Hello, friends. EM1 here.
If you clicked on this, I would assume that it’s because of one of a few reasons:
One: You’ve read my work before and pretty much liked it, probably saw my name under the title and went, “He hasn’t retired yet?” and then came in to check it out.
Two: You asked around for a good fic to sink your teeth into and somebody from category number one pointed you in this direction.
Three: You were just poking around the fanfiction section and this happened to be near or at the top of the list because someone just posted on it.
Well, whatever category you’re in, even if it’s ‘none of the above’, I’m glad you’re here. So, before we start, let me take the opportunity to set the record straight about a few things you can expect to see in Maverick Heart.
1: You can expect not to see one Travis DePaul. He’s referenced in passing once or twice, but if you came expecting to see a third story about Travis, I’m afraid that’s the one place I guarantee you’ll be disappointed. He and the majority of the cast from the first two series don’t make any appearances. (If you pay attention, though, you may see a cameo or two from Advent Phoenix’s minor cast.) This is a new group of characters, a completely new group of personalities, and it’s my hope that you learn to love – or at least love to hate – these characters to an even greater degree than the ones you might have read about in Advent Phoenix (or even Revolution: Johto if you’re one of the REALLY old crew that’s been around at least four years).
2: You can expect to see very few rookie mistakes in terms of spelling and grammar. You may not like the story or the characters – everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, after all – but I will not let Maverick Heart or anything else I write become the proverbial middle finger to the English language. Understandable for someone in his early teens who just started out…but for a guy that’s 20, just graduated college, and has been writing on SPPf for closing in on eight years, it’s just embarrassing.
3: This story is in the same universe as the first two I’ve written. But if you’re looking for another case of ‘Trainer takes the gym challenge (and maybe finds out he’s heir to a special power on the way)’, then look elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong: those stories have merit when done well. But I decided long before I actually started writing this that it was going to be unlike anything that I’ve ever done before. So the third thing you can expect is for this to be completely different than either of the first two.
4: If you’re new or you haven’t been back for a while, you can expect to be able to jump right in and grab hold relatively quickly. In my last story, I made a mistake that probably cost me a lot of readers. I am very aware that sometimes it felt that, to truly understand the characters in Advent Phoenix, one had to go back to read about their beginnings in Revolution: Johto. Maybe that wouldn’t have been so horrible if the latter hadn’t been 60 chapters and over a thousand pages long. The beauty of wiping the slate clean as far as characters are concerned is that it doesn’t take a background lexicon to get one up to speed. Like I mentioned before, there are a few passing references to the old characters and old stories, but not many, seeing as these characters for the most part didn’t participate in those stories. In short: you won’t have to go back and read (or re-read) one of the first two unless you really want to. Seeing as the first two stories total 140 chapters and about 3,000 pages, I think we all can agree that’s a good thing.
5: You can expect this story not to stagnate. As you can probably tell, I’m not the type to completely abandon a fanfic unless the circumstances are extreme – pretty much death, permanent incapacitation (like losing several of my fingers, for example), or an extended loss of internet service (like 4-6 months or more) would be the only things that would cause me to drop the story entirely. Sometimes chapters take a while (maybe a month if I’m going kinda slow, rarely ever longer than that), but I’m not a quitter. They may say that I couldn’t write, but they will never say that I didn’t.
DISCLAIMER: Pokémon is the property of Satoshi Tajiri, GameFreak, Nintendo, all or some or most of those people. I don’t own it. However, anything that wasn’t created by them probably belongs to either me or Air Dragon, who helped with a lot of the details. This story is set in a fan-made region that is part of an alternate universe that may not (and likely will not) conform to the established canon of the Pokémon games, anime, or manga.
Now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I proudly present to you:
Pokémon Revolution: Maverick Heart
1 – Leaving Lucas
June 3, PA 2019
“Daddy! Daddy! Hurry up!!”
A small boy of about six shouted down the stairs, waving one little hand furiously in the air.
The man at the bottom of the stairs – a tall, mid-thirties gentleman with shockingly bright red hair – sighed hopelessly at the sight of his son, who had now proceeded to jump up and down excitedly like he was on an invisible pogo stick. It was amazing how much the boy had grown up. He stood nearly four feet in height already and absolutely dwarfed other boys his age. He would likely wind up being extremely tall, just like his father and the other boys in his family.
Such was the gene pool of the Blackthorn family. Even the smallest ones ended up looking average when compared to most people.
“I’m coming, Landis,” he sighed, still staring up at the boy as he made his own way up the cobblestone stairs. The boy scratched his head full of chaotic hair – hair that, since his birth, never seemed to be able to make up its mind on what color it wanted to be. Through his childhood, it had gone back and forth between bright vermilion, like that of his father, or pale blond like the locks of his mother – but mostly it had stayed somewhere in between. Landis was wearing a red t-shirt and jean shorts and, with a scab on his right knee from where he had fallen during play, looked every bit of the five years old that he was. In fact, as his father looked at him, he noticed that the shorts were showing a bit more knee, and the shirt a bit more arm.
