28th December 2010, 1:54 AM
The Tower (Morty/Falkner) - Complete!
Title: The Tower
Pairing: HonorShipping (Morty/Falkner)
Author's Note: This was originally intended to be a oneshot, but, big surprise, I got carried away in planning and it got overwhelming. As such I've decided to divide it into parts. Not sure how many of those there'll be, but it shouldn't be that long.
I'll also be posting this on my fanfiction.net account.
Enjoy, and as always, comments are appreciated!
There was a hand… just a hand. That was all he could make out in the swirling world of blacks and grays and purples. It was a human hand, he was sure. It wasn’t one of the deathly pale disembodied things that you sometimes found floating around in the in-between places—a mere physical projection of some spiritual thing—a grasping, astral limb. No, not this one. Just because he couldn’t see the body the hand belonged to didn’t mean that it didn’t have one. The flesh had colors and textures and imperfections like the hand of any mortal, and it wore a gray and red armband. Yes. He knew instinctively without having the break down the reasons why, that this was the hand of a living, flesh and blood creature.
He also knew something else as white noise poured into his ears: he was afraid—desperately afraid.
The hand moved, sinking into the black ooze which hid the rest of its body. It thrashed and struggled, but something from beyond the void was pulling it away.
He lurched forward through the syrupy air, knowing that there was no way he could reach the hand in time, but that didn’t stop his muscles from screeching into action. There was no way he could let…
The fingertips reached out desperately for a final second, but then disappeared too as the static breathing in his ear reached an almost deafening volume. He slammed against the wall that had once been as solid as water. He pounded against the prison, but it wouldn’t break, it wouldn’t bend.
Morty opened his eyes and for one horrible moment didn’t know where or when he was. Then he rubbed his forehead and sat up in bed.
A dream? No. He knew better than that. More like a sign of things to come. But the problem with premonitions was that they were so hard to understand until you found yourself in the middle of them. Then it was too late. Not only that, but searching for answers for too long could leave a person completely unfocused temporally.
He got up and trudged over to his wash basin to splash some cold water on his face. He didn’t think he’d manage to get back to sleep, so he might as well make an early day of it.
The present beckoned… but so did the future.
Three weeks into the future Morty marched out of the forest path and into Violet City. He hadn’t been there in… oh, quite awhile. He owed himself first and foremost to Ecruteak City and as the city’s gym leader there were many responsibilities he had locally. But when his special skill-set was needed elsewhere, then he had no other choice but to travel.
He walked across the bridge, tucking his scarf more firmly around his neck against the night’s chill. Above him loomed the Sprout Tower. He couldn’t help smiling faintly as he looked at it, rising above its elegantly maintained lake surroundings. It reminded him of home.
Ahead of him, on a small island between the two bridges, was a circle of lanterns and an assemblage of sages. The sages looked up expectantly at his arrival and bowed their heads respectfully to him.
“Leader Morty?” one of the sages said. “We thank you so much for agreeing to assist us here. I am Sage Neal, the one who sent the message asking for help.”
“What appears to be the problem?” Morty asked.
Sage Neal’s face looked grave. “It’s… the Gastly, sir. Generally speaking they’re no trouble, but lately something has really disturbed them. They’re usually shy and only populate the mostly empty hallways at the higher levels, but now they’ve been swarming through the entire building and even the apartments where we sages live. And there have been… accidents.”
Ah, (pause) accidents. Those were the worst kind of accidents.
“Has anyone been hurt?” Morty asked concernedly.
Sage Neal shook his head, sweating. “No, but with the amount of… disturbances, we’re afraid it’s only a matter of time. It’s not even safe during the daytime anymore. We’ve had to close the tower off to tourists and temporarily move out. The ghosts have been throwing furniture around… if someone got in their way it could be very unfortunate.”
Morty nodded. “So there’s been a lot of poltergeist activity?”
Sage Neal nodded vigorously, feeling glad that there was finally an expert on hand. “I’m at my wits end, I don’t mind telling you. Elder Li has taken ill for the past couple of weeks and had to be moved to the Pokemon Center, and Sage Troy has taken the neophytes out on a camping trip just east of Mahogany Town to catch their first Bellsprout. So we’re dreadfully understaffed and even Leader Falkner couldn’t—”
“I never claimed to be an expert on ghosts,” a voice from behind Morty said stiffly.
Morty turned around to see a face he recognized.
“Ah, Leader Falkner,” Sage Neal said, giving a short, deferential bow.
Morty had met Falkner before at functions that gym leaders were required to attend. They’d never spoken much, beyond salutations and a little bit of small talk, but Falkner had always struck him as polite and respectful.
Falkner crossed his arms and treated Morty to a sour look. “So, you’re the ghost buster who’s come to fix all of Violet City’s problems?”
Polite and respectful sometimes, but… well… no gym leader likes knowing that there’s something on their turf that they can’t cope with themselves. It’s a big blow to their self-esteem.
“I’ll do my best,” Morty said, as humbly as he could.
“Well, I’m here to let you know that as the Violet City Gym Leader I will be accompanying you on this mission,” Falkner declared as though there was no arguing with this statement. “My father would expect no less of me.”
Morty hesitated for a moment. Technically he could put his foot down, could say that it was too dangerous in there for someone inexperienced with ghosts. Maybe he could share that story about the medium he’d trained with whose eyes had started bleeding when she tangled with the wrong ghost. That tended to scare people.
