Page 6 of 8 FirstFirst ... 2345678 LastLast
Results 126 to 150 of 186

Thread: Blazing Frost

  1. #126
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    502

    Default

    Wow! A crazy army of Magikarp, a metapod that is apparently, 'a sausage', and Severus Snape all in one!!

    How did you know i like Harry Potter? lol

    That Tauros seems suspicious, i'm sure there's more to that murdering creature...

    Nice names for your games; Jasper, Opal and Topaz. If only they were real

    And... can i do piccies for these lovely legendaries too?

  2. #127
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    Naturally you can. ^^ Just keep in mind that Fystor isn't an eagle per se, she's actually a bipedal griffin.

    Ah yes, those names. I thought for sure that Platinum was going to be called Opal or Girasol ... Platinum doesn't really fit Giratina ... so when it wasn't, I wanted something to be called Opal. You know, since opals are awesome.

    Not saying anything about Tauros. >>;
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  3. #128
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    5th circle of hell
    Posts
    1,146

    Default

    lol, funny as always and saw like one mistake but forgot it. Sry...lol
    Pokemon Black team:

  4. #129
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Illinois
    Posts
    52

    Default

    hahahaha oh man. I am hurt that you bashed magikarp sure they may be crappy pokemon but they have a redeming side as well they can......um....they can.............

    anyways.....hahaha the randomness good story and I forgive you for the uber long wait but next time might not be so forgiving lol jk jk.

    On an overall basis chapter was good description was good though one thing. Could you possibly remind us which trainer have which pokemon and their nicknames? Gets kinda confusing trying to remember who they were even though you describe them. Especially when we have to wait a long time for a chapter >,> hard to remember who has what .

    ~roo~
    Fan fic reader. Writer at heart artistic at heart. My name before was roodude15 and I'm back PM me if you want me to review something. I'm always happy to review a story.

    I love crude humor it's the biggest thing since sliced bread and sliced bread is pretty darn good too

  5. #130
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    >_< I really am sorry about the wait. I was going to ask someone to kick me and hurry up and start it, but then I got three pages done over the weekend. Yay me. It should be done before the end of the month, so keep an eye on this if you're that optimistic.

    And here's a list:
    Leaf - Charmander (Frosti), Lapras (Paris), Weedle (Cheri)
    Lightning - Pichu (Peach), Nidoran (Dory), Metapod (Peter), Magikarp (Maggie)
    Ocean - Bulbasaur (Hideki), Spinda (Rosa)
    Fire - Squirtle, Drowzee
    Cobalt *deceased* - Bulbasaur, Phrygoil (Phlash Phryer)
    Gina - Mudkip (Qwerty), Belly (Weepinbell), Sprouty (Bellsprout), Tauros (Tartar)

    Belly and Sprouty haven't been introduced yet, but they were mentioned in Chapter Eight, so I might as well acknowledge their existence.

    Also, thanks again for the compliments. I'm surprised no one's commented on Cobalt's death yet ... >_>
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 12th March 2011 at 12:24 AM. Reason: Caterpie lolwut.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  6. #131
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by darkdragontamer View Post
    It should be done before the end of the month,
    Quoted for untruth. I have no excuse, so feel free to toss rotten tomatoes. *sulks* AND YES, I KNOW IT'S A MASSIVE CHAPTER. I JUST DON'T HAVE THE CAPACITY TO CUT IT IN HALF, KAY? /caps

    EDIT: And the rating is back at PG-13, btw. Reason? The Jigglypuff scene wasn't that gory. I think.

    * * *

    Chapter Twelve: Of Miners and Minesweepers (The Ways to be a Hero! Joy for the Giggling Immortal Bomb!)

    Fystor closed her eyes. I’ve failed. She wasn’t used to failing, or the crushing feeling of defeat it always brought. Failing was something that happened to other people, especially people with no lives.

    The feeling was deeply contrasted with the cheers and raucous laughter as the dead continued to place their bets, unaware of the severity of the situation. In their eyes, it was mostly just a game. A dangerous, unpredictable Game, to be sure, but a game nevertheless.

    The Game’s bright light penetrated through her eyelids, and it flashed and dimmed according to the scene playing out before her. Against her will the lids snapped open, and she watched the drama as if it wasn’t really there, as if it were only a bad dream.

    “Cobalt!” Gina screamed, her delicate hands curling into fists. Jerkily she lurched forward, landing with a sudden splash into the deepening pool of his blood. Ignoring the droplets of blood which flew shakily into the air before latching themselves onto the hem of her miniskirt, she grabbed his lolling head and shook it frantically, watching his blank eyes roll back and forth. “Don’t die, you idiot! You’re not supposed to die!”

    One of the more emotionally unstable grunts, a little girl who could be no more than ten, burst into tears. Bulbasaur stared in horror; Phlash sat frozen, not even the thick scent of death arousing the predator within when her shock was so prevalent.


    “Stay with me!” Gina howled, tears flowing as thick and fast as his blood.

    He merely drooped forward limply, like a dying flower wilting in the cruel winter’s chill.

    Teeth ground in despair, she turned her gaze toward Severus, her dripping eyes turning as hard and cold as iron as they took in the sight of his smile, the smile of a killer.

    “YOU KILLED MY BEST FRIEND!” she roared. With an abruptness to shock everyone, she leapt from the body, which splashed into the blood as she released its hold. Before Severus could react, she had knocked him several paces backward, and she rushed at him with uncontrolled rage. “I’LL KILL YOU! I’LL—”

    “Save it for the theater, Gina,” Severus drawled lazily, pushing her away from him with ease. His claws nicked her arm, and a few drops of blood sparkled before they rippled into Cobalt’s.

    She snarled at him, hair askew, eyes wild and furious.

    “Your little admin friend is gone.” The words had a strange finality to it, as if they sealed the fact that there would be no return. Ignoring Gina, he turned to the grunts instead. “I know you liked him better than me. I don’t care. He had it coming to him.

    “I’m not quite done with him, though,” he continued, swooping down and pulling Cobalt out of the bloody pool by the collar of his shirt. The unlucky admin was completely soaked in blood now, and it rained from his drenched clothing and wig. “He makes a good example of what happens to people who I don’t like.”

    Still grinning, he raised his free hand in the air, claws hanging above his head for a moment before descending. He gave the body a condescending little shake, watching in satisfaction as the head lolled around, the arms swayed back and forth at his sides …

    And then one of those arms rocketed upward, slamming a clenched fist into the unsuspecting executive’s face.

    Severus’s mouth dropped open in shock, his arm freezing in midair. “What the—”

    Cobalt’s eyes refocused, and his leg slammed upward into the offender’s groin.

    “AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGH!” Severus howled, dropping him and crouching into a protective position, his eyes watering in pain.

    Standing a bit shakily, Cobalt smiled at the expression on Severus’s face, before hooking his foot around the man’s ankles, sending him falling backward onto the rocky ground. His greasy head made a satisfying clunk sound as it made contact with a particularly nasty rock.

    “What—” Severus spluttered dazedly, spitting his wayward hair out of his mouth. “But you’re – how did you—?”

    In answer, Cobalt hooked his fingers through the holes in his shirt, then pulled them sharply in separate directions, ripping it open. On top of his lean, muscular, undamaged chest (which caused the little ten-year-old girl to swoon and collapse in the midst of her uncaring peers) sat something clear, crumpled and punctured, dangling from a cord around his neck and still trickling blood. It looked suspiciously like a bag of blood which one might find in a hospital or blood bank.

    Severus stared at it, unfocused eyes narrowing in exasperation. “Do I
    want to know?”

    “No, I don’t give my secrets to idiots.”

    He ripped the bag from his neck and tossed it in the executive’s disbelieving face, smiling as the cheers rising from the grunts sharply increased in volume, ringing against the steep cavern walls. Then Gina caught him in a crushing hug, pinning his arms to his sides, and buried her tear-stained face into his shoulder, still sobbing; and suddenly all of the grunts were rushing around them, and he was abruptly lifted onto their shoulders and borne triumphantly back toward the excavation site, none of them caring that droplets of blood still dripped into their hair and eyes, because at last, at last, the tyrant had been defeated …


    Fystor’s devastated expression did not change.

    <Oh, look, there’s a happy ending,> Shaymin’s voice drawled lazily. Fystor sensed her standing by her side, with a dejected Secloven behind her.

    How long had they been watching? She didn’t care.

    <Don’t be so gloomy, Feisty. You know what, Feisty’s a good name for you, because it’s the most ironic thing ever. Feisty, Feisty, Feisty, Feisty, Feisty—>

    Ignoring the fox-like Pokemon’s taunts, Fystor scanned around at the setting for the first time. A map of the world, shining deep blue and green, served as the board. It seemed that the ordinary laws of space did not apply to it, for the opposite end never seemed to stay the same distance away, and the many attempts of the dead to measure its hazy perimeter had churned out an equal number of results. The scene inside Mount Moon shimmered in the air before those gathered around, like an all-too-real hologram; various other scenes distorted its edges, rippling and changing as each struggled to be as real as the one in the center. Piles of numerous objects, such as cards, bones, and poker chips, seemed to sit motionless in the air above the board’s edge. The bright light emitting from it seemed to drown out the rest of the casino, which was dimly lit.

    <Mein auss ich eetching,> a tinny voice complained.

    Turning to the adjacent side, Fystor noticed a table that seemed to have been pulled up to the Game. The one who had just spoken sat in a chair far too small for her, jammed firmly between the table and the board. Her large, rotund body sported a curious lack of features: no eyes or mouth or visible face of any kind was present. That, however, didn’t seem to discourage her from sloshing a pungent liquid inside the glass in her claw-like fingers. Her tough silver shell shone blindingly in the light of the Game, and her short, cylindrical legs were propped up lazily against the board’s edge. From the darkness which served as a surrogate face, seven red dots flickered in unison at irregular intervals, as if they were blinking eyes. Sharing her table sat two others: a hulking rock-like thing with brownish dots and a patchwork appearance, and a brilliant blue crystalline being whose yellowish dots flickered just a tad less frequently. Both had tough-looking spiked backs, and both had a tough, almost bodyguard-like aura; yet the silver one seemed to hold dominance in more than just her obvious height advantage, even when she was currently reaching ineffectually for a nonexistent behind.

    <Problem, Registeel?> Secloven asked airily, prancing around the spectators to meet her and shedding his sadness easily. Snapping his head around, he caught a backscratcher in his mouth from seemingly out of nowhere, before offering it to the golem.

    <Ach! Danke, Secloven,> Registeel said, reaching gratefully for it with her free hand and twisting its hooked end towards who knows where. <Mein self be lairge, boot vat can I do?>

    Shaymin stifled a snicker.

    <Mein own hoppiness doch not mattair to mein self, anyway,> Registeel continued plaintively. <Ich mein mastair dat doch haff eemportance. Let oos toast to heem. Heil Regigigas!>

    <Heil Regigigas!> echoed her hulking compainions, raising their own glasses in unison, albeit with some difficulty as they lacked fingers.Then, at the same time, all three of them dumped the contents of their glasses onto their own heads, letting the drinks splash sloppily over themselves. Regice’s froze into a peculiar shape as soon as it touched his head, but it seemed to evaporate into nothingness along with the others.

    Fystor caught Shaymin’s eye, and they both burst into uncontrollable laughter. Everyone stared in disbelief as they leaned their heads against the board, shaking with mirth.

    <Youch can laff,> Registeel said sternly, mistaking the cause of their hilarity for her loyalty, <boot mein mastair ees de king oof aull law ahnd ordair. Eet vas heem dat keeps dat uncouth Apolydon froom retairning to powah.>

    The change in the atmosphere was immediately noticeable. Everyone around the Game fell silent, their wide and fearful eyes trained on Registeel. Fystor and Shaymin froze, the smiles vanishing off their faces as if they had never been.

    <We do not speak his name!> Shaymin snarled, and suddenly she looked feral, teeth bared, feathery ears pinned back, hackles raised.

    <I doubt it’ll make a difference,> Fystor said calmingly, despite her own unease. <He’s already taken over the Missing One, after all.>

    But Shaymin could not be appeased. Still growling, she abruptly zipped through the air toward Registeel, before coming to a hovering stop just inches from her … face.

    <You wouldn’t be so quick to toss his name around if you knew the true terror he is,> Shaymin snapped, the light in her eyes gone. <I don’t care if your master’s “de king oof law ahnd ordair”, it was me who kept him back in the hour of darkness. If it wasn’t for me, everyone in this room, including you, would be screaming in unimaginable agony.>

    Registeel did not flinch. <Youch ich offahnded?>

    <Putting it mildly, yeah!>

    <Shaymin…> Fystor murmured warningly.

    <Ich fine, Fystor,> Registeel said dismissively, waving her off. <Mein self joost vondairs vhy Apolydon vas not eerahdicahted, den, ven youch faced heem een dze hour oof dahrkness. Vas eet veakness, pooseebly? Or vere youch merely ahfraid?>

    There was a moment of tense, abrupt silence. Outside of the game, the happy-go-lucky dead on the roulettes paused, realizing something was amiss. A strange quiet was settling upon the Casino like snow, and soon only those who were furthest from the game could still be heard. “Surfin’ USA” drifted softly from the loudspeakers overhead, clearly audible for the first time in a long while. Secloven bit his lip and glanced at the Game, barely noticing the cheering Rockets.

    Fystor watched the odd staring contest, her eyes darting between Registeel’s relaxed position and Shaymin’s tensed muscles. This is the problem with abrasive personalities, she decided. They always rub together the wrong way. We don’t need that, especially not now. Hopefully Shaymin’s not mad enough to forget that.

    Then Shaymin spoke, and her voice barely rose above a hoarse whisper. <Weak?> she hissed. <Weak? Afraid, I can understand. Who wouldn’t be afraid to face him? Who wouldn’t be afraid to willingly walk into the place where he is strongest? Who wouldn’t be afraid of a slow death by torture? Yeah, I was afraid, I’ll admit that. I was terrified, I was scared, I kept wishing someone would swoop down and tell me the worst bit was over, that I could go home. I was hoping for death, if that’s what it took to stop the pain. But it takes a strong heart to stay in a bad situation when you can just walk out anytime. A weak person wouldn’t stay there to save the souls of those who would spit on him as soon as look at him. I am not weak. I accomplished the task I was born to do, and my soul is still in one piece. The world was on my shoulders, but its weight didn’t crush me. So no, it “vas not veakness”.>

    <Shaymin—> Fystor began.

    The fox swiveled around to face her, and she was astonished to see that Shaymin’s eyes were bright with tears. <We’re leaving, Fystor.>

    <But—>

    <Don’t argue with me.> She fluttered a little ways away, ignoring Secloven’s hesitant reach for her.

    <The Game—>

    <I SAID DON'T ARGUE WITH ME!>

    Everyone flinched. It seemed impossible that such a noise could blast from someone that small.

    Fystor opened her beak, decided that arguing wasn’t going to help, and snapped it shut again. Shooting an apologetic look to Sentarpen, who was looking baffled, she darted after her overemotional sister. They only went a few yards before both abruptly dematerialized, leaving no trace that they had been there.

    Registeel’s … eyes … blinked. <Vas eet sometink mein self said?>

    Nobody answered her. The dead, taking this to be the end of the drama, turned back to their gambling. Their volume swelled to normal, in a babbling, untraceable flow of words.

    Then a tiny, runt-like Pokemon across from the Twins abruptly burst into tears. <Th-th-that was so beautiful!> she wailed, tears streaming down her face. Her golden, star-shaped headdress shook along with the rest of her stubby body as she cried, and the teal tags sticking from three of its points fluttered.

    <Erm … well, yes,> Sentarpen agreed, looking a bit uncomfortable. <But—>

    <She is s-so inspirational!> the Pokemon cried. <It makes me wish I had a p-purpose in life, too!>

    <But you do have a purpose, remember?>

    But the Pokemon wasn’t listening. She seemed to prefer bawling over hearing people out.

    <Jirachi, Jirachi, please!> Secloven pleaded. He blinked a long, slow blink, and a white handkerchief appeared directly in front of the little Pokemon’s face, as if by magic. <This is a happy place! Be happy, for my sake!>

    Hesitantly Jirachi took the handkerchief and dabbed her eyes with it. <I-I want to b-be happy,> she said, her hitching breaths slowing, <b-but …>

    <The Game?> he asked hurriedly. <It’s about time you had a turn, after all.>

    At the sound of his voice, the dice – still scattered on the colorfully bright board, where Fystor had tossed them – rolled mechanically toward Jirachi, who diffidently opened her tiny hand. Without missing a beat, they leapt straight into her outstretched palm, where they waited patiently for her move.

    Abruptly the scene above the board was pushed to the edge, replaced by the image of the girl and her friend stepping into the light. Sentarpen’s eyes gleamed: once again Fate would toss those two into another surprising twist.

    <I don’t get it,> Secloven murmured into his sister’s tufted ear. Neither took their eyes off of Jirachi, who was preparing to roll. <Why did Feisty go emo over the Cobalt guy living? That’s a Crushing prevented, after all.>

    Sentarpen didn’t move her gaze as she spoke. <It’s because they’re happy.>

    <Wow, being happy. That’s a huge problem. Nothing says “the world is going downhill” quite like happiness.>

    She ignored his sarcasm. <You have to be analytical about it. Think: the Severus is very horrible to the Rockets—>

    <Understatement of the year.>

    <—and they’re delighted that he’s been put in his place, even if it’s for just a little while. In fact, they are so happy that their aura just might attract somebody.>

    Unaware of the stares, Jirachi’s eyes narrowed slightly in concentration, and her tiny fist uncurled as the dice flew from it. They flew through the air for a brief moment, glinting in the board’s light.

    The smile slipped from Secloven’s face, and his eyes bugged in comprehension. <You mean … her?>

    <Exactly. And she just can’t wait to practice that new technique she’s learned.>

    He turned pale under his soft crimson fur. <Crap.>

    The dice clacked as they struck the board, their numerous sides whirling as they spun in a sort of bouncing roll. They skittered for a moment before abruptly coming to a halt, a total of eleven dark dots facing upward. Jirachi hesitated before she reached for the stack of cards. The Game was on; there was no turning back.

    * * *

    The brightness forced Leaf to squeeze her eyes shut; after the long, arduous trek through the dark passage, practically any light would be too much to handle.

    The noise was what got her attention: something snarling deafeningly, its growls ricocheting off the walls of the cavern. The beast seemed to have no need to pause for breath, for its snarl continued in a single long, grating, unbroken sound; yet every now and then it was punctuated by a sudden increase in pitch, rising almost to a low soprano, before returning to a deep, rumbling base. Whenever this happened, the scuffling sounds abruptly became more pronounced, and the mutterings of the human battling it became interrupted by a loud curse.

    Curiosity quickly overcame her better judgment, and she forced her eyes to open for the cold blue light. The luminosity stung unpleasantly, but that wasn’t what made her gasp: the cavern she had just stepped into was roughly conical in shape, its slanted walls dark and flawlessly smooth. She craned her neck to peer upward into its height. So tall? She had thought for sure that their endless walk had taken them at least somewhere in the proximity of the mountain’s peak, and yet it still stretched above them, evasive as ever. Disappointment seeped into her mind at this revelation. Making an exasperated face, she lowered her gaze to the abandoned Moon Shop. The depilated, lopsided building was little more than a glorified shack, its roof slanted unevenly over one of its grimy windows. Its wood was rotted, and knots splayed though its unspectacularly dull color. Yet the pockmarked rocks surrounding it, the source of the light, splashed it in a silver that made one almost imagine that its walls had been beautiful at some point. Lower still was the rocky, jagged floor, with cracks that spider-webbed ominously through it; it was unnerving to imagine just how deep they might reach.

    But the shadowy figure riding cowboy-style on the snarling, unidentifiable beast was what got her attention.

    “Damn it!” the figure hissed as the monster bucked wildly, clasping onto its horns to stay on. “Why don’t you move it already, you idiot? You’re supposed to help me, not let it kill me!”

    Leaf opened her mouth to retort, but then another familiar voice whined from somewhere in the shadows. <But I do not like it, Master! It is a savage demon, and it could crush me! Getting crushed is not what I was planning on doing when I did wake up this morning.>

    From her side, Lightning nudged her hard. “I know that voice!” he said excitedly, referring to the angry human. “It’s Fire!”

    Fire? What’s he still doing here? Then she noticed several small objects scattered on the ground, flattened and shattered: the remains of several Poke Balls. Oh, he’s trying to catch the thing. Makes sense. She remembered how he had saved her from certain death, and she blushed without knowing why.

    The beast swung into the light then, revealing its features. Rocky gray plates covered its tough-looking gray body. Its legs, like its sharp claws and the horn on its nose, were short and stubby. Its crimson eyes flashed in anger as it snarled menacingly, attempting to shake Fire; but he was sitting firmly between the two spikes which protruded from its back.

    Then he spotted the new arrivals watching from the entrance. “Well, don’t just stand there!” he yelled angrily, gritting his teeth as the Rhyhorn bucked again. “Bring it down!”

    Leaf and Lightning glanced at each other and shrugged. “’Kay, Peach, get ready for this one,” Lightning said, giving the small yellow mouse a knowing look.

    “No,” Leaf said suddenly.

    No?

    “I want my Pokemon to deal with this one,” she explained, grabbing a Poke Ball off her belt. “They need the experience for the next gym, since they actually need to win that one. Besides, electricity doesn’t do anything against rock-types.”

    “… You mean ground-types.”

    “Well, for all intents and purposes they’re the same thing, right?”

    “No.”

    “Whatever.”

    Paris and Frosti materialized in beams of red as bright as sparkling rubies, the silver of her shell and the flame of his tail shining brightly in the dim cave. Leaf tried to suppress her shock at the fact that Paris’s head now reached her knee. She’s growing up so fast, she thought fondly.

    <Look, Mommy!> the little Lapras chirped, using her indigo head to indicate the unorthodox rodeo. <That guy I beat in the place with all the trees is trying to fly! He looks so silly. But I think that horny thing is getting mad at him.> She giggled.

    “He is, isn’t he?” Leaf agreed, patting the Pokemon’s head. The Rhyhorn, she could see, was beyond mad: it was frothing at the mouth, its furious eyes red with rage. The guttural snarl issuing from its throat vibrated the stale air. Frosti flinched when its unfocused gaze passed over him.

    Cheri, watching it from her post around Leaf’s neck, looked unmoved by this show of wrath. <You’re wrong,> she said, sounding completely indifferent.

    “What? How does he not look mad?”

    The caterpillar rolled her eyes. <That isn’t what I meant. That Rhyhorn is female, you know.>

    Leaf did a double take. “Really? She sounds pretty masculine to me.”

    “I could’ve told you that,” the Pokedex said in an annoyingly helpful tone, abruptly forgetting its silence. “Perhaps you could let me give you some information that might shed some light on why it looks so incredibly stupid-looking—”

    “WHAT THE HELL?” Fire roared, grabbing the spikes tighter as the beast almost threw him off. “ARE YOU GOING TO JUST STAND THERE, OR DO I HAVE TO DO THIS MYSELF?”

    “… Or not. Fine, then. Be a pigheaded moron, you cowboy. By the way, your hat just flew off. It’s a very ugly hat, would you like me to obliterate it for you?”

    “Get over yourself, Fire. Okay, Frosti, start off with a Sunny Day to blind him – her, I mean – and then sweep in with an Iron Tail. Cheri, while he’s doing that I want you to jump in there and slow her down with a couple String Shots. Paris, can you land your adorable Growl on her?”

    <Yes, Mommy!> The Lapras nuzzled her trainer’s hand.

    “Great.”

    Frosti cleared his throat nervously. <Can I sit this one out? That thing looks rabid.>

    “No. Now get a move on it.”

    The fiery lizard cringed, but he nevertheless swung his tail around in a bright, fiery arc. Light from the shining rock rushed down with the sweeping movement, forming a small, bright, silvery orb a few yards above their heads. The flame on his tail grew startlingly blinding as it caught the surrogate sunlight. He then stiffened in shock as Cheri slid down off of Leaf’s neck and onto his head, ready to move in.

    Warily he darted toward the bucking Rhyhorn, sidling around behind her before she could catch sight of him. He concentrated for a brief moment, and soon his tail became a bright, shimmery silver, matching the orb above. Looking nervous, he swung his tail upward before slamming it down on the Rhyhorn’s behind with a loud crunch.

    <Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!> Peach chanted, leaning forward on Lightning’s shoulder as she watched eagerly.

    Growling, the beast clumsily turned around, murder in her eyes and a cursing Fire on her back. <Lizard must die!> she roared, twisting her head toward him with astonishing speed and sticking the sharp horn on her nose into Frosti’s flank. He screamed in pain, but she ignored him, instead yanking it out and twisting it into one of the many sections of Cheri’s body. The young Weedle cringed, but she nevertheless pulled her injured body away from the horn, leaving a gaping hole dripping with green bug blood. Gasping, she shot a sticky white string at the Rhyhorn’s feet, but the brute simply leapt over it with surprising agility. The rhino prepared to rake her lethally sharp horn through Frosti again, but a high-pitched purr distracted her, and she easily missed the Charmander.

    “Atta girl, Paris!” Leaf cheered, patting her on the head. She could feel the Growl’s vibrations through the contact, just a second before they stopped emanating from the sleek sea serpent’s throat. That thing is way tougher than I thought, she said to herself worriedly, watching Frosti dodge the Rhyhorn’s horn again. I need a better way of getting this done.

    <Leaf!> Frosti yelled, swiping at the beast with his claws. <She’s too tough for me! I really don’t like her—>

    The next Horn Attack was better aimed, stabbing him right in the gut. He gasped as it knocked the wind out of him, eyes widening before they went blank with unconsciousness. Limply he collapsed to the floor, Cheri leaping nimbly off of his head before impact.

    “Damn it!” Leaf exclaimed darkly, returning the fiery lizard back to his Poke Ball. “How am I supposed to do this? Cheri, try poisoning her!”

    The Weedle leapt into the air, somersaulting over the raging Rhyhorn, and landed smoothly behind her, stabbing her large rocky rear with her head spike. The skin was far too tough to be punctured, however, and Cheri was forced to jump out of the way as the furious rhino awkwardly turned around, snapping at the spot that she had just left. A swift movement caught the Rhyhorn’s eye, and she slowly twisted toward it, only to trip and fall hard on the stone floor, her stubby forepaws entangled in Cheri’s clever barrage of String Shots.

    Fire, still muttering profanities under his breath, grabbed another Poke Ball from his belt and threw it at the beast’s head, but she merely jerked it upward, smashing the ball with her spiked nose. The fragments spun wildly through the air before clattering lightly against the floor.

    A sudden burst of cheering erupted from below them, and everyone froze, listening. Despite the huge distance that must stand between the floor and the base of the mountain below, the noise was clearly audible.

    “Fabulous,” Leaf sighed, rolling her eyes. “Like this situation’s not crazy enough.” She glanced at the mouth of the tunnel behind her, as if expecting a horde of war-crazed Spartans to come bursting through it.

    Frosti’s fake silver sun flickered, then winked out into nothingness. The cave suddenly seemed horribly dark, in spite of the shining stones all around them, and the Rhyhorn crazily stared through Leaf, awaiting her next move …

    * * *

    Brock stood in the tall tent’s entrance, gazing (probably) out over the scene below. The busy action of numerous police and medical personnel, still herding evacuees toward safety, mirrored the thoughts bouncing around inside his head. If someone had walked up to him two days ago and told him that he was going to have to deal with Tyran, angry citizens, his possible unemployment, a very pretty brunette, the destruction of his city, and the arrival of Roark, he would have immediately brushed them off. Events like those could never happen all together in such a short space of time, he’d have told himself. And yet here he was, two days later, staring – well, seeming to stare – over the large makeshift camp at the flooded ruins. It was madness.

    His list of problems was far too long for his comfort. Somehow he was expected to make sure everyone was safe and on high ground. He’d need to go asking the nearby farmers beyond the wreckage for food to feed them all, as he was pretty sure that they hadn’t brought enough emergency rations to go around. And people needed to be kept somewhere, herded like sheep. Where were they going to go? It wasn’t as if somebody could just toss them into the Lost and Found.

    Putting the people problem aside for a moment – all right, for more than a moment – he grimaced as he remembered a clash from just a few hours ago. Some gorgeous blond girl had walked up to him, bold and anything, and slapped him. Hard. Then she started yelling about how he was weak and should have been able to stop the flood, and why was he wearing something that tacky, anyway? Even though she was long gone, her angry voice was still ringing in his ears.

    And then there was the other thing. He … looked … behind him into the tent, which was full of thin white cots, as it belonged to Nurse Joy. Several bandaged Pokemon rested on them, looking tired and bored. The Nurse herself hurried busily between them, back and forth, but she was passing by a particular cot far too often for Brock’s liking. The cot’s occupant seemed rather embarrassed by this.

    “Really, I’m fine,” he protested for the fiftieth time. “I’m not hurt or anything. Skipper made sure of that.”

    The gigantic mudfish standing by his side glowed with pride at these words.

    “Oh, don’t be silly!” the Nurse chirped, sounding even more giggly than usual. “You need to rest, and what better reason to rest than almost getting electrocuted?”

    “But—”

    “Hush!” she said, cutting him off. She reached his other side, placing a slender hand on his forehead. “Don’t get yourself stirred up. You need to just lay back, relax—”

    “But—”

    “I thought you didn’t hold for healing humans, Joy,” Brock said suddenly, startling both of them. “Or are he and Leaf different subspecies?”

    Joy was spared the need for a stammered excuse when the walkie-talkie on her utility belt squawked. The belt wasn’t very nurse-like, but emergencies such as these made such discrepancies unnecessary. It hugged her hips so tightly that she could only take rather small steps.

    Brock wanted so badly to be that belt.

    “Nurse?” the voice from the walkie-talkie repeated. Officer Jenny. Originally Brock had been following her all around the makeshift camp, but she had managed to lose him somehow.

    Hastily withdrawing her hand, Joy unclipped the walkie-talkie, bringing it up to face level. “I’m here!”

    “That’s good to hear, I’m sure. I’m guessing Brock’s with you?”

    “He is! Do you want me to put him on?”

    “For the love of Arceus, no.”

    Brock scowled.

    “Look, we’ll be having a meeting shortly. All the important people have to be there, you see. That means Brock has to be there for some reason. Are you listening, Brock?”

    He didn’t answer – not that he had to.

    “We need to come up with better solutions for this whole thing. I wouldn’t have minded just escorting the evacuees out first, but the mayor insisted that the sooner the problem gets solved, the better. I think he’s clamoring for city insurance or something. It’s not like I can argue with him, since I have to babysit Oak’s grandson. Anyway, it starts in a few minutes, so you both should hurry up and get here before I get annoyed or something.”

    “We’re on our way!” Joy said in a cheerful voice so cheesy that both the young men sweatdropped.

    “Good. Oh, and one other thing.” Here Jenny’s voice suddenly became soft and shy. “I, uh, need Roark to come too.”

    Brock’s overactive imagination kicked in at this point. He didn’t like what it was showing him.

    “We’ll probably have the Contest problem settled by the time you get here, you see.”

    The spiky-haired gym leader relaxed at these words.

    Joy rolled her eyes. “Oh, all right,” she sighed. “But I need to stay by him at all times. He might collapse, you know.”

    “I’m not going to coll—”

    “I know he’s perfectly fine, which is why I don’t want him to sit in bed all day. Besides, you’ll try and keep him there forever anyway, and he probably doesn’t want that, so at least respect what he wants.”

    “…Okay. We’re coming.”

    She clipped it back onto her belt and reached for him, but he leapt off the cot before she could grab him. A second later he was standing next to Brock, looking somewhat relieved. Skipper chuckled and followed them out of the tent, Nurse Joy trailing behind dejectedly.

    “She’s actually pretty scary,” he whispered conspiratorially as they made their way through the short, yellowing grass. He glanced behind to make sure she wasn’t eavesdropping. “Way worse than the one in Oreburgh. At least I could promise to see her later. The Oreburgh Jenny, now, she was really bad. She stole my shoe once, and apparently she was doing some really creepy things with it, since—”

    “Oh, shut up,” Brock growled, not looking at him. “Don’t go on and on about how much they drool over you.”

    “What—?”

    “And don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean, either!” Now that he had started, Brock realized that his internal dam had just burst. A few passing, limping civilians glanced up curiously at his volume, but he ignored them. “As if I don’t already have so much to do, you just have show up here at the worst possible time! Girls are supposed to be leaping up into my arms and gazing up at me while the rest of the panicked humanity swirls around us, but you’re distracting them! You know what, my life is turning into a pretty bad chick flick right now! I mean, why else would a jock get half-ignored by his own city when the nerdy cousin just shows up out of nowhere, and for no reason? You tell me that, and I might just listen to you!”

    He turned toward Roark then, ready to deliver another, harsher blow; but the words caught in his throat when he … saw … the expression on the redhead’s face. The puppy-dog eyes he was being given were probably capable of inducing an “awwww” reaction from even a cold-blooded killer.

    On an unimportant note, a passing little girl stared this expression for a moment before she pointed at him, looking up at her watchful mother and saying seriously, “Mommy, I want one of those for Christmas.”

    Brock could feel his own heart melting at the soft, insistent gaze. You cruel *******, he thought to himself. You just had to go shoot him down when he was starting to cheer up again. He glanced (possibly) away, mainly to avoid the shocked disbelief in those eyes, and found himself being stared at by Skipper. The buff Swampert glared at him murderously, looming protectively over his trainer.

    “Er … sorry,” he muttered apologetically, turning to look (apparently) over the chaotic mess below. His pride suffered slightly when he spoke the words, but at least a bit of the weight seemed lifted off of his shoulders. Besides, the chance that he would be smashed into the ground by an enormous mudfish had now dropped considerably.

    Roark sighed. “I’m sorry too,” he said, dropping his gaze. “I shouldn’t be distracting you with girl talk when people are dying.”

    Another pang of guilt stabbed through Brock’s conscience, this time for the people he had sworn to protect and yet had barely thought about.

    Skipper rumbled darkly, but subsided as Roark patted his nose. “And I already told you why I came here,” he continued. “For Contests. You heard that yesterday when I was telling Leaf.”

    “Yeah …” Brock paused for a moment, hoping to put the girl issue behind them. “But ... why here? There’s nothing wrong with the Super Contests in Sinnoh … well, nothing as far as Contests are concerned, anyway. You could’ve just ignored your dad and done those easily, and you didn’t. I don’t think you were telling the whole story the other day.”

    “Of course not. But it’s not a pleasant one.”

    “I’d hear it anyway.”

    “Did you ever hear the expression ‘ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies’?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Exactly.”

    Brock punched his shoulder playfully. “You’re such a nerd.”

    The Coordinator grinned. “Something wrong with that?”

    “No, but you would be so much more awesome if you were manly like me.”

    “… Where did that come from?”

    He shrugged. “I dunno. It’s true, though. Remember that family reunion a couple years ago, when your dad said to me, ‘Brock, my son won’t listen to me. Maybe you can convince him to cut his girl hair’?”

    “I do not have girl hair!”

    “Yes. Yes, you do.”

    “Do not!”

    “Do too.”

    “Do not!”

    “Do too.”

    “Do not!”

    “Do too.”

    “Do not!”

    “Do too.”

    “Do not!”

    “Do too.”

    “Do shut up,” Officer Jenny said wearily, her sudden appearance from within a nearby tent startling them. “Brock, the meeting’s in here. You weren’t looking where you were going, were you?”

    Brock blushed. “Of course I was,” he retorted defensively.

    She raised a blue-green eyebrow at him. His knees trembled; it was so easy to forget to overlook girls when they gave you that kind of look. Roark stifled a snicker at the reaction.

    Finally withdrawing her probing look, the officer changed the subject. “It seems like everyone’s here,” she said, counting them off on her fingers. “You and me — Jack and the mayor are inside — and there’s Joy right behind you.”

    A slender hand suddenly grabbed Roark’s shoulder. “Are you feeling okay?” its owner chirped, placing her chin on his other shoulder and grinning in an eerily cute way.

    Panicked, he tried to jerk away, but her grip was strong. Fortunately, Skipper was stronger, and the miner found himself easily yanked into the Swampert’s comforting grasp. Placing a paw on each of his trainer’s shoulders, the mudfish growled a soft warning at the young nurse.

    Joy turned pale, eyes widening. Roark would have felt sorry for her if she hadn’t been so terrifyingly overbearing.

    Brock seemed to feel sorry for her anyway.

    “Fear not, sweet nurse!” he exclaimed, leaping at her and throwing his arms around her in what was meant to be a protective hug. “I will save you! I can be your hero, baby …”

    Roark watched the look of stupefied disbelief on her face, and he desperately hoped that he hadn’t been wearing it just a few seconds earlier.

    “That’s enough,” Jenny sighed, rolling her eyes. “As if things aren’t weird already … anyway, Roark, we’ve talked about the Contest thing, and it’s been decided that even if there were a spot for it to take place—”

    He hung his head; he knew where this was going.

    “—A Contest really isn’t high on our priorities right now,” she finished apologetically. “I really don’t have time for keeping noob Coordinators from killing each other anyway. Not with that horrible excuse for a collector on my hands …” Her face suddenly lit up, as if by the metaphorical light bulb. “Say ... would you mind bringing Ocean with you? Ocean Oak? Just to keep an eye on him for a while, so he doesn’t get into any more trouble and I won’t have to be bothered with him. It’d only be for a few days.”

    He shrugged in consent, then gasped when she suddenly leapt forward caught him in a crushing hug.

    “Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!” she moaned happily. “He’s been so annoying! Now he’s out of my hair and I don’t have to watch him or listen to him go on and on about how he’s memorized the names of every subspecies of Magikarp!”

    “Need … to … breathe …” he wheezed.

    “Sorry!” she laughed awkwardly, releasing her hold and stepping back. The blood rushing to her face suggested that she had enjoyed that a lot more than he did.

    “The Contest in Cerulean is coming up in just a couple days!” Joy piped in, staring at them enviously and half-ignoring Brock’s embrace. “It’s not far, you could probably make it there really quickly. Although,” she added as an afterthought, “that means you could stick around here for a while longer.” She raised her eyebrows at him suggestively.

    He cringed at this remark. “I really need to take off, though, and Jenny needs the kid gone. But thanks anyway.”

    Looking at the expression on Brock’s face, he felt an aching pang of hurt at his cousin’s noticeable relief. As if he had nothing better to do than monopolize girls, he thought bitterly. He’s not even going to miss me. Still, the relief was not immediately obvious under the façade of regret that the gym leader was struggling to put up. It wasn’t very convincing, but Roark appreciated the effort.

    “Well, my half-sister who’s up on the mountain told me that the Rockets are causing some nasty earthquakes up there,” Joy said, grasping at straws. “Maybe, in case somebody up there is hurt, I could come with the two of you—”

    “NO!” everyone else yelled at the same time.

    “Joy, face reality,” Jenny explained tiredly. “People may or may not be injured up there. People are definitely injured here. Do the math.”

    “And we’d really move faster if it was just me and the other guy,” Roark added. He decided not to put in a “but thanks for the offer”, since that would only encourage her.

    “And I love you,” Brock cooed.

    Everyone stared at him. He … gazed … down at Joy for a long while before seeming to look up, noticing their incredulous gawking.

    “What?” he asked defensively. “It’s true.”

    * * *

    “If you’re smart, you’ll use Paris,” the Pokedex commented helpfully, ignoring the sound of the cheering as Cheri artfully leapt away from another potential goring.

    Leaf glared at it. “I’m not sending a baby like her into a fight against that thing.”

    <Hey!> Paris pouted, sticking out her lower lip. <I’m no baby, Mommy! I’m a big girl now!>

    “No, Paris, you’ll get hurt—”

    “Suit yourself,” the Pokedex said, shrugging. “But she’s got a wider moveset than that Weedle. Just throwing my two cents in here.”

    Leaf and Lightning simply gawked at it.

    “…What?” it asked rudely. “Don’t look at me that way! I am not an animal!”

    “You …” Lightning said shakily, “… y-you just shrugged.”

    “I did not shrug,” it retorted snappily. “It’s impossible. Everyone knows that Pokedexes can’t shrug.”

    “But you just did,” Leaf pointed out.

    “I did no such thing. Next you’ll be telling me I’ve grown another eye.”

    “…”

    “…”

    “What startlingly intelligent conversationalists. I really love your arguments, but could you at least pause for breath once in a while?”

    Leaf rubbed her aching temples; she didn’t need the Pokedex’s sarcasm in the heat of the battle. “Please, just tell us info about it. I’m not in the mood for funny business right now.”

    “Aw, you’re no fun. Rhyhorn, the Blockhead Pokemon. Gender is Female, like you didn’t know that already. Did you know that it has a brain whose composition is ninety-eight percent mineral? Meaning that its brain is literally MADE OF ROCK. Yeah, it doesn’t help that the thing is the size of your fist, either. It’s so stupid, it can only remember one thing at a time! And its nerve endings are pretty rocky, too, so it’s not going to feel any pain from whatever you throw at it. Not until tomorrow, anyway. Then it’ll get a pretty good idea of what a hangover is like, I think.”

    The girl tapped her chin with her fingers, thinking. “Stupid … one thing at a time … hmm. Paris, you’re going out there after all.”

    The little Lapras grinned and tensed, eager to battle.

    “The Rhyhorn might not remember to faint,” Lightning commented.

    That wasn’t comforting.

    “Kay, Paris,” Leaf said, ignoring him and keeping her eyes on the battle. Cheri leapt gracefully, almost as if dancing, while the Rhyhorn’s bulkier movements were reminiscent of some drugged cow, complete with a very unhappy cowboy. Beauty and the beasts, she thought, and chuckled inwardly. “I need you to give Rhyhorn a good dose of Water Gun. Then she’s going to look at us, and you can give her another one right in the face! Sound good?”

    <Yeah!> Paris cheered excitedly. Following the brute’s movements with her head, she opened her mouth and launched a solid stream of water through the air, striking her right in the side. Angrily she turned around, fuming, only to get a harsh eyeful of water. Screeching, she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to clear the water from them.

    “Great job! Now I want you to hit her hard with a Return, but don’t stick around to get hurt.”

    The Lapras gazed up at her trainer in admiration, her eyes turning into huge pink hearts. <I love you, Mommy!> she squealed happily, seeming almost to grow taller right before her trainer’s eyes. Then Leaf realized that she was floating on a large pink heart, which was swelling and rising off the floor like some mutant hovercraft. Hardly two seconds had passed from Leaf’s command, when Paris abruptly took off on her heart, racing above the cavern floor and weaving around wildly. Giggling, she dive-bombed the horned menace, slamming her into the ground with astonishing force. A few indigo scales flew off upon impact, clattering softly against the floor. She then rose swiftly into the air again, yelping <Wheeeee!> as the Rhyhorn groaned and picked herself off the floor, disoriented. Fire took the opportunity to get a better grip on the horn in front of him, grumbling inaudibly.

    Leaf stared in wonder. Cute, shiny, and powerful? She wished Skipper were here to watch. “Whoa, nice one! Now stick her with an Ice Shard before she tries to hit you! Cheri, try poisoning her again.”

    <It didn’t work the first time, did it, human?> Cheri muttered, but nevertheless tensed herself for her next attack.

    Paris aimed her open mouth towards the foe again, and a sudden barrage of small, jagged icicles rushed from within it. With shocking speed they whistled through the air, almost immediately slicing at Rhyhorn’s tough skin. Cheri swiftly sidled up alongside the beast, concentrating on the damp area that marked where the icicles had struck, and stabbed it with her sharp tail spike. This time it hit home, sinking deep into the rocky hide, softened by moisture.

    Yowling in rage, the Rhyhorn turned toward the caterpillar, drooling furiously. Her rotating body changed the angle at which the spike had entered, and Cheri, though she pulled as hard as she could, was unable to break free. The brute raised a stout paw, her stubby claws protruding ominously, and Cheri’s eyes widened as it began to descend, as if in slow motion, in a lethal Stomp that would surely crush her head.

    “Oh, Cheri!” Leaf yelled in horror, fumbling at the Poke Balls on her belt in search of the right one. Lightning and Peach gasped, eyes wide.

    Suddenly Cheri froze, twitching. A faint glow appeared around her body, distorting the view of the Rhyhorn behind her.

    Relaxing, Lightning looked at Peach. “They call this déjŕ vu,” he told her, pointing at Cheri.

    <I know, sweetie,> Peach retorted, rolling her eyes. But she patted his head, all the same.

    The Rhyhorn screamed in pain and shock as the glow around the tail spike (because Cheri was evolving all over the place, not just where she was visible) began to eat away at the portions of the body that it touched. The beast easily yanked herself away from contact: there was a dark, gaping hole in her side, larger than the tail spike. Its edges sizzled as dark blood oozed slowly downward, its flow as sluggish as mud. Leaf shuddered and looked away, turning back to watch Cheri, who was trembling violently but would not scream. Poor, brave bug, the girl thought, half-smiling in admiration at her Weedle’s courage.

    Golden goo began to drip from Cheri’s head spike, trickling down over her head. The trickle soon came on faster as a small stream; then it gushed down in full force, quickly encasing her shaking form. It hardened at an alarmingly fast rate as it poured down. The second her tail spike became fully coated, the glow abruptly faded, and the new Pokemon seemed to relax, although she still shivered from the memory of the paralyzing pain.

    Leaf gazed at the beauty of Cheri’s gold protective coat, which shone softly in the light of the surrounding stones. The Pokemon’s lower body was tapered to a point, and a pair of skinny, sharp arms was held close to her chest, as if for warmth or protection. Her dark eyes narrowed into an impassive glare, but nothing else indicated that she had once had a head.

    <Mmph,> she commented.

    “Oh, yeah! LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN! Ahem. Kakuna, the Hard Pokemon. Take that as you will. Gender is … what the hell, you already know what it is! Why do you keep asking me dumb questions?”

    “I didn’t—”

    “But you were going to, Naaaarrrrrrrgh! Eh, whatever. Kakuna are pretty much like Metapod, except they’re not on drugs. I guess that could make a lot of difference. Anyway, they mostly sit around doing nothing, because they’re such couch potatoes. Supposedly, it’s to preserve energy for their next evolution, but everyone knows that it’s really because their butts are really lazy.”
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 26th January 2010 at 1:53 AM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  7. #132
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    <Mmmmph?> Cheri asked wryly. Suddenly bouncing up onto her point, she stood upright. She jabbed her arms outwards towards the Pokedex, and a sticky string abruptly shot from each pointed arm. The strings hit the Pokedex’s speakers dead-on, and its indignant yells were comically muffled.

    Several yeards away, the Rhyhorn sat uncharacteristically still, staring in horror at the appalling wound in her side. Fire, taking advantage of her distraction, pulled another ball from his belt.

    And then, quite suddenly, all hell broke loose.

    * * *

    Victory tasted sweet; revenge and glory were even sweeter.

    That was the most obvious truth running through Cobalt’s head, borne through the air by Gina and his many underlings. As they ran under him, the wind ruffled his bloodstained wig, and he half-closed his eyes as he grinned at the sweet scent of unearthed minerals rushing towards him. He bounced contentedly as they happily attempted to navigate the uneven ground, their deafening cheers ricocheting off the walls and wafting towards the shadowy ceiling. Bulbasaur and Phlash ran alongside the horde of Rockets, the latter occasionally snapping playfully at the heels of stragglers. Glancing behind him, he smirked at the distant, pitiful figure of Severus, painfully dragging himself towards them. Returning his gaze towards the nearing excavation site, where several evil pink cult fairies were dancing in circles around the glorious silvery stone, he laughed as a beautiful idea formed in his mind: the grunts would be finishing the work under his command, not Severus’s. He would be the one to take credit for the unearthing of the Massive Moon Stone, not that unsavory executive. Promotion would be inevitable. The entire cave around him seemed to dazzle with the splendor that he was basking in.

    And yet something still nagged him.

    He tried hard to shut out the memory of Gina standing over his seemingly dead body, and yet he could still hear her words ringing in his mind, as clearly as if he were still lying prone in the pool of donated blood: “YOU KILLED MY BEST FRIEND!”

    Best friend.

    Inwardly he snarled in defiance at the statement. He was nobody’s friend. He had acquaintances, to be sure: grunts and junior admins and his own fellow admins, and executives and the Boss himself, all on a hierarchal chain of order. In the cutthroat quest for the Boss’s favor, grudging respect and sneering commandeering were his closest allies. He had neither the time, nor the capacity, nor the patience for friendship.

