The following two links are to material that may help you if you need them.
Backstory Post - Events prior to the beginning of Operation GEAR summarized
Character page on TVTropes
And now, it all begins again.
I will give no great speech to commence the start of this story, because I don’t think there is any need for such a thing. While this is the completion of the Operation GEAR storyline, both of the previous installments were mainly introductions to the characters and world, and are absolutely not necessary to read first. The events of The Firestorm Rebellion and The Victory Star of Fate will be transcribed very early in this story as well.
As you can see, this story has an R rating, which has been approved by Dragonfree after some rigorous testing. It will be tackling some darker material than what I usually do; among these subjects are cults, extremely unethical scientific experimentation, various types of discrimination, strongly implied sexual content and homelessness. In addition, war and mental illness may be touched on, there’s a plotline about a serial killer, and a plotline will have discussion of a character who was raped – before anyone jumps to conclusions about this just from reading that, I have literally put months of work and research into ensuring that the subject will be handled tastefully and respectfully, and I can promise that it is relevant, not simply included for edginess.
If you’re still with me after all of that, thank you. Now, buckle up and prepare as we spin a tale of many different quests gone completely wrong…
CHAPTER 1: The Day an Angel Fell to Earth
Deep within the vast complex, a pair of white-coated scientists hurried down a cold, metallic hallway. One of them, a woman wearing her black hair in a bun, was shuffling through the papers in her hands in a panic.
“You’re saying it started a half an hour ago?” the male scientist with her said. “Why did it take me so long to be informed?”
“Thirty-four minutes to be precise, Dr. Zager,” the woman meekly offered. “And the team had to stabilize her immediately, otherwise you wouldn’t even have the time to get here.”
“It’s that bad?” Zager adjusted his thick, round glasses and picked up the pace of his stride. “I was afraid of this happening…”
The pair arrived at a large door bearing the symbol of a double helix twisting into a shape resembling the letter ‘P.’ Zager withdrew an identification card printed with his photograph and touched it to a scanner next to the door, causing it to give way.
The laboratory within was a clutter of computer equipment. Another, smaller door lay on the opposite end of the room between two system towers. A loudspeaker system was set up to connect the two sections of the lab, and at the moment Zager and his aide entered, it was filling the air with the sound of a woman’s agonized screams punctuated by the beeping of a heart monitor. Several other scientists were doing their best to handle the situation at their computers, but the frantic mood in the room was overwhelming them.
Without hesitation, Zager ran to his main workstation, a thick laptop running imaging of a DNA strand. A tiny, yellow spider Pokémon jumped up on the table next to it, but Zager waved her off.
“Joltik, not right now. I’m busy.” Reaching into his pocket again, Zager took out a disk, inserted it into the computer, and typed a command.
The computer responded with the text, “GENETIC ENCRYPTION PASSKEY ACCEPTED. ACCESSING POLARIS AMINO BASE MAINFRAME. AZRAEL PROJECT OPERATING SYSTEM, VERSION 7.3 ACTIVATED. USER LOGIN: GABRIEL ZAGER. NINTH OCTOBER, YEAR 1987. System ready…”
The moment the login sequence ended, Zager typed in, “Activate voice command input system.”
“SWITCHING TO VOCAL INPUT MODE. VOCAL INPUT MODE CONFIRMED.”
“Alright, now that that’s settled… turn on direct voice communication, control room to procedure room.”
“CONTROL ROOM TO PROCEDURE ROOM VOICE COMMUNICATION STATUS: ACTIVE.”
Turning his head up, Zager said out loud, “Chimere, I’m here. Give me some idea of what’s happening to you!”
“What do you… think?!’ the woman in the next room screamed back, in between bouts of gasping for air. “You… you all promised me…”
“...that this wouldn’t happen, I know…” Zager finished, hanging his head.
“Dr. Zager, we’re standing by for your orders,” another voice, this one male, said from the procedure room. “We have to do something.”
“She needs painkillers…” Zager’s aide suggested.
“No, Barbara, we can’t…” the doctor swiftly contradicted. “Computer, bring up the most recent full-body imaging scans. Heat, energy, all of them.”
“ACCESSING FULL BODY IMAGING RECORDS, FIFTH OCTOBER, YEAR 1987. LOADING.”
