Chapter 7: Return of the Phoenix
May 27, 2013 – Rustboro City
Under the noise of a screaming crowd of several thousand, two female Trainers stared each other down. Each of them pulled out a Pokéball, drawing their weapons in the style of the old westerns. The question was...who was going to shoot first?
“Geodude!” Roxanne shouted, throwing her Pokéball into the air. Out of this Pokéball burst a rock Pokémon with two fists. He beat these two fists together in a show of defiance toward his opponent.
“Arcus! Let’s go!” Katrina yelled, throwing a Pokéball into the air. Out of that ball burst a wolf-like Pokémon with brown fur that was streaked with rays of white. He bared his teeth and growled at the Rock Pokémon opposite him. Geodude floated inches above the ground, spreading his arms.
“Rock Throw!” Roxanne yelled. Geodude dug his hands into the ground, yanking out a stone about the size of a baseball. Spinning to gain momentum, he hurled it at Arcus, who took it square off the temple and let out a sound that was a whimper followed by a loud, angry snarl. Arcus growled loudly and took off toward Geodude against Katrina’s orders.
“Arcus, NO!” Katrina cried loudly.
“Use Mega Punch, Geodude!” Roxanne ordered. Katrina’s heart sank like a stone (no pun intended) as Geodude reared back with his glowing fist and drove it into the left side of Arcus’ maw, knocking him to the ground.
“That’s enough!” Katrina shouted. “Use Aurora Beam!!”
Arcus, barking loudly, opened his mouth and released a rainbow-colored beam of icy energy that engulfed Geodude, forcing him backward by a small margin.
“<There’s a whole lot more where that came from!>” Arcus shouted as Geodude, who had been knocked to the ground, drove his fists into the ground and jumped into a hovering position once again.
“Rollout, now!” Roxanne yelled. Somersaulting into a very fast roll, Geodude launched himself along the ground at Arcus. The Rock-type’s rolling made him appear to be a perfect sphere – an cannonball hewn from the Earth itself.
Arcus growled as Geodude ricocheted off his russet-colored flank, knocking him to the ground. Arcus turned his head as Geodude disappeared behind one of the boulders embedded in the arena floor. A few seconds later, the rotating Rock-type reappeared, rushing right at Arcus.
“Jump!” Katrina yelled. Arcus vaulted himself into the air, causing Geodude to roll right under him and skid to a stop. Arcus landed on the ground and quickly pivoted to avoid being hit from behind. He stared Geodude down as the latter vaulted himself into a hovering position once again. “You’re too slow, Roxanne.”
“Use Mega Punch!” Roxanne yelled.
“Dodge and hit him with Aurora Beam on my signal!” Katrina said loudly enough for only Arcus to hear. The Puppy Pokémon bared his fangs and rolled away right as Geodude’s glowing fist came down on the Arcidane’s former location. Arcus rolled to his feet, a toothy grin on his face.
“NOW!” Katrina yelled. Arcus opened his mouth, blasting Geodude in his stone back with an Aurora Beam from mere inches away. Geodude let out a gravelly roar of agony as he was blown upwards into the air. He landed on Roxanne’s half of the field with a loud THUD....face-down in the dirt. Katrina let out a laugh of delight as the referee ran over to do the five-count.
“Geodude is unable to battle!” the referee shouted, raising his crimson-colored flag. “Arcidane is the winner!”
Returning Geodude, Roxanne muttered, “This girl’s no rookie...so I can’t treat her with kid gloves.”
“Less fooling around next time, alright?” Katrina addressed Arcus sternly.
“<Okay, fine...>” Arcus groaned insolently.
“Onix!” Roxanne shouted, throwing another Pokeball.
“Onix?” Katrina repeated, taken aback. “Isn’t Onix kind of –“
She stopped mid-sentence as she was now staring up into the black, beady eyes of an enormous, horned serpent made entirely of boulders. He let out a feral roar as he looked down at the Arcidane below him – a creature he had beat in terms of height by at least ten feet.
“Big?” Katrina finished her sentence.
“<What the hell?>” Arcus groaned. “<That’s like saying that Snorlax is kind of heavy.>”
Meanwhile, Travis and Angel were observing the match from the crowd. As an act of courtesy, he had also let Champ and Meru out to see the battle.
“<Yikes,>” Champ gulped. “<He’s huge.>”
“<Arcus is gonna die,>” Meru sang.
“<Meru! Don’t be such a jerk,>” Angel scolded.
