Geez, I haven’t actually done Pokémon battles in what feels like forever. Don’t worry – you’ll get your fill in the next couple of chapters…and then some.
Chapter 33: The Good, The Brad, and the Ugly
July 10, PA 2013 – Just South of the Hoenn Meteorological Tower
Noon had arrived on the plateaus of Central Hoenn, bringing with it July heat, humidity, lunch with friends…and Pokémon Training.
Having grown bored of pounding on the nearly endless droves of Zigzagoon and Linoone that permeated the area, Travis and Katrina decided to turn their Pokémon on each other in a series of friendly practice battles, whilst Madeline and Shiro, accompanied by Hotshot, Sparx, Angel, and Crescent, looked on. Most tense was the obvious coldness between the last of these two, who had seemingly found very little to say to one another in the last several days.
On one side stood Travis. In front of him was a creature that was a dark green and right at home in his humid, heavily forested environment…
Angel observed her teammate, who had a competitive, almost manic, glint in his eye as he prepared to enter the fray once again.
Crescent, meanwhile, looked at the other side of the field, where Katrina had called into action…frankly, his least favorite team member. A canine creature with brown fur flecked with streaks of snowy white, his arrogant smirk and his aloof way made him a lone wolf in every sense of the word…
As soon as the matchup was set, the weight of the tension in the air seemingly doubled…it had gone from being palpable to as thick as the grass was around these parts. One needed a machete to cut through it…or perhaps a LARGE axe if they all didn’t utterly hate them so much for the bad memories they invoked…
There was a definite feeling of unease comparable to how one would deal with a Tauros slumbering in a living room. If perhaps so much as a feather was placed near the beast’s nostrils, causing him to sneeze…
…Then all hell would break loose.
“<Get ready for the fight of your life,>” the Grovyle said, crouching low as the leaf blades on his arms came alive with a bright green glow.
“<You like hearing yourself talk, don’t you?>” Arcus replied with a coldness worse than his Ice Beam.
There was a long lull. Suddenly, Madeline elbowed Shiro.
“Ow!” Shiro grunted. “Hey, what the he—”
“You’re supposed to give them the signal to start, remember?” Madeline muttered very softly.
“Oh…yeah, that’s right,” Shiro said sheepishly. Raising his hand into the air, he shouted, “Fight!”
“Arcus, Ice Beam!” Katrina started. A ball of white materialized near the Ice-type creature’s mouth as he uttered a lupine snarl.
“Quick Attack, Champ!” Travis ordered. Travis’ eyes suddenly slowed down to see Champ shift his streamlined body out of the way. The Grovyle’s reptilian, yellow eyes narrowed, and the creature pushed off his left foot, going from nothing to full sprint in the matter of less than a second. The Ice Beam made contact with the ground in front of Travis, cooling his ankles dramatically and creating a rather slick spot frozen over with a thin layer of ice.
“<You’re too slow to keep up with me!>” Champ taunted. Arcus reacted by firing another Ice Beam at him, which he easily avoided. Arcus attacked him with a third, this time releasing it in front of Champ in the hopes that the Grovyle’s momentum would carry him into its throes.
The attempt was unsuccessful, as Champ saw this coming, slowed to a stop, and then turned on a dime, shooting straight at Arcus, who growled loudly in response. A smirk seized his face and he fired a fourth Ice Beam – this time, straight into the ground. Champ went flailing and Arcus jumped away from him just as the unfortunate Grass-type lurched forward and hit the dirt head-first.
“<Geez...A facer right into the ground – that’s gotta hurt,>” Hotshot commented.
“<No kidding,>” Sparx commented.
“<That’s the way!>” the latest exclamation came from none other than Crescent, whose crimson eyes were fixed on the battle with laser-like focus. “<Battle from the neck up!>”
“<I don’t need you to be my cheerleader, Crescent,>” Arcus said, avoiding an angry Leaf Blade attack from a retaliating Champ. “<I got this.>”
“<Cheerleader, huh?>” Sparx commented. “<Hey, maybe we should get him a little skirt and some pom-poms.>”
“<I don’t know, babe,>” Hotshot replied across Crescent. “<He would look cute in a dress.>”
“<Very funny,>” Crescent replied hotly. “<Got any more jokes, you kennel reject?>”
“<Hey!>” Sparx’s cheeks started crackling – a very dangerous sign.
“<Gosh, I was just messing with you, man,>” Hotshot rolled his eyes, walking away from him. “<Get your head outta your ***.>”
“<I don’t have my head up my ***, thanks,>” Crescent shouted, having heard the snide remark. “<But I’ll be happy to put a foot up yours.>”
“<Crescent!>” Angel exclaimed, having finally heard enough.
“<What?>” Crescent snapped. “<Tell him to get off my case.>”
Angel stayed silent. Meanwhile, Crescent turned back to the battle.
