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Mindlack

The Odd One Out -- A Reborn Adventure

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Time for the next chapter! This is definitely not at all clickbait, but there is still a bonus chapter (maybe a slight anticipation of what's in store for Gabriel, maybe somebody else's viewpoint) if someone solves the math problem in chapter 16. Or, you know, you could just wait and I'll probably post one anyway.

 

To be honest, that chapter is a bit of a short-ish filler. In my current outline, the action happens mostly in chapters 20 and 21, there's a slight pause, then the climax of the Beryl Arc (and Part 1) is set for chapters 24, 25, and 26. That's not set in stone though.  

 

And no, the title is in no way a horrific pun on a game I've only vaguely read about. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19: Biomass Effect

 

 

 

In retrospect, I was really amazed by all I did in order to delay my going to the Jasper Ward. I held a long training session, where I oversaw Mouse's evolution into a bulkier Herdier, and where I sped Antum, my Railway-originating Klink, and Sicy, the deceptive ice cream cone, up to a level where they wouldn't be too lost. The training session also resulted in Hex and Batley both evolving, making them more reliable, powerful, and sturdy members of my team, something which I would doubtlessly come to need in the Jasper Ward. 

 

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If I were honest with myself, I was starting to feel bad about delaying such an important assignment. I had been tasked to help with a growing threat against the very place I couldn't leave; if I played truant, it would become an existential threat, until it grew out of control altogether. 


Better a fighting death than a life in chains, they said. Had they thought about the same situation? Where death was the most likely short-term outcome either way? Where the choice was between death while fighting, and being squashed by a demented plant? 


Such gleeful thoughts, only made grimmer in the dwindling light, went through my mind as I was making my resigned way towards the north of the Peridot Ward, until I came to the first police blockade. I wasn't alone with the policemen, as there already was a very animated talk between them and some guy in a lab coat again -- was it a fashion accessory for would-be scientists?


"Look, we've let you in because you could help us, we've taken risks to protect you, you got one colleague in real trouble, and all you're telling us is that you got it wrong and you need to start over?" one officer roared, his animated face visible even in the scant lighting. 

"Listen, I'm sorry. I'm not saying I'm didn't do anything wrong, but someone just messed up my Pokegear with an untested app update that broke data collection. I'm confident I can get the analysis to run again in a couple of hours, it's nothing?" the scientist replied. 
"And how many comrades are we going to need to sacrifice for that analysis?" the policeman almost sneered. "If even it's going to help us. You've had your chance and you wasted it. You're not coming back." the policeman went on, annoyed. 


The scientist looked dejected. He tried to keep looking at the policeman, to keep protesting, but he wasn't really convincing, and it was plain that the policemen wouldn't even make eye contact. The scientist noticed me and my puzzled look and commented simply: 


"It's a shame. Somebody's been releasing an untested app update on the Pokegear. I was trying to run some data analysis about... the situation in Jasper. But the update caused everything to reboot, wreaking havoc on the config files and the metrics. So they booted me out. At least", he added bitterly, not noticing my dismayed expression, "everyone will know about the Factory Field, as long as the update didn't erase that data."


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I didn't get the chance to answer, as the policeman turned to me. 
"Yes?" he asked in a weary voice. "What's it about? Jasper is off-limits for now, it's too unsafe."


I took a deep breath, and answered with a very unconfident voice:
"I was sent by Florinia. I think I'm supposed to assist you with the plants, or something?"
"I heard about that. They're saying you put an end to the floral kerfuffle in Obsidia?"
"It was dumb luck." I replied quietly. "I'm not exactly sure what you were told, but if I can advise and assist, I'll do it. I'm not very confident about managing to do it again."
"Advise and assist?" the officer chuckled humorlessly. "There's little to assist or advise. What do you think there is in the Jasper Ward?"
"I heard that," I started, uneasy, "the plants had devastated it?"
"These are merely words." the scientist, the presence of which I had forgotten. "I can't tell you about it. It's... more than a sorry set-up, it's a nightmare. "
"The Beryl Ward is where it all started. Of course, it's even worse there." the policeman completed. "Like in Obsidia, plants started going crazy all of a sudden. But we couldn't catch it early in Jasper and Beryl, as you somehow managed. And we can't evacuate the trapped citizens here -- you'll see why. We have only three purposes. Watch each other's back, keep civilians out, and stop it all. That's why we're glad to have you here."


What were they expecting? That I stepped in, and managed to singlehandedly destroy a monstrusouly powerful machine that could devastate an entire neighborhood?
 

But the question went deeper: what had Florinia been thinking? She had to have known my mission would be of the "locate and destroy" rather than any kind of advice. Had she deliberately misled me? It was, alas, entirely plausible. 

 

Fully aware that I was heading past the likely point of no-return, that it was likely to be my literal funeral, I said, in a dull voice: "I'll come." Because I knew that there just wasn't a safer option. 


"I'm on watch here." the policeman answered, pointing behind him. "The Ward is about a mile and a half past there. Don't worry too much about the vines until you get near the broken buildings, but don't go poking the vines either, because they're real nasties when taunted."

 

What little guts I had were making themselves scarce, as I walked on, very worried. At first, the area was desert, without any construction, and very little flora, mostly small bushes and patches of grass, without any sign that everything was amiss. Then, as I went on, abnormal manifestations of flora would become increasingly frequent, such as vines as tangled as bushes, or heavy immobile vegetal tendrils, completely supple and woodless, lying on the ground. 


These modest displays, as I was striding nervously in the slight twilight light, were steadily growing, first to pine tree-shaped vine tangles that were taller than me, then to assemblies of such structures, linked by multiple aerial vines, wider than tree trunks. These seemed to be the ultimate gall on the Jasper Ward. 


When I reached the Ward, I realized what the police officer and the scientist meant. It was horrific. It was insane. It was... mind-breaking. It was, I thought, like seeing a prosperous ancient kingdom being pillaged and ruined in less than a day. But it was more than that: it had to be your place, the one you've alwys lived in, its culture and ideals which were your mind's roots and sape... All of them reduced to naught, broken, defeated... Obliterated. Reduced to mere entropy. 


For centuries, mankind had striven to master nature, to learn the secrets it had gathered due to chance, to duplicate and improve its processes, to make it harmless, to turn it into a tool... Lately, the mindset had somewhat shifted, and nature had been let be, but nature claiming lives or property was still an anomaly, or an "act of Arceus", an error to be taken care of. 


And here, nature had taken action, struck back at civilization, and reclaimed its land. More than a few parts of my brain flashed yet-unknown alarm signals, knowing the event was but a prelude to a collapse of home, that I would need to search for a welcoming cave somewhere near, for fear of what came out at night... 
 

Don't forget it could as well have been PULSE-wielding Meteors, I tried to force my brain out of its crash mode. 

 

The Ward was... invaded, there wasn't really another word. Most of the buildings were either broken in half, the once-higher part lying, massive and inaccessible, near them, or plain torn to pieces. There usually were several of these vine camps around each inhabited piece of debris, threateningly waving at nearby people, such as myself, even though there wasn't any wind. It felt as though these vine camps were the foreguard of an occupation army. But, as any foreguard, they weren't alone. Middle-sized trees had seemingly sprouted as fast as mushrooms, and were everywhere, making moving in the broken town difficult and hazardous. 


Flora's army, reclaiming its land.

That sounded nice in my head. Maybe there could be a story about that. 

 

One of the very few buildings not destroyed was, ironically, the police station. I assumed I had to go there first, to hear about the situation, or objectives, even though I knew there rather weren't any. Regardless, I needed to make my presence known, if only so that, if it went wrong, they knew they would have to search for me. 
The police station hadn't been destroyed, but it had incurred some damage. The walls were cracked, the windows had been shattered and fixed with cardboard, and the power was out, so there were a few candles, dimly lighting the room. Only one person was inside, sitting at a prominent desk, with one ominous candle on each side, their elbows on the desk and their head in their hands. Nevertheless, they noticed my entering at once and said with a clear voice, and a practised tone:

 

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"Greetings." he drew his hands out and faced me. "I am the Chief of the Reborn City Police Department. Although civilians affairs are of the highest importance to me, I am afraid I cannot take any requests at this time. Our force is already highly overextended, and I am afraid that we cannot spare the manpower at this moment. Especially with more missing turning up each day."
"It's not about that," I answered shily. "I think you've been told about me, I'm..." I took a deep breath. "I'm the one Florinia..."
"Oh, yes." he answered. "In this case..." he took a closer look at me. "Look, I'll give you the picture."


He stood up, and took the cardboard protection out of the left window, and pointed it at me. 

 

"Six full days ago, the inhabitants of the Beryl Ward, northeast from here, woke up with a plant army inside the Ward. There was an understandable mad panic, but we managed to relocate most of the inhabitants to the Jasper Ward, and stockpile supplies there. However, we weren't able to stop the plants, and they ransackled Beryl. So we focused on building defense lines at the border, places where plants couldn't grow."
"We had to pour massively damaging chemicals on the ground, which was of course, a disgusting thing to do, but the plants were so aggressive that we only thought of defending that line. And then..." his expression went sadder. "The night of the attack on Grandview Station, the same thing happened to the Jasper Ward. We were busy with the investigation and couldn't take the same measures. The plant army grew in the Malchous Forest, westwards, in the night, and by the time we were aware of it, it already was even stronger than in Beryl..."

 
His voice broke and his head lowered, as in shame. 

 

"We couldn't even evacuate everyone. So many coordinated vines were uprooting buildings, and smashing them on the ground, or just tearing through them until they broke in two or collapsed... And they assaulted us when we tried to get close, to try and save the inhabitants. They still do that." He now looked down, and weary. "Every day since, we've sent men to look and rescue survivors. And each time, less come back."


God

 

"If ever they so decided, they could wipe the Ward out without us being able to do anything. I'm not too sure why they haven't. At least," he sighed, "many citizens were asked to stockpile, so there's a good chance that part of the citizens trapped in their homes are alive. "
"Do you think they're natural," I asked, "or that, as was the case in Obsidia, someone is manipulating the plants?"
"I've lived for a while, and it's the very first time I hear about such a situation." the police chief answered. "And the plants' reactions... don't feel too alien. I'm inclined to think somebody's pulling the strings."


"That's probably a stupid question, but why didn't you set the plants on fire?" I asked, curious. After all, I had been scared to use fire in Obsidia, but the situation was worse here.
"We've decided that it wasn't worth burning all of the trapped civilians alive. That a blaze strong enough to halt the invasion was very likely to spread to the rest of Reborn City."


"So", I asked, as I felt I couldn't delay it anymore. "What can I do to help?"
"What can you do?" he commented, chuckling humorlessly. "Well, you can try and locate the source of the infection and shut it down. I would also like you to find some police officers which have gone missing in Jasper or Beryl."
"You're basically telling me : 'do or die'." I pointed out. I wasn't sure about how I felt about that. Very uneasy, for sure.
"Well," he answered darkly. "You're on Reborn City's last defence line against a plant assault. We're outnumbered and outmatched. If they win here, it's probably going to be over. So it's do or die for all of us."

 

 

 

 

Character ratings: 

Spoiler

Florinia: 5-/10. Nothing to justify a full point downgrade, but her app, far from helping fight the PULSE, actually interferred with the PULSE-control efforts. And her motivations for sending me there still are unclear. It probably wasn't the kindness in her heart. 

 

Edited by Mindlack

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Posted (edited)

It's time for a new chapter! As advertised, we get a bit of action in this chapter. Will Gabriel manage to defeat the Jasper PULSE? Or maybe find an unexpected way out of the situation?

 

Also, I can't help but notice that the view counter keeps going up but nobody actually commented since about ten chapters ago. I'm assuming that some people go on reading but maybe there isn't any?

 

Did I say/write the wrong thing somewhere? Is my protagonist boring, too unrelatable or too repetitive? Is the text too lengthy or too predictable? Is my English some Frankenstein-like linguistic zombie that devours the brains of anyone reading? Did you all leave when I started mentioning math? Are my pictures (or puns, or titles) repellent instead of merely clumsy? 

 

Anyway, here is the chapter:

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20: F for Effort

 

 

 

I felt dejected after leaving the police station. My assignment had been ill-defined from the start, but I wondered if I didn't actually prefer the ambiguity, as I was tasked with an impossible job. Worse, it was a matter of life or death. In stories, such situations made the lead character do their best, and pull off impossible feats of wit, stamina or strength. I mostly felt hopeless, and started wandering the Ward. 


Very quickly, I found myself walking away from the forest, in the wrong direction, barely aware of what was around me. As I was directly under some tree, I felt some sort of drop fall on my head. Putting distractedly my hand in my hair, I actually found something. Something smelly, colored in a foul dark green. Something thoroughly unnatural...


I took two quick steps away from the tree, as an Alolan Grimer dropped from it. It seemed surprised to land on the pavement instead of somebody's head, but it recovered almost instantly from the shock and tried to leap at me. I managed to get Baby between the Grimer and me, and it took only a few moves to make him back off. I thought it was over, but I heard a Pokeball coming out and a Mudbray appeared. 


So somebody was sniping at me? Luckily, while the Pokemon seemed gifted, Baby and Mouse were more than a match for it and it didn't take long for them to win. I backed off, expecting the owner of the Pokemon to show themselves. 


"Damn", someone said from somewhere with a male, annoyed voice, maybe from one of the broken alleys around. "I'm not playing anymore. Show yourself." 


Fear fell upon me. I wasn't enthusiastic at the idea of being identified -- after all, he could, and probably would take out his defeat on me. I wasn't eager to start running either. Not only did the cracks and the vines make the ground treacherous, but I would also have to expose my back, which (according to stories, at least) wasn't a great idea. So I decided to hide behind the trees from which the Grimer had jumped, paying cautiously attention to my surroundings, including upwards. 


Fourtunately, there was nobody there, and I was able to observe my former opponent as he came out of hiding. I felt a terrible apprehension rise in my throat when I recognized the dark grey uniform and the black hood. Meteors. How great.

 

From a more positive outlook, however, this finding increased the possibility that another, similar, but more developed, PULSE, was to blame for the situation. It probably wasn't some Ent uprising.


The Meteor took some sort of walkie-talkie -- that was so well-planned, why didn't I have one -- and spoke words of dread, still while looking around. He didn't seem to see me, who was hidden against a tree and trying to peek. 

 

"There's a suspicious person in the area. They're a Trainer, with at least a Loudred and a Herdier. Not too bad. Over."

 

A buzzing noise was all I could make out. The grunt put the device against his ear and waited. 

 

"No, I think not. What are the instructions?"

 

Noises again. 

 

"Roger that." he put the device away. 

 

Then he turned at the trees and spoke loud and clear.

 

"I didn't hear you escaping, whoever you are, so you're probably there, even though I can't see you. I would get away from that place right now if I were you." As if it were so simple. "The plants are going to rip what's left of that place to shreds." Oh no. "They're all going to die, but you don't have to go with them." 


These words froze me. I tried to get away from the grunt, still remaining under tree cover, but didn't succeed. He was too close, and the tree strip wasn't wide enough. 

 

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"You know, you can come out, I pretty much don't care, I've done my job. But you've been spotted. We'll look out for you now. We'll ambush you and defeat your purpose, whatever it is."


And I was trapped behind the trees, as I didn't want him to see me. But I couldn't remain much longer playing peekaboo. So I took a candy bar to give me some courage, and moved as silently as I could out of the tree line, on the side of the police station. The grunt kept his eye on the trees, and, very nervous, I walked until I was sufficiently far from him to be hardly seeable, as it was almost night, then ran into the next alley I could find. 


That had been much too close. But I had gathered valuable information. Which the police probably already had, my inner skeptic commented. Regardless, this was heavy evidence favoring the theory that this plant uprising was similar to the Meteor-engineered one back in Obsidia. Therefore, I should be looking for a PULSE.


The Chief had stated that the assault had come from the forest. The logical conclusion was that I should look for this hypothetical PULSE there. Or that I let the actual people whose job it is to protect the inhabitants, the policemen, handle it. They probably already knew about it anyway. 


There wasn't a real way to the forest. In what seemed like the main path, many trees had grown, and nasty-looking weeds, the offspring of the unearthly plant growth, were occupying the rest. So I went to the forest by a winding route. It took me in dark alleys, led me to have Wolfgang cut a few trees, plunged under ruins of fallen buildings (although I tried to minimize that part, as the atmosphere there was oppressive and I was forced to find my way by feel, as it was darker than the night), but I was able to get there. 


And then I realized why the police hadn't been able to break the PULSE. 

 

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The Malchous Forest was... more than invaded by the PULSE-bred plants. It was more than taken over. It was... colonized, there hardly was another word for it. Countless vines formed as many layers of fortification. I felt at a loss. Who was I to stand a chance against such numbers? Such odds? And yet, someone had to do this. Maybe the plants wouldn't react too aggressively if I just slipped by? 


I started making my way in this very dense, quite oppressive, new vegetal environment. The vines resisted pressure, but, not without effort, I was able to push them one by one, and thus progress through the forest, towards the hypothetical location of the hypothetical PULSE, deep in the woods. But my advance was slow and difficult, and, while I was growing more and more tired, the plants were starting to organize, bracing themselves to resist my push, or waving so threateningly that I didn't want to try and antagonize them too much. As a consequence, my way was anything but straight (something which the very irregular layout of the vines and the darkness made very difficult in any case). 


After over an hour of asserting myself against one plant, and the other, my arms and back were protesting so much that I couldn't take it anymore and had to make a stop. I stood against a luckily placed lone tree and tried to rest my strained muscles, while getting my breathing in order. 


The forest was quiet and dark, all the more so because of the high density of thick tree trunk-shaped vines and because the night had completely fallen. It hadn't been light exercise I had been doing, and this drove me to doze off. It was so surprisingly peaceful... No cold wind, I wasn't too chilly, if a bit sweaty, due to my physical effort... The buzzing of bugs in the distance... They went wherever they liked... A great life...


As, while falling asleep, I subconsciously focused on these inconsequential sounds, they seemed to become more and more noticeable. They were hardly a distant buzzing at first, then I managed to half-consciously make out several patterns, based on small pauses and pitch of the vibration, then I started hearing air rushing to my ears, then I saw a darker shape before my two-third unfocused eyes... 


The air hissed. There was the sound of a brutal impact on something soft, and a moan, all of which jolted me awake. I started when I realized that, not two feet from me, a fallen Beedrill was lying motionless, the abdomen flattened and leaking yellowish blood, its delicate legs twisted at impossible angles. I cautiously knelt near the Pokemon, but it looked beyond saving. I started to feel nauseous. And then terror rushed. 


I had to leave this instant.

 

"Bugger. Couldn't it wait two minutes?" someone with a feminine voice nearby complained in my back. 
Adrenaline rushing, I turned back, trying to see who was there. I only could see a dark shape, at the very edge of the tiny clearing around the tree. 
"I know you're there. You've escaped us once, but you won't make it far from here. You are trapped."
 

I needed time to think, I realized. To get my mind back. To process information.

 

"Who are you?" I asked, with a stressed out tone. 

There was a second's worth of silence, then the voice answered again. "I remember you. You were the useless guy that attacked the factory. We've warned you, and you're not going to escape a second time."


Crap. A Meteor. It would be really dumb to engage her on a terrain she so thoroughly was in control of, so I had to leave fast. I called Wolfgang out. 
"Start cutting a way through the vines", I whispered to him. "Try going in... that direction" I added, pointing roughly at where I thought was the Jasper Ward.


I felt a draft near my neck, on my left. Something had been flying very close to me, but too fast for me to see. There was only one good counter. 
"Batley, please force this flying Pokemon off me. Confusion!"

 

The Swoobat got out of her Pokeball, soared in the air and quickly identified her target, as it was the only other flying Pokemon close by. It attempted to target the unprotected Wolfgang, who was bravely cutting his way through the unbelievable tangle of increasingy agitated, and angry, vines. However, Batley flew straight at the Pokemon, and the Psychic attack seemed to quite damage it, as it broke off and tried to flee towards me again. 
Batley didn't leave the Golbat the time to have a bite at me, and took it down with another Confusion. Whew.

 

I started walking towards the path Wolfgang had created, but I realized that my feet were almost glued to the grass. 
"A commendable aerial battle," the Meteor commented. "However, I can only recommend that you learn to better watch your surroundings. One might," she added, and could hear her smile, "find it easy to land a String Shot on you."
 

Double crap. I could see her now, with my impediment it would be easy for her to take me as a prisoner or hostage or something, if not straight out murder meArceus. I tried to take the string off me with my hands, but it was too sticky and I barely managed to free my hands (returning to the status quo), which were so sticky that they could probably retain water now. 


I had to do something. "Something" finally amounted to a desperate thrashing around with my legs, hoping against hope I could free myself, hoping that the string wasn't made for my weight class. And fortunately, it wasn't and gave way. I instantly ran for my life, in the path Wolfgang had created. The weakened string couldn't hold my feet again to the ground. It couldn't compare to the desperate energy terror was filling me with. And when I caught up with Wolfgang, I managed to push the plants out of my way with more desperate strength than I previously had, using only my elbows and legs for fear of finding myself glued to a plant. 


But the adrenaline-fueled energy ran out more quickly than I had hoped. I was out of breath, every plant was harder to push around than the previous one, many of them were fighting back, trying to swat me aside like a frail Beedrill, and I had to watch in every direction, duck, push back, or simply take the blow where it wouldn't hurt too badly. Worse, Wolfgang was growing tired and I recalled him. It probably took forty grueling minutes, where I had to focus on my breathing before I got out of this nightmare, and managed to catch a break against a broken building. I was back in the Jasper Ward. 

 

My legs ached by the effort they had made to fight the glue in the String Shot and the dash on the unequal ground of the forest. My arm muscles and my back were sore due to all the vine pushing around, added to my previous injuries. My neck was aching due to all the moves I had had to do to avoid getting hit in the head. The rest of my body was hurt on general principle, pretty much everywhere. My hands felt sticky and dirty. 


I was so tired I probably could have passed out on the spot, but a man's screaming prevented me from doing that. It came from inside this very building I was standing against. 

 

At such a strange angle, being inside the building felt a bit like exploring underground ancient ruins. The structure was made of different rooms, rather open to one another. It was pitch black, so I had to call on Leaf, for her Flame Charge to periodically light up the place. Sound also tended to echo a lot, a very disturbing occurrence which made locating the plea's origin harder. However, the building ultimately wasn't very big, and I finally found the screaming person. 

 

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They had good reason. They were wrestling with an ugly, massive, and highly aggressive Alolan Raticate, that felt like eating them (or at least, it looked this way). For some reason, they were lying on their back, struggling to not let the Pokemon get at their vital organs. I didn't think and tried to kick the Pokemon away with my full body's weight, something that should have worked beautifully. I got the Raticate in its fat flank instead (I didn't dare aim at its face and big, ugly teeth), and barely dislodged it. 


