last night, she thought, depressed. How can I expect to get anywhere if we cant battle properly?

Eusine, approaching, saw her expression. You faced the wrath of the legendary dogs last night, he told her, his eyes glittering, not seeming as ill-disposed towards her as he had been. That is true power. This battle just proves that to chase a legendary pokmon, you must not only be strong you have to have more than one trick up your sleeve. So saying, Eusine raised a simple playing card; he passed over it with his other hand, and in its place was a small, crimson rose bud. With a slight bow and a small flourish of his cape, the enigmatic young man handed it to Keegan.

Keegan blushed and accepted the flower, impressed; then she offered an uncertain grin. So. Strategy, huh? She summarised, feeling a strange sense of dj vu. She seemed to vaguely remember someone giving her similar advice.

Not that Eusines strategies have helped him get very close to Suicune, Morty said dryly, joining them, and Eusine scowled. Besides, Morty added. Psychic pokmon are widely considered the most dangerous of all, because there are only a few other types with any immunity to them. Its difficult to win when your pokmons attacks keep getting reflected right back at you.

Why doesnt that make me feel any better? Keegan wondered dismally, before brushing the thought off. It doesnt matter. I wont let that stop me. She nodded firmly. Thats no reason to give up, she said with utter determination. I can always get better. Besides, after seeing so many beautiful legendary pokmon here in Johto, I have to wonder what those winged mirages are like. And on the way, I can look for the man who gave me this, she touched her pendant, still holding the rose.

Eusines scowl evaporated. Hah. If she can recognise the beauty of the legends, she cant be so bad. Besides, with determination like that in the face of defeat, she could go far. Even if her curiosity does land her in trouble.

Then Id recommend you head down to Goldenrod City, Morty advised Keegan. You can take the magnet train into Kanto.

Keegan nodded, her eyes profoundly grateful. I dont know how to thank you, she began. For giving me some hope. Maybe Ill be able to find out about myself after all. Her thoughts were already elsewhere, considering the possibilities; for if the key to her past was in Kanto, then she was almost there, just steps away. It was strange how a reckless decision such as breaking into the Tin Tower could end up being so beneficial despite all the pain and guilt, it was worth it.

Painful ventures usually were, after all.

* * *

Far away from Johto, in a thriving city sprawled on the eastern coast of Hoenn, the Hoenn TV headquarters was a bustling hive of regulated chaos. It was nearing the end of the day and there were still many things to be done; though for the broadcast teams chief, few of them had anything to do with his news reports.

In his cluttered office on the upper storey of the whitewashed building, Archie watched a recently recorded report with narrowed eyes, one hand stroking his bearded chin absently. The recording was about the recently instated Petalburg gym leader, but Archie was barely paying attention. His position as the chief of the station was borne of necessity, not interest.

One of his phones rang, shattering through the drone of the TV; not one from an employee down below, but his blue one. The one which he never let anyone touch. The one which could herald either success or disaster

Muting the report, Archie answered the phone, eyes flickering automatically to glance out the soundproof window looking down on the main hall below, where most of the stations editing and broadcasting was done.

Sir, you should turn to IRC2, a scratchy voice suggested on the other end of the line without identifying himself or activating the vid-screen. It didnt matter; only three people could contact Archie using the blue phone. Immediately Archie did as the man suggested, and the screen changed, showing a close up shot of a short-haired reporter with glasses standing in front of a timber constructed police station.

despite their injuries, have been recaptured, the reporter was saying seriously. Behind her, Officer Jenny pulled up on her motorcycle and hurried into the station. However, all evidence pertaining to their intentions and their background was destroyed in the attempted escape. It is now believed they have an accomplice on the outside, who may have even helped them break into the Tin Tower. Investigations are still being conducted into these new theories, and Officer Jenny requests that anyone with information come forward. Coming to you from in front of Ecruteaks poli - Archie shut off the television, having heard enough. The screen blipped into a single dot, quickly fading into matte black.

So they failed, Archie snorted. What about the others? His voice was deep and rumbling, booming almost like a wailord.

So far there seems to be little opposition, the hoarse man on the other side of the phone line answered quickly. This may just have been bad luck.

Archie tapped at the disorganized tabletop irritably with the remote control. Bad luck or not, Im not willing to give up on this operation yet. But we cant afford to send in anyone else itll just have to wait until Matts is finished. Tell him to continue as planned, then move on to Ecruteak.

What about our agents in custody? the other man asked.

Archie shrugged, turning away from the window on his rotating chair. If Matts has the time and manpower, he can retrieve them. If not, they can stay there. His tone was cold. Every single one of his agents knew that he didnt take failure, for whatever reason, kindly.

Yes, sir. The hoarse man hung up with a click, and Archie lowered the phone with a frown.

This may be more difficult than I thought, he reflected, then shunted the matter from his mind and turned the television back on. It was nearly time for the six oclock broadcast

* * *

Keegan trudged down the thin path, her legs aching. Idly she wondered if it was downhill all the way to Goldenrod. The woods surrounding her were thinner than around Ecruteak, and the trees often surrendered to hard, rocky ground. I have to be close, she thought. It was more of a prayer than anything else. The Joy at the last Pokmon Centre shed visited had mentioned Goldenrod was within a days walk.

It seemed more like a year. Keegan was all for the quiet serenity of nature, but sometimes enough was enough. She was still sore from her venture into the Tin Tower, and had been tempted to remain in one place for a few days just so she could sleep in a proper bed. The only problem with that was, if she stopped, chances were she wouldnt start again.

She was just debating whether or not to rest for a while when she heard a weak, wavering hiss. A weedle in a tree nearby paused and cocked its head. Keegan stood for a second, then stepped off the path and into the thin forest, following the noise. There came a harsh chittering sound, hardly audible over the sound of rushing water. Keegan came to a stream and hesitated; then the calls came again, and she ran alongside the stream.

The trees parted to reveal an elegant vaporeon backed against a natural monument of rocks. Its blue fur was slick with the blood of a thousand tiny cuts, and the fin around its neck was torn and ragged.

The vaporeon tried to dart past its foe, a spindly-legged ariados, into the safety of the water; but the ariados fired a small, sharp thread from its mouth, catching the vaporeon on the paw and pinning it to the ground. With a jerk and a pain-filled cry, the vaporeon slung about, its injured paw stretched out as it lay on its side. Its sides were heaving and its eyes were glazed not just with pain, but with some kind of sickness. It shivered and trembled, tail twitching, as the ariados reared back, mandibles snapping

Without hesitation Keegan expanded Hazels pokball and threw it. The pokball hit the ariados squarely on the head and bounced before it. Dazed, the ariados didnt have time to react when Hazel bounded out of the pokball and tackled it, sending it skidding back.

Recovering, the ariados clicked angrily, shooting a string of fine thread towards Hazel, but the eevee darted to the side and the string shot hit the rocks uselessly. Quick attack! Keegan ordered. Hazel barely touched the ground before she flashed across the clearing, striking the ariados squarely on it bulbous, red abdomen. The spider pokmon tumbled back as Hazel landed, defensively, in front of the now wheezing vaporeon.

The ariados hesitated, clicking uncertainly. Then it seemed to decide a battle was too much trouble and retreated, skittering easily over the forests debris. Approaching cautiously, Keegan could see now the vaporeon was a young male, and the ariados had probably targeted him because he was sick. Kneeling, Keegan pulled the barb out of the vaporeons paw. An eye slitted open and he coughed, struggling to his feet.

Woah, Keegan held out a hand as he staggered, flanks heaving. His injured paw looked like it was swathed in red silk, except for the tiny drops which stained the ground. His fin-like ears drooped, the darker blue markings on his head a sickly shade of grey. Keegan expanded a spare pokball shed bought in Ecruteak, intending to capture the poor thing to take to a Pokmon Centre, but at the soft whooshing sound the vaporeons head snapped up and he snarled, showing small, sharp fangs.

Hazel jumped between the girl and the pokmon, gazing at the vaporeon with wide, earnest eyes. Keegan lowered the pokball to let Hazel talk some sense into him, chewing her lip.

<<You need help, cousin of the lake,>> Hazel mewed, her ears back with worry and her paws beating the ground in a dance of unease.

The vaporeon took a faltering step towards the stream, tail dragging on the ground. <<Brother will help me,>> he answered Hazel shortly, his voice weak and wavering with sickness. <<Hell be back soon.>>

<<That may be too late, cousin,>> Hazel begged him, taking a step closer. Her thick tail swished anxiously, cutting the air like a blade.

The vaporeon looked over his shoulder through slitted eyes. <<Brother will protect me,>> he repeated stubbornly, as though it were an edict he didnt quite believe but dearly wanted to. <<More than that human of yours will, little cousin of the wilderness.>> Hazel stiffened, her almond shaped eyes flashing angrily, and she hissed, her bristling fur registering her indignation. The vaporeon just chuckled wearily. <<I pray for your sake shes not like the human I once knew.>>

<<Shes not,>> Hazel said proudly, raising her head and tilting her ears forward confidently. <<Shell help.>>

The vaporeon took another limping step towards the stream. <<The only one who helps me is Brother. Hell be back soon with a cure.>> A shudder ran through his light frame. Hazel bounded in front of him, blocking his path, but he didnt try to escape into the water. Instead he hung his head, shaking and panting. Bending to look at his huge, black eyes, Hazel knew it was all he could do to keep his feet.

<<Well help you too,>> Hazel whispered, and looked pleadingly up at Keegan. Instantly the blonde haired trainer raised the pokball and tossed it towards the water pokmon. He turned his head to look at the pokball as it flew towards him, but could do nothing to escape its relentless, tantalizing grasp.

The pokball rocked and locked down. With a comforting mew, Hazel put a paw on the shiny red surface, looking at the tired, wounded vaporeon within. <<Youll be alright, cousin of the lake,>> she promised him, and Keegan picked the pokball up, shrinking it to place at her belt.

Cmon, she hitched her bag more securely on her shoulder. We need to get to Goldenrod. Holding out Hazels pokball, she returned the eevee in a flash of light, and ran out of the clearing.

Many minutes later, a dark, nimble umbreon trotted into the clearing, holding his head high against the weight of the green Lum berry in his mouth. His red eyes narrowed, seeing the trail of blood on the ground, and he dropped the berry, springing over it to examine the scene.

His tongue flickered out, licking his nose to take in the taste of the surroundings, and he picked up the familiar scent: a human. Paws jerking with wild fury, the umbreon vanished into a slit in the rock, but upon finding it empty he returned to the clearing, an angry growl rumbled deep in his throat. Tail and ears whipping, he darted out of the clearing and into the trees, leaving the berry behind.

Keegan paced the shiny floor of the Pokmon Centres lobby anxiously. Outside the high windows she could see people passing up and down the wide boulevard next to the centre. The sky was already dark, lit only by the streetlights, hanging like a shroud over the city.

Chaanssi! the pink, balloon-like chansey bounced up to Keegan, offering the pokballs containing Hazel and Firefoot to her.

Thanks, Keegan smiled down at the happy-go-lucky pokmon, taking the pokballs, and it bounced off to take care of a group of trainers just entering the centre.

The red emergency sign over a pair of double doors dinged off, making Keegan spin around to see Nurse Joy exiting the room, her heart leaping to her mouth. Joy smiled reassuringly, and Keegan breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing.

Vaporeon was quite ill, Joy told her, clasping her hands in front of her apron. And with his injuries, it was just as well you came here so quickly. But after a night in our emergency ward, hell be fine.

Oh, thats great, Keegan sat down wearily on the cushioned bench nearby. Shed run most of the way to Goldenrod, and was feeling quietly exhausted.

Joy giggled. You should get some rest yourself, she suggested.

Yeah, I think I might, Keegan agreed gratefully, and retreated into one of the trainers rooms for a comfortable night in dreamland.

August 2nd, 2005, 5:17 PM
* * *

The next morning it was already quite late before Keegan finally dragged herself out of bed and trudged downstairs, yawning. Nurse Joy greeted her with a smile and a wave, gesturing for her to come to the counter.