“<He was a jerk first,>” Meru said with the air of a five-year-old. “<So there.>”
“<Could you two please stop fighting?>” Champ asked. “<I’m trying to watch the match.>”
“That Onix is young and inexperienced,” Travis commented.
“<Huh?>” all three of his Pokémon chorused.
“<You can tell that just by looking? Man, you’re good, Coach!>” Champ shouted enthusiastically.
“<He brings up a good point,>” Meru said sagely. “<From what I know of Onix, the stones that make up its body get rounder and harder as they get older. This Onix, though...his are still rough and jagged.>”
“Which means he’s not very old,” Travis commented. “On top of that...Onix are usually a lot longer than this one, which means that this Onix might not even be a year old yet.”
“<He’s a baby,>” Angel said.
“Not so much,” Travis replied. “Most Onix are fully grown after about two years, I think. Most Pokémon in general are fully grown after two years.”
“<That’s true,>” Champ commented. “<I haven’t grown an inch since right after I turned two.>”
“<How old are you?>” Angel asked.
“<Me? Three years,>” Champ replied.
“<Really? You’re the same age as I am,>” Angel commented. “<Meru, how about you?>”
“<I’ll be three at the end of the summer,>” Meru said.
“<Really?>” Champ said. “<How old do you think the others are?>”
“<Crescent’s a bit older than I am,>” Angel replied. “<He’s turning five at the end of winter.>”
“<That’s a really big age gap,>” Meru commented. “<How do you deal with it?>”
“<Oh – well, we really don’t pay attention to it that much,>” Angel replied.
“<It’s probably not that bad because Angel acts older than her age,>” Champ commented.
“<I guess...that’s a compliment,>” Angel said. “<What about Arcus?>”
“<Arcus is – oh, he just got slammed...>” Champ muttered, wincing. Roxanne’s Onix had swatted Arcus away with his tail, sending the unfortunate Ice-type flying across the arena. He landed on his flank and skidded to a stop. After a moment, he attempted to stagger to his feet...but to no avail.
“<Tch – serves him right,>” Meru muttered.
“<What’s your beef with Arcus, anyway?>” Champ asked out of curiosity.
“<Aside from the fact that he’s a prick and that he nearly clawed my face off, I don’t have a problem with him,>” Meru replied bitingly.
“<Well, you did talk about his mother,>” Angel said scoldingly.
“<Don’t try to scapegoat me, Angel,>” Meru shot back. “<I was just teasing him. That was no reason for him to throw a tantrum. He’s just a jerk.>”
“<Guys, Amber just went down,>” Champ said, looking straight down at the match. The small Pyrika, being a Fire-type, had been no match for Onix’s size and physicality. It took a mere thirty seconds for Amber to be defeated.
“<She just got out there...>” Meru commented, shaking her head. Then, turning her attention to Champ, she added, “<You know, I think she likes you.>”
“<She has a crush on a different guy for every day of the week,>” Champ said nonchalantly. “<On the way up here – remember? She was fawning all over Arcus...>”
“<WHAT?!>” Meru shouted, making everyone within ten yards of her jump.
“<Calm down,>” Champ groaned, squinting. “<What’s your problem?>”
“<I just...don’t know what she would see in him, that’s all,>” Meru said very quickly, not meeting Champ’s bulging, yellow eyes. “<I think she’s being an idiot.>”
“<What’s with you?>” Angel asked. “<I thought you and Amber got along pretty well.>”
“<She’s kind of hard to be around,>” Meru said sharply.
“<She’s not that bad...except for the random comments and the occasional dirty joke,>” Champ commented. “<She’s just like a little kid...you have to keep her entertained so she doesn’t do anything stupid.>”
“<Maybe you should entertain her, then,>” Meru said, raising her eyebrow.
“<I don’t have time – I’ve got my career to think about, remember?>” Champ replied.
“<Career, career, career. You’re always talking about your career,>” Meru said. “<You’re so one-dimensional. You really ought to get yourself a –>”
“<Don’t throw stones in a glass house, Meru,>” Champ warned. “<Don’t get me started on – WHOA! That’s gonna leave a mark!>”
Crescent, who was now out on the field, had just hit Onix square in the belly with a Hyper Beam. Despite Rock-types having a resistance to that nature of attack, the force of the blast still proved too strong for Onix, driving him to the ground. With a soft roar, he succumbed to his fatigue and lost consciousness. Crescent looked rather worn out as well, but that’s to be expected from someone who just launched a Hyper Beam.