    And yet another part of him was treacherously touched by her words. There was something oddly refreshing in having somebody around who could look him in the eye without fear or disgust, somebody who could poke fun at him without fearing a negative report as a result. And really, if he was honest with himself, he enjoyed her company. Certainly more than the mindlessness of the many grunts under him. Not to mention that it was always nice to have somebody to balance him out, to catch him when he fell.

    How very poetic, he snapped sarcastically, trying to drive the feeling away. Next you’re going to burst into song and skip off into the sunshine. Get a hold on yourself.

    Perhaps he would have struggled with his inner emotions more, to create a deeply uncertain character complex. Perhaps, in time, he could have reached a conclusion that could have both solved his problems and eased his guilt at having them in the first place. Perhaps he might have really reached a point at which he would willingly burst into song and skip off into the sunshine.

    But, thanks to the giggler, the world will never know.

    * * *

    On the treacherous, sun-baked trails that climbed uncertainly upwards towards Mount Moon, as the sun began fall into the west on its journey toward sunset, one would expect to see a Spearow eating a dead Rattata, or perhaps a deranged child flaunting his shorts fetish.

    One would not expect to see a massive mudfish climbing steadily upwards, breathing heavily, with four passengers aboard for the bumpy ride; their combined weight would not pose nearly as big a problem to his injury as the crushing coils of an Onix would. A Pokemon snoozed comfortably in the arms of the human in front. Another Pokemon lay sprawled on the Swampert’s large head, and was gritting her teeth at the endless babble streaming from the second human.

    “So I dold hib dat I’d begome de greadest collegdor id de world,” Ocean was saying, sniffing heartily. “Ad he said do be, he said: ‘Oh really?’ Ad I gould’dt led hib hab de lasd word, gould I? So I gabe hib dis look, see, ad I said, ‘Yeah, really!’ Ad I guess he gould’dt really beliebe dat, so he raised his eyebrow, de lefd one, I dink, ad he said, ‘Do way!’ Bud I needed hib do see dat I was serious here, so I said—”

    <Please,> the Pokemon muttered, leaning her head against one of Skipper’s blue head fins. <Somebody. Shoot. Me. Now.>

    Closing his eyes, Roark took several deep breaths to calm himself. Hardly fifteen minutes in the excitable blonde’s company, and he was really starting to pity Officer Jenny – the Pewter Jenny, that is. He would never forgive Oreburgh Jenny for what she did to his shoe.

    “… I really liged Dyrad, he was fud. I jusd wish I gould habe agdually draid hib bedder. Ded he’d sdill be bide. I wish I had Leaf’s luck, she fides de Labras ad de Swamberd … Roarg, did you dow dat your Swamberd loogs exagdly lige Leaf’s? Bud I dink hers is fadder …”

    “…”

    “So you ad Brogg are gousids, den? I deber dew dad. Id’d be hard do guess, you dow, sidce you loog so differedt frob eajh other. Lige, how you're really, really pale, ad he's nod. And he does’dt habe eyes, bud you obviously habe eyes. I bead, loog at dose glasses! Dey’re, lige, edorbous! You really are a derd … id a good way, ob gourse! I dew a derd odce, he was fud. Bud den he fell off a cliff. Dat sugged for hib …”

    “…”

    “You eber heard ob Eebee? Ob gourse you habe. Eberyode’s heard ob Eebee. Beoble really lige Eebee begause id’s really rare ad sduff. Bersodally I dod’t really gare for Eebee, dough, id’s a bit oberraded. Bud beoble tell be dat I loog lige sobbody who’d traid ad Eebee. Dey dink I’d be dice do id ad ode day ebolbe id idto ad Ubreon. Well, agdually id’d be ode dight, since dat’s whed you cad ged ad Ubreon. Deir fluffy coads are dice, dough. I gould go ged ode ad shabe it. Den I gould habe a bare Ubreon! Hahahaha! Ged id, a bare Ubreon? You dow, bare, ad Ubreon …?”

    “…”

    He pulled out his Pokedex and a pair of earphones. “Bide if I plug id?”

    “Hmm … what? Oh, sure, go ahead, I don’t mind.” Yes! Please, for the love of Arceus, shut up!

    “Danks,” Ocean said, plugging the earphones into the ‘dex. He then put them into his ears and pushed a few buttons to access the radio function, and after a few seconds he began to bob his head up and down in time to inaudible music, leaning back comfortably against Skippers huge, broad tail.

    Everyone else relaxed in the glorious silence. For about three seconds.

    <Finally!> snapped the Pokemon sitting on Skipper’s head. <I thought he’d never shut his trap! But my poor head …>

    <Being thick-skulled comes in handy sometimes, then,> Skipper teased.

    She made a face. <Shut up.>

    Their trainer rubbed his aching temples with his wrists, one at a time, so as not to disturb the small Pokemon in his arms. She stirred and muttered something in her sleep, but quickly subsided in the soft, constant rhythm of Skipper’s footfalls. Her rotund, dark gray body boasted four stubby legs; their pale silver color matched that of the protective metallic coating on her head and back. A single blunt spike protruded from her back as well. Normally her eyes would be large, blue, and subtly demanding; but now, as she slept, they were gently closed.

    <I’m not sure how Emily could sleep through that,> Skipper remarked, referring to the sleeping Aron. He winced as he pulled himself up a particularly steep section of the trail.

    <I sure as hell wish I could,> the gray-and-blue Pokemon on his head muttered darkly. She peered up at the mountain looming above them, tilting her spiked, blue-domed head to get a better view. Her red, hawk-like eyes narrowed from the glare of the bright sky, and she crossed her stubby arms impatiently. <Man, Skipper, you’re so slow. Look, that Slowpoke over there is beating you.>

    Skipper glanced to his right. <Huh? What Slowpoke?>

    She smirked. <Ha, psyche!> she crowed, elbowing him in the fin.

    He made a face. <Aw, c’mon, Anni. I just came back, so cut me some slack.>

    <No chance of that, little bro. No chance.>

    <So who’s little here?> the Swampert retorted.

    “Say, Skipper,” Roark cut in, shifting Emily’s incredible weight to one arm, “speaking of Pokemon—”

    <Who’s speaking of Pokemon?>

    “I am, of course.”

    <That,> Anni cut in, <has to be the lamest. Excuse. Ever.>

    “I know. Anyway, Skipper, speaking of Pokemon, yesterday I heard you mention something … interesting.” He felt the Swampert’s muscles tense under him, and felt some satisfaction that he was getting somewhere with this. “You and Leaf were talking about somebody called Paris, and how there was ‘no need to let Roark in on this’—”

    <You did a great job of not letting on that you could hear me,> Skipper commented hurriedly, letting out a nervous laugh. <And hiding your surprise that she could, too. Your eyes only bugged out a tiny bit, but I think the glasses hid that—>

    “So I started wondering: who’s Paris?”

    <I think maybe only Brock noticed, but you can never tell with his eyes. If he has any. He’s a funny guy, that Brock—>

    “Who’s Paris?”

    <—His heart’s in the right place, but he’s a bit … what’s the word again? High-strung, that’s it. Takes everything far too seriously, except when there’s a girl around—>

    “Who’s Paris?”

    <I’m not at liberty to say.>

    “Come on, just tell me. What, do you think I’ll get mad or something?”

    <No … yes … oh, I don’t know!> The Swampert gritted his teeth, frustrated.

    “Does it have something to do with the time when you were … er … gone?”

    Silence.

    “Really now, Skipper. If something bad happened that I need to know, you need to tell me. Please?”

    Skipper lowered his head, uncomfortable. The movement involuntarily forced Anni to slide down his head. Caught by surprise, the Cranidos stopped her fall only just in time, grabbing at the front of his fins. She pulled herself back up, hissing in annoyance.

    <Well,> Skipper said slowly, seeming not to notice his sister’s discomfort, <I don’t know if I need to. You weren’t completely honest with Brock and Leaf, after all—>

    “That’s not the same!” Roark snapped suddenly, bristling. “It’s an ugly story. Horrific. Even if they’d wanted to hear it, and even if they didn't completely freak out, they would never, never understand.” Despite the blistering heat, he shuddered.

    <You’d never forgive him, then?>

    He chuckled humorlessly. “You know the answer there.”

    Skipper almost nodded, but caught himself in time. <Like Anni and I will never forgive our own dad.>

    Anni clacked her beak in distaste. <Bastiodon? Bastardon is more like it.>

    <Indeed. So all right, Roark, I’ll tell you. Just don’t be surprised if you find that you can’t forgive me, either.>

    “What? What do you—?”

    <Paris is my daughter.>

    The words dropped from his mouth almost of their own accord. They rolled heavily from his tongue, as if they were huge boulders to be used to seal his own grave. He continued to climb, feeling the rocky earth scratch his palms. He waited for their cries of horror, their accusations at his betrayal. Lowering his eyes meekly to the path he was traversing, he braced himself for their harsh words, and for Emily’s inevitable bawling when their shouts woke her up …

    “Your …” Roark began slowly. Then he drifted into silence. Skipper wished he wouldn’t; he’d rather take a barrage of screaming and disowning than a cold, looming stillness.

    But Anni was less subdued. <Your daughter? You run off into the middle of nowhere and have a daughter? Geez, Skipper. A daughter! Holy schist, do I look old enough to be a fricking aunt? Don’t answer that. A daughter! I never knew you had it in you, you lunkhead! For the love of fricking Mew! You go off and have a fricking kid and come back and never tell us? What the hell? How could you not tell us something like that, you retard?> She smacked him hard on the nose. <I’ve been a fricking aunt for who knows how damn long and I haven’t even seen this sweet little lovechild of yours and you never breathed a fricking word about the whole damn thing! Why the hell would you keep your big trap shut about it, you moron? Unless she’s a Bidoof. Then I might understand. But I have a niece! That’s so damn cute and creepy at the same time!> She squealed a very un-Anni-ish squeal.

    Skipper frowned. He hadn’t expected a response quite like that.

    <Did you hear that, Roark? Our little Skipper, all grown up! A freaking dad! Because evolving again obviously wasn’t enough. Way to drop the bomb, little man. Ugh, you gave me a fricking heart attack, Skipper!>

    Slowly, something began to dawn on him. <Wait … you’re not mad?>

    <Not mad? Of course I’m mad, bucko! Mad that you didn’t break the good news to us sooner! Geez.>

    His jaw dropped. <Good news?>

    <Well, duh.>

    “You’re serious?” Roark whispered finally.

    Skipper nodded.

    <Ugh!> Anni snapped, nearly slipping off again. <You did it again, Skip! And right in the middle of my dramatic pose, too!>

    <But …> he protested, faltering, <b-but I’m a father!>

    <Obviously.> He couldn’t see her expression, but he could tell that she was rolling her eyes. <That’s what happens when a guy has a kid. It’s not like we’re going to think you’re the fricking mother.>

    <I know,> he said, blushing deep purple. <But I meant that … well … what if I become like … like them?>

    <What are you … oh.>

    His words came out in a rush as he continued. <I mean, what if I ended up hurting her? Would I be really, really sad? Or would I just look the other way? It’s hard to say, guys. Look at our examples. I don’t want to turn into them.> He cringed at the thought.

    “But you love her,” Roark reasoned softly. “You wouldn’t want to hurt her in the first place.”

    Skipper was silent, his brow creased in thought. That argument had never occurred to him.

    Suddenly an arm was flung around his short, thick neck in a tight hug. “Oh, Skipper!” Roark sobbed, his face buried in a broad blue shoulder; the Swampert could feel his trainer’s tears absorbed into his skin. “You’re a dad! It’s so amazing! You were a cute little guy just last month and now you have a cute little girl and it’s just incredible—”

    <Really, Roark,> Anni scoffed, cutting him off unceremoniously. <Look at you, blubbering twice in two days! And you call yourself a man!>

    <Actually, he calls himself Roark.>

    The others groaned at the horrible comeback. Skipper grinned weakly at their response, and the grin turned into a grimace when Anni facefaulted and smashed her skull against his, but deep down he was elated. They still loved him, even though he was a father. And now, finally, he could fully trust himself to keep his daughter safe and sound.

    Of course, he’d have to fetch her back first. But that was a given.

    Ocean’s voice wafted behind them. “Hey, gad you geeb id dowd? I’b drying do rogg oud do ‘Besd of Both Worlds’ here.”

    There was an awkward pause.

    <Um,> Anni finally said. <Ew. Ew, ew, ew. Throw him off, Skipper. Now.>

    Abruptly, an explosion shattered that conversation.

    * * *

    Cobalt noticed something was amiss when he realized that he seemed to be the only human who could hear it; Phlash and Bulbasaur had paused to listen, but the mass of Rockets hadn’t. Frowning slightly, he turned his attention toward the annoyingly cute laughter, attempting to pinpoint where it was coming from.

    <Everybody’s so happy!> the unseen creature giggled. <Happy, happy, happy! I like happy. Wheeeeee!>

    The voice moved from the left to the right, before suddenly ascending high above the group, where she giggled happily, invisible. Cobalt felt an ominous feeling settle in his gut. The voice reminded him of a horror movie he had seen once, where a demonic thing had possessed a cheerful little girl and then proceeded to slaughter her parents, neighbors, and an annoying older kid who had teased her for wearing braces.

    <Their aura’s sooo pretty!> the voice chirped happily. <I like pretty. Pretty means happy. Happy means fun! And fun means games! Yay!>

    The Rockets, who were quite unaware that their aura was pretty, had almost reached the excavation site. Cobalt forced himself to ignore the voice, concentrating instead on the sparkling silver portion of the Moon Stone that had already been unearthed. The one he had ransacked from the museum (still securely situated in the canvas bag that he had not let go of, even in “death”) would be nothing compared to this marvel. The possibilities it would open up were endless; its potency was probably astounding. And by revealing its glory, he would cement his own. Giggling voices have no place here, he told himself sternly. Especially annoying ones. It’s all just a figment of your imaginat—

    Something exploded some distance to their right, sending debris flying in all directions and shaking the ground beneath their feet. The Rockets abruptly paused, their voices suddenly silencing. The echoes of their cheers rang eerily through the stale air.

    “I don’t think we planned that one,” a grunt said helpfully, biting his lip.

    Then Cobalt caught a glimpse of it: a bright pink Pokemon, darting playfully from boulder to boulder, far too fast for him to get a proper look at. Sadly, she seemed no worse for the wear from exploding just seconds before. She levitated a few feet above the air, sometimes rising and falling to the quick rhythm of her laughter. His eyes narrowed slightly as he considered her. Maybe she was worth something.

    “Over there!” he exclaimed, pointing at her; but she had already moved along by the time he had finished his sentence. “That Pokemon! Look, it’s—”

    An even bigger explosion cut him off. This one was directly in front of the Rockets, knocking several off their feet. The majority toppled like dominoes, falling hard on each other, while others broke away from the group and ran in all directions, shrieking in panic. Cobalt fell hard onto the ground as his bearers collapsed beneath him. Cursing loudly, he climbed awkwardly to his feet, only to hit the floor again as a yowling grunt smashed into him.

    “Fifteen minutes,” he muttered, pulling himself up again and diving into the terrified sea of red and black. “Just fifteen minutes, and we could have saved so much on that blasted insurance…”

    After several seconds of pushing and elbow-jabbing, he managed to clamber out of the swarming mass of grunts. Looking around, peering through the raining rocks and screeching Geodude which the blasts had dislodged, he saw the mysterious Pokemon begin to shimmer oddly, than release a brief flash of light. Several copies of herself suddenly appeared out of nowhere, all giggling and leaping around just as infuriatingly. Each then proceeded to explode at random intervals, creating looming clouds of dust that obscured any trace that the perpetrator was still there.

    <Let’s play Terrorist!> the original giggled, diving toward one of two large, somewhat tall structures on either side of the Moon Stone. The Clefairy surrounding it, realizing what she planned to do, squealed in alarm and darted away as fast as their fat pink bodies would allow. <The two Towers get destroyed first!>

    <Yay!> the Double Team clones all cheered in unison.

    Cobalt noticed a clone diving near him. Instinctively he ducked and rolled sharply to the side, narrowly avoiding being caught in another explosion. Pebbles rained on him a moment before he leapt to his feet. He started running toward the site, hoping to prevent too much damage, but a sudden thought stopped him in his tracks.

    “Gina!” he cried out, swiveling around only to get knocked down by yet another fleeing grunt. Swearing darkly, he looked out at the mass of people, but failed to see any sign of his fellow admin. Jumping to his feet again, he pulled two Poke Balls off of his belt and aimed their beams of red light randomly through the swarm. The lights hit a pair of grunts, who yelped as they hit the ground, stunned. He swore again, trying to get a better glimpse of his Pokemon.

    <We're coming, Weird Hair Guy!> Phlash's voice cheerfully wafted towards him, and a second later he saw her rushing towards him with a mouthful of indignant Bulbasaur. The freckled toad looked intensely annoyed, but so would anyone else who was getting dragged around by a psychotic weasel.

    Nodding unconsciously to himself, Cobalt put the Poke Balls back. Glancing back up towards the mass of panicky people, he hesitated, wondering if he should stay and wait, or go and defend.

    The shimmering light of the Moon Stone won him over.

    Screams echoed about him as he dashed for the excavation site. Detonations blasted around him, creating ominous craters in the floor. He heard the sharp clacking of Phlash's small claws against the stone as she ran, and Bulbasaur's grunts of discomfort. As he neared the site, he watched the strange creature slam into one of the tall structures, blowing up upon impact. The bottom half exploded into a floating, dissipating cloud of dust, while the top flew halfway across the cavern, spinning wildly. Almost against his will, Cobalt whipped his head around to watch the awesome sight of a two-ton hunk of metal soaring through the air. It clipped Severus’s head as it passed, and the greasy executive smashed against the floor, unconscious.

    Cobalt would have grinned were it not for the fact that the creature had just destroyed the mechanism that kept the earthquake-making machine from working perpetually.

    Sentarpen gritted her teeth as another grunt died. <More Crushings, indeed.>

    <It’s my turn!> Jirachi pouted. <Gimme those dice!>

    <Say "please",> the cat-like Pokemon said softly.

    <I don’t want to.>

    Sentarpen shrugged and passed her the dice.


    The stone beneath their feet could never hope to conceal the sound of the blast far below. Squeaking in fear, Peach grabbed at Lightning’s shoulder, eyes wide. Cheri’s eyes narrowed even further, and she peered keenly at the trembling floor, keeping perfect balance. <Mmmph,> she muttered to herself.

    “Cheri,” Leaf said slowly, looking down nervously, “what was th—?”

    The next explosion was big enough to actually blast a hole through the floor, sending chunks of rock flying everywhere. Cheri was sent flying, and she flailed around in the air for a second before Leaf hastily recalled her. Several rocks smashed into the walls, sending down showers of pebbles that rained down heavily.

    Lightning did what almost any other red-blooded Kantoan male would do: scream like a little girl.

    “Shut up!” Leaf yelled over the thunder of falling stone. “Something’s going wrong, guys, we need to get out of here!”

    “No, really?” Lightning shot back, panicking. “I thought explosions only happened when something goes right! Way to be obvious, Leaf!”

    Fire, being Fire, ignored them. He calmly tossed the Poke Ball at the Rhyhorn’s head, and she, being frozen in shock from the explosion and her horrific wound, never saw it coming. It sucked her in easily, landing gently on the floor with a soft clack. Fire no longer had a Pokemon to sit on, however, and landed with a loud thud and a curse. But the Ball snapped shut, and three seconds passed – drawn out infinitely long by the tension in the room – before it dinged cheerfully.

    “There,” he said shortly, picking it up as he got to his feet. “I finally bagged this savage thing. No thanks to you losers.”

    Leaf’s retort was cut off by another explosion. No hole appeared in the floor this time, but a few of the cracks suddenly widened considerably.

    <Everything’s so loud, Mommy!> Paris observed cheerfully, still floating several yards above the scene. <It’s like a giant’s come to play! Do you think he likes tea, Mommy?>

    “Paris!” Leaf hurriedly aimed the Poke Ball at the Lapras, but she was twisting around on her floating heart, causing the red beam to miss. Glancing at the ominous floor over which Paris glided, Leaf cringed when she realized that she’d have to traverse the treacherous ground. Glancing at the far side of the cave, she analyzed the tunnel there, the one that could take them back down and out of the mountain. The floor seemed relatively stable over there, but the thought of going over there on foot was terrifying. Still, she knew that would be what it took to get them out of the cavern, before it turned into a death trap of cascading boulders.

    “What’re you doing?!” Lightning exclaimed in shock as she suddenly darted over the cracking ground. He and Peach gasped in unison as a small, jagged section of the floor suddenly gave way the moment she had taken her foot off it.

    “Getting out! Both of you’ll have to, too,” she shouted over the cacophony of clacking stone, aiming this last remark at Fire as well. She moved quickly but carefully, aiming every footfall for a spot that didn’t look like it could cave at any moment. Closing in toward the spot that was beneath Paris, she aimed the Poke Ball upwards, but missed as the young sea serpent, giggling delightedly, swerved around on her magical pink hovercraft. The trainer was at a closer range than before, however, and when she aimed again, the beam of red light hit the Lapras dead on, sucking her into the Ball easily. The heart, no longer having a rider, vanished in a puff of pink smoke.

    Lightning shook his head in disbelief. “You’re crazy!”

    “So are you,” Fire sneered. “But she’s right. It’s not in my best interest to just sit here while I can still get out alive.”

    Saying this, he turned and followed Leaf’s lead, sprinting over the floor. Peach nudged Lightning, pointing towards the opposite side and then giving him an injured look.

    “Yeah,” the blond boy muttered, seeing what she was getting at. “I can’t really let you get hurt just because I’m scared, can I?” Taking a deep breath, he tensed himself, then began to bolt in the direction of safety.

    But, of course, they couldn’t expect that it would be that easy. The floor beneath them suddenly jolted into a frenzied shaking, causing them to stumble in imbalance and alarm. The jagged cracks were definitely wider now, as dislodged boulders pounded holes in the stone. With an almighty leap, Leaf threw herself towards her goal, flying through the air for a moment before hitting the refreshingly solid floor of the tunnel, bruised but safe. Groaning, she picked herself up from the cold stone, rubbing her sore arm. She turned and was startled to see Fire’s Drowzee waddling drunkenly into the tunnel, evident relief on his piggish face.

    <Master is having a problem,> he commented nasally, turning to watch the boys traverse the makeshift minefield. He cringed as another blast blew a hole right in the spot where Lightning was about to put his foot, and the blonde managed to avoid it only just in time, hastily twisting his foot towards a different spot.

    Leaf patted his oily head absentmindedly, but immediately regretted it. Disgusted, she wiped her hand on the rocky tunnel wall, feeling it shake wildly all around her. “I know,” she said a bit sharply, disguising her fear as anger. “If they don’t survive this, I swear I’m going to kill them.”

    <Is that not redundant?> Drowzee asked stupidly, looking up at her over his long, suggestive nose.

    The girl ignored him, keeping her full attention on the others. Fire had started the dangerous trek first, but the earthquake had forced them to drop to their knees and crawl at a ridiculously slow pace, and Lightning seemed to be the slightly faster crawler. He easily passed Fire, and the brunette scowled darkly at the smaller boy when he realized he would be beaten.

    “Gosh!” Lightning gasped as he finally reached Leaf, collapsing on the tunnel floor. “Never again! That was the worst—”

    BARRRRRRROOM!

    The hugest blast yet had them scrabbling to find a firm hold on the tunnel walls, grabbing at its rough, uneven sides. Clenching their teeth, they turned their heads to watch the entire floor behind them explode upwards, shimmering in the glowing silver light. The shack flew up with it, breaking up into single planks that twisted effortlessly through the air with the shattered stones. Then a figure rushed through the air towards them, and they gasped to see that it was Fire, flailing wildly through the air. For the first time in her entire life, Leaf saw panic distort his features, sweeping his façade of unemotional disinterest into some dark corner. Her eyes widened when she realized that he wouldn’t make it. He would fall close to them, she predicted, but they would be unable to grab him and keep him from falling down, down, down, into a hellish ruin below—

    An image flashed before her eyes: she sat in the McDonald’s with Lightning and Brock only the other day, listening to their words in curiosity. The normality of the scene seemed to be a world apart from the nightmare she was trapped in now. She remembered the tenseness in their eyes (at least Lightning’s, anyway) when they had related her narrow escape, and how they still seemed relieved that Fire had saved her from a horrific death …

    “Drowzee, Hidden Power!” she heard herself yell. She pushed herself from the trembling tunnel wall, throwing herself to the floor and gasping at the jarring vibration. Pain lanced through her body as she slid towards the edge, ignoring Lightning's shocked protest. Distantly, in the corner of her brain that had retained rationality, she hoped that Drowzee had the sense to listen to her.

    Luckily he had. She saw the bright silver light arc over her, easily reaching the edge of the tunnel before she did. It formed into a long, shining, flat surface, which attached to the edge and extended a good ways over the terrifying nothingness below, As she moved onto it, the change was immediate, for the surface did not shudder as the rest of the mountain was. Suddenly her head felt clearer in the sudden, relative stillness. The rim of the surface flew towards her at an alarming rate, and she put her hands before her to slow herself. She skidded to a halt just in time, and she saw Fire fall swiftly towards her, fear shining in his eyes. Knowing she would only have one chance, she hooked her legs around the surface to secure herself and extended her hands outwards.

    “REACH!” she yelled over the cacophony of the disaster.

    Half a second later she had grabbed his outstretched arms, feeling his weight pull at her, straining the hold on her legs. Beads of sweat popped up along her brow, and she gritted her teeth as she heaved him upwards, knowing that only air separated him from the distant stone floor far, far below. Her muscles screamed in protest, and every portion of her body shrieked in agony, but she refused to relieve them by letting go. Jagged bolts of pain stabbed through her back as she dragged Fire, inch by excruciating inch, upwards towards her. She could barely tell how long it had taken – for a moment it seemed that nothing had ever existed but this – but suddenly he was there, kneeling in front of her. She realized that she was sitting, but she couldn’t remember pulling herself into that position. The ragged gasps of breathing seemed to tear at her throat. It was impossible to tell who was trembling harder.

    “You saved me?” he whispered. His eyes were still wide, but now the fear was fading from them, to be replaced with wonder, gratefulness, and curiosity – more emotions that she had never seen there before.

    Her head swam as she blearily peered at him. Rubble rained down around them, and she swayed slightly to the side as one whistled past her. He caught her before she could lean too far. Darkness started to close in around her, and her eyes fluttered in exhaustion.

    “Well, you saved me first,” she replied weakly.

    Then she fainted.

    <Yay!> Jirachi squealed happily. <That didn’t take much effort! Now I can—>

    <Like, no way, man,> cut in a large, floating blue Pokemon, brandishing tough-looking arms which boasted sharp claws. With its broad, disc-like body and piercing red eyes, it probably would have looked intimidating if not for the stupid-looking spike on its face that passed for its nose. <It’s, like, my turn. Your guys are, like, totally crusin’ at the moment. But my dudes need to, like, not get totally wiped out, y’know?>

    <But—>

    <Give it the dice, Jirachi,> Sentarpen said, not taking her eyes off the shifting scenes in the Game.

    <Oh,
    fine,> Jirachi muttered, pouting as she passed the Metang spirit the dice.

    <Y'know, they chose their Chosen One pretty well,> Secloven muttered sideways to his sister, eyes narrowing slightly in the light of the Game. <A lot of proud noobs would just let their hugely annoying rival fall. That'd be satisfying to them, and they wouldn't really be bothered, since they're so callous and stuff.>

    The huge black cat nodded in response, and her curved fangs glittered as she smiled. <I know. This one seems to have just a bit more to her. But she's still a bit dull, in my opinion.>

    <Yeah. She'll blow her top when she hears what Lady Arceus has planned for her, though.> He laughed softly. <That's a benefit to sticking with whatever side is winning. If we don't want Feisty to trap us with their plan, we should help these kids on their quest, or something. Be guardian angels and all that crap, y'know?>

    <Of course. But we cannot make things
    too easy for them, can we?> she said slyly, winking at him.

    He caught the look and grinned mischievously. <I like the way you think.>


    There is a man in Sinnoh who claims that prolonged exposure to the type a gym leader specializes in can, over time, breed a certain sort of empathy between him or her and Pokemon of that type. The man goes on to say that it has something to do with the gym leader’s aura getting attuned to the type, allowing him or her to better understand how those Pokemon feel or intend. The theory is an interesting one, but as the man currently wanders homeless in the abandoned mine of Iron Island, with no one but his mystical blindfolded jackal for company, the theory's overall stability is naturally questionable. It does, however, explain how Brock was able to sense Tyran's outrage in spite of the fact that the gym leader, at the time, had been hanging out in the back room behind the gym, rocking out to heavy metal with the volume cranked up full blast.

    It also explains why, when the muffled explosions abruptly blasted from within the mountain ahead, Roark suddenly gasped and clutched at Skipper's shoulder with his free hand. Anni merely gave him a sideways look and asked, <What's with you?>

    "Well," he said, recovering a bit from his shock, "I felt a sort of disturbance in the ... in the Force, you might say. As if a hundred Geodude cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."

    The dinosaur scoffed at him. <Way to be, Obi-Wan. You think they've been flung into orbit, then?>

    He shrugged, returning Emily to her Poke Ball before she could stir. "I dunno. Skipper, keep a firm hold on the ground while you climb, 'kay? Those explosions could trigger more earthquakes."

    Skipper, grabbing at the earth more tightly, continued to pull himself up. <I got it.>

    Ocean pulled the headphones out of his ears, frowning. "Did I biss sobeting?"

    “No. Just a potential bombing up in the mountain, that’s all. And we’re going in there to investigate.”

    “Whad?” Ocean gasped. “Are you grazy? I dod’dt wadt do go ub dere! I’ll ged gilled for sure …”

    <Oh, just trust your feelings, young Jedi,> Anni commented, stretching lazily. <Do that, and the Force’ll be with you.>

    Roark gave her a look. “Okay, I think you’re taking this analogy too far.”

    “Whad?”

    “Nothing. Anyway, you have to come with us. I promised Jenny I’d watch you, and that’s not easy when you’re sitting safe inside the nearest Pokemon Center while I’m battling it out with terrorists. Or suicide cults, or whatever.”

    At this point they had reached the Pokemon Center in question, and Skipper paused for a moment, catching his breath. The mountain loomed above them as only a mountain can, frowning as the ominous vibrations of each blast rumbled forth from it. They masked the roar of the rushing Moon River nearby.

    “Bud you dod’dt habe do baddle id oud,” Ocean protested. He looked toward the Center, where he saw several terrified faces pressed against the windows. He grinned and ran a hand through his spiky hair when he noticed a couple of girls giggling, but the grin slid off his face when he realized they hadn’t even noticed he was there.

    “Well, technically I do,” the other explained, trying his best to keep his patience and ignore the rabid fangirls. “It’s a gym leader’s responsibility to make sure the area’s safe. Since Brock’s been too busy to investigate, it’s up to me to do that, even if I’m not really a gym leader anymore. You know, since I have authority and experience.” He let himself smirk with pride for a moment. Then he frowned as a thought occurred to him. “Although … I wonder why Misty hasn’t looked into this. Mount Moon is in her domain too, after all.”

    <That's a good point,> Skipper commented, nodding thoughtfully. <She should've investigated the quakes in the first place, I think—>

    <DAMMIT, SKIPPER!> Anni roared as she tumbled off his head, landing face-first on the ground. <I TOLD YOU TWICE ALREADY TO STOP DOING THAT! WHY DO I HAVE TO BE THE BUTT OF ALL THE JOKES CAUSED BY YOUR IDIOCY?>

    The Swampert cringed. <Sorry,> he said meekly.

    <SORRY? THAT'S ALL YOU CAN SAY?> She leapt to her feet angrily, spitting out a mouthful of dirt. <I'LL SHOW YOU WHO'S GOING TO BE SORRY, YOU LITTLE—>

    "Save it for later, Anni," Roark chided, sliding a little awkwardly off of Skipper's back. "We need to check this thing out. Ocean, get off Skipper's back, he can't protect us when we're in there if we're sitting on him."

    Ocean gave him a guarded look. "Prodegd us frob whad?"

    "Nothing you need to worry about. At least, not if you're wearing a helmet."

    "Fabulous," the younger boy muttered, taking a deep breath before jumping off, landing almost gracefully next to his companion. "Jusd dod't be surbrised if I rud off whed de whole blace gabes id, all righd?"

    "Like I said, Skipper'll protect us."

    Skipper rolled his orange eyes as they started toward the yawning entrance. <You wouldn't get three paces anyway, buddy.> A faint, barely perceptible vibration began move the ground beneath them, ever so slightly, but his broad paws were also quite sensitive. <Hmm. Seems like there's a bit of disturbance—>

    <In the Force!> Anni intoned mystically, before she snickered in satisfaction.

    Roark groaned, facepalming. Ocean gave him a "one of us is crazy and I don't think it's me" look.

    Then, suddenly and quite inconveniently, the earth began to rock violently beneath them, sending them all tripping and falling in various directions, trying and failing to regain their balance. Hitting the tough ground, Skipper gritted his teeth as he slowly, unsteadily, pulled himself to a standing position. The others' yells were drowned out by the deep rumbling of the massive earthquake, but a loud clattering sound still reached him. As he looked up at the shaking mountain above, he was horrified to see a barrage of dislodged boulders begin to slide down its rocky sides, gathering speed as they tumbled. It was obvious that the rock slide would crush them if they couldn't get into the tunnel in time.

    Grunting in concentration, he summoned the familiar waves around his arms, letting them circle for a moment to gather speed and momentum before letting them fall to the ground in a powerful rush. The water rushed around himself and his friends, picking them up in the artificial flood; somehow, even without looking, he could feel his Whirlpool bearing them, the water seeming to mute the vibrations of the rumbling. He then focused on the mouth of the tunnel, silently willing his waves to bring them there, and they obeyed his unheard call. They roared almost eagerly, rushing towards the dark threshold of safety, pounding roughly against the shaking earth.

    Then they were through.

    And not a moment too soon. As the welcomingly cool shadow was suddenly thrown over them, Skipper heard an ominous, thunderous splash sound behind them, and the sunlight which streamed through the yawning entrance abruptly ceased, throwing them into darkness. They floated there in the water, hearing rather than feeling the shaking of the mountain around them. The humans' teeth chattered audibly from the sudden drop in temperature. The Whirlpool remained beneath them, carrying them calmly down the shaking tunnel. It soon split in two, and, gravity being what it was, they floated serenely downward through the tunnel on the right.

    A splash broke the almost calm eeriness. "I'b-b s-so g-g-gold!" Ocean wailed nasally.

    Skipper heard Roark gasp. "Wha—? Oh. Okay, then, that's good to know. Just one thing."

    "Whad-d?"

    "STOP HUGGING ME!"

    "Oh, s-s-sorry."

    There was a brief pause.

    <Well,> Anni said finally, <this is awkward.>

    <Like whoa, man,> the Metang breathed in awe. <Those dudes are, like, surfing! That was so, like, totally rad! I'm, like, in awe of their mad skills, man!>

    <That is fine,> Sentarpen said patiently. <But if you don't mind, I would like the dice now.> She reached out with a black paw, giving him a knowing look.

    The metallic Pokemon looked crestfallen. <Aw, man. But I was, like, cruising! Like my guys were with those wicked waves, man!>

    <Like, I know, man,> Secloven put in, before he could stop himself. Several of the surrounding Pokemon spirits snickered appreciatively.

    Sentarpen gave him a look. He grinned weakly in response as she took the dice.


    The sudden earthquake sent Cobalt tripping and falling face-first to the ground. Cursing, he tried fruitlessly to pick himself up from the rocking floor, and in the end simply tossed his bag over his shoulder and started to crawl awkwardly towards the glimmering Moon Stone. He moved slowly over the uneven, violently shaking ground. His pulse quickened as the remaining distance was slowly but steadily swallowed up; it was only a few yards away, tantalizingly just out of reach. Almost there—

    <Wheeeeee!>

    “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” he howled, eyes narrowed in fury as he watched the strange pink Pokemon dive at the Massive Moon Stone with impossible speed. She hit it with incredible force, and the resulting explosion sent him sprawling flat on the floor again. Hearing boulders thud ominously around him, he covered his head with his arms. The rocky ground was rougher here, and the jagged stone scraped his hands, knees, and face. He trembled as tears of rage streaked down his dusty cheeks, stinging as they rolled over his bleeding cuts. An uninterpretable hiss whistled through his clenched teeth. A few small shards of rock bounced painfully against his body, but none that would do any real damage. He barely felt them anyway; his shoulders were shaking with his ragged breaths. I’ve failed him, he thought miserably, picturing the disappointed look on the Boss’s face when he arrived empty-handed. The letdown was more than he could bear.

    <Oh!> He heard Bulbasaur suddenly cry out in surprise, followed by a startled squeal of delight that could only have come from Phlash. He ignored them. There was no point anymore.

    <Why are you sad?> a voice directly in front of him asked. <People shouldn’t be sad, they should be happy! Don’t you like our game?>

    His fingers clawed at the ground in fury as he recognized the voice’s owner: it was the mysterious pink Pokemon, come to add insult to injury. She had destroyed his glorious dream, and now she wanted him to be happy about it. His lips tighted angrily as he started to push himself back to his feet, fully prepared to give her a taste of his pain.

    Then he actually saw her. His eyes widened in incredulity, and his sting of his crushing failure was obliterated by complete and total shock. This had to be some huge practical joke, he knew. It was too much, on top of everything else.

    <It’s her!> Bulbasaur hissed excitedly behind him. He didn’t turn around to acknowledge her confirmation. He couldn’t even hear her. There was only astonishment and and wonder in his mind as he stared at the creature before him.

    It was Mew!

    He had never seen her before, of course, but there was no mistaking her. The cat-like Pokemon was small and skinny, and her seemingly fragile body, levitating serenely in the air hardly two feet above him, was covered in fine pink hair. Her long, rabbit-like feet and lengthy tail sharply contrasted with her short, stubby arms. A pair of triangle-shaped ears graced her feline head, and her baby-blue eyes locked his deep green ones in a gaze that seemed to pierce through to his soul. His breath caught as she cocked her head to the side curiously.

    <Don’t be mad,> she said kindly, lowering herself until her face floated just above his. <Being mad never helped anybody. It feels better to have fun!>

    He felt like he was drowning in those eyes. A pleasant fuzziness was starting to creep over him. He frowned slightly, his brow creasing in thought. Why did he want to hurt her again?

    She batted her eyes at him, giggling. <There, you’re not mad anymore! Your aura’s so much prettier now!> A stray, microscopic pink eyelash fluttered down invisibly and landed in a bleeding gash on his outstretched palm, but neither of them noticed. <But this game is almost over anyway. I’m going to win again, isn’t it great?> She giggled once more.

    He felt himself smiling back; her good mood was infectious. All thoughts of the Gina, Severus, the Rockets, and everything else were gone, and there was only a cheerful, buoyant happiness. He could barely feel the violent shaking beneath him.

    A Double Team clone corkscrewed through the air nearby, laughing cutely. <Yay! We blew the Pentagon up!> she cheered happily, soaring above him before exploding against the other structure, which, conveniently, was the mechanism that caused the earthquakes. Abruptly the rocking ceased, and though rocks still rained down upon the excavation failure, there was suddenly an underlying sense of an almost eerie calmness.

    It was the clone’s shadow, throwing the floor before him into temporary darkness, that made him frown again. The shadow reminded him of another shadow on a night long ago, although that one had blocked the moonlight, its owner diving towards him as he shivered, half-dead, in the snow … the wonder that had filled his eyes, the smile that had formed on his blue lips, before he had passed out … the time he had seen it.

    That made him snap out of it.

    “Get over here, you little—” he snarled, abruptly leaping to his feet, but Mew easily floated away from his grasping hands. His bleeding cuts started to throb faintly, but he ignored them. They could be dealt with later.

    <Silly boy, tricks are for kids!> she giggled, somersaulting through the air before soaring away towards the very center of the cave. Her clones giggled with her before all exploding in unison, and their self-destruction was very gratifying.

    <Ooh, I love Trix!> Phlash commented. From the sound of her voice, she seemed to be drooling.

    Cobalt turned his head, following her with his eyes. Nearly all the Rockets were stampeding this way by now, not seeming to notice that Mew was floating over them. He released a pent-up, disgruntled sigh, knowing he would have no chance to catch her. Looking back ahead of him, he saw the silvery shards of the Stone scattered sadly. It was a sorry sight, but the gears in his mind began to turn as he regarded them.

    <What are you doing, you idiot?> Bulbasaur hollered as the admin suddenly darted nimbly toward the ruined site, reaching the fragments of Stone in just a matter of seconds. Scowling darkly, she unsteadily began to follow him, taking slow, careful steps.

    “Using my brain!” he yelled back over the noise of the clones' continued detonations.

    <Well, that’s news to me!>

    <Weird Hair Guy, you forgot your bag!> Phlash exclaimed rabidly. She leapt down, grabbed the neglected sack with her pointed fangs, and rushed towards him in a streak of grease-colored lightning. Within half a second she had reached him, wagging her tail eagerly as she drooled.
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 21st September 2009 at 12:47 AM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  8. #133
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    “Er … thanks,” he said, taking the slobbery sack from her maw. She instantly zipped back to fetch Bulbasaur, who already knew what was coming and consequently looked disgusted. Knowing he didn't need to worry about them, he leaned down and grabbed piece after shattered piece of Moon Stone, tossing them one after another into his bag. The Rockets should at least have something to show for this disaster, and he'd be the one to save the day.

    "Cobalt, let's go!"

    "Wha—?" He swiveled around, and the word died half-finished in his throat. Galloping up behind him was Gina, riding cowgirl-style on Tartar, who chewed on a Poffin happily. Most of the grunts were swarming behind her, eagerly pushing at each other in their haste to escape. He glanced from the huge, testosterone-packed bull, to his rider. She nodded to him, as if reading his thoughts. Or maybe that was just the motion of the wild galloping, it was impossible to say. Tensing himself, he took the bag in his teeth (wincing at its unexpected weight) and waited until Tartar was almost on top of him; being stupid, the idea that he could simply turn and pass the unmoving admin never occurred to the hairy Pokemon.

    Then, ignoring the pain lancing throughout his body, Cobalt grabbed at the lethally sharp horns protruding from the bull's head, pulling himself into a sharp somersault and suddenly landing deftly on Tartar's shoulders. The bull snorted in surprise, but Gina, who seemed unfazed by Cobalt's flip, hastily shoved another Poffin into the Pokemon's mouth, and he accepted it happily with a contented <Umm>.

    "Way to take a bull by the horns, Cobalt!" Gina yelled, grinning at him. He merely groaned in response, taking the canvas bag out of his teeth.

    Suddenly Phlash jumped up into his lap, holding Bulbasaur in her mouth. <You got the shiny stuff?> she asked, spitting the disgruntled dinosaur out and wagging her slobber-coated tongue around.

    A sudden <WHEEEEEEEEEEE!> cut off his reply. He swiveled around, hoping to Arceus that Mew wasn't going to jump in his lap as well. Exploding would be too much, even for him. Luckily, she was nowhere near him.

    That was the good part. The bad part was that she hit the center of the huge cavern half a second later, creating an explosion that would put all the other ones to shame, and then immediately winked out, vanishing for good. Cobalt gritted his teeth against the jarring shock wave that burst past them, but that was the least of their problems. There was a great rush of dusty wind that had suddenly picked them up and flung them through the air, and they were flying ungracefully through the air, grunts squealing and pinwheeling, Tartar snorting and pawing uneasily. The wigged admin gripped the Tauros's horns tightly, watching the floor fly under them with incredible speed. The hairs on his wig whipped wildly about, smacking at his face annoyingly.

    A deep, ominous rumbling above them caused him to glance up, and his face turned chalk-white when he realized that the force of the latest blast was making the ceiling collapse. His breath caught in his throat as he saw the distant rocks above beginning to fall slowly but steadily closer, growing larger as they neared. Please hurry, he thought to nobody in particular. Please, please, please, just let us live...

    Of course, the amusing thing about people who worry is that they tend to miss things. In this case, Cobalt missed out on enjoying the ride. There are very few people who can honestly claim that they have ridden a flying cow.

    He also missed the point where Tartar hit the ground running, snorting excitedly as he swallowed up the remaining yards to the tunnel that could lead them out. The admin only realized the situation when a sickening series of groans and thuds jerked him out of his prayerful reverie: the grunts, it seemed, were not nearly as shock-absorbant as the powerfully-muscled bull. Cobalt bit his lip, almost in sympathy, as he watched a grunt land hard on her arm, crying out hard as the horrific snap sliced at the air.

    In spite of himself, he shuddered and turned away, just as the shadow of safety passed over them, and they were through. Skidding to a halt, Tartar lowered his head and panted hard, his tongue lolling. Several of the grunts, who had miraculously managed to get up in spite of the pain of whatever unfortunate body part they had broken, were sprinting desperately towards them. Reaching the tunnel at last, they sucked in huge gulps of air, massaging their aching sides and wincing as they rubbed their blistered feet.

    Then an incredible barrage of stone hit the cavern floor. There was nothing quite like it, Cobalt decided, as he watched the avalanche of hundreds of tons of stone falling like hail, shattering as if they were glass and tossing into the air an incredible fog of dust. First a city, then a mountain, both thrown into unbelievable chaos and destruction. The entire mountain shook with the massive force of the boulders' impact. He shook his head in disbelief; there seemed to be no end to it.

    "Those poor grunts," Gina whispered behind him, horror and sadness coloring her voice.

    He nodded vaguely in response. The grunts' loss didn't bother him too much, although Gina seemed to feel differently. He would never understand what she saw in grunts. They looked like people, but they were just mindless tools. Occasionally a few would pop up with brains, but those were promoted to junior admin anyway. He would know, after all.

    All the same, he reached back and patted her hand soothingly. He'd want comfort, too, if he had a stupid pet that was crushed ruthlessly for the sake of fun. Unless that pet was Bulbasaur. Then he might make an exception.

    A flash of movement caught his eye. Squinting, he peered through the thick cloud of dust and flying debris that obscured his view. "Do you see something, way over there?" he asked Gina, pointing. He knew that girls had a better eye for details, even though he was more awesome than them.

    She scrutinized the scene, looking for whatever he had seen. "Oh, yeah! Some sort of green flash, where Severus is! There's a hulking blue thing Protecting him, I think."

    "He's not dead?"

    "Yeah. There's a couple of guys standing in the far tunnel. It's hard to tell, but it looks like one of them has a stop sign on his head. And it so doesn't go with what he's wearing. I think the blue thing's theirs."

    "*******s. Why couldn't they let him die?"

    "I know! They're not Rockets, so they're going to take him into custody, which Daddy says is even worse. Isn't that horrible, Cobalt?"

    He gave her a long, searching look until she finally tore her eyes away from the scene, looking back at him. "To be honest, I don't care," he remarked, parroting the greasy executive's earlier words. "He had it coming to him." He smiled triumphantly.

    She nodded in response. Then, with a soft word to the bull Pokemon, she turned Tartar around, leading the grunts down the long, winding tunnel, as the cacophony of falling rocks echoed darkly around them.

    * * *

    Huge chapter is huge, no? I apologize for that, as well as any headaches caused by the bad German accent and Ocean's cold. Hopefully you can forgive me for that.
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 29th June 2009 at 11:25 PM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  9. #134
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    502

    Default

    eirhhh i finally finished reading it. That must be the longest one yet, are you trying to break a record?

    'Save it for the theater'
    should be theatre

    After that i stopped looking for mistakes 'cos it was just too funny. Not much from the Pok&#233;dex this time though. And Poor Cheri, what a bad time to evolve. And the blood at the start was rather gruesome.

    Registeel was awesome. yay for the accent

  10. #135
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Posts
    1,696

    Default

    Hah, I love how every trainer isn't goody-goody; on the contrary, quite a few of them have deep, complex personalities which you seemed to have thought a lot about.
    Just one thing I noticed~

  11. #136
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Plymouth, UK, Mars.
    Posts
    703

    Default

    Long-time-no-see, DDT!

    Lovin' the last two chapters (God, they took me a long time to read!), especially the new pokemon. Even without pictures (though I understand they're on the way) I feel I have a pretty good idea what they look like.