He grows up so fast, the red-haired father thought to himself. Looks like we’ll be clothes shopping again this summer.
The man finally reached the top step, taking a heaving breath as Landis grabbed onto his arm. He wasn’t exactly exhausted to the point of collapse, but still…those stairs weren’t quite as easy as they had been when he was in his twenties.
“Daddy, let’s go,” he moaned impatiently.
“I’m coming – keep your shirt on,” the man replied to his son, a tired smile on his face.
“I wasn’t taking my shirt off,” said Landis, looking indignant and confused.
The man sighed.
“It’s a figure of speech, bud,” he told the boy, ruffling his hair. “It means to be patient.”
A look of recognition dawned on the child’s face – he seemed to understand.
“Oh,” Landis answered.
“Sir Lance! Landis!!” an exclamation from another boyish voice caused father and son to whirl around and look up. Standing there was a boy that was probably an inch or two taller than Landis, if that. He had short hair of a deep turquoise color and was wearing a white shirt with black trim and blue jeans.
“Evander!!” Landis shouted enthusiastically, running to greet his best friend. He stopped short, however, when he saw a man that looked like a twenty-years-older version of Evander step out of the huge castle doors. This man was wearing a black shirt and pants. His face, framed also by hair of a turquoise shade, was kind, but his strong, muscular build must have looked to the boy like someone who could rip him in half with his bare hands. Despite that, it was not the man that seemed to be worrying young Landis.
Judging by the boy’s eye level, he was looking straight at the two little girls flanking the man’s legs. They were both small five-year-olds and appeared to be twins, with their matching long, onyx hair and similar facial features. The one holding the man’s right hand had her hair tied back in a long, thick braid, and was wearing a pink shirt with a glitter heart along with blue jeans. The little girl on his left side, however, had her hair out, and was wearing a pink sundress.
“Lance! How are you doing?” the man said, coming down the stairs with his struggling preschool-age girls, both of whom seemed to be trying to move faster than he was.
“Got the full clan with you today, Noah??” Lance replied with a laugh. It was then that he noticed that Landis had hidden behind him. “What’s wrong with you, bud? I thought Evander was your friend.”
Landis muttered quietly as he vaguely motioned toward the little girls.
“Oh, come on,” Lance pulled his son out from behind him and nudged the boy forward. “They’re not going to bite you.”
Evander had made his way off to the side of this small, grassy area, which was lined with trees and split down the middle by the path of white bricks that led up to a vast castle that stretched several stories into the air. He waved to Landis, who quickly ran sideways to join him, obviously not wanting any part of Noah’s twin daughters. It was at this point, however, that the girls wrested themselves free of their father’s halfhearted grip and the twin with the braided hair pelted for Lance’s son at full speed. Landis, looking like he’d just seen a Gyarados bearing down on him, tried to escape and run around Evander, who stood rooted to his spot silently, but with a clear message written on his face…
Here we go again…
“Uh-oh,” Lance said. It was at this point that the ponytailed girl caught up with Landis, grabbed him by the hand, and pulled him into a bone-crunching hug. The men couldn’t help but laugh. After a stern look from his father, Landis hugged the girl back rather tentatively, letting go after about half a second. She didn’t seem to get the signal, however, and squeezed him even more tightly.
Noah looked down as he noticed his pant leg being pulled. Standing there was the twin that was wearing the dress. She appeared to be sniffling as she pointed wordlessly at her sister, who was still affectionately strangling the life out of Landis.
“What?” Noah grunted. “Well, go over there.”
The girl with the skirt ran over to where her sister and Landis was standing, the latter’s face as red as the roots of his hair. Landis stared at her for a moment until she raised her hand in a silent wave.
“Hi, Alex,” Landis said nervously. The little girl beamed and threw herself upon him in an embrace that was gentler, but no less embarrassing to the little boy. Alex let go and felt herself stumble sideways. Her sister had shoved her and nearly knocked her to the ground.
“Nikita, play nice!!” Noah scolded his daughter loudly. As Noah was the highest ranking military official in Blackthorn City, when he talked, people listened – and that included his children. Looking back at Lance, he smiled and commented. “I might have to keep my girls in their room the next time you bring Landis over to visit. They argue all the time over which one’s going to marry him when they all grow up. Alana just laughs; she thinks it’s adorable. I say, ‘Sure, it’s cute now because they’re five and not fifteen.’”
“All of these kids as teenagers?” he commented. “I don’t even want to think about it. Just dealing with one was bad enough, but in ten years…”
“Remember when we were younger and didn’t have any kids running around?” Lance asked. “Say...eight years ago, before you and Alana got married?”
“How is this my fault?” Noah asked, his hands held up incredulously.
“Because you were the first ones,” Lance replied. “Good grief, you couldn’t even wait until you were back from your honeymoon.”
“You think we planned to have Evander that early?” Noah said. “I would have loved to wait a year or two, but that’s not how things played out.”
“So, you’re saying you regret it?” Lance asked.
“Of course not,” Noah answered, a wry smile on his face. “Evander wasn’t an accident. He was more like a ‘pleasant surprise’.”
