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Thread: Blazing Frost

  1. #151
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    Whoa.

    This was a good chapter. Just like the others, especially Chapter 15 (my personal favorite).

    See? I told you I'd review soon. And I am.

    Leaf... I can't believe she did that. Her reasons her incredibly selfish... Will she get Paris back? Well... I doubt you can answer that without spoiling us too much, so I'll rephrase my question: Will Paris appear again soon?

    Peach is hilarious sometimes... Especially with her explanation to Frosti of what happened during the release.

    So. Leaf's a Colbalt. Cool.

    And finally, to end my awful review, I'm looking forward to finding out who this mysterious lady from the end of the chapter is.
    Current Black Team: Rivka (Stoutland), Elmo (Musharna), Scarlett (Whimsicott), Gabriel (Carracosta), Reese (Klang), Sean (Mienfoo); all are at level 47. Currently in Victory Road.

  2. #152
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    SKIPPER AWESOMENESS FTW!! I like crazy Swamperts XD

    Failing to write much today because maths homework has already shrivelled my brain up.
    But i loved the chat scene. I've seen one on another fic before and they are always so funny . Please do more if you can. And lol on the Twilight bits.

    And Leaf, you need to stop caring only about yourself and spare some feelings for everyone else. Poor Paris and Skipper. (I think i have become a big Skipper fan )

    I think Cobalt would make a better and more compassionate lead character than Leaf. And the Starly fascinates me o.0 But you can't argue with the author...

  3. #153
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    @SD: Seriously? Cobalt, the sly, sneaky guy, as the hero? (Or anti-hero, as it were, but meh.) Weird ... but you have to admit, a harsh side for a hero(ine) and a lighter side for the villain are really working here, eh? Not something anyone would've guessed upon reading the "OMG Leaf can haz Swampert + shiny Lapras yayz". Better writing for the win. XP

    And yes, Skipper is epic, as is Rae. Even though Phlash beats them all XD

    Leaf: See what I mean? Nobody understands me! Why is everybody so sentimental ... *sigh*

    @Araleon: Heyyyyy, long time no see! I won't answer about Paris (because I'm evil like that :P), but there have been several hints as to the woman's identity over the last couple chapters. It's highly likely that it will be revealed in the upcoming chapter 17 (ZOMG!).

    And thanks to roo and kingferret53 for checking in. I would've said so right before the chapter, but the character limit was not kind. DX
    FF.Net profile | Blazing Frost | Project Valentine | River Styx | Hexachromalurgy | Fizzy Bubbles

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

  4. #154
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    "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 diferent light, that sort of thing. It was just the right thing for me to do, you know?"

    You misspelled different. lol

    YAY! I actually REMEMBERED a mistake I found...I should get a cookie... :|

    It was so long I started to get a wee bit confused...prolly had something to do with the fact I had to leave for a few hours then come bk. And thanks for that list, that did confuse me, trying to keep up with who was who and whatnot. *sigh* But I am done.
    Pokemon Black team:

  5. #155
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    ... I just spent 2 hours reading this fic, and now I have a very strong urge to go train my new Lapras now, in a "Nyah" to Leaf. Poor Paris, i don't blame Skipper for flipping out on her.

    Either way, I'll be keeping a close eye on this fic. Good work!

    *Subscribes*
    I sometimes use "uber" Pokémon. I sometimes calculate stat values. I never use cheating devices. I sometimes try to breed my way to perfection (and maybe fail), and I care about natures to an extent. But I like my Pokémon the way they are, and treat them like individuals instead of brainless drones. If you use this philosophy, copy & paste this into your signature.
    (Adapted from Tyranitar's philosophy.)

    Claims:
    David Tennant
    Viggo Mortensen

    Sort of back! Playing through Black 2 and working through my Dex. PM me for inquiries!

    Black 2 ID/FC: Cassie 3311 2386 7094

    LF: Legends/Events, shinies, Kangaskhan, Smeargle, Miltank, Whismur, Minun, Torkoal, Lileep, Kecleon, Glameow

    ALLONS-Y!

  6. #156
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    This is a really good fan fic,and it's funny and it's just awesome,and could you add me to your PM list,thank you.
    Last edited by ClassicalwaterPokemon; 4th November 2009 at 7:06 PM.
    70% of the Serebii population uses ultra powerful legendaries (also known as ubers)
    in their teams. If you are one of the 30% that thinks outside the box
    and doesn't use ubers, copy and paste this into your signature!
    99% of people think Staraptor is better than Pidgeot. If you think Pidgeot is better put this in your signature (Started by Bossk)

  7. #157
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    Cookie for you, kingferret =D

    And yay, new readers! ^_^ I'm glad you enjoy it!

    This is my biggest chapter yet, at fifty-five pages. Fifty-five! That's more than the first seven combined! Holy hell, why do I write these later ones so long? XP

    * * *

    Chapter Seventeen: Crossing Paths (The Champion Meets His Match!?)

    Some things just don't make sense.

    Take the moment, for example, at which Leaf's gaze snapped to and fro between the shape above them, diving out of the sky, and the shape before them, now breaking into an all-out sprint. Her brain was telling her that this scenario shouldn't be happening, not in a billion years, because while the woman running toward them dropped her smiling mask to reveal a frustrated scowl ...

    ... The same woman barreled into her with the force of a determined jet.

    Confused thoughts battled each other furiously to be heard, but the one that reached the surface of Leaf's mind first was, "What?"

    <She's got wings!> Frosti gasped, and squealed as a chunk of bench flew over his head; he dived to the ground, glancing up furtively as if bombs were falling out of the sky. <Look, the one in the air is flying!>

    "What?" Leaf repeated, although this time curiosity forced its way through the confusion.

    Peering up at the cloud of dust forming around the scuffling women, she realized with utter astonishment that, indeed, a pair of bronze-colored wings protruded from the bases of the newcomer's shoulder blades, their long feathers fluttering as the lengthy appendages pounded rhythmically up and down. In the brilliant light of the sun her eyes seemed to glow a celestial silver. Somewhere beneath the turmoil of panic and worry, a calmer, more observing thought formed in the depths of Leaf's mind: That's her! She's the one who showed everyone Paris's true self! Weird ... besides the eyes, they look exactly alike ... except for the wings, of course—

    With an ear-splitting shriek the gold-eyed woman arced backwards, away from the kids' savior ... an incredible burst of light concealed her leaning form, just for a moment, although the dancing, blinding afterimages made it seem longer. When Leaf had blinked rapidly to clear them, her mouth dropped open when it became apparent that both women now sported wings, which flapped almost in unison as the two circled each other in midair, hands outstretched and ready to punch.

    'Kay, just the eyes, then ...

    "I was hoping it wouldn't come to this."

    It was the silver-eyed woman who had spoken. Her steely glare, narrower in the brilliant sunlight, gave her a stern, almost hawklike appearance that made her seem, somehow, more than human ... as if the wings hadn't been a dead giveaway.

    But her foe, far from intimidated, threw her head back and snickered. "Oh, please," she snorted, with a voice laced with a very faint drawl: an American accent, which somehow seemed familiar. "You just can't see the light, can you, Mom? Can't let go of the crusty old ways like the rest of your high-and-mighty posse, right?"

    The kids exchanged startled glances. "Mom"? But they look like twins!

    "It would look that way, wouldn't it ... to someone who'd gone over to their side ..." The silver-eyed woman shook her head and sighed; her hair fluttered with another wingbeat. "Why, Vember? Why'd you do it?"

    Vember's lip curled. "I wouldn't think somebody as old-fashioned as you would understand. So excuse me if I finish what I came here to start, right, and let me turn these pathetic little mortals into grease smears on the dirt!"

    With inhuman speed she drew back her arm and flung something invisible at the teenagers, who lay there gaping up at her, frozen in terror—

    "NO!"

    The woman whose silver gaze pierced her daughter's sneering face threw her hand before the invisible missile, fingers spread apart protectively; there was a dull BOOM as the thing struck, and little green-blue wisps curled up menacingly upon impact, but the woman didn't even flinch. She flicked her fingers in a curling motion; Vember yelped and rolled to the side, but the arcane wisps shot behind the woman instead, right towards Leaf, who blanched and tried to avoid the incoming things ...

    But they halted just inches from her face, twisting around before her eyes until they formed the fluid letters Get out I'll distract before they dissolved like exotic smoke.

    Vember snorted with derisive laughter as she righted herself. "Oh, brother," she snickered, shaking her head slightly as she leered at her mother. "Can't even try to fight without sentimental little qualms, can you, Mom, what kind of god are you, how pathet—"

    WHAM!

    "URK!" Vember gasped, as her mother slammed her into the dusty earth. Splayed against the ground, she kicked hard in retaliation, sinking her sandal-clad feet into the offender's stomach; the mother winced but refused to relinquish her grip.

    "Hurry!" Leaf hissed, jumping to her feet as she snatched her handbag off the ground; Frosti immediately unfroze and tapped a Poke Ball hanging from her belt, which instantly engulfed him in brilliant light as it drew him in. Lightning, following her lead, managed to return Dory and Maggie as Peach scuttled up onto his shoulder, but—

    "Not so easily, stupid mortals!" Vember yowled, thrashing harder. "I won't be deterred, believe it! Eat aura, fleshbags!"

    This time the projectile she threw wasn't anywhere close to invisible: a basketball-sized orb of green-blue light was catapulted from her hand before her mother could react. It rocketed through the air for a moment, a thin tail of aura trailing behind it like a comet, before it blasted Peter into the air; the cocoon, being what he was, did absolutely nothing as he hurtled upward in a great curve over their heads toward the nearby meadow.

    "Peter!" Lightning cried out in shock, and without further ado raced underneath his impassive bug, arms outstretched as he strained to keep up with the Pokemon; Leaf followed close behind, with Cheri buzzing right on her heels.

    "Hi!" said the Pokedex cheerfully, sitting in the bag hanging from Leaf's arm.

    "Shut up, you."

    "You're so ungrateful," the Pokedex sniffed haughtily. "And here I was going to tell your idiot blond pal to get out of catching range, as far as that buggy dimbulb is concerned. Unless he wants his arms burned off, of course, in which case he can go ahead, the nimrod."

    "Why ... should I?" Lightning panted, gazing up without slackening his pace as gravity finally reaffirmed its hold on Peter and dragged him steadily down; the air whistled as his shiny, hard body fell downward, like a bad innuendo just waiting to happen.

    "See his edges? They're glowing, you know? Like a wave of heat, but not as normal. Remember last time that happened, bub?"

    "Oh, shoot!"

    Lightning skidded to a halt and threw himself backward, just in time: the shimmering, glow-enshrouded body sizzled through the air where his head had been half a second before, making Peach squeal in surprise. Next second, a muffled WHOMP sounded as the Metapod slammed into the ground, throwing dust everywhere. Squinting her eyes as she caught up to Lightning, Leaf blinked in surprise at the size of the crater before them; evolution, it seemed, defied physics.

    Then again, any rule which allows pathetic fish to turn into raging sea serpents has to defy physics.

    "Peter!"

    From the crater a hair-raising scream sliced through the air, followed by a deafening crack that turned their blood to ice — a crackling bolt of aura was launched towards them, and they were forced to dive out of the way — lifting her head, Leaf watched as the dust slowly settled to the point where Peter's body, and the newly formed crack winding jaggedly along it, was easily visible. Sickly vomit-colored liquid spewed from the widening fissure, splattering everything within three feet as the cocoon began to split unevenly in half; his already glazed eyes dulled, and the heavy eyelids drooped weakly shut.

    "Peter!" Lightning exclaimed again.

    The green halves of the Metapod's body burst apart; the scream rose to an ear-splitting crescendo that had everyone gritting their teeth — and it came from the blue-black shape rolling on the ground in agony. Moisture glittered on its hairy form, giving it the appearance of some sort of alien newborn, and the analogy was made more eerily apt with the dripping white things wrapped around it like a baby blanket, coated with the dust sticking to it. As the glow faded, their concern melted into bemusement as they saw that Peter was literally alive and kicking, thrashing a pair of pale blue feet protruding from the unseen end of his body.

    <AAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH .... GGGGHHHH ... AAAARRGH ... aarghaarghaargh ... uh ...> The bug's wild movements jerkily slowed as he realized that the whole ideal was all over. <Uh, argh. Oh, da pain ... mah damn head ... er ...?>

    Peach blinked slowly.

    <Whoa ... what's dis crap?> Peter, getting to his feet rather drunkenly, swayed as he took in the sight of everyone watching him; multifaceted eyes, the color of drying blood, stared blearily back at them over a pale blue nose, which was situated over a pair of small fangs dripping with drool. He leaned dangerously to the side, trying to use his stubby arms for balance. Very slowly, the white things came unstuck, loosening so that they hung from his back; as the sunlight hit them they uncrumpled on their own, spreading into the broad wingspan, glistening as they began to dry in the heat.

    An aura projectile whistled ominously as it narrowly missed Lightning's head.

    "Yeah, lucky for you I was here, eh, blondie? Wouldn't want your precious blood smeared all over that crater, would we ... lemme see. Buttafree, da gangsta Pokemon. Gender is Male, foo'. Height is I Gots Candy In Mah Van, Kid, Weight is I Lied, Sucka! Dis bug is high all da time, ya know, cuz of da powdas comin' off its wings. As such, dese guys have naturally evolved inta serious crackheads right from da get-go. Dey love deir powdas. But da females got higha tolerance to dat stuff, which is why, when dey do deir mating dance, da male's gotta dump a serious amount o' powdas on her ta get her workin'. Cuz how else would da male get laid?"

    <Dat's mockery, foo',> the Butterfree drawled testily.

    "Dat's life, yo."

    Peter glared at the contraption, flapping his wings in warning. A purplish powder was unleashed into the air, loosened from the edges of the wings' scales by the sudden movement, and it hung before him for a moment, shimmering like an arcane haze, before gradually dissipating. He blinked, surprised at what he had just done, gazing at the filth-coated wings almost fondly.

    A pressure at his neck made him freeze. Cautiously, he glanced down.

    The point of Cheri's stinger was there.

    <Er,> he said.

    Tension rippled through the area, straining muscles and tweaking the mental barrier which prevented Lightning from biting his nails. Silence blossomed darkly, aside from the shrieking of the fighting women behind them and the scampering of small Pokemon who were too stupid to have already run away. A blinding flash from behind them cast bright light across the ground for a moment, but in the anxiety forming in the minds of the humans and mouse, nobody noticed.

    <Ah ...> Peter swallowed nervously, albeit with great care as he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the spear which could very easily turn him into a bug kebab. <Uh. Does dis count as assault?>

    <Butterfree,> Cheri said in a cold, dangerous voice, <you are aware of the Beedrill Code of Honor, are you not?>

    The butterfly grimaced. Apparently he, unlike Leaf last night, was fully aware.

    <My tribe,> she hissed, eyes glinting horrifically as she nudged the spearpoint just a bit further against his flesh; he cringed and flattened his attennae in terror. <My honor. The balance of Viridian Forest. You owe me all of these, a truth I came to terms with upon evolution ... your Metapod shell protected you from me. Cocoons are helpless; it is a dishonorable thing to harm them. But now—>

    <Ya can't kill me!> Peter squealed, his voice jumping several octaves higher. <I got mah whole life ahead o' me, girl! All da sights I wanted ta see, and da aromas ta smell, and da ladies ta seduce ... a Buttafree got his rights too!>

    <Possibly.> Cheri's eyes narrowed to murderous ruby slits. <But a depraved coward does not deserve such things. Tell him to drop that, trainer,> she added sideways to Leaf, keeping her icy gaze on her foe. <This is not his quarrel.>

    Leaf relayed the message to Lightning, who replaced Peter's Poke Ball onto his belt with an embarrassed expression. He looked the same way that she felt: at the moment, she wanted nothing more than to tell Cheri to snap out of it, but her hand was stayed by the creeping premonition that doing so would cause the bug to say quietly, <Is that your third debt, human?> and suddenly swivel around to put the point at her neck.

    "MOTHER, CUT THAT OUT!"

    <You have the spine of a month-dead Tentacool,> Cheri snarled, not even blinking at Vember's shriek. <The ancestry of a mongrel, the mind of an inbred, the heart of a murderer, the will of a leech, a soul more shriveled than a forgotten leaf in the heart of winter. Your blood is thinner than water, but I will be damned if it is not soon raining on my spears! There is nothing you can stutter to save yourself!>

    <Er ... w-would "y-ya insults are v-very p-poetic" work?> Peter stammered nervously.

    "NO, MOTHER! LET ME KILL THEM!"

    <I don't know why there's still shouting going on,> Peach commented uneasily, looking over Lightning's shoulder. <I mean, they've gone or something. There's only a couple of birds squabbling over there ...>

    <Idiocy is not an admirable trait,> Cheri growled at the Butterfree. <If you were to survive, I would not suggest you hold onto it.>

    <They're very big birds, though,> Peach continued, gazing at the unseen fighting. <And ... er ... do birds usually have arms? Because the only bird I ever saw with arms was tall, yellow and obnoxious—>

    "YOU'RE ALL MINE!"

    "NO!"

    A rush of wind whistled, and a second later a bronze blur dived out of the sky towards them; it was tackled in midair by a second, similar blur, which smashed the first into the ground a few yards away, kicking up a cloud of dust. A feathery head reared out of the flying dirt, its black beak open in a screech of rage, before lunging back into the fray; a clawed fist crackling with golden electricity leapt after it.

    Everyone blinked.

    "Are they ..." Leaf began, and paused. What she was about to say was going to sound completely nonsensical, but somebody had to say it. "Are those two birds ... the women?"

    "Well, they're not 'just birds'," the Pokedex said smarmily. "They are in fact some of the most epic birds in the history of all time, if I do say so myself. And I do, by the way, which means that it's obviously true—"

    "ARE YOU KIDS INSANE?" shouted the voice of the silver-eyed bird-woman-whatever-she-was, straining to be heard over Vember's yowl. "I'M DISTRACTING HER TO SAVE YOUR LIVES AND YOU'RE JUST STANDING THERE TALKING? RUN, DAMMIT, RUN!"

    Cheri closed her eyes in exasperation, reluctantly withdrawing her spear. <My revenge will be delayed,> she sighed darkly, <but not canceled. Your blood will fall like rain, Butterfree, believe—>

    "Save the monologue come later!" Leaf cut in, recalling the Beedrill; Lightning, looking shaken, did the same for Peter. "Right now we need to save our skins! Pokedex, what are those two? And why the hell is one of them trying to kill us?"

    The two humans hastily took off through the long grass of the meadow; ahead of them, the city remained in the distance, glinting tauntingly.

    "Well," the contraption replied thoughtfully, as the handbag banged against Leaf's leg over and over again, "I have no clue about the second question. I might be a genius, but I'm not a god, no matter what my lovers say. However, those literal chicks back there are part of the extremely rare species known as Fystor."

    "HOLY CRAP!"

    "And there's the obligatory fanboy entrance. Way to go, blondie, just way to go. Or was that just because that aura javelin thingy almost took your head off? Meh. Fystor, the Epic Pokemon. Gender is Female for both of them, which is obvious, look at that catfight! How sexy is that? Rayyyerrr!"

    "Wh-what is that supp-pposed to mean?" Leaf panted.

    "That was the yowling cat noise thing. Geez, you all fail. Anyway, Height is Epic, Weight is Epic. Guess what, guys, it's epic! Seriously, it is, it's a bird with fists! Yeah, and it's pretty much THE aura Pokemon. Lucario is just a poser. It's got both fight and flight under control, since it has air speeds of up to ... er ... up to a big number. Yeah. And it can pack a LOT of power in its punch, for real. You do not want to be on the receiving end of one of them buggers. Oh, and it's a legendary Pokemon. So you're screwed, suckers."

    "B-but there's only one Pokemon p-per legendary species, isn't there?" Lightning chanced a look over his unoccupied shoulder; the squabbling legends were a couple of specks in the distance, but a burst of aura still sliced the air nearby. "H-how could there be two?"

    "I dunno, ask them. Maybe the psycho one'll tell you right before she rips your head off."

    And then the bomb exploded.



    There is this to be said about aura: reading it is just like reading any other sign in the world. It is easily classified as its own sense, although most stories equate it to second sight and leave it there. It is, to put it basically, the famed sixth sense, and like the five preceding it, it can only process so much information at once. A sudden flash of light leaves one temporarily blind; a flaming-hot sauce leaves the taste buds useless for a time; so an intense burst of aura, especially one crafted by a master into a volatile bomb, severely inhibits one's ability to read it for a while.

    Fystor knew this. Vember didn't.

    Which is why, a few minutes after the muffled BOOM and accompanying flash of light, the daughter stumbled rather drunkenly about through the dusty grass, the golden color of her eyes hidden as she squeezed them shut, holding her feathery head in pain. A warbled groan escaped her partially open beak as her feet flailed around on their own accord ...

    ... Right over the edge of a nearby cliff.

    <Oh, DAMN IT—>

    SPLOSH!

    <Wrglnmlngsfw—>

    Lashing out furiously with her claws, she managed to lift her head above the surface of the freezing water, sputtering at the foul taste of ocean salt. Treading water, she squinted in irritation and frustration.

    Damn kids, they actually got away!

    She glared dimly at the empty beach, with its pale gold sands and the bleach-white logs cast here and there at random intervals. A Krabby scuttled along sideways nearby, until it noticed the expression on her face and hurriedly click-click-clicked away on its spindly little legs.

    <Bugger off,> she snapped after it, shaking her damp head and sending droplets flying everywhere. I can't sense anything! I've been turned into some idiotic blind person! How can all those retarded mortals live like this?

    Shivering with cold and fury, she tipped back her head and unleashed a savage cry of revenge at the blazing sun as it continued its long journey toward the distant western horizon.

    <MOTHERRRRRRRRRRR ....>

    * * *

    "Is ... she ... ch-chasing us?"

    "Nah, I th-think ... I think we lost her."

    <We'd better have lost her, look how far you ran! Poor, sweet Lightning, you really should rest!>

    The two humans slowed to a halt, wincing at the pricking in their legs as they leaned against the wall of the unknown building, bent over, their hands on their knees. Lightning gulped down air, wiping the sweat from his brow; on his shoulder Peach patted the back of his pale hair soothingly.

    Ignoring the mouse's embarrassing fondling, Leaf glanced about, wincing as she rubbed the blisters throbbing painfully on the soles of her feet. This part of the city was foreign to her: no trash lay scattered on the cement, no half-finished construction work marred the course of the roads, at least as far as she could see. Across the street rose a wall of important-looking office buildings, towering loftily over them as their hundreds of windows reflected the light of the afternoon sun. A few blocks away, a snob of a woman walked her Snubbull, a canine with a cutesy color and less-than-cutesy face.

    "Hello."

    "Yiiiii!"

    Leaf leapt in fright at the sound of the voice in her ear, grabbing at a second-story windowsill to prevent herself from jumping too high. Fystor, standing there quietly in human form, smirked slightly, while Lightning just shook his head: he would never understand why nothing jumped higher than a scared girl.

    "I've stopped my daughter's senses with an aura bomb," the silver-eyed woman stated calmly, as if Leaf wasn't hanging several yards above the ground. "She'll recover eventually, and she's sure to keep looking for you manually, although her pride might hinder that. But you two're safe, for at least a few days. Anyway ..." She leaned casually against the wall, gazing up at Leaf. "What on Shaymin's green earth makes you think that the Lapras isn't good enough for you anymore?"

    The girl stopped cringing at the effort of keeping a hold on the building, and blinked in surprise. "How did you kn—?"

    "Oh, please. You're aura's practically screaming it. Hell, the way you walk is sickeningly superior, so anybody can tell. And don't protest," she added sharply, as Leaf opened her mouth in astonished anger. "It hurt her, and you know it. But it's just as well that it's been done now, or else the consequences would have been on a grander scale later on."

    Lightning gazed at her tall form in awe. Peach glared at him blackly.

    "Yes, I really am Fystor," the woman told him, answering his unanswered question without even looking at him. "And yes, Vember is a Fystor too. But I'm the Fystor. She's just one of my daughters. And that doesn't make sense to you, so I'll have to explain that sometime. Don't give me that look, Peach, he's just having a momentary fanboy spasm at the moment, it'll pass soon enough."

    Peach raised a confused eyebrow.

    "Er, hello," Leaf called down, her voice strained with effort. "Back up here. Can you get me down, bird-fist-person-whatever? Because this is really starting to hurt, and I don't want to go splat."

    Fystor made a face. "What, transform and fly up there to pick you up? This is a city street in the middle of the daytime!"

    "But — ow — nobody's around—"

    "That'll change in, oh, sixty seconds. They'll all be passing through here in a hurry, though, so you'll have to let go the moment I tell you to if you want a cushion — or else, as you put it so poetically, you'll 'go splat'."

    The sound of scampering feet, growing louder as they neared, caused Peach's ears to prick up in curiosity. Then the mouse blinked, rubbing her eyes in disbelief — that was either a really weird heat wave, or something almost invisible was gliding past with astonishing speed ...

    "NOW!"

    Leaf hadn't wanted to obey, not entirely trusting this random bird-person, but her fingers had a different opinion on the matter. They creaked open, frozen for a cramped position in a brief, wind-filled moment as the sky rushed upwards, and—

    "Oof!"

    "OUCH!" shouted several voices, although a distinctly separate one happily cried out, <Spaghetti!>

    The mouths of Lightning and Peach dropped open in astonishment. One moment, they reflected incredulously, there had been nothing but running and falling; the next, a pile of groaning bodies lay nearby on the sidewalk. Leaf was seen lying at the top, rubbing her hands in pain, but the rest of the collision victims were not so lucky.

    In the universal tradition of all mishaps, something rolled out of the pile erratically before hitting a nearby fire hydrant with a rather pathetic clang, where it clattered to the ground, spinning feebly.

    The boy turned to Fystor, gaping. "How did you do that?"

    She tapped the side of her head knowingly. "Brains, kid. Actually, millions of years' experience in reading aura helps, too."

    Peach blinked in surprise: it might have been her imagination, but she could've sworn that something in the direction of the retreating heat wave had called <Thanks!> in a fading voice.

    "No problem!" Fystor called after it, confirming the possibility.

    "Ugh ..."

    <Ooh, the sweat smells yummy!>

    "Shut up, Phlash. Who's in here?"

    "I am."

    "Me!"

    "Me too!"

    <Ketchup!>

    "Yeah, that's not helping. Look, whoever's on top just get off, right? My *** is getting squished."

    "Oh, sorry about that."

    With great care, trying and failing to avoid stepping on people's fingers (her own twinged in sympathy as she did so), Leaf navigated her way off of the pile of people, making her way over to Lightning while sneaking suspicious glances at Fystor.

    "Ooh, check that out!" exclaimed the Pokedex from her dangling handbag (which always seemed to be with her in the thick of things). "I didn't think I'd see one this early, but hey. Orgasm, the WHOAAAA Pokemon—"

    "POKEDEX!"

    "Oooh!" The familiar copper-headed form of Gina painfully clawed its way to freedom; Lightning scowled at her reappearance, but the young woman's eyes were trained on Leaf's feet and growing large in admiration. "Oooh, look at those shoes! They're, like, the most chic thing I've seen in my whole life! Where on earth did you get them?"

    Leaf grinned sheepishly. "Target."

    "No!"

    "They were on sale."

    "Seriously?"

    "For fifty credits."

    "Shut up!" the admin squealed, pushing Leaf's shoulder girlishly. "You did not pull that off! You lucky duck—"

    "Wait!" groaned a voice, as its white-wigged owner stuck his head out of the pile of pain, calling after the not-heat-wave-thingy that had long since disappeared. "Come back, it! Come baaaaaaack ..." He waited for a few moments, then slumped dejectedly, as if he'd actually expected it to swivel around and rush towards him.

    Everyone merely stared at him, as he wallowed in disillusionment.

    "Gina," he muttered finally, "you're fraternizing with the enemy."

    "But her sandals!" she gushed in protest. "They are ah-dorable! I seriously need to get some like those, it'll bring my collection up to one hundred and fifty pairs! And they actually look comfy, the straps usually rub your feet raw, especially when they're so new—"

    With a grunt, Cobalt pushed himself out of the mass, causing everyone left in it to collapse; one cat, who seemed to have arched herself protectively over another, smaller feline's body, finally crumpled in exhaustion. A blue, bubbly-looking mouse squeaked pitifully, while the blond young woman next to it patted it with a giggle, oblivious to the moans around her; a familiar red-headed teenager, on the other hand, painstakingly crawled his way over to the fire hydrant, where he grabbed the nearby helmet and set it carefully back on his head.

    "You okay?" Lightning asked him, looking concerned: Peach smiled sadly and snuggled softly against his neck as she realized that her trainer was concerned for more than the miner's physical well-being.

    Roark, however, had no such revelation, as he replied, "Yeah. Ow ... see, this is why everyone should wear a helmet."

    "Yeah, but it fell off," Leaf pointed out, not seeming to get that the thing about points is how they tend to burst someone's bubble. "How is it supposed to help you if it just falls off when stuff falls on you?"

    <Weird Hair Guy!> Phlash exclaimed, popping up out of nowhere to tug on Cobalt's pant leg. <Guess what? Your hair looks weird!>

    "Did you hear something, Lightning?" the miner asked haughtily, making a point to look around in every direction but Leaf's.

    "Well—"

    "I thought not. Look, I need to find Skipper and Anni. Have you seen them?"

    "No, we've been running from—"

    "Heyyyy!" Gina exclaimed, grabbing Roark's shoulder and spinning him around to face her. "I know you! You're Stop Sign Head, aren't you? You and what's-his-face got Severus landed in jail a couple days ago, I saw you in the mountain, and the big Swampert! Weird, isn't it, how you and Leaf have a Swampert, right?"

    "What?"

    "You are?" Cobalt stared at him for a moment, then leapt forward and violently shook his gloved hand like a fanboy. "You are! How can I ever thank you? It wasn't quite as efficient as letting him get killed, true, but at least he's out of my unseen hair!"

    The miner looked uncertain at the admin's unexpected praise. "Er ... don't mention it?"

    "Meanie Boy wouldn't let anybody get killed, anyway!" Daisy agreed, setting the bouncy mouse on her shoulder as she got to her own feet. "He's not really mentally available for that stuff, if you know what I mean. Ooh, a penny!"

    <What's this about a mountain?> asked a small, gray bird, fluttering down to land on top of Cobalt's head; she tilted her own to the side in confusion, almost falling off in the process. <Just what have you been doing, Cobalt?>

    <He broke the mountain,> Phlash explained, beginning to foam at the mouth for some reason. <And there were rocks phalling, and a phlying pink thingy, and people kept getting smushed into yummy burgers, and there was a horny cow. And a machine thingy, I think. Oh yeah, and he broke a city bephore that. I lived there, and my whole phamily probably died, but that's okay, they woulda phried.>

    The bird's eyes widened in sympathy. <Oh, that's terrible!>

    <It'd be a great way to die, though!> Phlash went on rabidly. <Sizzling in your own oils and phats! You could eat yourselph, probably! It'd be a really yummy way to kill yourselph, although I wouldn't know 'cause I'm still alive, mostly!> She grinned, foam dripping from her fangs.

    <Really?> the Starly asked weakly.

    "You'll get used to it, Rae," Cobalt assured her pessimistically.

    Leaf watched them shrewdly. Oh, he has a Starly, does he? Suspicious ...

    "You're strange," Daisy giggled at him. "So, are you all planning on entering the Contest? Oh, of course you are, that's why you're here, right? Three PM tomorrow afternoon, and I'm the MC!" She beamed vacantly.

    "Contests?" Leaf and Roark exclaimed in perfect unison. "Ugh! You're not serious, are you?"

    They blinked simultaneously in surprise; realizing what had just happened, each turned their back on the other, scowling in a "this-so-does-not-mean-I'm-agreeing-with-you" sort of way. The Pokedex snickered, filling its once-every-five-minutes quota.

    "Well, yes!" the blonde young woman exclaimed, still giggling rather creepily. "Because everyone loves Contests, they're full of pretty people and pretty Pokemon and pretty prettiness! And besides, why would you come to the Contest Hall if you didn't?"

    The two turned their attention to the building, which they had not examined previously, and groaned upon taking in the sight of a large structure reminiscent of a stadium; the broad dome-like structure glimmered a simple white, though the banner hanging over the double-door entrance stood out in a curve of golden fabric, screaming the words "CONNTEZT HELL!!!!!!!"

    "Isn't it gorgeous?" Daisy gushed, mistaking their repelled expressions for ones of awe; she didn't notice that Roark was quietly slinking around the corner, looking nauseated at the sight as he disappeared abruptly from the scene. "I helped write the banner, and so did Violet, and Lily too! But Violet made a teensy error up there, because everyone knows that Contest is spelled with a 'Q'!"

    <Yeah!> the Pokemon on her shoulder chirped agreeably, dribbling in an infantile manner.

    "Well, I have to go," she said, grinning at everyone and not seeming to notice that they were all staring at her in disbelief. "Someone messed up the wires so that the microphone blinds you and the lights make your voice loud when you talk to them ... actually, that might've been me, so I should be the one to fix it, you know, and make it all better! Toodles!"

    With that, she skipped merrily over through the doors of the Hall and out of sight.

    <She has issues,> Rae commented, glancing around as if Roark were about to pop up again at any moment.

    "Yeah." Cobalt nodded, looking dazed. "She's really sexy, though."

    Gina rolled her eyes. "Don't be weird. Cobalt, were you running after that 'it' thing again? It gets really annoying after a while."

    "But I wanted it ..." he complained almost childishly.

    "I know, but it's still weird, seriously ... anyway, the grunts are digging back at camp and I think they've found something, they've been trying to get it out for the last couple hours and—"

    "Gina!" Cobalt interrupted warningly.

    "What?"

    "You are talking about our plans within full hearing range of the enemy!"

    She blinked. "... Oh yeah."

    "You have to tell me away from everyone else," he told her in a voice of forced patience, as he started to walk away, pulling her after him. "And make sure they can't hear, honestly ..."

    As they began to leave, Leaf forced back a sigh. She really hadn't expected their interactions to end on such an anticlimactic note; rather, she'd been looking forward to some sort of epic battle somewhere down the road, full of rivers of lava and anime-style hollering and random beam attacks against a Convenient Backdrop of Lightning™. Wait, "looking forward to"? Where did that come from?

    "Leaf?" He paused, looking back at her.

    She brightened up: maybe he'd start the epic battle right now, although "epic" would be a serious stretch at this point. "Yeah?"

    "Did you seriously release the Lapras? After you found out it wasn't shiny, I mean?"

    "Yeah ..." she answered cautiously.

    "Excellent job, then!" He swiveled around and placed a hand on her shoulder; she gaped back at him, too astonished to respond. "That's the way a serious trainer would do it. None of this 'I-love-you-for-who-you-are-not-what-you-are' crap, or else you might as well be a Coordinator!"

    "Hey!" Lightning protested, but Cobalt, ignoring him, had already turned around and headed off again, with Rae fluttering on his head and Phlash snapping at his heels. Gina, who had been rolling her eyes at his behavior, waved at Leaf merrily before following them, soon turning a corner and vanishing from sight.

    Leaf gazed after them, her hand unconsciously reaching up toward the shoulder Cobalt had touched. He didn't lecture me about it? He approves? Does that mean ... does that mean I'm turning into someone like him?

    She had absolutely no idea what to make of that thought.

    The larger cat, who had been silent up until this point, looked up at her. <You're a trainer? Do you know anyone with a Persian?>

    The odd question took a moment to register in her brain, but when it did, she blinked in surprise. She turned to the cat, a pale cream-colored Pokemon whose large, round eyes stared back questioningly. "Er ... no," she answered, frowning slightly. "Why?"

    The cat's shoulders hunched sadly. <I'm waiting for my mate to return,> she admitted, looking downcast. <He usually returns every few weeks or so, but I haven't seen him in a couple of months, and I'm worried that ... that something's happened to him.> Her eyes flicked to the other cat, who was chasing her own tail playfully. <I was so looking forward to introducing him to our daughter ...>

    <Mom's told me about him,> the daughter piped up cheerfully, reaching up with a small paw and scratching one of her black-and-brown ears. <He's the most amazing Pokemon ever ... he's flown on some of those metal birds that roar in the sky, and encountered powerful foes with his trainer, and fought really bravely all the time ... I've wanted to meet him for ages.>

    Leaf shrugged. "That's cool. I might end up meeting his trainer, I dunno, this crazy stuff that's going on could take us anywhere ..."

    The mother's pointed ears pricked up. <Really?>

    <Ooh, ooh, Mom, you know what I should do?> The daughter, leaping to her paws, bounced around her parent excitedly, the brilliant golden charm on her head glinting with an erratic rhythm. <I should go with her, Mom! And we can probably find Dad sometime, and I can get big and strong, and go on wild adventures, and hopefully not get caved in on like we just did. Can I, Mom? Please?>

    Leaf blinked. "What?"

    <Oh, sweetheart ...> The numerous whiskers on her mother's head stiffened. <It's a dangerous world out there. Your father is very lucky to have such a strong trainer to guide him ... and this girl released a Lapras because of mistaken identity. She admitted it just now! I don't think you could be very happy with somebody like her being critical about your every move.>

    "Hey!" Leaf protested indignantly. "That's not fair, now! It was a lot more complicated than that, I didn't want anything about her influence ruining my team, and she was the reason we were getting chased all over the region, anyway."

    <See, Mom?> the younger cat asked triumphantly, beaming up at Leaf. <She agrees with me!>

    "Wait, I didn't say that—"

    "Y'know, it's probably a good idea to know what you're catching before you catch it, you know? The identity thing all over again, right? And this doesn't just apply to Pokemon, for your information. It's also very useful with dealing with other lovely little things, like sexually transmitted diseases."

    "What the hell, Pokedex—"

    "I love you too. Meowth, the SHIIIIIINYYYYYYYY Pokemon. Gender is Female, for both of the buggers. Height is Take Home The Cute Wittle Kitty, Weight is It's Eating Us Out Of The Damn House! These are kitties who live the night life, do anything for cash, and are real good with their claws. Yes, the dirtiest idea that popped into your head was the one I was aiming for. Anyway, a Meowth can, with time, be trained to convert its love for shiny stuff into an offensive technique all of their own: they toss coins at the ******* facing them. Question is, where do they get the cash? With careful consideration you will find that the answer is evident, dear friends. THEY'RE ALL BANK ROBBERS, DAMMIT!"

    Leaf facepalmed. "Pokedex ..."

    <It's right, for once,> Peach piped up, glaring at the two Meowth. <They're a breed of pure evil. They'll steal Lightning's soul for sure.>

    "I don't remember vouching for you either, shorty," the Pokedex replied smarmily.

