~~~ *** ~~~The alarm clock went off…four o’clock on the dot as usual. As tired as his body was, he was driven by instinct to sit bolt upright in his rather large bed at the first sounds of the alarm. If he waited for the second or the third…or (heaven forbid) the fourth ring, he would lose precious seconds – seconds that could spell the difference between him being on time and him being behind schedule for everything that was to happen that day. Those seconds were difficult to make up with a schedule as full as his…and those seconds added up to become minutes.
Minutes, which, once lost…
…could never be recovered…
...Minutes that could have…
…been put to good use.
How frustrating…the more he stopped to think about time, the less he found he had…and the more he found he was losing, second by second, thinking about it.
He rolled to the right side of his bed and planted his feet on the ground. His eyes blinked twice, then opened. Clad in boxers and a dark green bathrobe, he shuffled to the bathroom.
As he sleepily found the right combination of button presses and knob turns that would come together and give him a hot shower, his mind began to wander.
A lot of people said that, at his age, he should have been in the process of looking for a wife by now.
…Well, no, they didn’t exactly say that – but they did throw out hints that were rather hard to ignore.
“Don’t you want someone to share your life with?”
“Have you ever thought about starting a family?”
“If I was twenty-three, reasonably good-looking, and had money out the yin-yang, I’d be putting myself on the market, you know?”
He sat under the shower, his wet hair a curtain against his face. They were all right, in a way. There was just one problem.
He, of course, could not in good conscience marry a woman that he wasn’t sure that he loved – and that he wasn’t sure loved him.
Not someone in his position. No, a marriage of convenience wouldn’t work.
At the rate the country was going, he would have to start a family at some point or risk his sizable assets being seized by the Empire should he befall some unfortunate accident. Obviously, twenty-three was essentially the spring of life in Hoenn. The average life expectancy for a Hoennite man was about seventy years. Many lived beyond that depending on where they were in the country. With all the bad Rustboro air he had been inhaling for the past eight years or so (he had come to Rustboro to apprentice under his grandfather at the tender age of fifteen), the best he could likely hope for unless he relocated was sixty-five…maybe.
But, you see…death waits for no one – not even kings.
King Elvanan had the best doctors available to him in the city of Sootopolis, and still only managed slightly over sixty years of life.
How he had liked Elvanan so much better…if the dear old king had lived out his life expectancy, he would still be alive right now with several years left in the tank, and Hoenn wouldn’t be in this mess.
But Death comes and takes as it chooses, so he couldn’t blame it.
His best hope, perhaps, was to pray that Death took the current king soon. Very soon.
….But what were the chances of that?
Edgar was his age, if not slightly younger. And the rule of history dictated that evil dictators like Edgar were the ones that seemed to elude Death the longest, unless someone else killed them.
Which brought him back to his concern of marriage.
Being as famous as he was – essentially a celebrity – he couldn’t even look at a young woman (even a stranger) twice without ending up in someone’s tabloid. In the course of his life, he’d had only one thing he could mistake for a relationship with a girl, and it had been nearly ten years since the two had seen each other.
The two were a bit of an odd match, yet the friendship stood. It was definitely one of the strangest pairings ever seen among teenagers in Hoenn.
He was thirteen then, a bookish type slightly on the scrawnier side. He wouldn’t win any fist fights, but was undefeated in battles of the mind. As he was now, he was then, if slightly to a lesser degree – organized and levelheaded.
She was fourteen going on fifteen, small, but a bit of a tomboy. She was intelligent (they had attended the same private school together) but tended to swing first and ask questions later. Whereas he was organized, levelheaded, and (according to her) slightly predictable, she was spontaneous, fiery, and full of life…although she couldn’t seem to keep her own together from trying to do so much. That was where he came in.
As he looked back on it, he remembered that neither had tried to force the entirety of their personality on the other. That was what made it work. Each introduced the other to their world just a little bit. He got the chance to crack a joke or be sort of goofy around her, while she could carry on an intelligent conversation with him.
He smiled. Nearly six months after they met – it had been Valentine’s Day, in fact – she was the one that gave him his first kiss. As he didn’t know what he was doing and was completely unwilling to do anything for fear of messing up the moment, he just kept his mouth shut (figuratively speaking) and didn’t complain.
Things change, though, and people grow apart.
She became friends with another boy, and both became interested in joining Hoenn’s Army. Her younger sweetheart, however, turned fifteen, and with that came an apprenticeship under his grandfather as well as a rather ill-timed relocation from Sootopolis to Rustboro. There was no formal breakup, no long goodbye; just a sudden and painful ripping apart that left both with the need to move on with their lives. He was heartbroken, and began putting more time and energy into his infant business ventures. He actually became quite good at his craft after a while, but he never bothered again to seek out any type of steady relationship. There was one thing that brief spell of happiness in Sootopolis had told him…
Love was something that defied all plans and organization.
He would have to fall in love when he had some spare time – right now, he had none.
Until then, he would simply have to stay away from the temptation.
