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Old April 16th, 2011 (3:03 AM). Edited August 16th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
    Join Date: Mar 2010
    Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
    Age: 24
    Nature: Impish
    Posts: 1,030
    New chapter's here, and it's mostly devoted entirely to one of my favourite characters!

    Chapter Forty: Giga! Drill! SAPPHIIIIIIRE!

    Sapphire launched herself at Darren Goodwin, hands outstretched to rip the Master Ball from him; however, something solid slammed into her chest, knocking her back down.

    Cold black eyes stared down at her from above an empty smile; a plump, compact cow stood over her on its hind legs, a little shorter than the Devon man but much broader. Sheets and packs of muscle strained and rippled beneath the creature’s pinkish skin, and blunt, stubby horns rose from its forehead. Between its massive thighs hung its udders, pendulous and bloated with milk. This was a body, like Tom's, capable of enormous leverage, and it was supported by a pair of solid black hooves, as thick around as bollards and heavier than lead.

    “Third ball,” Darren said with a faint smile, as Sapphire scrambled upright. He bent down and pulled his coat away from Toro; the Combusken struggled gamely to her feet and looked around for enemies, but she held one arm stiffly, and it was probably broken. The Miltank’s great head swung around towards her, and Sapphire took the precaution of recalling her before the larger Pokémon could attack. Then, while Darren and the Miltank were still turned away, she threw another ball – onto the cow.

    Rono exploded out of nowhere and landed on the Miltank’s back; several hunded pounds of stone and steel performed a brief trick in cooperation with gravity, and the Devon Pokémon was crushed to the floor with an anguished bellow. Darren whirled, startled, and Sapphire ran forwards, stepped up onto Rono’s heaving back, leaped forwards—

    —and snatched the ball from his unresisting hand, landing on the floor, twisting to recall Rono and bursting out of the door in one fluid movement.

    “Cal—!” Sapphire heard the curse through one ear as she slammed the door behind her. A crunch told her she’d fulfilled a running gag and hit Darren Goodwin on the nose yet again, but right now she didn’t care; the previous times she’d done this, he hadn’t actually stopped giving chase, and she didn’t expect him to stop now.

    Sapphire sprinted all the way down the street and part of the way down the next, then ducked into a shop and watched as Darren and his Miltank thundered past, her heart apparently somewhere around her ears, to judge by the sound and the feeling. Then she left, breathing easily at last, and made her way back to the Pokémon Centre by the most meandering and circuitous route she could find.

    And she went back to her room, and she looked at the Poké Ball in her hand, and she turned the colour of ash.

    Because she was holding, not a Master Ball, but a Premier Ball with a large ‘3’ on it.


    I would walk five hundred miles
    And I would walk five hundred more—

    Except of course I don’t walk, Puck explained. I float. I tried to tell them that, but they wouldn’t listen.

    “You had a hand in the writing of that song?” I asked.

    Do you know which band wrote it?


    Then yes. Yes I did.

    “Something tells me that’s a lie.” I looked up, and half a breath escaped from between my lips in a pfft sound. “Sapphire’s sure taking her time with the ‘releasing me’ thing.”

    Maybe she changed her mind about having you around as a free being.

    “I thought she was starting to warm to me?”

    You think a lot of things.

    “All right, calm down.”

    Oh, I’m calm. I’m completely cool. Cold, even. As ice, and willing to sacrifice, but that’s a different story. Puck paused, as he often did, to stop himself getting carried away with the joke. No, in all seriousness, perhaps she wants to force you into helping her stop Zero now you’ve got cold feet.

    “It’s a stupid idea!”

    It was your idea.

    This was true. I’d been the one to decide we were going after Zero. However, when it came to matters such as these, I was willing to admit I’d been wrong; after all, what is man without humility?

    Don’t even start telling me about how you were wrong, Puck cautioned. Self-deprecation suits you – I mean, you’re pretty pathetic and all – but it’s a stupid human thing and it annoys me. A lot.

    “Ah, shut up.”

