Double-post, but here's Chapter Five. Please read and enjoy.
I recognise that this is a slower chapter compared to the last one, but the plot is rapidly coming to a close, and I have plot holes/elements to tie-up. However, I hope you guys notice the parallels I'm trying to make between here and previous chapters.
I've endeavoured to structure this story so that mirror images are created, as well as character development. I hope you enjoy. Even though not as many people reviewed this time, I'm sure that if I horde Chapter Six and do not release it for some time, people will eventually catch-on. *evil laugh*
Also, I hope that you notice the Minor Characters who make reappearances in this chapter. There are at least three, so have fun!
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-
Cheren is watching me. I can feel his scrutinising looks.
“Do you ever wonder what you might have been?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
“What you would have been if you never became a Trainer.”
I choose to be funny. “A space cowboy.”
Cheren shakes his head.
“You fucker,” he says, almost pityingly. “You have no idea of what you want to be, do you?”
Black was sitting on the edge of the pier, dangling his feet over the seawater. His socks and sneakers were flung to the side. He watched as the sun descended in the west, splashing the horizon with burnished swathes of gold and purple. Sensing the end of the day, most people had headed indoors: the wharf was empty, with the exception of a few persistent fishermen, while a lone woman fed a wild Pelipper. All in all, Undella Beach was peaceful at twilight.
He lifted his right leg. Messy, white bandages enclosed the swollen ankle, protecting the wound against infection. The cut from the battle with Cynthia had yet to heal. Indeed, his ankle throbbed a little whenever he took a step. Granted, Black had experienced worse injuries, but it was still a bitch to not be able to run. He had walk, or suffer the consequent aches. At least that was what the doctor had said.
Cynthia… He hadn’t seen her since the Pokémon match. After he broke down in front of her, Black had exhausted himself. His recollections were hazy, but he remembered somebody stroking his hair, whispering that things were going to be alright. He must have fallen asleep in the person’s arms, because the next clearest memory he had was waking up the following morning, in the guestroom. A blanket had been carefully placed over him.
Black’s C-Gear buzzed, bringing him back from his thoughts. Sliding it open, he checked the Caller ID: Bianca. Black sighed. This was the second time that Bianca had tried to contact him today. Perhaps she was attempting to compensate for not calling him at all for the last two days. Oh, well. He had to concede that Bianca had guts.
Ordinarily, Black would have switched off his C-Gear when he saw Bianca’s name on the screen, but this time, he let it cross to voice-mail. He didn’t know why, but the persistent video-calls didn’t bother him as much as it would have a week ago.
“Um, hey.” A female voice piped from the voice-mail. “It’s me again, Bianca! Well, you probably already know that, because of Caller ID? Gah, I’ve never liked that stuff – it eliminates the element of surprise!”
“I’m sure the Xtransceiver people were thinking of you, Bianca, when they designed it,” said Black drolly.
“Anyway, I know you probably don’t wanna talk to me.” Bianca seemed more solemn. “Y’know, with everything that happened. Uh, you probably don’t even like me right now, with all the calls I’ve been making.”
Black tugged at the hem of his shirt.
Bianca perked up again: “But if you’re interested, some of the old gang is meeting up in Nimbasa, this Sunday! We’re riding the Big Dipper and everything. They didn’t think to invite you, because, y’know – but I said, “screw them”!”
“We had so much fun the last time we went to the Nimbasa Theme Park,” she said, excitedly. “I’ll win that Houndoom plushie you like at the shooting gallery! You remember how I trashed Cheren at riffle-shooting.”
A tug again.
“We’re planning to arrive at the Nimbasa Theme Park by ten in the morning,” said Bianca. She became quiet. “I really hope to see you there.”
After a pause, she said, “I miss you.”
The C-Gear beeped, signalling the end of the message. Black tapped his fingers against the side of the pier. He mulled over the bouncy voice which he had heard. Bianca sounded hoarser, a touch deeper even. Perhaps she was feeling a little under water? Stress or worry? Both? However… That cheerful pep, an exuberance that made you wonder which meds she had hopped on – Bianca hadn’t changed, overall. She probably never will. As Professor Juniper once said, Bianca was like the sun: bright, vivid, and constant.
That thought put an almost indiscernible smile on Black’s face.
Picking up his socks and shoes, Black stood up and experimentally rolled his ankle. A dull prick of pain tingled. But it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Thankfully, the cut had been cleaned with antiseptic, it seemed. The bandages also were wrapped tightly, staunching any blood flow.
The person who had treated his wound took great care to dress it properly.
“Cynthia, I don’t get you,” muttered Black.