His boxers now covering him, he looked at himself in the slightly-clouded mirror. Looking back at him was a young man with slate-colored hair that was short in the back with rather prominent bangs in front. His hazel eyes stared back at him from under this hair. As for his frame, he was no bodybuilder by any stretch. Rather, his arms and chest had a skinny, but lightly muscled look – a bit like an overgrown, gangling, awkward teenager. He shook his head.
Why was it today that he woke up thinking about a fling he had with a girl a full decade ago?
He looked down at a clock (one of many) situated atop his marble sink.
“Shit!!” he groaned in shocked panic, whirling around and making for the bathroom door. He normally got to his job at quarter after five…which usually necessitated his exiting the bathroom by quarter after four.
Twenty hurried minutes, a double shot of espresso, and a piece of buttered toast later, the young businessman was coming down Rustboro’s main street at a slight clip, wearing a black, three-piece suit and a cardinal red tie as well as dark sunglasses. His dress shoes he had managed to shove into his rather sizable briefcase, choosing instead to wear a pair of black sneakers for the trip in order to make his walk slightly speedier and much more comfortable. Honestly, one of the reasons he liked to be on time was that he found that this whole bit of running to work in a complete and utter rush made him look rather like a fool, and were he on time, he could spare himself that bit of trouble as most of Rustboro did not awaken until one of his newsanchors in HDMB woke it.
And that would be in slightly under forty minutes and counting.
He wondered what had happened in the world while he was sleeping…or better yet, what had he missed while he was in the shower that morning reminiscing about his old flame? Normally, he didn’t know what had happened over night until he heard it on his own news broadcast.
…That’s because he didn’t trust any other station. They were all trying to attract more viewers by inserting tiny tidbits of baseless rumors, yellow journalism, and – his personal favorite – “inane tabloid B.S.” into their broadcasts. Those were the three things in which the media branch of his company took pride for lacking. So far, the strategy had worked. Part of him wondered, though, whether one day what he was doing in that field (a relatively new venture picked up soon after King Elvanan’s death a year ago) would make a difference. He knew, with the media, he had the potential to be a power in Hoenn equal to even Edgar’s Imperial edicts.
Unfortunately for him, the budding Empire knew that too…so they posted guards around his building to make sure no one was saying anything out of line. That was the biggest pain about his job.
Speaking of which…
He approached the building and immediately noticed several things wrong. A receptionist was sitting at the desk as always, but he also saw that the slot for the card key had been damaged – likely by some sort of explosion, judging by the scorch marks immediately surrounding it on the wall. To his even greater horror, he saw that the glass in the second door was completely gone.
Swiftly, he opened both doors and walked right up to the receptionist’s desk.
“Good morning, Mr. Stone,” a young woman with her black hair in a neat ponytail said with that almost automatic inflection that nearly everyone thinks of when they think of female receptionists.
“Apparently it wasn’t such a good morning,” Alexander Stone grunted. “Did someone break in here?”
“Yes, sir,” the receptionist answered with a nod and a smile.
“What about all those Imperial soldiers that love to guard my building so much?” Alex asked. “What the hell happened to them?”
“There are still a few, but most have left,” the woman replied. “There was a scuffle here in the wee hours of the morning…and, apparently, the Imperials lost.”
Torn between jumping for joy and screaming in horror, Alex Stone was left staring at his own receptionist with a look so vacant, he looked like a Psyduck that someone had attempted to teach quantum physics.
He shook his head.
“So, who’s on repairing all the stuff that’s damaged?” Alex asked.
“We’re doing the best we can,” the receptionist said.
Alex buried his eyes in his right hand, heaving a sigh.
“You’re making me grow gray hair here,” he muttered.
“Mr. Stone, sir…” the receptionist remarked observantly. “…your hair’s already gray.”
“Good point,” he said. “I’m going to go upstairs and see if anyone knows any more about this mess than you do. Just…carry on. If they can’t show you employee or authority ID, don’t let ‘em in. Understand? Even if he looks like Steven…well…especially if he looks like Steven. If he left his ID back in Evergrande, he’ll just have to fly back and get it.”
“Yes, sir,” the young woman nodded as Alex snatched his briefcase from the ground and hurried upstairs.
Fifteen minutes and several floors later, Alex arrived at the empty floor leading up to his office, utterly beside himself.
“Damn it!” he snarled in frustration. “It takes months to file all of that paperwork, and just hours to cover an entire floor of an office building. That’s about fifty thousand man-hours, all shot to hell! Huh? What the…”
Entering the room, he had noticed that it was a bit darker than usual. Then he figured out why – several loosely hanging tarps were flapping in the wind covering the huge wall of windows…minus the windows.
“Oh, my God…” Alex groaned. He seemed to be in a daze all of a sudden. In this state, he found the last set of ascending stairs and began to walk them sideways, one by one, his eyes fixed on the gaping hole in his wall. “Holy shit…Steven is gonna kill me…”
Shaking his head again, almost as if trying to wake himself up from a bad dream, he continued up the stairs.