    <Sweetheart,> the mother said, pointedly ignoring both mouse and machine, <it'll be dangerous. Even your father admitted that battles can turn very nasty, and if you were really outmatched—>

    <But he was still around to admit it, right?> The daughter looked her mother in the eye with a determined air. <And really, would he want his only kitten to live an alley life? It's fun sometimes, sure, but what about when the Rattata get too hungry and try to corner you? I still get the shivers thinking about the last time. I don't wanna be somewhere with buildings boxing you in until it's too tight to breathe. But a place where there's rustling trees, soft winds, visible horizons, and a scent of freshness always there ... that's where I wanna be.>

    Her mother, looking touched by the heartfelt explanation, cocked her head to the side thoughtfully.

    "I'd let her go, if I were you," Fystor commented; everyone jumped, having forgotten she was there. "Fate's got a hand in this somewhere, count on it. Trainers and Pokemon don't just cross each other randomly, and this trainer practically jumped on you. And it works both ways," she added, her gaze flicking sideways to Leaf. "You couldn't handle a 'cancerous' Pokemon, as you harshly put it. Why not settle for a fully 'honest' one? Consider it redemption for ditching the Lapras. You'll have to get off your high horse sometime, and now's as good a time as any."

    With some sort of compelling magnetism, Leaf's eyes met those of the young cat. It was strange ... she had never considered Meowth to be cute, though it was a far cry from ugly as far as her opinion was concerned. But there was a certain charm in the cat that seemed to illuminate her whole being, taking her words and giving them life, giving them meaning. She reminds me of me! she realized suddenly, as an image of her mother gazing out the door after her flashed across her mind. I was so thrilled to finally be on the road ... damn, was it really only a week ago?

    <Please?> the cat asked again.

    She sighed. "Fine. But only if your mom says you can."

    The mother's whiskers drooped. <It's your dream,> she told her sadly. <I don't have any right to prevent you from walking that path.> She lowered her head to groom her kitten's head with a rasping tongue. <But promise me this,> she murmured. <Be the best you can be. Show the inner potential you could never show here. Aim for the sun: even if you miss, the moon's close by, and it's no shame to be there. And search for your father, and meet him when you do.>

    She nuzzled her mother's side. <I will, Mom.>

    Leaf pulled a spare Poke Ball from her belt, almost absentmindedly; the scene was so touching that she didn't even point out that she'd gotten the quote wrong.

    <And stay safe!> the mother called, as her daughter stepped toward the girl, looking eager at the sight of the red-and-white-sphere.

    She nodded, hardly glancing behind her. <I will, Mom. Don't worry.>

    Leaf almost asked her, "are you sure about this?", but realized in time that this would be a useless question, considering the Meowth's constant nodding and begging to be off on a journey of her own. So instead she took a deep breath, smiled at the cat, and declared, "Well, just so we get the formalities out of the way, I'm Leaf. You should know your own trainer's name, right? And welcome to the team ... Parvati."

    The young Meowth beamed at the sound of her new name, baring pointed teeth in a delighted grin. The smile was infectious: Leaf couldn't help returning it as she tossed the Poke Ball at the cat, who let herself be sucked into it without a struggle; it didn't shake even once before letting out a ping of successful capture.

    Her mother's shoulders hunched in sorrow. <Promise me you'll take good care of her,> she begged, gazing up at the girl with wide, moist eyes.

    Leaf nodded solemnly, knowing what this meant to her. "Count on it."

    Peach sniffed haughtily as the Meowth dejectedly padded away, vanishing from sight as she turned into an alley. <Evil little devilspawn,> she muttered, echoing the sentiments of the age-old rivalry between cat and mouse. <This is the cancer right here, not Paris. 'Cause at least Paris wasn't a sneaky, slit-pupiled feline.>

    "Hey, don't be like that," Lightning chastised her; he might not have understood her exact meaning, but the attitude behind her hiss loomed crystal clear. "Cats have feelings too. Maybe they do eat Pichu when they can, but Pichu sometimes eat those fruity whaddya-call-'ems ... Cherubi. Yeah, don't you guys nibble on those?"

    <They're bigger than me,> she protested weakly, unable to hide the guilty look on her face.

    Tearing her gaze from the space which the Meowth had just vacated, Leaf shot a look at Fystor. "Did you have anything to do with this?"

    Fystor's expression was the picture of innocence. "With what?"

    She sighed. "Don't give me that."

    "Hey, don't get uppity about it. I gave you a freaking cushion, girlie. And you got a new Pokemon out of it. In any case, when I said Fate had something to do with it, I wasn't kidding around. I'll bet you my last particle of aura that the Twins were behind all of those people running into each other at once."

    A blank blink. "Twins?"

    Fystor facepalmed. "Dear Arceus, did you ever look at the Word?"

    "Well—"

    "This is utterly ridiculous. How in hell am I supposed to work with someone who doesn't even know her legendaries?"

    "I do know them! There's Groudon and Kyogre—"

    "I'd go after your History teachers with a knife if you didn't know about them," Fystor said, brushing the protest off idly.

    "—And Arceus, Shaymin, er, Mew—"

    "Naturally."

    "—Secloven—"

    "Humans would remember him."

    "—Ho-Oh—"

    "Too many sightings. I told him not to pull those stunts, but no, he shouldn't have to listen to me."

    "—Moltres ..." She smiled slightly as she said the name: the mythic fiery avian was her favorite legend. "Regirock, Regiground—"

    "Doesn't exist."

    "Damn. Er ..." She fidgeted slightly, racking her brains. "Suicune—"

    "Should've realized I'd be dealing with a Suicune Safari fangirl."

    "Hey, that show is awesome!" Leaf scowled at Fystor's uninterested expression.

    The legendary sighed. "Of course it is. We all know how fascinated you are with giant blue wolves — as opposed to that Mystical Man host, what's-his-name, Enigmatic Eusine, and his other atrocious alliterations. See, you just got hearts in your eyes! I didn't come here to tell you about your quest just to watch you squeal over idiots!"

    "He's a gorgeous idiot," Leaf drooled.

    Fystor snorted in disgust.

    "I dunno what else," Leaf murmured, still in a daze. "Oh wait, there was ... yeah ... there was some weird thing, Giratina, I think ..."

    The woman raised an eyebrow. "That's strange."

    "Why?"

    "Giratina's not mentioned much, even in the Word," she explained. "And you're woefully uninformed when it comes to the Word." She tilted her head to the side, hawklike. "Why is that?"

    Leaf shrugged. "I heard Mom talking about it one time, over the phone."

    "Interesting." Fystor's eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

    "I swore by it once, too," the Pokedex chimed in helpfully. "Remember?"

    Everyone ignored it.

    "Well." Leaf yawned; the events of the day had drained her in almost every possible way. "That's all the legends I know."

    "..."

    "What?" she asked defensively, shrinking back slightly from Fystor's sudden, murderous glare.

    "Er," Lightning said, speaking up for the first time in a while. "Leaf, somehow I think it's ..."

    "What is it?" she demanded, swiveling around to glare at him.

    He blanched; it didn't seem possible that he'd ever get used to her sudden mood swings. "The thing is ... Fystor's a legendary too," he told her in a small voice.

    "... Oh."

    Fystor's nostrils flared angrily, like a bull's; Leaf cringed automatically, though she had a vague idea that if Fystor had been really angry, Vember's job would be done in the blink of an eye. Still, even she knew that an angry legendary needed to be appeased.

    "Er ... sorry?" she tried feebly. "I kinda forgot that ... that you were a ... er ... sorry ..."

    Fystor shrugged, opting not to graffiti the Contest Hall's wall with a Leaf-shaped smear. But all the way to Bill's cottage, which the teens had decided to return to as it was a convenient place to spend the fast-approaching night, not one word escaped her lips about the eavesdropper.
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 26th January 2010 at 2:34 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. #158
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    * * *

    He hadn't meant to listen in on their conversation. He hadn't even meant to leave so suddenly, without notice. But the meaning of those words, no matter how ridiculously misspelled ... he'd intended to search for it yesterday, to stand in the center of the arena and gaze up at the seats staring silently down at him from the circular stands surrounding him, with a glorious vision that someday, soon, he could hear their cheers as the soft fabric of ribbon was pressed into his hand by the beaming MC ...

    Another wave of nausea swept over him at the thought. His stomach turned over, and he automatically leaned toward the decorative bush twisting against that infernal Hall's marble-white wall; but it had already been painfully emptied. Only a dry heave rasped from his mouth. He tried not to think about what they'd would say if they could see him now. Weakling. You can't even get a grip on yourself. What kind of miner are you?

    It was clear, now, how terribly taken in he had been by the dream, if a dream was indeed the cause. That he had cheerfully aimed for a goal which nearly everyone he knew would shudder at, and almost sold his soul (metaphorically) to a life of coordinating ... the full impact had somehow struck him at the sight of those large capital letters. Well, it's said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach ...

    Sweat glistening damply on his forehead, he collapsed on his back, peering blearily at his helmet, which he'd tossed off. From this perspective it was upside-down, beneath a sky of sun-dried grass. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, which made him feel a bit better. But the comforting darkness couldn't muffle the cacophony of warring thoughts within him ...

    Why? he wondered. It was the only coherent bit he could pick out; the rest roiled in confusion and astonishment and suppressed fury. Yet it spoke for the entire hellish choir: Why did she abandon the Lapras? Why is a legend appearing to her? Why did I come here? Why did Dad—

    The raw thought was swallowed by the horrific memory, and he choked back a scream, holding his face as if he could somehow push it into the blackness from whence it came. It was important, he knew, that he'd escaped the scene. In the clinking dark of echoing caves, where a wrong move could collapse a tunnel and where undiscovered creatures lurked in the shadowy corners, a miner develops a keen sense of danger and survival. The same case appeared here, though the brightness of day illuminated the scene, and the danger threatening him back home was infinitely more lethal and subtle than anything in the mines.

    Because a sole witness was laughably easy to kill.

    CRUNCH!

    He spun onto his stomach almost instantly, eyes briefly unfocused as the sudden movement disoriented him. Climbing unsteadily to his knees, his heart almost froze as he watched as the scene resolved itself into a very familiar gray Pokemon, getting to her feet and muttering to herself as she rubbed her domed head.

    <Those buggers. It's useless, jumping. It's not going to help them, dammit!>

    "Anni!" he exclaimed, exhaling in relief. "Anni, what the heck were you thinking? You can't just ..." He peered up at the sky, tilting his head up to look at the possible sites she had used for takeoff; the sun glinted blindingly against his glasses as he did so, and he winced at the light. "You can't just jump off a building!" he said, automatically picking up a scolding tone. "You could've broken something!"

    <I did,> she replied, looking down at the small crater formed in the sidewalk from her head's impact; cracks spiderwebbed from it like electricity. <But I had to land somewhere, you know—>

    "I didn't mean the sidewalk," he interrupted, "I meant you. What if your skull had ... had fractured ... er ..." He trailed off as he realized how ridiculous this concern was.

    As if reading that thought, Anni snorted. <Yeah, because having one of the toughest heads of all Pokemon puts me in serious danger of cracking my skull open. Somehow, I don't think you guys would've named us "Cranidos", after our fricking craniums, if you weren't pretty sure that our heads are rock-solid.>

    "Literally." He couldn't stop himself.

    She stuck her tongue out at him. <Ha ha, very clever. Anyway, what're you doing here? It's the fricking Contest Hall!> She sneered up at the dome looming above them.

    He turned slightly green. "I know."

    She turned her disgust to the nearby bush. <Ick. Yeah, I guess you do, right?>

    "Mm. Where's Skipper?" He pushed himself to his feet; the world spun briefly around him as he steadied himself, putting his helmet back on. He was acutely aware that she was giving him a look of wary concern, as if worried he might reenact yesterday's fall.

    <Angsting over on the beach. He's got his head pointed at the horizon, where the Lapras was headed — he woulda swum after her, but his scar started acting up, you know. Got his shoulders hunched, kinda droopy. He was howling when I went to look for you. Very dramatic, actually.>

    They began walking down the sidewalk, both slightly disoriented; circumnavigating the glaring crater and soiled bush, Roark followed his short-heighted, short-tempered dinosaur away from the dreaded Hall. "He's been through too much," he said simply, opting not to add the fully truthful phrase, And so have I.

    <Damn straight. Leaf ...> She shook her head despairingly. <What a bugger that noob is. I don't know what she's thinking, but it's completely idiotic! Lapras don't grow on trees! And she was my niece!> Her beak twisted into a scowl. <Dammit, that girl ...>

    He merely let her talk, passively brewing in his own silence. A sleek car — black with tinted windows, new by the look of it — purred passed them quietly, leaving a gentle breeze in its wake.

    <What an idiot,> Anni went on. <Almost as stupid as those Bagon. Morons. I was thinking about that one Bagon, the *** who kicked Skipper's necklace off. He looked stupid to me. They jump off cliffs because they think it's flying. You knew that, right? I tried that, just now. Jumping off the top of a building, since there aren't a lot of cliffs in the city. And it's stupid, seriously, it doesn't do anything except give you a headache from hell. Why would you jump?>

    He wondered just how she had reached the top of the building, shaking his head at her curiosity over the nonsensical matter, before his thoughts returned to their recent track. We can't afford to lose each other, he told himself, as a protective feeling for his dinosaur gripped him again. We're all we've got left. We're just betrayed over and over again, we can't trust anyone else — Dad was the reason, and Leaf was the confirmation ...

    <Do they have a death wish, or what? Seriously, they're all suicidal freaks. "Oh my golly gee gosh, I just know that jumping off cliffs will make me grow wings someday, because I have the power of believing in myself! And if it doesn't work, there's no point in living, so I'll do it over and over again till my head explodes! Yay!" Retards.>

    We're alone, he thought gloomily. Not a single human to turn to; not even Jas and Col would understand. Well, of course not. They wouldn't believe that Dad could ... that he'd ever ... He swallowed hard. Well. Granted, I probably wouldn't have believed them, if one of them had seen it ... but still, there's not even one person we can talk t—

    He froze in midstride, mouth gaping open as an obvious realization occurred to him.

    "Of course!"

    <Good, you agree with me. Everyone does. By the way, remember that theory that one scientist had about Bagon being descended from Cranidos? That's BS, dude. B-freaking-S. Because we wouldn't have developed the ***-worthy idea that we could fly if we tried to make our heads blow up — hey, where're you going?>

    But he stopped running down the street after only a few seconds, tapping at a random passerby's shoulder. How stupid am I? he berated himself jubilantly, as the curious person turned around. Forgetting my oldest and best friend ... so obvious, and I didn't even see it?

    "Excuse me," he asked, "but do you know where I could find an Internet cafe?"

    * * *

    The tired sun poured blood-red light over the sands of the Cinnabar beach, on which the returning tide gently lapped with an unceasing rhythm. Over a distant sand dune floated the far-off echo of a malevolent yowl, followed by an agonized scream.

    Then only the sound of the gentle waves.

    The wind whistled in its lofty, violent currents, soft at first, but slowly and surely growing into a deafening whoosh as a great fiery dragon dropped out of the sky, flaming tail whipping through the air in excitement as his mighty wings spread wide, revealing deep blue webs that stretched to catch the wind. Another thin, fluctuating wave of chaos rippled into existence in the air in front of him, turning a nearby worried-looking Wingull into a rubber duck, which squeaked stupidly as it fell; the dragon, however, sharply veered to the side, adeptly avoiding the chaos as he dived sharply toward the beach before swooping a few yards upwards, deftly avoiding a nasty collision. He hovered just above the ground for a moment, gently flapping his wings, before landing with a loud thwump that scattered sand everywhere with a soft hiss. Twin streams of smoke curled gently from his dilating nostrils as he twisted his head around, black eyes gazing back at the lanky young man sitting on his shoulders.

    "Nice work, boy," Warren said with a smile, patting the majestic beast's long neck; the Charizard grinned toothily back, dipping his horned head with surprising speed: the adrenaline — mixed with a bit of jumpy fear — pumped through the reptile's huge body with every heartbeat. And Warren felt it too, even though he'd never admit it.

    This is it. The final, greatest challenge against an opponent of almost legendary renown, the battle to prove once and for all his right for the title of Champion, his status as the greatest trainer in all of Kanto. In a burst of silent excitement he leapt from the back of his dragon; sweat glistened as he tossed his long black hair to the side, landing catlike on his feet without so much as flinching. The final hurdle.

    With a casual, swift flick his wrist jerked toward his belt; five beams of light burst from their respective Poke Balls, condensing into the other five familiar forms of his trusted team. A hulking green-blue dinosaur unleashed a deep, earth-shaking rumble, red eyes glaring at the smoking form of the distant volcano as the tropical red leaves of the towering flower drooping over his back rustled gently in the breeze. Muscles rippled under the ocean-blue skin of an enormous bipedal turtle, who smirked confidently at the tension in the air; from the mysterious depths of his rich brown shell, twin silvery cannons appeared, peeking out from the holes near his shoulders like cautious gophers emerging from their dens. The fourth and final titan, a rotund beast splayed upon the sand without a care in the world, snored violently, his broad belly expanding as air filled his chest before he unleashed a lazy yawn.

    In the midst of these massive creatures, the brilliant yellow mouse and the spherical, pink balloon-like thing were easily dwarfed; yet their eyes, shiny black and deep blue, gazed up at their trainer, their trust in him glowing like beacons in the impending storm. At times interviewers asked him why he never evolved these two, and his answer was always the same: the true trainer will never force the shape of his partners to change. At that point, he'd say, they cease to be partners and start to be just random animals trained to pummel other animals.

    "It's time," he said, and the words slid in the empty air like coffin lids. There would be no going back, they said, as if sealing off any chance of escape. We fight to the death. Conquer the beast or die trying.

    The Pokemon smiled at his concealed tension. They smiled because their trainer smiled, and when he smiled everything would be all right. They smiled because, deep within their secret souls, they were too terrified not to.

    "Pika!" The electric rodent, jagged tail sticking upright, pointed over a distant hill, beyond which wisps of darkness curled in a snake-like manner. A dark cloud began to form, growling ominously; the shape was small, but not for long.

    "Yes." Warren's eyes narrowed in concentration. "It's coming to meet us."

    The smirk slid off Blastoise's face. Beads of sweat began to line up along his triangular head.

    "Puff ..." The balloon's eyes widened even further, and the tuft of pink hair curling from his forehead bounced gently as he shivered in alarm. His catlike ears flattened against his head, and he instinctively reached for his trainer with tiny, stubby arms.

    His smile returned, a soft one this time. "It's okay to be scared, Jigglypuff. Admitting you're afraid is better than letting it eat you up from the inside until you can't move. Remember the Pokemon Tower, and the ghosts?"

    "Jig." The balloon nodded timidly.

    "The important thing is to stay true to your soul," Warren told the group at large, raising his voice as the wind began to pick up. "Bravery is what keeps us together when the hour is darkest ... and that is very, very important, boys. Because if we don't have each other, we don't have anyone at all ..."

    And then, suddenly, the creature was there.

    He couldn't remember it creeping down the hillside, or stalking silently toward him through sand that shriveled as its feet touched it, or the cloud seemingly multiplying into a nightmarish sky of thunderous crackling, or the gently moaning whirls of chaos distorting the scenery around them. But nevertheless it stood there, a skeletal being of ghastly proportions, towering over even Snorlax with its looming, somewhat spiky frame, from which blackness dripped like some incurable poison, pooling at its clawed feet in puddles of shadow. Yet it was clearly alive: the bones never scraped together with a painful creaking, but moved together silently, fluidly, like a snake tracking its doomed prey. And in the gaping darkness of its wide eye sockets glowed twin orbs, poisonously brilliant blue spheres that seemed to delve through the secrets concealed within the flesh, to burn through the protective layers of self until the helpless soul lay bare for the beast to examine at its leisure.

    "Yes ..." The glitch hissed in a tongue that could barely be called human, so twisted and sinister was the eldritch voice which shaped the words. "You are the human, yes. I knew you would come, Creature of Order ..."

    The light of its ... were they eyes? They were in the right place, roughly the right shape, and burned with the right intensity of any living thing. And yet somehow, the term "eyes" applied to the unblinking globes in the same way that "journal" applied to a book which, over the course of harsh millennia, accumulated the endless recordings of holy men until the point at which the tales of light and darkness had at last been compiled into a thick book simply titled as "The Word" ...

    The Champion stared back at the lit skull, his face a ghastly hue as the light fell upon his skin to coat it with a sickly blue. For the first time, a hint of dark fear crept across his expression, a fraction of the panic blossoming within his soul. He grimly lashed out at it, ashamed at the humiliating terror — not once in five years had he felt any obstacle to be too challenging, any problem unsolvable. Stay brave, he whispered to himself. Remember Jigglypuff. Remember Pokemon Tower ...

    "There is power in you, yes." The creature hissed, a sound like metal being sharpened. Shadow curled like smoke from its scythe as it pointed at the human, who instinctively flinched at the sight of the lethally sharp edge. "You are a human of standing. In a fair fight, you would undoubtedly defeat this chaotic ... after a long, unrelenting battle, but nevertheless ..."

    It wants me, Warren realized slowly, and a fresh stab of horror tore a gaping hole in his resolve. It wants to sway me to its side ... to follow its evil whims ... it's more than just a glitch, it has to be, remember the glitch at Route Twelve? At least that was a normal—

    "You have gone far, and yet ..." The creature paused, and its silibant words hung in the air like a living noose, more threatening than its appearance could ever suggest. "And yet with me, you could go far ... farther than even your most fantastic dreams could ever take you."

    The rush of terror was a flood now, ringing shrilly in his ears. The hair along his arms, on his neck, stood to attention as goosebumps rippled down his skin. Somewhere, distantly, he heard a child's voice sing, a song remembered from a childhood long past, as a young, dark-haired boy looked out at the world with a glint in his eye and a dream in his heart—

    I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was ...

    "Join me," the glitch pressed on, "and you will be the greatest human ever born to Order. You can travel to a land beyond regret ... beyond doubt, fear, pain, guilt, lies, nightmares ... your foes will throw themselves at your mercy. At my side, there is no need for restriction. The world is your oyster, and the pearl within at your fingertips ..."

    To catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause ...

    Out of sight, one of his Pokemon whimpered. He couldn't tell which one.

    "Come ..." It beckoned, its scythe appearing to curl in on itself as it did so. The darkness of its voice had a faint, mocking quality to it, as with a predator toying with its prey. "You cannot resist my power."

    I have to resist, he moaned inwardly, a single voice against the hurricane of darkness, of horror, of memories dredged up from forgotten swamps and dripping with agony. Can't ... let it ... take me ...

    I will travel across the land, searching far and wide ...

    Then, so quietly he might have missed it, a thought within himself whispered, But you're already resisting, aren't you? You're not letting it order you around. Stick with the pain and you've already won.

    A small light, even a light obscured by the cunning wiles of evil night, is nevertheless a light. With a rush of hope he felt his soul catapult from the chains of despair threatening to strangle it, felt a surge of warmth rush over his limbs as he knew the thing would never take his mind, his will, his heart ...

    Each Pokemon to understand the power that's inside—

    "I'll never join you! I'll die first if that's what it takes!"

    The words reached his lips seemed to take centuries before they finally crawled sluggishly into his exhausted ears and brain. They rang out echoingly against the many bones of the beast, jangling against every rib like a dying howl bouncing from the sides of impassive cliffs, the only witnesses to the mighty fallen ...

    In the sudden, blood-chilling quiet, in which even the wind had been silenced, the glitch returned his petrified gaze with a pair of orbs which, if one looked closely, were very slowly expanding ... the terror swept over him, more cutting in its return as he realized that noncompliance would never be painless ...

    "Very well, if that's what you wish."

    And the beast leapt.



    <Okay, this is what we do. Jump him, check his pockets for loose change, stab him to ectoplasmic ribbons and jack the cash if he does, and bind him to our dark and unrelenting wills if he doesn't. Simple enough, right, Beast?>

    ...

    <Beast?>

    <Look, Ketsuban!> the Beast exclaimed, pointing in awe at something protruding from the stony wall. <It's a skull thingy! But ... weird. I think something screwed it to the wall. That makes no sense, Ketsuban, I mean, look at that! Why is that screwed to the wall?>

    <I don't know,> Missingno replied tartly, waving a scythe distractedly. <Maybe because ... I don't know. It must've been screwed up.>

    <...?>

    <That was a joke, Beast.>

    <Ohhhhhh. I don't get it, Ketsuban. Mm, still a joke though. Fufufufufufu!>

    <What?>

    <Laughter, Ketusban. That's how the Japanese laugh.>

    <What do the Japanese have to do with anything?>

    <Well—>

    <Shut up. Look, let's just put that stupid soul out of its misery already. Beast, stop poking that.>

    The Beast sulkily retracted its scythe from the skull's empty eye sockets. <I'm Sherlock, Ketsuban,> it said with a hint of a pout.

    <And I'm Missingno, Beast. Come on, hurry, before he gets away!>

    Their skulls peeped comically around the corner. A random enslaved soul shuffled along the darkened corridor in the other direction, throwing weak shadows that moved with strange fluctuations every time he passed another flickering torch. The faded trenchcoat hanging over his shoulders was his only distinguishing feature; the ghostly glow of his skin, together with his blank face whose features ran together like wax, made him virtually impossible to tell him apart from any other captive.

    <Aw ... but look at him, Ketsuban! He's so sad and lonely!>

    <Pfft. Yeah right, Beast. See him shuffling along, zombie-style? I've seen more emotion from a cardboard cutout. And even that's got more purpose than he does now. Stop feeling sorry for the pathetic loser and help me get him!>

    <Oh, silly Ketsuban ...>

    Missingno shot him a glance, cautiously sidled behind the ignorant soul ... and paused. The floor beneath his bony feet trembled ever so slightly, but in his experience he knew that this could only mean bad news. Of course, he had absolutely no idea what sort of bad news this meant, but there was little point in sticking around to find out.

    The tormented soul slowly turned his head, and Missingno, being a glitch, was hardly fazed when he noticed that the dead human's head had swiveled around a perfect one hundred and eighty degrees. What worried him was the way the soul's edges began to flutter gently, as the dead eyes stared unseeingly past the skeleton at something further along the endless corridor.

    <Oh, damn.>

    <Ketsuban, wha—?>

    <Shut up and run!> the glitch hollered, dropping all caution as he broke into a sprint down the hall; claws scraped against the stone with a screech as every step dug into the floor, but he ignored it, focusing every ounce of concentration into his run.

    Ragged gasps burst behind him; evidently the Beast didn't understand that breathing was unnecessary. <K-Ketsuban!> a voice panted, echoing against the rocky walls. <Wh-, wh-, ... aaargh, why are we run-nning, K-Ketsuban? I thought we w-were g-g-gonna g-g-get the sad g-g-guy hweeeeeee—>

    <I don't know! Just shut up and run, dammit!>

    <Bu-uht if you don't know, wh-, wh-, ow why are we run-ning gahhhhh—>

    <I said, shut—>

    A low, ominous rumble shook the very air around them. To the sides, the torches waved furiously in rhythm.

    WHUMWHUMWHUMWHUMWHUMWHUMWHUM—

    <Oh. Is that why, K-Ketsuban?>

    <Sure.> The sarcasm oozed from his voice.

    The sound grew into a thunderous roar as a faint glow gradually crept past their running feet, casting long, bony shadows as it washed over them; without slowing, Missingno turned his head to see the source of the nondescript light.

    <Oh, shi—>

    The howling noise drowned him out, but if he'd had eyes, they would have widened at the sight that greeted him: a flood of screaming darkness, soaring down the corridor like a vampiric fog, easily gaining on them in spite of their impressive speed. Within the shadows, the forms of melted souls slipped in and out of focus, pulsing frantically with the light that had alerted him to the thing's presence; veins of brilliant blue glowed against the impenetrable black, thrumming malevolently.

    His bones almost locked up in shock when a sudden fanfare blasted from beside him; swearing furiously, he snapped his gaze at the Beast, who was gently twirling a stray strand of chaos around its scythe. The indescribable non-substance blared the theme music of a well-known adventure film at an obnoxious volume.

    <Da-da-da-DAAAA, DA-da-daaaa .... DA-da-da-DAAAAAAA, DA-da-DA, DA, DA! I love this music!> the Beast exclaimed eagerly, as the dramatic notes verberated off the surrounding stone like cheesy elevator music in a prison cell.

    <TURN IT OFF, DAMMIT!> Relief that the sound was nothing important warred with adrenaline-fueled rage ... though the latter was completely metaphorical, as adrenaline does not exist on the spiritual level. <DO YOU WANT TO GET US KILLED, YOU *******? THAT'S NOT A BOULDER, ANYWAY!>

    <But Ketsuban ...> The Beast tossed its head back in an eye-roll, still twirling the chaos strand as it seemed to fly on its feet. <But Ketsuban, it's the spirit of the thing, right? And what's more in the spirit of running for our lives than listening to Indiana J—?>

    Snarling in terror, Missingno cut the Beast off with a sharp wave of his scythe. This action, while at first glance extremely barbaric, was actually what saved the Beast's (for want of a better word) life: hooking the lethal point around the strand of chaos, the glitch leapt nimbly into a nearby corridor conveniently ready for their escape, pulling the startled Beast along behind him. Half a second later, the deafening darkness plowed through the very spot they had jumped from, and as they gazed blearily up from their sudden pile their visions were filled with the ravenous black and the deathly light.

    Then it was gone. The rumble slowly followed, its dying echoes bouncing darkly from the walls.

    <What,> Missingno muttered, his voice sounding eerily loud after the near-oblivion experience, <what was ...> He swallowed, a noise like dry sticks clacking together. <That thing, was it ... was it ... him?>

    <I think so.> The Beast shivered. <It's unlike anything I've ever seen, it's not ... right.> It shook its head, trying to clear it.

    Climbing to their feet, the two skeletons glanced cautiously around the corner, staring at the path down which the darkness had flown. Satisfied that it wouldn't return, Missingno slumped against a wall, rubbing his head with the back of a scythe. <Weird,> he breathed. <What does the idiot think he's doing? Is he looking for us?> He couldn't suppress a shudder at the thought.

    His Beast looked thoughtful for a moment. <I doubt it,> it said at last. <Surely it has better things to do, like Crushing more sad people, or thinking dastardly thoughts, or controlling ... controlling our body ...>

    They glanced at each other. If it was possible, they would have blinked simultaneously.

    <The body!> The brief spell broken, Missingno had to stop himself from jumping up and down like a fanboy.

    <It's ours!> the Beast squealed gleefully. <We didn't need to hurt that poor soul at all, Ketsuban, yay! Time to make a comeback, eh?>

    <...>

    <Oh, don't give me that look, Ketsuban. I've already told you, I'm on your side now. Goodness, only you could have come up with an idea so deviously devious and sneakily sneaky, Ketsuban! I'm not nearly worthy of any such things, you kn—>

    <Shut up, I need to concentrate ...>

    The glitch deactivated his vision, as he could not close his eyes, for obvious reasons. Ignoring the almost tangible excitement wafting from his Beast, he let his awareness branch out cautiously, curiously, like a new tree slowly unfurling its leaves to the open air as the sun shines to welcome a new day ...

    And suddenly he was rushing up, or out, or back, or possibly all directions at once ... he didn't realize he'd been bracing himself for a returning onslaught of pain, until he felt a faint tingling sensation spreading from the general region of his chest and pattering down his limbs. They're my limbs again, he thought excitedly, and a powerful rush of some alien emotion burst within him ...

    He waited for the return of control to come, eager to embrace the power it would bring ...

    Nothing.

    Damn.

    Ketsuban? The Beast's voice rang curiously in his mind, which he found strange, now, to think of as a part of his being rather than a place. Hey, Ketsuban, where'd you go? Ketsuban? Ketsuuuuuuuubaaaaaaaaan ....?

    Shut up.

    Ketsuban! You're heeeeeeere—!

    I know. Beast, I don't get this, why don't I have—

    I'm Sherlock, Ketsuban.

    Whatever. Beast, listen, I can't grab control of the body! It probably had something to do with Apolydon. Any pointers?

    He could almost hear the Beast tapping its chin with a scythe as it pondered the situation. Hmm. No trouble getting the body back, then? I'm not seeing any sign of him in here. Maybe when he left, he messed up our nervous system. Or something. Do we have a nervous system, Ketsuban? I don't really think so, because skeletons don't have them, and neither do ghosts, or sparkly chaos mess thingies—>

    We don't have nervous systems? That's a funny thing, because you're getting on my nerves.

    Ahahahaha. Er, fufufu. Good one, Ketsuban. Hey, are your—?

    Missingno missed the rest of the question: his vision suddenly flickered into a blinding montage of unfocused color, at the same moment that noise — real, honest noise, not the strange verbalization of thoughts within the mind — swamped his ear sockets with information. He felt his body convulse involuntarily as it sucked in a rush of life-giving oxygen.

    Oh, I'm home!

    "My apologies, foolish Ketsuban."

    The breath turned to ice in his metaphorical lungs. Mind numb with growing horror, he let the scene gradually refocus into dark blue, scattered with white and marred by a column of color ... then the white patches became hazy clouds, drifting across a strangely peaceful sky, while the odd column organized itself into blue legs and a red midsection, tipped with flesh-colored bits and topped with a mane of black ...

    The face of Warren stared back at him.

    Except it wasn't Warren's face. Something in the set of the jaw, the reptilian dilation of the nostrils, the marble-smooth forehead, bespoke that the being facing him was far older than the something-year-old heap of flesh that housed it. And those eyes ... they burned an unholy, unnatural blue, glowing very faintly in the gentle daylight, but with an intensity of a sudden blast of ice, ready and able to freeze the soul until it cried out for the heat of unceasing fire.

    "Ketsuban ... it was what needed to be done," said the thing inside Warren. The voice was human, but it carried a strange quality, as if its owner was finding it confusing to speak with a human mouth. "Your soul would not have understood the situation, my lieutenant. It would have rebelled against the cause, and perhaps even destroyed you. But my possession of your body has weakened the bonds that enslaved you. Now it is yours, Ketsuban, to deal with as you will ..."

    A brief movement at the edge of Missingno's vision caught his attention; with numb confusion he watched six Poke Balls floating slowly, eerily, in a circular pattern, undoubtedly bourne by the power of a chaos fluctuation. They shone with a dark purple light, uncannily similar to the aura which curled from the Beast's bones, floated closer together, in an almost occult formation—

    And suddenly there was only one, fading gradually to black and blue.

    "What I will soon do is for your own good." Without even glancing at the buoyant sphere, the thing used Warren's hand to snatch it out of midair; it glistened like a just-laid egg, looking sick and diseased. "The Pikachu managed to paralyze your body just after I seized this human. The paralysis will remain long enough for the right people to contain you. You must be protected from yourself, Ketsuban, if you are to regain what is rightfully yours. I extend my apologies for it in advance. When I arrange your freedom, Ketsuban, search for me at the Indigo Plateau. No one will stop you ..."

    The thing waved the free hand vaguely; a pair of clunky sunglasses appeared in his outstretched palm, and Apolydon slipped them over Warren's face, concealing the supernatural eyes they shared.

    "... Because, Ketsuban, things are going to change."

    Terror was not something that came easily to Missingno, a creature witness to countless nauseatingly horrific murders and guilty of most of them. Yet a sneaking hint of dread crept into his heartless self at the sight of the not-Warren's expression, the immovable purpose of its being to enslave the entirety of souls. The world would be reverted to its glorified state of utter lawlessness, but — and here dread found itself mingled with fury and sorrow — there will be no place for me in it.

    And then the thing was gone, but for the soft crunch of sand under sneakered feet.

    Was he talking to me, Ketsuban? asked the Beast, sounding disbelieving.

    Undoubtedly.

    The Beast sighed. Oh, for the love of Mew. Who does he think he is, Ketsuban, honestly?

    Oh, I dunno, Missingno replied testily, the sarcasm creeping back into his tone. Maybe he thinks he's the Lord of Evil, the King of Chaos, the Prince of Darkness, et cetera, et cetera, and has this crazy idea that he's got enough power to do whatever the hell he wants.

    Silly Ketsuban, you know what I mean.

    They were silent for a moment. The ocean lapped the shore in its eternal cycle, the sound of its distant waves roaring quietly. Overhead, a Wingull cried out noisily and then, perhaps due to some universal law of irony, dropped a foul-smelling gift on the skeleton's head.

    Eurgh!

    Wingull used Present! the Beast exclaimed half-heartedly. Fufufufu! It's super ... er ... super-effective ... hey, I'm trying to get a hold on this humor thing, okay, Ketsuban? Might as well get some laughs before we get utterly Crushed, right?

    Beast?

    Yes, Ketsuban?

    Shut up.

    Ah. Yes. Sorry, Ketsuban.

    More partial silence. A fly buzzed lazily around the Wingull's contribution.

    Beast?

    Can't talk right now, Ketsuban. You told me to shut up.

    Yeah, well, un-shut up for a moment. Warren probably had all his Pokemon out with him, right?

    The human? It's likely, Ketsuban.

    Mm-hmm. Makes sense, really. Adds to his sense of the dramatic, I suppose. The whole together-we-are-stronger-than-the-adversary thing. Got a glimpse of him when he came here to get his badge, it's the sort of thing he'd do.

    I know, Ketsuban, I know. Humans like that teamwork stuff. We're aaaall in thiiis togeeeether—

    NO! NOT THAT!

    Sorry, Ketsuban.

    Seven souls, Missingno muttered, ignoring the Beast's apology. Seven strong, brave souls, all Crushed at once ... that's where the weird Poke Ball came in, I bet. His power's just been exponentially boosted, damn him. And at the head of the Kanto League ... sweet Celebi, he'll be unstoppable!

    The buffoon. He's a bit stuck-up, isn't he, Ketsuban ...

    Hang on ... can you hear that?

    Hear what, Ketsuban?

    But the noises grew louder, and they both soon heard it clearly ... the shouting and barking cracked like a whip. Beneath the steadily increasing volume of a wailing siren, footsteps pounded softly against the sand dunes. The engine of some nearing vehicle grumbled reluctantly.

    Oh. That. Pokemon Control, Ketsuban?

    A woman's voice rose sharply over the other noises: "Nobody get close to it! It's still dangerous!"

    Yeah, they are. Apolydon sent them, didn't he, Ketsuban?

    Probably. Damn useful disguise, they'll believe anything he says. "Oh hi guys, I just conquered the evil glitch that's been terrorizing you for the last three days, it's lying over on the beach where I completely owned it, and pay no attention to the color behind the sunglasses, it doesn't mean anything."

    "Yellow tape, yellow tape, set a line up here, coming through!"

    "You two, keep those civilians far back! The rest of you, follow me, Pokemon out in case it tries something funny. Blaine, get your Magmar ready for the choke-hold thing Warren suggested!"

    "Righto, Jenny!"