“<Oh, no...>” Angel groaned. “<He’s getting tired...>”
“<You worry too much,>” Champ said. “<Just let him play his game.>”
“<You’re gonna be one of those overprotective, overbearing mothers when you have kids, aren’t you?>” Meru laughed.
“<What’s it to you?>” Angel responded. “<And who said I wanted to be a mother?>”
“<Oh, c’mon...you’re not going to be a fighter forever,>” Meru replied. “<Eventually, you’re gonna have to do something else with your life. You know...settle down – with...say, Crescent, maybe...>”
“<That’s got absolutely nothing to do with –>” Angel started, her face a shade of pink that could be compared to an embarrassed Lickitung. “<Stop making fun of me.>”
“<But, it’s what I do best...plus, I enjoy it,>” Meru replied, sticking her tongue out at Angel in a rather silly expression. “<I think you’d make a great mother, personally...>”
“<Just...keep watching the battle,>” Angel sighed, turning away from Meru.
“<I think we’re just about in the books here, ladies,>” Champ commented. “<Rhyhorn just got hit with a Shadow Ball and doesn’t know what planet she’s on.>”
“<I don’t blame her,>” Angel commented. “<I’ve felt that Shadow Ball and it’s no joke.>”
“<Really?>” Meru asked. “<Are your fights that bad?>”
Angel shook her head. “<No – I’m talking about the first time we met, two years ago. He was working at a Gym not too different from this one. We didn’t know each other then. Then, not too long after that, his Trainer...the Gym Leader...was found murdered.>”
“<Murdered?>” Meru repeated incredulously.
“<That’s an entirely separate story that I don’t feel like explaining right now,>” Angel said. “<One day, Crescent and I will tell everyone – but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. Long story short, Crescent was sent to us about a month after I met him for the first time. I was a bit of a jerk to him, actually. We tolerated each other – kind of like you and Arcus do. Funny...because we were going out not long after that.>”
“<What?!>” Meru yelled, her aquamarine face turning a bit pink. “<What’s that supposed to mean?!>”
“<Nothing – I’m just making an observation,>” Angel replied smugly.
“<Yeah, right...>” Meru sighed, rolling her eyes. “<You’re trying to imply something.>”
“<You read way too much into stuff, Meru,>” Angel said. “<No wonder you have such a hard time making friends. And before you start trying to read between the lines, that’s just another observation.>”
Meru turned away from Angel grumpily. Angel smirked.
“<Oh – watch it!>” Champ groaned as he watched Crescent being struck by Rhyhorn’s Horn Attack. The Dark-type fell sideways to the ground, then rolled to a laying position as Rhyhorn continued to charge. “<Yo! GET OUTTA THE WAY!>”
“<Crescent!>” Angel yelled. Crescent leapt up into the air as Rhyhorn crashed into the ground. He landed atop Rhyhorn’s back, whirled around and reared his own head back, conjuring a huge, orange ball of energy. Jumping into the air, he blasted a Hyper Beam straight down into the back of Rhyhorn, who roared in pain as the immense amount of Megacite energy began to burn away at her rock body. Angel squealed in delight as she realized that Crescent had the match won.
“<Good stuff!>” Champ said, applauding. “<See, Meru? You should pay attention instead of shooting your mouth off about Arcus all the time. You might get some ti–>”
Champ was cut off as Meru raised one of her front paws and slapped Champ across his face, knocking him out of the chair.
“<Speaking of running your mouth...>” Angel muttered with a smile.
Katrina was extracting her backpack (with a small measure of difficulty) from a locker in the Gym locker room when she heard a noise at the door. Crescent cocked one of his ears and ran toward the door. Katrina stood and turned in that direction to see Angel greeting Crescent affectionately. Above them was Travis, standing in the doorway of the locker room. From behind him stepped Meru and Champ.
She let out a laugh and approached Travis, embracing him.
“Good work,” Travis said.
“Definitely wasn’t as easy as the last one,” Katrina commented, leading Travis over to the bench, where she would give Travis a blow-by-blow of exactly what was going on down on the ground. Meanwhile, Angel, Crescent, Meru, and Champ began talking.
“<How are you feeling?>” Angel asked, sounding concerned.
“<Everything hurts,>” Crescent said rather nonchalantly.
