~~~ *** ~~~
”Sire! Imperials! They found the mansion and they’re marching right towards this place as we speak!!”
“Imperials! How many?”
“More than a hundred, sir!!”
“A hundred...damn you, Edgar! Prince, what should we do?”
“I’m not a military commander, but it sounds like we should cut our losses.”
“Of course not!!”
“Truth be told, with the men we have, we could probably beat a force of only a hundred…but at what cost? We’re still building our army. We can’t afford to be losing men…”
“Where do we go?”
“Through the tunnel – Verdanturf…if our spy didn’t lie to us, we should have sympathizers there…”
“Sympathizers...? With all due respect, Prince, how in the world can we depend on sympathizers when the majority of the nation is convinced that you’re dead??”
“With all due respect, Sir Roald, if we don’t go somewhere now, then we all will be dead.”
“Mind your tongue, Ivanna! That’s ‘Prince Elrik’ to you!”
“Father, calm down. This isn’t exactly the best time to be discussing proper terms of address, is it?”
“Rashid…you’re right. But, Prince, are you sure about this?”
“At the end of the day, I’ll feel better if this turns out being the wrong decision than if I lose by default for making no decision at all. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place…never mind. Tell all of our men that we’re going.”
By the light of a sole candle, Elrik studied the large world map spread before him. To Hoenn’s north, he saw the continent of Albara, divided into the Republics of Kanto and Johto, often collectively known as the “Twin States” in Hoenn because of their similarities in size, geography, and government, as well as their common root in the ancient Kingdom of Aldibar. To that continent’s north was the nation of Sinnoh, whose government was very complex. Elrik had studied it as a child and remembered it that it had a government ruled by sections of four. There was a group of four making decisions for Sinnoh, but there were also identical groups that had control over each major city in Sinnoh.
These men were called ‘Executors’. The national leaders were called ‘High Executors.’
One for security and warfare purposes (the Executor of Defense), one for relating to other nations (the Executor of Diplomacy), one for fostering the economy and strengthening the nation’s infrastructure (the Executor of Interior Affairs), and, finally, one that held power over the laws of the land (the Executor of Judicial Affairs).
It was an interesting idea, Elrik thought. Sinnoh had always managed to keep itself allied with either the Twin States or Hoenn, if not both, and had managed to keep itself (in most cases) out of squabbles between the Albaran States and Hoenn, who were not always on the best terms.
Then, the monolithic landmass that fell to the west of Sinnoh was…
“Prince?” Elrik was snapped back to reality upon hearing a female voice behind him. He jumped slightly and turned around. Ivanna was standing there, in light armor and looking like her normal, businesslike self. Elrik always had to fight down a laugh when he saw Ivanna in armor. All the military training her father had put her through never gave her the appearance of a warrior. Whenever Elrik saw Ivanna’s face – her flaxen-blonde, springy curls and her pretty, brown eyes – he didn’t see the commander of his few Knights…he saw the little girl he had grown up with in Sootopolis, the nobleman’s daughter whose secret dream it was to steal a kiss from the young prince of Hoenn…
At the same time, though, he knew for a fact that the majority of the Knights he had feared her for her swordsmanship and her harsh training regimen.
“How are things?” Elrik asked her.
“Everything is fine,” Ivanna answered.
Elrik could no longer hold in his laugh. Ivanna folded her arms.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I’ve never really gotten used to seeing you in armor. I don’t know…I guess it’s that you’re too…cute to look like a fighter.”
He said the last part very quickly, which did not prevent Ivanna from hearing him and blushing so severely that it looked like she would soon pop blood vessels in both of her cheeks.
“Did you have something you needed to discuss with me?” Ivanna asked, not meeting Elrik’s eyes.
Elrik’s heart jumped into his throat.
“Erm…not really. I just wanted to see your face – that’s all,” Elrik answered quickly. “I just…needed to know if you were alright. Crazy things have been happening the last few weeks.”
“I know…” Ivanna sighed. “It makes me wonder how long we can keep this going.”
“This place isn’t anywhere near as big as Rustboro,” Elrik groaned. “If the Imperials come in this direction…we’ve got nowhere to run. You know, maybe…maybe I was just never meant to be King.”