“<That’s right!>” he exclaimed as Champ went flying across the field, arriving near Travis’ feet. “<Show him you won’t be pushed around!>”
“<You don’t need to tell me twice,>” Arcus barked. “<In fact…you really don’t need to say **** to me. Just watch me work.>”
He pawed the ground and prepared himself for the finish.
“<What are you, trying to make a point?>” Champ asked as he stood. “<I don’t want her like that. Get it through your head.>”
“<You took the words right out of my mouth,>” Arcus snarled. “<Now, get your *** off the ground so I can finish you off.>”
“<Try it,>” Champ said, rising to his feet as his Leaf Blades kicked into life again.
“<That’s it!>” Crescent yelled. “<End the battle!>”
“<For the last time!>” Arcus lost his temper at Crescent’s attempted exhortations. “<Shut the…>”
“Champ! Use Screech!” Travis’ order drowned out Arcus’ foul language. Champ looked up and opened his mouth, which released a terrible sound. Travis groaned under it slightly and Katrina took a step back.
“<What in the WORLD?!>” Hotshot shouted in disapproval at the high pitch as he reeled backward.
“<…Damn it!>” Arcus shouted.
“<Don’t like that much?>” Champ taunted as he finally took a breath. Arcus looked up, snarling angrily as a single drop of blood trickled forth from one of his ears. “<Heh. Guess not.>”
“<*******!>” Arcus barked loudly. “<I’ll make you scream.>”
“Arcus! Hit him with Aurora Beam!” Katrina shouted. Arcus opened his mouth and a rainbow-colored burst of light shot forth from it, directed right at Champ, who was just getting to his feet. He stood and soon took the Aurora Beam right to the chest, coughing as he doubled over and hit the ground.
“Ngh…” Travis grit his teeth.
“A little more than you bargained for, huh?” Katrina asked. “Think you want to call it?”
“<Don’t you dare,>” Champ staggered to his feet, his yellow eyes glinting.
“<Give it up, already,>” Arcus shook his head. “<I’ve beaten you.>”
“<I’ve been taking it easy on you,>” Champ said, a reddish light instead of a green one enveloping his Leaf Blades.
“Huh?” Shiro commented.
“<What in…>” Arcus grunted.
“Don’t use this very often, but what the hell,” Travis cocked his neck. “Champ, Fury Cutter!”
Champ blurred out of sight as he made a move toward Arcus. Arcus hesitated for a second…
A red-tinged blade of grass flashed in front of the face of Arcus, sending him skyward. Champ leapt into the air and brought the second attack down onto Arcus’ head, smashing him back down to the earth. Arcus hit the ground with a thump and rolled to his feet right as the Grovyle descended upon him with a further Fury Attack and knocked him down again. He pinned Arcus to the ground and, with unwonted violence, began to lay into him with cut after cut.
“<Take this – and this – and this…>” Champ grunted.
“<I thought this was supposed to be a friendly battle,>” Hotshot commented.
“I take it those two don’t like each other very much?” Shiro muttered.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Madeline replied, rolling her eyes slightly. “I think you should call it before someone winds up getting killed.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Shiro sighed nonchalantly. Raising a hand, he yelled, “That’s it!!”
Champ and Arcus both looked at Shiro like he was the most appalling thing on the face of the earth.
“I hereby declare the match a draw…or something like that,” Shiro said loudly.
“Yeah, I think that’s enough. We don’t want to get them so banged up that we can’t keep journeying,” Travis commented.
“I guess so…we can probably rest at the Weather Tower up ahead – they’ve always got beds for passing travelers,” Katrina commented.
“<You’re gonna pay for not knocking me out when you had the chance,>” Arcus growled.
“<What??>” Champ shouted, this time raising a clenched fist.
In that instant, Arcus had opened his mouth and Champ was enveloped in white light. To the great shock and dismay of all witnesses (except Crescent, who kept a surprisingly stoic expression through all this) Champ fell backward, encased in a large, misshapen block of solid, translucent ice.
“<That was a total cheap shot! Champ had let his guard down!>” Angel spat with rage. “<Crescent, say something to him!!>”
Crescent finally spoke.
“<You know as well as I do that he won’t listen,>” he said. Angel stared at him through her crystal eyes as he averted his.
“<What’s going on with you?>” she asked. “<You’ve changed.>”
“<It’s none of your business,>” he replied. “<That is…don’t worry about it.>”
“<None of my…>” Angel repeated in utter shock. “<Why all the secrets? Why can’t you be honest with me and tell me what’s wrong? Maybe I can help...>”
“<You can’t,>” Crescent interrupted sharply. “<This is something I have to do by myself.>”
As the others had begun to walk off toward the north (Champ and Arcus had both been returned), Crescent walked off, leaving Angel by herself.
“<…By yourself?>” Angel repeated. Her gem-like eyes began to water, but she blinked the tears back. Surely Crescent couldn’t mean what she thought he did…there was no way. They had been together too long, gone through too much…
…For it all to go to waste.