But as he looked at Falkner’s closed stance he knew that there was no scaring him off. So he nodded. “Fine,” he said. “I could probably use the help of someone more familiar with the tower.”
“Absolutely,” Falkner said, making a fist. “I’ve trained in this tower since I was a little kid.”
Morty nodded. He felt uneasy about allowing Falkner to come with him. Sure, Falkner was strong and sure, he could be helpful, but the spirit world held dangers that even Morty feared. But there was no changing it.
Morty looked to the sages. “Falkner and I will go in to check out the situation. I would ask that you all stay out here where it’s safe.”
The sages bowed to both of them and held their hands together. Morty and Falkner made their way toward the tower entrance with Falkner making a point of walking in front.
Morty was already well aware that he wasn’t in Falkner’s good books, but if they were going to do this then he needed more information. “So… you tried to take care of the problem yourself and it didn’t work out?” he asked, well aware that he was rubbing salt in Falkner’s wounds.
Falkner stopped and clenched a fist. “It’s not as though it’s a reflection on me as a leader,” Falkner declared. “I couldn’t even see the Gastly in any case, and all my flying type Pokemon are part Normal type. Most of their moves weren’t effective.”
Morty nodded. “True, but the same applies to the ghosts against Normal types. Your Pokemon didn’t get hurt, right?”
Falkner whipped around to face him. “No, but I did! Do you know how much it hurts to get hit with a Night Shade?”
Morty gave a little internal shiver. “I’m very familiar with the feeling,” he answered.
“What?” Falkner asked, crossing her arms. “You get attacked by Ghost types a lot? I thought you were good with them.”
“Ghosts,” Morty began, looking up at the tower rising above him, “can be a bit… tetchy.”
Falkner raised an eyebrow. “Tetchy?”
“To put it mildly,” Morty mumbled, his thoughts elsewhere as he took in the details of the tower. “It looks like a temple,” he commented.
“I suppose it does,” Falkner came back with impatiently, not pleased that Morty’s talk of ghost temperament had been derailed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Morty shrugged. “Something or nothing,” he said.
“Well, that’s a helpful answer,” Falkner shot back.
Morty felt the gilded ornamentation on the door, and then pulled gingerly on its handle. The door slid open with a slow, whining creak. Now, the sages didn’t seem like the type to skimp on such basic maintenance as oiling door hinges. But ghosts believe in atmosphere. A creak like that was a sure sign that they were in charge.
He walked in with Falkner following. He looked around at the seemingly empty lobby. All the lights were out, but Morty was used to working in the shadows. The constantly swaying pillar disrupted some of his senses though. It put him on edge and gave him the constant feeling that something was moving to make an attack.
“They could’ve at least lit some lanterns since they knew you were coming,” Falkner commented, entering the darkened foyer.
“I’m sure they did,” Morty answered distractedly. “No doubt the Gastly put them out.”
“It doesn’t look like they’re here anyway,” Falkner said, squinting in the pale light of the moon that filtered in through the open windows. “If they were, they’d be attacking.”
“It could be,” Morty allowed. “…Or maybe they’re just watching us and deciding what to do.”
“Are you going to battle them?” Falkner pressed, scanning the shadows all the more carefully for watching Pokemon.
“Not if I don’t have to,” Morty said with a frown as he looked for the staircases. “Beating them won’t work unless we find out why they’re upset in the first place.”
“…And how are we supposed to do that?” Falkner asked.
“By sending out an ambassador,” Morty said, taking out a Poke ball from his bag. “Gengar, go!”
The Poke ball plinked open and the shadowy Pokemon appeared in a haze of purple, spikes, and a highly disturbing smile.
“Gengar,” Morty said, regarding his Pokemon seriously, “search the tower and see if you can get the Gastly to tell you what’s wrong.”
“Gen-gar!” Gengar nodded, with an even wider my-what-big-teeth-you-have grin. With that, it whisked off into the shadows until it could be seen no more.
Falkner followed the Pokemon with his eyes until it was gone. “So, they’ll talk to Gengar because it’s a Ghost type too?”
“Possibly,” Morty said. “Gengar is Gastly’s evolved form, so hopefully it can exercise some influence over them.”
“…So are we just supposed to wait here for Gengar to come back?” Falkner asked, in a way that said: ‘if this is ghost busting then I’m not impressed.’
“No,” Morty said. “I think we should get moving. There’s no guarantee that Gengar will be able to get anything out of the Gastly. And I want to get to the bottom of this,” he walked over to the staircase, “by getting to the top.”
Getting to the top was a little more convoluted than Morty had expected. According to Falkner, the staircases didn’t go directly up. You had to meander back through different sections of floors you’d already been on, and even basement levels. Whoever had set up this tower had designed it more like a maze than anything.
It was difficult to navigate without the lights too. It was dim on the lower levels, with just the moonlight coming through the windows, but the windowless upper levels with practically pitch black. Morty himself was fine; he had second sight which allowed him to find his way without the use of his eyes. But Falkner hadn’t had the special training that all Ghost type trainers undergo. He would be completely lost.
Morty sighed as they rose into one such darkened chamber. He knew he wasn’t going to make any friends this way, but… he reached out and took Falkner’s hand.
There was a dangerous silence. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Guiding you,” Morty said. “I can see into the spirit world, at least partially. But you don’t have that kind of advantage and must be completely blind.”