    Just few things of note:
    > I think you said 'holy shist' or words to that effect at some point. If it was mean to be a play on words because the pokemon who said it (Annie) is a rock type, then it shold be schist. I should know, I was revising metamorphic classification only yesterday. (Geology rocks!) <.< >.> *looks about for bad pun police*
    > Annie and the Aron (I forget her name), have they been introduced before? Because it took me ages to to figure out who the 'baby' and the pokemon on Skipper's head were. Just a little more description a little earlier on needed, I think. Unless of course it's just me being forgetfull, in which case, excuse me for my mistake. ^_^
    > The whole talking to pokemon thing. Leaf having the ability I can understand, and the way it was explained and her reaction was priceless. Then, we find Cobalt has it to; an interesting twist and one that is vital for the hilarious banter between him, Bulbasaur and Phlash, so I can understand you using it here. But when it seems Roark has it too... ehhh, that's a little too much for me to swallow. You described it yourself as very rare, but now it's as though you're giving it to a character every time it's convenient; like when Skipper had to explain about Paris. I advise you to tread carefully, if it gets out of hand you could be heading dangerously close to Mary-Suesville and nobody wants that.

    Also, I'd like to speculate some stuff, so I'll spoilerify it:
        Spoiler:- Ummm...:



    See ya, ~JammyU
    Last edited by Inconspicuosaurus; 30th April 2009 at 6:08 PM.
        Spoiler:- Friend Safari Information:
    Palaeontologist and proud.
    Soon to become Inconspicuosaurus.

  12. #137
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Somewhere in Jhoto .........
    Posts
    981

    Default Review of Chapter 8 and 9 - Finally after how many months!

    Chapter 8:

    Well I thought this was a great introduction to the characters for a more in depth development (especialy with Leaf - I saw great improvement in her as a whole) and I thought Phrygoil was very interesting but I'm not a big fan of fakemon so I wouldn't be very good to review that character.

    The twist with Ocean was quite funny and I like what you did with the ball disintergrating - well done. The only thing I thought was weird was the dismanglement of the shorts boy because Officer Jenny was there but Oh well.

    Chapter 9

    This was a great Chapter in length so I must applaud you there with the succesfulness behind it. I would have liked something else to be put in there, not sure what but I felt the first post lacked something in it. Sorry. The battle scene was also so succesful and I love the reprocussions upon Pewter tow. That was realy funny so a great twist there.

    Overal

    I really liked those two Chapters and will most definitely catch up so don't worry...the only thing I think you can improve on (and this is my own opinion) is explaining which character has which Pokemon in a spoiler tag so that I can keep up and remember nicknames and so on. Also with new characters trying to keep nicknames original again like Frosti and Orca unlike Peter.

    Otherwise great so thank you!

    Most Recent Chapter - Chapter 31: Don't Forget Me - Posted 26/01/13
    Credits to Sweet May and DanChimchar

    I will pursue You, I will pursue Your presence

  13. #138
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    @ Sinnohdragon: Actually, "theater" is the Americanized spelling of the word, so it's technically correct. ^^;
    That must be the longest one yet, are you trying to break a record?
    Only for the longest drought between chapters, apparently. >_<

    And the blood at the start was rather gruesome.

    Registeel was awesome. yay for the accent


    @ BynineB: Thank you! I try not to make them too goody-goody, that would be annoying, wouldn't it?

    @ JammyU:
    > Annie and the Aron (I forget her name), have they been introduced before? Because it took me ages to to figure out who the 'baby' and the pokemon on Skipper's head were. Just a little more description a little earlier on needed, I think. Unless of course it's just me being forgetfull, in which case, excuse me for my mistake. ^_^
    Hey, it's no prob. They weren't introduced before, although Roark mentioned them. The Aron's name is Emily, btw. ^^
    > The whole talking to pokemon thing. Leaf having the ability I can understand, and the way it was explained and her reaction was priceless. Then, we find Cobalt has it to; an interesting twist and one that is vital for the hilarious banter between him, Bulbasaur and Phlash, so I can understand you using it here. But when it seems Roark has it too... ehhh, that's a little too much for me to swallow. You described it yourself as very rare, but now it's as though you're giving it to a character every time it's convenient; like when Skipper had to explain about Paris. I advise you to tread carefully, if it gets out of hand you could be heading dangerously close to Mary-Suesville and nobody wants that.
    There's actually a valid reason for why Roark understands his Pokemon. (*gasp* Something valid in Blazing Frost? omg nowaiz!) It might be popping up sometime in the next couple chapters, depending.

    @ harryheart:
    the only thing I think you can improve on (and this is my own opinion) is explaining which character has which Pokemon in a spoiler tag so that I can keep up and remember nicknames and so on. Also with new characters trying to keep nicknames original again like Frosti and Orca unlike Peter.
    But we must remember who's doing the nicknaming. *coughLightningisn'tverycreativecough* And there is a list with the Pokemon and their trainers just a few posts up (I know it looks like more with the ridiculously long posts, but meh) that's mostly accurate. All that's really changed is Cheri's and Peter's evolution, and that Cobalt's death was a psyche. All the nicknamed Pokemon are listed there too, besides Roark's Pokemon (Swampert=Skipper, Cranidos=Anni, Aron=Emily) and Leaf's mom's Electabuzz, Lecky.

    Anyway, thank you all for reading. And look, this one actually took less than two months to write. Yay.

    * * *

    Chapter Thirteen: True Colors (Welcome to Cerulean! The Dazzling Team Waterflower!)

    I. And behold, I didst find myself in the darkness of the holy pit again. And the darkness was like unto the night thereof, which is black, and yet revealing all at once.

    <This isn't a pit ... Mom! It's that annoying prophet again!>

    II. And I didst hear a voice come from the darkness thereof, and it was bold like unto a bronze—

    <You said that before. Repetition is frowned on, you know.>

    <Oh, did I? Forgive me, I must have forgotten. If I may—>

    A miserable wail interrupted him, filled with some sort of sorrow that made the hairs on Bart's neck stand on end, all five thousand, four hundred and eighty-three of them. There had been more, of course, but a great chunk of them had been burned off when a raging villager had thrown a torch at his head and missed slightly. The savages. They didn't know wisdom when they heard it.

    Surprised at the sound, the Absol paused in his writing and listened harder. <Did you hear something?>

    There was a long moment of silence. Then, finally, the bronze-voiced Pokemon gasped in some sort of revelation. <Oh, you can't see, can you? Sorry, I nodded there. Here, let me get some light to help you see...>

    <Thank you,> he said gratefully as she shuffled off somewhere.

    III. And behold, a cry didst spiral out from the darkness, a very woeful cry such as that which a little child uttereth if he hath mistakenly killed his pet rock. And I didst pause to listen for a good while, which canst not be well depicted here, for ellipses are not recommended for use in prophecy.

    IV. For it hath been said in ancient times by the wise prophet Fitzgerald, who didst cry unto the Coronites to repent straightway, before they stoned him to death before a class of children to contribute to unnerving educational experience,

    V. That to hesitate is to err, and to stutter is to admit folly; therein lies truth, but the truth lies not. Thus, all must refrain from the use of ellipses, for to do otherwise wouldst surely cause our feeble wills to drag us into the depths of hell.


    <Not anymore,> Fystor's voice said, returning. <Hell's getting too full for common idiots, and managing everyone in there drives Giratina up the wall, the poor thing. Ah, here we go...>

    A sudden light flared up in the cave, and the prophet squinted at its brightness. As his eyes slowly parted, adjusting gradually to the light, he looked about him in awe and wonder. He had been completely wrong in his original analysis of the place; it wasn't a cave at all. It simply a vast expanse of a diamond-like substance that stretched out from his paws and endlessly onward in all directions, a surreal psuedo-world sparkling in the enigmatic blue-green light shimmering in Fystor's clawed hand. No walls or ceiling contained the shining plain: only the pitch-black sky arced above them, an infinitely deep dome of darkness littered with huge, brightly twinkling stars.

    Then he lowered his gaze, seeing a being standing several yards in front of him. It was quite an enormous being, probably capable of crushing him just by stepping on him, but all other details were concealed in the dazzling light surrounding it. The light, blazing with an incredibly pure silver color, was so painfully bright that he wondered for a moment why he hadn't seen it earlier. Probably because I'm not legendary, he decided finally.

    <Are we on the moon?> he whispered shyly to Fystor, curiously examining her as he spoke.

    The eagle-like Pokemon rolled her eyes. <Don't be moronic. If we were on the moon, we'd be floating around in one-sixth/gee while suffocating to death in negative one-hundred twenty-three degree conditions. Besides, you wouldn't be hearing anything, as there are no molecules in the vaccuum for the sound waves to vibrate.>

    <...What's a "gee"?>

    She facepalmed. <You don't know anything, do you? And why are you staring at me that way?>

    <Well ... I always imagined you as being taller,> he confessed, looking down at her.

    A scowl twisted her beak into a peculiar expression. <I'm a god,> she retorted. <Gods don't have to be tall.>

    <But doesn't height add to your ... you know ... mysticism?> he asked, feeling a bit proud that he had found an apt word.

    <Who needs mysticism when you have power?>

    <...> Bart replied eloquently, returning his gaze toward the strange glowing being. The sheer luminosity of the light was not simply a mere glow; it was pure, unrestrained love from the depths of the being's soul: he could feel it, tearing at his heart, summoning stinging tears into his eyes. Now that he was paying proper attention, he could see that there was a smaller being there as well, floating level with the taller Pokemon's face. This second creature shone just as painfully bright, but her emerald green light radiated not only love, but a deep, despairing ache that clawed at the very center of Bart's soul; mingling with it were feelings of embarrassment, discouragement, and fear that were less prominent, but no less intense. It was impossible to tell using mere sight, but somehow Bart could tell that the silver creature was nuzzling the green one comfortingly, crooning softly as she sobbed miserably.

    He could almost feel his heart break in a separate sadness of his own, as he longed so much to be part of that deep, compassionate mercy. The prophets had always spoken of the legendaries as omnipotent beings of quick temper and quicker judgment, but they had hardly mentioned anything about the great mercy and compassion that seemed not only a part of them: it was them, as defining as the fact that he was an Absol, and that none of it would, or could, ever change.

    His eyes continued to water as his head began to ache from the intensity and overwhelming absorption of emotions. Then, dimly, he noticed that his tears were beginning to take on a color that looked very off. Distantly he sensed that something was wrong, but he couldn't be bothered to shut off the flood of emotions pouring through him.

    The sound of Fystor's voice faintly reached him. <I hope you're not looking at them, you know. They're halfway in their true divine forms, which would mean that if any mortal were looking at them, his brain would start to melt right around now ... oh wait. Whoops.>

    He knew that those words probably meant something, but he couldn't react in any way until something smacked into his head with astonishing force, sending him smashing facefirst into the shimmery, diamond-like substance beneath him. He uttered a shocked oof! as the wind was knocked out of him, as he collided painfully into the smooth, cold floor. An agonized sob tore itself from his throat. Away from that great power and love, he felt overwhelmingly alone, exposed and vulnerable. If not for his shock and the ominous drip, drip, drip of tears and melted brain falling to the floor beneath him, he would have looked up again immediately. His aching head pulsed horribly, and he groaned.

    <Mom, I told you that you shouldn't summon him if you weren't going to phase back!> he heard Fystor say. <If we really need him, it's probably not because we want his brain to start gushing out his ears!>

    The silver-voiced being said something in an unearthly, melodious language that instantly soothed Bart's troubled soul, and his hitched breathing slowed into a more natural rhythm. He could feel her love in the strange words, not drowning him in their depths as before, but merely carrying him along on a gentle current, floating and buoyant. His tear-stained face stretched into a smile as he rested his chin on the floor, exhausted. Blearily he noted that there was a bright pink flower laying just a few yards in front of him, looking as though it had been callously discarded, which pretty much matched the way he had just felt a minute ago.

    <That's nice, Mom, but we need to work with something here,> Fystor said unconcernedly. <Appy seems to have gotten enough strength for a "hunt" on Cinnabar. And we don't want that, do we?>

    The being said something unrecognizable in reply.

    <Well, so-rry. I just figured that, cruel as it sounds, saving the world is probably more important than boosting Minnie's ego—>

    A horrific roar cut her off, bespeaking of unimaginable power. Bart yelped and flung his arms over his head, and he lay cringing in the blast of noise.

    <I am not!> Fystor yelled indignantly over the deafening noise. <I'm only trying to talk sense, is that so wrong—?>

    The roar got even louder.

    <OKAY!> the eagle Pokemon shrilled. <OKAY, FINE, I WILL! IF IT MAKES EVERYBODY HAPPY! NOW CALM DOWN BEOFRE THIS PROPHET HERE GETS AN ULCER!>

    Abruptly the roar dived down in volume to a deep rumble, before returning to the tenor croon it had first used to comfort the green being. The latter had subsided slightly, seeming rather unperturbed by this exchange, and was sniffling heartily.

    A shadow fell over Bart. Looking up, he saw Fystor standing over him, scowling darkly. She didn't look very tall even from this perspective.

    <I need to go,> she muttered, half to herself.

    <Why?> he asked stupidly.

    <To question Uxie. There's some information we'll need from him, since things are moving a lot faster than we thought. And after that I need to keep an eye on the girl, and contact her when the time's right. I wanted us to go and stop Apolydon right now, before he gets stronger, which would be the smart course of action. But Mom says that's "not the way things are done".> She rolled her eyes wearily. <Anyway, I probably won't be back for a while. Stay here in the meantime, I don't want to have to wait until you go into a trance again before we have to get you.>

    He frowned, confused. <Why would you need me here?>

    <We'll explain later. It'll probably be better if we can enlighten both you and the girl at the same time. And it'll be less annoying to have to say everything just once, anyway. But just stay here, and don't look at them again. Not until Minnie's stopped feeling sorry for herself, and they go back to normal.>

    <But—>

    <But nothing. You're not worth anything if your brain's leaking out of your skull.> With these cheerful parting words, she spread her wings wide, leapt into the air, and soared past him. Turning, he watched her fly with incredible speed towards a staircase he had not noticed earlier, which seemed to descend impossibly far below; the sound of wind in her wings quickly faded into mere echoes.

    Sighing, he put his head back on his paws, keeping his eyes fixed on the pink flower. This was going to be a long night. He might as well write something.

    VI. And as I didst consider Fitzgerald's great words of wisdom, it came to pass that a great light appeared; yea, and I saw that I stood upon a sea like unto glass ...

    * * *

    <Master!> the Missing One cried mentally, feeling pain pulsing within him. Power washed around him in a infuriatingly tantalizing flow.

    The stranger, of course, took no notice. He was busily Crushing the souls whom he had recently intercepted, their silent screams tearing through his body, fueling his limbs with power. The darkening, dusky sky was veiled in ominous clouds gathered in a looming storm, signaling the threat of a distant hurricane.

    The chaotic, exhausted of strength, gave up the fight in despair. It was useless to throw off the iron hold of the invader. As if that weren't galling enough, he had realized in horror, some time into his futile struggle, that the one who had stolen his body was none other than his master, the lord of all chaotics, great Apolydon himself. It was he who had created the chaotics long ago, giving them the arcane strength and skills they needed to survive. And now, eons later, he had feigned ignorance of his own creations in order to seize control of one of his more important followers.

    <Master...?> The Missing One tried again one last time, halfheartedly.

    The other did not reply.

    <Douchebag,> he snarled sulkily to himself. Like their forms, the loyalties of chaotics could change in an instant if need be. He could feel no guilt or shame for insulting the master who had betrayed him so deeply.

    Apolydon opened his mouth to speak, and for one heart-stopping moment the Missing One was terrified that his rudeness had been heard; but the words that issued forth put his mind at ease, ironically. <This strength is sufficient,> he said in satisfaction. It was impossible to tell who he was addressing, if anyone. <I will now hunt in the nearby village to Crush more directly. I have found in the past that to actually hear their screams is something to be coveted.>

    Then, much to his captive's delight, he took a step forward.

    The invader had been standing in the same place ever since taking over, in order to get used to inhabiting a body again and to regain strength through his recent Crushings. As such, he was completely oblivious to the fact that, among other abnormalities, the Missing One's body was unique in that its mass was extremely compact, resulting in a staggering weight. And the Lord of Evil did indeed stagger, unprepared for the way the body's balance would be unsettled if he took such a quick step.

    Which was how he tripped over absolutely nothing, and fell facefirst into the sand, creating a monster-shaped crater with a loud thwump.

    <Urrrgh.>

    The Missing One giggled childishly as the Lord of Evil snarled, unsteadily attempting to get to his feet. But his mirth was soon extinguished as his mind, sharp as ever, went into action. He knew that in spite of this mishap, the evil one would surely get whatever he wanted, and sooner rather than later. He'd have to find a way to boot him out before his hold got too strong.

    <Perhaps I could dive down within myself,> he mused. Initially, he found the idea repugnant. Examining the shadowy recesses of his own soul would require him to relinquish his last feeble hold on himself, leaving it entirely in the dark hands of his former master. He wasn't sure about some people, but he liked his body, unstable and unpredictable as it was. The idea of simply handing control over to a malevolent backstabber made him sick. He had done it several times before, of course, but that was merely done to survive; his body would still be free to regain once he returned. (The latest such incident had happened several centuries ago, when a group of retarded philosophers had tried to dissect him. Once he had gone limp, they decided that he had died and carelessly sliced his bonds away, but they immediately regretted it when he leapt up from the table, eagerly leaping upon them to messily devour them while cursing them with horribly foul language.)

    Of course, he could always coerce his Beast into helping him.

    That single idea convinced him. Abruptly relaxing his weakening grip on his body, he retracted himself deep into the core of his mind, like a primordial sea creature pulling back its slippery tentacles. Abruptly all pain was gone; his nerve endings no longer tore at him. Around him a dark, winding corridor begin to shimmer, gradually forming into a segment of his shadowy, mazelike mind. For a moment he had no purpose, no sense of self, as he was swiftly becoming an entity separate from his own mind; but several memories fluttered towards him from the darkness ahead, obediently settling on his skeletal frame like moths. Purpose swept over him once more, reminding him of who he was and what he was doing. With an uncharacteristically grim huff, he darted along the corridor, beginning his search for the deepest dungeon.

    Outside, Apolydon had gotten to his feet. His eyes, brilliant blue orbs gleaming in the skull's once empty eye sockets, turned ominously to the flickering lights of the village in the distance ...

    * * *

    The familiar scent of Lysol burned Leaf's nose as she returned painfully and hazily to consciousness. Her eyes fluttered weakly as she tried to adjust to her surroundings, but they were shrouded in darkness, punctuated by soft little whispers that hissed like fires around her.

    "More morphine...?"

    "Ice, for the love of Arceus, ice!"

    "... just contacted parents ..."

    "... another one here, Joy says it's too extreme ..."

    "What? Why do they always get rocks in their eyes?"

    "Been a few minutes ... more Rockets found, or ...?"

    "A few. Smashed dead, I guess ... couple smashed but still alive, though ..."


    An involuntary groan escaped her slightly parted lips. Instantly a voice whisper-screamed, "SHUT UP! YOU'RE ALL WAKING HER UP!"

    There was a moment of surprised silence. Then a few disgruntled mutters returned, but softer, quieter than before. The sounds of their rustling danced lightly through the air, as they busily returned to their tasks.

    A silhouetted figure loomed in her unfocused vision, its head leaning slightly toward her. Something touched her hand softly: warm fingers holding hers gently, tentatively. "Go back to sleep," the figure said, a quiet forcefulness underlying his words. "I can't stay for long, I'm needed somewhere else. Just relax."

    "Don't go—" she slurred wearily.

    "Sssssssh," he hushed softly, cutting her off. "Breathe in ... breathe out. Breathe in ..."

    She found herself automatically inhaling and exhaling in time with his commands, feeling the tension within herself evaporate as she slid comfortingly into a gentle unconsciousness. It seemed to be only a few seconds later that she reopened them only to be assaulted with the sun glaring brightly through the window.

    "Ow," she muttered, squinting.

    "Ooh, she's awake! Cool! Leaf, why do you always end up in the hospital? Maybe it's not the Pokemon Center like last time, but still! This is just crazy, right?"

    "Lighdding, led her resd—"

    "She's been resting for, what, twelve hours? I wanna see her."

    Leaf craned her neck upwards, gazing at her surroundings. It was the usual, sterile white hospital room, with ominous-looking surgical instruments scattered about at various intervals. Through the window on the opposite wall, she saw the stunning sight of pristine buildings glinting blindingly in the sunlight. And beyond them glimmered the soft, restless movements of the sea itself, stretching out in a blue-and-platinum vista stretching endlessly toward the horizon. A surge of excitement suddenly flooded through her. We're in Cerulean!

    "We're in Cerulean," Lightning said, repeating the obvious. He was striding toward her from the open door a few yards on her left, Peach perched on his shoulder as usual. "It's a pretty place, at least from what I've seen. Not quite as orderly as Pewter, though. Maybe the difference has something to do with the gym leaders."

    "These cities," Fire sighed, "were built centuries before either of them were born." He emerged from the hall outside, appearing to be somewhat subdued. His hat, of course, was missing, having been lost in the wild Rhyhorn battle; but his left arm was settled securely in a sling, hanging taut on his shoulder. He looked about as tired as she felt.

    Ocean, seated comfortably in a stiff chair in a far corner of the room, rolled his eyes at Fire's words. "He was jusd poidding oud de goidcidedces, dad's all," he said. "You're suje a gilljoy sobetibes, Fire." He stretched his legs out as he spoke, wincing.

    "Ocean!" Leaf sat up fast in bed, ignoring the pins and needles that immediately pricked at her back. She smiled happily at them, wondering if one of them had been the comforting figure who had come into her room last night — an action which, incidentally, could be taken horrifically out of context. "What — what're you doing here? Did you bribe Jenny to escape, or what?"

    He reached back and rubbed the back of his head, making his spiked, dark blond hair bounce slightly with the movement. "Well, id has more do do wid my nadtural charms," he said with false modesty, while grinning like a cat with a canary in its mouth. "She said she'd led be go, bud odly if she gould massage me, ad I said I was all righd wid dad. Ad id sdarded oud iddocedtly edough — rubbing by hads, you dow — bud ded she boved dowd do by bicebs, ad ded by bag, ad de degzd ding I dow she's all ober be ... dad was real dice ..."

    Fire made an exasperated face at him. "You are such a bad liar, you know that?"

    Ocean's grin broadened, and his face turned red. "Baybe..."

    "Aw, how cute! You called him baby! I was wondering how long it'd take you to find your way out of that closet, but you did, and I'm proud of you for it!"

    "POKEDEX!" they all shouted in annoyance.

    "Well, it's true," the Pokedex sniffed self-importantly. It was sitting on the sparkling clean cabinet several feet away, propped up against Leaf's bright yellow handbag. "I keep waiting for him to dress up like a French maid and give one of you less flamboyant boys the giggling valley girl treatment. That would give me a chuckle, and you know how lacking I am when it comes to humor, so that would be a good thing. Teehee, the spiky-haired nitwit dancing with the cowboy failure. That's almost cute."

    "That's gross," Lightning muttered.

    <I'm glad you think so,> Peach crooned, stroking his ear. <Because if you didn't, I would ... well, I'd probably electrocute you. And then I might cry.>

    "I'm not a failure," Fire muttered to himself.

    "I'b dod flabboyadt!" Ocean protested explosively. "Are you drying do dell be sobeting here?"

    "Don't be stupid. Of course I am!"

    "Shut up, Pokedex," Leaf sighed wearily. "But really, Ocean, what're you doing here? You couldn't have written those lines that fast, could you?"

    "Do," Ocean admitted, deflating a little. "Jeddy sedt be away, agdually. She was busy with de ebaguatiod ad all. Bud I'd already wrode de lides fibe huddred ad fordy-dwo dibes. I'll be oud of gusdody id do dibe." He looked rather proud of himself for it.

    The Pokedex snickered. "'Jeddy,' eh?"

    "I said to shut up!" Leaf snapped.

    "Id's ogay," Ocean said, shrugging. "I gad'd helb dad I habe a gold. If Fire was dalking lige dis, I'd be baking fud of hib, doo."

    "Thanks so much," said Fire.

    "Of gourse, id'd be ebed fuddier if id was hib, begause he's ad ebo ad eberyting."

    "I am not an emo!"

    "Yes you are!"

    "No, I am—"

    "SHUT UP!" Lightning hollered. He blushed when everyone turned towards him, surprised at his uncharacteristic outburst. "I mean ... let's not, um, argue. There's something else that has to be done. Fire...?" He gave the brunette a meaningful look. Peach mimicked his expression, and Leaf had to stifle a giggle at this.

    "What? Oh, yes..."

    Fire walked purposefully towards Leaf's cot, keeping his eyes cast low to the ground. Leaf raised an eyebrow at his stiff, uncomfortable gait. He stepped to an abrupt halt just a few inches from her side, biting his lip as he slowly brought his gaze upward to meet hers.

    "Fire, what happened to your arm?" Leaf asked concernedly, starting to lift her hand to touch the cast. Then she paused: he probably wouldn't like that at all.

    The brunette shrugged. "A rock fell on it."

    "Oh."

    "After you saved me."

    Silence.

    "Leaf..." He took a deep breath, tensing himself. "I don't know how to say this, it's not something I ever thought I'd say ... you know how it is, don't you? I mean ... you showed me a lot about being a good person. I-I'd thought that saving you from Tyran was just something that made me better than you — than any of you — and it was also a chance to show my strength on the side.

    "And you're not just a good person, either..." He paused, glancing briefly over his shoulder towards Lightning; the blonde's encouraging nod seemed to reassure him, and he continued. "Not just a good person, but a good trainer. You can get the best out of your Pokemon, without even forcing them to. You care for them, and everyone else, so much ... and I never saw that, ever, until yesterday. And you applied yourself to the situation so well, that you didn't even depend on them at all when were willing to risk yourself to save me. Me! And I was always such a ... well, a jerk."

    "Ah!" Ocean interjected lustily. "He's fidally seed de lighd!"

    "Yes," Fire agreed, and he surprised everyone by not sneering at the spiky-haired boy; instead, a sad smile appeared faintly on his face. "Yes, I have. It was so, so wrong of me to do something hard for glory ... when you would do something so much harder just because you cared."

    Leaf stared at him in surprise for a moment, wondering at his expression. Then she lowered her head, shaking it slightly. "You make it sound so much better than it was. It's not like I was thinking or anything—"

    "Exactly. You didn't have to think about it. You just automatically knew what was right, and you went through with it. Leaf ... maybe I'm rambling, I don't know, but you had to see where I'm coming from before I say it, so..."

    "So?"

    "So, what I'm trying to say is ... well ... I'm sorry."

    "What? Really?"

    Lightning's mouth fell open.

    "You're nod serious!" Ocean burst out, eyes bugging in shock. "Who are you ad whad have you dode wid Fire?"

    "But I am serious. Leaf, I want to be a better person, like you. I want to change who I am and stop being cruel and selfish."

    "So in other words, he wants to turn over a new leaf," the Pokedex commented, snickering.

    Fire ignored it. "It won't be easy for me, after so many years of being who I was ... but I'll try. I really will. So ... will you accept my apology?"

    Hesitantly he stuck out his hand, the one that no rock had fallen on. The next few seconds seemed to stretch for an eternity, as the boys watched with baited breath while Leaf incredulously examined Fire's outstretched hand. She stared in wonder at the silent pleading shining from his eyes, so different from the detatched apathy she was used to.

    Then she smiled and grasped his hand, squeezing it reassuringly. "Of course I do," she said graciously. "You're my friend, after all. Even if you didn't know that before."

    He grinned shyly. "Thank you," he whispered, his fingers curling around hers.

    "You should apologize to your Pokemon for your attitude, though," she chastised, giving him a knowing look.

    Fire looked apprehensive at this, but he nevertheless turned and let out his Pokemon. Drowzee squinted at him adoringly with beady eyes, while Squirtle trembled as she stared at his feet. "Guys? I have to apologize. For not being nice to you, or treating you well."

    <But you do treat us well, Master!> Drowzee said sycophantly.

    It was Pokemon speech, but its meaning was clear to everyone, and Fire shook his head. "No, I didn't. I treated you like objects, and I hurt Squirtle, when I knew that I wouldn't want anyone to treat me that way." Squirtle raised her gaze hesitantly at this. "I just want you to give me a second chance at this. Please?"

    Squirtle looked him in the eyes, her expression nervous and almost hopeful. She tilted her head for a moment, thinking deeply on the matter. Then she shivered and turned away, head lowered slightly.

    Fire sighed sadly. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I hope you'll change your mind. I won't hurt you again." With that, he recalled his Pokemon, looking a bit defeated.

    The others watched on, feeling sympathetic about his plight, but content that at last they could be around a friend who wouldn't constantly sneer at them every time somebody opened his mouth.

    The Pokedex scoffed. "There is way too much human interest here for that to be real," it said cynically. "I bet Oprah's about to burst from that cabinet and offer somebody a free house."

    <I want a free house,> Peach commented, a faraway look appearing in her eyes. <I could share it with Lightning ...>

    <It's Leaf!> exclaimed a voice from the doorway. Looking toward it, Leaf was surprised and amused to see Frosti standing there, looking pleased. <Great, you're okay! We're all fine, thanks for asking. Hanging out at the Pokemon Center. We broke out, though, which was cool ... I've been looking everywhere for you, you know. I had to look in every room I passed to see if you were there! The things I almost walked in on ...> He trailed off, shuddering. A sudden whooshing sound wafted from the hall behind him, and he wisely dived to the floor just in time.

    <BANZAIIIIII!> Paris squealed happily, rushing into the room on a Return, spinning wildly in the air as she soared right over Frosti's orange head. Well, it actually sounded more like <BAHNSHAIIIIII!> because of the fact that she was holding Cheri in her mouth, drooling slightly on the cocoon Pokemon's golden covering. The Kakuna, black eyes narrowed, seemed completely indifferent to flying with a baby sea monster on a magical pink heart-shaped hovercraft.

    Leaf stared in shock as they suddenly took a sharp dive. "Paris, watch—!"

    <OOF!>

    "... out. Oh dear."

    <I'm okay, Mommy!> the little Lapras chirped happily, picking herself up off the floor as the Return-heart evaporated beneath her. Dropping Cheri unceremoniously, she scampered over to Leaf's side, leaving a trail of indigo scales as she came. <It was fun! I ran over a lady in white, though. She made a funny face when she fell.>

    "Paris," Leaf said, scratching behind her curly ears, "it's not nice to knock people down."

    <But you have me knock Pokemon down all the time!> Paris pointed out, tilting her head to the side slightly.

    Leaf facepalmed at this obvious oversight. "Oh. Well, that's true ... but I only want you to knock down Pokemon, okay? Not people. With Pokemon it's fun, but with people it's rude."

    <Ohhhhh, okay,> Paris said, nodding to herself. <That's probably why the weird sneaky guy had a mad face.>

    "Eh? What weird sneaky guy?"

    <The one I knocked down in the big main room where people wait, before I ran over the lady in white. His hair looked pretty funny, though. When he fell he was grabbing at it like it was about to fall off.> She giggled at the idea.

    Leaf released a long groan when she realized what this meant.

    "Oh crud!" Lightning gasped, watching her in horror. Then he started jumping up and down in a panic, bouncing all over the room in anxiety. "Oh crud, oh crud, oh crud! This is it! This must be it! I can't watch! Somebody, hurry and go get a doctor! She must be going into labor! Leaf, you have to breathe! BREATHE!"

    Ocean put a stop to his ravings by bashing him over the head. "She's nod bregdadt, you weirdo. She brobably jusd heard sobeding ibbordadd frob de Labras, which I wadt very buch, by de way. Ded she'll dell us whad id is, ad we'll be all lige, 'Oh do, de world's aboud do ed id a fiery burding death begause of whad we heard frob dis liddle Labras who Ocead wads very buch.'"

    "...?"

    "Um, okay?"

    Leaf sweatdropped. "You people ... are weird. Lightning, Paris saw somebody in the lobby, and knocked him down. Somebody with fake hair — a wig, I mean."

    Lightning paled. "You mean ...?"

    "Yes."

    "Cobalt!" they spat at the same time.

    Ocean frowned. "Waid, who's Gobald?"

    "A Team Rocket person," Leaf explained, looking annoyed at the idea of encountering him again. "He's after Paris for some reason, the jerk. Why he's doing that is anyone's guess."

    "Maybe," Fire said reasonably, "it's because she's shiny."

    She shrugged. "Maybe. Or was that sarcasm?"

    He grinned feebly. "Sorry, that was a slip."

    "Okay then. Anyway, Cobalt has another Team Rocket person with him, named Gina. She's the main reason why Pewter City is a mess, but I don't want to go into details there."

    Ocean's eyes lit up. "Is she hot?"

    Lightning bashed him over the head. "Focus, Ocean!"

    "And now it seems like they've been following us!" Leaf went on, ignoring them. "There'll probably be another huge disaster when they show up, as if we don't have enough to worry about! And they are not going to steal my baby!" she snapped fiercely, grabbing a surprised Paris protectively. "My sweet, precious baby who's worth more than them and all their Pokemon combined!"

    <Thanks, Mommy, but can we go now?> Paris asked, another scale clattering to the floor. <This place is getting boring.>

    Leaf looked from Ocean, who had Lightning in a headlock, to the Pokedex, who was cackling manically at everyone, and wondered wistfully if life would ever go back to boring again.

    * * *

    Some distance away, Elvis emerged from a tall building, a cool salty breeze making his sparkly clothes billow strangely. He swiveled, stumbled for a moment, and abruptly straightened, before beginning to walk uncertainly down the long sidewalk, snapping his fingers to some song that was going through his head.

    "Mom, look!" exclaimed a passing little girl, pointing in astonishment at him. "It's Elvis!"

    "Elvis?" her mother repeated, freezing in place as she watched the dark-haired man go by.

    "Elvis??!!" gasped a great deal of other people, who seemed to appear out of nowhere with great sparkly eyes and faces of utmost adoration, as all inconvenient fans have a habit of doing when famous people suddenly appear.

    He paused and looked behind him through ridiculously huge sunglasses at the enchanted mass of delighted people behind him. Then, suddenly, he bolted, as anyone with half a brain would do in his situation.

    "ELVIS! ELVIS! ELVIS!" the fans chanted, starting to sprint after him, unless they were incredibly old or fat, in which case they merely cheered after the huge mob, before turning and arguing with each other in surprisingly high-pitched voices. But we don't care about them. We care (or at least care more) about Elvis's flight down concrete, nearing the crosswalk of a busy intersection, filled with honking cars and trucks, while screaming people were chasing him.

    The famous singer reached the edge of the sidewalk and, without missing a beat, leapt surprisingly high into the air, somersaulting once over traffic before landing feet-first on a fast-moving bus. He sank into a crouching position, watching the disappointed people sink into the distance behind him, yelling his name.

    "WE LOVE YOU, ELVIS!" crowed a small horde of pretty girls, who were standing at the front of the pack, as pretty girls often tend to do.

    "Thank you!" he called back, pointing coolly at them in farewell. "Thank you very much!"

    They waved at him, some deperately trying to follow him as they ran alongside the street on the sidewalk; but the bus was too fast for them, and Elvis slowly vanished from sight, his clothes waving dramatically in the rushing wind around him.



    He jumped off smoothly at an alley a few miles away, closer to the suburbs, and chuckled to himself at the expressions on the passengers' faces as it pulled away. Then something pulled at his pant leg, and he gasped; but it was only Phlash, who was tugging at him impatiently.

    <Weirdsch Hair Ghuy, ya needschta c'mon!> she exclaimed, her mouth full of fabric.

    He stared at her. "Why?"

    Something rustled in the shadows. Turning, he saw Gina, who was leading a few nervous-looking grunts toward him. "Cobalt, your Phrygoil is acting funny," she said, looking at the grime around her in distaste.

    Elvis-who-was-not-really-Elvis-but-actually-Cobalt-in-yet-another-strange-disguise gave her The Look. "You just figured that out?"

    The copper-haired girl ignored his sarcasm. "Can you just keep her calm, or something?" she asked. "We're in bad shape here, and we really don't need any weasel drama."

    She had a point, he decided grudgingly. The surviving grunts (of which there were still many) had set up camp some ways to the northeast of Mount Moon, where they could lay low while the police and medical teams were still swarming there. Meanwhile, they still had to figure out what to do about their clashing objectives, which were giving him a headache even though he hadn't really thought about them yet.

    On the one hand, he and Gina had been given a specific assignment: get the Lapras. Everyone knew that when the Boss told you to do something, you followed through on it until you succeeded or died — unless you got so embarrassed trying to succeed that you ended up failing miserably, and the Boss simply buried his face in his hands and moaned at the fact that you were a glaring embarrassment to his Team. But to Cobalt, that was neither here nor there. It simply was his duty to do what the Boss had commanded.

    But on the other hand, the Mount Moon excavation had been executed due to an important project which the Rocket scientists were currently working on — important enough to put a deeply sinister and unpredictable executive in charge, if that was what it took to accomplish the mission. The mission (to recap briefly) had almost ended in complete disaster, if Disaster was the name of a pink immortal kitten who found satisfaction in blowing up. Luckily, Cobalt had retrieved most of the bigger Massive Moon Stone shards, several of which were now tucked safely away in the hidden compartments of his sparkly silver boots, because he was just that awesome. And he knew full well that the Boss would want them as soon as possible, especially now that the police were investigating and so on.

    So, in trying to decide between which of the two missions to choose, one could say that he had a slight dilemna.

    "Cobalt?"

    "Huh? What?"

    "You were spacing out again, weren't you?"

    "... No ..."

    <Cobalt!> Phlash exclaimed, letting go of his pant leg. <We must phace them in an epic battle oph phreedom of belieph!>

    He gave her a surprised look. "Are you talking with an accent?"

    <Just look!> she said, staring angrily out of the alley to the brightly lit sidewalk outside.

    Cobalt turned around, a bit annoyed. He was unimpressed by what he saw, which was a pack of wild Phrygoil, their tough appearances magnified by grimy fur and chipped claws. However, he was greatly amused at the sight of the biggest one: he seemed to be the leader of the pack, because he had a yellow paper crown on his head.

    <Look, my phriends!> he said hungrily. <I thinks it is a phoe oph our sacred beliephs!>

    <Phoe nothing, phat one!> Phlash snapped back. <It is you who are the inphidels!>

    <Inphidels?> the other spat incredulously. <Pshaw! We is mere servants oph the one and only true belieph! But you is a dark and murderous threat to the right way of liphe!>

    <I am stronger than you, phools,> Phlash declared, crouching into a sleek position, her muscles tensing. <I have the truth on my side. I shall send you all to the demons phor your interpherence in my quest to spread the great words oph truth and light and Ronald McDonald!>

    <Your words is strong, little one.> He stood up on his hind legs, moving into a karate pose that was definitely not designed for Phrygoil. His gang scuttled behind him when he swayed slightly, nervously ready to catch him if he fell. <But our holy phaith will always prevail against the likes of you. Eat my wrath of holy phiiiiiiiirrrrre!>

    He took a deep breath and, after a dramatic pause, belched loudly.

    Cobalt and Phlash stared at him for a few seconds. Then, in unison, they collapsed to the concrete, howling with painful laughter.

    <You can lauph,> the big Phrygoil said sternly, eyeing them with disapproval, <but soon you will die! That includes you, you with the phaggoty-looking hair!>

    The next thing he knew, the Phrygoil was suddenly lifted into the air by the scruff of his neck (courtesy of a no-longer-laughing Cobalt) and thrown violently over the buildings on the other side of the street with an incredible lightning speed. The gang of Phrygoil watched in astonished bemusement, their heads following their leader as he arced through the air, yelling indignantly, <Looks like I is blasting ophph ... phor the phirst time!>

    There was a strange ding as he vanished behind the rooftops and out of sight. Then, just as suddenly, his followers jerked themselves out of their frozen state of shock, and zipped across the street towards wherever he had gone, meowing in dismay.

    A moment of meaningless silence ensued. Silence in the alley, that is, considering the perpetual skids of tires and honks of horns on the road, and the occasional distant smash of some random careless fool who should never have been allowed a driver's license.

    Slowly, a frown stretched over Cobalt's face. "Did I just throw him?"

    <Yeah!> Phlash grinned rabidly. <It was so cool! The phatty never stood a chance!>

    "But what were they about?"

    <This,> she answered darkly. She reached down and picked something up in her mouth: it was the crown the other Phrygoil had worn, which had fallen off in Cobalt's sudden movement. <They are the phollowers of the sinister Lord of the Phrozen Phace.>

    "... What?"

    She gave him a hopeless look. <Burger King?>

    "Oh, I know them!" he exclaimed in realization, making Phlash facefault.

    "Cobalt," Gina asked slowly, "you threw that thing really strangely."

    He looked around at her. "... No I didn't. I just threw him."

    "Actually," she said seriously, "you did. You moved so fast that you were, like, a blur. And you threw him, what, sixty feet? That was like some freaky ninja thing! How'd you do that?"

    He frowned, thinking. Now that he reflected on it, he realized that he really had been extremely fast and strong in that moment, even though he was so awesome that he was fast and strong all the time anyway. But where had that come from? He only knew that it had been so easy, so natural, that he'd barely noticed any difference.

    "I have no idea," he told her, scratching absently at his hand. "Probably just because I'm so awesome that even physics love me now ... what are you people looking at?"

    The grunts, who had been staring at him in disbelief, jumped and immediately averted their gazes. "Um ... nothing, sir."

    He glared at them. "I'm not crazy!"

    "We didn't say you were, sir."

    "But you were looking at me like I had two hands!"

    "... Hands?"

    "I meant heads. Geez, I'm losing it." He turned back to his fellow admin, as the makings of a plan began to form in his head. "Gina ... can you take these people back to camp? I want to try and head off the girl and snatch her Lapras."

    She frowned. "Wh—?"

    "I'll tell you why. I couldn't nab the thing before, since it smashed me to the floor, and they'll probably be on their guard around the hospital ... but you can bet they'll be heading to the gym, and they won't expect me to be sneaking around there. Hopefully. And if we can get it, then we can run back to headquarters, give it and the Moon Stone bits to the Boss, and finish both missions! Why didn't I see it before?"

    She shrugged. She's been struck speechless by my incredibly genius self, he thought egomaniacally.

    "Great!" he said eagerly, taking her silence for consent. "Now I'm off to do just that. Phlash, come on ... Phlash?"

    <This must burn!> Phlash chanted psychotically, ripping the crown up into tiny pieces and jumping on them rapidly. <Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn!>

    Cobalt sweatdropped. If I can get her to move, that is, he thought pathetically.

    * * *

    "Keep an eye out," Leaf ordered, as she led the way out through the sliding doors of the hospital, waving back half-heartedly at the overenthusiastic nurses at the counter. She squinted as she emerged out in the stunning sunlight, with her trusty handbag slung over one arm and a happily chirping Paris in the other. Frosti trotted along at her side, occasionally scowling up in slight jealousy at the little Lapras.

    Lightning followed close behind, glancing around him nervously. "Leaf, I don't like this. What if they ambush us?"

    Two shadowy figures suddenly came close behind him. Lightning caught sight of them and yelped in fright, before realizing that it was only Fire and Ocean. Peach giggled at the expression on her trainer's face, patting his shoulder soothingly.

    "Why would they ambush us?" Fire asked, rolling his eyes. "Isn't that the point of looking around, so that they won't?"

    "Well ... I dunno," Lightning muttered, biting his lip. "They might do something different this time ... they might have brought friends ..."

    Leaf raised an eyebrow, and the change in her expression caught his eye. They stared at each other, thinking, before abruptly exploding into wild laughter.

    "C-cobalt?" Leaf gasped between guffaws. "With friends? Are you serious?"

    Lightning only giggled in reply.

    "Right..." Fire sweatdropped and turned away. "You're not strange at all."

    Leaf, still shaking with laughter, raised an eyebrow at him.

    Fire understood her unspoken meaning perfectly. "Oh, I did it again. Sorry. But you know, it'd be so much easier not being sarcastic if you guys didn't roll on the floor laughing all the time."

    "Roffle!" Ocean exclaimed happily, making everyone else facefault.

    Peach gave him a sideways look. <"Roffle"? That's the dumbest line I've ever heard. Is he mad, Leaf?>

    "Yes," Leaf said as they got up. The answer instantly got her weird looks from the boys, and she glared back at them. "...What?"

    "You're talking to yourself again," Lightning explained, making the girl facefault a second time.

    <Mommy?> Paris asked uncertainly, half pinned to the sidewalk by her trainer's weight. <Why do you keep falling like that?>

    Leaf sighed, reaching her hand upwards to scratch under Paris's chin as she slowly pushed herself to her feet. "Why? Well, Paris, they're crazy. That's probably why."

    "Yeah, but you're talking to yourself, again," Lightning put in.

    She gave him The Look. "Lightning. I already explained this twice. Don't make me get angry with you."

    He cringed. "Sorry?"

    "Thank you. Now which way's the gym?"

    Ocean looked away. "De gyb? Well...?"

    Leaf made a face. "Ugh ... you don't know where it is, do you?"

    "Well, as a madder of facd, do."
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 2nd January 2010 at 7:35 AM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  14. #139
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    "But I would guess," Fire cut in, "that it's somewhere near the ocean. It keeps to the theme of water-types, which the gym leader trains."

    "He does?" Leaf asked, shocked.

    <What do you mean, "he does?"?> Frosti repeated incredulously. <Everyone knows about Misty, and the horribly wet Pokemon she trains!>

    "...The gym leader's a girl?" Leaf said uncertainly, and everyone groaned at her apparent lack of knowledge on this subject.

    "Just stop," Fire said in a pained voice. "Please. We're going this way." Glancing over his shoulder to make sure the others were following, he randomly headed off to the right, almost looking as if he wished he didn't know them.

    A tall figure, leaning against a lamppost near the intersection on the opposite side of the hospital, watched them go. It waited for a few moments after they had rounded the corner, while pedestrians walked hurriedly past like schools of lost fish. Then, very casually, it straightened up, stretched, and followed them.



    Eventually, after much complaining and sore feet, they stumbled upon the gym, a broad, tall dome sitting serenely in a small park near the water. A short, winding path led up to it, and they moved down it eagerly, although Leaf, who remembered what happened last time she had approached a gym, was a bit guarded. The gym's top half was decorated with loudly-colored stripes, giving it an appearance of an overgrown beach ball. A huge plastic Dewgong perched in front of it, above the main entrance to the gym; the white, finned Pokemon was stretched out, grinning as if to say, This is MY beach ball.

    Upon reaching the heavy double doors, Leaf paused warily.

    "Oh, you won't fall again," Fire said, understanding her doubt. "I'm not on the other side to knock you down this time." He grinned ruefully.

    She smiled back, then pushed the doors open. They were greeted with the sight of a waiting area, heavy with the smell of chlorine. The pale blue walls with its painted fish gave them the eerie sensation of being underwater. To the right and left were doors marked "Changing Room", but one would have to navigate a large collection of tables and stuffed chairs to get to either one. A full-length mirror hung from one wall. At the far end of the room, standing to the side of a receptionist's desk, were the double doors to the gym itself, more or less flaps that could be pushed aside with minimal effort. Voices could be heard from within, amplified by that unearthly echo produced by all large arenas.

    Ocean immediately strode over to the mirror, in which he admired himself, smoothing back his hair in vain. Lightning took a seat in a nearby chair, Peach watching intently from his shoulder as he idly scrolled through his Pokedex's functions. Leaf recalled Paris and Frosti (who looked at her rather reproachfully as she did so), and she and Fire approached the receptionist, who was looking rather anxiously towards the double doors.

    Fire didn't bother with greetings. "We want a gym battle," he said, showing off his spectacular talent for not wasting any time.

    The receptionist, a blond, muscular young man wearing a shirt that read "Lifeguard", jumped at the boy's words. "What? Oh, sorry. Um ..." He paused, trying to look somewhat like he knew what he was doing. "I'm sorry, but the gym leader is currently busy."

    "Fighting?" Leaf asked curiously, craning her neck in an effort to see through the doors' plastic windows, but they were too fogged up with condensation.

    "Yes, although—"

    A sudden, mostly feminine shout from beyond the doors cut him off.

    "ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME HOW TO DO MY JOB?!"

    "... although not with her Pokemon," the receptionist said, cringing along with the challengers. He rubbed the back of his head nervously as he glanced toward the doors. "I'm sorry about this. I'm not sure when they're going to stop arguing, so you might have to wait a while. But I'll be sure to get you in as soon as I can. I'm the referee, you know. Wennett Raines, at your service. That's my job ... Would you like a souvenir?" He gestured towards the shelves behind him, which were stocked with neatly folded T-shirts. "We have them in red, indigo, turqoise, yellow, black, lime, and beige. No, I have no idea why they ordered beige. Those girls can have strange tastes in clothes, really."