Emerald Knight Headquarters, Romero Manor – Rustboro City
Captain Sheridan Hadley and Lieutenant Kelvin Woodson stood before the Prince of Hoenn and his retinue in the small war room of the Romero Manor.
“I trust that you will do a good job of protecting the flank,” Ivanna said. “If they are suddenly retaken, we will be hemmed in on two sides.
“There’s no need to worry so much, Ivanna,” dark-faced, graying-haired Roald remarked. “After all…he has already proven himself to be…capable, if not extraordinary.”
“That’s flattering, sir, but…” Sheridan began.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Rashid interrupted. “You can still bleed the same as any other man.”
“I am well aware of that,” Sheridan replied respectfully.
“That’s all I needed to know,” Rashid said.
“You’re dismissed. Good luck, soldier,” Ivanna said.
Sheridan and Woodson saluted across their chests in tandem, bowed respectfully to the Prince (who grimaced a bit at the gesture) and turned to leave. Once they were out of earshot, Ivanna laid into Rashid.
“For someone that just won an important battle for us, and with minimal casualties, at that,” she commented, “You gave him an awfully hard time.”
“He’s a soldier – he can handle it,” Rashid commented.
“You sure don’t seem to have much confidence in him,” Ivanna said, the rise in her tone of voice a sign of her patience wearing thin. “The first thing out of your mouth when I gave him command of the attack was that you felt sorry for his family.”
“What I meant was that it must be tough on a family that’s already seen a husband and father go missing to see a son and brother deployed to battle as well,” Rashid said.
“You thought he was going to get himself killed,” Ivanna fired back. “Now you’ve got to eat your words – not only did he survive, but nearly all of his unit came back unharmed.”
“You’re just protecting him because he was your favorite student,” Rashid said, a nasty edge to his voice signifying that he was on the verge of losing it. “You talk him up so much – I thought you…”
“Mind your business!” Ivanna stood to her feet, slamming her fist into the table, her brown eyes glittering with rage at Rashid’s insinuation. “You’re just ****** off at him because he did the Prince’s work, not yours!”
“What do you mean by that?” Rashid shouted back.
“You know damn well what I mean,” Ivanna’s voice lowered to a near-growl. “Everybody in the Emerald Knights knows that you want General Ludwig dead.”
“Some people can’t be allowed to live, Ivanna,” Rashid stood to his feet, too. His comment was made by Ivanna bringing her nose within inches of his.
“You had a chance to kill him the first time – why didn’t you?” she asked. “Getting the common man to lay his life on the line to push your agenda…you’re no better than Edgar!! Do you even care about this cause anymore?”
“Don’t you dare get on a high horse with me!” Rashid shouted back. “The only reason you’re here is because you want to avenge your father.”
“Honestly, enough…” the aged wizard and strategist, Hong Liu sighed. Somehow, this quiet expression of grief managed to calm the shouting match between the two young military leaders. He looked up through his beady eyes and said, “As a mighty fortress with opened gates…so is an army with quarrelling leaders.”
Rashid and Ivanna continued to stare flaming daggers of doom and destruction at each other. Ivanna averted her eyes from Rashid, stared at Elrik’s shocked expression for a while – regretfully – and began to stride out of the room.
“You must learn to control yourself,” Roald scolded his son. “Your temper has been getting the better of you recently.”
“You, too?” Rashid seemed hurt beyond words. “I thought you, of all people…”
“I do wish to bring him to justice, yes…and rest assured, he will be…” Roald interrupted calmly. “There are bigger things at stake. Do not forget that.”
Meanwhile, Sheridan and Woodson had returned to the mansion’s foyer. Fortunately, Sheridan’s heart had just begun to slow down to normal – meeting with the Prince and his advisors in a setting like that one made him very nervous.
“Do you…” Sheridan started to speak and trailed off without finishing his sentence.
“Hmm?” Woodson raised his eyebrow and looked straight at the young Captain. Sheridan realized that he hadn’t completed his statement and responded.
“Do you get the feeling that I’m not very popular with a lot of the Emerald Knights?” Sheridan asked.
“What are you talking about? Ever since we came back from the front lines a few days ago, you’ve been a hero,” Woodson reassured him. “Of course, when you have success at something, there are always gonna be a few people that hate your guts. I wouldn’t worry about it, in any case. You’re not in this for glory, are you?”
“No,” Sheridan replied vehemently. “I’m in this for my family.”
“Right – so don’t worry so much about what other people are saying to you behind your back,” Woodson said, shrugging his shoulders, “especially if they don’t have the balls to say it to your face.”
“Guess you’re right,” Sheridan sighed. “Thanks, Kelvin.”