Images of a woman’s body appeared on the screen, and when Barbara saw them, she gasped. “It’s… taken over her body…”
“See, you didn’t pay as close attention to these as I did.” Taking hold of the mouse next to his keyboard, Zager clicked through the images. “I think you see what I mean now, but… computer, bring up blood flow and immune response, side by side.”
“BLOOD FLOW AND IMMUNE SYSTEM RECORDS.” The charts Zager requested appeared on the screen.
“See, look at this. It’s been developing all these months but these are the worst it’s ever been.”
“You’re right, Doctor…” Barbara whispered. “We give her medication of any sort with most of her blood flow going right to the child, it’ll end up going right there with everything else. Who knows what would happen…”
“We played God and this is what we got…” One of the scientists working in the room with Zager and Barbara suddenly stumbled away from his computer. Shaking violently, he turned in the direction of the room where Chimere was suffering. “We did this. We killed her. All for a foolish, idiotic dream...”
The man’s body gave out on him, leaving him to fall against a nearby desk. He started to gag, then wretched the contents of his stomach into the waste bin next to him. Soon after, another of Chimere’s screams pierced the room, causing Zager and Barbara to jump.
“Chimere? Chimere, stay with us, here! You’ve gotten this far, you can make it!”
“You...lied to me… Zager… just… just get this thing out of me and end this! I don’t want this anymore!”
“Computer, real-time body imaging…”
“REAL-TIME BODY IMAGING ACTIVATED. SCANNING. LOADING.”
As soon as the scan of Chimere’s body appeared on Zager’s screen, his face sank. Taking a deep, labored breath, he typed a new command.
“Deactivate voice command input system.”
“DEACTIVATING VOCAL INPUT MODE. SWITCHING TO MANUAL TEXT INPUT MODE.”
Picking up on the tension in her superior, Barbara nervously asked, “Dr. Zager?”
“She… no. There’s no way she’ll survive. Not with that amount of blood going to the child. I should have realized this would happen when I saw the tests…”
“What do we do, then?”
Before Zager could answer, Chimere’s screaming reached earsplitting volume, accompanied by what sounded like something violently hitting against a plastic surface.
“Dr. Zager!” the male scientist in the procedure room shouted. “I think we’re out of time… my… my God…”
Zager and Barbara just kept staring at the computer’s screen as the screaming got louder and louder, having long passed the point where Chimere could form any coherent words. The tension in the room increased every time the heart monitor beeped.
And then, the screaming broke and abruptly ceased. The heart monitor droned on with an unending tone.
“It’s over…” Zager mumbled, “...I hope.” He then typed in the command, “Full body scan.”
“FULL BODY SCAN ACTIVATED. SCANNING. LOADING.
RESULTS OF AZRAEL PROJECT OPERATION
SUBJECT A. RECOGNIZED AS HOST BODY. HEART RATE ZERO. PULSE ABSENT. RUNNING VITALS CHECK… DIAGNOSIS: EXSANGUINATION. STATUS: DECEASED.”
“Chimere, find a rest worthy of what we did to you…”
Barbara raised a shaky finger and asked, “What does it mean, ‘subject A?’”
As if to answer Barbara’s question, the sound of a baby crying filtered through the loudspeakers.
“SUBJECT B. UNKNOWN. SCANNING FOR FURTHER DATA… MATCH FOUND. SUBJECT B RECOGNIZED AS AZRAEL. RUNNING VITALS CHECK… STATUS: HEALTHY.”
“W-what have we done…” the scientist in the procedure room mumbled.
“I hope whatever deity there is up there has mercy on our souls…”
“Why, Zager? This should be a cause for celebration.”
Both Zager and Barbara spun around to face a video screen mounted on another wall. The individual addressing them from it was obscured by shadows, with only a pair of light-filled glasses clearly visible.
“F-Father,” Zager uttered in fear. “Please…”
“I am not angry with you, Zager.” When the man Zager called ‘Father’ spoke, it sounded as if several people were talking at once, obscuring his true voice. “I am quite proud. It seems your program has born fruit for Polaris.”