He found himself in a hallway with white walls and floors with a checker-pattern black and white tile. Most of the left wall was completely made of glass. He half expected this wall to be busted out as well, but to his surprise, it had been left completely intact. He heard very little activity here. Usually, this floor was buzzing at this time of day, what with the news broadcast getting ready to start at 5:30, but there didn’t seem to be much motion at all. He walked straight past the door to the newsroom. It was closed. Had they started already? Was he that late?
Peering all the way down the hall, he noticed that his office at least looked intact from the outside. As he drew closer, he noticed that the door was clearly open. His heart sunk like…well, a stone. He wondered what exactly awaited him inside. With a slight gulp, he stepped across the threshold.
“Alex Stone,” a boy’s voice greeted him from the far side of the room. Alex peered down in that direction and saw his large desk and the Devon Corporation logo (a large, red, capital D sitting atop what looked to be a gold mountain peak) superimposed on the wall. Alex’s chair was facing the wall and slowly turning around.
Sitting in Alex’s chair was a boy that had to be in his mid-teens or so, with slightly hard hair at the front of his head and the rest of his hair apparently tied back into some sort of ponytail that Alex couldn’t quite make out. His azure eyes were so intense that it felt like you could catch fire just by staring into them long enough.
“Who are you?” Alex asked. “What are you doing here?”
“I hear your news broadcast prides itself on facts – all facts and nothing else. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you?” the boy asked with a bit of a witty quality to his voice.
“That’s right,” Alex said, nodding.
“Well, I’ve got some facts for you,” the boy said, standing up and making his way around the table. “So I guess the only question is…will you have the guts to pass them to everyone else?”
“Let me get this straight,” Alex replied, his temper rising. “You’re the one that staged the break-in?”
The boy nodded.
“Guilty,” he said.
“Just to give me some information?” Alex asked, sounding quite incredulous.
“Still batting a thousand,” the boy answered.
Alex eyed the boy with intrigue.
“You could’ve called, kid,” he said.
“Trust me when I say that…probably wouldn’t have worked,” the boy replied.
“What kind of information is this, anyway?” Alex questioned.
“Nothing world-changing,” the boy replied. “It’ll expose a couple of liars…might just liberate Hoenn from Imperial control…wait – I guess that is ‘world-changing’, then, isn’t it?”
“What? What is it?” Alex asked desperately.
“You didn’t answer my question,” the teenage boy declared, staring at Alex with those intense, blue eyes of his. “If I tell you, will you pass on the message?”
“I will if it’s true,” Alex finally answered, albeit a bit haltingly.
“I didn’t come all the way here from Verdanturf, get up before three this morning, fight off a couple dozen Imperials, and wait up here for nearly an hour to lie to you,” the boy groaned, shaking his head. “That’s not worth the effort at all.”
Verdanturf Town, Arsham’s Estate
Prince Elrik took his usual spot on the balcony, watching the sun come up over Hoenn.
Ever since they had left two days ago, he had heard nothing back from them, good or bad. He wondered how the mission went…
He wondered if they were even alive. He’d never forgive himself if he found that ten of his best were lost on such a foolhardy mission. Then again, by the time he began to have second thoughts, the unit was already gone. Granted, it takes a while to reach Rustboro from here, but…
Travis had seemed so confident. Elrik wished that he could be that confident. If he was that confident…if he had been a little bit more like his brother in that department…none of this would have been necessary.
Elrik blinked twice and shook his head. He had to stop living in the past. The fact was, this was where he stood now. There was no use dwelling on what he did or failed to do back then, because there was nothing he could do to undo those things that had happened.
…That was what his father would have said to him, if he were here.
He had to move forward.
The balcony door burst open. Elrik turned around and jumped.
“Elrik!!” Ivanna came forth from the doorway and, before Elrik could even fix his mouth to say ‘good morning’ to her, she had fallen upon him. Feeling her blonde curls tickle his face, and her warm breath waft past his ear, he put his arms around her.
“Ivanna, what’s going on?” he asked – as she broke apart from him just far enough to grab hold of his arm and started to yank him inside.
“No time,” Ivanna panted. “Hurry!”
“Good morning, Hoenn! I’m Leslie Chevelle, here with Jon Mike Morton to bring you today’s news!” a female voice came through the radio amidst the crackling and hissing of static. Leaning in toward the table in the war room, Prince Elrik, Ivanna, Arsham, Roald, Master Hong, and Agnes listened intently. “…or that would normally be what I would say to all of you this morning. Today, however, something has happened – something so significant and perhaps historic that Jon and I sit here unworthy – or at least unable – to fully describe it to you.”
“Therefore,” the man’s voice came in over the radio next, “here we have DevonMedia’s architect – the founding father of HDMB and the President of the Devon Corporation…Mr. Alexander Stone. Mr. Stone?”
There was a slight pause.