Morty could sense the temperature of the blood in Falkner’s face rising angrily. The Flying type trainer shook off his hand and reached toward his belt. He pulled out a Poke ball and lobbed it into the hall in front of him.
Morty could see two red, but friendly-looking eyes glowing the darkness and sense the aura rising off the small bird Pokemon like multicolored steam.
“Hoot?” the Pokemon cooed, shifting its balance from one leg to another.
“Hoothoot is nocturnal,” Falkner explained in a huff, “so the best time to train her is at night. Any Hoothoot trainer worth anything at all soon learns to function effectively in even the worst lighting conditions.”
“I see,” Morty said, taking a knee to look at the little owl Pokemon. So that’s where Falkner got his night eyes. “So I guess you won’t be needing any of my help.”
“That’s right,” Falkner spat.
Morty was about to reply when he felt a chill at the base of his spine. Suddenly it felt as though the entire universe was rearranging itself, like a doorway was being opened to…
“Forget that for now,” Morty said through gritted teeth as he reached for his bag. “One of them’s coming and it’s not just scouting. Stay back and let me handle this,” he said, feeling a malevolent aura getting quite close.
“Not a chance,” Falkner said, holding up a fist. “We came prepared this time! Hoothoot, use Foresight!”
The little bird gave a cry and its eyes glowed even brighter than before. Light shot out of both of them as if from a flashlight and stabbed into the darkness of the room.
Morty pulled out a tiny Poke ball from his bag and felt it expand in his hand. “It’s a good idea, but that won’t work unless you actually hit it,” he said urgently. “Just let me take care of this.”
“No, she can handle it!” Falkner called out defiantly. “If that’s how it’s going to be, then just fill the whole room with Foresight!”
Morty took a step back as, for just a moment, the entire room was bathed in red. It reminded him… yes, of another trainer and another battle.
“There it is!” Falkner said, pointing to two eyes glowing palely in the total darkness, revealed by Hoothoot’s Foresight. “Now use Peck!”
Hoothoot spiraled toward the revealed Gastly, surprisingly quick in flight despite its round shape, and jabbed Gastly straight in its ghostly forehead with a tiny but sharp beak.
“Gassstly!” Gastly cried in its Transylvanian moan. Wisps of purple light began generating around it’s black core.
Morty recognized the signs. “It’s going to use Confuse Ray!” he warned.
“Well that’s okay!” Falkner exclaimed, “because no one can match a Flying type Pokemon when it comes to dodging!”
Hoothoot called out its assent as it looped and soared away from the blast of disorienting energy.
“Now, Hoothoot, return the favor with Confusion!” Falkner ordered.
“Hooooot!” Hoothoot screeched, glowing with Psychic energy as it concentrated its store power straight at its foe.
“Ssssssss!” Gastly hissed, taking the brunt of the blow. It had taken all it could take. With a fangy frown it disappeared into the darkness.
“She did it!” Falkner said, holding out his arm, which his Pokemon gracefully landed on. “Excellent work, Hoothoot!”
“Good girl, Hoothoot!” Morty agreed, patting the little bird on the head.
Suddenly, the mood in the room felt extremely awkward. Falkner was giving him a look as though he’d sprouted a second head, Weezing-style. Hoothoot was giving him a befuddled look, unpleasant in a creature with eyes that large.
“What?” he asked.
“She’s not a girl,” Falkner said, as though this were obvious.
That one had Morty stumped. The first part of Falkner’s sentence seemed to contradict the second part.
But wait… “This is a falconry thing, isn’t it?” he asked.
He’d read a book about it, long ago when he’d had to put the spirit of a Spearow to rest. Falconry was an ancient hunting sport and it apparently had a lot of dense, but fanciful jargon. He couldn’t remember most of it, but yes… there’d definitely been something about hawks (and all hunting birds were called hawks in falconry) always being referred to with female pronouns regardless of their actual gender. It was a tradition that had started because female birds are more prized due to being larger and easier to control.
So, to a falconer of the classical sense, even male birds were called ‘she’.
Morty had to wonder if being raised on a confusing pronoun rule like that had left Falkner with any interesting gender confusion later in life, but he knew better than to ask.
“Obviously,” Falkner answered sourly. Falconers, Morty also remember from the book, tended to be rather elitist about their terminology.
Well, they probably thought they had a right to. Falconry wasn’t a sport for commoners. Of old it was practiced only by noble samurai, and it was considered a sign of status.
“Anyone should be able to see that she’s male,” Falkner insisted.
“I guess I’m not really an expert on bird Pokemon,” Morty explained, still a little put off by the odd pronoun switch.
“Well then maybe you should get your inner-eye checked!” Falkner shot back, sending Hoothoot back into his… eh… her Poke ball in a stream of red light.
“Sorry,” Mort said, scratching his cheek nervously. “Well, now that that’s over, shall we move on?”
Falkner fell into step behind Morty in a sort of sulky silence, until he finally asked: “You going to do anything useful next time there’s a battle?”
“Only if you let me,” Morty responded playfully.
6th January 2011, 7:38 PM
Note that the rating has been elevated (perhaps unnecessarily, perhaps not) to PG.
“Your Gengar sure is taking its time,” Falkner commented as he and Morty walked down one of Sprout Tower’s hallways.