    That *******! Missingno trembled inwardly with sudden, red-hot fury. Above him, a random wave of chaos flickered into existence above him in perfect timing with his abrupt rage; worried shouts from the surrounding humans immediately followed its sudden birth. That selfish, sneer-faced, two-timing, treacherous *******! Apolydon! he clarified angrily, sensing the Beast about to ask. He knows my weakness, dammit! And he went and blabbed it to them so they could "keep me under control"! He told them! He told them!

    An ugly, red, duck-like face suddenly loomed in his vision. Blank-looking eyes peered above the puckered beak as the Pokemon lifted a clawed hand coated in a silvery glove; the metallic threads caught the rays of the sun and threw them in a skewed pattern across the glitch's bones.

    Damn it, he told them everything!

    Cautiously, the Magmar lowered its gloved hand to Missingno's unmoving neck; with the cautious precision of a surgeon it slipped its fingers underneath the vertebrae and, after fumbling for a moment for the right bone, pushed the very top of his spine upwards while its thumb simultaneously pressed against the base of his throat.

    With a last muttered <damn>, the glitch twitched spasmically and lay limp, drifting back to unconsciousness ...

    Hey, Ketsuban, as long as you're here—

    Shut up.

    * * *

    Shloopp.

    "Um ..." Lightning edged away from the mess coiled sloppily on his plate. "Didn't we have that last night?"

    "Of course!" Bill exclaimed, scooping a large, chunky section out of the casserole and turning it down toward his own dish; it oozed from the serving spoon — shloopp — like some primordial sludge, curling into a suspicious-smelling pile. "The nutritional value was so good, we can't let it go to waste!"

    Leaf muttered something that sounded vaguely like "too late".

    "So, you got your badge!" He plopped down into his chair, digging his fork into the mess in front of him. "This is your second one now, isn't it? Excellent progress, if I do say so myself! You've definitely got it going for you!"

    She nodded absentmindedly, picking warily at her casserole.

    "D'you know what's wrong with Ocean and Fire?" he went on, as if to fill the silence booming in the darkening room. "They just grabbed their stuff and left. Not at the same time, but still ... seriously bad moods they were in. And Roark hasn't come back at all yet ..." He tilted his head thoughtfully. "Did something happen?"

    "Possibly," Lightning replied warily; he didn't relish the idea of what Bill might do if he heard the incredible chain of events which had eventually lead to having a legendary Pokemon as a dinner guest.

    The legendary Pokemon in question didn't even pretend to look interested in her food. "Too long to relate right now," she said, in a voice that promised no relation of the facts whatsoever. She seemed a bit uneasy, glancing this way and that with narrowed eyes as if tracking a pesky fly.

    Even with Fystor's arrival, the table felt empty after the crowd for dinner last night. The shadows of uncertainty and self-importance, spreading from Lightning and Leaf respectively, were mirrored by the darkness creeping up from its hiding places as the sun vanished into the west. Even Bill, who had the social experience of a mothball, had noticed it. "What did you say your name was?" he asked the legendary, passing down the remainder of the casserole to the six Pokemon looking up at him from the floor; his Eevee bounced up and down excitedly in ravenous anticipation.

    "I didn't," Fystor replied coolly.

    <What da hell?> Peter yowled, effectively bringing that line of conversation to a halt. He flapped erratically off the floor, his mouth twisted into a disgusted scowl; bits of casserole hung at the ends of his fangs before dripping back into the dish. <I did not evolve twice just ta eat dis crap! Where I come from, even da trash don't stand the trash!>

    <This is the first and last time I'm ever agreeing with you.> Peach made a face at the glop in the bowl; it seemed to squirm along with her.

    <This bit is okay,> Dory muttered, digging a very small section of something that might have been a horseradish eight years ago. <But it's still disgusting. Lettuce, now, this stuff needs lettuce. That's a food with proper nutritional value and taste, that is.>

    Parvati didn't reply: she was chewing contentedly, her eyes half-closed as she rolled the mouthful around with her tongue. Leaf found herself wondering what on earth the Meowth could have been eating to make even Bill's casserole seem like a delicacy. Even with such dog-like taste, however, she was very much a cat; as Eevee shouted something indecipherable, spraying gunk all over her face, she immediately lowered herself onto her haunches and began to wipe the stuff off of her face. At least she has some sense of pride, Leaf thought, smiling.

    <Blech! Dis is madness,> Peter muttered, spitting the remainder of the (for want of a better word) food; a white string shot from his mouth involuntarily, one end sticking to the tiles while the other stubbornly caught on his fangs. He muttered venomously as he tried to pull himself free, and a bit of purplish energy pulsed down it with the vibrations of his voice, causing the string to twang musically until, with a sudden tumble and a loud curse, he finally managed to pull himself free.

    Lightning leapt from his chair, doing a cheesy victory pose and not noticing that he'd knocked over his glass. "Eureka!"

    The Butterfree's eyes swelled furiously at him. <What ya say 'bout mah mama?>

    "I've got it!" he went on. "It's the perfect appeal!" Squealing happily, he swept Peter into a hug; the bug's rage dissolved into incredulity as the boy danced around the room. "You're going to be amazing, Peter!"

    <... Dat so?>

    "I'll be back in an hour," Lightning told the others, heading toward the hall. "Maybe two. I just have to practice this with him! You guys come too," he added, looking at Peach and Dory. "I bet we can whip up a strategy to seriously cream those other noobs!"

    The mouse and the rabbit looked at each other, shrugged, and followed him out of sight.

    Leaf waited until she was absolutely sure she'd heard the door snap shut before releasing Cheri; she didn't want the bee to be released any time Peter was in sight. The Beedrill glanced at the happily slurping Eevee, sniffed, and spread her delicate wings, fluttering towards the hall. <I've had enough excitement for one day,> she said flatly. <I must build up my strength if I am to face the Butterfree. I'll retire to our room for the night.> She flew out of sight, her soft buzzing growing fainter as she moved up the unseen stairs.

    Frosti picked at a chipped floor tile as he watched her go. He shuddered as he felt his pulse jump again, repelled against his heart's incessant rhythm. She knows how it is, he thought. I can't tell Leaf, not after she got rid of Paris. She'll just think I'm weak. Well, Cheri'd think I'm weak too, but at least she can't abandon me ...

    Silently he got to his feet, padding softly away as the tense quiet blossomed behind him. There was something he needed to know ...



    She didn't look around when he entered the room, but his heartbeat, rapid and anxious, alerted her to his presence. A few soft steps through the carpet later, he was sitting down beside her, and only then did she slowly turn her head towards him, removing herself from her attempt to find peace and relaxation enough for slumber. The moon bathed the two in a cold white light, giving them a ghastly appearance, as if they had just stepped from the deepest realms of the dead.

    <Cheri?>

    <Yes, Frosti?>

    <What's it like?>

    The Beedrill's ruby eyes narrowed as she watched her teammate. This was a question whose answer mattered a great deal to him: she could see the tension in his neck muscles, the way his claws flexed unconsciously, the nervous twitch of his flaming tail. He hadn't said it flat out, but his liquid black eyes, wide in curiosity and a slight touch of fear, spoke his unsaid worry.

    <You mean evolution?> Cheri looked down, her eyes traveling over the lengths of her spears. They gleamed in the moonlight, a pure white almost vampiric, as if their very absence of color naturally warned of the blood they would eagerly spill. Apart from her distant clan, they were her pride and joy.

    <Yeah.> Frosti shivered, and the flame on his tail flickered with the involuntary movement. <Because, it's like I ... I don't know how to say it, but ... well, I don't like blood very much,> he stated, looking rather awkward.

    Cheri's antennae twitched in amusement. <Go on.>

    <Blood scares me a little, actually,> Frosti admitted, lowering his head a little to look down at his dangling feet, as if ashamed to meet her gaze. <Whenever blood gets spilled, somebody's hurting. It's not like hurting in battle — those are just little spats, you know, not a fight to the death or anything. It's more like the blood is — is draining somebody's life from them.>

    <Blood is life,> Cheri cut in unexpectedly. <It warms us in the cold, it heals wounds, it ties you to family.> She sighed as memories of her lost clan engulfed her in painful nostalgia. <It separates us from death. There is a reason it is known as lifeblood.>

    <I know,> the Charmander said, nodding slightly. <But still, I don't like it normally.>

    Cheri raised an imaginary eyebrow. <Normally?>

    <Yesterday,> he explained, <when we were fighting on the bridge, you stabbed the Pidgey. There was blood everywhere. And when I saw the blood, I ... I liked it. I liked the way it shimmered in the sun, like somebody had liquified red diamonds. I liked the noise it made when it splashed. I liked the smell — it was deep and rich, and I really wanted to ... to drink it.> He shuddered violently. <I probably would've if its trainer's shout hadn't pulled me back to reality. But I ... I felt like my own blood was rushing through my veins, screaming at me to go and lick up every last drop. I'm not sure how I resisted it, but I really don't think I'd be able to do it again.> His head snapped back up, and he stared at the tall bug with wide, terrified eyes. <Cheri, I'm scared. I don't know what's happening to me. Did something like that happen to you before you evolved?>

    He is keeping remarkable control over himself, Cheri noted, watching the pulse on his neck jump into a much quicker rhythm. The way he shuddered again and swallowed hard suggested to her that the very memory of the blood spurting from beneath her spears made him salivate, made him thirst for it.

    <Not the first time,> she said finally, eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she recollection swam hazily to the surface of her mind. <There was fear then, and pain too, but it wasn't the same, not at all.>

    <What was it like, then?> Frosti gazed up at her, trying to change terror into curiosity.

    <Like dying.>

    His mouth fell open in horror.

    <I battled the school of Magikarp,> she said, brilliant red eyes turning misty as she remembered the details. <I felt the sleep begin to spread through my body. I knew that our human and her blond friend would continue to delay if I did not nudge them to continue, so I forced myself to keep the sleep at bay and guide them up the path they needed to go. I tried to act ... hyper.> She shook her head in disgust, as though being hyper was a Beedrill's equivalent to leprosy. <It did not stop the sleep from spreading, but it slowed it. We journeyed through the mountain, and as we did I felt it continue to creep through my veins, slowing my blood. I was angry at how helpless I was becoming, and when we fought the Rhyhorn, I launched myself into the fray in as furious a rage as I could. But it was a sleepy rage.>

    Her eyes closed for the briefest of moments, as if the soporific state affected her even now.

    <My agility and judgment were sorely affected. A Rhyhorn is a fearsome beast, but in comparing her with the evil being in the larger cavern, I misjudged the danger she could still present. By the time I had realized my mistake, I had become stuck and unable to avoid her attack. Knowing there was nothing else I could do, I let go of all my control, let myself slide into the black abyss ...

    <I don't remember everything that happened afterward. I caught snatches of noise, and I saw you a few times ... I detected a freed Beast ... but besides that, it seemed as though I had left the land of the living far behind ...>
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 26th January 2010 at 2:38 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.

  9. #159
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    Frosti frowned thoughtfully. <But that can't be right. You kept making noise and stabbing things. You were hopping around. I don't think Kakuna usually do that, do they? But ... does that mean you lost your mind, after you evolved?> He shivered at the thought.

    <Perhaps I did,> Cheri agreed vaguely. <That's very interesting.>

    A moth fluttered just above her head; without even looking at it she snapped her spear up, goring the pest on its point.

    <Evolving into a cocoon isn't like evolving into anything else,> she went on, scraping the moth on the carpet idly. <It's more like a preparation for the final evolution, the one with more power than either of its predecessors could possibly dream of. Breaking free of my Kakuna shell was more of the normal sort of evolution, I believe.>

    Frosti's voice was soft, shy, terrified. <And how did that go?>

    This time it was Cheri's turn to shudder. <Awakening — the rush of adrenaline, the return of my sense of touch ... after the sensory deprivation, it was nothing less than hell. Every nerve in my body was on fire. I tried to scream, but I needed air. I couldn't breathe. My heart was trying to burst out of my chest. I couldn't move. I couldn't think. I couldn't breathe!>

    The terrifying memory whirled in her brain, and she remembered the darkness, the confinement, the fear ... the tightness in her chest, the longing for her father ... In the forest, all evolutions in the Beedrill clan were watched over by friends and family, guardian angels waiting for the damned soul to be freed from Hell ... but she was alone, and she knew it, and the suffocation was unbearable ...

    Can't breathe!

    <Cheri?>

    She gasped. It was a long, ragged intake of air — cool, sweet, life-giving air, surely blessed by Rayquaza! — and it cleared her mind of the numb fuzziness that had overwhelmed her, of the memory that had sent her back into the darkest regions of Hell. Trying to get a grip on herself, she realized that she was shaking violently. She blinked, and her vision swam before her, blurring. Am I going blind? she wondered almost timidly, and blinked another time, long and slow ... twin droplets of moisture coursed down her face and splashed delicately onto the carpet beneath her, like raindrops.

    <Ch-cheri?>

    Her head swiveled toward Frosti, who stared back at her in panic. His heartbeat thudded at a rapid pace, sounding like rhythmic thunder to her sensitive hearing. She could see her bright eyes reflected in his black ones, which shone with unshed tears.

    <Evolution hurts,> she whispered. Somewhere, in the part of her that belonged to strong, tough Cheri, instinct immediately railed against her words. How can you admit to pain? Is that not the way of cowards, to let agony affect them? Stop being weak, you ... you Butterfree!

    For a long moment Frosti said nothing, but only stood frozen, horrified. Then he suddenly threw his arms around her middle, burying his face into her side. Everything about him — fluttering heart, ragged breathing, shaking body — spoke only of pure terror.

    <I don't wanna evolve,> he moaned.

    The instinctual sharpness instantly found itself swept away in the flood of empathy rushing from the depth of her heart — an aching understanding, a knowledge that he was perfectly in the right to fear this. Forgetting all her sullenness, she reached around and gently put her wiry arms around his body, careful to avoid contact with her spears or his tail-flame. He's so small, she realized, as the warm body pressed into her cold-blooded frame. So small, so innocent ... he doesn't deserve this pain.

    <I don't wanna lose myself,> he muttered, voice muffled. <I don't wanna turn into one of them. I've heard stories about it — Charmander evolves into Charmeleon, Charmeleon ravages its trainer, leaves him for dead ... if it doesn't eat him first.> He took a deep, unsteady breath. <They've made horror movies about that, haven't they?>

    <I wouldn't know,> she replied dryly. <Where I come from, everyone would be amazed at the wheel.>

    He ignored her sarcasm. <It's not that they aren't cool, in a way. They've got awesome deep red scales, and this blazing fire that can melt steel, and a horn ... but is it worth it, really, if it means picking up what's underneath all that as well?> He shivered again.

    Ponder carefully before you answer, she told herself, gazing into the depths of his small, constricted-looking tail-flame; even with its diminished size, the fire still burned with a life that made the moonlight seem weak by comparison. This is a large decision for him; he will take whatever you say to heart.

    <Frosti,> she began slowly, choosing her words with careful precision, <evolution is not a necessity. It's a choice. There are many reasons why you shouldn't, and just as many reasons why you should. But—> She added emphasis to the word, making sure he heard her advice clearly. <—They are only that: reasons, not rules. They cannot force you to do anything. Whether you evolve or not is completely up to you. Before you make a firm decision on the matter, listen to your heart. I'm aware it's a cliched bit of advice, but believe me, a true warrior will always turn an ear to what their soul has to say. It will guide you to do what is right for you.>

    The Charmander took a deep, slow breath; his tail-flame flickered to normal size as he inhaled, and Cheri had to force herself to not cringe away from it. <But ... but what if Leaf dec—>

    <Leaf is your human,> she reminded him gently, <not your conscience. She can command you on the field, but your heart is your own.>

    <She could abandon me—>

    <Then the shame is hers,> she said simply, looking him in the eye. <If she prefers glory in the League over your well-being, then so be it. You will be better off without her if that is the case. Our Code does not tolerate a system which forces its members to change themselves.>

    He sighed deeply. <I don't know what I'll do,> he murmured. <I really don't know. It'll take some time, this decision.>

    <Don't rush it,> she advised him, rocking gently from side to side. He was calming down, she could tell. She wanted both of them to fall asleep soon: the creature called Vember would surely find them someday, and they would need their strength. A vague memory of her early childhood floated dreamily to the surface of her mind, and she found herself crooning the lyrics of a gentle, flowing lullaby:

    <Watch the green of spring, my child, the green of spring,
    And let the birdsong take you away
    To a land where there is joy, love, there is joy,
    And honor binds the land in sweet reward—>


    She faltered; the song seemed especially silly, now, after having heard the songs the humans sang, with their rhymes and half-rhymes. But she forced the thought out of her head: the rhythms were far too mechanical, she told herself, and their subject matter mundane and unoriginal. The forest, on the other hand, was the place of warriors ... and peace, she remembered, as Frosti sighed again, more gently this time.

    <Our destinies are intertwined, youngling, intertwined
    Into a tapestry of the whole unseen world,
    So close your eyes and witness the sight, new-hatched, the sight
    Of happy endings and a tale of greatness to come ...>




    When Leaf and her new kitten came upstairs some time later, it was to find Frosti curled up in a ball beside Cheri, who had an arm draped protectively over her teammate; the bug still looked eerie in the moonlight, breathing the steady rhythm of the sleeping even as she sat upright, as if she were awake. But there was a difference in her posture, a relaxation in her spindly arms and shoulders, as if the tension within her had simply melted away ...

    * * *

    ~

    <karatekid> yah i had a chalengr today
    <karatekid> and i beat him
    <karatekid> :)
    <PrismaticMoon> Hey, great job!
    <karatekid> :)
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Good for you.
    <karatekid> yah he had a watsitcalld
    <karatekid> a turtel with bushes on it
    <Natalie> A Grotle ^_^
    <karatekid> yeah one of htem
    <karatekid> it bit my lucariou
    <Alexander> No wonder nobody takes you seriously.
    <Salem> I so knew you were going to say that.
    <Salem> Both of you.
    <karatekid> wat
    * Skiesofblue has joined #leag
    <Sarcasm_Flower> DEAR MEW NO
    <Skiesofblue> Misty, remember
    <Skiesofblue> our EXCLUSIVE celebration
    <Sarcasm_Flower> -_____-
    <PrismaticMoon> I don't want to know.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> GTFO Falkner.
    <Skiesofblue> ;D
    <Skiesofblue> Wear that red dress
    <Skiesofblue> The sleeveless one that really shows off your butt
    <Sarcasm_Flower> That doesn't even go with my hair
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Douche.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Now GTFO
    <Skiesofblue> We won't even have to use the guest room
    <PrismaticMoon> I SAID, I didn't want to know
    <PrismaticMoon> :p
    <Sarcasm_Flower> You're a damn pervert.
    <Skiesofblue> ILU too.
    <Skiesofblue> See you there
    <Skiesofblue> <3
    * Skiesofblue had quit #leag
    <karatekid> wait what
    <Natalie> Gosh, that Falkner's odd
    <Alexander> This is NOT where you can chat about who you want to sleep with, Misty.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> WTF
    <Natalie> o_0
    <Salem> LMAO
    <PrismaticMoon> o0;
    <karatekid> wat
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Volkner, I swear to Arceus
    <Sarcasm_Flower> I'M GOING TO FRICKING KILL YOU
    <Alexander> Caps.
    <Salem> Blame it on Falkner
    <Salem> LOL
    <Natalie> Their names are similar enough ;)
    <PrismaticMoon> They are XD
    <Sarcasm_Flower> I'LL KILL BOTH OF YOU
    <karatekid> is that allowed in batles
    * onix92 has joined #leag
    <Natalie> So violent :<
    <onix92> ILU Gardenia
    <onix92> <3
    <onix92> Marry me?
    <PrismaticMoon> ...
    <Natalie> ?
    <Salem> The perv thing is contagious.
    <Salem> ROFL
    <karatekid> is marrying alowed in battls
    <Natalie> I don't think so Brock
    <onix92> ;_;
    <Natalie> ^_^;
    <Sarcasm_Flower> LOL Brock.
    <PrismaticMoon> Moving on o_0
    <Sarcasm_Flower> How's the herding thing going?
    <onix92> Fine, but it's still a MESS
    <onix92> I'm on Jenny's laptop right now
    <onix92> I TOLD her I wanted to be on top of her lap, though
    <onix92> :(
    <Salem> LOL perv.
    <Natalie> That's ... nice?
    <PrismaticMoon> :/
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Brock, you're an idiot.
    <Alexander> You're all idiots.
    <karatekid> wate y wud we be idoits
    <onix92> :(
    <Salem> Brock, you're doing it wrong.
    <Salem> For you it should be X(
    <PrismaticMoon> LOL
    <Sarcasm_Flower> WIN.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> The eyes thing is all Brock
    <onix92> You're all cruel.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Damn straight.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> And you're oversensitive
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Like your cousin :P
    <onix92> Which one?
    <karatekid> any1 want to here about the ghallengr
    <Salem> The force isn't strong with you.
    <Salem> I could be talking to any of you, BTW.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> The nerdy one.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> He was freaking out today
    <Sarcasm_Flower> then again, so was I
    <Natalie> OMG he's okay!
    <Natalie> :D
    <Sarcasm_Flower> SO MUCH DRAMA DAMMIT
    <onix92> o0
    <Salem> We just talked about the eyes thing, Brock.
    <PrismaticMoon> Indeed.
    <PrismaticMoon> Out of character
    <Alexander> Oh for the love of Mew.
    <onix92> Sabrina, you shouldn't be doing this to me
    <onix92> you're too hot for that
    <Natalie> We've been worried about him for a while
    <karatekid> any1?
    <Salem> ... Are you coming onto me?
    <onix92> I can't help myself <3
    <Salem> SILENCE. I KILL YOU.
    * Cranidos has joined #leag
    <PrismaticMoon> Whoa, good timing.
    <Natalie> Hey, you're okaaaaaaayyyy!
    <Natalie> :D
    <Cranidos> Hi :)
    <onix92> Hey
    <Natalie> *hug*
    <onix92> thanks X)
    <Cranidos> ...
    <Natalie> It was for Roark.
    <onix92> Oh.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> LOL
    <Salem> Rejected.
    <Natalie> Where've you been? We've been looking everywhere!
    <Cranidos> It's a REALLY long story.
    <Cranidos> I'm okay though.
    <Cranidos> Is Riley around?
    <Cranidos> I haven't talked to him in forever
    <karatekid> ok well the turtel like bit my lucario
    <Natalie> Yeah, let me phone him.
    <Natalie> BRB
    * Natalie has left #leag
    <Alexander> You're showing your face in here again?
    <Alexander> AND you're encouraging a non-League member to use this chat?
    <PrismaticMoon> >_>
    <Cranidos> There's nothing wrong with it :/
    <Alexander> Of COURSE not.
    <Alexander> But if the HC poster boy wants to do it, who's going to stop him?
    <Alexander> Or was flaunting your "authority" your sole reason for returning to us mere mortals?
    <karatekid> bt then I was like 'DO YOUR TIHNG'
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Shut up, Volkner.
    <Cranidos> Authority? Yeah right.
    <Alexander> Must your head be so thick as to not get it?
    <Alexander> Wait, never mind, it can't be. You wear that helmet because your skull's too FRAGILE.
    <PrismaticMoon> Ouch.
    <Cranidos> Heard that one before :/
    <Alexander> You're way overconfident in your standing with the League.
    <Alexander> Just because your father's head of the GLs and HC doesn't mean YOU're worth anything.
    <Cranidos> Don't talk about my dad.
    <karatekid> nd he did his scari aura stuff
    <Alexander> Protectiveness doesn't change anything.
    <Alexander> But then, it's true he's better than you are.
    <Cranidos> I SAID, DON'T TALK ABOUT HIM.
    <Alexander> Resorting to caps? Tsk.
    * Natalie has joined #leag
    <Natalie> He's coming.
    <Natalie> Where ARE you, we've been so worried!
    <Cranidos> Not telling.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Here in Cerulean
    <Cranidos> I don't want HIM to know where I am
    <Cranidos> ...
    <Cranidos> MISTY
    <Salem> LOL
    <onix92> XD
    <PrismaticMoon> LOL
    <PrismaticMoon> Him who?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Sorry?
    <karatekid> bt then the turtel bit lucaroop
    <Cranidos> >:/
    <Salem> You're doing it wrong
    <Salem> it should be >8/
    <Salem> while Brock's is >X/
    <Sarcasm_Flower> LOL
    <Natalie> ^^
    <Cranidos> Seriously!
    <Alexander> Look at you, wallowing in the attention.
    * Kenobi has joined #leag
    <Cranidos> Ignoring you, Volkner.
    <Cranidos> RIIIIIILEEEEEYYYYY
    <Kenobi> ROOOOAAAAAAARRRRRRK
    <Kenobi> =D
    <Cranidos> :D
    <Kenobi> *hug*
    <Cranidos> *hug*
    <Natalie> ^_^
    <karatekid> hey wait riliy u have a lycariou rigt
    <Kenobi> Where have you BEEN?
    <Kenobi> We've been worried about you
    <Natalie> I said that ^_^
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Cerulean.
    <Cranidos> :/
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Hey, I already said it before.
    <Cranidos> Riiiight.
    <Cranidos> I'm okay, Riley.
    <Cranidos> Especially since I finally saw the light.
    <Cranidos> AKA ditched coordinating.
    <Cranidos> I missed you :(
    <Kenobi> Ditto that ;_;
    <Salem> LOL
    <Kenobi> *hug*
    <Kenobi> What's funny Sabrina?
    <Cranidos> *hug*
    <Salem> You two.
    <Salem> Acting like you've got it for each other
    <Cranidos> o_0
    <Salem> The hots, know what I'm saying?
    <Kenobi> .
    <Kenobi> WTF
    <Natalie> Awkward
    <onix92> HOLY CRAP IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW
    <Sarcasm_Flower> LOL
    <Cranidos> That's SO wrong
    <Cranidos> We're not gay.
    <Cranidos> At least I'm not ;)
    <Kenobi> *push*
    <Kenobi> Insinuating something?
    <Kenobi> Crazy digger.
    <Cranidos> Yeah well, you're a wise guy.
    <Natalie> ^_^
    <Kenobi> Pff, wise guy?
    <Kenobi> LAME.
    <Kenobi> *hug*
    <karatekid> bt rilsy ur licariou can do stuff right
    <PrismaticMoon> Sabrina, two guys can be awesomely close without making out.
    <Cranidos> *hug*
    <Salem> Oh really.
    <PrismaticMoon> Of course.
    <PrismaticMoon> Eusine and I are friends, but we're not in love.
    <Salem> I always wondered about that.
    <PrismaticMoon> :p
    <Sarcasm_Flower> LOL
    <Alexander> Riley.
    <Alexander> You are NOT a member of a League.
    <Kenobi> There's no problem with me being here.
    <Alexander> It's not allowed.
    <Alexander> Get out.
    <Cranidos> Ignore him.
    <Alexander> Ah, Poster Boy speaks again.
    <Alexander> I wouldn't have thought YOU'D have a problem with kicking non-members out.
    <Alexander> Not with all you high-and-mighty Cobalts acting as if you ran the place.
    <karatekid> my lcuiwaroi can eat 5 hotdogs in 10 seconds
    <Sarcasm_Flower> It's not like it's a club
    <PrismaticMoon> :/
    <Alexander> It's EXACTLY like a club.
    <Alexander> A Cobalt club.
    <Alexander> If someone's a Cobalt, you let them into the League.
    <Alexander> QED
    <onix92> Isn't that prejudice against us?
    <Alexander> What YOU'RE doing is prejudice.
    <Kenobi> Overzealous much?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> If you've got a problem with it, maybe YOU should leave.
    <Natalie> You could just not argue ...?
    <PrismaticMoon> Yeah, you're ruining the general chill-out atmosphere.
    <Alexander> It's not where you "chill out".
    <Alexander> It's where we discuss whatever problems are occurring.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Right now, I think YOU'RE the problem.
    <Salem> Ditto that.
    * Godbrother has joined #leag
    <Alexander> Hardly.
    <Alexander> I'm the only one here who takes anything seriously.
    <Cranidos> You wouldn't know a really serious problem if it punched you in the nose.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Warren!
    <PrismaticMoon> You're alive :)
    <Sarcasm_Flower> How'd it go?
    <karatekid> hey warren u beat the gliche right
    <Godbrother> It was intense!
    <Godbrother> Adrenaline level > 9000
    <Salem> LOL
    <Godbrother> It was a tough one, but you know.
    <Godbrother> Blaine and Cinnabar Jenny are picking it up now
    <PrismaticMoon> Was it creepy?
    <PrismaticMoon> I mean creepy by MY standards :P
    <Godbrother> Hell yeah.
    <Godbrother> Actually, it's kinda sad. They're insane, but not really evil.
    <Salem> Pfft.
    <Godbrother> More ... misunderstood.
    <Godbrother> Maybe if we just treated them like Pokemon, we could understand each other.
    <Kenobi> Understand a GLITCH?
    <Kenobi> Are you feeling all right?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> He's smoking something.
    <Alexander> See, important stuff like THIS should be what we're talking about.
    <Cranidos> Shut up.
    <karatekid> were theyvnice
    <Godbrother> I was thinking we could ... loosen their leash a bit.
    <Godbrother> See what they're REALLY like.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> I hope to Arceus you're kidding.
    <Godbrother> You wound me :/
    <Natalie> It's a scary idea ...
    <Godbrother> I'll just give it a try over here, right?
    <Godbrother> It'll be fine, trust me.
    <Godbrother> Gotta sleep now, I'm bushed
    <Godbrother> ttyl
    * Godbrother has left #leag
    <Salem> ...
    <Salem> I think he's actually serious.
    <PrismaticMoon> Did the thing knock a screw loose in there?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> It's WARREN.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> He hasn't got any screws LEFT to knock loose.
    <onix92> LOL
    <karatekid> if their like gible then theyre scary
    <Alexander> Actually, this seems like an interesting question.
    <Alexander> Are the Cobalts strong enough to take them on if it fails?
    <Kenobi> There's really no reason to keep picking on the Cobalts :/
    <Alexander> What are you, brainwashed?
    <Alexander> They need to be taken down a peg, anyway.
    <Alexander> It'd do them good to meet their match.
    <Cranidos> It'd do YOU good if a large rock met your head.
    <Kenobi> *high five*
    <Alexander> You'll get what's coming to you, Poster Boy.
    * Alexander has quit #leag
    <Salem> He's gone!
    <Sarcasm_Flower> PARTAYYYYY
    <onix92> YAAAAAAYYYY
    <Sarcasm_Flower> CAPSSPAMCAPSSPAMCAPSSPAMCAPSSPAM
    <PrismaticMoon> XD
    <Natalie> ^^;
    <Natalie> I'm glad you got over coordinating, Roark.
    <karatekid> whats so good goin on guies
    <Natalie> I was worried about that for a while :o
    <Kenobi> Ditto that.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> CAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPS
    <Cranidos> Yeah. I've got a funny idea about it
    <Kenobi> All your ideas are funny
    <Cranidos> :P
    <Cranidos> You're hilarious.
    <Cranidos> It's half past ten over here, I should sign off soon
    <Sarcasm_Flower> CAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPSCAPS
    <Cranidos> But DO NOT TELL MY DAD WHERE I AM
    <Natalie> Why not? He's worried sick :<
    <Kenobi> Yeah, you should've seen the bit in the news about it.
    <Kenobi> The reward had so many zeroes
    <Cranidos> I'm not a lost dog :/
    <Cranidos> I left for a reason, anyway.
    <karatekid> shud i like gibles or no
    <Kenobi> How come?
    <Cranidos> You wouldn't believe me if I told you.
    <Kenobi> Sure we would.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> SCREW THE WATERFLOWERS, I HAVE MONEY
    <Cranidos> No. You wouldn't.
    <Kenobi> :/
    <Cranidos> *yawn*
    <Kenobi> Bed. Nao.
    <Salem> *eyebrow*
    <Kenobi> You know what I meant :/
    <onix92> LOL
    <Cranidos> :/
    <karatekid> i liek lucariosu :)
    <Cranidos> I'll talk to you guys tommorrow, k?
    <Kenobi> Count on it.
    <Natalie> Stay safe :)
    <Cranidos> I will.
    <Cranidos> Night guys
    <Kenobi> *hug*
    <Natalie> *hug*
    <Cranidos> *hug*
    <Sarcasm_Flower> *CHAINSAW MASSACRE*
    * Cranidos has left #leag
    <onix92> Sabrina, you're hot.
    <Salem> And you're a moron :)
    <Natalie> Why wouldn't he want to see his dad?
    <Kenobi> I dunno.
    <Kenobi> He was really shaken when I saw him the other day, though
    <Natalie> I can understand why :<
    <Kenobi> It's kind of a drastic reaction for Roark to run off from that
    <Kenobi> He's a tough character normally
    <karatekid> resly how many hotdogs can ur lucariso eat
    <Natalie> Losing someone like that'd do it, I guess :(
    <Kenobi> True, but it's a weird coincidence
    <Kenobi> And now Warren's tolerating the chaotics?
    <Kenobi> This can't end well.

    ~

    * * *

    LXXVII. And the pretty sparkles didst dance before mine eyes, yea, they danced according to the love and great mercy of our Lady herself, for the joy to be felt in her presence shall cause even the serpent and the bat to dance in the dance of true love.

    LXXVIII. And Shaymin, who was also called Minnie, didst say unto me,
    <Ew, that's sick. And stop calling me Minnie, dammit!>

    LXXIX. And the mother didst chasten her daughter, saying, <Hast thou no respect for the prophet? For he hath a strong soul to survive so many prophecies. Rememberest thou not the manner in which the previous prophet's brain didst explode?>

    LXXX. And I replied unto them, saying, <I hope you're kidding.>

    LXXXI. And she didst say unto me, <I am Arceus, the Light and the Life of the world. And the Light which illuminateth the world cannot deceive it with darkness; wherefore, I lieth not unto any creature.>

    LXXXII. And I didst fear for my life, and, moreover, my brain, which I have come to value exceedingly for obvious reasons.

    LXXXIII. Now there was a great light, and Fystor didst appear in the midst of us. And she didst say unto me,
    <Your description sucks.>

    LXXXIV. And her sister didst become exceedingly wroth, saying, <What the hell, Fystor? It's been two mothertrucking days, and you still haven't told the chick? We don't have all century, geez!>

    LXXXV. Whereupon Fystor replied, <She's being a retard, shorty. Now chill out and shut up while I tell what happened down there. Long story short, she ditched her Lapras and is currently being a stone-hearted *** about it, which isn't helping since the Champion's soul just got ripped apart when dear old Appy went in to possess him.>

    LXXXVI. And I wast exceedingly surprised, saying, <What? But isn't she supposed to be the hero or chosen one or something?>

    LXXXVII. And Minnie said unto me, <Nobody's perfect, you idiot. Even a bloody prophet should see that. And STOP CALLING ME MINNIE.>

    LXXXVIII. And Arceus said, <We shall have to inform her soon, for the time is running short. Hast thou not even told her of our cohorts in Orre, and of the part which she and her sidekick must perform?>

    LXXXIX. And Fystor didst say unto her mother, <No. But look, the situation's even more urgent than we thought. Our suspicions of traitors are reasonable, since Vember's on their side.>

    XC. And the others didst gasp in astonishment and horror, as Arceus said, <Wast not Vember among the most trusted of the angels? If she hath betrayed us, then why should the true legends not go to the Lord of Evil as well?>

    XCI. And Fystor didst shake her head, saying, <I never would've thought she'd turn on us. She was my favorite kid ...>

    XCII. Then Minnie said unto her, <Then why not just go ahead and tell the damn girl about the problem? And STOP CALLING ME MINNIE, YOU BLOODY PROPHET!>

    XCIII. Whereupon she didst send a great flock of leaves at me, which were sharp and shiny and wondrous to behold, yet didst also hurt exceedingly, insomuch that I cried out in pain, saying,
    <Ouch!>

    XCIV. But Arceus commanded her daughter to cease, which she didst do with much reluctance.

    XCV. Then Fystor said unto them,
    <It has to wait until she's humble enough to listen. Unfortunately for her, she'll be getting what's coming to her. Hanging around with those bloody Twins gives you a look into how Fate works, and I've got a funny feeling that she'll be hearing something bad pretty soon ...>

    XCVI. And I wast seized with a quiet fear, wondering how bad such news could be that even Fystor could find concern ...

    * * *

    Author's Note: Another Leaguechat member list, though this one only includes the members that appeared in this chapter.
        Spoiler:- Mhm:

    And on another note, if anyone found their currency system unbelievable ("OMG they think 50 is cheap? Are they all rich?!"), then let me clarify: in the same way as the Japanese yen, credits are less valuable than US dollars. Assuming that in this story the exchange rate never fluctuates, 10 credits are roughly equal to 1 dollar. (Ergo, 50 credits for a pair of sandals is reasonable, yeah?)
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 23rd May 2010 at 12:12 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.

  10. #160
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    .... That was... one hell of a chapter.

    Awwww, a Meowth joins the team! So nice to see Cheri actually has a heart... and Frosti is adorable. Charmander = win.

    I enjoyed the chatlog thing, too. Great job!
    I sometimes use "uber" Pokémon. I sometimes calculate stat values. I never use cheating devices. I sometimes try to breed my way to perfection (and maybe fail), and I care about natures to an extent. But I like my Pokémon the way they are, and treat them like individuals instead of brainless drones. If you use this philosophy, copy & paste this into your signature.
    (Adapted from Tyranitar's philosophy.)

    Claims:
    David Tennant
    Viggo Mortensen

    Sort of back! Playing through Black 2 and working through my Dex. PM me for inquiries!

    Black 2 ID/FC: Cassie 3311 2386 7094

    LF: Legends/Events, shinies, Kangaskhan, Smeargle, Miltank, Whismur, Minun, Torkoal, Lileep, Kecleon, Glameow

    ALLONS-Y!

  11. #161
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    55 pages! 55 PAGES!!
    0__0

    And i struggle to write 6 pages for my chapters How do you do it?

    Anyway, onto the (far too long) chapter~
    I never really liked Meowth, but i did like the little family which you've set up. Would the Persian be Giovannis?
    Pok&#233;dex as epic as always, as was the chat. But why is Falkner so wierd 0.o I like Falkner... but lol for Riley and Roark XD
    And...you have harpies! Women morphing into awesome Fystor harpies! I hope Fystor stays with Leaf for a while because i like her character a lot.
    And Frosti is so cute, but personally i do want to see her become a Charizard eventually.

  12. #162
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    YAY! A cookie! *gobbles it up*

    Sorry for being so late, like usual. Read the first half the day you posted it, but then got sick. And had to go to a job fair at the choctaw casino down here. YAY! Hopefully I'll finally get a job.