“For future reference, Leslie, I’m about thirty good years away from being a ‘founding father’ of anything.” Alex’s voice came clear as a bell over the airwaves, which now seemed to have less and less static. It seemed as if even this old radio (which looked like it might have been around when radios were first invented) had a mind to know the importance of what the young man on the other side was about to say.
“Good morning, Hoenn. I am Alexander Stone.”
“I will start off by telling you what you know already. In February of last year, Hoenn mourned the loss of a great leader – His Honored Majesty King Elvanan. The good king had twin sons, both able to rightfully accede to the throne: His Imperial Majesty, Edgar, and Prince Elrik of Hoenn. His Honored Majesty had not made a declaration – public or otherwise – about his choice for successor until he died.
We all know this.
“There is a very good reason, perhaps, for why His Honored Majesty failed to choose a successor. King Elvanan was not only just, but a very sensible man that would have rather seen the people choose their king from the two than to be so arrogant as to make the decision himself with no regard for the people. He wanted us to have the choice.”
“Maybe that’s it…” Elrik muttered blankly.
“What’s it?” Ivanna asked.
“That’s why Father didn’t choose the next king…” Elrik muttered. “…I never thought of that at all…”
“However, last year, after the good king passed on, we were deceived; we were told that we had no choice.
The story given to us was that Elrik – the more peaceful and gentle of the two to anyone that met him – drew his sword against his brother. The endings vary. There are some of you that believe the crown’s account – that the Prince died in dishonor at the hand of his brother. There are some unwilling to think that King Edgar would do such a thing – thus you believe that the Prince is living out his life in another country as a result of the King’s mercy. There are more yet that say that Prince Elrik fled the country on his own and like a coward. This new ‘Empire’ does not want you to know this, but as we pride ourselves on giving the nation facts, we could not in good conscience know this information and withhold it from the people. Hoenn, I want you to listen to me, and I want you to listen to me clearly.”
There was a long, pregnant pause.
The room went quiet.
Many rooms in Verdanturf went quiet.
In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the majority of Hoenn itself went quiet.
Elrik waited, wondering if his brother was somewhere in his castle in Sootopolis, waiting for the blow to fall, powerless to do anything to stop it before it did…
“None of these accounts are correct. His Majesty, Prince Elrik of Hoenn, is alive. I have seen his fighters for myself. Among them are well-known commanders of our army that went missing soon after King Elvanan’s death. They are fighting not just for Prince Elrik, but for all of you.
Prince Elrik still wants – as he had always wanted – to be more than a ruler. He wishes to be a leader, in the vein of his own father, that maintains the peace and freedom this nation had under the guiding hand of King Elvanan.
So I have these final things to say. To the people of Hoenn – I am fully aware of the consequences of what I am saying to you here today, both personally and nationally. For those who wish to blame me for perhaps plunging this nation into war, I will take your slanders and vicious abuse. Any self-respecting citizen of Hoenn knows that the peace we have had up to this point was built on the blood of those first men and women that lived and died to lay the groundwork for our kingdom. To the soldiers assembling on both sides – there is a cause to fight for. There is a motivation that is greater than the fear of loss and the fear of punishment. There is patriotism…love for this country – your country. And if you truly love this country, your hearts will tell you what you need to do so much better than the voice of a stranger over the radio.
…And to His Majesty the King himself, or anyone that works for him, I issue this statement. Become a leader worthy of following, or I, for one, will not follow you.
I am Alexander Stone, and that’s the way it is here on June 24, 2013. May the Almighty Ones be with us all. Thank you.”
Alex nodded once toward the camera in front of him and strode off to his right as the two usual anchors once again took their seats and began to expound on what Alex had said.
“Has anyone ever told you that you really have a way with words?” Upon hearing the voice of a young woman – a voice that sounded slightly familiar – he looked up. Emerging from the shadowed part of the room was a young blonde of about twenty-four or twenty-five. She had bright, fiery eyes the color of tropical waters, and short, neat, straight eyelashes. Alex’s mouth nearly dropped in surprise. Sure, she looked a few years older and her hair was substantially shorter, but there was no mistaking that face.
“It’s you,” Alex stammered in shock. “You’re here – I mean, what are you doing here?”
“After the compliment I just gave you, that’s how you say hello?” the woman asked. Shaking her head and scoffing a bit, she said, “Sad.”
“You have any better suggestions?” Alex spat. “God, do you know how awkward this is? Where’s William?”
“What’s that to you?” the woman replied with her own question. “I just thought I’d say ‘hi’ to you, seeing as we haven’t seen each other for ten years, but if you’re too busy, I guess I’ll go. Have a nice day, Alex.”
She whirled around and strode out of the room.
“Wait!” Alex blurted out – but she was already gone. He swore through his teeth as an expression of frustration crossed his face. He hadn’t even gotten over the shock of seeing her, and she had to go and storm out like that. Well, at least she had the decency to wait until he was done with his address before she approached him…
But he had meant what he asked. What was she doing here? She was dressed in armor and obviously wasn’t fighting on behalf of Edgar. The Imperial Army was chauvinistic at the best of times. But that would have to mean…she was working for Prince Elrik.