“Anytime,” Woodson said, clapping his friend on the back. At that moment, Hadley and Woodson caught sight of a pair of people walking the other way. One was a rather scruffy-looking man of about thirty with curly, messy hair of a dull myrtle green. His chin and jaws were covered with short, prickly stubble, and his lazy eyes were visible behind slightly drooping eyelids, giving him the look of one who had just awoken from a week-long slumber.
And then there was her.
She was a touch on the short side, not bearing any gaudy physical assets. Every part of her body was in proportion to her frame. That frame was thin, but not in a wan or sickly kind of way. She simply favored daintier and more petite physical features – or rather, they seemed to favor her. Her body seemed to have been designed not quite to excite sexual attraction, but rather to make her appearance endearingly delicate. The small, dark green halter top she wore along with her white pants added to this image, which was completed by her face. She had hair of a vibrant orange, arranged in bangs in the front and two large, braided loops in the back that bounced when she walked. She had eyes that were colored a very peculiar, but quite pretty, shade between green and gray – almost like the underside of a healthy spring leaf, in fact. She had a light peppering of freckles that arched over the bridge of her small nose and showed the most when she smiled. Overall, she looked like a small girl that had grown but somehow not aged.
“Afternoon, Captain,” the man next to the girl said. “Doing alright?”
“Are you serious?” the girl asked incredulously. “Orda…you’re joking, right? This guy?”
“Yes,” Orda said with a slight tinge of impatience in his voice. The girl stepped forward.
“So, you’re the great Captain Sheridan Hadley,” she said, straight to Sheridan this time.
“I don’t know about ‘great’,” Sheridan responded modestly, “but my name is Sheridan Hadley and I am a captain…I guess.”
“That’s strange,” the girl replied, looking Sheridan over for a moment.
“What’s strange?” Sheridan asked.
“Yeah…tell us what’s so strange about it,” Orda echoed.
“Well, maybe it’s a perception kind of thing,” the orange-haired girl shook her head again. “I don’t know…I always thought that you’d look more like, a lot of facial hair, muscles popping out of your armor, about Orda’s age…”
“Hey, are you calling me old?” Orda grumbled.
“You’re older than I am,” the girl shot back. Turning to Sheridan, she added, “You, on the other hand, look like you could be my age.”
“What is that, exactly?” Woodson piped in.
“That’s so classless – what are you thinking?” Sheridan suddenly muttered to Woodson. “You don’t ask a lady her age. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that?”
Woodson grimaced at Sheridan’s sudden tongue-lashing. Meanwhile, the girl in question had paused for a moment.
“A lady?” the girl repeated, her face a bit pink. Raising her voice dramatically, perhaps out of embarrassment, she asked, “Anyway, how old are you?”
“Me? I just turned seventeen – about two months ago,” Sheridan replied. The girl seemed taken aback.
“Oh…really? We’re almost the same age, then,” she answered.
“Are you seventeen?” Woodson asked.
“Well, not yet…” she admitted. “But I will be – in September.”
“Oh, okay,” Sheridan replied. Woodson’s eyebrows raised in recognition.
“Wait a second…aren’t you Talan Ainge’s little sister or something?” he asked.
“Sort of…well, not really,” she conceded. “He’s actually my cousin, but we’re almost like brother and sister because we’ve been living together since we were little kids.”
“Oh, I get it…” Woodson replied.
“Speaking of little sisters, I heard you have a really big family,” the girl said to Sheridan.
“If being the oldest of eight is big, then I guess so…” Sheridan answered.
“Eight?” the girl repeated incredulously. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s really uncommon for a family to have that many kids in this day and age. Maybe back in the sixteenth or seventeenth century…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sheridan shook his head. “I get that a lot.”
The girl had no immediate response, which created quite the awkward silence for a few moments. Sheridan tried to avert his eyes elsewhere – he didn’t want her to freak out and think he was a stalker or something. At the same time, though, he couldn’t look away. She, in contrast, seemed to be unable to look at Sheridan with a straight face. She tried once and then looked at her feet again. She then popped her head up and looked straight at him.
“Don’t we need to tell Talan about our new mission?” Orda piped in.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” the orange-haired girl said with a bit of a stammer. Quickly offering her hand to Sheridan, she said, “I’m Jillian. I’m looking forward to…working with you very soon.”
“Hm?” Sheridan wore a bemused expression on his face for a moment before he finally took her hand to shake it. As delicate as her hand was, it could exact a very firm grip when she wanted it to do so. One thing was certain – she was not weak. She simply concealed her strength very well…a bit like him, truthfully. “Oh...I’m looking forward to it, too. Nice meeting you.”
“We’ll see you…in a day or two, I guess,” Jillian removed her hand, using it to beckon to Orda. “Come on, let’s go.”
“About time,” Orda sighed, following Jillian to the other side of the mansion’s foyer and down the stairs into the basement, which was once and now a practice area for some of the soldiers.
When Jillian and Orda had disappeared into the yawning, dark stairwell, Woodson let out a snicker.