Furious at being deprived of its meal, it leaped at me. Panicked, I stepped backwards, tripped over some debris, fell on my back, and could only witness in naked terror as it sprung at me. Instead of eating my face, it was beautifully intercepted by Leaf, which was originally making light, but whom the repeated Flame Charges had considerably quickened. She delivered a vengeful Double KIck to the rat monster, fainting it. 

I rose to my feet, every part aching now, and trembling in tension. But I still knew what to do. 

 

"Are you okay?" I went asking the man. I noticed he had bruises all over his face, a few with dried blood, including a black eye, and that he was wearing a torn blue uniform. The logic asserted itself. "Are you a police officer?"
"I am brused and bitten, but I'll manage." he panted. "I was kidnapped by a Meteor. He threatened to have his Raticate eat me if I moved. When he went away he left his rat guard me. I tried to run, it attacked me, and you came. Thank you."
What a dreadful fate it would have been, I thought. 


"Can you get up? There has to be a way to the police station. You'd be safe."
"I know... a shortcut." he panted less heavily, mastering his breathing again. "Help me up."

Edited by Mindlack

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Posted (edited)

I really don't know if anyone reads this, but I guess I'll still post the chapters anyway. As again, any feedback or comment (even on significantly older chapters if you don't want to read it all in one go) is appreciated. 

 

So... as suggested by the status update, I've finally finished my first version of part 1, with 27 chapters. It ends more or less after Corey's Gym. What I am realizing is that this story is becoming, um, huge. I can't give a precise estimate, but it's topping 100 pages without question, maybe in the 130s or even more. 

So, when you write something this ludicrously long, you need a better title than "the odd one out". To stress the door-stopper characteristics, I was thinking of moderately amusing stupidities such as "Lords of the keys" or "War and Pieces". If you've got better ideas, I'm interested. 

 

Also, due to attachment size limits we're hitting, I'll be using imgur from now on. I'm not sure I grasped how it worked, but we'll see...

(Final Edit: With proper help, I finally managed to embed the images)

 

This long, plot-relevant (finally) chapter is the first, I think, where I'm adding "Player's notes" for battles, where I explain what happened in-game, which is (for the rest of part 1, at least), far less action-heavy (and uncertain) than the written version. 

 

And now, it's far past the time for:  

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21: Play Pretend

 

 

The vine moving had been very intense exercise, of the kind I wasn't accustomed to (I would have to do something about it), and therefore, as we reached the police station, I fell in the nearest armchair and passed out. It reportedly took the chief several minutes to get me awake, so that he could get my account. I told him everything I had encountered, from the Meteors, to the half-artificial plant forteress in the forest, about the ambush, how they had nearly taken me, how I escaped. The other officer supplied the details about how I (well, more Leaf than I) ended up saving him from the Raticate. 


It was, I argued, strong evidence in favor of the existence of a "PULSE" similar to what had been set up in Obsidia. That knowledge, however theoretically interesting, was of little practical use, because it didn't really impact the actions we could take. The forest, the place we had to investigate, remained impenetrable, and there didn't seem to be any move we could make. We couldn't dig a tunnel, because we would have to break through sturdier vines and roots. There hardly was a way around, and it seemed a very risky gambit to believe the other directions wouldn't be well defended. We didn't have anything that could air-take us to the heart of the forest.

 

Wait a second.

 

"Do you have some sort of camera?" I suggested. "At daybreak, my Swoobat could carry it over the forest, so that we can get pictures, or footage, of what is happening? Maybe it's going to be blurred or out of focus, but we could get something interesting?"


I got a round of astonished looks. 

 

"We don't have the material for this. Filming gear is too heavy, and we can't develop photographs here." was the consensus, and the discussion went on. Right, so we were low-tech... I missed my more "civilized" phone. What were we going to do?

 

"I think I'm going to sleep for a while." I answered. "I've been awake for long now, and I think I'll get better ideas in the morning."


The policemen weren't exactly pleased with my choice, but it was more than late and I was quite exhausted, and not in the mood of listening. When I was waken up with sore muscles, (five hours were generous of them, they said, in such an emergency), it was quite early in the morning, and dawn was barely approaching. The officers that had remained active had monitored the situation around the Ward and had provided alarming news. The plants were heavily developing southwards, towards the still intact parts of Reborn City. 


Energetic action, it was agreed, was required. While outright arson was still out of the question, it was decided that an entire squadron of policemen (along with me, unfortunately) would make their way in the forest, with the intention of locating and destroying the PULSE. 


Here was the catch, though: the officers would be in contact, but still dispatched in different parts of the forest, to force the plants split their force and focus. The rationale was that, according to my account and their observations, several people in a compact group would offer a much easier target. Of course, the actual officers had been given weaponry (more like a machete), and fuel and matches, with instructions to "use it responsibly". Of course, I hadn't been given any of these. After all, I hadn't been properly instructed on how to use them. It was, of course, the responsible decision about me on their part. After all, I could set myself on fire, or cut myself. Or worse, cut somebody else up. 


However, wrestling my way in the forest, I couldn't help but feel I was but bait, contributing little. Or even worse than bait, a sitting duck, waiting to be shot. Whatever "shooting" meant in this case. This suited so much better my still hazy mind and my wish to remain relatively safe. 


Forcing the tall vines (they had grown to over seven feet) to bend in approximately the way I wanted them to, especially in the darkness preceding dawn, was a straining task, all the more so since they were more antagonistic than in my previous visit. Fortunately, it was more of a passive resistance than attempts to squash me. As I wasn't exactly the cornerstone of the operation, I was satisfied with keeping a low profile.


The forest seemed endless. I had lost track of time (not that I really had kept track of it earlier), wrestling my way into the forest. My already dirty and sweaty clothes hadn't improved, and I was feeling quite wet, and lost in a uniform field of vines. I didn't even know where to go, except as a vague direction that probably didn't indicate anything any more. 


Of course, thinking of what to do, at a time when I was already feeling too weary for anything not nap-related, I started reminiscing. About stories. About characters lost in the wilderness making their way back. But as I recalled them, there usually was some sort of knowledgeable (if not always with good intentions) guide, somebody knowing nature inside out. If not, they usually had a bit of equipment, or transportation available. What would such a person have done? But I couldn't answer that; I would prove myself to be just as knowledgeable as they were if I could. They would have some experience to base themselves on, some overview they could apply...

 

Some overview...

 

I had suddenly found my next short-term objective. I would have to find an actual tree, climb it a bit, and try to see how deep the vine walls were, if I could reasonably go through them. Cheered up by this shift in purpose, I put my bag back on my shoulders, and starting to push my way through the colonizing vines, ignoring my muscles' protests. As I was progressing, the vines were pushing back harder and harder, but I would then manage to slip between them, and not look behind. Indeed, the vines, when returning to their normal position, were so fast they would overdo it and bang together with frightening strength. Anything between them would be squashed to a pulp. 


Still obsessing over this vision of horror, I finally managed to find a tree after much effort, before even dawn was breaking. Even though it thankfully had low enough branches, it was harder to climb it than I had expected and I managed it. Once sufficiently high up, I found out that I had been lucky. The vines indeed covered the woods as far as I could see, and there only was a large uneven circular area, maybe half a kilometer away, where the forestry looked sparser. It would be pretty easy to miss, if one went in the wrong direction. I had no idea where the other officers were, and the light wasn't sufficient to see them. For all I knew, they could still have been wandering the vines anywhere. 


I didn't want to jump down from the tree. My gray surroundings were reminding me of existential questions, such as "what was I doing here?", or "what's the point anyway?" or "Arceus I'm tired, I'll nap right there and let the policemen sort it out". That it wasn't my fight. That it might be easier to try and reach Kalos back on foot. 
 

Who was I kidding? I'd pretend to see the job through anyway. 
Just not until dawn
, I thought. Let me rest till that. 
 

I just sat and watch till the sky became lighter, revealing clouds. If I were sufficiently unlucky, it would be raining, strengthening the plants and weakening me, as well as Leaf. But I forced myself to focus back on my task, as I had exceeded the rest time I had allocated myself. Eyes focused on the clear area, I climbed down from the tree and started muscling my way through the thick vine jungle. It was a harrowing session of over an hour, pushing one plant and then the other, always being watchful, ducking the occasional resentful vine, seldom letting my arms down, but I managed to reach the clearing, at the lower end of a bank. I chided myself for not noting that, but immediately thought up a convenient excuse -- it had been dark. At least, while I was climbing the bank, my arms could get a well-deserved rest. 


Of course, it came as a shock when a young man in casual clothes, looking much more confident than I was, seemed to appear out of thin air before me as I was walking up the last part of the slope. Who was he? Had he been somehow expecting me? But how? 


"Gabriel, right?" he asked, tone casual, almost friendly. 
"How do you know?" I asked, shaken. 
"I figured you'd end up around here."
"Why me? I'm hardly the only one searching the forest." I answered, trying nonsensically to nitpick the other's certainties rather than ask the interesting questions about who he were, and how he knew me. 
"No," he answered, "but you're not the one facing unexpected plant resistance, and, I suppose, Bug Pokemon webs. My name's Taka, by the way."

 

This alarmed me even more. How could he have known about that, unless... And in that case, the best thing to do was to let him talk, watch my back and watch my mouth.

 

"Would you mind following me? There's something I would like to show you."
"Sure, why not?" I answered mechanically, even though it felt ominous. He had been polite enough and the request seemed harmless. 

 

We walked very little until I saw it. It was a PULSE Tangrowth, just like in Obsidia. Except that it was more twisted. It was bulkier, but even more difform, and frankly uglier. And terrifying. The other one had come so close to killing me. 

 

"So yes, that's the PULSE. This single machine is behind all of the destruction in the Jasper Ward. But you wouldn't be impressed, as you destroyed the one in Obsidia."

 

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"You know," I answered uneasily, not knowing what he was driving at, "it really was luck. And this one looks even more developed, more dangerous."
"It is." Taka confirmed. "It has had more time to grow, and it's more powerful. There's a drawback, though."
"Is there?"
"You're not familiar with the PULSE project." Taka answered. So it was a "project", not, like, the literal greatest bioengineering achievement of all time. "PULSE stands for Pokemon Ultimation Link-System Exaggerata. A silly acronym, in my opinion, but..." he had a self-mocking smile. "Anyway, as you saw, it morphs the Pokemon and amplifies to some 'supercharge' point its powers. The supplement is theoretically unbounded, but... here's the catch. Oh," he added in a reassuring tone, "stop looking so tense. I know, I'm with Team Meteor, but we can have a civilized conversation, can't we? I'll warn you with plenty of advance when the truce is over."


"If you wish." I answered, not knowing what to say. I couldn't sneak attack him, and I gained information. Net win if I behaved as he desired. As long as I didn't let myself get surrounded. I had to keep being wary. 


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"So, where was I. Yes, the catch. Unsurprisingly, it's very hard on a Pokemon's body to destroy a entire city. It's a physical wrestle against the machine to keep itself alive, or functional. That's why, as I heard, the Obsidia Tangrowth died shortly after fainting." That was the reason, then. "I suppose that poisoning the ground under its core roots did help as well." he added, almost a compliment. 


How on Earth did he knew so much?

 

"Long story short, this Tangrowth's exhausted, worse than Beryl's. I suppose it's because of the fortifications. One of my ideas, I'm afraid. I'm assuming you're here to end it anyway?"
"Yes," I answered, not bothering to lie. Or otherwise complicate the situation by explaining my actual goal, which was leaving Reborn as fast as possible.

 

2P06luU.png

 

"You know, I'm almost tempted to do it myself. It's been responsible for loss of lives, limbs and homes. But... " he stopped abruptly, his eyes avoiding me. There was a short break, and I didn't want the situation to escalate. I -- warily, uneasily -- let him do his thinking. 


He sighed. "Pity you ruined entirely Obsidia undergrowth structures. Team Meteor as a whole, and most of all the bosses, are quite upset. If I were you, I'd prepare invitations."
"Invitations?" I asked, more and more disturbed. Taka, or so he called himself, hadn't made much sense in these last sentences. Was he about to go loony on me? Was he simply mad?
"Yes, invitations. There are people to invite to your funeral watch, and pyre. Us." Taka was saying the sentence very strangely. Not to mention the weird grammar. 
He then took a deep breath. 
"Or, you know, I could abide by my orders. Disarm you, bring you in." I shivered at the thought. Or maybe it was just the cool morning and the tiredness. "Stop the infodumping and slightly cryptic monologue. Battle you." He seemed to think about it for a second, then added, still as if it was all an idle game. "Of course, you, the true hero, would probably win against villanous me, but I wouldn't mind." 

 

What? 

 

I wanted to run. I wanted so badly to run. But I knew I was surrounded by a very thick ring of plants. I would never manage to flee. I didn't have any other choice than battle Taka. Or burn the entire forest, which really wasn't better.

 

Taka's first Pokemon was a frail Exeggcute, which fainted to one hit by Wolfgang, even as the former had to duck the PULSE's attacks. Taka's other Pokemon was a Chatot, a Pokemon which, so far, I hadn't given much thought about, except about it being basically useless. I was, at about the worst possible moment, proven wrong. Taka's Chatot was fast and powerful, and downed Wolfgang without taking a hit. I didn't have anyone matching its capacities, so I would need a Pokemon that could tank the punishment it dished out. Hex, the Swalot, was my best shot, and Batley was there as support. The Swoobat was directing Air Cutters at the vines that got too close, and sending low-power Psychic attacks to keep the Chatot away. 


But they couldn't hold on. Somebody had to be put in timeout. 

 

"Hex, Yawn at the Tangrowth!" I shouted. That would take care of it for a while. 

 

In the meantime, I instructed Batley to start hitting harder at the Chatot. The two bird Pokemon got closer, and a subtle dance followed, as they both dodged the moves of their opponents, while trying to outsmart them. The Confusions were fortunately tiring Taka's Pokemon out, but Batley got outthought and took a fully-powered Chatter attack from below, as she was maneuvering above the Chatot. The sheer power of the move quite literally stunned her in mid-air, and, lacking anything to sustain her, she started falling from maybe thirty feet. 


I started running towards it, but I knew it wouldn't work out. Luckily, Taka got greedy, and instructed his Pokemon to throw a similar attack to put her out for good. There was my chance. That made the Chatot's moves predictable. Meaning...

 

"Hex, Acid Spray on the Chatot!"

 

The Swalot was much slower... But he could grasp enough of the Chatot's future move to hurl the acid at the right spot. Again, the bird didn't react properly and lost its flight. Upon my command, Hex, in a huge effort, propelled herself towards the falling parrot, and hit it with considerable momentum (as I checked out later, she was at least thirty times heavier). The Chatot fell motionless to the ground barely a second after Batley, who also had fainted. 


Taka would not send any more Pokemon at me. Instead, he sat on his bag, took out some candy of his, and started to eat it as I was fighting the wakening Tangrowth. It was a relief, as I would hardly have been able to deal with it otherwise. The bad news, obviously, was that he could use the PULSE's horrific capabilities to defeat me. But if he gave orders to the Tangrowth, I couldn't hear them. The Pokemon (was it even one at this point?) had not appreciated its short rest, and thrashed around. It threw many of its already existing vines at me, and made up for lost time by forcing new ones to grow at most alarming rates. It barely missed Batley as I recalled her, but it hammered mercilessly at Hex, who couldn't answer but throw weakening Acid Sprays at it, as her health was under siege. 


I went all out for this fight. Mouse the Herdier, Leaf, Baby the Loudred -- my remaining healthy Pokemon -- went into battle, making Taka glee and cheer and pick another candy bar. Despite Mouse's bravery, she was knocked out about immediately by the thrashing of a PULSE-controlled angry plant that Leaf had just set ablaze. Due to her typing, Leaf put up a better fight, but the Tangrowth's Mega Drains and plain vine hits were tiring her out fast, while her Flame Wheels weren't causing the Tangrowth any serious damage. At least, they were painful and diverted resources away from Baby, who was actually doing the work. 


As in the previous PULSE fight, Baby did most of the damage. Her Echoed Voice, which she had practised, and whose power increased with repetition, was actually hurting the Tangrowth. The best part probably was that it and Leaf's fiery attacks were distracting the living weapon from trying to beat me to a pulp. After what seemed like an eternity of anguish, of me avoiding comparatively small vine attacks, of Baby screaming her vocal power off, when my back, knees, elbows were begging me to stop, when Baby looked barely able to stand on her own, the Tangrowth wavered, moaned softly, and fell over. 
It was the end. Finally.

 

Spoiler

Player's note: it's an account (with literary flourish, let's say), of my first attempt in this run with Taka. The PULSE nearly destroyed me, as it used Growth right at the start, and so it hit hard. With its massive bulk, it was a formidable enemy. It didn't do that in my second battle, where I didn't lose any member: the old strategy of Yawn+Acid Spray+self-empowering / super effective special attack worked like a charm, even though I got rather lucky with the Chatot not killing my Swalot, or said Swalot hitting three times in a row despite the confusion. 

 

NrlkIAF.png


"Well, then. What a shame." was Taka's comment as he stood up, still grinning. "I tried my damnedest, and I failed. This is, I think, the part where I laugh maniacally saying that it was for nought, that my evil plan is still in motion, starting from the Beryl Ward PULSE, and that when we come back, you meddling kid will regret it."


He paused, expecting my reaction. 

 

"Why?" was my panting answer. Why was he behaving this way? Why was Team Meteor savaging Reborn City seemingly without reason? Why... "Why is Team Meteor doing this?"

 

"Isn't it obvious?" he drew his arm, pointing at the invaded forest, and towards the Jasper Ward, a reminder of the destructive power he had wielded. "Peace." he grabbed his Pokeballs, called something on his walkie-talkie, and left just like that.

 

It had been very, very close. So unbelievably close. It only would have taken one more blow, one more vine, a couple of wilder moves, an aerial feint from the Chatot, maybe a gambit from Taka, sacrificing his Chatot to let the Tangrowth rampage longer... Or plain squash me, just like it had done to the faster Beedrill. How? How could I have conceivably lived through the ordeal?


And who was that Taka anyway? He was undoubtedly a Meteor member, he had said so himself, but he was unlike any I had met. He wasn't wearing a uniform. He had almost been volunteering information to me, with full awareness of it. But he was in charge of the PULSE, in some way or another, which hinted at him being yet some sort of authority in Team Meteor. What was he up to? What did his parting mean? It looked like anything but genuine... Definitely eerie regardless.


A roar of wind and a heavy impact near me pulled me out of my thoughts. I still hadn't been learning. I could still completely forget about the necessary wariness. A Salamence had landed quite brutally very near me. It was an extremely muscular Pokemon, overflowing with power and confidence. There was no question about where I stood in comparison. Any of my Pokemon, or my very body, would be blown away without a sweat. 
How typical, I thought. I had survived the unnatural abomination, but would be devoured by a perfectly natural dragon.
But I didn't. Instead, I heard a seriously annoyed little girl's voice. 


GUgP76y.png

 

"Just what do you even think you're doing?" she shouted at me, hopping from the Salamence. She was small. I was easily one head and a half taller than her. But she could afford to not care, because she had the Salamence. She had bright red hair, a child's face (leading me to assess she couldn't be older than twelve -- talk about taking risky estimates, my inner self-deprecator pointed out) and was wearing absolutely normal clothes, instead of some flight gear one might have been expecting. My eyes were itching, and I was already very weary. I decided there would be no point in making a two-sided confrontation of it. Better hear what she wanted said anyway. Her Salamence was an excellent ambassador in that respect. 


"I was gonna mess up these Meteor jerks myself!" What. "It's not even fair. I finally got away from my dad again so I could go stop the bad guys..." she cut herself off, before her storm of indignation blew again. "And he doesn't even let me do that! He doesn't let me go anywhere! What kind of father doesn't let his daughter go out to beat up bad guys?"


That was a mess which I really didn't want to get involved in. I simply answered, keeping nervous eyes on the Salamence, with as even and adult a voice as I could. You're the adult, Gabriel, she's just a whiny child with too much power ranting at you:


"No parent I know would do that. I mean, let their daughter go out and beat up people. Because, when you try it out, they get smart, and they know to fight back."
"Shut up, you don't understand anything." she retorted. Wow. Most parents I knew wouldn't let for their child to verbally abuse a complete adult stranger. Or any stranger, in fact. But no point in mentioning that either. "Sometimes, I think he's trying to punish me because I remind him of Mom."

 

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No, no, I wasn't having that conversation and I was definitely not getting involved with that. 
 

"But the joke's on him because not only did I steal Mom's ring but I snuck out to beat people up too." And he's now aware of it and he would take measures. "But, to go back to the point," she said, pointing at the decaying cyborg Tangrowth, "there's another of these machines up in the Beryl Ward, where I live. I'm gonna blow that one up, and don't you dare try and stop me." her tone was dead serious. "Salamence." she ordered. "We're taking off."


The dragon, of course, took off with their powerful body and large wings, and the gush of wind was enough to make me lose balance. 

 

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Who was that? That insufferable, annoying, entitled, tiny, stupid child?

 

I definitely wouldn't mind her doing the job in my stead, though.

 

 

 

 

Character ratings: 

Spoiler

Taka: 3/10. Definitely creeping me out, and very worrying. I have a terrified feeling that he could have easily mowed me down, but for some reason he didn't. How come? 
Heather: 4/10. A rude and reckless child, whose education somebody seems to have much neglected. But that's none of her fault. But how come she can use such a majestic and powerful Pokemon? 

 

Edited by Mindlack

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I have already read a few chapters and I was impressed of your story. Good job! Keep working😃

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@Evi Crystal: Thank you! 

 

So I cut down on some text... meaning that a pointless episode was skipped, and you were thus spared about a short chapter's length (and an unjustified appearance of Fern). I suppose that the terribly made screenshots mandate some form of apology -- so please forgive me for their quality, or more accurately total lack thereof. 

Which also means that the finale of Part 1 is actually nearing! 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22: Double or Nothing


 

Spoiler


 

What I wanted above all was to lie down and sleep. 


Inaccurate, I thought. What I wanted that I could immediately get was to lie down and sleep. But I knew it definitely wouldn't be safe. In such a clearing, as I was possibly surrounded by the dying network of an unearthly plant monster, and maybe with Meteor affiliates as well, I could not afford to sleep. Besides, I hardly had any Pokemon to defend me should somebody assault me. This was a very good reason to not lie down and sleep, but to leave the forest and retreat to the closest Pokemon Center or anything remotely like it. The way back would definitely be easier than the way forward, as there wouldn't be any plant actively opposing it. 

 

This optimistic viewpoint didn't really take the situation into account. I was in a clearing, slightly above the rest of the forest, but, while Taka's fortification had to be decaying, I still couldn't see beyond it. As a result, I didn't know at all which direction I had to head towards. I hated that kind of decision. It was all pointless, I didn't have any kind of information to decide on, I had to pick a side, almost at random, and suffer the consequences. Everything I liked


Fortunately, I didn't have to decide because, at last, a police officer had arrived. He was walking around the mound, maybe searching for something, seemingly oblivious to my presence right over him. He tensed upon noticing me arriving, then, recognizing me, relaxed. 