“<I’m not surprised,>” Champ commented. “<That Rhyhorn knocked you around a little bit. Some of the hits were pretty ugly, actually.>”
“<Yeah...>” Crescent grunted, his face contorted into a painful grimace. “<But I’ll live.>”
“<You’d better,>” Angel said. “<If you don’t...I’ll kill you.>”
Crescent let out a slight laugh. “<I’m really tired, though...I don’t think I’ve ever had to use that many Hyper Beams in one battle. I’m completely bushed.>”
“<I sure hope the next Gym isn’t Rock-type...>” Champ groaned, favoring his tail. “<My tail still hurts.>”
“<Really? I’m doing just fine,>” Meru said. Shaking one of her forelegs, she added, “<Except when my leg keeps falling asleep.>”
“<That’s because you were hit by lightning,>” Angel commented with a shudder, walking away.
“<What’s with her and lightning?>” Champ asked.
“<Apparently, when she was an Eevee, she had some bad experiences with lightning. I believe she was struck as a baby and nearly killed – before she was found by a Professor near our home and nursed back to health,>” Crescent sighed.
“<Wow, I didn’t know that,>” Champ said, sounding astonished.
“<I don’t blame her,>” Meru commented. “<I don’t like lightning...and it sure as heck does not like me.>”
“<She seems so strong and brave,>” Champ muttered. “<I never would’ve known that if you hadn’t told me.>”
“<More people and Pokémon than you realize have dark pasts,>” Crescent commented, walking away to join Angel. “<That’s why it’s really stupid to be judgmental – because, when you get down to it, they might not be that different from you after all.>”
Champ took a knowing glance at Meru and quickly looked away from her before she knew what was going on.
It wasn’t long before Travis and Katrina were on the roads of Rustboro City again. This time, they decided to explore the town a bit, now that they had no further commitments to anyone or anything in this city. Angel and Crescent were in tow, the rest of the Pokémon having been returned safely to their balls. Travis and Katrina also took the opportunity to discuss what they knew about Rustboro.
“So...Devon Company...their main office building is here, right?” Travis asked.
“That one,” Katrina said, pointing at a skyscraper that stuck out in the distance. Travis gasped and looked up at a building that had to be a couple hundred feet high. His jaw nearly dropped to the floor as he saw the structure’s height.
“Wow...that’s huge,” Travis commented. “Isn’t Ericsson Devon’s parent company?”
“No,” Katrina said, shaking her head. “It’s pretty difficult for E.I. to get any influence over here. Devon’s run by – well, the C.E.O. is a guy by the name of Steven Stone...”
“Steven Stone?! As in, the Champion, Steven Stone?” Travis exclaimed. “Damn, he must really have his hands full.”
“That’s why his younger brother, Alex Stone, does most of the work nowadays,” Katrina said. “With Alex in power, Devon refuses to cooperate with E.I. They call him ‘Alexander the Great’ – and for good reason, too. He’s a card shark when it comes to business. He’s even tried to buy E.I.’s stock a few times. He’s the biggest thorn in my father’s side.”
“Can’t something be done about that?” Travis asked curiously. “What if he puts E.I. out of business?”
“It’ll be a cold day in hell when Alex Stone or anybody else buys out Ericsson,” Katrina replied. “Anyway, maybe one day, Devon will catch up, and there won’t be a problem. A little competition never hurt anybody. I’ll admit – not even Ericsson has enough backing to put Devon out of business. The same’s also true the other way around, though. Basically, it’s a stalemate. No one wants either one to dominate the other because that would create a monopoly.”
“Gotcha,” Travis sighed.
“So...” Katrina murmured, changing the subject, “Where’s the next Gym?”
“I think it’s on Dewford Island,” Travis replied.
“A beach town! Nice!” Katrina exclaimed.
“I’m trying to think, though...” Travis muttered. “The only really good sea route to get to Dewford was off that port just south of the Petalburg Woods. Wasn’t that a pirate port or something?”
“Pirate port?” Katrina repeated. “There are pirates in this day and age?”
“Well, I guess if monarchies are still around, pirates can get away with it,” Travis commented. “If those stories are true, then we’ll have a lot of trouble getting off the mainland.”
“Isn’t there another way?” Katrina asked. “I mean...a ferry or [I]something[I]?”
“No idea,” Travis replied, shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe we should try to find another guide...one that doesn’t have a hidden agenda. Not today, though. We’ve been all around Rustboro. I’m bushed.”
“Yeah, I’m kind of tired, too,” Katrina sighed.
“That, and hungry...” Travis muttered.
“We just ate two hours ago!” Katrina exclaimed. “You can’t be hungry.”
“Not starving hungry; I’m just having a really nasty snack attack,” Travis replied. “That’s all.”
“You and your ‘snack attacks’ lately – good grief...” Katrina sighed, rolling her eyes.