There was a long silence.
“How could you say that?” Ivanna asked. “…I’ve…got to get back to my men. I hope you feel better tomorrow.”
“Right,” Elrik said, turning toward the map and slamming his head into the wall. Hitting it once again with his fist, he muttered, “How the hell can a man rule a country if he can’t even master his own feelings?”
Elrik stopped dead and nearly had a heart attack on the spot. He stood up straight immediately and turned around with the calmest face he could possibly fake.
“Oh – Ivanna,” he said cheerily. “I thought you’d left.”
“I was leaving, but then I heard you hit something and came back to see what was wrong,” Ivanna said. “You said something about ‘mastering your own feelings’….what do you mean by that?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Elrik felt like he was watching himself speak and act from another vantage point. “You’ve stifled yours for years. I’m just trying to make sense of mine.”
“Feelings? About what?” Ivanna asked.
“…Just about…” Elrik trailed off.
“Elrik,” the Prince looked straight at Ivanna, who was wearing the same expression Elrik would wear whenever he felt Ivanna wasn’t being straightforward with him. As much as he gave that look to her, he couldn’t stand getting it back – because he knew what it meant. It meant that she saw right through him.
Elrik turned around. “I think…no, I know…”
His heart was about to burst forth from his chest. Figuring it would hurt him less if he went through with it, he finished his sentence:
“I’m in love with you.”
He heard a loud gasp…then footsteps…walking away. He couldn’t really say that he was terribly surprised. She always ran away from him. She had been running away from him for years, it seemed…
But this sealed it.
From that reaction, he didn’t know if she felt the same way about him or not…and he would probably never know.
Silently, he broke down. What in the world was he alive for? Was he cursed forever to be a king with no throne? He couldn’t disavow his connection to the royal line of Thalrair…not at this point. At the same time, however, he couldn’t be a normal person. The only thing that Elrik remembered, though…the only thing that kept him from giving up and gave him the will to fight…was the look on her face that day, over a year ago.
February, PA 2012 – Zephyr Sea
They had been adrift on the seas of Hoenn for over a week. It had taken exactly that long for Elrik to make a decision on what they were going to do next. Finally, though, he had done it. He was going to travel to Kanto to request political asylum for himself and everyone who had come with him. That way, if Edgar still wanted him, it would take a war with both Kanto and Johto. There were some who wanted to fight back…Elrik knew that, but the young prince could not see the point. The majority of the army had recognized Edgar as the rightful king anyway – especially with the rumor spreading that Elrik himself was dead as a result of trying to take the throne by force. The people of Hoenn were not quite gullible, but extremely trusting. Only those who had met Elrik personally would question the credibility of this story…and, the way things were going, anyone who was questioning Edgar’s credibility probably wouldn’t last very long. There was nothing left for him in Hoenn. Maybe, in Kanto, he’d have the chance at a somewhat normal life…somewhat…
He stood on the deck of the small ship, pondering how best to tell Ivanna, Rashid, Roald, and the few men that were with them. He wondered what Izaak’s fate had been. Maybe it all could have been construed as a misunderstanding. Maybe Izaak McAdrien had escaped with at least his life…
“Sir!!” one of the lookouts shouted. Elrik opened his eyes to the nighttime. His teeth chattered slightly as an extremely cold wave washed up onto the boat. “There’s a man in the water – he says he’s looking for you!”
Elrik ran in the direction the lookout was pointing until he hit the rail, at which point he craned his neck over the edge of the ship in an attempt to see what the lookout was seeing. It was a soldier in black armor – one of Edgar’s guardsmen – and he seemed to have a couple of things in the boat with him.
At that moment, Roald, Rashid, and Ivanna ran out onto the deck. Before Elrik could make a decision (which wasn’t for lack of opportunities), he heard Roald shout, “Bring him up!!”