It was true. He had a deluge of questions for the blond woman, but she had disappeared to somewhere. When Black had awakened, Cynthia was not in sight. He had searched the rest of the villa: in the lounge, he found his Pokéballs, within which his Pokémon were mysteriously Full-Restored. In the dining room, he found a casserole dish filled with enough Stir Fry to provide three meals. And in the kitchen, he found was a small Post-it on the fridge. It was written in Cynthia’s slanted writing, with sloped ‘l’s and looped ‘g’s.
I’ve gone to meet someone. I could not postpone it any longer.
I promise to return by tomorrow.
Food is in the dining room.
Please remember that it’s not your fault.
Black’s name – his actual name – was smudged out. It presumably happened when Cynthia had written in hurry, accidentally smearing the ink with her sleeve. Maybe the person she was meeting was so important that exigency was required. A League official? Lucian of the Sinnoh Elite Four? Michael Rowan, the Professor on Pokémon Evolution?
Black put on his socks and sneakers, while his mind wandered elsewhere. As a result of Cynthia’s temporary absence, he had spent the whole day to himself. It was rather lacklustre: he exercised in the villa’s gym, taking a jog on the running machine. Next was a nap on the futon. Afterwards, Black flicked on the widescreen and surfed the channels. Eventually, he settled on one of those subtitled telenovelas: Marietta had betrayed the loyal Entei for her mother, while Ginevra had married Enrique, producing children and upsetting the wider community around them.
What an odd plot, if he could say so himself.
All in all, the day had been uneventful and boring. But Black found himself much happier than he had been for a while. That tremendous weight had lifted, allowing him to breathe for the first time. Some might call it ‘catharsis’.
After tying his laces, Black started walking down the pier. He could hear a few gasps and pointing stares. Even though the wharf was mostly empty, some people still loitered. A middle-aged waitress bumped into a bench-top, while a father of two tried to calm his suddenly restless kids. The restaurant next door wasn’t any better: the local, sitting at a wicker table, spluttered his steamed, ocean-fresh trout; in the adjacent seat, the businesswoman directed her Purrloin’s gaze away from Black.
Black rolled his eyes. Instead of pushing down his League cap, he raised it.
“Should I add a third eye to my appearance,” Black said wryly, “or would they stare too much?”
Black strolled past the restaurant and headed down a series of concrete steps. Gradually, the hard pavement segued into soft, white sands. He could see the ocean kissing the beach, lapping in rolling waves. A lifeguard’s high-chair, white with peeling red stripes, stood aloof. Next to it laid a deflated tuba and the strange arrangement of stones. Luminescent sunlight traced the skeletons of two parasols, while a few indistinct shapes bobbed in the distant, indigo waters. If he had to, Black would guess that a visiting Wailmer pod from Hoenn was grazing on the sunken krill. The clean scent of salt permeated the area. Everything felt calming.
This was one of his favourite parts of Undella. It was the beach where he and Cynthia had visited on Tuesday.
Unhurried, Black treaded the sands. This part of Undella Bay was neglected. Compared to the tourist gaggles which waddled around the other beaches, only the occasional, intrepid local had boasted visiting this beach.
Black had concluded his research on the beach. Apparently, the town folklore had claimed that this part of the Bay, loosely called ‘the Divine Cove’, was cursed. A god who governed creation had supposedly contoured the Cove. The legends warned that a person who stepped into its watery depths would be judged. Therein, the voyager would either die – or live.
It seemed that these warnings hadn’t deter Cynthia, though. She had dragged him here without any scruples. Twice. In swimsuits. If anything, the maniacal myths had probably encouraged her. She did have a bizarre fascination for legends.
Black cocked an eyebrow.
“A god who judges whether you live or die, huh?”
He continued to walk down the beach. Pausing, he wondered if Caitlin had heard about her garden’s current condition. The damage totalled between him and Cynthia was colossal: six headless sculptures, two shattered fountains, a garden gnome with no hands, and three birch trees which resembled charred stumps. A majority of the lawn suffered from hoarfrost, while a giant chasm filled with ice stretched from the burnt oak to the porch. The split chairs alone would give Caitlin an aneurysm.
Of course, the payments would cost a mere drop in her vast fortune, but the repairs would take time. Time which Caitlin would spend bitching in his ear.
At the thought of Caitlin, Black reached into his pockets. He pulled out a folded note and opened it. The Elite Four’s message was just as he remembered: snide and highbrowed. Still…
He snorted and shoved the note back into pants. Somehow, enduring Caitlin’s whinging didn’t seem that bad. Hm.
Folding his arms behind his head, Black resumed walking down the beach. The breeze was gentle, and his thoughts were not heavy, for once. He didn’t understand why the locals viewed the Cove as a source of fear. It was irrefutably peaceful…
Then, something happened.
