Chapter One: The Monster's Message.
I stared up at the sky, the rain pouring down around me and hitting me in icy waves. Was this my town...? I could no longer remember. The sky above was growing black and thunder began to roar, letting loose a wind that cut into my damp skin, chilling me to the bone. I knew I had to run, had to get away. Something was coming for this town- something was coming for me- but I couldn't tell what it was. I glanced around the area, searching in futile for any signs of danger.
To my left was a building, dark and silent, as if it were caught in the throes of a horrible nightmare. The look of it sitting there, alone in the field, sent a shiver up my spine. As another guest of wind blew I shook my head, turning away from the sight and instead looking around for any clues about where I was at. All I could see was a forest ahead of me, outlining this small town and casting an ominous shadow in my direction. This dreadful feeling... Was it coming from there?
I hesitantly took a step forward, unsure of whether or not I wanted to know what was hiding inside of the darkness.
Another step forward.
I gazed intently at the trees, searching for any sign of movement, any sign that I wasn't going crazy. The wind roared past my ears, the rain drenching my clothes and making them stick to my skin. I fought off my fear, fought off the need to run away and continued to trudge through the storm.
Whatever's hiding, I can tell it doesn't belong here. It doesn't want to be here. At the same time, though, I can sense its urgency. What does it need to do so badly...?
I found myself standing at the tree line, too scared to step into the forest. The space between the trees seemed to darken, seemed to intensify, as if they were housing something far more sinister than shadows. I gulped. Whatever it was that was coming, it was close.
Lightning shot overhead and the wind howled as it tried desperately to escape from this oncoming force. I'm losing my mind... I thought to myself nervously. Nothing's here. I need to go back before the storm hits. I need to go home -
I stopped, frozen in place, as I stared into the trees. I couldn't continue my thoughts. I could only stand there, gazing back into a single, piercingly blue eye that had appeared in front of me within the shadows. Its glare felt strong and invasive- almost demonic- as if it was staring directly into my soul. Suddenly I began to feel as if I was drowning, as if this thing was suffocating me without even touching me. It was at that moment it spoke, a gasping, rattling sound that chilled me far worse than the storm ever could have.
"I need to deliver a message."
I shot straight up in my bed, gasping for air. I looked around wildly for the monster, the trees, the storm...
Only a messy, poster-covered bedroom. I fell back down onto my bed, trying to catch my breath. Another bad dream. That had to be the millionth one this week, but none of those had felt that... Strange. None of those had felt that real. I could've sworn I had actually been standing out in a field somewhere, drenched in the rain. My hair clung to my sweaty forehead as I gave a small groan of annoyance. Time for a shower, I guess. I pulled the blankets off of myself and stood up, wobbling at first before quickly gaining my balance. That monster had said something about delivering a message, too. What could that dream have meant...?
A scratching sound at my window knocked me out of my thoughts. I hesitantly stepped over and opened up the curtains, almost expecting to see a blue eye glaring back at me from the other side of the dirty glass. Instead I was greeted with the sight of an overgrown pine tree branch, the needles scraping against my window sill. With a sigh - was that disappointment I just felt? - I opened my window and let the cool morning breeze wash over me.
The scent of rain. Grinning, I leaned out the window and felt the gentle drizzle tap against my face as thunder roared overhead. So there really is a storm, eh?
The dream flashed through my mind again and realization fell upon me like the icy sheets of rain had in my nightmare. I knew exactly where the nightmare had taken place- I couldn't believe it hadn't all clicked together before now. As I gazed at the line of trees less than five blocks away, their shadows intermingling, a small shiver ran down my spine. I hadn't been far away from my house at all. In fact, the dream had taken place directly next to Professor Elm's research lab...
...Wait. Professor Elm!
I shot up but suddenly felt my head bounce back, a sharp pain searing across my forehead as I looked dumbly at the windowsill I had just hit. Groaning, I slowly began to regain focus on the task at hand.