Morty raised an eyebrow. “How long do you think it should take to navigate through an unfamiliar place, find the Gastly’s hidden nest which is probably nestled between dimensions, hold off their attackers, gain their trust, find out what’s upsetting them, and then come back here?”
Falkner looked off to the side. “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, somewhat contritely. “I just want to know what’s wrong with the Gastly.”
That surprised Morty. This was an unusually sensitive turn from the person who’d come in and tried to battle the Gastly into submission.
“I mean, I didn’t even think about it before I talked to you,” Falkner confessed. “I just thought they were causing trouble so I’d have to beat them to fix it. I didn’t even stop to think that they wouldn’t cause problems unless something was going wrong. I should’ve been trying to help them, not hurt them. But I don’t know how to do that because I have no idea what could be bothering them.”
Morty stared for a minute, then gave a small smile that he hoped Falkner’s night eyes weren’t good enough to see. “Ghost Pokemon are mysterious creatures. Even after all the years I’ve devoted to studying them, I must confess that I don’t always understand their ways.” He looked up at the pillar in the center of the tower, wobbling gently as it stretched up toward the top. “But I can tell you this: usually when Ghost Pokemon get stirred up, there’s a past component and a present component to the problem. There’s some horrible event from the past that leaves a scar on a place, and then… years and years down the line, something bad happens. Maybe an area that was left solitary becomes disturbed, maybe a malicious act is committed, or maybe the site of their memories is threatened. Whatever it is, something opens the wound and then all hell breaks loose…” He paused for effect. “Literally.”
Falkner pondered this. “I guess that makes sense,” he finally said. “When you get reminded of something bad that happened to you in the past… sometimes it’s like it’s happening all over again. It’s just like with people when you think about it.”
Morty gave a fierce nod. “Yes, and it’s even worse for the dead, to whom time has quite a different meaning. To them, it’s like the past, present, and future are happening simultaneously.”
“What? Really?” Falkner asked, sounding intrigued.
“Yes,” Morty said. “It’s hard to understand and even harder to untangle, but that seems to be the case.”
“Not only that,” Morty continued, walking along, “but Ghost type Pokemon are very sensitive to the feelings and wishes of both the shades of humans and the shades of other Pokemon. Unlike Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar, the ghosts of humans and other Pokemon cannot usually interact with this world.” He paused. “There are extenuating circumstances, of course, when the spirit has a very strong will, but usually the dead require an intermediary, like a medium, or a Gastly, Haunter, or Gengar which have the strongest spirits of all and dwell in the paper-thin margin between worlds, to act on their behalf.”
“The wishes of shades…” Falkner said thoughtfully.
“It could be anything from ‘don’t disturb my burial site’ to ‘don’t marry that person’,” Morty said. “The dead often get involved in the affairs of the living for such things. Or sometimes it’s just a simple wish to be remembered.”
“And just to do that… they throw around furniture and cause trouble?” Falkner asked incredulously.
“Poltergeist activity,” Morty repeated. “It’s very high energy ghost behavior, and it’s often the only way they have to get noticed.”
“But they could kill someone!” Falkner pointed out emphatically.
Morty shook his head. “They’re dead. It doesn’t make that much difference to them. And if those are the actions of spirits that mean no harm, you can only imagine the behavior of malevolent spirits.”
That one silenced Falkner for a minute. Then he began with: “Then it seems like it’s dangerous for anyone to interfere with them, even if they’re only trying to help. …And you do this… regularly?”
“Someone has to do it, and it has to be done right,” Morty said, feeling out the area for any wandering spirits. “Otherwise it’ll never stop. It’ll just go on and on and never be brought to rest, and innocent people will get hurt.”
Falkner’s lips began to shape the word ‘why’. He stopped. “Knowing all the dangers, why would you choose to be the one to take that responsibility?”
“There may be dangers,” Morty allowed, “but there are plenty of benefits to working toward understanding ghosts. You can… see things that other people can’t and your senses get sharper. I told you about how everything happens at the same time for ghosts, right?”
“Well, if you can learn to understand ghosts… to see the world as they do… and then sift through what you’ve seen and what you know, then sometimes you can unlock secrets from the past, and even see into the future.” Morty suddenly felt a sense of foreboding and wished he hadn’t brought this up.
“Have you ever seen into the future?” Falkner asked.
“Yes,” Morty said quietly. “But I don’t always know what it means until it’s already happening.”
“So… what do you see exactly?” Falkner asked.
Morty thought of the dream he’d had a month ago. Was that horrible thing true? Of course it was true. The real question was, was it something from the past or the future? Was it a reflection from the spirit world of events that would take place in this world… or… would that actually play out on this plane?
“There’ll be time to talk about that later,” Morty said dismissively. “Right now I need to ask you some questions about this tower.”
“What about the tower? And why later?” Falkner asked in a tone that said in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t pleased with being shut down or having Morty avoid his question.
“Just… any scrap of information you can give,” Morty said, ignoring the second question. “Its history, any legends about it, your own memories and what people come here for. Even the slightest thing could turn out to be important. I’ve only been here as a tourist, so I wouldn’t know.”