“Mr. Stone, sir,” another voice got Alex’s attention. He looked down to see in front of him, a head shorter than he, wearing a suit, and carrying a clipboard, a very young man – or, at least, a very mature-looking boy. This was probably one of Devon Corporation’s many summer interns. Why would someone send a young intern up to see him? “We need you to look at these repair estimates…sir.”
He held out the clipboard.
“Repair estimates? At least you guys respond fast,” Alex muttered, poring over the papers. It didn’t seem to matter which one of these companies he chose. Devon Corporation was going to be out a lot of money. “Oh, brother…tell ‘em I’ll be right down.”
As the two anchors’ conversation shifted rather reluctantly to more local and less pivotal topics, Elrik and the others sat in silence before the radio. The only sound in the room was Elrik’s sigh and the crackling static over the airwaves – noises that were finally interrupted by a simple, yet poignant comment from Arsham.
“Well,” she said, “secret’s out.”
“By the end of the day, all of Hoenn’s gonna know you’re alive,” Roald echoed. “If there was ever a point of no return, this is it. No looking back, now.”
“‘Become a leader worthy of following…’” Elrik muttered to himself, recounting some of the last words Alex had said on air. “That has to apply to me, too, doesn’t it? I have to prove that I would make a fitter king than my brother.”
“We know that already,” Ivanna said. “You don’t have to prove anything to us.”
“I know…” Elrik admitted. “I have to prove it to everyone else – and that means being decisive. Ivanna, Roald?”
“Yes?” both chorused.
“Four days from now, we are marching into Rustboro. Ivanna, send one of your messengers. I want Alex Stone to know within the day,” Elrik said, rising to his feet.
“Are you sure?” Roald asked.
“Yes, I am,” Elrik answered so immediately and so confidently that it put a smile on the aging soldier’s face.
“Then that’s what’ll happen,” Roald replied.
June 27, PA 2013 – Verdanturf Town
Sitting atop his Rapidash, a veteran female that had been his own personal mount since boyhood, Prince Elrik of Hoenn gazed out across the fields of Verdanturf from the top of the hill. Dozens of soldiers lined up under the leadership of various captains, including two of the young soldiers who earned the rank by demonstrating their bravery and prowess in the most recent mission. Liam Cadmus and Myrin Shaur, working together as they always did, ordered their few troops into file. Meanwhile, Roald could be seen roaring at the top of his lungs at some of the more fiery, veteran soldiers, who all cheered with him (with the exception of Rashid, who hadn’t said much to anyone since he returned from Rustboro the first time and didn’t break that behavior for this occasion).
“Do you hear that?” a boy stepped up alongside Elrik’s Rapidash, accompanied by a girl of the same age. Both had one-strap backpacks slung over their shoulders. An Espeon and Umbreon were also with them. Elrik immediately recognized the boy and looked straight at him. “That’s what ‘momentum’ sounds like.”
“Is that what you call it?” Elrik asked. “A lot of them are a bit worried that you’re not coming with us, Travis. Sure you don’t want to reconsider?”
“It’ll be no fun if I come with you,” Travis said. “All those people down there – they’ve waited for the chance to fight for their country’s freedom…and they all have a right to their shot.”
“I know, but…” Elrik sighed. “Edgar will try to take Rustboro back – I’m sure of it.”
“Then, don’t let him,” Travis replied, shrugging his shoulders.
“But we need you to fight,” Elrik pleaded.
“Less than you think,” Travis answered. “I’ll help you when the time comes that you really need it, but I don’t want to steal your thunder, Your Majesty. Those people down there looked to you to lead them from the beginning, and they need to keep looking to you. If you win in battle without me…they’ll respect you that much more.”
“Do you think so?” Elrik asked.
“I’m sure of it,” Travis answered, nodding emphatically. A smile crossing his face, he added, “I know one person that’s pretty happy with what you’re doing.”
Elrik looked down and saw Ivanna making her way up the hill toward him.
“Well, good luck with everything,” Travis said with a little wave, leading Katrina, Angel, and Crescent down the hill in a general direction slightly away from the sea of rallying soldiers. Noticing the timing of the comment, Elrik turned his head.
“Wait a second – what’s that supposed to –” he started to yell but stopped when he realized that Ivanna was standing right in front of him, looking slightly winded. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Have they left yet?” Ivanna panted.
“No, they went that way,” Elrik answered, doing a slight point in the direction that Travis and Katrina had walked less than a minute before. Ivanna started down that way, yelling.
“WAIT A SECOND! HOLD ON! WAIT!”
It took a few seconds of this until Travis finally stopped and turned around to see Ivanna approaching him, nearly at a full run. She seemed to be holding some sort of glass case in her hand. As she approached, Travis noticed that it contained an oblong-shaped object inside. It was clearly off-white with green speckles.