“I can only wish it had worked out according to the vision I had for this program. You… you told me this was meant to be research for helping cure disease. I don’t understand why it had to go like this…”
“I didn’t lie to you, Zager. This will help rid mankind of disease as we know it. It will also do much more than that. It’s about time I told you about the true vision of Polaris… the true meaning of the Azrael Project.”
Four years ago
May 1, 2008
The years had not been kind to the Polaris research team. As time passed from that fateful day in 1987, member after member fell away from the group. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the scientist who had lost his composure in Dr. Zager’s lab that day was the first to go; he simply stopped attending work within a few months of the incident and disappeared, rarely being spoken of again as the result of some unwritten rule. Over the next few years, the others peeled off one by one, some quitting the organization for their own reasons, others simply disappearing without a word. Finally, at the end, Dr. Zager himself disappeared from Polaris’s ranks, following a series of highly disappointing reports on the status of the child created that day, Azrael.
Perhaps coincidentally, Dr. Zager’s disappearance was fourteen years to the day Azrael was born.
Many more members joined Polaris over the intervening time both before and after Zager’s departure, plenty of them scientists and doctors, but of the original team that worked to create Azrael, only three remained. Barbara was one, while the two men, their faces now plagued by lines of age and their hair now graying, still worked in Polaris’s labs as well. Not much had changed over the years, even with the vast upgrades their technology had received.
“I think Father’s finally lost his old mind,” one of the scientists bitterly said to the other, as they both sat at computer consoles. He gestured to the object of their current experiment, a large test tube between the two computers, which contained a tiny speck of fleshy matter floating in green liquid. “He hasn’t been the same since Azrael failed, but this? This is ridiculous.”
“I hear you. There have been some odd experiments we’ve worked on, but communicating with a brain synapse? Dr. Zager wouldn’t have wasted Finansielle’s funding like this. This guy in charge now is just insane.”
“What’s that? Did I hear you two discussing me?”
Without the notice of the two scientists, a third man had slipped into the room behind them. He could be distinguished by his prematurely-graying hair, styled with two spikes on the right side, three on the left, and two long bangs hanging over his bespectacled face. Perhaps more startling, though, was the giant scar that formed a blood-red arc across his visage. His clothing was mainly shades of black and gray, though the coat he wore beneath his cape was outlined with yellow.
Immediately, the two scientists, who were clearly subordinates of the third, stiffened up from nerves.
“Well, no, of course we wouldn’t be, sir…” the first fumbled.
“You know, you’re a terrible liar. I overheard everything. You’re lucky we’re on such a tight schedule, though. What you call a waste of Finansielle’s money is actually a vital project for Polaris’s plan, vital enough that it just got you off of a punishment for insubordination. What’s the status of Project J?”
“There have been no responses thus far, sir,” explained the second of the underlings. “However, Project J has showed continued molecular stability and zero signs of degeneration.”
“Excellent, that means it’s still perfectly preserved. Continue trying to reactivate it, and let me know if it…”
The sound of beeping from the computer console interrupted the man’s sentence, but it turned his expression into one of excitement. Readouts on the screens that had previously displayed only straight, flat lines now were spiking and falling rapidly.
“I… really? Project J… it’s communicating with us, sir!”
“Switch over to real-time translation of those waves!”
Sufficiently cowed by his superior’s joyous outburst, the first of the two scientists swiftly entered a command into his computer, replacing the wave patterns with lines of written text.
“Hello? Where am… I?”
“The laboratory of Polaris,” one of the men typed in response. “We’ve separated you from your body and kept you alive.”
There was a pause as the entity in the tank considered what it had been told. “What do you intend to do with me?”
The leader of this rather odd team leaned over one of the computers and typed in his own comment. “We are going to see if we can create a new body for you and put you in it. We want to see if you will survive.”
“Please, give me a new body! I want one! Give me a new body and I’ll work for you, even!”
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” the first scientist whispered out loud. “Project J is fully active.”
“I must present this news at the next meeting of the Sacred Helix,” the leader declared, pulling a golden mask in the shape of a feline Pokémon from his black cape and affixing it to his face. “This development is an important day in the progress of Polaris’s goal.”
Light shining down from several large spotlights illuminated the two women contained within the circular desk fixture. Shackled and dressed in rags, they presented a strange, unsettling sight, and this was not helped by the blank facial expressions both wore as they slowly danced around the circle.