“It’s not my fault,” Travis groaned. At that point, Katrina appeared to do a double take over to her right.
“Hey, what’s going on over there?” Katrina asked, pointing. In front of one of the shops, there seemed to be a gathering of people around a bit of commotion. Men in black armor appeared to be holding the crowd at bay with their swords. Travis raised an eyebrow as he heard loud yells overlapping each other.
“Think we should go over and check it out?” Travis asked.
“Yeah – something doesn’t seem right...” Katrina replied tentatively. With that, they discreetly turned to their right and headed toward where the growing crowd was gathering. Amazed at their luck, they squeezed through a small crack in the sea of people and made their way to the front, where they saw what was going on for themselves.
“Please!” a man that appeared to be in his thirties cried. He was wearing a dress shirt and green slacks. His short, black hair was very unextraordinary. Next to him was a woman of about the same age with dark brown hair holding a baby girl that appeared to be extremely young. This little girl, bless her, was sleeping like a log on her mother’s shoulder amidst the din and chaos going on around her. In front of the woman was a little boy that was the very spitting image of the man. He looked to be six or seven, maybe eight. His arms were folded and he looked rather like he wanted to kick something or someone – probably the soldier in front of him wearing heavy, black armor and a nasty grin on his face.
“Quit yer whinin’,” the knight grunted, picking up a sledgehammer that was leaning against the building – reading the sign, it appeared to be an antique shop – and gripping its handle with both of his gauntlets. “When His Imperial Majesty says yer closed fer business, yer closed fer business. No use complainin’ about it.”
“This shop’s been in my family for four generations!” the man cried. He seemed rather beside himself.
“Well, it’s about time yeh did somethin’ new with yer life, then, innit?” the knight said in a surly voice, causing a bit more color to drain from the shop owner’s already pale face.
“But – my wife...my children!” the man went on, gesturing to the people in question. “Please – my baby daughter’s only three months old, and if you close our shop down, we’ll have nowhere to go!”
“Sounds to me like a personal problem,” the knight said dismissively. Travis grit his teeth.
“That’s not fair,” he muttered to Katrina, “He’d put this poor family out on the street with an infant?”
The knight raised the sledgehammer to the store window, letting out a loud and ferocious yell. The entire crowd (which now numbered several dozen) gasped as the knight bashed in the window, destroying the sign that was imprinted into the glass. The little boy whimpered. The baby girl opened her eyes and began letting out terrified shrieks, the volume and frequency of which would have made Kylie jealous. This was getting harder and harder for Travis to watch.
“Where the hell are the cops?” Travis growled, his fists clenched and shaking. “This is messed up.”
“I think the soldiers are the police in this case,” Katrina said.
“Huh...that’s the biggest load I’ve ever heard in my life,” Travis muttered angrily.
“Why?!” the man had grabbed the handle of the sledgehammer when the knight saw fit to begin unloading his destructive fury on the facade of the small antique shop for a second time. “Why are you doing this?! Why?!”
The baby girl began screaming harder as the mother let out a shriek of her own.
“Daddy!” the little boy shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Damn you...!” Travis growled, feeling a familiar burning feeling coursing through his body, as the two sides of him that had been created as a result of the Lineage War, now warred within himself for control of himself.
This is someone else’s problem.
This is cruelty!
It’s not worth drawing my weapon.
It’s the only thing worth drawing your weapon.
This isn’t my job!
I’m just a kid – a traveler, passing through.
You’re a Swordbearer. You wield the Judging Sword – the Sacred Flame.
“We don’t have to explain ourselves to no-good peasants like you!” the knight yelled as the man writhed in agony on the ground, having been the victim of a vicious blow from the sledgehammer. “Especially because you already know the answer. Relics of Elrik – the Prince who tried to assassinate his own brother for the throne of Hoenn!!”
“Where he hear that story?” Katrina whispered.
“How do you know that?!” the man shouted, doubled over on the ground from the pain in his stomach. “His Majesty the Prince was – urgh! – a kind and benevolent man that loved his brother dearly! He’d never be so power-hungry! All I want to do is respect his memory!”
“They think Elrik’s dead?” Katrina muttered to herself.
“Please, Zalin, don’t say anymore!” the woman groaned.
“You should listen to your dear – wife!” the knight grunted, kicking the shop owner in the head with an armored boot and knocking him sideways to the ground. Travis felt like he was rooted to the spot. His nails were digging into his palms so deeply that he could literally feel trickles of blood spilling forth from his hands. “It might just keep me from killing you. Then again, it might – not!”