“Ivanna –” Travis uttered haltingly.
“It turns out Elrik was right about you after all,” Ivanna said. “I’m sorry I gave you so much trouble. I want you to have this.”
She held out the case toward him.
“That’s…” Katrina whispered in awe. “That’s a Pokémon egg…”
“Exactly,” Ivanna answered. “It won’t be long before you have a – well, I’ll let you find that out on your own. Have you ever dealt with a newborn Pokémon before?”
“Uh…no,” Travis replied, taking the case from Ivanna. “I know that, when one’s born, though, it identifies the first face it sees as its parent.”
“Right, so make sure to pay attention,” Ivanna said. “If you’re looking it right in the eyes, it’ll obey you without question. Keep an eye on it, though, and make sure you don’t leave it anywhere. Some people like to take your eggs and sell them on the black market to the highest bidder.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Travis replied.
“Well…see you later,” Ivanna said, nodding in farewell.
“Goodbye,” Travis answered as Ivanna backed away from him for a few steps, then finally turned and walked back up the hill.
“That was nice of you,” Ivanna heard Elrik comment as she reached the top of the hill. He was now standing on the ground, looking out at the troops.
“We had that egg for a while,” Ivanna replied. “Its mother asked for him personally. That’s natural – she doesn’t want her baby to be born in a war zone.”
“I see,” Elrik sighed. Then, after a short lull in the conversation, he commented, “When we were in Rustboro gathering forces the first time…something was missing – something he gave us. When he got here, suddenly, we had it – but I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while. Then, he said it. ‘Momentum.’”
“Momentum, huh?” Ivanna muttered, looking over her shoulder. “Maybe that’s all we needed. I wonder if he knew that?”
“Probably,” Elrik said, grunting slightly with effort as he mounted his Rapidash once again. Turning back toward Ivanna, he outstretched his hand. A bit unsure of herself, she took it and jumped up onto the Rapidash’s back, right behind Elrik. Elrik turned his head, looking back at her with a smile. She smiled herself, leaned forward, and pecked Elrik on the cheek. Elrik looked forward, and shouted, “Ridelia!!”
The Rapidash reared her legs into the air, neighing loudly, and charged down the hill.
Meanwhile, Travis and Katrina, with Angel and Crescent in tow and finally out of their balls for the first time in what seemed like ages, neared the eastern boundaries of the city. Katrina was now holding the egg, eyeing it with fascination. Travis took one last look at the town.
“My mistake last time…” he said to himself. “If I had stood up to Angelos at first instead of trying to run away from him, the last battle probably would have been a whole lot easier. This time, though, I think I’ve done just enough to get them started.”
“You mean to tell me, you’re satisfied?” Katrina asked. “Is that it?”
Travis turned back toward her.
“Yeah,” he answered. “For now. I’m helping them, but…I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”
He brushed his lengthening bangs out of his left eye.
“I came here to be a Trainer,” he said. “Being a war hero…it’s old. I’m over it.”
“I don’t blame you,” Katrina commented. “What you’re doing is not easy. Trying to chase your own dreams and looking after the future of others.”
“<Unbelivable,>” Angel commented. Her high-energy voice seemed like a fresh thing, now that Travis didn’t hear it quite so often. “<The air here is so much better than in Mauville or wherever the heck we were the last time I was out of my ball!>”
“Sorry,” Travis sighed. “You and Crescent will get the chance to stretch your legs for a while. Believe me.”
“You mean…” Katrina looked at him significantly. “…you’re not gonna fight anymore?”
“Like I said, not until they absolutely need me,” Travis replied. “I stir up anymore trouble, and I’ll have a bounty on my head – then I’ll have about a snowball’s chance in hell of getting into Evergrande, badges or not.”
“Good point,” Katrina said. “But…what about Darris?”
“I’m not sure, but he might not be so eager to fight me a second time,” Travis answered. “He was lucky to survive the first time.”
Katrina smiled at Travis’ confidence.
“I wonder what’s in this, anyway?” Katrina asked.
“The easy way to find out would be to find whatever female Pokémon laid the egg,” Travis answered. “But seeing as we don’t know that, I’m not sure there’s any way to know what it is until it hatches.”
“Finally!!” a young, female voice sounded from somewhere above Travis and Katrina. They looked up toward one of the posts of the open town gate to see Reivyn sitting upon it. She leapt several feet to the ground, landing painlessly. “Are we going or not?”
“What’s with you?” Travis asked.
“We left Kenji back in that other city!!” Reivyn exclaimed. “He might be waiting for us to come back!”
“I’m sure he’s keeping himself busy, Reivyn,” Travis said – to Reivyn’s back as she left Verdanturf at a sprint. Once she was out of earshot, he rolled his eyes. “Geez…a couple of fights go in her favor and now she’s got an attitude.”
“So you prefer the Reivyn that was afraid of her own shadow and needed to be rescued half the time?” Katrina asked, a knowing smile on her face.