"Did you find anything up here?" he asked me. 

"Yes." I answered. "There was a PULSE with a Meteor in command." I shuddered, thinking how close it had been. 

"You used the past tense. Do you mean that?"

"Yes, I somehow managed to take it down a few minutes ago."
"Should have guessed it. These damned plants. They were doing their best to hold me back, and then they just went limp. Just mass. Plain normal." he glanced at me, asking for an opinion. 
"Yes. Anyway, there was a battle. I defeated him, and destroyed the PULSE. He fled saying there was another in Beryl. That he would be waiting for us there. But..." The memory was so vivid in my eyes. Thinking back on the sheer insanity of what I had done, I expected to throw up then and there. Or faint. I did neither. "it was very close." I finished in a raw whisper. 
"I see." the officer answered after a beat, taking it in. "In this case, we'd better go back to Jasper. Rescue the people we couldn't, plan what we are going to do next."


I didn't want to do anything. I didn't want to keep on planning. I wanted to collapse on the spot. It wasn't my business and it had never been. Yet I knew just as well that I would complete the job. If further action was decided in Beryl, I would go. 


"Do you know the way back?" was the only thing I answered. 
"Sure I do. I have, you know, lived in these parts for a while." the policeman answered, a hint of mockery in the voice. He gave me a machete which made my arms beg for rest. "It will be easier if we both cut our way through."

 

 

****************************************

 

 

I really hadn't expected that I would have managed to hand over my Pokeballs at the counter of the emergency Pokemon Center hastily set up in the Jasper Ward. But I did it. I thought I saw a frown in the nurse's eyes as she examined every Pokemon, but she didn't comment on their injuries. Or maybe my looks. 


The police chief, at a hasty emergency reunion, had asked the entire force to remain on duty to try and rescue the inhabitants from the wrecked Ward. I specifically wasn't to participate, however, as my mission had been only to give advice on the PULSE, not play emergency crew. I knew the decision was legitimate. I knew I wouldn't be much help. I knew it wouldn't do for me to see mangled corpses of men, women, children, that would have been trapped in the rubble. I knew that my weary limbs would cripple my very efficiency regardless. 


And still, I was annoyed. I wasn't a little boy any more. I didn't need sheltering from reality. What part of stuck here for the foreseeable future did they not understand? I had barely had time to rush outside of the station to keep my frustration at bay, and not be seen with teared eyes. 


Despite my weariness, I wanted to kick or punch at something. But most of what I saw were buildings. It would only hurt me to try. Hurt me pointlessly, and maybe endanger other people, in the case of precariously stable rubble. Then I saw a little tree blocking an alley it had no right to obstruct thusly. 


I was, of course, very disappointed when I noticed that the machete I had kept wasn't very effective (and was outright uncomfortable) against plants when wielded in exasperation as an axe. I mumbled darkly, trying to avoid the actual profanity, and called Wolfgang to cut down the shrub, and to make some music. 
The effect of the music wasn't immediate, but it was soothing in the long-term (meaning, a few minutes' time). But even at that point, the alley wasn't easy to really see, as it was filled with debris that blocked the line of sight. 


But not hearing. I heard footsteps. They weren't very regular, and didn't sound steady. I motioned at Wolfgang, still beside me, to be silent (I started missing the music in seconds) and went cautiously forward, looking all around me, waiting for whatever was close to appear into sight. 


A pallid man with much dry blood on their face very strained gait and an uneasy breathing, wearing torn down blue clothes, hobbled in my direction, leaning on the buildings bordering the alley every few steps. He really looked bad and very weak. When he noticed me, he clearly pushed himself more, taking great pains to leave this place. 


Lx7yW2V.png

 

The strain was too big for him and he collapsed mid-way. I ran at him. 
"Are you okay?" I asked. 
His face contorted, indicating very clearly than no. He put his hand next to his mouth in a universal gesture. 
"Do you want to drink?" I offered. 
He nodded. I took a bottle from my bagpack and offered it to him. He managed, wincing in pain, to sit, and then he could put the bottle to his mouth and start drinking. He drunk thirstily, as if he hadn't in a while. Surprisingly, however, he took overall rather little. 
"Help is on the way." I half-lied. "I've got candy to help you pull through." 
Again, he nodded enthusiastically and I gave him one of my wonder candy bars, the ones that had helped me throughout my Obsidia Ward-located epic. Again, he accepted only one, refusing outright another. After drinking and eating even a little, his face had gone from deathly pale to very pale. I noticed only then that his lips were blue. What had he suffered through? And I couldn't really help him with that, I didn't even have spare clothes. 


The station was maybe half a mile away, I told him, but he shook his head -- he wouldn't manage to walk this far. He didn't want to be on his own in the cold waiting for help, either. I had to call for help, without moving. 
"Can you at least move at the border of the alley? We'll be easier to notice then."
"I think..." he winced, talking for the first time. "I think I can. But what about the rampaging plants?"
"It's okay." I reassured him. "It's been taken care of." 


His face got slightly brighter, but he still was in a lot of pain. I helped him move the sixty yards, letting him just a dew feet in the alley, so as to protect him against whirls of cold wind. Then I instructed Leaf to keep him warm, while telling Baby to roar every thrity seconds (I was the one keeping the rhythm) to call for help.


To pass some time, I asked the wounded what happened to him. He explained me in a few  short sentences, interrupted by grunts of pain, that he was a police officer. Two days ago, the plants had taken him by surprise, slammed him into the ground and pinned him there, breaking his ankle and his radio, fainting his Growlithe. The Pokemon had managed to somehow escape, but he had had to remain there. In agony, I thought. Two days. Hunger and thirst and cold and broken body. How tough. 


Help arrived after maybe twenty minutes. The police officers had more equipment and more training, and thus were able to actually help their wounded comrade. So I was left to wander mostly aimlessly, as they still didn't want me to go on rescuing. And even though their arguments were sound, it was annoying.

 
So I was left on my own, mulling over thoughts so dark and disturbing I stopped paying attention to my surroundings. How had I ended up here? How would I ever come back home? Would I ever come back home? Would I even survive this mess? Couldn't I simply get out of it?


I had already made a decision on some of this, first before the Grand Hall with Victoria, and next with Florinia. But in none of these cases were the decisions truly deliberate: I had, in some way, yielded to some form of peer pressure, or to authority. The fact that I had made the choice to act, to fight, did not prevent that decision from being stupid. Rash and stupid. 


But I had already thought about that, I remembered. I had come to the conclusion that not doing anything was worse. Short-sighted. Short-term thinking. If Reborn failed, there wasn't any way back, simple as that. If the plants managed to invade the city, I would be as squished (or, worse, starved) to death as everyone else. If they didn't rebuild the station, I would be stranded there. In what basically amounted to a third-world country, but one struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis. With few, if any, useful skills. 


Each time I thought of this possible outcome, some searing form of homesickness struck me, painful and intense. I was a stranger in a crumbling world. Fighting a losing battle against a technology so advanced it wasn't even dreaded in first-world conspiracy theories. Closely avoiding death each time. 


I barely noticed that, in a moment of thorough physical and mental weariness, I had leaned against the door of a somewhat isolated house towards the eastern border of the Ward. What I did notice was the door giving way, the unpleasant change of smell, and...


Qbu4TFJ.png

 

The dead body lying motionless in a pool of partially-dried blood, in the debris-filled room with the half-fallen roof. 
 

Oh... 

 

I rushed out of the room before I felt sick, breathing heavily to temporarily hide the horror of the sight from myself, to try and get the stench out of my nose. 


After half a minute, I realized something else. I had never actually seen a dead man. I hadn't even known what had killed him, although the debris were as good a guess as any. I knew from stupid (or maybe wise beyond me) books that it was mostly unhealthy curiosity, but I had to see it again. Then I would notify the police officers. I steeled myself, opened the door and walked in. 


The smell was as unpleasant, as morbid, as the "preview" I had been graced with. The view as well. In the thirty seconds I managed to hold out inside, there were rather few details that stuck to my clearly untrained eye. 
Not that I wished to be more trained. Even though detective figures were rather awesome. 
 

The body was a man's, lying on his back. He hadn't been very young, but he didn't look very old either. Heavy blocks of concrete had fallen on his thigh and neck, around which the blood was most spread. His face looked agonized -- little wonder. If my memories of crime books, or more generally fiction, was to be trusted, either wound, on their own, would have led him to bleed out. With the debris fallen on his neck, it would have crushed it, or choked him. 


A most grisly death either way, I thought after rushing outside. And the mental image caused me to throw up, as I would have expected from books as well. It wasn't even taking into account the motionless blood-stained Mareep lying on its side, its back left leg crushed under a heavy-looking fallen piece of furniture. 
The man, I remembered, was unquestionably dead: even if I knew how to properly take someone else's pulse, it was barely worthwhile to check it in this case. The Mareep, however, might have been alive. I had to go back and check. Not morbid curiosity, none at all. Just sincere concern. 


I steeled myself again, took a deep breath, and entered the house again. I made sure to avoid the blood stains on the floor (as I would probably be contaminating evidence or whatever) as I stepped carefully towards the wounded sheep Pokemon, trying to avoid looking at the dead man as my stomach twitched uncomfortably. 
I realized that the Pokemon was breathing, but it looked weak and quite irregular. It needed immediate treatment, which I could not provide. I definitely couldn't catch the Mareep and carry it to the closest Pokemon Center, either. It would indeed take hours -- much more than what had been planned for the next meeting with the police (and even though I wasn't allowed to help them, I had to attend regardless. How fair was that?). 


So, I reasoned, my only solution again was to go to the police for help. At least I could go and reach them this time, instead of clumsily shouting for them. So I ran to the police station, hoping that someone would remain on duty there. 


I got lucky: someone was there to explain my dilemma to. It turned out that the police had experience with that kind of situation, so they had devised an effective tool. It was a specific Pokeball designed to effectively capture wounded Pokemon. Upon capturing one, it would be teleported to a Pokemon Center and put on priority for diagnosis and, if necessary, intensive care. The Pokeball would release the Pokemon once it was healed, on the spot where it had been captured. I hadn't known law enforcement had such tools. 

 

 

******************

 

 

It was early afternoon, about half past two, and the police officers (those who weren't wounded and in urgent need of care, anyway) were asked to gather to outline the strategy of the rest of the day. The main decision to take was whether to immediately move against the (still somewhat hypothetical) Beryl PULSE, or try and consolidate, maybe build a better defence against a highly probable Meteor retaliation. 


Of course, it was decided to try and slightly improve the security of the Ward, or at least to ready better counters for a similar attack. Of course, someone would have to be sent to scout the enemy's grounds and report on their moves. Naturally, that mission was assigned to the resident PULSE expert (meaning, the only one who actually fighted some and lived to tell the tale out of sheer insane luck), yours truly. At least they had gotten me a radio this time. 


This might explain why I was anything but thrilled walking northeast, towards the Beryl Ward. The slope was rather steep, unlike the quite flat Jasper Ward. In between the wards, the debris grew sparser, because, as I had been told, there had been little built: Reborn City was more akin to a collection of loosely interdependent islands, like an urban archipelago, than to a first-world metropolis, with a very continuous stream of buildings. 


Again, the farther from the rescued Jasper Ward I walked, the more parasitic weeds I could see, PULSE-bred nuisance plants whose purpose was to invade the flora life and drive out, if not choke, all the different species. It was an ominous sight, a reminder that I was going to attack a power much greater than my own, backed and controlled by really smart people. If I thought too much about it, I realized, I would probably collapse in a puddle of motionless terror. 
At least, I had thought about the lesson of the previous fight: I needed several Pokemon to have surviving odds against these manmade nightmares, and I needed all the usefulness of teamwork. And I had a Pokemon that fit the description. 


o95E5Kc.png

 

Don't be reckless against people smarter than yourself, all my experience of literature yelled at me. None of these books, however, actually, dealt with the situation when the safest option was sheer recklessness. 


According to my Pokegear, I arrived at the southeast corner of the Beryl Ward. On my right, relatively unspoiled, was a bridge. It looked like the sturdier, civilized version of a very narrow crest. Southwards, the slope was vertical, and there were a few buildings underneath. Northwards, it was very steep, but not vertical, and I could see a barren, rocky land at the end. 


The Beryl Ward was in the other direction. It was more than a mound of ruins. It looked like a war theater, as if some blood-thirsty general had ordered the place razed to the ground. Virtually no building was left standing, and the Ward was a large cluster of debris. 


It was also very quiet, as if nobody were there, or as if somebody was watching. It was unnerving me very quickly. At the very least, that girl should have been there, shouldn't she? And she wasn't exactly the quiet kind, either. Or maybe she was smarter than she looked. Or maye she was setting me up. 


I was becoming paranoid, I realized. After what had happened earlier in the day, I wouldn't have the nerves to approach the Meteors quietly on their turf, or for any kind of mind games. I would have to take the way around to the center of the Ward, going through yet another forest (Rhodochrine Jungle, according to the Pokegear). 

 

The flora in Rhodochrine Jungle was, indeed, quite wilder (despite the slightly higher altitude) than in the Malchous Forest below. Even though vines hadn't colonized it at all -- they were present, of course, but rather sparsely, without any massive cluster like I had seen in Obsidia, or worse, in Jasper -- the vegetation managed to be thick and dense, and it was also a struggle to go on where there was barely a path. 

 

Lookouts, I thought. The few PULSE plants there were lookouts. They're counting on the natural vegetation to slow intruders down so that they can give the coup de grâce.


At least, I knew the part I was to investigate, and I thus could keep a rough idea of my location and my target -- it would have to be enough. The PULSE activity was clearly emanating from some place either very close to the Ward or inside it. Now that the matters became actively dangerous, it was time for a precautionary radio report. 

 

"Young to Blue, do you copy?" I asked on the radio, as they had summarily instructed me to do. There hadn't been any time to give me an overview of proper radio protocols, so something one-time and likely very insecure by any professional standards had been set up. Just a couple of codenames for us (I was Young, they were Blue), random codewords for the landmarks and a few keywords. I missed paper. 
"Blue to Young, loud and clear." was the reply. "Go ahead."
"I reached Elvenland without anything of notice. At first sight, everything is still. I'll be searching the closer parts of Colossus from south to north. Nothing so far. Over."
"Roger that. Keep us updated. Out."


I walked in the Jungle for a while, but nothing seemed to react at me, and, probably owing also to my fatigue, my watchfulness wavered. So when a precise burst of something I couldn't quite see (and barely hear) targeted my damaged Trainer belt and broke it, causing it to fall to the ground, I wasn't able to react fast. I was bending down to pick it up when several very small shapes (maybe very slightly taller than my waist) hurled themselves at me, unbalancing me and driving me away from the belt. It had all happened in a couple of seconds, and I had barely recognized them as Nuzleafs. 


A Nuzleaf picked up the fallen belt and brandished it in the air. There was a cringeworthy scream of triumph, and I realized that about fifteen Nuzleafs were about me, surrounding me. I had no more Pokemon, but they didn't seem tough. I was close to twice their side; how hard would it be to just force a way to my Pokemon?


Very hard, as it turned out. The moment I tried to force my way through their close circle, a Nuzleaf jumped from behind me and grabbed onto my neck, while two others jumped onto each one of my sides to lock my arms. Their coordination was quite frightening, and the strategy was effective: the Pokemon now outweighed me and controlled my every move. 


I tried to throw myself backwards, as spy novels advocated, but, with faster-than-human reflexes, the Nuzleaf behind let go of me, and I found myself on the ground, with a dozen Pokemon actually sitting on me, effectively pinning me to the ground. 


Beaten by half a second's worth of inattention and a few featherweights. That was simply glorious. Anyway, there wasn't much point in fighting. As I was lying on my back with a swarm of Nuzleafs around, I wouldn't be able to struggle effectively. So I relaxed, and slowly drew my hands backwards, as if to offer surrender (which I was actually doing). 


The Nuzleafs took my bag (with the radio and the supplies in it, crap!) not too gently, and only then did they push me up, none too gentle. I noticed that a small group of Pokemon was aside, carrying both my belt and my bag, and that if I struggled again (now that I was in a slightly better situation), I would be overpowered just as before.

 
bkn3KGR.png

 

There were so many of them. I couldn't fight them head on, not without Pokemon -- the best I could do would be to try a sneakier move when they were less numerous, and pretend to give in for now. 
 


 

 

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Time for the next chapter -- we're properly starting the finale of Part 1! 

My plot is more advanced than that -- I'm working on the Orphanage part , as I'm trying to figure out how to make Gabriel carry out such a blatant and risky breach of the rules.  

 

 

Chapter 23: Friends and Foes

 

 

Spoiler

And then I felt a very weak gust of wind in my back starting at hips level. It was eerie, as there wasn't any reason why there should be any wind, there were too many trees around. So I turned back and I saw a single bird flying behind. I couldn't be too sure, but I thought it was a Chatot and I thought I recognized it. 


Which sent me a panicked adrenaline rush. I was completely unarmed, defenceless. If the Chatot wanted a hit at me, there it was and it wouldn't, ever, get a better chance to end me. I wasn't weary to the point of letting myself die, so, once again, I threw myself to the ground, hoping to be a harder target -- and the Nuzleafs would partly shield me. 


I had a cold sweat when I was proven right and the Chatot started attacking. Except that it dived at the Nuzleafs around me, sending them small air whirls, deceptively powerful in spite of their size, that threw them aside.


Once I saw an opening, and the Nuzleafs' full wariness not upon me, I got up and tried to run away. It took maybe a couple of steps before a synchronized yell of rage informed me the Nuzleafs had noticed me and weren't pleased at all. They turned to chase me.


In a race on track, I may have been able to beat them for a while -- I wasn't a great runner, I really wasn't at my best, but I was twice as tall and on adrenaline -- but on the unequal forest ground, where I had to watch every step, every treacherous aerial root, every small local altitude variation, if I didn't want to fall and injure myself (and get captured again), they had a much easier time. 


But they hadn't counted on the Chatot. The Nuzleafs racing after me were making themselves an easy target, and, fortunately, the bird chose, again, to attack them instead of me. It was over shortly -- the Nuzleafs didn't have the strength, organization, weapons or resources to put up a fight. They fled. 


The Chatot disappeared for a minute while I stood panting, realizing I had no idea what had actually happened. When it came back, it simply said, pointing a wing in a direction: "Remember. Invitations. Funeral watch. Pyre. Us.", before flying away. I found in the direction the Chatot had indicated, my bag and my Trainer belt, with their contents apparently intact. Had the Nuzleafs not even guzzled my candy bars? And... why had it all happened? Was it Taka's behavior? If so, what was his intent?

 

 

***********

 

After a short radio call where I explained the temporary difficulties I had been incurring, a long and laborious forest walk, after another, erm, disagreement with a group of Nuzleafs over their right to hold someone prisoner in some nearby cave (which ended in a pretty one-sided brawl, with Leaf and Wolfgang doing the work and Tailor helping out) -- it definitely didn't occur because I was lost in the forest -- after fighting my way through a tangle of vines, apparently very eager to imprison me, I finally reached another part in western Beryl. Not much was accessible from there, only a large building in dismal state. 

 

DSTcoT1.png

 

The weather had turned from clear to cloudy, with dark ominous clouds looming over, and the air had become colder and more humid. I was hoping for the rain to not fall yet, because it would be a large disadvantage if I had to disable to PULSE again. This was relevant, because that large colorful brick building, not that tall (no more than two storeys) had a glaring holes in its roof, and very many cracks around the wall. Force had shattered every window in sight, and made more damage at the border of the frames. 


I felt tired, physically and emotionally, sore and dirty, but I knew I couldn't really delay my assignment. Still, I pushed the door of the building, expecting it to be empty, to sit for five minutes. 


I shut my eyes for less than five seconds, before a soft voice whispered in my ear: "Do you need anything?", jerking me awake in panic. The owner of the voice was a single woman, alone in the room, standing in the hall only lit by the decaying light outside. She was about forty, had long brown hair and dark rings under her eyes, and a very gentle expression. The only other things in sight were cracked bookshelves, filled except for a few gaps, and books lying around, not in too good a state. 
"I..." I hesitated, afraid and slightly guilty -- "I really need to go."


"Don't look so afraid." she replied, clearly the most diplomatic thing she could have said. "Whatever the reason why you are here, you surely can stay a little longer. You look like you need rest. You've got a Trainer belt, and I can't imagine that your Pokemon are much better. We've got what you need to heal them. I have some food."


"That's... very nice of you, but there are things I have to do that can't be delayed."
"What, exactly?" she said, her tone switching to a stereotypical "concerned thus demanding and authoritative" parent. "What is so urgent that it brings you in this doomed place, that it lets you no time to take an apparently well-deserved nap, or meal?"


I was trapped. I wouldn't be able to make anything but the truth sound plausible, and the truth would only strengthen her case, if she believed it. If she wasn't working for the Meteors, or had an arrangement with them. If it all wasn't part of the necesssarily unbelievably smart master plan they had to have come up with.
 

As I considered that alternative, I realized I couldn't entrust her with anything. Even though I badly needed the food and the rest. And my Pokemon needed it. At least there was enough stuff in my bag. So I obstinately (and, a small part of my mind noticed reproachfully, quite rudely) declined her offer and moved to make my way out. 


You're not being paranoid if they're out to get you (and everyone else). 


A Growlithe ran from who knew where and started barking at me. I realized that he was wearing a blue dog collar just like I had seen some at the police station, worn by the Growlithe partnering with some officers. I hadn't exactly been tasked with destroying the PULSE on my own anyway. Doing so would probably make me end on the bad side of both the Meteors and that Salamence. I had also been asked to find police officers. The end of the plant assault would help with the search, but I couldn't neglect such opportunities. 


"Where did you find it?" I asked my would-be host, turning back from the door and pointing at the Growlithe that was now at my feet, barking nervously. 
"Her master" she corrected me, "was a police officer that got beaten unconscious by the vines while trying to help some people get safe." Her voice turned hoarser. "It turned out he had decided to leave the police force which he found was cowardly, and had dedicated himself to smuggle food and water to the survivors of the Beryl Ward that lived in secret. He died from his wounds a couple of days ago, here."
"Oh. I'm sorry. But... are you saying that this," I designated the ruined room, the precarious shelves, the unprotected windows, "is a safe place?"
"The plants never really attacked it." she answered. "We don't know why."


I thanked the woman and, still declining her offers of rest and food, I went back on my way. The sky was getting paler and less bright, and before long night would have fallen. I did not want to fight in the dark, so I forced myself to walk faster, even if it meant being warier of the treacherous ground (that of the jungle as well as the debris-filled and cracked pavement of the ward). Batley, the mighty Swoobat, acted as my (relatively) high-altitude scout.