    Oh! Telling someone to shut up, Kester, is the last refuge of the beaten man.

    He was right. I’d lost this argument, and I knew it.

    I sighed and drummed my fingers on the steel wall.

    “You know what’s weird about this? It actually feels really familiar. Like I’ve come home.”

    It’s a prison, but it’s your prison, Puck said philosophically. The only weird thing about it is that you got used to it so quickly. Then again, you’re human. Your species often finds it easier to adjust to things than others.

    “You’re such a – a psychologist.”

    Is that an insult? Anyway, I have a PhD in psychology. So yeah, I am a psychologist.

    “That’s definitely not true.”

    How do you know? Here, share a memory.

    A mental image of a lecture hall floated into my head; a man of advanced years stood at the front, and behind him a massive Venn diagram had been projected onto the wall. He was pointing at the left circle with a cane, and in the middle of his student audience a small orange creature was floating above a chair, connected to its laptop by a string of blue electricity.

    “That... might not be real,” I said cautiously.

    He’s delivering a lecture on stimulus generalisation and Pavlovian reinforcement, with reference to the ‘Little Albert’ experiment.

    “OK, I believe you.”

    His tone was so authoritative that I had to believe him, strange though it seemed; Puck really had gone to university. I wondered how it had happened – and then wondered at how little I really knew about him. Puck was an art thief, and he was English, and he had studied psychology at university.

    Wait. That was crazy. He was a Rotom – a Pokémon, for God’s sake. No non-humans but Kadabra ever participated in human society as equals; either they weren’t intelligent enough or they preyed on us, like Gengar. Puck was something that couldn’t possibly be.

    And yet here he was...

    I frowned, and resolved to do some research on Rotom when I got out and back to the Pokémon Centre.

    If you don’t want me to fry your brain, I wouldn’t do that, said Puck. His voice was dark and serious, like a pompous chocolate bar.

    “Why?” A chill ran down my spine, and for once it was mine and not his. “What do you have to hide?”

    Everything, he replied. I’m special, let’s just leave it at that. So special... but you’re a creep.

    And with that vaguely ominous statement tempered with a popular musical reference, Puck ceased to talk, and I could get no more out of him than from the walls.


    “Fabien, are you payin’ for all this?”

    Fabien inspected his glass, then inspected the long line of empty ones spread out along the bar. He might not be the tallest of men, but he could hold his liquor well; he was barely even drunk yet – or at least, he didn’t think he was, which was often enough to fool himself at least. It was a trick that had been taught to him by a rather bad Buddhist monk who had been one for sneaking illicit beers, shortly before that monk died in mysterious circumstances that were in no way connected to Fabien at all.

    “No,” he said at length, “I don’t think I am.”

    “I think you are,” said the bartender, and Fabien looked up at him. He was well over six feet tall, and built like the Balrog, only without the flaming wings.
    “You shall not pass,” murmured Fabien, and punched him on the nose.

    It was unusual for Fabien to be so proactive, and even more unusual for a plan of his to work. On this occasion, however, it did: the bartender staggered back a step, and Fabien leaped to his feet and left the bar in a flash.

    Blake, slightly slower on the uptake, sat there for a moment, then jumped up after him. The bartender was shouting and going for the door, so he punched him smartly between the eyes, laying him out across the bar, and fled the building.



    “I don’t want to hear it, Blake.”

    “Fabien, wha’s up with you?”

    “Blake, this is a threshold!” Fabien stood in the middle of the street; it seemed he was more drunk than he’d thought. “It’s a point past which I must progress, as the main character!”

    “There ain’t no main character!” Blake yelled at him. “You’re drunk!”

    “I am the main character!” Fabien proclaimed. “This is one of those tests, you know? It’s the point halfway through the film where things conspire against me and I begin to lose heart! I’m – I’m Ron Weasley in the forest!”

    “He ain’t the main character, Fabien!”