Glancing blearily around the mostly-empty lobby, Keegan did so, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Joy held up the vaporeons pokball. What were you planning to do with this vaporeon? she asked mildly. You said you only caught him because he needed treatment.

Uhm, I dont really know, Keegan admitted, putting her elbows and bag on the counter and leaning on it. I never thought that far ahead. What should I do?

Oh, thats easy, Joy smiled. I think all he needs is a good trainer to take care of him. He doesnt seem as hateful towards trainers as some abandoned pokmon are. I just wanted to make sure you were willing.

Keegan straightened, frowning. Abandoned? How do you know?

A sorrowful expression passed over Joys face. Ive seen enough abandoned pokmon to recognise the look, she answered sadly. They have a certain kind of manner about them. She handed over the vaporeons pokball and Keegan accepted it gingerly, looking down at the pokmon within. He looked happy enough, but he still wore a slightly guarded expression of doubt. With an inward shrug, Keegan shrank the pokball and added it to her belt, dragging her bag off the counter and slinging it back over her shoulder.

Thanks, Nurse Joy. The girl waved goodbye and strolled out of the centre, raising a hand against the bright sun. She was blissfully unaware of the pair of red eyes which watched her malevolently from a nearby alleyway.

For a long while Keegan just wandered along the boulevard, dodging the throng and looking around at the various store fronts. Pausing at a wide newsagents window to avoid the large, laughing crowd coming down the paved path, Keegan studied the various magazines on the racks. One, a shiny edition with red, gold and white as its colours, boasted a huge picture of a pretty, grinning woman. Her pink hair looked soft and shiny, and she was giving a coy wink towards the camera.

WHITNEY! GOLDENRODS WONDER ACTRESS! The title screamed. Beneath that was the caption: Whitney talented actress and pokmon trainer. Keegan snorted; she had very little respect for rich people who played at being strong pokmon trainers, and the expression in Whitneys eyes seemed to mark her as one such person.

Oh, please, she muttered as the crowd passed behind her. Like any bimbo air-headed actress could be a proper pokmon trainer too. Betcha all she cares about is her pokmon getting a broken nail.

Excuse me! Turning, Keegan found herself face to face with the real, live Whitney. She was scowling angrily, arms crossed over a white and red-lined shirt. Keegan flushed, suddenly realizing the crowd must have been Whitney and her fans. Those same fans were also glaring at Keegan, several murmuring to each other. Beside Whitney was an older man carrying a cane, who cast his eyes up to the heavens.

Oh, great. Now Ive gone and done it. Keegan thought to herself, wishing she could melt into the pavement. She hated being in the centre of attention.

So you dont believe Im a real pokmon trainer, do you? Whitney snapped.

Keegan, acutely aware of her red cheeks, raised her chin and held Whitneys gaze rebelliously. Ive never seen you battle, she answered. So I guess I really cant judge.

Sure sounded like you were judging before, an anonymous fan sneered, and the crowd murmured with agreement. Whitney looked smug at her support, but the man beside her discreetly rolled his eyes, straightening his tie to cover it.

Show her what for, Whitney! someone else cheered.

Right, Whitney nodded, holding out an expanded pokball almost accusingly. Lets battle! Right here, right now. The boulevard is plenty big enough. Right? she glanced to the man beside her dangerously, as though daring him to disagree. The man shrugged helplessly, spreading his hands.

Think Ill pass. Keegan turned away, fully intending to leave, but the crowd wouldnt let her through. Instead they all glared at her jeeringly.

What kind of a trainer are you? Whitney demanded. Refusing a challenge like that?

I never said I was a trainer, Keegan snapped without turning. She was too busy staring down the tall, freckled girl who stood in her way.

On the contrary, miss, the older man spoke for the first time, gesturing with his cane. If you have pokmon, then by the Pokmon Associations rules you are considered a trainer.

With a sigh, Keegan stepped back. Fine, she grumbled. Lets get this over with.

Oh, it wont take long, dont worry, Whitney said snobbishly, turning around to walk to the centre of the boulevard. Keegan scowled, following to stand opposite her. Most of the shoppers browsing the boulevard stopped to watch, whispering, but some merely skirted the wide crowd lining the edge of the makeshift battlefield.

A one on one battle sound good to you? Whitney asked with false sweetness.

Whatever, Keegan muttered, looking down at the ground. Her cheeks had gone slightly pink again, for now she was even more in the spotlight than she had been before. Please, please dont let me screw up, she found herself praying, and that annoyed her more than anything else. Why should she care what this obnoxious woman thought?

With a twirl and a pose, Whitney tossed an expanded to release a matronly pink cow pokmon, miltank. Keegan remembered seeing a farmful of them as she travelled to Ecruteak, but she didnt know anything about its attacks or its type. Whitney smirked. Your turn. The miltank swished its tail, the small black sphere on its tip absorbing the sunlight, and yawned.

Hmn. Keegan frowned, wondering which of her pokmon to use. Then she shrugged inwardly. Good a time as any to test out the vaporeons abilities. She plucked his pokball off her belt and expanded it. Inside, the elegant water pokmon looked as though he was trying and failing not to look interested.

Awright, Tarn, Keegan grinned, making the name up on the spot; Lets show em. And she tossed the pokball, releasing the newly named pokmon.

This will be a one on one battle, the older man, standing with one arm behind his back between the two young women as ref, announced. No time limit. Begin! he tapped the ground forcefully with his cane to accent his words.

Miltank, rollout! Whitney rapped out before Keegan could say a word. Miltank curled into a ball and spurted forward, spinning towards Tarn swiftly, its pink and black markings a blur.

Water gun! Keegan cried, uncertain what attacks Tarn knew. Tarn blasted a stream of water towards Miltank, but it just blundered straight through, sending sprays of water shooting to the sides and drenching half the audience. At the last minute, Tarn jumped to the side, avoiding the attack. Whitney crossed her arms and smirked as Miltank skidded about in a sharp turn, barrelling back towards Tarn with increasing power.

I need something to stop it. But I dont know what attacks Tarn knows Keegan bit her lip, and as though sensing her uncertainty, Tarn cast a doubtful look towards her. Screw it. You know what attacks he can learn so pick one! Aurora Beam! Tarn looked relieved and dodged away, firing a glittering, rainbow beam of ice towards the miltank. A barrier of glimmering ice surrounded the pink cow, and for an instant it seemed as though the rollout attack had been halted; then the miltank burst through, its speed proving too much as the ice wall shattered into a million shards.

Keegan winced, raising a hand as the sun reflected off the ice shards smashed on the boulevard. Use quick attack to get away, she ordered through gritted teeth. Obediently Tarn flashed across the pavement, avoiding the spinning miltank. For a moment he stumbled, then caught himself, and Keegan clutched her pendant worriedly. His paw might not be as healed as I thought, she cursed. I shouldve used Firefoot

Whats the matter? Whitney asked smugly, seeing Keegans expression. Out of your depth?

Keegan scowled. She was, but thats the last thing she wanted Whitney to know. It was only her second battle! And shed been thrashed in her first Of course. She remembered Eusines advice suddenly. Tricks. I need a trick!

Tarn, use aurora beam on the ground! she shouted. Tarn leapt up his full height, casting a sheet of glimmering ice over the boulevard until it gleamed with a sheath of frost. Miltanks speed picked up, and Whitney laughed.

You just made my pokmon faster, she smiled arrogantly.

Maybe, Keegan snarled unconvincingly, her arms prickling with goosebumps in the chilly air hanging over the field. Tarn, use the ice to dodge miltank! Tarn slapped the shining surface with his flippered tail, sending himself skidding across the field on unsteady paws. The miltank spun into one of its sharp turns to follow, but it was then that the slippery ice played against it. The sturdy cow careened off course towards the watching crowd, out of control.

Stomp! Whitney shrieked, her fists clenched up to her chest as the crowd fled. Miltank unrolled itself, stamping the ice so hard it cracked. It skidded to a halt, leaving a trail of shattered ice.

Water gun, Keegan commanded, unable to contain a grin. The stream of water splashed uselessly over the shop window beyond as the miltank slithered onto the ice, gliding away unsteadily. Then it planted its hooves for a second time, stilling its drifting movement.

Unfortunately Tarn wasnt as lucky; his padded paws made it impossible to get a grip on the ice, a fact which Whitney noted with glee. Stomp your way over to Vaporeon, Miltank, she called, flashing a triumphant grin to Keegan. Miltank tramped towards Tarn, making the ground shake slightly, the ice cracking. Tarn slipped and slid, struggling to keep his feet.

More than one trick up your sleeve Tarn, use mist, Keegan commanded, praying he knew the attack. Instantly Tarn opened his delicate mouth, breathing a fine, chilly mist over the field. Keegan shivered and rubbed her arms.

It wont do you any good! she heard Whitney screech somewhere through the mist. Your vaporeon cant move anywhere!

Keegan smirked to herself. Thats what she thinks.

Whitney strained her eyes to see the girls vaporeon, her own pokmons pink and black body bright enough to provide a blurry figure in the mist. She shuddered but refused to rub her arms against the chill, refused to show that upstart little bitch any sign of weakness. Air-headed bimbo indeed!

She didnt even notice that her miltank was shivering in the cold, her pink skin turning slightly purple and her black ears drooping. Miltank, use rollout to clear the mist, she ordered through gritted teeth. Obediently Miltank did so, the windy backlash blowing the mist away in streamers of frosty air before Miltank stomped the icy field again.

Whitney expected to see the vaporeon still struggling to keep its feet, but instead she found the field was covered in thick lumps of ice, rising from the ground and gleaming in the sunlight. The vaporeon was nowhere to be seen.

Quick attack! Keegan ordered Tarn, and the vaporeon flashed out from behind an ice rock, darting from one to next, using them to keep his balance.

Body slam! Whitney tried, but Tarn was too fast, bowling Miltank over and sending it skating across the ice.

Cool it down even more with water gun! Keegan called. Tarn bounded off an ice rock, changing direction effortlessly, and shot a stream of water towards Miltank. The blow and the slippery ice drove the pink cow back to crash into one of the ice rocks; dizzily, it slumped to the ground, shivering, and didnt get up.

Miltank is unable to battle, the older man said firmly, tapping the ground with his cane. Whitney stared incredulously at her freezing pokmon, then burst into tears and returned it, running off down the boulevard. Her fans started chattering disbelievingly. Some followed after Whitney, but most didnt seem to know quite what to do. Slowly, the crowd dispersed, skirting the frozen section of the boulevard.

Keegan held out Tarns pokball. Awesome, Tarn, she said cheerfully, feeling happy enough to break into song or dance a little jig. She settled for a huge grin as the vaporeon bounded up to her, his slick blue fur glittering slightly from the ice particles still caught in it. His huge eyes were glimmering with satisfaction. Keegan returned him, releasing Firefoot at the same time.

Firefoot, use flame wheel to melt the field, please, Keegan requested, shrinking Tarns pokball and replacing it on her belt.

Arccth! Firefoot barked happily, and bounded onto the slippery ice, his blazing paws and flaming shield melting a trail as he pranced about.

Excellent battle, the elderly man complimented her, tipping his round, stiff-brimmed hat. Keegan blushed a little, and managed a chuckle.

Well, Idve said it was luck, she answered dryly.

Oh, perhaps not, the man smiled. You certainly used the ice to your advantage. This, I do believe, belongs to you. He held out a square, silver-lined badge, and Keegan looked at it curiously. This is for beating Whitney, the man explained. Shes Goldenrods gym leader. If a gym leader is beaten in battle, they have to award the victor with a badge. He smiled somewhat long-sufferingly. Unfortunately, Whitney tends to forget that in the face of defeat.

Thanks, uncertainly Keegan accepted it, examining the shiny, lime-green surface as Firefoot approached, splashing in a puddle of cold water and soaking the hems of Keegans jeans. Aw, Firefoot, Keegan groaned, shaking off the water, and the man chuckled. So I dont get it, how come youre giving me this instead of Whitney? Keegan waved the badge, hopping on one foot to wring out the hem with her spare hand.