Moments later, Roald, Rashid, Ivanna, and Elrik were lined up in front of this lone soldier. The man was in full armor and was carrying a sword, which really didn’t worry Elrik that much because there was only one of him. If this soldier had any sense at all, he wouldn’t draw his weapon. The guardsman opened the letter and began to speak:
“His Majesty the King advises his brother to quit Hoenn with all haste,” the soldier said. “Make no contact with any denizen, swear to abstain from bearing arms, and accept at the very least long-term exile until the transition of rule is complete.”
“So, pretty much, Edgar wants us to leave Hoenn with our tails between our legs and not come back until he says we can,” Roald growled. “I’m not buying whatever he’s selling…”
Perhaps, Elrik thought, this wasn’t the best time to tell Roald that he was planning on leaving the country anyway.
“Finally, if you do not comply, the new Imperial Army will not hesitate to make an example of you…”
“Imperial Army? Who the hell does Edgar think he is?!” Roald shouted. “Hoenn has never been an Empire!! And what does he mean by ‘example’?”
“He says you should recognize the contents of this box,” the soldier said, presenting what looked like a wooden cube, eight inches in length, width, and depth. Elrik and the others all took a step closer as the soldier opened it.
Dead silence immediately followed this action, followed by an anguished yell of “FATHER!!”
Elrik heard the clanking of armor as Ivanna dropped to her knees. What he saw in front of him was gruesome and horrific, and yet, he couldn’t look away. Positioned perfectly on a chintz pillow, cleaned of any blood around the neck, but nonetheless matted and broken, complete with facial wounds, two black eyes, and thin, blond hair….
…was the severed head of Sir Izaak McAdrien.
“Izaak…” Roald whispered hoarsely. Rashid had immediately run over to comfort Ivanna, whose groaning and sobbing cut through the cold silence like the blade of a sword…like, perhaps, the blade that had parted her father’s head from his shoulders.
“Please consider His Majesty’s offer. He is trying to avoid his own brother falling to the same fate…” the soldier said. Elrik’s eyes glossed over as he continued to watch Ivanna’s anguished crying.
“*******!!” Roald charged, raising a fist to hit the soldier. As he got there, Elrik, in a daze, stopped Roald’s arm. “Prince – what the –”
“There will be no torture here tonight, Roald.” The middle-aged, dark-skinned man looked up at Elrik like he was out of his mind. “Remember my father – ‘the best justice is swift justice.’”
With those words as his only warning, he pulled out the sword that Roald had given him for emergency purposes, aimed it right at the soldier’s heart, and plunged immediately. Roaring in rage, he drove the man backward until his sword hit a mast of the ship and pierced it, pinning the guardsman…or, rather, the guardsman’s corpse…to the wall. Immediately, the head on the body slumped over and went limp. Elrik took no time to reflect on what he had done. He turned around and shouted, “Where’s the nearest land?!”
“We are less than five miles away from Petalburg Harbor, sir!!” a navigator replied.
“Roald, get Ivanna inside,” Elrik said firmly. Roald and Rashid supported Ivanna, who was now barely conscious, and began to lead her down to the cabin. Elrik walked up alongside her and stroked her face, knowing that she wouldn’t respond. “Edgar went too far…I’ll make him pay for this. I promise.”
Elrik stared blankly at the world map, straight at the island that was Sootopolis City…how would he ever get back there unless he were chased again? How would he take Sootopolis?
“I can’t surrender now…” he muttered. “Not after all the work we’ve done…I knew that day there was no turning back…but how? It seems impossible…just a dream of mine. Like…other things…”
“Elrik…” Elrik heard someone enter the room and slowly turned around. Ivanna had dispensed with her armor and was now standing in the doorway. Elrik wanted to say something to avert the awkward silence he was sure would follow, but he could find nothing, and thus the awkward silence stood. Gradually, Elrik made his way around the table.
“How are the soldiers?” he asked – a stupid question, considering the circumstances, but the only thing he could think of.
“Fine. Tired, but fine,” Ivanna replied. Elrik froze for a moment. Ivanna bit her lip for a few agonizing seconds and then fell upon Elrik. She drew her head back and looked up into the Prince’s violet eyes.
“You’re not going to run this time?” Elrik asked.
