Sorry about the wait, if you were waiting. This turned out to be a bit too long. Please forgive me if you have exceptionally wide screens. I admit I overused swearing and all that, so if you're not a big fan of that either, forgive me please.
序幕: 魘 [prologue : rhapsodie]
Aric picked himself off the floor, massaging his aching tailbone, which had collided headfirst with the lacquered wooden floor. He swore bitterly, the pain already expanding radially to the rest of his hip. There had been quite a few instances in the past when his tailbone had literally shattered from impact – once when he was trying to catch a Rhyhorn with a particularly sharp horn and again when he had failed to listen to a spitting Camerupt and continued to pile supplies over it, insisting to use it to cross Route 111 and climb Mt. Chimney. There were others – which made him wonder why he still had a tailbone to begin with.
It took him a while to register the Lunatone embedded like a cannonball in the balcony. The pain had taken away all his senses and his legs were as weak as tentacles. He found solace on the bed – careful not to sit on it – and slowly recovered his senses. His mind was in tatters with the sound of the crash and the subsequent pain, which didn’t alleviate, even when he began to get a grasp on the situation. At the least, his legs were beginning to regain sense and rigidity.
His tailbone far from modest, he stood up and walked over to the balcony where the Lunatone – or, what was left of it anyway – was embedded. Judging by how much of it was submerged, the Lunatone must’ve been hanging over the ceiling of the room below (the hotel was sloped so that every balcony had a view of the sky). He walked around it, looked at the sky, which was empty save for the exceptionally bright moon and a few of the brighter stars directly above him, and examined the rock, careful not to move it, lest there was someone looking at it from above.
He went back in to the room and searched inside his baggage, producing a Sinnoh Pokédex – a red device slightly larger than a mobile phone, but smaller than all earlier versions of the same brand – and opened it with a slide. The interface turned on with a sinister organ ringtone, before displaying the profile of a Blissey captioned with “a sharp blow to the stomach”. Turning the interactive interface on, he scanned the Lunatone lodged in limbo – not to check what it was, but to check if it was still alive or not...if one could assign it as such in the first place.
“Check status,” Aric interjected.
Surprised, Aric looked at the Lunatone again, away from the low resolution interface of the Pokedex. He examined it from different angles, careful not to put unnecessary weight on the structurally unsound parts of the weakened balcony. Aric had little experience with ‘inanimate’ Pokemon; if an unconscious Lunatone looked like this, a dead one must’ve looked like...shit.
Aric tried to avoid its dimmed gaze, what with the eerie watermark that had revealed itself in the moonlight. Perhaps it was a sheet of metal or glass embedded within the eye that did that…but whatever it was, it was fixated on Aric and he didn’t like the attention. He backed away slowly and cautiously, careful not to dismantle the balc–
With a lethal creak, more cracks began to radiate from the impacted Lunatone, and the balcony began to swallow up the Lunatone like a shipwreck (which must not have been a good thing for the room downstairs), distorting the watermark like a makeshift inverted eyebrow. Then it stopped, with shards of terracotta obscuring much of the watermark. For a human whose brain found a human expression in everything, Aric found sympathy for the Lunatone, even though in actual fact, he was more afraid of it than anything.
But the sympathy won him over and before he knew it, Aric had approached the Lunatone with an empty Pokéball. He tried to ignore the watermark – much like the time he ate deep-fried honey-coated Drapion legs while mentally insisting that they were potato chips. Almost offhandedly, he dropped the Pokéball on it as if giving meat to a hungry Houndour and hoped for the best. After finding that the ball had missed its target, he picked it up, asking himself whether he really wanted a Lunatone or was just so overcome by the fact that it just fell from the sky and was waiting to be caught.
Lavishing himself on the latter idea, Aric summoned up the courage and gave the watermark his own death glance. And, feeling the least guilty that he was capitalising on what was probably tragedy for the rest of the city, he threw the Pokéball at the Lunatone. It worked perfectly fine as the ball opened upon contact, liquidising the Pokémon into red plasma and drinking it all (not unlike a bloodthirsty Ariados reducing its Pika-prey into liquid sustenance – a sign that Aric was due for good dreams the following night). It evidently didn’t struggle at all, as the resolute ping had locked its captive in for good immediately without shaking at all.
There was half a moment where Aric was half-suspended in disbelief as he stared at the Pokéball (which had conveniently hopped back into his hands after containing the Lunatone) in front of him. His half-involuntarily half-opened mouth let out a half-spontaneous ‘eh?’ which drove him on until he had stowed away the Pokéball in his half-opened luggage and found himself half-propped up – for the sake of his tailbone – on the side of the bed.