“That’s good…but it still doesn’t change the fact that everyone starting having kids after you guys got married,” Lance commented. “Twenty-seven with three children already? I don’t know how you deal with it.”
“Very well, actually,” Noah replied, patting Lance on the shoulder. “If the girls move out at seventeen, I’ll have an empty nest before I turn forty. You, on the other hand…you’d better hope you can get Ali to take a little trip like her older cousin just did. Otherwise…”
“I’ll be fifty,” Lance said, frowning. Shaking his head, he said, “I can’t picture myself at fifty.”
“Eight years ago, I couldn’t picture myself pitching in to raise a whole village of little kids,” Noah laughed. “Fighting’s easy compared to this, if you ask me.”
“I wouldn’t go that f—okay, yes, I would,” Lance answered. Noah laughed. “Watch Landis for me while I go in and talk to Clair?”
“Sure – don’t I always?” Noah replied. Lance chuckled this time, patting Noah on the shoulder as he walked by and into the castle. As the red-haired leader of Blackthorn City disappeared from sight, the young man looked at the two boys and two girls scampering playfully around the garden. He let out a sigh.
“Things sure have changed around here…”
Thirty-six was not a ripe, old age…but as people in Johto usually lived into their early- to mid-seventies, thirty-six was not young, either. It meant that, unless she was very fortunate or very unfortunate, her life was halfway over in the grand scheme of things. If she had wanted, like many of her relatives and friends, to marry and start a family, she would have been quickly running out of time.
Clair Blackthorn was not aware of the exact point that she realized that it simply was not for her to be married. It might have been the day she turned thirty and realized that she had not enjoyed anything that resembled a steady relationship. She had even failed to become the beneficiary (or victim, depending on one’s point of view) of a two-week teenage fling. It might have been even further back than that, when Lance left on his Journey of Passage. Lance ended up being a great Trainer – so great, actually, that he became a League Champion and didn’t come back home to live for about fifteen years. Thus, it was Clair that was left with the task of leading the city as a young woman after their father died.
Perhaps it was three years ago, at thirty-three, when a cocky, black-haired, young man had taken up residence in Blackthorn City and become one of her ‘Junior Assistants’. Normally, that title was reserved for young Trainers in their teens that wanted to specialize in a certain type of Pokémon and therefore aligned themselves with certain Gym Leaders. This young man, however, was in his later twenties – strapping, in the prime of life. Tall, strong, confident…and although he was several years younger, she had fallen for him all the same.
So, at that point, she knew what it was like to be in love.
She also found out what it was like to get burned.
The Orange Islander evidently had liaisons with three or four different women in the city, including Clair. Lance had indeed been right when he had said that he thought the guy looked like a playboy. She was so furious that she kicked him not only out of the gym, but out of the entire city. It was really for his own good, because if either of her brothers had gotten to him first…
It might have been at that point where she just simply gave up. The only guy that had ever wanted any part of her evidently wanted a part of everyone else, too. Other than that, most men were simply cowed by her near-six-foot frame, the way her yellow eyes peered over her thin-rimmed spectacles, her long and wildly styled light blue hair, and her overall commanding presence. Lance had once told her that she was the type of person that could suck the air out of a room just by walking in.
She laughed to herself. If she’d managed to have children of her own, she probably would have terrified them out of their wits. Maybe that was why Fate had not seen fit to give her a family.
She knew, though, that there was more to being a mother than simply marrying and procreating. When she thought of it, she had been a mother to several different people since she had been a teenager.
The first was her youngest brother, Lorca. Their mother, never a picture of great health, had survived three difficult pregnancies; but, nearing the age of forty, a fourth proved to be too much. So Clair, who was eight years older, was really the only mother Lorca ever knew.
Now, these days, she was a mother figure to her many nieces and nephews. The rest of her family had borne enough children to make up for her total lack of a love life. Each of her siblings had parented two.
Lorca had Diamond – a five-year-old that actually looked a bit like her – and Lyle, a two-year-old miniature of his father.
Lance had Landis, who was five and had a birthday coming up, and Alyndra, the baby of the family, not yet a year old.
Laena, the only sibling older than Clair, had died nearly fourteen years ago, but had left two children of her own, too. Since she had left the city to marry, the older of the two boys was not raised as a Blackthorn. But, eight years ago, when circumstances brought him to the city for the first time, they had accepted him as a family member all the same. He was twenty now, had just been married about nine months prior, and lived in the Orange Islands with his new wife. They still visited from time to time, though, mainly to see his younger brother.
Lucas had been taken in by the family when his father died seven years ago. He was Laena’s younger son, the one she had right before dying. He had been six year old when his father was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Seven years had passed since then…which meant that there was now a new hole in the family that his presence used to fill.
Clair sat in her library, spectacled eyes poring over a book, in an effort to distract her from the weighty pressure that kept pushing in on her insides.
THUMP. Someone was knocking…
“Come in,” she said with a sigh.
The brown door swung open and revealed a very tall man in his thirties with short, slightly wild, red hair.
Her younger brother.
