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Should I keep uploading pictures for the chapters?  

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  1. 1. Should I keep uploading pictures for the chapters?

    • Yes, you can even add more!
      11
    • Try and make less of them.
      2
    • It's better without pictures altogether.
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  2. 2. Should I keep uploading pictures for main battles?

    • Yes, keep them about the in-game battles.
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    • Try and post some about how the battles are narrated.
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    • No, the story is self-sufficient.
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Making pictures is time-consuming, but the finale is almost over -- although you won't have it before a few weeks. If I'm staying in the "one per week" rhythm, that makes the last (Part 2) chapter on the day after Christmas. It may not be a read for Christmas anyway, so that's perfect. 

 

Anyway, here's a new chapter! Hope you'll enjoy it. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 41: Fire Fighter

 

 

Spoiler

Needless to say, I wasn't very glad when I started my slow hike to the top of Pyrous Mountain. My preparations had been minimal -- I had managed to get water and some food, be lent a map and a compass from a hiker on his resting day, and I had also managed to get a huge overcoat with a hood, wide enough for me and my bag should it start to rain.

 

Victoria had kindly given me some information on the student I had been told to defeat. He was a young man which I assumed (for reasons it would be indiscrete to explain) was about her age -- and thus mine --, given the offhand comment she made about him. He was named Cal, had bright red hair and was a former Fire-type Gym Leader, and, as such, quite a strong Trainer.

 

So I had slightly modified my team, made Sicy and Antum rest, and so I was going with, instead, Leaf, Hex, Batley, Tech, Mouse and Watt. I didn't have anything very effective against Fire-type mons, but I hoped that with the right amount of focus on defense, it could work out.

 

PcG6LFu.png

 

According to the map, the way to the top of Pyrous Mountain was over ten kilometers long, with almost a thousand meters up. Luckily, the weather was cold and clear, giving me a very good motivation to walk with an energetic pace.

 

Early on, the landscape was rocky and barren, with little grass or flora, but the path was clearly defined and I met a few hikers along the way. However, as soon as I was on my own again, I started feeling very small and very exposed, as with a target on my back. Solaris could swoop in at any time and decide to murder me, I knew, and I had to live on with that knowledge -- even keep defying his organization.

 

Days of madness. How could life have become so complicated so fast?

 

It used to be so simple. Find new class, start learning, get good grades. Find a project, get learning, be as thorough as you could, get a decent grade. What had gone wrong? I scoured my memories, trying to find a recent element, even a tiny one, that could explain how, why, it all started. But it was fruitless. It was as if I had woken up one day and got myself conscripted in a war, a desperate, losing one.

 

Was I in Hell being invaded by Heaven?

 

The question should have sounded stupid -- and it still did -- but given how wretched Reborn City was, and the insistence of Team Meteor on holiness, perhaps it was worth pondering. But of course, these were the only elements that might have supported this fantasy, while there was extensive evidence against it. My not remembering having been evil (and certainly not consciously willing so), for instance. My not remembering dying or making a contract with Hell. The little thing of Hell and Heaven being metaphors.

 

How would I know? a little voice kept playing devil's advocate.

 

I forced it to shut up and focused again on the long, lonesome walk, and the rhythm of my paces and breathing as I was nearing the mountain and the path started going up more markedly. One pace... the other... keeping my breath very steady. And going on.

 

Frustratingly, the path was less clear-cut and anything but straight, it laced around the volcano cone and made U-turns at the strangest spots. The map indicated that it was to avoid the "hot spots", places where the crust of the volcano was cracked, and there was thus a slow, continuous large leak of thick lava. Some unknown event, they speculated, had lately damaged the main vent, leading to the formation of these new and temporary hot spots.

 

The map claimed that the volcano used to have a large fauna of Fire- and Fighting-type Pokemon, most of them lively, curious, and eager for challenges. But recently -- and that fit what I was seeing -- all of these Pokemon had started very carefully avoiding contact with humans. It looked a perfectly sensible reaction, I noted, and yet something was off. The authors of the map attributed it to human activities and the unhealthy surge in pollution in the lake, which was, I thought, pretty plausible.

 

After one small snack break, I made a real one for lunch, at perhaps one in the afternoon, when I wasn't too far from my goal, according to the map. I sat on the side of the path, the flank of the volcano providing a poor, dirty, rough, inadequate, but at least existing, backrest, and I could relax my weary legs for a while. Shut my eyes as if it was just a picnic for a hike... Like some people adored... But I had to go on regardless, as fast as I could. Given how far the Academy and the top of Pyrous Mountain were, I was already confident I wouldn't be able to report to Kiki before dusk.

 

***

 

I didn't picture the top of Pyrous Mountain like it actually was. I didn't expect a crater so large (perhaps a hundred meters in diameter) and so flat inside, with a small main vent. I didn't expect the rock and the air to almost feel hot, despite the altitude and the mid-autumn weather, and I could tell, with my eyes closed, just with the difference in temperature, which way the vent was. All in all, it looked more like a fancy Gym arena for low- to mid-intensity battles, rather than the antechamber for one of nature's most powerful forces of change -- of destruction but not only.

 

Someone with short red hair was sitting cross-legged, their back turned to me, at the other end of the crater, on a sports mat. They had a heavy bagpack nearby. I expected them to be this 'Cal', but I couldn't be sure, so I walked towards them, trying not to be too much a disturbance if I was wrong.

 

They didn't move a muscle as I was approaching and I had the feeling they ignored me completely, so much that I felt embarrassed while glancing at them, and trying to figure out if they matched the description. Indeed, it was a young man of around twenty, with red hair, and in such an unlikely place... I briefly shut my eyes and took a deep breath.

 

"Excuse me," I started hesitantly. "Are you Cal?"

 

My words didn't seem to have any effect on him, even though I was facing him. His eyes was closed and his breathing was slow perfectly steady. I felt bad for disturbing so deep a meditation, but I didn't have that much time, and I didn't see any other way. But there had to be one! I protested wordlessly to myself, with deep, desperate persuasion, yet unsupported by any evidence.

 

"Excuse me," I repeated louder at him. "Are you Cal?"

 

This time, the words registered. The young man's red eyes opened, darted around, and then focused on me, and his breathing briefly sped up, before slowing down again.

 

"Yes," he said in a dull voice. "That's me. Why?"

 

"It's..." I hadn't exactly rehearsed my explanation and struggled a bit to find the formulation. "Ki -- the Apophyll Sensei -- sent me here to battle you. As a trial."

 

"That's odd." he frowned, rising up. "Kiki doesn't usually go for that."

 

"I don't know about that." I answered, a bit embarrassed. "But..." I really need the HM, so I don't mind her giving me an unusual test "that's the assignment she gave me."

 

"I haven't had a serious battle since I resigned as a Gym Leader, a few months ago." Cal said after ten seconds of silence, as he pondered my words. "And even then, I was misguided. I had let anger drive and control me."

 

RUXbcf5.png

 

Anger? He didn't look the type. If he had been angry before, then his rage had to have burnt most of him. Everything in Cal's posture, even his voice, felt... weary, dull. Like someone who survived an incomprehensible, all-destructive disaster, with most of his psyche consumed. Or perhaps I, who didn't know anything about that, was just trying to give mindless arbitrary judgements some value by adding a random metaphor with assumed psychological value.