Then he dropped onto his bed, head against the pillows and eyes beyond the ceiling. It wasn’t until his tailbone gave a cry of pain that he snapped out of his trance. That and the door – there was a knock on the door. Trapped in a dilemma between his nagging tailbone and a need to clear the scene of suspicious circumstances (the crater was not quite big enough for the Lunatone to have crashed straight through the balcony to have rendered it empty), he decided against his better good and quickly closed the balcony door and the curtains.
He limped towards the door (thank God he was clothed), clutching his tailbone awkwardly and swearing under his breath every time he took a hurried step. He opened the door to find a girl from the concierge, attempting to recover from hysteria (which was thwarted by her asthma-like symptoms). She tried to place words between her inhalations and exhalations but, combined with her oriental accent, failed to convey any meaning to Aric. Good thing he was a good assumer.
“No, I’m fine; they didn’t get me...just...didn’t even hear a thing,” he muttered back, attempting to sound as if he had only just woken up.
She nodded nonchalantly and before she had caught her breath, was already on her way to check up on the neighbouring rooms. Aric quickly shut the door as unsuspiciously as possible and walked back to his bed, grabbing his newly caught Lunatone’s Pokéball and releasing it. There it lay on the floor: the crescent-moon shaped Pokémon, a giant round eye in the middle and a beak-shaped protrusion in front. The eye was supposed to possess a low red (or blue, if one had the luck to find one) glow, more opaque than piercingly bright most of the time, but this one did not even let off a faint glow.
Aric poked it with his bare finger. Someone shouted “Slack! Aric, slack!” inside his head, but he ignored it. Besides, it didn’t even respond – it merely lay there like a brick. But he knew it wasn’t dead – Pokéballs wouldn’t activate like it did on a dead Pokémon. Indeed, when Aric gave up on fiddling with the Lunatone, it returned obediently with a brilliant zap that engulfed it back into its miniature abode.
Sleepy, he stowed it away and resigned to his bed, careful not to sleep on his back.
There was a cave. It was on an island off the shore of some big city – small, insignificant, really not that special. The island would be swallowed by the tide, before being regurgitated out the next day. Not sure that was how it worked, really – couldn’t be bothered keeping track of the moon. Maybe it was the tides, or it just disappeared when it felt like it. Saw it a couple of times and thought there might’ve been some neat Pokémon there, even though it was just sand and a pile of rocks. Stefan got himself a Sealeo and was bragging like hell about it. Vivian kicked its ass with her Tyranitar but I knew I’d fall behind if I didn’t get something to compete with. Heh.
The cave was cramped, steep too. Went barefoot for some reason. Was I that desperate? I went down the cave, hopping on the rocks that jutted out, but soon, the cave became so wide that I could no longer hop from side to side. I sticked to one side when water started trickling down the middle, eventually becoming this stream thing that was probably wasn’t nice to slip on.
Then it got pretty dark. Shit, I thought, looking at the team of Pokémon I had chosen for this trip. None of them knew the move Flash and I had thrown the HM out long ago for being such a sucky battle move. Besides, all the trainer-accessible caves were lit by the Pokémon League by default after receiving numerous complaints a few years back. Heh.
I guess I’ll be looking for a Chinchou or a Lanturn then...if this cave goes deep enough. By now, the water had gotten pretty deep, so I sent out the only Pokémon I was smart enough to bring.
“Cloyster!” I shouted.
Pro-tip, Aric: THERE’S NO ONE HERE.
It nodded, making sure to keep its snarky little grin on. I thought it was cute and all when all it did was keep its tongue out as a Shellder, but when it evolved, all it did was piss me off whenever I sent it out lying dormant and pretending to be asleep. Only when I threatened to sell it to the manager of an oyster bar did it start behaving. Kept its grin though, but the Pokédex said it was a Cloyster thing. Heh.
“You’ll know your way around, right?”
It shook its head, indicating that the water was too shallow – the protrusions of its shell were sticking out and Cloyster would be too heavy to swim without touching the bottom when I hopped on. Of all the Water Pokémon I could’ve picked. Seriously, heh.
I returned it into its Pokéball, both of us grumbling. A part of me wanted me to turn back and re-equip myself for the situation. No way that that was going to happen.
“Lucario,” I summoned, unenthusiastically.
She on the other hand.