How could I have completely forgotten? Today's the day! April first! I finally get to choose my first Pokémon! Searching for a clock, I began to panic. Had I slept in?! By instinct my eyes flew to the wall my bed was rested against, but the space where the clock had been was now inhabited by the diploma I had received for having graduated from years of classes at a trainer school. I cursed silently- replacing that clock was the stupidest decision I had made in ages. This had to be the millionth time I'd gone to look there for the time only to see that stupid piece of paper. My eyes finally found the alarm clock stationed on my nightstand and I breathed a sigh of relief. "Only eight-forty-five," I said to myself reassuringly. Trainers were supposed to arrive at the lab around ten, so I was just fine. As I sank back into reality with a sigh of relief, the nightmare flashed through my mind once more. It had felt so real...
I shook my head, turning to the posters lining my room in hopes of comfort. Over the years I'd actually amassed quite a collection: The three starters of the Johto region, different artists' drawings of legendary Pokémon, and tons of different famous trainers. As I looked around the room I whispered their names to myself in my mind, hoping in vain that the thought of them would help alleviate my stress.
Claire... Jasmine... Karen... Cynthia... Prudence...
My eyes lingered on her poster for a split second, an ecstatic look in her young eyes as the champion's crown slightly slipped over them, before I forced myself to wander over to the other posters that I'd chosen for my room. I had made sure to have a poster for every single gym leader of Johto, the region in which I lived. Falkner, Bugsy, Whitney, Morty, Jasmine, Chuck, Pryce, Claire... I loved how cool they all looked, but the posters that especially popped out to me were those of Cynthia. She was the champion of the Sinnoh region, but more importantly, she was my idol. On top of being a champion, she'd also defeated so many gyms and captured so many Pokémon that it wasn't even funny.
Whatever she did she always made sure to do well, something which I had taken to heart at a very young age. I frowned. She probably never had to deal with a boring little town where nothing happened like New Bark when she was growing up. The coolest thing to me, though, was that she was one of the only people who my mother could never defeat. It was considered treacherous to idolize such a woman after the war between Sinnoh and Johto that ended nearly a decade ago, but I had never been one to care for what others thought. I silently admired her poster as a flash of lightning outside temporarily lit up my room. She even looked cool... Her black outfit, her platinum-blonde hair, her piercing gray eyes...
"I need to deliver a message."
I let out another shiver, snapping out of my daydreams. That wasn't real, Zach. Stop making yourself think about it. With a heavy sigh I peeled myself away from my poster collection. I had to get ready for my first Pokémon! I navigated through the mess of my room, careful to avoid stepping on any heaps of clothes that could be covering up something valuable, before opening up the door and walking across the hall to the bathroom.
"Are you awake, Zach?" my mother called up to me from downstairs. "Want some breakfast to start your day off right?" The smell of cleaners and soap wafted up from the staircase leading to the living room, the first sign that it was a Friday morning. She'd more than likely spent the entire night cleaning the house, just like she always did at the end of each week. As I walked across the hall I couldn't help but wonder if the extra strength of the aroma this morning had anything to do with me leaving today. It seems like she's always reaching for the detergent whenever she doesn't want something to happen.
Oh well. It's alright, just as long as she doesn't start asking me to clean up my room again. I chuckled. It's the only room in the entire house that isn't ever perfectly clean besides the basement, and that's just because Mom's horrified there's monsters down there.
"Sure, Mom, thanks, but give me a few minutes. I'm going to take a quick shower first."
I strode into the bathroom and closed the door, undressing before I got into the shower and turned it on. Everything that had led up to this point seemed to flash through my mind. All my years in trainer school with my two friends Ashley and Duncan had finally paid off, and the three of us would finally be beginning our journey today. I'd graduated with them from the Violet City Pokémon Academy with honors in everything but battling and history, where I'd consistently received a mix of decent and horrible markings through-out my years of education. You could ask me all you wanted to about type advantages, but ask for me to use that as a strategy in battle or tell you how we'd lost the war with Sinnoh and I'd be screwed.