“Oh,” she reacted rather morosely. “Hey, Lance.”
“We didn’t find you at the liftoff this morning,” he said. “Weren’t you going to come and say goodbye?”
“I already talked to him last night,” she answered. “At length, in fact.”
She closed the book.
“Carona, Lance?” she sighed. “Carona? Where did we go wrong? Nobody else in the family…”
“You know him by now,” Lance said heavily, taking a chair beside a tall bookshelf, the top of which even a man of his height could barely reach. “He’ll listen to your advice, but at the end of the day, he marches to the beat of his own drum.”
“He’s got too much of his mother in him,” Clair said with a sad smile. “I bet Laena’s looking down from the clouds, laughing at us as we try to keep him reined in…how’d Landis take it?”
“I took him to the liftoff this morning,” Lance explained. “I’ve been teaching him about the whole process, and I wanted him to see it. I don’t think it’s hit him yet, though, that Lucas won’t be coming back for a while.”
“It’ll be hard for them,” Clair sighed. “He always was close with the kids. I bet they’ll miss him even more than I will.”
She gulped and closed her eyes as the insides of her eyelids suddenly flooded. She opened her eyes and fixed a watery stare upon her brother, blinking back tears.
“Sorry,” she sighed. “I’m getting old, is all.”
“Don’t say that,” Lance said, a smile on his face. “I’m only two years younger than you are, so what does that make me?”
Clair let out a chuckle in spite of herself.
“Everything changed once that boy got here,” she said.
“Yeah…having a seven-year-old running around with us took some getting used to,” he replied.
“No, not him,” Clair explained. “The other one.”
Lance thought back.
“Oh, yeah…” he sighed.
“How is he now? I was so happy when I heard he had won,” she said. “I’d been a bit worried about him since he left here for the last time.”
“He’s still in Hoenn with his wife. Actually, they sent me a message last week. She’s getting pretty big now,” Lance said with a smile.
“Wow…he was only twelve when I’d met him…” Clair laughed, sitting back in her chair. “Now he’s a Champion and has his own family. If that and running a city don’t make you feel old…”
“I suppose you’re right,” Lance said, standing up and heading toward the door. “Well, I’d better go rescue Landis. Noah’s girls were a little bit too happy to see him.”
Clair smirked wordlessly. She would feel quite old indeed when her third-oldest nephew left home in about seven years or so.
She looked up, blinking again.
“He’ll be okay,” Lance said, peeking back over his shoulder with a reassuring smile. “This can’t be worse than when you watched me leave, right?”
“That’s what worries me,” Clair said. Lance gave a hearty laugh and closed the door behind him.
**** **** **** M.A.V.E.R.I.C.K H.E.A.R.T **** **** ****
All was silent in this small, austerely adorned room. Golden-white rays of sunshine filtered through a window, illuminating the room wall to wall, revealing the occasional dust particle. In rain and night, the room’s source of light was a round globe of fluorescence that could be activated by switch. One small dresser made of wood stood forgotten and gathering dust in the corner. It was closest to the door and not far at all from the suspect-looking bed that lined the long wall of this room. Looking at this pitifully crafted piece of furniture – and here the term is used generously – would give one the impression that this room was designed with short-term habitation in mind. The bed was the resting place of a traveler, not nearly comfortable enough to sleep deeply within.
The form currently inside this bed, with a thick, greenish blanket pulled over itself completely, had managed a decent night’s sleep. The room was utterly quiet, save for the placid breathing that emanated from somewhere in between the blanket and the white pillow upon which a mostly veiled head now rested.
The blankets shifted as the form underneath them rolled slightly toward the wall.
“Mnmf…what…” a moan of regained consciousness came forth from the covers as the form stirred again.
“Hey, kid! Wake up!” A muffled, relatively young-sounding voice filtered through the wooden door at the end of the room, followed by another loud sound of impact. The form remained motionless this time.
The blanket exploded away from the form under it. Two long, light tan legs swung out from the bed. Two bare feet melded themselves to the carpeted floor and began to detach, one by one, step by step, taking their owner toward a door opposite of the banging and the shouting.
The feet pattered into a tiny, tiled room lined with a sink, a toilet, an iron bar, a translucent sliding door, and a mirror above the sink. The feet turned toward this mirror. Three feet higher, a right hand picked up a small toothbrush. A left hand picked up a tube filled with gel and squeezed it, emptying some of its contents onto the fine, white bristles. The mouth opened in something of a rather goofy, silent growl, and ran the bristles repeatedly along even, white teeth. The gel was quickly replaced by foam that filled the mouth for several seconds until it disappeared behind his lips, only to be spat into the sink and washed down the drain by a torrent of water.
The eyes left the sink and arrived at the mirror.
What those eyes saw was a boy with a slightly tan face and irises the golden-brown color of a lion’s coat. His head was a shoulder-length, curly shag of red flecked with hotter red and jet black. He took one of his hands and ruffled it furiously, attempting to make it appear as voluminous and as messy as humanly possible.
“Wake up,” a tiny, childlike voice sounded. The thirteen-year-old sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “Wake up!!”