The knight kicked the man again, turning him over. The man called Zalin writhed in pain as he took another armored boot, this time to the kidney. As he stared up into the face of the knight, blood ran from both corners of his mouth.
“Daddy!” the little boy took off running after the soldier.
“Zarda, NO!” the woman shrieked. The boy proceeded to kick the knight in his armored shin. This of course, served to hurt the boy’s leg more than the soldiers, but the kid kept plugging away.
“Leave my daddy alone!” he cried. “You’re a bad man!”
In a flash of metal, the boy had been slapped by one of the knight’s gauntlets. He fell on top of his father, knocked out.
Travis felt an immense weight driving him down to his knees. He felt tears spill forth from his eyes at his sudden powerlessness. He wished there was some other way – some other route to take than taking up his sword again...he remembered where taking up that sword had led him the first time. It was place to which he never wanted to return. But if he did nothing...he could have this on his conscience for the rest of his life.
I don’t want to fight.
You have to fight.
No, I don’t! I have nothing to prove to these people!
What about you? What about her? You love her, don’t you?
“What’s wrong with you?!” Travis heard the worried shout of Katrina among the voices in his head. He also heard his brain respond.
Of course I love her – that’s a stupid question!
All she’s wanted for the past two years is to see you get back to normal.
I’m not normal, damn it! I haven’t been the same since the war and she knows that damn well! I mean – listen to me...or yourself...or WHOEVER THE HELL YOU ARE! I’m having an argument with myself! How the hell is this normal?! Everybody that knows me knows I’m certifiable!
Your mental state’s got nothing to do with it! The war has nothing to do with it!
“Yeh know what?!” the knight bellowed, gesturing to two soldiers out of a group of a dozen to stand at his side. “I was gonna just knock down yer little shop, and send yeh all on yer merry little way, but now yeh’ve gone an’ ****** me off! You two – take care of ‘em!”
The soldiers nodded and drew their swords as one. Zalin’s wife – instantly and predictably – began screaming and making her way toward her husband and young son. She moved about a step or two before two soldiers (that had previously been working to control the crowd) restrained her and her screaming daughter. Travis looked up and watched it unfold seemingly in slow motion as the two infantrymen approached the unconscious, utterly defenseless boy and man laying on the ground.
A long time ago, you were the type of person that stood up for right, no matter what the circumstance.
I’ve stopped trying to take the world on my shoulders. If it’s not my job, I won’t be so arrogant to make it my job.
Now you think you’re arrogant. I tell you, you really have some self-esteem issues.
I guess that means you have self-esteem issues.
IT WAS EASY FOR YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING WITH NOTHING ON THE LINE.
...What did you just say to me?
”What choice will you make when you know the high road is the hard one?”
This voice wasn’t his own – he knew his own voice. But it did sound like him, only slightly older and with a very ancient accent.
”Every man arrives at this great fork in the way. The way he chooses will be the path he is to take for the rest of his life.”
”But what about –“
”You’re overthinking things – letting your brain take the place of your heart. That always was one of your weaknesses. It’s very simple. You can only make one of two choices.”
The infantrymen raised their swords above the father and son as the knight stilled them with a hand and began to make a speech. “Let this be an example to all of you! The power and authority of His Imperial Majesty are not to be challenged! If you dare spit in the face of the new Hoenn...man, woman, boy, girl...no difference. This is the fate that awaits you! Now, do it!”
Katrina, kneeling next to Travis, pointed at the two soldiers and mouthed something silently.
“What the hell’s yer problem?!” the knight grunted, seeing that the soldiers were very slow in doing the deed.
“I – can’t – move!” one of the infantrymen groaned.
”Your time is short – now, CHOOSE!”
“IDIOTS!” the knight roared, knocking both immobilized soldiers to the ground, where they fell in a small heap. The knight raised the sledgehammer over his head and began to bring it down –
Travis’ azure eyes opened and went completely white for one pivotal second –
The crowd erupted into screams as a resounding CLANG was heard around the shop. From out of nowhere, a teenage boy had interposed himself in between the knight and the two fallen citizens, blocking the sledgehammer with the hilt of his sword, which he held in one hand by its scabbard while he had his back turned to the attacking knight. Katrina let out a gasp and looked down. He had just been at her side a second ago.
The knight jumped backward with the sledgehammer and shouted, “Where the hell did you come from?”
