VAE VICTISAuthor's Notes: This is rated for mature readers. It starts off with plenty of adult language and is planned to include depictions of: death, violence, drug use and abuse, most likely some sexual themes, and probably more spooky stuff that I have forgotten for now. It's, like, dark and stuff, man.
* * *
The daughter of a former Rocket steals a team of Pokémon and ships off to Orre to seek her fortune in the Colosseum – only to learn that the true cost of victory may be too much for even a criminal to bear.
* * *
This story is set in the canon of the third-generation games, with a few liberties taken. It takes place in Orre before the whole Shadow Pokemon debacle, to which the events in the fiction can be viewed as sort of a natural antecedent. In short, it is a story about the pursuit of power at all costs.
The worst part has to be the smell, Marion thought as she dipped under clinking champagne glasses and skirted platters of hors d’oeuvres, her blue-sequined shoulders spare inches away from any number of embarrassing spills. The cologne was tolerable enough, but the ladies that could be found at the Chairman’s soirées came in two broad stripes: girls up to Marion’s age, the daughters or nieces of the Vermillion elite, clutching their Snubbulls or Smoochums and invariably perfumed in cloying eau de sucre—is that what the mothers just assume girls like, she wondered, or was it voluntary, or maybe it was even some bizarre socialite rite of passage, necessary so that by the time they reached middle age, or older—category two—they’d lose their senses of smell entirely and smother on faux-riche (and authentically expensive) fragrances thick enough to choke a Nosepass—
* * *
A Gentleman caught her eye—oops—and she offered him a polite smile before correcting her posture: look vaguely lost, like you’re looking for someone, but not lost enough that anyone tries to help. Pupils dilated but not too dilated, back straight but not too straight, chin tilted to convey just the right amount of stubbornness; the rules available to children were different than those for adults, of course, but Marion figured she still had another few years, and there was no reason not to do things the easy way while you could.
She was looking for something, naturally. The Gentleman never left her peripheral vision, and the moment his attention lapsed she glanced back to spot-check his belt: ornate but flimsy clips, check; a Noctowl, a Growlithe and what’s this—Zangoose? Enticing. She met his eyes just as he turned back toward her. Confused child, friendly stranger.
This was her favorite part.
“Can I help you, miss?”
Marion offered him a skittish smile. “Um, I’m here with my grandfather, but I can’t find him, and I can’t see over the crowd that well...” A pause just less than long enough for the man to respond: “He has a big gray mustache, and sort of a brown suit, I guess, and he was wearing a hat like yours originally but I don’t know if he took it off or not—and if he did his hair’s all gray, and if not, um, the hat has a green stripe on it…”
The poor fool was already looking, bless him. Maybe needle-hunting in haystacks is this guy’s idiotic bourgeois hobby.
By the time he looked back, she was gone.
* * *
She looked up from her copy of Hoenn: A History as the floor tipped, crates sliding along the curved wall to elicit a chorus of creaking – an excellent counterpoint to the sloshing outside. The cargo hold’s solitary lantern flickered in time with its rocking and then went out altogether.
Marion groaned and let out several choice swears, then grimaced as the point-blank Pokéball flash nearly blinded her. Two blurry Growlithe silhouettes wavered before her a moment later.
“Hey, buddy,” she tried. “Pretty dark in here all of a sudden, huh? Not to mention damp.”
The beast sat. It stared at her blankly for a moment, then began scratching itself with a hind leg.
“So uh, can you just, like, make some fire? And keep it there and not burn anything? Is that a thing?”
Apparently satisfied with scratching, the Growlithe twisted its head around to lap between its legs.
“Are you even going to listen to me?”
She reached out to rap it with the book, wincing as her stiff legs uncurled. It caught the dog on the shoulder. “Hey, assface. I’m your trainer now, yeah? Check out all these sweet ****ing badges—oh, right, we can’t see.”
A beat passed, as if to illustrate the Growlithe’s feelings on the matter, and then the hold bloomed with light. That was carefully done, Marion noted—this thing is trained after all. I was starting to wonder. Sure enough, a fearfully battered case rested on her outstretched palms, the first four badges of the Kanto circuit twinkling dimly from its foam-lined interior.
* * *
“And the dress?”
“House call, manor district. Somebody’s dumb-**** kid left their window open, probably to sneak out. Nice wardrobe, too, but I didn’t really have time to shop.”
“You’re sure nobody saw you on the way back?”
Kenneth Cappello ran his thumb and pinky finger along his diminished hairline, his elbow on the kitchen table and his back curled into a comma, shoulder straps of his dockworker’s overalls hanging stiffly from the waist. The man who’d taught Marion everything she knew was quite aware of what his posture signified—but with his daughter, of all people, he could afford the luxury of weakness. She came over from the kitchen, set a plate in front of him: leftovers from the croquettes she’d made herself a few hours before. He thanked her as warmly as he could manage.