None of that battling or history stuff matters anyways, since I've graduated and can finally become a trainer. I could now collect my Pokémon on the first of any month, and my friends and I had chosen- with a little pushing from a certain someone- to start in April. I knew exactly how today was going to go down; I'd go ahead and eat breakfast, grab my things and then head off to Elm's lab, where I'd meet up with the legendary Pokémon researcher Professor Elm and his four aides in order to collect my very first Pokémon.
To some people, it might be sort of scary to go to a famous professor's lab and demand a Pokémon, but here in New Bark Town we all knew each other. In fact, his four aides- Prudence, Piper, and Paige Emerson- were all like sisters to me. In fact, they were all actually sisters, too. They'd each been around while I was growing up and had even babysat me when I was younger. We always used to play when I was little, and we still get to hang out a lot now when they aren't away doing research for the Professor.
Heck, I even had a poster of Prue that she gave me hanging up in my room. Hers were relatively rare, though, seeing as how she hasn't fought any gyms since she decided to become Elm's battle research assistant. Out of all the sisters, I'd have to say she was my favorite, too- she was just so strong, so pretty-
I shook my head, feeling my face turn bright red with embarrassment. I was getting off track... My brain must have been rattled from when I had hit it on the windowsill.
I turned off the shower and stepped out, drying myself with a towel and then wrapping it around my waist. As I left the bathroom I stole a glance at my reflection in the mirror; patches of dirty blonde hair were sticking out at horrifying angles, some dangling into my bright blue eyes. Laughing, I patted it down so that it fell neatly over my eyebrows like always. Wouldn't want to start my journey off with a bad hair day, now would I?
With that I rushed into my room to throw on some clothes, knowing that the sooner I got out of this house the sooner this boring story I called a life could come to an end. As I threw a black T-shirt over my head a cold gust of wind blew through my room - the wind roared past my ears, the rain drenching my clothes and making them stick to my skin - making me shiver, nature's way of reminding me to grab one of my favorite white zip-up hoodies. I was never one for wearing white clothes due to how messy I tended to be when it came to eating or drinking, but the Lugia silhouette across the front had cemented it as one of my favorite articles of clothing.
I casually glanced at my alarm clock as I walked out into the hallway, tugging the hoodie down over me. Nine-oh-five. Still plenty of time to eat before I head out. I casually walked down the stairs to the living room, careful to grab the backpack I had prepared the night before that was sitting at the landing. As I glanced around the living room, I quickly realized with a small groan that I had been right about my mother spending the entire night cleaning.
The living room was spotless; the windows to my front and left were absolutely immaculate except for the streams of rain sliding down their surfaces. The large TV tucked neatly into the corner where the two windows met was dusted completely with the documentary Search for the Red Gyarados flickering across its screen at a low volume, one of the few shows my mother and I both enjoyed watching together. The furniture, neatly arranged around the windows and TV to create our living room, looked as if it had been vacuumed. Directly to my right was my mother's trophy shelves, all of her cups and badges sparkling in the dim light the windows let in. Plastered above it was a home-made wooden sign with the phrase "It's good to be Queen" etched into it, my mother's trademark ever since she rose to fame for her battling skills.
I walked past the display, trying my best to forget its presence as I sat down at the dining room table. To the left of me, right next to the front door, was yet another window. The blinds were closed on this one, but I had a feeling that if I had opened them this window would be spotless as well. Mom seemed compulsive about having everything perfectly cleaned in her house. I smirked.
Except my room, that is.
"Ready for breakfast, little boy blue?" my mother asked with a smile, walking out from the kitchen with two plates already made. She smoothed out her black top, now covered with specks of hash browns and eggs, her brown eyes bright and energetic despite the long night she'd just spent doing chores. She sat a large plate in front of me that was almost overflowing with burnt bacon and soggy hash browns as she set hers down across the table from myself. She was the Queen of cleaning, alright, but cooking was never exactly her specialty. Behind her, an entryway and window gave access to a counter where the kitchen began, entirely white and sparkling after my mother's scrub-down. I quickly realized that the cleaner and soap I had been smelling had actually been coming from there, masking the faint scent of smoke still lingering from when I assumed the eggs burnt.