“Ugh….you guys suck,” he muttered to someone absent. She, like an innocent, angelic, adorable, little minion, had been sent to do her parents’ bidding. That was usually how they got him. Her parents knew with a certainty that was as sure as death that he couldn’t say ‘no’ to her.
Ruffling his hair one more time for good measure, he exited the bathroom, took the six steps that were required to get through his ‘bedroom’, and opened the door carefully. It was then that he found himself staring down at the face of the little girl whose voice he’d heard moments ago.
She was very young – no older than five. As such, she was only just about up to the boy’s waist. Granted, that still made her taller than a lot of other little girls her age. She had very long hair that was sky blue like her father’s, and her mother’s wide, aquamarine eyes. At the present, that long hair of hers was out of its customary bushy ponytail and wildly hanging her back, which was covered by a light blue nightshirt and a royal-blue pair of pajama bottoms that displayed several of a long, big-eyed, serpentine creature with a white underbelly.
“Hi, Lucas,” she said, smiling weakly.
“Good morning, Diamond,” he replied, returning her smile – moments before the girl threw herself upon him so quickly that she nearly tackled him to the ground. He staggered for a moment before he gathered her up into his arms.
Thirteen-year-old Lucas Blackthorn had many peculiarities for which he had been well-known in his hometown. Perhaps the most perplexing (albeit the most admirable) was the fact that he was known to be very patient and caring with the younger children in and around his family. However, out of all of them, it was Diamond that held a special place in his heart.
Lucas was without either of his birth parents. He never knew his mother, who died shortly after giving birth to him under mysterious circumstances. Ergo, he never knew about his mother’s side of the family – not until his older brother forced it out of their father in a rather heated argument that ended with his brother leaving home permanently. The truth that Michael Azuki (for that had been his father’s name) had kept from Lucas – whom he had named Marco, a name that Lucas detested to this day – was that Lucas’ mother, whom Michael had known as Lauren, was actually the oldest daughter of the Blackthorn family, meaning that Lucas counted everyone born of that Dragon Tamer clan among his relatives. Therefore, when Michael died in a motorcycle accident seven years ago, the choice for Lucas’ guardian was obvious. Laena Blackthorn had three siblings. One of them was, at the time, the Champion of Johto’s Pokémon League, and the other a Gym Leader.
Lucas, however, had been left with the youngest member of the clan, as it had been he and his wife that had requested the task of housing and raising him.
As much as Lucas felt in his heart that what his Uncle Lorca and his Aunt Marcia had done for him was what family should do, he was nonetheless thankful and held a high amount of respect and love for them – although his rough pattern of speech didn’t always show it.
It was thus that Lucas – then nine and in the midst of training for today’s particular morning – was present for the birth of Diamond Lorelai (after her maternal grandmother – no relation to the former Elite Four member) Blackthorn, nearly five years ago. They were cousins by blood, but had grown up together as a brother and sister would. So, out of his several younger cousins, it was Diamond with whom he was closest.
“I don’t want you to go,” she whimpered. Her five-year-old mind didn’t quite get the concept of the Journey of Passage. Truth be told, sometimes Lucas didn’t, either. But what she did gather was that Lucas – her brother – was leaving and wouldn’t be back for a long time.
“We’re almost there now,” he tried to explain as gently as possible. “We can’t just turn around and go back, can we?”
“Why did you have to pick someplace so far away?” she asked grumpily.
Lucas remained silent. His reasons…those were something that Diamond’s innocent ears did not need to hear about. Heck, he hadn’t even explained it to his Uncle Lance and Aunt Clair. They may or may not have figured it out, though…
“Look who finally decided to join us,” said the voice of a laughing man as Lucas put Diamond down onto the ground. Lucas looked up to find a tall, young man in his twenties approaching him. His hair was a neck-length mess of sky-blue. His bespectacled, yellow eyes flanked a long, pointed nose, and he was wearing a green shirt along with some long, black slacks. The tall man approached Lucas and ruffled his curly hair, making it even shaggier. After a few seconds, Lucas knocked the hand away with a motion akin to swatting at a bothersome fly. “Have a good sleep, kid?”
Lucas’ mouth set in a firm line. At ten, he didn’t mind much that his Uncle Lorca did that, but at thirteen, it was a bit irritating.
“Did you have to wake me up?” he asked.
“What did you want me to do? Dump you off in Carona while you were knocked out and leave with no goodbye? Diamond would have never let me hear the end of it!” the man explained, as the little girl beamed. Suddenly, Lucas’ face became serious.
“How far are we out?” he asked.
“Something like an hour,” the man replied.
“An hour, huh…?” Lucas repeated. Diamond’s face fell.
They made their way to a long, indoor cabin area that was lined with chairs in rows of two on each side. It looked rather like the inside of an airplane, except that two rows of chairs would face each other and be spaced a distance apart. Lucas sat down in a seat nearest the wall. Out of that window, he saw a vast expanse of sky and water, dotted with the occasional island and obscured by the occasional white puff of cloud. In the dim, blurred reflection from the window, he saw Diamond pacing up and down the cabin, stopping to look at him every so often.