    There was a group of people gathered now, watching in a kind of disturbed fascination; to see two grown men so serious about something so utterly outlandish was an opportunity rarely to be had, and not to be passed over lightly. They were sure it must be a film – this was Fallarbor, after all, the home of Hoennian cinema – but there was no crew to be seen, no cameras, no microphones. Some said it was real, and that they were looking at two people blessed and cursed with lives and dialogue ripped from film scripts.

    “I have to overcome it, Blake!” cried Fabien. “This day is a one-dimensional threshold guardian designed to stop the plot from developing, or maybe it’s some sort of strange event pasted in to cover a gap in the narrative where something else once was! Either way, I can’t back down now. My name is Fabien Barnaby Latch, grunt in the Magmas of Hoenn, former chairman of the Fortree Flower Arranging Club, loyal servant to the true leader, Maximilian Aurelius. Son to a murdered father, brother to a divorced sister. And I will have my closure, in this life or the next!”

    He finished his speech in a shout, one fist raised high into the sky and his head pointed down, with closed eyes; he must have stayed there for half a minute afterwards, as the silence filled the street. Then, hesitantly at first, and then more strongly, applause took hold in the audience. Soon, the entire crowd was cheering, and Fabien gave a long bow, thanked everyone profusely and passed out.

    Goishi, watching from the bar, gaped and stared. Surely, this could not be happening? His master was crazy and deceitful, he knew that much. He also knew that he had a tendency to become eloquent when drunk. But this...? This was something on an unprecedented scale. This was his pet theory about being the main character elevated to the rank of obsession.

    Also, half of Fallabor had heard his speech, and that mean the Aquas too. Goishi could only deduce that Tabitha was going to be angry, and that whether or not there had been Aquas chasing them before, there definitely would be now.

    Blake was helping Fabien up now, and supporting him as they staggered away down the street; Goishi flapped lazily out to drift along behind them. The crowd parted before them and began to disperse, and Goishi realised just how stupid this whole thing had been. The day had been bad, it was true; it had put Fabien in low spirits, it was true; but how had ranting in the street made anything better? It was cinematic, that was true, although it would have been better shot in pouring, all-obscuring rain – but nothing had changed. Fabien was still a liar, a cheat and an overall failure as a man. He wasn’t just bad at lying low – he was bad at life.

    The only thing to come out of it all, Goishi reflected, was that Fabien had somehow convinced himself that everything was better. At least, he thought he had.
    He shook his head and sighed. This was getting far too complicated, and far too ridiculous. He’d thought it before and he thought it again: he missed Stheno, and the comfortable days before he’d met Fabien.

    Ten minutes later, Blake stopped and answered his phone, which had begun to ring, then winced. Goishi watched with interest as he spoke.

    “It’s Tabitha,” he said. “An ’e’s abou’ as ’appy as a leekless Farfetch’d.”


    “A Rotom,” Sapphire said. It was almost the truth, she thought. “Charge Beam.”

    “Hmm,” the doctor replied, peering myopically at the blob of agony that currently constituted her arm. “I think that’s a superficial partial thickness burn. It’s quite big, though.”

    “Really? I hadn’t noticed.” Sapphire glanced at her arm herself. From the wrist to the shoulder, it was a vibrant red and twisted into a series of clear blisters; it was as if someone had boiled and skinned a Seismitoad, and inconsiderately grafted its skin onto her arm.

    “Miss, if you’re going to be like that—”

    “Sorry. It just... hurts.”

    That seemed to placate him, because the doctor then spread an oily white lotion over her arm, which hurt considerably; as he did so, he explained to her that this medicine was taken from a distillation of the active ingredients from Blissey egg yolk. They were good, he said, for pretty much all minor superficial injuries.

    “Fascinating,” replied Sapphire, through clenched teeth to mask the pain. “Are you done yet?”

    “Nope,” the doctor said cheerily, and proceeded to swathe her arm in bandages up and down its length. They felt far too tight, and they stung against the blisters, but Sapphire bore it; she had a feeling that it would be worse without them. After all, this guy was a doctor, and she hoped that meant he knew what he was doing.

    “Now,” he said, “take this.” He handed her a pill, and Sapphire stared at it.