 

"But that's why I came here." he went on, his voice slowly growing more animated. "To learn and let go of the rage I felt towards my brother. Everything I had ever done was just to try and prove myself better than him. Blake..." the voice had a tinge of bitterness. "he always got the attention. He got all the praise for everything, and then anything I ever did was just a sloppy second. I even started training Fire-types only to beat my brother's Ice. "

 

Family issues... again? What kind of demented region was this, where no family could be harmonious, or at least somewhat so? Then again, perhaps I was oblivious to the defects of mine. Perhaps this was how my little brothers felt about me. And perhaps indeed I had been ignoring them too much.

 

What were they doing, now? How were they handling my absence? Did they even know why I had gone? I hoped they weren't going too bad, but I knew in my heart of hearts that the smallest of my brothers wouldn't take it well. Not at all.

 

"Look at me, just rambling on." he sighed. "I think I've been meditating alone for too long. I just hope I won't be disappointing you."

 

I tried to crack a joke, except it wasn't really one.

 

"You know, I wouldn't mind if you did."

 

Thinking back, I should have been more cautious. I should have taken the time to get some information. I would have known what I was getting into.

 

Cal was just too strong. Perhaps, as he looked like, his fire had been extinguished, but even its ashes were absolutely sufficient to slap down too confident Trainers like me.

 

Cal had sent out first a Barbaracle, which looked actually even weirder outside of books. But it looked powerful, too, and, even this early, I wondered if I had made a serious mistake by accepting Kiki's terms for a challenge. But it was too late to have second thoughts, as I had already sent out Tech, in an attempt to strengthen my defenses for the start of the battle.

 

Tech had managed to set up Reflect and Light Screen, and they had been extremely important for the start of the fight, as the Barbaracle had first set up Stealth Rocks -- an early warning that this fight was going to be hard -- and then struck with a powerful Rock Slide.

 

The Pokemon I felt was most suited to the situation was Watt, so I switched Pokemon, and even though her Discharge was even more powerful than I had hoped for, it failed to defeat the faster Barbaracle, who had enough time to finish Watt off with Rock Slides.

 

nsWKMXp.png

 

I had sent out Leaf to defeat this rocky monster. Eager for a fight and for revenge, ignoring the pointy rocks, she had easily dodged the clumsy, rushed sliver of water that had ben thrown at her, and she had given a good kick to her foe, fainting it for good.

 

Cal had then sent out Charizard, which made me wish Watt hadn't fainted, because I hadn't any Pokemon good enough to beat it, but I had sent Hex instead. Hex managed to Yawn the Charizard, before getting badly burned and finally taken out by two frighteningly powerful Fire Blasts.

 

fZH3Z5v.png

 

I had hoped that the respite would let me set Batley up. But Cal figured out what I was going for, and switched to a Pokemon noticeably stronger than the former ones, a Magmortar. Even after two Calm Minds, Batley's Psychic, while powerful enough to give the air a weird refraction, in addition to the heat, wasn't enough to take it down, while said Fire Pokemon's Thunderbolt was more than enough to knock her out.

 

At this point, I had been quite unsure of what to do. If that Magmortar could handle that kind of hits, which one of my Pokemon could claim to be able to deal with it appropriately? I only had had Mouse, Leaf, and Tech left... I had opted to focus on my defenses, sending out Tech to swiftly slap his foe and rebuild the faded Light Screen. But even then, the Magmortar's fire power was fully sufficient to beat him.

 

N1VLc0e.png

 

Once again, Leaf had managed to finish the nonetheless weakened Magmortar, due to a strangely timely distraction of Cal. I had offered him a free move to make matters fair, but he had refused, and then had sent back Charizard, as if he had forgotten that I had sent it to sleep. I had offered him another free switch, but he had again declined, and I had taken advantage of the time to heal Leaf and switch to Mouse.

 

Mouse took in a nasty Fire Blast, but managed, thanks to the Light Screen, to outlast the Charizard. But Cal sent out next a Kommo-o, which effortlessly punched Mouse out, while Leaf wasn't strong enough on her own to break her defense. And so I lost.

 

 

 

It was the first time I had really lost a battle, since... Julia, maybe? And it stung. Even though, thinking back on Cal's team, his power, the field, I was aware there wasn't any realistic way I could have beat him. But the really bad part was that I had to climb down the mountain, walk back for hours, knowing it had all been for nothing, and that Shelly, Heather, Noel, Anna and Charlotte were still Meteor hostages, with no clear way to free them.

 

"It's okay, you know." Cal said, almost apologetically, walking towards me, as I was readying to leave without a word. "You did as well as you could, and I have lost my fire, but... I don't think you could have won. I think that... Kiki assigned you a task too difficult."

 

"What does that change?" I asked him bitterly. "Of course life doesn't assign us fair challenges. But I still need that HM. I hope", I added lower, "that I'll manage to change her mind."

 

"Good luck with that." he waved at me.

 

I started walking towards the exit of the crater. I turned back, struck by a thought.

 

"Cal... Do you have... any ideas how I could improve?"

 

He didn't answer at once.

 

"Know your opponent better." he finally uttered. "Also, the field you're fighting on. Check that your team can handle general situations better. Here, you didn't have a single move effective towards fire."

 

"I'm working on it." I mumbled. Not that I had had too much time.

 

"Don't set up on stronger opponents. They'll be able to see it coming and punish you."

 

"I understand. Anything else?"

 

"Not much. Keep training. Be open to the possibility of changing the Pokemon from your team. And... I suppose..."

 

"Yes?"

 

"Don't specialize for the wrong reasons."

 

 

Er... 

 

***

 

 

Cal may have tried to soften the shock, but he hadn't managed to really sweeten the reality of my situation. I didn't have any reliable way to beat the former Fire Leader in a short enough time frame, let alone get the HM. And, after the long descent, my legs were aching from the long hike, both up and down, so I really didn't want to climb the mountain again.

 

To add insult to injury, the "no late visits" arbitrary rule was still being enforced, so I couldn't inform Kiki unti the next morning of my failure. At least I could go on training Quickbeam, make him evolve and teaching him interesting moves. He'd be quite precious should I come to battle Kiki.

 

The only relief of the day was that, since the long walk down had at least smoothed the rougher, most painful part of my emotions, I could have a peaceful, resting sleep.

 

6TCbs2A.png

 

****

 

 

Of course, I woke up early with sore muscles, at perhaps 6.30 pm, but Victoria had been up even earlier. I hadn't seen her the day before, so she went straight at me when she noticed me.

 

"Good morning, Gabriel." she greeted me. "You're up pretty early."

 

"Yeah," I nodded. "I felt like going to sleep very early."

 

"How was Cal?"

 

"Er..." I didn't know what to answer to that.

 

"I mean," she corrected, slightly embarrassedly, and a bit faster, "how did your battle with him go?"

 

I saw in Victoria's eyes, more than I myself felt, my smile fall off.