“If you wanted that kind of information then you should’ve grabbed a brochure from the lobby,” Falkner said, crossing his arms. “I’m not a tour-guide, you know.” He sighed. “The Sprout Tower was built hundreds of years ago by a group of sages who admired and trained Bellsprout. They respected Bellsprout’s peaceful nature and its flexibility and balance in reacting to outside forces. So they used that inspiration in this tower design.” He pointed to the moving pillar. “The pillar sways like a Bellsprout does, and has helped this tower withstand even the worst of earthquakes.” He gave Morty a look. “But you should know all that even if you were just a tourist.”
Morty nodded and did not comment that Falkner might actually make a pretty decent tour guide. “I’m sure I heard something like that. Go on.”
Falkner shrugged. “I guess there’s that legend that says that the pillar was originally a 100-foot Bellsprout...”
Upon hearing this, Morty crossed over to the center of the room. He couldn’t reach the swaying pillar over the guardrail, but stared at it intently. “That’s a nice bit of hokum-fokum,” he said, “but it’s obviously not true.”
Falkner had honestly never believed the story, even when he was little and had first been told it. But something about the way Morty of all people so casually dismissed it that irritated him.
“Aren’t you supposed to believe in crazy legends like that?” Falkner asked in an accusatory voice. “‘The Marowak of Lavender Town’, ‘The Ghost Girl of Slowpoke Well’, ‘The Chateau Ghosts of Sinnoh’? Isn’t that kind of stuff your bread and butter?”
“Some legends,” Morty said calmly, “that nobody believes are very true. And there are plenty of everyday ‘facts’ that people take for granted as true that aren’t. A good medium must see beyond that. Before you can see into the future or the past, you must be able to see into the present.”
Falkner did not uncross his arms. Perhaps he had heard one too many of Morty’s lectures.
“Well, it makes sense when you think about it,” Morty went on, shedding some of the mystic mumbo-jumbo. “Even if 100-foot Bellsprout existed when this tower was built, why would sages that revere Bellsprout trap one like that, all for the sake of a pillar that could just as easily have been constructed by wood?”
Some of the tension in Falkner’s shoulders diminished. “That sounds logical,” he said in a tone that nevertheless seemed to wonder if anyone who dabbled in the occult had any right to logic.
“I can tell you this, though,” Morty said, “there were Bellsprout here at one time. And a lot of them.”
Falkner raised an eyebrow. “You mean the sages’ Bellsprout.”
“No,” Morty said thoughtfully. “I mean wild Bellsprout.”
Falkner made a face. “That’s crazy,” he said. “Everyone knows that there are no wild Bellsprout in Sprout Tower. Every kid who comes in here makes that ironic observation. There’s only Rattata and Gastly.”
“Not now,” Morty allowed. “But there used to be.”
“But Bellsprout live in forests and jungles, not buildings.”
“That’s true,” Morty said. “But I think these sages, the original ones that built the tower, so loved Bellsprout that they allowed many of them refuge in the tower. There was enough of a breeding population that their numbers grew, perhaps aided by the fact that the sages admired them so and probably fed them.”
“…Then why aren’t there any Bellsprout now?” Falkner asked.
Morty was silent for a moment. “I can’t say,” he finally said.
“You can’t say or you won’t say?” Falkner asked.
“I don’t really know,” Morty clarified. “I can feel a tight knot of spirits of many, many Bellsprout over many generations… but suddenly it all stops. Something happened to them, but I don’t know what… yet.”
“Do you think that has something to do with the Gastly getting upset?” Falkner asked.
Morty shrugged. “Who knows? But I think every bit of information brings us closer.” He paused awkwardly. “To solving the mystery,” he added as a finisher. “Go on. What else do you know about the tower?”
Falkner let his hands fall to his sides. “That’s all I’ve ever gotten from the sages. I don’t know what else you expect to hear.”
“Anything,” Morty said emphatically. “You never know what could be important.” He turned to Falkner. “What about you? You said you trained in here when you were a kid, right?”
“Well, of course,” Falkner said. “Most people who grew up in Violet City did. Whenever my dad would see me hanging around the mews, he’d send me off to the tower to train with one of the hawks. I probably explored this whole tower back then. Though it’s been awhile since I’ve done that. I’ve mostly just done things here as an official gym leader recently.”
“So… you’ve come across the ghosts before, then?” Morty asked. “They might recognize you as someone who belongs here?”
Falkner shrugged. “I doubt it. I mostly trained during the day, so I hardly ever saw them.”
But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t see you, Morty thought to himself. “And you never saw anything strange?” he asked.
“Nothing… occult,” Falkner said carefully. One sees many strange things as a child.
“What about the people who come here?” Morty went on.
“I don’t see how that’s of any importance,” Falkner commented.
“The people make up the… the soul of the building, I guess,” Morty said, laboring to explain. “I guess you could say it’s like a colony. All the little minds of the people and animals that live in a place become one sort of… bigger mind. Come on now, I know about the tourists. Who else?”
“…Trainers I suppose,” Falkner said.
Morty nodded. “Yes. Many of my students got their first Ghost Pokemon in Sprout Tower. Who else?”
“Well, there are plenty of people trying to learn the secrets of the way of the Bellsprout from the sages.”
“Worshippers,” Morty paraphrased. “And?”
“And… well…” Morty couldn’t actually see Falkner, but he felt the temperature in his face rise and a river of iridescent pink aura flowed around him.
“What?” Morty asked.
“I guess you could say it’s a… hangout… for teenagers,” Falkner said with some difficulty.
Morty could read the signs, both the natural and supernatural. “Oh,” he said simply, looking around. “So this is the town make-out spot. That’s not surprising.”