A wave broke on Black’s feet, a wave that was stronger than the ones which preceded it. Suspicious, Black flicked his gaze towards the horizon. The waters were becoming oddly turbulent, as though ocean itself had become frightened. Strident wails rang out, like the police’s siren. Trouble was brewing. Instinctively, Black’s hand shot to his Pokéballs.
His danger senses proved true: a large throng of figures started to brawl in the distant water. There were roars and shrieks, as chunks of fat and thick blubber went flying. Pillars of pressurised water spouted upwards. Black narrowed his eyes when he caught a glimpse of something black. A curved, scarred dorsal fin. The final piece of evidence was the thick slivers of red which began to lace the seawater, turning it purple.
A Sharpedo attack.
Black knew that Sharpedo were called the Bullies of the Sea for a reason. Their serrated fangs could tear through sheet iron, while the sleek, pectoral fins were designed for maximum, aquatic acceleration. Only the ferocity of their draconian cousins, Gabite and Garchomp, matched Sharpedo’s aggression. Indeed, both Kanto and Unova dreaded Sharpedo gangs so much that the respective provincial governments had introduced anti-shark legislation. Sharpedo Nets became a common sight in both regions. Some Unovans even actively hunted Sharpedos, baiting them with Goldeen flesh or severing their fins for a special gumbo.
The consequence was that Sharpedo were now rare in Unova; only the vast waters of Hoenn still housed noteworthy Sharpedo populations. Therefore, for a Sharpedo to be found in Undella Bay, it had to be able to survive the constant shark-baiting and anti-shark nets, especially the numerous premium ones which enclosed Undella Bay. It had to be powerful and ruthless.
Highly experienced, highly leveled.
The Wailmer pod had little chance of survival.
After another minute, the thrashing in the water ceased. The wails silenced. As large, bloodied blobs began to rise to the surface, Black fished out his Pokédex and pointed it at the centre of activity. Prototype #A05 had a high-quality, inbuilt camera. At the right angle, he could capture a decent picture of the Sharpedo.
The screen displayed a shaky resolution; Black had to squint a little to perceive the image. The picture mainly showed the reddish waters and bits of Wailmer carcasses, but there was an interesting blur at the top-right corner.
Black enlarged the photograph and zoomed in the blur. As the Pokédex processed the image, he could make out the outline of the Sharpedo’s body. The beast had its fangs halfway into a Wailmer’s stomach, dragged out the entails in its mouth. However, that was not what interested Black. No, it was the Sharpedo’s skin.
It wasn’t black, as he originally had thought, but vibrant purple. A mystical, silvery aura clung to the shark, like a robe.
Interestingly, the dead Wailmer were also strangely coloured. Diverging from their usual indigo tint, the pod was arrayed in shades of violet, even without the blood staining their skins. What did Professor Juniper call Pokémon with these rare, deviant colours? Ah, ‘Shinies’.
“What a stupid term,” muttered Black.
Witnessing the Sharpedo finish its messy meal, Black wondered what had caused these Pokémon to obtain their extraordinary, perturbing colours. Was the presence of the Divine Cove? The legends spoken by Undella Town? Professor Juniper implied that the cause was a mutation, although the sources of the mutations were unknown. Yes, radiation could trigger pigment mutation, but such intense radiation did not exist in the wild, at least not naturally. A scientific anomaly, a mystery… From the available genetic material, Black was beginning to speculate that the origin of Shinies was supernatural, celestial even.
No wonder the locals avoided the Cove. An ordinary person would have been terrified of these Shiny Pokémon.
Eventually, the Sharpedo stopped its feeding and released its last Wailmer carcass. Black took another photograph using his Pokédex. Zoom-in. Judging from the look in its red eyes, the shark had satiated its hunger and was ready to leave. Sure enough, the tell-tale dorsal fin began to swim away from the scene. Within two minutes, the vibrant purple was a mere dot in the horizon. Another minute, it was gone.
In the event of a wild Pokémon feeding upon another, Black would usually leave the area as quickly as possible. However, those eerie colours intrigued him.
He stepped towards the water, almost hesitantly.
Suddenly, an enormous beast leapt at him from the ocean. With his razor-honed reflexes, Black opened the first Pokéball in his belt. Carracosta materialised in a white flash and instinctively blocked the mysterious creature’s attack.
Recoiling from Carracosta’s defence, the beast hastened back into the water. Even under the faint light of dusk, Black could see the creature which had attacked him. Purple skin, which was peeling at little from tooth-wounds. A tan belly with grooves. Pupils that were dilated in fear and panic.
It was one of the Wailmer from the pod, a survivor of the Sharpedo’s feast.
“Those dilated eyes… It’s just probably frightened from the Sharpedo attack,” Black said to himself. “I need to show that I don’t mean any harm.”