 

"I didn't manage to beat him. He's just... much better than me. He's got more experience, more skill, much better Pokemon against whom I don't really have any counter... A very favorable field...  I don't think I could have beaten him. He didn't think so, either. But how about you?" I went on to change the subject, not wanting to hear her comment. "Did you pass?"

 

Victoria's face grew stern.

 

"I thought... Kiki was going to test me. I'm the top student here, Kiki's personal apprentice, I was ready for that. But she..." she glanced both sides and her voice lowered for little reason. "She didn't test me. She showed me how to run the Academy. How it all worked. She gave me a overview on policies..."

 

"That's... strange." I admitted.

 

"In fact..." Victoria toned down her voice to a whisper after nervously eyeing our empty surroundings. I noticed that her eyes seemed to slightly shine, but she didn't exactly look overjoyed. "Kiki is terminally ill. She's been for months but she's tried to hide it. She told me she didn't expect to live another month."

 

"I... I don't... know what to say. I'm so... so sorry."

 

"And I think... she intends for me to take over when..."

 

allpGfe.png

 

I certainly wasn't a sensitive, or perceptive, person, but even I could feel her voice almost breaking. Still, Victoria regained a composure quite fast. "There's... something else I'm worried about." she added. It's been almost two days since Cain left Reborn City to go here, but I didn't see him."

 

"Perhaps he arrived and left even earlier than us?" I suggested, while knowing it was quite unlikely. "But I guess Kiki would have made the connection, or mentioned him to you."

 

"Or he'd have called me. That's why I think," Victoria answered, "that he didn't arrive here. But if so, there's only really one place on the way, and it's Azurine Island. Since you've got a boat... would you mind checking the island out?"

 

"But, as he hasn't called you at all..." I tried to express my mixed feelings. "He's probably fine, unless..."

 

"Unless he's in big trouble." Victoria completed. "Since you told me you had a boat, can you check the island out, see if Cain's there? Meanwhile, I'll see with Kiki if she can give you a more appropriate trial."

 

"Er..." I started. I didn't like too much Victoria negotiating in my stead with Kiki. But I couldn't voice properly my reservations without offending Victoria's obvious respect and affection towards her Sensei. "Please make sure it's one I can manage. We need that HM." I finally said. 

 

Player's note: (re the Cal battle)

Spoiler

I was worried for the Cal battle. As the character points out, I have a single move super-effective against fire (Ampharos's Power Gem) and one resistance to fire (Blaziken). So I tried thinking, ran calcs, and finally I found the obvious way (it's under strong winds, which helped, but it would probably have worked with a bit of healing under other climates too):

 

mXuOyUX.png

 

VnYCuLv.png

 

9LzYEsB.png

 

I switch right away to Tech after Mouse, because Mouse did her Intimidating job. She shouldn't be needed afterwards. 

 

DjSKs9B.png

 

I predicted Scald because Barbaracle is intimidated.

 

BmWge5t.png

 

And Scald it was, now I set the other screen up.

 

I1yXfC5.png

 

Tech took a Rock Slide (was I prescient here?) afterwards, and I immediately switched to Batley. 

 

ng0JQkf.png

 

ZISmC4v.png

 

Stick and stones can break my bones...

 

SjclCXJ.png

 

Except that I'll have the last laugh!

 

AIrwvWb.png

 

Nothing in Cal's team outspeeds or survives +4 TwistedSpoon Psychic

 

MJ1ATeg.png

 

RvOoxZZ.png

 

3UagNfN.png

 

(I think Magmortar could survive the +2 Psychic TwistedSpoon though, especially if it was, unlike the wikia said, EV invested)

 

Kygojx1.png

 

JPklJjK.png

 

Yes, it's completely over.

 

ys0VJsY.png

 

Author's note:

Spoiler

Regarding the pictures of the top of Pyrous. 

I really wanted to adapt them to make a map better suited to what I had in mind (basically, farther from the Academy so you don't see it right underneath, a larger crater, and a much smaller pit of lava. But I didn't manage to create this map, so I'm using the original map. It may not convey too good a representation of what I had in mind, though. 

 

 

Character rates:

Spoiler

Cal: 6/10. He's not bad, and it's not his fault he was the one I had been assigned to (and didn't manage to) defeat. But still, I can't help resent him a little for that.

 

Victoria: 9.5/10: not much change. Same Victoria, isn't she? Nice, caring for everyone, and Apophyll's top student.

 

Kiki: 4.5/10 (-0.5). Minus points for giving me, without negotiation, a challenge she should have known I couldn't win. But I can't lower her score much because of her condition.

 

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There'll be another Sigmund bit soon enough, in perhaps five chapters? But it's complicated for himtoo, even if he's quite the bad guy...   Anyway, that is my 252nd post, a very round number

Thank you @Evi Crystal for your comment! And you haven't even seen how Gabriel takes it.    So, I haven't been following my posting schedule, it's surprising the amount of things I've had to

The Odd One Out is officially over one year old now. I was stunned when I saw the total word and page counts.  How, when did that happen?  Anyway, I hope you'll keep reading and enjoying it.

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Just now, Mindlack said:

Days of madness. How could life have become so complicated so fast?

 

It used to be so simple. Find new class, start learning, get good grades. Find a project, get learning, be as thorough as you could, get a decent grade. What had gone wrong? I scoured my memories, trying to find a recent element, even a tiny one, that could explain how, why, it all started. But it was fruitless. It was as if I had woken up one day and got myself conscripted in a war, a desperate, losing one.

 

I'm also wondering how Gabriel got himself into this mess at first place? He doesn't seem to enjoy his journey... It kinda makes me hate Florinia, the more I think about the martyr🙁

 

Just now, Mindlack said:

Family issues... again? What kind of demented region was this, where no family could be harmonious, or at least somewhat so? Then again, perhaps I was oblivious to the defects of mine. Perhaps this was how my little brothers felt about me. And perhaps indeed I had been ignoring them too much.

 

Well that's Reborn for you, buddy... I even lost count of  the amount of broken families😔💔

 

 

I can feel the drama coming closer and clooseeerr... Vicky....

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6 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

I'm also wondering how Gabriel got himself into this mess at first place? He doesn't seem to enjoy his journey... It kinda makes me hate Florinia, the more I think about the martyr🙁

Well, why would he enjoy that? Very few real people would, and an even tinier fraction of first-world math students. 

Don't blame Florinia for it, she's not exactly responsible for it, is she? If Gabriel can't just decide to remove himself entirely from this business, it's also his problem... 

(and don't start hating "ally" characters, you won't have enough left for the bad guys 😢)

 

About how he got himself into this mess... Well, there's a bit of a plot point here, that's why it's not explained. I guess it's also related to the fact that no one we've seen so far would be inclined to give even a hint, even for those who may know something. 

 

Also to be honest I haven't managed to figure out the exact details, although I have the main idea.

 

 

6 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

Well that's Reborn for you, buddy... I even lost count of  the amount of broken families😔💔

It's really sad indeed. And then you wonder why so many of these people are nutcases. A healthy family is important!😢

 

6 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

I can feel the drama coming closer and clooseeerr... Vicky....

I hope it won't be too predictable... despite this being a fanfiction of Reborn. But yes... winter drama is coming. 

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Wow

Amazing chapter

But something which Gabriel saidadee wonder if he hasn't been dreaming this all along

Having said that, I'm waiting for the next chapter!