    I am kinda confused tho. Hasn't Frosti been a charmeleon for a while now? Bc that is how I always pictured him since...Idr when, but a while now.
    Pokemon Black team:

  13. #163
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    @ Sinnohdragon: Would you believe, ignoring my homework? XD; Actually, the lengths can get seriously irritating. I can spend hours working on a single scene and making sure it's right. Mothertrucking HOURS. @_@ Parvati's dad ... I'm not saying anything. Yet. But she has a couple of inherited (and unrevealed) moves that'll help indicate the father's species.
    As for Falkner ... let's just say there's more to him than meets the eye. Then again, there's more to everyone than meets the eye, so that's not saying much. :P

    @ kingferret: No, Frosti's still a cute Charmander. :3 Only Peter's and Cheri's four evolutions have been seen in this fic. Although those four will become five, and perhaps sooner than you think ...

    Anyway, this chapter ended up being around twice as long as I originally intended. Who knew writing Contests could be so time-consuming? I was surprised at how much fun I had writing it, though.

    * * *

    Chapter Eighteen: Put To the Contest (Starvation and Preservation! Get the Ribbon, Lightning!!)

    As late dawn sparkled with the blinding radiance of jewels, the sunlight poured into the grimy kitchen, bathing it in a pale golden layer of morning. Coincidentally, yawning humans and Pokemon poured into the same room not long afterward, settling themselves around the table for breakfast.

    When Bill approached with an oozing bowl and a beaming face, however, Lightning finally put his foot down.

    "No," he said firmly, or at least as firmly as he could manage. "Look, Bill, this is the third day in a row we've gotten that stuff. You need to give us something else, or I'm going to leave."

    Leaf's fork hit the ground with a clatter as she blinked at him, surprised at his sudden assertiveness.

    The smile slid from Bill's face like casserole. "But ... but it's good for you."

    "Nutritionally, maybe. But I can't see this stuff giving my Pokemon a glossy, healthy look, can you? Not to mention that I prefer food that doesn't look back at me," the short blonde added as an afterthought, cringing.

    The uncertain moment of silence that followed was broken by two cute squeals; Parvati and Eevee were gazing up at the bowl in Bill's hands, eyes wide and hopeful as their tails twitched hungrily. Peach, sitting on Lightning's shoulder as usual, paused in her adoring gaze at her trainer's "heroic" stand to sneer at the Meowth with as much revulsion in her eyes as a small yellow mouse could possibly muster.

    "Well ..." Bill set the bowl on the table to rub the back of his head, looking uncomfortable. "Well ... er ... the thing is ..."

    "You do have more food somewhere, don't you?" Leaf tried to keep the snapping tone out of her voice, but the sight of the unappetizing gunk had stolen her appetite and, by extension, her patience.

    "Ah — er, well ..."

    "You have a fridge," Roark observed, pointing into the far corner of the dank kitchen, where a tall, dirty white shape loomed quietly. Anni nodded in agreement, accidentally bashing her head into an empty chair. No harm was done, however: only a brief splintering sound was heard, leaving the chair looking almost whole.

    "Er ... well, that's true, but ... um ... I've got important experiments in there," Bill stammered. "Like the coagulation of a sample of hydrogen monoxide, for one. Potential scientific breakthrough there, you know. Besides, this casserole's much more preferable to the ugly possibility that one of the young female workers at the supermarket will sneer at me!"

    A cricket chirped somewhere outside.

    "... I just said that out loud, didn't I?"

    Leaf nodded, staring at him in disbelief. Fystor snickered at the stricken look on his face.

    "Are you saying," Lightning said slowly, "that you're cooking awful stuff because you're afraid of cashiers?"

    "No!" Bill replied fervently, eager to banish the misconception. "Nonononono, that's all wrong. The problem is that, while secluding myself from normal people in my effort to go as far as possible in my studies, I became ... what's the phrase I'm looking for ... socially dysfunctional. I REGRET NOTHING!" he added in a defensive, booming voice, causing everyone else to jump. "NOTHING, I TELL YOU! NOTHING WITH A CAPITAL 'N'! IT'S FAR BETTER FOR THE WORLD THAT I TURNED INTO A HERMITY SCHOLAR BECAUSE OF IT, RIGHT, BECAUSE OF MY AMAZING PC'S THAT ARE USEFUL TO EVERYBODY, BUT ESPECIALLY ME SINCE THEY'RE THE SOURCE OF MY WEALTH! AND NOW I CAN SIT BY MY AWESOME RADIO EQUIPMENT THAT ONLY I'M AWESOME ENOUGH TO USE, SO I CAN SCHEME LIKE A BAD GUY! EXCEPT I'M NOT, SO HA!"

    "Um ..."

    "I DID IT!" Bill went on, jabbing at the mysterious gadgets sitting mechanically on the counter. "IT WAS ALL ME, AHAHAHA! I DID IT! ME, ME, ME! I AM FINANCIALLY THE MOST POWERFUL PERSON ON THE PLANET, AND MAYBE THAT'S NOT AS GOOD AS PHYSICALLY OR MENTALLY OR SPIRITUALLY, BUT I DON'T CARE, I'M ALREADY AT THE TOP OF MY GAME! I'M AS SHARP AS A TACK ANYWAY! THEY TOLD ME IT WOULD NEVER WORK, MY PC SCHEME. BUT IT DID! I SHOWED THEM! WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, EH?"

    Frosti cocked his head at him. <Is this the part where you're more "mad" than "scientist"?>

    Fystor smirked at the brunette's apparent insanity. The three teens just stared.

    "I'M RICHER THAN THEM! I DON'T NEED TO FOLLOW THEIR NARROW-MINDED CONFORMITIES, NOT WHEN I'M ABOVE THEM ALL! THEY THINK THEY'RE SO COOL FOR BEING SOCIALLY ADEPT, BUT THEY'RE NOT, BECAUSE THEY'RE FOUL LITTLE PESTS! ALTHOUGH I LOVE THEM ANYWAY, BECAUSE I GET THEIR MONEY! I AM THE CHEESE, FOOLISH MORTALS! FUFUFUFUFUFU!"

    <'Kay,> said Eevee, gazing up at him. <He's either had too much coffee, or hasn't had coffee at all today. I'm not sure which ...>

    "Maybe we should go," Leaf proposed, as Bill turned his whole attention to the stuffed Feraligatr on the floor.

    The others nodded in agreement, quickly and quietly getting up and leaving the psychotic genius to his rambling, while his furry Pokemon moved deeper into the kitchen, sniffing through the mess on the floor as if hunting for a box of coffee beans. Even in the dark hall, where cracks spread across the wall like spiderwebs, his shouting still echoed around them.

    "I think," Leaf said, in a voice that seemed to indicate she'd gotten the false notion that she could speak for the group at this point, "we should see how you're doing with your strategy, Lightning. And you," she said, turning to Fystor as the bird-woman pulled open the door, the sudden flood of sunlight illuminating the look of amusement on her clever face, "should finally get around to ..." She paused, glancing sideways at Roark, who alone was not part of this scheme. "... To giving us an explanation. Yes, of course. Because Arceus knows we need one."

    They stepped out into the light, which seemed especially warm and delightful after the dank house with its mad scientist. Unlike the previous morning, humidity didn't permeate the air; no shimmering droplets of moisture glistened in the grass underneath their moving feet to indicate a rainfall the night before. Frosti beamed as the rays of light hit his face, and his tail-flame expanded slightly in response. He glanced over at Cheri, who looked very dramatic even in this ragtag band of misfits. Her body was slightly tensed, as usual, but one great ruby eye rolled in his directions and winked closed, just for a second. His grin widened at the subtle gesture.

    <Yeah,> said Anni, glaring up at the girl with squinting eyes. Few things are universal, but among those few is the mystery of how beautiful people can gaze in the direction of the sun without apparent discomfort while the less appealing people (by human standards, mind you) only end up comically blinded. <Yeah, and meanwhile I guess we should just skip back off to Sinnoh and never look at your mug again, which is a gorgeous possibility for me at this point, and then not manage to survive long enough to regret returning afterward. Is that it?>

    "Well, I—"

    <Thanks to you, now I've got to keep two bubbleheads from falling off a cliff!> the Cranidos snapped. <Or drowning themselves, or something. And that's only part of the whole thing. I was better off before resurrection, dammit!>

    "That's enough, Anni," her trainer chastened. "I'm not going to fall off a cliff, anyway. As for you two ... are you seriously planning to go off wih her? You don't have any idea what you're getting into here—"

    "Hey," said Leaf, raising an eyebrow at him. "Does this mean you're talking to me again?"

    "No! I mean ... um ..."

    "Whatever. Look, this has absolutely nothing to do with you, so if you'd just turn around and leave, I'd be happy. We've got stuff to talk about that's really important, and you're delaying us, so shove off, okay?"

    Roark shook his head almost pityingly. "You wouldn't say that if you knew just who she was."

    "Don't be retarded, obviously we know who she is—"

    "That's not exactly what he means, Leaf," Fystor cut in, still smirking as if enjoying some private joke. "He's talking about what I stand for and what I can do, not just what I call myself."

    "Pfft, he doesn't even know that—"

    "Fystor, Goddess of Retribution." Roark kept his wary gaze fixed on the woman, who seemed far from surprised at his knowledge. "The Avenger, the Judge, the Holder of Balance, Watcher over the Twins, Ambassador of the Legends, Guardian of Aura, Wings of Justice, Punisher of the Guilty. Isn't that right?"

    The others' mouths dropped open comically.

    "You missed 'Protecter of Order and the Law'," Fystor said idly, examining her perfect nails. "And I'm not the Punisher of the Guilty, you're mixing me up with Ambrez."

    "Oh. I knew I was forgetting something."

    "You — you know what she is?" Leaf sputtered, looking to and fro between them. "What the hell?"

    Fystor yawned. "He was listening to us yesterday, obviously. How else? My disguise is pretty damn good, so no chance of seeing through that, right? There wasn't any problem with him eavesdropping, anyway. Which is good news for you, my boy, because otherwise you'd have been a smoking pile of ash before you'd heard the first sentence."

    They hadn't thought that Roark could turn even paler, but from the look on his face, apparently he could.

    "I really would love to break the situation down for all of you, but I won't yet," she went on, sounding almost bored. "Not until you quit being a proud idiot, Leaf. Humility is critical when dealing with us gods, just so you know."

    "B-but—" Lightning began.

    "No," Fystor said, firmly this time. "As for right now, why don't you show Leaf and I what you plan to do with the Contest? We can head down there after that, and grab some real food on the way. You won't be coming," she added, turning back to Roark, "since Contests really don't agree with you anymore, and either way there's a tiny matter going on back at Mount Moon you should deal with."

    He blinked. "Um, okay. Why?"

    "You'll see. Its outcome'll be very relevant to your interests. Just plan on meeting us back here at around six this evening or so. But go eat something first, will you? You haven't had any food since lunch yesterday."

    Confusion mingled with the caution in his stare: whatever he'd been picturing himself doing when he'd left home, it hadn't had anything to do with a god telling him to run some sort of errand, and not even one of the prevent-the-apocalypse variety at that.

    "Do hurry," Fystor told him. "We don't want the Rockets to succeed, do we?"

    "No ..." he said slowly, still staring at her.

    "Mmph."

    "Shut up, Pokedex," Leaf snapped, without even looking in the direction of her handbag.

    "You're very prejudiced against machinery, Naaaarrrrrrrgh, did you know that?"

    She didn't humor it with a reply.

    "You will meet me here later, right?" Roark asked finally, glancing from one person to the next. "Instead of just running off on some full-blown quest or something without even telling me? There're things I need to—"

    Fystor cut him off with a curt nod. "But the answers to your questions may not be to your liking."

    He opened his mouth as if he were about to argue; a second look at her unblinking silvery eyes, however, caused him to snap it shut. "If you say so," he conceded, returning her nod respectfully. "C'mon, Anni. Let's leave them to their whispering for now."

    The Cranidos tore her eyes from the goddess's form, apparently still mulling over her appearance. <We're left out, though. Again.>

    "Anni," he replied patiently, "the thing is, when a god tells you to do something, you do it. Anyway, I'm starving, and somewhere in Cerulean is a big plate of waffles with my name on it."

    At this, the dinosaur nodded with sudden vigor; her timing implied that the word "god" had less to do with her sudden enthusiasm than the word "waffles". <Works for me, but I'm getting the ones with blueberries.>

    "See you later!" Lightning called after them as they turned and headed back for the distant glimmering of Cerulean; they waved back briefly before starting up an unheard conversation. The blonde then smiled weakly at the young women, both of whom looked down at him from their comparatively tall heights. "So, do you guys wanna see how they're shaping up? Or would you rather be surprised?"

    "Surprise us," Leaf replied dully: the news that she'd have to wait for any sort of revelation had drained any remaining interest. "Maybe that'll make watching the thing a bit less boring." Seeing Lightning's hopeful expression deflate, she added hastily, "But I guess we can see what they do, if you want to show us. Cheri, return." She aimed the red-and-white sphere at the golden bug, who didn't even have time to blink in surprise before she dissolved into her confinement.

    His grin returned. "Sure, that's cool." Taking two Poke Balls of his own from his belt, he unleashed Peter and Maggie, who joined Peach as she scampered down from Lightning's shoulder and stood attentively next to Dory, who looked sullen as usual. "Ready for a test run, guys?"

    <Yeah!> Peach cheered, beaming up at him.

    The giant butterfly at her side fluttered his broad white wings as he pumped the air with a stubby fist. <Damn straight, foo'!>

    Dory muttered something under her breath, and Maggie merely blinked at her trainer, unimpressed.

    "Great!" Lightning pretended not to notice their lack of interest. "Let's start with you, Peter!"

    <Dat's right!> the Butterfree exclaimed, flexing his wings. <Let's show dese guys what da 'free can do!>

    "Give them a look at the powders! As you can see—" Lightning turned to Fystor and Leaf, who watched with mild interest as Peter took off into the air with several flaps of his mighty wings. "—Peter's new form gives him a wider range of motion, as well as a broader movepool. He can now unleash different kinds of powders, and after some practice last night, he can limit himself to one type at a time, instead of just blowing out a whole cloud of mixed types at once. It increases the mass of the total powder released and so gives the result more potency."

    Drifting on the breeze six feet above their heads, Peter brought his wings down with a single, mighty swoosh; bits of poisonously purple dust drifted from the edges of their scales, floating ominously in the air. The Butterfree then flapped them in a steady, even rhythm, and with every wingbeat a cloud of pale green shimmered into being, originating at the bases of his scales instead. Finally, he shifted into a rapid, erratic speed, fluttering back and forth as an eerie gold powder detatched himself, in the form of a floating mist, from the dark place where his wings joined his body.

    "He can use his Confusion to arrange them the way he wants," Lightning went on, indicating the glowing colors of the powders as they dissipated in the wind; Peter fluttered down next to him, looking overly pleased with his performance. "Since he needs more battling experience as a Butterfree, I'll more likely be using him in the appeal round if I want him to be in today's Contest. And along with that, he'll unleash his secret weapon." He struck a cheesy pose, causing everyone else to sweatdrop.

    <Dat's da way it's done, mah boi!> Peter agreed, smirking toothily.

    "As for Maggie ... well, she'll need water to pull off her appeal," Lightning confessed, rubbing the back of his head. "Often there're small pools in Contest Halls for Water Pokemon, but since that type's so abundant here, I don't know if her appeal'll be original enough ..."

    <Your overconfidence in me is utterly undeserved,> Maggie muttered sarcastically.

    "Now, Dory's tendency to be straightforward is better for the battle round," the blonde continued. "She shows her greatest potential when she's got an opponent to beat, hand-to-hand. Let 'em see your Kick-Sting combo, Dory!"

    <This is stupid,> the Nidoran muttered, showing her large buckteeth in a sneer of disdain; nevertheless, she tensed her muscles, then suddenly smashed one hind leg against the ground, using the abrupt force to push herself into the air. She somersaulted for a moment in midair — Leaf's interest increased dramatically as she watched the Pokemon's movement — then half-curled into a ball as she flew toward a nearby tree. Just before impact, her other leg shot out, slamming against the tree's bark ... she arched backwards, and several small stingers on her back, loosened by the blow, sprayed the plant, every last one hitting it dead-on. Spinning backward as she fell, Dory hit the ground rolling, before jumping to her paws, looking completely unfazed.

    "Great job! And Peach—"

    But the Pichu started before he could finish his command: her eyes narrowed cutely as she stared back at him, and her glare could have been almost adorable were it not for the uncomfortable sensation that she was planning something. Leaf had barely formed the thought that the mouse was imagining doing naughty things with Lightning when Peach tensed, concentrating; a deep indigo sphere abruptly flickered into existence above her head, scattering its pure light everywhere as it expanded to the size of a basketball. The sphere flickered and split into several spheres of the same size and color. They began to spin around Peach's small body, picking up an impressive speed almost immediately. The whole thing had hardly taken a second, so Leaf was caught by surprise as the Pokemon stood up straight, throwing her arms backward with a loud "CHUUUUUUU!" Small, jagged bolts of lightning leapt from the mouse's yellow fur, shooting off in all directions in a sort of gentle explosion; the spheres followed, gleaming enigmatically as they sped off to unseen destinations.

    "Brilliant!" Lightning applauded enthusiastically, scooping the mouse into his arms and hopping around. "You pulled it off perfectly, Peach! With a technique like that, you could fit easily into either of the rounds!"

    <I love you too, Lightning,> the mouse giggled happily, snuggling into his arm.

    Leaf's heart sank as the full impact of Lightning's talent washed over her. Those strategies were way more brilliant than mine, and that's just Contest stuff! I can't even beat a gym by myself, much less pull off such a skilled move like that!

    <Brilliant show, lad,> a voice cawed from a nearby bush. <Gorgeous stuff. It's too blinding not to see.>

    The girl jerked from her lamentation with a startled gasp — had Vember found them again? She glanced up at Fystor, but the woman only looked amused again, which relaxed her slightly, allowing her heart's painful, rapid thudding to slow.

    At the sound of the caw Lightning frowned, looking over at the bush as a small bird, no larger than Peach, stumbled out of it. The bird's plumage was a nondescript brown color, though his overgrown feathers spiked unevenly at the ends. He swayed a bit drunkenly, spreading his red wings to steady himself; as he opened them flutteringly, their pale undersides flashed in and out of view before he finally regained his balanced, looking rather pleased with himself. His eyes peered at them from over a hooked beak, gazing at them shrewdly and rather lazily, which seemed odd behavior from a—

    "How do you pronounce its name again?" Lightning asked nobody in particular, as Peach scampered back to her usual position on his shoulder, mirroring his confusion. "I mean, people say it differently everywhere, and I have no idea what the right one is—"

    "The Oxford English Dictionary pronounces it 'spare-oh'," the Pokedex informed them, peeking up from the depths of Leaf's handbag.

    "Oh. Well—"

    "Encyclopedia Britannica pronounces it 'speer-oh'," the machine went on unhelpfully, "and Wikipedia says it's 'speh-roh'. But personally, I prefer to call it something more factually correct, like 'spay-roh'."

    Dory shot it a cold glare.

    "But enough of that. Spay-roh, the Bloody Nuisance Pokemon. Gender is Male. Height is Tweety Bird, Weight is Fatass Turkey. It's annoyingly protective of whatever it thinks it owns, but it's a huge coward without about a million others to back it up. That's either a really deep metaphor that I can't figure out, although it might have something to do with teamwork or cowardice, but they're both the same thing in the end, obviously — or just a species problem that means they're stupid. They've got neat eyesight, but from the look of this midget I guess its peepers've been dimmed by enough beer to drown a Wailmer, amirite?"

    <Rum,> the Spearow corrected, lurching slightly closer. <Rum's good. Where's the rum?> He looked around the area in confusion, as if expecting an enormous bottle of alcohol to jump out of nowhere and honor them with a hat-and-cane routine.

    <Why would you be looking for booze here?> Dory's lip curled upward as she stared in disbelief at the bird. <We're all minors ... mostly.> She paused, glancing up at Fystor for the briefest of moments. <Anyway, it's really bad for somebody to drink, Spearow, or didn't you know that?>

    <The name's Jack, luv,> said the Spearow. <Perry Jack. Where's the rum?>

    The Nidoran's eyes blazed with a sudden dark fire. <"Luv", am I, now? I did not lose all this weight just to be showered with meaningless terms of endearment by some wasted featherhead!>

    Frosti blinked. <... You lost weight?>

    <When there's a way to do things,> Perry Jack slurred, putting emphasis on the words in an almost sing-song rhythm, <it works best if you do it right. Fr'example ...> He leaned backward slightly on his clawed feet, sticking his wings in front of him as if trying to find his balance again. <There's a flashy, look-at-me sorta method. And on the other hand, then there's the bit where you actually do something. 'Snot too confusing for your pretty lil' head, is it?>

    His slurred chirruping finally made something in Dory snap: trembling with rage, she growled furiously at him with narrowed eyes, tensing her muscles in anticipation. <Okay, bird, now you've crossed the line! Get ready to eat dirt!>

    <Ooh, a fight!> Peach leaned forward, eagerness lighting up her intent gaze. <Beat him good, Dory!>

    Lightning frowned at his Nidoran's attitude. "But ... but Dory, what about the Contest? You'll be too tired to—"

    <Screw the Contest,> Dory snarled. <Nobody but nobody calls my head "pretty" and "lil'".>

    <'Sa funny thing,> Perry Jack remarked, blinking vaguely, <but I woulda thought you'd prefer "pretty lil'" to "big and honkin' ugly", unless there were some inferiority complex at work—>

    <Shut UP!>

    "Tail-Kick him!" Lightning called out hastily as Dory scampered across the grass towards her newfound foe; she hastily complied to his wishes by using the momentum of her pattering gait to throw herself around, twisting on her front feet to send her flying, rear-first, at the bird, who cocked his head to the side curiously as her butt wagged from side to side, not noticing it was getting ominously closer until her hind feet had knocked him into the ground with a decisive pow-pow!

    Perry Jack glared at her blearily as she landed on her feet, facing him again. <And so it begins.>

    Dory returned his gaze stubbornly, only to prick her ears, then cower back slightly at the sight of his eyes: those beady pupils expanded rapidly into light-swallowing circles of darkness, obliterating even the whites of his eyes. Leaf, her mind wandering back to the depression of two days ago, dimly remembered the move which the Mankey had used. Leer, wasn't it?

    "Stay with it, Dory!" Lightning called, and his voice broke into a cheer as Dory shook her head to clear it, staring the bird down. "Atta girl! Just keep your eye on him. Let him move first, but Poison Sting him when you get the chance!"

    The Spearow blinked, and his eyes immediately reverted to their normal, beady appearance. <This ain't gonna work out b'tween us, luv,> he said almost sadly, clacking his beak as he spread his wings; with a great "SPEAAAAAARRR!" he took off, soaring toward her with his head extended forward.

    Narrowing her own eyes, Dory watched him sail in closer and closer, lowered her upper body to the ground — and pushed herself into the air with her forelegs, sending her back over her head as she somersaulted briefly in midair and slammed into Perry Jack at the exact moment that he tried to jab her violently with his beak. He had only stabbed her twice before being thrown backward, warbling in pain at the several small blue spines had been smashed into his face. Both Pokemon hit the ground, muttering as they gave their respective injuries cursory glances.

    <Like flying, do you?> Dory twitched her huge ears as she pushed herself to a standing position. <Try this on for size, bird!> She tensed again, but this time she leapt straight up into the sky — as the wind rushed around her, its currents formed into brilliant white streaks through which her determined rabbity face could be seen — abruptly she turned sharply in midair, slicing downward with eyewatering speed; almost immediately she hit him, and both tumbled away upon impact. The streaks of wind had lost their color and gone on their merry way long before the two Pokemon rolled to a stop, both gasping.

    <Aerial Ace, eh, luv?> A hacking chuckle clawed its way out of Perry Jack's throat. <Flashy, that. Though it'a been better 'fyou'da not wasted so much time in ac'ually doin' it, y'see?>

    Then, in a collapse of dirty brown feathers, he crumpled the ground, spread-eagled and panting heavily.

    "Whoohoo! Great work, Dory, you did it! Now, time for him to join us!"

    Lightning plucked an empty Poke Ball from his belt; tossing it at the semi-conscious wild Pokemon with a flourish, he watched intently as the sphere opened, sucked the converted matter into its mysterious depths, and closed with a soft snap, not even slightly wobbling before the decisive ping!

    "Weeeee are the chaaaampions!" Lightning sang, breaking into an impromptu Egyptian-style dance that made Leaf laugh and Fystor facepalm. "My frieeeeends ... c'mon, Dory, why not celebrate? Dory? ... Dory?"

    The Nidoran, not seeming to hear him, twitched; aside from that involuntary movement, she was frozen in the same position she had landed in after her Aerial Ace. Laughter dying on his lips, Lightning took a few steps toward his prone Pokemon—

    A pressure against his legs stopped him. He looked down to see Peter there, a stubby arm still outstretched to halt his progress.

    <Ya shouldn' get any closa ta her, mah boi.> The Butterfree shook his head almost pityingly.

    Lightning opened his mouth — but Dory's sudden scream cut him off: a faint glow rippled down her hapless body as she collapsed, thrashing about in some unseen agony. He gaped in horror as he watched her buck forward, claws groping at thin air — there was an ominous crackling noise, and her yowl jumped a couple of octaves as her wildly jerking limbs stretched impossibly further, like snakes — a sudden series of snaps made everyone gasp: her spine was breaking.

    "Dory!" Lightning wailed over her shrieking, trying to sidestep Peter to get to her side. The Butterfree pushed his trainer back again, this time with a broad wing; undeterred, the boy rushed at her again — only to get a faceful of green powder. He blinked, yawned once, and toppled over into a sudden sleep. The thump as he hit the grass was drowned out by Dory's yowls as blood spurted from her stretching legs.

    <I'm sorry,> Peter murmured, and for the first time, he looked truly empathetic. <I'm sorry ...>

    A loud rip brought the scream to a crescendo — and Frosti couldn't take it anymore. Hands shaking, he turned away from the awful sight of huge spines bursting out of Dory's back, and clawed wildly at Leaf's pant leg; the girl jerked out her frozen state of horror at the sudden welling of pain, bending down automatically to feel the bleeding scratches. "OW! Frosti, what the hell do you think you're—"

    <Cheri!> he sobbed, collapsing at her sandaled feet. <I need Cheri!>

    Leaf stared at him. "Are you kidding? She'll just rip up Pe—"

    <Nooooooo!> he moaned. Tears squeezed between his tightly shut eyelids. <Cheri, help ... can't fight ...>

    Parvati tore her captivated gaze from Dory's expanding body (the bones creaking as they enlarged, tearing through muscle like butter) and fixed it instead on him and Leaf. <Frosti?> she asked uncertainly, darting over to him. <What's up, Frosti? It's not you evolving, so what's wrong?>

    <Cheri.> The Charmander shuddered, recoiling from Parvati's hesitantly outstretched paw. <Can't hold on ...>

    The Meowth tilted her whiskery head to the side. <Well, if you really want her ...> Pushing herself onto her hind paws, she leapt a few feet into the air, batting at the button of Cheri's Poke Ball.

    A flash of light, and the insect stood there, blinking in the sun and looking like some avenging buggy angel. At the sight of Frosti's cowering form, however, she dropped to her knees, gentle warmth melting away the red ice of her gaze. <Frosti,> she breathed, scooping him up in a protective embrace. <Frosti, Frosti, what ...?> Her eyes flickered upward, narrowing she watched Dory thrash about, new fangs visible as her open mouth continued to pour out a jerking scream.

    Leaf sucked her in her breath through her teeth. "Cheri, get back in your ball. I do NOT want you killing Peter right now!"

    The Beedrill didn't seem to hear her, however. <Just hold on, Frosti,> she murmured, tightening her hold on his hitching body. <Shush, Frosti. Breathe. Keep hold of your mind ...>

    "Hey!" the Pokedex exclaimed; swiveling around, Leaf was astonished to see Fystor, cool as ever, pulling a slender silver cell phone from her pocket. "What're you doing, your legendariness? Aren't you supposed to save the day or something?"

    "Obviously." Still perfectly calm, Fystor proceeded to push a few of its buttons. "I'm the only one with enough sense left to dial 911, or haven't you noticed? Evolution is nasty at the best of times, after all, and this one has just crossed the line ..."

    The last thing Frosti heard, before terror sent him catapulting into unconsciousness, was the twin wailing of sirens mingling with Dory's broken, shrieking cry ...



    Frosti's eyelids fluttered. He blinked at the sudden influx of light, taking in the familiar (though sideways) sight of the Pokemon Center lobby, with its sterile-white walls and nose-burning scent of cleaner.

    <Awake?> Cheri's voice held a tone of gentle amusement. <I was wondering when you'd come around.>

    Groaning, he pushed himself into a sitting position; the world righted itself into its normal dimensions of ceiling above, walls around, floor below. Remembering the blood-chilling yowls emanating from Dory's bleeding throat, the quiet of this place, disturbed only by the electric hum of the lights hanging above them, felt eerie and surreal. The thought of evolution made forced him into a reflexive self-checkup: Horn? No. Red scales? No. Manical desire to eat everybody in sight? Only if everybody had turned into steaks. Relieved, he let his eyes traveled beyond his unclenching claws to the spindly black legs dangling next to him on the sofa, and he relaxed. He didn't need to see Cheri's golden form to feel relieved at her comforting, understanding presence. <Where is everyone?> he asked, leaning back.

    <In the back with Nurse Joy.> The Beedrill sighed softly. <Dory was in seriously bad shape when the ambulance pulled up. You don't need every ounce of possible strength to evolve — loads of Pokemon are near dead with exhaustion when it hits — but you need the proper amounts of nutrients to bolster your endurance, or else the process is far, far bloodier, to say the least.> She shifted slightly next to him. <From what I heard the doctors say, Dory hasn't been eating nearly as much she should. Nidoran have a natural layer of baby fat that only burns off when they evolve, according to them. That's why none of us suspected anything. But now, with that fat gone ...> The bee fell contemplatively silent.

    Frosti gaped down the softly lit hall beyond the desk, from which hushed voices drifted solemnly. <How bad is it?> he whispered finally.

    <They said she's at fifty-five percent of normal Nidorina body weight,> Cheri replied quietly. <Fifty-five ... that's not much heavier than you are, Frosti. I saw her ribs sticking out like ... fenceposts, or something ...> Her voice faltered. <I really don't have a good comparison for it.>

    <That's awful.> The Charmander shivered slightly. <D'you think she'll—>

    <Hush.> Cheri held up a spear to quiet him. <They're coming.>

    They strained to listen, the soft clatter of sneakers on tile reaching their unseen ears. Finally a voice spoke up, a light voice that somehow only served to emphasize the seriousness of its owner's words. "If we keep injecting them into her, we can increase her heart rate to one-oh-five a minute. That'll still be low, but at least it's approaching healthy range. But she'll definitely need to stay here at the Center until she hits forty pounds, at least. Performing, obviously, will be out of the question."

    "It's my fault." Lightning's voice cracked as he spoke. "I should've ... I should've been watching her closer. I should've seen ..."

    "It's not a change you could've seen," the other responded kindly. "You can't be blamed for that. Although it's true that you could have kept an eye on how much she was eating ... and there is a note in your file here, my cousin stuck it in, saying you were overusing your Pichu's Volt Tackle ..."

    A groan interrupted her. "I'm hopeless, aren't I, Nurse?"

    "Hardly," said the Nurse. "You're just a noob. Noobs can't be expected to do everything right."

    Four human figures stepped into view in the hall: the pink-haired, generic-looking Nurse crossed on small, tidy steps to her usual place behind the counter, looking prim and proper in spite of the blood staining her apron and slender hands; Lightning, face white with anxiety, faced her. Leaf, looking solemn, crossed the waiting area to her Pokemon, watched intently by Fystor as the bird-woman leaned against the wall patiently.

    "She'll be okay," Leaf told them, as if they hadn't heard already. "Oh, the poor bunny ... I don't know how you managed it when you evolved, Cheri. It happened twice to you! It seems so awful ..."

    <Finally you've got it figured out,> Frosti whispered, drawing a look of surprised confusion from his trainer.

    "... at least two weeks," Joy was telling Lightning, who nodded mutely. Peach, sitting quietly on his shoulder, leaned her large ear against his head in a comforting sort of gesture; he reached up to scratch it absentmindedly. "Please don't worry so much about it, we've seen cases far worse than this. I'm confident she'll recover to perfect health."

    He nodded vaguely, staring down at the empty space on his belt where Dory's Poke Ball used to hang.

    "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll need to wash off!" Joy's usual cheesy giggle crept back into her voice, making Leaf groan. "Because blood isn't a very nice thing to be wearing, especially when I have to go judge the Contest soon!"

    His head snapped up. "Contest? Oh, I completely forgot!" He made a jerking motion, starting to run for the door; a thought seemed to occur to him, however, for he abruptly paused. "I-I'd like to come back later to see her," he told Joy, almost apologetically. "After the Contest. If that's all right, of course."

    The Nurse nodded, and with a beaming expression he continued in his flight for glory.

    "Same old Lightning," Leaf sighed, watching him scamper out the door; Joy stared after him, mouth hanging open in surprise. "Well, at least he's been taken down a peg. He's cool, but it's really hard to stand him, since he's so much better at what he does than I am!"

    Her Pokemon exchanged exasperated glances, noticing with twin twinges of satisfaction that Fystor's lip curled upward in an expression of distaste. Oblivious to both of these, the girl headed off after him, unhurried, with the three Pokemon soon following close behind.



    They swept through the Hall door to enter a garish lobby, decorated so extravagantly as to almost hide its plain rectangular shape: broad, obnoxiously-colored ribbons hung from the ceiling, which boasted several twinkling plastic stars. Puffy blue sofas were scattered around at intervals, trying to go for an artsy pattern but failing miserably; a few people sat on them, glancing up anxiously at the endless ticking of a star-shaped clock. A loudspeaker was situated high up on a wall, blaring the obnoxious voice of everyone's favorite Jamaican crab: "Unda da sea ... unda da sea ..."

    "At last!" Lightning exclaimed, beaming as he strode confidently toward the receptionist desk to sign himself in. Yet a bit of sadness stained his smile — clearly he wouldn't forget that Dory wasn't there to share the experience.

    "Hi, you guys!!!" The pink-haired young woman behind the desk rushed around to meet them, beaming: even separated from her sisters, Lily's cheerful stupidity was unabated, a fact only emphasized by her horrifying overuse of exclamation points. "Signing up, Lightning?!! It's a bit late, but you can still get in!! And I'm glad you can, 'cause the more the merrier!!!"

    Peach cringed, and even Fystor couldn't resist pressing her lips into a tight line of exasperation.

    "Just sign here!!!" Lily gestured excitedly to an important-looking paper on the desk, which Lightning cautiously approached as he drew forth a pen from the jar nearby. "Put down your name, and the Pokemon you're using for appeal!! And the other Pokemon you'll use for battling, of course!!! And nicknames, if they have any, because people love it when we can announce their nicknames too, and it makes it more exciting and pretty!!!"

    Finished, Lightning gave her a small nod. "I guess," he said carefully, unwilling to giver her further reason to be excited. "I'm happy to be here. Isn't it great, Peach?" He scratched the electric mouse's ear fondly, and she giggled softly in response.

    "Great!! Now you can wait over there in the prep area, where you can give your Pokemon a pep talk, if you want!! And you and your friend can go find seats in the auditorium, 'kay, Leaf?!! I bet you can find ones with a really good view!!!"

    "Sure ..." Leaf gave the beaming pink-haired woman a sideways glance. "Of course. Good luck, Lightning! Make us proud, and Dory, too!"

    "Count on it! Dory," he sighed, watching Leaf and Fystor cross over to the set of stairs on the other side of the room; the steps would take them into the expanse of seats overlooking the auditorium. "I really hope she will be okay ..."

    He set off down a nearby corridor, which Lily still pointed at after him, beaming stupidly. The ocean blue of the surrounding walls gave him a distinct sense of claustrophobia, shoving into his mind the unwanted image of Dory laying prone in that room for weeks upon weeks, slowly suffocating ... He shook the thought out of his head with a slight shudder. A rumble sounded chasteningly in his stomach; he still hadn't eaten anything.

    Abruptly the corridor turned sharply to the right; following it, he blinked at the sudden burst of light raining on his eyes. Setting foot in the new room rather cautiously, he observed that it was roughly the size of the lobby he had left behind. Several Coordinators were seated on its deep blue furniture, however: preppy girls chattering incessantly on their cell phones, shady young men slouching moodily in their chairs, even a few old people muttering to themselves about how much better things were in the old days. Pokemon of various shapes, sizes, and states of anxiety stood beside their owners; it appeared they'd just undergone the traditional "this is it" speech and were now wondering exactly why they were doing this in the first place. A large screen covered most of one wall, displaying commercials that the obnoxious voice leaking from the speakers underneath seemed only to happy to vocalize for. And there, on the wall across from him, stood the door.

    The only thing standing between him and the place of his dreams.

    Taking a deep breath, he crossed nervously to an empty chair fairly close to the screen. A few other Coordinators glanced up curiously at him as he passed, but he did his best not to look around at his competition. Sinking into the chair, he decided that perhaps it lucky he hadn't eaten.

    Only a few torturous seconds had passed when—

    "Oh, so you actually think you can stand a chance against me? Please. I've had tougher competition from an ugly clown, although you bear a striking resemblance to him."

    Shocked, his head jerked upward involuntarily at the face of the girl standing in front of him, hands on her hips with a superior expression. His mouth dropped open at the sight of her glaring, unforgettable face.

    Kaleri Kutter.

    * * *

    Pickaxe held teeteringly over his head, Cobalt paused. He glanced upward, craning his neck to catch sight of Bulbasaur, who was sitting on a rock several feet above him. "Did you say something?"

    She took her sweet time turning her red eyes toward him, fixing him with her usual impatient glare. <No. Does your brain need replacing?>

    He scowled vaguely and turned his attention from her sneer to the grunts sat tiredly on nearby boulders, taking a break from their incessant digging; their languid forms were scattered across his vision like the pebbles lying across the sandy ground under his feet. They're too out of breath to have said anything. Lazy *******s, he said to himself, ignoring the fact that he hadn't done a thing to help until fifteen minutes ago. It was the expected thing to do, after all: unearthing these ancient relics of the past would gloriously seal his chances at receiving the much-coveted rank of executive. Besides, those people were grunts. Of course they were going to do the dirty work.

    But his mind was on something else.

    "Gina?" he asked uncertainly, as said young woman approached from her nearby lookout point; even in spite of her liking for them, she too knew the importance of keeping them in their place.

    Yawning, she tossed her copper hair around her head, more out of habit than anything. "What?"

    "Did somebody ... no. Never mind." Because if there's anybody who wasn't going to hear anything, it's Gina.

    "Yeah, well, okay. Have you found any more yet?"