The Shiny Wailmer launched itself at Black again. Defending, Carracosta pushed it away with a Water Pulse. The whale ricocheted into the ocean, giving a small wail of pain. More blood seeped from its wounds. Abruptly, Black realised that Wailmer was still injured; the Pokémon would require urgent medical attention, or else it would not survive the night.
Black felt his conscience prick.
“Carracosta,” he said, turning to his Pokémon. “Try to trap Wailmer in a Rock Tomb. Be careful not to hurt it, though.”
Lazily, the sea-turtle stomped on the ground. Several rocks emerged and sailed towards Wailmer, like a gliding flock of Swanna. The first few landed in front of the whale, blocking its movement. However, Wailmer hurled a Hydro Pump at the Rock Tomb, breaking through it. Black massaged his temples when the whale used this opportunity and swam away, down the beach.
Sighing, he said, “One of these days, my impulsiveness will kill me.”
He started to sprint after the Wailmer but dug in his heels, when he noticed that Carracosta was not moving. The damn sea-turtle was yawning, giving his Trainer a bored look.
“If you’re not coming, I’ll stop taping your favourite TV show,” Black told Carracosta. “The one with the fucking chef who swears at everyone.”
Carracosta gave him the finger. Nevertheless, the sea-turtle started to follow Black, although reluctantly.
The two raced down the coastline, passing through several lifeguard flags. Soon, Black had left the Divine Cove and was at Spiraria Beach, the most popular and tourist-friendly section of Undella Bay. It wasn’t difficult to find Wailmer; the Pokémon was three-hundred pound whale, after all.
Wailmer was beached next to a tide pool, wheezing on the craggy rocks. A group of schoolgirls, who were presumably taking an evening walk, were squealing at a safe distance.
Black turned to Carracosta.
“Rock Tomb again!” he commanded.
Great boulders soared out again, falling around Wailmer in an ensnaring circle. However, this time the whale was too exhausted to escape. Firing that Hydro Pump – and swimming away – had sapped most of its remaining strength.
“Okay, Wailmer needs to get to a PokéCenter. But we could end up doing more damage if we touch him,” murmured Black, formulating a plan.
He reached for his satchel. “I’ll need to capture it, then.”
Black went through his available Pokéballs. It didn’t take too long to make a decision.
After ordering Carracosta to remove some rocks and clear a passage for him, Black approached the Wailmer. He gripped his chosen Pokéball. His eyes softened at the sight of the injured Wailmer, as brown blood puddled underneath its belly.
“Rest well,” he said, as he threw the Heal Ball.
The pink Pokéball flew into Wailmer. Immediately, the Pokémon’s body liquefied into a dynamic, red light and spiralled into the empty ball. The Heal Ball closed with a ‘snap’. Rhythmic clicks started to sound. Three more clicks, and the Pokéball stopped moving. A clean capture.
Black picked up the Heal Ball. Pursing his lips, he flipped out his Pokédex and analysed the Wailmer inside it. Although he knew that Heal Balls restored their Pokémon’s health, Black wanted to be sure.
“‘H. Status: CONSCIOUS; Full health’,” he read aloud, “‘Minor scarring; may require latter treatment at a PokéCenter’.”
Relieved, Black switched off the Pokédex. So Wailmer was alright, and he wasn’t too late.
“I saw what you did,” said a girl’s voice from behind him. “That was an amazing use of Rock Tomb. Precise aim, not to hurt Wailmer.”
Black wheeled around.
Behind him stood three girls, the schoolgirls who had been lingering around the rock pools. They each wore a laundered blazer and a pair of matching bell-bottoms. The Lilycove handbags hung off their delicate arms, like cherries from the dark-wood trees, while Hermčs scarves completed the reflections of easy wealth. Despite the similar articles of clothing, each girl had a differing colour scheme. The blithe blonde on the left wore yellow, while the scornful brunette on the right wore green.
The redhead in the middle wore red. She was the one who had spoken. And her face was familiar: button nose, a stylish amount of make-up, and ponytailed, auburn curls which smelled like strawberries.
It was the wealthy girl who had challenged him earlier. Susan Riche.
“These are my school friends,” said Susan, gesturing at the other two girls. “This is Tyra Waldorf, daughter of Mayor Waldorf, and Rebecca van der Woodsen, my brother Miles’s fiancée.”
Black glanced between the two girls. The breezy blonde – Rebecca – waved at him, while the disdainful brunette – Tyra – wrinkled her nose, as though she would not deign to consider the sight of him. Both were equal in attractiveness, he had to admit.
He extended a hand to the girls.
“Nice to meet you.”