(I have to admit this, you're a better writer than me, heh)

 

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11 hours ago, Mindlack said:

Don't blame Florinia for it, she's not exactly responsible for it, is she? If Gabriel can't just decide to remove himself entirely from this business, it's also his problem... 

(and don't start hating "ally" characters, you won't have enough left for the bad guys 😢)

 

I don't hate Rini to be honest (she's one of my favourite Gym Leaders). It just every time something bad happens to us (like Corey's suicide, Kiki's death and the orphan quest), I can't help it, but to resent her sometimes... Just like in my first playthrough back then... Oh how I cursed at her😅

 

Also the story is getting more interesting and more and more personality I'm seeing in Gabriel. Kudos for tou😉🙃💖

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7 hours ago, sayar said:

But something which Gabriel saidadee wonder if he hasn't been dreaming this all along

 

Interesting question. I wonder what gave you this idea? But that's not what I had planned. This is Reborn, not another popular fangame from this forum (which I won't name because sort of spoilers?)

 

7 hours ago, sayar said:

Amazing chapter

Having said that, I'm waiting for the next chapter!

 

Thank you (don't sell yourself short though, we all have huge margins for progress).

 

22 minutes ago, Evi Crystal said:

I don't hate Rini to be honest (she's one of my favourite Gym Leaders). It just every time something bad happens to us (like Corey's suicide, Kiki's death and the orphan quest), I can't help it, but to resent her sometimes... Just like in my first playthrough back then... Oh how I cursed at her😅

 

Plot twist: she's actually the real antagonist this entire time.

Proof: she barely ever does something useful and instead embarks you in this ridiculous utter mess where you somehow narrowly escape death many times! 

 

22 minutes ago, Evi Crystal said:

Also the story is getting more interesting and more and more personality I'm seeing in Gabriel. Kudos for tou😉🙃💖

 

Thank you!

You'll probably see a few personality clashes in the next chapters. Who was it that said it took crisis times to unveil people's personalities? 

 

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On 11/28/2020 at 4:53 PM, Mindlack said:

It's been almost two days since Cain left Reborn City to go here, but I didn't see him."

 

Gulp. Oh god, I can help, but to be worry for the kids. Hope they are fine?😔👉🏽👈🏽

 Can... I have a little signal of themselves?🙏🏼

They better be fine or else I'll hunt two men down...

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To be honest, I didn’t think of adding a glimpse of the kids in the upcoming chapters (but I definitely should have, it’s a great idea). I’m a bit reluctant to do it now since they’re quite... remarkable lengthwise (the chapters, not the kids). 
 

So let’s just say for now that the kids aren’t much worse off than they canonically are. I apologize for the previous sentence not being very informative – if I have time I may write a “special chapter” about the kids (I think between chapters 43 and 44). 
 

I’ll do it sooner if as was “teased” on your profile, the Firehead story updates in less than a week. 
 

(PS: if you’re reading this Q-Jei, please take this as the bad joke that it is and nothing else). 

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I'm a terrible reader but I figured it's time to try changing that and so I've resumed (basically restarted oops) reading The Odd One.

Can't promise I'll be able to read on cause smol brain but for now I wanna say that I admire how well you've characterized your protagonist and show it in subtle ways. You say I've written my characters carefully, but I feel you've done a better job at that than me (cause I just play the story in my head, don't really think much of how it's gonna be structured).

 

I especially like these bits:

On 10/15/2019 at 9:09 AM, Mindlack said:

"Well, I got my first Pokemon too and I'd like to test him. Are you okay with another battle?" she asked me. 
"I'd agree, but Leaf doesn't seem to be rested."
"She is, actually.", the nurse interrupted. "She looks very eager to accept, if I may say so."

This one could've been a "wanna battle?" "sure", but adding Gabriel thinking his pokemon wasn't rested and being corrected by the nurse showed that he's a noob at caring for a pokemon.

 

On 10/19/2019 at 4:35 AM, Mindlack said:

The best thing would be to make some list of absolutely necessary things to obtain by any (well, almost any) means. 
Let's see. A large bag with several compartments, some sort of notebook, pens, Pokeballs and Potions. Of course, snacks and water. Maybe clothes. And no cash squandering.

This bit could've been omitted with "I went to the shop to buy some stuff" but Gabriel actually making a list is very like him (from what little I've seen). It's like he's getting ready for the worst. He's cowar- I mean, careful about looking after himself and his pokemon.

 

On 10/19/2019 at 4:35 AM, Mindlack said:

Worst of all, there was a slight rain, and I hesitated to go on. It could be one of these so dreadful acidic rains.

While most people would think nothing of the rain, Gabriel thinking it could be acidic again shows how careful he is not to make an uncalculated mistake.

 

Anyhow, story is great :) You don't need me to say this but keep up the good work~

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9 hours ago, Candy said:

I'm a terrible reader but I figured it's time to try changing that and so I've resumed (basically restarted oops) reading The Odd One.

 

That's brave of you, because there's a lot to read! 😅 I hope you'll enjoy!

 

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Can't promise I'll be able to read on cause smol brain but for now I wanna say that I admire how well you've characterized your protagonist and show it in subtle ways. You say I've written my characters carefully, but I feel you've done a better job at that than me (cause I just play the story in my head, don't really think much of how it's gonna be structured).

 

I'm not exactly sure what you mean here, which structure you're alluding to. Mostly I'm playing it out in my head too and wondering how Gabriel would react. I guess there's also a component of "starting to plant stuff that will help justify future plot developments". 

 

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I especially like these bits:

 

(I wrote that chapter a year ago, I'm not recalling it fully, to be also honest, but at least somewhat well.)

 

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This one could've been a "wanna battle?" "sure", but adding Gabriel thinking his pokemon wasn't rested and being corrected by the nurse showed that he's a noob at caring for a pokemon.

 

I don't recall wanting to show that 🤣 (but it's good it turned out this way). I think I decided Gabriel felt more like "yes but not really, is there an easy excuse out?"

 

(Also, thinking back on it, I feel surprised at how fast the early progress was -- even against opponents that shouldn't be noobs, such as Fern or even most of the other Trainers. But the story isn't about the beginning, no matter how it may seem). 

 

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This bit could've been omitted with "I went to the shop to buy some stuff" but Gabriel actually making a list is very like him (from what little I've seen). It's like he's getting ready for the worst. He's cowar- I mean, careful about looking after himself and his pokemon.

 

I think my reasoning was along the lines of "he doesn't know if, or where, there is a shop where he can get something else than Potions and Pokeballs". But yes, he's careful about looking after himself and his Pokemon (and he may have read the wrong stories about being prepared too short a while ago). It's almost a shame that the plot rather forces him not to. 

 

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While most people would think nothing of the rain, Gabriel thinking it could be acidic again shows how careful he is not to make an uncalculated mistake.

 

He's facing a horrifically polluted lake in a place he doesn't recall wishing to go to (or whose existence he doesn't remember at all). He's not usually that cautious, but he believes that this situation definitely mandates a higher degree of caution than "going care-free singing in the rain".  