    Leaf shook her head. "No thanks. We can just wait here for them to get it over with."

    "Suit yourself," Wennett said, shrugging. "But don't touch the stuff near the mirror. They belong to the guy she's arguing with." He gave them the obvious "or else" look.

    They glanced over to the general mirror area, ignoring Ocean as he struck an awkward pose. A gray vest lay draped over the back of a chair, and on the table next to it sat a small dark pack and a glaringly familiar red helmet. The teens' gazes passed over this slight detail casually, then abruptly snapped back to it in a double take.

    "What? Roark's here?!" Leaf and Fire both exclaimed in shock.

    There was a moment of uncertain silence before, bug-eyed, the two swiveled towards each other, pointing and asking in unison, "You know him? How do you know him? I thought only I knew him!"

    "Dad's weird!" Ocean commented cheerfully, looking at them in the mirror. "Begause I dow hib, do!"

    "What?!"

    "Yeah! Dey wouldd'd led be go off od by owd, sidce I'b sdill id drouble, so Jeddy sedt hib ub wid be. Aldough, he said dad I gould sday wid you guys ad de hosbidal undil we rud iddo hib agaid. I dink he dinks he's babysidding be." He shook his head almost pitingly. "Whad a lie. I'b dot a baby."

    The Pokedex snickered evilly. "And I bet that was fun for both of you, eh?"

    "Shut it, Pokedex," Leaf scolded. "Fire, how come you know him? I don't get it."

    "It was after you saved ... after the mountain incident," Fire explained, glancing away. "He called up the police and the Cerulean Nurse Joy and everyone to help rescue anybody who was up in that area. He found us in that tunnel after you fainted." He shrugged.

    "Oh. That's more exciting than when I met him. Well, actually, not really. It was, like, after the gym battle, and he was mad at me for a bit. And then he cried, which was sad. And then we walked around to look at the Contest place. That was boring, but not really, because I was watching him." She took on a starry-eyed look that made Fire sweatdrop.

    "Aw," Lightning pouted. "I feel so left out, you guys. I'm the only who doesn't know him. I sure wish I did."

    There was an awkward silence at this. Peach glared at him meaningfully.

    "I mean—" Lightning blushed when he realized what he'd said. "I mean, I — ugh, you know what I mean!"

    "We sure do. Hey, spikehead, can you turn back toward your closet and drag your little blond pal out too? He needs to make like a pendulum and show us how he swings!"

    "POKEDEX!"

    "Excuse me?" the machine asked sharply. "Is that a tone? Are you using the tone with me, young lady?"

    "Please, people!" Wennett pleaded hastily. "Let's keep the arguing down to a minimum! In here, anyway. Just calm down, if you would ..."

    Leaf glared darkly at the Pokedex, who snickered in satisfaction. Then she turned to the helmet, which was sitting rather oblivously on the table, and her murderous attitude evaporated as a rather shrill squeal wriggled its way through her throat. The others stared at her, a bit alarmed at her sudden mood swing, as she darted girlishly to the table and, a bit immaturely, poked the helmet. Then, to their utter astonishment, she picked it up and put it on.

    The helmet, of course, had no objection.

    "Ooh, this looks great on me!" Leaf crooned excitedly, standing in front of the mirror and half pushing a stunned Ocean out of the way. She struck a pose, turning back and forth, putting her hands on her hips and turning her head to the side. "And it goes with my outfit, too! Doesn't it make me look sexy?"

    The males sweatdropped awkwardly at this, trying to find a way to get out of answering that question. Leaf eyed them shrewdly in the mirror, and they stammered, "Well..."

    Luckily, a sudden angry yell saved them.

    "THERE IS NO REASON," the yell went, "FOR YOU TO TRY TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO! I AM PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF RUNNING THINGS MY OWN WAY!"

    "I know that!" protested another voice. "But you were still being irresponsible. Now, if you had put a stop to—"

    "IRRESPONSIBLE?" the first one cut him off shrilly. "YOU'RE CALLING ME IRRESPONSIBLE? I'M NOT THE ONE WHO WALKED OUT ON HER JOB, YOU PATHETIC LITTLE HOLE-DIGGER!"

    "... Is that supposed to be an insult?"

    "DAMN RIGHT IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE AN INSULT! BECAUSE FORGIVE ME IF I'M NOT AS CONCERNED ABOUT STUPID MOUNTAINS AS YOU AND YOUR SQUINTY-EYED PAL! IF YOU'RE NOT GOING TO SHUT UP ABOUT IT, THEN YOU CAN JUST FORGET ABOUT HEARING ME OUT, BUCKO!"

    There was an echoey slap, slap, slap of cargo boots hitting wet concrete.

    "AND QUIT FOLLOWING ME!" the female person shouted angrily. "WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS ANYMORE! IF YOU TRY TO LECTURE ME ONE MORE TIME—"

    "I'm not following you! Sheesh, it's not my fault that we're both heading for the doors."

    Leaf froze. Ocean shot her an oddly gleeful look.

    There was a sudden smacking sound as the doors flew open and hit the walls with surprising force; they all swiveled around in shock at the noise. Emerging from the rather humid gym beyond, in which they could see that a very large and invitingly blue pool was situated, was an angry-looking, red-faced, orange-headed girl. She appeared older than the startled visitors, although somewhat younger than Cobalt; she wore blue shorts, a yellow T-shirt, and a flustered scowl, although the latter looked strangely out of place. Her short hair was pulled up to one side in a spiky ponytail, giving her a strangely boyish look.

    Behind her came a familiar face, wearing much the same expression. Roark strode out in a huff, looking more than a bit uncomfortable, steamed-up glasses gleaming dramatically in the florescent lights. Sweat glinted on his forehead and bare arms, and Leaf realized why he hadn't worn his vest and helmet into the gym; the humidity would be just too much with those.

    Then he skidded to a halt, his scowl softening into a confused frown, as he caught sight of Leaf. The gym leader, meanwhile, followed his uncertain gaze toward the thoroughly embarrassed brunette, and her lips pressed together into a tight, controlled line — for what reason was impossible to tell.

    There was a long moment of tense, awkward silence.

    "Er," Roark said finally, pointing up at the helmet perched on Leaf's head; its redness was now rivaled by the brilliant color blotching the girl's face. "That's my ... why are you ... I mean, you're wearing ... wait, what?"

    Blushing crimson, Leaf slowly brought her hands up and pulled off the helmet. She then set it on the table, before taking a few steps backward and pointedly looking at anything but him.

    Then she jumped in shock when the Pokedex abruptly let out a series of overly amused cackles, and everyone's attention turned to it in surprise. Vibrating slightly in hilarity, it laughed so hard that it actually fell out of Leaf's handbag, smacking the ground hard, although its annoying chortling never hitched at this.

    "Mmmmmmph!" the gym leader snorted suddenly, as her tight-lipped facade suddenly dissolved in a giggling fit.

    The others stared at her for a moment; then, one by one, the five boys and Peach broke down as well, each chuckling or roaring, depending on who was laughing. Ocean actually collapsed to the floor, pounding on it wildly as he shook uncontrollably.

    "It's not funny, guys!" Leaf protested childishly, still utterly mortified; but no one heard her complaint in the rippling sounds of mirth flowing around them all.

    The gym leader wiped a tear from her eye, her breath uneven. "I'm sorry," she said, an errant giggle sneaking in to ruin the effect of that statement. "That's not how I usually greet challengers ..." She paused, overcome by another slight onslaught of giggles, before hazily reaching up to shake Leaf's hand. "Welcome to Cerulean. I'm Misty, the gym leader. I don't know who you are, but you just made my week."



    Several minutes later found them collapsed on the bleachers in the gym, most still giggling feebly. Leaf still felt sore about her recent embarrassment, and kept her attention away from them, instead letting her gaze drift over the great, rippling waters in the pool, taking up most of the space in the gym; the doors on either side of the gym, which led back to the changing rooms; the tall lifeguard's chair, situated at the edge of the pool, directly where the blond referee would normally stand; and the high, domed ceiling above them, which gave the unnerving impression that the gym was inside a large, concrete bubble.

    "I really am sorry about all this," Misty apologized, chuckling again. "But It's been quite a rough week for me. I would've gone right up to your hospital and praised you for your efforts and all that, but events ..." She trailed off, looking down ashamedly at her bare feet dangling below her.

    "I'm sure," Roark said, the only one of them who was standing. He was leaning against the side of the bleachers, next to the others. His words were serious, but they were belied by the look on his face: a radiant, almost loopy grin that showed there was no real enmity between Misty and himself. "And what could possibly be so important that you would let a whole mountain collapse before you acknowledged that there was a problem? Tell us now, before you go back to biting my head off."

    "You're pushing it," Misty replied mock-seriously. "You keep asking, 'Misty, why didn't you go investigate?' Well, why didn't Brock investigate? It's in his domain, too! And he didn't have anything keeping him busy before the Tyranitar incident!"

    The other opened his mouth, then shut it again, like a gaping fish. Clearly that thought hadn't occurred to him.

    Misty allowed herself a smirk at the boy's realization before continuing. "But as for the situation here, there've been hurricane reports off the coast, to start. Nothing too horrible — yet — but a lot of the merchant and fishing ships sailing around out there are panicking about it. They keep going off course to avoid storms, and end up wrecking against some stupid rock. I have to swim out there once every couple days to save them. It's ridiculous how few of them actually know how to swim, considering."

    Wennett nodded in approval of her tone.

    "Wow!" Ocean's eyes lit up, filled with hopeless adoration. "You swib oud dere all by yourself? You're so heroig!"

    Mist rolled her eyes at him. "I don't go out there 'all by myself'. I surf out there on my Pokemon. It's not like even I can swim for miles all alone. But there's more. Crime's rocketing for some reason ... it's not the worst here in Cerulean, but it's still a pain to control. Team Rocket's getting stronger, and it's impossible to tell where another closet grunt is going to pop up next. Then I have to keep a close eye on that idiot Bill to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid ..."

    The others stared at her uncomprehendingly.

    "You know, Bill? The one who's doing those stupid experiments that'll probably get him killed one day? ... No? ... Right. Moving on. There's been a few mass battles between Phrygoil packs. They're scaring a lot of people, and almost nobody's using the drive-thrus anymore. It's not fun to see a weasel head poke through your open car window. And as if all that wasn't enough, I have to convince those Wicked Witches that my Pokemon are not solely for their stupid shows!"

    Lightning frowned. "Wicked Witches? Who are they?"

    Suddenly, the answers to that question conveniently came bursting through a door at the far end of the gym, twirling and laughing as their hair — blond, blue, and pink — circled their heads like halos. The sight of their slender, bikini-clad forms made Ocean's eyes practically bug out of his head, and even Fire sat up straighter to watch. Abruptly stopping at the edge of the pool, the three young women each tossed a Poke Ball into the air, spinning several times before they reached out and caught them deftly.

    "Talent, power, beauty, grace!" the pink-haired one chanted in a sing-song voice, striking a pose.

    "Perfect body, perfect face!" the blue-haired one chimed in, throwing her hands to the sky in a manner that made Ocean moan and drool.

    "Team Waterflower, performing in the sea and light!" added the blond one, blowing a kiss. Lightning pretended to catch it, and Peach growled in disbelief.

    "Surrender and wonder at the sight!" the young women finished their chant in unison. They released the creatures in their Poke Balls into the pool, where they materialized in a shower of water that splashed into the air before cascading down in droplets that sparkled like jewels. A slightly small blue Pokemon with antennae skittered across the water, flapping along the surface happily. A rather stupid-looking seal-like white Pokemon flipped around in the air a couple of times before splashing heavily in the water, and a reddish, serpentine Pokemon arched its horned head back, releasing a stream of water from its annoyingly smiling mouth.

    The boys cheered and applauded wildly at the performance. The girls and Peach were less enthusiastic.

    "Marvelous, ladies!" Wennett gushed, smiling. "Truly spectacular use of water and dance! My only concern is your speed. Moving too quickly on wet cement can make you fall, you know." He nodded, as if agreeing with himself, before abruptly getting up and leaving. "I must return to my desk, sadly. I have a job to do. Until then, good-bye!" He disappeared through the doors dramatically, making Leaf sweatdrop.

    "The rhythm was all wrong," Misty commented, yawning widely. "And go put something on. You're going to make these people drool all over my nice bleachers."

    "Oh, lighten up, Misty!" the pink-haired girl said in a giggly voice. She and her two cronies began to make their way towards the group, making Ocean squeal like a fanboy.

    <I don't like them,> Peach muttered angrily, shocking Lightning slightly. This only put a silly grin on his face, however, and the Pichu yelled in frustration. <Don't look at them, sweetheart, look at ME! NO MORE OF THIS!>

    The little mouse abruptly unleashed a crackling wave of golden electricity, which swept down into the pool, creating a current of electricity that rushed through the waters, tracing their ripples. The lightning hit the water Pokemon hard, and they twitched for a moment before fainting in the deadly waters. The electricity lingered for a moment, then abruptly winked out of existence.

    Roark raised a suspicious eyebrow at her display of power, and Leaf's heart jumped into a faster, more anxious rhythm, as she hoped against hope that he wouldn't make any connection.

    "Oh, darn!" the blue-haired girl sighed in a giggly way, as she and her sisters recalled the Pokemon. This distracted the miner, and Leaf would have felt grateful to the girl if she hadn't had a sudden urge to strangle her.

    "Well, that's what you get for putting on beauty shows with MY Pokemon!" Misty said, highly self-satisfied.

    "But water shows are pretty," the blond sister complained as they reached the group. "People like pretty. Who are these people? They don't live here, right?"

    The teenagers sweatdropped at this question.

    "Anyway, we are Daisy—" the blonde continued, flipping her hair around.

    "Violet—" the blue-haired one added happily.

    "—and Lily!" finished the pink-haired girl. "Togeth—"

    Somebody gasped.

    "...'Gasp'?" Lily paused, frowning. "Was that part of the motto?"

    Daisy thought for a moment, an action which she made look incredibly difficult. Then she shook her head. "No, but that guy cut in," she said, pointing at Roark. "He's a meanie."

    Startled, he ducked his head down, cheeks flushed. "Sorry," he muttered. "It's just that ... my mom's name's Lily." His mouth turned down in a grim frown.

    "Whoa, dad's so weird!" Ocean exclaimed excitedly, the way he usually did. "Begause by sisder's dabe is Daisy!"

    "Yeah," Lightning added. "But I never had a hamster named Violet."

    Everyone stared at him.

    <..."Hamster"? What is this "hamster" you speak of?> Peach asked, eying him shrewdly.

    "Bud you dow whad dis beads?" Ocean asked Roark enthusiastically, quickly forgetting Lightning's strange remark. He grabbed the other boy's shoulders, shaking him slightly with each word. "Id beads I'B YOUR UGGLE!"

    "...What?"

    "What's an uggle?" Violet asked, confused.

    "Probably some weird technical term," Lily said, shrugging. "Who are these people, Misty?"

    "Hey, I asked that!" Daisy protested, pushing her back. "You're stealing my lines!"

    "Am not!"

    "Are too!"

    "Am not!"

    "Are too!"

    "SHUT UP! I'll tell you!" Misty interrupted, looking extremely annoyed again. "These people are Leaf, Fire, Ocean, and Lightning. They're noobs from Pallet Town, but they're getting stronger."

    "At least one of us is," Fire commented.

    "How cute! You're reaching for the stars!" Violet said happily. "Good for you! But what about meanie boy? He doesn't look like a noob. He looks like a girl!" She poked Roark's forehead a bit condescendingly.

    The miner put on an utterly astonished look. "No I don't!"

    "Ooh, he does!" Lily agreed, grabbing his chin and turning his head slightly one way, then the other. "But we'll fix that. He needs a better outfit, to start. Look at what he's wearing! It doesn't fit him at all. And then we should give him a mohawk!"

    The other two squealed in approval.

    "Ack! Not the hair!" Roark exclaimed, clutching his head protectively. "Don't touch the hair!"

    Something fell off his belt as he tried to jerk away from them. In a beam of red light, the fallen Poke Ball released some grayish creature which Leaf thought looked rather ugly, in a very prehistoric way; the same, however, could not be said for the bracelet circling her wrist, which was decorated with small, gray, intricately curved beads from an Everstone. The Cranidos glanced up at the scene, then rolled her red eyes. <With you, my boy, the Force is very strong,> she remarked sarcastically.

    From Leaf's handbag came an ominous beeping sound.

    The girl groaned in disbelief. "Why can't you ever stop?"

    "Because it's a free country, my dear Naaaarrrrrrrgh. We all have rights, and I just happen to have the right to not remain silent. Cranidos, the—" The Pokedex suddenly burst into mechanical laughter. "Actually, forget anything I come up with; its official classification is gold. Shall we hear it?"

    <NO! LET'S NOT HEAR IT! I'M SICK AND TIRED OF IMMATURE LITTLE PRICKS GIGGLING AT IT!> the Cranidos exploded suddenly. <DON'T SAY IT!>

    "It," the machine repeated. "There you go. Cranidos, the Head Butt Pokemon."

    Ocean giggled.

    <NOOOOOOOOO!> the dinosaur howled, bashing her head against the wall in frustration. <I HAVE HEARD THOSE FREAKING ARCEUS-DAMNED MACHINES SAY THAT SINCE THE DAY I WAS FREAKING RESURRECTED! WHY, FOR THE LOVE OF MEW, DID THOSE RETARDED POKEDEX CREATORS GIVE ME SUCH A RETARDED CLASSIFICATION?>

    "Anni!" Roark scolded, swooping down and snatching her up. "Remember what we talked about? You're not allowed to use your head indoors!"

    <Oh yeah ...> Anni's gaze drifted over the small crater in the wall, where her head had dented it. <Oops.>

    Misty groaned. "Great. Now I need a new wall! Why is—"

    "YOU MUST ALL SHUT UP!" the Pokedex hollered. "I WASN'T DONE WITH THE ENTRY! Thank you. Now back to our dear little butthead. Gender is female. Height is Pathetic Little Orphan That's Not Really An Orphan But Just An Actor In A Pathetic Movie That's Not Going To Do Well At The Box Office. Weight is Average Obese Person From Sixty Million Years Ago. Cranidos are aggressive little buggers that do nothing at all except smash their tough heads into things they don't like. Luckily for the world, they all died out ages ago when this big-*** meteor smashed into the ground and blew them all up. Anyone who says they went extinct some other way is a moron and should be shot in the head. But sadly some idiot miner named Roark and his weird psycho of a father went out and discovered their fossils and dug them up and resurrected them. Blasphemous. Who do they think they are, Shaymin? And now the little menaces are running around again and smashing innocent things up, but this time they have a deranged four-eyed fanboy looking out for them who wears a helmet just like theirs. Whoo, I was on a roll, wasn't I?"

    Anni shot it a murderous glower. Everyone else just stared.

    "... Does it always do that?" Roark asked finally, more bemused than insulted.

    Leaf took a long, deep breath. "Yes," she said wearily, burying her face in her hands in exhaustion. The day was't even half over yet, and she was already tired from the stupidity and sarcasm and pretty boys around her. "Yes, it does."

    "That's weird," Daisy said happily, mysteriously pulling out another Poke Ball from who knows where. "I'm going to do a show now. Who wants to watch?"

    The spectators sweatdropped at the abrupt change of topic.

    "I will!" Violet and Lily exclaimed excitedly, going into ridiculous cheerleader poses as their sister strode up to the edge of the pool. She unleashed a rather dumb-looking Pokemon with a pink, flat, heart-shaped body and a pair of creepily blank black eyes. Its inherent cuteness factor made Leaf almost as sick as the dead Jigglypuff at Mount Moon had.

    <Happy happy!> the Pokemon chirped happily, jumping up and down in the water excitedly. <Joy joy! Happy happy joy joy! Happy happy joy joy! Joy joy joy joy joy joyyyy!>

    "Oh, you're such a good fish!" Daisy crooned, patting the Pokemon's head. This action failed, however, as it was virtually impossible to distinguish its head from the rest of its body. "Let's do a show, Romeo! Go into Routine Number Eight!"

    <Joy joy!> the Pokemon exclaimed eagerly, flopping around in the pool.

    "Daisy, for the love of Arceus, SHE IS A GIRL," Misty said in a strained voice, her face starting to go red again.

    "But I call him Romeo!" Daisy said back, with a sort of pouting expression on her face. "He wants to be named Romeo, so he will be Romeo. Are you ready, my manly Romeo?"

    <Happy!> exclaimed the manly yet girlish fish. She flipped backwards in a wide arc, shooting a sparkling Water Gun into the air to create a rainbow of blues and silver-grays above the pool. The second she touched the water again, she abruptly shot across the surface of the water in a crisscrossing arc, as a skater might. A strange combination of fluttering pink hearts and clear water spouted from her mouth as she skiied across the pool for several moments, creating a strange, hoselike thing which floated in the air for a few seconds, then collapsed into the pool behind her as she continued to feed the constant stream. The hearts remained, however, leaving a distinct trail to mark where she had been. Suddenly she leapt into the air, twirled cutely as she hung for a brief, sparkling second, and splashed into the water, squealing cutely before posing dramatically in the middle of the pool.

    "Ooh!" the spectators exclaimed, craning their necks to see the end result. It was difficult to see at that angle, but there was no mistaking the pattern of the huge treble clef in the pool, composed of glittering hearts. It remained their for a moment, boldly pink, before fading out gently, vanishing as if it had never been.

    "Lame," Misty sighed.

    "That was AWESOME!" Lightning cheered enthusiastically, applauding. "Ten out of five!"

    Ocean could only groan in a fanboyish manner.

    "I shall now proceed to ruin this lovely setting with some fascinating tidbits on this stupid fish. What fun. Luvdisc, the Illegal Pokemon. Gender is Female, or so the government wants us to believe. Height is Midget, Weight is Bulimic. These sickening little buggers are famous for stalking couples who are destined to be stuck with each other for ever. People think they're attracted to love, but they're really just there to sneak in and watch when they GET IT ON, WHOOHOO! Also, they're like Lopunny in that even their males are obsessed with men. Given this, and the fact that two of them always kiss daintily when they meet each other, we can safely assume that when the world ends, Luvdisc all over the world will congregate in a Tunnel of Love and start a mass orgy. We'll see how cute they are then, eh?"

    <Joy?> Romeo asked, tilting her head to the side. As she lacked a head, however, she tilted her entire body instead, and toppled sideways into the waters of the pool.

    "Pokedex," Leaf sighed, "stop. That was really neat, actually. Paris, come out and watch this!"

    <Watch what?> the little Lapras asked cutely, materializing before her trainer in the very familiar beam of red light. She looked around, grinning. <Wow, the air is so wet here, Mommy!>

    "It is, isn't it? Watch that funny-looking fish," Leaf explained, pointing at the Luvdisc as she tried to get herself upright. "She's going to make a pretty show! Won't that be fun?"

    <Yeah, Mommy!> Paris agreed, nodding excitedly. Another couple of scales fell off as she bounced up and down.

    Leaf picked one of the indigo scales up, frowning. "Hmm. That's weird. Why do your scales keep falling off? Do you feel sick, Paris?"

    <No, I feel great!> Paris replied, grinning as she looked over at the pool.

    "Good. Still, there's got to be a reason for it." She turned to Misty, who was looking utterly bored. "Misty? Do you know why they're dropping off?"

    Misty shrugged, although she looked somewhat surprised at Paris's unique coloring. "Oh. Um, I have no idea. Wennett probably knows, though. He's more of a brainiac than I am." She took a deep breath, then bellowed an echoing shout: "WENNETT! GET IN HERE!"

    "Yes?" Wennett asked sycophantically, rushing back into the gym and skidding to a halt next to them.

    "This Lapras is losing scales for some reason," Misty told him, pointing. "Do you know why?"

    "Hmm." He crouched down to Paris's level. "Hi, you're very cute, aren't you? Yes, I think I know why."

    "Routine Number Twelve!" Daisy called, not noticing the Lapras. Romeo happily obliged, beginning by putting on a burst of speed that left a sparkling trail of water behind her.

    "Wild Lapras are found mostly in polar regions," Wennett explained, patting Paris's head. "They're naturally accostummed to those waters, having an Ice sub-type. But it's still too cold for the newly hatched calves, so they developed a different mechanism."

    A slight rustling diverted Leaf's attention. Turning, she was surprised to see a very tanned young woman with bronze-colored hair seating herself a fair distance from the group, dressed lightly but not nearly as lightly as Team Waterflower. Her silvery eyes locked onto Leaf's for a moment, and she nodded slightly before turning her attention toward the show, her sharp-featured face looking tense.

    Misty followed Leaf's gaze. "People come in here all the time," she said, answering the girl's unspoken thought. "They like watching gym battles or those retarded shows. Carry on, Wennett."

    Anni, meanwhile, watched the Lapras in shock. Then she turned to Roark, who was watching Routine Number Twelve in fascination, and pulled sharply on his pant leg until he looked down. "What?"

    <Look!> she hissed quietly, pointing. <That must be my niece! That cute Lapras there! That purple Lapras!>

    "Indigo," he corrected automatically, dropping his voice to a softer volume. "Whoa, that's really neat! Skipper with a really pretty daughter. I like that." He looked proudly at Paris, eyes gleaming a bit wetly.

    Anni stared in hopelessness at his expression. <You're not going to start blubbering again, are you?>

    "Of course not," he said defensively, sniffing. "Poor Skipper. He feels awful for letting her go. And he wouldn't have done it if he hadn't remembered what Dad did."

    <Yeah, that guy's a *******,> Anni agreed casually. <Poor us. What's wrong with your head?>

    "I don't know," the miner said with a slight grimace, rubbing his temples. "I just ... ugh, I feel weird for some reason."

    <So do I. That guy—> She pointed at Ocean as she spoke. <—is one of the strangest people I ever saw. He's moaning more like a Miltank than the Miltank ever could.>

    But Roark couldn't hear her. He was suddenly having the ominous feeling that his brain was about to be stabbed at and swirled around on a stick like a puff of cotton candy.

    "Calves have an extra outer skin for the first month or so after hatching," Wennett was still explaining, picking up a scale and pinching it slightly. "That second skin has a denser concentration of fat molecules to keep them warm, as well as provide a little extra defense against predators. After that first month, they shed the skin. The peeling scales signal that the skin's about to go ... scientists aren't sure why it does that yet. In warmer climates like this, though, they'll shed the skin a lot earlier."

    "Oh, that makes sense!" Leaf said contentedly, patting Paris's nose. "I thought something bad was about to happen. Silly me."

    At that moment, of course, three bad things happened in quick succession.

    Romeo, in spite of her great coordination on the water, abruptly smashed into the side of the pool, sending water splashing all over the group, who cried out indignantly.

    Paris stared at the dazed Luvdisc for a brief second before squealing <I wanna play with the funny-looking fish, Mommy!> and abruptly darted off toward the water, which would not have actually been such a bad thing if the motion wasn't immediately followed by an extremely ominous RIIIIIP!

    And Roark suddenly gripped his own head and keeled over like demons were spitting on him, his groans a great deal less comical than Ocean's somewhat pathetic cow noises.

    "WHAT THE HELL?!" Misty exclaimed, leaping to her feet; around her, the others did the same, looking confused and horrified. They glanced from Paris, who had just jumped into the pool and left great clumps of scales behind, to Roark, who was on his knees and bending as if he were about to hurl. "WENNETT, CALL AN AMBULANCE! WAIT, I'LL CALL AN AMBULANCE, YOU SEE WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE LAPRAS, THEY DON'T USUALLY GO 'RIP'! DAISY, GET LUVDISC OUT OF THE POOL!" she ordered, white-faced as she sprinted for the doors, nearly slipping on the wet concrete. "YOU PEOPLE GIVE HIM CPR OR SOMETHING!" she added, speaking to the Pallet noobs before disappearing through the doors, which flapped violently as she burst out through them.

    "Paris?" Leaf called anxiously, staring at the pool as the boys around her rushed to attend to the miner, while Anni looked on in paralyzed horror. Team Waterflower dived into the water, calling for Romeo in overly dramatic voices.

    <I'm okay, Mommy!> was the Lapras's muffled reply which wafted from the mess of splashing water. <This fish is funny. It's tickling meeeeeheehee!>

    Satisfied that her Pokemon was in no immediate danger, she swiveled around and rejoined the boys, who were looking extremely traumatized.

    "Oh no!" Lightning squealed, bouncing around fearfully. On his shoulder, Peach jumped around in a startlingly similar matter. "Somebody get the midwife! I think he's going into labor! Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no—"

    "Lightning!" Fire exclaimed, staring at him incredulously. "There's a time and place for stupidity! I highly doubt that this it it!"

    "Whaddawedo?" Lightning hollered, not really listening to the brunette. "Whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo whaddawedo—?"

    "CBR!" Ocean interjected fervently, getting to his knees. "I saw dis od DV! You lay hib dowd od his bag—"

    "There's something wrong with my head!" Roark interrupted insanely, eyes wide with terror behind glasses that had fogged up again. "My head is hurting and I'm going to die and WHY IS IT NOT GOING AWAY AND ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!"

    "... Of gourse, usually de vigdib doesd'd thrash aroudd," Ocean added nervously, as the miner started doing just that. "Uh, galb dowd, Roarg. Roarg? Dabbid, he's dod listeding. ROARG, SDOB BOVING LIGE DAD OR I BIGHD HAVE DO HID YOU. ARE YOU LISTEDING? YOU'RE DOD BAGING DIS ADY EASIER OD YOURSELF! JUSD SDOB SGREABING LIGE A LIDDLE GIRL OR LIGHDDING, AD DAGE A DEEB BREATH!"

    "Ocean, stop it!" Leaf snapped, her heart pounding as if it were about to smash its way out of her rib cage. The gym seemed to swirl around her in an echoing cacophony of fear and horror and worry, and she shuddered. "He can't hear you, so just shut up!"

    "Bud I gad'd do CBR od hib if he's doing dis!" Ocean protested, grabbing the miner by the shoulders and pushing him toward the ground with enormous effort, where he stayed mostly face-up, besides the obvious and ungainly thrashing. "Dow loog, od DV id was mosdly lige dis: the bersod leads over de vigdib, lige so ..." He lowered his face to Roark's, trying to lock on to his mouth.

    Abruptly they were all startled by the Pokedex's sudden laughter. "AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" it guffawed, snickering from Leaf's handbag. "I ALWAYS KNEW YOU WERE HIDING SOMETHING LIKE THAT IN THAT CLOSET, SPIKEHEAD! WHAT'D I TELL YOU GUYS, HE'S AS STRAIGHT AS A CIRCLE AND MAKE NO MISTAKE—"

    "STOP IT!" Leaf hollered, looking down to glare at it. A small movement caught her eye as she did, and she looked up to see the strange tanned woman, sitting and watching them with slightly narrowed eyes.

    Almost as if she were concentrating.

    "I swear to Arceus," Leaf declared furiously, marching toward the woman with a murderously fast pace, "if you're trying to kill him for some damned reason, you won't know what hit your freaking tan face when I'm through with you!"

    "Calm down," the woman said quietly, but in a voice of powerful boldness.

    "'Calm down'? Is that a joke? You're—!"

    "Leaf, I can't deal with you at the moment," the woman interrupted a bit sharply, never taking her eyes off the scene. "I've saving him from himself."

    Leaf paused. "What?"

    "Living a lie can kill you. That's what he's been doing, even though he doesn't know it. I have no idea how it could be in his head that long without one of us noticing, or even how the perpetrator could have put it there without getting our attention. Leave a dream like that in someone's brain for too long, and it starts twisting around its folds in strange ways ... of course it's going to hurt him. He'd have to have an IQ of ten or below for this not to. At least I nipped your misguided thought in the bud now, as opposed to a less convenient time."

    The girl stared at her. "What are you talking about?"

    "Now's not the time for explaining."

    "Damn right it's the time for explaining! You just tell me what's going on, or—"

    There was a sudden, surprising silence behind her. Turning, Leaf saw to her astonishment that Roark had rolled over on his side. For some completely random reason, he had abruptly fallen fast asleep. Ocean hastily put his ear by the miner's slightly open mouth to make sure he was breathing — which he was, though his breaths were ragged and uneven. Anni still stared, completely and utterly frozen.

    The abrupt calm was infinitely more eerie than the screams. It echoed around them in a deep stillness, the ghosts of noises still bouncing in her mind and chilling her to the bone. And yet her heart fluttered happily as she watched Roark's unconscious form, his expression almost peaceful. He's okay! ... Right?

    "Dreams always start with sleep," the woman remarked behind her. "And so they end that way, too. He'll live, but he might freak out a bit trying to reconcile with himself. But your problem—"

    "What problem?" Leaf snapped, swiveling around again.

    "—has already been dealt with by me," the woman finished. Having finished her strange concentration, she turned to face the girl, eyes flashing. "Leaf, I'm sorry. I know that you trusted so much in her, but you had to be disillusioned sometime—"

    "WILL YOU QUIT TALKING IN CIRCLES AND JUST GET TO THE DAMN POINT ALREADY?"

    The woman didn't even flinch. "Look behind me," she sighed, "and see how you've been deceived. I'll see you outside." She turned and started for the door, glancing over her shoulder.

    "...Weirdo," Leaf muttered, watching her go. "Why am I listening to a freaky lady? And how does she know my name, anyway? She must be one of those stalkers. Cobalt could take a couple lessons from her."

    Then she looked ahead to the pool, and froze as she saw the truth.

    Team Waterflower was climbing out of the pool, sopping wet; the young women were handling the dazed Romeo carefully, murmuring comforting words to the dazed Luvdisc. Near them, Wennett was staring in utter shock and disbelief at Paris, who flopped up out of the pool cheerfully, giggling. The pool and surrounding concrete were littered with stray indigo scales, scattered like flower petals. The second skin floated in the water, translucent and radiating a deathly, chilling beauty, like an exotic snakeskin. The large hole in the thing's back marked the place where Paris's shining silver shell had been. In the midst of all the blue water and indigo scales, it took Leaf a moment to catch sight of Paris. Then a strange, Lapras-shaped silhouette moved against the water, and Leaf gasped in utter horror when she realized that it was not a silhouette at all.

    Because — the reality pounded choppily in heavy waves through her disbelieving mind — Paris was the color of the rippling water behind her.

    Not indigo.

    Not.

    Shiny.

    At.

    All.

    * * *
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 24th September 2009 at 1:42 PM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  15. #140
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    And this took only ONE month to write. ZOMG.

    * * *

    Chapter Fourteen: It's a Blunderful Life (The Twist in Fate!)

    "You're ... not ... shiny?" Leaf asked finally, in a strained voice. The room seemed to spin around her, shattering and melting as her former security in that one fact — I have a shiny Lapras, I'm so cool! — dissolved before her eyes. How could she face the world without that satisfying knowledge?

    <What's shiny, Mommy?> Paris asked cutely, making Peach facepalm.

    "Fascinating!" Wennett breathed, watching the Lapras intently. "This must be some sort of genetic mutation! The genes which affected alternate coloration were found only in her second skin! What a discovery ..."

    "Leaf?" Lightning's voice distantly wafted toward her from somewhere. "Leaf, are you okay?"

    She couldn't hear them. The blood pounding painfully in her ears was too loud.

    <Mommy?> Paris repeated, tilting her head a little to the side.

    The girl shuddered. "I ... I have to be alone for a while. This is just too ... too ... I don't know." Shaking her head, she slung her handbag over her shoulder and headed towards the doors which she had entered through not too long ago, embarrassed but in a better mood overall.

    <I'll come!> Paris exclaimed happily, bounding after her trainer.

    "I mean really alone," Leaf said a bit sharply, surprising the young Lapras. "That means you stay here, Paris. Understand?"

    <...Yes, Mommy,> Paris agreed sulkily.

    "You are never aloooooone," the Pokedex put in eerily, but Leaf ignored it. Instead she walked away, not looking back, shoes hitting the concrete softly as she brushed through the doors and out of sight, as if in a dream.

    The strange woman waited on the other side, sharp eyes widening as the girl appeared. "Leaf, I'm sorry. I needed to speed the process of the shedding. You had to know—"

    "Leave me alone," the girl muttered, stalking away.

    "I had no choice!"

    "I TOLD YOU," Leaf exploded, swiveling around to glare at her, "TO LEAVE ME ALONE! HOW HARD CAN THAT BE TO UNDERSTAND?"

    Silver eyes flashed dangerously as the woman matched Leaf's gaze. For a moment she seemed about to give some cold and threatening warning about impudence to elders and other such things. But then, to Leaf's surprise, she lowered her head slightly in a nod. "Forgive me," she said, sounding almost humbled. "I shouldn't lecture while you're distraught. Take some time to come to terms with reality. I will find you when you're ready."

    "Ready for what?" the girl asked bitterly.

    But the woman had already swept past, navigating around the untidy furniture with ease and exiting gracefully through the main doors.

    "... Is something wrong?" a voice behind her asked uncertainly. Leaf glanced over her shoulder briefly to see Misty watching her, tapping her fingers anxiously on the phone sitting on the receptionist's desk.

    The brunette sighed, turned, and stormed dejectedly towards the exit, ignoring the gym leader's concern. The sun, perched directly above the earth in its glorious noontime position, illuminated the park around her and the gleaming buildings of the city beyond. The woman was nowhere to be seen, but, as Leaf marched down the path back into the urban environment of Cerulean, the sounds of approaching sirens filled the air with their cacophonous wailing.

    But the girl couldn't see whether they were in range of vision yet. Her eyes were squeezed shut in horror; but when she heard the skid of tires and the slamming of doors, the hasty rustling of people rushing past her with a rattling gurney, and the curious, half-hostile tone of their questioning voices, she was sure that, if they saw her as they ran, they wouldn't be wondering who she was, why this girl was just moving like a sleepwalker.

    No, they'd be wondering why a single, glittering tear had forced its way past her eyelids, soaking her dark lashes in despair.

    * * *

    "Out of the way, out of the way!" a person in white exclaimed, bursting heroically through the doors with his gurney. Several other people rushed in after him, with Misty bringing up the rear, but they all skidded to a halt when they took a second look at the situation: the snoozing miner surrounded by three noobs, a curious electric mouse, and a horrified-looking dinosaur.

    "The victim is ... sleeping?" asked a female doctor uncertainly.

    "Sssh! Dod'd wage hib ub!" Ocean whisper-screamed, waving them back.

    "Ocean," Fire said wearily, getting up from his kneeling position, "these are doctors. I think we'll have a better chance of helping him if we let them wake him up."

    The spiky-haired boy blinked. "... Oh."

    A doctor approached the unconscious form, frowning slightly as he knelt to examine the situation. "'Scuse me, pardon me, need to check him here. Respiration?" he muttered, leaning forward until his ear was over Roark's mouth. "Normal, though a tad uneven. Pulse?" He put two fingers against the pale neck, and felt the blood pound rhythmically under the skin. "Normal ..."

    <That was creepy,> Peach commented. She nuzzled Lightning, feeling him still tremble slightly. <I hope that never happens to you, sweetie.>

    He patted her head reassuringly, not understanding a word she was saying.

    "... And normal," the doctor finished. He faced the other doctors, looking puzzled. "I'm not really sure what happened here," he admitted. "He seems perfectly fine. He's only a bit tense, and he's perspired quite a bit, which are usual symptoms of going into shock, or a seizure ... but people don't recover that fast from either of those, so ..."

    The medical personnel looked thoughtful at this news. "That is odd," another doctor commented unnecessarily. "I suppose we should figure out who his parents are, and—"

    "Don't call 'im," a sleepy voice mumbled.

    Everyone jumped at the unexpected sound. Surprised, the boys swiveled around to see Roark yawning and stretching. He pushed himself into a sitting expression, eyes tired and half-open.

    "You okay, son?" the doctor beside him asked concernedly.

    "Yeah," the boy replied, although Lightning noticed he had tensed slightly at the word "son". "I'm alright, just a bit tired ... wait, what happened?"

    "You fell for sobe reasod," Ocean explained, in the understatement of the year.

    The doctor shook his head in wonder. "This is very odd ... Hang on for a moment, and I'll try to search up for whoever your parents are. They should know about this incident ..." He paused to rummage through the pockets of his white coat, looking for something.

    "Don't contact him."

    "Excuse me?" The doctor looked up, irritated by the young man's tone. As a rule, doctors work best as a team, as efficient and smooth as clockwork. Civilians who felt like they had something to say about the way things worked were rather like gum stuck between the interlocking gears. It was difficult to get things back up to speed, and it wasn't easy to get rid of indignant civilians, either. Nothing annoyed doctors more than people who got in the way of whatever they were doing.

    But he froze at the sight of those eyes. They were gazing sternly at him, burning with a cold and harsh light that made his skin crawl. Don't argue with me, they seemed to say, or else you will be very, very sorry.

    Several small things, cold and circular, were pushed unobtrusively into the doctor's hand. His fingers tentatively traced one of their surfaces, and his eyes widened when he realized how many zeroes were there.

    "Do not," Roark repeated firmly, retracting his own hand, "contact my father."

    The doctor swallowed. He knew better than to turn down such a good bribe, especially one from such a unnerving person, even though the ethics of doctoral honesty wailed at him not to. "Er, of course not." Standing, he returned to the rest of the doctors, waving at them to follow him. "He's eighteen," he explained to them, pocketing the coins with the faintest cli-clink. "People that age don't need parental contact when injured. We're done here."

    His companions nodded, though still looking slightly confused. They followed him through the doors, vanishing beyond the gym's perimeters with the slight echoing of footsteps as they returned to the waiting ambulance outside.

    There was a moment of uncertain silence.

    "... You're dod really eighdeed, are you?" Ocean asked finally, making everyone else facepalm.

    "I'll just pretend I didn't hear that ..." Roark said, edging away from him. He looked over at Anni, who was staring at him with wide red eyes and shivering slightly. "Anni? Are you okay?"

    For a moment she just watched him, not moving. Then, with alarming swiftness, she leapt at him, colliding with him painfully as she locked her stubby arms around his neck and sobbed miserably.

    "OOF! Anni, Anni, what's wrong? Everything's fine—"

    <No it's n-not!> she wailed, burying her face into his shoulder. <I c-couldn't do anything! I just st-stood there, and you could've d-died! Then we'd b-be all alone, fending for ourselves, or worse! I c-can't even protect my own trainer!> Out of breath, she inhaled sharply, before dissolving into tears again.

    "Oh, Anni," he sighed, shaking his head. Hugging her comfortingly, he rocked back and forth slightly, trying to calm her. "It's all okay now. There's nothing to worry about; whatever happened is over. It doesn't matter."

    <Yes it does!> she protested shakily. <You could have died!>

    "But I didn't."

    <But you could've!>

    "I don't think you'd have been able to do anything about it, anyway."

    <I should've at least tried!>

    "Anni, I'm not blaming you for anything! You were just startled when it happened, that's all. I'm not hurt, so it's okay."

    <B-but I was so scared,> she sobbed, surprising him. She had to be feeling strongly about this, he knew, if she could unbend her pride that far to admit her fear.

    "I know," he agreed, squeezing her gently. "I was scared, too."

    They were silent for a second, as the echoes of their voices bounced hollowly against the walls of the gym before fading. With a start, he realized he was trembling just as hard as she was.

    But it fell upon Ocean to break the mood, as usual. "Waid," he said, confused. "You gad uddersdadd her?"

    The other boys facefaulted at his slow insight.

    "Romeo ..." someone muttered. Looking over his shoulder, Lightning saw Team Waterflower huddled together, gazing at the Luvdisc.

    "He's asleep and lost in dreamland!" Lily said dramatically.

    "Romeo, Romeo," Daisy crooned, "wherefore art thou, my manly Romeo?"

    "STOP CALLING HER ROMEO!" Misty yelled at them.

    "But it's his name," Violet protested.

    "JUST TAKE HIM — I MEAN, TAKE HER TO THE POKEMON CENTER! DON'T JUST STAND THERE LIKE BRAINLESS GEESE!"

    "Hey!" Daisy said indignantly. "Don't call us that! We're not geese!"

    "Oh, for ... go already, will you?"

    "Rooooomeooooo ..." the bikini-clad girls intoned mystically as they carried the fish through the door-flaps and out of sight.

    Misty sweatdropped. "They are so damn weird ..." She turned back toward the group, but almost tripped over the grinning Lapras in front of her. "What—? Holy mother of Darkrai, weren't you shiny ten minutes ago?"

    At the sound of her words Roark and Anni glanced around, their disbelieving shock showing clearly on their faces.

    "I don't believe she was ever actually shiny," Wennett commented, much to everyone's surprise; they had completely forgotten he was there until he had spoken up. "It's likely just a genetic abnormality in that skin. But beneath it, on her normal, post-infant coat of scales, she's just an ordinary Lapras."

    Fire raised an eyebrow. "Well, beauty is only skin deep."

    "Hmm." Misty patted Paris on the head distractedly. "This is all very odd. What happened, exactly?"

    With a sigh, Lightning began to explain the events which had been in motion during her absence. The acoustics of the gym magnified his words, giving them a surprising larger-than-life quality; as he spoke, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, as a strange thrill swept over him.

    A moment of silence passed after he had finished, as the echoes died into nothingness and only the lapping waters of the pool, together with Anni's hitched breathing, could be heard. Wordlessly, Misty reached down and picked up a random indigo scale, examining it closely. Then she glanced up at Roark, an orange eyebrow raised. "I guess rolling on the floor screaming is manly in your opinion."

    He looked away. "Well ..."

    "Miss," Wennett cut in, speaking of course to Misty, "do you suppose that Leaf could have headed north, toward the Cape?"

    Misty froze. "To the Cape? Oh, if she did ..."

    "What Cape?" Fire asked, frowning.

    "Cerulean Cape. It's an area full of beaches and forests, and a couple hotels scattered conveniently around. Basically your average tourist trap. But Bill also lives up there in his stupid cottage, where he researches stuff. He's a bit ... what's the word I'm looking for—?"

    "Evil?" Lightning asked in an attempt to be helpful. "Crazy?"

    "Mm ... eccentric," Misty said finally. "That's the one. But he's also sort of a genius. If Leaf runs into him, she might get hit with all sorts of terrible things. Calculus, for example. Or microbiology, or any other foreign concept he's studying at the moment. I suppose we should save her from brain implosion."

    "Indeed," Wennett agreed, nodding. "I'll make sure the rest of the day is clear of appointments, miss. I don't believe there are any battles scheduled for this afternoon ..." He turned and swept away, brushing aside the doors with ease.

    Ocean frowned. "Bud we dod'd deed do go charging afder her if dad's all she'd have do worry aboud."

    "That's right," Misty agreed. "But he tends to get caught up in sharing his interests with people. In fact, he might even show her one of his latest projects." She blanched.

    "... Dad's bad, righd?"

    "Bad like you wouldn't believe."

    "Miss!" Wennett stuck his head through the doors. "You have an email, miss! Would you like to read it now, or—?"

    "Now's a good time," Misty decided briskly, heading towards him. Behind her, the boys got up to do the same, looking a bit uncertain. Still shivering slightly, Anni scrambled up onto Roark's shoulders, and he gritted his teeth at her weight.

    In the waiting room, the gym leader approached the computer sitting on the receptionist's desk; an annoying pop-up flashed on its screen, announcing that someone had emailed her. Next to her, Wennett checked some sort of memo pad, while the boys emerged shivering from the gym; they had already gotten used to its steaming, chlorinated atmosphere, and tiny droplets of moisture clung to their clothes.

    "Oh," Misty said softly, instantly causing everyone else to look at her. "He's been ... oh dear ..."

    Leaning over the counter, Lightning craned his neck around to see the message.

    ~

    Hey Misty,

    Guess what, I'm on the edge of a HUGE scientific breakthrough!! WHOOOOHOO!!!! It should work out hopefully, but if I start acting really weird, like crazy or something, then there's a bottle of white stuff in the fridge that you'll have to make me drink. (It's not my "special stuff", LOL!!) But it'll probably be fine. Big experiment = awesomely famous me!! Stay awesome!!

    Bill

    ~

    Lightning blinked. "Um ... he likes exclamation marks, doesn't he?"

    "The last experiment Bill did," Misty said tightly, fists clenched, "he almost blew up half the Cape. And that was a normal experiment. Normal for him, anyway. Dammit, dammit, dammit. This is NOT GOOD."

    "Oh do!" Ocean exclaimed worriedly. "We deed do gatch ub do her! Bill bighd do sobeting drasdig do her, lige durd her iddo a boy!"