“I think we’re all tired of running,” Ivanna replied. Then she kissed him. For a moment, they forgot that they were prince and soldier, that they were in hiding from a tyrant king, that civil war could be on their doorstep at any second…for a moment, they were human again, a man and a woman that cared for each other deeply and could finally express that.
When they broke apart, Ivanna (blushing madly) asked, “Elrik…could you do me a favor?”
“What do you want?” Elrik asked.
“Could you please…keep this a secret from everyone? I wouldn’t want them to lose any respect for me as a soldier,” she said.
“Ivanna,” Elrik laughed. “We’re all in a rebel army. How much respect are you looking for?”
Ivanna laughed appreciatively and embraced Elrik again. Tomorrow, they could both be caught and executed…but, today, at least for a minute or two, they were happy together.
Dusk was approaching, but they were making good time as they trudged the last mile or two of the journey between Mauville and the much smaller Verdanturf.
“Damn!!” Travis groaned, panting a bit. “My back is killing me…”
“I’ll get off if you want,” Reivyn piped in. Travis had carried her for this most recent leg of the journey. She could walk on her ankle, but not well. In fact, what they found was that Reivyn had sprained the same ankle that she had injured fighting Kenjiro a month or so ago. Maybe, Travis thought, if they could manage a few days’ worth of peace in Verdanturf, they’d stay here for two or three days. That way, Reivyn’s ankle could have at least a few days to properly heal. After all, there wasn’t that much of a hurry…unless Darris came after them again, in which case, they were in trouble. But Travis would make sure to be prepared this time…
“No, you’re fine,” Travis responded quickly. “My back was hurting before then…I think it was that lightning blast Darris hit me with – damn, that thing smarts…”
“He wasn’t screwing around, was he?” Katrina commented. Then, with a wry grin, she added in Reivyn’s direction, “Kind of wish I had sprained my ankle.”
Reivyn got the joke and smiled.
“How far are we from Verdanturf?” Travis asked.
“Not very far at all,” Katrina said. “According to my PokéNav, it should be…oh, boy…”
Travis looked up to see what the problem was. The problem was that there were no less than three riders on Rapidash coming toward them…and all of them were in armor.
“Oh, great…now what??” Travis groaned, taking care not to drop Reivyn as he stood up straight.
“Wait a second…take a look at the guy up front,” Katrina said, indicating said rider with a half-jab of her index finger. The man in front had long, black hair, and a dark, clean-shaven face. It then registered with Travis that their armor was green and silver…very familiar colors.
“That’s…Rashid? What the heck? What’s he doing here?” Travis muttered as the riders approached and surrounded them. What happened? Had something gone horribly wrong? Were he and the others about to be captured?
“Hmm – Via wasn’t lying,” Rashid commented, his chin buried thoughtfully in his fingertips. Studying the three, he noticed immediately. “Somebody’s missing.”
“Long story,” Travis said impatiently.
“Hmm…I was going to come alone, but I guess this works out perfectly!” Rashid exclaimed. “Why’s she on your back?”
“Sprained ankle,” Travis answered. He was tempted to finish the statement with ‘again,’ but Rashid wouldn’t have known about the first time Reivyn hurt her ankle, anyway.
“Alright, then – her, first,” Rashid said, turning his Rapidash sideways. Reivyn reached over and climbed onto the Horse Pokémon’s back. Leaning down toward the face of his mount, Rashid asked, “Ivory, how’s that? Are the two of us too heavy?”
The Rapidash shook her head and responded with a negating whinny. The Rapidash to her left – apparently a male – snorted in disapproval at something.
“Hey – Euan!! No, I don’t!!” the soldier riding him said, sounding insulted.
“What just happened?” Katrina asked.
“Well, sounds like when I asked Ivory if the load was too heavy for her, she said, ‘Of course not – I’m not Euan,’” Rashid answered. With an appreciative chuckle, he continued, “Euan got ****** off and said something about it being harder to carry someone on your back when he’s always asking for seconds and thirds at dinner.”
Travis and Katrina laughed. Reivyn seemed impressed.
“You understand them?” she asked, an awed smile on her face.