Three years now. God. He didn’t think like a Rocket anymore, he was almost certain, but Marion? Those years had been formative for her. He couldn’t blame her, of course, and for his own sake, he tried not to dwell on the past. Still, as he stared at the three Pokéballs on the table he felt them falling down a deep well inside of him, and it was all he could do to eat in silence.
“…Alright. Let’s see them.”
Marion summoned her new party one by one. The living room was by far the biggest space in their apartment, yet the three relatively small monsters barely allowed for the humans to walk between them. Even so, the inspection was brief—Kenneth knew what to look for.
“They’re well trained. The Growlithe is the strongest—probably on par with most Arcanine that were evolved sooner, but it should know better attacks than the average Arcanine would. You’d have to battle with it to see.”
He paused to look the Growlithe in the eyes, treating it to a brief but firm scratch under the chin, then turned to the Noctowl and addressed it directly. “You know how to Fly?”
The bird cooed in response. Kenneth nodded. “Thought so. This should come in handy—I don’t think there are restrictions on Flying in, ah…”
“Yeah, I looked it up. They don’t actually have Gyms there, so there’s not too much they can do. And, I guess they don’t really have Routes either? So it’s probably kind of necessary until I can drive…”
He nodded stiffly. Marion looked down.
“The, ah, Zangoose—is the least trained. Probably a new capture. And on top of that it’s willful, maybe an Adamant nature.” The monster in question fidgeted as though it understood the conversation (of course it did). Its eyes held a glare for anyone who cared to meet them.
At that, Marion broke into a hard-edged smile. “Sounds like fun.”
* * *
The flickering firelight was soothing, she decided. The Growlithe had settled down in an Ancient Shinx pose—its forelimbs straight out in front of its body—and was maintaining the flame over the tops of its paws to protect the wooden floor. When she straightened her legs, bare heels propped up on the middle of its back, the beast rumbled but didn’t move, and she smirked behind her book.
“Ha! Okay, so the Hoenn League subsidizes ****ing everything, and they have a billion bizarre sanctions for really trivial ****, all in the name of keeping the region pretty. Like, get this—there’s a flower shop obligated to give away Berries to literally anyone who passes through, every single day, to encourage Berry tree coverage, even though it’s technically a misdemeanor to harvest a Berry tree without planting a new one anyway!”
Marion looked up at the Growlithe with a grin, which sunk slowly into a glare at its serene, impassive face—it lay with its eyes closed, breathing steadily, as though it were purposefully ignoring her (of course it was). Frowning, she returned to her book in silence, pausing to glance at the creature as infrequently as she could manage. The damn animal was like a statue; she felt a mounting restlessness each time she looked at it.
At length, it boiled over.
“Yo, idiot dog!”
It opened its eyes and gazed sidelong at her, expectant, its flame steady as ever.
“...Uh, you can put that out now if you want to, I guess,” she said.
The Pokémon complied, and the room plunged into darkness. A shiver immediately passed through her, and in the absence of light, the sounds and smells of the ocean were once again impossible to ignore. Marion sighed, set down her book, and reached out through the impenetrable blackness directly in front of her, groping for the Growlithe’s head. She felt the animal stiffen, then relax a fraction as she began to scratch around its ear.
“Look…” she started.
“Look. Growlithe. I’m, um. I’m sorry for being rude to you. And for stealing you. I guess that probably bothered you, huh?”
She felt it nod, and, to her surprise, a pang of remorse bubbled up in response. Only a small one, though.
“You really liked that old guy?”
Marion sat in silence for a moment, her spare hand searching along the floorboards for the case of badges that lay next to her. She brushed her fingers across its surface in time with her strokes against the Growlithe’s rough fur.
“I guess I understand. When this is over with, I’ll bring you back, if you want. To thank you for helping me. And that goes for you guys too—” she tapped the Pokéballs now clipped very securely—and unglamorously—to her belt, “—if you want.”
At this, the Growlithe responded—a low, short whine. Marion had absolutely no idea what it meant, but decided to consider it progress. Several long moments came and went, uncountable in that utter darkness filled only by the sounds of the ocean—and then, all at once, she deflated. The hand that had been petting the Growlithe dropped into her lap, and she slumped back against the side of the ship’s hull, staring blankly into nothing.
“I’ve never had a Pokémon before, did you know that, Growlithe? I’ve never battled. Not once. Those badges ain’t mine, sorry.” She clutched them to her chest. “We’re gonna make a mess of things out there. I’m sorry for that, too.”
Stupid. The pity party would help no one, she knew. She should’ve at least recalled the Pokémon first—everyone knew that dominance was the key to dogs, after all, the same way it was with most people. But in this void of light, identical whether her eyes were open or closed, she couldn’t banish the faded grey image of her father as a boy, surrounded by his Pokémon—his team—his smile nearly as bright as the brand-new metallic case shining like a star in his outstretched hand.