She took off her pink rubber gloves and placed them on the kitchen counter before picking up two glasses of milk and quickly turning back to face me, her slightly curly, shoulder-length brown hair bouncing around her. "Bacon, eggs and hash browns. Your favorite!" Well, it's the thought that counts. She sat down across from me and began to eat as I gazed at my plate, toying with my eggs before beginning to do the same.
"So, how'd you sleep?" she asked, stirring me from my thoughts as she took a bite of her bacon.
"Not so well..." I sighed, shoveling down my eggs. The eye flashed through my mind yet again, sending a shiver down my spine as I thought of what it had said. What message was it wanting to deliver...? I shook my head. It was just a stupid dream, Zach. Stop acting like you can find some sort of meaning behind it. Do you seriously have to analyze everything? A look of deep interest and concern had spread across Mom's face. Noticing it, I quickly continued. "I'd really rather not talk about it, though."
A flash of disappointment. "Oh? Why not?" she asked eagerly, using a fork to toy around with her food.
"No reason... Just because. Besides, I need to finish up here quickly if I'm going to be heading out to Elm's lab here in a few." I quickly moved on to my hash browns, none of them standing a chance against my fork and appetite. If cooked properly, hash browns could be one of my favorite foods of all time. Though this wasn't precisely the case, I had no qualms with eating as much of them as possible. "I was hoping to get there early and maybe get some tips from Prue and Piper on battling before everyone else shows up. We both know how much I'd need it."
She let out a little laugh. "Look outside, Zach! Do you honestly think I'm going to let you get your first Pokémon in this kind of weather? You're staying home! I can't believe I forgot how rainy it always is this month..." She looked off to the side thoughtfully before shaking her head and continuing. "I'm sure that May's probably a better month to begin your grand adventure anyways, right? It's definitely much warmer, that's for sure."
My jaw dropped as I held a piece of bacon up to it. "Wait... What?! Are you being serious?!"
"Well, it's not like it's the most brilliant idea to go out during a storm now, is it? No Pokémon will be running around, you'll catch a cold... Next month will be warmer anyways. Besides, it's dangerous out there in the rain. You never know what could happen."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Last month I didn't go because she figured it was far too cold for a lot of Pokémon to appear, and that would be the month most trainers started their journey so everything would be way too crowded. I had actually somewhat agreed with her logic then, but this... This was getting ridiculous.
I put my fork down, refusing to eat anything else. "I waited until April like you asked me to- all my friends did, too! I'm not waiting any longer! I want to get out there and be a trainer, just like you!"
She smiled at me, trying her best to hide the all-knowing look she gets on her face when talking about Pokémon. The look she knows for a fact that I hate with a burning passion. "Now, now, I get that and all. But being a trainer... It's a lot harder work than you realize. Trust me, an extra month of preparation would do wonders. I know how you want to be the best, and people who prepare themselves always do better!" The amount of thinly veiled self-admiration in her last sentence made me cringe.
"Do you honestly expect me to wait just because of a little rain, Mom? You know how much I love this kind of weather- we both do!" I felt trapped; there's no way she could honestly think some rain would stop me... Right? I could feel the anger bubbling up inside of me. "Can't you see that you're being ridiculous?"
"Well, you wanted to pick a Cyndaquil as your first Pokémon, right? It wouldn't be good for it to be in the rain!" She took a bite of her hash browns, laughing a little, as I lowered my head. She must've noticed how I wasn't kidding, as the next time she spoke her voice was much softer. "I realize it's a pain... But c'mon. We can get through this! I'm sure your friends will wait, too. Don't worry about it, Zach." She paused, contemplating something. "What if I were to say you could get it today and then leave after a couple of weeks when we're sure it wouldn't rain anymore?"