(Also, you'll notice that these examples of caution are taken when he's rather free to act, under little pressure. This isn't going to happen that much after the very beginning.)

 

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Anyhow, story is great :) You don't need me to say this but keep up the good work~

 

Thanks a lot! 

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8 hours ago, Mindlack said:

That's brave of you, because there's a lot to read! 😅 I hope you'll enjoy!

Yeah I saw that you’ve pumped out 40? chapters 😂 I’ll do my best 💪

 

8 hours ago, Mindlack said:

I'm not exactly sure what you mean here, which structure you're alluding to. Mostly I'm playing it out in my head too and wondering how Gabriel would react. I guess there's also a component of "starting to plant stuff that will help justify future plot developments". 

I’m talking more of having a clear reasoning for things that happen (to a character or that a character does) and backing it up with style (basically the stuff that I commented I liked in my previous post). Since I narrate what happens in my head like a movie and only have a rough idea of what kind of character each person is (OC sheets? Wat dat) I think I don’t do a good job placing little details that makes sense for any given character, especially because I have berry bad memory and tend to forget the characters’ past actions lol. Well idk if I’m making sense 😅 donut mind me, in any case it’s something I need to work on.


 

9 hours ago, Mindlack said:

He's not usually that cautious, but he believes that this situation definitely mandates a higher degree of caution than "going care-free singing in the rain".

That’s right hahaha *slips umbrella into their bag*
... It’s like my mom says “you have a lot of knowledge but don’t apply it”. Maybe math geniuses have a higher order of brain than a berry smol candy. (Also I always felt like my self-insert, Candy Leiderhosen, had nothing in common with real life me, but “being reckless because did not think things through” is actually totally me 😅😅😅)

Also do you know if acidic rain would actually melt you? Asking for a friend 

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4 hours ago, Candy said:

Yeah I saw that you’ve pumped out 40? chapters 😂 I’ll do my best 💪

 

Yes, it's sort of ridiculous. Part 2 ends on chapter 45, and that's about your chapter 22 or so? I think I have a lot of motivation to write when I'm feeling stuck at whatever else I'm doing, and I've been feeling rather stuck (at intervals) for a while, I guess. I rather worry about how big the fanfiction is eventually going to be. 

 

4 hours ago, Candy said:

Since I narrate what happens in my head like a movie and only have a rough idea of what kind of character each person is (OC sheets? Wat dat) I think I don’t do a good job placing little details that makes sense for any given character, especially because I have berry bad memory and tend to forget the characters’ past actions lol. Well idk if I’m making sense 😅 donut mind me, in any case it’s something I need to work on.

 

To be fair, your job is harder than mine. I have one OC whom I visualize rather well, and as far as I've shown he's a blank slate in his interactions with the cast; you have several OCs (or characters with an added depth) with previous interactions (and animosity) and you have to keep all that in mind when writing. 

 

(I also forget some of Gabriel's past actions -- usually not what I put because I plan to make something with it).

 

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... It’s like my mom says “you have a lot of knowledge but don’t apply it”. Maybe math geniuses have a higher order of brain than a berry smol candy.

 

Did you know that Newton once decided to stare at the sun for as long as he could (for science, of course -- he very nearly lost his eyesight for it)? That he'd swallow mercury in his alchemist's "research"? That Gödel, despite people feeling that calling him "the greatest logician since Aristotle" was underestimating him, saw conspiracies everywhere and starved himself to death? That Pythagoras hated beans so much that he literally wouldn't go through a field of beans to save his own life? 

 

In a word: math geniuses really are a bunch of utter lunatics. They're not role models. 

 

Gabriel isn't on that level though, he's good at math but not that good. He might be a little insane but nowhere near the renowned crazies. And he's not good at applying his own knowledge either -- except when the writer decides that it fits. 

 

(A certain advantage of being in Reborn with PULSEs -- Rejuv and uh... never mind would probably be even more insane -- is that "awesome but wouldn't actually work" ideas [the useless kind of ideas one can have irl] can actually be not discarded because something unlikelier is part of the universe)

 

(I'd also like to point out than if you ended up -- clueless as to the why and unprepared -- in a region such as Reborn, you probably wouldn't be as reckless as your namesake).

 

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Also do you know if acidic rain would actually melt you? Asking for a friend 

 

I didn't actually know. I suspected that it shouldn't be too bad, but I wasn't sure, so I did some cursory research. 

Wikipedia basically says: "no way". It's too diluted, and the pH is about 4.0 (vinegar is much below that). However, the chemical compounds can be detrimental to health (heart and lungs apparently). I also found an EPA webpage saying that there's almost no wildlife in a lake with pH lower than 4, so the Azurine lake might perhaps not be so bad as to actively threaten the life of people outside it (some nasty health hazards seem very likely though).  

 

Addendum: the above is valid for actual acid rains on our Earth following known physical/chemical patterns. If acid rains were to occur in the "Rebornverse", there's no telling how bad it could get, especially if someone were to use PULSE tech to its fullest potential horrifically wrong. Remember that in canon, two PULSEs were enough to make the lake deadly. And remember that there are (in the real world) very, very nasty chemicals

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Oof, that finale chapter is actually tough to get right. And that's not taking into account the other reasons why I might be should be sort of am busy. But don't worry about that, the schedule hasn't actually changed: the end of Part 2 should be online by the end of the year (and probably a few days before). 

 

A little comment on the pictures: they sometimes don't reflect very well what I write because I'm not very good at graphics. I'm thinking of two recent examples: the top of Pyrous (this might become somewhat relevant in the next chapters, since... you know), and, in this chapter, the little house on the island. So if the pictures clash too much with the description, the description is right. 

 

Anyway... I hope you enjoy!

 

Chapter 42: Muddy Meddling

 

Spoiler

Azurine Island was a large, wild marsh, almost a continuous forest of its own. Victoria had been able to find some boots and sturdier clothes, ones that might resist the (diluted) corrosive power of the mud there. It had to be unhealthy, we had reasoned (or more accurately, I had insisted), since it came from soil and rainwater, the latter ultimately coming from the polluted lake. 

 

To complete the cliché of those forest strolls, which were probably very wholesome to nature lovers but muddy, dirty, and overall unpleasant to city-dwellers such as me, it was raining. Not too much, fortunately, but enough that the island had disgusting, sometimes slippery and sometimes sticky, puddles of mud, and I didn't want to stay there longer than necessary -- hopefully without the rain melting me. 

 

The maps claimed that the island was pretty large, its shape an imperfect circle of nearly two kilometers in diameter. It would take a very long time to search the island thoroughly, one I didn't really want to take, but I didn't see any other solution for a while.

 

After a few hundred meters, it dawned on me that it would take hours to really search the island and make sure Cain wasn't there. The high density of trees and bushes, even with few leaves, the lack of clear paths, the abundance of the undergrowth (which my boots allowed me to somewhat neglect), certainly didn't help.

 

I also realized that there was a shortcut: undoubtedly the flying Batley would be a great scout. So I sent her out to look over the entire island and tell me if she could see Cain somewhere -- I don't think she totally understood me, but she understood at least she had to mention to me if she saw anyone or anything abnormal.