“Yeah – it’s not all that difficult. You just have to know them for a while,” Rashid answered. “My father was part of Hoenn’s cavalry unit for almost thirty years, so I’ve been around Rapidash since I was a baby. Well, we can continue this later. Kayla, wasn’t it?”
“Katrina,” Katrina answered, a little bit annoyed at Rashid’s lapse in memory.
“Katrina – sorry, it’s been a month,” Rashid said. “Maybe you’d better ride Euan since he’s whining and you’re obviously lighter.”
“Alright,” Katrina said, making her way over to the youngest of the three steeds.
“Travis, you’re over there on Eilyn, then,” Rashid finished. Travis moved over to the other side of Rashid.
“Thanks for the ride,” he said directly to the Rapidash, petting the equine Fire-type’s nose and earning an appreciative neigh.
“<At least someone here appreciates the work I do,>” she said, her eyes rolling up to the soldier sitting astride her as Travis got on.
“Alright...our Rapidash don’t spook easily, but if you make any funny moves, we might all get fried,” Rashid commented. Travis looked down upon hearing this comment and realized that Rapidash had a mane of what looked like pure fire…and that this fire was flapping around dangerously close to his crotch area.
“Okay…” If Travis had been stupid enough to think about pulling anything funny during the ride, he definitely wasn’t thinking about it now.
Either they weren’t as far from town as he had originally thought, or these three Rapidash were amazingly fast. Travis figured that it had to be a little bit of both as he found himself within the town limits about five minutes later. They approached a hill just past the gate. Katrina and Reivyn simultaneously took in gasps of amazement as they approached the top of the hill, which revealed to them the entirety of Verdanturf.
“How beautiful…” Katrina sighed.
With a slight smile, Travis inwardly agreed. Travis had heard of Verdanturf’s reputation as a peaceful, beautiful town built on sprawling hills and meadows and with land and flowers as far as the eye could see. He had even heard rumors that the health and beauty of the place could alleviate illnesses and cure injuries…but the fact was that the few words he’d heard and the few pictures he’d seen simply didn’t do the place justice.
Verdanturf was built on one huge, hilly plain. Back, far in the distance, Travis saw a small mountain – that had to be where the tunnel was built. Down in one corner of the town was a large building…if he remembered correctly, that was where the Pokémon Contests were held every so often. There was a Pokémon Center, of course – it wasn’t anywhere near as big as Mauville’s. The few houses in the town were spread out over hills. Actually, in the grand scheme of things, it was a bit bigger than Travis had imagined it to be. It might have taken up nearly as much space as Petalburg…except that Petalburg had been exponentially busier.
“So, Rashid…” Travis asked. “I guess the question’s obvious, but how did you end up here? Aren’t you worried about leaving Prince Elrik in Rustboro?”
“Boy, are you behind on the times,” Rashid laughed. “His Majesty is here in Verdanturf.”
“Here? What happened?” Travis asked.
“Maybe you’ll be better off if he tells you himself,” Rashid replied. “That’s where we’re going – he’ll probably want to see you. Ivory, let’s go!!”
The lead Rapidash neighed and took off down the hill, followed by the other two.
As they passed through town, Travis realized that this particular town in Hoenn had a bit of a ‘ye-olde-village’ feel to it. (In fact, there was a hotel there called the ‘Ye Olde Village Inn’.) Verdanturf had present-day amenities like running water and electricity (they had to in order to run Contest Halls and Pokémon Centers with any effectiveness, right), but it still felt like something that Travis had heard about in his ancestor, Paulus’ time – the 11th century or so…
Small children played around the dirt roads and fountains. One little girl waved up at Rashid excitedly. Travis thought she rather resembled a little girl whose farm he had defended from Angelos very early in his first journey…
“Ooh! Look! Ponyta! There are people riding Ponyta!!” one boy, flanked by two of his friends, shouted. None of them could have been any older than seven.
“No – that’s not a Ponyta – it’s way too big!!” one of his friends piped up. “It’s the other one…Mom told me what it’s called, but I forgot.”
“It’s called a Rapidash,” Travis called loudly from his seat astride one of the aforementioned Pokémon.
“Rapidash! Yeah, that’s right!” the second little boy exclaimed. “It’s called a Rapidash, Jake!”