“I was sent by the Judge to render a verdict,” the teenage boy spoke in an extremely unfitting voice. Turning his head and casting a frighteningly aggressive stare over his shoulder at the knight, he growled, “I declare you guilty.”
“What kind of psychobabble –“ the knight muttered. The two soldiers that were temporarily frozen in place stood up at this point and now flanked the boy on each side. “Looks ter me like yer some crazy kid tryin’ ter play hero. Well, if that’s the case, you’ll get what they had comin’ to them!”
“Try it, fool,” the boy growled. His normally-azure eyes were a blue so bright that they appeared to be glowing. “I’ll return the pain a hundredfold!”
“Have it yer way, then,” the knight said. “Get ‘im!”
The two infantrymen charged. The boy, with a flick of his thumb, unsheathed his sword about halfway...
A screaming instant later, the boy was re-sheathing the sword. He turned around and stared the knight down. Katrina gasped again as he got a good look at the boy’s face – it was indeed Travis, but there was something slightly different about him. She knew that face. This was the part of him that was less stable. This was the side of him that had to be monitored and controlled.
“I can’t stand...” Travis muttered as the two infantrymen crumpled for a second time and hit the ground. “...tyrants.”
“What the hell was that?!” the knight grunted. “How’d yeh just –“
“I’d leave right now if I were you,” Travis said in a flat tone of voice. “Otherwise...I might not be responsible for my actions.”
“I’m shakin’,” the knight said. Gesturing to another one of his knights, he ordered, “Kill him!”
The lone infantrymen drew his sword and charged Travis, yelling. He was taller than Travis, but not quite tall enough to avoid...
...being grasped around the throat by the teen’s rather strong and supple fingers. Katrina put her hands to her mouth. She’d never seen Travis put anyone in a choke hold before.
“You’re th-the ‘Iceman’, aren’t you?” the infantryman choked. “Th-the one our commander was telling us about!”
“Sorry, wrong answer,” Travis growled, tightening his grip around the man’s throat. Lowering him to his knees, he used his free hand to point his sword right between the infantryman’s eyes. He saw the fear in those eyes...and this man was right to be afraid. “If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about ‘Ice’...not when you’re facing the flames of hell...”
“You don’t have to kill him!” Katrina exclaimed. Travis looked at Katrina for a split second and then back at the soldier. Travis thrust his arm forward very quickly and let go of the foot soldier’s throat, sending him flying backward and careening into the leader, knocking them both to the ground. He looked around for a moment.
“Nobody’s dead – yet,” he said. “That’s called ‘mercy’. It’s a one-time deal. If I ever hear you’ve been troubling this family again, I will personally teach you all a new level of pain. Got it?”
“That’s enough manhandling of my men, you hear?” a voice sounded, bringing everything to silence. The line of soldiers in front of Travis parted to reveal a tall man in heavy, black armor complete with spikes coming out of his shoulders. His flat, graying hair sat atop a face grizzled and disfigured by battle scars. He was carrying a long sword that appeared to have runic lettering engraved in its blade.
“Really? What are you going to do about it?” Travis said, feeling more reckless by the second. He looked over his shoulder and began to see the citizens begin to kneel. “What the hell?! Why are you bowing to him?!”
“That’s Captain Fergus, commander of the 10th Imperial Battallion,” he heard a voice behind him. He smirked as he saw that Katrina refused to bow as well.
“I’m about to wet my pants. I’m frozen with fear,” Travis said sarcastically.
“I don’t like your attitude, boy,” the veteran knight said. “I can tell by your accent that you’re not from here, so I’ll tell you what the deal is. Look around you. These citizens are doing the right thing by me.”
“You may think so...” Travis replied. “But I don’t think you’re doing the right thing by them.”
“The opinion of a foreigner who knows nothing,” Fergus said dismissively.
“I know what justice looks like,” Travis replied quickly. Then, cocking his neck toward the smashed-out window, he added, “This isn’t it.”
“Justice is measured in terms of power. Whoever has the power can administer their own brand of justice,” Fergus answered.
“Exactly – case in point,” Travis pointed with his chin again, this time to the two injured soldiers lying on the ground. “The problem is when someone’s view of justice is warped by their power. Justice isn’t doing anything you want just because you can. That’s tyranny.”
“His Imperial Majesty is no tyrant!” Fergus shouted. “He merely exercises the full power and authority and demands the respect due of his kingship!”
“Basically, he does things because he can,” Travis replied. “You haven’t been listening to a word I said, have you?”
“He will usher in an age of glory for this Kingdom!” Fergus cried.