I work for the Pokmon Association, the man said primly. The Johto headquarters are based here in Goldenrod. He touched his brim. I should get after Whitney. Good day, lass. And he strode off, vanishing into the excitedly chattering crowd, spread over the wet pavement that had served as a battlefield only minutes before.

August 9th, 2005, 6:14 PM
~ V ~


Lost in the city of Goldenrod, she was searching anxiously for the magnet train station. Shed stumbled around the urban suburbs for what seemed like hours, and had only just managed to find her way out. Now she was strolling between tall, looming buildings, broodingly wishing shed asked directions before she left the Pokmon Centre.

Studying the pavement at her feet, hardly paying attention to where she was going, she was half in another world. Then she heard hurried footsteps coming from around the corner, almost drowning out the sound of someone muttering to themselves, and perked up. She could ask for directions

Suddenly a young man dressed in a maroon suit and not that much taller than the girl rushed around the corner, clutching a pile of folders. He was looking down to the ground himself, and didnt see Keegan just around the bend. Before she could step out of his way they collided, spilling his papers all over the pavement.

Oh, dear! he gasped, clutching the wall and clearly upset. He ducked his wavy, ochre-coloured head to scrape up the documents. Kneeling, Keegan gave him a hand, her cheeks slightly pink with embarrassment. Oh, thank you, the man sighed when she handed over a sheaf of papers. He rifled through them, eyes flickering, and gave another sigh. Bother. Now Ill have to sort them all over again.

Listen Keegan began hesitantly, and smiled apologetically when the young man looked up, surprised, as though hed forgotten she was there. Could you direct me to the magnet train station?

Oh, thats on the other side of Goldenrod, the man exclaimed. He pointed down the way hed come, clutching the papers to his chest. If you go back this way and follow the underground path, youll come out right opposite the station.

Keegan looked at him blankly. Underground path? she repeated uncertainly, and the man sighed again.

You wouldnt happen to have a pen and some paper? No? Alright, if you come with me, Ill just deliver these home, and then Ill show you the way. He tapped the thick sheaf of paper.

Keegan hesitated, then shrugged. The guy seemed sincere enough, and if things went bad she always had her pokmon. Besides, its not like she was pressed for time. Okay, then, she agreed, straightening her bag on her shoulder.

Very well, then. This way, He gestured towards the alley Keegan had just come down, and proceeded to lead her back into the urban suburbs. Keegan frowned as she followed him, studying his wavy hair and distant, faraway eyes. She was sure shed seen him before He seemed to forget she was there again, sorting through his papers and muttering to himself. Occasionally she caught a word or too, but mostly she just heard his tone; whatever it was, he was certainly irked about it.

Finally, as they passed a few small gardened homes, something in Keegans mind clicked. Youre Bill the pokmaniac, arent you? she blurted, suddenly remembering reading about him in the Pokmon Journal magazines Miriam had given her in Alto Mare. You designed the transport and trading systems in the Pokmon Centres.

What? Oh, yes, Bill said vaguely, his mind obviously fixed on whatever matter was contained within the folders. He held up one sheet of paper and considered it crossly. Youre a pokmon trainer, arent you? he fired the question at Keegan. Miss? he cocked his head, waiting for her name.

Keegan. And yeah, I guess, Keegan answered, startled, as they passed by some kids playing happily in the spray from a blastoises hydro pump.

Wouldnt you think that a portable trading system would be helpful? Bill waved the sheet of paper irritably. That way trainers can trade all over the place! They wouldnt need to go to a Pokmon Centre to do it!

Trade? Keegan wondered, stepping around a parked car. No way. I wouldnt want to trade any of my pokmon. Well, I guess, she admitted. For those who want to.

Unfortunately the Pokmon Association disagrees, Bill stared broodingly at the paper. Too cost inefficient, he muttered. This isnt the first time theyve turned down one of my suggestions without careful consideration. Keegan remained silent, not feeling qualified to comment. She hadnt been aware Bill worked for the Pokmon Association.

That last time, Bill continued, talking more to himself than to Keegan, it was because whoops! He stopped suddenly, having just passed by the driveway to a nice, single-storey house, and Keegan almost crashed into him again. This is my place, Bill went a bit pink with embarrassment, and led Keegan up the driveway. Well, my folks place, anyway. Usually I live just north of Cerulean City in Kanto.

What are you doing here, then? Keegan asked hesitantly as he unlocked the front door, unsure whether it was her place to ask.

Oh, I often come out here to Johto to visit my folks. Bill dumped the pile of papers on a small, elegant table just inside the door and backed out again. And of course I have to make sure the central transport system for the region is working properly, he added, relocking the door. He turned around, tucking the key into his pocket and absently straightening his green ruff. Now. The magnet train station?

Keegan nodded mutely. Youre quite lucky, Bill assured her, guiding her back through the suburbs. It only just opened. They thought it would take a good deal longer to complete than it did. He sighed. I must say it makes it much easier to travel between regions.

Oh. Was all Keegan could find to say. She felt a little uncomfortable, walking down the street alongside a famous personage like Bill with absolutely nothing to say. So she just said nothing. Bill also lapsed into silence, apart from the occasional, mumbled comment to himself, no doubt about his work.

Despite Keegans initial fears, the underground paths entrance proved to be well kept and often frequented. It was a white-washed, low slung building flanked by a bookstore on one side and an electrical store on the other, the sign out the front boasting the paths various shops.

Oh, yes, Bill murmured, watching several laughing trainers exit the twin sliding doors and stroll down the street. The underground is a favoured training area.

Huh, Keegan answered as they entered, glancing about at the small pot plants and benches which lined the walls of the small room, I imagined some dingy little walkway.

Well, there are places like that, yes, Bill admitted, standing aside courteously so Keegan could go down the thin metal steps first. Many of the old corridors have fallen into disrepair. Thats where most trainers go to battle; but for the most part, the main avenue is well attended.

Either Bills memory is faulty or he hasnt been here in a long, long time, Keegan found herself thinking an hour later, unable to contain a small grin as she watched the pokmaniac looking about frantically for some kind of sign telling them where they were.

Hed been right; the central avenue had been teeming with booths and stores, not to mention shoppers. Well-lit by the huge round globes hanging overhead and decorated with long pot plants, there were colours and businesses galore; but then the avenue had split in two. And with badly hidden uncertainty, Bill had chosen the right-hand corridor.

Now as they progressed the corridor grew dingier. The walls were covered in stained and ripped posters, while the majority of the lights were smashed, their glass littering the floor. And yet, despite the oppressive gloom and the eerie, flickering lights, Keegan managed to find the whole thing funny.

Somehow I dont think this is the right way, Bill, Keegan suggested as they came to an intersecting corridor, her tone clearly amused. Bill looked down both ways, frowning.

Yes, well youre probably right, he admitted reluctantly, rubbing his head with embarrassment.

Keegan shrugged. So lets go this way, she suggested, gesturing down the left-hand passage.

Very well seems as good a way as any, Bill agreed, still looking around as though expecting to see a neon exit sign. Keegan couldnt help laughing, turning down the corridor, the glass crunching under her running shoes. Im frightfully sorry for all this, Bill apologised, catching up with her.

Forget it, Keegan grinned, gripping the strap of her bag to ease the weight on her shoulder. I wasnt in any hurry, and well find our way out of here eventually.

Yes, I suppose, Bill agreed, their footsteps echoing down another intersection as they passed. But be that as it may - he was suddenly cut off by a dark figure which darted out of the passage beside him, ducking under their feet and almost tripping them both up.

An umbreon?! Bill exclaimed, astonished, as the pokmon dashed behind an empty pot just down the corridor. The next instant two darkly clad men also barrelled out of the corridor, skidding to halt upon seeing Keegan and Bill. Keegans stomach clenched, her body instantly tense; she recognised the uniform, the red letter imprinted on the shirt.

So did Bill. Team Rocket! he gasped, taking a step back. Keegan jumped, for some reason startled that he knew them, but looking at his pale face she didnt feel comforted. Her own heart was beating too fast it seemed, and she felt like a giant hand was clamped around her lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

One of the Rocket grunts cursed, pushing back on his cap to reveal squinty eyes and thin, spiky black hair. No one was supposed to be back here! he snarled, expanding a pokball. Itll be to your loss you were!

Hands twitching with the overproduction of adrenaline, Keegan went for her pokballs; but Bill got there first and released an exeggcute, the six egg-like seeds bouncing on the grimy floor. Their eyes flashed blue, surrounding the two Rockets with that same cerulean aura Keegan had seen in her battle with Eusine; then the pokball dropped out of the grunts hand, clattering to the floor. Slowly, both men slumped to the ground. Bill and Keegan fled, the exeggcute bouncing along after. Behind them, the Rockets were sagged against the walls, fast asleep.

The two finally stopped in a small storage room filled with dusty, decaying crates. Bill bent over his knees, panting, while Keegan leaned against one of the boxes, gripping her pendant tightly. The wood half crumbled under her touch. What the hell is Team Rocket doing down here? she gasped, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand as the exeggcute, looking confused, studied her.

Im not sure I want to know, Bill answered, straightening and smoothing down his lapels. But we ought to report it to the Pokmon Association as quick as we can. Officer Jenny and Whitney should be able to take care of it.

At that, Keegan just snorted and rolled her eyes. Whitney. Right. Her heart rate was beginning to slow, though she was still shaking. Spying on two Rockets was all well and good, but she just wasnt cut out for direct confrontation with the bad guys.

Cucucu! Bills exeggcute chanted, bouncing enthusiastically at Keegans feet. Feeling oppressed, backed against the crates, she nudged one of the pink seeds with her feet, trying to push it away.

Why do pokmon keep on hanging around me? she groaned, recalling the magnemite, Alakazam, and a few mareep shed seen on the way to Goldenrod. Bill chuckled and raised the pokball, recalling his exeggcute mid-bounce.

Well, I suppose theres only one way left to go, Bill nodded at the corridor opposite the entrance theyd come through. Taking one last glance down the ominous corridor behind them, Keegan followed Bill as the young inventor set off at a brisk walk, obviously eager to escape the oppressive gloom.

It wasnt long before they began to hear the faint chatter of the shoppers in the central avenue, and the condition of the corridor began to clear before they finally rounded a corner to see the brightly lit path ahead of them. Thank goodness, Bill sighed, tugging on his sleeves absently as they emerged into the avenue.

Ah, it wasnt so bad, Keegan said cheerfully, jovial now that, in hindsight, the encounter had been relatively tame. At least we got to see what was down there. She nodded behind herself. Bill shuddered, but didnt say anything. Nonetheless, Keegan giggled at his expression. It was clear he didnt agree. How much further is the magnet train? she asked instead, hooking her right thumb on her belt, and then frowned, looking down. There seemed to be more space for her hand than there had been before

Not much further, Bill turned to look up the avenue. If we can just - For the second time in half an hour, he was cut off, this time by Keegans curse. Startled, Bill spun around to find Keegan frantically snatching at the pokballs on her belt, expanding them one by one.

Tarn! she cried, pale. Tarns gone! Bill gasped, gazing wildly back down the corridor; but when Keegan twisted about to run back the way theyd come, he held out a pacifying hand.

Wait! You cant! Team Rockets back there! he shouted after her retreating back.

Theyll never see me coming! Keegan just yelled back, her pounding footsteps fading as she rounded the corner.

Oh, dear, Bill raised a hand and patted his thick hair uncertainly, looking around almost as though expecting to see Officer Jenny descend upon him helpfully. Then, tugging at his collar, he chased after Keegan.

Keegan didnt slow until she reached the corridor where theyd met with the Rockets, now mercifully empty. The two criminals were long gone. Scouring the area frantically, she hardly noticed when Bill arrived, completely out of breath and clutching his side, mopping his face with an embroidered handkerchief. Oh, Im not cut out for this, he groaned, sitting on the pot nearby.

Hes not here, Keegan cried anxiously, leaning over to check behind the pot and almost knocking Bill off his unstable perch. She clutched her pendant, looking down the corridor the Rockets had come by. They must have taken him, she whispered, jumping to the most logical conclusion. She chewed the inside of her cheeks nervously, no longer truly seeing the corridor. Instead she wrestled with herself, with her fear.