    "No." He wiped a trickle of sweat off his brow, careful not to knock off his wig (today a mass of golden spikes) in the process. "But there's got to be more somewhere around here. If two Pokemon died here when the meteor hit, it stands to reason that they weren't the only buggers around, right?"

    "I guess," she said, though she didn't sound very convinced. "But we do need to leave soon. The police are still swarming around the mountain, it's a miracle they haven't found us yet. And then I wanna go back to headquarters." She stifled a huge yawn with a slender hand. "I really don't get what's so great about this whole adventure business, anyway. The real adventure is finding all the best sales, don't you think?"

    She went on about the relative prices of bikinis, but Cobalt, in spite of the subject matter, ignored her. He was getting the strange notion that this particular errand for glory would fail if they didn't move now. Of course, he tried to push the thought away as soon as it arrived, but the nagging feeling persisted. Don't be stupid, he told himself. There'll be loads more of those things sitting in the rock, just waiting for us to scoop them up— His eyes flickered to the already-unearthed fossils laying on the ground, the watchful eyes of grunts trained upon them protectively. —And we can get them back to base along with the Moon Stone bits and the amber thingy. The scientists will worship us for it. And the Boss ... He smirked, nodding to himself. He'll catapult me into power. Just wait.

    Cheered at the thought, he swung the pickaxe down at the stone before him yet again, as Gina continued to babble as if he were actually listening. What reached his ears instead was the satisfying crack of rock; retracting the tool's pointed head from the newly-formed fissure, he let the work carry him away from any anxiety. Surely he'd only imagined that someone had quietly whispered in his ear, clearly audible over the chattering of grunts and falling rock: They are watching.

    He raised the pickaxe again, ignoring his itching palm ...
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 15th December 2009 at 1:48 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.

  14. #164
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    Of course, someone was watching. Quite a few someones, in fact.

    <Look at them,> somebody scoffed, as piercing red eyes gazed from a towering scruffy bush situated perhaps fifty yards from the Rockets' camp. <They've probably barely tapped the stuff. And him, over there, look at him! He's holding that pickaxe all wrong. What the hell, I say. Just, what the hell.>

    "It's not like they've been raised in a mining environment, though." Glass glinted as another person peered from the depths of the large hedge. "They can't help it. But they are being pretty stupid ... none of them are wearing helmets! Not one! Don't they have any idea of the safety precautions they need to—"

    A low, sorrowful rumble emanated quietly.

    <We know you're sad, Skipper,> the first voice snapped tersely. <I'm not happy with that uppity little noob, either. Damn her and her snobbish nose. But if Paris hadn't just split without even considering the rest of us—>

    Another grumbling bugle cut her off.

    <Stop that! They'll hear us, dammit, and then we're screwed! Look, we're going to try and find her, okay? Right after Fystor tells us what's going on. Fystor ... damn, was that really her? She didn't seem like a goddess to me.>

    "She wasn't going to just stroll into Cerulean in full celestial feathery glory," the human pointed out dryly.

    <Yeah, but still, shouldn't she have been giving off flares of power or something? She should be leaking some sort of crazy goddish stuff because she just can't contain all that power she's supposed to have. It happens in all the movies, remember that one where the bad guy was going up to the Regigigas, and every time he took a step he swayed more and more to the side until he looked like a complete retard, and then he went into that "yur da shorsh of my inner vishun" speech that your dad used to quote? I mean, seriously.>

    "In my experience, leakage is a sign of inadequacy rather than capacity."

    A brief moment of silence, in which one might get the distinct impression that somebody was shooting somebody else a confused glare.

    "They said that on TV somewhere."

    <Oh, okay. I thought you were going all fortune cookie on me for a sec. Well, I guess that makes sense ... but still, she's a god. Stuff should happen. Trumpets blaring every time she opens her mouth and et cetera.>

    "That's probably just a metaphor. It'd get really annoying after a few minutes, anyway. Okay, enough of that. Look at the Rockets. They're all pretty much in the same general area, so we can disrupt them easily with a triple Stealth Rock. That's probably overkill, but that Cobalt might have a trick or two up his sleeve."

    Somebody sighed. <Think again, Obi-Wan. We're the only two who know that move.>

    <Yeah!> chirruped a third Pokemon voice, which carried a faint metallic echo. <Onwy me and Anni can do Steawth Wock! Skippoh can't. Siwwy Woawk, don't you wememboh tat?>

    "Of course I do," the other replied, unfazed. "But that was when he was a Mudkip. As a Swampert, his new ground type gives him more potential to manipulate stones and minerals. So ..." The voice paused, momentarily replaced by a slight rustling. "This is for you, Skipper. I still carry a bunch of these, they're technically mine anyway. I didn't think you'd be able to learn it, obviously—" He sighed a bit sadly. "But since you can, it's better that you do."

    <It's not worth it,> the deep voice mumbled. <She's gone.>

    <News flash, dude: we know. Skipper, learn the damn move. We're going to find her, okay? The sooner we get all this over with, the sooner we'll get her back. We've said it, like, eight freaking times now.>

    "Here, Skipper." A moment passed, in which a bright flash illuminated the undersides of the bush's leaves; a faint sound of clattering rocks whispered across the air, like an echo. Then, in an anticlimactic suddenness, both faded. "You see how to do it?"

    <Sort of ...> A bit of confusion crept into the voice's melancholy tone. <It makes sense, I guess. But I don't know if I can really aim like Anni can. It might be too much to even try to use it the first time.>

    "I wouldn't expect more than that; it's a tricky move at the best of times. We can work on improving aim later on, but for now, I'm just counting on you to hit them with it close up. Until then, Anni and Emily can blast them with it while you terrify them even more with a Take Down, okay?"

    An indecipherable mumble.

    <He'll get into it when we actually start beating them up,> the snappish feminine voice said. <Hopefully. Come on, get your chin up, Skipper. Let's kick those Rockets' asses into orbit!>

    <Yay!> the babyish voice agreed happily. <Wet's kick tose Wockets' asses!>

    Somebody snorted.

    "Er, Emily, we don't talk like that." The voice's owner seemed embarassed.

    <But Anni said it,> the other pouted.

    <Then I suppose that means you really shouldn't say it,> the deep voice commented sardonically.

    There was a moist slap. <See, I told you guys he'd come around.>

    <Sure, but did you have to hit my head? Ow ...>

    <It was a friendly hit, Skip. A sibling-greeting kind of thing, or a "let's kick some ***" hit, y'know?>

    <Woawk, Anni said *** again! How come she can say wowds tat I can't?>

    A sigh. "Anni—"

    <Sor-ry. Now shut up and get ready, right? Crouch down like that, yeah. And try to corner those damn grunts, okay? It'll make it easier for us to kick their—>

    "Anni."

    <... rears. Killjoy.>

    "Thank you. Okay, guys, leap at them when I say 'three', got it? It'll be more effective if we give them as big a shock as possible. Skipper, if your scar starts acting up again, don't strain yourself. Use long-range moves instead. Now ..."

    Silence. A bird twittered cheerfully somewhere out of sight.

    "One," the voice hissed quietly. "Two ..."

    In the Rocket camp, a grunt yawned lazily.

    "Three."

    * * *

    His blood froze with the shock. She's here! he screamed silently, sitting petrified in her sharp hazel gaze like a deer in the headlights. A few other Coordinators, aware of her fame, gawked up at her in admiration, but her eyes were for the hapless victim gaping before her.

    "Well?" she asked waspishly.

    "Ungh ..." Lightning groaned stupidly. The strain of keeping his eyes on her burning stare proved too much for him, as demonstrated when he fell backwards in his chair in a dead faint.

    Peach glared at Kaleri as the girl rolled her eyes. "Puh-lease. He can't even listen to me without acting like a loser." Tossing her long blond hair in the air, she stalked over to the threshold of the dark corridor, tapping lethal-looking fingernails against the wall in impatience.

    A slight movement diverted the Pichu's attention. Glancing down, she frowned, then turned her head left and right in confusion, wondering just what she had seen. Then the boring thing staring up at her shifted again, and she realized with a start that an Ayell was sitting not two feet in front of her, looking completely unimpressed. The sunny-yellow bandanna tied neatly around his neck looked like a burst of sun against his cloudy drabness.

    <What's with you, shorty?> she snapped, in spite of the fact that they were roughly the same height. <Trailing your minx of a trainer while she harrasses my poor sweet Lightning.> She patted the boy's ear. <You're so uninteresting, anyway. Why are you even here if it's so obvious you're going to lose?>

    Shadowson blinked silently.

    <Talk, you idiot! Apologize for your trainer's mean behavior, or something!> She scowled at him darkly, red cheeks sparkling with yellow electricity. <What, cat got your tongue, you ... you cat? Can't you talk at all?>

    <I would talk,> Shadowson replied evenly, <if you'd let me get a word in edgewise.>

    Peach blinked in astonishment. She'd expected his voice (given he had one) would be as dull and unremarkable as his appearance; as it was, his androgynous tone, only slightly tainted with masculinity, surprised her almost as much as a bugling baritone would have.

    <Well,> she said, recovering from her shock after a second, <okay, then. If you don't have the guts to speak up — don't you roll your eyes at me! Hey, where're you going, I'm not through with you yet!>

    "Welcome, one and all!" a cheerful voice burst suddenly from the speaker. Sighing in exasperation, Peach turned back to Lightning, grabbed his face, and shook him a bit roughly, causing the boy to inhale sharply and mutter something as his eyes fluttered open.

    On the screen, the commercials had vanished to make way for a presumably live view of the stage, panning in and out to give the now-watchful Coordinators a good look at what they were about to compete in. The floor shone a vivid neon pink, contrasting sharply with the large pool of water sitting in its center. As the camera turned, Lightning noted through slightly unfocused eyes that there seemed to be a table situated at one end, where three figures sat in darkness; the table itself lay under the huge scoreboard which, currently, was displaying the large words "WELCUMM TU TEH CONNTEZT!!!!!", which tipped him off immediately that one of the Waterflowers had written it.

    "My, we have a great turnout today!" With a flash of her blond hair, Daisy strode out onto the stage, gripping a microphone and beaming. A scattering of rather unenthusiastic applause clattered across the audience, which was cast in deep shadow from the strong lights sweeping the stage. "Everyone is so excited and happy! Before we begin, I'd like to introduce our judges!"

    Less-than-heartfelt clapping.

    "Today, we have our usual lovely Violet Waterflower!" Daisy exclaimed, as the figures at the table were slowly illuminated in light; the curvy one on the left waved happily in response. "As well as, of course, our own Nurse Joy! And finally, we have a very special guest judge who was kind enough to sit in for us today! Give a big hand for the legend seeker himself, Eusine DeNorte!"

    Lightning had only gotten a glimpse of the haughty-looking person in the far right seat before he squeezed his eyes shut again in pain: a glass-splitting fangirl scream grated from the loudspeaker.

    <That'll be Leaf,> Peach commented, rolling her eyes.

    "Ow!" Lightning winced, clutching his head. "Why do girls always do these things?"

    The answer would remain a mystery to him forever. Girls are funny creatures that way.



    Peach was right. The agonizing squeal of delight was pouring from Leaf's wide-open mouth, which matched her intently gazing eyes. She didn't seem to realize that everyone within twenty yards was staring at her.

    "This isn't just embarrassing," Fystor muttered, sinking lower into her seat. "It's ludicrous."

    "Bahhhhhhht ..." Leaf tried to inhale and speak at the same time, which wasn't nearly as nice-sounding as she would have liked. "But look! It's him! It's really him!" She stared shamelessly down at the young man, utterly starstruck.

    The bird-woman yawned. "Please. That is nothing. Vember's father, now, there was a good-looking beast."

    Rather than listen to the bored legendary, the girl practically drooled at the sight of the guest judge. Though several yards away from their front-row seats, his tall, lean form seemed to draw the eye. Garbed in a brilliant purple suit that could have given Ocean's pants a run for their money, Eusine seemed to radiate a mysterious, intriguing aura that everyone seemed to feel aside from Fystor, whose opinion was really the last word on the subject, though in defense of the celebrity, no one would admit it. The young man's watchful sapphire eyes narrowed, fixed on a door opposite the table. Beneath them, thin white-gloved fingers steepled almost plottingly in front of his handsome, sharp-featured face; above, a carefully-groomed mop of rich chestnut hair was arranged into a rather unique hairstyle, due to the feature known to city girls as "a sexy banger" and to the more rural teenage population as "a damn huge cowlick" (although these terms can be considered the same thing even outside of hairstyling, depending on who you ask).

    "Currently here in town for filming his latest episode of Suicune Safari!" Daisy chirruped cheerfully on. She turned to him, beaming. "Is it true that Suicune has been rumored to be seen recently on Cerulean Cape, Eusine?"

    His eyes snapped toward her in the briefest of glances. "It's true that there are rumors," he replied in an icy, bored tone, staring at the door again. "In spite of my hopes that they are verifiable, however, I have some doubt that it would truly appear here."

    "Exactly!" Daisy agreed, although what she was agreeing to was a complete mystery. "Maybe you'll finally find it!"

    Fystor shifted uncomfortably in her seat beside Leaf. "Somebody overdosed on stupid pills this morning."

    "And now ..." Daisy had to raise her voice as the sound of a drumroll pounded from nowhere in particular. "Without further ado, let's welcome our first Coordinator as we begin our appeal round! Everybody give it up for Avery and Drifloon!"

    Clapping rippled again through the audience as a lanky lavender-haired teenager stepped from behind the door, waving coolly at the audience. Above the panel of judges, the screen flickered to a square displaying Avery's face, as well as a timer displaying bright red numbers, indicating that a maximum of two minutes would be granted him in his appeal. As he reached for a peculiar-looking Poke Ball on its belt — brilliant blue and white, with twin red stripes adorning its top half — the timer's number immediately shifted to 1:59, counting down his time.

    "Come on out!" he yelled, tossing the ball into the air. "Start this off with a Gust!"

    For a moment, Leaf was sure that the shape materializing from the open ball was a joke. Surely nobody would enter a balloon for the Contest, even if it was such a nice shade of deep purple. But the puffy white cloud-shaped fluff sitting on its head didn't seem like something a normal balloon would have ... and she blinked as she realized that it was rapidly whipping around the two long strings dangling from its body, forming a chilly breeze that slowly accelerated to a softly moaning wind.

    "Great! Now Constrict yourself, following up with a Minimize!"

    Extending its string-like arms to either side, Drifloon abruptly turned in a swift, continuous circle, spinning quickly around, faster, faster ... so fast that the brilliant yellow cross underneath its beady black eyes could be seen only as a blur, and its string cut into its bouncy-looking body, creating an eerie squeal that made everyone's hair stand on end. Leaf squinted — in the rush of wind and motion, it seemed to actually be shrinking, though of course that was only an illusion ...

    Then she blinked.

    "Where'd it go?" she asked confusedly, glancing around in a bit of worry as the wind died back down to a cool, gentle breeze. Around her, others also muttered in speculation. Fystor only smirked.

    "And finish it up with full-power Astonish!"

    "FLOOOOOOOOOOON!"

    Everybody jumped at the sound of the high-pitched wail and the sudden appearance of the small balloon Pokemon, who seemed to tower over them a hundred feet tall as the air leapt into a pounding, ominous gale. Across from Leaf, a little girl's teeth could be heard chattering.

    "And that's a wrap!" Avery called out triumphantly, smiling at his Drifloon as it shimmered, then solidified once more in its normal size. Recalling it, he waved at the applauding crowd as he made his way back toward the door; the clapping gradually made itself heard over the wind, which, without a Pokemon to keep it going, died down again quickly enough.

    "Give him a hand again, folks! What a frightfully fun appeal!" Daisy squealed happily, though she was attempting nervously to fix her blond hair, which seemed to have stood up on end. She glanced from the Coordinator's vanishing back to the panel of judges, who were hastily scribbling notes on the clipboards in front of them. "And for our next appeal—"



    Lightning bit his nails. The first appeal, which had been displayed on the screen in the waiting room, did nothing to stem his anxiety. The small rectangular box in the lower corner of the screen wasn't a big help, either — displaying the randomized order of appeal rounds to go, he'd spotted his own name situated at the end of the list. The very end. It was probably some sort of sign.

    "Yeah, dude!" a stout male Coordinator cheered, high-fiving Avery as the relieved-looking teenager stepped through the door again. "That was so fricking awesome! And the balloon was so fricking scary, dude! It was, like, the fricking creepiest and awesomest balloon I ever saw in my whole fricking life!"

    "Drifloon," Avery corrected through a fixed grin, as "Madalyn Lashinski and Poochyena" were called out for the next appeal. "It's a Drifloon."

    "Yeah, it's a fricking scary balloon, right?"

    "Hardly." Kaleri's scoff made them glance, curious, in the direction of her slender frame, garbed by her short, stylish sky-blue dress. "I've seen more blood-chilling appeals from a Cleffa. And you so ruined it by shouting the commands like that."

    Trying his best to ignore her superior tone and the sick feeling it brought to his gut, Lightning forced himself to focus instead on the screen, where the young female Coordinator tossed a Poke Ball with a trembling hand, unleashing a gray puppy Pokemon with black splashed across its face and paws. Above the judges, the screen once again ticked silently down from the two-minute mark.

    Avery shrugged. "Nobody's perfect."

    "I beg to differ." She snapped her fingers; immediately Shadowson leapt onto the back of a nearby chair, and she stroked his unremarkable head almost lazily. The Ayell, in spite of the caress, did not change his blank expression in the slightest. "Some people are made great, and some are born great. And the born are better than the made."

    Some have it thrust upon them, too, Lightning found himself thinking, watching the Poochyena on the screen kick up a cloud of dust that made Madalyn squeal and Violet curl her lip slightly. She thinks I'm not worth much ... I wonder what'd happen if she knew Fystor had something big in store for me and Leaf? Knowing Kaleri, though ... she'd probably just say it was a nuke.

    "Possibly," Avery relented. "But they say you were self-made."

    "Shut up and shove your jealousy back down your throat while you're at it." Kaleri's tone was still calm and self-satisfied, though her fingernails dug slightly into her Ayell's skull, causing him to wince ever so slightly. "The best Coordinators draw the best Pokemon to them. Ergo, I'm the Grand Festival Winner, and you're not. So please don't even bother to think about getting the ribbon."

    "I never said I was here for the ribbon," he muttered, turning away. Kaleri yawned, peering at the screen as she ignored his retreat.

    "Er ... that was wonderful, Madalyn!" Daisy's half-hearted commentary echoed the disgruntled looks on the judges, whose pencil strokes were abrupt and terse on their clipboards. "Next up, Polly Prudabega and Numel! Give a hand—"

    "I'm hopeless," Madalyn wailed, slouching past the next Coordinator as the even younger girl swept outside. "Poochy couldn't do anything, I'm such a failure, I hate life ..."

    Peach visibly cringed at the knowledge that somebody could actually be so banal as to nickname their Poochyena "Poochy".

    "It could be worse," Avery assured her, nodding toward the screen, where Polly Prudabega could be seen running around in circles. A yellow, stupid-looking quadrupedal Pokemon was chasing her, lumbering due to the large green hump on its back and snorting flames at her every few seconds.

    Madalyn nodded vaguely, still looking worried.

    I really, really hope I don't look that noobish, Lightning prayed, cringing as the hem of the little girl's dress caught fire. Please, Arceus, please ... or Fystor, I guess, she's closer ... please, please, please don't let me look stupid. I didn't escape home just to hit a brick wall ...



    A large, spiky orange crab clicked its huge claw rapidly, sending streams of bubbles shooting through the air and refracting the light ...

    A black, slug-like thing leapt out of the pool, scattering water in shining drops as a rumbling cloud of moisture condensed overhead ...

    A bluish mess of spaghetti vines trotted around on shoelike feet, its vines whipping around and sending powder sparkling in the air ...

    "How many more?" Leaf mumbled, banging her head against the short wall separating her from the stage.

    "Three," Fystor replied a bit distractedly. Glancing at the bird-woman, the trainer noticed her texting on her sleek phone, her silvery eyes narrowed at whatever message she had received. "Kaleri's up next," she added, snapping the phone shut as Leaf tried to steal a glimpse. "After this fiasco with the Bidoof, I'll be glad to watch it."

    Leaf huffed. "These are getting so boring!"

    "I could always provide a bit of entertainment," the Pokedex piped up; its place of residence, the notorious yellow handbag, sat at Leaf's feet, far from the sight of the various appeals. "Just point me at the sparkly buggers, and we'll all be happy."

    "You're the only thing that could make this situation worse, Pokedex."

    "Actually, I think a river of lava would make it worse."

    "Thank you, Ernie," Daisy stammered nervously into the microphone, hastily ushering a stout, overly-gleeful boy off the stage; his Pokemon, an equally stout beaver, trotted after him, looking extremely proud of itself in spite of having a stick of ice shoved up an undesirable part of its body. "And now, hailing all the way from Lilycove City, the Queen of Contests herself! Preeeeeesenting ... Kaleri Kutter and Safegirl!"

    A roar of cheering exploded in the auditorium as Kaleri herself emerged from the door, waving a peculiar two-fingered wave and wearing a slight smirk. Tossing a Poke Ball into the air, she said not a word, a shocking contrast to her predecessors.

    A thin form emerged from the Poke Ball — before the timer had even begun to count down, Safegirl balanced herself on one toe and began to twirl slowly, gracefully, like a ballerina in a tinkling music box. Small bits of light appeared in the air, shimmering, transforming before the suddenly silent audience's gaze into soft-looking glowing leaves, which drifted downward from above, although their exact points of origin were unclear, and they mysteriously vanished into thin air just before they could land gently on the floor. Within the thick frames of her glasses, the Kirlia's red eyes began to glow a soft, subtle purple, which soon changed to a shocking blue-white, then a shade of deep blue — in a rush of gentle color, the blue enveloped her entire body, seeming to carry it upward slowly, gently, as it continued to spin.

    "Sophistication at last," Fystor murmured.

    Hovering several feet above the ground, Safegirl gazed at the audience through the incessantly falling leaves as she turned, her eyes (once again their normal red) growing wide and gentle, almost pleading — "Awww!" breathed the onlookers in unison, transfixed — before softly humming a throaty, melodic tune. The wordless music soon blossomed into a piping chant, a chant whose lyrics were utterly indecipherable to the human ear, though something about the way the arcane syllables rolled off her tongue made a collective sigh of bliss ripple through the watchers. The tension seemed to evaporate like dew, even as the chant hit progressively pitches in a eerily celestial crescendo. She lifted her delicate arms — the music was almost tangible in the air — and several blue-white comets arced blindingly from the domed ceiling, falling strangely slowly as they threw the upturned faces and their expressions of awe into sharp relief. The balls of brilliant light then exploded silently, though only luminous radiance was thrown about the spacious room, filling everyone's vision with a shining glow ... her voice reached its triumphant peak ...

    Everyone blinked in the abrupt quiet. Safegirl stood poised on the floor, the last leaves bursting around her in soft flares of light.

    In a sudden reversal of volume, the stands shook with stomping feet as screams of approval reverbrated off the walls. Still smiling (and rather surprised that she was actually smiling while watching a Contest), Leaf immediately knew that the appeal hadn't just impressed the audience: Violet and Nurse Joy rose simultaneously in a standing ovation, beaming. Even Eusine seemed to be nodding slightly, although that might have been a trick of the light.

    "Gorgeous!!" Daisy cheered, the multiple exclamation points seeping into her tone as the excitment broke down her self-control. She looked as though she wanted to hug Kaleri, who had returned Safegirl to her ball without a word and waved at her admirers before vanishing through the door again. "Absolutely stunning!!! If that appeal doesn't make it to the battle round, there's obviously something wrong with our judges!!!!"

    If Eusine had been nodding before this remark, he definitely wasn't now.

    "Next we have ... er ..." Composing herself, she took a look at the list of names in her hand. "Um. 'Shorts Man'? What kind of name is that? Oh well. Give it up for 'Shorts Man' and Jabba, everybody!"



    He couldn't move. The horror had numbed his limbs so completely that his hands couldn't even shake with worry. Not only had Kaleri pulled off an absolutely gorgeous appeal — it'd score a twenty-eight at the very least, undoubtedly — but somebody else was taking her place on the stage, appropriately and deceptively childish in his morbidly oversized shorts.

    Someone who he'd hoped he'd never see again.

    <Oh, geez,> Peach groaned from her position on his shoulder. <Not him again. That idiot almost murdered you with his stupidity.>

    "Sand-Attack, Gust, and Quick Attack upward!" the crazy shorts kid yelled, tossing a Poke Ball. The brown-and-cream-colored Pokemon that emerged squawked nervously as it beat its wings, sending a cloud of dust into the air that sullied the breeze newly born from flapping feathers. With the dirty ring circling it like a tornado, the Pidgey took off high into the air, dispersing the air into an ominous-looking smog that slowly settled to the floor; in the meantime, Jabba zigzagged back and forth, aiming lower and lower with each sharp turn, until he had finally reached the floor again with a frantic flutter and a loud caw.

    It was a mark of how good Kaleri was that the applause beat out a half-hearted rhythm: everyone's minds dwelled on her Kirlia's bursts of beautiful light. At the panel of judges, Nurse Joy leaned over to murmur something into Violet's ear.

    "Ah ... thank you for that." Daisy brushed off the dust that had settled on her overly fancy dress as the kid flounced toward the door, Jabba following with a series of awkward hops. "And last but not least, a rising Coordinator shining like a shooting star—"

    Stop it, he moaned silently, feeling the last drops of blood drain from his face. Don't say that. Don't.

    "—Lightning and Peter!"

    <Good luck,> Peach whispered, jumping off his shoulder as he stood up stiffly. Shaking off a slight shiver, he mechanically marched toward the door, through which the kid had just reentered the room; by some miracle, the weirdo hadn't caught a glimpse of the anxious blonde, as his crazy eyes were instead fondly caressing the front of his own shorts. He felt the others' eyes burn after him, and with every ounce of will forced himself not to look at Kaleri.

    For a moment, it seemed as though he had randomly died and gone to heaven, so bright were the lights that assaulted his eyes. But the clapping pounding his ears from above jerked him back to reality. In the blinding light he nearly tripped, only just barely righting himself. Squinting, he could just see the silhouettes of the watchful judges, and the sudden thought crossed his mind that perhaps he wasn't the only one blinded by the light. Just do it, he told himself, in a valiant attempt at self-assurance. Like we practiced. Show them what we can do.

    "Let's do this, Peter!" he called, tossing the ball in his hand to unleash his Butterfree. "Hound Dog, pattern seven!"

    As the butterfly fluttered by his trainer, a confused muttering was heard around him — there was no such move as "Hound Dog", at least not in any G-rated setting — but the whispers died down as Peter rapidly shot several sticky strings from his mouth, grabbing them and whipping them into a strange pattern with stubby hands as they emerged, glistening. Only a few seconds had passed before he held out his arms, triumphant, holding out a strange sort of cat's cradle for all to see. His eyes narrowed slightly, and a collective sound of curiosity emanated from the watchers as they leaned closer in fascination: the strings, already hardening, gleamed with a faint, purplish glow, humming gently.

    <Dis is where da soul comes in!> Peter flapped his wings once, sending him floating upwards a few feet and simultaneously releasing twin puffs of indigo powder. At that exact moment — the crowd gasped — brilliant flares of purple, together with an electric-sounding musical chord, blared from the strings in his hands. The Butterfree paused briefly, smirking at their attentive faces. <Like dis, y'all?> he asked reduntantly. <Keep your eyes on da 'Free, den, 'cause today da 'Free is da King of Rock!>

    Then, in a blast of music and color, the song took flight.

    No one could mistake the tune yowling soulfully from the eerie collection of purple-pulsing strings, an electric guitar orchestra in the hands of a fluttering bug, whose every flap of the wings — beating in time to the rhythm of the blues — ushered forth a different pattern of hazy color: indigo, green and violet mixing and matching in a motley yet artistic collection of misty stars, smoky spheres, wisps of smog curling in an intricately jerky dance. Though the numerous notes buzzing from the strings were utterly devoid of any human voice, the words of the music could be heard underneath the clever tangle of sound, as members of the audience found the song's catchiness too difficult to struggle against:

    You ain't nothin' but a hound dog ... cryin' all the time ...
    You ain't nothin' but a hound dog ... cryin' all the time ...
    Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine!


    A final burst of color brought another collective gasp from the crowd, as Peter stretched the strings tightly, tightly, drawing out the final chord in a drawn-out, yet oddly satisfying wail. Fluttering back to the floor, he was almost blown away by the cheering ricocheting off the walls, mixing with the song's final, defiant echoes. Somewhere in the stands came a disappointed sigh: the music had ended far too quickly for anyone's liking. Yet the time limit made the cut-off tune necessary, as the timer above the panel of judges flicked quickly to zero.

    "You did it!" Lightning squealed. It took all his willpower to restrain himself from hugging the bug: the crowd was still watching and, in any case, the residual powders on Peter's dusty-coated wings would do more harm than good to a human.

    "Brilliant!!" Daisy's excited voice could be heard booming through the microphone. "That was utterly stunning!! That just might have been the best newbie appeal I've ever seen in my entire awesome life!!!"

    Half dazed, the boy turned and started back toward the door on legs whose blood seemed to have been turned to Jello. Catching sight of Leaf and Fystor in the stand, he waved to them, and Leaf returned the gesture, beaming radiantly in comparison to Fystor's usual shadowy smirk.

    "Good show!"

    A wave of excited chatter rushed over him as he reentered the fold of his fellow Coordinators, rushing toward him in excitement in their half-blind attempts at congratulations. Hands ruffled his hair, thumped him on the back, seized his own with a firm shake. Nodding and smiling discriminatorily, he eventually managed to reach his seat again, collapsing with exhaustion; surprisingly, the pressure had taken a lot out of him. It's over, he realized, as if it were some startling revelation. The worst bit's over. Waiting is so much worse than actually doing it ... He slumped backward, so relieved that he barely cared if he'd done well. The point was that he'd done it, after all.

    "Piiiiiiiiiiiii!"

    "OOF!" he grunted, as the small yellow mouse collided leapt onto his chest in a flying tackle. "Peach, did you see me? I actually managed to get in a decent appeal!"

    <Decent nothing!> Peach crooned, nuzzling his face happily. <It was magnificent ... almost as magnificent as you—>

    "That concludes our appeal rounds!" Eyes turned back to the screen, where Daisy seemed to be posing ridiculously. "And now, the scores from our judges. Let's see what they thought of your wonderful appeals! Starting from the beginning, here's how Avery and Drifloon did!"

    Above the panel of judges, the screen flickered, shifting to a long rectangle occupying its top half, playing and replaying a few seconds of short, silent footage of Avery's appeal. The bottom half consisted of three dark squares, one hanging over each judge's head ominously like a hulking, beady-eyed Murkrow.

    "Well," Violet began, tossing her blue hair as if she were Kaleri, "it was really scary, which is bad. But it's also good, duh. You ruined the surprise a bit by calling out what it was going to do, though. And there were no sparkles. Sparkles make everything better—"

    "Except vampires!" a random onlooker wisecracked. Other members of the audience cheered in approval of the statement.

    "Especially vampires!" she retorted, looking thoroughly put out. "Because if somebody's going to eat you alive, he might as well be really, really sexy! Now anyway, the stuff I mentioned is bad, but it was really creative, which was good, so your appeal was ... both bad and good," she said awkwardly, making everyone else sweatrop. "So ..."

    She pushed a few buttons on a tiny control panel on the table in front of her; as she did, the number 6.3 appeared in the square above her head. At the sight of it, the crowd clapped politely.

    "I thought," Joy said, speaking up over the relatively quiet noise, "that ordering Drifloon to hurt itself with Constrict wasn't the best way to do the appeal. A Pokemon must be in top condition to pull off a truly first-class appeal! On the other hand, it pulled off a nicely convincing atmosphere, which is always important if you want the audience to really feel the performance." Her two cents thrown in, the Nurse leaned back in her chair as a bright yellow 7.8 flickered into existence next to Violet's score. The audience cheered again: clearly this roughly reflected its own feelings.

    "Nice one, dude!" somebody cheered, cuffing Avery's shoulder cheerfully. The teen smiled faintly, but said nothing.

    "I am utterly astounded—" a voice cut smoothly in, causing everyone's eyes to snap automatically to the third judge, whose eyes were closed in a sort of semi-patient contemplation. Avery's face lit up in anticipation, only to collapse into dejection as Eusine went on: "—that you had the stupidity to make such an awful choice for appeal. I don't pretend to be an expert in these events, but even the casual League fan could tell you that a Drifloon will not learn ... desirable moves ... until it has reached a high enough level. It would have been far better if you'd decided to use in in the battle round instead, to better accommodate its natural abilities. So unfortunately for you, I wasn't impressed. However, the fact that you managed to pull off an original appeal with such a limited moveset saved you from scraping the bottom of the barrel ..."

    A 4.8 rounded off the trio of numbers. Above them, the video clip switched to a large number announcing total score of 18.9.

    "Not bad!" a Coordinator assured him over the sound of the audience grating from the speaker. "Out of thirty, you know? And was this your first time? Because if it was, it was really pretty good ..."

    Avery nodded silently, his face carefully concealing whatever thoughts skittered about in his mind. Something seemed to shrivel in Lightning's gut. Avery's appeal had been one of the better ones ... if the judges were going to be that harsh to everyone, his chances of landing in the coveted top eight had just shrunk to Slowpoke-brain size. A new video clip on the screen popped up, displaying a brief recap of Madalyn's appeal, but he didn't think he could watch.

    <It'll be okay,> Peach tried to assure him. He didn't hear her, of course, and her pointed ears drooped sadly. With a sigh, she snuggled against him comfortingly, trying to convey all the things she couldn't say.

    They never could say, later, how time seemed to flow in that fifteen-minute period of waiting. At times the lengthy commentaries stretched on for an eternity, transforming the room filled with Coordinators into some sort of mortal purgatory. But his heartbeats felt heavy with apprehension, and he was only conscious of a few before his own recap appeared onscreen. Sucking in the breath through his teeth, he sat up slightly, listening, gripping the edges of his chair.

    "... perfect show," Violet was saying, as brilliant powders flashed above her. "Gorgeous. Pretty colors, pretty Pokemon, pretty Coordinator, pretty moves, pretty music. The only thing that was missing was vampires—" (Somebody in the audience booed, triggering a peal of laughter.) "Hey, shut up! But I guess it would've been just a teensy bit hard to put vampires into that."

    Above her head flashed a 8.5. Peach glared at the beaming blunette woman onscreen, hands curling into fists. <She took off a point and a half because she wanted vampires?> she snapped incredulously. <He's not going to rearrange his entire appeal just to fit in vampires! Who does she think he is? He's Lightning, for crying out loud!>

    "While I don't agree with the vampire love, I'm otherwise as thrilled as Violet about the appeal," Joy gushed. "Entrancing, lovely, well-planned. That is how a professional appeal looks." The 9.4 appearing above her head echoed her praise.

    Peach smirked. <That's more like it.>

    Lightning could only stare. They couldn't really be talking about him, could they? Dazed, he watched Eusine blink apathetically over his steepled fingers. "It's always best to play to your Pokemon's strengths," the young man remarked finally. "As I said to Avery, it's difficult to do anything, Contests or battles, with a limited movepool, yet like him you managed to pull it off. Creativity with function ... few novices have a talent for that. The song didn't exactly go with the Pokemon itself, however. Looking at a Butterfree, people would expect some tune that fits its appearance — something light and airy, in most circumstances. The performance reflects the performer. Remember that, and you'll get a higher score next time."

    A number appeared on the screen: 7.1. A second later, the triumphant total flashed across Lightning's glazed eyes. He stared as if in shock.

    "Twenty-five?" somebody roared over the wave of deafening cheers. "Twenty-five? I haven't got a snowball's chance in hell now! Lucky son of a biscuit, why can't I be you ..."

    "And now for the results!" Daisy sang out, gesturing at the screen as it switched to a list of names and scores, assorted in descending order. Kaleri, of course, had snatched the top position with an astounding 29.6. On their own accord, Lightning's eyes found themselves almost magnetically attracted to his own name, sitting next to a bold number three.

    "Third place?" he asked redundantly. "Third? I ... I made it! Yes!" Shouting out in ecstasy, he leapt up from his chair, spinning around his Pichu in his arms. Shouting out in ecstasy, he leapt up from his chair, spinning around his Pichu in his arms. For some reason, music had started to play in his head.

    Here comes the sun,
    Here comes the sun, and I say …


    "We've done it, Peach! We're moving on to the battling!"

    It’s all right …

    Peach didn't respond; the rush of excitement from the scores and from Lightning's hug was making her giddy.

    "Congratulations to our top eight!" the blond Waterflower exclaimed over the noise of the audience. "Kaleri, Beau, Lightning, Bridget, Avery, Madalyn, Kinkira, and ... Shorts Man ... will all be participating in the next round! Give a big hand to everyone, folks, but especially to our winners, because they won, obviously! And now, for a fifteen-minute break ..."
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 23rd May 2010 at 12:26 AM.
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    * * *

    CRASH! The sudden noise rent the air like an explosion.

    Nearly dropping the pickaxe on his toe in surprise, Cobalt swore loudly, swiveling around to see grunts tearing off like headless chickens, although they made a good deal more sound than said birds. Two short gray dinosaur-like things had torn out of a large bush, as huge boulders abruptly burst from the ground before them, leaping at the terrified Rockets with a creepily unnatural gusto, because rocks, as almost everyone knows, aren't supposed to jump. Automatically he flew toward the bag containing the loot; it was, after all, the second most important thing there, aside from himself. What the hell? And at my moment of glory, too!

    <Cowabunga twisternoodles!> Phlash darted out of nowhere and leapt at the taller dinosaur, who only snorted impatiently and smashed her hard with a rock-tough head. Chittering in surprise, the weasel flew a few feet before landing catlike on the ground, slightly more airy-looking than usual.

    A roar made everyone jump: a hulking blue monster, fins sticking up in an intimidating manner, caused the earth to tremble and rocks to explode from the ground with every footfall. A random grunt who happened to be slightly braver than the others sent out a tiny rat Pokemon against the beast; this, however, only proved that he was also extremely stupid, as both grunt and rat were swatted aside like irritating flies.

    Something moved in the corner of his eye. Spinning around again, he caught sight of the taller dinosaur scooping one of the piles of bones from next to him, ignoring him thoroughly. "Put that down, dammit!" he yelled, lunging down and grabbing the skeleton with his free hand. Surprised, the Cranidos yanked backwards in alarm, almost sending him tumbling forward; only with his usual awesome powers of balance (or so he told himself) did he manage to stay upright.

    <Let go, thieving *******!> the Cranidos growled back, snapping her beaked mouth warningly. <This stuff wasn't meant for you!>

    He only pulled harder, however. It was a comical sight: the Rocket admin, his wig askew, playing an angry game of tug-of-war with a revived monster of the past whose domed head barely rose above his waist. With much grunting and gritting of teeth, neither would give any ground.