The path we found took me back into the jungle, circling slightly around the Ward to assault the PULSE from the back, where hopefully they weren't expecting an attack. Walking again into the jungle, not only on the border, came with the real risk of falling again in a Nuzleaf ambush, but I didn't lower my guard (and, yes, I got lucky) and didn't encounter much trouble. 


There was this clearly clumsy defence made with mid-thigh tall sticks of wood densely planted in the ground, like a smaller-scale forest of wooden nails, but it wasn't much of a problem. Instead of looking for a deactivation mechanism or an alternate path, I simply had Swoobat level the structure with a few Air Cutters, most sticks splitting and falling under the wind attack, and asked the much nimbler Wolfgang to tip-toe and cut a real way for me on the now passable for him ground. 

 

IOX5Yqb.png

 

And of course, when I came back into the northwestern corner of the Ward, I found Heather, who glared at me in recognition. 

"What are you doing here?" she asked angrily. "That's my job to bash these jerks' heads in!"


Her Salamence wasn't out, so I was the most physically impressive person (as well as oldest, smartest -- at least, least imbecilic -- and least immature) in the immediate vicinity. As a consequence, I could afford to actually taunt her:


"Why, then, didn't you do it sooner? You had, like, eight hours?"
"Ugh, shut up." she snapped, causing me to raise my eyebrows. "One second I was flying with Salamence and we were going to blow them to pieces, the next one, Salamence was diving to the ground, barely halting our fall. We think the shot, whatever it was, attacked nerves. We spent the whole day curing it."
"We?" I asked cautiously, but she didn't answer. 

 

I tried to move on to a topic that might interest her: "So, what's the plan?"
"You get out of my way." she replied. "I mess up these jerks."
"Maybe it would work better if you didn't have to handle them on your own." I answered in my reasonable-adult voice, a voice I didn't like using because I usually felt like an imposter. "Like, someone might occupy some of our enemies while you beat up the rest..."
"Someone like you?" she asked. "I've watched you. You're pretty bad."
 

Point taken.
 

"I'm not the one who didn't see the blow incapacitating him for the rest of the day."

 

It took her a couple of seconds to process the sentence, but her eyes narrowed. 
"What's your name, by the way?" I asked, because it seemed like what a reasonable adult would have done. 
"It's Heather. I've been looking around a bit. Their bosses are a short way from here." she added, pointing somewhere towards the inside of the Ward. "They're holding a guy prisoner nearby. You can go free him."
"Well," I replied, annoyed at her being so commanding, bowing, "I thank Your Majesty for her graciousness in granting my humble self the right to be a first-hand witness to her grace and power and in making me an extension of her will."
"Ugh. Shut up and just go."

 

I wondered why I actually came to obey her, instead of defending the reasonable-adult viewpoint of "it's too insanely dangerous, I can't let you be anywhere near there and put yourself so recklessly in danger", or simply "I do not care for your tone, child, and you will correct it or I will speak to your parents". Anyway, in a small half-broken cabin, hidden by unkempt hedges from the center of the Beryl Ward, there was indeed a Meteor prisoner. 


I probably wasn't being assertive enough because the "warden", a single Meteor grunt, actually battled me for the right of breaking the hostage out. Then again, as he let the man go upon being defeated, maybe I was. 

 

Regardless, the way to the Beryl Ward PULSE was much less of a challenge than in Obsidia or Jasper. It was standing in the open, without any vegetal defences, and there even was one of these amazing light shards that nobody had touched. It gave me another measure of strength and resigned resolve for the fight that I knew was coming, after the already wearing-out day I had had. 


On the other hand, it had three high-ranked Meteors as guardians. I recognized two of them, as I had already met them: the unfathomable (and yet looking so utterly normal) Taka, and the creepy shared body known as ZEL. Both of them were pretty bad news. 

 

The third one was one I hadn't met. I couldn't be sure of anything about him, except that it was probably a "him". He was tall and lean, and he was wearing a full dark grey Meteor uniform and a hood that only left his eyes visible. As I could see, he was using a blinking fast and nimble Crobat to attack Heather, who was recklessly flying on her Salamence, giving the dragon a further strain (and incentive) to avoid the swift moves of the Meteor's poisonous bird. 

 

The battle was, to my untrained eye, a matter of time. The Salamence was much more powerful than its foe, if far less nimble, and hampered by its rider. If it landed just one hit at half-power, it was over. Furthermore, even if the dragon couldn't escape all the blows and poisonous bites, they didn't seem to be dealing much damage. The Crobat, simply... had no way of beating its opponent. But it was actually doing a pretty good job of keeping it away from the PULSE, helped at times by precise, low-power icy whirls from ZEL's Pokemon, a Glaceon, and by impromptu vegetal attacks aimed at Heather to force the dragon Pokemon to reverse its course. 

 

Mesmerized by the unplanned performance, I actually stayed motionless for a few minutes, not even thinking of anything. 
"Do something!" Heather yelled at me, causing everyone to turn, and -- gulp -- notice me. 


ZEL was the first one to react, with a mixture of hatred, resentment and contempt that almost made me shiver. 
"You." he spat. 


If it weren't for the light shard, I wouldn't have been able to hide the shiver that ran down my spine. By now I had remembered my classics, and I knew that it would be a bad idea to show fear or weakness. 


Taka was next. 
"Well, how convenient." he said matter-of-factly, pointing at me, but looking at the nameless Meteor. "This is Gabriel, the Trainer that defeated the PULSE in Jasper."
Eve's tone, almost clinically detached, went on: "Gabriel is also responsible for destroying the PULSE in Obsidia."
"Ah. That was you." the unidentified Meteor spoke at last, the tone very monotonous and almost dead. "An alley cat, parading as a tiger." Parading? That was a new one. 


3MzxzbD.png

 

"Heroism is vainglory." 
 

That was more cynicism that I could swallow. Usually, heroes had a serious reason for doing what they did. They usually knew when they weren't needed. So it wasn't 'vain' glory. 
 

"But you will learn. You've stepped out of your alley and into the world. I will introduce you to the cold pain of reality."


At this point, the speech had stopped looking spontaneous and just was pure cynicism, or maybe its logical conclusion, philosophical pessimism. It was also becoming more than disturbing, so, trying to keep looking unimpressed (I probably looked at least like I was trying very hard), I borrowed a page from some fictional heroes and gave the guy some lip.


"You're a bit late for that, actually. I've awaken in this anteroom of hell only a few days ago, I've had nothing but trouble here, mugging, poison, rot and murders, and because of you people I can't even leave. You missed your chance. " I took a deep breath to ensure I would keep cool under the quite intense glare of the guy. "I already know how cruel life can be. I suppose it could always be worse, but I don't really care to find out. And I also know that for some reason, life is way better outside of Reborn. Now we're two, and if I managed to destroy the previous PULSES on my own, with my ally and her Salamence, we're going to make mincemeat of that Tangrowth."


The funniest part of the speech was when I almost managed to convince myself that I had destroyed the two other PULSES on my own skill, and not due to ZEL's carelessness (and the Gym Leaders' work) and Taka's possibly willing sub-optimal battle plan. 


The not-funny part of the speech was when, after a particularly unbelievable piece of acrobatics which I could only spot in the corner of my eye, the Crobat managed to approach the Salamence and give the dragon a deep poisonous-looking bite. Heather's Pokemon roared and convulsed and mildly thrashed, simply pushing the toxic bat to the ground with unrealistic strength. 


"Easy, Salamence, easy." Heather muttered, trying to calm it. 
"Well," Taka said with amusement, "isn't it funny that of all people, you allied with little Heather? I mean, like, aren't you supposed to be a good girl at home?" he added for the little girl.
"You won't say that when I'll have beaten you all up," Heather snapped from her unsteady Salamence which was looping around, "you... evil people."


The lead (and still nameless) Meteor spoke again, and his voice was slightly more expressive. It expressed outright disapproval. "Reckless. You're supposed to have been taught better."
"Who cares?" Heather grew angrier. "People try to stop me from doing things all the times, but their rules are totally stupid anyway!"
"Just because you don't understand something doesn't make it stupid." the Meteor replied, in what was obviously the most valuable contribution to the conversation (except possibly for the PULSE's very existence). 

 

cUEJqtI.png

 

"Just! SHUT! UP!" Heather yelled, and directing her Salamence directly towards the PULSE in anger. It opened its mouth and spat a narrow, focused, blast of white-hot flames at the Tangrowth. 


Swifter than a reflex (at least any of mine), the lead Meteor drew a Pokeball and threw it into the fire. 
"Mareanie, Protect!"


The small, spiky Water Pokemon coming out of the ball managed to raise a protective shield against the flames, but not before being hurt by both their heat and that of the searing-hot air all around. It took all of its strength to keep the protection up till the end of the flame throw. It was an impressive display of spot-on timing trumping raw power. The Crobat took another opportunity to inoculate his poison into the exposed belly of the dragon, forcing it to retreat. 


I knew I should have been doing something while the attention was on Heather. If I was quick enough, daring enough, sneaky enough, I might be able to down one of my opponents even before the fight started. There had to be something, some advantage to seize, some way to give our side an overwhelming boost. But my mind blocked, picturing the horrific outcome of taking the chance and missing. That very vivid image froze me in place at the idea of taking such a risk, no matter the stakes, and losing. Realizing I wasn't going to get anything out of this mindset (at least own up to it, I thought bitterly to myself, it's your so useless mindset), I tried to focus on something else. 


Even if I didn't seize the initiative, I could at least try to anticipate what would happen when the situation devolved, assess what threats I might have to deal with, and how I could counter them, or stall them. There were, of course, three such problems in sight: the Glaceon, the Crobat, and the PULSE. 


There were doubtlessly many other potential threats, but as far as I knew they would take more time to become tangible, giving me also slightly more time to come up with a solution. And, in the time the conversation, and Heather's attack happened, I came up with ideas, and, slowly as to not look too threatening, my hands got closer to my Trainer belt, trying to recognize the Pokemon inside by feel. 


"I am taking care of the girl." the lead Meteor said. "Taka, ZEL, you protect the PULSE from the other guy."

 

 

Character ratings: 

Spoiler

Heather: 5/10 (+1). She still is a reckless, unruly kid. However, I can't help but admire her spirit. 


Taka: 4/10 (+1). At least he acts almost normal this time. But what was he then doing in Jasper? But what for? And why did he help me recover my things, if it was his Chatot?


ZEL: 2/10 (+1). Maybe I'm just becoming insane, getting used to the unthinkable, or was <insert new relevant "whatever" pronoun> almost consistent from start to finish?

 

"Meteor Edge-Lord": 2/10. He almost manages to sound reasonable from time to time. And his mastery of his Crobat to keep the Salamence away was bordering the unbelievable, as if the Crobat figured out in advance the moves of the Dragon-type Pokemon. And that Mareanie trick was really neat. A worrisome enemy indeed. 

 

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Posted (edited)

Aaaand the bets are off! Will Gabriel and Heather triumph from the PULSE Tangrowth and the Meteor Edgelord? Are they equipped to handle the cold reality? 

Keep reading to find out! 

 

 

 

Chapter 24: The Cleansing

 

 

Spoiler

 

As soon as I realized I would be facing several opponents, I sent into battle three Pokemon, Tailor, Wolfgang, and Batley. I threw an Antidote at Batley, ordering her to bring it to Heather. Upon my command, Tailor ran on all fours, as low as he could, towards the massive Tangrowth, which didn't have an earthly shape any more. 
Instead, the Pokemon looked like a huge tangle of vines, from which many smaller tangles grew in all directions and all over its surface. Two half-vegetal, half-metallic arms were attached to it, and they were shaking with irrepressible violence. The root system of the monster was so overdeveloped that, in a radius of ten feet, it was over one foot tall, and doubtlessly much deeper under the ground. 


Nimble and graceful, the Minccino managed to dodge frightfully powerful but thankfully rather slow vine attacks and more devious vegetal traps. He avoided getting entangled in the aerial roots by running over them, surprisingly sure-footed. Then, as he got close to the enormous monster, he ducked outside the range of the repulsive hybrid arms, and started singing a lullaby to the PULSE Pokemon. 


That was an idea I had had while waiting for that dialogue of the deaf to reach its confrontational conclusion. I knew the PULSE was tougher than most Pokemon and wouldn't go gently to sleep, all the more so since sleep was reportedly deadly to them. But I intended to somewhat numb it, thus putting myself and my team at singificantly lesser risk when battling other enemies. 


Wolfgang's purpose, compared to the other ones, was much more straightforward: he was to battle ZEL's Glaceon and Taka's well-known Exeggcute. He focused on the sigificantly stronger Glaceon, trying to Fury Cut it into submission. ZEL's command, however, was very effective. The Ice Pokemon just knew when to dodge, when to take the hit, how to minimize the damage, and when to strike back. Under its harassment of Icy Winds (as well as the not-altogether-negligible influence of the Exeggcute), Wolfgang was slower, frailer, and less effective than usual. He wouldn't manage his task without an ally. 


"Leaf, Flame Charge at the Glaceon!" I called out, sending Leaf into battle. 
"Are you just going to sit here doing nothing?" ZEL shouted at Taka in Zero's tone, aggressive and angry. 


Taka called forth his Chatot to replace its mostly harmless Exeggcute, but Zero's outburst had disrupted the so finely calculated control of the Glaceon, who didn't manage to escape Leaf's fiery assault. The shock threw the Eeveelution in the air, an easy target at last for Wolfgang's final Fury Cut. 


Already, miraculously thinking slightly ahead, I recalled Leaf as soon as I could, because she wouldn't fare well against Taka's Chatot, and sent into battle Hex the Swalot, who had already faced such an enemy. Her first contribution was to take in Wolfgang's place Taka's bird's powerful Chatter attack, allowing Wolfgang to focus on ZEL's second Pokemon, an Espeon who fainted to Fury Cuts even before being able to attack. 


"Lumi, you're fucking useless." Zero snapped with disgust. "Umbreon, go."


The dark Pokemon was unfortunately careful to not repeat the Espeon's mistake, and feinted to escape my musician Pokemon's cuts. It then went after the one Pokemon whose continuous focus and presence was of utmost importance, even though it was the frailest of those fighting. 


It engaged Tailor, interrupting his song, thus letting the PULSE Tangrowth wake up and unleash its power. At least two dozen vines sprouted in seconds from the ground, circling around me, Wolfgang, and Hex, while Tailor was trying to hold his ground (and failing) in a slap fight with the Umbreon, while avoiding the powerful arms of the plant monster. 


The fight, I thought as I saw the plants growing around me, was over for us. There wouldn't be any identificable remains left. But I had not used all of my resources, and in a panicked move, I called Leaf and Baby (the Loudred) to my help, and I started yelling instructions. To Leaf, to burn the plants around me. To Wolfgang, to start cutting, and to Batley to come and help. To Hex, to spray acid around herself. In seconds, the first assault had been repelled, but it was plain that another one, deadlier, was in the works. I didn't have much time. 


"Leaf, I muttered, go distract the Umbreon. Help Tailor sing."

 

Leaf sprang off as fast as a loosened bow's string (Flame Charges had their advantages) towards the PULSE, too fast for the Chatot to hit, too fast for the Tangrowth to react to the new threat, and kicked the Umbreon in the belly. Irritated at the distraction, the dark cat Pokemon changed targets and focused on the newcomer. Tailor, now relieved from pressure, began to sing, and was promptly slammed into the "rooty" ground by the Tangrowth's fist, which started swinging indistinctly at Leaf and the Umbreon, who were still fighting very close by. The latter was robust enough to withstand Leaf's effective kicks, and had experience enough to retaliate effectively. 


Now the PULSE was unleashed and I had lost my only means to safely contain its absurd strength. If I didn't have enough with that, I had to manage Hex's fight against Taka's Chatot, Wolfgang's continued (and necessary) "gardening" and Leaf's struggle against the Umbreon. All this, and the instant-death danger, made a big, coherent whole that was becoming too much for me to handle. Before, I had plans, or at least some improvised mental guidelines. Now, I was overwhelmed, and noted, not without alarm, that vines went growing again around me, much more than before, and I realized the battle was lost. And I was going to die horrifically, without even a chance to notify my family. 


Not yet, a stubbornly optimistic voice pointed out in my head. You have five Pokemon, don't micromanage. 
It's no use, it's all over but the neck-snapping, or choking, the pessimistic voice answered. 
Stop it! the optimistic voice ordered. You're going to win this, but you need a plan. A main target, priorities, a win-condition. What do you need to do?
 

Stop the Tangrowth, I realized. I can handle it if the Tangrowth doesn't attack.
And I knew what to do. 

 

"Leaf, Hex, forget your enemies and target the roots, with fire and acid!" I shouted. "Baby, Batley, you keep the Umbreon and the Chatot away, and try to attack the Tangrowth when you can. Wolfgang, on me!" I shouted, running towards Wolfgang (and the vines that were threateningly growing and creepily aiming for my neck). 
Upon reaching the vines, I threw myself to the ground and covered my head with my hands, praying silently that the timing was right, while the Kricketune was cutting the dangerous plants at mid-thigh (mine, not his) height. But then another vine I didn't see coming grabbed at my ankle. 
 

Shit.

 

It pulled me effortlessly, and suspended abruptly me upside down in the air, where I could dimly see, despite the disorientation, Wolfgang struggling in an incredibly violent vegetal zerg rush which he didn't quite manage to contain, let alone come and help me. I tried to flail around to force the plant to let me go, to little avail. 
What actually happened was that another batch of artificially-enabled plants grew all around me, blinkingly fast. Then one of them hit me hard in the head, making my neck worryingly warm, and making me see stars (and all sorts of inconsistent stuff).  And the rest of them followed suit, hitting me in the ribs, at stomach height, in the back, in the hips, in the legs. 


When they finally stopped (with my head still spinning), I was nothing more than a giant bruise with a bloodied head. Out of the blue, they dropped me to the ground, which my head hit first (albeit not from very far, fortunately). 


When the world stopped spinning, the Tangrowth had fallen motionless, the Chatot and the Umbreon were nowhere to be seen, and my five-Pokemon team, looking exhausted, barely able to fight but still willing, were watching me anxiously. Taka was watching them with an expression hard to read. ZEL looked more unstable than ever, its hands alternating between clenched fists, a relaxed position, and a half-extended hand as if to help me up (from fifty feet). Its eyes were moving more erratically than I recalled seeing them, and it seemed like the different personalities were disputing its voice, the end result being an exercise in nonsense spoken in an inhuman tone. 

 

It hurt pretty much everywhere above my ankles, I felt my nose bleeding and I knew I had a stiff neck, but I managed to get up after a couple of tries, and walk in minute steps towards my team, standing near the (now useless and doomed) aerial root field, at the center of which the Tangrowth had fallen. My fantasy classics kept urging me of one thing. I had to look tough enough. I realized that both Heather and the Meteor lead had interrupted their battle and were facing one another, as frozen, Heather distinctly not looking at me. 
 

 

Spoiler

Actually, with the team I had, and while I was quite nervous, the double battle was pretty easy, much, much more than I expected. I started with Tailor (Minccino) and Wolfgang (Kricketune). The former sung both Pokemon asleep (starting with the Glaceon) while the latter sprayed the Glaceon with Fury Cuts. 


Then Helping Hand+Fury Cut one shot Espeon and Umbreon, reducing the fight to a two-on-one. The Exeggcute was no challenge. The Chatot was beaten with Hex (Swalot) Yawning ad Acid Spraying it while Baby (Loudred) dealt damage with Echoed Voice. The PULSE was defeated with similar tactics except that Batley (Swoobat) replaced Baby and used Attract first, and super effective moves next. 

 


***********

 


Taka finally broke the heavy silence.


"Well, that's not good."
"The PULSE has been deactivated." ZEL said, in Eve's matter-of-fact tone. "There is no longer any purpose in defending this location."
"I'm going to make myself scarce, then." Taka answered. "You coming? Because you owe me reports."


ZEL answered something in a much softer voice I didn't exactly get, (so it might have been Lumi speaking), and then it and Taka simply walked away towards the Rhodocline Jungle. If I had had fully evolved Pokemon, not exhausted by the fight, if I hadn't been in such incomfort simply walking in baby steps, I might have been able to stop them. But in my situation, I didn't even bother to move. They were more than able to make good on their escape and injure me more significantly if I tried to intervene. 


On the bright side, this meant that the Meteor Edgelord was outnumbered two to one (I counted for half a person, in my state and with my team; Heather counted for half a person as well, and her Salamence for a full one). I walked slowly towards him, as he was the only enemy in sight and it was what somebody who could still fight would do. 


He seemed to come at the same realization and recalled his Crobat. The Pokemon, I recalled, had stood up -- and very effectively stalled -- quite a long time against a massively more powerful Pokemon. Clearly, he wasn't a Trainer to be trifled with. He emitted a deep, resonant sigh, and said simply: "Great. They just run away."
He cast me a glance, then looked at Heather, and took off at a dead sprint towards the center of the Ward. It was a pretty good idea, as I clearly wasn't in shape to run, and Heather, as a child, wouldn't react (or be) fast enough to get him. I forced myself to run as fast as I could in his pursuit -- which, in my beaten body, amounted more or less to an agononizing normal walk -- even Heather could keep a faster pace than me, but she was no match for the Meteor (for starters, he was a male adult). 

 

Fortunately, we didn't need to catch up with him, because, as the path turned, he found himself face to face with no less than five police officers, counting the chief. Surprised, he slightly retreated, and the policemen eagerly took the ground he was conceding. The Meteor was trapped, as we (most especially, Heather running beside her Salamence that was flying at very low altitude) were blocking his only way to retreat. 


"You are completely surrounded." the chief of police said to the Meteor, nodding at me and Heather. "There is nowhere to run."

 

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"You..." the Meteor growled at me, I couldn't help but shiver at the disgusted tone in his voice. "These officers were supposed to remain detained."
"But we freed them." the Chief confirmed, exercising the proper caution of not letting them know too much about my role. "Now, let us see your face."
The Meteor's arms fell along his body and he didn't resist as his hood was taken off. There was a strangled sound by the police chief. I felt, more than I saw, Heather become increasingly nervous and start shaking.


"Yes." was the Meteor's comment. "But life is cruel. Why expect otherwise?"
"No..." muttered Heather, in a broken voice that was so unlike her that I turned to her, worried, (and had to move my whole body because my stiff neck wouldn't let me do it). Her face was almost literally crumpled. "It's impossible..."
"I'm sorry, Heather." the Meteor turned around, and I saw the little girl shudder from the corner of my eye. 


"Dad..." she started in a flat, dead voice. "I knew you were a jerk. But I... I didn't know... you were... evil." she added, her voice getting more and more broken. She might have sobbed at the end. "I can't..." she went on, tears audible in her voice at that point, and she hopped on her Salamence and the dragon flew away, completely ignoring (or perhaps much too uncomfortably aware of) the dramatic scene on the ground. Utter silence followed. 

 

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"Corey..." was all the police chief could say, baffled. "But... it doesn't make sense. The Gym Leaders are among Reborn's most trusted citizens... Why help Team Meteor?"
 