    “What’s this?”

    “A painkiller.”

    “You couldn’t have given it to me before torturing my arm?”

    “Oh yes,” the doctor said earnestly, “I could, but you see you didn’t come across as a very likeable person, so I didn’t.”

    “I’m sure that sort of discrimination’s illegal for doctors,” Sapphire muttered, and swallowed the tablet.

    “I’m sure it is, too,” the doctor agreed. “Now, here’s some bandages, and here’s some of that Blissey lotion. Apply it twice a day and change the bandages daily. Now get out.”

    “Do I get a supply of painkillers?”

    “What d’you think this is, a pharmacy?” The doctor snorted and pointed at the door. “Leave. Now.”

    Sapphire pulled her shirt and coat back on, grabbed her bag with her good hand and stalked out, muttering darkly to herself about the ethical standards of those who went into the medical profession.

    However, as she left the Accident and Emergency ward, more pressing issues came into her mind: namely, Kester and his whereabouts. She was pretty certain that Darren Goodwin wasn’t going to leave without his Miltank’s Poké Ball, so he’d probably seek her out; maybe she could trade or something.

    “Right,” Sapphire said aloud. “Where would I go to look for me if I were a Devon researcher?”

    The answer was obvious: the Pokémon Centre. Sapphire headed back there, left arm hanging limply – and now, with the painkiller kicking in, a little numbly – at her side. She asked the receptionist if her Combusken was back from seeing the doctors yet, was informed she was, and received her; then she asked if anyone had come looking for her while she was out.

    “Oh yes,” the receptionist replied. “There was a nice young man here – your cousin, he said.”

    “Darren?” Sapphire chanced. If not him, it could be anyone. She wouldn’t have called him young – for Sapphire, ‘young’ meant twenty and under – but she did suppose that the Devon man couldn’t have been much past thirty.

    “That was him,” she confirmed. “I told him you were out and I didn’t know when you’d be back, so he left a message that he’d be waiting for you at nine o’clock tonight outside the helipad.”

    He must want to head back to Devon as soon as possible, reasoned Sapphire. God knows I would.

    “OK, thanks.” Sapphire smiled prettily and went into the lounge, where, since there were no other Trainers in the building, she let out all four of her Pokémon and tried to pass the time by watching TV. Rono stretched out like a lizard in front of the sofa, ignoring the sounds and images; he’d never had much time for television. Toro, on the other hand, was a borderline addict – placing her in front of a TV was one of the few ways to keep her still for extended periods of time. She sat on Rono’s hard, cold back and stared with fascinated eyes at the screen. Stacey, keen to give the impression she was, in fact, a small feathery human being, perched next to Sapphire and did her best to pretend she understood what the TV was; the nameless Sableye, Sapphire discovered, had a mortal fear of the idiot’s lantern and hid under the sofa with his Dustox doll.

    For her own part, Sapphire found it hard to put her coming encounter with Darren Goodwin from her mind. There were seven and a half hours until they were due to meet, and it didn’t seem nearly long enough. She flicked mindlessly through channels, not taking in any of them – until a familiar face filled the screen.

    “... same specimen as has been spotted in towns across the country,” the newsreader was saying. “Nicknamed ‘Stripe’ for the band of white fur on his head, it seems this Sableye is at the heart of the recent insurrection...”

    Sapphire watched the news for a disheartening five minutes, in which she’d learned that from Verdanturf and Mauville, the sociopathic Sableye had come to Lavaridge, rendering the Cable Car unusable along the way. A few had gone to Fallarbor, but had turned up dead and covered in vomit near broken drains. This had been leapt upon by the conspiracy theory community as evidence for the unproven rumour that there was a rogue Serperior, once an exotic pet and now a predatory menace, that roamed the city’s sewer network.

    “Oh good,” she said unenthusiastically. “Another thing to feel bad about.”
    She turned off the TV, to Toro’s dismay and to Stacey’s secret relief, and stood up.

    “I need to get out of here,” she said decisively. “Stacey!”