The first of the two women to speak was the one with flowing purple hair. “When the vast white flame of truth burns out…” she said in a breathy, flat voice, “…and the deep black thunder of ideals dissipates into nothing…”
“That gray void of nothing…” her counterpart, distinguishable by her green ponytail, completed. “That is the Day of Reckoning.”
“Thank you so very much, Anthea, Concordia,” uttered one of the seven people sitting at the desks, every word of his dripping with sarcasm. This man was the only one of the seven to not be wearing some kind of mask, instead opting for a red eyepiece that covered only his right eye. His entire appearance was fittingly bizarre – his pale green hair had a trio of strands hooking around, one on each side and another atop his head. His clothing was even stranger, consisting of a black, tattered cape hemmed with red; underneath it was a jet-black suit accentuated with yellow bands around the wrists. Apparently a designation of his rank, his seat was identified with the number ‘3’ on the front of his desk. “Fellow members of the Sacred Helix, as you can see, the traitorous waste known as the Tenganist people know information that will assist us in pursuing our true ideals!”
“We didn’t need your Gypsy carnival dance show to learn that, Ghetsis.” This was the man from the science lab overseeing Project J, who now wore his mask to hide his scarred face. He was sitting at the seat numbered ‘8.’
“Watch it, Jeunes,” reproached the number-four executive, a woman whose nearly-full head and shoulder armor left her slightly-aged-looking nose and mouth areas as the only indications of her gender aside from her voice. “There is no need for such pettiness between members of the Sacred Helix. You have all been chosen for a reason.”
“Yes, Finansielle. Please forgive me.”
“Might I also urge Jeunes to remember he’s the leader of section eight while I’m the head of section three,” Ghetsis saw fit to add, turning his sarcasm on his colleague.
The man sitting at the seat for section number two would have none of this. “And I would urge you, Ghetsis, to remember your place. You had all three Angels within your grasp in Unova and you let them slip away. That failing set us back by years and cost a substantial amount of funds to recover from. We cannot sustain any such failure again.”
Ghetsis could not respond. His incredible pride was damaged, and it left him unable to do anything but stare at the man who had belittled him. Staring back was that man’s own unique mask, which loaned him the appearance of a Darkrai; the left half of his face was covered by flowing white plumage, while an opaque eyepiece in a half-circle shape covered the right.
“The big story that everyone’s talking about tonight is the upcoming meteor shower surrounding the closest pass of the meteor Persephone-2213 to Earth in over a thousand years, and we’ll be back in a few minutes to get more in-depth on it.”
It was night in the Pewter City Museum of Science, and as such, the building was dark and empty. Only a single night watchman – a portly, gentle-looking individual - remained, and he was perfectly content to remain in his security booth watching the news on television and snacking absentmindedly from a box of doughnuts.
His complacence was directly the reason why he did not notice the infiltrator who slipped into the museum.
Moving quietly and blending into the shadows, the mysterious invader slipped past several displays of relics from ancient cultures. As interesting as those displays were to him, he had a mission and intended to stick to it. At the entry to a larger hall, he stopped and glanced carefully around, eventually spotting a security camera positioned up on the wall straight ahead.
He leaned down and smiled. “Do you really think such a feeble defense can stop me?”
On the wall next to him was a fuse box sealed with four screws; luckily for the thief, he had come prepared with a screwdriver. He wasted no time in using the tool to remove the screws, and once they were gone he removed the metal plate from the console, exposing the blinking lights of the fuses within.
Quietly, the thief raised his right arm, causing the material of his bodysuit to make a stretching sound. The air around his hand crackled with static electricity, ending with a lightning bolt flowing from his palm into the fuses, overloading them and blowing out the entire museum’s power.
In his booth, the watchman had finally taken notice of something amiss when the lights went out. However, he was too slow to act, and when the power system shorted out, the museum went into automatic lockdown – which included the door in and out of his small room.
While the guard cursed the door and attempted in vain to work it open, the intruder was completely unaffected by the lockdown. With a special silver briefcase in hand, he strode across the wide hall to a certain exhibit – a pair of shining glass orbs, one with angular, uneven surface, and the other with a smooth surface.
Setting the briefcase carefully on the floor, he read the sign in front of the exhibit out loud, “Adamant Orb and Lustrous Orb.”