Im not a hero. She thought silently, her grip tightening around her pendant. I cant just go in and make things right. Not like Lance does.

So? The ruthlessly smug part of her answered. So youre gonna stand around here and let the Rockets win? Youre gonna let fear take over? Youre not gonna see whats just around the corner? What was that line youre gonna fear those mountains in the distance?

Oh she scowled with determination, hitching her bag more securely on her shoulder. Well, here goes.

Wait on, Bill exclaimed, grabbing her shoulder. You cant just go barging into danger like that! But hed said the wrong thing. They were almost the exact words Miriam had used back in Alto Mare, and only added fuel to Keegans rebellious stubbornness.

Dont look at it as danger, Keegan suggested with an almost immature determination to avoid the reality. It was dangerous, and she knew it; but she also knew she had to see it as an amusement or shed run away screaming. But more as a game.

Bill shuddered. Thats a game I can do without, thank you.

Then do without it, Keegan said simply, and strode off down the corridor. Her eyes were already flickering cautiously about, her muscles tense and footsteps carefully light. She was set firmly in the frame of mind that Ross had affectionately called the true little fox, the disposition which enabled her to break the rules without a qualm. Or not much of one, at the very least.

At the intersection, Bill hesitated; then he grimaced and followed after.

August 9th, 2005, 6:16 PM
Voices echoed down the long, grimy corridors and Keegan held out a hand, stopping Bill in his tracks. He had already realized that Keegan knew a great deal more than he about sneaking up on people, and that he was probably only a nuisance; but how shed gained such knowledge, he fervently didnt want to know.

Cautiously, eyes riveted to the doorway ahead of them, Keegan crept forward. With exaggerated care, Bill stepped around the broken glass on the floor, staring down to make sure he made no noise. They emerged through the doorway to find themselves in a huge storeroom. The crates filling this room were larger and sturdier than the decaying boxes theyd seen previously, but still possessed a light layer of dust. The Rockets voices echoed in the high chamber, marking their position as somewhere beyond the wall of crates.

Keegan knelt down beside the makeshift barrier, closing her eyes to listen. Bill sank beside her, wishing with all his might he were somewhere else. Well, you got that link up and running yet? one voice snapped, sounding bored.

Not yet, the other grunted. It takes time, you know.

Hurry it up, then. As soon as we hack into the game corners system, well be able to link it with the lab we have under the one in Celadon. He snorted, and Bill clutched at Keegans arm, eyes wide. So much for their ethics. Whered they think we were getting our pokmon prizes from, the breeding centre?

Breeding centres arent as well established in Kanto, his companion pointed out, clearly only half listening to the rant. Besides, soon it wont matter. Once this connection is established, well be able to take over, and use Goldenrods game corner as a front to create a second lab right here in the underground.

Yeah, we already got their first lab rat for em, the first Rocket laughed cruelly. There was a sound as though hed kicked some kind of cage, and Keegan gritted her teeth.

Tarn. She thought instantly, clenching her fists silently. Then she turned her attention back to the conversation in time to hear the Rocket complaining.

If youre so bored, why dont you go looking for those two idiots we ran into? the second Rocket snapped. If they go to the police well be in a load of trouble.

Forget it, the first Rocket answered dismissively. The Association controls the police, and we practically control the Association. At that, Bill let out a disbelieving squeak. He clapped both hands over his mouth, horrified, but the second Rocket had begun talking again, and it went unnoticed.

Practically is the operative word there, the Rocket pointed out scathingly. We dont have as much control over the Association as it seems, no matter what the higher-ups say.

Keegan stopped listening. She doubted they had anything else useful to say, and she wanted to get Tarn out of there. She considered the height of the boxes, fighting down anxiety and trying to ignore the fact her stomach was twisting itself into knots. This is a game. This is a game. This is a game. She told herself firmly and turned to Bill, quaking beside her with wide eyes and his hands still covering his mouth.

Does your exeggcute know sleep powder? she asked softly, and Bill nodded, his wavy hair flapping. I need some. Quietly. Bill fumbled for his exeggcutes pokball and expanded it. Inside, the pokmon understood to need for silence and remained still as he released it.

Moments later, using Bills handkerchief to hold the sparkling dust, Keegan had a handful of green sleep powder. Carefully, she knotted the corners and tied it to her belt, slipping her bag off her shoulder while Bill returned his exeggcute. How are Bill began in hushed voice, but Keegan had already stood and clambered silently halfway up the stack of boxes. Bill blinked, startled, marvelling once again at her skills and praying she hadnt received them through illegal means. Then he forgot about that and started praying she wouldnt get herself killed

Tensely, Keegan peeked over the opposite edge of the crates, her body hugging the smaller boxes resting on the apex of the barrier. She saw the head of one of the Rocket grunts pacing as he muttered to himself, the spiky black hair jutting from under his cap marking him as the aggressor before. Across the other side, there was another wall of crates, just as tall as the one upon which Keegan rested.

Against that she could just see the top of a shiny, steel barred cage, reflecting the wide, long lights above. The second Rocket was so far unaccounted for cautiously, heart pounding in her ribs, Keegan slid forward until she could see inside the cage and immediately had to fight off a wave of despair. The pokmon in the cage wasnt Tarn; it was the umbreon which had led the Rockets on them in the first place.

His glaring eyes tracked the pacing Rocket grunt, his hackles raised and ears back in an expression of defiant hostility. Wheres Tarn?! Keegan thought, beginning to panic slightly. She flinched when the bored Rocket grunt began talking again, but ignored his words, frantically searching out every visible corner of the room. Tarn had to be there he had to because if he wasnt then she didnt know where else he could be.

Her eyes had swept twice over the umbreon before she noticed that though he was obviously intensely aggressive towards his captors, he wasnt snarling. Not even close; rather he seemed to be clenching something tightly in his mouth. Ducking her head slightly, Keegan saw a flash of shiny red material, and breathed a silent sigh of relief.

The umbreon had Tarn. Why or how Keegan didnt know, but she wasnt going to leave him. She may be a coward but she wasnt going to leave a friend behind, no matter how scared she was.

Keegan closed her eyes and took a deep breath to still her shaking hands; then she crept forward still further, until she was well within the pacing Rockets line of sight if hed cared to look up. It was only then she could see the crates serving as a makeshift desk just below her. Resting on them was a laptop computer with a dozen cords of varying sizes trailing out the back and leading into the array of crates where their path was hidden.

Seated on a small wooden box, glaring impatiently at the screen, was the second Rocket, his silky red hair just touching his shoulders. If he had looked straight up he may have seen the crates rocking slightly as Keegan eased herself on to nearest boxes to the little alcove in which the Rockets were hidden. To the left was a veritable mountain of crates; to the right was the path out.

Slowly, carefully, keeping her eyes on the self-muttering Rocket, Keegan reached back and untied the handkerchief from her belt, bringing it forward. She must have made some kind of noise, however, because then she noticed the umbreon had flicked an ear forward cautiously; but his aggression didnt abate one iota.

Gently, Keegan sprinkled sleep powder over the redheaded Rocket grunt. He blinked once or twice before slumping down to the makeshift desk. The sound caught the attention of his companion, who clicked his tongue irritably and strode over to shake him awake and, no doubt, give him a tongue-lashing. Which was when Keegan scooped up a handful of the dust and dumped it over him too.

Bill! Keegan hissed over her shoulder to warn the young man and, without checking to see if hed heard, scrambled hastily over the crates to drop to the floor beside the slumbering men, their caps and hair glittering with the powder. Searching the thin, black-haired Rocket lightly, Keegan found the key to the cage, rushing over there with jumpy, overanxious steps and inserting it into the hole. The umbreon growled, deep in his throat, but didnt release Tarns minimized pokball.

Come on, come on, Keegan muttered, fumbling with the key. Her hands were shaking with tension and her heart pounding somewhere in the region of her throat. She didnt know how long sleep powder lasted the cage clicked. Casting a worried glance over at the Rockets, Keegan tugged on the cage door only to have it jam with a seemingly ear-splitting screech.

Keegan tugged at it uselessly, her breath coming in short, panicky gasps. With an irritated growl, the umbreon backed away and charged suddenly at the door. It slammed open with another screech, knocking Keegan back onto the concrete floor. The cage tipped forward, spilling the umbreon out and landing with a crash that could awaken the dead.

What the? Keegan heard distantly, echoed by a Goodness! and knew that the Rockets had woken up, countered by Bills timely arrival; but she didnt have time to worry, as the umbreon tried to dart under the cage and out to freedom. Without even thinking, Keegan grabbed him around the middle. Just as instinctively he snarled and whipped around, dropping Tarns pokball and sinking his fangs into Keegans right wrist.

Tarns pokball bounced, expanding as Keegan cursed loudly, freeing the umbreon. He dodged out of the crates as Tarns pokball landed once again, releasing him in a flash of light.

Give her another bite, Golbat! Clutching her wrist, Keegan spun around to find the purple bat descending upon her, huge mouth open in a leer, fangs glistening.

Vuubuon! Tarn jumped up on Keegans shoulder, knocking her down for the second time in as many minutes. Golbats sharp fangs missed Keegan and grazed Tarns side, scraping several thin, bloody lines across his haunch. Tarn hissed, spinning on dainty paws to tail whip it into tomorrow. Caught straight in its huge maw, Golbat chomped down on Tarns slender tail.

Tarn howled shrilly in pain, automatically pounding the goldbat against the floor and leaving a smear of his own blood. Dazed, Golbat relinquished his grip. Tarn whipped his tail toward it once again, red droplets flinging off to scatter on the concrete and patter lightly over Keegans face; but he was then tackled by a thickly furred, muscular raticate and sent sprawling.

Sitting up with gritted teeth, ignoring the sharp pain in her wrist, Keegan went for her pokballs, releasing Hazel just in time to bowl the raticate over and interrupt its impeding attack on Tarn. The vaporeon staggered to his feet, tail twitching, as Hazel spun on her paws, about to send the tawny raticate flying with her thick, fluffy tail. The golbat dived towards her, only to be interrupted by Tarns swift jet of water, driving it back into its trainer.

With a curse, the black-haired Rocket grunt jumped to the side, and his goldbat instead crashed into the crates, making them shake violently. Before they or the Rocket grunt could recover, the raticate followed. The crates careened, tumbling down upon the Rocket and his two dazed pokmon.

Aurora beam! Keegan snarled, and Tarn cast a restraining barrier of frost over the crates, preventing the Rockets escape. The ice flashed in the lights overhead, and Keegan turned her attention to the other Rocket in time to see his cubone flinch, the ices reflection blinding it momentarily to give Bills battered and bruised vulpix a chance to catch its breath.

It only received a moment before the redheaded Rocket released a second pokmon, a drowzee, while the cubone rubbed its eyes with a brown paw in a vain attempt to clear them, skull helmet shiny in the light. Quick attack! Keegan ordered of both her pokmon hurriedly, realizing the danger of a psychic pokmon in their midst. Instantly the two flashed forward, leaping over each other and striking the drowzee with two consecutive hits. It reeled back, long nose whipping the air.

Fire spin! Pale Bill commanded of his vulpix, clutching at Keegans bag on his shoulder as though for comfort. Before the drowzee could recover the fox darted between Hazel and Tarns retreating forms, spilling a roiling blast of flames from its dainty muzzle.

The Rocket flinched away from the flames, the light glittering eerily over the residual sleep powder in his glossy hair. His cubone, finally recovering its sight, swung its yellowed bone club at Bills vulpix forcefully, knocking the fox into the crates and making them rock dangerously as Bills handkerchief, left behind by Keegan, drifted to the grimy floor gently. Its breathing laboured, sides and paws harshly bruised from the cubones attacks, the vulpix struggled to its feet. The last of its raging fire spin dissipated into nothingness to reveal the drowzee slumped on the floor.