“What do you mean that’s not surprising?!”
“Well, it’s an isolated area with many hiding places and little to no supervision,” Morty said, waving a hand dismissively. “And there’s the ghost factor.”
Falkner was giving Morty a look that suggested Falkner thought he’d given way too much thought to this. “The ghost factor?” he repeated. “Wouldn’t that make that… less than ideal?”
“Not so,” Morty said, shaking his head. “You’d be surprised how many graveyards, haunted forests, and tombs also double as dating spots. I suppose the… uh… fear factor encourages closeness.” He gestured to the swaying pillar. “And then there’s the… uh… obvious Freudian symbolism of this place.”
Falkner’s blush was glow-in-the-dark by this point.
“You haven’t…” Morty began, but he knew better than to continue this line of inquiry. “Forget it.”
“Haven’t what?” Falkner asked, bristling.
“Nothing, nothing,” Morty said in a placatory voice. “Let’s just… find the Gastly. If we see any teenagers making out then we can ask them to please do it somewhere else.”
22nd February 2011, 8:25 PM
It had all been going better for a minute there, Morty had thought. Sure, he and Falkner had gotten off on the wrong foot initially, but Falkner had seemed genuinely interested in their talk about ghosts and the pros and cons of working with them. He’d started to think that there might be hope for—oh, maybe getting a cup of coffee together and talking about Drifloon. Something like that. Then maybe he’d finally be friends with a gym leader that he actually wanted to hang out with. And then he’d never have to spend another Johto-Kanto gym leader conference eating lunch with Sabrina, forced to watch her bend all the cutlery with her mind just to show off. But then he’d had to shut Falkner out with his reticence to talk about his premonitions, and further embarrassed him by pointing out the tower’s obvious Freudian symbolism.
And something that really should’ve known better was about to make matters worse.
Falkner stopped dead and let out an indignant sound as his cheeks were stretched by invisible hands almost to their snapping point in a pantomime of a smile.
Morty sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Hey Gengar. You find anything?”
Gengar materialized, its ghostly hands pulling at Falkner’s cheeks. “Garrr,” it said with a disappointed shake of its head as it let Falkner’s face snap back into its default expression.
“That’s too bad,” Morty said, but he didn’t really expect this to go the easy way. “Thanks for trying,” he said, as he called Gengar back into its Poke ball.
“Are you just going to let him get away with that?” Falkner demanded, rubbing his cheek irritably.
Morty shrugged. “He tried his best, but the Gastly nest is obviously well hidden.”
“Oh,” Morty said, noting Falkner’s teeth-gritting expression. “Don’t worry too much about it. Ghost Pokemon are naturally mischievous. I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm, he was just having fun.”
“That’s how he has fun?” Falkner repeated incredulously. He glared off into the shadows. “You know, I can’t even figure out why you’d want to be a ghost type trainer anyway. I mean, you don’t exactly look like the fun-loving type,” he added spitefully.
Morty did not take offense, but nodded seriously. “I suppose that’s true,” he said. “But I appreciate the ghost’s well… high spirits.” He smiled a rye little smile. “In my quest to see Ho-oh it would be all too easy for me to lose both my sense of humor… and sense of myself. The ghosts remind me of that, and I am quite grateful.”
“You want to see Ho-oh that badly?” Falkner asked, all annoyance at Gengar’s prank forgotten.
Morty nodded again. “Yes. More than anything.” He paused and almost seemed to chide himself. “No, not more than anything. I want to see Ho-oh very badly, but I don’t think Ho-oh would choose to appear to someone who’d disregard and throw everything away just to see it. I think Ho-oh values both people and Pokemon too much for that.”
Falkner looked thoughtful. “My dad used to talk about Ho-oh,” he said softly.
Morty looked at him out of the corner of his eye. Yes… it hadn’t occurred to him, but the master of Flying Pokemon had just as much reason to want to be the lucky trainer to see Ho-oh as Morty did himself. Falkner of all people would appreciate and share Morty’s desire to see the rainbow bird.
“What did he say?” Morty began to ask, but an answer wasn’t forthcoming. They reached the top of the staircase and entered another room. Morty could feel a ghostly presence all around them that made the hairs on the back of his neck rise. It was so strong that Falkner must’ve been able to feel it too by his expression.
“I can’t see anyone,” Falkner said, head darting back and forth as his eyes squinted through the pitch black. “But they’re here, aren’t they?”
“No,” Morty said, solemnly stretching his senses as far as they could reach. “They’re very, very close, but they’re not here. But…” he looked around the room. “This can’t be right. They’ve got to be in the next room, but there is no next room.” He cast his eyes on the many Bellsprout statues that decorated the room, but couldn’t find a staircase. They really were on the top floor. “They can’t be on the roof, can they?”
“Maybe,” Falkner began, “but there’s—” Whatever Falkner said next was overpowered by a sound like breathing static that filled the room with an overpowering force. Falkner tried to shout over it, but only his lips moved.
Then the room seemed to change. Crackling in tune with the unearthly sound, fire and smoke filled the room, flashing and juddering back and forth in black and white. Morty grit his teeth and looked wildly around, trying to locate the source of this pandemonium, but his own senses were overloaded in the presence of this monumental astral force. Falkner had no experience with this kind of phenomenon and was deathly pale.