These treasures were his objective, so he set about the process of taking them. Aware of an invisible laser barrier shielding the two orbs, he set his hand down on the edge of the exhibit platform, sending a surge of his electricity through it. The two pedestals supporting the pair of orbs each suffered a small explosion and collapsed, dropping the precious items down to the ground, where they were no longer within the boundaries of the laser barriers.
Knowing that he could not reach the Adamant Orb and Lustrous Orb manually, the intruder searched around the room for something to use, ultimately settling on a yellow-and-blue hooked staff once wielded by an ancient king. This tool was originally placed next to a replica of a similarly-colored sarcophagus, but now, the burglar simply used it to carefully pull the orbs to himself. He collected the orbs one at a time, setting them carefully within the foam outlines inside his briefcase.
His work finished, he sealed up the case and started walking back the way he came. However, something caught his eye on the way, prompting him to stop. It was a relief cut into white stone, depicting three humanoid Pokémon with long tails riding on clouds.
“The Legendary Pokémon said to have been sealed on Emeraude Island, Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus…” He chuckled as he shook his head. “It’ll have to wait, but your time will come…”
Abruptly turning around, the enigmatic figure discovered another exhibit, one that excited him even further – a large capsule, roughly seven or eight feet tall, sealed at its top by an airtight lock.
“So we meet at last, Zoroark…” The thief could barely contain the thrill in his voice as he slowly approached the capsule. “You’ve been trapped in there for so long, but please wait just a little longer. I promise to you that I will return and free you, and at that point, your reign will begin!”
Route 26, right on the border between Johto and Kanto, was a long, lightly populated stretch of land. One of the few buildings on the road was a florist shop, heavily overgrown with many kinds and colors of flowers.
A fairly nondescript black car pulled up to the shop, and its driver stepped out. He was a tall man dressed in a heavy black trench coat, using a fedora and a pair of dark sunglasses to further conceal his identity. As he strolled deliberately into the shop with a suitcase in his hand, he was greeted by its counter clerk.
“See anything you like around here?” the clerk inquired, gesturing to the countless flowers around the inside of the building. He was perfectly able to talk despite his identity, in fact, being a Meowth didn’t seem to reduce his humanity at all. Once he got a better look at the customer, however, he froze. Turning to the back room, he yelled, “Hey, you two, get out here!”
“Be quiet, Meowth, we’re coming.”
The fiery red-headed woman who replied to Meowth’s call soon appeared, alongside her somewhat-effeminate-looking male companion. Both were dressed in plain brown clothes, and the male half of the duo had blue hair of a moderate length. The only unusual characteristic between the two of them was the extremely long ponytail worn by the woman.
Both took a moment to analyze their visitor. Glancing over him, they did not immediately react, but when he removed his sunglasses to reveal his vivid green eyes, they realized who he was.
“Pierce, what are you doing here?” the man asked, hushing his voice deliberately. “Things changed, don’t you know?”
“And I’m here to tell you things have changed again,” Pierce forcefully explained, his deep voice almost shaking the room. “Jessie, James, Meowth, I have orders related to me from the boss to come here and pick you up. Do you have your Pokémon?”
Jessie and James checked their belts; she had two Poké Balls, while James had one. After verifying this fact, they both nodded to Pierce, who replaced his glasses and turned for the door.
“Come with me. There’s a car outside waiting for you.”
Though they were confused, Jessie, James and Meowth followed Pierce anyway. Once they were outside and walking to Pierce’s car, though, Jessie decided to confront him.
“Just what is this all about, Pierce? You come here, barge in and disrupt our lives… you know you have no right to do that.”
“You left your suitcase back there, too…” added an equally-disturbed James.
Pierce did not answer, instead, he silently led the trio to his car and beckoned them in through a door that he opened for them. Once they were seated, he got into the driver’s seat and closed his door, then raised up his hand and snapped his fingers.
Outside, the building Jessie, James and Meowth lived in exploded in flames. All three of them gasped, and much to her frustration, Jessie’s Wobbuffet escaped from its ball to join the chorus of dismayed groans.
“What do you think you’re doing, you punk?!” Meowth screeched.
“Code Black Seven has been initiated by Giovanni,” Pierce uttered while staring straight ahead. “The lives you knew are now at an end.”