“Lucas,” a man’s voice snapped Lucas out of his daydreams about adventure, self-discovery, the moment that he could meet that person…calmly, the boy looked back toward the opposite row of chairs. Sitting down in those chairs was the tall, blue-haired man from earlier. Joining him was a young woman, similarly in her later twenties. With her long, auburn hair, sun-kissed face, and aqua-colored eyes, her appearance could change based on her mood. If she was happy or calm, she was quite good-looking. Get her angry and she could be intimidating, to say the least – and although the years had mellowed her, she could still have a short fuse if you caught her on a bad day. In her t-shirt and jeans, however, she didn’t look to be interested in exposing anyone to her rage. She simply looked at Lucas with the utmost concern on her face, matching the expression of her husband. “We have to talk to you.”
“I think I know what this is – mind if I take a guess, Uncle Lorca?” Lucas sighed, leaning back in his chair. Lorca grimaced. Sarcastic, biting, opinionated, stubborn in both word and in action, Lucas hardly ever went out of his way to be rude; but his way of talking tended to push people’s buttons, that was for sure. Lorca and Marcia, however, had grown used to it over the years. “You’re gonna tell me to behave myself in Carona and not do anything stupid. I know what’s going on. D’you think I picked Carona without doing my homework on it first?”
“I know you did your homework – that’s what worries me,” Lorca said, palming his forehead.
“It bothers me that no one else in the family has ever done their Passage in Carona,” Lucas answered. “You can’t seriously tell me that one of the greatest warrior clans in the world is afraid, but that’s sure what it looks like.”
“It’s not that, Lucas,” Marcia groaned impatiently. Her voice (while calm, of course) had grown through the years to be quite a bit more pleasant, and her verbiage had become less harsh. “It’s…well…”
“I know the reason,” Lucas replied, leaning forward. “Are you guys just afraid I won’t finish the journey?”
“Finishing that journey doesn’t make you a man, Luc,” Lorca said, leaning forward and bringing everything to silence. “It’s the journey itself – what you learn, what you see, what you find out – that makes you a man.”
“It’s just that simple,” Lucas said, nodding. Meanwhile, he felt (and ignored) the grip of a little hand on his knee. “I get it.”
“I’m not sure if you do,” Lorca said. “Your grandfather never gave me the chance to go on a Journey of Passage. He already had plans for me – to study government and represent the city in the Grand Council.”
“Man…that sucks,” Lucas muttered.
“You’ve got choices available to you, though,” Lorca said. “And that’s important. Your choices impact what kind of man you’re going to end up being.”
“That’s just it,” Lucas sighed. “One of the reasons I wanted to go to Carona is that, there, I’m not famous. People could care less about the last name ‘Blackthorn’. Well…most of them.”
“You’re just as much a part of the family as everyone else, Lucas,” Lorca said.
“I know that…but being the face of the Blackthorn family? That’s still Uncle Lance’s job. And after that, it’ll belong to Landis…and as far as I’m concerned, they can keep it,” Lucas laughed cuttingly.
“Don’t get too cocky,” Lorca advised him. “Keep in mind, you don’t exactly know Carona like the back of your hand. You don’t know where you’re going, what you’re doing…do you?”
“Nope,” Lucas answered. “But that’s part of the fun, right?”
“Very funny, Luc,” Lorca groaned, slapping his head. “Listen, are you even taking this seriously?”
“Yes…and no,” Lucas replied nonchalantly. “Am I supposed to?”
“Yes…and no,” Lorca answered. “You’re supposed to enjoy life – don’t let anyone tell you different – but...”
Lorca leaned forward. “This isn’t a game, either. You and the people around you don’t get extra lives to play with. Once you lose – that’s it. So don’t do anything reckless and end up hurting someone you care about.”
“I’ll worry about that when I meet someone in Carona that I care about,” Lucas answered.
“Yeah – that’s the other thing,” Lorca said. “There’s a part of me that wanted to straight to Clair and tell her that you should stay an extra year. She says it’d do more harm than good.”
“What?” Lucas was astonished to hear this. He thought that Lorca and Marcia couldn’t wait to get rid of him. “Why’s that?”
“Well…that’s the whole point of the journey, I guess,” Lorca answered, fiddling with his glasses. “None of us will be there to hold your hand anymore. And outside of the family, the whole ‘tough guy’ act might make you more enemies than friends.”
“And you don’t want to go around making enemies for no good reason,” Marcia piped in. “I wouldn’t know what to say to Diamond if something happened to you.”
“And you’re saying Carona’s worse for that than someplace else?” he asked. “You guys didn’t do anything wrong. Wasn’t Blackthorn City almost taken over eight years ago?”
Lorca had a hard time finding an answer for this. “That’s a completely different situation.”
“Maybe,” Lucas replied, “but you made an enemy by doing nothing, right? Point is…no one’s ever truly safe. Some people in this world…”
He trailed off, staring outside the window. He heard a rustling – Lorca and Marcia had left.