The Rocket swore heavily and returned it, his uniform smoking, while Tarn and Hazel surrounded the cubone menacingly. Taking one look at the melted, sparking computer, the Rocket returned the cubone as well. He fled, scrambling over the unruly mound of boxes without even glancing at the ice restraining his companion. Water gun! Keegan ordered Tarn. Determinedly, the vaporeon fired a stream of water towards the Rocket, but at that moment the mass of crates shifted and he slipped down among them, darting out of the jumble and down a corridor.

Bubuon, Tarn looked up at Keegan apologetically, but the girl smiled down at him reassuringly.

Its okay, Tarn, she assured him, touching her pendant fleetingly in thankfulness, her limbs going limp with the absence of adrenaline. It couldve been a lot worse.

Goodness, are you alright? Bill exclaimed. He was kneeling by the crates, cradling his tired vulpix as it snuggled comfortingly into his elbow. At first Keegan thought he was talking to his vulpix; then she realized he was looking at her with anxious eyes. After a second Keegan remembered the umbreons bite. As soon as she did, she again began to feel the sharp, throbbing pain in her wrist and the slight trickles of blood making tracks down her hand.

Oh, Keegan stared at it uncomprehendingly for a moment. Then Hazel butted her legs, offering up Bills handkerchief. Wearily, Keegan sat down in the middle of the floor, pressing the handkerchief against the four dainty punctures in her skin. I dont think theyre too deep, she assured Bill as the pokmaniac stood, clutching his vulpix in his crossed arms as its fiery red tails drooped down.

What do we do now? Keegan asked him, worn out. Bill looked around at the charred crates, leaving a smoky scent in the air, at the black ash mixing with the glittering sleep powder and the twinkling ice-dust, the clutter of crates the icy barrier.

We should go to the police, Bill bobbed his head firmly, his vulpix peeking over its ruddy-brown paws resting on Bills arm. Keegan didnt argue. She tied Bills handkerchief around her wrist, dabbing away the trails down her hand, and stood before fishing at her belt for Hazel and Tarns pokballs, returning them to the warmth and safety of the red and white devices.

Ill go to the police, Bill added in afterthought. You should go on to Celadon.

Why? Keegan asked, reaching down to pick up her bag, still lying over the floor where Bill had left it. It was grimy with ash and powder, and Keegan swept it off absently as she slung it over her shoulder.

Because you need to warn the gym leader about the laboratory under the Celadon game corner, Bill explained, returning his vulpix to its own pokball to rest and brushing inattentively at his suit. Keegan shrugged with one shoulder, stubbornly ignoring her throbbing wrist.

Alright, she agreed, wiping at the spots on her cheeks and looking briefly at the red smears on her fingers before remembering the blood was Tarns. What about him? she gestured vaguely at the sheet of ice over the crates. Bill hesitated. He didnt want to leave the poor man to freeze half to death; but if they let him out he might escape like his companion. Well leave him here, Keegan decided when she realized Bill, for all his intelligence, obviously couldnt make such decisions. His expertise was in pokmon critiquing and technology, not leadership. You can send the police down here to come get him.

Very well, Bill agreed reluctantly. Ill see you off first the magnet train is right next to the police station; but we should hurry.

Yeah, Keegan grumbled, forcing herself to be light-hearted when in truth she wanted to collapse with relief. Im starving. I sure hope Celadon has some good food. Looking sidelong at the blonde girl as they exited the room, Bill found himself unsure whether she was joking or not. After all, how many people confronted two Team Rocket operatives on the basis of playing a game?

He didnt even want to know what she was planning to do in Celadon

Keegan winced at the loud chatter of the train station, touching an ear ruefully as they made their way through the multicoloured crowd. She had sensitive hearing at the best of times, but after the battle in the underground she was also getting a splitting headache. A part of her was wishing shed never gotten out of bed that morning.

Glancing at Bill, the young man just looked glad to be out of the underground. If you ignored the dust darkening his ochre hair, the ash on his embroidered maroon suit and his still pale face, no one would have guessed hed just come face to face with two Rocket grunts. Keegan smirked. Have fun today, Bill? she asked with a grin.

Bill shuddered. Oh, no, he answered, his bright eyes turning to Keegan with a mixture of dismay and incredulousness. Please dont tell me you did.

Keegan shrugged. Okay. I wont. She grinned a second time, her eyes sparkling. Bill shuddered again as the girl mulled over the events of the day. Looking back, Keegan discovered she had enjoyed sneaking up on the Rocket grunts very much. Despite her fear at the time, she couldnt help thinking it had been fun, as though it really had been a game. But then, as Ross had laughed more than once, there was a reason she was called little fox.

The trains whistle screamed a high-pitched warning and Keegan grimaced, covering one of her ears with her good hand. Bill pulled her to a stop, out of the flow of people. Now listen, he said seriously. The gym leader of Celadon is called Erika. Youll most likely find her at the Celadon University; shes a lecturer there. Keegan nodded, casting an anxious glance over at the trains gleaming metal doors. Tell her about the game corner and the laboratory, Bill added.

Sure, Keegan bobbed her head, then regretted it at the slight stab at her temples.

And one other thing, Bill began, and looked at her with somewhat sheepish amusement, torn between real concern. Promise me youll stay out of matters that dont concern you.

Aw, Bill, are you afraid Ill sneak into the game corner? Keegan teased him, her cheeks going slightly pink. He already knew her too well not that shed been planning any such thing.

Bill also went slightly pink. Yes, I am, he admitted. We were lucky, today. You shouldnt be so reckless.

The trains whistle echoed through the station for a second time, the final note seeming to contain a new state of urgency. Okay, I promise Ill keep my nose out of danger, Keegan agreed hastily. Or well, Ill try anyway. She grinned. Have fun with your portable trading system. She raised a farewelling hand and ran for the trains door, jumping aboard as the chime went off, sealing them behind her.

As the train chugged forward, Keegans stomach leapt with excitement, and she tugged on her pendant. She was on her way to Kanto and hopefully, the lost ten years of her memory.

August 18th, 2005, 5:52 PM
Okay, there's some swearing in this chappie, so be warned ^.^

~ VI ~


Staring up at the sprawling, old-day building that was the Celadon University, she chomped contentedly on a leftover carrot from the salad shed eaten not long ago. The wide structure was made of red brick with looked almost golden in the stray afternoon sunlight peeking through the clouds, ivy swathing the walls and beneath the many windowsills like green velvet.

With a shrug, finishing off her carrot, Keegan approached the wide, carved oak doors, pushing them open and peeking in hesitantly. The rich, wooden walls of the main hall were covered in paintings and tapestries, and there were myriads of plants brightening the room. To the left and right were gleaming stairways leading to the other floors.

Directly across from the entrance doors was another identical pair, standing wide open and leading to a grassy courtyard. Her footsteps echoing on the wide flagstones of the floor, Keegan made her way to the second pair of doors, turning about to look at all the artwork. Chattering and laughing voices drifted in from the outside, and standing at the doorway Keegan saw there appeared to be a class outside on the grounds.

They were crowded around wooden benches on the outskirts of a dusty arena, standing or sitting in groups with the wind tugging at their hair and clothes. They looked to be about Keegans age, all dressed in much the same uniform. The biggest difference was that the colours of the girls uniforms were red and yellow, and they wore skirts and bows instead of pants and ties, while the boys colours were blue and green.

Cautiously Keegan approached, standing uncomfortably on the outskirts of the group and unwilling to interrupt. From what she had overheard, the class was to practise pokmon battles, but their teacher was late and they instead passed the time by gossiping.

Excuse me, Keegan said finally to one of the girls seated delicately on a bench closest to her. The girl tossed her long, luxurious brown ponytail over her shoulder and looked at Keegan while her companions cast disgruntled looks at Keegan for interrupting them. As the girls eyes travelled down and then up Keegans ashy and worn albeit well cared for clothes and her windswept hair, her expression of distaste grew.

If you want to join, the girl said coolly, flipping back the gold ribbons in her hair as though to accent its shiny texture, The office is on the next floor.

Keegan blinked and frowned slightly at the young womans dismissive manner. Oh, no, she answered. I was looking for the gym leader, Erika. I was told shed most likely be here. She suddenly became aware of the fact the entire class had fallen silent at her words and were now looking at her with a mixture of incredulity and scorn. She flushed slightly as the girl stood, smoothing down her red pleated skirt.

So you think you can beat Lady Erika? she asked without looking at Keegan, straightening her sleeveless, buttoned yellow jacket and tugged at the billowing sleeves of her white blouse.

I wasnt planning on challenging her, Keegan snapped, her cheeks still red but determined to look the girl in eye, though she was reminded strongly of Whitney. And if I was, Id go to the gym, where its supposed to be done.

Dont want an audience, sweetie? the girl looked at Keegan smugly through her long eyelashes. Afraid youll be beat?

Keegan scowled. Shed just faced down two bona-fide members of the evil Team Rocket, she wasnt gonna let this girls superiority get her down. Yes, completely, she answered sarcastically, brushing back her tousled fringe as the breeze teased it into her eyes.

Oh, dear, the girl said with false sympathy. Keegans movement brought Bills handkerchief, still tied about her wrist, to the girls attention. Got a little boo-boo, do we? A few of the others chuckled, and Keegan found herself intensely aware of their somehow intimidating examination as she glanced at the handkerchief. It was probably stained beyond restoration, but since it had served its purpose she took it off, tucking it into her bag.

A pokmon bit me, she said shortly by way of explanation and resisting the urge to show the supercilious twit up by telling them the story. The chances theyd actually believe her were laughable.

The girl clasped her hands with mock horror, her eyes widening comically. Oh, dear, what was it? A magikarp? she smirked.

If it was, it was better company than Im finding here, Keegan snarled back, wishing she could find something to say which would end their quarrel completely in her favour. Unfortunately, she had never been good at arguments. She wanted to walk away, but her pride wouldnt allow it.

Oh, Im hurt, the girl wiped away a nonexistent tear. And we were getting along so well.

Keegan crossed her arms and smirked, a definitive report forming miraculously in her mind. Well, I suppose to you this would be pretty much the highlight of your relationship experiences. She shot back. After all, there arent many guys out there whod go out with a mangy rat, so I guess youd take what you can get, no matter what.

An incredulous whisper trailed through the crowd. The girls eyes widened, then narrowed, and she glared at Keegan, her fists clenching. She opened her mouth to answer angrily, but her reply was given for her by a smooth, haughtily amused voice. And I guess you would know. After all, it takes a mangy rat to know a mangy rat. The girl flashed Keegan a triumphant smile. Keegan flushed and turned to glare at her newest antagonist.

He was tall, but not too much so, slender but not scrawny. His turquoise blue hair tumbled naturally about his face in slight, loose curls. If it werent for the arrogant light in his strangely soft green eyes and the small sneer touching his lips, he wouldve made Keegans heart skip a beat. As it was, her flush deepened and she resisted the urge to look down at the ground.

Instead, despite her burning face and the sniggers directed in her direction, she met his eyes squarely. No, actually, Im a fox, she answered, quite aware that her reply was less than satisfactory at least from her point of view but her mind was fresh out of options. The little fox.

The young man sneered. Oh really? And how many badges do you have, so called little fox?

One, Keegan answered, determinedly not breaking her gaze even as the students broke into scornful peals of laughter.

The young man chuckled contemptuously, crossing his arms over his open green jacket. One? Thats all? he repeated disdainfully. And how did you get that? Sweep the gym? Fetch the pokmon? Get a life?

Keegan remained silent, having absolutely nothing else to say, witty or otherwise. Inside, her stomach was writhing with irritation. How dare they tease her like that and to think all shed wanted was to see Erika. Dont let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter. Her ruthless, more cunning side reminded her smugly. Thatll piss em off to no end.

Screw that. Keegan scowled to herself. Shed never wanted to show up anyone so badly before in her life.

Well, since our lecturer has declined to bless us with her presence, the young man smirked. Lets make our own fun. He held up an expanded pokball tauntingly amid whoops and encouraging calls. What about a little battle?