Hesitantly, Travis sighed and admitted, “You’ve got a point.”
The two began walking again.
Matthew, Mariah, and Kenjiro sat at a campfire in this wasteland-looking area. There was grass and ground, and even a tree or two, but it all looked dead and was all covered by this grayish-beige stuff that was quite uncomfortable to breathe directly.
“Ah, shit…” Kenjiro muttered, writing a name in the ash with one of his kunai. “Why the hell’d we have to camp here? We could have pushed for a few hours and we’d be on Mt. Chimney already.”
“A forced march?” Matt groaned incredulously. “Who the hell do you think you are – a drill sergeant? We’re frickin’ exhausted. Walking through this **** isn’t as easy as it looks.”
“And breathing it is?” Kenjiro countered.
“Screw you,” Matt replied tartly, closing his green eyes in exasperation. “Who the hell is that?”
“What?” Kenjiro uttered blankly.
“Don’t play dumb, Kenjiro,” Matt said, a muscle going in his jaw. “I’ve seen you write and erase that name about twelve times just since you sat down.”
“It – she’s – none of your business,” Kenjiro muttered, wiping his hand across it halfheartedly and standing up. Brushing some of the ash on his jacket (that was roughly the same color anyway), he looked out toward the setting sun to the west (barely visible due to a cloud of thick smoke coming from a nearby mountain).
“Where are you going?” Matt asked.
“I’m…going to scout out the area,” Kenjiro muttered as he walked off. “See if there’s anything suspicious around.”
“Tch…he’s probably going to try and pick a fight with one of the local Spinda,” Matt jibed. “Combat-happy *******.”
He leaned over the fire and felt its warmth as he peered at the ground. He saw an ‘R’, a ‘V’, and an ‘N’, but all of the other letters had been wiped away. For some reason, the longer he stared at this mystery name (or what was left of it), the hotter he got.
“Matt…oh, my gosh – Matt!” Mariah shrieked. Matt looked straight down and let out a yell, immediately rolling around in the ash. After ten seconds he resurfaced, coughing from a combination of ash and smoke that was now wafting from his shirt.
“Oh, frick! Geez!” Matt groaned, his eyes watering. Looking down at the small hole in his shirt, he sighed and spat, “Nice. Good thing I never liked this shirt anyway.”
He sat up and stared at the fire.
“God, the terrain up here sucks,” he moaned. “Mountains, steep, rocky cliffs, volcanic ash, not to mention the frickin’ desert.”
“At least Lavaridge has hot springs,” Mariah commented.
“Hell, I’d kill for clean water, period, at this point,” Matt muttered. “Good thing I had this skullcap or my hair would be hell on earth.”
“Your hair?” Mariah whined. “I look like an eighty-year-old now.”
“Well, don’t make that face – it just gives you more wrinkles,” Matt jibed. Mariah punched him.
Kenjiro stood atop one of the dead trees. Considering that this wasn’t what one would call the friendliest area for growing trees, these things were surprisingly tall.
It had been over a week since he saw her last. The last time he had seen her face, it had been fraught with worry and concern over his injured state. His heart sinking, he wondered how she would react when she returned to Mauville with the others and they all realized that he had left several days prior.
He could not help but laugh at himself. Two months ago, he had no one…he needed no one…he missed no one. It was enough for him to be able to stand on his own two feet and help himself.
He didn’t realize how hard it would be for him to be separated from her…and he wondered if she felt the same unease without him at her side.
Hopefully, they hadn’t been getting her into any unnecessary trouble…
He climbed down from the tree, limb by limb.
As he came closer to the ground, he heard voices.
“No, no – you’re doing it all wrong!” he heard a girl shout. “C’mon – bend your elbow like that.”
“Like this?” a boy asked.
“No!” the girl yelled in exasperation. “Oh, my gosh – you and these arms. Why do you have to be six feet tall again?”
“Five-foot-ten-and-a-half, but I’ll take that extra two inches if you’ve got them,” the boy jibed.
“Whatever. Just a little more…there! You’ve got it,” the girl said. By this time, Kenjiro had gotten low enough so that he could hear the entirety of the conversation and could see two small forms on the ground. “Now, aim, steady, and…”
“Oh…crap!!” the boy shouted. Kenjiro heard a faint whizzing sound and then jumped backward as an arrow came up right between his eyes, clearing his bangs and flying upward into the air. Before Kenjiro had time to reflect on that close call, however, he realized that he was now way off-balance. With uncharacteristic clumsiness, he flailed his arms this way and that until he finally fell over. He must have been visible to them by now based on the girl’s shout.
“Oh, no!!” she cried. “You didn’t hit him, did you?”
“I don’t know…” the boy replied in a bit of shock. Just as Kenjiro had come back right side up in midair (he had flipped over), he saw a thick, sturdy, lower limb of the tree. He aimed to plant his feet on it, but he missed one to each side and immediately knew he was in for a world of hurt.
He hung limply on the bouncing tree limb, his eyes watering and his entire body (except, surprisingly and unfortunately, for the point of impact) numb.