Meanwhile, the little girl had stretched out on the chairs and across Lucas’ knees, looking out of the window. Marcia looked at Lorca, who nodded silently, and both left their chairs. Lucas looked down at Diamond, who was sprawled across his knees, kicking her legs back and forth and admiring the view outside. Suddenly, she stopped and sat up, settling back into his lap sadly.
She whined. “Who am I going to play ‘Princess’ with?”
Diamond, like most small children, had a vivid imagination, and used this imagination to play every game her young mind could invent. One of her favorites was the one she had just mentioned, where she played the ‘princess’ and Lucas, predictably, played the ‘knight in shining armor’ and rescued her from any number of difficult imaginary predicaments.
“You could always teach L.J. someday,” he said. Lyle Jacobi Blackthorn, Diamond’s younger brother, was two-and-a-half and a bit of a handful, which was why his parents left him with Lance and Fiona, who also had two children of their own. It never crossed Lorca’s mind to leave Diamond with them as well. Knowing that Lucas was leaving without saying goodbye would have made her gloomy at best, and Diamond would have never let her parents forget it.
“He’s too little,” Diamond said, folding her arms grumpily. “And it’s not the same.”
She clung to Lucas and looked out of the window, as small islands and landmasses began to increase in size and frequency. Lucas, knowing that he would land in Carona in a matter of minutes, held onto Diamond all the more tightly. She squirmed and laughed when Lucas tickled her. The little girl looked up at him, bumping his stomach with her head.
“Take care of Otto, okay?” she said. Lucas rolled his eyes.
“His name is Apollo, alright?” he said.
“Otto!” Diamond exclaimed.
“Apollo!” Lucas replied. Diamond, at once, reached her hands up to Lucas’ face and started yanking on his cheeks. “Ow! Get off, Di! Stop!!”
“Good morning, everyone, this is your captain, Martin Ro**** speaking,” a low, fast voice came through some nearby speakers, making Diamond (her fingers still applying firm pinches to Lucas’ face) turn her head. “If you look out of your windows, you will notice the Belveyun Archipelago. We are now in Carona airspace and will be approaching our destination, Port Narra, in about ten minutes.”
“Ar-ka-what?” Diamond said, a quizzical look on her childish face as she turned to Lucas.
“Archipelago,” Lucas repeated. “It’s a really big word for a bunch of islands.”
Diamond thought for a minute.
“Oh,” she said. “Are we there yet?”
“Yeah,” Lucas answered. “Yeah, I think we are.”
Diamond’s face fell again. Silently, she settled back into her cousin’s lap.
Lucas, wearing the backpack that contained his few starting supplies, stood at the front door of the airship. He had dressed in his traveling outfit, which consisted of blue jeans, black and red shoes, and the shirt that he had gotten as a going-away present from his brother and sister-in-law, who had shown up at the end of May to visit him one last time. This shirt was black with narrow, bright red trim and silvery buttons. Its collar and cuffs were a stark white. Despite its coloration and appearance, the shirt was surprisingly light, especially when Lucas kept it opened to the second button, revealing his favorite birthday present – picked by Diamond, bought by her parents. It was a silver necklace with the model of a fierce-looking Gyarados. He had also donned his trademark skullcap, which was black and held his flyaway shag in check, so that the remainder of his hair sat in a wide array of crimson curls covering his neck and hanging near his ears.
”Well,” Lorca said. “Are you ready, Lucas?”
“Define ‘ready,’” Lucas said, staring at the door.
“I’m giving you one last chance to back out,” Lorca replied. “Once you step out and this airship takes off, you’re on your own. Even if we were allowed to help you, we can’t do anything for you if you’re out this far.”
“Back out?” he repeated with a slight laugh. “Why would I do that?”
“Lorca,” Marcia’s voice sounded next. “Where’s Diamond?”
“Obviously, she’s somewhere on the ship,” Lorca answered. Marcia rolled her eyes.
“Di! Di, where are you??” she called.
After a few moments, the sound of slowly shuffling feet broke the silence. Lucas looked over his shoulder. Diamond was trudging into the room, still wearing her nightclothes and looking down at her feet. She inhaled and produced a loud sniffle. She was carrying something that seemed to be dragging against the ground. It was black and separated into three segments connected by a long, narrow piece of wire.
“Lucas,” she said, holding up the strange object. “You forgot this.”
“Oh, come on, after all the grief we took from Clair for letting you have that?” Marcia rolled her eyes. Lucas walked over to Diamond, who held it up for Lucas to take. He took it, folded it and dropped it into a holster in his bag. He then looked down at Diamond for a moment.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he said. He lifted the little girl up to his eye level. “Promise me you’ll be good, okay?”
“You gonna listen to your mom and dad?” Lucas asked. Diamond nodded again. “Are you gonna stop picking on L.J.?”
At this, Diamond shook her head. Lucas grimaced.
“Maybe that was asking for a little bit much,” he sighed. A whirring sound rang through the airship, and a thin line of light appeared on the back wall and began to widen. Lucas saw the area directly behind him brighten and looked over his shoulder. The door to the airship was opening, falling down into a ramp that would lead from the airship…
To whatever was outside.