With the waves beating restlessly against the little cargo ship, it was impossible to hear the Growlithe get to its feet, and so the warm, furry thing that landed on her took her completely by surprise. Her hands flew up, the free one drifting down to trace the curve of the Pokémon’s back, draped lengthwise across her lap, up to its head, before coming to rest behind its ear once more. She allowed herself a smile of her own, grateful for the dark—but a moment later an Ember bloomed, so gently her eyes needed no adjustment.
Hoenn: A History lay open, beckoning, and the smile wavered for only a moment before resolving into a grin.
* * *
The two-person Cappello household had always been relatively free of bustle, of noise; sparse to the point of asceticism, the stillness that descended upon it in the dead of night was absolute, save for the city’s constant ambient hum. Marion had always found it peaceful—she did even now, as she focused all her effort on navigating in utter silence, lest some errant creak of the warped old floorboards disturb her father’s too-sensitive hearing.
Kenneth’s League Challenge memorabilia were tucked away in the attic; the cardboard box that contained them was cobwebbed and time-eaten, its contents coated in dust. She brushed off a belt—plain, serviceable, its six clips rusted but strong. A travelling bag, its age-bleached canvas nearly worn through on the bottom, yielded four empty Pokéballs and a long-expired Potion before she set it aside. And underneath, the prize—memories surged forth of vast bay windows giving view to a sea of bright grass, her father sitting her on his lap and talking endlessly in a voice soothing and deep. How the badges twinkled in that afternoon light! How vivid her imaginings of battles won and harsh Routes conquered! Marion picked up the dull and battered case with reverence, fingertips streaking the dust. A paper was caught inside, wrinkled and warped by the case’s clasp and contents: an old, grey photo of her father with his Pokémon, holding the badge case aloft. She could look at it only briefly before she sniffed—damn this dust—and smoothed it carefully into a pocket.
The descent from the attic with her findings was slow and stressful, breath released in a silent sigh when each step once more failed to creak, then held sharply anew for the next. Her next stop was the Pokéballs left out on the kitchen counter, and then—and then—
Don’t even ****ing think about it. Marion grimaced as she threaded her father’s belt through the loops on her jeans and then clipped those brightly colored orbs to it one by one. Almost as an afterthought she fished that photo out of her pocket and stood there with it for one more long moment, feeling small and vulnerable even in that cramped and welcoming space, before setting it down in place of the Pokéballs as though she were leaving an offering.
The microwave’s timer read 2:05 in those angular, glowing green numbers; her transport departed at three. Her “ticket” was the last of her pocket money for a token bribe—the loaders would be friends of the family, after all, but still it paid to be courteous. Kenneth had always insisted that she never steal cash. It was petty, he said; it was beneath them, he said. Marion’s throat burned, and her expression darkened further.
No tears would fall in the Cappello household that night. It was time to go.
Supplies, check. Clothes, check. She wouldn’t need much—Orre was hot, or so she’d read. Pokémon, check. Cash, check.
One last look back: check...
Marion was, even she had to admit, scared shitless. It was only the defiant rage that welled up in her at that irrepressible lump in her throat that pushed the girl scowling over the dingy threshold—and even then she paused, as though held in place by some invisible force.
Ah. Of course.
“...Hey.” He didn’t have to speak. She knew he was there even before she turned, the way people can sometimes sense a loved one’s presence even when no sound, no motion betrays them. But by all the gods, the sorrow in that one word!
“Dad… I thought you were asleep,” she said dumbly.
“Couldn’t.” Kenneth was only ever articulate when he didn’t mean to be, when his eyes misted over and his thoughts were somewhere else. Now, though, he was entirely too present. Marion couldn’t look at him—she fixated on an anonymous point on the floor near her father’s bare foot, trying her damnedest not to blink. The girl knew without question that whatever she’d find in those soft brown eyes, so similar to her own, would push her over the edge—knew that to say goodbye, to apologize for attempting not to, to thank this man and wish him well: these would also. She couldn’t risk breaking—it was time to go!
Kenneth was only ever articulate when he didn’t mean to be. The rest of the time, he simply accepted his daughter without words. He stepped forward once, twice, and wrapped her up in a warm, silent hug. Fat, heavy tears leaked out against his shirt even as the young girl in his arms trembled with determination.
At last he drew back, fumbled awkwardly with his pockets. “Here—” A large, calloused hand found hers, pressed a wad of bills into it. “Don’t be late, now.” Marion couldn’t refuse, still couldn’t speak, so she nodded mutely, staring at the damp spot on his chest. Those tears drip-dripped slowly onto the concrete below, unacknowledged by girl or father, the former glaring resolutely downward, the latter looking her over with a grim smile.
“You’ll do good,” he said, as much to himself as to her.
She nodded again.
“Go,” he said.
And she turned and went, moving quickly, soundlessly, like a thief in the night.