 

I went on my own exploration while Batley was gone, without much hope. Strangely enough, I didn't see any wild Pokemon around, although they had to be legion. Or perhaps they were wary of strangers, of which I certainly was. But I walked on nonetheless, looking all around myself to try and find out signs of human life.

 

Not that I'd manage to spot them.

 

I was, however, successful by accident, when, as I was carelessly treading into a small mud puddle, I felt my foot walking on a strangely-shaped pebble. The shape felt not smooth, not full enough to be natural, so, without thinking, I picked it up, wiping my now-dirty fingers and the muddy object with it on the back of my other hand. It was a metal ring, with a small purple stone attached at one of the points. 

 

An... earring? And... not too worn out either?

 

I pocketed it, just in case, and went on my way, but to little avail until Batley came back, looking very agitated. She tried to express her thoughts, but obviously the communication wasn't that easy.

 

"Okay, Batley, okay... Can you move the earth a bit with Psychic, make a model of what you saw?"

 

Batley seemed to understand -- or perhaps she had found the same idea -- and she started using her psychic power to do some, well, pottery. What she showed me was a small cabin.

 

"Batley... did you see anyone around? Or anything else?"

 

She made me understand she hadn't. So the cabin was my only hope, and, I thought, a rather meager one. Nobody, as far as Victoria knew, had lived on Azurine Island in at least a year. The cabin had to be deserted, unkempt. But since Batley hadn't seen anything else, it was the only place to check out.

 

The cabin was on the other side of the island, and I could see for myself how few Pokemon were on it, and notice the utter lack of trace of a human being there lately. It was very surprising, again, because, without any human dwellers, the island should have been a haven of wildlife. But perhaps that even the proximity to the destroyed lake was too antagonistic to life.

 

 

 

****

 

Meanwhile:

 

"Sir, our instruments found a Swoobat flying by."

 

"Aster... I told you already, please call me Taka, you're older than I am. But... a Swoobat? They aren't native to the island, aren't they?"

 

"No, sir, apart from the tunnels underneath the city, we don't know of native Woobats or Swoobats in ten miles around or so. And they don't usually go this way. "

 

"Thank you, Eclipse." Taka didn't bother trying to enforce the informality. The higher-ups -- the old ones, as he liked thinking of them (not, of course, that he would ever dare word such thoughts) -- were stuffy with their protocol and had imposed it to everyone, but himself felt it was a waste of power. After all, if your subordinates feared or respected you too much to trust you, what was the point? "Aster, what did the Swoobat do precisely?"

 

"I told you so!" another voice, which somehow sounded drunken, despite the speaker being fully sober. "They're coming to kick your asses!"

 

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If the speaker sounded somewhat drunken, it might be not unrelated to the fact that he had been standing in a cage for about a day and a half, and, despite being fed, had kept trying to break the metallic cage in full view of his captors.

 

"Wouldn't that be a sight." Taka mused. "Bruno, please?"

 

Another Meteor grunt, bulkier, rose up heavily, opened the door of the cage, effortlessly pushed back Cain's clumsy but sincere attempt at a tackle, projecting him against the other wall of the cage -- this one a plain wall. Then they punched Cain's swollen and blue jaw, and exited the cage, locking it carefully.

 

"You know," Taka said, trying to not wince at the scene he had just ordered, "it would all be a lot simpler if you just shut up. We're working here."

 

That scene, or a similar one, had occurred over a hundred times since Cain had been taken. They had found out that Cain just wouldn't stop talking. Even when invited politely, shouted at, threatened at. So they had resorted to this method as a way (mostly unsuccessful, but much better than doing nothing) to shut him up, for a few minutes at least.

 

The worst ones, Taka remembered, were during the nights. Cain wouldn't stop shouting despite the punches, and Bruno was getting weary of getting up, punching, and getting back to bed, only to have to do it again five minutes later. Both nights, he had finally decided to have him drugged so that the former Poison-type Leader would let him and his agents sleep in peace. Cain had objected (getting punched yet another time) that they didn't deserve a peaceful sleep. Taka was inclined to agree. If anything, he marvelled at what they all accepted to do.

 

"Eclipse." he asked again, trying not to look at Cain who tried clumsily to massage his aching jaw. "Did the Swoobat do anything suspicious? Did it come from the island or from the lake?"

 

"It seems, sir, that it came from the island. It looks like it flew over a sizable chunk of the island, but flew very low around the house, looking at it from all angles."

 

"Is this natural, in your opinion?"

 

"I cannot say for certain, sir. But it is certainly unusual. We cannot exclude it is acting on a Trainer's orders."

 

R4Ws953.png

 

"I see. Then, if there's a chance it's a Trainer, we'll bait him in. Aster, Eclipse, take positions in the house above and leave the door ajar. Don't let yourselves be seen. Report every two minutes."

 

A Swoobat Trainer, Taka thought as the Meteor grunts obeyed him, intent on attacking Team Meteor. And who had the means to go to Azurine Island. He could think of one, one he had already met. One he had been specifically instructed to not let free.

 

He sighed and got back to work, wishing he could hear what was going on outside despite the paranoid-grade soundproofing.

 

 

 

****

 

 

Half an hour later:

 

"Sir." Aster said, the radio at his mouth. "Swoobat Trainer approaching."

 

He and Eclipse were carefully watching the outside of the house, wary to not be seen through the windows. That was why they had drawn the mostly transparent curtains. But the heavy rain that had started falling a few minutes before wasn't helping matters, and the Trainer was already pretty close to the house when he had been spotted.

 

"Hm. How far?"

 

"Less than fifty feet, sir. It's raining outside."

 

"I see. Anyone we know?"

 

"I can't say, sir, with the rain and the curtains."

 

"Are the lights off and the door ajar?"

 

"Yes, sir." Eclipse chimed in.

 

"Good. They may try and seek shelter here. If they don't, we're good. If they do... be ready for it."

 

 

***

 

 

Surprisingly enough, the cabin the existence of which Batley had reported to me wasn't just a precarious wood construction, but an actual house. It looked like a country house with the size of a comfortable flat, made in brick, with drawn curtains at the unbroken windows. It looked, overall, surprisingly well kept. But the door was unlocked, slightly ajar. I tried to squeeze my way in without thinking, because the rain had intensified a few minutes ago so it had been pouring, and found out that there were people inside.

 

Before anything else, I noticed their surprised and displeased reaction.

 

"Oh," I reacted automatically, realizing at lightspeed that I had to be wet, dirty and muddy. I couldn't blame my unwilling hosts' displeasure. "Sorry."

 

As I was recoiling back into the rain, their dark grey uniform registered. It... wasn't possible.

 

"You..." one of them, a man, almost growled.

 

"How convenient." another said. "I think we had unfinished business together."

 

Uh... Did I know them? I wasn't too sure. My memory of faces was pretty bad, so, let alone hooded faces of uniform-wearing people... But fortunately, I could ignore the nastiness altogether, because I had an easy exit. Surely they wouldn't manage to get me in the rain before I got to the boat.

 

And then what? For Solaris to come from the skies and kill me?

 

"I'm sorry," I answered. "I'm not looking for trouble."

 

"Don't worry about that, kid." the man said, getting nearer threateningly. "We are."