Starry-eyed, Rebecca shook his hand as if she were strangling it. On the other hand, Tyra took one peek at the dried Wailmer blood on his fingers and sneered. Black raised an eyebrow at the proud brunette. Normally, this sort of conceited behaviour would irk him, but at the moment, he had a better control of that same-old, embittered temperament. He found it entertaining, frankly, that this girl thought she was better than everyone else. She was bound for an unpleasant surprise, later in life.
“We saw what your Carracosta did,” said Susan.
“Yes,” she replied, with the barest hint of wonder. “Your Pokémon was extraordinary, remarkably quick-footed for a resurrected Fossil. He’s well-taught.”
Susan stared at Black. “You really are the Unova League Champion.”
Black adjusted his cap; he kept his face impassive.
“That’s my official title,” he said.
Rebecca giggled and clapped her hands together.
“Susan, I can’t believe you challenged him to a Pokémon Battle,” she said, breathlessly. “What were you thinking? How could you!”
“Susan has a right to challenge whoever she wants to,” said Tyra in a cold voice.
Amused, Black folded his arms. Did this girl, Tyra, have any sense of propriety? She didn’t understand him at all, like many people of her stature. In an ideal world, he would have insisted that she was kind-hearted under an icy exterior. The truth was that she was just a bitch.
Susan seemed to notice the implications of Tyra’s comment. Spinning around, she admonished her friend:
“Tyra! He’s standing right there!”
When Tyra scowled, Susan turned to Black and grabbed his hands.
“I’m sorry for the way Tyra’s behaving. Er, her summer boyfriend called it quits, so she’s been rather crabby lately,” explained Susan.
Tyra hissed something in Rebecca’s ear, with a mean urgency. The cheery blonde gasped and blushed like a red fire-truck. She seemed scandalised. Black watched as Rebecca whispered something back at Tyra, who merely shrugged. Glancing at Susan and Black, Rebecca blushed again. Tyra smirked. In front of them, Susan didn’t look impressed; Black chuckled. He sensed some sort of rumour or gossip between Susan’s friends. High school politics were comical, that was for sure.
Emboldened, Susan stepped towards Black; she was determined to compensate for Tyra’s general unpleasantness.
“I want to give you something,” she told him. “You wouldn’t let me pay you when I lost the Pokémon battle. I felt kind of rotten about that, so – ”
Susan pulled something out of her handbag. As Black tried to protest, she pushed it into his hands.
“Here,” she said, closing his fingers around the object. “Keep it. Think of it as a belated ‘thank you’.”
Black examined the gift. It was a metallic disk with a silver trimming. Accompanied by the blue glaze painted over it, this appearance was recognisable to him. A Hidden Machine, or HM for short.
“HM06 – Dive,” Susan elaborated. “See the darker parts of the sea? Those are called diving points. If your Pokémon knows this move, it’ll be able to take you through those diving points and towards the ocean floor.”
“Diving. Why would I want to do that?” asked Black, turning the disk in his hand.
“I don’t know. Undella Bay has some wonderful oceanic trenches. Maybe it’d be interesting to explore those?”
Black contemplated. Then, he slowly tucked HM06 among his other HMs and TMs. Like a cosy campfire, a warm feeling churned in his stomach. A smidgeon of pink reached his ears.
“Erm, thanks,” he said, as he avoided looking Susan in the eye. “That was really… nice of you.”
Susan pulled at an auburn curl, while her cheeks gained a similar pink tint. Her characteristic arrogance and confidence seemed to have melted away, leaving a schoolgirl reticence in its place. She hid her face from Black, with a curtain of hair.
“No problem,” was the rushed reply.
Tyra sniffed in disapproval, while Rebecca squeaked with delight and directed her eyes at Susan. Those hazel eyes gleamed with excitement, as though a sordid and fabulous story were blossoming before them. Black and Susan tried to evade each other’s gaze.
Tyra eventually intervened.
“Didn’t your grandfather want us to return by seven?” intruded the brunette snottily. “It’s nearly ten to seven.”
Rebecca panicked. “Oh, Susan, that is true! We have to leave. Now.”
“Alright, alright. Give me a minute,” muttered Susan.
The other two girls obliged, giving Susan some privacy. She shot a grateful look. Clearing her throat, the auburn-haired girl turned to Black, who was touching the grooves in his Pokébelt. He looked up.
“Try not to Dive in the Divine Cove. Strange things have happened there,” cautioned Susan. “Legends say that part of the Bay is haunted, or something.”
Black laughed. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Just because you’re the Champion of the Unova Pokémon League doesn’t mean you can’t get skewed by a rock, or something equally dangerous.”
“I’m a big boy,” he said.
“I know that,” retorted Susan; her face was luminous with red. “But I wanted you to be safe… because I thought maybe we could catch a musical together. Grandfather Zillion has spare tickets.”
Black was surprised. “A musical?”