Immediately, the mood in the car changed. Jessie, James, Meowth and Wobbuffet were all cowed by Pierce’s announcement, and their attitudes became somber.
“That means Polaris has finally made its move, then,” Jessie commented.
“Is the boss alright?” James asked immediately after Jessie spoke. “We aren’t too late, are we?”
“Giovanni is fine, but he is under house arrest and being closely monitored. I have been sent to escort you to the Executives who will be commanding your operations from this point forward.”
A gentle breeze blew through New Bark Town, a peaceful district in the Johto Region’s southeast. Once a completely residential location that required its citizens to take the short stroll to nearby Cherrygrove City for supplies, time had passed and the touch of tourism had arrived; a few hotels, shops, restaurants and other facilities now stood anachronistically alongside the stately wooden homes and power-generating windmills.
One such building was a twelve-floor hotel and spa that towered over much of the town. Lodging was provided from the third floor up, while dining and shopping took up the second floor and spa services occupied the first.
The spa offered hot tubs within private spaces for rental usage. Two women and a younger girl were lounging in one of these units, attempting to relax after several stressful days. They were watching the same news broadcast as the security guard at the Pewter Museum.
“Experts predict that the closest point of Persephone-2213 will not come for several more months, but the meteor showers resulting from its debris field have already begun. Some small meteorites have gone astray from their field and struck the planet, but none of them are large enough to cause significant damage. One of the larger meteorites crashed two weeks ago at the Ruins of Alph in central Johto, and excavation is about to get underway to examine it.”
“Nekou, Bunny, isn’t that interesting?” said the girl, her voice somewhat tempered by her worn nerves. She moved around, allowing her long, curly blue hair to drift gently in the water. “I think I should thank you guys, too. I’ll find my dad with the help you’re giving me.”
“You’re very welcome, Olivia,” responded the woman who was farther away from the girl, who could be distinguished by her two ponytails formed from her warmly brown-hued hair and her striking blue eyes. “You’re Matt’s apprentice, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t help you out too.”
“Ordinarily I’d just say to watch out for yourself and no one else, but this time, I’ll have to agree with Bunny.” The woman in the middle was perhaps the most unusual of the three. She wore glasses and had hair colored black with red streaks that flowed everywhere, and her left arm was held up by a white sling. A huge bruise occupied her left shoulder, forcing her to switch her right hand between the can of beer and tube of potato chips she’d placed next to herself. “Counting on others is a good way to be disappointed, Olivia. But if you can find someone that is worthy of your trust, well… that’s pretty cool, you know?”
“It’s worth noting, though,” Bunny commented as Nekou took a huge slurp out of her beer before crunching a mouthful of chips, “that it’s Matt’s money paying for our luxury accommodations right now.”
“He’s always like this,” explained Olivia, “even when it’s completely out of place. He’s always trying to do favors to try and convince people he’s nice, or something. He shouldn’t have to do so much to make people like him.”
“That sucks pretty ****ing bad,” Nekou blurted out, not bothering to check the expletives that came out in her bored-sounding speech even though Olivia was around. “I mean, I’m not complaining, I get a free spa trip out of it. I’m just saying that I don’t believe in trying to cover or apologize for who you are. When people pulled that on me, I told them to shove it. I couldn’t live like that.”
Bunny took a deep breath, feeling awkward due to Nekou’s casual outburst. Deciding to transition the conversation to a different topic, she said, “So, Olivia, you’re going to finally get a starter Pokémon and become a formal trainer tomorrow. Have you given any thought into what Pokémon you’ll choose?”
“Well, Professor Elm can offer me Chikorita, Cyndaquil or Totodile, right? I could go with Totodile, since it’s a Water-type. My dad would approve of that. But… Cyndaquil is really cute, too, but I don’t know if I could go with a Fire-type…”
“Shifting gears from the meteor shower,” said the voice of the newscaster on the television near the hot tub, “we now bring you an update on another story that’s been gripping the nation: the serial killer known as Kiss of Death.”
Olivia, Nekou and Bunny had their conversation interrupted by the news report, but as they became interested in what the report had to say, they weren’t bothered.