“Bet you could have lived with talking to her a few more hours, huh?” he commented slyly.
“What do you mean by that?” Sheridan questioned a bit nervously.
“You like looking at her,” Woodson replied. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
“I’m not…” Sheridan started. Woodson shook his head.
“You don’t think she’s attractive?” he asked.
“Well…yeah, I guess. Of course, she’s nice-looking, but…” Sheridan trailed off. Woodson stared back at him with raised eyebrows and then smiled.
“Forget it,” Woodson said. “We’ve got a mission to get ready for, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Sheridan said rather distractedly, his eyes still wandering in the neighborhood of the doorway into which Jillian and Orda had just vanished from sight.
A sound of distant thunder shook the walls of the Hoenn Meteorological Tower as the overhead fluorescents flickered for a few moments. In the rest area of the Tower, in which they had obtained four beds for practically nothing, Travis and Katrina sat on the bed the latter had chosen, whilst Madeline leaned against the wall and Shiro paced, taking furtive glances at the window. This area was set up nothing like a Pokémon Center’s lodging – there were four separate, twin-sized beds, each surrounded about four feet up by a ring of iron upon which were curtains that could be drawn around the bed at the patron’s pleasure. The floor was tile and seemed to be one and the same with the floor on the other side of the door, where the actual laboratory was located.
Shiro let out a whistle.
“Damn,” he swore in slight awe, “it’s a good thing we got here when we did. How much would it have sucked to try and travel in this weather?”
“A lot,” Madeline answered her boyfriend’s rhetorical question, still leaning placidly against the wall. As it had been for the last several weeks, her chocolate-brown hair was tied back into a bun, leaving only a few strands of hair (most of them flecked with a very light shade of blonde) hanging down the right side of her face and resting against her cheek every so often. She let out a resigned sigh. “It’s no good, guys. We’re probably going to have to rest here until at least tomorrow.”
“No big – it’s not like we’re in a hurry,” Shiro commented. “We’ve gotta pick our times, though – from what I heard some of the workers here saying, this area of Hoenn gets all kinds of random weather patterns.”
“So I’m guessing it’ll be hotter than hell tomorrow,” Travis sighed.
“Yeah…or it could snow,” Shiro said rather offhandedly.
“Snow?” Travis repeated. “We’d be screwed. It’s the middle of July. We didn’t bring anything for snow.”
“Relax, I’m just messing with ya,” Shiro laughed. “It only does that up until April. It’s too damn hot around here this time of year.”
“Yeah, we figured that out,” Travis said.
“It’d help if you didn’t wear long pants all the time,” Katrina commented.
“I’ve just never been a shorts guy,” Travis said defensively. “They make me look like a little kid.”
Katrina giggled. “‘They make me look like a little kid….’”
Travis grimaced at Katrina for mocking him.
“Wasn’t the first day of our journey like this?” Shiro asked. “Back two years ago?”
“Yeah. The weather started out great, then BOOM. The skies opened up,” Travis said. “And that was right when Angel had gotten hurt fighting a Sentret, too…”
“Speaking of Angel, where is she?” Katrina said. Leaning over to the slumbering lump of blackness sitting at the foot of her bed, she intoned, “Crescent?”
The Umbreon opened one eye.
“<No idea. Haven’t seen much of her since we got here,>” he said much too nonchalantly. “<I’m not worried. She’s tough. She can take care of herself.>”
Crescent rose to his feet and slunk through the cracked doorway as the others watched in silence.
“Something’s wrong,” Katrina commented. “Really wrong.”
“Hm?” Travis uttered in a nonplussed manner.
“The last two years, they’ve been almost inseparable, haven’t they?” Katrina remarked. “Doesn’t it seem strange to you that they’ve hardly said a word to each other in days?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Travis muttered. “You’re right – that is weird.”
The rumble of thunder vibrated against the walls of the small room as the lights flickered again.
“Sure hope this blows over before the festival starts,” Shiro said distractedly, eliciting a rather nervous-sounding response from Madeline.
“Yeah, you’d think,” she said. “If it keeps raining for five whole days at this rate…we’ll all be underwater.”
“That’s true…” Shiro said, cupping his chin with two fingers as his mind gave pause to that fact.
“What do you mean, there aren’t any more beds?” a shout carried into the room from outside. It was met by a rather harried-sounding voice that seemed to be trying to explain something.
“We just had a group of four walk in – I’m sorry. Now, you’re welcome to stay here, but I can’t promise that the conditions will be as comfortable…”
“Damned if I have to go out there again,” the boyish voice seemed to have calmed down. “Beautiful.”
“That voice sounds familiar,” Madeline commented.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Shiro said, suddenly tearing for the door with Madeline not far behind. Travis and Katrina looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders in tandem, and walked out after them.