Through his agony he heard a pitying cry of “OH…DAMN!!”
Kenjiro hit the ground in a heap from ten feet up, which he didn’t even feel, seeing that he was completely occupied by his…other injury. He coughed, afraid for a second that he might have just expelled one (or both) organs through his mouth.
He felt himself being rolled over on his back.
“Hey, man!!” he got a sort of look at the boy. He could see a whole lot of red at the top, and a hand (or four) or his right in front of him. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Three…nine? Five? Shit…hold on a second…” Kenjiro groaned almost subconsciously. After about nine seconds, the boy’s form came into focus. He had short, bright red hair that was controlled by a headband going around his head. His entire form, including his face, which was dotted by two yellow eyes, was long and lanky. He seemed to be wearing a red t-shirt and black cargo shorts.
“Looks like you took a tumble,” a girl said. She was an obvious natural brunette, but had dyed a couple of her bangs a silver-blonde color. She was wearing a tanktop that seemed to depict a sun rising over a grassy field, and had a skirt the same shade of green to complete the outfit. She looked to be about fifteen but was noticeably curvy for her age. “Can you see me? Heeeey…helloooooo?”
Kenjiro tried to get up – the two stepped back to give him some space. Immediately he felt it and sunk back to his knees.
“Hey…hey, dude?” the red-haired boy said again. “You just racked yourself on a tree from about twenty-five-ish feet. I don’t care how tough you are – you’d better sit down for a second.”
Kenjiro growled. He couldn’t even help the next thing that came out of his mouth.
The girl burst into a laughter that it seemed that she’d been trying to hold back for several minutes.
“Hey, don’t make fun of him,” the boy scolded her. “They’re throbbing, you said? That’s a good sign – at least you know they’re still there. I’d get you some ice, but it kinda looks like it’d be in short supply in a place like this. We’ll have to wait it out.
Five minutes later, Kenjiro was able to sit up. The boy and girl had been discussing something with each other, until finally, both came to approach Kenjiro, the boy holding something in his hand.
“We need to ask you something,” he said. Thrusting what looked like a picture in Kenjiro’s face, he asked, “Have you seen either of these two? We’re looking for them.”
Kenjiro eyed the pair before him distrustfully. Then, logic set in. This picture was of Travis and Katrina, and it seemed to be from a few years ago. Most likely they would have only entrusted a photograph like that one to close friends. Besides…these looked to just be two normal kids (although one had been carrying a bow and was apparently a very bad shot with it). How much harm could they do?
Alas, however, he had to tell them the truth.
“I know them,” Kenjiro replied. “We’ve traveled together, in fact. But I don’t know where they are right now.”
“Okay, fine – have you seen a boy named Matthew?” the girl asked. “Looks a bit like me, slight attitude problem, probably…”
“Wait a second!” the boy groaned.
“It couldn’t hurt to ask!” the girl exclaimed.
Kenjiro hadn’t registered that at all the first time he’d seen the girl. This girl and Matthew looked just like each other!
“Is his last name Marius?” Kenjiro asked for confirmation.
“Yes…” the girl uttered with a hopeful tone in her voice.
Kenjiro struggled to his feet.
“Follow me,” he said. The girl and boy looked at each other, hardly daring to believe it, and ran after him.
“Dammit – how many girl’s names can you spell with an ‘R’, a ‘V’, or an ‘N’?” Matt groaned, wiping away his markings in the ash for the umpteenth time.
“Matt, I really think you’re obsessing over this too much,” Mariah said. “Why do you have to know the name of this girl?”
“Then again…” Matt muttered. “Who said it had to be a girl?”
“Now, that’s just low, Matt,” Mariah chided him.
“Then again, there are even less guy’s names spelled with those three letters, so that’s probably out,” Matt muttered.
“What are you doing?” a voice from Matt’s left caught his attention.
“Oh, you’re back,” Matt said. “Nothing really. Did you get to beat the crap outta anybody?”
“There’s no one around here,” Kenjiro said. “Except this girl that says she knows you.”
Matt raised his eyebrow and stood as Kenjiro moved aside. A blur came past Kenjiro, nearly knocking the young man over.
When it got to Matt, it did knock him over.
The next thing he knew, he was on his back with this brunette girl crying into his shoulder and holding onto him so tightly he thought he was going to choke. Mariah looked like she’d just been gobsmacked. He never saw the girl’s face, so it took a look at the red-haired boy quietly smiling behind Kenjiro to figure out who she was.
Sitting up with the girl’s arms still around him, Matt heard Mariah ask him, “Who is this?”
“It’s Madeline,” Matt said, choking back tears as he returned the girl’s embrace. “Madeline…my sister.”
And with that, it’s official – they’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack…
Dang it, why do my chapters always end up five pages longer than I expect them to?
Oh, well…I sure hope this chapter’s up to snuff, as I finished the last third of it under duress. (PM me if you want to ask me about details.)