Jake, the first boy, didn’t seem pleased about being wrong.
“You’re such a stupid know-it-all, Dan!”
“There’s no such thing as a ‘stupid know-it-all’!” Jake shouted back.
As the three boys faded into the distance, the third could be seen folding his arms and inhaling, perhaps in an attempt to act as a mediator and stop the argument. Travis turned his head and looked over Reivyn’s shoulder at Katrina, who giggled.
The three approached a large mansion – not quite as big as the Romero Mansion, but big enough. It, like the majority of Verdanturf’s other residences, had an aged, traditional look to it. Travis then remembered something…
“Rashid!” he shouted as the three Rapidash cantered up the walkway to the large estate. “I just remembered – we’re supposed to meet a widow named Arsham!! We’ve got to turn around!!”
“Arsham, you said?” Rashid turned toward Travis with a knowing smile. “Just wait a second.”
They made their way around the mansion, down a hill that was quite steep. For a couple of scary moments, in fact, Travis thought that he’d be thrown headlong from Eilyn’s back. He’d had enough nasty crashes into solid earth for the day, he thought.
When they reached the bottom, Travis saw what had to be one of the biggest expanses of flat grassland he’d ever seen. There were tents set up everywhere, and soldiers walking around in green and silver armor.
“You hear about ‘blessings in disguise’ all the time, but you never believe it until it actually happens to you,” Rashid said, pulling the reins and directing Ivory sideways so that Reivyn, who was much shorter than Rashid, could get a good look at the encampment. “We were found out in Rustboro and had to retreat. So we came here and got this. Not the best living conditions, to be sure, but it sure as heck fits everyone better.”
“So…this is your new headquarters?” Travis asked.
“I guess so,” Rashid replied. “No Imperials ever seem to bother coming here because it’s so small. There’s a saying in Hoenn. When something’s ‘about as noisy as a Verdanturf morning’, it pretty much means the same thing as ‘so quiet you can hear a pin drop’.”
Travis laughed, while feeling slightly more informed at the same time. As a native of Johto, he wouldn’t know something like that.
“How do the people feel?” Travis asked, wondering how a town would react to an influx of a couple dozen rebel soldiers suddenly showing up in their own backyard.
“The people? They just think the owner’s hired guards to protect the place from thieves,” Rashid replied as he led the others and their horses around to a small building at the back of the mansion. “They already think she’s a crackpot, but we know better…”
“Who’re you callin’ a crackpot??” As they reached the building, which turned out to be the stables, they were stopped by a female voice. With an obvious grimace, Rashid turned around to face the direction from whence he had heard it. As Travis, Katrina, and Reivyn looked in this direction, they all saw a rather broad woman with her short hair (light brown flecked with gray) tied with a bandana. She was wearing a beige turtleneck shirt and black pants as well. She was wearing a strong-willed sneer on her face and looked to be Travis’ height, if not taller.
She wasn’t fat – rather, she looked like the type of woman that had spent the majority of her days doing hard, physical labor, and enjoying it. The size of her arms would have made a lot of young men don tutus and start pirouetting on the spot. Her fists were no joke, either. Travis had gone through enough trouble dealing with Darris that morning. He wasn’t about to irritate this lady and have her knock him out in one punch. That said, he wasn’t about to ask aloud about this woman’s age. His estimate was perhaps fifty, give or take a few years – and a young fifty, at that.
“I said, who’re you callin’ a crackpot??” the woman asked with a firmer voice, standing right under Rashid’s Rapidash.
Rashid didn’t say anything.
“Good grief,” the woman sighed, folding her huge arms. “I tell you – you let a bunch of dissenters borrow your house for a couple of days, and the notion of courtesy goes straight to hell.”
“Ms. Arsham, please, calm down,” Rashid said quickly, sounding a little unnerved.
“Arsham?” Travis and Katrina looked at each other simultaneously.
“I wasn’t calling you a crackpot – I was just repeating what some of the people in town have said about you,” Rashid pleaded.