    But, of course, it couldn't last ...

    BAM!

    Gasping in pain, he found himself sprawled on the ground, his sack lying close by. He grabbed it hastily, then pushed himself into a sitting position, glancing around instinctually for the skeleton. Instead he saw the shorter dinosaur staring up at him, big blue eyes peering through the silvery steel mask obscuring her face. She tensed herself threateningly, and suddenly he realized that this tiny little thing, surely too little to hurt a fly, was running at him, driving her head against his body and knocking the wind out of it.

    "OOF!"

    <You'we an ebil tief!> the Aron yelled at him cutely, her voice ringing as his head, hitting the ground, spun dangerously. <You'we ebil and I don't wike you! And awso, you habe absowutewy no wespect fow natuwal wesouwces! I tink you desewve a wong, wong timeout wit no dessewt!>

    Vaguely, the humiliating fact registered: a girl was beating him up. A baby girl.

    <Hey!> a rabid voice yelled suddenly. <Leave Weird Hair Guy alone! He's the most awesome awesomeburger I ever hammed!> In a blur of pale yellow fur, Phlash's stick-thin body rushed at the Aron, whipping out her claws as she pounced.

    Apparently, her scratching wasn't going to do much, as the little dinosaur blinked vaguely. <Someting's tickwing me,> she giggled.

    <This isn't tickling!> Phlash retorted, trying and failing again to dig her claws into her foe's metallic back from her awkward position, cramped on top of the steel head. <This is Rocket Burger Attack! Also known as Save Weird Hair Guy From The Freaky And Short Dinosaur Midget Thingy! And I'm so good at it, too, because I have the power of french fries to guide me!>

    <Cobalt!> a voice chirped: in a flurry of small gray-and-black wings, Rae landed on his head. <Guess what? The dinosaur with the spiky head took one of the skeletons! She's going, going ...> The bird tilted her comparatively huge head. <Gone. Oh wait, she's coming back. I think she's going to come and get the other one. Ooh, ouch, the Swampert just knocked Bulbasaur over. Wait, she's getting up! She's glaring at him! She's giving him a stinging—>

    "Not the time for commentary, Rae!" Cobalt chastised, forcing himself into a standing position. Adjusting his wig, his gaze snapped toward the remaining fossil. In spite of his aching body, he leapt at the bones protectively, a sudden movement that unseated Rae as she twittered in midair, then shrilled a warning that came too late ...

    A boulder burst through the ground beneath him as if the earth were only water, slamming him in the chest with paralyzing force. The impact sent him tumbling to the side, rolling around as a howl of pain tore itself from his throat. Slamming to a stop against the side of the mountain, he shook slightly, laying there for a moment as the sounds of terrified Rockets and roaring Swampert rang about the area. Clenching his teeth, he very gradually forced himself into a sitting position, leaning against rock as he gingerly felt his rapidly bruising torso. A fresh stab of agony brought an involuntary groan along with it: at least one of his ribs was broken. Damn that Cranidos, he thought finally, watching with tearing eyes as the blue-and-gray dinosaur scampered out of sight, bones overflowing in her stubby arms.

    "Emily!" a teenager called, causing Cobalt to glance around, but Roark was nowhere in sight. "Skipper! We've got them!"

    The Swampert brushed off Bulbasaur, who glared after him impassively; not even a scratch damaged her freckled skin. How she had managed that was a mystery, as the brute himself, bounding heavily in the direction of the unseen voice, looked no worse for the air. The Aron, meanwhile, shook off Phlash's attempts to eat her, sending the Phrygoil flying with a shake of her head and taking off after the hulking blue creature on her silvery stubs of legs.

    Great. Cobalt rubbed his face. Just great. What else could go wr—?

    A phone rang in his pocket. Wincing, he pulled it out, snapping it open.

    "Ah, Mr. Cobalt."

    I just had to ask, didn't I?

    "Yes, Boss?" he asked tentatively, trying to keep the pain out of his voice.

    "Fly back to Headquarters. There are things we must discuss."

    Apprehension clawed his stomach. "When?"

    "Now. Time isn't my biggest ally, I'm afraid, and I simply can't afford to waste time. After that fiasco over the Shadow-clone trade ... well, you can imagine. Our plans for the Kanto takeover will have to be stepped up, and the sooner the better, believe me."

    "I'm not sure what that has to do with me, Boss," he said as carefully as he could. The last thing he wanted right now was to give the Boss a reason not to promote him, but Cobalt despised following orders blindly.

    "You'll see soon enough. The incident with Severus's arrest ..." The voice sighed. "It's all going rather messily, I must admit. Now Cobalt, head for the Cerulean airport. My plane will be waiting there for you — or rather, for your true identity. Speed is of the essence; I can't afford to arrange transportation for more than one."

    He cringed, but sourly decided not to argue. "I understand, Boss."

    "If only you did. I'll expect to see you at eight sharp." A click signaled the end of the conversation.

    Cobalt's sigh turned into a pained cough as he snapped his phone shut. Does he know? he wondered. That his psycho manslaughtering executive wouldn't be in jail if it wasn't for me? Not that I regret it ... the ******* had it coming. But if he holds me responsible ... And the Lapras. He expected me to steal a shiny Lapras, and now I don't even have time to snag a normal one. If he's in a bad mood ... The thought turned his blood to ice water. Then so much for promotion. Damn.

    <Guess what?> Phlash exclaimed, as she and Bulbasaur scampered toward him. <I so beat that crazy hard metal shortfry! She just thought she wasn't getting hurt, but I know she was, because I was using the ancient ninja stuff handed down from the shoes of Ronald McDonald! So of course I was gonna win!>

    <They're gone,> Rae reported, swooping down out of the sky and landing on his head. <I tried following them, but they'd already taken off. Sorry. Those fossil things weren't important, were they?>

    He took a deep breath, forcing himself not to snap. They wouldn't know about these things, he reminded himself. It's not their fault. Don't yell at them for acting stupid. It's that idiot four-eyes again. To think I actually respected him for helping catch Severus ... well, it's not the first time I've been wrong about people. Damn miners and their obsession for ... well, for whatever miners do.

    "Change of plans, guys," Cobalt informed them, ignoring Rae's question. "We're heading back to Rocket Headquarters. The B—"

    <They don't have Taco Time, do they?> Phlash's lip curled at the thought. <I really don't wanna run into any of those cactus-worshipping half-buns. They have creepy needle powers, or at least that's what my dead aunt Phlossie told me.>

    "I really don't care one way or another," he replied bluntly. His eyes roved over to the sparkling city in the distance, beyond the dazed grunts scattered about, shivering in the trees or groaning on the dirt. He'd wanted something more important to do when the Boss had given him this assignment. Well, it'd run into an internally collapsing mountain. Things didn't get more important than that. But now, with fate taking him out of this situation, catupulting him to some as-of-yet undefined destiny ...

    Good luck, kid, he thought, remembering the noobish girl he'd been tracking over the last week. With your track record with danger, somehow I think you'll need it.

    * * *

    Fur standing up in the excitement, Peach leapt hastily out of the way, crackling with static as she narrowly dodged the purple-green beam of energy. On the screen, Avery's points dropped even further, leaving a yet smaller fraction of yellow in his circle. Frowning, the teenager opened his mouth to give his Pokemon another command, but with a savage war cry — if "savage" here meant "a cutesy yet dangerous squeak warning anyone who tried to beat precious Lightning to watch out" — the Pichu sent another shock of electricity at the bumpy blue mirror, whose eyes crossed as it hit the floor with a clatter.

    "Bronzor has fainted!" Daisy squealed over the noise of the audience. "Peach has won this round and will move on the the final battle!"

    "Great job, Bronzor! And you too, Lightning," Avery congratulated, stepping over and shaking the blonde's hand as he recalled his fainted Pokemon. "Are you sure you haven't been a Coordinator for long? Because you are doing really well ..."

    "Thanks." Lightning beamed confidently; the adrenaline had purified his fear-soiled mind as if it were a cleansing by fire. "I've been getting in a lot of practice, and that's been a big help. Have you been doing Contests for long?"

    The other glanced slyly to the side. "Not exactly ..."

    "And, now, it's our FINAL BATTLE!" Daisy yelled into the microphone, making everyone cringe. Avery, knowing he had no place on the stage anymore, shrugged apologetically as he headed back for the door. "The CERULEAN RIBBON ... a MARVELOUS thing. Competing against Lightning for this MARVELOUS RIBBON is the one, the only, KALERIIIIIII KUTTER!"

    The blonde huffed at the sight of his feared rival emerging from the room, as cheers floated down from the audience. "It's all or nothing," he told Peach, who nodded up at him knowingly. An image of Dory's shriveled, broken body flashed in his mind, and he shivered in apprehension. "We'll do this for her," he decided, a steely glint in his eye. "For Dory. Let's give her our all."

    <I'm on it, sweetheart!> Peach lowered herself onto all four paws, gazing shrewdly as Kaleri took her place on the opposite side of the stage. Above the judges, who looked rather bored now that they no longer had anything to actually do, a timer set at five minutes flickered into existence over two full point circles, one underneath the name of each contending Coordinator.

    This is it.

    In a burst of light, Shadowson appeared before the tensed Pichu. Lightning wasn't surprised — here in Kanto, a Coordinator had to stick with a Pokemon throughout the entirety of the battling portion of a Contest, and he'd seen her bring the Ayell out in her own previous two battles. He had seen what Shadowson could do, however, and hoped Peach would remember to stay on her guard ...

    "Aaaaaaand — begin!"

    "Plot Shock!" Lightning yelled, at the exact moment that Kaleri ordered, "Double Team with a Quick Attack!"

    Peach glanced up at her trainer for a brief moment before smirking, her eyes narrowing plottingly as yellow electricity sizzled forewarningly, sparks dancing on the tips of her hairs. Shadowson, on the other hand, seemed to shimmer for a moment, as if everyone were going cross-eyed; a second later there were, strangely, four of him, all wearing illusory sunny-yellow scarves, blinking passively and looking bored ... even as they lunged at the mouse with a sudden, blinding speed, white streams of air trailing behind them as they jumped in unison—

    <Eat this!> Peach yelled, unleashing sudden flares of lightning that struck two of the clones, which flickered briefly for a moment. Only one clone survived alongside the real Ayell, but both slammed into Peach at the same moment, sending her reeling backward. On the scoreboard, a small portion of Lightning's points had been blacked out, owing to Peach's injury. Yet some of Kaleri's points had vanished as well — apparently, Ayell were so visually uninteresting that their very existence hampered their performance. Well, the Pokedex had said Ayell were a challenge ... and he'd be stupid not to take advantage of it ...

    "Close range Shadow Ball," Kaleri said calmly.

    "Watch out, Peach! Dodge it, then give him a wave!" His own words seemed to reach his ears from a distance. I'm actually facing Kaleri Kutter ... The reality was just so ... unreal.

    The twin Shadowsons turned their heads toward the shadow cast by the brilliant lights; as they gave it a brief, intense stare, a globe of darkness seemed to leap from the shadow, flickering an eerie purple-black with a temporary life of its own. Then, simultaneously, the two whipped their heads around again, sending the arcane orb flying toward Peach. Tensing, the mouse leapt into the air, narrowly avoiding the attack by a fraction of an inch; as she hit the ground again, a golden wave of electricity pulsed from her entire body, slicing through the two grayish foes. One abruptly blinked out of an existence, while the other suddenly froze, wailing in agony as his muscles seizing up.

    "Dammit," Lightning heard Kaleri mutter; her points had just fallen a by good amount. "Shadow Ball it as much as you—"

    "Leaf McKenzie? Leaf, report to the lobby immediately, please!"

    In the audience, Leaf, who had been intently watching the battle, cringed at the booming echo. Whoever had summoned her via the intercom was a person she'd never seen before, but as all Officer Jennys sounded alike, she knew immediately who it was.

    Fystor hissed something to Leaf as the girl stood up, to the displeasure of the people behind her.

    "What?" she asked.

    "When you hear it, remember that you deserved it," Fystor repeated, a knowing look sparkling in her silver eyes. By then the other onlookers had started to glare at her, trying to get a better look at the stage as Peach was hit in the gut by a swirling Shadow Ball, so with a huff the brunette meekly forced her way past the front row, stomach churning with awful speculation of whatever the Officer had to say ...



    "Hi!!" Lily exclaimed excitedly, not taking her eyes from a screen hanging from the ceiling above the desk. From the sounds emanating from it, Leaf didn't have to guess that the Waterflower was watching the Contest. "Isn't this so exciting, Leaf?!! Your silly lightheaded boy friend is doing so much better than even I thought he'd do!!!"

    "He is NOT my boyfriend!" Leaf retorted hotly, before blinking as she wondered why on earth she'd said it so violently.

    "Enough of that." Standing beside the desk, the Cerulean Officer Jenny fixed the girl with an almost pitying gaze. "Good afternoon, Leaf. We've heard you've been in a couple of nasty fixes recently — the bloodthirsty Tyranitar, the Pewter electrocution, and that awful collapse of Mount Moon's internal structure, if I remember correctly."

    And escaping a gutting from a Shadow, Leaf thought, and Vember almost blowing our heads off ... but they don't know about that, of course. Inwardly she shivered. All these secrets I'm keeping ... the law's protected me so far, but if they knew about all that ... or if they found out about who caused the Pewter fiasco—

    "The police arm in another city discovered something rather ugly," Jenny continued, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. "Extremely complicated ... and it concerns you."

    A vile taste rose in the back of Leaf's mouth. They know, she screamed silently, fear of what was coming paralyzing her. Somehow they traced the blame to us! They know! Horrible images of prisons flashed across her mind, their damned captives pressing their leering faces between the bars. Or would they merely take her briefly into custody, as they had with Ocean? She wanted to believe that, but the voice of reason crushed her feeble hope ... Ocean hadn't destroyed an entire city ... Terrified of judgment, she squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself for the blow.

    "I'm sorry." The Officer's voice, oddly, held a heartfelt note of apology. "We would have contacted you earlier, but an issue with one of our top-security prisoners ... well, we were delayed somewhat. According to our detectives, it appears that ... Leaf, I am sorry. Your mother's been kidnapped."

    * * *
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 2nd January 2010 at 7:41 AM.
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    Awwww, i feel so sorry for Dory ;_; Also because i really like Nidorina now because i recently did i Firered playthrough with one. But that was so graphic it was awesome XD You make evolution so violent.

    And is this an error i see?
    ''That concludes out appeal rounds!"

    I really liked the battle (can you call it that?) between Cobalt and Roark. The Aron was very funny.

    *Wants to know if Lightning beats Kaleri, waves flag ''Go Team Lightning'' :P

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    Wait, isn't Phlash possed to say all 'f's as a 'ph'? And can you make a list of all the pokemon and who owns who and who is who? I'm a lil lost there...I think. Anywho, thought it was good, quite graphic too. YAY!
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    Yes, graphic is awesome. XD

    @ Sinnohdragon: Ohnoez! The shame. D: *hides from error police*
    But of course evolution should be violent. It's better than the generic white glow seen in the games/anime, and it gives the characters a fun moral dilemma as a bonus. =D And the Cobalt/Roark bit ... I think it's better described as an ambush. ^^;

    @ kingferret: Phlash only uses "ph" when she's about to really lose it (usually when she's extremely excited or angry). Compared to some previous events (Shadow Clefairy + body switch, anyone?), this latest scene was practically calm. :P
    And, for your convenience:
        Spoiler:- teh list of d00m:
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkdragontamer View Post
        Spoiler:- teh list of d00m:
    Wait...wasn't there a nidoking?
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    Quote Originally Posted by kingferret53 View Post
    Wait...wasn't there a nidoking?
    Er, not really. Where did you see that? o.0
        Spoiler:- But:
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkdragontamer View Post
    Er, not really. Where did you see that? o.0
        Spoiler:- But:

    No, I thought there was a hard headed nidoran male. lol, Guess I was wrong.
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    Funny story. I was getting good progress done on this chapter, thanks to the holidays, when I suddenly stumbled onto LOLcats. *the horror* So I'm not the only one to blame for this coming slightly later than it would have, due to my brain leaking out of my skull. Although the political section is win =P

    Also: revamping the earlier chapters! Looking back on them made me cringe, not just because of the subpar writing. There were also a lot of awkward details that needed smoothing out. The first post is already editted with the revamped chapter one, around twice as long as it was originally. If it gave you a migraine the first time you read it, then reread it, plzkthnx.

    * * *

    Chapter Nineteen: Through the Looking Glass (Enter the Snaggers! Answers and More Questions!)

    The shadows inside the office fled as a hand flipped the light switch. "Please, take a seat," the attorney said, gesturing toward a solemn wooden chair in front of his desk; both boasted polished mahogany surfaces, glinting in the electric light.

    Of their own accord, Leaf's legs carried her to the chair; she dimly registered the fact that she was seating herself. Her eyes gazed through the attorney without seeing him: the numbness of this new discovery still crashed over her in unceasing tides. Mom's gone. It just couldn't be true, she told herself — her mother was an unwavering constant, a comforting presence that she could always return to if the worst came to worst ... if she finally called it quits, if some sort of injury abruptly cut her journey off. Home was the backup plan, in case she needed to fall back on the old, familiar grounds of her early life.

    But they were telling her it was as empty of promise as it was of people.

    The attorney sighed, running his fingers through well-groomed, deeply vivid purple hair. Though she had never even seen him before, she knew his face well — he was none other than Cerulean's Attorney Jack, the man who, along with his counterparts Joy and Jenny, kept the city running smoothly and efficiently. Together with the local gym leader, they were a formidable force: champions of society whose trade ran in their blood, as much a part of their being as the near-identical features running through the separate families. Standing there before her, in his crisp indigo suit so deeply saturated with color as to be almost black, he should have emanated an aura of confident assurance, silently soothing her that nothing was wrong, nothing at all ... but this uncertain fidgeting, his wondering where to begin, muffled her feeble hopes even further. Jenny, standing attentively in the doorframe, looked just as confused, blue-green hair frazzled under her officer's cap.

    "The Viridian force snapped these during investigations," Jack told the brunette finally, withdrawing a few photographs from his pocket and passing them to her. Accepting them with numb fingers, Leaf's eyes widened at the shocking sight of the first photo: her house — or rather, what had once been her house — stood smoking, sunny yellow paint peeling disgustingly from charred walls. The front door hung precariously from a single hinge, revealing the shadows creeping from the unlit entry hall. The tree she had once climbed almost religiously as a child? Snapped almost in two, its top half still attached by a sole fibrous sinew, the entire once-proud giant now twisted and flaking, life-sap coursing down its trunk from ominous gouges. The little flower gardens in which Lecky could often be seen raising the sprouts tenderly, where mother and daughter had always planned half-jokingly to spend time planting berry bushes? Burnt beyond recognition. Through the smashed windows of the dead house, shadows of policemen could be seen, searching for some sort of clue. Right on the edge of the photo, a ribbon of brilliant yellow tape — Caution: Do Not Cross — flashed warningly.

    She didn't want to look at the others. This one was far more than enough to handle. Somewhere behind her eyes, pools of salty liquid formed.

    "Abnormal activity was reported as far back as four days ago." Jack's voice seemed to reach her brain sluggishly, as if the ears with which she listened didn't belong to her. "A neighbor says that she approached the house at one o'clock PM with a plate of cookies. When she knocked on the door, she wasn't concerned when nobody answered — she thought your mother had gone for a walk. So she left the plate on the doormat and went on her way, thinking they'd be picked up when your mother returned. At 8:25 that evening, she called your house to ask what she thought of them. Nobody picked up." He paused, turning a solemn gaze to his wide picture window; the urban panorama gleamed with brilliant afternoon sunlight. "No signs of life came from the house over the next couple of days. The neighborhood's concern turned to worry as phone call after phone call went unanswered. Yet they knew she was still in the house — the cookies were broken and scattered across the porch, and the car still in the driveway.

    "And then, at 4:15 this morning, a loud crash caused a neighbor to alert the authorities. Ten minutes later, when Jenny's Viridian cohorts arrived on the scene—" He nodded respectfully to the Officer, who still looked uneasy. "—The intruders, whoever they were, had fled. Your mother wasn't there, but investigators could tell immediately that she had, for whatever reason, been hiding herself before the kidnapping — curtains drawn, signs that the doors had been bolted. The evidence suggests she was aware that somebody was watching the house ... and perhaps she even knew her abductors' identity."

    Twin tears streaked down Leaf's cheeks. Stop it, she snarled at herself automatically, blinking hard and sending more moisture sliding freely down her face. But even her anti-sobbing mannerisms couldn't compete against the awful, gut-wrenching reality. She's gone.

    "Kans?" a voice by her feet asked, accompanied by a soft slithering. Stifling a hiccup, she looked to the floor to see a bright purple snake gazing up at her with yellow, concern-filled eyes. Lifting its long, sinuous body up the floor, it offered her a white handkerchief, held delicately in its mouth.

    "Thanks," she gasped, accepting the cloth and dabbing at her face.

    "I'm sorry," Jack said, looking awkward. "If I may?" He gently withdrew the photos from Leaf's unresisting fingers, then flipped through them until he found whatever one he was looking for. "This," he explained, staring at the picture, "perhaps backs up that theory the most — that is, her familiarity with her abductors." He looked at her over the photo's edge. "Trainer records indicate that Lecky the Electabuzz was her only Pokemon. Can you verify this?"

    Leaf nodded shakily. "Yeah," she warbled.

    Jack returned the nod. "Everyone we questioned in Pallet Town agreed with you," he said. "Which begs the question ... how does this—" He flipped the photo around to face her. "—back it up?"

    Her eyes widened at the single object in the picture, sitting on musty, bloodstained carpet: a small steel chest gleamed in an investigator's light, a broken padlock hanging limply from its gaping lid. Within its soft, padded depths was absolutely nothing — nothing at all, aside from ten deep hemispheric indentations, the five in the lid matching those of the other five within the stuffed compartment.

    For a moment, her dry mouth worked uselessly to form the words. Then, with a great swallow, she gasped, "Were there—?"

    "Poke Balls? Yes. Detectives have determined that these aren't just your average store-brand varieties, either." He pointed at the marks on the inside of the lid; looking hard, she realized there were indeed further grooves marking the insides of those half-globe indentations, the places where the spheres' top halves would have nestled. "This was a Net Ball," he said, indicating one with a bold crisscross pattern covering its entire area. "And a Fang Ball—" (A snarling pair of incisors.) "—Dusk Ball—" (Round patches, denting the indentation very softly.) "—and Luxury Ball." (A crisp, shiny circle circumscribed around the hemisphere's otherwise smooth peak.) "And that last one ... well, it's just a normal Poke Ball," he finished lamely, causing Jenny to facefault.

    Staring at the photo, Leaf's confused eyes mirrored the thoughts chasing each other around in her head. But that's not possible! She shook her head as if to chase the picture away. I've never even seen Mom with any Poke Balls besides Lecky's! And those kinds ... where would she have gotten them, anyway? She can't have any other Pokemon, she just can't! Her gaze flitted over the Net Ball’s indentation again. A frustrated shiver shook her fingers: why was this whole thing reminding her of Paris?

    "And they found this on the floor," Jack said, placing a small token on his desk; Leaf leaned forward to see a small, silvery disk-like object, with the letter "G" glinting enigmatically from its surface. "I assume it's a calling card of some sort ... but I doubt it's one of the crime syndicates. None of them start with G, do they, Jenny?"

    "Rocket, Snagem, Magma, Aqua, Plasma, and Divinity," Jenny listed, counting them off on her fingers. "No, I don't think it's them."

    And Cipher, Leaf almost put in, though she stopped herself in time: mentioning the secret Shadowfiers might lead to several awkward questions for Bill, and she wasn't completely sure that his radio equipment was legal. Besides, Cipher didn't start with G, either. "But what does my mom have to do with all of this?" she asked finally. "Why would they take her away ..." A teardrop in her eye glistened treacherously, and she blinked it away with a sniffle.

    "It could be a new syndicate," Jack said mostly to himself, not seeming to hear her. Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he stared at the "G" as if it were some sort of code.

    "A new syndicate ..." Jenny let the thought trail off as the full implications of what Jack was suggesting hit her. "You can't be serious, Jack. How could a criminal group gather adequate funds and recruit members without our knowledge? Teams don't bloom overnight, after all. And even if these 'G' people really are a syndicate, why are they only showing themselves now?"

    The two officials contemplated the problem silently, leaving Leaf to brood over this latest string of shocking discoveries. Mom, she wailed silently, staring out the window as if willing the thought to cross the unknown stretch of space separating them. Where are you, Mom? What's happening? Why didn't you ever tell me about them? Who are the G people, and who are you really? And all the while her heart broke into increasingly smaller pieces in longing for the innocent life she once led, and for berry bushes that would never grow.

    * * *

    "And here she comes." Fystor tossed her hair in a dramatic flip of her head; the bronze tresses fluttered like feathers in the breeze. A smirk played at the edges of her mouth as she watched the brunette teen approach, the grassy gap between them shrinking with deliberately even steps. "Finally been knocked down a peg or two, have you? Well, I won't say I didn't warn you."

    "Shut up," Leaf muttered, shoulders hunched.

    The bird-woman raised an eyebrow. "'Shut up'? Really? You know, somehow I don't think that's the smartest thing to tell a god to do."

    She didn't bother to give the legendary a reply. Her mother's unknown fate weighed heavily in her mind, as heavily as the newly given money weighing down her pocket, as if the cold, hard cash was the remnant of her mother's shriveled corpse. Don't think that, she snapped at herself, pushing the morbid notion out of her head. Of course she's still alive. She has to be. But even the conciliatory thought couldn't keep a lump from forming in her throat, which she tried and failed to push away with a dry swallow.

    From their seats in the grass, the two boys watched as she struggled to keep her tears down. In his fist Lightning could feel the soft fabric of the aqua blue ribbon, dotted with a pattern of white bubbles. For a moment after it had been presented to him by a giddy Daisy, he'd felt nothing but a joyous, lightheaded dizziness, the bright colors of the ribbon dancing in his vision as he leaned down to scoop Peach off the floor. Kaleri, of course, had been nothing short of furious. "Too good for a tiebreaker?" she'd snarled, storming past the unconscious form of her boring Ayell to snap at the smiling MC, a Cerulean Ribbon clenched in her own hand. "What do you mean, 'too good for a tiebreaker'? This is NOT standard procedure in the case of a double knockout! There's supposed to be a sudden death match, in which the more talented Coordinator — me, obviously — is decided once and for all!"

    Daisy, in response, had chirped something about the Pichu's brilliant yellow fur sparkling beautifully throughout the entire performance, while Ayell, according to her, "amazingly didn’t just stare at her without doing anything pretty", to which Kaleri had responded with a sharp order to go and do something anatomically unlikely to herself. And Lightning, standing there in the center of the stage, had felt for the first time in his life like a real winner... of course, it had only been a few seconds before the shorts kid had rushed out at him, beaming and squealing like a fanboy, but the success was still there, all the same.

    But now, with the news of Leaf's mother gone, the confidence and triumph had fled, replaced with a painful, wrenching empathy twisting in his gut. What would it be like, he wondered, having a parent solidly giving him comfort and advice throughout his whole life, only to have that parent snatched from his side by fate? Even the possibility seemed alien. Stroking Peach's furry head absently, he couldn't help thinking that somehow, in spite of the exciting climax in the Contest Hall, his victory had been empty and hollow.

    His feelings, however, were not shared by the other teen: leaning languidly against a convenient boulder, Anni sprawled across his ankles as she snoozed peacefully, Roark's eyes narrowed behind his glasses as a wave of satisfied vengeance surged inexplicably within him, mingling with the by now all-too-familiar fear and fury of horrors past. Finally, you know what it's like ...

    "Well, you're ready now, at any rate." Fystor yawned, as if this entire setting was beneath her.

    Leaf blinked, staring at the woman. For a moment, the meaning behind the statement eluded her, drowned out by the cutting despair — but the silver glint in Fystor's eye brought her back to reality: the reason for all these terrible, crazy happenings, and hopefully some just-as-wacky solution, were soon to come. With a deep breath, she pulled herself together. "Fine," she snapped, letting her fear and sadness fuse together and sharpen into a hungry blade of anger. "Fine. Let's see what could possibly be so important that you had to slap me with my mom's disappearance."

    "It wasn't me," the woman replied calmly, turning away from Leaf's tense, furious frame. "It was, as you put it so well, the ‘G’ people. But enough of that. It's time to let you people in on the situation ... but first, I'll introduce you to your fellow questors."

    "What d'you mean, 'fellow questors'?" Leaf asked with a scowl, as Fystor brought her tanned hands to eye level. "This is about us, not some ragtag little bunch of misfits! And no, we're not the same thing—"

    A soft burst of sound, like a muffled implosion, tore the words from her mouth as wind rushed past them in a sudden whirling gale, tossing everyone's hair to and fro. Alarmed, the boys leapt to their feet — Anni, jerked out of sleep, snorted as she clambered to a more alert position — and they all stared in apprehension at the wind's source: an expanding green-blue circle hovering before Fystor like a mirror. The circle, casting a strange, celestial light on their open-mouthed faces, seemed to be filled with whirling, colorful images chasing and blending into each other, shapes incomprehensible one moment and almost defined the next. Then its lower edge brushed the grass, and immediately the circle's growth ceased, its diameter roughly four feet across, though constantly fluctuating with its strange shimmering. At the same time, the wind died down, reverting to its previous state as a gentle summer breeze.

    "What the hell is that supposed to be?" Leaf asked in a strained voice: the unexpected show of power had left everyone holding their breath. "Is it some kind of portal that you want us to go through, or what? If it is, too bad, because I am not walking through that weird thing."

    "Not a portal, per se." Fystor dropped her hands, squinting at her swirling creation as if searching for something. "But let me assure you, it would not be a good idea to walk through it. The consequences would be most dire."

    She blinked. "Dying, you mean?"

    "No. The Aura Glass is meant for far-sight, not instant teleportation. Thus, setting foot through it would result in immediate paralysis, followed by the flesh dripping off your bones before various body parts are scattered throughout the dimensions. And then you would die."

    Lightning blanched. Peach, sensing his nausea at the graphic description, patted his ear soothingly.

    "Ah, there they are," the woman declared, as the images within the circle paused in their dance, then threw themselves into a single, focused image. The scene was lit with the stark noontime sun — wherever this place was, it was far from the breezy Kantoan cape fluttering with a fresh evening breeze. Beneath the blinding cloudless sky, an expanse of grayish-brown sand stretched unbroken to the distant horizon. Unbroken, that is, aside from the tiny makeshift camp situated near the Glass, comprised of a broad tent — or, more appropriately, a large blanket propped up on four knobby sticks, to block out the intense sunlight. A strange motorcycle-type vehicle, its reddish paint worn with sand and age, shimmered like a mirage in the heat; under the blanket, however, a few shadowy figures could be seen stretched lazily on the ground, presumably sleeping.

    One, however, was sitting straight up and staring directly at them. The strange girl's sparkling blue eyes widened with curiosity, before her trusting face widened with an excited grin. "FYSTOR?" she shouted. "FYSTOR, IT'S YOU!"

    The tent exploded with startled, abrupt motion: a dark shadow leapt to four feet, snarling, while a lanky human form beside it flailed in surprise, swearing violently. Something unleashed a bloodcurdling yowl, which abruptly ended with a loud shriek and a painful-sounding smack. Then, as was expected from the beginning, somebody smashed against a stick, causing the entire structure to collapse on top of them, the blanket draping their thrashing forms. The girl who had awoken them, however, didn't seem to notice this, as her relatively still form kept yelling at the legendary from under the blanket.

    "FINALLY, WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO GET BACK TO US FOR AGES, YOU'LL NEVER GUESS HOW MANY WE SAW, WHO ARE THOSE PEOPLE, DID YOU KNOW SOME LIZARDS AREN'T PURPLE, GUESS WHAT I—"

    <You know something?> Peach asked nobody in particular, absentmindedly twirling a blond curl of Lightning's hair around her small yellow hand. <Weird as the idea is, I think that these people are even odder than we are.>

    "Pipe down, people," Fystor told the mysterious group calmly, as if they really were sitting just a few feet in front of her instead of thousands of miles away. "These are the other ones I went to find, remember? Come out before you all get suffocated."

    The strange girl's head popped out from under the blanket, revealing a mop of orange hair, comprised of chin-length side bangs and twin spiky pigtails. "Oh, okay," she said, standing up and dusting herself off. Her outfit drew a raised eyebrow from Leaf: the stifling heat in that foreign desert should have deterred her from wearing that fur-lined blue jacket and fuzzy pink boots, even if they did look gorgeous with the deep purple tank top and white miniskirt. "I just, you know, was so excited to finally see you again, 'cause you're so cool with that aura stuff! And by the way, guess what? We actually Snagged a couple Pokemon, isn't that great?"

    An exasperated voice wafted from under the blanket. "For the love of Shaymin, Rui, I told you to let me do the talking."

    "But talking's fun!" Rui pouted, turning to the figure awkwardly getting to its feet, a steadily rising shape whose outline could be seen under the blanket. "Like when we were facing the puffy dude, and he was talking in time to the funky music? That was so funny! Plus, he was almost cool!"

    With a sigh and a lofty sweep of the hand, the other person tossed the blanket away, revealing himself to be a tall, lanky young man, possibly a year or so older than Roark. If Rui's attire had been out of place, than his clothing was nothing less than downright stupid — dressed in some sort of black suit from the waist down, he also wore an enormous blue overcoat that flapped dramatically in spite of the lack of wind. But the truly ridiculous thing about him was the funky-looking machine covering his arm, a contraption matching the color of his coat while also boasting several bright red wires, which spiraled upwards from the slot beside his hand to the padding over his shoulder.

    "Sorry, Fystor," he said respectfully, nodding in deference; his silvery hair sparkled with the movement. He then turned to the astonished teens staring back at him, and his huge almond-shaped eyes narrowed even further (Leaf decided he bore an astonishing resemblance to an elf). "But these ... are you sure they're the right ones? They don't look particularly gifted."

    "Yeah, well, guess what? You don't look too special yourself!" Leaf exploded, turning bright red at the insult. "All you're doing is wearing the funny machine thing, is it supposed to compensate for something?"

    The boy's face blushed a delicate purple. "This is a state-of-the-art mechanism that'll topple the entire underground Shadow trade," he shot back, fury coloring his tone. "Somehow I think it'll do more good than a midget blonde, a dude with a tacky helmet, and a chick toting an ugly bag and a weird orange Gameboy Advance."

    She fought the urge to try to leap through the Glass and punch him in the nose. "You jerk! This bag is not ugly!"

    "Yeah, and this helmet is a lifesaving essential in potentially unstable caves!" Roark, too, looked rather ticked off, though his emotion was still a far cry from Leaf's volcanic rage.

    They both looked at Lightning.

    "What can I say?" he asked, shrugging. "He's right about me."

    <Time to die, suckers!> a voice growled evilly: a thick, snakelike head shot out from under the blanket, thin pod-like protrusions growing in a ring around the base of a long neck. For some reason, Rui shot the Pokemon an uncomfortable look, which went unnoticed. Curling his lip, the Pokemon snapped his head around at the strange boy's foot; the boy barely managed to jump over the scythe-shaped leaf jutting from his forehead. Red eyes flashing in frustration, the Pokemon made to try and cut the boy again — only to freeze as a faint purplish glow surrounded him, before his head was slammed forcibly into the sand with a solid thump. <Ow! Cut that out, freakazoid!>

    <Stop being a psychotic maniac, then, and let me help you!> another Pokemon retorted, sticking her own head out to glare at him. The cat's lilac fur was smooth and pristine even in this harsh environment, though the large tufts on either side of her large-eared head were rather frazzled. The ruby-red gem on her forehead glinted as she shifted in the sand.

    "Don't even bother, Espeon," the boy told the cat, shooting the reptile a cautious glance. "That can't be how to deal with Shadows. You can't even reason with them, let alone purify them, so why try?"

    <Because there's still good in him!> Espeon gazed up at him with huge dark eyes. <I can feel it! It's in there, waiting for the right catalyst to set it free ... and fly like it used to, tireless as a bee ...>

    <Wow.> Another mammal stuck his head out on her other side, his long ears sticking straight up from a head covered in jet-black fur. Yellow rings circled his ears and forehead, and he rolled his crimson eyes in mock empathy. <You're a poet now, Espeon? Surely that'll drive out the evil, because nothing says "Begone, foul demon" quite like pretty words that sound like each other.>

    She stuck her tongue out him. <Shut up. OW! I said don't do that!> she snapped at the reptile, who snickered in satisfaction before getting his head shoved into the sand again.

    "This is all very cute," Fystor said serenely, "but introductions are yet to be made. These three," she told the kids in the desert, who were trying to ignore the Pokemon's antics as best they could, "are Leaf, who is extremely annoying and self-righteous at the best of times—"

    "Hey! Take that back right now, Fystor! I am not annoying, and you know it!"

    "—Lightning, who can't find his own feet without tripping over them—"

    "That's stretching it a bit, isn't it?"

    "—and Roark, also known as Mister 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen', and won't stop moaning about it."

    "Yeah, well, maybe if your dad had—"

    "And these guys," the woman went on, talking right over everybody's protests, "are Wes, who's seen the error of his past ways and therefore can't possibly do anything wrong, and—"

    "And I'm Rui!" exclaimed Rui, beaming. "I sort of got kidnapped by evil people, but Wes saved me, 'cause he's awesome! But then it turned out he was evil actually, but not really, but I wasn't okay with that for a while because evil people are evil, but then I decided he was cool since he saved me from the other evil people and that's not what an evil person would do, and then he used the thingy to steal Pokemon from other people, which isn't an evil thing to do 'cause the Pokemon were evil because the evil people made them evil, which is an evil thing to do, and I helped him with it ‘cause I can see which Pokemon are evil ‘cause of their evil aura stuff, which maybe means I used to be evil, but maybe an evil person just put that idea in my head when they kidnapped me to get me discouraged, which is an evil thing to do, I think, and yeah. Oh, and I found out that even fish dance to disco." She grinned at them cheerfully, making everyone sweatdrop.

    “… That’s great,” was all Leaf could manage. She gave Fystor a questioning look, which was ignored.

    “We’ve used it to Snag a couple of Shadows,” Wes said to the woman, lifting the machine thing on his arm for emphasis. “Just like you told us to. But I seriously don’t know what good it’ll do, Fystor. Looking at their attitude, anyone can tell it’s impossible to purify them.”

    <Well, duh!> the reptile snarled, spitting out a mouthful of sand. <I’m too sexy for my shirt … I mean, I’m too evil for my shirt! Screw that, I’m too sexy and evil for my shirt, hell yeah!>

    <You’re not wearing a shirt,> the black Pokemon pointed out.