That guy was a Gym Leader? Meteor infiltration was that bad? 


"Why," Corey spat, "put so much stock on authority? Welcome to reality. It's cold. It's cruel. It's life."
"You mean," the Chief asked, one step ahead of my horrified realization, "that there are others?"
"You would be foolish to think otherwise. Grow up. Not everything is nice and simple. Your candyland-paradise is but a crack dream." was Corey-Meteor Edgelord's answer, and his voice was growing from dull to slightly contemptuous. 


"Those are some big words for someone who's going to be facing the judge." the police chief answered confidently, almost dismissively. 
"They're not. You didn't do anything actually. Just teach Heather what she would learn on her own. Pain." How edgy could he get? I thought, and how badly did he not realize that he had already, beforehand, taught her? Otherwise, she wouldn't have left to fight on her own. 


 "You want to take me to court?" he sneered. "Come get me." Corey said, defiant, but his body posture tensed and his hands went so slightly towards his belt. "I'll be waiting at my Gym."


With the lightning fast reflexes I had seen demonstrated, he grabbed a Pokeball and brought forth a Skuntank. The smelly Pokemon emitted an abundant foul-looking gas at the police officers, leading them to shut their eyes and block their breathing by reflex. But people with closed eyes and no breathing aren't very useful at overpowering a prisoner. Corey sprinted with the momentum of a cannonball towards them, shattering the formation and escaping from the ambush. 
When the gas had mostly dissipated, I forced myself to walk towards the police officers. 


"Gabriel." the Chief said, concerned. "You did it. But what happened to you?"
 

Need... to look... tough... despite the pain. 
 

I wiped the nosebleed that started to bother me, and some other blood on my face trickling from my eyebrow arch around my eyes. Both efforts were quite doomed, but they delayed the inevitable. I took a deep breath. 

 

"I couldn't have done it without Heather. There were three of them and she forced Corey to stall her while I dealt with the PULSE and the two others. It started well and then it went downhill. The plants got me and they beat me up."


I cut myself off, struck by a very frightening thought. 

 

Why hadn't they simply snapped my neck? It would have been the easiest way to deal with me. Instead, striking me with several plants diverted effort from the main threat -- the team that was attacking the Tangrowth roots. What game were they playing? Mercy was impossible, or else they wouldn't have used such an abomination. Stupidity was ruled out, otherwise they wouldn't have been able to create it.

 

So what?
 

"When they released me and my head stopped spinning, the PULSE was down. How about you?"
"There wasn't anything much. Consolidating defences and stuff. We recovered a few members of the police force thanks to you. We were already in the Beryl Ward when we got your latest report, so we decided to trust you and ambush the Meteors from the other side. That part..." he sighed. "It could have gone better."
 

Have to look... not too broken. Even though my legs were killing me. 
 

"What are we doing next?" I asked. 
"We know where he's heading. It's probably a trap, but we should be able to get him. You, on the other hand, need to take a well-deserved rest. We've set up a small healing machine and a rudimentary PC nearby." 

 

***********************

 

It felt almost good to sit down and drop the pretense. Almost, because I still hurt about everywhere. And I felt deeply scared. Because, contrarily to common sense, I had allowed myself to be painted as a target. The Meteors would remember be as the most notable, or effective opponent. They would be coming after me. How stupid of me, I thought. And then I remembered that I had agreed because I didn't rationally (or ethically for that matter) have any better option. 


I had put my Pokeballs in the primitive healing machine, and it had confirmed that there were no serious injuries -- the healing would be over in a few minutes. Only Tailor had raised any red flags, so he had automatically been transferred to a Pokemon Center. They had transmitted back a message along the lines of "Are you crazy? He's been waiting in that dismal state for too long! We can probably heal him, but it's riskier." And so I was waiting for developments and trying to rest, at last away from the fight.

 
Which was obviously why I became very concerned when I saw a police officer coming at me with an unsteady pace. My bad feeling worsened when he came close enough for me to make out his face. It was the police chief, and he probably had been punched a few times in the head. He had a black eye, blood oozing from both of his eyebrows, and dried blood on his lips and under his nose. 

 

I was sufficiently alarmed to rise up without worrying about the pain. 

 

"What happened?" I asked. 
"I'm not sure." the chief slightly stuttered. "We went into the Gym. There was this funny smell in the air. There were five of us. We started to investigate the Gym and nobody seemed to be there. Then I heard people arguing, and I realized that two of my officers had had a disagreement that escalated to a fistfight. Indigned, I went to them to separate them, and... I don't recall very well, but I think it somehow degenerated into a five-sided brawl."
 

The aggression gas, I thought in a flash of insight. Like in the Grand Hall. Did it mean Corey was behind that event as well? 
 

"So, why are you here?"
"Corey sprung out of nowhere and he sprayed something at us that completely robbed me of my strength. When I came by, we were in a room we didn't know before, and my four officers were tied and gagged and were mindlessly thrashing around, as in a frenzy. Corey said that he would consider negotiating the release of these officers only if you were the mediator on our side."

 

I shivered. I knew bargaining to be one of my weakest suits. I knew Corey didn't want me any good. I knew he had more than the possibility to make good on his hatred. 

 

"It's a trap as well. He won't free them. He'll just kill me. If he was able to get you, he won't have any trouble at all with me."
"You destroyed the PULSEs." the chief objected. "We didn't."
"Just luck. And I looked less of a threat than I actually was. And I had allies." I protested. "But one on one, he's just going to make mincemeat of me. I can't go in earnest against a Gym Leader. Can't you call someone else?"
"He gave me an hour, and maybe forty-five minutes remain. I don't think he was bluffing, he's too far gone. We can't summon any of our higher League members in that time, and it's dubious whether any of them could defeat Corey without putting the police officers at a serious risk."
 

And I wanted it all to be risk-free. 

 

"Gabriel." he started. "I hate to say it, but you're the only one who has a chance to save my men... again. I really would appreciate if you gave it an earnest try."

 

And there again I was asked an impossible, just short from self-sacrificial, task. There again, upon refusing, short- or longer-term retorsion measures could get taken. And ultimately, I would be contributing to Reborn's demise, stranding me there forever. That reasoning seemed weaker and weaker each time I invoked it. I sighed miserably and said in a lifeless voice: "All right."

 

 

 


Character ratings: 

Spoiler

Corey: 1/10 (-1). A Reborn Gym Leader assisting terrorists? Why? And he hinted that there were others as well? That was a mess, but it shouldn't have been unexpected. The existence of the PULSE was much more a giveaway of the nefarious group's capabilities. 
Taka: 2/10 (-2). He's dangerous. He freaking almost killed me. Or did he seriously try?
ZEL: 1/10 (-1). Pretty much the same. 
Heather: 5/10 (no change). She held her own in the fight. I really wish she could have dealt with the PULSE instead of me. But I can't blame her for leaving when she discovered the bad guy had been her father all along. 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Mindlack

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Posted (edited)

Since we're in kind of an important progression, I'm making a slightly shorter delay for this chapter and the next one which is the finale of Part 1. Expect a bit of a hiatus afterwards as I need to fully figure out Gabriel's next misfortunes the next steps of the plot. Mostly, I need to fill in the blanks between the end of Part 1 and whichever showdowns I plan for Part 2. 

 

Warning: There are some descriptions of violence in the chapter but nothing imo that's harsher than the game. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 25: Last Stand

 

 

Spoiler

 

I was very careful about the team members I picked to go into Corey's Gym. I feared that things might not go as per plan, and I was skeptical of them devolving into a standard Gym battle. This meant that I would need significantly more leeway. Leeway and creativity required raw materials. In this situation, I resolved to keep as much elemental power as I could. In this case, I swapped Tailor and, even though it was a heartbreak, Wolfgang, for Sicy (the Vanillite) and Antum (the Klink). 

 

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After a short, painful training session, which was probably more of a warm-up, I went into the Gym as Corey's delay was going to a close. 
The building was impressive, empty and eerily silent. In front of its entrance, which was digging directly into the mountain, six glass tubes filled with a colorful gas were standing, either red or blue. They were arranged in a two-by-three rectangle. On either side of the colorful assembly, there were stairs leading to a small upper floor, actually more a balcony.


Nobody was in sight and the air smelt utterly normal. I walked up the stairs, walked through the balcony, which led to an empty arena at the other end, with a few of the glass tubes around it, which made for a nice decoration. However, the floor of the arena itself was of a sickly purple, and I didn't want to tread it. 
I walked back down towards the entrance, more wary of this empty place than ever. And then I saw salvation. Or, more precisely, a communication panel similar to that I had seen at Julia's and Florinia's Gyms. And it functionned. I pressed "Grand Hall" and prayed for somebody to be at the other end. 

 

After thirty endless seconds, I heard Ame's voice. 
"Hello?" she asked. 
"Ame," I said, controlling my voice to conceal my unease.
"Gabriel," she acknowledged me. "So you're at Corey's Gym, right? He varies between two fields to battle, a corrosive field, and a corrosive mist field. The latter is the scarier, as it poisons Pokemon every single turn. But..."
"Ame," I cut her off. "That's not it. Corey's Team Meteor. He's taken the police hostage and has declared he would kill them unless I personally negotiate their release. I'm not up to fighting him, least of all on his terms."
"Oh." was Ame's answer. I understood that it was a lot for her to digest, but it annoyed me nonetheless. 
"I don't think he wants to bargain. He's totally out of control, and Heather left upon discovering her dad's actions."


Ame swore viciously. 
"I'm sorry, Gabriel." she said, her voice sad. "There isn't anyone we can safely send in your place, not without a significant delay. We're coordinating the aftermath of Jasper, and Obsidia, and it's hard too."


Maybe I could have taken it in stride. But this night, after this insane and endless day, I simply couldn't. So instead of simply wishing she could help, I started complaining. 

 

"That's not fair of you, is it? I saved all these Wards from the Meteors and the PULSEs. At my own stupid personal risk, even though I had no reason for it. Or personal stakes. And now you won't lift a finger to help me when he's going to kill your officers and me? So what are you going to let your Gym Leaders do? What do you already let your sex-orgy-slash-pervert guy get away with?" I said, remembering an obscure bit of trivia from a few days ago that I had dismissed as unreliable, but seemed so much more likely now that Corey was of Team Meteor. 

 

 

 

There was a stunned silence at the other end. Then Ame answered in a hard, almost threatening voice, "You are the mathematician. You should be careful with your implications." and the line went dead. 

 

I had a mental swearword. I was on my own. 

 

I looked again all over the room, but I realized that apart from the gas columns, there wasn't anything remarkable. Cautiously, I went forward, but nothing revealed itself. I realized that the glass tubes had a metallic, quite old-school, prominent button. I didn't know what it did, and a few nasty ideas came to my mind. For instance, they could seal the doors shut and release some other deadly gas Corey had in store. There was no way I was touching them. 


As I approached towards one tube, my gaze lost in the blue gas curls, something ignited on the other side of the glass. I heard a spark, which resounded sharply in the empty, ominously silent room. My eyes darted towards the entrance, and I ran towards that exit, oblivious to everything else. But nothing happened to the room or its entrance. It was as silent as before, as empty as ever. Except that four gas tubes had changed colors, the one that had reacted to my approach and the three nearest ones. Now the color pattern was clearer: the two tubes on the left were red, as was the one in the center and on the front row; the others were blue. 


Could this, I thought, be some sort of puzzle?
It was entirely possible, I decided. But what would be the reward? Doors sealing, gas leaking, my death? No point in taking such a risk.

 

"Take the chance," a loud voice, definitely Corey's, but harsher and amplified, resounded in the room. I looked around me -- nobody. "Or you're not leaving this place alive, nor are the police officers." Perhaps it was speakers. "Make it blue; it will not harm you."


Shaking with apprehension, I went to the leftmost red tube which was on the front row. If the logic held, that was a correct way to apply Corey's order-slash-threat. There were sparks again and everything turned blue. There was a sharp sound of something unlocking, and a part of the back wall simply split. There had been a secret door, I realized. 


The room before me looked like a small living room. There were a few bookshelves, a table, a sofa, a couple of cupboards, but no television. Corey wouldn't have liked most of the movie happy endings anyway. There also were four police officers lying on their chests, hands tied between their back, bound and gagged, and still trying to thrash around (although they mostly managed to slightly shift their weight around). There wasn't anyone else in sight. 


Perhaps this would be simpler than expected, after all. 

 

I went at the policeman closest from the entrance and managed to untie his hands. He reacted with instant aggression, as he threw his hands to the ground and pushed up with a monomaniac's determination. Then he threw himself at me snarling like a madman, and missed by inches while I hit my head against the wall. I knew I couldn't fend him off alone. I sent Hex as a shield, but he didn't notice her in the slightest and went at me again. Due to his angle of attack, and his single-minded ferociousness, I only missed his tackle by getting into a corner, a situation I realized panickedly was less than good. And Hex couldn't really help me, as I didn't want her to directly hit the man and wound him for something he wasn't really responsible for. Indeed, I assumed the gas was the same as the one that had been used at the Grand Hall, and have made everyone, myself included, irrationally aggressive and deaf to reason or moderation. 


This, I thought, wasn't going well. I saw a manic smile rise on the policeman's lips as he raised his hands before him, at my neck's height...

 

It was at this point that Corey made a whirlwind entrance in the room, grabbed the police officer by his hair, pulled his head back, and sprayed something out of a very small can into his nose. The policeman simply collapsed to the floor. The outed Meteor operative was still wearing his dark grey Meteor agent cloak, but his face and black hair with a very slight reflection of dark purple, and he was wearing a thin silver ring without ornaments on his left hand. 
There we go, I thought to myself. Look tough.


"So," Corey said, "you came."
"I'm here to negotiate the release the police officers." I answered in a tone I forced myself to project as absolutely confident and reasonable. 
"By all means, let us bargain." he said with some sort of mocking haughtiness. "Have a seat." he indicated the table. 

 

I went there, always keeping an eye out for a trap or a betrayal, and sat down at the table, making sure that Corey couldn't possibly block my way out should things become heated. Corey sat opposite me.

 

"So," I said to keep the dialog going, "I'm assuming it is the same gas that was employed at the Grand Hall three or four nights ago, when the Obsidia PULSE was growing?"
"Indeed." Corey acknowledged, his eyes steadily gazing at me.

 

His fixed look was becoming very quickly uncomfortable, but I couldn't really weaken my position by admitting that. I started with the common sense arguments I had found. 

 

"Listen." I said, as firmly as I knew how. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but you have to realize that your position is hopeless. You're alone here, the rest of the League is coming, and you can't hold out against all of them. Team Meteor hasn't shown up to help you. Everything's going to be much simpler if you surrender."
"Childish." Corey answered. "You cannot possibly believe that the delusion you mistake for self-confidence is enough to sway me."

A chill ran down my spine as I realized that, however pessimistic, the renegade Gym Leader's analysis was quite spot-on. But I couldn't afford to show that. 
"Contrary to your self-aggrandizing expectations, you still haven't truly experienced the harshness of life. Let me enlighten you."
"You're the one backed into a corner." I snapped, annoyed. "Stop patronizing me. You don't have any lessons to teach to anyone, least of all to me."
"Yet still you came." Corey answered flatly. "But I will not surrender to the police. For any reason." he added in a dead earnest voice. I knew I wouldn't manage to force him to do that. But maybe convince him? "Do you wish to know why?"
 

I needed a reasonable basis for discussion, I realized. I nodded. 

 

"As you know, the first information that law enforcement got about Team Meteor came from a suspect they caught in the aftermath of the Grandview Station destruction. How do you think they got him to talk?"


I felt my throat tighten, but I knew I couldn't afford to let it show. I motioned him to go on. 

 

"It started with some three hours in a pitch-dark room of about three per three per three. Feet. As the Meteor agent wouldn't talk, he was beaten up. Badly and everywhere where it could hurt. He got swollen dark blue spots all over his body. Nothing broken of course, as it would impede the next steps. As he only said he had promised to not tell, they started breaking his fingers with a hammer. One by one."
My stomach started to churn at about this point, picturing in horrific detail the agony of the poor bastard. He was a murderer and a terrorist, I recalled. And Corey wasn't a reliable narrator.


"But it still wasn't enough", Corey went on. "So they sat him on a metal chair and seared him until he gave something useful. He yielded, begging for mercy and covered in third-degree burns. They relented and dropped him in a dark cell somewhere. And of course, Team Meteor got wind of his betrayal and ordered his termination."
I thought about the timeline. This could have been another reason for his coming to the Grand Hall and releasing the aggression gas. If the story held, I recalled myself. If Corey wasn't simply using a simple ploy to weaken me and my position. I filed the allegations somewhere in my head and then tried to temporarily dismiss them altogether.

"So, however cruel reality may be, it does not mandate me to choose the most painful of paths. I will not surrender to the police."

 

"This isn't relevant." I declared after thinking it over during a pause. "You can as well as anyone hide or flee. By antagonizing the police and attacking their officers, you expose yourself more to their retribution."
"How is that any different of your situation with respect to Team Meteor?"
 

This wasn't information I wanted to give. But on the other hand, perhaps it could help persuade him...
 

"What I want is to go home, far, far away from Reborn." I answered after taking time to word it carefully. "Because of the general state of the city, and because Team Meteor blasted Grandview Station, that is impossible. My only way out is if the station is rebuilt. That can't happen if Team Meteor manages to destroy Reborn City."
"I... see." Corey answered after what seemed like an endless break. "In that case, I will offer you a Gym battle."


"What?" I asked, incredulous. 
"If you win, I release the police officers. You may also get a Badge, if it is not deactivated yet." 
"And if I lose?" I went on, still in disbelief, because I needed to hear about both outcomes. 
"If you lose, or leave the Gym before the fight -- I cannot believe you did not come prepared -- I will kill the police officers and leave you to take the fall."
"This," I observed, after I managed to acknowledge that Corey was fully serious, "isn't a negotiation."
"I temporarily have the upper hand. Life isn't fair. Why should I be?" was Corey's answer, before he rose briskly and left. 

 

 

**********************************

 

 

That Gym battle had more stakes and longer odds than what I was comfortable with. I also didn't have much information on the Gym Leader. I had, however, a first-hand recollection of his skill, if not his strength. In an ideal world, I wouldn't take this fight. 


In this sub-optimal world either, if I had had a grain of sense, I would have left the Gym, no matter the ethical arguments against. I was dead scared of Corey, of what he could do, and what he would do. I had little reason to believe Corey was genuine. Still, I couldn't bear the idea of letting the officers be murdered because of my cowardice. 
I took a deep breath and tried to plan. I failed, because there were too many unknowns. I would be fighting on terrain I didn't know, against a foe I had little specific information. I didn't want to call Ame until there was a chance to talk calmly about Corey's allegations. And I still was very annoyed at how she had hung up on me -- even though I was uneasy about the whole conversation. 


My heart beating way too fast, my breathing quick, I left the room after a last look at the helpless, but still potentially dangerous, officers, and walked up the stairs to the arena. Corey was waiting for me at his designated spot. Upon seeing me, he motioned at me to take my place and I obeyed. I saw him fiddle with something rectangle-shaped, until he looked satisfied and lowered it. 


"So," he said, and the room resounded with his voice, probably due to another set of hidden speakers. "Gym Leaders are entitled to a bit of speech before a fight. I will make my own."
"You wrecked the splinter of life I had rebuilt for myself, Gabriel." he started. "First, you destroyed the three PULSE systems that I oversaw. Second, you helped the City Police Department ambush me. Outed me in front of my own daughter. My one hope and memory of her. The only reason I have kept going through the years."
I realized, mentally wincing, that I had drastically underestimated the depth of the quarrel he thought he had with me. This Gym battle seemed a worse and worse idea every second, but his threat was still in effect, and I didn't dare move away. 
"And, as you said, you didn't intend to do any of this! You simply insert yourself into that story, selfishly, without a care for anyone else or the ins and the outs. And now you've called Ame. You have forced my hand, Gabriel. There is nothing left I have to lose."


74XuMQc.png

 

Without looking, he pushed a button on his remote control. I heard the doors behind me shut and I fought hard to not start or shiver. I started to realize that my initial idea of letting someone else handle the situation had probably been the good one. 
"Thus, I will bring you down with me. Crobat, make him suffer."


There was a small clicking sound and the Crobat got out of the Pokeball, flying in this very controlled pattern of small, but swift and very regular, direction changes. 
I hadn't expected Corey to go for this particular Pokemon right at the start. But I could improvise a little. The poisonous bat was much too fast for any of my grounded Pokemons to manage to hit him, short of a wide area effect. And even Batley wasn't fast enough. So I needed wide area effects... 


"Baby, go! Echoed Voice!"


The air vibration that the attack created was more impressive, and wider, than I recalled, and it neatly took the Crobat despite its instantaneous reaction. The power of that vibration pushed it back quite a little, but it didn't seemed damaged in the slightest. It wasn't too much of a surprise, the first one of a series of Echoed Voices being quite low-powered. 


The Crobat's counterattack was as swift as his moves. In the blink of an eye, it was on the Loudred and gave him a deeply poisonous bite, despite my Pokemon's desperate struggle to get free. Then, upon my request, Baby used Echoed Voice again, and that forced the sickly purple flying Pokemon off him. 

 

The Crobat soared, flew over Baby and dived at the Loudred's back, latching itself onto it and inoculating a second dose of even deadlier venom. In her panic, Baby turned brutally, causing the Crobat to lose his grip, and used an even more powerful Echoed Voice, reinforced by the interference with the remains of the previous sound waves. 
She was aiming at the Crobat. Which had been in her back. In other words, however unvoluntarily, the sound wave aggressed me as well as the Crobat. The latter got the full strength of the attack; it simply docked with its small paws into the ground to resist the displacement and did not seem otherwise bothered. I, however, suffered an acute headache and was temporarily deafened. I was about half-conscious when I saw Baby fall to a final attack. 


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It took over a minute, and some unusual ringing in the ears to dismiss, but I managed to regain most of my senses (including a rebooted hearing). The Crobat's venom was simply too powerful. I needed something that didn't fear it and could attack... Hex may have been my best choice, but it was so slow. 


"Antum, Charged Beam!"

 

The Steel-typed Pokemon launched an electricity ray that missed the Crobat by ten feet -- that was how fast the Crobat was. What I didn't expect was the sudden heat wave that seemed to come from the beam. For a second, I remained puzzled. As the Crobat started seizing the Klink, causing it to try to grind its paws against the gear, a rather successful tactic, I realized what was happening. 


NDPFUd0.png

 

The long time to recover. That heat wave after a spark. The shut doors. "I will bring you down with me." 
The weird ringing, which was actually, now that I could pay attention to it, a hissing. 
Toxic gases. 

 

I tried to shake my head, experimentally. I found it too light, like a glass of wine on an empty stomach. I didn't have much time. I started breathing faster in panic, even though, I found myself thinking, it was the worst idea. I tried to slow everything down, my heartbeat, my breathing, but the downside of this was that the focus prevented me to think. 