    The Swablu looked up at her with large, dark eyes that marked her out as a Bird of Very Little Brain. If ever she Thought of Things, she might have found that when those Things got out and had people looking at them, they seemed a lot less Thingish, but that is enough of that.

    “On my shoulder. Now.”

    Startled by the sudden command, Stacey actually obeyed. Sapphire recalled Rono, Toro and the useless Sableye, and left at a pace that was close to a march. She was going to find something to fight now, and make Stacey evolve. And then, if there was time, she was going to use her map to get back to Spike, and battle her again, and win. And then, if she could, she was going to figure out what had happened to her to make her change herself so much, and, if it was something bad, she would help her change back again. If there was time.

    Sapphire was a girl on a mission, and it showed in the grim, determined set of her face; the boy in the lobby picked up on it right away and jumped a clean foot back from her, flung aside by the intensity she carried with her.

    A boy in the lobby?

    Sapphire halted and gave him a piercing look. He was fifteen or sixteen, with straw-coloured hair and wide-open eyes that gave him the look of a perpetually-startled fish; he wore battered clothes with fashionable English writing on, and his feet were as outsize as his eyes. At some point during his career as a Trainer he’d lost three fingers from his left hand.

    “Er... did you want something?” he asked, startled.

    “You’re a Trainer?” Sapphire demanded to know.

    “Yes. That’s obvious, isn’t it?”

    It was. He had the belt, only his was more of a bandoleer – he wore it across his chest. The effect was slightly ruined by his sparseness of frame; it reminded Sapphire of a newborn Cubone she’d once seen, far too small for its mother’s skull. As it was, the fact that there were six balls there was the sole impressive feature; it was difficult to travel with six Pokémon in tow, since all of them needed feeding and care. Sapphire guessed he must have been Training pretty much constantly since he turned ten.

    “Do you have any Pokémon in the late twenties?” she asked. “I’ve been looking for a battle to strengthen myself for the Gym Leader here – she beat me last time – but there’s no one else here.”

    “By a happy coincidence,” the boy said, “I was looking for a battle, too, because I’ve just come from the Gym, and the Leader just beat me. And I’ve got a couple of Pokémon at that sort of level in the PC.”

    And so it was that ten minutes later, Sapphire and the boy – whose name, it transpired, was Lodovic – stood facing each other across the stretch of grass at the back of the Centre. In most Centres, this would have been a large area; here, there was barely room for two simultaneous battles.

    “OK,” Lodovic said. “Just so you know, I’m not going to let you win just to strengthen you.”

    “Neither am I,” retorted Sapphire. “I’ll even give you the advantage and play white.”

    Trainer jargon was as rich and varied as any you might find; playing ‘white’ or ‘black’ was a term borrowed from chess, where the white side moves first, and designated the order in which the combatants sent out their Pokémon.

    “Go on, Stacey,” said Sapphire encouragingly. “Evolution will bring you one step closer to being human.”

    A sudden, glittering light appeared in the Swablu’s eyes; she fluffed her wings and swooped down to float above the grassy sward like a piece of cotton caught in an updraft.

    “Being human?” queried Lodovic. “That’s not weird at all.”

    “She’s got a thing,” Sapphire said, and then added, somewhat despondently: “Almost all my Pokémon do.”

    “Interesting,” Lodovic said. “I look forward to seeing them.” He threw a Poké Ball down, and a pale green monstrosity appeared, half as tall as its Trainer and leering out from beneath a broad head-mounted lily-pad; it resembled nothing so much as an evil monkey wearing a sombrero, and its eyes were full of disdain.

    “Lombre,” Sapphire said. “OK. Stacey, Peck!”

    “Stanislaus, Ice Beam,” ordered Lodovic coolly.

    The Lombre drew back its heavy head and vomited forth a stream of white-blue energy, pencil-thin and icy-cold; Stacey banked sharply and it missed her by a full yard. Once any Beam attack was started, it took an experienced user to cut it off short, and so the Lombre kept up the Ice Beam despite the fact that it was simply petering out a few metres away; Stacey swooped around to the side and Pecked it sharply on the side of the head. She came away with blood on her beak.