    <Exactly, doofus!>

    “It can be done, actually,” Fystor told them. “Just by spending time with them and trying to bond with them. If the Beast doesn’t kill you, that’ll confuse it and weaken its hold while simultaneously strengthening the soul. And I’m pretty sure some scientists over there in Orre are investigating other methods as well.”

    Wes blinked. “Really?”

    <See, Umbreon?> Espeon stuck her tongue out again. <I was even doing it right, too! Bayleef’s already on the path to redemption, and we can save him from being damned, I mean, Crushed, and we can all live happily ever after!>

    <Whatever, sis,> Umbreon said, rolling his eyes. <As long as the bugger stops being a Pokecidal moron.>

    <Hey, I’m right here, you know! Filthy Bibarel,> Bayleef spat.

    “They can be cured?” Leaf asked, as if Fystor hadn’t just said so.

    “Yeah! Hey, Leaf, I bet we can tell Bill to hang out with Clefairy, and he’ll help its soul get freed!” Lightning grinned at his own idea, because no idea is quite as genius as informing a psychotic billionaire to become bosom buddies with an equally psychotic pink fairy of doom.

    <Oh, Lightning, you’re so smart!> Peach gushed, stroking his ear.

    “Silence!” Fystor demanded suddenly, making everybody jump. “The Lady herself … has arrived.”

    Everyone looked around automatically, expecting to see some mysterious Pokemon emerge out of nowhere, but no one showed herself. Indeed, in Orre, a giant tumbleweed chose that moment to bounce across the sandy backdrop, while an unseen Wingull cried on the far shore of Cerulean Cape.

    Yet Leaf could swear she heard voices …

    I. And it came to pass that I was transported to a strange place, in which I could see …

    <That idiot had better not call me Minnie again,> somebody muttered as the first went on, <or else I’ll snap off his scythe and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, so help me Mom.>

    <Behave thyself, my daughter,> a deep, mighty voice chastened quietly. With the low, almost inaudible rumble, a wave of gentle peace rippled throughout the area, soothing Leaf’s aching heart in spite of her stubborn refusal to let go of the resentment.

    “…Where?” Rui asked finally. Then she beamed as a thought occurred to her. “Ooh, wait, is this like one of those games where the hero is a god or something reincarnated? That’d be so crazy, and fun, but also scary because demons would be chasing us and trying to steal our HP, but that’s a silly thing for them to do, because my Silver Arrows were upgraded to Holy Silver Arrows, so all that happens is we get more experience points!”

    Wes could only facepalm repeatedly in disgust.

    “No,” Fystor replied, smirking again. “She’s watching through another dimension, along with Shaymin and a prophet. The prophet’s a safeguard, in case you were wondering. It’d be hard explaining the entire thing to you, so let’s just say this: the time from which he comes is about as stable as it gets, so his prophecy is definitely going to exist in every timestream. And, as myth tells you over and over again, prophecies usually come true, especially if it’s in spite of somebody trying to prevent the actual event from happening. So his being here is pretty much all that’s keeping you all from being erased from existence, since he’s writing about you.”

    “…” Leaf said, her head spinning with the convoluted logic.

    <I shortened his purpose even further,> Shaymin said, <to two words: bloody nuisance.>

    “Um …” Lightning rubbed his temples, looking confused. “Could you say that slower, and so we can understand?”

    “Of course not. Messing with your heads is too much fun. Now …” She turned away from the blonde’s pained expression, reaching out toward the Aura Glass with a long finger that, as it delicately touched the Glass’s unseen surface, somehow had taken the appearance of a hooked eagle claw. “We’ll start with a brief lesson in basic theological hierarchy to help you better understand what’s going on, yeah? To start, take a look at this …” She traced a few shapes on the glass, which somehow showed up as sketches outlined in green-blue, seemingly floating before their wide eyes. “At the top are the legendaries, or gods, who hold absolute power over their respective domains. Some are more powerful than others, but that’s a debate for another time. It’s obvious, however, that Mom … that is, Lady Arceus … is unquestionably the ruler of the gods.” She gestured toward a stick drawing of a horse with a spiky ring around its midsection, which mysteriously began to gallop around the others as if it had been waiting for a signal.

    <It beareth an astonishing resemblance to mine self,> the deep voice commented, amused.

    “Beneath them,” Fystor continued, tracing a line to keep the legendaries in the top section of the Glass, “are the angels, or demigods. The offspring of legendaries and mortals, or of other angels and mortals.” Strange half-human, half-Pokemon shapes appeared as her finger brushed the Glass. “They’re not born with nearly the power of us legendaries, but with time and training they can give us a serious run for our money. They, like us, have the power to take on mortal shapes as well as divine ones.

    “Next we have mortals.” Twin vaguely human-shaped stick figures were traced on the Glass, one with a triangle on its body that was probably meant to be a dress. A circle with triangle-shaped fins and a cat with spiky ears joined them. “Humans and Pokemon. They don’t do much, but it’s amazing how high maintenance they are. Oh wait, they’re you guys. Never mind, then.

    “Beyond mortals …” She cleared her throat significantly. “The Dark Side awaits. No, they do not have cookies. Oh, they’ll have illusions of cookies, to be sure …” Her lip curled as she drew a few hooded figures, floating eerily. “Nice, big juicy cookies like independence, love, cash, friends, fun. But by the time you finally figure out they’re only illusions, you’re right where they want you. They’re the demons, or chaotics, or glitches, whichever you prefer. And the Shadows fit in this category, too, because of the whole inner darkness thing.

    “And then, below them all, so vile and foul and powerful that he deserves his own dank, dark level …” Fystor hissed as she drew a spiky, undefined cloud of darkness. “Apolydon himself. The ultimate evil, devoted to his twisted goal of destroying all other life. He gets a kick out of using servants to carry out his plans, though. They think they’re so clever, ‘ooh, I’m tricking Apolydon somehow, I’m so clever,’ but no. Why should he care about them any more than anybody else?”

    Anni shifted nervously. <So, this evil bugger wants to exterminate us?> She glanced around, as if expecting a giant foot to appear out of nowhere and squish them flat.

    “I didn’t say exterminate,” Fystor replied, a knowing look in her eye. “I said destroy. They’re not necessarily the same thing. Basically, he wants to enslave every creature that’s ever lived — even the ones that have passed on to Giratina’s realm — and feed on their Crushed souls for all eternity, an undying parasite.”

    “Like a vampire.” Lightning shuddered.

    She nodded. “Definitely like a vampire.”

    There was a moment of silence as her words sunk in. Beyond the distant beach, waves crashed against each other in their perpetual dance. Even Bayleef had stopped sputtering venomously to listen, head cocked to the side in curiosity.

    “Um,” Rui remarked at last, “that’s mean of him. But I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. Is there, like, a bracelet or something he made long ago, and we all need to go and toss it into the fires of Mount Battle in order to finally end his evil reign? Or did he put bits of himself into seemingly ordinary objects, then scatter them across the land, where they’ll sit guarded by dark magic until we find them and try to destroy them? And if one of us is one of the objects, and I don’t think it’s me since I don’t have a funky scar, then do we have to let him kill them?”

    Everyone stared at her.

    “I don’t know her,” Wes muttered to nobody in particular, embarrassed.

    “That’s … not how it works.” Fystor seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face. “He isn’t just an evil, Rui. He’s THE evil. Emphasis on ‘the’. What would really need to be done to stop him … well, the stronger he is, the more souls he can Crush. A literal vicious cycle. Now, if somebody died as a Shadow, he or she would automatically be Crushed, since the Beast was in control. The recent Shadowfying process that Cipher’s come up with is practically serving him souls on a silver platter. More souls have been Crushed in the last decade than in the entire KanJohto War.”

    “The War of Western Aggression, you mean.” Like most Kantoans, Leaf was a tad testy concerning the name of the civil war that had raged between Kanto and Johto over a hundred and fifty years previously.

    Fystor rolled her eyes. “Oh, you people. I just love how you can listen to the demonic stuff without flinching, yet get riled up over the name of a conflict that happened before your grandparents were born. But ignoring that issue … the main point of your mission is to find and purify the Shadows. It’ll severely cut off his source of power and buy us time — us being Shaymin, Lady Arceus, and myself — to investigate the legendary and angel ranks for signs of corruption.”

    The kids looked at each other warily: everyone wanted it to be said, but no one would actually say it.

    No one, that is, until the silence wore on Rui enough that she finally declared, “You’re crazy!”

    And that was all that was needed for a breakout of vehement disapproval of Fystor’s plan, punctuated every now and then by a snarl from Bayleef, a thump from his head, and a chuckle from Umbreon.

    “What the hell, purify—?”

    “You want noobs to do this stuff, seriously—?”

    “What makes you think we’d have the time to bond with every single Shadow we come across, I mean, honestly?”

    “This is ridiculous, that’d mean you, Shaymin and the Lady are the only trustworthy legends—”

    “We’ll get killed, and guess what? I don’t think we have enough pixie dust for that!”

    “This is a joke, right? Of course it is. Your legendary buddies are snickering at us from above, aren’t they?”

    “Do angels and corrupted even belong in the same sentence?”

    “SILENCE!” Fystor’s voice sliced through the air, along with the unanticipated flash of lightning flying out of nowhere to char the ground before her into ashy dust. Immediately the teenagers shut up, blinking nervously. “I understand it’s a lot to swallow, especially for mortals that’ve barely crawled out of the cradle, but just be quiet for a minute while I sketch it out further! Holy trucking Mother, you’re driving me insane!”

    <”Holy trucking Mother”? That is a new one to mine self,> the Lady murmured to herself. <Shaymin, from where thinkest thou Fystor thought of such an oath?>

    <No idea.> Shaymin’s statement seeped sarcasm.

    Fystor exhaled in the tense quiet. “Thank you. I suppose it’s Q-and-A time for Professor Fystor, then. Bugger, this is sure to annoy the hell out of me. Anyway: no, this is not a joke, although the Twins might see it that way. Of course I don’t expect you to buddy-buddy enough with every last one of the vicious monsters to skip off into the sunset in the limited time we have. Rui, I hope you’re joking about the dust, because if not, you’ve obviously snorted some. Leaf, you weren’t listening, were you? So shut up. Roark, I’m afraid that, for the time being, we’re going to have to assume you’re right. Legendaries wouldn’t be on the wrong side for power alone, they’ve already got as much as they can handle. But the problem is that at various points in time, one or another has seen mortals and occasionally even angels as useless wastes of space, so it’s very likely that some will team up with Mister Evil just to wipe them off the face of the earth.” She sighed. “Folly at its greatest … Shaymin and I are the only two who actually think like humans do, so we can empathize with mortals almost too easily. So we consider them worth paying attention to, usually. And Lady Arceus loves her little creations so much, don’t you, Mom?”

    <Indeed. Their lives be all the more profound for their brevity.>

    “As such, we’re the only three we’re currently certain aren’t willing to start gunning down mortals. Even your traditionally benevolent gods – the Latis, the Necrans, Skarbimi, Cresselia – aren’t necessarily benevolent now, at this moment in time, so it’ll take some searching on our part to figure out which are on our side. Yes, believe it or not, we’re not going to sit on our rears while you people do all the work! We’re legends, not bureaucrats!

    “And the angels … hopefully the majority will have more sense than Vember.” She shook her head; whether it was in despair or disgust nobody could tell. “If your general mental image of angels involved cheery humans wearing halos, descending from heaven and singing tidings of comfort and joy to the sound of triumphant trumpets, then take that image and burn it with hellfire. They have no more reason to be kind and sympathetic than mortals have. They can be ruthless with their power, corrupt with laziness, or drunk with fame. Some are notable politicians or celebrities or tycoons – you undoubtedly have heard of their fame, though their parentage of course wouldn’t be widely known. Others are terrified of their own powers and are liable to lash out at anyone who pries into their lives. Old age doesn’t affect them – when it comes to death, that’s all that separates them from mortals, although they’re still resilient to injuries, which means they usually go out with a violent, painful death. Dying terrifies them. If they see something as a threat, they won’t hesitate to destroy it.

    “And unlike gods, angels can be Shadowfied. They inherit Beasts from their mortal side, and when those Beasts take over, they turn into serious bad news. At this moment, there’s only one thing more dangerous to you guys than an angel, and that’s a Shadow angel, because while the former’s power is tempered with reason, the latter’s got no second thoughts to shield you from its killing blow. The greater they are, the harder they fall.”

    Her eyes, which had been fixed on an undetermined point and clouded with contemplative shadow, blinked, then flickered upward; the silver irises snapped back and forth somewhat irritably at the sight of the fascinated humans, intently listening to her speech.

    “Hmph. Didn’t mean to turn this into Angel 101,” she huffed, shaking the pensive thoughts from her head. “Although I suppose too much information is better than none at all, in cases like these. But back to the point … Wes, you and Rui’ll be doing pretty much what I’ve been telling you to do this entire time: Snag Shadows, purify, repeat, as much as it takes to bring down Cipher. Simple enough outline, yes? Although you’ll have to watch out for Snagem too, they weren’t exactly thrilled when we destroyed their base.”

    Leaf, still reeling from Fystor’s spiel, could only blink as the world flooded back to her; she was caught halfway between believing the legendary’s words, and thinking that this entire thing was just a bad rehash of some overused manga plot.

    “True. Although I must say, I was quite thrilled to see you decided to bring acetone peroxide.” A devilish grin stretched Wes’s face; a light shone in his golden eyes, kindled perhaps by Fystor’s vivid descriptions of the demigods, although to Leaf it seemed more likely that it was because he was fondly recalling some memory of blowing something up. “That really did quite a number on them. TNT is so overrated—”

    “You blew people up?” Lightning’s eyes bugged out in horror. “What the heck, that’s so barbaric! You can’t just make them expl—”

    “I didn’t make people explode!” Wes retorted, brandishing the machine on his arm at nothing in particular. “I made the Snagem hideout explode, there’s a considerable difference! Granted, probably half of them are buried under the rubble, if they weren’t severely burned by the heat … but that’s justifiable, seeing that the lot of them are crooks!”

    “It’s still cruel!” the blonde cried. “The stories of bombings they told me were horrible…” He trailed off with a shudder.

    Leaf frowned, glancing at him over Peach as the mouse attempted to soothe him. “Who’s ‘they’?”

    Lightning, of course, was too worked up to reply, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he had, anyway; breaking from twin expressions of frozen shock, Roark and Anni had joined the verbal fray.

    Collapsing the roof on them? Don’t you have any idea how easily a human can be crushed by just a square half foot of rock?”

    <Sick *******. Go blow yourself up, let’s see how you like it.>

    <You’re so mean!> Peach shrilled, glaring at the Orreans as she coddled Lightning. <What’d you have to go and do that for, weirdo?>

    <Don’t call our trainer a weirdo!> Umbreon spat back at the mouse, long ears pressed against his head as a protective expression tightened his face. <And he was doing the right thing, shorty! If he hadn’t done it, there’d be even more chaos going around than there is now!>

    “—And that’s with the proper safety precautions, and how many people do you honestly think were wearing helmets when it collapsed?”

    “They were evil people, they deserved to die. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves!”

    <And anyone who says what you just said is a soulless *******.>

    “SHUT UP.”

    Fystor glared from one person to the next as everybody abruptly fell into silence, looking back at her abashedly. Beads of sweat glimmered on Lightning’s forehead as he shivered. Just on the edge of her vision, Leaf swore she could hear the unseen prophet muttering to himself as he wrote.

    XDVII. And there came a deathly silence as all pondered the chance of the mission succeeding. For verily, it seemed to mine self as though the likelihood of the humans cooperating peacefully was as great as the flame burning without heat, or the frost of morning blazing like unto wildfire, or hell itself freezing over—

    The voice was cut off with an abrupt squeal.

    <That’s for liking the sound of your own voice,> said Shaymin smugly, ignoring Arceus’s soft rumble of chastisement.

    “I’d ask if you’d all really think you can go through with this,” Fystor told the intent mortals, mirroring the prophet’s words. “But since you’re all bound by fate to do this, none of you has a choice in whether you do it or not, so there’s no point in asking. I just hope, for your sake, that you learn to get along like good little mortals unless you want to get Crushed like empty soda cans.”

    She glared at them, power emanating quietly from behind her wise silver eyes.

    “Got it?”

    A vague chorus of mumbling consent answered, punctuated by another thump; Bayleef muttered <Damn,> his mouth full of sand again.

    “Good. Anyway, you all know what you’re supposed to be doing, so maybe I can finally—”

    “Um, not really.” Roark rubbed the back of his head, glancing over at Wes in disgust. “You didn’t tell us what you wanted us to do.”

    She blinked. “Oh. Well, you people were yakking at each other … here’s the deal, you three. Believe it or not, I don’t know everything, so I went and asked Uxie – the Uxie – some questions. The bugger wasn’t particularly cooperative, but one of the most important bits he told me is that, since the main importer of Shadows is Team Rocket, it’s essential that they get taken down in order to topple Cipher’s influence in Kanto. But, he said, it’ll be even harder to do that than we originally thought, because some members of the Kanto League are also Rockets.”

    They gasped in horror. Bayleef’s snicker at this was quickly cut off.

    “Yes, some of the most powerful trainers in the region, gone to the dark side. Of course, with two of you being noobs and the other being an anti-evolution nerd, it’ll hardly be easy. Which brings you to your first step: train. Get stronger. By all means, keep going on your badge hunt thing; it’ll make it far simpler for you to meet up with the gym leaders and get an idea of what they’re like. Don’t actually confront them about it until you’re sure you can really thrash them, though. We don’t want Leaf’s big head ruining it for everyone else.”

    “Hey!”

    “But …” Lightning’s protest drifted weakly in the air, unfinished, as he realized Fystor wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Cornered into the mission, he shivered again, apprehension flickering in his eyes.

    “Of course, you want to go searching for the Lapras instead,” the woman told Roark, who nodded silently. He blinked in surprise when she added, “And I’m telling you to do that. Uxie said it’d be smart for you if you kept your head down for a while …”

    “Why?”

    She rolled her eyes. “Why do you think?”

    The color drained from his face. “So … he is looking for me.”

    “Bingo.”

    “Well, so much for not getting killed.”

    “Just don’t draw attention to yourself,” she repeated. “Anyway, there’s the plan. Plain and simple. Any more questions?”

    The five humans glanced at each other. After the legendary’s talk of vengeful angels, the truth about what they were actually supposed to do seemed almost mundane.

    “Before I take the Aura Glass down, I want to say one last thing. I’ll expect you people to keep in touch with each other with those … interesting machines.” She smirked knowingly. “Thanks to fate, you’ve got far more in common than you know.”
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 5th March 2011 at 7:03 PM.
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  23. #173
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    A brief moment of silence after they had registered her words, Wes groaned. “Oh, no. And here I was hoping we were going to let them think Rui was the weirdest thing about us. Why, Fystor? Why?”

    “I know, I’m so awesome that way!” Rui agreed, beaming. “I just reached the rank of Wyrd Sister a couple days ago. But at the rate I’m going, I’m sure I’ll get to High Priestess in no time!”

    “I thought you people told me to be quiet,” an electronic, rather feminine voice remarked a bit grumpily. “It’d really be more convenient for everyone if you just made up your minds about whether you want me to talk, all right? I swear, getting stolen was not the greatest thing that ever happened to me!”

    On Cerulean Cape, the three teens did a double take at the unexpected new speaker.

    With a shaking finger, Lightning pointed in Wes’s direction. “Is …” he breathed, hardly believing his own words, “is the … did your machine just talk?”

    “It’s not that hard to speak directly to me,” the voice replied rather edgily; it seemed to be emanating from the Snag Machine on Wes’s overcoat-covered arm. ”I have a mind too, you know. In any case, what makes you so sure I can communicate with these people, O Fystor? I don’t work nights as a telephone.”

    “Hot damn!” the Pokedex cried out from Leaf’s yellow handbag.

    “… You? … Oh, bugger.”

    Wes’s mouth dropped open; Rui, on the other hand, seemed to be too busy gloating over her Wyrd Sister status to see how this was out of the ordinary.

    That’s how.” Fystor smirked.

    “Of course it’s me,” the Pokedex went on, trying to drop down to a sultry baritone and failing miserably. “I’m the sexiest circuitry you ever met, doll. What’s a girl like you doing clear out in a place like Orre? Last time I heard, you were battling a nasty bug in Hoenn.”

    “Bug?” Lightning asked, though as usual everyone ignored him.

    “I suppose you also heard I liked Mudkip,” the Snag Machine replied coolly. “Either way, my life is none of your business, so kindly shut up.”

    “Business after pleasure, love. Business after pleasure.”

    “As you might have guessed,” Fystor interrupted, looking perversely pleased at everyone’s expressions of strained confusion, “the Pokedex and Snag Machine are … acquainted with each other. Due to a long set of events that would hurt your heads just trying to follow, they can connect with each other long-distance to give you people relatively simple communication.”

    “But …” Leaf rubbed her aching temples; the day had held far too many surprises for her. “But how did that even happen?”

    “Like I’m going to tell you, Naaaarrrrrrrgh,” the orange machine said in a snarky voice.

    “She wouldn’t believe you even if you did,” the other pointed out.

    “You wound me, doll. Seriously, that infected my CPU with sorrow.”

    “I could tell you,” Fystor said, cutting off Leaf’s persistent demand to be in the know, “but you don’t need to know every detail about them. Unless you want everyone to know what Ocean told you last March?”

    She gasped. “No! I mean …” A furtive glance, as if checking to make sure nobody else understood. “I promised him I wouldn’t tell!”

    “Good.” The bird-woman honored them with her trademark smirk. “You keep your secrets, everyone else keeps theirs. Fair enough, don’t you think?”

    To this, the girl could only glower in vague humiliation, angry that Fystor was holding one over her head. Even legendaries aren’t above blackmail, she thought darkly, taking care that the thought permeated her entire body to give the woman a nonverbal retort.

    If Fystor could read that, however, she wasn’t letting on: she had already placed her hands before her, the air humming softly around her as the Glass began to fill with translucent, undefined images. “They’ll get in touch with you,” she assured the Orreans, who didn’t look as though they sincerely believed that. “The Pokedex has its ways. In the meantime, I’ll be meeting up with you behind Outskirt Stand in a couple of days.”

    Wes nodded slowly. “Okay, we’ll be there.”

    “Good for you, Legolas,” the Pokedex said obnoxiously. “But mark my words, you’d better not be thinking you can spear the Machine with your longbow, if you know what I mean.”

    The young man flushed red as he realized its hidden meaning, though the color was difficult to see behind the thickening haze.

    “You brute!” the Snag Machine snapped at it. “If you think that’s a clever ploy to get me to swoon for you, you’d better destroy your current hard drive. Because I certainly don’t want any contraption with parts that can form such stupid thoughts.”

    “Well, there is another part of mine that I know you want. And it’s hard … and has a LOT of drive—”

    “POKEDEX!”

    Fwwwit.

    Everyone blinked in surprise: the Glass had abruptly vanished, leaving no trace that it had ever existed aside from the line of singed grass before them. As it did, the prophet’s voice finally trailed off into silence, as the feeling of love dissipated into a chilly nothingness, and with a shiver Leaf scowled as she realized that she’d been interrupted again.

    “… Where’d it go?” Lightning asked stupidly, glancing around as if expecting it to jump out at them.

    Fystor turned toward them, her hands cupped around a tiny sphere of sparkling blue-green light. “Here. Or rather, the power that formed it is here. Recycling is important, remember that.” She stared at it for a moment before it winked out of sight. “Well, that was productive. Anyone up for dinner?”

    It was a mark of how strange the latest events had been that it took them a full minute to realize that she meant it.



    “Well, I took your advice,” Bill called from the pantry, his voice muffled. “I’m pretty sure I have something else in here besides casserole. Of course, I may have to dig further back to find something … wow, I haven’t been to this corner since 2005. Oh, there’s the motherboard I was looking for—”

    <Anything besides casserole,> Peach muttered, gazing from the table along with the others.

    Everyone else’s feelings of agreement were somewhat vague; they were still chewing on the facts Fystor had just told them, shooting each other sideways looks every now and then as if unsure whether they had all seen the same thing. Fystor, of course, had no such gripes, considering the more immediate plan action as she drummed the tabletop with impatient fingers.

    Frosti nodded. He glanced at the grimy window, from which the dim red glow of the setting sun shone weakly. With a shiver, he bit his lip. <Will we really have to do this mission thing?> he asked nobody in particular.

    Anni shot him a suspicious glare. <How’d you know about that?>

    In answer he pointed at Fystor, who smirked at his gesture even though her back was turned.

    <Oh, yeah,> the Cranidos realized. <Aura stuff. Duh. Well, it’s still a bit Farfetch’d to me, but personally I’d rather look like a fool than get my soul smashed up, if you know what I mean. So yeah, it’d probably be a really smart idea to follow through with it.>

    Cheri’s antennae twitched. <And to destroy his influence would be the honorable course.>

    <Mhm. > Peach nodded slightly. <Plus, it’d be really exciting. But I really don’t want my poor Lightning to get hurt.> She patted her trainer’s head, though he didn’t seem to feel it: something about the day seemed to have shaken him, and he stared after Bill with unfocused, anxious eyes, sweat still beading his brow. <I’ll have to keep a tight leash on him, the sweetie.>

    “AHA!” Bill exclaimed, extracting himself from the pantry. He held in his hands a bag full of thick stringy stuff, coated with puce fuzz. “Spaghetti,” he added, noticing everyone’s confused looks.

    A heartbeat of silence followed as they wondered if he actually believed that they thought it was a good idea to eat something that might have been made before their great-grandparents were born. Then there was another, more philosophical heartbeat as some of them wondered how many angels existed who were as old as that spaghetti.

    BANG went a chair as it slammed backward into the wall, making everyone (besides Fystor) jump.

    “That’s it,” Leaf snapped, standing up. “I’m gone. You three, follow me.”

    Stress tensing her muscles, she marched out of the kitchen, ignoring the fact that their eyes were boring into her retreating back. This is too much, she thought edgily. Flashes of the past twenty-four hours flitted through her brain: screams of terror, snapping bone, her ruined home, Wes’s cynical expression, the drawing of spiky darkness … Too much.

    She was halfway up the stairs, still seething in furious resentment, when she realized that her Pokemon were being strangely quiet. A sharp remark formed in her mouth as she swiveled to face them, but it died in her throat as she realized why she hadn’t heard them: they weren’t even there. She was standing halfway between floors, stupidly alone. Jaw set, she pounded down the stairs again.

    “Didn’t you hear me?” she hollered, marching back along the hall.

    Frosti’s voice echoed from the kitchen. <Yeah.>

    <But I’m hungry!> Parvati complained, in a my-mouth-is-full-of-moldy-food voice.

    “Then come on!” she ordered. Why the hell do they have to be so difficult?

    But Cheri’s single word rang authoritatively.

    <No.>

    She froze, foot lifted comically off the floor. Nails bit into her palms as she clenched her fists. “Excuse me?”

    <No,> Cheri repeated. <Life hardly revolves around you, human. We are not in battle now, so we cannot be expected to cater to your every whim. But even greater than that, you cannot comprehend even the problems under your nose, much less the great cosmic struggle we have been caught up in.>

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” she snarled.

    “You know, it’s kind of awkward when somebody you can’t see is shouting at somebody next to you,” Lightning commented almost thoughtfully.

    “Some things are better off not seen, though.” Roark’s voice, too, was pensive.

    With a poorly restrained shriek of rage Leaf stormed away again, stairs passing beneath her stomping feet in a blur. Damn them, she thought furiously, her emotions teetering dangerously out of control. Damn them. Damn Fystor, damn Mom, damn Cheri, damn angels, damn everything!

    It was only within the confines of her room, when the door had slammed thunderously and the sun’s dying light dripped through the window, when she flopped onto her untidy bed with her face buried in her pillow, did she let go of the last remnants of control and did what she never, ever let anyone see her do.

    She cried.

    * * *

    The dark heart of the city thrummed with the noises of the night, of low rumblings of protesting buses and shrill wails of frantic sirens. From the sky-high buildings towering over the gridded roads, mellow lights gleamed enigmatically, concealing the stars in the shroud of night that was fast approaching. Most of the citizens had already returned to their homes, leaving an odd stillness on the corner of Fourth and Broadway, a relatively less crowded portion of the downtown area.

    But any idea that the scene was quiet was quickly shattered.

    <Yeah! Take that, phatty. That’s whatcha get when you mess with the phollowers of Ronald McDonald!>

    A pained sigh. “Phlash … cut it out.”

    <Didja see me, Weird Hair Guy? I totally kicked them a long ways phrom here!>

    The tall shape of the admin staggered out of the darkness, halting as he gazed up at the building before him. It made up for its comparatively dismal height with the display of glowing neon decorating its exterior, culminating in the blazing red letters of its famous name, blurred in his vision. In spite of his agony, his face broke weakly into a pained smirk. Finally, I’ve returned …

    <But really,> his Phrygoil babbled rabidly, scampering past him, <it was so phun. Maybe now they can join up with the phaith and worship the bubbling egg, too!> With a clatter of claws, she cheerfully chased after a tumbling paper bag, undoubtedly the discarded container of somebody’s oily lunch.

    He rubbed his head, readjusting his wig slightly. “Great …” He cut himself off with a hacking cough; droplets of blood flew alongside saliva. How in hell had he kept it together on the plane? Somehow, the pain had gotten even worse with every passing step. “Phlash, return.”

    <Aw, but I was enjoying myselph,> she pouted, before disappearing abruptly into her Poke Ball.

    Replacing the sphere on his belt – his hand was hurting, he realized vaguely – Cobalt lurched through the narrow doors of the building, the crippling pain lancing through his chest clouding his mind more with every throb. He was only dimly aware of the smoky atmosphere billowing outwards as he entered the stuffy building. Rather than looking around at his darkened, hazy surroundings – he’d been here a million times before, anyway – he headed toward the security guard, leaning against a nearby silvery wall with a lazily watchful eye. Around him, loud club music drilled into his skull. Someone outside his vision laughed shrilly.

    As the admin dizzily approached, the guard jumped to attention, glancing around furtively before murmuring, “Welcome back, Mister Cobalt. We’ve been expecting you.”

    Cobalt nodded. He didn’t trust himself to open his mouth: it was all he could do not to faint. In his head, the need for healing whispered: Sleep …

    The guard’s eyes narrowed in concern. “Are you all right, sir?”

    He only winced, almost doubling over as he cradled his injured ribs. Damn Cranidos, he thought faintly. Damn Stealth Rock.

    Sleep ...

    Colors swam before his eyes in a blurry haze, so he could only dimly hear the guard’s voice hissing, “… appears to be injured. Summon Team doctors, I repeat: summon Team …”

    His last semi-coherent thought was of what the Boss would think, now that his pride was stripped away with this awful loss of control …

    Sleep.

    And then he hit the floor.

    * * *

    Author's Note: No, this is not going to turn into a religious fic, jsyk. I'm not that cruel. :P
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 26th January 2010 at 5:39 AM.
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  24. #174
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    Ha, just managed to get this one in before February ends, so I can keep up with my "chapter-every-month" goal. Amazing how long it took me to actually stop beating around the bush and write this. You know how they say TV Tropes will ruin your life? They aren't kidding.

    * * *

    Chapter Twenty: How to Be a Nobody (Regret and Repentance!)

    Trekking through the towering stalks of wheat, a spiky-haired boy grimaced as his hand throbbed again. The authorities had finally released him, returned his freedom. Yet the many lines had left their mark: his right hand was so cramped from its grip on the pen that he couldn’t uncurl it without his muscles screaming in protest. So he went on, a virtual cripple and yet a free one, for he was no longer recognized as a public menace by the overbearing police.

    In their eyes, he was once again a nobody.

    A smirk played at his lips as the thought crossed his mind. A slight rustling in the wheat nearby caught his attention, and his left hand automatically plucked a spare Poke Ball from his belt. Twirling in his fingers, he stood very still, waiting for the unseen Pokemon to come to him.

    And come it did: a tiny star-shaped Pokemon waddled right across his path, oblivious to his presence. With an almost lazy motion he tossed the red-and-white sphere at it; the pink creature, large brown ears twitching at the faint sound of the Ball soaring through the air, squeaked in surprise as she caught sight of it. She turned to run, but the Ball had already opened, converting her into a mass of bright red energy and drawing her slowly inside. With a soft snap it shut, trapping her inside in spite of her struggles to free herself: it pinged cheerfully before it hit the ground, sending a small cloud of dust flying.

    His grin widened as he stooped to pick up the Ball housing his new Cleffa, then gazed around as he replaced it on his belt. Fire had to have come by this way, he knew, remembering the other teen’s talk of defeating the gym leader in the next city. That was before they had separated, he remembered, as he set off through the field again. Before he’d been forced to return to Officer Jenny and her loud, snapping mouth, while Fire was allowed to move on with his life. But they’d meet up soon enough, whether Fire wanted that or not. He’d make sure of it.

    Whistling a half-forgotten tune, Ocean continued trudging through the sea of endless grain.

    * * *

    She dreamed she had flippers.

    There was an ocean of pain, its waters chopping and violent, and she was swept along in its current. Even if she could have escaped the pull, it’d be pointless: the path she followed was lined with ivory spears pointed inward, and orange blood pooled beneath them, staining the water dark. Overhead, two huge, hulking Pelipper cruised overhead, and their young Wingull offspring followed right behind, pumping their wings ferociously just to keep up. As she watched, one of the Pelipper swiveled around in midair, snapping at the smallest Wingull with its huge beak – in a single bite, the larger bird tore off a frantically fluttering wing, which dropped like a stone into the water – strange green-blue stuff poured from the gaping wound in place of blood. With a pained shriek the victim attempted to keep its newly deformed body aloft, flapping its remaining wing uselessly—

    At the splash, it exploded into a flurry of bloody icicles.

    One struck her, tearing a hole in her side as it sank into her flesh, and she cried out in shock as it pierced something deep inside her. Some dark fluid oozed out, dripping around the icicle and into the ocean, where they hissed with sudden bursts of escaping steam … and to her horror, a voice in her head struck up a whispering chant:
    die, die, die, die, die, die …

    A small chunk of ice, shaped like a beady eye, floated past her, bobbing along in the waters. Through the haze of pain obscuring her vision, she blinked blearily as the current turned it in her direction, and it glinted with the reflection of the blood-red sky, glaring at her murderously as if this was somehow all her fault. Then, with a strangely soft sound, it imploded, forming a vacuum that churned the water into great, swirling whirlpool that seized her in its swirling motion, dragging her down into the newly-formed vortex, ignoring her shrill screams.

    diediediediediediediediediedie

    Her strength ebbing away, she turned her exhausted gaze upward in despair, too numb with pain to even show surprise at the sight of the thing floating above her in the sky. What she had thought was the sun was instead a flaming baby-blue eye, watching the current pull her under. Its dark laughter echoed around her as water poured into her lungs—

    “NO!” she yelped, her eyes snapping open, staring at the ceiling in transfixed horror. She took a deep, shuddering breath, feeling her lungs expand painfully before finally releasing the air in a long exhale. Twitching her fingers almost reflexively, she sighed in relief, the tension in her body ebbing slightly. It was only a dream …

    But even as the fear drained mercifully away, the guilt still paralyzed her: the sudden, ugly revelation that it had all been her fault.

    My fault.

    She squeezed her eyes shut as tears threatened to fall. She counted on me to take care of her, she thought, despair poisoning her mind. So small and innocent … Even if I wasn’t her actual mother, that’s how she saw me. I was at her hatching, I brought her up, I showed her the world … She swallowed hard, memories welling up in her brain.

    A horn cracked through the shell, followed by a small, dark head, dwarfed by two huge ears. Two huge black eyes squinted in the sudden rush of light.

    “Pras?” it squeaked.


    “How could I do that to her?” Leaf moaned, fists clenching in regret. “She’d hardly grown any older since then. I wasn’t just an idol to her … I was her coach, role model, and mom, all rolled into one. She looked up to me like I was a star. Maybe it went to my head in the end.”

    <Will you protect me, Mommy?>

    “Of course I’ll protect you, Paris …”


    “I could always count on her to love me, no matter what …”

    <Mommy! You came back!> squealed the Lapras, bowing her head down to nuzzle Leaf's face.

    “Even if my own stupid selfishness blinded me to that.”

    “You’re not the Pokemon I thought you were. You never were, really …”

    “And in return, I ditched her like yesterday’s news.”

    “I’m releasing you.”

    <Please, Mommy …>

    “If it was all for nothing, then the cause is pretty much worthless, isn’t it?”


    A soft tap startled her from her troubled thoughts. <Hey, Leaf …>

    “Huh?” She glanced over the edge of the bed to see the wide, expectant eyes of her young cat Pokemon gazing back at her. “Oh. Morning, Parvati.”

    <Morning. Hey, you should come downstairs. You’ve been sleeping for ages, and Bill’s got breakfast ready for us!> The Meowth beamed, licking her whiskery chops. <Well, he did at first. But then I got really hungry, because it smelled soooo good, and me and Eevee got into a fight over who could eat it first … I won.>

    She sighed, her head falling back onto the pillow with a soft thump. “That’s great, Parvati. Really great.”

    <Hey …> With a graceful leap, the cat leapt onto the bed next to her, tail flicking from side to side as she tilted her fuzzy head in concern. <You okay, Leaf? You don’t seem really with it. You look kinda sad, actually.>

    Really? the girl thought tersely. I had no idea. Then she blinked, realizing with sorrow that it was that kind of thinking that had driven her to abandon Paris. Swallowing hard, she turned her head toward the large window, through which sunlight streamed cheerfully. I have to stop acting like this, she told herself firmly. Or else I’ll lose another Pokemon …

    <C’mon, tell me what’s wrong,> Parvati pleaded, nudging her blanket-covered arm with a soft white paw. <I’ve gotta know. Fystor told you yesterday that you needed to cooperate with the people you’re working with,> she added, squinting one eye in an attempt to look sly. <So cooperate with me. Tell me what’s bugging you.>

    “I’m wrong,” Leaf mumbled.

    Parvati leaned a little closer, putting an ear in her trainer’s face. <What?>

    “I said, I’m wrong!” the brunette moaned, burying her head under the fluffy pillow. “If I hadn’t been so stupidly selfish, Paris’d still be with us! I couldn’t look past the stupid indigo scales … to me, it was like nothing was under them.” She huffed dejectedly. “Too damn short-sighted of me.”

    <Paris is your old Lapras, right?>

    “Mhm.”