“Ru! Ru! Ru!” she panted, on her all fours and her tongue lolling out. Almost comically, if you’d disregard the slobber and scratching and her overcooked affection for me. She was alright as a Riolu, really – at the very least, her size put a limit on the magnitude of annoyance she could reach, but those days (or rather, that day) were short lived before she evolved.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
“You can swim, can’t you?”
She nodded, her head practically on the verge of falling off, before plunging into the water with the grace of Hiroshima, even though the water was shallow. Heh.
“Alright there?” I asked, as she resurfaced, tongue before snout. She gave a few barks, each louder than the last and grossly amplified by the walls.
“J...just go and get a look-see. Don’t go too far.”
A woof and a splash and she was gone. Didn’t really know how long she could hold her breath, but that didn’t worry me. Not really, heh.
Then my phone rang. I got it out – an old Johto model – and saw Stefan’s name on the caller I.D. (“****face”).
“Yeah, what is it.”
“228 by the Oasis, now.”
“Busy? Doing what?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Pft. Busy playing video games?”
“What of it.”
“Wouldn’t you be better off training your shitty Lucario?”
“My Sealeo evolved this morning. I battled Vivian and her Tyranitar’s in ICU right now.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
“Duration of call: 00:00:49”
Pro-tip, Aric: DON’T MAKE PROMISES YOU CAN’T KEEP. REALLY, SHAME ON YOU.
He was right. As if Xatu would get me there in time. Ten minutes to tell the future, ten more minutes to prepare for long-distance flight, plus a times-two multiplier if he’s flying over the sea. He’ll drop me at the resort no doubt, so I’ll have to walk through the sandstorm all by myself, taking another ten minutes to get to the Oasis Café.
“Lucario!” I called, “faint something I don’t have –” (in case he turned up with a Shellder) “– and come back. And make it quick!”
Not sure if she heard me.
“Xatu!” I called. “Go wait outside; prepare for flight –”
He did not come out, instead returning into its Pokéball as soon as it opened, as a Pokémon would when it felt strongly obliged not to come out.
God fucking dammit.
I tried again. And again. And again. I shouted at the Pokéball, and then I tried again.
I did not need this right now.
Fine. Fuck Xatu – I could get there myself.
There he was, snarky grin hidden in the water, but his eyes said it all.
“Go find Lucario and tell her to come back. I have to go now – I’ll pick you guys up later; just wait here.”
He went like a motor boat, leaving a foamy trail that disappeared when the water was deep enough and the cave dark enough. As soon as I saw him leave, I retraced my footsteps back to the entrance of the cave, following the thin trails of sunlight that managed to strain through until the stream of water became a thin, negligible flow of water.
But the sunlight didn’t get any stronger. Clouds maybe? Rain, even?
As soon as I realised how long the trip back out of the cave took, I heard some giggling. Girlish giggling. The type that made your hair stand on end as soon as you realised that it was directed at you. Oh no.
The further I went, the more distinct the dialogue became – the cave made the whispers audible, but far from clear. I turned a corner and I saw two girls, standing where I was pretty sure was where the entrance to the cave used to be. Upon sight, one of them erupted into a horrible giggling fit. Epileptic seizure, perhaps?
“Excuse me, you two,” I said, disregarding courtesy and only stressing on the fact that they were in the way of someone with supervillains to take care of.
One of them gave way at once, hopping to one side of the cave, but the other pulled her back.
“Victoria!” the other said in a hushed whisper. She was still smiling a girly smile, even though I couldn’t make out the rest of her features.
“Hi, I’m Ayako,” she said, “and…”
She burst into a giggle again, but a slightly nervous one. Fucking hell, just get out of my way.
“She has a crush on you,” the girl named Victoria finished, unsure of the entire situation. At least she kind of understood I was in a rush. Good girl. Now shut up and let me through.
“I’m kind of busy right now, if you can’t tell.”
But the girl named Ayako only giggled harder. Really, she better be a Pokémon so I can delight in destroying her with a series of Stantler stomps. I got my Pokéball out ready.
“I’m sorry,” Victoria said helplessly, “I promise she’ll be quick.”
Still giggling. Or maybe she was crying now. Don’t really know. Don’t really care.
“Ayako! Hurry up, Aric’s busy!”
“Wait…how did you know my name?”
Oh, wait a minute –
“She’s been stalking you for about three months now.”
Huh. Suddenly, the thought of burning rose petals, of mysterious love letters (also burnt to a crisp) and refused strangers in equally strange disguises asking for photos wove together in my mind like an Ariados playing with its silk.
“I’ll call the police if you don’t let me through.”
“Please don’t…Ayako, say sorry.”