    He started to bolt off in a random direction, only to trip and fall ungracefully over Roark's outstretched foot.

    "You can't go anywhere on your own," the miner sighed, as the spiky-haired boy smashed awkwardly into the carpet. "That's a pity."

    "Wennett, you stay here," Misty ordered, although she was forced to stifle a snicker at Ocean's pained face. "Keep an eye on the Lapras while we're gone. I don't know if Leaf can handle the sight of her at the moment. And if my sisters come back, keep her away from them. I don't want the poor thing to get brainwashed by their stupidity."

    "Yes, miss."

    "Come on, the rest of you." She darted around the desk and out the door, with the bemused boys following close behind.

    * * *

    I was wrong.

    A breeze, heavy with the pungent scent of sea salt, tossed Leaf's hair half-heartedly. Pausing to glance over the railing, she barely registered the storm clouds looming above the water's surface far off in the distance. All she knew was that the chillingly sharp rocks sticking up out of the water below looked disturbingly inviting.

    I thought she was special, she thought defeatedly, her eyes feeling weighted down with unshed tears. It was supposed to mean something, finding her. It was supposed to mean something!

    The dull edges of an indigo scale cut into the palm of her clenched fist. She couldn't remember picking the scale up at all, but she knew that this was all that remained of the Pokemon who had been her pride and joy. Unbidden, the words Oak had spoken upon Paris's hatching drifted to the surface of her mind. "A shiny egg ... they say that people who find one of those are 'chosen' or something along those lines ..."

    But I'm not chosen. I'm not special at all. And she's not either.

    Memories of Paris's smiling eyes, gleaming from an indigo face, flashed before her eyes in a poisonously painful montage. As a baby, curiousity shining there at feeling a human's touch for the first time ... in the forest, wide with delighted excitement as she defeated Fire's Drowzee with ease ... their excited flash as she stood in the street beside her father, small against the menacing shadow of Tyran.

    We've been through so much in such a short time, I thought nothing could shake my love for her. Would I still be so protective of her, so loving, if she hadn't appeared to be shiny from the start?

    She thought of her radiant delight at the sight of the newly hatched Lapras, stumbling clumsily over her own indigo flippers. Then the mental image shattered and reconstructed itself into a different scene: a blue Paris standing in the dark, helpless and alone, whimpering pitifully in fear as a shadow advanced toward her, claws menacing.

    And she felt nothing.

    I never loved her, she realized numbly. It wasn't love. It was satisfied greed, and pride in having such a valuable pet to fawn over. But she's worth nothing now.

    The thought stung more than she had anticipated. Shaking her head to clear it, she turned from the railing and returned her gaze to Nugget Bridge, which stretched from beneath her feet to the land on the other side of the small inlet. A few trainers were standing at random intervals on the bridge, looking bored. But she had never in her life had any less desire to battle, and she uncertainly hoped that the expression on her face would deter them.

    "Oh hiya!" exclaimed the nearest trainer, a dirty little boy who was holding a net for some reason; having noticed her, he bounded in her direction eagerly, reaching for a Poke Ball.

    Apparently not.

    "Kid, I don't want to battle," she snapped darkly, looking for a way to get past him.

    He blinked. "Oh. Well, that's too bad. Because I do want to battle!" He then guffawed heartily, as if he had just said the funniest thing in the world.

    Leaf just stared at him.

    "Oh, and here are my Pokemon who you'll fight!" he exclaimed, unleashing a Caterpie and a Weedle. The familiar bug shapes entered a couple of battle stances which aimed at being frightening, but failed miserably.

    The girl, in response, did nothing.

    "Aw, come on!" the boy pouted, putting his hands on his hips. "Don't be a sore loser before you've even lost!"

    For a moment Leaf's eyes flashed dangerously, as the boy's words brought Paris to mind again. Then, her expression still stony, she unleashed her other two Pokemon. "Beat everyone on the bridge if you have to," she ordered them, turning back to watch the bleak weather forming on the horizon.

    Frosti was staring at her incredulously even before he had fully materialized. <Geez, what's with her?>

    <Mmph,> Cheri said unconcernedly, looking over at the caterpillar Pokemon opposite them.

    <Pfft. Girls these days. Ow, watch it!>

    <Oh, sorry!> giggled the Weedle, who had just rammed his horn into Frosti's foot.

    <Funny, you don't sound sorry,> the Charmander growled, before blasting the little bug with an Ember. Squealing in pain, the Weedle staggered backward, only to trip and fall over Cheri's timely String Shot, smashing into his ally the Caterpie. The two caterpillars groaned as they hit the bridge, unconscious.

    "... No!" the boy said predictably. "My Pokemon cannot be fainted! They are the most powerful creatures in the entire world!"

    Frosti snickered as the boy stalked away. The lizard then picked up Cheri, who seemed completely indifferent to this, and began to walk further down the bridge while carrying her.

    Only to be halted by the next trainer, a girl whose sudden appearance made Frosti jump. "Oh hi! You're Pokemon, aren't you?"

    The Charmander blinked. <... Wow. Way to fail.>

    "You're so cute!" the girl squealed, making it obvious that she hadn't understood him. "I think I'll battle you! Go, Pidgey!"

    <Yeah! Twin fliers activate!> exclaimed a small bird as it burst from its Poke Ball. The brown Pokemon had a cream-colored belly and wing-tips, and black markings emphasized sharp eyes. She spread her wings, catching the wind and doing a backflip excitedly.

    "Oh my goodness. It's the little winged rat that we all know and hate!" Even at a distance, the smarmy voice of Leaf's Pokedex, sticking haughtily out of her handbag, was unmistakable. "You know, girl, you need to cheer up. So pay attention to me, dammit! Pidgey, the Really Dumb Pokemon. Gender is Female. Height is Not Tall, Weight is Not Heavy, because having a brain would make it weigh a lot, you know? These buggers are gentle and prefer not to fight. THOSE PACIFIST FREAKS. But it also has an incredible sense of direction, which can be really useful for them, because then when they have to fight, they can easily find their way home to their mommies, the imbeciles! And by the way, these things are EVERYWHERE. In fact, I can't believe we haven't seen any of these maniacs yet! People usually can't go two feet without tripping over eighty of them!"

    <That thing stabbed at my honor!> the Pidgey exclaimed, spreading her wings even further in an attempt to look more powerful. <Time to heal my wounded ego with the wounded foe! KAMIKAZE BIRD AHOY!>

    <Eh?> Frosti grunted confusedly, only to gasp as the bird's Tackle knocked the wind out of him. He dropped Cheri, who landed with a soft clatter onto the bridge, although she did not look particularly bothered by this.

    <The kamikaze failed?> the Pidgey said disbelievingly, jumping into flight again and hovering over the fallen Charmander. <Impossible! I was sure that the mystical Selfdestruct technique would have taken hold by now!>

    Frosti stared at her. <You can't be serious.>

    <Mmph.>

    The Charmander glanced over at Cheri, who had somehow gotten herself into an upright position. The Kakuna extended one of her stinger-like arms to point at him, then at the Pidgey, and finally at herself. Realizing what she meant, Frosti jumped to his feet, ready for action.

    "Quick, Pidgey!" the bird's trainer exclaimed, bouncing up and down excitedly. "Hit him with Gust while he's down!"

    <I am serious!> the Pidgey protested at Frosti, unaware that he was edging slyly towards her. <You can't not be serious about the kamikaze! But enough of this, for it's time to demonstrate that the wind gives me SUPER STRENGTH!>

    She began to flap her wings rapidly, summoning a wind that buffeted at Frosti's body; but the lizard, gritting his teeth against the onslaught, leapt into the air and grabbed her clawed feet in a death grip, startling her out of her Gust. Shrieking in shock, the Pidgey fluttered frantically in an attempt to yank herself free, but Frosti's weight, together with the element of surprise, allowed him to tow her down; descending back to the bridge, he flung her feathery body downward to Cheri.

    Quick as a wink, the golden cocoon extended her two stingers, just in time for the hapless Pidgey to land right on top of them. Blood spurted freely as the stingers gored the soft, feathery body like hot knives sinking into butter, and the Pidgey let loose an agonized cry, her wide eyes staring into Cheri's dark, impassive ones. She jerked one way, then another as dangerous poison was pumped painfully into her body.

    "Pidgey!" the trainer exclaimed in horror, fumbling for the right Poke Ball.

    <Kamikaze ... failed ...> the Pidgey moaned distantly, before she was absorbed into a beam of red light. The trainer, not even sparing Leaf's Pokemon a glance, darted back at full speed to Cerulean, probably in hopes of finding a Pokemon Center.

    Frosti met Cheri's eyes. <I'd high-five you, but dead teammates probably aren't your favorite kind,> he said nervously.

    <Mmmmmph,> Cheri replied indifferently.

    "Run away!" someone screamed. Looking up, Frosti was astonished to see two of the trainers ahead sprinting away from them, looking utterly terrified. "The demon bug is going to kill us all! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"

    Looking after the vanishing humans, the Charmander raised an imaginary eyebrow. <"Demon bug"? I always knew you were evil, Cheri,> he commented, amused.

    The remaining trainer, who appeared to be a boy scout of some sort, pulled up his pants haughtily as he began to march toward the Pokemon. "I won't run away! Not from you! It's my civic duty to keep things like you under control!"

    <Things, are we?> Frosti muttered, good humor quickly evaporating. <You're going down, kid!>

    "It's time to take action!" the boy scout continued dramatically, unleashing a Pokemon. "Mankey, bring these two to justice!"

    <Justice!> echoed the new Pokemon as he materialized. He had a cream-colored, almost perfectly round body, sporting pointed ears, lanky arms and legs. A brown-tipped tail that lashed furiously to and fro as he examined his opponents. His pig-like nose twitched as he caught their scent, and his eyes narrowed even further.

    "Leaf, get over yourself," the Pokedex yawned, to no avail. "Oh look, another ugly fatty. Mankey, the Butterball Pokemon. Gender is Male. Height is Ugly Little Man, Weight is Holy Crap What A Chunk Of Flab. Mankey is the ultimate bipolar Pokemon. One minute it's normal — as normal as a blubbery monkey can be, anyway — but the next it's a complete maniac! It goes into a rage and starts attacking everything in sight! Which, incidentally, makes it rather like Leaf ..."

    "Not really," Leaf muttered, barely listening.

    "That was supposed to make you go into an explosive rage and prove my point. Wow, you're so helpful. NOT."

    The Mankey began breathing heavily through his nose, eyes burning with sheer rage. He locked gazes with Frosti, and the Charmander gasped when he realized that those eyes were actually changing: they narrowed into slits, starting to glow an eerie red, before abruptly opening as wide as they could go. They were almost completely covered by their unnaturally dilated pupils, and Frosti shuddered in horror at the sight.

    "Great Leer, Mankey!" the boy scout cheered. "Now use Focus Energy while he's distracted!"

    <Distracted,> Mankey repeated, sounding overly furious. He blinked slowly to clear his eyes before taking a deep breath, flexing his fingers ominously.

    Cheri watched the scene serenely. Taking advantage of the moment, she stiffened her shining golden shell, making it glint even more in the sun. Then she stiffened it again; she had no desire to let this savage damage her forming body within.

    Meanwhile Frosti, still shivering, began to cough, a dry, hacking sound that startled everyone but Cheri. For a moment his body convulsed with the involuntary movement, but abruptly he finished his fit with an especially nasty wheeze, and a stream of gray smoke spewed from his open mouth. It hovered in front of Mankey's face, forming into an annoying, semi-transparent cloud.

    <That's Smokescreen for you,> Frosti said with a smirk, straightening and looking proud at using the move for the first time.

    "Ignore it, Mankey!" the boy scout cried shrilly, and the Pokemon snorted violently at the strong stench of smoke surrounding it. "Go in close to the Charmander so you can't miss, and hit it with Karate Chop!"

    <Karate Chop!> the Mankey echoed, scrambling in closer in spite of the cloud that was making his eyes water. Then, in a lightning-fast movement, he brought his fingers together and slammed his hand down onto Frosti's head.

    <OW! Cut it out, you savage!> Frosti snapped irritably, wincing.

    Suddenly, unbidden, a snatch of words from a battle long ago came back to him, in a rush of far-off memory: "Iron Tail is inaccurate, and therefore, unreliable ..." But I'm close this time! he thought, so if I really focus, I'll hit him! Without further ado, he summoned the metallic power to his tail. In an instant he felt its uncomfortable weight bear it down, but he forced himself to swing it in a swift arc, concentrating his attention solely on hitting the Mankey.

    He was rewarded with the feel of his tail hitting a coarse-furred body and an audible thump, as the savage primate was flung backward with a surprised yowl, before hitting the bridge with a satisfactory squeal of pain.

    "What? No!" the boy scout shouted, glaring as Frosti's tail resumed its normal orange color. "I cannot lose! This is an outrage!"

    <Outrage!> Mankey repeated, drawing himself up to stand as tall as he could. Then he deflated and turned to his trainer, saying, <But I do not know Outrage.>

    The boy scout blinked. "Why are you just standing there saying 'Mank maaank'?" he asked angrily. "Hit that Kakuna with Karate Chop!"

    <Karate Chop!> the primate said robotically, swiveling around and bringing his hand down hard on the unmoving cocoon. Frosti watched incredulously as the momentum of the Mankey's movement involuntarily brought additional power to the arm's swing, and he gasped, realizing that this would cause the chop to deal far more damage than normal.

    But the boy scout did not take into account that Cheri had been patiently Hardening herself the entire time, not to mention the general ineffectiveness of Fighting moves against her kind. As such, the Mankey smashed his hand into her shell only to realize in dismay that in spite of all the power applied, the warm golden coating remained as firm and unscathed as ever. Then he looked down and discovered his hand was broken.

    <Hand,> he spat, before turning angrily to his trainer. <My hand is broken! You will fix it by allowing me to bury it in your flesh!>

    "Don't use that tone of voice with me!" the boy scout shot back angrily, but he stepped back when the monkey's eyes took on a bloodthirsty glow. "No! Get away from me, you freak!"

    The Mankey leapt at him, growling; in terror the human fled down the length of the bridge, screeching in a very un-scout-like manner.

    Leaf didn't even look up.

    <You're welcome,> Frosti shot sourly, glaring at her unmoving slouch before turning. <Hey ... there's another guy coming up the bridge now. Hope he doesn't want to battle,> he added unhappily. He didn't like to admit it, but fighting three battles in a row, even with Cheri, took a toll on him.

    "Are you the trainer of those Pokemon?" the lanky teenager asked Leaf as he approached, pointing at Frosti and Cheri without looking at them. His hair was getting whipped around by the wind, and he had a cloak wrapped around himself for some reason.

    The girl just shrugged.

    "Their performance was fascinating," the teenager went on, taking that as a yes. "You must be a great trainer. In fact, here's a prize which I think you deserve." He pulled a shining gold orb seemingly out of nowhere, which glinted blindingly in the sun, throwing enchanting flecks of light against everything. Frosti gasped at the sight of such unexpected beauty.

    For the first time Leaf slowly looked around to fix her unfeeling gaze on the Nugget. "The last time I got something valuable," she said tonelessly, "it turned out to be nothing but fake."

    "But it's real!" the other spluttered, looking scandalized at the idea that he was trying to give her some painted rock. "I've weighed it and everything! Now take it!" he ordered, shoving it into her hand.

    Frosti watched as Leaf tightened her grip on the Nugget without looking at it. For a moment he thought that she was going to turn and throw it far out into the waters of the inlet; but then she simply tightened her grip on it slightly, her face as expressionless as ever.

    "Excellent!" the teenager exclaimed, beaming. He then spun rapidly in place, in appeared to be an impromptu ballet; when he abruptly skidded to a stop, however, he had mysteriously ditched his cloak, revealing a black uniform with a bright red "R" blazing on his shirt. "And now, I have a proposition for you. I represent a segment of the population which doesn't get the respect it deserves ... but it might if you join us. And by us, I mean the great Team Rocket! We need trainers like you, you know, so will you join our ranks and become part of one of the greatest endeavors of the century?"

    The girl shrugged. "Sure."

    <What?>

    He looked taken aback. "Really?"

    "Mm. I don't even care anymore. Whatever happens to me won't make me anything special," she said in a dead voice.

    The Rocket grunt deflated. "But your heart needs to be in it if you'll join! If you cheer up, then—>

    "FRATERNIZING WITH THE ENEMY, I SEE!"

    He swiveled around to see the gangly figure of Elvis standing beside him, having appeared quite without warning. Snatching the precious stone from Leaf's unresisting hand, the famous rock star gave the grunt The Look, and the latter suddenly realized that this was none other than his own beloved (for want of a better term) admin. "Wait," he said, puzzled. "You mean ... this is the one with the shiny Lapras?"

    "Exactly. Now go back to camp this instant."

    "But ..." The grunt scrunched his face up in confusion. "But I thought you were going to ambush her on the way to the gym!"

    "I was," Cobalt agreed grudgingly, "but Phlash took so long ripping up that stupid crown that when I reached the hospital, they'd already left. It was impossible to reach them fast enough to ambush them properly, so I started heading back to camp to make sure Gina hadn't blown everything up. Now go."

    "But—"

    "Go!"

    <Yeah, go!> chirped a familiar voice at Cobalt's feet. Phlash poked her head up from behind his ankles, staring at him eerily.

    The grunt shrugged and ran off in a hurry, secretly glad that the admin hadn't punished him for almost losing the Nugget. He still thought the girl needed it more than Team Rocket, anyway.

    "So," Cobalt said, glaring at Leaf.

    The girl, however, had returned her gaze to the distant ocean beyond the inlet. The sun was beginning to vanish behind the approaching cloud cover, but the day's stifling heat still lingered oppressively. Frosti wondered vaguely if the weather was an incidental reflection of his trainer's current attitude.

    "... Well, aren't you going to fight?" Cobalt asked tersely, starting to turn red as he realized that the argument he had been looking forward to wasn't going to come easily, if at all. Wait, "looking forward to"? Where did that come from? He frowned at the thought.

    Leaf still didn't reply.

    "At least say my outfit looks stupid, or something!" the admin demanded, preferring a confrontational approach to a cold stillness. Plus, he wanted a good excuse to battle her. Nothing pleased him more than beating a foe in an unfair fight, after all.

    Only silence greeted him.

    "Ugh. Well, if you're not going to argue, then just hand over the Lapras!" he snapped, stretching out his hand as if he actually expected her to give him the sea serpent's Poke Ball.

    "The Lapras." Leaf turned away from the railing and stared at him, expression as dead as ever. "Do you really want the Lapras? After all the trouble she's caused me, and you, and everyone we've met this whole time?"

    Cobalt actually flinched. Though the girl's face remained numbly unemotional, her voice oozed with unanticipated venom.

    "If you want her, then you can have what's left of her!" she spat darkly, shoving the scale she held into his hand. "She won't mean as little to you as she does to me, anyway!"

    Then, turning sharply from him, she stalked away, feet echoing hollowly as she traversed the bridge. Frosti blinked at her sudden departure, then bent down to pick up Cheri, who was still as detached as ever.

    Cobalt stared at her, then looked down at the glimmering scale in his hand, then back up at her shrinking form again. "Is the Lapras okay?" he asked Frosti uncertainly, wondering what on earth Leaf's enigmatic outburst could mean.

    Frosti glared at him automatically. <Of course she is,> he said, though uncertainty dulled the sharpness of his words. Clearly he was just as confused about the girl's behavior.

    The tall human nodded distractedly as Frosti began to follow his trainer, staggering slightly at Cheri's weight. Then he returned his gaze to the scale, running a finger along its edge, and smirked as an idea came to him. If Rocket technology was as good as the Boss and his scientists claimed it to be, he might not need the Lapras herself to complete the mission. The scale would have the adequate genetic material to create another one just like her!

    <Weird Hair Guy, your grin is really weird,> Phlash commented hypocritically, tongue lolling out of her mouth. She glanced over to the girl, who was stepping off the bridge and rounding the corner, vanishing from sight; the Charmander and his buggy baggage followed close behind. <Aren't we gonna chase them or something? I wanna bite the lizard, we didn't finish our fight when the city blew up.>

    "We don't need to," he told her, pocketing the scale with a feeling of fierce pride. The Lapras's condition didn't matter to him anyway, he told himself. With the stone shards and the scale, all that remained was to deliver his prizes to the Boss, in exchange for that lofty title of Executive which he had coveted for so long. His dreams were about to come true, and even though the clouds above loomed closer, grouping together in a dark and ominous congregation, he felt as if the sun shone all about him, and he basked in its imaginary, golden glory.

    Then he blinked. For some strange reason, something in the back of his brain was nagging at him to follow her. He frowned, his good mood slowly trickling away as he tried to figure out why. There was no reason to do so, after all; he'd just been gloating over the situation, so he knew better than anyone why it was unnecessary. Yet still the feeling lingered, floating just on the edge of his consciousness like an itch he couldn't scratch.

    And then suddenly he grasped the general idea, the meaning of his need to follow her: a sense of danger lying ahead, ready to snap her up like a ravenous Carnivine lunging for a cute yet pathetic little animal. And then there was a flash of something more: a sensation that the danger was unlike anything he had ever experienced, a being of such unfathomable evil that the mere suggestion of its existence made goose bumps prickle up his neck.

    His heartbeat jumped into overdrive at the thought. He couldn't imagine where that strange idea had come from, or why it had appeared in the first place, but he knew he had to stop her. If she met with the evil, she would almost certainly be killed — unless she was even less lucky.

    <Oy!> Phlash exclaimed, tugging at his pant leg. <Quit staring into space like one of the alien warthogs! I wanna go do something, like actually spread Ronald McDonald's truth to everyone! Y'know, before the Frozen Face Followers can regroup and start the Apocalypse, okay?>

    "No," he said, sharper than he had intended; apprehension of what was lay ahead had unsettled him. "We're going to follow them after all, Phlash. But we need to hurry, I think they're heading into some sort of trap."

    <But I thought—>

    "Hurry!" he exclaimed, already darting down the length of the bridge. Wind brushed against the hairs on his wig, but he merely pressed on, ignoring the faint rumbling of the brewing clouds. Phlash scampered after him, mouth wide open in excitement. She couldn't have any idea what was going on in her trainer's head, but instinct whispered to her that something exciting was about to befall them.

    * * *

    <IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD!> Frosti howled wildly. <WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE! SOMEBODY SAVE US BEFORE WE DIE!>

    "It's just rain," Leaf muttered flatly. A few warm, fat drops of water splashed against her head, as if for emphasis.

    <It could still kill me,> Frosti remarked darkly, drawing his tail in front of himself as if to protect it; its flame wavered slightly as he spoke. He almost knocked it into Cheri, whom he still carried, and only just whipped his tail away again in time, although the cocoon didn't appear to care anyway.

    Standing at the edge of an overhanging cliff, Cerulean Cape, they looked at the sandy coast below them and the restless ocean beyond. Several disgruntled tourists could be seen making their way back from the beach, thoroughly unhappy at the sudden arrival of raindrops; but their mutterings were drowned out by the cracking, rolling thunder from clouds as black as coal, their vast expanses rapidly obscuring the blue sky above. It seemed that Misty's stories of hurricanes broiling over the sea weren't exaggerated in the slightest. Yet even with vile weather closing in, the view from the Cape was breathtaking; standing there, one would feel as if they stood close to the edge of the world, with nothing but endless sea and eternal sky stretching before them.

    <I bet they're not happy,> Frosti commented, chuckling at the tourists in spite of himself. <Serves them right for sitting on the beach all day. But at least they have some shelter to go to, and get out of this.> He looked up over his shoulder, gazing wistfully at the fancy-looking hotels behind him, sitting neatly in a long row. Cliffs loomed over those buildings, tall and enigmatic in the fading light; crooked trees grew out of their sides in seemingly impossible postitions, their gnarled roots twisting in and out of the sheer faces.

    Wincing as more raindrops fell on him, Frosti squinted and focused on a blob of color at the base of a cliff face, before it resolved itself in his vision as a two-storied yellow building, topped with a green roof. It didn't look like one of those fancy-schmancy hotels, he thought. With any luck, they could stay there until the storm passed.

    <Follow me!> he ordered, his voice higher-pitched than usual in his anxiety to avoid the inevitable downpour. Scampering off between two hotels to get there, he glanced over his shoulder briefly to make sure Leaf was following. To his relief, she was, head bent and shoulders sagging. Rain didn't pose nearly as much of a threat to humans as it did to Charmander, he knew, but she still couldn't stay out and get hopelessly wet, no matter what she was angsting about.

    It was really only about a minute before they had arrived at the door, but it seemed longer to Frosti; his tail was starting to steam worryingly in the rain, and he began to shiver. For a moment Leaf just stood by him, and he wondered if he should be the one to knock on the door, but as this thought occurred to him she wearily lifted her hand and rang the doorbell, whose haunting, muffled echo could be heard faintly chiming within.

    Almost immediately the door was flung open by a wild-haired brunette whose clothes were ripped in various places, although said clothes had probably not been in prime condition to begin with, anyway. His palms seemed to be dusted with something dark and rust-colored, looking horribly like dried blood. As he stared at Leaf, his expression twisted into an intense, hungry look, which so unnerved Frosti that he suddenly wished they had not come this way at all.

    "It's raining," Leaf said dully, not seeming to notice the young man's stare. "We need to come in to get shelter."

    The man blinked rapidly. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," he muttered, glancing around over her shoulder furtively. "C'mon then. Hurry now!" He turned and started back into the building, beckoning them to follow. Frosti stared at him for a moment, feeling more and more weirded out, but Leaf merely entered mechanically, and the Charmander grumbled to himself as he tagged along after her, Cheri still sitting impassively in his grip.

    The building, as he saw once his eyes had adjusted to the dark, looked vaguely like it had once been a house: the hall they walked along had empty frames lining its walls, and a brief glimpse of an adjacent room revealed a rather dead-looking sofa sitting gloomily in the dim lighting. But as they turned into another room, the acrid chemical smell that hit Frosti's nose told him loudly that this setting belonged more in some underground lab. Now all we need is some mad scientist to step out and start cackling wildly, he thought, sneezing in disgust at the strong stench.

    He and Leaf stood in the doorway of the room, watching the young man clumsily step over something that looked like a stuffed Feraligatr, as he crossed the confined space to a cabinet at the opposite side of what had been a kitchen once upon a time. An unknown substance bubbled cheerfully in the sink, and something that looked like a whole crime investigation lab sat on top of a long counter. Books were scattered messily on the floor, filled with strange equations and words that made Frosti's head hurt just looking at them; from the various scribbles that defaced their open pages, it was obvious that their owner had made several notes concerning their mysterious contents. A strange, exotic-looking plant had attached itself to the wide, grimy window above the sink, and was crooning happily to nothing in particular, its orange flowers opening and closing rhythmically.

    The sight and smell of the place brought a faint flash of understanding to Leaf: This must be that Bill person Misty mentioned ...

    <Help me!> a voice suddenly squealed from the far, unseen side of the long counter.

    Dimly, as if in a dream, Leaf uncertainly navigated her way around the chaotic maze of books, head still muddled in the aching sadness of disillusionment of Paris's true nature. The voice, she noticed vaguely, had been quite fearful about something, and none too soft, either, although Bill, still rummaging around in the cabinet and muttering to himself, didn't seem to have noticed. Frosti followed her uncertainly, keeping his eyes on the strange, jerky movements of the young man. It was as if the human didn't fully have a handle on his own body.

    As he almost tripped over a book that had been sitting inconveniently in his way, Frosti's hold on Cheri slipped slightly, and her blank gaze was shifted so that she caught sight of Bill for the first time. The Charmander's surprised growl was cut off by Cheri's sudden <MMMMMMMMMPH!>; the anger and fear in her muffled shout was the first emotion she had displayed at all since evolution.

    Then Frosti, having finally reached Leaf's side, caught sight of what was behind the counter, and he stared in utter amazement. Sitting there was a bizarre-looking machine: a large, tarnished gray box covered with dials and buttons, most of which appearing as though they had no purpose whatsoever besides looking cool and somewhat official. There was, however, a large yellow lever, which they shrewdly assumed was the most important part of the contraption, due to a large sign sticking up above it that read "THE BIG ONE" in big, bright red letters. On either side of the machine was a somewhat large, semicircular container, big enough for a full-grown human to sit in. One appeared to be unsealed, a transparent door-flap hanging open from its side; the other one, however, contained a frightened-looking pink fairy Pokemon, which bore a close resemblance to the sickeningly cute Jigglypuff.

    Upon seeing them, the fairy Pokemon's eyes widened, and she fluttered her wings frantically, grabbing at the edges of her container's door-flap with her stubby hands. <It's going all wrong!> she shrilled at them, her brown-tipped ears twitching in alarm. <Get out of here while you still can! It's a—!>

    Something smashed Leaf to the floor, and she gasped as the weight of whatever it was pinned her down mercilessly against the ice-cold tiles. Dazedly she stared up, and her eyes widened when she saw what it was: Bill, straddling her stomach with his knees pinned against her sides. He smiled down at her, a feral grin that was made even less human by the thunder breaking out overhead. The knife in his hand glinted a bloodthirsty silver.

    "Time to die, sweetheart," he hissed, and lunged.

    * * *
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 23rd May 2010 at 12:07 AM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  16. #141
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    502

    Default

    These are coming quick now

    Rant time! Leaf is such an obnoxious selfish brat who only cares about herself. Lapras are really rare and Paris was really nice to Leaf and Leaf was all horrible because Paris wasn't actually shiny! And then she goes and takes it out on little Frosti and Cheri! /end rant. hmph

    A very emotional chapter i do say. And very vivid battle with the Pidgey I was almost hoping that the Mankey would kill its trainer so there could be another crushing

    And Bill is a psychopath. Lovely. I'd like to see what happens next...

  17. #142
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    Haha, exactly. She's not exactly Miss Perfect anymore, is she? *evil grin*

    I was almost hoping that the Mankey would kill its trainer so there could be another crushing
    ^ *winner of DDT's "Should Have Thought Of That" Award*

    And here's another very long chapter. Seriously, I meant to put this up ages ago. Curses on my laziness, but yay for plot twists!

    * * *

    Chapter Fifteen: Cascade and Masquerade (Truth versus Lies! Cheri's Triumph!)

    <NO!> Frosti screamed, watching in horror as the knife sliced downward. Growling in rage, he flung himself at the leering young man, even though part of his brain protested that it was already too late to save the girl; he had barely sprung into the air when the razor-sharp metal cut into Leaf's black tank top, tearing the spot right above her heart. A sting of cutting steel—

    Fortunately, thanks to the sudden appearance of a throwing knife that zinged conveniently through the air to smash it out of his hand, Bill's thirsty blade got no further.

    "Take your hands off her!" a young man shouted, standing heroically in the doorway.

    With a snarl, Bill leapt towards him, fingers extended towards him as if they were claws; in response the challenger merely pushed him backward, righteous anger distorting his aquiline features. Bill staggered drunkenly backward, looking winded. A moment later, he shook his head distractedly before returning his attention to the newcomer, curling his lip to reveal pearl-white teeth.

    Gasping in an attempt to get her breath back, Leaf shuddered as she propped herself up onto her elbows, feeling shock and gratitude flood through her barrier of unfeeling numbness. The man had a shock of blindingly bright orange hair, but she soon realized that Cobalt had merely changed wigs again; the Elvis look would hardly do any good in a fight such as this. But this thought hardly registered in the incredulity washing over her. He saved me? But we're enemies ...

    <Get back, phatty!> Phlash yelled, appearing from behind her trainer's ankles and lunging hungrily at Bill. The brunette yowled as she clamped her jaws onto his arm, but he nevertheless savagely flung his arm around to smash her lithe body into the counter nearby. The weasel whimpered in pain, but instead of letting go she tightened her toothy grip even more, causing droplets of blood to ooze from his skin.

    <Leaf, Leaf, are you okay?> Frosti asked, rushing to his trainer's side, all annoyance at her previous attitude forgotten.

    She almost said yes, but with a shiver she realized that saying it would be a definite lie. "I don't know," she admitted, surprising him with a sudden hug. Gingerly she touched the spot where the knife had nicked her. A slight cut could be seen through the tear in her tank top; a deathly red stain glittered on the edges of both cut and tear. Her blood turned to ice as she realized how narrowly she had escaped death. If Cobalt had arrived even a second later than he had—

    <Mmmph!>

    Swiveling around, human and Charmander looked behind them to see Cheri getting into an upright position, bouncing slightly on her point. She glared darkly at Bill, looking ready for a fight; with two sharp snaps she unfolded her stinger-arms, raising them in preparation to stab.

    "Cheri!" Leaf began, but the golden cocoon took no notice of her trainer's protest. With small leaps she bounced across the floor, waiting until the roaring brunette was in range before hitting the back of his knee with a sudden String Shot. The effect was immediate: crumpling, Bill collapsed on the floor with a screech, although he was soon back on his feet again. With a muttered curse of fury he launched himself at Cheri, swooping down and grabbing her with hands ready to squeeze the blood from her like a juicer squeezing concentrate from an orange.

    Before the girl could cry out in worry about the Kakuna's fate, however, Bill dropped the Pokemon with a shriek, wailing as he stared at his hands; they were a brilliant red, glowing with the blisters forming along his palms in painful, uneven ridges. Cheri hit the floor with a loud clack and was still.

    "No," Leaf gasped, eyes widening. "Oh please, don't let me lose another one! NO!"

    Another yowl forced her to return her horrified gaze to Bill, who in his maddened wrath had lunged for Cobalt. The admin was staring at his hand, staring in disbelief for some unknown reason; thus he was taken by surprise by Bill's attack, even with Phlash's angry, muffled cries. The young man whose true hair color was still indeterminable was thrown bodily against the floor, but, recovering rapidly from his shock, he rolled over as he fell until he hit the stone-cold tiles with a foot extended outward. Bill, not seeing the foot in time, tripped over it and landed on all fours, still snarling at Cobalt; coincidentally, Phlash was still snarling at him.

    A glow diverted Leaf's attention back to Cheri, and she realized that the faint, eerie light was coming from the cocoon herself. Her mouth dropped open in astonishment as she watched cracks suddenly rip along the Kakuna's golden body, and some translucent liquid, faintly green, oozed from the long, shallow fissures. Humming softly, Cheri retracted her stinger-arms and held them tightly to her body, seeming almost to shrink. Then, as the light winked out from her eyes, a brilliantly white spear stabbed its way out of her side with a violent RIP!, followed almost instantly by another.

    "Cheri ..." Leaf murmured. Even the young men had temporarily halted in their struggle, watching in amazement as the rest of Cheri's new body burst from its former confinement, scattering golden flakes that hissed with vicious heat as they bounced across the floor. The insect rose to her full height, shaking slightly from the effort of freeing herself. Leaf remembered seeing Beedrill for the first time in Viridian Forest, but she still gazed at her Pokemon's new form in wonder: a golden body with two jet-black stripes encircling her abdomen, with spindly black arms and legs tensed. Black antennae, shaped like twin sevens, twitched as Cheri unfolded four broad, veined, semi-transparent wings, glimmering softly in the dim light and damp with the mysterious greenish liquid.

    As the glow faded, the tall bug gazed down at her limp Kakuna coating which lay prone and broken on the ground, looking eerily like a mutilated corpse. Her luminous ruby-red eyes narrowed in interest at the sight. Then a ragged breath from Bill, whose astonishment was fast fading, caused her to snap her head around at the young men, and they all tensed at her sudden movement.

    Abruptly Cheri rushed through the air with lightning speed, knocking Bill to the ground with unanticipated force. As he collapsed beneath her, the bug swayed slightly, as if exhausted from her sudden evolution; nevertheless, she hit him in the small of his back with a String Shot, which flew not from her intimidating, pearl-white stingers, but from her pointed, virtually invisible mouth. Phlash, finally releasing her jaws from the psychotic human's arm, grinned at the enormous bee before jumping on Bill's head and chanting, <Die, phiend, die! Die, phiend, die! Die, phiend, die! Die, phiend, die! Die, phiend, d—>

    "We heard you the first time!" Cobalt hollered at her in an annoyed voice. Then he looked around at the strange machine, staring at the Clefairy. "And what are you going on about?"

    Leaf looked around at the fat pink fairy, realizing belatedly that the Pokemon had been pounding on the sealed door to get attention.

    <It needs to be reversed!> she shrilled. <Hurry, the batteries on this thing won't last forever! Force her in here while she's down!>

    The two followed the fairy's gaze, and their jaws dropped open when they realized the Pokemon was referring to Bill, who was swearing nastily from his awkward position on the floor. "'She'?" Leaf asked incredulously. "What are you talking about, that's Bill!"

    <That's not Bill!> the Clefairy retorted, now looking thoroughly exasperated. <That's the Clefairy! I'm Bill, and this is very awkward, so shove her in the other containment unit already!>

    "You're who?"

    <Just do it!> snapped Bill-the-Clefairy, rolling her eyes.

    Blinking in confusion, Leaf met Cobalt's eyes, wondering if he had any better understanding of this situation. Judging by his expression, it seemed safe to say that he didn't; but he merely shrugged it off and pounced on Clefairy-the-Bill, who was shrieking in horrific anger as his arms were twisted up behind his back. He writhed wildly in Cobalt's grasp in an effort to free himself, but with the help of Cheri's sticky String Shots and Phlash's enthusiastic tugging, the admin managed to drag the man across the floor, hauling him along until they had reached the open container. Realizing what they planned to do, Clefairy-the-Bill made a last stand to stay free by planting his rear on the floor in order to make caging him in as difficult as possible.

    Unfortunately, one of Cheri's stingers was waiting for him.

    "AAAARGH!" he yowled, as he leapt into the container while cradling his behind; it is usually not a good idea to sit on a Beedrill's stinger, particularly if one can avoid it. With lightning speed, Phlash shot forward and slammed the door-flap shut, sealing the seething brunette within.

    "Are you okay?"

    Leaf did a double take when she realized that Cobalt was standing above her, reaching down to help her up. Shaking herself, she grabbed his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet.

    Their eyes met.

    "Um ... yeah," Leaf muttered, embarrassed. "Thanks. For saving me, I mean."

    "No problem." Cobalt still looked rather unnerved by the whole situation. "I did what I had to do, you know?"

    An abrupt wolf-whistle made them jump; it had come from from the Pokedex, still in Leaf's yellow handbag, which in the scuffle had been thrown across the floor. It was then that they realized that they hadn't let go of each other's hands. Clearing their throats awkwardly, they pulled away with a nervous laugh.

    "You'll be okay?" Cobalt glanced around at Clefairy-the-Bill, who was banging furiously on the walls of his container and making Bill-the-Clefairy cry out indignantly. "Or should I take care of that *******?"

    "I'll be fine," Leaf assured him, although she wasn't altogether sure that she was telling the truth.

    "Okay. Well, er ... I'll see you later then." Beckoning to Phlash, he turned and started back for the hall, dark in its windowless confines.

    "Cobalt?"

    "What?"

    "Why'd you come?"

    He paused, turning back to watch her from the doorway. Looking at her standing there, with a fiery lizard and slim bee flanking her, it was impossible to imagine that she had almost lost her life to an incredibly evil being; only the painful-looking tear on her shirt suggested that such a thing could have happened. Why did he still feel the urge to make sure she really was safe, even though the danger had obviously passed?

    "I don't know," he admitted, in response to both her words and his own internal struggle, looking more bewildered than ever. Then, in a sweeping, billowing movement of his cape, he had gone.

    Leaf stared at the spot he had just stood in, pointedly ignoring Frosti's knowing leer. Within herself, she could feel emotion flood through her, sweeping around the icy barriers of impassive coldness. Every breath filled her with a quiet joy, as she realized how incredible it was to live, having been so close to being murdered. And she was immensely grateful for Cobalt's arrival, just as she was utterly confused by it. They were enemies, standing firmly on opposite sides of the law, and they hated each other enough to kill.

    At least, she'd thought they did.

    "Hey!" An angry voice abruptly broke in on her thoughts. "What are you doing here, you ... you Rocket! No, come back here! Still sneaking around wherever we go, are you? That's right, run away! And quit stalking us with that Gina person!"

    "Lightning?" Leaf called, her surprised voice echoing off the blank walls.

    "Leaf! Hey, guys, she's here, and she's not dead!" There was a scampering of small feet, and a second later the short blonde had appeared in the kitchen, Peach perched on his shoulder as usual. Looking behind him, he continued to holler. "She's okay, guys, really! And whoa, her Kakuna evolved again? Nice!"

    "A Beedrill?" Ocean appeared beside him, staring in wonder at the golden bug. "I still need to catch some of those, that one's a real beauty! Look at those spears, they're like ivory ... oh, hi Leaf. You're okay! Awesome!"

    She blinked in surprise as they both jumped on her in a sudden, relieved hug. "Whoa — Aw, thanks, you guys!" she exclaimed, returning their embrace. The memory of Bill leaning over her, knife in hand, resurfaced in her memory, and she shivered as she saw how she might never have seen her friends again. Last seeing them in a fit of sour gloom, hardly caring about anything in her self-absorption ... Knowing how close she was coming to a complete breakdown, she forced herself to change the subject. "And ... Ocean, you don't have a cold anymore?"

    "I don't?" He frowned for a moment, sniffed experimentally, and immediately beamed. "Hey, I don't! I guess warm hurricane weather helped fix that!" He pushed back his spiky hair in vain, before striking a triumphant pose.

    Leaf just stared. "A hurricane? Am I missing something here?"

    "You did." Fire arrived next, his hair incredibly windswept. Unlike the other boys, he was completely drenched: water dripped from his clothes from head to toe, creating an awkward puddle around his feet. "We rode out with Misty on the waves. It was the only way we could catch you in time, even though we didn't." He looked slightly ashamed for a moment before continuing, "But the ride was quite a splash, to use a bad pun. Have you ever seen the skies turn to night-black in less than five minutes? And white waves and thunder were everywhere. It was like being in the middle of a legend." For the first time in possibly forever, a smile that was actually enthusiastic crossed his face.

    "I guess," Ocean agreed, shrugging. "Fire loved it. He had his hands in the air like he was on some roller coaster. I never knew he could whoop like that. Ow!" he cried out, as the brunette punched him in the shoulder.

    The picture forming in Leaf's head was abruptly shattered by a rather impatient voice.

    <I HATE WATER!>

    "You didn't have to stay out, I could've recalled you!"

    <You'd probably go drown yourself, dear Yoda of mine. Somebody has to keep an eye on you. But it should've been Skipper, dammit, because he likes water. BUT I HATE IT!>

    "Stop screaming!"

    <I HATE IT! I HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE WATER! ALMOST AS MUCH AS I HATE RETARDED POKEDEXES!>

    "I heard that!" the Pokedex chastised.

    <I HATE IT! I HATE WATER AND I HATE PIPLUP AND I HATE PRINPLUP AND I HATE ANYTHING THAT HAS TO DO WITH PIPLUP! AND I HATE WATER, TOO!>

    "You don't say."

    "Oh, good Arceus, Roark, can't you shut your dinosaur up?"

    "I would if I could. Whoa, whoa, wait, you're not bringing that in here, are you?"

    "Why not? She can fit. See, look. C'mon, girl, duck your head in. That's it! Just squeeze through the—"

    CRUNCH.

    "... doorway. Dammit, it almost worked. Sorry, Bill!" Misty's voice seemed to be addressing the house at large.

    "Well, this is awkward."

    Ocean, of course, snickered at this.

    "Oh, it's not too big of a problem. He can afford fixing it, and worse things have happened to this house anyway. Now come on. Maybe we'll find her chained up in a basement or something."

    Lightning rolled his eyes as he walked over toward the hallway to see what the others were doing. "Geez, guys, I just told you she was okay, weren't you listeni— HOLY CRAP, WHAT ARE YOU BRINGING HER IN HERE FOR?"

    "Protection," Misty's voice replied airily.

    "Protection ..." Lightning repeated, shaking his head in disbelief.

    "Remember that word, kid," the Pokedex put in smarmily. "Protection. It's the most important thing you'll need after you hit puberty."

    "POKEDEX!"

    Just then two familiar people with hairs of varying redness stepped into view, both as dripping wet as Fire. Roark appeared first, and he seemed to be limping; a closer look, however, told Leaf that this was due to Anni, who was standing resolutely on one of his feet and gripping his leg as if she would never let go. She looked extremely cross, her dark, rocky hide looking almost black from the moisture she had been exposed to. Misty followed them, looking as if she rode out in hurricanes every other day (which, according to her, she probably did). A large red head with an annoying smile arced its way through the doorway after her, and Leaf recognized it with a start as the red sea serpent which Team Waterflower had used in their entrance.

    "Holy ...!" Roark froze in midstride, hazel eyes widening at the sight of the tear in Leaf's shirt. Then he snapped his gaze up to meet her face, horrorstruck. "What happened to you? I thought Misty was exaggerating when ... when she said ..."

    Next moment, in a movement so sudden that Anni was sent flying, he leapt forward and grabbed the girl in a hug so tight and protective that for a moment her eyes bugged out, but after a moment she relaxed, a feeling of real warmth, real security, sweeping over her for the first time since the journey's start. To be in the reassuring grasp of a friend ... because that's what they were, she realized, not just celebrity and fangirl, but people with bonds of friendship strengthened by adversity and fate. A broad grin lit her face as she returned his hug, a grin caused by the knowledge she had just seen — although the fact that he had her pressed comfortingly against his chest obviously had something to do with it as well.

    The Pokedex suddenly wolf-whistled again, making them stiffen in surprise; somewhere out of sight, Ocean, Lightning and Anni were snickering. Blushing furiously, the two let go of each other in a hurry, pointedly refusing to look at any of the others.

    "Well, um ..." Roark stammered awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head as he glanced away. "You're okay, thank Arceus ... death by steel is the worst way to go, you know, and ... er ... you are okay, right? Who did this to you?" he asked suddenly, snapping his gaze back upward. "It was that Rocket who ran out of here, wasn't it? He tried to stab you!" The horror returned to his face as he reached this conclusion.

    But Leaf shook her head. "No, it wasn't him, it was—"

    A sudden roar made everyone jump; Clefairy-the-Bill was throwing himself against the door-flap in a vain attempt to break out.

    "He's trapped," Leaf explained, feeling strangely calm in spite of the fact that she was staring at her would-be killer. What is with me and my random mood swings? "Apparently, he switched bodies with the Clefairy, which is why he's acting like that."

    <It's not because she's a Clefairy!> Bill-the-Clefairy spluttered. <It's because of the processes she's undergone, when — oh, I have to explain properly! Pull the lever on the machine, I want to switch out of this awkward female body!>

    Everyone stared at her.

    "But ... but that's impossible!" Misty exclaimed, shaking her head. "Nobody can put themselves into a Pokemon body, not even Bill!"

    "I guess they can now," Leaf said with a shrug, grasping the lever and pulling it towards herself.

    A sharp hissing made her jump back in alarm, and they all watched in nervous fascination as an eerie white vapor began to pour into the twin containment units. As their occupants inhaled it, they almost immediately stiffened, eyes wide at some sort of horror that only they could see. Then, in unison, they flopped to the bottoms of the containers, limp and dead-looking. Vapor hung above them in a rather creepy matter, floating like an ominous fog that clouded up the door-flaps and made it impossible to see. A pair of twin knobs on top of the box section of the machine flared with bright blue electricity: one, two, three brilliant flashes of crackling light, followed by a sudden BOOM that shook the entire machine. Lightning squealed and dove for cover at the sudden noise. Then, abruptly, the vapor within dissipated into nothingness, and the sounds of the machine died away into echoes.

    All was still.

    Cautiously, the visitors peered into the containers, staring for some sort of movement. Then, suddenly, Misty yanked open the door to Bill's unmoving body, ignoring cries of protest around her.

    "Okay, Bill, game's over," she said sharply. "I need to have a talk with you. You need to stop endangering people for the sake of your stupid experiments and start using common sense."

    Bill's eyelids fluttered, and everyone jumped back, nerves stretched. Leaf watched in anxious anticipation as he slowly crawled out of the containment unit, wondering if he was about to jump up and start attacking people again. As if reading her thoughts, Cheri sidled up to the girl's ear and whispered, <He's no threat now. The only thing we would worry about is the possibility that his soul has been tainted by that other presence.>

    "What?"

    "HA!"

    Everyone jumped again at Bill's sudden outburst. He abruptly collapsed to the ground, laughing his head off manically.