“The Kiss of Death killer has struck again. Melvin Clemens, a management director for the Angel Corporation, was found brutally murdered in his Viridian City apartment last night. Fitting with the pattern of her previous crimes, the scene was left completely, spotlessly cleaned of all signs of her presence. Only the horribly mangled body of Mr. Clemens was left behind, and all DNA evidence was removed, leaving only the signature imprint of the shape of the killer’s lips in the victim’s blood on him.”
The screen then changed what it displayed, replacing the newscaster with a bony-faced man whose rigid gaze was framed by thick eyebrows and thin, flat black hair. Olivia nearly jumped out of the water, as she recognized him immediately.
“That’s Detective Looker!” she exclaimed, before explaining, “He helped us out five years ago! You know, back when my dad was still around to fight the bad guys…”
“Don’t dwell on that,” Nekou said sharply, “let’s listen to what he’s got to say now.”
“Developed have we a picture of definition on this most vicious serial killer,” Looker spoke on the television. “All of the murders being associated with this killer have exhibited the signs of sameness, yes. Always the victim’s body gets dropped and left behind in a terribly mutilated state of being, along with the calling card of the killer’s signature, her lips being cast in the blood of the dead one. All genetic evidence that would show leads is, sadly to be saying, destroyed at the scene of each and every committed crime.”
“You know, a story like that is kind of romantic in a sense.”
“Romantic?” hissed Bunny, her voice completely giving away how much Nekou’s comment bothered her. “It’s a sick mass murderer! How can that be romantic?”
“Well, think about it. Maybe she has more motives than simply just killing. And for the romantic part, I mean, she only kisses every one of her victims with their own blood on her lips. I can’t help but feel like there’s more to the Kiss of Death story is all I’m saying.”
Having spent the last few minutes absorbing the words of those around her, Olivia suddenly blurted out, “I wonder where Matt is? I thought he said he was going to join us.”
“Oh, he’s probably off jerking around somewhere, probably literally.” Nekou sighed and sipped her beer before adding, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get some pizza and leave him out of it. **** him if he doesn’t want to hang out with us.”
Though she was wrong, Nekou probably would have made the same joke even if she truly did know about what was going on four floors above them.
Most of the lights in the spacious room the quartet shared were out, aside from the lamp on a desk near the window. Additional light floated from the room’s television – tuned to the same news report as the one in the spa – as well as from the blue tablet computer in the hands of the tall, leanly-built man sitting on one of the beds. He was dressed in a simple white shirt made of light material and black pants.
Matt was staring emptily at the screen with his right eye, his left covered by an eyepatch patterned with a purple rose. The object of his depressed fascination was a photograph, depicting a younger, less-disheveled version of himself standing with a younger Olivia and two others, a suited man with spiky blue hair and a vaguely tomboyish woman whose purple hair was bobbed short.
Feeling a spike of sorrow, the man adjusted his glasses and brushed aside the lock of his shoulder-length blonde hair that hung over his right eye. He then reached to the table, taking an ornate silver flask in his right hand and sipping from it before returning it to its place.
“All of the people whose lives have been destroyed or lost just to get to this point…” Sliding his finger across the tablet’s screen, he brought up a new photograph. This one was of a young woman wearing a frilly green dress that gave a soft complement to her ice-blue pigtails and eyes. He felt another horrible pang of sadness when he set eyes on this one. “Rich, Anabel, Eleanor, Agenta… I’ll take all the grief surrounding you onto myself. It’s my fault all of this happened, and I’ll make my quest for the truth bring you justice.”
The next day, clouds were beginning to gather over New Bark Town.
Bunny, now wearing a stately black-and-gray business suit, and Olivia, who was wrapped in a blue cape with silver lining, were waiting in the lobby of the resort. They were unable to leave until Nekou and Matt joined them, so they were conversing further between themselves.
“So did you make up your mind yet, Olivia?” Bunny thoughtfully asked, genuinely curious about Olivia’s pending choice of starter Pokémon.
“I’m going to take Totodile,” the girl decisively declared, tapping her pink boots against the floor in an alternating fashion. “Cyndaquil is very cute, but I can’t just ignore the fact that Totodile is a Water-type. Surely, if I enter the Pokémon League and Grand Festival with a Water-type starter Pokémon, my dad will have to take notice, right?”