“You know, a musical,” she mumbled. “There’s a new one in Nimbasa. Basically, all the characters are either gay or have AIDS.”
Susan turned around before Black could formulate an adequate response.
“Think about it,” she said.
“And by the way, I saw what you did for that Wailmer.” Her voice tinged with true admiration. “It was really sweet. I think that’s why they call you the Hero of Unova.”
Black didn’t reply.
Returning to her friends’ side, Susan walked away without another word. As the girls climbed up the concrete stairs and left the beach completely, Black studied Susan’s back. Auburn bangs whipped against the ocean wind, revealing a creamy neck. Long legs and a hint of fresh strawberries…
Black shook his head.
“The Theme Park and the musical theatre…” Black trailed off, wondering.
He gave a small smile. “Nimbasa can’t be too terrible this time of year.”
Professor Juniper examines my Pokédex. As she scrolls down the various entries of encountered Pokémon, her expression becomes impressed. I share a victorious grin with Pignite. Surprised, Professor Juniper sets down the Pokédex.
“The sheer amount of data you were able to collect, all the different Trainers you must have met…” Professor Juniper trailed off.
She closed her eyes. “I am speechless.”
I’m uncomfortable with the attention and praise.
“It’s not as amazing as you make it out to be,” I murmur.
Professor Juniper chuckled.
“You’re certainly a talented young man, no doubt about it,” she says. “I’m just glad you are using your gifts to help other people, I suppose.”
“W-What did you say? You shall do what?!”
Black sipped his juicebox. “I said I’ll do it. It makes sense: I have the greatest experience with Team Plasma, so it’s only right that I help you.”
“B-But that is not what you said on Wednesday!” sputtered Looker. “How is this possible?”
“People can revise opinions,” replied Black, coolly. “I had some time to think about it.”
They were sitting at a local café. Looker had chosen to meet at one of the noisier joints in Undella: bustling waitresses carried laminated menus, barking at the customers who were slower to order; a queue of businessmen, thirsty for espressos to-go, extended from the cashier to the lamppost outside. The fact that it was lunchtime only exacerbated the traffic. If Black had knew better, he would have insisted on another meeting place. However, the café’s food was dirt-cheap and phenomenal. The clientele was too busy salivating over their meals to eavesdrop.
A few hours ago, Black had finished reading a series of books on Undella’s legends, when he saw a small business card flutter down from his jacket’s pocket. Looker’s business card. After a moment of thought, Black had steeled his mind and dialled the number on the card. When the detective picked up his phone, he was shocked. Looker had not been anticipating the turn of events. Nevertheless, he arranged to rendezvous at noon.
If the mere fact that Black had wanted to meet him surprised Looker, Black couldn’t imagine how surprised the detective was now.
“I must admit, I was a little doubtful. You were filled with anger during our last meeting,” said Looker, as he tried to collect his unhinged jaw and set down his BLT sandwich. “It was unlikely that you would even consider my offer.”
“Like I said, I had some time to think about it,” said Black.
As Looker shot up from his chair, the dumpy waitress who was taking the adjacent table’s order harrumphed. Annoyed, she squeezed her lips together, giving the impression of a shrivelled lemon.
Looker disregarded the waitress’s irritation. Beaming, he shook Black by the shoulders. Black blanched at the almost painful force in the man’s grip. Didn’t Looker understand the concept of personal boundaries? Apparently not.
“If you are speaking true, this is most wonderful news!” he exclaimed. “My quest to capture the Seven Sages shall be fast-forwarded. Oh, joyous!”
Looker wore a childlike, mile-long grin, which looked ridiculous on a stubbly face with a square chin. Black sighed. It was a minor, Christmas miracle that the man was even able to function as a competent Private Investigator. In a logical world of hard truths, Looker’s uncontainable liveliness would have definitely thwarted his investigative work. However, the universe was more merciful and ideal, it seemed; Looker somehow managed to pull it together.
Cynthia was right, as usual. Damn.
Finally, the stocky waitress on the right had enough. She glared at Looker, who was still standing up and rattling Black’s shoulders.
“Sir!” she rebuked. “Please control yourself. You are disturbing the other customers.”
Looker either was dreadful at looking guilty or didn’t particularly care for the waitress’s opinion.
“I apologise, Madam,” he said, not sounding apologetic at all.
Offended, the woman huffed and marched away from their table. Idly, Black wondered how long it would take before the manager kicked Looker out. Minutes or seconds, which option? Hm…
“I must warn you, Champion,” said Looker, after he was sure that the waitress was gone. “The investigation for the Seven Sages will be time-consuming. You must spend weeks in the Unova wild again, while following our leads.”
Black sipped from his juicebox again; the orange flavour tingled as it went down his throat. He wiped his mouth. The juice was saccharine sweet, sweeter than juice from a bottle.