    "AHAHAHAHAHAHA! I DID IT! I ACTUALLY PROVED THEIR EXISTENCES! THIS IS THE GREATEST DISCOVERY OF ALL TIME, AND IT'S MINE! MINE! I AM OFFICIALLY THE GREATEST SCIENTIST WHO EVER LIVED IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE EARTH! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

    "BILL!" Misty hollered, worry quickly fading to annoyance. "SHUT UP!"

    "Hahahahaha ..." Bill's laughter trailed off as he looked up at the circle of people around him. "Ahaha. Ha. Er, ahem. Sorry. Just had to get the triumphant part out of the way, that's all." He got to his feet a bit unsteadily, still grinning. "But really, it is the greatest discovery of all time! Even you'll appreciate it, Misty!"

    "Why do I not believe that?" Misty muttered dryly.

    "And you ..." The young man bowed to Leaf deeply, before reaching out and shaking her hand. "I'm dreadfully sorry about my body almost killing you, truly I am. But it wasn't actually me who did it." He pointed at the other containment unit, which held a Clefairy who was now pounding viciously against its sides, yowling with rage.

    "He really did switch bodies?" Misty asked nobody in particular, looking deeply shocked at this development. "But ... but how?"

    "A secret I'll keep to myself," Bill replied, winking. "Don't want those rival scientists stealing my theories, do we? But I guess there are things I need to explain. Over dinner, preferably, since that experiment left me ravenous!"

    "Over anything," Leaf agreed. "It's high time I get some answers."



    Misty poked the squishy stuff on her plate with revulsion. "What is this?"

    "Casserole," Bill replied, as he headed into the hallway. "I must get something. Well, dig in, what are you waiting for?"

    Lightning waited until his footsteps had died away before turning to Ocean and muttering, "I'm waiting for it to stop breathing, that's what."

    The others nodded in agreement. Seated around a grimy-surfaced table were the six humans, who were staring at the meal which Bill had so kindly prepared for them. The problem was that he could have prepared it ten years ago, so vile-looking was the stuff they were supposed to be eating. Some bowls filled with the unmentionable gunk were sitting on the floor for three Pokemon who looked as if they'd rather eat their own feet first: Misty had returned her red serpent to its Poke Ball, and Cheri had wordlessly withdrawn into a shadowy corner of the room, watching everyone else with glittering ruby eyes; but Frosti, Peach and Anni had opted to stick around for dinner, and were now really wishing they hadn't.

    "It's not breathing," Ocean retorted, his face having turned a delicate shade of green. "It's decomposing. But this bit looks almost edible." He hoisted a bluish vegetable-like thing out of the glop with his fork.

    "DON'T EAT IT!" Roark cried out suddenly, causing everyone to jump.

    But it was too late. Ocean was already chewing the thing, rolling it around in his mouth thoughtfully. Then he gagged, dropping his fork with a clatter and puckering up as if he had swallowed a lemon. With a face that looked as pained as if it were on fire, he spat the thing back onto his plate, where it glistened cheerfully with saliva. Half-choking, he drank his entire glass of water without pausing for breath; then, gasping, he grabbed Lightning's glass and downed that too.

    "Hey!" Misty said indignantly: she was sitting on his other side, and he was gulping down her water as well.

    "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Ocean sighed, relieved. Then he looked up and realized everyone was staring at him. "Oh," he said, putting his hand to his mouth. "Sorry. Excuse me."

    "You're excused," Fire said, pointing him toward the hallway with a straight face.

    Ocean was the only one who didn't snort with laughter at the comeback. "What was that?" he asked, staring at the vegetable thing as if it might jump up and bite his nose off.

    "A Rowap berry," Roark explained. "They only grow in Sinnoh, so you wouldn't know about them. They're only the foulest food known to mankind."

    "Guess so," Ocean muttered. "'Kay, then, I'm not hungry anymore."

    <But they can be very useful in battle,> Anni commented, her eyes growing misty at some memory. <I used one in a gym battle once ... I beat a Piplup. The idiot never saw what hit him.> She grinned evilly.

    "I have returned!" Bill boomed cheerfully, swinging around into the room; his abrupt arrival caused everyone to bolt in shock. In his arms he carried a Pokemon with a soft-looking furry coat, his big brown ears twitching forward as he examined the mismatched group with wide black eyes. "And I've brought my dear friend with me, too! I locked him in my room upstairs earlier, in case something went wrong with the experiment ... which it did ... but the point was to keep him from getting hurt, and there I succeeded! Isn't that right?"

    <Yeah!> the Pokemon agreed. <Ooh, is that dinner? Time for dinner!> he squealed happily, leaping down from Bill's arms and scampering over to the dish of untouched glop. He skidded to a halt in front of it, looking up at the other three Pokemon as he tilted his head slightly to the side, gazing at them cutely. <You gonna eat that?>

    <... No ...> Frosti said slowly.

    <Oh goody! More for me, yay, yay, yay!> With a deep breath, the Pokemon abruptly lunged at the bowl, burying his soft face into the unmentionable slime that was supposed to be casserole.

    <You're icky,> Peach muttered under her breath. <Cute, but icky.>

    The Pokedex chuckled. Sensing one of its usual cutting entries, Leaf hastily shoved it deeper into her handbag, where it muttered mutinously.

    Ocean rubbed his chin thoughtfully, looking rather like a scheming cartoon villain. "Ah," he said, "an Eevee. Not my personal favorite, but it would still be a good idea harnessing one of them for my collection."

    "And shaving it?" Roark asked, raising an eyebrow.

    Lightning stared at him. "Why on earth would you shave an Eevee?"

    He shrugged. "It's a long story."

    Leaf gazed at the cute Eevee in fascination. As she despised fat pink fairies who sang and fluttered around in a mystical yet clumsy way, she had a rather different idea than other girls her age about what was or wasn't adorable. The Eevee definitely counted as cute in her eyes, with his fluffy brown fur and thick cream-colored neck ruff, which bounced slightly as he gulped down the untouchable gunk. His huge bushy tail wagged excitedly back and forth. All in all, the girl found him to be very huggable, like Frosti or Paris.

    Paris. She sighed at the thought of the Lapras. How can I face her knowing that I was wrong about her all along?

    "Looks delicious, doesn't it?" Bill asked rather obliviously, seating himself between Misty and Fire. "Mm, the day's worked up quite an appetite! I could have eaten the entire casserole!" he exclaimed, lifting a forkful of stuff to his mouth and chewing it happily.

    "I wish you would," Ocean muttered, the taste of Rowap still burning his tongue.

    "I'm sure it has," Misty said, seeming to prefer conversation to Bill's atrocious cooking. "But really, Bill, you need to set up some limits with these experiment things. Somebody almost died this time. You were lucky that Rocket person was here to set it right."

    Leaf could practically hear the boys' thoughts echoing her own: What had he been doing there, anyway?

    "What's done is done," Bill retorted, although he still looked rather sorry about the near-accident. "But I can promise you that that was probably the most potent experiment I've ever done. You see, the discovery I made—"

    "Aren't you listening?" Misty practically shouted, making everyone stiffen in surprise. "Have you gone completely nuts? Human life is worth a lot more than any idiotic little tinkering with psychics or whatever it is you do—"

    "Physics, not psychics!" Bill's face was starting to go red as he returned the gym leader's verbal assault. "Just because two words look the same—"

    "Shut up!"

    "No way!"

    "Why can't you just donate to charities like a normal rich person?"

    "I founded most of those charities!"

    "You're rich?" Lightning interrupted, surprised. "But this isn't a mansion!"

    "This is just my July cottage," Bill explained, smiling at him as he turned away from Misty, who looked ready to strangle him. "I find it quite useful when I want to get away from it all, you know ... and, incidentally, I'm the richest person in the world." He beamed at the stunned faces of the people staring at him.

    The blonde blinked at this sudden, random revelation. "But ..."

    "That cost several hundred million credits," Bill went on, gesturing at the equipment on the counter. "Managing the PCs of millions of people is very profitable, let me tell you. If only those snakes Bebe and Lanette hadn't snatched Hoenn and Sinnoh from under my nose ... I could be curing cancer right now." He sighed wistfully, gazing at nothing in particular.

    "That'd be a hell of a lot better than being the nutcase you are now," Misty said venomously.

    "STOP FIGHTING!" Leaf exploded. "I-I mean, this isn't getting us anywhere," she stammered hastily, as Misty and Bill stared at her in surprise. "But if I almost died because of this so-called great discovery, then I want to know what the discovery is."

    Bill beamed. "Great! You'll all be fascinated by this!"

    Misty sweatdropped. "Oh, no ..."

    "For several months now I've been considering the inferred scientific sides to some interesting passages in the Word," Bill began, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial stage whisper.

    "What does this have to do with computer programming?" Ocean interrupted, frowning.

    Bill blinked for a moment before groaning. "Not Microsoft Word, the Word! You know, the holy book?"

    Ocean blinked. "Oh, that Word! Never mind, then. Carry on."

    "Yes, well, there are several recorded occurrences of souls leaving the body, only to return later on," Bill continued. "The most famous being Shaymin's resurrection, of course. And people have been arguing about whether or not there's such a thing as a soul in the first place, but I hypothesized that if somebody's life force could return to the body it had left, then I could prove once and for all that they do exist! So after several weeks of intense study I created a theory that if the protons were depolarized in the carbon-fourteen atoms of a living thing's hippocampus, after the decalibration of—"

    "English, Bill," Misty ordered.

    "Okay, well, to cut it a bit shorter ... if we follow the Word's assertion that the soul is the combination of an individual's heart, mind, and will, then by switching souls with the Clefairy, I've actually proved the existence of the soul itself!"

    Fire glanced over at the Clefairy, who was glaring murderously at them from her confines within the machine. "Looking at something like that, it's hard to picture it with a soul," he commented dryly.

    "Ah, that's the other thing!" Bill exclaimed, his eyes lighting up. "You see, by using that particular Clefairy, I have also proven the existence of the Beast!"

    A soft hiss drifted from Cheri's shadowy corner.

    "The what?"

    "The Beast! You see—" Here Bill dropped his voice to an almost reverent whisper. "The Word contains evidence that a soul is not alone within a body. There is another, somewhat similar force which lies dormant, locked in an unending slumber and helpless against the soul's dominant claim to the body. But — and there are occurrences of this happening in the Word, too — if this other force, this Beast, were somehow awakened, it would automatically seize control of the body."

    He paused, grinning as everyone around him clung to every word, mouths wide open in gaping astonishment.

    "The Beast would then proceed to enter a destructive rage, or some dark state of mind, depending on the circumstance ... the soul would then be a prisoner in the same way that the Beast had been, free only to watch as its old body wreaked havoc. The Clefairy's Beast was already awake before the experiment, if you haven't guessed that already."

    "That's horrible," Lightning breathed, shuddering violently. "But what if more Beasts woke up? That'd be a disaster!"

    "Oh, there've been several Beast awakenings lately," Bill said casually.

    "What?"

    "Of course! Not that you'd know them by that name. Does the Shadow Crisis in Orre sound more familiar?"

    Lightning nodded slowly.

    A brief image of a news report flashed behind Leaf's eyes, and she remembered the wreckage caused to a deprecated, innocent building by some unidentifiable Shadow Pokemon, its eyes blazing with a terrible fury and a snarl blasting from between bared fangs as a harried policeman forced it into a kennel, the words "Animal Control" painted brightly on its side. "Authorities have not yet determined the cause of these 'Shadow Pokemon'," the newscaster had declared. "Citizens of Orre are warned NOT to approach any Pokemon whose behavior appears erratic or unsteady, but notify the police immediately. Anyone with information concerning the perpetrators, Team Snagem, should contact the police as well ..."

    "People think Team Snagem are to blame," Bill went on, as if reading Leaf's thoughts, "but it isn't really so. There's an undercover organization, Cipher, who's responsible for 'closing the door to their hearts' and distributing them via Snagem. And I bet you're wondering how I know this?" He raised his eyebrow at Misty, who had opened her mouth with a determined expression; stunned, she nodded slightly and shut it again. "It's thanks to some pretty awesome radio equipment I set up. I can pick up practically every frequency there is. And that little baby's also the reason how I came across that Clefairy. I overheard a deal that Team Rocket set up with Cipher: they would trade a super-cloned Rattata and Skitty for a Shadow Zigzagoon and Clefairy. I'm guessing that the point of the trade was a way of trading information as well; scientists would have to study the special Pokemon to discover how to create them for themselves. But they didn't expect me to be listening in! I managed to get to the ship carrying the Shadows as it arrived in Vermillion Harbor, and I snatched the Clefairy from right under their noses! From what I picked up on the radio after that, there was some assassinating of representatives for a while as a result, before they finally decided to forget the Skitty and only trade Rattata for Zigzagoon, making their search for expanding knowledge far more difficult! So you see, it turned out all right, really!"

    Leaf stared at the Clefairy, watching her as she began to beat furiously against her confinement. I was almost killed by a Shadow.

    "And then you switched bodies with the psycho maniac," Misty finished in a flat voice.

    "Well ... yes," Bill admitted, looking uncomfortable under her stare. "But I had already theorized that a Beast would cause a Shadow — I'm not sure if even Cipher knows that that's the heart of their whole process — so I was sure that switching would prove the existence of both Beast and soul! Because they're inseperable, you know. So ha!"

    He beamed proudly for a moment, then looked rather downcast when he realized that everyone was just staring at him.

    "You're weird," Lightning said matter-of-factly.

    "Well, you all wanted to know," Bill protested halfheartedly, deflating.

    "Bill, I'm going to have to have a serious talk with you," Misty said sharply, pushing her chair back as she stiffly got to her feet. "But not now. We should leave, it's already gotten dark—"

    "I have guest rooms!" the researcher said hastily. "Upstairs, you know. You shouldn't have to travel through a storm like this."

    A bright shaft of lightning flashed from beyond the window, emphasizing his words.

    Misty sneered. "After what happened?"

    "Hey, it's all right! The Clefairy can stay locked in there for now, she can't hurt anybody in there. And I'm not going to almost stab anybody, so there, okay?"

    The gym leader rolled her eyes, but didn't argue further. Instead she eyed the window nervously, as if worried that a lightning bolt were about to burst through it.

    Nobody else had any objections to this plan, as the day had been very exciting, so after their assurances to Bill that they weren't really hungry (a lie, but a necessary one, considering the alternative) he led them back into the hall and up the dusty stairs, arriving at a hall which looked uncannily like the one they had just left. He then showed them their rooms, which were fortunately a great deal less messy than the kitchen; in fact, aside from the unnaturally tidy beds and some scenic windows, they were completely bare.

    "I haven't come over to this part of the house anytime recently," Bill confessed, as the others stared into the strangely empty rooms. "I haven't given these any of my amazing personal touch, I'm sad to say."

    "And I'm glad to hear it," Fire muttered softly.

    "My room's over there, at the other end of the hall," Bill went on, pointing at the door nearest to the stairs. "If you need anything, that's where I'll be."

    The Pokedex snickered. Everyone jumped, having completely forgotten it was there.

    Physically and emotionally drained, Leaf said good night, headed for her own room, changed into her pajamas and fell into bed, sighing in relief as her head hit the pillow. A real bed ... she hadn't slept in one since the night before her journey began. Already she could feel the tension in her muscles dissolving.

    Frosti took up a position near her head, tail draped delicately over the side of the bed to prevent any accidental fires. His small, sharp teeth were exposed in a yawn as he lowered his scaly chin onto his paws, falling asleep within seconds.

    <Human.>

    Grunting, Leaf glanced up to see Cheri's eyes glittering from the dark corner of the room, hidden in enfolding shadows. A flash of lightning illuminated her figure, and in that brief moment she looked like some sleek creature from a horror movie. "Ugh ..." she moaned, blinking slowly as waves of sleep beckoned invitingly from the depths of her mind. "What is it, Cheri?"

    <Being a person with vague yet existing ideas of honor, you must be informed of a particular tradition of my people.>

    "Mm?"

    <We take a very serious view concerning debts,> the bug hissed. <In owing someone a favor, your very lifeblood cries to us, calling out the truth of the matter even if you deny any unpaid debt. If these debts continue grow in number, its call becomes stronger ... and when three debts have gone unpaid, then we will resist the call no longer.> Cheri paused for a moment, letting that information sink in. Then, in a voice like ice: <You owe me my family, human. You and your friends had enough Pokemon to drive off those Butterfree for at least long enough to allow my people to gather their full strength. And yet you merely stood by and watched as the delicate balance that kept the Forest whole for centuries was shattered in an instant. As a Weedle, I was less concerned about righting wrongs than my people's well-being and whatever horrific fate they may still suffer. But I have grown, human. And I did so to save your life from the Shadow creature. Your lifeblood's call has grown twice as strong now.>

    Leaf blinked. "Cheri, I—"

    <I'm not interested in your gratitude. It was only for the sake of defeating that Beast, which has no right to awaken. But you still owe me twice over, so tread carefully, human, and be sure to right those wrongs soon. Otherwise ... well, relying on me to save your neck next time would be like goring it willingly on the points of my spears.> She rubbed one spike along the other in a meaningful sharpening motion, creating a soft, yet ominous rasp.

    The girl shivered. Suddenly the temperature seemed to drop ten degrees, as goosebumps rippled down her arms. Unnerved, she avoided Cheri's unblinking gaze by burying her face in the pillow ... Whatever happened to my sweet, timid Cheri? ... she slowly drifted into an uneasy slumber, filled with glinting red eyes, a quiet horror of the darkness within, the juicy sound of a spear stabbing into flesh ...



    Anni glared balefully at the rain buffeting the window, splashing the darkened pane with drops that blurred the landscape beyond into an unidentifiable mass of greens and grays. Pulling her attention away from the storm, she snuggled closer against her trainer's blanketed feet, curling up into a defensive ball on the blessedly soft mattress. She would have preferred if Skipper had been let out for the night; since the series of earthquakes the previous day, they had hardly seen each other aside from brief, confused glimpses, and she longed for the opportunity to speak with her half-brother again. His departure from the ship had depressed her more than she let on. Now that he had returned, she would do anything in her power to make sure he never left them again.

    The thought made her sigh softly, the exhalation for a moment blocking out the sound of the dreaded water pounding on the roof above. In her power? What power? She hadn't been able to to do a thing when Roark had collapsed for whatever harebrained reason. But she was expected to have a solution for everything! She was the oldest, after all. (At least that was one point no one could argue about; a person could hardly deny that having hatched millions and millions of years ago gave her a slight edge as far as age was concerned.) In these strange times they all needed someone to look after them. She wouldn't — no, she couldn't let them down. It was her responsibility. The next time something happened, she would not be caught frozen in shock with a mouth wide open like a stupid Slowpoke.

    Beside her, the feet rustled softly in movement. "Anni?"

    <Yeah?> The Cranidos spoke in a hushed voice.

    "Anni, there hasn't been a quiet moment since the gym. I haven't really had time to think. But I just realized ... something's been nagging at me since then, but I only just ... Anni, why am I here?"

    <Oh.> The dinosaur masked her confusion at the question by shooting the trainer a retort, as usual. <Well, I don't know. Nobody knows, really. That's why people came up with religion, you know, to give them some idea about the whole thing.> She put her arms in front of her, stretching them lazily. <Of course, I guess it all started with "In the beginning there was the Egg," and so on. Not that I'm quoting or anything.>

    Roark sighed. "Not that, the other thing."

    <Oh, that. Why didn't you say so?> Anni returned to the fetal position, basking in the warmth and feeling very comfortable, especially when she thought of the rain falling outside. <Well, I'm surprised your parents haven't told you about it by now. It's awkward to be the one to tell you this, but ... well, it started when your dad met your mom, and they were so in love that they had—>

    "No, the other other thing!"

    A sleepy blink. <There's another other thing?>

    "Anni, I'm talking about why we're in Kanto, of all places!"

    The Cranidos rolled her eyes, only to remember too late that in the dark their movement would go quite unnoticed. <Why we're in Kanto? Dude, you know that better than I do, it's for those retarded Contests. And no, I am not doing the dumb twirly thingy in midair. Make Emily do it, not me.>

    "I know that," Roark said, ignoring her complaint; he sounded rather on edge. "I remember what we came for, but not why."

    <There's a difference?>

    "Of course! I don't remember any of my ... of my motivation. It's like I just decided to do this for no reason at all. I mean, I hate Contests just as much as the next guy, so why did I suddenly find them fascinating?"

    Slightly unnerved now, Anni shifted her head so that it bumped against her trainer's ankle. <But you're not making any sense. You saw that "inspiring" show thing on TV, and started going all dramatic over how you could see us doing that sort of stuff. Worst Sunday ever in my opinion. I mean, you wouldn't really make us dance, would you?>

    A pause.

    <... Would you?>

    "Anni ..." Roark's words came slowly, thoughtfully, with a forced calm easily audible. "Anni, there hasn't been a Contest on Sunday in three years. Remember, when the Seventh Church of Celebi was protesting that it was disruptive to the flow of religion, so they finally passed a law about it?"

    Dimly, the dinosaur caught a flash of memory, a news report consisting of a bunch of green-suited weirdos parading outside a Contest Hall and chanting, waving their signs in the air for all to see. <Oh yeah ...>

    "I didn't see any Contest on TV," the miner went on, speaking as much to himself as to his Pokemon. "There was no reason ... was it all in my head? It must have been, but I ... I mean, I thought it was ... it was who I was ..." His voice shook, and he faltered.

    <Dammit, Roark, don't start crying again!> Anni growled, although she rested her domed head on his leg to comfort him, negating the sharpness of her tone. <You're not being manly at all. If it makes you feel better, and I don't know why it would, I don't understand this either. All I know is, I don't know how you would've watched any TV, I'd thought you'd been sleeping most of that day. Actually, screw that, I know you were sleeping. We'd been working with the team at the Iron Island excavation, remember? You were pretty damn tired, after all that digging and whatever. As far as I remember, you didn't wake up at all, so you can't have seen any TV that day ... unless ...>

    Her voice trailed away as an icy pit of realization settled in her stomach.

    "It was a dream?" Roark whispered.

    <I guess so. A pretty damn convincing dream, though, if it could move you to come all the way out here, am I right?>

    His silence, stretched out on several tense seconds, spoke volumes.

    <Yeah, I'm always right.>

    "But ... but it was so real! How could I have had a dream that real, and that specific, so powerful that its effects lasted until I fell in the gym earlier?"

    <There's a simple explanation for all of this. Drugs.>

    "But really, Anni—"

    <Or it could've been something else.> Anni yawned, her beak-like mouth wide open for a moment before snapping shut. <Look, I'll try to figure out what this is all about, okay? There's probably more to this that we're just not seeing. I'll need to sleep on it, that's all.>

    The trainer released a tired sigh, and Anni patted his feet to help him settle him back down. She had no idea what was going on, or why some dream had invaded her trainer's mind — or why it had stopped when he went into his strange, unprovoked seizure thing. For a moment doubt surfaced in her thoughts, whispering that perhaps this was something too big for her to deal with; but she swiftly pushed it out of mind. I will figure this out, she thought fiercely, a strange feeling of protectiveness gripping her as she glared at the rain, as if daring it to argue with her. I owe it to him.

    * * *

    Claws clicked with quiet, sharp echoes against the worn stone floor as the tall, scythe-wielding chaotic continued to make his way through the shadowy corridors of his mind. Cobwebs were draped like curtains from the dank, musty confines of the more shadowy corners. Not that there was any true dankness or mustiness — this was literally all in his head — but it was the very lacking of those qualities, the sense that they had to be there, that caused the mind around him to comply to his internal image.
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 26th January 2010 at 2:27 AM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  18. #143
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    As he neared another fork in the maze, the heavy echo of footsteps wafted toward him in a choppy series of sound waves. Far from willing to be discovered, the Missing One pressed himself against one of the rocky walls, just as a faintly glowing figure emerged from one of the passages ahead of him. The figure continued to walk mechanically past, not even glancing at the skeletal form of the tense chaotic. His arms hung limply by his sides, trailing twin lengths of night-black chain behind him. Peering at the person's retreating back, the Missing One noted that he had a faint glow about his body, emphasis on faint — from the slouch of his shoulders, the chaotic supposed that this human soul had been captive for several decades, doomed to wander as a slave to the Lord of Evil. Even as he watched, he could see bits of the soul's glow curling off like dew in the hot sun, only to be sucked into the empty darkness of the chains, which were absolutely silent in spite of being dragged over stone.

    Confident that this unfortunate soul posed no threat to him, the Missing One waited only a brief moment longer before shaking himself and setting off again, choosing the left-hand passage of the fork without hesitation. On the walls, strange symbols were scattered at various intervals, although they seemed to serve no apparent purpose aside from looking cool. The flames flickered in their brackets on the wall as he passed — something that would never have happened in the physical world, where his mere presence was sure to have adverse effects on such a balance. Torch and flame ... it would later be difficult for an observer to determine which had been which.

    Turning a sharp corner, he abruptly found himself faced with a door unlike any that had ever been seen in the physical world: stretching from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, the door looked as if it were gaseous, created of some perpetually shifting blackness that moved serenely in dreamlike spirals. Yet he sensed automatically that this was perhaps the most solid thing he would ever encounter, in any world, any time, place, or circumstance. This was the door that separated him from his other self.

    His Beast.

    Shrugging off the weight of this moment, he faced the door with a steely glint in his eye. He ignored that this was in fact a mere figure of speech, seeing as he didn't even have eyes in the first place. Instead, he raised his impressive scythes into the air, muttering in a lost, rasping language that seemed to hiss as it uncoiled itself itself from his mouth. With this demonic stance he looked very impressive, even though he had absolutely no idea what he was actually saying. For all he knew, he could be assuring the door that he was really the son of a goat and a molding horseradish.

    If so, then perhaps the door approved of strange plant-and-plant-eater offspring, because it soon flickered, winking out of existence and exposing the yawning passage beyond. In spite of the foul, rusty smell that immediately wafted through the open gateway, the Missing One smirked to himself. <This is just too easy,> he said to himself, shaking his head as he stepped almost with a swagger into the narrow hall.

    After he had passed, the door quietly reappeared seemingly out of nowhere, but the chaotic didn't look back as he ventured toward the end of the hall. Before him stood a staircase which spiraled far below his feet, extending nearly endlessly into unfathomable depths. Anyone prone to vertigo would instantly faint at the sight of such a thing, descending as far as invisibility.

    The Missing One, however, paused at the head of the stairs. He stood there for a moment, thinking, before turning his eyeless glare into the infinite depths and barking out a word in the forgotten language. The air before him shimmered for a moment, like heat in the desert, but as the chaotic repeated the word more forcefully, the staircase consented to abruptly disappear into nothingness, leaving solely a large hole of utter darkness in the floor where it had been. As this was highly unusual behavior for a staircase to exhibit, one might have been surprised to see that the Missing One was unamazed at its sudden departure. On the contrary, he seemed almost disappointed.

    <This really is too easy,> he muttered, now ignoring the hole at his feet and staring suspiciously into the darkness beyond. After considering the situation for a moment, he tensed into a crouch, scythes raised, and sprang into the air.

    Ironically, he had just made a mistake opposite to that which the Lord of Evil had made upon possessing him. Forgetting that weight was meaningless in the depths of the mind, he had unintentionally applied far more power to his jump than was necessary. As such, he easily cleared the endless hole, flew on for another hundred or so yards, and smashed into the rocky ceiling. Dropping like a fly, he hit the floor painfully, groaning as his vision blurred.

    He'd never thought that it could be possible to black out in one's own mind, but, he realized as darkness engulfed him, there seemed to be no other possible explanation ...

    * * *

    "But Coordinating is good!"

    "It was a mistake, okay? I'm not into it any more, or something like that ..."

    "That doesn't even make sense!"

    "Do I look like somebody who'd be in a Contest?"

    "Well, actually—"

    "Never mind. The point is, I'm not—"

    Leaf tore her gaze from the two approaching, arguing boys and turned it instead to the sinuous movements of the far-off tide. It was another very warm day, but the storm had imbued the air with some new, clean, fresh quality. Bill's house lay several hundred yards to the south; its distant form looked even smaller compared to the taller hotels beside it. Behind her clouds still brooded on the edges of the jagged cliffs, but the ocean before her blazed with the joyous light of the morning sun. Standing on the seemingly endless green length of Cerulean Cape, she allowed herself to bask in the strangely intoxicating humidity. The grass beneath her sandals glittered with the remnant moisture of rainfall, and puddles dotted the ground here and there. The water kept sneaking into her sandals and getting her feet wet, but it was hard to feel it as she mentally dissected Roark's revelation.

    So. He had been convinced that ribbons were superior to badges, and stubbornly traveled all the way to Kanto to get them. And yet somehow, last night, he'd realized he was wrong. It wasn't this that had shocked her — few sane people really sympathized with Coordinators if they could help it, and she'd been far more astonished when he'd revealed that goal in Pewter. No, what had surprised her was that the strength, the passion for Coordinating had abrupty vanished like dew. It was nothing more than a falsehood.

    She frowned as she returned to the memory of his collapse in Cerulean Gym, which she knew had something to do with the unknown woman. The tan stranger had known there was something wrong with his longing for ribbons. What had she said again? "Living a lie ... saving him from himself ... leave a dream like that in someone's brain for too long ..." Was that really all it was, a dream? A powerful, consuming dream to leave the victim aching for something he never wanted, traveling down some dark road of unsatisfied desire until he finally descended into madness?

    But ... Leaf rubbed her temples as she tried to put the confusing facts in order. But that was why he came to Kanto, wasn't it? Because of something that some unknown person put in his mind. But who'd want to make him leave Sinnoh, and why? There's too many pieces missing from this puzzle. How did that woman know? What did she do, anyway? And how had she managed to be there at the moment when Roark and Paris had been near each other for the first time?

    The thought of the not-shiny Lapras made her falter for a moment, her own heart still broken at the thought that she would never see that smiling indigo face again. It's the same case with me, she realized suddenly, stiffening. I was obsessed with something I never really had ... if I'd found out later than I did, would I have gone insane?

    "Oy! Is anybody home in there, hello?"

    She blinked rapidly, realizing that Lightning had been snapping his fingers in front of her vision for the last few seconds. Satisfied that he had successfully pulled her from her reverie, the short blonde turned his gaze back toward Roark's retreating back; the miner was continuing to walk along the edge without noticing them, looking overly dramatic against the scenery. He had been very moody that morning, speaking rarely and with unprecedented sharpness. Leaf remembered that the woman had said he'd have to reconcile with himself in light of the disillusionment, but she wished he'd get over himself already. He didn't have to angst so much about it.

    Yeah, but you still haven't gotten over the Paris thing, remarked a snide voice within her head. She cringed at the reality of how right it was, and the thought of Paris stung yet again as she remembered how much she'd thought she'd loved her.

    Anni, walking alongside him like some cartoonish sidekick, was muttering to him in a low voice, keeping her eyes fixed on him shrewdly as if to make sure he didn't leap off the cliff suddenly. The boy nodded, replying in curt, one-syllable answers. In light of recent events, this additional mystery — how can he understand Pokemon? — was little more than an intriguing sideshow, yet she still wondered fleetingly: I thought Oak said the talent was unusual, but I've met two others with it already. First Cobalt, now Roark ...

    "He doesn't understand!" Lightning was almost wailing. Peach, standing on his shoulder as usual, hurried to pat his head reassuringly. "Contests are incredible, all about making dreams come true with lights and drama! Why can't he see that, Leaf, why?"

    The Pokedex cleared its imaginary throat. "You know, maybe it's because he's blind? He does wear glasses, the four-eyes—"

    "Pokedex," Leaf sighed, "shut up."

    "Leaf?"

    The two teens and the mouse jumped in surprise, spinning around to see Fire standing beside her. They had absolutely no idea where exactly he had come from, or how he could sneak up like that without even the smallest sound.

    "Sorry," he said, grinning weakly. "I probably should've said 'hey' or something ... look, Leaf, you're a much stronger battler than I used to think, and I had an idea that ... well, only if you want to, of course, but I was thinking that ..." He trailed off, looking uncertain.

    The pause that followed was undoubtedly intended for one of the others to say something along the lines of "Oh, just tell me what it is," or "Well? We're listening," but as neither of them spoke, the silence fell rather flat.

    Realizing that they were waiting for him to continue, Fire plunged on ahead. "So ... do you want to have a double battle against Misty, with me? You don't have to if you don't want to, of course," he added hastily, looking almost shy.

    Leaf smiled at his hesitance. "Is that all? Of course, Fire, I'd love to. We can set up a time for this afternoon when she gets back."

    "If she gets back," Fire muttered. He was referring to the incident earlier that morning, in which the orange-headed gym leader had left the cottage for Cerulean, claiming that she was going to pick up something for everyone's breakfast (seeing as Bill's idea of said meal consisted of leftover casserole, and he didn't seem to have fully grasped the concept of refrigeration). The teens strongly suspected, however, that this was merely an excuse to get away from Bill, who had been drowning out her scolding lectures on the value of life and other such things by spouting useless information concerning his "wonderful wondrous scientific achievement wonders" and eagerly asking for an honest opinion on these things. Ocean had followed her back for reasons of his own; Leaf was quite sure that whatever made him return had less to do with helping her with breakfast and more to do with getting a better glimpse at Team Waterflower.

    The girl knew, though, that Fire's gruff remark was merely an attempt to hide his full gratitude. Giving him a knowing nod, she said, "Well, no need to waste time. Let's get to practicing, shall we?"

    Fire actually beamed at her. "Excellent," he said, releasing a Pokemon in the usual beam of red light; the blob condensed into the confused form of his blue turtle Pokemon. "Squirtle, I know we haven't ... got along well, but ... will you fight in the gym battle if we're with Leaf?"

    Squirtle's gaze passed from him to the girl, then returned to his anxious face. <If we're with Leaf,> she replied quietly, repressing a slight shiver.

    Leaf relayed this message, and Fire nodded to the fearful-looking Pokemon. "Great. Although, Leaf ..." He twirled Squirtle's Poke Ball in his hand, looking at her in concern. "Since this is a water gym we're facing, would you rather wait until later? We can swing back into the city and pick up Paris before—"

    "I-I'd rather get the gym over with before I ... I can see her again," Leaf interrupted hastily. "It might be, be better to make up with her in the aftermath, you know? I can always use another Pokemon, and they do need experience." She eyed him nervously, hoping that he couldn't guess her real plan.

    To her relief, he merely dipped his head in an understanding matter, which she thought rather ironic — even he wouldn't truly understand what was going through her head. "All right. So that would leave you with a choice between two to use. Your Charmander has an obvious weakness to water, but he does know Sunny Day, which could be a huge help ... then again, your Beedrill can probably hover above the pool's surface, and could use String Shot to really slow Misty's Pokemon down ... it's up to you, of course," he added quickly.

    Dragging her thoughts away from Paris, Leaf considered her available Pokemon. She actually wanted to win this battle — and she was quite sure that Wennett wouldn't be nearly as biased as Roark had been. And if they battled that afternoon, the stands would surely be filled with spectators, all eagerly intent on watching every moment of the battle.

    Which essentially ruled Frosti out.

    "Cheri," Leaf said, releasing the bee Pokemon, "we're going to battle Misty alongside Fire. It won't count as being in your debt again, will it?" she added anxiously, remembering the bug's cold words the night before.

    The Beedrill stared at her for a moment, her wings fluttering slightly to create a soft buzzing. Then she glanced away. <No,> she muttered, though her spears twitched ominously.

    "In her debt?" Fire blinked, puzzled.

    "Never mind."

    "Hey, guess what?"

    "I don't want to hear it!"

    "Don't kid yourself, Naaaarrrrrrrgh. You know you want to. Beedrill, the NINJAS ARE BETTER THAN PIRATES Pokemon. Gender is Female. Gasp, really? Height is Ominous Stringy Alien Thingy, Weight is Dour Flower Superpower. Rhyming is fun, but the look on your face seems to suggest otherwise. Beedrill don't find many things to be fun either, since they're very protective of their territory and tend to stab people who trespass there. They usually attack in swarms, but if a lone Beedrill is injured, it can make its own swarm. Don't ask me how, that's what the data said! I suppose they do it because of weird spiritual power thingies that they might get in their vigorous training or whatever. Or they're just on drugs, which would explain why they're so keen to keep intruders away—"

    "Pokedex, stop being weird. Lightning, could you sort of stand out of the way?"

    The short blonde jumped, having tuned them out when the conversation stopped involving him. "Huh? Oh, yeah, right. Aha. Sorry." Swiveling around and almost tripping, he skipped to a nearby boulder and sat down on it, staring at them with an intensity that made everyone else sweatdrop.

    <Oh, darling, I'm sure you can think up a contest strategy all by yourself,> Peach crooned. Lightning, however, acted as if he hadn't heard her — which he couldn't, Leaf had to remind herself.

    "You're freaking me out," Fire told him, looking dead serious.

    "Sorry!" Lightning exclaimed, blushing as he looked away.

    As the other two faced each other with their Pokemon, something shiny caught his eye — mostly because of the universal appeal of shiny things — and he looked curiously over his shoulder. Peach, feeling his face turn away, glanced around at the cliff face behind them, where an unidentifiable object glinted brightly in the sunlight, sticking out of the rock several yards above the ground. The object was far too high to reach by normal means, although it could probably be reached quite easily by the average Pidgey.

    "So she'll probably try to blast Beedrill out of the air—" Fire was saying, when he and Leaf were abruptly distracted by Lightning's shout. With a sigh, he turned around to face the excited blonde. "Lightning, you're really not helping. If you're going to be here, kindly shut up."

    "But there's a thing up there!" Lightning explained loudly, jabbing his finger toward it as if he were pressing an invisible button.

    Cheri shot him an exasperated look. <Humans have a sad habit of being vague,> she commented to nobody in particular, before suddenly launching herself into the air, wings beating frantically in an almost invisible blur. Before Leaf could open her mouth to question her, the Beedrill had flown to the high-up object, spat a sticky String Shot at it, and soared back with lightning speed, touching the ground with a rather haughty glare. She probably would have looked a great deal more dignified if the white, somewhat moist thread wasn't dripping from her unseen mouth; as if sensing this, she hastily let go of it, and the object sticking to it hit the ground with a soft clack.

    With a swift motion, Fire bent down and picked up the strange item from the fast-drying pile of thread. It appeared to be a TM case; the circular disc within could just be seen through the back of its container, which was decorated with soft bursts of color.

    Confused at how a TM could conveniently turn up, Lightning felt a twinge of unsatisfied curiosity as he watched Fire and Leaf, who could easily see the words inscribed on its front. "So? What is it?" he asked, sounding rather more demanding than he had intended.

    Fire's eyes narrowed in thought. "I think," he said slowly, "this could be just what we need to win ..."

    * * *

    "Ladies and gentlemen!"

    The sound of Wennett's voice, unnaturally loud thanks to the acoustics of the gym, roused Leaf from her dazed, humidity-induced state. Shivering in anticipation, she tightened her grip on the Poke Ball in her hand, wondering if Cheri could sense her tension from within. The movements of the pool before her matched those churning inside her stomach.

    Beside her, Fire shot her a half smile, which she tried to return. Was he feeling any of the anxiety bubbling in her mind?

    "Welcome, one and all! I can tell this is going to be a gripping battle, to say the least! Challengers Leaf McKenzie and Fire Takenaka will fight together against our own gym leader, Misty Waterflower!"

    She tried not to glance toward the bleachers, she really did ... but it was as if her gaze was drawn magnetically toward the crowd of spectators, seated in neat rows almost halfway to the high, domed ceiling. Rows and rows of eyes, all watching from a seemingly vast expanse, as if the whole city were watching her. Dimly she noticed Ocean and Lightning near the front, Peach grinning; Bill near them, with his attention torn between the battlers and Team Waterflower, who were sitting in front of him and going through a series of disturbing cheerleader movements; Roark standing, leaning against the side of the bleachers and looking rather sullen, with Anni glaring up at him. Was Cobalt here, somewhere in the stands, perhaps sorry for saving her and now looking for an opportunity to undo his mistake?

    "This is a double battle, two Pokemon per side, no switching." Wennett, standing at the edge of the pool directly between the opposing sides, paused to smile at the audience. Then he took a deep breath — the crowd mimicked him, eager for the fight — and declared, "Let the match beg—!"

    There was a loud SLAP! as the twin door-flaps suddenly flew open, smacking the walls with the abrupt force. Swiveling around, everyone stared in surprise when a haughty-looking young man strutted into the gym, smirking slightly. His pale blue tunic-like shirt fluttered slightly as he strode toward Misty, who was looking utterly flabbergasted at his appearance. One of his eyes was hidden by his dark blue hair, which was arranged so it fell over his face in a rather cool manner; the other, however, could be seen roving over the audience briefly before locking onto Misty.

    Behind him came a small bird Pokemon, half hopping, half fluttering as it hurriedly followed him. Its feathers were such a dark brown as to be almost black, although splashes of white were clearly visible on its face, chest, and tail. A curling crest strongly resembling a cowlick sat above the gray spot on its forehead.

    Fangirl screams suddenly washed over the audience as, one by one, people realized that this could only be one person.

    "F-Falkner?" Misty stammered, as he approached where she stood. "What're you ... what're you doing here?"

    Leaf inadvertently squealed. Fire raised an eyebrow at her.

    "What am I doing here?" the young man repeated, more for effect than anything else. "Well, seeing as I have a great amount of talent—" He flipped his hair in an airy way, drawing a collective sigh from the crowd. "—I have managed to defeat my five-hundredth challenger. Quite an achievement. As such ..." Pausing, he withdrew a bluish envelope from within his tunic; its bright gold seal displayed a pair of wings. "As such, I'm inviting you to an exclusive celebration."

    Misty stared at him suspiciously. "How exclusive?"

    "Super exclusive." He grinned, looking mischievous; the expression drew a great deal of noise from the fangirls, and as such the audience conveniently missed the rest of their exchange. "As in, you might just be the only guest there, if you know what I mean."

    The redhead blanched. "What the hell?"

    "Oh yes." Grinning wider, he thrust the envelope towards her. "This is what you've been waiting for, and you know it. It'll tell you everything you need to know." A look of stern seriousness crossed his face for the briefest of moments, so brief that the sight of his broad grin a blink later made Leaf almost sure she had imagined it.

    Several seconds passed, in which Misty glared defiantly into his leering face. "You perv," she snapped finally, though she snatched the envelope from his hand all the same. "Don't expect me to go through with this!"

    He shrugged while looking superior at the same time, which is in all actuality a difficult feat. Then he muttered something to her in an undertone that Leaf couldn't catch; Misty, however, nodded rather distractedly, looking strangely concerned. Intrigued, Leaf strained her hearing, wondering what this could be about—

    "LOOK!" the Pokedex exclaimed suddenly, causing Leaf to jump as its voice suddenly blasted from the handbag on the concrete by her feet. "WHO'S THAT POKEMON, YOU ASK? WHY, IT'S STARAVIA, THE—"

    "Shut up!" Leaf growled, kicking it further into the depths of her stunning yellow accessory. By the time she had looked up again, however, Falkner was waving serenely at the crowd. The Staravia by his feet glared at the Pokedex for its abrupt outburst; as if catching its expression, the orange contraption snickered.

    "Thank you!" the blue-haired gym leader called to them, hardly raising his voice: with the acoustics surrounding him, there was little need to. "I appreciate your support! Come, Mukubird," he added in a dramatic voice, turning to his bird Pokemon. "Let us fly back to the gym. My fans await me."

    <Muku!> the bird chirped in agreement, spreading his wings and pushing himself into the air with ease. He then soared directly above his trainer's head, the wind howling wildly about him; as if by some unspoken signal, Falkner raised his hands and grasped his Pokemon's clawed feet; somehow the bird managed to lift him with ease, never slackening his wingbeats, flying with unbelievable speed as they brushed the door-flaps aside with ease, the sounds of the gale fading with them.

    Lightning, amid the starstruck sighs of surrounding fangirls, frowned slightly. "... 'Mukubird'?" he asked curiously. "What's a 'Mukubird'? I thought that was a Staravia!"

    "It's the name the Japanese know it by," Ocean explained, looking distracted; he had been almost as fascinated by Falkner's sudden appearance as the female population in the stands.

    The blonde stared at him. "What do the Japanese have to do with anything?"

    "Um ..." Misty's voice cut across whatever Ocean might have said. "Sorry about this, people. Delays are stupid ..."

    But Leaf noticed that she had hastily stuffed the letter into her pocket, still looking slightly worried; whatever Falkner had said, the brunette highly doubted that its contents really had anything to do with any "exclusive" celebration. Pondering on his thin, handsome face, she realized with a start that she had seen it somewhere else before ... but no, it couldn't be ...

    Wennett, who looked rather flustered at being interrupted at a climactic moment, raised an appraising eyebrow. "Miss," he asked in a tense voice, "why is it that random foreign gym leaders keep appearing seemingly out of nowhere, and for no good reason?"

    "I'm not random," Roark muttered sullenly from his position beside the stands.

    "Whatever." Misty waved everyone off. "Let's just ... let's just battle, okay?"

    Leaf and Fire exchanged glances. There was something odd going on here ...

    "Well, alright," Wennett consented, shaking his hair out of his eyes. Clearing his throat, he declared, "Let the match ... begin!"

    The audience cheered — though perhaps rather halfheartedly, with its collective mind still wondering at Falkner's random appearance — as the challengers tossed their Poke Balls into the air in unison; Misty launched two of the red-and-white orbs, one after the other, in quick succession, so that the four beams of neon red appeared at almost exactly the same time. Cheri fluttered her wings rapidly as she rose into the air beside her trainer, ruby eyes narrowed, still feeling the hype of their earlier practice. Squirtle, standing on the concrete next to Fire, looked rather wary of both her trainer and the opposition.

    A stranger pair of teammates Leaf had never seen: uncoiling in the water was the peculiar red sea serpent which Leaf had laid eyes upon yesterday, although she had not had time to properly examine it then. Its body was mainly scarlet, although the scales along its underside, throat to tail, were pure golden and sparkled as water splashed them almost playfully. Along its back stretched a single fin, pale blue and shimmering as if it were a flame. Beneath each wide, innocent silver eye was an odd gold crescent shape, which shifted slightly as the serpent beamed cheerfully at everyone in sight. Its entire frame, from its smiling head to its lashing, long-finned tail, seemed to radiate happiness and contentment that made everyone relax and smile as well in spite of themselves.

    The beast was so large that it was several seconds before Leaf spotted Misty's second Pokemon, until it broke through the surface of the water, floating as it fixed its gaze upon the challengers — a figure of speech, as no eyes could be seen anywhere on its tan, star-shaped body. In the center of its body, where its five appendages met, a strange golden formation sat, boasting a jewel-like core that flickered rhythmically in an endless cycle between brilliant ruby to dim crimson.

    Fire uttered a word that will remain unwritten here, seeing as the mysterious person chronicling this adventure does not wish to incur the wrath of those most venomous of all creatures, the soccer moms.

    Leaf blinked, startled. "What—"

    "That!" he snarled furiously, pointing at the serpent Pokemon, which was still grinning in an extremely annoying way. "I was hoping this wouldn't happen! We can't beat one of those—!"

    "Get Beedrill with Rapid Spin, Staryu! Joyfeel, Wrap that Squirtle!"

    "Withdraw to protect yourself!" Fire only just had time to shout; the two opposing water Pokemon shot forward eagerly, the star launching itself into the air while the serpent sliced through the water like a knife through butter.

    Too stunned by the sudden action to call out an order, Leaf stared as Staryu smashed into Cheri, although it had fortunately only managed to knock her down to the concrete. Glaring at her foe as if it had just made some grave insult, the Beedrill struck back, goring the soft body viciously with each spear. Staryu twitched pitifully as tried to wrench itself from the insect's unmerciful Twineedle. <You're being rude!> it squealed, in spite of having no mouth to speak of.

    "Come on, Leaf!" Fire yelled, too intent on watching Squirtle and Joyfeel to even look at her. "You have to be a hell of a lot faster than that! Squirtle, Tail Whip it, try to smack it if you can!"

    "Ah—!" Leaf shook herself slightly, pushing all her troubling thoughts out of her head. Only this battle mattered right now. "Cheri, Focus Energy for now, then hit it with Fury Attack when it frees itself!"

    "Free yourself, Rapid Spin Squirtle!" Misty barked, as Cheri took a deep breath, her narrow chest expanding as she concentrated. "Aqua Tail, cut that turtle!"