"So you figured it out." Corey's voice resounded again, harsher than ever. "Too late."

 

 

 

Character ratings: 

 
Spoiler

Corey: 0/10 (-1). Bastard tries to kill me because I happened to be the only one with luck and a good reason to help? Because my action forced to make him face the consequences of his own? That is messed-up. 
Ame: 6/10 (-1). What is the deal with her not willing to help? And hanging up on me like that? When Corey's about to murder me? 

 

Edited by Mindlack
Wrong copy-paste; fixed

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Posted (edited)

So here we are, at the very last chapter of Part 1. I didn't make any pictures, maybe I'll add some later. Perhaps how the battle against the game's Corey went, perhaps something about Beryl Bridge. 

As I said, there is going to be a short hiatus after this one, you'll have to go find something else to read for a while (how fortunate, I suppose, that someone decided to start a new season of their tale).  I have plot details for Part 2 to figure out -- Yureyu, the Orphanage, Blacksteam to some extent. 

If you really are bored in that time, you might also try and find some little hints that may be relevant in the future, or bring to light all the pointless references... or try the math problem from chapter 16. 

 

Enjoy!

 

Chapter 26: Darwinism

 

 

Spoiler

I could go on fighting, but I knew I wouldn't be able to down the Crobat in time. It became a matter of survival. And in such cases... there were no rules. 


I tried to look around the room to try and find an escape plan, but there didn't seem to be any exit, or any way to stop the gas leaks. Of course, maybe I could wait and detonate it all, but it didn't seem like a winning plan -- it would remove the threat, but me and Corey along, and it may well collapse the building and bury the police officers under the wreckage. Corey was dangerous enough to maybe justify such methods, but the sacrifice involved was rather significant and I didn't want to try this except as a desperate last resort. 


The least strong point, I found myself thinking, while I let poor Antum try clumsily to hit the Crobat who was flinging him around without any care, should be the door. 


"Are you giving up yet?" Corey asked on the speakers. "If so, I can abbreviate your misery."

 

As an answer, I took all of my remaining Pokeballs and sent all the Pokemon inside to help me in my predicament. 

 

"This," Corey observed, "is cheating. By refusing to abide by the formal rules, you have doomed yourself and the police officers."

 

I felt drunk on adrenaline, and insane due to the gas, so I yelled at him to bring it. Still proper, he only used his Crobat to speed at me with blink-and-you'll-miss-it speed -- which let him be intercepted by Sicy's (the Vanillite) Icy Wind, slightly deviating its course from me and forcing it to brutally slow down before hitting the wall. 


"Leaf, Hex." I decided. "You hammer at the door. Acid, raw strength, everything, but no fire. Sicy, Antum, Batley, you keep the Crobat off them and me, please."


Leaf started by kicking the steel door, which had little effect, while Hex spouted acid that similarly did little. The Crobat regained control of its course and flew directly at Leaf, the easiest and (figuratively, I hoped) juiciest target. Indeed, if I couldn't leave, I was dead (and so were the police officers) -- and Leaf was one who actively tried to prevent that. 


Sicy threw another well-placed Icy Wind at the Crobat, while Batley managed to send it a psychic attack, disrupting its coordination and slamming it against the wall. This was Antum's cue to launch another Charged Beam, which made the air meters around the ray uncomfortably hot. The Crobat thrashed and convulsed weakly against the current, but it took off afterwards, as nimble as if it hadn't incurred any damage. 


The poisonous bat changed tactics and threw went straight for Batley, grabbing her with its deceptively powerful paws, pressing at its head to prevent any retaliation, before flying at Antum with renewed rage. I was, at that point, looking anxiously at Leaf and Hex's so far fruitless attempt at breaking the door open, reminding Leaf that (because I remembered from old chemistry classes that acid damaging metal produced a well-known explosive gas), I didn't want her to use any fire, and not paying attention to the Crobat's mind game. 


On its own, the Antum used another Charged Beam. All the Crobat had to do was to drop Batley in the course of the ray, and fly away as the electricity ignited the gas in the way (the quantity of which was increasing) and provoked a powerful detonation that deafened me, threw Leaf and Baby to the ground, sent Batley and Antum flying (not on their own terms), and broke several glass tubes, releasing the gas in ever larger quantities.  


Shit.

 

But it wasn't all. The confused and barely holding on Batley tried to aim a final move at the Crobat, the most powerful attack she could muster. But Corey's Pokemon was already flying at Leaf and Batley mis-aimed. Hex threw herself in front of Leaf to shield her from the damage, and the attack took a heavy toll on her. In a supreme effort of lucidity, she then bodily opposed the incoming Crobat head on. Batley fell back on the ground, motionless, and I recalled her. 


Now only Leaf remained mostly unscathed, while Sicy, Hex, and Antum were, to various degrees, weary. The Crobat also started to look slower, slightly clumsier. Still largely more than a match for my weakened team. More than likely to be my murderer. I realized that my vision had started to slightly blur. I was living on borrowed time. Would this blasted door not open?

 

Because the Crobat had latched onto Hex and was inoculating her some sort of apparently very damaging venom she wasn't immune too -- a boosted Venoshock, probably -- Leaf had deserted the door and done a Quick Attack to force the Crobat to let go. I ordered Antum, who still was in the middle of the field, to come towards me, and started to kick at the door myself, with my back slightly bent backwards to enable me to push against it with my whole weight -- just like that martial arts teacher had said once, but for real. It hurt badly.


Seeing me as an unprotected target, the Crobat went to attack me, only to be tackled by Leaf again, her momentum sufficient to draw the Crobat to the ground and keep it pinned for the short time Hex (the only Pokemon I had that was heavier than Corey's) took to replace her. And Hex began to reciprocate by dripping nasty acid on the Crobat, while Antum and Sicy took turns attacking with their best moves, and while Leaf and I (who started to really struggle to breathe and not distinguish shapes much) hammered at the door in madness, forcing myself to go on in spite of my injuries. 


If I had turned around to see Corey, I would have noticed that he had left his place and gone towards my end of the field, and that he had a manic glint in the eye. 

 

"Crobat, Heat Wave!"

 

As soon as I realized in my failing mind what the words entailed, I got clear from the door and recalled Leaf, and Sicy -- but I didn't manage to recall Hex and Antum before the Fire-type attack ignited all the gas in the room, causing a massive explosion that shattered every glass tube, threw me nastily against the wall and probably burned part of my body (yet new pains, while I had the PULSE to thank for shredded clothes), made me see stars (and hear nothing) and utterly fainted Hex and Antum. 


On the upside, I realized in an adrenaline-powered blur, Corey was down, the Crobat was panting heavily, not yet ready to take off, and there were fissures in the door. While attempting to get up, I recalled Hex and Antum; then, with doubled frenzy, ignoring the various pains that made me want to scream, I kicked at the door until it gave enough way for me to slip through. 


I relished the flow of mostly clean air to my brain, and realized that Corey and his Crobat were hot on my trail. I only had a few seconds, and it wouldn't be sufficient to climb down the stairs. There only remained one way: hop over the waist-high fence and drop to the lower level.

 
The landing was harsher on my body than I expected, and it took all of my panicked and adrenaline-boosted willpower, as well as the full support of the wall, to get up. I could hear the Crobat slip through the cracks at that point. I would never make it out in time. That left one solution: the hidden room. Hopefully, it would be gas proof. 


Even though I was much closer, I reached that room and managed to lock myself in about half a second before the Crobat took a swing at it.
Whew. I was safe for now. 


"Not unimpressive." speakers said in Corey's ominous voice. Oh no. Not again! "But doomed regardless."


There was a click, and then a small hissing sound which I immediately recognized as being very bad news. I tried to unlock the door and open it, because anything was probably better than such a grisly death, but it looked like Corey had locked it from the outside. 


I was going to die here. 
I was going to die here.
There wasn't anything I could do. Or was it? There had to be something.
Five minutes, remember? The clock? Nothing is impossible if you haven't spent five minutes by a literal clock trying to figure it out. 
You don't need five minutes to do the impossible. You only need one. 
What did I have?
A little money. Thrashing insane or unconscious police officers, tied and gagged. Two Pokemon, wounded. Various Trainer items. Four unconscious Pokemon. Shredded clothes. 

 

I looked at the doors, felt them. Metal. Corey's words rung again into my mind. Something about searing metal. Then again, I slowly realized, with almost a smile, I could do better.


"Sicy." I called. "Please cool down that piece of metal as much as you can."

 

Metal reacted pretty quickly to variations in temperature. After maybe a couple of minutes of Icy Winds, the door was as cold as it could get. Without waiting for it to slowly heat back up again, praying for the gas source to be in the back of the room rather than the front, praying that regardless not too much gas had been sprayed into the room, I ordered Leaf to perform her most powerful Flame Charge at the door. Under the sudden heat variation, the metal which the cold had already made brittle cracked, allowing me to see... a Crobat's very disturbing eyes. 

 

I swore under my breath while retreating. Without waiting for instructions, Sicy bounced towards the opening, and, drawing water vapor from around her, threw a big ball of mist at Corey's ace Pokemon's eyes. It actually screamed in pain (a sound that, against reason and everything, made me uncomfortable and want to go help, which was akin to a suicidal option) and retreated briskly. 


Taking advantage of that time, I quickly kicked the door (I was starting to really learn the technique) to make my exit easier. Motioning at Sicy and Leaf to stay close, I went first through the opening. The Crobat was forsaking all its coordination, and was simply dripping acid everywhere and performing wonderful acrobatics, perhaps in chance of dissipating what it had got in the eyes. There was a golden opportunity there; Sicy managed to hit it fair and square with an Icy Wind so powerful that I thought I saw frost on the Crobat's eyes. 


However, it regained its focus within seconds and dived at me with murder in its eyes. Leaf intercepted it in the nick of time, slamming them both against a glass tube which resisted the impact. Without concern for her ally, Sicy launched another Ice attack at the tube that seemed to partly crystallize its contents. Leaf let the Crobat go. It fell to the ground and didn't move again. I resisted the impulse to start panting with expletives.

 

"Well." Corey said from farther in the hall, looking as enthusiastic as ever (but at least not murderously angry at me). "I suppose that leads us to a fight of five against..." he looked at Sicy who had fallen to the ground, exhausted, and Leaf, who didn't look in much better shape, and finally at me. "one."
"I'm pretty sure that Gym battles can't legally let you poison and murder your challenger." I answered drily. 
"My place. My rules." Corey answered. "However, I thought it over and... I wish to reconsider my position."
"I'm listening." I said, trying to remain calm and not throw myself at him in anger -- that would be an embarrassing, and dangerous failure if I tried. 


"Come see me on Beryl Bridge at..." he looked at his watch. "Ten thirty, in an hour and a half. Come alone. Bring however many Pokemon you wish. I will not have any. Whatever questions you may have, I will answer them. The Gym will be deserted and disarmed; the police officers will be able to rescue and subdue their captured partners until fresh air counters the effects of the gas."
"Why should I believe you?" I asked angrily. 
"I have five other Pokemon. None as deadly as Crobat, but each sufficiently to down that Combusken and kill you. I will not use them. You may leave."
Trying as hard as I could to still not look like an easy, broken target, I obeyed his order again and all but fled the Gym that had almost cost me my life. 

 

Spoiler

Player's note: I have battled Corey in three different sessions. The first two sessions had one battle each, the last session had three battles (two losses and a win, of course).

First session was in vanilla E18. No issue at all, I went there with two fainted Pokemon and it went smoothly, Hex and Batley doing most of the work (Hex being tanky enough with Acid Spray and Yawn to destroy the Crobat, Batley killing about half the team with Confusion) while Wolfgang and Leaf did a smaller part. 
Second session was in E18.2 and much tougher. I made the mistake of sending Batley out too early; it couldn't do as much as the last time. Corey started switching his Pokemon around and I won by about 20 hp on my last Pokemon (a wrong crit and I'd have lost). 

As for the third session... well, it was painful. 

Its first battle started with bad luck, and went on with reckless decisions. But finally I managed to get Hex v Crobat in the end. Hex got pretty much one-shot (> 85%'ed) by a crit +4 Venoshock, and I think the crit mattered. If Hex had tanked the hit, he'd have landed a killing Acid Spray. 

The second battle went a bit worse in the beginning, with misses at crucial points and crits from the enemy downing Pokemon before their time. I gave up when Batley (whose role still was to kill Mareanie+Nidorina, but took 60% from Mareanie's Venoshock once) did a Calm Mind instead of a Confusion, thus dooming her (and probably dooming the battle as well, given how close it was with the Crobat).   

The third battle was much luckier: 

Spoiler

FP1oUo4.png

 

Turn 1: I get Bubbled while I Screech.

Turn 2: I Stomp, Skrelp survives thanks to the Focus Sash but flinches.

Turn 3 is below.

 

3AtHBOS.png

 

Turn 4: I land one Echoed Voice and Croagunk kills Baby with Venoshock. I send in Wolfgang.

 

gTe1hzP.png

 

End of turn 5: Croagunk dies and as Corey sends Skuntank, I send Leaf instead (because I checked in another battle that Skuntank's Flamethrower one-shots Wolfgang).

 

6OatSWx.png

 

hNaDUsg.png

 

2uwLFRT.png

 

The above was turn 6, with Flame Charge being a crit. On turn 7, Leaf downs Corey's Pokemon  with another Flame Charge but suffers from Aftermath and the poison. Then Corey sends Mareanie in while I switch for Batley. 

 

LLOUffK.png

 

Mareanie survives with only a few HPs, inflicts like 55 damage with Venoshock. On the next turn, Batley uses another Confusion to finish Mareanie off. Then Corey sends off Crobat and I call the only mon that can hold it off, Hex.

 

BPniU1I.png

 

Oh, and it carries a seed because Crobat can set up very fast to become a serious problem, and I need all the firepower I can (and ideally much more, but that's impossible, alas). Before the next screenshot, there is one Body Slam from me and one Nasty Plot by him. It is the only time I don't Yawn him -- the other time in the play session, it backfired as he wrecked me in his sleep.   

 

wD9tfnv.png

 

Another lucky crit and paralysis for Body Slam. I think either would have been mostly fine. 

 

CimVMop.png

 

4LTAGNZ.png

 

So back to yellow range for the Crobat. The nice thing is that it gets paralyzed the two next turns, but it wasn't 100% necessary.

So Corey only has his final Nidorina, who flinches me with a Bite before I can Yawn her. 

 

hCy3cyM.png

 

Then the strat is usual: Acid Spray to death.

 

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And... at last. 

 

hfLnPIf.png


 

***********************************

 

 

As the adrenaline dropped and my mixed emotions of anger and panic relented, I became aware of how badly I hurt. Such a short time had not dissipated the previous swelling injuries the PULSE had inflicted me. And some new ones had been added: my ankles hurt, doubtlessly because of the fall, I had a headache, maybe owing to the gas, and a large part of my face felt uncomfortably warm. 


I wanted to go home. I wanted to sleep for a week. I wanted to find a deep burrow and wrap an endless stack of blankets around me and lick my wounds. But I couldn't. It wasn't over yet. The Chief of the City Police Department was waiting for me at the healing point. I saw him wince upon looking at me. 


"It didn't go well, I assume." he started hesitantly. "My men..."
"Corey says they'll be fine. He will have vacated the Gym by ten thirty and deactivated all the traps." I answered briefly, in a weary voice. 
"You... actually succeeded." the policeman marvelled, incredulous. 
"At that time, he wants me alone on Beryl Bridge." I went on. "And we only have his word that all is going to happen as he promised."


As his eyes lost some of their gleam, I felt obligated to provide him with a more satisfactory fact. "There's an upside, though. He made a pretty close attempt to kill me. I barely made it. I beat his Crobat only, and he had five more Pokemon to end only one of mine -- and one of me. He didn't go on and offered this resolution instead."
"Hm. I'm sorry for asking this of you, but..."
"Can I see the ordeal to the end?" I cut him off in a pained voice. "I may. I'm not sure. If it's a trap, I'm probably gone."
"I wasn't going to phrase it this way..."
"Did you torture the first Meteor you captured?" I asked angrily, annoyed at his obvious attempt to defuse everything. He was the freaking local Chief of Police, and he was asking me to do his job. I saw his expression darken. And there I was thinking I couldn't have felt worse.
"Look," he said after a pause. "Not everything is black or..."
"I don't want to hear it." I said dully. 
There was a heavy silence full of good intentions, brooding and aborted metaphysical interrogations about the necessity of evil, finally interrupted by the officer.
"If you excuse me for making the suggestion, maybe you should be moving to the bridge now. He won't be able to set anything up if you are there before him."
"Unless that's what he wants me to think." I answered automatically, even though I was aware that he was probably right. 

 

 

*******************************

 

 

The bridge was even more spectacular when one was standing on it. It might have had something to do with the wind, as there was nothing to block it anymore -- Beryl had been built right against the mountain for that reason. But there was this feeling of altitude one couldn't simply dismiss, a vague vertigo of the large empty spaces on either side. 

 

The wind was cold and was rushing through my shredded clothes. I couldn't just sit and wait, so I paced tiredly, each step a wince, along the bridge. I remained first very close to the western edge, near the Beryl Ward and probably where Corey would come from, but I got bored quickly and went farther and farther. At about ten fifteen (according to my Pokegear), I was on my last (painful) back and forth, completely on the eastern side, when I heard a weak cry. 


I first imagined it was the wind, but, curious in spite of myself, I realized that it was a child, maybe seven or eight. He was above the bridge, maybe eight feet, apparently airborne only thanks to some sort of balloon. The wind was pushing him towards the north. He cried again. 


He was too high for me to reach directly, and I didn't dare try and attack the balloon, for fear of the resulting damage to the child. There was only one thing left to do. Muttering to myself how insane it was, barely refraining myself from yelling from pain, I pushed myself on top of the hips-tall brick wall preventing falls on the northern side, very cautiously got up, trying to accurately compensate for the wind. Then I was tall enough to grab the boy by his knees with one hand, and using the other, jumped off the wall (onto the bridge, of course), pulling the child with me and forcing the balloon off.  


"It's okay." I said in as reassuring a voice as I could manage. "I got you now. You're safe."
"Thank... thank you." the boy stuttered tearfully. "There was this balloon, I grabbed it, and I took me higher and higher and..." he sobbed. 
"It's all right. You're safe now. Where are you living?" I asked him. 
"In the Lapis Ward, below. But I know the way!" he answered, the fear passing quickly. Reckless. "I'll be safe, don't worry." and he simply left, walking brightly, truly oblivious to the danger he had escaped, completely forgetful of the emotion he had been feeling not a minute ago. 

 

I was, of course, worried about him, but I had to hope for the best. The police would be watching the bridge from nearby and would find the boy, I hoped. The only thing I could do for him was to make sure that his captor would not harm anyone else -- so, under mocking caws of nocturnal birds, I captured the Drifloon. Then I went to my appointment. 

 

nf2oz1G.png


"There you are at last." Corey greeted me. He had dropped the Meteor clothes for normal ones, but he wasn't wearing his silver ring. As far as I could see, he was casually leaning on the wall, southern side. "So, Gabriel," he went on, "what is it you want to know? Why I joined Team Meteor?"


That was interesting, I thought, but not as important as, say, the names and positions of infiltrated agents of Team Meteor. Or, I realized after a couple of seconds, the full (or even partial) PULSE blueprints. Or Team Meteor's future plans. Or actual goals. But there would be time to ask him that... Better to placate him. I nodded. 


"There was this ring, a brilliant Ruby Ring. I am not one for jewelry, but it was the most dazzling ring I had seen. I purchased it from a collector some time ago, to introduce it to what true beauty was. Indeed, it became my love's wedding ring. It wasn't long after we were married that my wife got pregnant, and we were both very excited. We were happy. We were naive. My wife didn't survive Heather's birth."


Oh... I wanted to express my sympathy, but didn't really know how to go about it, since that tragedy was about a decade ago. Regardless, Corey motioned me to stay silent, as his tale wasn't over. 


"I was told that she died of a mechanical error during the delivery." A mechanical error? "But that wasn't all; at some point, the doctor assigned to her had taken the ring." Hum, keeping the ring when you go to a hospital to deliver... It must have been a wonderful ring. "And would not return it to me. I learnt later that he had been dispatched by Team Meteor to obtain that ring. I did what I could, but I wasn't able, in the end, to recover it."


Please don't go where I think this is going...
 

"So I made a deal. I agreed to serve the Meteors as long as I was allowed to keep the ring. The last token of our happiness. I just had to keep it, no matter the cost. As I realize now, that was selfish. I placed my own desires above what was best for Heather. And now, because of it, she's gone."

 

L6tdOCL.png

 

Was Heather the only angle he had to apprach the whole mess? Not the countless casualties and the huge devastation he had overseen, in his words? Not the fact that Heather was seriously annoyed at him even before he got outed?

 

"Gabriel." he went on, his voice displaying some intensity for the first time. He was now sitting on the wall, but the rigid self-control he had displayed at most points was completely slipping. "Heather has the ring now. She will be hunted for it, and she doesn't want to see me. Please... watch over her for me. " his voice broke. 


"But what's the connection?" I asked, exasperated. "Between these facts a decade old and modern Team Meteor? What's the big picture? Would it kill you to tell me?" 


And the penny dropped. The only reason he had kept going through the years. Corey sitting on a wall. Finally emotional. Asking me to keep an eye on his daughter. Corey not killing me, but not wanting to surrender to the police...
Corey was planning to kill himself. 


As soon as I realized it, I leaped at him in alarm. On a normal day, I might have been able to make it. But it wasn't a normal day. It had been among the most physically demanding and painful days of my life. I hurt everywhere and I was exhausted. He was already falling backwards towards the Lapis Ward when I reached him. My fingers slipped on the tip of his shoe, unable to prevent his fall, and I could but watch as he disappeared into the darkness. 

 

"Wow." said a voice I recognized only too well. "What a moron."
"Hi, Fern." was all I could answer, still stunned at Corey's action and Fern's reaction. "I don't think he was a moron." I added as the silence became awkward. 
"Oh, he was. That dumb-wad just threw himself off of the Beryl Bridge. Sucker's gone for sure. And to think I came up here just to challenge him... What a waste."
"That's... all you find to say?" I asked. 
"Not like I knew him. Some old guy goes crazy and throws himself off a bridge... Big deal. I just see it as natural selection, see?"

 

JTD76o2.png


"That's... not how it works." was all I could answer. He had a daughter, so his genes were already tramsmitted to the next generation.
"Hey, you know what would be more of a waste? If you had beaten him and if he had offed himself before giving you a Badge."


Heh heh.
 

"Very funny." I said. "We had a battle." I recalled with a shiver. "It... devolved badly."
"You couldn't even beat him? I always knew you were a loser." was Fern's charitable comment. 

 

I left without a word. I went back to Beryl, full of dark thoughts, and immediately left towards Jasper, unwilling to go talking to the police officers.