 

"You managed to give us the slip with your friend's help, but you're alone right now." the woman went on. "Aster, I think we've got our honor to fight back for."

 

Aster?

 

"You're... wait, you're the duo that was guarding that weird door!" I remembered. "But I... don't want trouble," I insisted. "I'm looking for... a teenager who was here maybe a couple of days ago? All in purple, very upbeat?"

 

"Look, the kid remembered us!" Eclipse said in an atrociously childish voice.

 

"About time." Aster topped her. "We've been itching for payback."

 

k5FCXel.png

 

I saw them come closer threateningly. I didn't want to flee under the rain, but it felt good to be able to control my exit.

 

I saw Aster call a Pokemon which made me shudder, a Lycanroc. I clutched nervously Leaf's Pokeball, ready to throw it at the slightest alarm.

 

"I don't want to fight." I said, trying to contain my nerves and not sound hysterical. I'm not sure I had much success. "Have you seen this young man?"

 

"I wouldn't worry about him, kid." Aster drawled. "You're about to join him in a nice cell down here."

 

What?

 

"Aster!" Eclipse shouted. "For once in your life, could you just shut up?" She seemed to regain her calm. "Not that it matters anyway." She grabbed a Pokeball herself. "You're going to meet him very soon. Lycanroc, get him."

 

"Leaf, go! Don't let them approach!"

 

I hesitated a bit on the other Pokemon to send out as I didn't want Leaf to be outnumbered... I wanted a Pokemon that would impress my enemies. A reasonably sturdy one...

 

"Mouse, go!"

 

And I started the battle hoping desperately that the Meteor grunts weren't on Cal's level. Even so, I could still run away... but not outpace the Lycanrocs, I realized. I had to win.

 

H3RTcpX.png

 

 

***

 

"Dammit." Eclipse swore. "Looks like the baby grew up a lot. We can't win this fight. Aster, we retreat!"

 

The grunts weren't on Cal's level, but that didn't mean they couldn't beat me, and they had come pretty close -- we were stuck into a duel between Watt and her Oranguru, and I wasn't certain to win. But Eclipse had surprisingly given up -- I wasn't about to complain. I didn't like Double battles.

  

And indeed, Eclipse called her Pokemon back and she and Aster just vanished in some other room. I heard the sound of a door being slammed shut.

 

Even though I was here for Cain, and I had learnt that he was right here, "in a nice cell down here", I didn't rush blindly. I cured Watt and Hex first. That was slowly depleting my Potions stock, but it was necessary, without question. Then, I -- cautiously, listening intently to see whether there was someone else around -- started investigating the house.

 

Apart from a functional healing machine -- which I gladly used at once -- there wasn't much to be seen. The house was small and extremely sober. It had a small kitchen, even smaller bedrooms, a couple of larger empty rooms that might have been offices, given the furniture -- large wooden desks, emptied cupboards and cabinets. However, it didn't have any frivolous decoration. Still, it wasn't soulless altogether; one might imagine people living there.

 

But there wasn't any sign of the door that Aster and Eclipse had slammed. I paced the house with increasing nervosity, trying to see everything, any kind of secret door... but there wasn't one which made sense!

 

Unless Cain was down here... I thought. What if it had been a trapdoor instead? This line of inquiry was immediately successful, as said trapdoor wasn't hard to spot if you were looking for it. It didn't look easy to open, but I managed it, unfortunately twisting a fork in the process (it was the first item I had thought could do the trick and would be likely to be found).

 

And then I had to go down the ladder into the darkness.

 

I had already done that, and little good had come out of it. But Victoria had saved me, I recalled. And now she was making me save someone else. I owed her to at least make an attempt, no matter how sickly afraid I was. As long as I didn't let the exit be cut off, or let myself be surprised.

 

"Tech," I whispered. "Come with me, please. And keep watch."

 

And, taking care not to shut the latch, I walked down the ladder. It led to a brightly lit underground metallic corridor that looked irregular and rather hurried, sacrificing quality to cost and speed. But if the house above looked rather bare, this installation looked spartan. There were a few doors in the corridor, but they were locked, and couldn't lead to very large rooms, given how little the space between them were.

 

At the other end of the corridor, I could hear Eclipse's voice making her report, and I thought I recognized the voice of the person they were reporting, although I couldn't say where I had heard it.

 

"Gabriel's going to kick your collective arses, you're going to see!" I heard a voice shout.

 

The Meteor boss answered, "No, Bruno. Let him talk. That'll draw Gabriel, and we'll get him."

 

"Sir, I think he's down here as we speak." another voice chimed in.

 

"Is he? There's little point in delaying."

 

There was a vague noise, and I heard the Meteor higher-up say: "Protocol confirmed. We may proceed."

 

"NO!" Cain yelled, so hard I started and nervously tiptoed closer to the room, worried about what would make him react thusly. "You can't do it!"

 

A heavy silence answered Cain. The villains weren't even gloating, which was most ominous.

And they didn't have any way to leave, so remaining in the corridor was pointless... Without letting my sickened stomach dictate the caution it craved, I walked briskly down the corridor to where the voices came from.

 

It was a small room, with steel walls and a rather low ceiling, which felt cramped. There were three desks and multiple sheets of paper lying on them or on the floor. One of them seemed to have some observation instruments -- what looked like a primitive radar screen in an old war movie. In the far end of the room, there were two cages, one of which contained Cain.

 

Cain looked awful. He was pallid and about the lower third of his face was swollen and almost purple (sadly, a natural one). But, more than that, it looked like it missed something crucial, when compared to the memory I had of him. The eyes looked duller, his hair was unkempt, his ("upper") features looked a bit more awkward, but it was hard to say what exactly had make him change. And outside the cage, now aware of my presence, were three Meteor grunts, standing, and another young man in casual clothes, with a sheet of paper in his right hand that he seemed intent on reading.

 

tw3xYrm.png

 

I remembered him and his voice, now, although it sounded even more assured than the previous times. He wore a grey shirt with a large collar, light brown trousers and a very recognizable red scarf. He had short brown hair, a rather thin face with dark eyes that for some reason wouldn't stop on me.

 

"Gabriel!" Cain called and I automatically turned to him, while trying to keep some awareness of the exits and of the Meteors. "I am but a damsel, imprisoned and distressed! Save me, my darling prince!"

 

Oh, come on, I thought. Couldn't he just... stop?

 

ao4OYaS.png

 

Taka's eyes finally stopped on me. I saw him, not without apprehension, remember me. At the same time that he rose, with his eyes never leaving my face, he let the sheet of paper go, and negligently pushed it with his feet under the desk. Only then did his eyes resume their wandering.

 

"Gabriel." he said. "What a pleasant surprise to see you here! We were ordered to capture you and had no idea of your whereabouts. And you just waltzed in here..." his voice trailed off, leaving me very uncomfortable against the stares of the four Meteors.

 

"You came for your friend?" he went on, nodding at Cain, but he didn't wait for my confirmation. He probably knew it anyway. "I'd really like you to keep him, because he's really a pain to have locked up, but orders are orders."

 

"Gabriel," Cain said, his tone more pressing. "Go at once. Don't let them take you! They're planning to attack Apophyll, you must warn them!"

 

Attacking... Apophyll? Why?