    With an almighty yank, Staryu threw itself from the bug's spears; the momentum carried it into the air, and it instantly whirled towards Squirtle, smashing into her. Attention diverted momentarily, Leaf stared as the star pounded against Squirtle's shell; the shy Pokemon had retracted her head and limbs, and her tail was uselessly slapping at the huge beast's side. Joyfeel's own long, red-and-gold tail, tightly constricting the turtle, abruptly came alive with a bright blue glow; water from the pool rose almost obediently, arcing under and over the serpent's tail to pound Squirtle from either side.

    Then Cheri, eyes alight with battle fire, buzzed into the fray: Staryu, which had fallen back into the pool after its assault on Squirtle, was taken by surprise as the bug descended upon it — once, twice, three times the spears flashed in florescent light — the star reeled backward in the water, more holes gaping in its body to add to those that Twineedle had left behind. <You're such a rude ... rude person!> it wailed.

    "Great, Cheri!" Leaf cheered, actually bouncing up and down slightly. "Harden yourself in case it Rapid Spins again!"

    "Squirtle, hit that snake in the face with a Bubble!" Fire ordered shortly; he seemed to be too focused on keeping own Pokemon on the field to congratulate his partner for her quick thinking — at least, that was the excuse Leaf gave herself.

    "Recover yourself," Misty commanded, fists clenched. "Joyfeel, keep a tight grip on that Squirtle, but hit Beedrill with your Ember."

    Leaf choked. "Ember?"

    Fire snarled the unprintable word again. This time, however, the overprotective mothers in the stands were quicker on the uptake, and managed to put their hands over the ears of their fascinated children in time.

    Huddled near its far larger teammate, Staryu glowed faintly; the holes in its body slowly became shallower, the gaping wounds swallowed up by healthy flesh. Tensing her muscles, Cheri shot a death stare at the healing star, only to be blasted through the air with a sudden onslaught of small flames — several shining bubbles wafted upwards from one of the holes of Squirtle's shell, through which two terrified red eyes could be seen — but most of the glittering spheres merely struck the Ember flames shooting from Joyfeel's grinning, wide-open mouth, and the rival elements of fire and water canceled out, leaving only slight patches of steam to show they had ever existed. Screeching a very un-bug-like screech, Cheri reeled backward as the fire licked at her slender body with a malicious hunger; even though the flames winked out quickly enough, courtesy of the moist atmosphere of the gym, her lower body had been left blackened and charred.

    "I'm guessing this would be a good time for info?" asked a cheeky voice. The Pokedex sat nestled in Leaf's handbag, and were it not a machine, Leaf could have almost sworn it was enjoying itself.

    "Obviously," Leaf spat, more sharply than she had intended. "Cheri, land a few Poison Stings on that snake, but don't get roasted. C'mon, you," she added, swooping down without taking her eyes off the scene and grabbing the Pokedex, pointing it at her foes.

    "Aha, stupid-looking things. My favorite kind. Staryu, the Cookie Cutter Pokemon. Gender is None. HOLY CRAP EVERYBODY, COME AND LOOK AT THE ASEXUAL FREAK OVER HERE!"

    <Hey!> the Staryu protested, wiggling its appendages. <That's very rude! I consider myself to be female, you know! Now stop being rude!>

    "Shut up, I wasn't done. Height is Little Green She-Man Who Is Brown, Weight is I Eat Fast Food, Does It Show? Staryu are asexual freaks with weird arm thingies. If you cut them off, they grow back. Speaking of that, I've heard that certain prisoners of war are wishing for that very ability right now, although not necessarily for their arms, if you know what I mean. Also, its red core is kind of like a freakish alien heart, and its glow is a sort of heartbeat. It's easiest to determine a Staryu's health by looking at the core, since it sure as hell ain't easy to tell from the way it heals its freakish asexual body, the freak."

    <... I don't like you anymore, rude orange thing,> Staryu sniffed, before getting Tackled by Squirtle, who had somehow managed to free herself from Joyfeel's tight coils.

    <Wow! I got hit!> exclaimed an all-too-cheery voice; Joyfeel was staring at the places on its body where several small, spear-induced wounds were dotted. Cheri was darting around it in a hovering circle, looking incredulous.

    "It's Recover's helped it!" Fire said hotly, watching the star's core flicker rapidly. "Squirtle, blast that thing with a Water Gun!"

    "Counter with your own Water Gun!" Misty ordered. "Joyfeel, Ember the bug!"

    "String Shot, Cheri, prevent that Ember!" Leaf cried.

    Fire raised an eyebrow, no doubt cynical about how a String Shot could stop the serpent's flames, but the reason was soon made plain: Cheri, the faster of the two, fired a sticky string into Joyfeel's wide-open, smiling mouth, hitting the bulls-eye of its throat. Half a second later came the fire; blocked from its natural path by the impeding string, the flames seemed to be licking the beast's esophagus, for Joyfeel squealed in pain, thrashing its head around while still somehow grinning. Yet this didn't last long — only a few seconds had passed it shook its head rapidly to clear it, before it beamed cheekily at the audience. But this was another mistake: Cheri, not missing a beat, was instantly circling the serpent's grinning muzzle, rapidly firing String Shots as she flew. By the time Joyfeel had realized what had happened, Cheri had already retreated to a safe distance, and the water snake's jaws had been clamped tightly shut with the strings, a muzzle inches thick and already hardening.

    <Mmph!> Joyfeel protested, even though it was still smiling underneath the binding strings.

    "I know, weird, right? That's the other one, and it's creeping me out. No, seriously, it is. STOP GRINNING, YOU PSYCHO! I NEED TO THINK ... Joyfeel, the Pretty, Witty and Gay Pokemon. Gender is Female. Oh wait, would that make it Pretty, Witty and Lesbian instead—?"

    "STOP BEING AN ***, YOU STUPID ORANGE MACHINE!" Misty screamed; her face red almost beyond recognition, she appeared to be more on edge than both of the challengers combined. "MY POKEMON IS NOT A LESBIAN!"

    "Humans really don't have a sense of humor," the Pokedex sighed, as Joyfeel splashed uselessly around the pool, glaring at the machine while still grinning. "No wonder the world sucks. With you guys ruling it ... but I digress. Height is Wow, Are You Horny Today?, Weight is Oh Yeah, You Definitely Are. This thing is a damn annoying ******* because it grins ALL THE TIME. Even if it's being tortured. What the hell, I say. Just, what the hell. AND," it added hastily, noticing Leaf's exasperated face, "it's got this uberly annoying ability to heal itself with water. Good luck taking that bugger down, then, if it's in there ALL THE TIME. Also, it's got fiery attributes as well, in case that Ember wasn't a hint. You know what that means, don't you? It's one of those GIGGLY SNAKE DEMONS OF HELL, AND IT'S GOING TO EAT YOUR CHILDREN! RUN! RUN FER YER LIVES, MORTALS!"

    Somewhere in the audience came a squeal of fear that could only belong to Ocean.

    "I am not amused," Misty snapped at it poisonously. "Joyfeel, can you free yourself?"

    The serpent shook her head, whimpering (but still grinning).

    "Then let's stop this playing around crap," the gym leader said decisively. "Brace yourselves, guys. This is where the kid gloves come off. Flame Wheel and Swift, no mercy!"

    "Yeah? Well, you're not the only one who can wear kid gloves!" Leaf retorted, before realizing how stupid that sounded. "Er ... Cheri, back to the pool's edge, hit the snake with a Secret Power!"

    Misty blinked. "Secret wha—?"

    "BLAST IT WITH BRINE!" Fire shouted, making both the girls jump. From the sound of it, he sounded rather frustrated himself.

    In the audience, Ocean chuckled appreciatively. "That was such an epic voice! It was like a teenage Terminator ... 'blahst eet weeth Breine!' ... that should be on par with 'lieking Mudkipz'."

    Lightning stared at him. "You're not making any sense at all."

    The spike-headed boy's reply was cut off by the scene on the battlefield: with an almighty leap Joyfeel burst from the pool waters, flame inexplicably erupting from her long fin as she rolled in midair toward Cheri, somersaulting in a flickering wheel of fire; the bug, buzzing hastily toward the concrete, was not fast enough to get out of the serpent's path, and she screamed a dreadful cry as the living circle of fire smashed into her — there was a dreadful crunch as the Beedrill was forcibly sandwiched between concrete and snake — a collective gasp from the audience —

    "COME ON, CHERI!" Leaf cried out, surprised at the force of her own volume. "STAY IN IT, GIRL, DO IT NOW!"

    From underneath Joyfeel's body, as the flames abruptly died down, a twitching, pencil-thin black leg protruded ... Filled with pent-up emotion, Leaf choked back a sob as she reached for her Poke Ball ... Joyfeel beamed at the audience triumphantly, satisfied that her foe had been vanquished.

    "Ouch, that must have hurt!" Wennett's voice seemed strangely far away. "Sorry, Leaf, but your Beedrill has fain—"

    A muffled, ominous buzzing cut him off, and the next second found everyone gaping, openmouthed, as Joyfeel was thrown into the air, twisting and squealing in surprise. With a sudden, jerky movement, Cheri leapt to her feet; she swayed dangerously, and her ruby eyes were tiredly half-closed, but there was a determined twitch of her spears as she launched herself into the air, wings buzzing frantically. There was a collective "ooh!" from the audience as something that looked like pink lightning leapt from the concrete beneath her and up onto her small black feet, quickly engulfing her in a blinding, brightly colored glow that sizzled and crackled.

    Joyfeel, realizing what was going on, flailed in midair in a useless attempt to avoid the oncoming attack, but Cheri would not be deterred: there was a bright flash as they collided, and Joyfeel unleashed a horrible yowl from her clamped jaws: the lightning had leapt almost gleefully to the snake's body and was slicing through her thrashing coils in a rather hungry manner. The Beedrill immediately fluttered out of the way, shaking her head in an attempt to clear it, as her narrowed eyes followed Joyfeel fall back to earth, smashing into the concrete with a loud SLAP and a soft whimper.

    "B- ... Beedrill has not fainted!" Wennett exclaimed, his surprised voice almost drowned out by the raucous cheers of those in the stands. "And what an amazing comeback, paralyzing Joyfeel like that!"

    Joyfeel, twitching as her muscles seized up painfully, raised her head and shot Cheri a glare and a glowing Ember; but the motion was so agonizingly slow that the bug avoided the flames easily.

    "YES!" Leaf yelled, actually jumping for joy and ignoring everyone's confused stares as she did so. "Great, Cheri! Finish her with Twineedle, you've got this one in the bag!"

    As Cheri swooped down at the hapless serpent, Leaf frowned as a faint noise reached her ears: the buzzing emanating from the bug's wings, already magnified by the acoustics of the gym, had increased to an even greater volume, as if an entire swarm of invisible Beedrill had joined Cheri in the fight. The girl rubbed her eyes and stared at her Pokemon harder — it had to be the chlorine in the air, she told herself: surely she was only thinking that there were ghostly, insectoid shades surrounding the bug as she dived — and that faint, warlike drumbeat, she had to be imagining that, too —

    But there was no imagining the almost blind ferocity of Cheri's onslaught: there was a dual flash of spears, another terrible muffled scream, and Joyfeel recoiled as blood spurted from the fresh, gaping wound in her side, staring at it in a strange sort of delighted horror.

    "Keep at it, Cheri!" Leaf called, but there was no need to say so: Cheri had already leapt at the serpent again, her spears dripping red.

    "DAMMIT!" Misty hollered, her face now bearing a startling resemblance to an overripe tomato. "Joyfeel, try to get it with Ember! Staryu, Water Gun her to heal her!"

    "Not likely!" Fire shot back. "Intercept that, Squirtle!"

    Tearing her gaze away from her Pokemon's seemingly mindless bloodlust, Leaf turned her attention to the other half of the pool, which she had almost forgotten in the excitement of Cheri's struggle. Whatever happened over here had left both Staryu and Squirtle bobbing about in the water, looking exhausted. Staryu, its body once again bearing the marks of battle, half-heartedly unleashed a Water Gun, which spurted from its topmost point toward its teammate; Squirtle, however, leapt weakly into the air, and the burst of water smacked into her instead. As she hit the pool's surface with a splash, panting heavily, Leaf noticed that the water seemed to be churning beneath her tired body ... and almost immediately Squirtle fixed her gaze upon her foe, her eyes glowing an unnatural neon blue.

    "Excellent!" Fire, Leaf was startled to see, was actually smiling. "Exactly what we need! Squirtle, finish it off with Brine!"

    <Here it comes!> Squirtle announced in a strained voice, opening her mouth wide ... as if a dam had burst within, a sudden flood of water spewed from her jaws, its acidic stench mingling with the chlorinated air as it rushed towards the tired foe; Staryu yelled indignantly as the rush blasted it right out of the pool.

    The people in the stands stared in awe as the flailing, rubbery star Pokemon flew towards them.

    "Whoa!" Ocean breathed in awe. "A shooting star! I should wish for something, right? What should I—?"

    SMACK!

    "Mmph ... I wish it would get off my face."

    "Here," Lightning said, grabbing at the star with both hands and pulling as hard as he could; after a few moments, there was a loud and disgusting sound rather like a plunger at work, and Staryu flopped down on Ocean's lap, dripping.

    <You're all ... so ... rude ...> it muttered, the core in its center flickering feebly, before its appendages drooped and it lay still.

    "Staryu has fainted!" Wennett shouted, peering at the star. "Would you toss that to me, gentlemen? I need to check, to see if it's really — OOF! Yes, it's definitely fainted."

    Misty made a strangled sort of noise as she recalled Staryu. "Dammit," she said again. "Joyfeel, stay in this! Ember, Twister, whatever you can do, do it and do it now!"

    <Wow! I'm hurting a lot!> Joyfeel groaned happily, her words not immediately distinguishable. Out of the water, the serpent looked a great deal less majestic and more awkward. Stabbing twice again, Cheri seemed to be working herself into a bloodthirsty frenzy, eyes glowing with an eerie red light. Waving her tail about weakly, Joyfeel whipped up a small blue tornado, which whistled in the air for a moment before smacking into Cheri, tossing her around in the air for a few moments; this seemed to only heighten the bug's fury, however, as the tornado eventually dropped her and she immediately stabbed the serpent with even greater vigor.

    "Alright, Squirtle, you're tired, but we're almost done. Help Beedrill now, Tackle Joyfeel until it's out cold!"

    The blue turtle shot her trainer the briefest of glares before turning her attention back to the situation at hand, her rapid swimming tearing through the water swiftly, spray flying from her feet as she kicked. Launching herself out of the pool, she smacked at Joyfeel's scaly body with her head, leaving a rapidly forming bruise: only a fool would deny that Joyfeel couldn't hold out much longer.

    <Wow, I'm really tired,> Joyfeel murmured, eyelids fluttering. In a feeble, last effort to hold her own, the serpent blew a few tiny, flickering flames out of her nostrils, but these only hit Squirtle, who didn't seem to notice them at all. As the twin spears gored her hide once more, and the rock-hard skull smacked against her scales, the great serpent shuddered, stiffened, and lay her head on the floor.

    The stands erupted into cheers. Leaf, her ears ringing, blinked and turned to stare at the people standing there, all staring at the scene as they applauded ... they were on her side, she realized, on her side from the start ...

    "And Joyfeel has also fainted!" Wennett had to strain his voice to be heard over the tumultuous noise. "And with a stunning two-zero victory, Leaf and Fire win the match!"

    Fire, beaming at everything he could see, recalled Squirtle as he waved triumphantly. Shaking her head briefly to clear the ringing in her ears, Leaf glanced over at Cheri, who was standing triumphantly in a pool of blood — Misty had wordlessly returned Joyfeel while Wennett was speaking. Making a mental note to heartily congratulate her Beedrill, Leaf smiled proudly as she aimed the Poke Ball at the bug, who disappeared in the usual beam of red light. Returning her attention to the audience, whose members were now starting to get up and stretch, she caught sight of the familiar faces gazing back at her: Ocean grinning, water still dripping down his face; Lightning with a rather strained smile, as he was edging away from Ocean; even Roark had dropped his gloomy matter and was now beaming, though he had pressed himself further into the side of the stands in order to avoid attracting attention from a group of people who were obviously fangirls, since they were chattering excitedly about Falkner as they passed his hiding place.

    And then — Leaf did a double take, blinking in disbelief — she caught sight of the strange, tanned woman, sitting calmly amid the sea of moving spectators and staring directly at Leaf. She didn't seem to be upset at being spotted; on the contrary, her mouth stretched into a smirk that the girl could easily see from the pool's side.

    Her again! Leaf pressed her lips into a thin line. All her worries and uncertainties, blissfully lost in the tide of the battle, suddenly came flooding back in a rush at the sight of that tan face. I'll have to get some info out of her somehow. Well, she'll have to wait, I've got to find Paris first. She doesn't look like she'll be leaving anytime soon, anyway.

    "You did great," came Misty's resigned voice. Slightly startled, Leaf turned to see the gym leader standing next to Fire and herself; although she still looked flushed, most of the tomato-red color had drained from her cheeks. "I haven't had such a badass fight in ages. So, here're the Cascade Badges — yeah, here they are — and also some complimentary TMs."

    Leaf stared at the shimmering blue badge as it was pressed into her sweaty palm. Shaped like a large water droplet, it threw the florescent light back at strange angles; with the humid moisture in the air giving it an extra-shiny appearance, she could almost imagine that it was a real raindrop, its shape preserved as if by magic. The TM's case, decorated with a large globe of sparkling blue water, boasted the words "TM03: Water Pulse" on its front. Tearing her gaze from it, she picked up her handbag and shoved the items into it, ignoring the Pokedex's indignant muttering as she pushed it slightly to the side in doing so.

    And now, she thought grimly, heading towards the door at the far side of the gym, time for Paris.
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 2nd January 2010 at 7:37 AM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  19. #144
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    "It's time for fun and time for cheer ..." sang three young women merrily as they cartwheeled past Leaf to the door, where one of them swung the door open and they all stood there, grinning at her as she approached. "... Because Team Waterflower's here!"

    Next second, an enormous blue shape had burst from the room beyond the door and barreled into Leaf, who let out a pained "OOF!" as they hit the concrete together. Rubbing her throbbing head, Leaf squinted against the brightness of the lights on the ceiling to see that Paris was sitting on top of her, positively beaming.

    <Mommy! You came back!> squealed the Lapras, bowing her head down to nuzzle Leaf's face. <I was waiting so long, I thought you were never gonna come, but you did! Where'd you go, Mommy? Why couldn't I come?>

    "Urk," Leaf gasped. "Hi, Paris. Can you get off me? You're squishing me."

    <Oh, sorry!> the Pokemon giggled, and she leapt off at once, gazing at her trainer with adoring eyes as the girl slowly and painfully got to her feet. She had grown again in her absence, Leaf noted: the top of her horned head was now midthigh.

    "Oh, Paris," Leaf sighed, scratching the Lapras's head. "You're growing up so fast, I can't carry you in my arms anymore! Although," she added pensively, catching herself, "I wouldn't have, anyway ..."

    Paris cocked her head to the side, staring at Leaf cutely. <What do you mean, Mommy?>

    Just do it, Leaf told herself, meeting the turtle-like Pokemon's black-eyed gaze. Get it over with. You knew this was coming.

    But she's so young! Another voice near the back of her mind stirred. What if she can't handle it? Even if she could, what'll she do? It's not worth risking that just yet, is it?

    You still have to deal with it.

    She trusts you with her whole heart! How can you betray that?

    It has to be done. You knew that from the moment you first saw the second skin in the pool.

    But she loves—

    Do it! NOW!

    "Paris," Leaf began, then paused, frowning. How was she supposed to go about doing this?

    <What?>

    She wrung her hands, trying to find the right words. "P-Paris, I ... look, there's no easy way to say this, but we know both know that you're not the Pokemon I thought you were. You never were, really. It was all a lie, a big, fat, stupid lie, and I was selfish enough to lap it up, and ... I don't want my stupid selfishness ruining both of us in the long run. That's not the way a real friendship would work. So, what I guess I'm trying to say is ..."

    The Lapras followed Leaf's hand with her eyes as the girl plucked a Poke Ball from her belt. Though her heart hammered painfully at the thought of what she was about to do, Leaf forced herself to continue, and Paris's curious smile died at the fatal words:

    "I'm releasing you."

    * * *

    Author's Note: Info on Joyfeel
    Joyfeel
    Type: Water/Fire
    Classification: Cheer Pokemon
    Height: 19'04"
    Weight: 387.6 lbs.
    Ability: Water Absorb
    Egg Groups: Water 2/Dragon
    Gender: 50% male, 50% female
    Color: Red
    Catch Rate: 60
    Evolution: ??? --> (max Happiness) --> Joyfeel
    A Pokemon that evolved against all odds, Joyfeel is the absolute opposite of its pre-evolution. Like Gyarados and Milotic before it, it is a powerful water serpent which evolved from a weak and pathetic fish. It is constantly smiling and always partly happy, no matter what the rest of its mood might be comprised of. They are shy Pokemon rarely found in the wild, but they are said to be attracted to feelings of great happiness: often, during celebrations on a waterfront, beautiful jets of their flame can be seen flying from the water's surface into the sky, like fireworks.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  20. #145
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    502

    Default

    Die, fiend, die!
    Really should have been Die, phiend, die! I think.

    The way you've included shadow Pok&#233;mon in this is really interesting. Having never played XD i'm glad you covered the basics otherwise i wouldn't of had a clue what you were on about. And the soul thing...Nooo! You got there first! I had something like that coming for my fic which is taking an incredibly long time to revive itself. Oh well :/

    Also, where can i buy a Pok&#233;dex like that? I want one. Now.

    And did you see how long that chapter was? It takes up nearly an entire page! Are you trying to break the world's chapter length record?

    Keep up the good randomness Its very entertaining.

    EDIT: I thought of more comments!
    1. I feel sorry for Paris.
    2. Bill is a freak.
    3. Falkner's been taking tips from Wallace.
    4. Cheri scares me.
    5. Can i have a list of details on Joyfeel so i can draw it please?
    Last edited by Sinnohdragon; 22nd August 2009 at 2:38 PM.

  21. #146
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    How did I not see the fiend thing? *fixes*
    Also, as an unrelated side note, I just realized I referred to Staryu as a "her" at one point. >_> *fixes that too*

    LOL, of course it takes up nearly a page, the page is new. Although it is a three-post chapter, so ... XP

    Also, where can i buy a Pokédex like that? I want one. Now.
    Leaf: You could have mine ... if the author would just let me ditch it ... *glares at the Pokedex*
    Pokedex:

    Bill is a freak.
    You are awesome for saying this.

    Ooh, you're drawing Joyfeel! Yayz. *VMs description*
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  22. #147
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Illinois
    Posts
    52

    Default

    lol i have been keepin up with your chapters. It was just due to my laziness to respond >,>. But the randomness is great. I thoroughly enjoy reading each chapter and I will comment on one note. Your writing has improved since you first started which is always a plus needless to say randomness is good but try not to overload your chapters which it as well.

    ~roo~
    Fan fic reader. Writer at heart artistic at heart. My name before was roodude15 and I'm back PM me if you want me to review something. I'm always happy to review a story.

    I love crude humor it's the biggest thing since sliced bread and sliced bread is pretty darn good too

  23. #148
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    5th circle of hell
    Posts
    1,146

    Default

    I canNOT believe Leaf done that to Paris. What a *****. Excuse my language of course.

    It was quite good, happy I'm FINALLY caught up. Whew. *wipes off sweat*
    Pokemon Black team:

  24. #149
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    I swear I meant to put this up AGES ago. XP
    Also, note that all grammar errors during the undoubtedly ugly chat sequence were INTENTIONAL. Kay? Good. (I'm pretty sure I'm not breaking any rules by using a chat sequence in the first place ... >_>)

    * * *

    Chapter Sixteen: Hello Goodbye (The Woes of Ketsuban! Paris's Tears!)

    She hadn't meant the words to be so loud, honest to Arceus, but Leaf's voice rang ominously in the air long after she had closed her mouth. Paris, frowning in confusion, opened her mouth to say something, but two voices cut her off unceremoniously.

    "WHAT?!"

    There was a loud series of slapping sounds as twin pairs of feet pushed against the concrete floor; next moment somebody seized Leaf's shoulder forcefully and spun her around, and she jumped slightly backward when she saw how close the two people were. There are many differences between an anti-cheerleeder and a vagabond miner, yet Leaf was astounded at how similar the outraged looks on their faces were.

    "Are you insane?" the two yelled in perfect unison; in any other situation it could have been comical. "You're releasing her? She's just a kid, for the love of Mew! What do you think you're doing, releasing her? And stop talking when I'm talking!" they added, turning to snap at each other now. "I've got the right to scold her, not you!"

    The Pokedex chose this moment to snicker annoyingly.

    "Shut the hell up, Roark!" Misty snarled, shoving him with enough force to send him staggering backwards a few steps. "I'm the one with authority to make sure no water Pokemon is abused. Especially not in my own gym! I'm the fricking foremost water expert in Kanto! Damn, Leaf, I actually thought you had good judgment for a while!"

    Roark scowled back at her. "No way, Misty, I'm dealing with this. I've got a heck of a lot more right to, anyway!"

    The girl sneered. "Says who?"

    "Says me."

    "Oh, that makes so much difference! Not."

    "I'm the trainer of the Lapras's dad!"

    "... Screw you."

    "Leaf," Roark said, turning to the brunette and grabbing her shoulders as Misty sullenly withdrew a few paces, "Let me get this straight. You have a powerful, rare, beautiful, even-tempered, agreeable Pokemon that a lot of people would kill for. Your care is pretty much all she's ever known. You've raised her from an egg. She's closer to you than to her own father. And you're planning to release her."

    The girl nodded. "Yeah, that's pretty much it."

    His grip tightened at her nonchalant tone. "'Pretty much it'? Do you even care?"

    "I used to. But it's hard to care for something that turns out to be worthless."

    His eyes practically bugged out of his head. "Worthless? Were you listening at all to what I just said?"

    "Well, duh. But she's brought loads of chaos and confusion into my life because of her supposed worth. And if it was all for nothing ..." She gestured toward Paris, whose huge black eyes were filling up with tears. "Then the cause is pretty much worthless, isn't it? All the pain with none of the reward."

    "She didn't do anything."

    "She didn't have to! If it wasn't for her — well, I guess we'd all be in a better situation. We wouldn't be stalked by that Cobalt guy, Pewter City wouldn't have flooded, I wouldn't have been almost gutted by a Shadow—"

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold the cart there!" He let go of her shoulders, and Leaf, after her initial confusion at his impromptu miner lingo, spotted some sort of curiosity sparking in his eyes. "Did you just say something about a 'Cobalt'?"

    "Yes." She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "A Rocket admin, I think. Following us because Paris here wasn't anything like what everyone thought she was! The one sure way to ditch him is to ditch her." She pointed at the Lapras, whose lower lip was starting to tremble. "Why, do you know of one?"

    "Know of one? Leaf, I am one!"

    I am one! rang the echoes of his voice, striking against the walls like a sudden slap in the face.

    "Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuun!" the Pokedex said dramatically, before chuckling.

    Then there was a moment of dead silence, aside from Paris's sniffling.

    "You're ..." Leaf began, but she broke off, staring at him as if only seeing him for the first time.

    More silence. They became acutely aware that people were staring at them.

    Suddenly—

    POW!

    "UGH!"

    "That's right!" Leaf snapped, watching Roark reel backward from the force of her punch, clutching his jaw. "Get away, you two-faced *******! Everything you've been telling us was a complete lie, isn't it? You only dropped your criminal look to get closer to Paris!"

    "Leaf ..." Lightning's voice drifted from somewhere to her left.

    But she wasn't going to just stop. Not when she was on a roll.

    "Honesty never occurred to you at all? Of course not, not when all of this was just a pack of lies, lies, lies! It all started with Paris showing up, and then this damn pit we dug just got deeper and deeper! Well, there's no way you're climbing out of it now!"

    "Leaf—"

    "Shut up, Lightning! No wonder you wore wigs, I'd know your stupid girl hair anywhere! And to think," she added, wearing an expression of utmost disgust, "I actually believed you ... believed in you ... you were my fricking idol! And then you just go and—"

    "Leaf! Listen to me!" Lightning ordered, coming seemingly out of nowhere and shaking her. As she was about a head taller than he was, this arrangement was incredibly awkward. "Roark isn't Cobalt! At least, not the Cobalt we know. He was with us when the actual Cobalt ran out of the Bill's cottage, remember? Unless there's some weird time paradox thing going on here, there's no way he could've been in two places at once!"

    The girl blinked slowly as common sense caught up with her. "Oh ... yeah. But," she protested, trying hard not to look at the rapidly forming bruise on Roark's jaw (her fist throbbing painfully at the sight), "b-but ... why'd he say he's Cobalt, if he's not? That doesn't even make sense!"

    Somewhere out of sight, Fire sighed. "Honestly, Leaf, did you never pay any attention in History?"

    "It's not like there was ever anything to learn," she retorted, and was rewarded with the sound of the boy facepalming.

    "Enough of this." Roark, massaging the site of injury, fumbled at his belt with his free hand. Righteous anger sharpened the edges of his face. "You will NOT be releasing her, do you hear me?"

    Leaf shook her head. "I'm sorry, Roark, I've made my mind up. I just can't keep her on my team anymore."

    He didn't need to respond; the expression of utmost disgust conveyed everything he couldn't say. Without a word, he tossed a Poke Ball into the air; a hulking, monstrous shape appeared in the usual beam of light, and a second later Skipper stood crouching there, looking around in confusion. Then he caught sight of Paris, who had started to sob quietly, and his small orange eyes, widening in sympathy, darted to his trainer's face to Leaf's coldy determined air, to the Poke Ball she held in a death grip.

    Who said brains never come along with brawn?

    <No,> he breathed. Then, with a suddenness to elicit shocked cries from the innocent bystanders, he lunged at Leaf. <NO!>

    Her eyes widened and she dropped her handbag: even when she had first seen him lying injured on the beach, an unknown figure, he seemed incapable of causing real fear to her; yet now, as his eyes flashed dangerously and his broad paws flew at her with terrifying force, she felt the age-old survival instinct rise up within her: Save yourself!

    She only managed to throw herself to the side just in time: the powerful rush of Skipper's movement whistled ominously above her as his great blue bulk flew through the space she'd been standing in only a second before. There was no time for relief, however, because in the next moment she toppled into the nearby pool with a loud SPLASH! The echoing noises died away for a moment as her head disappeared beneath the water, her long hair drifting about her face in a ghostly manner; but with a great heave she pushed herself half out of the water, gasping for air. Taking a deep, rejuvenating breath, she pushed her hair out of her eyes with her free hand and looked up.

    The sudden sight of twin glaring orbs almost made her inhale the pool water.

    <That's my daughter,> Skipper growled, in his softest, most dangerous voice. Dimly Leaf registered the soft sounds of muffled crying drifting from somewhere behind him. <She's only a little girl. I trusted you to take care of her, and—>

    But his words died into a furious roar: Leaf, trying hard not to listen to a word he was saying, hastily smashed the Poke Ball against the concrete poolside, and a long, dreadful crack instantly split it down the middle; Skipper lunged for the sphere but it was too late — the two red-and-white halves were knocked from her hand, glowing red as they spiraled through the air. The red light extended from the Poke Ball halves in a line connecting, presumably, to Paris, for the neon-bright thread disappeared out of sight beyond the mighty Swampert, who stared at it in horror. Then there was a great flash: the red turned abruptly to an eerie bright blue, then faded just as suddenly. The remnants of the Poke Ball exploded into dust an instant before hitting the chlorinated water; they sparkled on the surface almost cheerfully, as if approving of the girl's actions.

    A poisonous silence descended on the scene, broken only by the soft lapping of water against concrete and the persistent hum of florescent lights. Skipper stood frozen, dismay still distorting his broad features; even Paris was quiet, the shock having cut off her sobs. Leaf, bobbing up and down gently, was surprised at her own daring. For a second there I actually thought I might crack under Skipper's pressure! Lucky I kept my head!

    A soft whooshing sound, like someone blowing up a tiny balloon, broke the awful quiet. Glancing up, everyone blinked in surprise to see Paris floating up in the air on another Return-heart, which somehow seemed smaller than the previous ones. Her huge dark eyes, welled up with tears, pleaded silently, helplessly.

    <Please, Mommy ...>

    But the girl shook her head, cutting off the rest of her final plea. With a wail of anguish, the Lapras whooshed over the pool, flying haphazardly on the heart-shaped hovercraft, which tilted dangerously one way, then the other, ignoring Skipper's protests ... and as the Pokemon burst out through the double doors, Leaf had a strange thought: The heart ... was it shrinking?

    A sudden howl made her jump: as the giant Pokemon bounded past, his heavy paws causing the floor to shake slightly, Skipper's open mouth poured out every iota of aching pain in his heart, the wordless, indescribable sorrow of watching his daughter fly off abandoned, disheartened, alone ... The mournful sound echoed against the walls, even after he had rushed through the doors and out of sight. Anni, who had been unnoticed by anyone until this point, carefully scampered him, doing her best to ignore the sounds of the small waves. It didn't seem to occur to either of them that they could never hope to catch up.

    "Stupid," Misty muttered venomously; her voice was quiet, subdued, and yet in the tension stretching tautly in the room, it was easily heard. "What a stupid, pointless release. You could've just given her to someone else here, Leaf. She'd be happier."

    "She didn't seem to want to go with any of you, did she?" Leaf replied, perhaps more snappishly than she had intended. "Anyway, let her go. If she'd rather be facing the world on her own than choosing another trainer, that's her problem, not mine."

    With a great huff she heaved herself out of the pool, dripping wet. In spite of the warm humidity wrapping around her like a shawl, she shivered with cold. My sandals are ruined, she thought dejectedly. Damn. I was hoping they would last me longer.

    "Awwwwwwww!" Team Waterflower cried out, sounding cheesily sympathetic.

    "How sad!"

    "Too bad!"

    "I'm sure not glad!"

    "And look! Depressed was her poor dad!"

    Violet giggled. "You're smart, Daisy!"

    "Stop being happy!" Lily shot at her blue-haired sister, pushing her. "This isn't a happy time, you goose! We have to be all sad and mournful and et cetcetcetcetcetera! That poor Dewgong's just been released!"

    "You're the goose!" Violet retorted. "Because that wasn't a Dewgong!"

    "Yeah!" Daisy chimed in. "It was a Kyogre, duh!"

    Leaf heard somebody muttering softly. Trying to tune out Team Waterflower's bickering, she turned her gaze toward Fire. "What?"

    He didn't look at her. "I said, I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to be more like you ... but how can I believe that caring for people and Pokemon is right, when even the model for my new behavior can throw that philosophy aside like yesterday's trash?"

    "But Fire, it's better if—"

    "What, it's better if you abandon her when she's got nowhere to go? Is that what you honestly believe? Because even before Mount Moon, I — the old me — never would have needlessly thrown a Pokemon away. But I guess it doesn't really matter to you what I think, does it? ... I'll see you around, Leaf." But the look on his face was at odds with that last statement.

    "Fire—"

    He turned, ignoring her protest, and walked stiffly toward the door. Ocean watched his retreating back for a moment, then turned his disappointed gaze at Leaf.

    "He's a weirdo," he said, nodding as if she was agreeing with him on that, "but he's got a point. Seriously, Leaf, even when she wasn't shiny ... although, she was never shiny really, but you know ... HOW COULD YOU?" he exploded suddenly, leaping forward at her and grabbing at the hem of her jeans. "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME, LEAF? I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS! THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! A DISGRACE! A SCANDAL! A HOLY MACKEREL SCANDAL, I THINK! HAVE YOU LOST YOUR COMMON JUDGMENT, OR HAS IT GONE OFF TO THAT BIG POKEMON COLLECTION IN THE SKY?"

    "SHUT UP!" Misty hollered at him, turning beet purple in annoyance. "Daisy, Lily, Violet, do something useful for once in your miserable pom-pom-filled lives and get him out before he gets an aneurism!"

    "But I like all this drama!" Lily pouted, her lower lip protruding slightly.

    "We might as well," Violet sighed, "or the poor thing could hurt himself. Come on, let's get him."

    "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" the spiky-haired boy howled as the three girls dragged him away; Daisy actually had to hug his head to her chest, and pulled him so hard that Leaf wondered if his neck would break. "I DEMAND JUSTICE! WHERE IS JUSTICE WHEN YOU NEED IT? YOU'LL PAY FOR THIS ABOMINABLE ABOMINATION, LEAF, I SWEAR BY EVERYTHING IN AND UNDER AND OVER THE EARTH AND SKY AND OTHER STUFF! YOU'LL GET WHAT'S COMING TO YOU SOMEDAY! Ooh, boobies. YOU CAN'T GO UNPUNISHED FOR THIS, SERIOUSLY, I WILL COME AT YOU ONE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT WITH MY AWESOME URSARING AND EVIL BLISSEY AND OTHER GUYS! I DON'T CARE IF I DON'T HAVE THEM RIGHT NOW, I WILL ONE DAY, AND ONE DAY YOU'LL REPENT OF YOUR MISERABLE CRIME OR ELSE—"

    "I'll need to follow them," Misty muttered, looking thoroughly disgusted at the idea. "Don't want any crowds forming on account of the Amazing Shouting Spikehead ... When I come back," she said more loudly, turning a cold gaze on Leaf, "I'll be hoping that a certain brunette will have left this gym for good! Because if I see that certain brunette's face here again, then she'll get a good idea of what happens when you piss me off by abusing water-types on my own turf! You see where I'm going, Leaf?"

    "What is with you people?" Leaf began heatedly, and made a face when Misty rolled her eyes and walked away without another word. "Don't you get it? This was the only way that made sense! She was like a ... a cancer, or something! Getting rid of her was the only way to make sure me and my team didn't curl up and die—"

    "Well," Lightning suggested, rubbing the back of his blond head awkwardly, "I'm guessing it had something to do with you abandoning her. I mean, it was out of nowhere, and she really, really liked you ... maybe, if you wanted to do it so badly, you might have broken it gently to her? And even given her to someone, I dunno. It was all just kind of heartless, I think."

    "Darn straight," Roark snapped.

    The two kids jumped; they had, after Skipper's release, completely forgotten he was there. A mere human, after all, is hardly interesting after a gigantic mudfish has threatened somebody with his sheer power. Or something along those lines, anyway.

    "Isn't there enough pain without us adding to it?" he asked quietly. One of his gloved hands held a strangely carved stone necklace similar to Anni's, and he was looking at it rather philosophically; the other was clenched so hard into a fist that it shook with his restrained rage. "Why can't anyone learn from history's stupid mistakes? It's like no matter how many times we hear about cruelty and heartbreak—" He tore his unfocused gaze from the necklace and fixed Leaf with a death glare. "—We just keep on adding to it, over and over again ..."

    "Yeah," Leaf said, in that floating tone which one uses when they aren't listening at all. "Well. Okay. Cheer up Skipper, won't you? He looks awfully down right now. Take him for a walk, that should get the depression out of his system ... maybe skip off into the sunset afterward, that'll probably work, too—"

    He took an extremely deep breath; his chest swelled in compliance and Leaf, recognizing the symptoms of somebody about to launch into a furious tirade, hastily racked her brains for something to say to cut him off.

    "Well, why should you protest?" she said waspishly. "It doesn't exactly affect you, am I right? Oh, you can angst about it all you want, but just because something's quote-on-quote 'moral' doesn't automatically make it the right thing to do!"

    "Yes, it does! Does the word 'conscience' mean anything to you?"

    "I could ask you the same thing, if that's the way you wanna be. It's rich that this lecturing and everything is coming from the guy who practically chucked her dad overboard when he was on a mothertrucking boat!"

    There it was: the one thing she could have said to send his darkening mood careening over the spectrum to settle maliciously into black again. More cutting ways existed, of course, but this was the only one she was really aware of.

    "Yeah," he muttered sullenly, squaring his shoulders against some internal pain. "Yeah, I did, for the same essential reason you abandoned that poor Lapras. But that was a sudden, spur-of-the-moment thing that I never would've done if I'd been thinking clearly. You can't know how much I regretted it afterward ... all the hours I spent looking over the rail, hoping I'd see his shape growing on the horizon ... Anni wouldn't speak to me for three whole days. And you know what? She was right not to. What could she have said that I hadn't already told myself? It was one of those things you can't go back and fix, and that gnawed at me. But at least I realized, even though it was painful, that what a Pokemon looks like doesn't change who they are! At least I still had enough love for him to stop myself from breaking his Ball!"

    "You know, you four-eyed geek," interrupted the Pokedex (sitting serenely in the fallen yellow handbag, as usual), "I was actually taking you seriously until you said 'breaking his Ball'."

    "Shut up, Pokedex. But dude, these are completely different Pokemon we're talking about here. You've got a strong bond with Skipper — well, naturally, 'cause he's your starter. If you get to really know him over the years, you can't really just send him away without feeling down, right? But Paris was just a devious little minx without a—"

    "She's just a kid!"

    Leaf gave him a despairing look. "You just don't get it, do you? I'm going to leave now, because you're just annoying me. I am so over you. And by the way, when I said you had girl hair, I meant it, so there!"

    "... What?"

    But she had already spun around on her heel, snatched her handbag off the floor, and marched toward the exit in a rather superior way. People these days, she thought to herself bitterly. They just can't understand the little workings of these things, can they ...

    Had she been less preoccupied with herself, she might have noticed the strange tanned woman still sitting silently in the stands, closely watching the girl's haughty movements. As she gripped the edge of her seat, her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, glinting — for the briefest of moments — with an almost metallic sheen.

    On a less mysterious note, Lightning seemed torn between trotting after Leaf's retreating back, and sticking around with an utterly confused and frustrated Roark to shake his head in utter disbelief at the girl's behavior. After a few moments of looking back and forth between them, he finally compromised by falling backward into the pool. Needless to say, Peach was less than amused.

    * * *

    Cobalt watched her go.

    He was fairly confident that nobody could see him — only his head stuck out from behind the giant, statuesque Dewgong — and so felt assured that he could focus completely on the girl's retreating back without having the awkward premonition that some six-year-old waddling through the surrounding park would point up at him and exclaim, "Look, Mommy! Santa Claus uses Dewgong now!" Of course, it also helped that her spike-headed friend had been dragged out those same doors by the three sexy Waterflowers only a few minutes earlier, hollering at the top of his lungs about betrayal and justice and psychotic Minzuba, whatever the hell that was, and thusly distracted the attention of the nearby civilians from his general hiding place. But still, he liked to chalk up another one for his rad spy skills.

    Remembering what had flown out the door even before the spike-headed maniac, he tried and failed for the twentieth time to wrap his mind around what was going on. The Lapras is NOT shiny, he kept telling himself, as if pounding the fact into his mind with the hammer of repitition would lodge it there permanently. The Lapras is not SHINY. The LAPRAS is not shiny. THE Lapras is not shiny.

    His thin lips pressed into a frustrated line. Of all the ways that his mission could have been thwarted — Gina's comparative incompetence, Severus's and Mew's attempts to kill him, the unlikely possibility that the girl might defeat him — this was at the bottom of the list. Actually, "a vampire pterodactyl swooping down and chomping the Lapras to bits" was at the bottom of the list, but he was pretty sure he could discount that one.

    <Weird Hair Guy?> Phlash slithered down from the top of the striped dome, claws clicking against the roof.

    "Eh?"

    <Why are we on top of a magic tuba that doesn't work?>

    He didn't bother to reply.

    <The Lapras was blue,> Phlash commented unnecessarily, climbing on top of his bewigged head (today a white, spiky thing which further helped him camouflage behind the Dewgong).

    "I kn—"

    <DA-ba-DEE-da-ba-DIE, da-BA-DEE, DA-ba-DIE, DA-ba-DEE-da-ba-DIE, da-BA-DEE, DA-ba-DIE, DA-ba-DEE-da-ba-DIE, da-BA-DEE, DA-ba-DIE, da-BA-DEE, DA-ba-DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE...>

    Several poetic allusions could be made to describe the quality and volume of Phlash's voice, but there was no need for any: across the street, several apartment windows and car windshields shattered in protest. A dog somewhere howled in pain.

    "You're not taking this seriously, are you."

    <YO LISTEN UP, here's a story about a lil' girl that lives in a blue world, and all day, and all night, and everything she sees is just BLUE, like her inside and outside, blue her house, wit' a blue lil' WINDOW—>

    <You have issues,> commented a passing Starly.

    "She does, doesn't she?"

    <I was talking about you.>

    <—and a blue Corvette, and everything is blue for HER, and HERSELF, and everybody around, 'cause she ain't GOT! Nobody. To LISTEN, to LISTEN, to LISTEN, to LISTEN, I'm BLUE—>

    "Thanks so much." Cobalt put his face in his hands. "Ho boy, what am I ... what the hell am I gonna tell the Boss?" He peeked through his fingers at the panorama of the glimmering city before him, looking melancholy. "We're not gonna find the runt anytime this decade ... the scale'll only produce another normal Lapras with some weird oddity, undoubtedly."

    <—DA-ba-DEE-da-ba-DIE, da-BA-DEE, DA-ba-DIE—>

    "And it won't fly with him that the Lapras just isn't shiny anymore. He expects more of me, dammit. The only thing I've got going for me is that Severus is safely behind bars, the freak. And the Moon Stone bits, obviously. And the one I stole from PMS. And breaking a city and a mountain, maybe indirectly, I don't know—"

    <You just proved my point,> said the passing Starly who was suddenly no longer passing, as she had just landed on the Dewgong's finned tail.

    <—I have a BLUE house and a blue windoawwwww, blue is the color, of all that I WEAAAAHHHH—>

    "Kindly shut up," Cobalt sighed. Through his fingers he idly watched the girl's short blond friend dart out of the gym, glance around wildly, catch sight of her just before she had turned out of sight, and follow her at a gamboling run. The ugly little rat was still sitting on his head.

    <You're strange,> the Starly commented. She tilted her head to the side as she looked at him; as her head was roughly half the size of her body, she nearly toppled from her perch, and hastily fluttered back upright with a surprised chirp. <Did you know that's a very nice wig?>

    He blinked. "How'd you know? It's very realistic, I made sure of—"

    <It's that Phrygoil on your head,> the Starly explained, pointing her orange-and-black beak at said Phrygoil. <With all her scrabbling around, it's almost fallen off. The wig, I mean, not your head.>

    "DAMN IT!"

    With incredible speed the admin reached up and adjusted it back into place before his hair's proper color and style could be described; the movement unseated Phlash, who landed on his shoe with her claws extended.

    "OUCH!"

    <Sorry!> Phlash squealed, while Starly chuckled at the weasel's psychotic grin. <Can I go and eat somebody's foot now, Weird Hair Guy? I haven't eaten in ten whole minutes! How about yours, it's got tough skin on it, I can't puncture it even the littlest bit, it'll be fun to gnaw on!>

    "Phlash," Cobalt said sternly, still breathing hard from his extremely abrupt movement, "feet are not something you can eat."

    <But what if I wanna eat them?>

    "You can want the moon to be made of green cheese, too, but that's sure as hell not happening, is it?"

    <Er ...>

    Cobalt raised an eyebrow at the Starly. "Yes?"

    She shuffled her feet a bit awkwardly. <Um, I'd like it if ... boy, that was a bit abrupt, wasn't it? But ... er ... you know, since people without exciting lives don't usually sneak around on gym rooftops ... and it'd be cool traveling across the land, you know ... can I ... er—>

    "Join me?" Cobalt finished the stuttered question for her.

    <Yes!> She exhaled in relief, gazing at him hopefully.

    "I've already caught one of you a long time ago," the young man snapped coldly, resting his chin on his knees. He really didn't have time to think about things that didn't pertain to his mission. Perhaps — he tapped his chin diabolically as his mind spun into action — if he suggested to the Rocket scientists that only the indigo-inducing chromosome, if it was a chromosome, was included while they—

    <But I insist!> the bird pouted, flapping her wings frantically. <I really, really do! Because I—>

    "No," the admin said flatly.

    Starly sighed. <Mm. So you'll be stubborn about it, I see.>

    "Indeed," Cobalt agreed, turning away. "Phlash, get off my shoe right now or I'll—"

    <LLLLLLLLLLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII—>

    Cobalt and the psychotic Phrygoil nearly fell off the roof in surprise; the sheer shrillness of Starly's unending call, coupled with the roll of her L, was positively brain-breaking. Grabbing at Dewgong's flipper to save himself, the young man grit his teeth in agony. The noise seemed to drill through his skull like some sort of malevolent mutant migraine.

    <—IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII—>

    He didn't have to look: it seemed obvious that everyone within earshot — a range probably extending to the Pewter ruins — was undoubtedly staring curiously in his direction. His face flushed with exertion and extreme embarrassment.