Did not stop the giggling.
“I have a pho–”
The cave plunged into darkness. Victoria screamed (I knew it was her because Ayako DID NOT FUCKING STOP GIGGLING) and I died on the inside.
“Oh you’ve got to be joking.”
I heard anxious footsteps and shallow breathing among the giggling and nothing more, besides the sounds of painful moaning (“Let me out!”) echoing within my skull. Then something grabbed my arm, which immediately tensed up in surprise.
“Sorry…I tripped,” I heard Victoria say.
“Did you two do this?”
“No, I swear, we didn’t do anything!”
I suppose I could trust her. For now.
“Do you have a torch or anything? A Chinchou or something?”
“No, we didn’t bring anything! Today was one of Ayako’s days when she would take a break from stalking you, but she saw you on the beach so she followed you and I tagged along and – Ayako, stop hitting me!”
I heard slapping sounds, along with stomping sounds and then –
except amplified by the power of infinity, to the pitch of something projected through a speaker with the microphone in front of it. Then two equally deadly screams followed.
The giggling died, but my inner moaning only increased.
“Lucario, what have you done!” I shouted, exasperated and quite frankly, FUUCKING ANNOYED, to the point that capitalisation could not express enough of my RAAAAAAAAAGE. Neither did repetition.
There were shuffling sounds from behind where I had left Cloyster and Lucario, and the sounds of heavy breathing and sniffing. Maybe I should’ve asked someone about the cave before going in.
I got the Pokédex out, trying to light up the path with its reasonably bright (though small) screen. I tried to open up the map, but there was no reception.
“This is Sea Monster Cave…” I heard Ayako say.
“Oh I thought you could only giggle like a slutty little Jynx,” I responded, trying to make my words as bloody with sarcasm and contempt as possible.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m –”
“Don’t” – she shut up – “be more annoying than you already are.”
Victoria, that good girl God bless her truly, stayed quiet as Ayako sniffed a tear. Or a sliver of nose gunk. Whatever.
Sea Monster Cave my ass.
Another ear-splitting roar came from within, breaking the silence like a sports car in the middle of a desert – complete with the screaming girls.
“I swear that one just now was louder than the last one,” Ayako said, her trembles evident even in her echoes.
And I’ll blame everything on her, because as soon as the echoes died, an earthquake overcame us and it didn’t stop until the water went up to our knees. It did not recede.
“Girl named Victoria, please shut your Japanese friend up or I’ll leave you two here to rot while I find a way-out myself.”
The hand that was clutching my arm gripped tighter, even though I had no intention of shaking her off. Really. One of them muttered a “Please don’t” while I started walking towards the direction where I left Cloyster and Lucario. Hopefully, they’d have stayed right where they were supposed to – unless it was really Lucario who had caused all this. I looked at the time on the Pokédex interface – twenty minutes had elapsed since Stefan had called me, and I’d never make it in time.
The water was heavy and bogged down by sheets of kelp, and also too murky for the Pokédex light to penetrate through. I really wished I had worn shoes – who knows what I’ll step on?
I felt the ground with my bare foot – coarse and pretty even. I edged my way across, feeling the ground with my bare feet like a blind man. This went on for a while, silently, except for the sound of legs trailing in the water.
I didn’t know how far I had gone, but after a while, I realised I wasn’t going to get very far just by edging slowly further into the cave. The water was up to my navel when I gave up.
“We’re going to have to take the plunge.”
“Ayako can’t swim.”
“Please don’t swear; you’re scaring us.”
“The situation does not lend itself to refrain from swearing. Please try again.”
I looked at the Pokédex in my hand. It hadn’t done that before.
“Look, I’m sure you’re just having a bad day and it was really bad of us to ruin your day even more, and we’re really, really sorry, but please, can you just help us get out of here?”
“That is not possible.”
“Please, I’m just an exchange student! I have a very loving family at home and I miss them very much!”
“That is not relevant to the situation.”
“Please! You can’t let us die in here all alone!”
“You are not useful to the mission. Abortion is necessary to ensure minimum loss of life.”
Now that’s just getting harsh.
“No! Where are you going? You can’t leave us behind!”
I’m not going anywhere.
“Please! Come back!”
I’m not going anywhere; I’m standing right here. I’m right –
The water shivered and the girls screamed, breaking up their sobs momentarily. The light from the Pokédex gradually faded as I was thrown off balance. The sound in my ears resonated like a cloud of flying insects as they crashed into the water, drowning them.
And then that oh-so-familiar falling sensation.