I looked back up at her, glaring, before I shoved my plate forward. "I'm finished." I sat up and pushed my chair in, grabbing my backpack and heading upstairs.
"Awww, Zacher-bear, don't be like that!" my mother called after me. "Come on, it's not that bad!" There was a moment of silence as I stomped up the stairs before she quickly added, "but if you're going to go to your room, sweetie, then why not clean it up a little?"
I trudged into my room and shut the door behind me, pressing my back against it as I thought of what I could do. No matter what, I had to get my Pokémon. Walking out the front door wouldn't do anything- my mom has some of the strongest Pokémon I've ever seen. I can't really fight her face-to-face about what I'm going to do. In fact, I never really had to before this- I almost always agree with what she has to say.
I was already beginning to feel bad at the thought of hurting my mother's feelings by stomping off like that, but I forced my guilty thoughts aside as I restlessly looked around my room. I had to find a way to get out of this house and get my first Pokémon! If I could get it, I'm sure someone at the lab- Prue, more than likely- would defend me if Mom stomped over and tried to drag me home. But... What could I do to get out of here?
There's always something...
As I stood there, lost in thought, a gentle breeze rolled through my room and washed over my face, snapping me out of my daydreaming instantly. "That's it!"
I ran over to my window, looking out at the pine tree. "Don't fail me now," I cautioned it, clumsily raising myself up onto the windowsill. I never was good at P.E., either. Why do I always have to suck at the really important stuff? As I gently stuck out a foot and placed it on one of the lower branches of the tree, something my mother had said downstairs came to mind.
"It's dangerous out there in the rain. You never know what could happen."
I snickered, shoving the thought out of my mind as I grabbed onto another branch and swung myself off the windowsill. Like what, Mom? Look at me! I'm fine! Before I knew it I was working my way down the tree, pine needles jabbing into me from all sides. I couldn't remember the last time I had climbed down this tree, but it seemed just as stable as it used to be. Thankfully this tree's on the side so mom can't see me. Now if I can stay nice and quiet, I might just get away with this -
A branch gave way underneath me, making me hurdle to the ground. With a loud yelp of pain I landed directly on my butt, branches and twigs cascading down around me. I was on my feet in seconds, rubbing my sore behind and letting out a small groan as I limped away from my house as fast as I possibly could. "Hopefully mom didn't hear any of that," I muttered to myself. "Not only would I get killed for sneaking out, but I'd probably get a nice 'I told you so' before the execution." I began to feel bad again, running away like this, but I knew it was the only way to become a trainer today. Who cares if it was childish? Once my mother makes up her mind about something, there's absolutely no going against her. Sadly, it sounded like she had made up her mind about me not leaving the house today.
I walked along, listening for the sound of my mother's yells when she realized what I'd done, but they never came. The soreness had already gone away since the fall wasn't far, and I knew if I had to I'd be able to sprint to Elm's lab if my mom started coming after me. As I continued the journey, my mind slowly started to drift from thoughts of my mother to thoughts of the adventure ahead of me.
The light rain was actually rather pleasant, and to me the sight of all these white houses lined up one after the other, their picketed yards wet with rain, was actually sort of pretty. If this is what I had ahead of me in the other towns, it would actually be sort of... Well, fun to travel, not just because of Pokémon, but because of the sights you'd see. Up ahead I could see Duncan's house and I stopped for a second, wondering if I should go tell him to come with me to the lab since he'll be going in half an hour or so anyways. I quickly remembered his father, though, who was the type of man that, if he even so much as had a small suspicion I had sneaked out, would drag me back to my mother kicking and screaming. Duncan could wait.
I trudged along in the drizzle, lightning cracking overhead as I turned the corner. Elm's lab was finally visible through the gentle rain, the building silent and dark in the midst of an approaching storm. With a laugh I quickened my pace, rushing past the last few houses on the block and making my way across the large clearing around his laboratory. I knew that even though the lights were off, Elm and the Emerson sisters were all in there preparing for the new trainers who would be coming within the hour. It's not like they're asleep...