“Madeline? Shiro?” the boy’s voice seemed to carry excitement laced with a bit of surprise. Travis and Katrina emerged from the door and, to their great shock, saw a familiar face. This face was a very bronzed complexion from exposure to sunlight, belonging to a boy of about fifteen or so whose head and upper neck were covered by messy, flaxen curls going in every which direction. They seemed to be stuck to his neck and forehead, darkened and weighted down by rainwater.
“Brad?” Madeline exclaimed. “Oh, my gosh! What are you doing here?”
“Me?” Brad Carmichael asked, standing. “I could ask you that same question.”
“We’re just passing through with a couple of friends,” Shiro asked.
“Really? No league competition?” Brad asked.
“Nope, not this year,” Madeline replied, shaking her head. At that moment, Travis and Katrina stepped into Brad’s view.
“You guys, too?” Brad laughed. “Man, the surprises just don’t stop, do they? I haven’t seen you guys since Dewford. Looks like you’re doing pretty well for yourselves.”
“I guess so…five badges,” Travis replied.
“At least you got outta Mauville before things got really ugly,” Brad remarked. “I tell you, it’s a mess. Troops assembling…security jacked up to ridiculous levels in Mauville and Petalburg. The Empire’s scared out of its mind of these ‘rebels’, obviously. A civil war right during the journey season…talk about piss-poor timing.”
Travis raised an eyebrow.
“So, you’d rather the Imperials win?” Travis asked.
“Imperials? Hell, no,” Brad shrugged his shoulders. “There’s no place for an Empire nowadays. That’s ancient **** – like, history class ancient. But…whatever, that’s another conversation. In any case, the rebels brought down that outpost the Imperials set up outside of Rustboro…that’s the last thing I heard.”
“Yeah, same here…” Travis said pensively. “So…what are we going to do?”
“Hm?” Brad looked up.
“Well, there are five of us and four beds,” Travis explained. “So, someone’s gonna have to sleep out here.”
“Not necessarily,” Katrina said, latching onto Travis’ arm. “Two of us could, you know…share.”
“Er…what? That’d be…kind of awkward…” Travis uttered, his face a bit pink out of shock at Katrina’s risqué-sounding suggestion.
“Well, there are curtains on the beds…” Shiro said offhandedly, believing that his comment was harmless. However, a smack to the head from Madeline showed him just how wrong he was.
“Thanks – you just made it a hell of a lot more awkward,” she commented while she was doing this.
“Ow!” Shiro grabbed the back of his head, one eye closed in a pained squint. “Shit…”
Brad laughed. “Whatever. I can’t kick you guys out of the room. You got here first. So I’ll sleep out here – just one condition, though…”
“Condition?” Travis repeated in surprise.
“Simple. As soon as tomorrow morning rolls around, we battle,” Brad said. “I’ve got some new Pokémon I want to test out.”
“Actually, that sounds like an idea,” Travis replied. “You’ve got a deal.”
So, with the rain refusing to stop completely for several hours (although it did let up at times), the five teenagers spent their times talking about their respective journeys. Well, actually, Travis and Katrina did most of the listening, whilst Shiro, Madeline, and Brad did most of the talking. There was no need to burden them about the details…of what would lie ahead, of what Travis would soon have to do. As Brad described his journey, he had won even more hearts along the way than he had badges. It was during this conversation that Travis had to mentally remind himself that he was an exception rather than a rule. Most people – at least, where he came from – weren’t ready to commit to a relationship until nearly twenty or so…because it usually takes that long to find that special someone. Travis, in contrast…obviously, he didn’t know this at the time, but…
He had found his when he was six.
He reflected on all this as he watched the rain fall in sheets against the window. It was only in the last year or two that he had begun to see the true meaning of being ‘extraordinary’. Being ‘extraordinary’ was both a gift and a curse. There were few that would ever endure what he had to endure…but there were few that would ever be blessed with the love that he had received.
“Can’t sleep?” Travis smiled to himself. It was almost like she could tell that he was thinking of her. He looked over his shoulder and saw her, her pink hair falling in a sheet down to the middle of her back.
“I don’t want to,” he said with a wry smile. “I might actually wake up…then you won’t be here anymore.”
Katrina rolled her eyes.
“It’s a good thing you don’t really need pick-up lines to make a girl smile like Brad does,” she laughed, walking up to him and taking his hand. “Yours are terrible.”
“It’s not my fault you won’t make me work for it,” he retorted in a whisper.
“That’d just waste everybody’s time,” she whispered, drawing herself within inches of him. Her lips curled upward as her nose brushed against his. He slid his hands around her back and brought her to him.
“You’re not still worried about me, are you?” Travis asked.
“Are you kidding? Of course, I do – it’s my job, isn’t it?” Katrina asked.
“That depends,” Travis replied.
“Depends…on what?” Katrina replied, looking up at him. Travis was silent for a moment.
“Never mind,” he said.
“So…?” Katrina drew her face very close to his again, so he could feel the breath of every syllable she spoke. “It’s not like you to keep something from me. What’s the secret?”