Of course, that boy had managed to get himself in trouble again.  This time, he had been cornered by a pair of Scolipedes. Hex, Batley and Mouse (who had replaced the wounded Baby after the ordeal at Corey's Gym) didn't have too much trouble shooing them away. So this time, I didn't let the boy get away. I firmly took his hand and told him I'd escort him back home, whether he wanted or not. I was exhausted, traumatized and hurting about everywhere, but I still had whatever little authority and strength was necessary to overpower a seven-ish-year-old. 

 

At about one in the morning, a Lapis Ward mother would open the door after somebody had rung, only to discover her missing child, exhausted but high on candy (the only way I had found to keep him walking). A quarter of an hour past that, I would trip into the Lapis Ward Pokemon Center, drop onto the first seat available and immediately pass out, oblivious to any reactions of anyone already inside. 

 

 

End of Part 1

To be continued...

 

 

Character ratings: 
 

Spoiler

Ame: 5/10 (-1). I may have said the wrong thing somewhere, but can't she get a handle on her Gym leaders instead of letting me try to escape their assassination attempts and then witness, powerless, their suicide? It was pretty obvious Corey wasn't exactly sane!
Corey: 1/10 (+1). I suppose I can sympathize with his (former) predicament. It's not really up to me to judge a human being on what he needs to do to keep himself functional. 
Fern: 3/10 (-1). So far he was being a petty obstructionist who seemed to enjoy my misery for some reason. I'm not unused to that. However, mocking a person offing themselves is a new low. 

 

 

Death count:

Spoiler

Start-Florinia: 4

Florinia-Corey: 2

Total: 6

 

Edited by Mindlack

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 Hello! 

The hiatus is finally over. I expected it to last two or three weeks but actually it went for five weeks. Time does slip by. 

Shameful confession: I used to judge fanfiction authors doing that kind of stuff. Couldn't they manage their schedules, plan ahead, or something? But, well... Now, I know better. 

 

Anyway, the second part of the story is starting... It should be faster-paced than the first part, in my outline the Shelly fight is in "only" five chapters! 

I hope you enjoy.  

 

Also, I noticed that we're almost at 3200 views now! That's great!

 

Part 2: Taking Responsibility

 

"Man's motive power is his moral code."

A controversial, yet influential, American best-seller from the 1950s

 

 

Chapter 27: No Rest for the Wretched

 

 

Spoiler

 

I had bad dreams that night. I would see my bloodied, weakened father, and fail to get timely help. My sister, my brothers would be lying in pools of blood, neck completely torn open by falling debris. Huge ghastly balloons would carry me away, up in the air, above a dizzying height, under mocking caws, and would just... drop me. An unspecified nefarious group had finally managed to lay their hands on me, that they would kill me, but not before beating me up as if they enjoyed it. I dreamt that I saw my mother plummet to her death and that I failed to grab her hand by half a second.

 

When I finally woke up, it wasn't very late and I felt everything but rested. The blows I had endured the day before were aching about as much. I felt as weary, as stained, as last night when I had failed to save Corey. Because you didn't let a man fall like that, no matter his crimes or the depth of his misery. Which I had let do.
But I had to go on, in some way or another. Mourning my not saving the terrorist that had all but killed me several times was, I was dimly aware, about as self-destructive as trying to arm-wrestle a PULSE Tangrowth. What I needed was something to clear my mind... 

 

So of course, in the morning, not paying attention to the rumor in the Pokemon Center (and oblivious to the dark looks I was getting from a few passers-by), I went to take a shower (and they forced me to book a room just for that. Outrageous but not worth a fuss). Fourtunately, the facility provided soap and towels.

 
What I saw in the mirror while undressing surprised me. I saw a bruised face with rampant purple marks. I saw my light brown unkempt and dirty hair, in a way well past my usual tolerance. I saw deep, dark shadows under my dulled green eyes. I saw purple contusions on the rest of my body -- chest and stomach-level, shoulders and forearms, on my thighs. And my ankles still felt frail. 

 

However shocked I was upon seeing what five mere nights in Reborn City had done to me, I was relieved to be able to take a long, hot shower. It was relaxing, almost cathartic, to be able to let it all go. The negativity, the pressure, the life-endangering risk, the taste of failure, misery, and death... Even math left my mind for a while. Nothing mattered but the comfortable hot running water. 


I felt anew, almost fine and cheerful, when leaving the shower. I lost the smile when I was explained that there was an added fee for the hot water, but I didn't want to altogether ruin my mood and make a fuss over it. I could afford it once, and, looking back, I knew I had needed it badly. 
The job was over, I realized. There wasn't anything I had to do anymore. Just be a regular League challenger. Or get something more steady. Some sort of job.

 
I adjourned the decision-making to have a walk in the new Ward I had set foot in, the Lapis Ward. It was easily the nicest of all Wards. The houses were in a better state than all those I had seen, much cleaner than elsewhere. The smell was almost neutral, and the pavement was just about decent. It really looked like a place I could survive in, waiting for that station to be rebuilt. But I wasn't sure I would be able to afford it, unless I could get something steady and respectable enough. Someone there needed math tutoring for their kids? Or just somebody honest and good with numbers? 

 

I was aware on some level that these were daydreams, but they were so pleasant that I spent most of the walk mulling them over, going around the Ward clockwise, from south to northwest and then walking along the northern border, enjoying the flowery smell that a flower shop spread liberally all around it, possibly as advertising, or maybe a much-needed feel-good service. The several low-level, relatively high-reward battles I fought in this stroll also helped. 

 

In the northeastern end of the Ward, I saw people gathered around a discontinuity after a tall building, maybe ten floors high. I made my way to them, curious, and found that the group as a whole faced north, but the people were chatting excitedly with one another in random directions, words of a rumor I couldn't really make out. But there was only a high, vertical wall there, what could there be...

 

I remembered the last night. I felt my back bow on its own, and my eyes lower as a consequence by at least an inch. I started inserting myself in the crowd to try to check whether my terrifying supposition was founded. It first smelt ominous when a disgusting and vaguely familiar stench came at my nose. 

 

Then, down the wall, I saw... something atrocious. It was without any contest the goriest of sights I had ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes on, and I'll leave the description at that. No preparation I could have undertaken would have avoided the physiological reaction usually associated to such sceneries. In fewer words, I threw up out of sheer horror and disgust.

 

"I think that's enough, Shelly", a voice I remembered at once said near me. "You're only making yourself sick. It's over now."
 

Shelly? Where had I heard that name? I turned and recognized Victoria, as well as the girl she was with, the bug expert of the Reborn League, who had given me Wolfgang. 

 

Shelly sobbed. "But t-that's..." She sounded about to burst into tears, and I didn't blame her. "W-Why w-would... ?"

 

P3iz5rm.png


"Shelly, honey, it's going to be okay." Victoria's voice was steadying, but she hadn't really gone over the trauma herself. "Let's get you inside." I saw Shelly open her lips but I wasn't able to hear what she said. Looking alarmed, Victoria grabbed Shelly's head with her two hands and drew it away from what presumably were Corey's remains. "Look at me." she added authoritatively. "Inspire... Expire..."


But it wasn't working. Shelly couldn't keep her eyes off the grisly sight. Victoria sighed and started forcefully dragging her away, at which point I followed her to the Gym where she was heading and entered right after her. Victoria and Shelly had settled in a small entrance hall. 


"Gabriel." she noticed, as soon as her exercises had managed to get Shelly breathing again. "What happened to you?"
I really, really didn't want to go over the details with a traumatized Shelly (who was now crying uncontrollably), so I simply answered: "Life."
There was an awkward break, punctuated by Shelly's mood-saddening sobs. I added awkwardly "and you?" to try and keep the conversation going. 


"I went to help at the Grand Hall in the aftermath of the Obsidia issue. Arceus knows I'd have loved to go on challenge the League instead, but that was more important. That's my first actually free day."
"I'm sorry." I answered Victoria. 
"T-That was H-Heather's... dad." Shelly managed to articulate, before crying again. 


I wondered whether to ask her how she knew about Heather, pondering if it would help her calm down thinking of something else. I decided against it, fearing that topic was too close to Shelly's grief. Heather's whereabouts were worrying as well. She was very young, possibly unstable with her life shattered and no place to stay. Did she even know her father was dead? Did she have a place to go?
 

And why did that suicide have to bother me so much? It wasn't enough that I was a powerless witness to it, but I also had to deal with the aftermath? And aftermath meant further interference in what used to be Corey's business... So Meteor affairs. I didn't want to be involved in that again. 

 

At that point, I realized that a call was inevitable. I needed to make sure that Corey's suicide was handled appropriately, that Shelly and Heather had the support they needed, and that I was wantonly unqualified to offer. I didn't dare state it for myself, but I probably also wanted to convey the message that I wasn't having any of their  messy business any more. 

 

"Shelly," I asked, as gently as I could. "Is your Gym panel able to contact the Onyx Trainer School's Gym, please? I need to make a call."
Shelly lifted her head, which had so far been buried in her hands, and managed to say in a very small voice "Um, y-yes, let me set it up for you" without bursting into tears again. She rose, manipulated the panel and went back to her seat. 
"Onyx Trainer School Gym?" a new voice said, not a pleasant one. 
"Hello, I'd like to speak to Florinia, please."
"The Leader doesn't take phone calls without appointment."

 

I sighed audibly, then decided to borrow another cliché from literature. "Tell her it's Gabriel calling. She'll want to speak to me."
There were a few minutes' worth of silence. 

"Ms. Florinia is unavailable now. Should I pass on a message?"
Crap.

 

"Tell her my job is done, and that there are developments I would like to tell her directly. Today, at least, she can probably join me by calling Shelly's Gym, I will be in the surroundings."
"Very well, Gabriel." Such disrespect. "Is there anything else?"
"No..." I sighed. "nothing." I cut the communication. 

 

Victoria had looked at me very peculiarly. 

 

"What do you mean," she asked in a low voice, "when you say that Florinia would want to talk to you?"
"You remember Obsidia?" I asked back. "The plants coming to life?"
"Of course I do. I don't know what happened to you back there, but we found out that it was due to a specific machine, under the control of Team Meteor." Victoria answered.
"Yes. And the same calamity had struck, a few days before, Beryl and then Jasper. So Florinia instructed me to go help." I said, thinking back bitterly on that moment. 
"Why -- why you?" 
"Because I was the ludicrously lucky guy who dismantled the Obsidia contraption. I still don't understand how they failed to get me killed. It would have been easier than Florinia or Amaria."
"Oh."
"So I wanted to tell Florinia that the job was done. Also, to convey the important details, the more worrisome ones as well. And the most important point of all -- that I'm not doing anything like that again."
"But... why?"

 

"Because they've basically treated me as an expendable scout." I answered after a full minute of introspection, sadness and annoyance in my voice. "Because I needed these things gone, because I needed Reborn safe, because nobody here cared remotely about me, they basically sent me alone to deal with that mess." I added bitterly.

 

I stopped myself in time to not mention Heather's antics or Corey's murderous games. With Shelly listening and sobbing again, it wouldn't have worked at all. 
Victoria didn't answer, and we remained sitting there, I darkly reminiscing about the last two days, Shelly sobbing. After about an eternity, the "phone" rang again. 

 

"I'll do it." I got up and told Shelly, expecting that Florinia was calling back.

"Hello?" It was a male voice, and the implications made me shiver. It was the voice of the Chief of Police, and I doubted he was there to enquire about Shelly. "Is there someone named Gabriel around?"
"Speaking." I said in the communicator, dreading what would come next. 
"There has been an explosion at the Grand Staircase, north of Opal Bridge. Shady people with Meteor-looking uniforms were seen around the place. We'd like you to come there have a look and share your thoughts."
It wasn't even a request, I realized. But for the same reason as always, I couldn't say no. No matter how much I wanted to.
"I'll be on my way." I sighed deeply and cut the communication again. 

 

"Gabriel," Victoria interrogated me, "you just told me you didn't want to be involved."
"I don't." I answered. "But the same logic applies each time: if Reborn doesn't recover, I am stuck there. If I decline to help and Reborn recovers anyway, they'll probably forbid me to travel." I explained in a dull voice. "Look at what happened! I let Florinia know about my location, and twenty-ish minutes later I get a call from the police."
"I see your point. Will you need any help?"
"I'm not going into any action." I said resolutely. "I'll be fine."
"In that case" she answered, lowering her voice and standing up away from Shelly, "I'll stay here for now. I came here to challenge her, but I'm worried about Shelly. She's only twelve, and outside... she shouldn't have had to see that."

 

NQYfp0A.png

 

I could but agree.

 

 

***************************

 

 

I had walked by the Grand Staircase the night before, but it had been past midnight, I had been tired and with an exhausted kid, so I hadn't been able to appreciate the sight. Just behind the Opal Bridge, there was a large empty area, with a lot of people watching and commenting the explosion. 
Northwards, majestic stone stairs were supposed to be standing, with hundreds of large greyish stained steps, the monument impressive by its size and its former quality. They would lead to huge gates. But this day, a large cloud of dust veiled everything.

 

A police officer which I didn't recognize, noticing me, greeted me and explained me that the event had sent the entire force on the lookout for suspicious events city-wide. The common belief, he argued, was that this noisy and spectacular, yet almost victimless explosion, could well be another distraction, such as the gas leak in the Grand Hall. It had to be investigated nonetheless. And if the Meteors had a genuine interest in the Grand Staircase exploding, the investigator had best be someone who knew them. 


"Seriously," I asked, annoyed, but knowing, deep inside, that the logic had trapped me again. "Field work again? I'm not a policeman. Officers get paid. They get recognition. They get week-ends. There are better Trainers, better investigators than me. Whichever reason you chose me, there probably are official people better qualified than me!"
"I'm only relaying orders, don't take it out on me. They're saying that you're the only one to ever have destroyed these contraptions of theirs, these plant monsters."
I felt like I had repeated the words a thousand times, only to never have them penetrate anybody's brain but mine: "It was luck. I got favorable circumstances. I was on the spot, and I didn't get beaten before the battle even started. Even so, if they had used it properly, I woud have died several times."
 

Pointless, I thought. I would never get anyone to believe me on this one.

 

"Anyway, why do they think it should be investigated by someone they think is a Meteor expert?" I asked.
"We have witnesses saying they saw suspicious individuals, matching the descriptions of Meteor in uniforms, with a lot of rope. They disappeared into the cloud."

 

I mulled over this for a second. Could they have wanted that hole blown to go in the depths? That seemed silly. I didn't think anything worthwhile could sleep beneath the pavement of cities. Foundations, sewer systems, some utility lines, such as power and water, maybe. But it probably wasn't the best spot to disrupt any of these. I didn't see any means of getting someone else to do the assignment. So, after another deep sigh (and a second of burning hopes that everything would turn out all right), I went into the dust and smoke cloud. 

 

Which was, in retrospect, quite stupid, because it made eyesight barely useful, while (apparently) having a large gaping hole nearby -- a safety hazard even Julia would mind. I kept my head low, discounting the risk of dust (for at least a short while), as I wouldn't see anything from my own height. Alternating between standing straight (to breathe better air) and bending almost to a crouch (to actually see the ground), I got to the huge hole, deep enough that I couldn't make out anything inside, quite quickly, and started to turn around in hope of seeing something suspicious. 


At about the eastern point, I found an outright oddity: a taut-looking rope ladder solidly tied to the stairs' banister rail. There had to be something interesting to Meteors below. I didn't exactly like the idea of climbing it down, but obviously the police would have instructed me to do so. Besides, it couldn't be too bad a trap, as the place had been unearthed for maybe an hour... What could possibly happen? And they would probably need a way out as well... I should have known it was a stupid idea, but I nonetheless, slowly and carefully, climbed down the ladder into the darkness. 

 

When I finally got below the dust and smoke, I was surprised to find myself in an actual tunnel. And what a tunnel! There shouldn't have been much light, but there managed somehow to be some light gleams that glinted, reflected madly all over the crystal-encrusted walls. The place remained dark, but it was possible to somehow see the way; with proper lighting and what high fantasy would have called "Dwarf expertise", it could become a place of light, reflects and wonder. There was, surprisingly, only one direction in which to go. If the Meteors knew of that place, they had probably had to aim just right. Surprisingly right, in fact. It would have needed careful planning, and...


At that moment, lost in thought, I didn't pay attention until something hit me in the back of the head. Alarmed, I turned back brutally (moaning because I was doing so on the bad side and my sore neck hurt badly), but the world was starting to spin and I saw stars. I could but try not to fall too badly, and wait for it to pass. 


sThwQqJ.png


By the time I had fully recovered my spirits, I had been thrown to the ground and relieved of my bag and my Trainer belt. And two Meteor grunts were standing a few feet from me, with a vaguely satisfied look.
 

Powerless again.
I cursed my recklessness, stupidity and distraction. 
I cursed the police and Florinia. 

 


Character ratings: 

Spoiler

Victoria: 10/10 (0). She sounds like a very good person. Kind to Shelly, committed to the city restoration above her own goals. Nice to me too. 
Florinia: 4/10 (-1). Manipulative satanic robot. Leading me into danger, irrespective of my wishes.

Shelly: 7?/10. Hard to judge someone whom I mostly only saw crying. Even though she entrusted Wolfgang to me, almost an eternity ago. 

 

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Posted (edited)

Now, I really should get back at writing, because my buffer is diminishing... But never mind, as usual in the week-ends, I can give you the next chapter. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 28: The Enemy's Gate

 

 

Spoiler

I had been thrown to the ground, head first, and my already sore neck ached really bad. I hadn't been able to identify my enemies. Anyway, the smartest move here was to run. I pushed on my arms, knees and legs to get myself standing, twisting my neck in the right direction to have a peek at my foes. 


I saw two angry-looking Lycanrocs and two dark-clothed hooded Meteor agents. I saw that they were all between me and the exits -- either the rope ladder, or the continuation of the tunnel. I had a cold sweat -- if they had been ordered to kill me, I was dead, full stop. 


"I recognize you! You were at the factory! Here's revenge, hah!" one of the Meteor grunts said, in a voice that actually resounded against the walls of the tunnel.
"You think he was that terrified kid, Aster?" the other asked, the voice a woman's. "Yeah, it's probably him. You're aware," she added, turning to me, "that you are trespassing on our operating territory."


H5iSYoc.png

 

I didn't like at all that mention of their territory. Because on their territory, they would be free to act regardless of usual moral codes, or, more concretely, dispose of me as they saw fit. But I knew, again, that I couldn't look weak. And the odds weren't overwhelming against me -- the Lycanrocs were small, I might be able to push all of them aside while I dashed to the rope ladder. It might work. I tried to go forward my attackers, very slightly, as if not thinking of it. 


"Look," I offered, deciding to play the victim card, "the police up here forced me to go down to investigate. I'll climb up and let you be."
I fought hard to still look impassible and not wearing a manically hopeful grin.
"No." the girl said again. "I don't buy it. You've been involved in most operations against us. We're keeping you, in accordance to our orders anyway."


Delaying so much the statements of these orders could only mean one thing, and it wasn't good. I took another step forward, trying to not look as I had a purpose. 
"And what would these orders be?" I asked in a voice I fought to make as serene as possible. 
"We take you down to the big boss. He requested explicitly that any prisoners here may not be harmed."
"Unless they clearly ask for it," Aster completed. "So throw your arms in the air like a nice boy and come with us without doing whatever you were planning."


Crap. I had to work on my subtlety. The Pokemon started coming closer to me, until I could notice that the Lycanrocs had teeth. With two against me so close, I wouldn't be able to get them out of the way, I realized. I had to keep them away. So I surrendered like a nice boy complelely out of his depth.
"The Lycanrocs are a bit nervous, I think." the woman said. "Don't make any sudden moves and excite them. Keep your hands up."


Aster led the way further down the tunnel, I went second (after a safe distance preventing me from trying any backstabbing), followed closely by both rock wolves, and then by the woman whose name I didn't know. Both of the Meteor operatives had lit a flashlight, which did interesting things to the crystal-encrusted walls. Reflecting the white light, the crystals had a more iridescent glitter. It would be, I thought, a place of wonder, a palace of color, an encyclopedia of reflects, with such lighting everywhere. 


The path ended up to a giant hall, decently lit even without the flashlights, due maybe to numerous minute skylights. The crystals here were more abundant than ever and I revised my opinion about lighting -- the sheer amount of colorful reflections, of gleams of different orientations and colors, would have made the onlooker dizzy. Perhaps such a scant lighting was for the best. 


While I was admiring the landscape, I also was trying to keep in mind the path we were choosing, and trying to spot for escape opportunities. But it never was the right time: the Lycanrocs were too close, perhaps the woman had another Pokemon -- and ultimately, I didn't want to take chances. The Lycanrocs growling threateningly at me whenever I started lowering my arms might have also weighted on this decision, or rather undecisiveness.


0cDvNLd.png

 

Aster led me down a series of small ledges into one particular, darker, edge of the hall which was somehow barely noticeable from the entrance, and instructed me to follow on the path alone. This seemed extremely ominous, but I was outnumbered and with little means of defence. Once again, I decided to obey instead of resist, but keep being wary of (literal) backstabbing. 


I first walked in a short, narrow and very dark corridor, where I stopped anguished several times to try and listen at anything that could come at me from behind, but found nothing. It came out on a place much better lit, with actual torches making the surrounding crystals gleam with a range of colors going from pink to orange, including yellow and scarlet. 


Old-looking, worn stone stairs were leading down to some sort of square. It was quiet, but people had come down here recently, at least to light the torches, which felt very unnerving. But I slowly went down the stairs, as I had been instructed, and found out that I was utterly alone. 


That didn't reassure me in the slightest. Wasn't there a big boss supposed to be there? I paced the available space nervously, trying to spot hidden paths, but to no avail. The room I was in -- after the stairs, there were the buried remains of a rectangular square, with a locked grid at the end, walls even more filled with crystals, ones that reflected light better and shone brighter as well, and, in some part of the wall on my right, a massive, plain black door. 


I paced nervously the square and even the stairs, trying to decide on a next step, anguished thought after anguished thought coming to my brain, such as -- they've resolved to let me die, they'll never let me out of here and I'll starve to death. Or: they'll obstruct the corridor entrance with a huge rock and I'll run out of oxygen. Or, the latest and the really scary one: They're just letting me here until carbon monoxide levels raise and I die. Then they take me back up -- a tragic caving accident, which nobody would have reason to disbelieve. 


Then again, I reasoned, it can't really be an assassination attempt in this way, right? The counter-move is simple -- I simply have to extinguish all the torches. 
Unless that's what they want you to think
, the small voice of paranoia chimed in. What if they simply leave you alone?


I started blowing the lights out, just in case, starting one at a time so as not to trip on the way. I was about halfway up the stairs (I had started from the square below) when I started hearing footsteps. Steady, confident footsteps, the kind of person who knew their way and didn't bother with stealth. This got added to my tab of worrisome elements, which started to overwhelm me with panic. 