“I’m aware,” he said.
“Are you truly content with the conditions of this case, then? Will you still agree to our investigation, despite knowing these prices?” asked Looker.
Picking at his own BLT sandwich, Black pondered the natural consequences of Looker’s words. Would he be prepared to put his life on hold? Fare shitty weather and shitty Trainers to track down a group of people which he had never wanted to see again? Be reminded of the terrible events at the Castle and of his own failings?
A month ago, the answer would have been an empathic ‘no’, mixed with some choice swear words. However, now his answer was –
“– yes,” replied Black.
Ecstatic, Looker leapt to his feet again, sending the juicebox and the sandwiches flying. Orange juice drenched a stunned businessman, while bits of lettuce and tomato clung on the fuming waitress’s perm. When the woman calmly removed a piece of bacon from her cleavage and took in a deep breath, Black smirked and prepared to witness a yelling match of gargantuan proportions.
He wasn’t disappointed. Yeah, definitely not.
The screaming duel resulted in the manager throwing out Looker and Black from the café. It didn’t matter, though; they had nearly finished eating by that time. Looker himself didn’t seem to be too upset by the manager’s actions. The man was probably too excited from Black’s acceptance of his offer. Indeed, Looker spent the next thirty minutes detailing all of the Interpol’s liaisons. After he was finished with the liaisons, Looker then proceeded to his various leads, while the two of them started to walk down the street. There were a lot of leads, if Looker’s mouth was any indicator. Although the information bored him a little, Black smiled and politely nodded along.
Black’s smile only waned when Looker mentioned something which chilled his nerves.
“And we will have to locate Ghetsis again,” said Looker, shaking his fist. “That Shadow Triad is crafty, no? They broke into the prison, very easy.”
Troubled, Black faced Looker. “Could you repeat that?”
“Ah, the Shadow Triad is crafty.”
“No, before that,” said Black quietly. “Did you say that Ghetsis escaped?”
Looker scratched his head. He seemed rather embarrassed.
“It is true,” he confirmed, tentatively. “A little shameful of the Interpol, but rest assured! We will capture the leader of Team Plasma once more!”
Black clenched his fists.
“Do you have any further questions?” asked Looker, in a careful tone.
Surreptitiously, Black eyed the detective standing next to him. Looker had his right shoulder rolled back and his left foot forward. While tension held the arms, the man rapidly curled and uncurled his hands. His entire demeanour implied extreme hesitance. Overall, Looker seemed nervous. Was Looker afraid that Black would renege upon his acceptance of the offer?
A sliver of pity slid up Black’s spine.
“No, I’m good,” said Black; he shoved as much verve as he could into his voice.
The trick appeared to have worked. Relaxing visibly, Looker wiped his forehead and beamed. The man checked his Jigglypuff wris****ch.
“I must make my leave,” declared Looker. “I’m late for an important interrogation. Contact me tomorrow. You have my business card, yes?”
“Excellent! We shall meet soon.”
Taking out a Pokéball, Looker released his Ditto. The pink blob metamorphosed into a Fearow, predictably. As he mounted the Transformed Pokémon, Looker glanced down at Black. After a moment of rumination, the man extended his left hand. It was clenched.
Looker bumped his fist against Black’s knuckles, forming a fist-bump.
“And that is for good luck,” he said, grinning. “We are in this together. Right, Hero of Unova?”
Black could only gape, as Looker crooned in his Ditto’s ear and ask the Pokémon to take off. With the aerial agility of an Aerodactyl, the Fearow metamorph soared into the sky. Soon, Looker and his Pokémon were a far-away blot, vanishing behind a plume of clouds. Black stared until he could no longer see the blurred man.
Setting his eyes back on the street, Black perpended the new information. Ghetsis had escaped? The news sickened Black, like a bad dinner. The one-eyed leader of Team Plasma was easily one of the most manipulative, most conniving, most evil man which Black had the misfortune to meet. In his megalomania, Ghetsis had brainwashed masses of Unova into releasing their Pokémon, and, on a far more personal note, had indirectly caused –
Deep breaths. Calming breaths. Black closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. He had come too far to regress, not again. The mere mention of Ghetsis’s name wasn’t going to summon those heavy thoughts again. Not if he couldn’t help it. And he was a fighter, dammit. He was going to make it. Fuck it, he had to. More deep breaths. Calming breaths.
Gradually, the familiar pressure on his chest lessened. Black opened his eyes and wiped his face with his jacket’s sleeve. It was becoming easier.
“Mom, look! It’s the Champion! The one who battled the giant dragon!”