Lucas looked back at Diamond and mentally resolved to make this goodbye as quick, but as meaningful as possible. Diamond’s lip was trembling – a warning sign that she was about to start bawling, which could have been the one thing that could have gotten him to change his mind. Seeing her cry turned his stomach.
“Come on, are you gonna give me a smile before I go, or what?” Lucas asked. Diamond wiped her eyes with her sleeve and managed to put together a convincing smile. Lucas hugged the girl and received an affectionate peck on the cheek in return.
After several seconds, he set Diamond down on the ground – or at least tried to, when he realized that she had latched around his neck so tightly that she would sooner bring him down than let go of him.
“Ouch…Di, my neck…” he grunted. Diamond was not especially heavy; she, like the rest of her family, would probably end up being tall and gracefully trim. Nonetheless, a few dozen pounds hanging from your neck like an overlarge necklace while you’re bent double still doesn’t feel very good.
Lorca laughed. “Come on, Diamond, get off him.”
Diamond unlatched her hands from Lucas’ neck, lost her balance, and then fell backwards on her rear end. Lucas knelt down and helped her up and the two shared one last hug. Lucas turned on his heel and walked straight at Marcia, who received him with a hug and then started fussing with the collar on his shirt in a rather matronly matter.
“Hey – hey, what are you –” Lucas grunted moments before his young aunt turned him around and gave him a shove toward the door, where Lorca was waiting. Lorca cuffed his arm around his young nephew’s shoulder and gave him a classic, old-school noogie – one that brought to Lucas’ mind memories of his early childhood with his older brother.
“Ouch!” Lucas snarled, pulling away from him. “Geez, everyone’s trying to kill me all of a sudden.”
“Well, I thought you were too cool for a hug, so…” Lorca sighed. “Plus, I was really hoping that I could finally get you to say….”
“‘Uncle?’ Right, that’s hilarious,” Lucas replied, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. Lorca’s head dropped and then came back up, wearing a smile.
“Well, in any case,” Lorca said, putting an arm around Lucas’ shoulder. “Remember the stuff I taught you. Behave, play nicely with others, all that?”
“Sounds like you’re dropping me off at school or something,” Lucas quipped.
“Well, school’s not always a building, kid,” Lorca replied, clapping a rather large hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “In fact, I’d argue that this might be the best education you’ve gotten yet. Oh, and one more thing…don’t forget what Lance told you about being honest with people.”
Lucas turned from Lorca’s sight, his cheeks reddening as he knew that Lance hadn’t exactly put it like that. Nope, what he had actually said was more like:
“If you think you’ve met that special someone, make sure she knows that.”
Lucas couldn’t be too upset with his oldest uncle; after all, losing your first girlfriend in a tragic house fire really sucks. But there were two differences in that department between him and Lance. The first one was the Lance, at Lucas’ age, was a bit luckier; the second was that Lance, at Lucas’ age, had actually found the energy to give a damn about what other kids his age thought of him.
Lucas had no idea how to deal with women. He would be the first one to tell anyone that. Far from having a girlfriend, Lucas never even had a girl friend. In fact, outside his family, he had very few friends at all. It was either that he got on everyone else’s nerves, everyone else got on his nerves, or a little bit of both.
“I’ll be fine,” Lucas finally said – not knowing why, not knowing how, but knowing somehow that the statement was true. “It’s not like I was sheltered…like you, for instance.”
Lorca grimaced, but could not say anything as he knew Lucas was telling the truth. He laughed inwardly as he remembered back to when he himself was Lucas’ age. Honestly – an arranged marriage? What the hell was that all about? Granted, he was still best friends with the girl as well as her husband – Alana and Noah Ryndale, who, in a strange twist of fate, came from two rival noble families that couldn’t stand each other. They liked to conjecture at times, when it was just the three of them, what Lorca’s children would look like if he had been married to Alana instead of Marcia.
Lucas held back a smirk. Diamond was much cuter with Marcia’s eyes. Alana could be scary sometimes.
“Nope,” Lorca said. “You just didn’t interact with anyone and so you have no social skills.”
“I know how to deal with people,” Lucas sighed. Tucking a few of his curls behind his ear, he added, “They just don’t understand me.”
“I don’t even understand you sometimes, Lucas,” Lorca replied. He let out a sigh. “Well, you’d better go. Are you sure you want to do this? Because once you step…off…”
He looked up and saw that Lucas had stepped across the threshold and into the light. He grimaced.
“Later, kid,” he muttered. He started back toward Marcia.
“You’re limping,” Marcia (who was holding Diamond, who had seen Lucas leave and promptly buried her face into her mother’s shirt) commented.
“It’s flaring up again…” Lorca muttered, grimacing and looking at his leg, where, under the fabric of the pants was a wound that he had received in a fight years ago. Ten percent of the time, it was a nuisance. The other ninety percent, though, it was simply a tale-worthy battle scar. Marcia smiled.
**** **** **** M.A.V.E.R.I.C.K H.E.A.R.T **** **** ****