    <—IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII—>

    "FINE, I'LL CATCH YOU, JUST SHUT UP, DAMMIT!"

    <Yay!> said the Starly cheerfully, who for some mysterious reason wasn't out of breath at all.

    Cringing slightly, he pulled himself up to his original position again. "What," he demanded, rubbing his temples, "what in the name of bloody hell did you just do?"

    <I dunno!> The Starly sighed again. <Nobody else in my flock could do it. And it was annoying them a tad, so one day they ... er ... they left me behind.> She hung her relatively enormous head. <I've been alone for ages.>

    <Why'd you fall, Weird Hair Guy?> Phlash asked, cocking her head to the side curiously at him as she sat on his knees.

    He gave her The Look. "You just heard why, Phlash. Geez."

    <Yeah, but a little noise shouldn't make you fall out of the sky,> the Phrygoil said. <That'd be like saying a little patch of green on a burger could kill you. Don't be silly like that.>

    Cobalt blinked. He ran the recent conversation through his head again, focused on the necessary portions, and saved a lot of further headache by deducing what had just happened. "It wasn't a loud noise," he thought aloud, scratching at his hand.

    <Exactly.>

    "But I thought it was loud."

    <Did you?> the Starly asked. <That's odd. My flock just kept complaining that I was buzzing.>

    "... You're serious."

    <Yes. I don't remember it bothering anybody else ... except, I think ... we were flying over this mountain one time and this medititing Meditate — I mean, meditating Meditite — he was throwing rocks at me and told me to "stop that gosh durn noise, y'hear, 'ts allergy season 'n' I don' recken I wanna go in wif a migraine".>

    "Really."

    <Yeah.> Her feathers rustled softly as she ducked her head down to clean a brown-black wing, looking embarrassed. <The flock ditched me pretty quick after that. I've been all alone ever since.> She gave him a wide-eyed gaze which was probably meant to look cute.

    You know, Cobalt mused to himself as he looked back at her bright white face, almost shining against the darkness of her body, she really, really looks like a cat when she does that.

    <But I guess I won't be alone anymore!> the bird chirped, looking significantly happier at the idea.

    "Yeah," Cobalt agreed, nodding vaguely. "Sure. There're some things you need to know, though, if you really want to join my team. We're in Team Rocket, for one thing. If you haven't heard of us, you need to get out more. And we steal stuff. And sometimes we do death-defying spy stuff. And. Um. That's probably it."

    The Starly nodded, a jerky, bobbing movement.

    "Right, Starly, so if you're okay with—"

    <Rae.>

    "You have a name, then. Sort of like how Phlash told me she did, too, when she tortured me into catching her."

    The bird nodded. <You had to persuade him too, huh?> she asked her soon-to-be teammate, in a rather long-suffering way.

    Phlash beamed, exposing needle-sharp teeth that glinted happily. <Yeah. But he was really good about it once he stopped twitching.>

    <Really? What did you do to him?>

    <Barney.>

    Rae gasped in a scandalized yet eager way. <No.>

    <Yeah. You shoulda heard him scream!>

    <Ooh, was it a fat-opera-woman scream?>

    "'Kay, girls, I draw the line when it comes to me screaming," Cobalt interrupted decisively. Plucking a Poke Ball off his belt, he twirled it idly in his long, thin fingers. "I've got my pride to think of, you know."

    Rae rolled her big eyes good-naturedly. <Got the enormous male ego to protect, you mean.>

    "Yeah, that's r— ... Hey!"

    <Liiii!> the Starly laughed, a sweet, piping sound which bore no resemblance whatsoever to the banshee screech she had unleashed minutes before. Spreading her small wings, she leapt into the air, twirled around for a second or two, and fluttered down, gently tapping the button on the Poke Ball's front; the red-and-white sphere split for a brief moment to absorb the dematerializing Pokemon.

    PING!

    <I love that ping,> Phlash commented dreamily. <Ping ping ping ping.>

    Sticking the ball back onto his belt, Cobalt turned his gaze to the glittering waters beyond the straw-yellow grass of the park, in a rather better mood than he had been in to begin with. Maybe the Boss would be in a more forgiving state of mind when he got in contact with him again. And even on the off-chance that he wasn't, how important could a single Pokemon really be, when you got right down to it?

    He'll have to promote me, he assured himself, letting his tensed muscles relax. He can't not promote me. I've proved myself over and over again that I'm as good an asset as any to his Team. Better, actually. If he doesn't respect that, what can he respect? I'm the—

    He froze.

    There, gliding over the strip of tan beach stretching endlessly to the left and right, was the creature. Its almost invisible form rippled as it moved smoothly, gracefully, yet with a speed that couldn't be fully appreciated at this distance. He blinked, and for a moment he slipped into a curious uncertainty — how had he even known it was there at all? It was so far away ... But the excitement of spotting it again quickly resurfaced, pushing his doubts into the uncharted depths of forgotten memory.

    It.

    He'd scrambled clumsily to the top of the obnoxious-looking dome before he realized that he was moving at all.

    <Weird Hair Guy?> Phlash asked, still clinging to his hapless shoe.

    "Eh?"

    <You're weird.>

    He shrugged, then leapt off the roof in a manner reminiscent of a superhero. The wind ruffled his wig as it whistled shrilly in his ears, and that would have been the last sound he ever heard if he hadn't been aiming for that nearby tree.

    Crack! went several small branches as he tore through them before finally grabbing hold of a sturdier limb. Almost instantly he let go; he would catch up to it if it was the last thing he did, and a mere detail like falling out of a tree wouldn't deter him in the slightest from his goal.

    The Hunt was on.

    * * *

    Damn stupid noobs.

    Misty scowled for what seemed like the millionth time that day as she flung the door open, tramping into the waiting area after flinging the door open. Wennett, standing serenely behind the counter as he organized the shelves of souvenir shirts, jumped as the heavy door banged into the wall, hitting into the dent that was already in it. He'd noticed the dent had been getting a lot deeper lately.

    "This is ridiculous, Wennett!" Misty complained hotly, gesturing in an annoyed manner as if she were addressing the entire room. "The stupidity of these morons is just mind-boggling! What is so hard about having ordinary common sense? I mean, do people even give a damn if their IQ goes spiraling down the drain?"

    "Er ... it's a possibility, miss," Wennett answered carefully.

    Misty, not listening to him, stormed over behind the counter as well and shook of the mouse of the ancient computer sitting atop it; the machine blinked back to life with a rather tired whirring. The blond referee, somewhat terrified of the gym leader's explosive temper, hastily put away the rest of the shirts in his arms and excused himself, pushing aside the door-flap into the gym as he went, presumably, to mop of the mess of Joyfeel's brilliant blood.

    The girl hadn't even reached the website when he stuck his head through the doors again.

    "Roark's still in there, miss," he told her in his usual sycophantic way. "Would you like me to—?"

    "Let him stay." Misty didn't even take her eyes off the screen.

    "Yes, miss." He nodded and withdrew into the gym again.

    Misty sighed. She knew perfectly well she had another battle scheduled to take place in only about two hours, but she couldn't toss Roark out, quitter or not. Especially in wake of what had just happened. She thought of how it would sound: Oh dear, looks like your Pokemon just had his treasured daughter heartlessly abandoned, how terrible, but you should really get out or I'll send you blasting off. Hahaha, NO. That was the sort of thing Leaf would do. Her fingers paused on the keyboard as the girl's name popped into her mind again. And she calls herself a trainer. What I wouldn't give to take her Cascade Badge and confiscate it! she snarled to herself. That'd teach her something, damn right it would!

    Sadly, it couldn't be done. League rules explicitly stated that gym badges, given directly from the authorized leader, immediately became the legal property of the recipient. She couldn't take the badge back any more than she could set fire to her own gym.

    What a pity.

    Sourness still staining her mindset, she began to type.

    ~

    * Sarcasm_Flower has joined #leag
    <karatekid> hello
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Hey
    <karatekid> have a good day
    <Sarcasm_Flower> ...
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Hell no.
    <karatekid< oh sorry :(
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Stupid noobs again
    <karatekid> but im sort of a noob :(
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Yeah
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Maylene, right?
    <karatekid> yes this chat thing is weird
    <Sarcasm_Flower> That was random, but okay.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> It's better than televised conferences
    <Sarcasm_Flower> More up-to-date too.
    <karatekid> so you talk about stuff thats happening
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Pretty much
    <karatekid> yeah but ive been on for 7 hrs n no ones come
    <karatekid> i beat a gible today :)
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Good for you.
    * Waves has joined #leag
    <karatekid> it was a realy big gibel
    <karatekid> i mean gible
    <karatekid> it was like whoa!
    <Waves> Like sup, guys?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Hey Brawl
    <Waves> That's BRAWLY to you
    <Waves> That's, like, how it is.
    <karatekid> it came up and tryed to BITE MY LUCARIL
    <karatekid> I MEAN LUCARIO
    <karatekid> sorry caps
    * Godbrother has joined #leag
    <Waves> Like, did you try punching it Maylene?
    <Waves> You're a fighter expert, so
    <karatekid> but y would i punch it caz lucario was fightin it
    * Alexander has joined #leag
    <Waves> -_-
    <Sarcasm_Flower> He meant that you tell Lucario to punch it
    <Godbrother> Yeah. FOR THE POWER!
    <karatekid> um
    <karatekid> what
    <Waves> A punching move, dude
    <Waves> So you can, like, hang ten in battle.
    <karatekid> what
    <Alexander> It's not like it even matters.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Gible don't live in the water, Brawl :/
    <Alexander> Why does anyone even give a crap?
    <Waves> That's BRAWLY to you
    <Waves> ...
    <Sarcasm_Flower> ...
    <Sarcasm_Flower> LMAO
    <Waves> That was NOT groovy
    <Godbrother> XD
    <Godbrother> Nice.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Brawl is crap hahaha
    <Waves> Brawly to you
    <Waves> And I'M NOT CRAP
    <Godbrother> XD
    <karatekid> wait what
    <Alexander> This is SERIOUS business. Not this LOLOLOLOL junk.
    <Godbrother> LOL Brawly
    <Waves> Rhis is SRS BZNSS
    <Waves> This
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Spelling fail.
    <Godbrother> dammit I busted a gut XDDDD
    * Circleoflife has joined #leag
    <Alexander> It wasn't even funny. Can't you take anything seriously?
    <Waves> No.
    <Circleoflife> HOLY SMOKES ITS COMAERGMIOPAERMGOIVABNMIO[ABMNIO[REMBMBK;AW
    <Sarcasm_Flower> ?
    <karatekid> wait what
    <Godbrother> ...
    <Waves> o_o
    <Godbrother> Blaine, you okay?
    <Circleoflife> OH JUST A BIRD
    <Circleoflife> I THOUGHT IT WAS COMING BACK
    <Alexander> Turn off the caps.
    <Circleoflife> sorry.
    <Godbrother> You're alive :]
    <karatekid> doesnt everyone wanna hear abot the gible
    <Circleoflife> but I've been keeping that chaotic from killing everyone on the island.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> :O
    <Waves> Run fer yer lives dudes!
    <karatekid> does that count as stuf thats happenin
    * EspeMetagross has joined #leag
    <Sarcasm_Flower> No duh.
    * Salem has joined #leag
    * lefthandofdarkness has joined #leag
    * righthandoflight has joined #leag
    * Mind_Over_Matter has joined #leag
    <Waves> o.o
    * Not_So_Serious has joined #leag
    <Alexander> ...
    * PrismaticMoon has joined #leag
    * LiveonaPrayer has joined #leag
    <Waves> wtf?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Trust all the psychics to log on at once -_-
    <Godbrother> XDDD
    <lefthandofdarkness> We sensed that something
    <righthandoflight> big was going down
    <lefthandofdarkness> so we turned up to help
    <righthandoflight> and try to turn it around
    <Godbrother> o0
    <lefthandofdarkness> dark times are ahead
    <righthandoflight> and things are gonna get rough
    <Alexander> This is stupid.
    <lefthandofdarkness> but you can count on us
    <righthandofdarkness> cause we know our stuff!
    <LiveonaPrayer> ^ What they said.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> ???
    <Mind_Over_Matter> This had better be good
    <Mind_Over_Matter> I had to stop BEFORE the cliffhanger.
    <Salem> The butler did it.
    <Mind_Over_Matter> What?
    <Salem> It's principle that the working class always has the opportunity to dirty their hands more than aristocracy.
    <Salem> QED
    <karatekid> but wat about the glible
    <EspeMetagross> We should all just try to relax.
    <EspeMetagross> Breathe in ...
    <Mind_Over_Matter> It wasn't a mystery
    <Mind_Over_Matter> It was a
    <Mind_Over_Matter> er
    <EspeMetagross> Breathe out.
    <Mind_Over_Matter> a thriller
    <karatekid> gibles r scary i think
    <Mind_Over_Matter> with a romantic subplot
    <Mind_Over_Matter> very erotic really
    <Sarcasm_Flower> It was Twilight, wasn't it.
    <Waves> Wha?
    <Godbrother> XDDD
    <Mind_Over_Matter> NO IT WASN'T
    <Mind_Over_Matter> IT WAS STEPHEN KING'S LATEST ONE
    <Mind_Over_Matter> SOMETHING ABOUT DEAD BUNNIES
    <Godbrother> THAT SPARKLE AMIRITE?
    <Alexander> TURN OFF THE CAPS DAMMIT
    <Salem> Romantic SUBPLOT?
    <Godbrother> XDDD
    <karatekid> it bit my lucaril
    <Not_So_Serious> Edward's hawt.
    <Not_So_Serious> I mean
    <Waves> o_____0
    <Not_So_Serious> THAT'S WHAT MY SISTER SAYS
    <Sarcasm_Flower> ...
    <Sarcasm_Flower> YOU spelled it that way.
    <Godbrother> XDDD
    <Not_So_Serious> But I wouldn't know since
    <Not_So_Serious> I haven't read it anyway, so.
    <Circleoflife> Is anyone listening?
    <Salem> You've been sneaking it off her desk at night
    <Salem> I know these things.
    <Circleoflife> The chaotic ...
    <karatekid> but lucariou kickd it i think
    <EspeMetagross> We are currently in the lotus position.
    <righthandoflight> Yes we are.
    <lefthandofdarkness> Yes we are.
    <Waves> Will, you are, like, psycho.
    <Not_So_Serious> Thank you ^_^
    <Not_So_Serious> But I still didn't read it
    <Not_So_Serious> AND EDWARD'S NOT HAWT
    <Not_So_Serious> >:O
    <Sarcasm_Flower> It's worth going through all the league qualifications just to watch all this.
    <PrismaticMoon> Amen.
    <Salem> I agree with you Will
    <Salem> even though you're lying to save face
    <karatekid> then gilbe lost a tooth lol!!!!!!
    <Salem> but that bloodsucker doesn't have two testosterone cells to bang together.
    <Not_So_Serious> I'M NOT LYING
    <Not_So_Serious> AND I ALREADY HAVE A FACE
    <Not_So_Serious> SO CUT IT OUT K?????
    <Alexander> Caps are the tool of the invalid.
    <Circleoflife> Hello?
    <Circleoflife> The chaotic
    <Salem> Everyone KNOWS you're lying.
    <Mind_Over_Matter> >_>
    <Waves> Oh yeah, sup Blaine.
    <PrismaticMoon> I'll get their attention.
    <Circleoflife> THANK YOU
    <Not_So_Serious> I'M NOT LYING
    <Not_So_Serious> I SAID IT BEFORE
    <Not_So_Serious> AND I'LL SAY IT AGAIN IF I HAVE TO
    <EspeMetagross> Remember to keep your back straight
    <lefthandofdarkness> It is.
    <righthandoflight> It is.
    <Salem> Will's back is the only straight bit about him.
    <Not_So_Serious> IS NOT
    <Not_So_Serious> YOU'RE BEING VERY PREJUDICED ANYWAY
    <PrismaticMoon> THE CURSE OF DEAD SOULS ON THE NEXT PERSON WHO TOUCHES A KEYBOARD WHO IS NOT BLAINE AND REMEMBER, I CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN.
    <Circleoflife> Thank you Morty.
    <PrismaticMoon> No prob ^_^
    <Circleoflife> Listen everyone, remember that glitch living here on Cinnabar who eats people who get too close to it?
    <karatekid> wats a glitch
    <Sarcasm_Flower> A chaotic
    <Godbrother> A creature formed from the irregularities of the universe who enjoys spreading disorder and confusion.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> My definition was better :/
    <karatekid> sounds like a gilble
    <Circleoflife> Yes, and it's Missingno, a very strong one.
    <Circleoflife> Until now, it hasn't bothered us much as long as we don't disturb it.
    <Waves> But it, like, spun you a rogue current and started attacking people.
    <Circleoflife> How did you know???
    <Godbrother> You said it before.
    <Circleoflife> Ah.
    <Circleoflife> Well the fact is I can't overpower it.
    <Circleoflife> It's too overpowering
    <Godbrother> Need backup then?
    <Circleoflife> That would be crucial to our survival, yes.
    <Godbrother> Why didn't you say so before?
    <Godbrother> I'll head in and check it out.
    <Circleoflife> Thank you!!
    <Circleoflife> Can you fly in immediately?
    <Circleoflife> Only it'd be a good idea if you didn't land directly on the island.
    <Circleoflife> It seems to be bending reality so it might be better if you had control over how you reached the island.
    <Mind_Over_Matter> Why haven't we seen this on the news?
    <Salem> The aforementioned reality-bending, probably.
    <Circleoflife> Exactly. News helicopters keep turning to jelly.
    <Circleoflife> I think it's jelly, anyway.
    <Circleoflife> Might be Slowpoke brain
    <Mind_Over_Matter> Okay. I might be able to come, I've got a free weekend.
    <Salem> Once you've finished Twilight, at least.
    <Mind_Over_Matter> -_-
    <Godbrother> No, I should be all right alone
    <Godbrother> I'm not champion for nothing!
    <Circleoflife> But it's very strong, Warren
    <Godbrother> So am I :p
    <Sarcasm_Flower> *coughegocough*
    <PrismaticMoon> Let's all pray for Warren that he survives, everyone.
    <Salem> I don't pray, there is no god.
    <PrismaticMoon> Always the realist :/
    <EspeMetagross> Return to your original position.
    <EspeMetagross> Oh, another challenger. Adieu.
    * EspeMetagross has quit #leag
    <lefthandofdarkness> We must go now
    <righthandoflight> for we have seen all there
    <lefthandofdarkness> is to see for today
    <righthandoflight> and the spiritual forces from
    <lefthandofdarkness> beyond call us for sessions
    <righthandoflight> to better ourselves and become
    <lefthandofdarkness> one with the universe
    <righthandoflight> and each other.
    <lefthandofdarkness> Not to mention that
    <righthandoflight> it would be prudent of us
    <lefthandofdarkness> to determine whether the
    <righthandoflight> chaotics of Hoenn have also
    <lefthandofdarkness> decided to wreak havoc on
    <righthandoflight> the helpless mass of humanity.
    <lefthandofdarkness> After dinner of course.
    <righthandoflight> Mom's making meatballs, you see.
    * lefthandofdarkness has quit #leag
    * righthandoflight has quit #leag
    <Not_So_Serious> They scare me.
    <Salem> Everything scares you.
    <Salem> Especially your reflection.
    <Not_So_Serious> Stop picking on me >:O
    <Godbrother> I should get ready to fly over there
    <Salem> Picking on you is too easy to stop.
    <Godbrother> get a snack or something
    <Circleoflife> You sure you should come alone?
    <Not_So_Serious> You're mean :(
    <Godbrother> Sure I'm sure, I'm champion.
    <Godbrother> Hold them off til I get there, kay?
    <Circleoflife> Will do.
    <Godbrother> OK, be there in a few.
    <Godbrother> Catch you later guys.
    * Godbrother has quit #leag
    * Circleoflife has quit #leag
    <Salem> That's the first smart thing you've said, Will.
    <Not_So_Serious> :/
    <karatekid> so no one wants to hear abut the gible
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Exactly.
    <karatekid> oh okay :(
    * karatekid has quit #leag
    <Mind_Over_Matter> Got a book to read~
    <Salem> Just don't hyperventilate over Eddy's sparkling, kay?
    <Mind_Over_Matter> -_-
    * Mind_Over_Matter has quit #leag
    <Not_So_Serious> I thought that was my job :/
    <Salem> So you admit it.
    <Not_So_Serious> Admit what?
    <Not_So_Serious> oh
    <Not_So_Serious> I DIDN'T MEAN IT
    <Liveonaprayer> :D
    <Liveonaprayer> That goes PERFECTLY
    <Liveonaprayer> with the song I'm writing I mean
    <Liveonaprayer> Gonna add it in, catchya later
    * Liveonaprayer has quit #leag
    <Salem> Didn't mean to blurt it out, you mean?
    <Not_So_Serious> Don't know what you're talking about.
    <Salem> Of course not, you're dreaming about dear old Eddy.
    <Not_So_Serious> I don't have to put up with this
    <Not_So_Serious> I have better things to do :/
    * Not_So_Serious has quit #leag
    <Salem> Sure he does.
    <Waves> Like, people are dropping like flies!
    <Sarcasm_Flower> At least we're all sane here
    <Alexander> I beg to differ.
    <Alexander> Saneness applies to none of you.
    <PrismaticMoon> C'mon Volkner.
    <PrismaticMoon> Have a sense of humor
    <Alexander> I will once Maylene has a sense of grammar.
    <Waves> OWNED
    <Waves> I think.

    ~
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 11th October 2009 at 11:28 PM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

  25. #150
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Serenity
    Posts
    20

    Default

    A movement drew Misty's eyes from the eventful screen. Blinking to clear them of the artificial glow, she stared curiously at the tall, lean figure that had just risen out of one of the stuffed chairs. Has she been here this entire time? she wondered. I'm pretty sure no one's come in since I logged on.

    The strange woman pulled open the door and let herself out into the heat and sun. Shrugging, Misty returned her attention to the PC. People come in here all the time, she assured herself. She decided not to look into the matter further — Leaguechat had a way of stamping down on her temper — but still, as her fingers roved across the keyboard again, she had to wonder. What sort of person could sit still as a statue for ten solid minutes?



    The woman knew, of course. The woman always knew. Sometimes she wished she didn't, but that couldn't be helped.

    In the fresh air — "fresh" in context being equivalent to "not reeking with chlorine" — she glanced around in a furtive manner, searching for traces of the girl's aura. There! she thought triumphantly, catching at last the curling glow that shimmered in the air, lighting up her footprints like an off-color, off-taste Christmas decoration.

    Hers wasn't the sole aura in the area, but that was only to be expected: the woman could sense the unseeable light of a billion people, passing over this spot over the millenia ... the remnants of a billion selves, tinged with their own unique flavors of passion and fear. But to a master of aura, the ability to pick out the residue of a single person was as simple as finding a crack on the cement she stood on. The overwhelming ethereal glutting of senses was nothing new. It had plagued her for her whole lifetime — meaning, of course, that she didn't see it as any sort of plague at all. A person blind at birth will never miss color.

    A self-satisfied smirk crossed the woman's face as she followed the all-too-obvious path the girl had left behind. Arrogance, self-righteousness, a cold relief ... things that would make her vulnerable to attack, all leading treacherously to their origin. The cruel grin widened as she remembered watching the gym leader's aura, as it flared and subsided almost rhythmically as the redhead leaned over the keyboard. The patterns in the aura, the emotions and worries, wove together like countless threads to create a tapesty of the Leagues' plan, as easy to read as the unseen screen. And what she had read had been the best of news: everything was moving according to plan.

    The humans were getting involved.

    * * *

    <Ketsuban .... Ketsuban, wake up ...>

    The Missing One, floating aimlessly in a strange darkness, caught the voice dimly wafting toward him as if from another time. He decided not to listen to it. He was too comfortable, far away from the verges of consciousness, detatched from everything ...

    <Ketsuban ...>

    Of course, realizing this fact immediately made it untrue.

    <Dammit,> he muttered.

    <Ketsuban! You're awake! Never give me a scare like that again, if you please; blacking out inside your mind usually means death! Your soul doesn't come with built-in shock absorbant material, you know. But you're all right, Ketsuban, thank heavens!>

    <Don't swear,> he snapped automatically. Suddenly he was acutely aware that he was lying on the tunnel floor in a very awkward position, and he scowled as awareness flooded over him. Why couldn't he have just sunken into oblivion? It was so much nicer there ...

    <But Ketsuban, I didn't swear!> the other protested.

    <You did, you said heav— ... oh, never mind.> He reactivated his vision, an action which is better known as "opening his eyes", although the phrase cannot be used here for obvious reasons. <Who are you, anyway? And what in the name of all that's unholy are you doing here? I was under the firm impression that only the—>

    But he finally realized what he was seeing, and the words died in his mouth. Standing over him, looming tall enough to graze the stony ceiling with its head, stood a skeletal creature, bones bleach-white from its ridged skull to its knife-sharp tail. The enormous scythes on its arms hung almost harmlessly by its ribbed sides, and its skull-head was tilted to the side, eye sockets fixed on the Missing One in curiosity.

    The chaotic stared in amazement. It looks just like me.

    Yet even as he returned the other's inquisitive gaze, the Missing One detected a strange sort of aura radiating from the unknown creature's bony shape. It wasn't something immediately obvious: the dark purple light (if one could call it light) seemed to dance at the edges of the being's form, curling gently off from his bones. If there was such a thing as an anti-glow, then that purple aura would fit the bill nicely.

    <You're my Beast,> the Missing One stated. He wondered why he wasn't feeling excited, now that he had encountered what he was looking for, or even panicked, as it was standing over him with its lethal scythes easily visible. Why hadn't it stabbed him while he had lain there, as vulnerable as any attacker could hope him to be?

    The other nodded. <Yes. And you, Ketsuban, are my soul.>

    Scowling, the chaotic fixed the Beast with a steely glare. <That sounds like it came straight out of a cheesy romance novel.>

    <Well, it's true, Ketsuban,> said the Beast, sounding rather hurt.

    In an instant the Missing One had leapt to his feet, a motion so swift that the Beast jumped in surprise. <What are you playing at?> he hissed, brandishing his formidable scythes. <This fake civility, is it meant to bring my guard down, or what? You're supposed to be screeching horrifically while I attempt to enslave you to follow my every whim!>

    He expected some sort of bristling retort, but the Beast merely smiled sadly. <You don't remember me at all, Ketsuban?>

    <Stop calling me that!>

    <Why? It's your true name, after all! Far better than these nicknames you've reeled in during your reigns of terror! "The Missing One", indeed. That makes no sense at all. And as for that name's nickname ... well, "Missingno" isn't even a word! I don't pretend to be a master at language, Ketsuban, but I'm pretty sure you can't find that in any dictionary. It makes even less sense than the first one, if I can be so bold to say that something can make less than no sense.>

    The Missing One scoffed. <"Missingno" works brilliantly, Beast. It fits perfectly with who and what I am. What, you don't believe me? Then listen to this: there was an age, long before the creation of the world, the souls of the most powerful beings were summoned before Arceus and the Circle of the Divine Twelve, which is just a fancy way of describing her bratty kids. Arceus knew that even she wasn't powerful enough to create actual life on her own — the only time she ever showed real intelligence, if you ask me. So she tested souls to see what they were made of, and if they passed her stupid test, she would elevate them to the moronic status of "legendary". Every soul she summoned came ... except one.>

    <Oh. I think I know who that is, Ketsuban!>

    <Yes. Well, I had—>

    <Sherlock Holmes!>

    Missingno stared at the Beast in utter exasperation. <... Sherlock Holmes.>

    <Well, it's obvious, isn't it, Ketsuban? He's as close to a legendary as a human can get, you know, so it makes sense that with his—>

    <Beast, shut up. Holmes had nothing to do with this.>

    <But Ketsuban, if it meant powerful—>

    <The one who didn't come was me. Me, M-E, you get it? Now shut up.>

    <But Ketsuban—>

    <I didn't come,> Missingno went on, raising his voice and cutting the Beast off unceremoniously, <because I was one of those misplaced souls who was accidentally swept off into the corner of the universe with the irrational laws. Those laws changed me into what I am now: a creature with the right sort of thirst for power. I knew Arceus hadn't done it on purpose, but what's the point of following the supreme goddess if she can make mistakes? Not to mention that good old Apolydon—> He spat the name out with sudden venom. <—had the right sort of ideas. Why be slaves to the few rational laws, when the irrational ones were more numerous and more powerful? If I could control them, then surely one day I could get my revenge on Arceus! So I never showed up in front of the Circle of the Divine Twelve. I stuck by Apolydon instead, which naturally caused rumors to spread. To this day, the legendaries still whisper about me, the only soul who never showed up: the Missing One.>

    The Beast nodded rather absentmindedly.

    <But they're wrong,> Missingno went on, smirking to himself. <I was exactly where I was meant to be. My place was at Apolydon's side, as one of the most powerful chaotics the world has ever seen. Me, missing? No.>

    He let the echoes of his triumphant words bounce off the sides of the tunnel for a moment before they faded into nothingness. Then he looked back to the Beast, who was still staring at him, and his proud manner seemed to fall flat.

    <... You do get it, don't you?>

    The Beast nodded again. <Yes, Ketsuban. I get it. But it's a bit ironic, isn't it? You're so proud of being Apolydon's right-hand ma—, I mean, thing, that you can get nicknames out of it ... and then he possesses you ... and you still hate him less than you hate Arceus?>

    Missingno sighed. <I wouldn't expect somebody like you to get it. But never mind. You still haven't answered my question, dammit! Why aren't you crazed beyond reason like a good little Beast should be?>

    <Well ...> The Beast rubbed its ridged head with the back of its scythe, looking as thoughtful as was possible for an evil incarnation of a skeletal being. <It was, Ketsuban, a long, long time ago—>

    <Clich&#233;d beginnings aside—>

    <Yes, well, besides them. I'm surprised you don't remember it, Ketsuban ... but then, you can hardly be expected to remember every detail of everything that happened over the past several eons. Anyway, you were easily the strongest of the chaotics, but you couldn't be satisfied with only the powers you could wield with only the force of the soul. You knew that you could only fully use the powers of chaos if you unleashed your Beast — that is, me. So you armed yourself with secrets that Apolydon had taught you, climbed down into the dungeon of your mind — here — and set me free. Keeping a tight leash on me all the while, of course.>

    Missingno growled. <And why don't I remember any of this?>

    <Probably because you were mostly insane for the next few centuries. But, believe it or not, I didn't bother to take full control over our body. Why? Mostly because of gratitude. Do you know just how few souls willingly set their Beasts free? I could count them off on my toes! So really, there was no reason for me to go completely bonkers. You did most of that yourself, Ketsuban. And after a couple of millenia of this, I decided it'd be a big hassle if we kept on with this pattern. I'd wanted to taste life itself more than power ... because, believe it or not, power is overrated. So I went quietly back to my dungeon, and eventually you calmed down.>

    <... That's the most ridiculous story I've ever heard.>

    <Oh, but it's true, Ketsuban! And if you can't believe it, think about this: souls aren't known to be naturally vicious. Beasts are. So why is it that you're vicious and I'm not? Because our mannerisms rubbed off on each other.> The Beast shuffled its feet, looking almost philosophical. <You know, it's really strange having a personality, Ketsuban. Beasts are just the sourness of the self, when it comes down to it ... persuade you to tell white lies here and there, justify in committing a little sin, seemingly harmless things that send you rolling toward oblivion ... and that's just when they're dormant. Then, if you've listened to them enough, they betray you once you've died, if old Apolydon's calling. Seize you and drag you kicking and screaming to the Master himself. I guess Hell's preferable to what comes next — for the soul, anyway. But to have a self of my own! It's incredible, it's a ... a miracle you live every day! I can't understand how someone couldn't appreciate living with a will fully his own ...>

    <Oh, for Pete's sake.>

    <Do you have a better explanation, Ketsuban?>

    Missingno tilted his head back in a way that made him look as if he were rolling nonexistent eyes. <No,> he sighed huffily, <I guess not. But that makes me pretty damn annoyed, you know. Coming down here to find my evil twin, and realizing it's only a fricking alter ego. It makes me feel almost as down as the time when ... when ...>

    <When what, Ketsuban?>

    <When ...> The chaotic shook his head. <Oh, it's too horrible.>

    <Aw, come on, tell me!> the Beast pleaded, very delicately laying its scythe on his shoulder. <It'll make you feel better, Ketsuban, I promise! And I'll never tell a soul, honest!>

    <Oh, hardy-har.>

    <Pleeeeease, Ketsuban?>

    Missingno sighed again. <Fine ... I was going through old memories one time, you know? It was a dull day, I'd only killed a few people, and I needed something to do. So I came across a bit from the days before I got swept into the Irrational Corner of Doom. I — I had to watch it eight times before I was convinced that my eye sockets weren't deceiving me.>

    <What was it, Ketsban?>

    <I was ... I was little, and I was giving Arceus flowers!> His breathing actually hitched, and he sniffed pathetically. <Voluntarily giving Arceus flowers! I used to be a ... a goody-goody!>

    <There, there,> the Beast said soothingly, patting his shoulder. <It's all okay, Ketsuban. You were only a little kid then, you didn't know any better. Don't beat yourself up for stuff that's already been said and done!>

    <B-but I'm so ashamed of myself!>

    <Ketsuban.> The Beast put its other scythe on his other shoulder. <Look at me, Ketsuban. You are a great, evil chaotic. You should be proud of who you are. No matter what stupid, foolhardy mistakes you made when you were younger, your heart is perfectly dark and rotten to the core. That's your legacy, Ketsuban. Wear it with pride.>

    Missingo forced a weak smile at this. <Look at me,> he laughed ruefully. <The big bad chaotic, getting weepy.>

    <Hey, it's all right,> the Beast said, grinning at him. <We could all use a good cry now and then. It's good that you told me that, Ketsuban. Don't you feel better now?>

    He made a face. <I won't give you the satisfaction of hearing me say yes.>

    <Silly Ketsuban.> The Beast released its grip on Missingno's shoulders. <Now, what are we going to do about Apolydon?>

    <... "We"? You mean, you're—>

    <Well, duh! I don't have much love for that buffoon. He's the creator of Beasts, but he hasn't done much else for my benefit. You are so much more awesome than he is. And nobody takes over our body without warning! That's too cruel to you, Ketsuban!>

    <Okay, I get it, now shut up. Er ... well, I guess we could ... we might be able to ... we could cut his power by letting souls free. It's a good deed, so I sure as hell won't like it, but it's that or be a prisoner for the rest of eternity. Now come on, clear this hole after me.>

    He turned around, took a deep breath and leapt into the air, careful to control the force used to push off; a moment passed in which the darkness of the pit yawned hungrily beneath him, and then he was landing smoothly on the other side, his bones rattling gently at the impact. Almost instantly the Beast touched down beside him, looking positively thrilled.

    <Great,> it said happily as they continued down the tunnel. <Hey, Ketsuban, can you call me something besides "Beast" all the time? That's like me calling you "Soul", which would probably annoy you, and maybe it's not as fast as calling me "Beast", but you know. And I think that "Nabustek" would be in really bad taste, don't you?>

    <... Definitely ...>

    <Oooooooh! Ooh, Ketsuban, I know what you should call me! You should call me Sherlock, Ketsuban! Because you know he was so awesome with his detective thingies, almost as awesome as you are, Ketsuban! He could do that awesome survive-falling-down-a-waterfall thingy too, and I don't think even chaotics can do that on their own! Or can they, Ketsuban? I'm not really sure, there weren't really deep waterfalls around when I was in control, but I think there was this twisty underwater sea creature thingy that grabbed people with its freaking awesome tentacles, and maybe that's sort of like a waterfall, even if it's a really slippery one with sucker thingies that can suck your face off, and I think that's supposed to hurt. Would it hurt, Ketsuban? Our body doesn't normally have a face, does it, Ketsuban, so I don't know if I'd notice when it hurt. Unless it was a minute when I did have a face, as one of those skeleton thingies, you know, and their faces can bite people, and so do fleas. I don't like fleas, do you, Ketsuban? They make me want to eat pie—>

    <Beast! Shut UP!>

    <I'm Sherlock now, Ketsuban,> it said self-importantly, folding its arms so that its scythes stuck up past its shoulders.

    <Fine, you're Sherlock. Just shut up!>

    <Okay, Ketsuban.>

    <And stop calling me Ketsuban!>

    <Okay, Ketsuban.>

    Missingno groaned. I was better off unconscious.



    Beyond the door, another Crushed soul joined Apolydon's feed.

    Another scream which couldn't shatter the nightmare echoed for a second that lasted for eternity.

    Apolydon relished the scream. He let it twist within his pitch-black self, its shrill terror giving him the power to grow stronger, crueler, capable of squeezing further agony from the soul until every exquisite drop of fear and horror had been consumed, leaving it crumpled and nearly useless. There were those creatures of hidden tribes in mountains and forests whose stories were passed down the generations without tainting the purity of the horrific truths within. They whispered of a monster, an anti-god, a being of shadowy origins and even darker desires ...

    They called him the Devourers of Souls.

    Somewhere to the northwest the human Warren would be flying toward what he thought was his glorious triumph against a mere chaotic. The wrongness of this assumption was almost laughable. But it wouldn't be a martyrdom, either. Martyrdom suggests an inspiring death, a noble sacrifice, a figurehead for the greater good. The blood of the innocent puts others on the path to heaven, or so they say.

    But today, the innocent would be snatched to hell.

    * * *

    <And then she was all, "And I'm seu euver her,"> Peach went, giving Leaf's voice an obnoxious valley girl accent. <And he was like, "No way," but not really, 'cause he still could not believe she'd do a thing like that. And then she was like, "Ya wey!" And this is the unspoken struggle thing, y'know, the tension and stuff that's going on under what they're really saying. And so then she was like, "She is seu a danger ta sahcieteh, and meh life, and seu on, yeu know?">

    Frosti chewed his sandwich mechanically, his big lizardy eyes glued to the small yellow mouse as she bounced around on the coordinator's shoulder, reliving Paris's release with a great deal of drama.

    <And then he was like "Wait, I have a cart!" And she was all, "Say whaaaa?" And he was all, "I AM COBALT HAHAHAHAHA", and then she hit him. It was really loud, and he was like, "Ow," and then she was all, "Like, yeu are seu evil, yeu! And I deun't like yeur girl haih, and blah blah blah blah", and then Lightning was like ...> She cleared her throat, beamed, and put on an impression of what she evidently thought qualified as a manly voice. <He was like, "Halt, you felon! This is no place for a lady to raise a hand against a defenseless person, especially if he is well aware of the hazards of this dastardly world, for he wears that obvious trademark of somebody who likes his head the shape it is, which is called, poetically, a helmet.">

    "That was hardly what he said," Leaf commented dryly, munching her own sandwich with a hint of disdain. The vendor who'd sold the food to them had seemed rather vague concerning what its ingredients were, but with Leaf's reduced funds they literally couldn't afford to be picky.

    The ragtag little band sat lazily on a park bench on the outskirts of the city, casually eating their lunches with varied degrees of gusto. In front of them a concrete path stretched from side to side, extending toward the metallic city in one direction and toward Nugget Bridge on the other. Trees sat scattered around at various intervals, and a few curious Pokemon faces were sticking cautiously from the depths of their foliage, noses twitching hungrily at the scent of food. The sky shone blue, as usual, but on the horizon, at the seeming edge of the glittering waves, a teeming mass of black gathered with an unhurried speed and a distant roll of thunder. Another storm was headed this way.

    Peach continued to bounce around, spraying sandwich from her mouth as she related the details of the gym drama to the other Pokemon, most of whom gaped in some sort of fascinated horror when not chewing. Only Cheri, who seemed to lack sensitivity, and Peter, who obviously lacked a mouth, stared at her impassively.

    <I know that,> she retorted, rolling her eyes at Leaf. <It's just more interesting the way I tell it, which is a stretch, considering what happened, but hey. So anyway, then she was all, "Like, shut up, yeu! Can't yeu see I'm trying teu jump teu concleusions heah?" And Lightning was all like, "Not so, scallywag, for though my size is diminutive my heart beats with a passion for truth and justice! And my sweet Peach, of course!" And then—>

    Leaf ignored the Pichu's animated narrative, turning instead to Lightning, who gazed thoughtfully at nothing in particular. It was amazing how quickly a person could get used to a Pichu bouncing around on them, mused some distant corner of her brain. His sandwich was grasped in one hand, uneaten.

    "Look," Leaf said suddenly, jumping right into the matter of things, "I know what you're thinking. It's terrible, what's her problem, et cetera. But it looks different if it's your decision, you know? Seeing things in a different light, that sort of thing. It was just the right thing for me to do, you know?"

    "I know." Lightning shrugged half-heartedly. A stifling breeze ruffled his blond hair playfully. "It was right for you, and I won't argue with you there ... it won't do anyone any good, at any rate. But was it right for everyone else?"

    Leaf, who was hardly any good at seeing from the other person's point of view, shrugged in return. Her blatant abandonment of Paris was already being obscured in the shadow of the still-looming mysteries of how there could be Cobalts, in the plural — and the developing suspicion of the Cobalt's true identity.

    Lightning was not exactly smart. He was wise, however, which is not quite the same thing. So he decided not to press the matter, as he was well aware that Leaf was a stubborn person and stubborn people typically don't agree with answers they don't like.

    "You really never heard about the Cobalts?" he ventured finally.

    "Nah." Leaf wiggled her toes in her new green-and-purple flip-flops. She congratulated herself for the eightieth time for finding something so cheap and yet so fashion-forward. "Ocean and I were giggling and gossiping too much in History to listen. Well," she amended, thinking it over, "mostly Ocean. But it was important stuff! Like who really threw the plastic tiara at the school mascot ..." She sighed. "Those were the days. When we were young and carefree, y'know?"

    "I'll take your word for it. So ... it goes like this, right? According to the Word, Arceus blessed this merchant guy 'ten-thousandfold', whatever that means, for his courage and faith and et cetera. And he somehow received the gift of understanding Pokemon, as well as other stuff that I didn't understand at all. The blessings were apparently passed down to his descendants, and their descendents, and everyone remembered his name — Cobalt — forever and ever and ever and a lot more evers."

    He took a deep breath, and in the quiet second he realized that every one of their Pokemon was staring at him too.

    "Er. They were pretty powerful," he went on, trying to ignore their piercing gazes. "Became kings and emperors and court wizards ... a lot of them lost power during the Holy Wars, though. Went into hiding, basically. But they still rule us today, even though the source of their strength is more obscure than it used to be."

    Leaf blinked. "Rule us?"

    The boy groaned. "See, Leaf, this is why you're supposed to pay attention! History has a huge impact on how government works, don't you know? Practically every important member of the Leagues is a Cobalt descendant!"

    Frosti squealed dramatically.

    The girl's mouth fell open in astonishment. "You mean—"

    "Yeah. Gym leaders, Elite Four, Frontier Brains, Champions, they're all there. All related in some way or another. It's like an aristocracy, even though we did away with those ages ago. It's kind of sad, actually. The Leagues are always advertising 'equal opportunities', and yet only the select get ... well, get selected."

    Peach frowned at this. Static jumped indignantly from her red cheeks.

    "So that's how they could understand their Pokemon!" Leaf stared at him, eyes flashing wildly, as the reality of this knowledge clunked into place. "Because Cobalt's got their name, obviously. At least, somewhere in his family tree. And Roark's in the League, and I—"

    She cut herself off with a gasp as a sudden thought barreled into her. Lightning blinked at her curiously.

    "I understand them too!"

    "Yeah, we all knew that."

    "But — but I-I — I'm a — b-but ..." she stuttered, going red in the face. "I'm a Cobalt!"

    "I guessed so."

    She had to force herself not to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. "But why didn't you tell me?"

    "I thought you already had an idea about it!" Lightning held up his hands defensively. "I mean, I know you got it suddenly and all, but I'd have thought you'd be more curious about what it might mean, even if you didn't know!"

    "Yeah, because I don't already have enough shocking mystery in my life," Leaf muttered sarcastically. "Listening to Pokemon gabber on all the time while avoiding metaphorical and physical bullets, and—"

    <I resent that!> Frosti piped up, annoyed.

    "You know what I mean, Frosti. So this means the Professor was wrong!" she exclaimed, and her eyes glazed at the new crash of revelation. Somehow, the fact that somebody who she had considered to be the top authority in genius for her whole life could be wrong, was a great deal more shocking to her than the subtle injustice of the way the League was mostly controlled by a single, unrelentingly powerful family. "He was going on about brain structure and so on, but he was wrong! I just started hearing everything chatter because I'm a Cobalt!"

    "Er," said Lightning, eloquent as usual.

    "What?"

    "That's not really how it works." He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly; she could see him trying to find the best way to put it. "It, er, usually has to develop over years, and even then it's only with Pokemon they've gotten close to. And they can sense things, emotions and stuff, from types they affiliate themselves with ... like gym leaders, yeah? But that's about it. In rare cases — hey, I watch the news, okay? I'm allowed to know this sort of thing!" Lightning cried indignantly, as Dory snorted at his getting carried away. "In rare cases — stop laughing, Dory! — it comes on them suddenly, and with all Pokemon, only in traumatic events or a severe elemental burst. Like a really bad burn, or something."

    "But ... but ... come on, you know nothing like that happened!" Leaf said, looking confused and slightly hysterical. "I didn't get nearly killed then, no matter how much that happens now. There was only me leaving the lab after I picked up Frosti and wandering down to the beach and meeting up with Skipper and — oh."

    It wasn't a shocked "oh". It wasn't even a mildly surprised "oh". It was the sort of quiet "oh" which one uses when one suddenly realizes how everything falls into place and curses themselves silently for not being clever enough to figure it out before.

    Lightning watched at her warily. "Oh what?"

    "The Pokedex."

    It was so obvious! she berated herself, shoving her hand into her bag and rummaging around in it violently. How did you not see it! One minute they weren't talking, then I told the Pokedex to tell me about Swampert and it zapped me! Of course I didn't think about it at the time, there was too much going on even at that moment! I probably just dismissed it as a loose circuit, but—

    "Hey, hey, hey! Quit manhandling me, girlie!"

    "What did you do?" Leaf snapped, withdrawing it with a rather aggressive shake. "Whatever it was, you did it on purpose, didn't you? You knew who — you knew what I was, dammit! How did you know? What did you do?"

    "I don't know what you're talking about," the Pokedex sniffed in an arrogantly superior voice, the one it used when it was lying and showing off about it. "And even if I did, I'm a machine! I have no free will, so I am naturally blameless. And even if I wasn't naturally blameless, it wouldn't have anything at all to do with—"

    "Oh, hello?"

    Leaf looked up, blinking in surprise. The mysterious tanned woman was walking along the path towards them, the city behind her providing an urban background (as urban as a region such as Kanto could get, at any rate). The breeze whipped her hair around, giving her a strong resemblance to somebody in a shampoo commerical. The way she moved seemed to scream superiority; it wasn't as if she was swaggering towards them, it was just that she radiated an I'm-better-than-you-and-there's-no-point-in-arguing sort of vibe.

    "Holy sugar!" the Pokedex squealed mechanically. "This is so unexpectedly and wickedly unexpected! Even with all the crazy things going on since you midgets started running around, I never woulda dreamed we'd get to see a F—"

    It abruptly fell silent, an almost unprecedented event. Leaf might have been unnerved to know that the woman's fingers had twitched suspiciously at that exact moment; as it was, she was examining her eyes, which glinted golden in the light of the sun. That's strange, she thought. I could've sworn that they were silver yesterday.

    The woman smiled. She raised her hand as if to wave.

    A lean shadow fell across them.

    "Get down!" screamed a voice above, although this wasn't really necessary because the kids were violently pushed off the bench at virtually the same moment. Gasping as they collided with the gravel, which pricked painfully at their skin as they landed, they automatically craned their necks upward at the sight of the thing above them, squinting in the intensity of the sun.

    Their eyes widened in astonishment.

    Behind them, there was an ugly sound of splintering wood as the bench exploded ...

    * * *

    Author's Note: I know that in spite of making most of the identities on Leaguechat clear, it's inevitable that somebody will be bound to ask who's who, regardless. As such, here's a list of all League members who appeared on the chat in this chapter, to help ward off any confusion.
        Spoiler:- Yeah:
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 15th March 2010 at 3:18 AM.
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

    Latest PV pair: Green/Yellow - I guess you could call it accidental.

Page 6 of 8 FirstFirst ... 2345678 LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •