FINALLY! I'm sorry for the long delay.
For the sake of caution, this chapter contains mentions of several crimes including murder and kidnapping, and a scene involving abduction victims that may be slightly disturbing to some.
CHAPTER 4: Reaching for the Arcade Star (Part 1)
Cherrygrove City was a busy city on a coastline, larger than New Bark Town but still smaller than many of the other metropolis-size cities on the continent. Few of its buildings reached comparable heights to the skyscrapers those cities had, but Cherrygrove’s buildings – both residential apartment complexes and commercial centers – were enough to pack plenty into the small area of land the city actually occupied.
The previous night, while Matt, Olivia, Nekou and Bunny were staying at the home of Dr. Dante Fantomos, rain was buffeting Cherrygrove City much like Route 29. As a result, few were outside, and Pierce was completely fine with that fact. His mission entailed meeting a contact covertly, so as he stepped into an alley between two buildings, he appreciated the additional cover the rain provided him on top of the darkness of night.
Pierce walked a short distance down the alley before stopping, and after a moment’s hesitation, he raised his hand and snapped his fingers four times.
“So… you’ve come,” a woman who was hiding in the alley’s darkness said, emerging nearly immediately upon Pierce’s giving the signal. She was wearing a heavy coat that appeared to have significantly discolored over time along with a tattered blue scarf wrapped around her head and shoulders, obscuring the upper half of her face in a shadow. Though he did not voice it, what troubled Pierce about this seemingly homeless woman was that she carried a small child wrapped in a blanket in her arms. “Why has your organization sought us out?”
Significantly unsettled by this woman for a reason he could not fully identify, Pierce struggled to maintain his rigid composure. “Polaris has made its move, which has left Team Rocket with no choice but to take all available action to counter them. We are aware that you Tenganists who are left are planning to oppose them as well, so I have come to offer you a negotiation. Team Rocket can offer your group supplies to battle Polaris in exchange for your assistance in destroying them.”
“And why should I trust you?” the woman scoffed, though with a strange hint of fear in her voice.
“If you’re not convinced of my sincerity,” Pierce flatly stated, extending his right hand, “then take my hand. Everything will become clear.”
The woman haltingly placed her own right hand in Pierce’s, and the two of them abruptly froze. This lasted for several seconds before she pulled away, gasping for air.
“I could feel it in your mind… you’re one of us, too… one of my people… but why? Why turn to Team Rocket?”
“The circumstances of our lives are not easily controlled. My Tenganist heritage is not something I was raised in, as you were. Now, about the offer we can provide you…”
“I cannot make that decision right now. I am merely a symbol for the horrors inflicted upon our people by Ghetsis Harmonia, a symbol to motivate what remains of our dying culture to survive by any means necessary. Our enemy is Ghetsis, not Polaris.”
“You must not be aware that Ghetsis Harmonia is, in fact, a high-ranking member of Polaris.”
That apparently was the case, for as soon as Pierce stated that fact, the woman stepped back and gasped. Her voice became shaky and uncertain. “If Ghetsis is a member of Polaris, than this could be my chance to… I could finally…” Looking up at Pierce, the woman said, “I can’t decide right now. What that man is responsible for doing to us… and to me… I need some time to know if I’m ready to face it.”
“I will return here tomorrow night,” Pierce declared, turning toward the street. “I request that you make your decision by then.”
By the next morning, the rain had cleared up, and bright sunlight peeked through the patchwork of clouds still in the sky.
Nekou, Bunny and Dante led the way as the group entered Cherrygrove City from Route 29. Matt trailed behind them in order to stay alongside Olivia, who had to walk on crutches with her broken left leg bent up off the ground. The leading trio halted a short distance into the city’s boundaries, causing Matt and Olivia to stop as well.
“What is it?” he asked them. “Why did you stop?”
“You have to know where you’re going before you can go there,” Bunny replied. “So where exactly are we going?”
“I do say, we should head for the Pokémon Center first,” Dante proposed, switching which hand he used to hold the briefcase containing the Meteonite fragment and his cane. “We don’t want to burn out already.”
“You’re right. Olivia looks pretty tired, too… I don’t want to force her to walk for too long.”
“Let’s just go to the Pokémon Center,” muttered the sullen Olivia as she fell into agreement with Matt, Bunny and Dante.
“It’s not far from here,” announced Nekou, prompting the group to begin walking again. After they had been moving for a bit, she suddenly piped up again, saying, “So, Olivia, I’d say that with four Pokémon, you should have a good shot at that first badge.”
“Minccino, Roselia, Oshawott and Lillipup now,” Bunny reiterated. “Remember, Violet City’s Gym is a Flying-type Gym, so aside from Roselia, you have a pretty decent assortment of Pokémon to take it on. Just don’t forget to keep your team in shape, and that badge should be yours, no problem.”
“I don’t really want to talk about it right now,” Olivia growled back at the two women, shifting her gaze downward as she carefully hobbled on her crutches. “The last thing on my mind is a Gym battle. I’m a disgrace.”
“Don’t ever call yourself anything like that!” Nekou forcefully said, looking back over her shoulder. “You didn’t do anything wrong. This world is a ***** and the only way to beat it is to be a bigger ***** right back at it. That’s what Maman taught me, and it’s helped keep me going.”
“I do think I owe you an apology, though, Olivia.” Unlike Nekou, Dante did not turn at all while he spoke. Instead, he simply kept walking. “It was my experiment on the Meteonite that caused the Bisharp and Pawniard to go wild. If not for my experiment, you would be perfectly fine right now. I’m sorry.”
“I guess I forgive you, then…”
“That was thoughtful of you, Dr. Fantomos. Thank you, I think it means a lot.”
Just as Matt finished his sentence, the five travelers stopped again. They were standing before a red-roofed building primarily constructed of blue-tinted glass, which had a Poké Ball shape above its entrance. Nestled within the more developed buildings of Cherrygrove City, this building and the trees visible beyond it presented an anachronistic appearance.
“Well, we’re here. The Pokémon Center,” Matt said out loud, not specifically addressing any of the others in particular. “Let’s go.”
No objection was raised, so the group moved forward once more. The double doors representing the entrance into the Pokémon Center slid aside when Nekou stepped before them, allowing her and the others inside.
The interior of the Pokémon Center presented a drastic contrast to the cold-feeling city outside its walls. Warmth radiated from the golden walls of the two-floored building, and the number of trainers in the facility with their Pokémon – ranging from those clustered around a large plasma-screen television to the left of the entrance, to those using a bank of public computers on the right, and still more traveling up and down between the two floors – truly made the Pokémon Center feel like a central terminal for the community.
As the first and most pressing order of business, Matt led Olivia to the desk at the center of the first floor, nestled between the two escalators going up to and down from the second floor; Nekou, Bunny and Dante followed shortly thereafter.
“Good morning!” the pink-haired nurse behind the desk cheerfully exclaimed in greeting. “Welcome to the Pokémon Center! What can I help you with?”
“We’ve all got some Pokémon that need healing,” Matt explained. He noticed that Olivia refused to speak to the nurse, though he reasoned that she might have just not been paying attention, so he stepped in.
“How many of you need healing? All five?”
“No, just four of us,” Bunny corrected. She glanced over to Dante; the old scientist hadn’t battled the Pawniard and Bisharp like they had, so she correctly reasoned that whatever Pokémon he had wouldn’t require healing.
“Then please place your Poké Balls in these trays one at a time,” the nurse explained, all while setting out a tray with six circles depressed into it on the brown surface of her desk. Olivia suddenly snapped back to attention and wobbled up first, carefully maintaining her balance as she placed her four Poké Balls in the tray. “Do you have a Pokédex, young lady?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah…here.” Carefully reaching into a pocket within her cape, Olivia produced her pink Pokédex and handed it to the nurse, who promptly scanned it with an electronic device.
“So you met up with Professor Juniper, Olivia? She’s a great person,” the nurse said, handing back the device before setting out a second empty tray. “You’re lucky to know her. Now, who’s next?”
“I am,” Matt answered, stepping forward carefully to allow Olivia space to move aside. Without hesitation, he placed six spheres of his own into their places. “Thank you for being so kind.”
“It’s my job, after all. May I see your Pokédex, sir?”
“I don’t have one.”
As soon as Matt said those words, the smile on the nurse’s face began to slowly fade. “Then in that case, the charge will be three hundred dollars.”
“Pokémon Centers in this region charge for service?” What Matt had just learned completely stunned him. He’d never heard of such a concept before; in his home region of Sinnoh, Pokémon Centers were entirely free, so the idea of having to pay for their services caught him completely off guard. Compounding his confusion further, though, he remembered that the nurse had clearly not asked Olivia for any sort of fee.
“Only trainers who have obtained a starter Pokémon and Pokédex receive free service at a region’s Pokémon Centers,” explained the nurse.
This made the whole idea make more sense in Matt’s mind, for in Sinnoh he had a Chimchar and often used a Pokédex loaned to him by his grandfather for fieldwork. Even though he was still rather surprised, he resigned himself to the situation and handed over his credit card to cover the fee.
“Transaction complete, thank you,” said the nurse, carefully returning the card to its owner.
Stepping aside to allow Bunny to move forward in line, Matt turned around and noticed an unusual number of people clustering around the television in the Pokémon Center’s lobby. He suddenly felt rather impatient due to his intrigue in the scene.
“Dr. Fantomos, look over there,” Matt commented, gesturing to indicate the area by the television. “What do you think is going on?”
“Obviously there’s something being broadcasted that has them all interested. Let’s go see what it is, shall we?”
Matt curtly nodded to the elderly scientist, indicating his agreement with the proposal. They walked side-by-side across the lobby to the viewing area with Olivia following closely behind. Once they reached the edge of the crowd, Matt tapped one of the trainers on the shoulder.
“Yeah, what?” When the young man, who was wearing a black leather jacket, turned around, his rather pronounced brown pompadour ended up right in Matt’s face, forcing Matt to back up a step.
“Just wanted to know, what’s going on here?”
“Oh, they’re saying that some speech is going to be given by a representative of something called Polaris,” he answered, turning back around. “I don’t really know what that means either.”
“Polaris… the group that tried to kill me in Whitegold City, and the ones Dr. Fantomos warned me about…” Matt thought to himself. “There must be a reason why that name keeps coming up…”
Something was clearly going on, and whatever it was, Matt found himself deeply troubled by it. While he pushed himself to think of some sort of connection between these events, though, Bunny and Nekou arrived, having dropped off their own Pokémon.
“So what the hell is going on here?” Nekou demanded in her typical fashion.
“Someone from Polaris is about to give a speech.”
Almost as soon as Matt answered her, though, the newscaster on the television attracted the attention of the entire crowd.
“We’re now going to go live to the speech to be delivered by a representative of the Polaris group.”
The image on the screen switched from the elderly, gray-haired newscaster at his desk to a simple, tight shot of the Polaris representative – that representative being Ghetsis, seen from the shoulders up with the oversized collar of his cape partially covering his mouth.
Though neither of them nor anyone else noticed, both Nekou and Dante scowled when they saw him.
“Good morning, people of the Tohjo Continent. My name is Ghetsis Harmonia, and I would like to speak to you today about a very important subject. More and more in this day and age, young trainers are suffering. The ideals we as older generations push upon our successors in this world are forcing our children to put themselves in dangerous, difficult positions. All Pokémon trainers are born equally, as are all Pokémon. It is this world, this system we have created that leads to inequality and suffering! It saddens me to the bottom of my heart to see young men and women suffer with no money on the road because they lost all of it in battles.” Ghetsis’s voice was actually losing its composure at this point, as if his sadness was sincere. “We must ask ourselves, what is the best way to help make this world a more equal and fair place? Polaris is pursuing that truth. We will find the way to bring about true equality and fairness in the world! Please, continue listening to what we have to say as we work for a better tomorrow! Thank you for your time.”
Upon his thundering conclusion, Ghetsis disappeared from the screen, and the crowd in Cherrygrove City’s Pokémon Center descended into a loud discussion of what his speech precisely meant. Many questioned the true meaning of the rambling speech, while plenty of others intensely discussed the merits of his point about the inequality of Pokémon trainers. It was as if the crowd had become possessed.
“What… was that?” Bunny wondered aloud, noticeably unsettled by the spectacle.
“I don’t know, but I don’t give a **** about what that disgusting freak has to say,” Nekou immediately hissed.
Though he was equally as disturbed by Ghetsis’s speech, Matt pondered questioning why Nekou was so overtly agitated by it. He decided against doing so, however, and instead offered, “Let’s just forget we saw that and get our Pokémon.”
Matt, Nekou, Olivia, Bunny and Dante walked back toward the counter to retrieve their Pokémon. However, there was something else they weren’t aware of.
The homeless Tenganist woman, the one who had met with Pierce the night before, was hiding behind a pillar in the corner of the Pokémon Center. She had seen Ghetsis’s entire speech, and saw Matt’s group as well.
“It’s all starting to happen…” she mumbled to herself, nestling her child closely against her chest as her nerves frayed. “I didn’t want you to get involved…”
A short while later, Matt, Olivia, Nekou, Bunny and Dante were sitting around a table in the Pokémon Center’s dining area, discussing the events of the previous twenty-four hours over their respective meals.
“I really cannot apologize profusely enough for the consequences of my experiment.” Dante kept tripping over himself verbally in his efforts to express just how remorseful he was. “It was never my intent for such chaos to break out.”
“I appreciate it and all, and I’m glad you fixed my leg, but…” Olivia looked away before finishing, “…just stop apologizing.”
The mood at the table became incredibly awkward as a result of Olivia’s dour attitude. Matt just stared into his breakfast sandwich of egg and cheese on an English muffin, while Bunny shifted uncomfortably in her seat while rapidly glancing between Olivia, Dante and Nekou.
Perhaps fittingly, it was Nekou who broke the silence, blurting out, “Hey, Olivia, remember that pizza I promised Matt would get us? We’re still getting that!”
“Wait, I never…”
Matt was interrupted and subdued by the forced smile Olivia showed him. He’d seen that smile before, and it was one of his primary weaknesses related to her. It wasn’t a sarcastic smile, nor a genuinely happy one; instead, she used it when she was forcing herself to find one shred of positivity in a situation, usually when it involved her father.
“Want a newspaper?”
While collapsing in on himself over how much Olivia’s false smile bothered him, Matt failed to notice the still-disguised Pierce approach the table until the undercover Team Rocket agent was holding a folded-up newspaper right in his face.
“Yeah, um… I guess so? Thanks.”
As Matt accepted the paper, Pierce sat down at the next table so that their backs would be facing and opened up one of his own. Once he had made sure that the others were occupying themselves with eating, Matt unfolded and opened the paper he’d received from Pierce.
Almost immediately, a black file folder fell out onto Matt’s lap.
“What is this?”
“Open it,” Pierce instructed, not moving his head or even setting down his newspaper.
When Matt put his newspaper on the table but hesitated to do anything more, Nekou wasted no time in chiming in, saying, “You might as well take a look inside it. What harm could it do?”
“Eh, I guess so.”
When Matt opened the file, he was greeted by several documents, the topmost of which bore a large picture of Ghetsis in its upper-right corner. The rest of the folder’s contents elaborated in detail upon what appeared to be criminal case files regarding him.
“What is this?” Matt questioned, glancing back at Pierce, who still hadn’t moved. “And who are you? What’s going on?”
“That man you saw earlier on television, Ghetsis Harmonia, is not who he appears to be,” Pierce explained, seemingly ignoring Matt’s questions. “He was once the number one criminal on the International Police’s most wanted list for an array of crimes in Unova including kidnapping, forced servitude, Pokémon abuse, child abuse, burglary, assault and murder, both attempted and successful, all as the leader of an outfit called Team Plasma.”
Nekou and the others were listening to Pierce’s furtive explanation, too, and she gritted her teeth as he went on.
“So yeah, this man is bad news. The reason why I said he was once the International Police’s most wanted fugitive is because a little over two years ago, he was entirely purged from their database, meaning no evidence of his crimes survives, nor does any warrant for his arrest. That’s part of why he was able to make a fresh restart here as a member of Polaris.”
“What’s the other part?”
“Someone in the government is shielding him, I fear. The internet and all other communication mediums have been carefully controlled to make finding out the truth about Team Plasma and Unova impossible in this country. I dread to think what could happen if Polaris has already infiltrated deeply into the highest ranks of the government here.”
With that, Pierce rose from his seat, his newspaper tucked under his arm. Before he could leave, however, Matt spoke up again.
“Why are you telling me this, and who are you exactly?”
“You may call me Sam. Consider me an information broker… what I just gave you is essentially free. If you ever need my services, look for me in the one place not constrained by any rules, the place where the government cannot clamp down on the truth.”
“What was that all about?” Bunny groaned as she watched Pierce walk away. “Why do these strange things keep happening?”
“Don’t pay it too much mind,” Nekou abruptly answered. “He didn’t do anything to hurt us.”
“I guess not,” Matt decided with a shrug. “Let’s finish up here, then.”
Ghetsis hobbled down a cold, gloomy corridor in Polaris’s base shortly after his speech. His gait was crooked and uneven, and the white cane he supported himself on crashed noisily on the metal floor with each step. The cane was itself a rather unusual item; it was topped by a hollow circle with a knob-shaped handle at its highest point. Within the circle, positioned at the nexus of two narrow rods forming a cross shape, was a shield colored half-black and half-white that bore a blue ‘P’ insignia overlaid on a backward ‘Z.’
Approaching an iron door, Ghetsis raised the cane up and slammed it into the ground, activating a secret mechanism that opened the portal. He went inside, and the door slid shut behind him.
A dark, gloomy chamber waited beyond the doorway. It was illuminated only by the light filtering up from flickering computer screens and the pale blue neon lights fixed in a glass enclosure within the room.
Anthea and Concordia, the two women who Ghetsis had presented to the Sacred Helix, were contained within the transparent cage. They were still dressed shabbily in torn rags, and had loose chains connected to their wrists and ankles. Neither woman noticed Ghetsis come into the room and begin approaching their prison, as they were both more interested in the books of mythology their jailer had given them; however, when Ghetsis slammed his cane into the ground again, they immediately turned their blank eyes toward him.
“I see you two wenches have put yourselves to some use,” he menaced, seemingly deliberately trying to taunt them. “Are those books of myth decoded yet?”
“Lord Ghetsis, sir…”
“Of course they are not finished yet!!” Ghetsis thundered, interrupting Concordia before she had a chance to do much more than open her mouth. Both she and Anthea flinched, but only slightly; by this point they were beyond knowing Ghetsis’s typical behavior. “In the amount of time you have had those books, only a genius could have deciphered their secrets already! Of course, we all know that that word is one of the last ones we’d use to describe you two!”
In a fit of rage, Ghetsis swung his cane out and smashed a blown-glass flowerpot sitting nearby on the floor, leaving soil and a cluster of flowers to spread out on the ground. This outburst prompted a stronger-but-still-muted reaction from the two women, who still had enough left of their broken instincts to raise their arms over their faces; this also served the secondary purpose of hiding the tears of terror developing in their eyes.
Once Ghetsis was done with his explosive anger, he calmed down and began breathing deeply, trying to catch his breath. “But, it’s okay. None of it matters, because in the end, you two are simply nothing more than used, broken waste with little to no use left for me! I have everything I needed from you two, but I will allow you to live to see the world I will shape from the cold flames Polaris will reduce this planet to. A perfect world, in the image of a perfect ruler… you Tenganists cannot die out completely before some of you bear witness to what the king of Harmonia will create. And do you want to know what the best part about this entire thing is? All that remains to be done simply requires that defective freak son of mine along with the woman you Tenganists consider a prophet. You two have a front-row seat to the greatest spectacle this world will ever see!”
Though their faces remained blank, when Anthea and Concordia turned to face each other, terrible realizations came over them. Everything Ghetsis had said in his deranged rant, despite sounding like it made no sense, actually was completely true.
A sound like a gust of wind suddenly rang out in the chamber, prompting Ghetsis to turn around.
“Very well, you’ve returned. Report now.”
Three identical young men stepped out from the shadows. Each one was wearing a wig of long, white hair along with sleeveless, figure-hugging gray mesh uniforms and mouth covers. Their hands were covered by heavy black gloves that matched their equally-heavy boots, and their baggy black pants were surrounded by dark skirts closed up in the fronts by gray crosses.
“Lord Ghetsis, we have analyzed and searched Route 44 and the Ice Path,” one of the three stated.
“Neither your son or the woman you told us to look for was present in either location.”
“Some of the Pokémon in the areas we searched appeared to have been befriended without capture, however. This would suggest your son was in fact there at some point, Lord Ghetsis.”
“I see,” Ghetsis said, pondering this new information as he leaned forward on his cane and tightened his grip on it. “Redouble your search and expand the area. We must find that inhuman boy and the Tenganist woman before the others do.”
“We will meet your demands, Lord Ghetsis.”
Another gust of wind indicated the swift disappearance of the three ninja-like young men. Ghetsis briefly turned back to Anthea and Concordia.
“You two saw and heard nothing just now. I’m sure you both want to keep getting the amount of food you do get.”
Disappearing back into the darkness, Ghetsis wobbled to the door and exited the chamber. Once it was silent again, Concordia crumpled down onto her back and twisted slightly in the bedding that stretched from one end of their cage to the other.
“Anthea…” Concordia whispered, staring up at the ceiling, “…please, pray with me...”
“Are we heading to the Battle Arcade now, Matt?”
Bunny’s question came as the group left the Pokémon Center to return to the streets of Cherrygrove City. She had become the one walking alongside Olivia, as Matt had taken the lead, leaving the two of them along with Dante and Nekou to carry the rear.
“I don’t think I want to go there yet,” Matt announced, pausing his walk so the others could hear him. Putting his hands on his hips, he turned slightly and explained, “The Frontier Society facility leaders, the Frontier Brains, change their Pokémon to match the skill level of each challenger. With the Pokémon I have, it’s likely I’ll be facing a trainer at Gym Leader level or higher, so I’d like to find a place to do some training first.”
“Then I can help you with that, youngster!”
Having been sitting on a bench right outside the Pokémon Center, a surprisingly energetic-looking old man in a green sweater approached Matt. He had plainly overheard Matt and Bunny talking, and appeared eager to add his own contribution, his narrow eyes and thin mouth curled into expressions of genuine excitement.
“Who’re you?” Nekou said, grimacing. “And don’t you know it’s rude to eavesdrop?”
“You should talk…” Matt sarcastically mumbled under his breath.
“Now, now, it’s no problem at all,” the old man hurriedly assured. “People around town call me the Guide Gent, because I give tours of Cherrygrove. What’s this I hear about you wanting to go to a place where you can train your Pokémon?”
“Exactly that. I’m going to challenge the Battle Arcade soon, and I want to practice before I go.”
“Well, then, you’re in luck, kid!” The Guide Gent did not notice how uncomfortable Matt looked every time ‘youngster’ and ‘kid’ were used to refer to him, but both Nekou and Olivia did, and they began whispering mischievously to each other in the background.
The Guide Gent continued, “There’s a place in this city called a Trainer House. A lot of towns have ‘em now. Pokémon trainers gather there and have battles with each other, which should be just what you’re looking for. Interested?”
“Well, Olivia, what do you think?” Matt asked, turning halfway around. He was intrigued by the concept, but wanted to confirm that Olivia was comfortable with such a thing first.
“It couldn’t hurt.” Nekou suddenly whispered something in her ear, prompting Olivia to smile more broadly than she had all day and add, “Right, youngster?”
“Oh, come on,” he sighed, exasperated and yet encouraged by Olivia’s slow return to form. After running his hand down his face, Matt looked back at the Guide Gent and said,” Show us the way, please.”
“Will do! Come, youngsters, follow me!”
Before the group knew it, they found themselves standing outside of a spacious three-story building in the heart of Cherrygrove City. Aside from the Poké Ball logo on the building’s doorway, it was a rather inconspicuous structure that blended in well with the small but busy city around it.
“Here we are, the Trainer House!” the Guide Gent declared, spreading his arms and speaking with great pride in his voice. “This is right where you’ll want to be if your goal is to train your Pokémon.”
“Thank you very much for taking us here,” Matt said graciously. The old man’s help had definitely shaved quite a bit of time off of their trip, which in turn allowed Matt more time to dedicate to practicing for the Battle Arcade.
“Think nothing of it. I hope what you get out of coming here is worth the price.”
“Wait, what?” Bunny stopped the Guide Gent from walking off by putting her hand on his shoulder. She was troubled by his ominous statement and, as she was unable to put it out of her mind, Bunny resolved to clear it up. “What exactly do you mean by ‘price?’”
“This city was not always so congested,” responded the Gent, his voice becoming poisoned by a hint of bitterness. “It used to be a small, peaceful city on the shore. But when the Battle Arcade was built, and the Trainer House along with it, things changed around here.”
“Let the gentleman go, Bunny,” a bored-sounding Dante instructed. “There is nothing more he can offer us.”
Dante’s advice prompted Bunny to realize that he was right, and accordingly, she released her grip on the Guide Gent, who promptly bowed slightly to them one last time before exiting the area. There was no more business to be had outside the Trainer House, so the group moved inside, passing through the automatic double doors of the facility.
Inside was a sight much like the Pokémon Center, but different in a way that Matt and the others had trouble putting their fingers on. The facility’s vast lobby took up the entirety of the first floor; its floor, patterned with black and silver tiles alternating in a checkerboard arrangement, was polished so well that it reflected everything on it, from people to Pokémon to fixtures such as the elegant elevators and marble reception desk.
Another similarity between the Trainer House and Pokémon Center was that a thick cluster of people were gathered around a large television not far from where Matt and the rest of the group entered. Aside from Dante, they were drawn to the scene by a natural desire to see just what was going on.
Matt, Nekou, Bunny and Olivia discovered a battle playing out on the television, depicting a Ludicolo facing off against an unfamiliar Pokémon. This creature had an insect-like appearance, taking on the general shape of a green mantis with leaves coming from his neck and waist.
“Another close call between Nando’s Leavanny and Dahlia’s Ludicolo!” blared the commentator of the match. “Leavanny has a distinct advantage, but the Arcade Star is powerful! She’s holding her own!”
“It’s Mister Nando!” Olivia exclaimed, finally cheering up as she recognized one of the figures on the television. He was someone she knew from five years ago, a man who indulged in both battles and the far showier Pokémon Contests. She didn’t know him to have the Pokémon he was now using, Leavanny, but it fit in with what she knew of his preferences, which tended toward Grass-types, Bug-types and Pokémon with musical ties.
“So he’s here too…” Matt mused, recognizing Nando as well. “This is the Battle Arcade, then?”
Indeed, the battlefield seen on the television was that of the Battle Arcade. A huge video screen loomed over the half-black, half-red arena floor, flanked on each side by a tall, cylindrical screen. Each of the side monitors displayed the three Pokémon designated for the battle by each trainer, while the center screen simply displayed a giant black square with several progressively smaller, outlined white squares condensing toward its middle.
Going downward from the top, Nando’s Leavanny was his second Pokémon, as was Dahlia’s Ludicolo. Their first Pokémon – Dragonite for Nando, Togekiss for Dahlia – were grayed out, indicating that they had fainted.
“What fabulous luck you’ve had so far!” Dahlia exclaimed, twisting around her space on the red side of the battlefield with fluid dance moves. The Arcade Star was a tall, thin woman whose skin showed a tan. Her clothing – a midriff-exposing yellow shirt and a pair of blue jeans – was so tight it left little to the imagination, and her messy, black, tendril-like hair wrapped around her as if it had a mind of its own as she danced. “But, I won’t let you leave here without a real test! Let’s see if you have enough luck to defeat me. Ludicolo, Energy Ball!”
“Very well,” Nando calmly responded, strumming the strings of the golden, Mew-shaped harp in his hand, “I shall show you what you seek. Leavanny, please use Signal Beam.”
Between the leafy antennae atop Leavanny’s head, a sphere of white light took shape briefly before transforming into a rainbow-colored beam aimed straight in Ludicolo’s direction. However, Ludicolo seemed to be much faster, and the glowing Energy Ball she launched had nearly connected before Leavanny intercepted it with his own attack.
The resulting explosion not only threw Leavanny back, it also created a gust of wind that visibly disturbed Nando’s long black hair and green cape. His cape would have blown off if he didn’t have it pinned in place with the red jewel and sky blue cravat he used, in fact.
“Those two attacks cancel each other out!” declared the announcer, to the delight of the audience gathered in the Battle Arcade. “It’s pretty clear that Leavanny is suffering under the effect of the Trick Room induced by our game board, while Ludicolo is benefitting from a boost in its speed. Can Nando overcome this to gain the upper hand against our Arcade Star?!”
The question made Nando adjust his wide-brimmed green hat and squint with his right eye, the one that was not covered by his hair, while he pondered the situation. It was true, he knew, that the speed-inverting effect of the Trick Room created at the start of the battle was forcing his Leavanny to move more slowly than Dahlia’s Ludicolo. This made dodging and attacking far more difficult than it usually was.
“Ludicolo, Hyper Voice!”
Dahlia’s command made Nando realize what he had to do right away. “Leavanny, please, bear with me and take the attack!”
Leavanny braced himself as Ludicolo began screaming, her voice taking visible form in sound waves that washed over Nando’s Pokémon. As much as he wanted to crumple before the deafening noise, Leavanny knew he had to hold fast and put as much effort as he could into doing so. Once Ludicolo’s Hyper Voice subsided slightly, Nando jumped on the opening.
“Now, Leavanny, I call for Air Slash!”
Jumping up into the air, Leavanny pulled his arms back. Blades of air formed around them, and with Ludicolo in his sights, he sent the blades plummeting down by swinging his limbs. Dahlia and Ludicolo were caught off guard by this sudden move and thus had little time to prepare, resulting in large pieces of Ludicolo’s grass poncho being cut off as she slipped to her knees.
“Dahlia’s Ludicolo is down, but is it out?!”
“Oh, not yet, honey! Try my last-ditch longshot move! Drain Punch!”
Nando simply shut his eyes and gently smiled as Ludicolo rushed Leavanny with her right arm drawn back. He knew a close-quarters move like this had to be coming, and it had finally arrived. As soon as he heard Ludicolo’s fist connect, he instructed, “Leavanny, grab Ludicolo.”
Much to Dahlia’s surprise, Leavanny effectively followed this direction, pinning Ludicolo in his grip. With her Grass-and-Water-type Pokémon frantically trying to escape its enemy, Dahlia exclaimed, “What?”
“And now it is time for my finishing move~” Nando sang while again strumming his harp. “Signal Beam!”
Another Signal Beam formed between Leavanny’s antennae and hammered Ludicolo into the ground at point-blank range with relentless force. A number of the audience members gasped at this turn of events, especially when the smoke cleared to reveal that Dahlia’s Ludicolo truly was defeated.
“Ludicolo is unable to battle!” the referee declared as Ludicolo’s icon was grayed out on Dahlia’s side of the field. “The winner is Leavanny!”
“Another one of Dahlia’s Pokémon is down! The challenger now has a numbers advantage, with two of his Pokémon remaining against only her last one… but it’s also Arcade Star Dahlia’s most mighty fighter! Who is going to win this battle?”
“Well done, Ludicolo, I hope you had a good time,” Dahlia said as she drew Ludicolo back into her Net Ball, a blue Poké Ball with black lines drawn on it to simulate a net pattern. The next ball she drew out, however, was a Master Ball; two bulbous red circles framed the letter ‘M’ in white against its dark blue top. “You’ve shown me excellent luck so far, Nando. I think it might even be more than that. Even with this Trick Room condition, you’ve managed to hold your own well against the Pokémon of a Frontier Brain… but I’m not the Arcade Star for no reason, you know! Prepare for my ultimate Pokémon! Now… dance, Zapdos!!”
The flash of light from Dahlia’s Master Ball took on the shape of a large, avian Pokémon, one with a long, pointed beak and jagged-edged wings. When its yellow-and-black coloring filled in, there could be no more doubt in any viewer’s mind that it was indeed the Legendary Pokémon, Zapdos.
“Yes, it’s Dahlia’s Zapdos! Now, let’s see how Nando deals with fighting a legend! And remember, Trick Room is still in effect, so that could also affect the outcome!”
“Legendary Pokémon are indeed creatures with incredible levels of power,” Nando said out loud, though the calmness in his voice now sounded rather forced. What truly betrayed his feelings, though, was the subtle shaking of his fingers as they wrapped around the base of his harp. “But… they can be beaten, and I think I may have an advantage in that regard…”
“Do you now?!” exclaimed Dahlia, the Frontier Brain’s energy boiling over. “Zapdos, don’t hold back! Show him what you’ve got! Heat Wave!”
“Leavanny, escape and use Air Slash!”
Zapdos pulled its wings back, but before it could complete its attack, Leavanny shot behind it in a burst of Trick Room-fueled speed. As a result, the gust of fire that Zapdos produced was left to flow aimlessly away, and the Legendary Electric-and-Flying-type took an Air Slash to the back that it easily shrugged off.
“Ah, that’s right, normally Zapdos would be faster,” Dahlia realized. “I must give you credit for using Trick Room to your advantage now after being hurt by it earlier. That’s not just luck, it’s taking control and making it your own. Unfortunately for you, your luck has run out! Zapdos, get behind Leavanny and use Drill Peck!”
Nando was left briefly stunned when, instead of the frontal counterattack he was expected, Zapdos twirled through the air to get behind Leavanny. Even Zapdos’s movements, which were as agile and fluid as its trainer’s, exuded power.
“It makes sense, a dancer training their Pokémon to reflect their personal style.” Nando’s voice was calm once again, but this time, it was because he was seemingly resigning himself to his fate. “Repel it with Leaf Storm, please.”
From his own body language – particularly the steely, tense expression he wore on his face – it was clear that Leavanny also knew his fate was sealed. He knew he couldn’t run forever, even with Trick Room boosting his speed and agility, as that would never win the fight. For that he’d need to land effective strikes on his foe, and none of his moves would prove effective enough to stop Zapdos.
Nevertheless, Leavanny turned around to courageously face his fate, which took the form of Zapdos diving toward him beak-first while spinning rapidly like a drill. The torrent of sharp leaves he called forth did little to injure or otherwise halt Zapdos, and when its Drill Peck made contact, Leavanny was hurled dozens of feet back across the stage, past Nando and into the wall at the back of the Battle Arcade.
“Leavanny is unable to battle! The winner is Zapdos!”
“And Nando’s Leavanny falls to Dahlia’s mighty Zapdos! It’s a stunning show of strength from our Arcade Star, and we now have a sudden death situation on our hands! One Pokémon left on each side... who will win?!!”
“Please take a rest, Leavanny, you have more than earned it.” After returning his utterly defeated Leavanny to the safety of its Poké Ball, Nando turned back to face Dahlia and took out another sphere from his brown messenger bag. “Arcade Star Dahlia, I thank you for a most exhilarating match so far. When I entered the Battle Arcade today, I desired precisely this kind of battle, and I don’t want to let it end yet. Exploud, make your entry!”
Unlike Leavanny, who cut an elegant and refined figure, Nando’s final Pokémon was much more homely in appearance. The most distinguishing features on her blue body were her large mouth and the yellow-tipped tubes protruding from her head and tails.
“For his final Pokémon, Nando calls upon a master of sound, Exploud! Could he be hoping to tap into the wide array of moves Exploud can offer?”
“I don’t think I want to take chances with this one,” Dahlia mumbled, acknowledging her gut feeling telling her that Exploud was dangerous. “Zapdos, Heat Wave!”
Quickly running his fingers over his harp’s strings, Nando called out, “Get beneath it and use ThunderPunch!”
Normally, Exploud would be an even slower Pokémon than any of the others, but with Trick Room in effect she was able to slide underneath Zapdos with great speed. While Zapdos’s Heat Wave went off with no effect, Exploud’s right fist became wrapped in a shroud of electricity shortly before she leapt up to try and hit the Legendary Pokémon.
“Don’t let it!” Dahlia hastily warned. “Drill Peck!”
Even with the effect of Trick Room slowing it down, Zapdos was able to contort itself in the air to face downward, meeting Exploud’s ThunderPunch with a Drill Peck. The electricity of Exploud’s move combined with Zapdos’s spinning motion to send sparks and bolts of lightning all over the arena for a time; not long after the two combatants were separated by the force of their respective attacks.
“An impressive showing from both trainers creates a gorgeous combination of moves! Most exciting!”
“A combination of moves...” Nando thought to himself. “That’s it! Maybe my Pokémon Contest techniques will help!” Thrusting his arm out, he called, “Exploud, please, use Fire Blast!”
“Such a thing won’t put me down! Zapdos, show no fear! Drill Peck!”
Dahlia’s words were not lost on her Zapdos, as it courageously dove right into the thick fireball that Exploud burst from her mouth. When the rapidly spinning avian Pokémon made contact with the burning blast, the fire exploded into a twisting spiral; however, by that time, Exploud had already appeared behind Zapdos.
“Now, use Hyper Voice!” Nando commanded, pointing forwardly across the field.
“I see what you’re up to. Thunderbolt!”
Like Dahlia’s Ludicolo before her, Nando’s Exploud took a deep breath and let out an explosive roar that manifested as visible sound waves. However, Zapdos stopped short while still enveloped in the remnants of Fire Blast and discharged electricity from all over its body. The electricity fused with not only the fire but the sound waves of Hyper Voice as well, creating shining rings of sparkling red energy that ultimately caused a gigantic explosion.
The bright light and gusting wind that radiated from the point of the explosion forced both Nando and Dahlia to cover their eyes. It took a full minute before the blast died down, revealing both Exploud and Zapdos, injured and breathing heavily.
“You were trying to force this to look like a Contest battle, weren’t you?” Dahlia correctly guessed, standing confidently with her hand on her hip. “I’ve participated in plenty of Pokémon Contests myself, so if you want to go there, I’ll gladly do it.”
Nando took a step back, clutching his harp with nervousness that also reflected in his eyes. “Both Pokémon are getting exhausted,” he thought, apprising both Exploud and Zapdos standing still on the battlefield. “I have to break through and start landing hits directly upon Zapdos, or we cannot win this…”
“It’s time to wrap this up, Zapdos!” Dahlia shouted, as if she was reading Nando’s thoughts. She threw her hand upward into the air and yelled, “Launch Ominous Wind into the air, then Drill Peck through it!!”
Turning completely away from Exploud, Zapdos swung its wings upward, blowing a gust of purple-hued wind into the open air. Then, in front of the stunned eyes of Nando and the crowds both in the Battle Arcade and watching on television, Zapdos initiated Drill Peck, spinning right through the Ominous Wind before aiming for Exploud.
Staring at the purple spiral careening straight for his Pokémon, Nando came to a nervous realization. “We lose if we cannot keep up. Exploud, use ThunderPunch from below!”
Like earlier, Exploud attempted to slide beneath Zapdos and hit it with ThunderPunch, but this time, the aura surrounding the powered-up Electric-and-Flying-type clipped and stunned her.
“Go for the win now!” Dahlia exclaimed as Zapdos glided back to her side of the field. “Thunderbolt!”
“Exploud, don’t give up yet! Fire Blast!”
Exploud’s fireball and Zapdos’s lightning bolt cut past each other in midair, just barely avoiding a collision. As a result, both Pokémon suffered direct hits and were sent falling to the ground, where, burned and battered, they stared each other down with what strength they had left.
“I’m truly impressed. It’s been a while since Zapdos has had a fight this worthwhile... but it’s about time this came to an end! Use Heat Wave and then Drill Peck!”
As Zapdos mimicked its earlier combination move, substituting Heat Wave for Ominous Wind, Nando realized just how serious his situation was. “We’re going to have to go for the long shot, Exploud. Combine Ice Punch and ThunderPunch, I ask you!”
On Nando’s order, Exploud’s right fist began emanating ice while her left fist became electrified. She hit them together, combining the powers of ice and electricity into both fists, then swung them both forward to intercept Zapdos’s fiery drilling attack.
The two managed to hold even ground against each other. Neither could knock out or even force the other back. Embers from Zapdos’s body flaked over Exploud, singeing her skin, while the ice and electricity of Exploud’s punches began to nullify the force of Zapdos’s charge.