“I know what they say about me,” Arsham answered stubbornly. “Does it look like I give a flying Aipom’s *** what Verdanturf says about me? Like I ain’t heard it before! ‘Poor, pitiful Arsham – she’s old and lonely an’ it’s driven her straight out of her cotton-pickin’. Says she sees dead people all the time.’ Hooey! I’ll tell you what – dear Prince Elrik don’t look dead to me. Judging by all the action back here, he’s alive and kicking!”
Travis and Katrina couldn’t hold it in anymore. They both burst into laughter, thinking the same thing – Arsham was probably the most cantankerous woman they had ever met in their life, but she pulled it off in an endearing kind of way.
“Who are these young’uns?” Arsham asked. “New recruits? Boy, they start ‘em earlier and earlier these days, don’t they?”
“Well, they’re not soldiers, but…” Rashid tried to explain.
“Tell him that. I know my eyes might be going a little bit, but that sure looks like a sword to me,” Arsham said, indicating the weapon at Travis’ hip. “What’s a kid like you doing with a sword?”
Visions of that day two summers ago at the Burned Tower in Ecruteak flashed through Travis’ mind.
“Long story,” Travis answered simply.
“Hmm…can you handle it?” Arsham asked. “That is – do you know how to use it without losing body parts?”
Travis inwardly laughed. If only she knew…
“I’ve still got all my body parts, so I guess I’m alright,” he replied wryly. Rashid smirked.
“Wouldja look at that? Boy’s got a sense of humor,” Arsham laughed. “Tell me. What’s your name?”
“Travis,” Travis answered. “Travis DePaul.”
“Really? You a Pokémon Trainer?” Arsham asked.
“Yes. Why?” Travis couldn’t help but question her.
“Must be the same one I saw in the paper this morning,” Arsham replied. “A jump from eight to two – that’s impressive, especially for someone who wasn’t born in Hoenn.”
“Eight to two?” Travis replied. “What do you mean?”
“Dear, you don’t keep track of your own ranking?” Arsham laughed.
“Ranking? You mean, I’m ranked number two?” Travis asked.
“The pollsters really like you nowadays,” Arsham answered. “And why not? Anybody that gets themselves zapped to win a Pokémon battle is definitely someone worth watching, in my book. I had a son that wanted to be a Trainer…but Pokémon never quite took to him for some reason, so he ended up going into the service. That was over ten years ago…but there’s bigger things at hand. Let’s get you off them ponies’ backs so they can get some rest.”
“<Thank goodness,>” Euan sighed.
They all dismounted the Rapidash and allowed Arsham to lead them into the nearby stables. As soon as he was on his own two feet again, he realized that his entire body was in pain.
“Gah…” he grunted.
“What’s your problem?” Arsham asked. “Was that your first ride on a Rapidash?”
“Yeah,” Travis choked.
“Ah, that’ll do it to you. You’ll be fine by tomorrow – just walk it off,” Arsham said.
“Tch…” Travis snickered to himself. “This’ll be a story…eh. Ms. Arsham?”
“Hm? What is it?” Arsham asked, turning around (for she had begun to walk back toward her mansion).
“I’ve got a bit of a favor to ask.”
A tall, lanky teenage boy sat on his bed and watched as the primetime program Johto League Daily resumed from its commercial break. It was fun watching and hearing about the exploits of rookie Trainers even if he didn’t participate so much anymore. He still battled Pokémon, no doubt – and he was good at it…but, in his opinion, all of the really good Trainers that he would measure himself up against had either retired, dropped off the face of the earth, or gone to other nations to participate in leagues there. He really didn’t see any reward right now in being a Champion or an Elite Four member…he’d be stuck in Johto most of the time, and he hated being stuck in Johto. He’d already seen all of Johto – even Mahogany Town, where his girlfriend had insisted on going once even though he hated anything cold with a passion. He’d been a lot of places in the last couple of years, actually.
He leaned back and heard a crumpling sound. He jumped up immediately.
“Shit,” he swore, looking down at the damaged end of one of the five posters that had been on his bed this entire time. It was just then that the program resumed:
”Ladies and germs, we’re back here at JLD! And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for…Jack ‘Out-The-Box’ Conrad with the latest Johto League polls!