They can't go to sleep, right? They're always working. Always. But if that's the case... Why does it look so... Deserted?
A single thought shot through my mind, chilling me to the core.
To my left was a building, dark and silent, as if it were caught in the throes of a horrible nightmare.
I stopped in my tracks, gazing at the building for a second. It's just like my dream... But... But that's impossible. It's just a coincidence... Despite telling myself that, I turned to the right, gazing nervously towards the line of trees so far away from me in the distance. There was a part of me afraid of what I would find within those shadows if I went to look. The more I stare at it, the more trees that seem to appear. They're everywhere.
All I could see was a forest ahead of me, outlining this small town and casting an ominous shadow in my direction.
I shivered, beginning to walk towards the lab again as I gazed out past the clearing and into the forest. This is getting too weird. Way too weird. I need to get inside. Fast.The rain began to pick up, slapping against my face as a rough wind blew past me. The wind intensified, lightning cracking overhead as the gentle drizzle began to turn into a downpour. The storm was almost here.
The wind roared past my ears, the rain drenching my clothes and making them stick to my skin.
I fought off the memory of my dream, desperately wanting to scream at myself to stop thinking so much as I neared the laboratory. I was close enough to it I felt as if I could taste the brand new life that was about to begin- all the accomplishments I was going to have, all the friends and people I would meet... I would never have to worry about having a boring life in some small little town ever again.
That's right, Zach, distract yourself.
I laughed as I neared the corner of the building, mostly to quiet my nerves. Not far now... Not far... I glanced back at the forest again, as if to try and shrug off the strange power it seemed to have had over me after my dream, but found myself frozen in fear instead. A single, piercingly blue eye stared back at me from behind the line of trees. It widened, noticing my gaze, and in an instant it disappeared.
I couldn't move.
That... That was just my imagination... Th-there's nothing there now... A shiver ran down my spine. I couldn't deny what I'd seen, even from such a distance. It was exactly like in my dream. I couldn't move my eyes from where I'd seen it, couldn't take a step away, I felt as if I couldn't even breathe. What's going on here...? What exactly's hiding in those trees...? What's coming after me...?!
The space between the trees seemed to darken, seemed to intensify, as if they were housing something far more sinister than shadows.
I tried to speak, tried to do anything, but all that came out of me was a high-pitched whistle. Then, from within the trees, the shadows began to churn. I stared, wide-eyed, as part of the forest's unified shadow moved forward, breaking away slowly at first, then picking up speed. It began to shoot along the ground, separating itself completely from the darkness underneath the trees as it zoned in on its prey. I tried to move, tried to run, but I felt as if I couldn't control my own body anymore. I can't even scream. This... This thing. It's finally found me.
I knew I had to run, had to get away. Something was coming for this town - something was coming for
me - but I couldn't tell what it was.
The shadow stopped abruptly in front of me, a perfect, black circle that was unaffected by the falling rain. Then, before my eyes, it began to morph. A silvery-white strand of what looked like smoke rose from the middle of the shadow, and as more of the figure appeared I saw that the smoke was coming from a dark black head, a red chain showing up around the creature's neck. Its blue eye stared at me yet again, the other hidden beneath the silvery smoke.
I let out a low moan of protest, trying to shake my head but unable to do anything at all as this- this thing began to suffocate me with some strange power. The creature continued to gaze at me, its breath rattling in the cold, rainy air as my mother's words echoed through my mind yet again. "It's dangerous out there in the rain. You never know what could happen." I wished I had listened to her, wished I had stayed inside as the creature shortened the gap between the two of us. I couldn't move my eyes away from the monster, couldn't run, couldn't scream as it slowly began to speak to me, its rattling voice whispering through the rain the six words that filled me with more fear than I had ever thought possible.
"I need to deliver a message."