    Stacey was only too eager; she darted around the Lombre’s head, Pecking wildly – so wildly, in fact, that she didn’t actually hit it.

    “Slow down!” Sapphire ordered, and just as Stacey spread her wings to brake Lodovic cried out:

    “Now! ThunderPunch!”

    The Lombre swung around and drove its fist into Stacey’s little body; lightning crackled and flared around her small form and she flew backwards with a despairing cry, landing hard on her back and skidding along the ground for a full six feet before coming to rest against a rock.


    Sapphire needn’t have worried. Stacey might have been weak to Electric moves, but her blood was up now and she wasn’t going to submit to some Grass-type punk with ideas above its station. The effort required for her to launch herself into the air was visible, but she wasn’t beaten yet; her wings still worked fine, and that was all she needed.

    “OK, Stacey, new tactic: Sing.”

    “Cover your ears!” Lodovic said, but it was too late. There are few Pokémon with such a natural aptitude for Singing as Swablu – Jigglypuff, perhaps, is one – and though Stacey may have believed she was human, she was still a master of the art. Her little beak opened, a stream of golden notes poured out, and the Lombre’s large eyelids slid downwards, its hands halfway to its ears. A moment later, it slumped down onto the ground, snuffling slightly.

    “All right,” Sapphire said. “Peck him up.”

    In an official match between Trainers, it was forbidden to use items on Pokémon mid-battle, and it was all over in a few minutes. Stanislaus the Lombre passed from sleep to true unconsciousness under a relentless rain of Flying-type moves, and Lodovic recalled him with a scowl.

    Sapphire tensed as he reached for the next ball. She knew that one more hit – of any type, super-effective or not – would finish Stacey off; it was a marvel that she had taken the ThunderPunch so well. Whatever it was, she would keep Stacey out against it just long enough for her to gain a little more combat experience, and then switch to either Rono or Toro. Absently, she scratched her bandaged arm, and then jerked her hand away as it ignited in a burst of searing pain.


    A crescent-shaped boulder rose up slowly from the earth, a beaky nose fixed between its crater-pocked horns and a pair of blood-red eyes staring out from either side of it; a chill ran down Sapphire’s spine and she looked away from those eyes hurriedly. It was a well-documented fact that if you looked into a Lunatone’s eyes, you would become transfixed with fear; once, her father had been stuck to the spot for so long that the Lunatone had become bored, and decided to amuse itself by stealing his clothes with its psychic powers. That, Sapphire recalled, had been the first and most embarrassing of the times she’d had to go and collect him from the police station...

    “Rock Slide!”

    Sapphire jolted back to the present and held out Stacey’s ball.


    Points of light appeared above Stacey, grew inexplicably into boulders and fell downwards to fade away after hitting the ground; Sapphire always avoided thinking about how moves like Rock Slide actually worked, if possible, and the concentration required to recall Stacey and send out Rono one-handed helped.

    “Iron Head,” she commanded, and the Lairon gave a gravelly roar before curling into a ball and rolling in the direction of the Lunatone; evidently, neither it nor its Trainer had ever encountered a Lairon that utilised Rono’s peculiar method of locomotion before, because it stayed floating on the spot, transfixed by surprise, as Sapphire’s Pokémon uncurled and leaped straight for it, smashing his steel skull into the psychic boulder and cracking it so badly that one of its horns fell off.

    “What the—?” Lodovic seemed confused for a moment, but he soon changed to grinning instead. “That was so cool,” he said. “Never seen a Lairon that could move that fast before.”

    Sapphire grinned back.

    “I told you,” she said. “All my Pokémon have a thing. Stacey thinks she’s a person, Rono can roll... actually, Toro doesn’t have anything weird, but the other one does.”

    “Other one?” queried Lodovic, recalling his Lunatone. “I thought this was a three-on-three match?”