Suddenly, with a retching sound, Falkner began to fall forward. It was as though the gravity of the room had switched and the wall had become the floor. Only Falkner seemed to be drawn by this irresistible force behind the back wall. He flailed and tried to get his footing, his eyes wide with horror, but nothing seemed to be strong enough to break away from that force.
It took a great force of will for Morty to move. He knew that they were no longer, technically speaking, in the physical world. They hadn’t quite crossed over, but they were in one of the in-between places where the laws of physics get dumped out the window. The air around him felt like an oozing, liquid substance, and his entire body was heavy. His psychic senses were being shattered and blinded by the vast quantity of white noise. But still he rushed forward, chasing after Falkner as he was pulled by the ghostly force.
But he couldn’t move fast enough. His shoulders ached as he stretched his arms as far as they could go, but he couldn’t reach Falkner’s desperately outreached hand. And the wall was approaching.
The wall did nothing to slow Falkner down. In this spectral dimension, in this scene that had played over and over again on the inside of Morty’s eyelids, the Flying type gym leader passed straight through the wall as though it was made of smoke. Only the hand remained, white with terror, grasping, but still out of reach. And even that was gone in seconds as the fingertips sunk to the ghostly realm beyond.
Morty hit the wall hard. It had ceased to be a permeable membrane as soon as Falkner had passed through. Now it was just as solid as it had always been. He slammed his fists against as though that would open the barrier again.
“Falkner? Falkner! Can you hear me?” he shouted.
There was no answer, only a din of ghostly whispers.
He turned to the side and rammed his shoulder into the wall, hoping to break through, but the tower had stood for hundreds of years and wasn’t going to break down any time soon. This is my fault. That thought surged through him with every bruising impact against the wall. He should’ve never let Falkner come along with him. This wasn’t a nature walk for goodness sakes! He forgot sometimes. He got too comfortable, too confident in dealing with ghosts that he’d decided he could handle it. This was a dangerous business, and the threat of harm lurked around every corner. Not only was the body in peril, but the spirit. And now they’d taken Falkner. What were they doing to him?!
Every ghostly utterance sounded like a sadistic laugh and a promise of pain to him. He couldn’t hear Falkner screaming any more, but that only worried him more. He couldn’t feel his shoulder anymore. He fell against the wall and down to the floor, his breathing ragged. He wanted to get up again, wanted to pound at the door until one of them broke, wanted to get beyond it to where they had taken Falkner. But his body screamed at him: stop. STOP! Think.
He tried. The adrenaline pulsing through his veins was telling him to fight and fight and fight, but he tried to calm himself, tried to think. Okay. They’d taken Falkner. What could they want with him? Was he just an innocent bystander in all this… or… maybe… yes, unlike Morty, Falkner was not an alien in the tower. This was his town and he’d played there as a child. He belonged in the tower. Perhaps the ghosts weren’t acting out of bloodlust but out of a desire for help. Naturally they’d go to Falkner, the familiar face. The one who wasn’t fighting them anymore, but trying to understand it all.
And hadn’t Falkner said something just before everything went to hell? He was going to tell Morty something about the room, but didn’t have time. Falkner knew the tower in and out. He’d explored it as a kid, he’d said. What did he know? What was hidden in this place?
He stared at the wall. No amount of pounding would get it to break, but… He knocked on the wall and heard a hollow echo. There had to be something beyond. How…?
His gaze fell on one of the many Bellsprout statues that lined the walls. Maybe…? He got up and touched it gingerly. The stone leaf seemed to give a little in his hand, he pulled on it and the wall slid open with a creak.
He stepped into the room, trying to prepare himself for the absolute worse—conjuring up all those dark and bloody rooms that reeked of loneliness and abuse—those places that left a scar on this world and the spirit world.
“Morty!” a voice cried, and there was a thump as the shorter leader ran into his arms.
Morty was already pretty sure that Falkner was not the huggy type. He considered for a moment the possibility of a ghost possessing Falkner—perhaps preying upon Morty’s affections to lead him into a trap (the fact that those affections were already forming was enough to worry him). But as he heard the muffled, hysterical sounds and felt the dull ache of Falkner burying his face into his heavily bruised shoulder, he did not think this was the case. Even the strongest of us lose our cool when dragged through dimensions by unearthly and possibly sinister forces.
He patted Falkner’s shuddering shoulders. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’m here.” And he knew that once Falkner had a chance to calm down a bit, he’d be asked never to mention this situation again. He looked up into the midnight faces of more Gastly than ought to have been able to fit in the room. Their faces looked at him—expectant, judgmental. Then they glided their gaze over to something in the center of the room.
Morty let go of Falkner gently and moved toward the center of the Gasty’s focus. There was a small, simply carved statue of a Bellsprout, not like the great ones that ranged the upper floors. But this one looked older and, somehow, more cherished. On either side of it were candles with blackened wicks. Not even thin streams of smoke issued from them as a small sign of the vibrancy they once must have had. On the floor were dried and decaying flowers.
“Have you been in here before Falkner?” Morty asked softly.
“Only once, when I was eight,” Falkner said, through deep breaths as he tried to find calm. “But Sage Troy told me not to go here. He said it was a sacred place.”
“It is,” Morty said, in that same soft, careful voice. “This is a shrine. It’s a monument to those wild Bellsprout that died here.” He sniffed the air, though he seemed to be sensing the smells of a different time from this one. “I sense fire,” he said, “and I sense pain.”