Keegan hesitated. She could save herself some embarrassment by just turning around and walking away but then theyd call her chicken. So? Or she could battle him, but if she lost then things would be even worse So? On the other hand, she could also win which means theyd have to shut their faces

So what would Lance do? She wondered absently. Hed battle, and hed have confidence in his skills

Yeah, but hes got years of experience up on you, a tiny, apprehensive voice noted. She squashed it.

What the hell. Ill battle for the sake of battling. Her scowl evaporated. Youre on, she said aloud. Her desire to win burned brightly, but she refused to let it control her. She would not battle like the students did purely to win.

Someone laughed shortly. Whats the point, Tynan? he said derisively as the two trainers took their respective places. Shes only got one badge.

Because, Tynan stared at Keegan intensely from under his brow, but didnt bother to finish his sentence.

The brown-haired girl smirked at Keegan, standing off to the side. Tynan is top of our class, she told Keegan with a knowing sneer. And ours is this years graduating class. Hes never lost; theres no way youre going to change that.

Thisll be a one on one match, one of the other students, standing atop the referees stand, announced. No time limit. Begin. Wipe the floor with her, Ty, he added with a laugh.

I intend to, Tynan grinned, expanding and tossing a pokball in one swift movement, his loosely bound blue tie waving. He released a fiery, blazing flareon, its flames casting strange shadows over the dusty field.

Interesting. Tarns still injured from the battle with the Rockets, so Keegans hand drifted to Firefoots pokball, but on a whim that shocked her she changed her mind and instead released Hazel.

Fire spin! Tynan ordered. Before Hazel had even materialized properly, she was enveloped in writhing orange flames. Keegan growled to herself, fists clenching; then she winced and opened her right hand, the tension making the bite ache. Now follow up with quick attack, Tynan added, smirking. His flareon flashed across the dusty field, vanishing into the raging inferno. Seconds later Hazel flew out the back in lashing streamers of fire as smoke poured off her blackened fur in ashy ribbons.

The fire spin dissipated into the air to reveal the flareon, its orange and red fur blazing with veins of molten flames, and for a stomach-wrenching second Keegan panicked. The fire pokmon had used its own flames to activate its intimidating flash fire ability. Then it aimed a powered-up flamethrower at Hazel, and the eevee flipped over in midair, landing lightly and springing away into a quick attack, avoiding the stream of fire. Jerkily Keegan raised an instinctive hand, ducking as the fire coursed over her head. The heat made her skin feel tight and dry.

Hazel hit the flareon full on, sending it tumbling back as Keegan recovered, gritting her teeth. Haze has a disadvantage, because she cant use long-range attacks, she thought. I wish Id trained more seriously before I left Alto Mare then she might know some other attacks

Who says she doesnt? The smug voice pointed out as Hazel, panting, her fur still smoking, landed on dainty paws. Keegans eyes widened. Thats right she couldve learned any attacks before

Flareon, flamethrower! Tynan swept his hair back with one hand arrogantly, the hot breeze coming off his charged flareon rustling his blue pants. Flareons fur blazed and it drew its head back, the flamethrower building in its throat.

Haze, use shadow ball! Keegan retaliated instantly, not knowing why shed chosen that attack or even if it was an attack, only that every single one of her instincts was screaming for her to use it. With a slightly doubtful twitch of her ear, Hazel opened her dainty muzzle, powering a writhing mass of shadows in her maw. Dusty veins wreathed about her, mixing with the dark smoke still drifting off her fur. In the same instant as Flareon, she released the boiling mass of darkness, shadows streaming away behind it as it shot towards Flareon and met the flamethrower in a brilliant explosion of ash and mist.

Take down! Keegan coughed, covering her face against the dusty shadows which hung over the field. She prayed that Tynan wouldnt dare attack while he vision was obstructed, but Hazel had plenty of experience in the dark legacy of nightly ventures around Alto Mare.

The thin haze cleared in time for Tynan to realize the danger, but it was too late to avoid it and Hazel collided into Flareon with all the force she could muster. With a surprised cry, the flareon tumbled back, skidding across the hot ground to jump instantly to its feet. Instantly, but not without damage it was panting as heavily as Hazel, its flaming coat dying down even as Tynan order another fire spin.

Hazel tried to dodge the roaring flames, but they twisted about her, enveloping her for a second time. Quick attack! Tynan sneered confidently, as Flareon surged forward through the outside wall of the inferno only to appear, confused and alone, out the other side. What?! Tynan rocked back, astonished. Opposite him, Keegans scowl melted into an expression of surprise.

Suddenly the ground shifted, and dirt exploded around Flareon as Hazel burst up from beneath it, tossing the elegant fire pokmon into the air. Keegan felt a strange sense of familiarity, as though shed seen this before seen Hazel, with all her disadvantages, against raging fire. Was Hazel aware she even knows these attacks? Keegan wondered absently. Then, breaking out of her reverie, she ordered a shadow ball. Shaking soil and smoke from her scorching fur, Hazel fired a shifting mass of darkness towards the still-airborne flareon.

The ball engulfed Flareon amid the distressed cries of the onlooking students, and Tynan gritted his teeth angrily. As the outer edges of the shadow ball dissipated into the air, casting an ashy pall over the field, Flareon hit the ground with a hard thud. It staggered to its feet, gulping in huge breaths and trembling with exhaustion, one paw lifted half off the ground gingerly.

Flamethrower! Tynan tried one last time, but Hazel had already been flashing across the field before Flareon even landed, paws barely touching the dusty, ash-strewn ground. At the last second, using its fluttering, fluffy tail, Flareon kicked up the sand. It swirled about the eevee, getting in her eyes and nose. Coughing, Hazel faltered, her attack missing the lamed flareon by inches.

But Hazel had learned Eusines lesson as well as Keegan had. Using the momentum of her quick attack, she spun about blindly on a paw, her tail colliding unexpectedly with Flareon before it had a chance to move.

It was sent sprawling, ash eddying about it before settling around its prone form. Hazel, head lowered with fatigue and paws set sturdily on the ground, snarled, ears half back in a gesture of good-natured hostility. Her white ruff bristled, blackened and glowing with residual cinders. The flareon twitched, rolling onto its paws, but its attempt to rise failed. The match was over.

Yes! Keegan clenched her good fist before her triumphantly. With a weary sigh, Hazel sat, tucking her grimy tail around herself and licking her paw. She hated being dirty. Keegan raised Hazels pokball, returning the eevee in the customary beam of light and whispering a word of praise to the pokmon before minimising the pokball. Her heart was still pounding with excitement and she couldnt stop the grin that spread over her face.

No! one of the girls on the sidelines shrieked. The brown-haired young woman looked shaken, her fists raised to her mouth in disbelief. As though the cry had been a signal, the students began chattering loudly over each other in incredulity.

How?! Tynan demanded, returning Flareon. He was shaking with rage, specks of ash and dust wafting down on the slight breeze to coat his hair lightly, making it seem grey. How the fuck could you win?! I know every attack, Ive learned every strategy, how can a little eevee-rat beat one of its evolutions?!

Knowledge is useless if you dont know how to use it, Keegan pointed out coolly as she brushed at the grime in her hair, not quite knowing what she was saying, but knowing that it sounded good and suitably superior. Tynan gritted his teeth, jade eyes flashing. He was clutching Flareons pokball so tightly his knuckles were white, and Keegan was surprised it didnt crack.

The sudden, tensely disbelieving silence was shattered by the sound of soft, rhythmic clapping. Many of the students jumped, startled, and they parted for a pretty, black-haired young woman wearing a high-waisted pink skirt and a yellow shirt with long, draping sleeves. Well spoken, She folded her hands in front of her and bowed slightly to Keegan, her thick clothing rustling.

Uh, thanks, Keegan stammered, a little taken aback.

The young womans gaze snapped to Tynan. You are very knowledgeable, Tynan, she complimented him. That I do not deny. But you cannot call yourself a trainer on knowledge alone; it is your experiences which will make you a true master of pokmon. Tynan scowled, and the woman turned back to Keegan. I am Erika, she introduced herself. You came for a gym battle, am I right?

Oh! Keegan confusion melted away and she shook her head, her blonde hair bouncing. Oh, no! I was asked to give you a message, from she hesitated, not sure whether Bill knew Erika well or not, then decided it didnt matter. From Bill the pokmaniac. I think its its pretty important.

At Keegans words Erikas brown eyes had darkened. She turned and held out a hand towards the thick doors. Please, follow me back to the gym. To the students she added, I apologise for my tardiness, but youll have to amuse yourselves for the remainder of this lesson.

Hesitantly, eyes flickering over the hostile glares of the students, Keegan followed Erika. With a murderous scowl adorning his face, Tynans furious green eyes followed her until shed entered the school and vanished from sight.

Glad to be away from the antagonistic atmosphere of the class, Keegan was thinking about how she was going to tell her story when Erika looked over her shoulder. What does Bill have to say? she asked anxiously, slowing to keep pace with Keegan. A few strands of her short hair escaped the pink headband and she brushed them impatiently behind her ear.

As they exited the school, Keegan began her story. While they walked through the city, many of the citizens bowed or called out reverent greetings to Erika, but the gym leader merely returned their hails with a nod, engrossed in Keegans tale. By the time it was finished they had reached the gym, a round building with a glass dome roof, standing upon a grassy knoll. Erika was deep in thought as they ascended the steps, but as soon as she swept regally through the glass doors into the airy, sunlit gym, a dozen surprised young women jumped.

Lady Erika! one girl with thick curly hair exclaimed, standing from the green wooden bench beneath a tree and brushing off her short, pleated blue skirt. We thought you were going to be at the University until evening, or we would have come to pick you up! the blue-tinged oddish standing on the bench tossed its leaves curiously.

Never mind, Erika said briskly. Prepare to send a message to Officer Jenny immediately; Ill pen it in a minute. Also, have someone go down to the game corner; remain there and keep an eye on it until further notice.

Whats wrong, Lady Erika? the curly-headed maid asked anxiously as several of the other young women hurried off through the indoor forest to fulfil the gym leaders wishes.

Erika closed her eyes momentarily, whether to gather her thoughts or compose herself Keegan wasnt sure. We now have reason to believe that Team Rocket have some kind of hidden laboratory beneath Celadon, she answered calmly. The remaining maids gasped. Several returned their various grass pokmon and hurried off to take care of other matters unknown to Keegan.

Please, Erika gestured to the curly-headed maid, who straightened the short, puffy sleeves of her which blouse and returned her oddish. Elise will take your pokmon and heal them. Hesitantly, Keegan handed her pokmon over to Elise, then followed Erika through the forest, the grass soft beneath her shoes. They were tailed by a tall, short-haired maid.

The gym leader had Keegan go through her story a second time, with every detail she could possibly remember. When they reached Erikas office at the back of the gym, Keegan was tired of the story. The maid stepped in front quickly and opened the door for them, entering last. Leaning over an elegantly carved mahogany desk, Erika quickly penned out a note addressed to Officer Jenny and handed it to the maid, who vanished back through the door, closing it behind her.

Wondering why Erika had wanted her to come, Keegan waited in silence as Erika stared at the tapestry over the desk. Finally she turned around and gave Keegan small smile. Thank you for bringing this information to us so promptly, she said gratefully. Team Rocket is so well spread; we can hardly keep them at bay. Sometimes it even seems she trailed off and sighed. Was there anything you wanted? she asked, looking at Keegan with a soft, even gaze.

Well, I wouldnt mind knowing whats happening at the game corner, Keegan found herself thinking, and shook her head to clear the thought. Uhm she frowned, considering Erikas question, then realized that she had no idea where to go next. Oh, yes. Im looking for three legendary birds the winged mirages? Erika nodded in understanding, so Keegan continued. Do you know where to find them?

Erika shook her head, hands clasped over her skirt. Im sorry. Legendary pokmon arent my area of expertise. You should have asked Bill. She smiled at Keegans crestfallen expression. Never mind; I can call him quite easily. You said one of the Rocket agents escaped, and I need to know whether he was caught or not. Touching the keyboard of the slim computer on the corner of the desk, the screen flickered.