I forced myself to breathe normally. If they want to kill you, you can't fight them, I told myself. But you can hope: they have stated an intention to not kill you. I forced myself to cool down and not feel, to be able to read my evolving situation more clearly. 


"So, Trainer," he said in a deep, and serene voice, appearing atop the stairs (while I was at about a quarter of their length starting from the top), "it is you they caught."


I didn't answer but slightly nodded, as I couldn't find any satisfactory verbal reply. I looked at him and I was surprised. He was very tall, over six feet, and had a medium build. He looked in about fifty, with lax-military-short hair that was mostly dark, but slightly greying, and was wearing a light brown coat covering his body from shoulders (not counting the turned-up collar) to his ankles. Clearly, he thought himself above uniforms.

 

"Be at ease. My grunts and I have no intention of harming you unless you start rebelling."

 

My first thought was that there was a giant unaddressed loophole to that sentence (mostly, what counted as rebellion and against what specific action -- they could lock me up here and kill me because I resisted). My second thought was to dismiss the first thought, because I was beyond screwed anyway if he was the kind of villain to play on words. My third thought was to ask if this introduction could have been in a more casual setting -- perhaps an invitation to some restaurant. 

 

"I would like to show you something downstairs. Please follow me." he added after a pause, then started walking down the stairs confidently despite their unevenness. "Do you know," he asked me, "why so many torches are unlit?"
I thought about giving the carbon monoxide explanation, but remembered that I was talking to a terrorist who had razed over a third of Reborn City to the ground. It really wouldn't do if I started giving him more ideas. 


"No offense", I answered, "but how do I know I can trust you? You harmed a lot of people for no reason I know, why should I be any different?"
"You aren't any different." he answered, not looking at me. "This place is. I will explain downstairs."


His tone made me shiver. Without a single overt word, it seemed to negate my personhood, my right to life or whatever right I could have claimed before him. All of the respect he could have had for human beings, their hopes, dreams, attachments, projects or inner worlds of thought, he focused in the reverence in which he held (or at least so pretended) this place. He walked downstairs, me behind him by a couple of meters. He finally stopped in front of that black gate. 


"Do you know, Trainer, what is beyond that gate?" he spoke in a question which I couldn't decide was rhetorical or not. He didn't wait for me to ponder whether or not to answer. "It is the very core of Reborn, a sacred place. A place from where the world began."

 

Okaaaay. Now it was clear: the "big boss" was a religious nut, his affinity with sci-fi-level technology notwithstanding. There already were places, much better known, aspiring to that title -- the Sinnoh Spear Pillar, the mystical Sinjoh Ruins. It was probably one of these again. 

 

"So, tell me, Trainer." the Meteor boss went on, and his voice grew more exalted and angry. "How insolent, how utterly ignorant, must one be to build such a wretched city over this precious holy symbol? For that", he almost shouted, "is Reborn. The city of insolence."


SIf9LSr.png

 

Afraid of the violence concealed in these words, I didn't argue about the meaning of that ignorance, which couldn't be considered malicious in all justice. I didn't argue that if even the outside world had forgotten about this place, perhaps one should not judge the people of Reborn so harshly. I didn't even argue that if Reborn could be currently called wretched, maybe the Meteors had some part of responsibility. 


"Ironically, the city's official emblem is reminiscent of the sanctum which it occludes. Look!"
He pointed at the center of the gate, where I saw a circle with four crystal beams meeting at the center, oriented as in a X, with two small crystals, one separating the left branches, one separating the right branches, making, I realized, an angry face with a decidely unsmiling mouth and cartoonishly frowned eyebrows. 
"Ruby, the seal of pain", he demonstrated, and the top-right crystal suddenly grew bright red. "Sapphire, the seal of love", he went on as the top-left crystal turned deep blue. "Emerald, the seal of faith", he pointed out as the bottom-left crystal went green -- a color which remained me of mountain hikes, of purer nature, and I barely refrained tears -- that wasn't the moment at all to be homesick. Especially since I didn't like hikes that much actually. "And Amethyst," he concluded emphatically, as the last crystal shone purple, "the seal of the beyond."


I stood silent, letting him do the exposition, see what he would get at -- at least he gave valuable information. 
"Each one is a key. When the four are brought together, Reborn's true power -- its sacred rite -- will be restored. We will be rid of this malignant junkyard and beauty can be restored to the world."


cEIeJoC.png

 

There was a pause, where I was trying to digest what I had been told and shown, which seemed to go on longer and longer.
"When you leave," he finally spoke again, -- at least one positive word -- "share this place with the world. Remind them that this world which they have undone will itself be their undoing."


And, simple as that, he started leaving. As, at last, one question sprung to my mind, I asked it hesitantly:
"Why do you judge the inhabitants of Reborn so harshly? This place was buried ten meters beneath the earth -- how would they know? Isn't it," I added, willing to not ruffle his feathers by completely antagonizing him, "at the very least, their elders' fault for not retelling the history?"


His answer, and subsequent immediate departure, chilled me. 

"Ignorance of the law, to earthly justice, is no excuse. Why should divine justice be any more merciful?"


And I was all alone in a huge room, with only task to mull over the Meteor's words. 

 

Team Meteor was under the control of a deluded religious fanatic who believed himself in a crusade against the city, or perhaps against the whole world. They had futuristic technology, and state-of-the-art AI, otherwise, no offense to fairy tales, the gate crystals couldn't have reacted to the lead Meteor's words this way -- or, perhaps, it was some sort of trick? 


And... the four seals... the ancient rite done anew... the restoration of beauty to the world... was the guy thinking he was in some sort of epic? Only stories had patterns this clear-cut. And besides, if he didn't appreciate the beauty of the current world (well away from Reborn, at least), what did he have in mind?

The picture brought an immediate expletive to mind. 

 

I found myself leaning against a wall corner, to rest my neck, shut my eyes, and start thinking about how, if the opportunity arose, I might try to make profit of that peculiar conception of the Meteor leadership. Perhaps there could be clever deceptions or good arguments to make against some of their actions. 
For instance, I realized that I should have answered that at least earthly justice gave the defendants lawyers. But the line of thought wasn't overall really successful and I probably dozed off. When I awoke, the room was darker and several more torches had burnt. It was high time, I thought, to leave before they left me in total darkness, a sure enough way to die trapped in this cave. 


Confident in the lighting, I went on to confront my de facto jailors to bargain for my freedom. I climbed up the stairs, and went into the darker, narrower tunnel, my heart beating with the sheer ludicrousness of the demand I was about to make. 
There is nothing more normal, I told myself to reassure me, than to demand to be free to go. Everyone adores freedom, especially those who are, or feel, deprived of it.


But each time I made this point, it seemed to become more childishly helpless -- after all, did the Meteor grunts have any reason to agree, except for oblique words from their boss that I alone had heard? 
Drop the uncertainty, I tried to order myself. Otherwise, they for sure will let you rot there. Unfortunately, the sight of the still-angry Lycanrocs showing teeth at the edge of the tunnel restored, and fortified, my uncertainty and shyness. 


78SIT5O.png

 

"What are you doing here?" a grunt, Aster if I recalled correctly, snapped at me.
"Your boss told me I was free to go." I answered uncertainly. 
"Nice try," the other grunt said, "but we were given no such indications. You stay down there."
"But it's pointless..." I objected weakly. "You're not doing anything worthwhile here, and neither am I. And your boss told me to, quote, carry this place with me when I leave, unquote. If this isn't an explicit wish to see me leave, I don't know what it is."
"Sounds like something Solaris could say." Aster grunted. "What do you think, Eclispe?"


Ah. Some names at last.

 

"You're such an idiot, at times." she said, actually annoyed. "Why did you have to use the boss's name? And the kid, here" -- I wasn't a kid -- "was successful in quite a few operations against us. I don't think the boss was aware of that."
"You're going to ask him to reconsider?" Aster asked, shocked. 

 

It sounded like that Solaris wasn't very accessible. 

 

"No. But who needs him alive?"
Needless to say, that escalation didn't sound pleasant at all to my ears. I was also sure I wasn't imagining that the Lycanrocs looked, all of a sudden, fiercer and more aggressive. 
"Look," I said. "I don't think that's really what you want to do. I desire little more than stay our of your way."
"Gabriel?" shouted Victoria's voice somewhere nearby. "Is that you?"


I shouted to indicate my presence, and had the pleasure to watch Eclipse and Aster's confidence waver. That sight gave me additional nerve and vigor, and I started pushing at the Lycanroc, which slowly retreated, pace after pace. I felt incredibly nervous, as if I was walking on thin air and would fall if gravity noticed me. 
"Looks like we'll need a hostage." Eclipse said after seconds of my slowly pushing back, with a malignant smile replacing her temporary uncertainty.


Character ratings: 

Spoiler

Solaris: 1/10. What's even going on in this nut's head? 

 

Edited by Mindlack

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Posted (edited)

@TheHellHamster: Thank you very much! 

 

Thank you to all of you who read and enjoy the story (for those who read and don't enjoy, please tell me what you think I'm doing wrong 😀).

 

As you may have seen it on Discord or the status bar, I'm not very fond of this chapter. I keep feeling something is wrong with it, but I can't find out what exactly. So after a last revision, here it is...

 

This is the chapter of the Aster and Eclipse battle underneath the Staircase, if you didn't follow. It went more smoothly than I had hoped for, mostly because of the work of another Pokemon which isn't in Gabriel's team yet (obviously, there's not a full correlation between the story and the playthrough), and I don't want to spoil the surprise. You won't have to wait long for it, though. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 29: A Mob Job Gone Wrong

 

Spoiler

Forgetting all caution, I pushed for real at the Lycanroc, went on, managed to rip Aster's hand from my clothes, and started fleeing. 


"You're forgetting your Pokemon." Aster said, showing me my own belt and my bag -- which they had taken away from me and to which I hadn't paid attention so far. 


As I stopped indecisively in my tracks, another Lycanroc pounced at me from the side where my sore neck couldn't let me see. I noticed it too late and realized, in a terrifyingly fraction of a second, that I would be too slow to dodge it. Fortunately, Victoria's Torracat was fast enough, and managed to tackle the rock wolf as Victoria rushed into my -- not so much field of vision, because of my neck again, as my field of vague awareness. At least she was in earshot.


dxETtWa.png

 

"Thank goodness you came!" I shouted at her in a slightly wrong direction. 
"I'm this way!" she answered.
"I know!"


While that unessential dialog was occurring, the second Lycanroc had started ganging up with its partner on the Torracat who was starting to struggle, giving ground,  against the two Rock-type Pokemon of an effective typing. 
"Please, please, hold on, Torracat! Can't you do something to help?" Victoria shouted at her Pokemon and then asked me. 
"Sorry, they've got everything I have." I answered, pointing at the belt and bag.


Victoria called two Pokemon, a Pancham and a Kirlia. The former was instructed to give his Torracat ally some breathing space by throwing the Lycanrocs away from it. The latter didn't move at all. Still, on its own, my belt started slowly floating towards me. Eclipse noticed it in a grunt of annoyance, and called on her Lunatone's psychic powers to stall the Kirlia's telekinesy. The Kirlia outsmarted the rock Pokemon again -- it simply detached a Pokeball and threw it at me, an object significantly smaller but easier to manipulate. 


Birv5UM.png

 

I caught the Pokeball and realized it was Baby, the Loudred. It took me several seconds to decide on a course of action, and that left ample time for a Lycanroc to attack the motionless Baby, with a swiftness and power I hadn't expected. Loudred barely repelled the assault by showing off her voice, but after the second blow I knew she couldn't take down her foe. 


Fortunately, the Pancham had sneakily reached the Lunatone and had thrown it in into a wall, disrupting the flow of psychic power, and the Kirlia was able to get me my full belt, while -- I realized just now -- Victoria had used her Pikachu to protect the utterly focused Psychic Pokemon from its foes' physical assaults (with well-placed electric shocks). I immediately sent Leaf at the nearest Rock-typed wolf, and she sent it recoiling with a vengeful Double Kick, and repeated the move to be fully rid of the bloodthirsty monster. 


She then moved to help the exhausted Torracat, but was intercepted by a Solrock whose Rock attacks were quite unexpectedly powerful, forcing her to focus on avoiding them. Baby leaped at the sun-shaped Pokemon and bit it -- a move that did little damage, but again, disrupted its attack schemes, enabling Leaf to retaliate (with dubious success). Baby and Leaf managed to gang up on the Pokemon to defeat it. By that time, the swift and nimble Pikachu had managed to beat the other Lycanroc and the Pancham had fainted the Lunatone (itself wearied by the psychic assault from the Kirlia).

 
We were victorious. 

 

PFdw3or.png

 

"Now," I said, slightly panting, but with a fresh Wolfgang by me to give my words some weight, "I can take my bag and leave, can't I?"
Eclipse and Aster winced. 

 

*********

 

"Thank you, Victoria." I told her when we were back in Lapis (the rope ladder had still been in place, and no police officer had enquired about me at any point. I started believing they all thought me disposable of). "I really don't know what would have happened if you hadn't showed up. They seemed to want me..." I shivered. "Gone. But why did you came in the first place?"


"I have been trying to comfort Shelly," Victoria answered, "but she was becoming so distant... I don't think anything I said really got to her. Then in the early afternoon, she took a book." What a nice way to distract oneself, I thought. What wouldn't I give for a good book... 
"You weren't coming back and Shelly was so absorbed -- so I thought something had happened to you. I asked a police officer about you. He said you had gone down there and hadn't come back. I told him I would have a look, and you know the rest. But you told me you wouldn't go into the action. What happened?"


"I got new instructions." I sighed. "And I was reckless. I thought I could sneak down there to get an idea of what was there. I didn't expect to be given a tour of their holy sanctum or ruin or temple or whatever it is. Least of all by their boss."

 

"You met the boss of Team Meteor?" Victoria froze, turning at me. "I don't think anyone else did... And you, well... four days ago you weren't even willing to step in during the Obsidia Ward Attack."

 

My voice got darker. "I want to go home." I explained, feeling like I needed to re-iterate the reasoning once again to convince myself. "I need the railway station rebuilt. So I need Reborn City to be safe. And I do not need its authorities annoyed at me because I didn't pitch in and preventing me from travelling. And," I added, the fully-formed thought more painful than the vague intuition, "I'm the perfect cat's paw for that. I don't have any link to the city, I'm utterly inexperienced in every possible respect. If I come to harm, when they communicate with the outside world they claim I died in the attack at the station. I win, they win. I die, nobody loses." 
"But I got off topic. Yes, I met the Team Meteor boss, I think. He's nuts."


I went on, broadly rephrasing what he had told me of the gate below the city. 


"That's strange." was Victoria's comment. "Maybe it's better for them somehow if people know about this place?"
"I don't know. That's likely, but how? What benefit could there be from knowing about a buried ruin which someone claims to be the birthplace of the world, something which isn't even original in worldwide mythology?"


I didn't mention the voice-recognition part. That was an element best left for later. I was probably overthinking it. It could be a cheap trick.

 
"I don't know either..." she answered thoughtfully. We walked a while, the conversation waning. "I'm going to go check on Shelly, you're coming?" 

 

 

********************

 

 

Shelly, it turned out, was back in tears in her room. She tried to conceal it as Victoria announced herself, but even the "Come in" the child Leader said in a tiny voice spoke volumes.  She only kept her head high for seconds, where even I could observe the red eyes, before going back to sob wordlessly. 


The sight made me uncomfortable, as I was standing embarrassed, with no idea what to do. Ask her what felt wrong, like some sort of therapy by someone who knew nothing about it? Let her express all her sorrow and wait for her to calm down? Fortunately, Victoria had better interpersonal skills. As I was standing undecisive with my eyes lowered, not really looking at Shelly nor at anything else, she simply sat near her and gently put her hand on her shoulder. 


Between her sobs, Shelly stammered that a challenger had demanded a battle, and, upon seeing her crying (because it had make her think of Corey's corpse again) and winning easily afterwards, had calling her weak, pathetic, quote, a joke of a Leader, unquote. Obviously, she had been very affected, and was, between her sentences, profusely apologizing to Victoria for making her worry about such a waste of space (that she said she was). 


I stayed mostly silent during the exchange, because I was worried that a word from me might do more damage, especially since Shelly proved herself quite sensitive. So I tried only to agree in monosyllables or short sentences with Victoria at the important points. Left to myself, I could have dabbled into gallows humor, spoken self-defeating arguments, or used unfathomably weird metaphors. Moreover, it would probably be a waste of time trying to argue with her: I knew from experience that, at a time when she was so certain of her own worthlessness, convincing her otherwise was impossible. How ironical.


Through an impressive technique of barely believable patience, understanding and sympathy, Victoria finally managed to calm down Shelly after most of an hour. She had enough of her mind to offer to battle us, but Victoria declined, stating that she did not want to cause Shelly to have a relapse. I agreed with her, but wanted still to have an inkling of what to expect. 


For some reason, there was a communication issue with the Grand Hall, as the connection broke as soon as Ame picked up. Or at least, this was what I told the Leader and Victoria -- clearly, Ame hadn't liked at all my outburst at the Beryl Gym. I didn't try again, and asked Shelly what she thought Ame would say. 


"I don't know if, um, you've been told, but I-I'm one of the Gym Leaders who fight in D-Double Battles. Um, I think that you know it, but I specialize in Bug-type Pokemon. I'm b-battling on the Forest Field, and I like r-rain to help defend my team against fire. Um, t-that's all, I think?"
"You forgot something," Victoria observed. 
"Did I?" Shelly asked, looking worried, and turning at her. 
"You forgot to say that as a keen reader, you're a knowledgeable and smart battler. And that according to League challenger rumors, you are the most challenging Leader of the entire League." Victoria said, wearing a warm smile, which caused Shelly to whisper incredulously, lower her face, cover it with her hands... and start sobbing again. 

 

 

**************************

 

 

Shelly's successive tearful moments had taken away my desire to train for whatever of this day I had left, and I resolved to go sleep very early. But very quickly, my terrifying recent memories started overwhelming my dreams, adding insanity to already-existing horror. That Solaris guy was before the gate, but it was smeared with blood, and his speech slowly descended into a more and more pessimistic rant about pain, until he turned to me -- and suddenly he had Corey's corpse horrific "face" blaming me for his death and stating that I was to be disposed of. 


Needless to say, I awoke sweating and without the slightest desire to go back to sleep, especially at such an early time, it was about 9.30. I started the TV, not really settling on a specific channel at first, but then watching the Gym Leader interviews. Some of them were entertaining, such as the reserve Fighting-type Leader's. A circus strongman of all people, he got to end the interview as soon as he said an arbitrary fact to the camera. So he literally said "an arbitrary fact to the camera". 


Then a black-haired girl of about Shelly's age with a smile about three times too large for her age (these were supposed to be angsty or anxious or something, not with optimism and cheer deeper than Julia's, right?), a Jirachi doll she insisted was sentient, and an unspecified (but implied to be high-tier) position in the League was interviewed. She explained that if there were old people talented enough at something, there should be young people with the same kind of talent. This was so utterly naive, so fundamentally wrong, that I decided I couldn't watch any more and instead went for a walk. 


Night had fallen, but the public lighting was actually decent and I didn't need to call Leaf to help. The air was very still, without any wind, and quite cold, but it didn't matter. All was quiet until, in some street, I started hearing shouts of "Come back here!", "Thieves!", and so on. I managed to react fast enough to at least not bump into two casually-clothed people (except for their dark hoods) sprinting the other way. 


I heard a blood-chilling yell, and both of them turned back. While trying to look unconspicuous, flattening myself against the nearest building, I followed their gaze and managed to make out a large hound-like Pokemon standing atop a mass, maybe a person. I thought of being in the same situation, as I had narrowly avoided earlier on this day, and shivered. 


"Dammit, Maxwell!" shouted one of the two guys. "That's messed-up. Let him go!"
"When you wanted to steal that Pokemon and frame us, Archer? Who's messed-up?" I heard a yelled reply. 


I saw "Archer" slowly start walking back, and shout: "Let's make it right, then. You free DeFacto. We battle one-on-one. The winner keeps the prize."


There was a long silence, interrupted by my beating heart and my gradual realization that I wasn't likely to like what would happen on this spot -- but I was already a witness, and I would reveal myself for sure if I tried to flee. So it was best to, at least, try and leave when all the others were distracted. 


It was, I thought, a more brutal battle than the ones I had fought, but one of higher level as well. Archer and Maxwell had specialized teams with fully-evolved Pokemon, much stronger than mine. So, very interested by the display of skill and power, and oblivious to the risks I had been aware of, I stayed to watch the battle. I even went a bit forward to enjoy the show, trying to always remain in a dark enough corner. 


Archer's Pelipper was trying to land Hydro Pumps on Maxwell's Houndoom. The latter was surprisingly nimble for a four-legged Pokemon, ducking, rolling when necessary, never letting the water spurt near him, and more than enough capable to hit back -- his Dark Pulses, while not aimed at me in the slightest, still sent a shiver down my spine. 


But the shadow of a person, flying on a massive shape I couldn't well recognize, landed in the middle of the battlefield. 


"Lady," Maxwell drawled, "you shouldn't be here. Get gone."

 

The newcomer looked at "Maxwell", then at the battlefield. Then she jumped lightly from her mount, and whispered something. The shadow... simply slammed the Houndoom into the pavement so hard that something cracked. 

 

"Now," she said in an absolute voice, knowing that she had everyone's attention, even mine, "you are before an orphanage. With my sisters there. So you may do whatever you want," she went on with a somewhat sour tone," but you will respect their sleep."


"You think you can..." Maxwell started, before the powerful Pokemon grabbed him by the neck with one hand, and started flying, raising the man without a sweat. At about fifteen feet (although it was hard to judge), it stopped, and let the man consider his position. 
"I know I can." the young woman said. "Put him down, Dragonite."
"Hi sis!" a voice came from the building that had been designated as an orphanage. "Have you finally decided to break us free?"
"The cops!" someone else yelled.


The battlers ran away. The newcomer flew away. I didn't move, as the whole show vanishing meant that I would be able to go on with my stroll. Moreover, I felt like I had done everything conceivable to be in good standing with the authorities. 


However, when an obstinate old lady came accusing me of stealing a Pokemon and a Water Stone, items that were, in fact, lying around, probably abandoned by the thieves I had just witnessed, there wasn't anyone I could point to, so I was taken to the station for interrogation, under the ominously mocking caws of some bird Pokemon, a sound reminding me, with a shudder, of the Beryl Bridge. 

 

 

Character ratings: 

Spoiler

Victoria: 10/10 (no change). She saved me and was very nice to Shelly. Very kind indeed.

Shelly: 8?/10 (+1?). While I can relate to her (triggered by Corey's death and/or that challenger or permanent?) self-esteem issues, it's pretty disrespectful to her to judge her on that. Although, she loves reading, so that's a very good point. 

 

Death count (reminder):

Spoiler

Start-Corey: 6

Corey-now: 0

Total: 6

 

Edited by Mindlack
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