A small kid was pointing at Black from across the road. The child was tiny, even for his elementary school age; he barely possessed twice the height of his pet Emolga, who was squeaking from the side. A young woman, presumably the mother, was holding the kid’s hand. Stricken, she froze upon seeing the newest Champion. Unlike her son, she appeared to be rather scared of Black. It wasn’t an uncommon response.
“Don’t point, Tim,” the mother reprimanded. “It’s rude and isn’t considered good manners.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Tim. “I knew that Bart was telling the truth yesterday! Can I please ask him for an autograph, oh please – ”
“Tim, now is not the time.” The mother was anxious. “He probably doesn’t want to. Let’s go home – ”
“But Mom! He’s the Champion. Please, just let me at least ask him. He might say ‘yes’!”
“Timothy, stop this nonsense,” said the mother; she tugged on her son’s arm. “The Champion is a busy person. Tim, don’t act like – ”
The woman’s words were caught in her throat when she saw the Unova Champion walking towards them. Tim gawked, as though he had witnessed Santa Claus give one of the elves a lap dance.
“C-Champion,” choked the mother.
In these circumstances, Black would generally lower his League hat and try to hide his face. He didn’t like the attention and his status as Unova’s Champion. However, things were different now. Black raised his cap and smiled down at the kid.
“What’s your name, kiddo?” asked Black.
Tim brightened. “Timothy Daniel Drake, but everyone calls me ‘Tim’.”
The mother looked distinctly uncomfortable. Shooting Black a fearful look, she wrapped her arms around her son. Her posture was protective, as though she were expecting Black to fish out a Pokéball and release a Legendary Pokémon on a whim. Which was at least half-true.
“You can relax,” Black told the mother. “I don’t plan to hurt your son.”
She tightened her expression. “Then what are you trying to do?”
“Give your son an autograph,” was Black’s honest answer.
While the woman dropped her arms in muted surprise, Black took out an empty Pokéball from his bag. He whipped out a permanent marker; he started to write on the white half of the ball.
“‘To Tim Drake’,” said Black, as he read out what he wrote. “‘Life may seem stupid, but it gets better. Eventually. And eat your green vegetables – they’re actually good for you’.”
He finished with a flourish. “‘Signed, the Fifteenth Unova Champion’.”
Gently, Black passed the signed Pokéball into Tim’s hands. The smile on the kid’s face widened to a width which exceeded what should have been a natural limit.
“T-Thank you, mister!” cried Tim, cradling the Pokéball.
The mother was astonished. She gawped at Black, who was capping the marker and returning it to his pocket. The fear in her expression had abated, and flabbergasted gratitude emerged.
“The editorials said that you were cold and hostile,” stammered the woman. “They said that you would never sign autographs, and that you could – ”
“Shut up, Mom!” Tim cut in.
Clutching the Pokéball, the kid rebuked his own mother:
“The Champion is nothing like what the stupid ‘zines say! I’ve been saying he’s a good person, and now, you can see that.”
Ignoring his gobsmacked mother, Tim swivelled around and stared at Black. The kid’s eyes were bright and hopeful, reminding Black a little of his old self.
“You were always the coolest Champion,” asserted Tim. “No matter how many times Bart blubbered it, Lance wasn’t cooler than you. Lance may be a Dragon Tamer, but you’re the Hero of Unova!”
Then, he ruffled Tim’s hair. His voice was quiet but resolute.
“Yeah, I am.”
Bianca isn’t watching me. She’s too busy fingering the hem of her skirt, as though she’s in a trance. While a glassy look glazes over her eyes, she chews on her bottom lip. Even that isn’t enough, she starts drumming her fingers on the café table. Spacing out, again. Sighing, I set down my spoon.
“You dragged me to Castelia City to talk to me,” I say, feeling exasperated. “Suddenly, you’re not doing that anymore.”
Bianca blinks. “Oh, was I doing spacing again? Sorry.”
“What were you thinking about,” I ask, “that distracted you so much?”
I nearly slip out of my chair. Repressing my emotions, I tried to put on a smile. It was a pale imitation, like how a shadow is only the outline and not the object itself.
“I was wondering… you said that Zekrom left you after, well, you know.”
“Yes,” I reply in a prickly voice. “He flew away to the horizon when the battle had finished.”
“Do you think he’ll ever come back?”
I pick at my League hat. “Maybe. It’s his choice. I don’t think so, though.”
“Why?” she asks.
“We finished our agreement,” I answer, “and we don’t believe in the same things anymore.”
Bianca gives me a meaningful look. She shakes her head, before facing me.
“Once you’re the Hero of Unova, you’ll always be the Hero of Unova,” Bianca says, “No matter what you claim.”
She touches my hand; I whip it away from her.
“I-I think, someday, you’ll see Zekrom again.”
/fin of Chapter Five/
Ergh, opening quote for this chapter was really hard to find, fyi. I struggled a little with that.