Bunny nodded, but she could not find any words to verbally answer. Olivia bringing up her father, Rich, and his own preference for Water-types put Bunny in an awkward positon. She did not want to lie to Olivia, but at the same time, she felt an obligation to respect Matt’s wish to not tell Olivia of Rich’s death as well.
Luckily, the situation disappeared by itself when Nekou came swaggering into the lobby with a croissant caked in icing in her hand. The neckline of her black blouse was rather low, exposing quite a bit of her cleavage, while her midriff was also uncovered due to only one of the buttons on the garment actually being closed; as a result, the bottom of it moved around over her ruffled black skirt. Her gait was further exaggerated by the boots she wore, which went up to her knees, and the socks that continued from there to her thighs.
“You shouldn’t worry about what your dad thinks about your choice,” Nekou advised Olivia in a rather blithe manner. “Live for yourself. Do what makes you happy. Is Totodile the one you truly want for yourself?”
“It is,” Olivia confirmed with a quick nod. However, her mood quickly darkened when she attempted to come up with an explanation of why. “It’s a Water-type, and if I don’t pick a Water-type…”
Leaning down, Nekou put her hands on Olivia’s shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. “Don’t worry. Even if you don’t have any idea right now… you’ll find something. You’ll find your place where everything is as it should be, and when you do, you’ll know.”
“I…” Unable to find enough words for a proper response, Olivia looked away from Nekou in shame. “I’m sorry. I have to find him no matter what I have to do.”
“That’s okay. You’ll come across your truth eventually. I trust you.”
“Nekou, have you seen Matt anywhere?” Bunny stepped in to ask. “Did you see him on the way down here?”
“I haven’t seen that bastard anywhere,” Nekou replied, rising to her full height as she did so. “Maybe we should just leave his *** here.”
“That bastard, as you call him, is right here.” Now dressed in a blue longcoat with silver edges and yellow feather patterns on the lapels, Matt stepped closer to the others after arriving in the lobby himself. He also had a dark blue messenger bag printed with a logo of the wingspan of a white dragon Pokémon slung over his right shoulder. “I was arranging for the resort to send our property ahead to Cherrygrove City. What have I missed? Did I hear that Olivia decided on her starter Pokémon?”
“She had it narrowed down to Totodile or Cyndaquil and picked Totodile,” Nekou said to Matt, informing him of the previous conversations, “but that doesn’t mean much if you didn’t want to hang out with us.”
“Oh please, Nekou, spare me. Let’s just be here to support Olivia today, alright?”
Nekou grimaced at Matt, having been seeking more of a rise out of him than she got. Perhaps, then, it was a good thing that Bunny provided a distraction by refocusing the conversation on Olivia herself.
“Did you already tell Minccino and Roselia about your choice?”
“Not yet, Bunny, but I will. Let’s get going to Professor Elm’s lab.”
Olivia rushed ahead and out of the hotel, forcing Matt, Nekou and Bunny to run after her. This led them outside into the busy common area of New Bark Town, which still served as its community center despite the modernizations of the area. They weren’t far from Elm’s laboratory, so it took about seven minutes at this brisk, fast-walking pace for the entire group to reach the building marked “Elm Pokémon Lab,” a humble, two-story house that was beginning to look out of place in the quickly-modernizing town.
“Well, this is it,” Matt mused, looking up at the lab. “Once we pass through that door, there’s no turning back. Are you ready, Olivia?”
“Hell yeah, I am! Let’s go!”
“I love your energy,” Nekou remarked before pushing the button next to the door, causing it to slide open.
Inside the lab was a rigid but warm-looking place, filled with shelves and computer units. Despite the obviously scientific nature of the facility, it still came off as a welcoming place, well-suited to the place where trainers would collect their starter Pokémon.
“Professor Elm, I’m here for my starter Pokémon!” Olivia called out.
At that moment was when what would be the first of many strange events took place.
Olivia and the others were expecting to see an awkward, nerdy-looking man with glasses and brown hair, but he wasn’t there. Instead, the only person present in the lab was a woman, wearing her hair in a thick ball, who had a briefcase at her side. She seemed just as surprised to the group as they were to see her.
“Professor… Juniper?” Nekou breathed, thoroughly confused.
END of CHAPTER 1