There was no sand in his eyes and his joints were not stagnant. His heart was beating at a steady speed and his tailbone felt quite fine. Aric found no itch or pain on his body, but he found the whistling a bit harsh on his ears. He wanted to say “Stop it” but the words didn’t come. Something told him that there was no need to say anything. So he stayed there, doing not much in general, except for listening to a whistle that he did not want to listen to.
Then there was a crash from above. The ceiling cracked, some bits fell down and other bits hung on.
That was when Aric saw the stars.
The moon, however, was stuck in the ceiling.
“There’s a really big hole now.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so used to seeing the Psychodesy intact and all.”
“The best is yet to come. Who knows, there mightn’t be a Psychodesy as we know it left after the improvements come into place.”
“Oh why are you so confident?”
“Because we’ve got nothing to lose. And I’ve got Arceus’ face after he sees what we’ve done to the Psychodesy in my mind right now. It’s very funny. Do you want to see it?”
“No, thank you. I’d much rather see it for myself when we succeed – if we succeed, that is. Some would already be piecing together some Legendary involvement – they can easily stop us before we get any further if they tried.”
“Don’t be silly – they won’t. This incident will be of a Psychic nature, and everybody knows that the Legendary pantheon is literally overrun with Psychics. Even Arceus won’t come to suspect us if he had the mind to bother.”
“Regardless, they can easily stop us.”
“Like I said, we have nothing to lose. Besides, their first suspect would probably be an underestimate.”
“Something fluffy and troublemaking would take the blame.”
“Oh come on. Mew?”
“He’s done it before; except with a smaller radius of influence. And with an attitude like his, it would take a while for anybody, even for Arceus, to convince him to submit to an interrogation.”
“I don’t think anyone would suspect that Mew would play around with the Psychodesy in such an irresponsible manner.”
“Irresponsible? Hah! The point remains; Mew has done it before and he would be the prime suspect.”
“We won’t be far from suspicion either way.”
“Pfft; says you. Arceus doesn’t care about us! We got wiped off ‘TEH LIST’, remember? And he’s got his junk stuck in Sinnoh anyway. Allow me to reiterate: He is of no concern. Our inexistence will become our defence. Not even those in tune with the Psychodesy would know of us.”
“Surely, there must be something of concern?”
“The Riccan Legends, first and foremost. How many times do I have to say this? Ever since Riccan opened up to the rest of the world, the Legends there have become increasingly active. And these aren’t just orgies I’m talking about!”
“Don’t remind me of our visit to Johto, please.”
“I saw a camera in recording mode there.”
“I said –”
There was the sound of lunging.
“Alright, alright, alright!”
Then back to the sound of starlight.
“So…what do the Riccan Legends have to do with us?”
“As much as the Dimensional Powers have in common with Sinnoh. Our influence in the other four Japanese regions will be infinitesimal compared to our influence via the Riccan.”
“The Riccan pantheon looks packed for such a small region.”
“The humans there make legends out of ridiculous things, I imagine.”
“Still – it would be hard to secure a foothold on the region…”
“Most are either independent (i.e. not really part of the bigger picture) or in the lower levels of the pantheon. Our sheer power guarantees us in the upper levels. Then, if the pantheon is as saturated as we think, we can exercise some processes of elimination.”
“There would be unrest – not just among the Legends – if we were to do that.”
“Nothing they can do about it.”
“Then Arceus would know –”
“What’s gotten into you? I’m pretty sure a simple a picture in your mind won’t be enough to make you this impetuous.”
“Impetuous? Hardly! Arceus won’t banish us again. Not this time.”
“Are we that powerful?”
“Yes we are. Trust me, Arceus is of no concern. You have my assurance, Exterra.”
“I’ll just forget about the last time you said that and take your word for it.”
“Ouch. That hurt.”
“If only pain were enough to deter you from foolishness.”
“Shall we get going, then?”
“Unless you want to wait for Divuna.”
“He’s out with the girl.”
“He shouldn’t be.”
“She isn’t officially part of the Pantheon yet, but her induction would be inevitable. Gaining her support would be vital to our cause, no?”
“Yes, but she retains good contacts within the Pantheon. Any contact must be carefully planned.”
“Should I impede Divuna then?”
“Godspeed – I want to get this show on the road.”
“Heh. Right to it, then.”
An ethereal whistle and a telephone ring and before he knew it, Aric was propped up on his bed, wide awake with an unusually clearness in his head. Opening the curtains and looking out, he saw the wispy clouds gliding above the extinguished city, painted wistfully crimson by the daybreak.