“Here we are then, Mace – just as last week, hot rookie trainer Jylena Pritchett is #1 after her impressive victory over Zinnia for the Shadebadge in Ecruteak!”
“Shame Zinnia lost that – I always liked her.”
“We know, Mace.”
“Yeah, yeah, but that aside – looks like someone’s not getting a whole lot of love from the pollsters. Who’s that?”
“Saito Kin from Ecruteak City. Apparently, it got out that he battled – and barely beat – Kendall’s assistant, Breanna Branch, for his Woodbadge and that lost him some brownie points. On top of that, he’s seemed a bit out of sorts ever since that battle. Think Saito might be crushing a bit on Kendall’s top junior, Jack?”
“Well, that won’t work, she’s already taken…”
“No one seems to be challenging Jylena much for her #1 spot. I guess, barring a loss, she’ll keep it until the Summer Invitational at Olivine.”
“Boy, there’ve been some barn-burners out there in Olivine the past couple of years…but we’re still yet to have anyone blown into any electric fences.”
“Yeah – how about that? That was over in Hoenn a couple of days ago, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right. What do you think?”
“Bring that guy over here and throw him into the mix. That oughta stir things up a bit.”
The boy clicked the television off.
“Tch,” he scoffed, cocking his head. “Maybe I should have signed up for the League this year – show some of these rookies how to go all out. There aren’t any electric fences in Johto, though…I can’t believe someone actually did that to win a match. Hoenn must be pullin’ **** that’s not even legal over here…”
The door opened at that moment. The boy leaned forward a bit and saw a girl come in. Immediately, he grinned.
“Hello, hotness,” he jibed charmingly. She responded with a giggle. She was about the average height for a girl of almost fifteen. She was six weeks younger than he was, as he was celebrating his fifteenth birthday tomorrow and hers was the first week of August. She was indeed very pretty. He laughed to himself as he remembered how timid and awkward she was when they had first met a couple of years ago. Back then, her hair was tied in pigtails and she had no bangs. Now, her hair was shoulder-length and full, and she had pretty bangs that reached her eyelashes. As it had been then, her hair was the brown of dark chocolate. However, she had recently bleached a few of her bangs blonde, which really stood out on her naturally-tan face. As for her figure, let’s just say that everything was right where it was supposed to be.
“Shiro…you’re such a joker,” she laughed, sitting down on the boy’s lap and smothering his lips with short but continual kisses for a few moments. Ruffling his crimson hair, which he had cut slightly shorter (save for his fringe, which now hung over a black headband and ended up an inch or so in front of the bridge of his nose), she asked, “Anything interesting happening on JLD?”
“Nothing going on in Johto,” Shiro replied. “Although there was some bit about some guy in Hoenn getting blasted into an electric wall…”
The girl raised her eyebrow.
“Crazy,” she sighed, shaking her head. “Oh – Hoenn! That’s right! That’s what I came here to tell you. You’ve got a call from Hoenn downstairs.”
“A call from Hoenn?” Shiro repeated. “Geez, Madeline – you could have told me earlier while you were trying to eat my face off…not that I’m complaining about that.”
Madeline stood and good-naturedly slapped Shiro over the head.
“Hurry up,” she said. “Those long-distance calls don’t hold forever.”
They made their way down to the ground floor of the Goldenrod Pokémon Center, where Nurse Joy directed them to the correct videophone. Slowly, Shiro pushed the button. Up came a couple of familiar faces:
“Travis! Katrina!” Shiro exclaimed with a smile, elated at seeing (albeit on a screen) the smiling faces of his best childhood friends for the first time in several months.
--- *** ---
YES! Finally worked them back into the script! W00t!
Whew…that chapter ended up being a crapload longer than I was expecting…but I got through it all right!
I’m starting work on 23 right now, so keep your fingers crossed!
(P.S. Good news! You know the little hiatus thing I’m normally forced onto for about a month during the holidays?
Well, it just went out the window. My wi-fi connection lets me get online long enough to post chapters every so often. I won’t be on as often as I normally am during the semester, but it sure beats the living crap out of nothing, right??