“At the expense of the people? I don’t think I like that idea,” Travis said flatly.
“Fine, then, boy – you leave me no choice,” Fergus said, pointing his sword at the blue-haired teenager. “Anyone who speaks against His Imperial Majesty is a traitor to his kingship.”
“Put that sword down – or you’ll regret it,” Travis said, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
“For the King!!” Fergus cried, rushing Travis. Travis’ eyes opened and he snarled loudly. He attacked from the draw and blocked Fergus’ sword. He spun under the aging captain, causing him to fall to the ground. Travis heard unsheathing swords behind him and then a roar in front of him: “No! He’s mine.”
Fergus had risen to his feet and was now brandishing his long sword again. Travis rested the Sacred Flame against his shoulder and watched as Fergus roared and swung his blade at Travis’ neck. Fergus hit nothing but air as Travis had somehow reappeared behind him, dropping into his sword-drawing stance.
“You missed,” the boy growled as Fergus turned around and charged a third time. This time – no defense. Travis jumped and unsheathed his sword, driving the hilt in right at Fergus’ shoulder, shattering his long gauntlet. A sound like multiple gunshots was heard as Fergus landed and hit his knees, screaming. His rune-engraved long sword flew in a high arc into the air. Travis walked away two steps, caught the sword, turned around, and pointed Fergus’ own blade at his nose. Fergus was grunting and groaning and trying extremely difficult not to scream as he held his right arm with his left hand.
“How – you...GAAARGH!” Fergus cried.
“I guess that makes you an ‘armchair general’ now, doesn’t it?” Travis asked. “How many places do you think your arm is broken in?”
Fergus gave a groan as an answer.
“From the fact that your armor gave off a sound that reminded me of bubble wrap, I’m guessing about five or six,” Travis said. With a laugh, he added, “Not to mention the fact that I just dislocated your shoulder so badly that it looks like your arm’s crooked. In any case, you’ll never be able to hold a sword with that hand again in your life.”
“You...” Fergus groaned. “You impudent little ba–“
“You’re just lucky I didn’t use the business end,” Travis said.
“This kid’s insane...” he heard a soldier mutter.
Suddenly, he saw a powerful spurt of blood issue forth from the vicinity of Fergus’ right ear, and heard what was unmistakably a death gurgle as Fergus fell sideways to the ground. Everybody in the crowd began screaming and running in different directions. Katrina approached Travis’ side and began looking around.
“Hold on – what the hell?!” Travis roared, realizing that Fergus had just died right in front of him.
“Get inside,” Katrina turned toward the family of the shop owner. Zalin was helped up by his wife, who in turn grabbed Zarda and draped him over his shoulder. They all made their way inside the shop and shut the door behind them. “A stroke? I wouldn’t be surprised, at his age...”
“No,” Travis sighed, pointing toward Fergus’ head. There was a black spot surrounded by blood right in front of his ear. “That looks like a bullet hole.”
“Shot?” Katrina said quickly, looking around. “From where?”
“That geezer was really getting on my nerves,” Travis and Katrina heard a voice behind them. Walking toward them was a tall young man. His face was very recognizable, but his outfit had changed. He was wearing more or less the same thing he had been wearing when he and Travis met each other the first time, with the exception of a faded, brown coat that went over the entire outfit and matched his brown shoes. “I would have killed him sooner, but both of you kept dancing around.”
“You just...” Travis said, dropping Fergus’ sword and still trying to register having seen this happen right before his eyes. “Kenjiro, what the hell?! You just shot a guy dead!”
“He only would’ve lived a few more seconds anyway,” Kenjiro said, shrugging his shoulders. “If you didn’t kill him, he would have taken his own life. Edgar’s knights are taught to do that, should they dishonor him by losing in battle.”
“You just shot the guy dead!” Travis shouted.
“You’re starting to sound like a broken record,” Kenjiro sighed lazily. “But...that’s how I operate. Half the reason I did that was to get the crowd outta here and get to you two. I thought you were gonna make it a habit of avoiding trouble.”
“That’s really hard to do when you’re me,” Travis replied with a sigh.
“You walked out on me before I could explain our plan,” Kenjiro said. “I think you should come back to the Romero Mansion with me – or at least, let’s get the hell outta here. We’re standing next to the dead body of one of Edgar’s best generals. People are gonna think we killed him.”
“...You did kill him,” Travis said as Katrina looked at Kenjiro blankly.
“Nobody else but you can prove that, and I prefer that it stays that way,” Kenjiro replied. “Let’s roll.”