An image of a hoppip carrying a sealed envelope appeared on the screen, floating against a green leaf-strewn background. A second later the computer beeped and Bills harassed face appeared. He was frowning slightly, his cheeks still bearing the ashy smudges of the underground battle which had occurred only that morning, but upon seeing Keegan and Erika his expression cleared. Oh, good to see you! he exclaimed, his eyes brightening.

Good day, Bill, Erika bowed slightly, while Keegan just grinned and waved. I wanted to check in with you about the Team Rocket agents. Bills vulpix appeared in the corner of the screen, paws resting on the folder-laden desk. It cocked its head and purred delightedly.

Oh, Bills eyes darkened. Well, so far theres been no luck with the fellow who escaped. The other was taken into custody, and that area of the underground put under guard. He hasnt said anything yet, of course, but the manager of the game corner identified him. He looked harassed again, patting his vulpix on the head absently. The fire pokmon leaned into his hand blissfully, mussing up the elegant curls between its pointed ears. Id send you the details, but the Association so far seems to think theres no connection between the game corners, so you dont need to know.

I guess the Rockets have more control over the Association than I thought, Keegan muttered almost to herself, shifting her bag. She frowned, looking down inattentively at the red pinpricks on her wrist. But if the Association isnt fighting the Rockets, then who is? The gym leaders? Or is there something else Im missing? she looked up in time to see Erika and Bill exchanged a wary glance, and immediately knew there was indeed something they were keeping secret.

But before she could ask, Erika hastily changed the subject. Do you know where to find the legendary bird trio, Bill?

Oh, you mean Moltres, Articuno and Zapdos, Bill answered knowledgably, seeming to be relieved at the change. Keegan looked from one to the other, grinding her teeth with burning curiosity. Theyve been rumoured to be seen all over the place, even here in Johto. Zapdoss roost is thought to be the abandoned power station east of Lavender Town, Articuno in the Seafoam Islands off the coast of Fuschia City, and Moltres on Mount Ember on the Sevii Islands. Beyond the edge of the desk, the chrome-pink seeds of the exeggcute bounced past the edge, straining to see the screen. Several folders on a nearby table were knocked to the floor and Bill jumped, spinning around in his seat and dropping the phone.

You can get to the Sevii Islands by ferry from Vermillion Harbour, Erika filled Keegan in, seeing Bill was occupied as the pokmaniac leaned down to pick up the papers. And a ferry also runs to the Seafoam Islands from Fuschia City.

Ferries? Keegan echoed weakly, touching her pendant gingerly.

Erika regarded her anxiously. Why, is that a problem? Keegans cheeks went slightly pink and quickly shook her head, shoving away her apprehension. Shed be damned if she was going to show fear in front of a gym leader and Bill

Thanks, Bill, she said instead, directing her comment to the screen, only to stop short and giggle in sudden amusement. His exeggcute and vulpix had bounded onto the desk and were crowding the display, faces and paws pressed happily to the monitor.

Keegan examined the tiny green map of her pokgear thoughtfully as she wandered through Celadon, heading for the western guardhouse. Erika had suggested she go down to Fuschia City first and since Keegan had never been to Kanto before, she decided to follow the gym leaders advice.

Pausing next to the busy magnet train station, a slightly smaller match for the central one in Saffron, Keegan switched off the pokgear and hooked it back onto her belt as she cast a regretful glance back into the huge, active city. Bill had made her reiterate her promise not to sneak into the game corner, and Erika had backed him up but she was dying to know what as going on. Her eyes narrowed in thought, a slight smile twitching at her lips. Of course, if she did it well, neither Bill nor Erika would know shed been there

At her belt, as though sensing her thoughts, Hazel and Firefoots pokballs rocked violently, with the utmost disapproval. Keegan winced, remembering their displeasure in Ecruteak. Besides, this time was different this time shed promised with a regretful sigh, Keegan turned her back on the city and continued on her way to the guardhouse.

She had just vanished around the corner when a rainbow crowd of new arrivals flooded out of the station. Amongst them was a redheaded man in nondescript black with a hurried, controlled stride. Brushing impatiently as his glossy hair, tugging at the bag over his shoulder, he turned out of the throng heading straight towards the game corner

August 18th, 2005, 5:54 PM
* * *

Oh, there you are, Tynan Erika looked up from the purple sludge-like swalot she was examining and blinked, surprised. Tynan was out of school uniform. He was clad in soft green pants and a same-coloured sleeveless coat designed to be worn open, save for a clasp at the chin at the silver embroidered collar, over a loose white shirt. The green tones brought out the shades in his hair and eyes, but that wasnt what startled Erika. Tynan got away with breaking uniform rules an awful lot, what with having his tie loosely bound and all. What startled Erika was that he had an expensive bag over his shoulder and his hands tucked casually into his pockets, almost as though he had only dropped in for a visit

Tynan? she frowned, rising from her crouch and patting the swalot on the head absently. Its moustaches wiggled with pleasure over a gaping maw. What are you doing? Late for class, out of uniform?

I want a gym battle, Tynan answered, his eyes shaded by his thick fringe as he looked down at the wooden floor. Several of his classmates gasped and immediately whispers broke out over the class of students, gathered around Erika in the pokmon care classroom.

But Alyssa, the snotty brown-haired girl whom Keegan had crossed paths with, hugged her golden-brown bear-like teddiursa uncertainly. We dont need to collect badges here at the University.

Yeah, Ty, I didnt know you even wanted to become a pokmon master, someone else put in as the swalot sludged its way to its trainer, the black diamonds around its waist rippling.

I dont, Tynan answered blandly. He finally raised his head, tossing back his fringe, and they saw his eyes were glittering with harsh determination. I want to beat that girl at her own game. And to do that I need badges.

Erika frowned, one hand rising absently to her lips and her clothes rustling. Keegan didnt battle me, she told him firmly. She came to me for another reason.

Shes travelling, Tynan retorted, brushing his turquoise hair back. Shes a pokmon trainer. You were both lecturing us about experience. Well, if its experience she wants, thats what shell get. Ill prove whos the better of the two of us.

Some of the students murmured, but Erika shook her head and sighed. This isnt a matter of ambition, she thought sadly. But humiliation and the desire for revenge. She knew Tynan. One of the brightest students she taught, he was also arrogant and stubborn. He wouldnt stop until he felt hed defeated and humiliated Keegan in the best possible way. Very well, she inclined her head, and gestured towards the open window looking out over the central lawn.

When they reached the overcast courtyard the covey of students trailing after in anxious curiosity it was to find an umbreon examining it, black paws padding methodically over the field, which had been restored since the battle the day before. As they approached his head snapped up and he growled, his dirty and matted fur bristling.

Staring into his frustrated, gleaming red eyes, Tynan clutched at his flareons pokball, frowning. The umbreons ears twitched forward and he hissed as Erika took a step forward, one hand extended comfortingly. The gym leader halted, but the umbreon seemed strangely reluctant to leave, his scarlet eyes drawn time and again back to Tynan. Finally he turned around and slinked back the edges of the lawn, vanishing into the bushes, but Tynan, watching closely, saw the crimson pinpricks of his eyes through the thick, still dew-damp foliage.

Shall we? Erika sighed, taking her place at the field. Tearing his gaze from the bushes, Tynan stepped to his side as one of the students volunteered to ref, glancing uncertainly between the popular, handsome student and the petite, refined gym leader.

Brother watched in the bushes, caring not for the twigs which jabbed into his unkempt, black and yellow-ringed fur, nor for the sharp bark ships poking into the soft pads on his paws. His eyes were narrowed, his somewhat dully coloured vision focussed on the human dressed in green and white. The one which tasted of frustration and humiliation and the desire for revenge

This is a three on three battle, the student ref announced uncertainly, eyes flickering to Erika for confirmation, and the gym leader nodded slightly. No time limit. He raised his hands. Begin.

Instantly two pokmon flashed into the still air of the day. One, a massive jumble of grey-blue vines, stomped warily on the dusty field with red boot-like feet. The other, a black bird with splayed feathers and a crooked beak, cocked his head at the tangela. He squawked derisively, ruffling his dishevelled feathers. The tangela glowered furiously, stamping its big feet and making the dust bounce. Its vines whipped around in its rage, hitting itself and knocking off its feet. Tynan smirked; his murkrows taunting was unsurpassed.

The murkrow cackled harshly and flapped his wings, rising into the air with billowing gusts of dust. The tangela cringed against the lashing fingers of the sand, the squall threatening to throw it off its feet for the second time in as many minutes. Murkow, night shade, Tynan ordered, and the murkrows eerily red eyes flashed shadowy black, his feathers ruffling as he brought his wings together to fire a jet of pure darkness towards the tangela.

The grass pokemons vines whipped down, sending it in a voluntary tumble across the field as the night shade blasted the ground where it had been moments before. Vine whip, Tangela, Erika countered calmly. Rolling to its feet, Tangelas vines lashed out towards Murkrow, its eyes narrowed in concentration. Ducking into a stoop, the black bird dodged close to the ground, sending up clouds of dust as the vines whipped overhead.

Desperately Tangela skittered backwards to avoid Murkrows sharp, gleaming beak, to no avail. With a rapid series of pecks Murkrow soared overhead, black wings spread wide to catch the nonexistent breeze. Green sap seeped from the pinprick wounds on Tangelas nerveless vines as Murkrow banked around for another attack. Sweeping its vines across the surface of the field, Tangela made the sand billow.

Krrraak?! Murkrow beat his wings, eyes squinting shut against the dust. He didnt see Tangelas vines surround him until his wings were pinned tightly to his body, sticky sap dripping onto his feathers. The bird plummeted, the vines dragging him down with alarming speed until he hit the ground with a sickening crunch.

Dazed, Murkrow staggered, flapping his wings to get his footing only to cringe at the heavy bruises, his feathers sticking up every which way. Vine whip once again, Tangela, Erika commanded. Tangela pivoted on one foot, spinning about for increased power as its vines lashed towards Murkrow. The first sent him flying, blackening one eye as he beat the air uselessly. Before the next could hit, Murkrow vanished in a beam of red light, recalled by Tynan.

With his other hand, muttering a quick command to the pokmon within, Tynan lobbed another pokball. Flareon was released in a swirl of flames, billowing up and scorching Tangelas vines still stretched across the field. Tangela cheeped and cringed, withdrawing its burned and blackened vines as Flareon, fur blazing furiously, drew back his head and shot a scorching pillar of writhing fire towards Tangela. The inferno raged, a tornado of heat and ash with the grass pokmon trapped within.

Quick attack! Tynan ordered, and Flareon flashed forward with a patter of paws in a familiar strategy, leaping fearlessly into the flames. An instant later Tangela burst out the back, vines flailing as the fire crawled down then in veins of gold and orange. It tumbled across the hot field, squealing in pain as the fire reached the small body hidden within the folds of vines before sinking fainted to the ground, its mass of tendrils seared harshly by the fire.

Tangela is unable to battle, the student ref announced unnecessarily as Erika recalled it, speaking a slight word of encouragement to the pokball before releasing her next pokmon.

The bellossom threw up its short green arms, grinning happily as it drifted around Erika in circles, the green and yellow petals which served as a skirt rustling with a soft ringing sound. Petal dance, the gym leader requested, and Tynan snorted derisively.

The twin red flowers on the bellossoms head twirled rapidly, releasing pink flower petals that spun in swift, elegant spirals around the pokmon, as much a defensive shield as an attack as their breeze tugged at Flareons fur. The petals collided with the fire pokmon, sheer numbers making him cringe back, even as they flared uselessly in a short-lived spark of brilliance before falling to ash against his fiery, strangely sparkling coat.

Use flamethrower to burn them, Flareon, Tynan ordered as Erika looked on calmly. Obediently Flareon opened his muzzle, flames spilling out over his tiny fangs as he unleashed a stream of raging fire at the swirling wall of pink petals. The petals flared, the blaze spreading into a towering inferno, but the fuel was soon consumed and the flames swirled into nothingness.