“I wouldn’t call it a secret,” Travis commented. “A secret’s something that I’d never tell you. This is different. I’m going to tell you…but not right now.”
“That’s not a very good answer,” Katrina answered. “Can you at least give me a clue?”
“Fine, you win,” Travis sighed. He closed the minimal distance between their mouths and kissed her. She looked back at him with the most befuddled expression on her face. Suddenly, she felt herself being lifted off her feet. She resisted the urge to scream as this took place without her really expecting it. She was being borne through the air – finally, to her bed, where he laid her down calmly.
“What kind of clue was that?” Katrina asked.
“A really good one, if you think long and hard about it,” Travis replied as he knelt down and ran a finger through the few strands of hair that he could reach with her on the bed, kissing her on the lips afterwards. With that, he made his way back to his own bed and rolled into it. They looked straight at each other.
“Get a good sleep – you’ve got a battle to win tomorrow,” Katrina said. “I love you.”
“Love you, too,” Travis responded with a smile.
Crescent stood at the very pinnacle of the tower, staring through the domed glass ceiling of the observatory. The room was empty, as the vast majority of the meteorologists that worked in here had retired for the night. Standing – or, rather, floating – in their stead, were several blobs that appeared to be living raindrops sitting atop tiny storm clouds.
“<Current weather: thunderstorms…>” one sang.
“<Total rainfall…one-and-a-quarter inches…>” another chimed.
“<Rain expected through tomorrow morning,>” both intoned in stereo.
“<Yeah, yeah, you’ve told me already,>” Crescent grunted, rolling his eyes. “<A hundred times. Now go away so I can think.>”
“<Tomorrow’s weather: showers early…>” a third Castform announced.
“<Partly sunny and humid in the afternoon,>” a fourth sang.
“<Expected high temperature – eighty-two degrees…>” a fifth said.
“<I know that!>” Crescent snapped at one of the Castform. “<Shut it!>”
“<Bullying defenseless Castform? Is that what you’ve reduced yourself to?>” Crescent didn’t need to turn around to see who the voice belonged to. Behind him, a lavender form sidled up a flight of stairs, leaping to the top. There was a long, tense silence.
“<…I can’t do this anymore, Angel,>” Crescent said. “<I can’t keep lying to myself.>”
“<What do you mean by that?>” Angel asked.
Crescent turned around and approached Angel. She stood rooted to the spot as he stepped closer and closer…and then lowered his nose…
“<You’ve always been strong, Angel,>” Crescent said to her, piercing her to her very heart with those blood red eyes. “<Even back then. Anybody less than you…>”
“<No…no, you’ve got it all wrong,>” Angel said, her voice shuddering. “<It was only because you were there.>”
“<Me?>” Crescent repeated, closing his eyes. “<No. I’ve got nothing. You’re the one that saved me. I know that now.>”
“<That’s not true…>” Angel whispered.
“<STOP!>” Crescent shouted, walking away from her. “<Stop lying to me!!>”
“<Crescent, please!!>” Angel shouted, walking toward him.
“<What do you want?!>” Crescent spat. “<What the hell do you want, Angel?!>”
“<I want the old Crescent back,>” Angel said, not in her normal, bold, commanding voice, but in a voice so small and plaintive that it was heartbreaking. She sounded for a moment like the small, young Eevee shrinking in fear from the thunder. “<The one I fell in love with.>”
She ran up to Crescent and nuzzled against him.
“<I want the old Angel back,>” Crescent sighed sadly. “<But, that isn’t going to happen…you’ve grown up so much, Angel. You’re stronger, more beautiful…>”
Angel looked up at him. As much as she had been willing herself not to cry, suddenly that will broke; tears came from her eyes not in drops, but in great streams that ran around her face to her chin and began to pool on the ground.
“<…You don’t even need me anymore.>” Crescent finished.
“<Wh-what are you talking about?>” Angel sobbed. “<Of course I need you! But not like this!!>”
“<Exactly!>” Crescent shouted. “<You don’t need me like this. You need me to be better…so you can at least see me as an equal. That’s the best I can hope for, I guess. It’s not like you’ve ever needed me to protect you.>”
“<You weren’t supposed to protect me!>” Angel cried. “<You were supposed to protect us!>”
“<And a damn good job I did of it, too!>” Crescent shouted sarcastically, losing his temper. Angel fell to silence, the tears still running down her face at a steady rate as she tried to catch her breath.