He knelt down before the cold shrine, and took out a Poke ball. In a flash of red a Haunter appeared.
“Haunt-ahhh!” it proclaimed joyously to the physical and spiritual worlds.
“Haunter,” Morty said, “I need you to fly down to the garden and bring up a branch with blossoms on it. Could you do that?”
“Haunt!” Haunter answered, throwing something close to a salute before flying straight through the wall and down.
With Haunter gone, Morty reached into his bag and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it into life and held it up to each candle. When their flames were lit they seemed to bring a glow to the Bellsprout carving that made it almost look alive. It even seemed to move in the flickering light.
“What’s going on?” Falkner demanded, still working his way up from the depths of shock.
“They brought you here because they recognized you,” Morty said. “Because you belong to this tower too and because you should care.” He lowered his voice. “And because they knew I would follow you.”
“Care about what?” Falkner asked.
“Do you recall? Sage Neal said that Sage Troy is away and Elder Li is ill. That’s two senior members gone for weeks at a time. They’re probably the only two who know about this shrine,” Morty said. He paused. “…Besides you. But that was by accident.”
“Haunt-ah!” Haunter called, phasing back into the room with a sprig of tender pink blossoms.
“Thank you, Haunter,” Morty said, taking the branch and recalling Haunter. He wiped away the dusty, decayed offerings and set down the new flowers. The Gastly surrounding them disappeared one by one, cleared away like smoke in a strong wind. Morty closed his eyes. “That’s all you wanted.”
“Are you telling me,” Falkner said, indignation having carried him out of his hysteria, “that all this fuss—attacking people and putting everyone in danger—was just because their shrine didn’t get tended to for a few weeks?!”
Morty kept his eyes closed. “Being remembered is all they have,” he said, bringing his hands together in a prayer-like gesture. “To those Bellsprout, who passed away so many years ago in a terrible fire, this shrine is their only connection to this world and the people in it. It is the only small light in their darkness that says they still matter. It is… life for them. It’s all the life they have left. Can you blame them, or the Gastly who acted on their behalf, for fighting for it?”
There was silence for a minute, then Morty felt movement beside him and opened one eye. Falkner was kneeling next to him, head bowed and hands clasped together in prayer. And so they prayed together in the small room with its insistent smell of incense, and they remembered the Bellsprout. That’s all the shades could ask for now.
“We’ll have to let Sage Neal know about this,” Morty said, as he and Falkner left the small shrine and closed the door behind them. “I’m sure they didn’t neglect the Bellsprout shrine on purpose, but perhaps it was something only senior sages were responsible for. With all the havoc over Elder Li’s sickness, it’s no surprise that the detail got overlooked or forgotten.”
“Yes,” Falkner said, and Morty noticed he was limping slightly. He must’ve hit the ground hard after the Gastly dragged him into the shrine. “The sages have a very ridged hierarchy. It doesn’t surprise me that none of the others know about this.”
“So… that’s settled then,” Morty said, feeling rather awkward now that the mission had been completed.
“Yeah,” Falkner said with equal awkwardness. “Uh… back in the shrine when I—”
Morty held up a hand and said, “Don’t worry. It’s already forgotten.”
Falkner gave him a look that said he didn’t have to forget it, just never mention it again EVER.
After apparently struggling with himself (his aura now an unsure, muddy shade of blue) Falkner reached over and took Morty’s hand. It honestly wasn’t something Morty had suspected, but he tried to play it cool.
“I thought you had great night vision,” he said.
“I do,” Falkner said defensively. “It’s just… well, I’m tired after all this and trying to see in the dark for this long is a real strain on my eyes. Not all of us have second sight, you know. The least you could do is help me out after dragging me into this.”
Morty recalled doing no dragging, but nevertheless smiled and led Falkner down the stairs by the hand. “No problem,” he said.
Silence bogged them down on the trip down the tower. The feeling of holding hands was strange enough to squelch out most everyday conversation. Passing comments about the weather wouldn’t have survived a minute in that atmosphere.
But Morty tried. “So, I’ve been thinking,” he said after he could no longer stand the silence, “maybe I’ll come back to visit Violet City every so often. You know, to check on the Ghost population in the tower; make sure they’re getting along okay. That kind of thing. Of course… it would be a big help if you’d come along with me.”
“Of course,” Falkner said, in a tone that implied this went without saying. “It would be my duty as the Violet City Gym Leader.”
“Of course,” Morty echoed.
“And,” Falkner said, before the silence could take over once again, “I’ve been thinking too. Maybe I should visit Ecruteak City. You know, pay my respects to the Rainbow Bird and everything. I’d… I’d need a guide for that. And since I’ve helped you out here it only seems reasonable for you to—”
“I’d be happy to help,” Morty answered before Falkner could trail off.
“Good,” Falkner said in a voice that tried to convince both himself and Morty that there was no hidden softness behind it.
“Maybe,” Morty said, looking off into the darkness and perhaps even the future, “maybe we’ll see it together someday.”
And so, the two walked through the darkened hallways, no longer filled with the shadows of forsaken ghosts. They passed into the courtyard where the first rays of the rising sun were making the circle of lanterns look like solar pretenders. There they met the group of sages who were far too grateful for the two leaders’ help and far too relieved in seeing that they were alive to notice that they were still holding hands in the pale light of morning.