    <Well.> With a brief tensing of muscles, the cat casually sprung up onto Leaf’s shoulder, where she sat down as if she owned the human rather than the other way around. <You knew what you were doing when you released her, right? Then why’re you only just now seeing what’s wrong with it?>

    “Dunno,” Leaf said, voice muffled. “Maybe I needed time to figure it out. Or maybe it was Mom being abducted — because, you know, I had to feel the pain she went through before I could understand why I shouldn’t have made such a stupid mistake. Having a constant female role model torn away from you … it’s important to have one, especially these days with all the stupid arrogant boys telling you that they make better trainers. At least you know where your mom is …”

    A soft crash emanated from downstairs, followed by the sound of Peter’s snickering. A stray ray of sun crept over the lower edge of the window, catching Leaf’s eyes in a blinding stream of light. With a sigh she turned her face away, gazing instead at the shadow she cast on the wall. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, she wished above anything that this mess had never happened. Cleaning up mistakes was too painful a job, she had only now realized.

    <Run that by me again?>

    She sniffed involuntarily. “What, the whole thing? Something about figuring it out—”

    <Not that. You said, “They make better trainers”. Personally, I think that’s a weird thing to say. I mean, from what Mom and I have seen, there’re so many different paths that trainers follow. Some are meaner than others, but not all the nice ones are good at training. What’s the difference between a good trainer and a lame one, then?> There was a brief pause in which she allowed her words to reach Leaf’s brain; then, kneading her forepaws into Leaf’s shoulder, she continued. <From what Frosti and Cheri have told me, you’ve got a great competitive spirit. But y’know, you get kind of … focused on things … so much that you end up hurting people’s feelings. Maybe that’s how a good trainer is supposed to be, and maybe it’s not. But still … I think that there’s a reason you guys are called Pokemon trainers. It’s kind of, you know, about us rather than you. Of course, the fact that you’re feeling sorry about Paris might mean I don’t even have to tell you this, but …>

    The words hung in the air long after Parvati had finished speaking. Only the squawk of an unseen Pidgey somewhere outside disturbed the contemplative silence.

    <Sorry,> the cat finally murmured after a few moments. <I guess it’s not really my place to lecture. Just an idea, I guess …> She trailed off awkwardly, curling her tail around her paws and biting her lip in embarrassment.

    Leaf, becoming painfully aware of the pressure her face was feeling from the mattress, lifted her head ever so slightly. Is that true? she asked herself. Was this really going on from the second Frosti and I met? Snapping at them like I do … I’m like Fire, back when he was an insensitive jerkwad. But the abuse, if there was any, was so subtle that until I abandoned her, I was the one they were rooting for.

    I was the hero, weirdly enough.

    Ha! If that’s heroics, give me a crash course in villainy.


    With a grunt, she began pushing herself up; Parvati, cat that she was, nimbly jumped to her trainer’s side as the girl moved blearily into a sitting position. Sighing, she looked down at her Meowth, who returned her gaze with a tilted head and wide, expectant eyes. What am I going to do? she wondered. I can’t hurt them like I hurt Paris. But hell, how am I supposed to change? It’s not like I’m playing some lame video game where I can try again if I screw it up. And I might end up making things even worse! I know for sure I won’t be able to forgive myself.

    Although … Fystor was acting like she knew everything about it. Of course, that might just be aura, but maybe she could give me some ideas about what to do.
    The legendary’s insufferable smirk popped up in her mind, but she brushed it aside with a mental wave. After all, who knows how old she really is — she’s bound to have seen a case like this before. And really, any argument besides “give her to me” is a good argument in my book.

    “Don’t be sorry,” she said aloud, giving Parvati a wan smile as she scratched behind her ears. “Yesterday I would’ve said that it’s not my place to be lectured. Just goes to show how wrong you can be about yourself, doesn’t it?”

    Parvati responded with a contented purr, rubbing her head against Leaf’s palm. The warm metal of her forehead coin rubbed against her skin, but she concentrated instead on the soft vitality of her creamy fur. It’ll be fine, the girl told herself, watching her Meowth close her eyes happily. It’s not a long shot; Fystor never misses a chance to put me down. And she’s sure to have the best solution, in any case. Nothing can go wrong with this plan, surely …

    * * *

    “Gone? What d’you mean, ‘gone’?”

    Lightning flinched as a spray of food flew at him: Leaf was currently tearing into a granola bar, tossing its shiny wrapper into the steadily growing pile of similar wrappers sitting on the table before her. Carefully keeping a straight face, he wiped the spittle from his nose, forcing himself not to show disgust. He couldn’t really blame her for her unladylike behavior, as she hadn’t eaten in over a day — Most people have never gone that long without food, he had to remind himself — and Bill’s miraculous discovery of the box shoved somewhere at the back of the pantry had triggered in the ravenous girl a reaction similar to that of a Scyther finding itself in a locked room full of tiny red Pokemon. Still, letting somebody demand an answer of him with a mouth full of food was getting on his nerves. It was definitely getting on Peach’s, at any rate: the small electric mouse glared furiously at the girl from her usual position on Lightning’s shoulder.

    Facing them from the opposite end of the table, Roark rolled his eyes. “By ‘gone’, we mean ‘she’s already left’,” he replied. “I’m really, really hoping you already knew what that meant.”

    She glared at him.

    “She left this for us to find, probably a long time before we even woke up,” he went on, sliding the paper sitting in front of him towards her. “Bill didn’t see it, obviously. He was still raving about his calculations for ‘the air velocity of a Swellow’, which is why he didn’t notice it in plain sight on the table. If Fystor didn’t expect that, I’m a girl.” He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms.

    <But you are a girl, Obi-Wan,> a voice by his feet crooned in mock adoration.

    He sighed. “Anni, if you’re making another crack about my hair—”

    The rest of their bickering faded into the background as Leaf scanned the note.

    I’ve headed out. Before you start complaining about it, remember that I’VE got things to do too. It’s called responsibility, for the love of Mother. In any case, I already did an Aura Burn to hide you people from Vember when she regains her senses, so you’d better be happy. And after I check in on those bloody Twins, I’ll have to oversee Wes’s and Rui’s progress along with your own. Group advice: don’t make me have to save you too many times, all right? It pisses me off.

    Lightning: Your Pokemon are happy. KEEP them happy. Reason? Two words: The. Shadows.

    Roark: The Lapras isn’t strong enough yet to fight ocean currents, so your best bet is following them. I think that on this coast they move south, at least during this time of year. I may be wrong, so ask somebody about it. And keep your bloody head down if you want to survive.

    Leaf: Next gym leader’s a psychic, so MAKE SURE everything in your big head isn’t floating around for any telepath or aura reader to see. Oh, and BTW, quit being an *******.

    One bit of common sense here – if you run into an angel, DON’T get into a fight with it if you can help it. Remember its name instead, or at least its face. Using your brain is a GOOD thing, FYI. Now hurry up and get out of Cerulean before Vember tracks you down. You people weren’t chosen for nothing.

    Fystor


    She continued to stare at it, unseeing. The blood drained from her knuckles as she tightened her grip on the edge of the chair. Her heart plummeted as she realized that she couldn’t wait for Fystor to check in on them, that she’d have to think up a painful solution all on her own – but considering how horribly she’d abandoned Paris, anything she thought of wouldn’t cut it with Cheri and Frosti.

    Something audibly bumped the table, and her gaze tore away from the paper instinctively, only to inadvertently lock with a pair of burning black eyes staring back at her from the dank shadows of the kitchen. Frosti’s expression was inscrutable. An orange flame flickered as his tail swayed to and fro, back and forth, as precisely timed as a clock’s ticking pendulum. After several seconds, he finally sighed moodily and moved behind the counter, vanishing from view.

    I can’t do this without them, she thought, mechanically tearing another bite from her granola bar. And I can’t pretend I can boss them around like it’s nobody’s business anymore. But how am I supposed to make it right? They fought for me, even when they thought it was pointless. And that’s just one of the debts that can’t be repaid.

    <— and a beard,> Anni was saying. <A shaggy druggie beard, like the pedo had in that one Christmas movie, before he had to become the new Santa when he smashed the old one with his van. Which reminds me, we should get strawberry jam sometime, that stuff is damn good.>

    “For the last time, Anni, this is not going to turn into another American Idol rip-off!” Roark exclaimed, half annoyed and half amused.

    Lightning blinked at him. “Wait, what?”

    The redhead sighed, rolling his eyes at some memory. “Long story.”

    <You only say that when I win,> the dinosaur remarked smartly, snickering.

    They’re smart. Watching the playful banter and Lightning’s usual confusion, Leaf’s heart sank further as the situation’s ridiculousness hit her again. They didn’t get here through being selfish and superior. Lightning puts his Pokemon’s happiness before anything else, and he’s doing great. And sure, maybe Roark screwed up with the Skipper-as-Marshtomp thing, but still – he did it because he cared about Skipper, enough that he didn’t want evolution to hurt him. Twisted his reasoning there like hell, but at least he saw his mistake sooner than I did. Exhaling, she closed her eyes, letting darkness wipe out her vision for a moment. What am I supposed to do?



    In the counter’s dismal shadow, Frosti sat and hugged himself tighter, trying to ignore the unwashed scent wafting from the grimy floor. The searching, analytical expression of his trainer, seen just moments before, lingered leeringly in his mind, as the statement he now knew to be the truth resounded through his mind.

    She doesn’t think I’m worth her time.

    It was obvious, he told himself, obvious enough that nobody had to say it. He was by no means inexperienced in battle by now, yet he was still clearly a disappointment. After all, he was her first Pokemon, and so should logically have the closest bond with her and be her strongest fighter to boot. Of course, any misconception that this was the case had long since been shattered: Cheri had already asserted herself as the most powerful team member, and Parvati, who they’d met barely two days ago, was showing the trainer an unending display of affection that was clearly returned. And where did that put him? On the sidelines as an outcast, in every respect but physical. And now, with his new nervousness concerning evolution, that status was more obvious than ever.

    She wanted him to evolve, and he hadn’t. She wanted him to be an outstanding battler, and he wasn’t. She wanted him, above all, to make her proud of him somehow, and he couldn’t.

    Because if a Lapras couldn’t please her – a rare, powerful Pokemon sought after by trainers, coordinators and collectors alike – then how could a Charmander, a specie seen comparatively often in the care of young trainers, ever hope to meet her impossible expectations?

    <Sulking as usual, I see?>

    His already tense frame stiffened even more as a startled hiss escaped his clench teeth. The noise died as he turned to see Anni looking down at him, a smirk playing at the corners of her beaked mouth. With a slight shiver he forced himself to calm down, feeling his pounding heart begin to return to its natural rhythm.

    <I’m not sulking,> he retorted, his voice coming off rather more annoyed than he’d intended.

    <Yeah, right. Real convincing show, small fry.> She plopped down next to him on the floor; eying him shrewdly. <Come on, bugger, lighten up. In half an hour tops, we’ll all be outta here on that quest thingy. It’s a hell of a lot better than sticking around here forever with that retarded scientist.>

    <Mm.> He stared off into space, ignoring her.

    <Look, buddy, I’m talking to you. We might not get another chance to talk for, I dunno, fricking months. If the psycho angel chick doesn’t kill us all, that is. Then conversations would be too damn difficult to do without a fricking s&#233;ance.>

    He gave no sign that he’d heard her, gazing at the far corner of the kitchen instead. Sunlight was already illuminating the floor over there, revealing the dark stains, glaringly bold against the pale tiles.

    <Ugh. Work with me, dammit!> she snapped, shoving him over; with a gasp he was forced to hastily push himself back into position before he toppled onto the floor. <You need to know how fricking lucky you are, you moron!>

    Now he finally looked at her, a bit of cynicism glinting in his stare. <Lucky? Me?> He chuckled darkly, shaking his head. <We’re running off to do something that’ll probably get us all killed, or maybe even Crushed. And I have to work with Leaf as a trainer.>

    She snorted. <Yeah, I don’t envy you there. With a trainer like that, who needs fricking enemies? But that’s not the point. The point, small fry, is that I’m … I’m jealous.>

    He raised an imaginary eyebrow. <Oh really? And what exactly is so great about me that you’ll come down off your pedestal and talk to me about it?>

    <Don’t try to needle me, *******,> she snapped, glaring daggers at him. <You have something that I’ve wanted since I was born – and I’m millions of years old, so you can bet your moping *** I’ll be wailing on you about it. See, you actually have a choice on whether to evolve, and you’d rather be a moron and not evolve.>

    Is that all? With a scoff, he turned away again.

    <Look, retard, you may be all emo about it, but not all of us are. Back in the fricking day, I wasn’t strong enough to evolve when the Arceus-damned meteor hit. Then I got resurrected, got a trainer, and got a fricking life. I got stronger. But I also got this.> She shoved her wrist in his face.

    He recoiled instinctively, then frowned as he realized she was only trying to show him something: a collection of beads made of small rocks, strung together so that they encircled the Cranidos’s wrist. They gleamed with a flat, sandy gray color, contrasting sharply with the dinosaur’s dark gray skin. As it neared his face, his heartbeat almost instantly dropped to its usual rate, and he gasped in surprise at the sudden change, wincing slightly as the blood ceased to race through his veins and resumed its natural flow. He blinked, frowning in confusion. Why was he afraid again?

    <Carved from Everstone,> Anni told him from somewhere outside his vision; the bracelet held him transfixed as he basked in the change it had wrought in him. <Roark made it himself. Even before he became gym leader, we’d watch challengers battle his dad in his gym. We saw a lot of evolutions, and some of them were pretty gory, I’m not gonna lie. So he made me promise to always wear this, and I said fine, dammit, I will. Later on Skipper and Emily each got one, and they’ve been wearing those too – or at least Emily is, considering. But it never ****** them off as much as it did me.>

    A slight smile came over Frosti’s face as he continued to stare at the bracelet. Somehow, it made him feel safe, stable, secure. Then Anni withdrew her hand, and the dark feeling returned with a vengeance, kicking his blood back into overdrive. His head automatically turned to follow it, and his eyes gleamed hungrily.

    <If you hate it so bad, you could give it to me,> he murmured. Inside, he rejoiced at the idea. Finally a solution to the agonizing terror hovering over him, a guarantee that he’d never have to choose, never need to suffer, and always feel that cool suppression destroying any possibility of a terrifying future. Grinning, he reached out for it with an eager orange hand.

    SMACK!

    <No chance of that, small fry.>

    Hissing in pain, Frosti clenched his teeth as he glanced down at his injury; a brilliant red welt was already forming in the shape of Anni’s palm. <What the h— … the heck did you slap me for?> he growled, nearly swearing in anger.

    <Because you shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to you, nimrod.> She grasped at it protectively with her other hand, beak clacking in distaste. <Besides, it’s important to me, even though it’s retarded. He makes us wear these because he doesn’t want our brains spurting out our noses, or something, and nobody can blame him for keeping us safe. I owe it to him anyway; he’s the one who dug me up. But still … He doesn’t understand how much the benefits outweigh the risks.> She sighed, half-closing her eyes. <He just doesn’t.>

    Her reasoning calmed Frosti down slightly, and he unconsciously nodded at her words. Yet the fear and discomfort persisted, and his insides crawled with uncertainty.

    <Just wanted to let you know about what you’re deciding,> Anni grunted as she pushed herself back into a standing position. <Throw the chance away if you want, but at least I tried to tell you. Hell, it might drive you crazy, but it’s not nagging my fricking conscience anymore … I guess I’ll be seeing you around sometime, small fry. Maybe. Not likely, though.>

    And she left, leaving him in a shadow even gloomier than before.



    “So it turns out that while the presence of the Exeggcute does make a difference, there are over two hundred other variables which could affect flight velocity,” Bill rattled on, facing them from the inside of the doorway. He paused to consult the inky notebook in his hand, then nodded and continued, “Okay, three hundred, not two. But guess what? One of the most prominent variables is the Swellow’s place of origin. So, given that there are no other manipulated variables, a Hoennese Swellow will have a different velocity than a Sinnohan Swellow!” Striking a scientifically triumphant pose, he beamed at the three teenagers, who managed to return weak grins. “I know, right? Everybody’ll be thrilled about this!”

    Leaf nodded vaguely, not really listening. Today, at last, they were going to actually do something about the crazy happenings, and it was highly likely that somebody would inconveniently get themselves killed. In spite of the warm sun rays cast upon her back, a shiver ran up her spine.

    “Well,” the scientist said, beaming at them all, “good luck on your journeying. Hopefully you’ll get where you’re going as painlessly and quickly as possible. Even if it’s not as fast as an unladen Swellow. Leaf …” He sighed, the grin fading from his face. “I really, really am sorry about almost killing you. I wasn’t trying to just smooth it over when I apologized before, and I want to really make it up to you, so … here.”

    He fished two slips of blue paper from his pocket, handing them to her. With a puzzled expression, she scanned the identical writing shown on each of them. Apparently, each was a ticket admitting one person onto some boat called the S.S. Anne. “Thanks,” she told him, slipping the tickets into her pocket. Don’t know why the hell he’d think I want to go running around after some little boat, but I might as well accept his apology. “I really appreciate this. And don’t beat yourself up about it. I’m okay now, aren’t I?”

    The grin reappeared as he nodded. “True. I just wasn’t sure if the psychological wounds had healed along with the physical … anyway, I’ll try and reason with the Clefairy like you all suggested. Imagine if I manage to actually get some sentient communication out of it! It’ll be the first first-hand account of life as a Shadow that the world has ever seen! All I’ll need to do then is teach it how to use a keyboard …”

    He shook hands with each of them, and they smiled in return, gazing up at the sunny-yellow cottage almost wistfully as they said their goodbyes. It was with mixed relief and sadness that they slowly turned and began their long walk away from the only truly safe abode they’d known in a while, as they passed the tall, haughty hotels overlooking the sea. Within those walls they’d seen terror and drama, rage and tears, yet as their feet shuffled through a sea of green grass, they realized that, while they had stayed there, they’d felt a strange sense of security from the rest of the world, as if the isolated location had eliminated everyone else on the planet. But they only realized this now, as the scientist waved after their retreating backs and they plunged back into the jaws of dangerous adventure.

    * * *

    “Here they are!” Nurse Joy giggled, sliding two trays with three Poke Balls each towards their respective owners. “All healthy and ready to go! Lightning’s are all better now, too, but he’s still in the ER with his Nidorina. It may be a while before he comes out. He still feels guilty about her evolution, the poor thing.” Readjusting her nurse’s cap, she turned daintily and vanished into a back room.

    Leaf hastily reached for a tray, not wanting to stick around with her companion longer than she had to, and pulled it toward herself, eager to get this wait over with. Pulling the lid off, she quickly reached for a Ball and placed in on her belt, then paused, frowning in confusion at the one of the remaining spheres. Weird, she thought, picking it up and staring at it curiously. I don’t remember ever having a Great Ball.

    At her side, Roark cleared his throat awkwardly. “Those are mine.”

    Flushing, she replaced the two Balls she’d taken on the tray, then swapped trays and took her own Poke Balls. Ignoring the miner as he reclaimed his Pokemon, she glanced about the Center’s lobby, searching for a place to sit while they’d wait for Lightning to finish his excruciatingly long visit with Dory. Furniture lined the sterile room in an aesthetically pleasing way, yet most of the chairs were occupied by trainers waiting for their own creatures, sitting in various states of anxiety. The only unclaimed seating she could see was a small couch with just enough room to accommodate two people.

    What the hell.

    A scowl twisted her mouth downward as she stalked haughtily towards the couch, pretending not to hear the footsteps of the boy behind her. With twin sighs they sat on either side of the couch, taking care to leave as much space between them as was possible. Folding their arms, they glared in opposite directions as if they’d never seen each other before in their lives.

    Somewhere outside of Leaf’s vision, a little boy wailed. She gritted her teeth and tried to shut the grating noise out, albeit to no avail – the shrill sound of his voice brought Paris’s mournful cry echoing from the dark depths of memory.

    “Cut that out,” she muttered, rubbing her temples.

    “I didn’t do anythi—”

    “I wasn’t talking to you!” she snapped, swiveling around to stare coldly at him.

    He raised his hands in front of him defensively. “Well, sorry.”

    She let him fry in her glare for a long moment, then turned away in a superior manner. Yet even over the obnoxious sound of the little boy, she thought she heard Roark mutter “Girls” under his breath.

    Her eyes rolled. “Miners,” she scoffed.

    “Kantoan.”

    “Idiot.”

    “Drama queen.”

    “Four-eyes!”

    “Snob!”

    “Nerd!”

    “Hillbilly!”

    “Oh no you didn’t!” she shrieked, leaping at him with nails bared.



    “I need to go,” Lightning whispered. He tightened his grip on Dory’s paw ever so slightly, half afraid that she might vanish into thin air if he let go. The pale blue Pokemon didn’t respond, however; only the shallow rise and fall of her pale chest and the slow beeping of the nearby ECG indicated that she was still alive.

    The coordinator’s mouth half curled in an attempt at a smile. Even with the ugly patches where the glow had burned the skin away, and the nauseating lumps where the bones had broken, she looked so peaceful laying there on the cot, far from the pain that would invariably rack her fragile frame when she reawakened. She’s a tough one, he thought proudly, telling himself that the moisture forming in his eyes was due to the scent of Lysol burning out his sinuses. Not just a courageous girl, but a survivor. A survivor like me.

    Gently he uncurled his hand from his Pokemon’s, pushing himself to his feet as he did so. From his shoulder, Peach patted his head comfortingly, gazing down at the unconscious Nidorina with soft black eyes. <Bye, Dory,> she whispered, looking back as Lightning dejectedly turned and walked out the door, letting the Pokemon sleep.

    Immediately a loud crash from the lobby caught their attention, and with a worried expression Lightning sprinted down the sterile corridor, Peach clinging to his shoulder; a few stray sparks leapt from her short fur in anticipation.

    “What’s this?” he heard Joy ask loudly above the noise of the clattering and oddly familiar shrieks. “No, no, no fights in here! This is a strictly pacifistic building! Miss McKenzie, you shouldn’t … oh dear …”

    Fearing the worst, Lightning skidded into the lobby, sneakers sliding on slick tile. A strange sight met his inquisitive eyes: several chairs and a couch had been overturned, revealing undersides dotted with stains and ancient gum. A crowd of waiting patients stared with him in disbelief at a wild-looking Leaf, who smirked triumphantly at a helmeted figure limping quickly out the glass doors and out of sight.

    “Aw, Leaf …” he moaned, facepalming.

    “He called me a hillbilly,” she replied, blowing her frazzled hair out of her face. “The dude called me a hillbilly.”

    “Oh, let’s just get out of here,” he muttered, grabbing his Poke Balls from Joy’s unresisting hands. “We could’ve at least split up with him peacefully,” he went on, dragging her by the hand toward the door. “Like ‘so this is goodbye’ or something You didn’t have to maul him.”

    “What?” Leaf snorted. “And leave this place without a bang?”

    It was a mark of how shocking Leaf’s attack had been that the nurse didn’t even call after them that she hoped to see them again soon.

    * * *

    ~

    <karatekid> fout a mousse thing tody, scary struff
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Whee, sounds fun.
    * Cranidos has joined #leag
    <karatekid> I knowr ight
    <Kenobi> =D
    <Kenobi> hi
    <Cranidos> Hi :)
    <karatekid> so teh mousce thingie had a flufffy face
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Oh hey
    <Kenobi> How’re you?
    <Cranidos> Got beat up
    <Kenobi> Ohnoez :o
    <Cranidos> by a girl
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Leaf again?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Why the hell are you still with her?
    <Cranidos> I’m not.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Good.
    <Cranidos> I’m heading out of town today
    <Kenobi> So you’re coming back?
    * Spider has joined #leag
    <karatekid> and it hasd hugews teeths
    <Cranidos> No, sorry.
    <Kenobi> :(
    <Kenobi> Why not?
    <Cranidos> Stuff.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Hey Janine!
    <Kenobi> Like what?
    <karatekid> and it sadi rawer
    <Spider> Hi
    <Spider> I’m so bored x_x
    <Cranidos> Crazy stuff.
    <Kenobi> Well that clears things up.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> So am I
    <Cranidos> Hey Misty
    <Sarcasm_Flower>stupid sisters took my Joyfeel to use in a show >:/
    <Sarcasm_Flower> What?
    <Spider> *nod*
    <Cranidos> Currents on this ocean are going south, right?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Yeah
    <karatekid> and ull never gess wat it did
    <Cranidos> Kay, just double checking.
    <Kenobi> It bit your Lucario?
    <karatekid> OMG
    <karatekid> HOW DID U NKOW
    <Sarcasm_Flower> It’s because he’s magic.
    <karatekid> I KNEW IT
    <Spider> What does it even matter where currents are going?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> He’s over here in my city and he’s a curious nerd.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> That’s why
    <Cranidos> :/
    <Spider> OK
    <Sarcasm_Flower> It’s okay Roark.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Everyone else who’s here already knows.
    <karatekid> so yah liek it bit my lcacefuo
    <Cranidos> Only thanks to you :/
    <Kenobi> LOL
    <BASTIODON> So that’s where you are! Roark, my boy, why didn’t you let me know sooner?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> OMG
    <Spider> Or not. oo;
    <Kenobi> …
    <karatekid> wat
    <Kenobi> Um
    <Kenobi> Hi Mr. Howard?
    <Spider> Have you been here all this time sir?
    <BASTIODON> Indeed.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> That’s SO WEIRD
    <Sarcasm_Flower> OMG
    <karatekid> hey tis is liek teh timw wen the buggy thingu bit my luvario
    <Spider> +1 Ninja
    <BASTIODON> You’re too kind Janine.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> @_@!
    <BASTIODON> So you’re in Cerulean, Roark?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Well
    <Sarcasm_Flower> I don’t think he wanted you to know
    <BASTIODON> What?
    <Kenobi> Yeah, that’s what he said.
    <Kenobi> Right Roark?
    <karatekid> cas it had liek fangs amd kept saing rawwwwwwwwwwwr
    <Kenobi> Roark?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Where’d he go?
    <Spider> He’s still online I believe
    <Kenobi> What exactly’s going on, sir?
    <BASTIODON> Well
    <BASTIODON> How much has he told you?
    <Cranidos> Nothing, luckily.
    <karatekid> then lucsarip was all leik U SAHLLL NOY POASS
    * Cranidos has left #leag
    <BASTIODON> Son!
    <BASTIODON> Wait
    <Kenobi> Roark?
    <Sarcasm_Flower> …
    <Spider> Now he’s gone.
    <Kenobi> Mr. Howard, what happened?
    <BASTIODON> Nothing!
    <BASTIODON> nothing at all.
    <karatekid> and teh buggie was leik AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPQ
    <BASTIODON> Been worried sick about him
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Cause he was all emo/nerd.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Weird combo
    <BASTIODON> Hm.
    * BASTIODON has left #leag
    <Spider> Did that really just happen?
    <Kenobi> Did what happen?
    <Spider> I dunno.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Everybody’s weird.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Especially their family.
    <karatekid> and tehn it died. lol
    <Kenobi> Died, hm.
    <Spider> What?
    <Kenobi> Just thinking.
    <Kenobi> Strange how all this started when
    <Kenobi> … hm, yeah.
    <Kenobi> He hasn’t been seen since then.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Since when?
    <Spider> When?
    <Kenobi> Yeah … that’s a weird coincidence.
    * Kenobi has left #leag
    <Sarcasm_Flower> WTF.
    <Spider> Boys.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Agreed.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Boys can be such boys sometimes.
    <Spider> In a really boyish way.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> True that.
    <Spider> Ninjas and tomboys > boys
    <Spider> Girl ninjas I mean
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Girls ftw.
    <Spider> Even though girls aren’t good enough to date.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Yeah.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> Wait, what?
    <Spider> Weird logic tangent. Sorry.
    <Sarcasm_Flower> o_0;
    <Spider> LOL.

    ~
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 4th March 2010 at 11:48 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. #175
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    Feb 2008
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    * * *

    <You didn’t.>

    <We did.>

    <You didn’t.>

    <We have established otherwise, Fystor. Really.>

    <You didn’t!>

    <Don’t be so surprised, Feisty. This is a big event, remember? A big event.>

    <Rrrrrrrgh!>

    The blood-red equine and jet-black cat exchanged smirks, then turned back to continue watching Fystor bang her furry head on the counter. With each frustrated smack, the abandoned glasses vibrated slightly, their various contents swirling in miniature whirlpools, catching the dim light and scattering it. Her long pointed ears flopped back and forth.

    <Bloody – hell,> she spat, each word punctuated by a smack, <why – couldn’t – you – idiots – just – close – the – damn – Casino – like – you’re – supposed – to?>

    <Because it’s a big event,> Secloven repeated innocently, winking at his sister.

    With a groan, Fystor put a paw to her throbbing head and turned to glare at them. <Must I spell it out for you?> she growled, massaging the injured site. <The mission is supposed to be as safe for the “chosen ones” as possible. The mission is not supposed to be conveniently watched by every freaking person who happens to be in the Casino, many of whom are guaranteed to be on Apolydon’s side and want nothing better than to let the kids fall into his clutches. News flash: this the freaking world is at stake. And somehow, sane people such as myself have the crazy idea that the well-being of the world is just a little higher on the general priority list than the success—>

    <Hold it,> Secloven interrupted lazily. <I lost you, Feisty. ‘Cause you were rambling, you know? At first I was like, “What?” and then I was like, “Huh?” And then I got bored, and … ah … something about clutches?>

    <Oh, forget it,> Fystor muttered, facepalming. <Reasoning with you bloody Twins is like playing poker with spoons.>

    <How so?> Sentarpen asked silkily.

    <What d’you mean, “how so?”>

    <You used ambiguous wording,> the feline explained, tufted tail twitching. <The way you said it made the sentence have different possible meanings. I mean, would the spoons replace the people, or the chips, or the cards?>

    A long silence stretched between them. Somewhere near the Game, a spirit guffawed heartily, breaking through the surface of the sea of excited chatter.

    <I can’t believe this,> Fystor whispered incredulously. <I. Can. Not. Believe. This. You don’t care about how many Pokemon here are evil disciples setting out to help him Crush everybody, and yet you’re getting worked up about how you would play poker with spoons?>

    <Well, yes,> Sentarpen admitted. <That is the general idea.>

    <Yeah,> her brother agreed. <By the way, why are you a Lucario?>

    Piercing eyes of silver locked onto sparkling blue irises. <Oh, I dunno,> she replied sarcastically. <Maybe to talk to people here without worrying they’ll blow my freaking head off while my back is turned. What with everyone seeing the action, all of Apolydon’s buddies’ll know who honorable old Fystor’s siding with. Thanks for that, by the way.>

    <You’re welcome.>

    Scowling in exasperation, Fystor stormed off towards the Game, leaving the Twins behind as she approached the blindingly lit map, its brilliant rays only partially blocked by the flock of Pokemon crowding around it. Just forget about them, she told herself sharply, balling her paws into fists. Concentrate on the task at hand.

    Her eyes darted from one Pokemon to the next as she carefully eased her way into the crowd, examining their auras with no real expectation of finding anything; any follower of Apolydon worth paying attention to would no doubt have trained themselves to keep their thoughts and emotions under control. Nevertheless she watched the players and observers intently, and the four ear-like sensors drooping from the back of her head bumped each other gently as she turned her pointed blue-and-black face to and fro, ever so casually looking at the crowd while inside her mind furiously processed the aura’s information. Any one of those – even the bouncing, giggling blue ******* blob, better known as a Phione – could be a potential and perhaps even lethal enemy.

    Suddenly an unprotected aura, one still colored by intentions and hopes and yet radiating impressive power, leapt into her vision, and she actually halted in her tracks, surprised at the fact that she’d found anything at all. Letting her eyes scan that area again, she quickly rediscovered it as belonging to a small fox Pokemon, gazing up wistfully at the players of the Game; lifting a small paw, the fox tapped the clawed foot of a metallic, vicious-looking bird, but the Skarmory only laughed, shaking his wickedly sharp head in amusement as he returned his sharp-eyed attention to the map.

    An unaligned angel! Fystor realized, watching with newfound interest.

    Biting her lip, the angel slunk away from the mass of Pokemon crowding around the Game. Her eyes didn’t seem to have adjusted to the darkness away from the brightly glowing board, though: she smacked right into a tall, dark canine Pokemon who watching the players curiously. She gasped in surprise at the impact, falling back onto her six-tailed rear with a soft thump.

    The taller, bipedal fox Pokemon tilted his sleek head in her direction, a scowl forming on his clever face. <Watch it, punk,> he growled darkly, his thick crimson mane bristling.

    <S-sorry!> she squeaked, scrambling to her small paws as she tried to back away. In her haste she stumbled, barely catching herself as she kept her wide, nervous eyes fixed on the dark-type, who smirked threateningly. His blood-red claws twitched, and a mischievous glint flashed from the pale blue eyes shining against the shadows of his gray-black fur.

    Tough guy, eh? Fystor’s own eyes narrowed. The bugger’ll cause trouble. Better nip this in the bud if I want to get her alone. Rubbing her hands together as if in preparation, she nimbly sidled through the maze of eager watchers, who grumbled vaguely if she blocked their view of the Game but otherwise failed to acknowledge her.

    <Kinda young to be hanging out here, aren’t you?> The leering tone in the dark Pokemon’s voice and aura grew more obnoxious as the legendary approached. <Shouldn’t you be cuddling up with your mommy, kid? Don’t want some massive monster meanie munching you into mash, do you?> He paused to watch unease cross her fuzzy face, then added, <By the way, I’m really hungry at the moment … since you’re here, you might as well let me borrow your jugular for a while. And by “a while”, I mean forever.> A glistening tongue snaked from the depths of his jaws to lick his grinning chops.

    <Ah-actually, I was just going,> the Vulpix stammered, choking out a nervous laugh. Her large brown eyes flicked to the side, and with a sudden movement she pounced out of the way with a squeal just as the wolf lunged at her; his claws, gleaming like knives, whistled through the space she had just vacated. With a slurp, he swiveled in her direction, ready to strike—

    And froze, frowning slightly at the sight of a slender black-and-blue jackal standing directly between him and his intended victim. The Vulpix’s mouth fell open in surprise as she watched her savior place her paws on her shorts-clad hips, fixing the confused wolf with a cool silver stare.

    <I’m sorry,> the Lucario said sweetly, not sounding sorry at all. <Am I interrupting something?>

    <Yeah.> The would-be devourer slid his tongue over his fangs, causing them to drip with greenish saliva. <The kid was gonna treat me to lunch, and I just couldn’t tell her no. Say,> he said, gazing at her as if only just noticing her, <you’re a pretty hot vixen yourself, girl. Whaddya say you and me get to know each other, maybe squeeze in a little dog-on-dog action?>

    <Cool story, bro.> She shot him a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. <But Pokemon aren’t allowed eat other Pokemon here. And FYI, it’s not sexy to compare girls to things that you’re about to kill and dissect with your bare hands, so bugger off.>

    His eyes lit up demonically. <Hard nut to crack, are you? Excellent. I like my females a little feisty, and you’ll be perfect in the—>

    CRUNCH.

    A gurgling scream clawed its way from his throat as he seized his broken jawbone, and he dropped to his knees as an endless torrent of paralyzing pain stabbed at him from the nasty crack. The few nearby Game-watchers on the edge of the crowd glanced over at them in curiosity and comparative apathy, as most shrugged and turned back to watch the players beat on each other. By the jackal’s feet, the Vulpix gazed up in awe at her as she dusted off her paws leisurely, still giving him that cool look.

    <It’s bad enough when they call me that,> she muttered, <but I’m sure as hell not going to be referred to that by mortals. Oh, get over it,> she snapped, as he unleashed a particularly ugly wail. She twisted a hand around, pointing the spike on the outside of her wrist at him. <Be glad I used my palm and not my fist. Follow me, kid,> she said, looking down at the Vulpix. <We need to talk.>

    <T-talk? Um – I don’t want to waste your time or—>

    <Just come on, all right? I just want to talk.>

    Cautiously, the fox trotted at the taller Pokemon’s feet, following her warily as they made their way over to a more secluded corner of the Casino: in lieu of the recent upswing in the Game’s popularity, this section of the slot machines, with their colored figures glowing eerily from the reels, was practically deserted. The Lucario glanced around briefly to double-check that no one else was nearby, then turned to look down at the Vulpix staring worriedly at her.

    <I hope I wasn’t a bother,> the fox said after a moment. The short locks of orange fur curled on her head bobbed downward as she cast her eyes to her paws, shuffling self-consciously. <I’m sorry if I was inconvenient for you somehow.>

    <You are young, aren’t you?> the other murmured, speaking mostly to herself.

    There was a blink of surprise at the strange comment. <Um, sure?>

    <And yet you already have six tails. Mhm, you’re an angel, all right.>

    <What? No, I’m not a—>

    <Yeah, you are. Don’t try to pretend with me, kid. What’s your name?>

    The angel glanced to the side, as if pretending not to hear to question. Her triangular ears twitched in antsy nervousness.

    <What’s your name?> The repeated question fairly rang with force.

    With a long huff, the Vulpix shifted her vague gaze to the other side. She sighed softly, then said, <Rinka. My name’s Rinka.>

    <Rinka, eh? Well, Rinka, let me break this down for you. It is really, really dangerous for a neutral angel to come slinking around this Casino without careful control of his or her thoughts and aura. Didn’t you know that, kid?>

    She made a face. <I didn’t even know this place existed, actually. I just wanted to relax for a bit, and then, suddenly, I’m here. Am I dead?>

    <No, of course not. That ridiculous carpet cleaner smell would be brimstone if it were.>

    <Fair enough.> Slowly she raised her head to meet Fystor’s gaze, eyes glittering in the glow. <But if you don’t mind me asking, who’re you?>

    <Well,> Fystor replied, looking down to examine her nails almost apathetically, <that depends. The thing about the Apocalypse is that it’s impossible not to be on a side in the end. So let me put it this way: depending on what you decide to do, I’m either your most trusted ally, or—>

    Her eyes flicked back upward, locking Rinka’s in a gaze that sent chills down her spine. With a shiver, the fox suddenly realized that this was no ordinary Lucario, and that somehow, in some way, she had stumbled onto something that she really didn’t want to deal with.

    <—Your worst nightmare.> She smirked. <Choose carefully.>

    * * *

    Author's Note: So the Cerulean arc is finally at an end. About frickin' time. As of this moment, it's taken almost 60 percent of the entire fic. 60. Percent. WTF.

    Also, in case you were wondering, the wolf who wanted to eat Rinka was indeed Zoroark. Why use a just-revealed Pokemon, you ask? Because I'm speshul enuff to be teh first person on teh board to use a gen 5 Poke lol it's a badass, and it fit the role perfectly. The fact that "Roark" is part of its name had NOTHING to do with it, I swear. Nope, nothing. Nothing at all. Srsly. >>; In fact I'm fairly sure that the only way I'll end up having screwed over its interpretation is if it turns out to be a female-only species. Then again, this is a PG13 fic, so I guess something like that could be worked around after all ...
        Spoiler:- LOL Leaguechat:
    Last edited by SugarPesticide; 4th March 2010 at 1:39 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.

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