“<Where would I be able to find anyone better?>” Angel asked. “<I…I love you.>”
“<I love you too, Angel. That’s why…have to do this,>” Crescent said. “<I just don’t feel right about this anymore. If we’re going to be together, I want to be worthy of you…and I’m not. So…for right now…>”
“<Please don’t do this…>” Angel whispered. “<Crescent…>”
“<…Goodbye,>” Crescent finished, walking past her and leaping down the flight of stairs. Angel was left staring through the glass dome as rain continued to pelt the windows. Her sobs became wails as she collapsed into a heap of hysterics. The few creatures awake to hear her neither could nor would offer any comfort…
“<Current weather: thunderstorms…>”
July 11, PA 2013 – Hoenn Meteorological Tower
The rain had tapered off by mid-morning, leaving a clearing sky and mild temperatures. Perhaps the only indictment against the morning’s weather was the near-extreme humidity that had come as a result of the area itself (which favored more tropical weather) as well as yesterday’s rains. Nonetheless, Travis and Brad stood outside, prepared for battle, with Shiro, Madeline, and Katrina looking on. Crescent sat at Katrina’s ankles, not saying much of anything. Angel, on the other hand, seemed not at all herself. She would not look at Crescent, or anyone else, for that matter. In fact, it was hard to get her to look anywhere else except for the ground.
“How many Pokémon do you want us to use?” Travis asked Brad.
“How many do you have?” Brad asked in response. Travis went back to think for a moment. Champ, Raiden, Meru, and (as unsure as he was about using her in a battle) Angel. That made…
“Four,” Travis replied.
“Okay…four-on-four sound good to you?” Brad asked.
Travis thought for a moment. He supposed that this was the perfect time to get everyone in his team some battle experience.
“Yeah – four-on-four works,” Travis said. Brad pulled a Pokéball from somewhere behind him. Likewise, Travis had one at the ready.
“You won’t beat me like you did the first time,” Brad called, enlarging his ball to the required throwing size.
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Travis replied, enlarging his own ball.
Meanwhile, Katrina looked on worriedly. She couldn’t tell him – he wouldn’t have understood what she meant…but she could tell by observation. If this battle, like so many others before it, was to be decided by Angel’s performance toward the end…
Travis would lose.
Meanwhile, at the Romero Mansion…
One of fifty infantrymen crossed Captain Hadley’s line of sight, saluting sloppily as the latter shouted. “Come on – you’re already late! We’ve got no time to lose! Get in line!!”
“Yes, sir!” the soldier said hurriedly, falling into line with the others. Meanwhile, a black-haired young man approached him.
“That was the last guy. We’ve got everbody,” he said to Sheridan.
“Good,” Sheridan replied. He turned around to address the soldiers, when suddenly…
“Heh…you’re not gonna start the party without us, are ya?” a lazy voice managed to drawl over the quieting soldiers, who turned this way and that looking for its origin. Sheridan looked out of the corner of his eye and witnessed a group of three approaching him. In the center was the grungy man with the forest-green hair – Orda. Flanking him were two orange-haired youths that could have passed for twins. One was a young man that might have been Sheridan’s age, if not a couple of years older…but no older than twenty, that was for sure. And the other…
“Orda? What are you doing here?” Sheridan asked loudly.
“Didn’t you listen to me at all the other day? We’re coming with you,” Jillian replied, smiling one of her adorable smiles at Sheridan.
“Oh…huh?” Sheridan stammered. “Yeah…”
“Well, make your speech so we can get going,” Orda drawled, passing in front of Sheridan along with Jillian. Talan was the last to go by. He locked eyes with Sheridan for several moments – moments that were, for some reason, very tense – and followed the others.
Sheridan always had a good gut feeling of when someone didn’t like him very much. It seemed that Talan was one of those people.
No matter. There was work to be done.
“I’ll explain this to you quickly,” Sheridan announced. “Even in the best of times, Verdanturf is vulnerable. They keep just enough defenses around themselves to be able to survive everyday life. There is hardly anything of strategic interest to either side. Why does Edgar want to retake the town, then? Let me tell you. Like a schoolyard bully, he thinks that a level of power is proven by how many he can subjugate and bend to his will. Why do we want to keep Verdanturf?”
“Actually, that’s a good question,” Orda muttered under his breath.
“Shut up!” Jillian elbowed him in the ribs, causing the slovenly blacksmith to cough.
“What’s wrong with you??” Orda grunted. Jillian folded her arms and kept her eyes fixed on Sheridan.
“It’s a matter of principle,” Sheridan explained. “Verdanturf is a peace-loving town. Right now, they can’t fight for themselves. They’re depending on us to defend them. Nobody deserves the kind of treatment Edgar has been giving the people of Hoenn – least of all them. So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to march to Verdanturf. We’re going to guard that town…and if an Imperial soldier so much as steps one foot inside the gates…”
Sheridan drew his sword.
“We will drive them back…with steel and courage!” Sheridan exclaimed, a glint seizing his green eyes. “Those are your orders. Do you understand?!”
“Yes, sir!!” a chorus of fifty men and Jillian shouted back to him. Sheridan nodded.
Sigh...somehow, that was a hard chapter to write.
Anyway, I'm officially on summer vacation, so keep your eyes peeled because I'll probably start churning them out once a week.
That's all for now. Well, actually not...