    “It is,” replied Sapphire. “That one... doesn’t need training. And he won’t for a very, very long time.”

    “You’re a really interesting person,” Lodovic said, narrowing his eyes at her. “All right. Kuchi, let’s turn this match around!”

    To Sapphire’s surprise, Kuchi did. It was a cute little Pokémon, barely two feet tall, and doll-like with large, soulful eyes. Coloured in yellow and grey, it sauntered up to Rono with a disarming look, and so disconcerted was the Lairon that he wasn’t able to react in time when the monster spun around on one foot to reveal that one of its horns was, in fact, a gigantic, toothy mouth, snapping and straining at the root that tethered it to the skull.

    “Brick Break!”

    The mouth scythed downwards and crumpled Rono’s back inwards with its side; he staggered back, roaring in pain, and kicked up a cloud of obscuring mud out of habit. Unfortunately for him, the mud hit the mouth, and so none of it went into the little creature’s eyes. It simply spun around, looked at where he was, and leaped over to him before smashing its great maw into his comparatively soft rocky underbelly.

    Whatever the monster was, two of its Brick Breaks were too much for Rono; he bellowed mournfully, like a wounded cow, and collapsed unconscious at the monster’s feet.

    “What is that thing?” asked Sapphire, recalling Rono.

    “Mawile,” replied Lodovic, “the Deceiver Pokémon. Come on, send something out.”

    Sapphire took up Stacey’s ball again and threw it down. The Swablu didn’t make it into the air this time; she flapped her wings once, weakly, then decided that she couldn’t really do it and flopped forward onto her belly, gently perspiring. It was an obvious fact to those to whom it was obvious that she was on the verge of evolution; her body was slightly larger than usual, and its blobby ovoid shape was starting to lengthen.

    “You really want to level her, huh?” Lodovic said. “Fine. Kuchi, Crunch!”

    The little monster ran forwards, tiny feet pattering across the grass, and Sapphire recalled Stacey as quickly as she’d sent her out; the Mawile’s jaws snapped shut on thin air, and it gave a frustrated whine.

    “Toro!” Judging from its behaviour and epithet, Deceiver, Mawile was probably a Dark-type; that type was the most inclined to sneak attacks and lying. Ghosts did it too, but few of them were as solid as this creature was – even those with feet would have glided across the ground rather than run as Mawile did. Sapphire supposed it could have been a Normal-type – but her instinct told her it wasn’t; there was something in the hard bones that showed through its soft, delicate skin that spoke of greater exoticism than that.

    Judging by the look on Lodovic’s face when the Combusken appeared, she’d guessed right – he looked like someone had just informed him that he had three weeks to live. Still, it couldn’t do any harm to play cautiously.

    “Bulk Up!” Sapphire commanded, and prayed Toro got it right; this was a move that they were in the process of learning rather than one they had actually learned. The Combusken gave it her best shot, tensing her muscles and glowing bright orange for a half-second; it looked like it had worked, but Sapphire knew from experience that that didn’t mean anything. Often, Toro only managed to raise her Attack or Defence, instead of Attack and Defence.

    The time it took to do the Bulk Up was all that Kuchi the Mawile needed to start a Rock Slide going, leaping up into the air and spraying luminous flecks from its massive mouth; they coalesced into boulders and fell towards Toro like dead comedians.

    “Dodge them!”

    Toro was fast, Toro was quick; doubtless Toro could have jumped over the candlestick. She bounded up and grabbed onto the side of the first boulder, then leaped up onto the second and to the third; the whole thing was, as Pokémon so often are, highly improbable and very impressive to look at. In a trice, Toro was six feet in the air and above every boulder, and from there she launched, unasked, a flying axe kick at Kuchi. This was not technically a Pokémon move, but as Toro’s taloned heel snapped the Mawile’s head down into the grass and left it unmoving, it didn’t seem proper to argue the point.

    The battle was over, three-one to Sapphire. And Stacey’s Poké Ball was beginning to rattle as if a demon were trapped inside, and couldn’t get out.

    For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.