Tynan squinted through the drifting ash eagerly to see the bellossom dancing slowly about Erika as though nothing had happened. The gym leaders hands were clasped pensively before her, as serene as she had ever been. A wall of flower petals is quite difficult to see through, wouldnt you agree? she said calmly at Tynans astonished look, and in a flash the young man realized that while hed assumed the grass pokmon was still in the midst of the tornado, it had used the heat of the flamethrower to boost its speed and escape.

She shouldve attacked while she had a chance! Tynan snarled to himself, and called for a fire spin only to find his flareon sprawled on the field, shaking and unconscious, his blazing fur dying down. But how?! Tynan gasped, clenching his fists with disbelief as the flareon hacked and coughed, its fur seeming to sparkle slightly. Then he saw the dust on the ground glittering purple and indigo even despite the overcast sky and gritted his teeth with angry frustration. The petals had been coated with a deadly poison powder, distributed unnoticed through the air until Flareon breathed them in. And for the first time, the confident young man felt a jab of doubt.

Flareons unable to battle, the ref declared, casting an almost pitying look at Tynan. The green-eyed young man saw it and scowled heavily, returning Flareon with furious movements.

In the bushes, Brother watched the battle with almost nostalgic detachment. He knew he should leave, for he was in danger of being caught; but the battle made his blood race, made him wish he was out there on the field. The taste of the challengers furious determination filled his mouth. The umbreon twitched his ears forward to listen as the human muttered to himself angrily. Even from across the courtyard, Brothers keen hearing picked up words not even the surrounding students could hear. I wont lose, I wont Ill win this, and Ill find her, Ill beat the ****ed little fox, Ill show her I can stand the heat

Brother snarled, lowering his head as his lips rolled back over glistening canines. Heat, he thought burningly. That human the human who tasted of flames, who stole my brother away he speaks of her! Without realizing, his ears flattened to his skull, his black-and-yellow fur bristling with fury and his muscles coiled like springs. This human and I have a common enemy but can he be trusted?

I wont lose like this, I wont! Tynan plucked Murkrows pokball off his belt with an angry jerk, sending the black-feathered bird back into battle. One of Murkrows eyes was swollen from his previous time on the field, but as he flapped his wings experimentally, rising into the air, his bruises didnt appear to hinder him much. Murkrow, peck it! Tynan snarled, pointing at the bellossom drifting lazily, and in Tynans eyes tauntingly, around its serene trainer.

Obediently Murkrow dipped into a shallow dive, his sharp beak aimed toward the bellossom. Petal dance, Bellossom, Erika commanded, and instantly a flurry of the familiar pink petals swirled around the green, flower-like grass pokmon.

Whirlwind them away, Tynan changed his tactics instantly, fearing another secret poison powder. Murkrow spread his narrow wings and beat desperately at the air, struggling to halt his descent. The gusts made the petals wobble, destabilising their flight path. As they fluttered this way and that, reams of sparkling red, green and golden magical leaves cut through the swirl of petals.

They spun through the air towards Murkrow from all sides, the airstream of the petals having carried them high into the air and hidden them from Tynans view. Krrakak! Murkrow screeched, battered by colourful leaves from all sides, thin cuts sliced beneath his feathers. One tore through the feathers of a wing and he dropped as the remaining leaves gyrated overhead.

Haze! Tynan shouted desperately, his forehead beginning to bead with sweat. A second loss in as many days would completely ruin his reputation Murkrow opened his crooked beak, casting an icy mist over the field. He beat his wings, directing the frosty mist down towards Bellossom. Yet he himself shivered slightly in the chill, ice crystals beginning to form on his blood-tinged feathers.

The mist shifted, fingers of a breeze clutching at the cold blanket of ice. Then in a swirl of frozen pink petals and shifting mist the fog opened, billowing back up to Murkrow and enveloping the bird. Bellossom was revealed spinning elegantly in the centre of a petal dance, its yellow and green skirt encrusted in a thin layer of ice. The wind from the petals cast the fog aside as they whirled up to Murkrows height.

The haze cleared, but not before Murkrow plummeted from the overcast sky, black feathers frozen with a pink tinge and beak solid with icicles. Shaking with frustration, bordering on depression, Tynan recalled Murkrow as the student ref announced its inability to battle.

Paws outstretched before him, Brother watched as the human expanded his last pokball. He could taste the pokmon within and knew that it wouldnt stand a chance against the two grass pokmon that remained to the boys adversary. His ears flicked in thought, paws kneading the ground restlessly. He wanted to battle, he knew if he joined the human he would be led to the poknapper but he had vowed, long ago, that he would never again belong to another trainer

Scarlet eyes boring into the young challenger, his tail twitching, Brother reflected on this decision for the first time in his life. Carefully he weighed his hate for trainers against his desire to retrieve and protect his brother Bairn from the same. The bellossom was weak; the ice had done its work. Brother knew he could win the match. If it means saving Bairn, Brother growled, rumbling deep in his throat. I would strike a deal with the Demon Trainer himself.

Tynan regarded his last pokball with cold detachment, looking at the grimly determined marowak within. It was worse than despair, worse than humiliation, knowing that the match was lost. Even if he managed to defeat the shivering bellossom, he wouldnt survive Erikas last pokmon. But he refused to walk away; just giving up would be worse than losing straight out.

He took a deep breath, his features feeling as though they were frozen into his harsh expression, and held out the pokball, preparing to release his final pokmon when suddenly out of the bushes flashed the umbreon, coming to a sudden halt before Bellossom and snarling a challenge.

Tynan lowered the pokball, surprised, as the umbreon cast a slightly contemptuous glance over his shoulder at the trainer. The student ref looked at Erika indecisively as the gym leader regarded the umbreon thoughtfully. Are you willing to accept Umbreon as your third pokmon? the pretty young woman asked Tynan.

The umbreon glowered at Tynan with gleaming crimson eyes as though daring him to disagree. Tynan minimised his marowaks pokball and replaced it at his belt. Yes, he answered, his own green eyes flashing with renewed confidence.

The student ref looked shocked. With all due respect, Lady Erika, he exclaimed. But isnt that against the rules?!

Erika folded her arms under the draping sleeves of her yellow shirt. Umbreon is willing to fight for Tynan, she answered calmly. The fact that it is as yet uncaught is of little consequence. It is the spirit of the battle which matters, not such trivial issues.

The student ref looked tempted to complain again, but the umbreon snarled, making him jump, and he kept his peace. Alright, he agreed somewhat reluctantly. Continue.

Umbreon, screech! Tynan ordered instantly. Hackles rising, the umbreon let out a hair-raising shriek, making half the class clap their hands over their ears and the other half wince. Bellossom shuddered, gliding back, its short arms raised to its ears as the thin sheet of ice on its skirt dribbled away, melting into streams of water. The umbreon flashed forward, hitting the flower pokmon full on and sending it flying back.

Erika, aware that Murkrows haze had taken Bellossom to the limits of its strength, held out the pokball to return it before it fainted. As the red beam of light enveloped Bellossom,the umbreon sped forward in pursuit, becoming almost nothing more than a blurry shadow. Ethereal black jaws slashed through the light before Bellossom had been drawn completely into the pokball and the dark pokmon came to a halt, ears and tail flapping.

Slightly shocked, Erika glanced down at the fainted Bellossom in the pokball, then minimised it compliantly. Bellossom is unable to battle, she announced willingly, expanding her last pokball and releasing her blue-toned vileplume, the wide, white-spotted red petals on its head weighing it down. Instantly the yellow rings on the umbreons body and head glowed, flashing brightly with bright sparkles and blinding the flower pokmon.

Dazed, the vileplume waved it short arms, trying to clear its vision. Instinctively, it fired a shot of glittering golden stun spore into the air, where it drifted down towards the umbreon. Scarlet eyes narrowing, the light-footed dark pokmon drew back his head, firing a writhing shadow ball into the midst of the cloud of spores, scattering them through the air and rendering them harmless.

But in diverting the stun spore he left himself open for another attack. Ears twitching, he heard the sizzling sound of acid and turned about in time to avoid getting a snoutful of the burning fluid. Instead the purple liquid splashed over his side, eating away at his fur with smoking fingers, and he hissed in pain. Still he managed to dodge another stream of acid, the searing burn on his shoulder making him stumble over his paws.

Confuse ray! Tynan commanded, and the umbreons golden rings lit up. They flashed in an alternating rhythm until discs of light flared out to surround the vileplume with dancing, glowing spheres. The flower pokmon tried to track the hypnotising globes with wide eyes, the red petals on its head cutting through the air heavily.

Faint attack! Shadows coalesced around the umbreons paws, swallowing the black pokmon in darkness. The gloom swirled, enveloping the vileplume. From the depths of the shadows the umbreon lunged forward, bashing the vileplume about with his legs and tail before darting off as the darkness dissipated.

Dazed, the vileplume shook its heavy head, dark bruises beginning to rise on the red bloom as the umbreon halted, smoke still curling off his side in wreaths. He was panting, the acid eating away at his strength. Petal dance, Erika ordered, and the pink petals swept out from beneath the shade of its flower-like head, eddying around the umbreon in vicious lashes.

Snarling at the petals which slashed at his fur, slicing paper thin cuts in his flesh, the nimble pokmon unleashed another shadow ball into the midst of the petals, blowing them apart in an ever expanding ring overhead. The wreaths of dusty shadow swirled about the vileplume and it coughed.

On dainty paws conditioned by a lifetime of struggling for survival, the umbreon darted forward, ignoring the searing pain in his side. He pounced viciously on the vileplume and sank his fangs into the flower atop its head, his eyes gleaming with something which bordered on bloodlust. The vileplume shrieked, waving its arms as light green sap dripping down the petals. Though it contained no feeling in the flower it panicked, jettisoning a thick stream of multi-coloured dust.

Tearing his fangs from the petal and leaving a shallow pool of sticky sap, the umbreon spun about, whacking the flower pokmon across the field with his tail. Its own dust fell in ripples of glitter around it, coating its blue body and red flower in deadly powder. Tynans eyes glinted with excitement, impressed at the sheer, single-minded power of the umbreon as the vileplume slumped to the ground, taken out by its own spores.

Vileplume is unable to battle, the student ref announced, sounding somewhat unwilling. Um Umbreon is the winner. Erika returned her vileplume with calm acceptance, but the umbreons paws were set firmly apart on the ground. He was shaking with heaving breaths, his eyes shining with exhilaration. Though his black fur was matted and his yellow rings were tinged with pink from the thin cuts of the petal dance, he looked prepared to battle to the death if need be.

But there was no such need. Tynan, with a self-satisfied expression, expanded an empty pokball and tossed it.

Brother turned in time to see the pokball coming. His eyes flashed angrily, but he had made a promise a promise to protect Bairn. Even if Brother had to break his own word to himself, he would not break his word to Bairn those were his last thoughts before he was drawn into the safety and comfort of the pokball.

The pokball rocked back and forth, the metallic edges of the two halves flashing red as it struggled to contain the umbreon before locking down. Tynan caught it up and added it to his belt as he approached Erika. His expression was carefully blank but his green eyes shone triumphantly.

Where did that girl, the little fox, go next? Tynan demanded as Erika bowed respectfully amid the excited chatter of the students. In her hand she held the rainbow badge.

Erika studied him through her long eyelashes and sighed. She went to Fuschia City, she admitted reluctantly, offering him the badge. Tynan snatched it up, clenching it in his fist and turned away to leave. I dont know what it is you wish to do with yourself, Tynan, Erika said softly behind him. But you will never reach that goal unless you realize that winning and losing come hand in hand. You cannot hope to become a master unless you first let go of your petty spite.

Tynan paused for only a split second; then he continued on his way, disregarding her advice as soft-minded female claptrap. Ill beat her, he vowed burningly, his mind turning to the confident little fox as the students parted for him; some giving encouragement, others voicing regret at his leaving. Ill erase that humiliation; Ill prove whos better. Thick fringe overshadowing eyes dark with single-minded determination, Tynan stalked out of the school which had held him back, out of his ivory tower and into a world where he was determined to win out.

No matter the cost.