 

I shivered, picturing a Garchomp cutting throats without rest, insensitive to pity and strong enough to make resistance or flight hopeless. But why did you need a plan for that?

 

"Yes," Taka answered, almost casually, "that's the plan. You know how Pyrous" he articulated that name precisely, and I finally realized why the name sounded so familiar -- he had been hinting that to me days ago -- "Mountain" he went on, oblivious to my mental breakthrough, "is the last active volcano of Reborn? It's simple, really. We take a Camerupt and a PULSE machine up there. Camerupt uses Eruption, and, well... that's one pocket of civilization wiped off the map and our to-do list."

 

Arceus. A PULSE-enhanced volcanic eruption? That was both imaginative and horrendous. Spectacular and utterly impractical.

 

"I don't know why I'm telling you that, really." Taka went on, his voice sounding a bit less lively. "Since you're not getting out of here... Klefki," he called a Pokemon, "Spikes behind him!"

 

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I should have left at once. I didn't envision that use of the Spikes to cut off my exit. Now I really had to win. Against a Steel-type Pokemon, I wasn't really spoiled for choice.

 

"Leaf, Blaze Kick."

 

"Foul Play!"

 

Leaf jumped to deliver a fiery kick at the Klefki, which connected, but, somehow lucid after the shock, the keyring-shaped Pokemon managed to trip her. She hit the ground pretty loudly, and the Meteor grunts that were too close hastily made a few steps back.

 

"Leaf, come on, just finish it! Blaze Kick again!"

 

Fortunately, Leaf's second move downed the Klefki for good, and Taka sent out a Chatot instead. So I switched Leaf out, going for Watt instead. She was surprised and winced (as I did) when Chatot's amplified voice replicas hurt her eardrums, and I felt her balance waver. Already?

 

"Watt, focus. Discharge!"

 

rFnWrSz.png

 

The second Chatter attack didn't do her any good, and I felt her mild confusion and disorientation. But hopefully, Discharge wasn't an attack that needed too close an aim. Especially with so much electronics around. I saw Cain's strands of hair start repelling one another, and the rampant electricity started making Taka's hair stand on end as well. I couldn't say for the other Meteors because they had hoods.

 

Then Watt released the discharge. The radar thingy made static noises, which prompted a Meteor grunt to jump at it. The lights wavered. And the Chatot fell.

 

"Don't bother, Aster." Taka sighed. "Playing with electricity, are you? Gligar, your turn."

 

I recalled Watt, who couldn't do much against that Pokemon, and sent out Batley, which I expected would do better. But its Acrobatics was far more powerful than I expected, while Batley's Psychic attack didn't do as much as I hoped. I had no choice but recall Batley and call out Mouse, who would weaken her foe's attacks with Intimidate and Baby-Doll Eyes, and then finally send out Tech, because Mouse wasn't able to hit the airborne Pokemon who was too nimble. So I kept Batley out to literally watch my back.

 

"Reflect!" I ordered, while the Gligar was U-Turning into Taka's next Pokemon (the attack barely hurt Tech), an Exeggutor who looked about five times too tall for the room. It was awkwardly twisting its neck to find a position, but it was obviously a doomed attempt.

 

"Oops. Sorry, Exeggcutor. Gligar, you're back."

 

But the Gligar wasn't, indeed, prepared for the Psychic attack that hit it, and the second one picked him in the midst of another aerial Acrobatics, fainting it.

 

"Welp." Taka said, recalling the downed Gligar. "I tried."

 

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I... won? Like that?

 

I nervously glanced at Swoobat, but she couldn't detect any sign of foul play incoming.

 

"Looks like I don't have a choice but to let you go this time, huh?"

 

Something sounded wrong here. His tone was very disappointed, but it didn't feel too right. 

 

"Free Cain." I said, forcing my voice to sound confident.

 

"Fine, fine." Taka said, gesturing at a grunt. "Team Meteor, retreat. We're going to Pyrous. We'll just have to hope Gabriel doesn't interfere..."

 

His eyes focused on me again, but his voice was both disappointed and ruminating, but still didn't sound genuine. What was he on about?

 

"It'd be a real shame if he could avoid that all these people perish..."

 

"I'd hate to disappoint." I answered, as politely as I knew.

 

Taka had a forced smile.

 

"It's song stuff, you imagine? The doomed heathen meeting his final fate, trying to fight the way of the world... Trying to avoid the cleansing Arceus-mandated fire."

 

What?

 

"Anyway, we've got to go."

 

Was this 'pyre' all over again? Or just mind games...

 

He grabbed a broom in a corner I hadn't seen, swept aside the spikes that he himself had set and all the Meteors left, with Cain's cage unlocked.

 

"We've got to go," he said, exiting the cage, without any other preamble. "We can't let them destroy Apophyll!"

 

Yes, indeed. How had I managed to get tangled in this impossible situation again?

 

"Just a second." I answered. I glanced at the disorderly paperwork on the desks and on the floor. They looked like drafts, with notes scattered everywhere, nothing one could read. I bent under Taka's former desk, to try and find the paper he had so clearly discarded in front of me. That one looked neater, and, indeed, was clearly written in a very legible handwriting. I folded it and put it in a pocket of my borrowed overcoat.

 

"Okay." I decided. Small talk could indeed wait. "I've got a motorboat on the other side of the island. I guess you're coming?" 

 

 

Character rates: 

Spoiler

Cain: 5.5/10 (+1.5). Good point for his priorities. Also for his courage. Still an annoyance to be with, though.

 

Taka: 2.5/10 (+0.5). He's still the same. I just... can't understand him. Did he point me on purpose to Pyrous, long ago? And this sheet he almost made me pick up? And what’s with the grandstanding about this evil master plan ? Is he just having fun, playing games... or something else here?

 

 

Player's note (re Aster & Eclipse fight)

Spoiler

I don't really like double battles and A&E are the worst. This one isn't that bad, but the following ones give me nightmares savescums and I really don't know how to manage them yet. Wait and see, I guess... Anyway, here's how the fight went (you'll note that despite my attempts at preparation, it was a bit close for comfort. Also that I'm a masochist for not using items.)

 

  RkSicmc.png

Intimidate is standard here. With that, they can't be too annoying, except that Lunatone has Hypnosis. 

 

lvdoaug.png

GzSDxmb.png

Hypnotisers are the worst, aren't they? 

 

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Solrock had used Psywave. Uh oh, an unintimidated Lycanroc...

 

 YN6jDdA.png

Oh, come on. 

 

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Die, you evil watchdog. So now, it should be Eclipse's last Pokemon, Oran...

 

 Vh7R4Th.png

Or not. I switched Mouse out because I still need her Crunch for Oranguru. 

 

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Ugh... Bullsh*t again. It's not that bad, of course.

 

 RurKEME.png

Okay, so I don't remember what happened in between. Perhaps just Solrock's Psywave, but I don't understand why I had sent Tech in before the end of the turn... At least that thing is down.

 

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Always use screens, they're good for you, remember?

 

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Well, Hex did her job. Note that Tech hasn't taken his damage from the Lycanroc's Rock Slide, and the Solrock didn't act either. 

 

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Oof. Tech went down to a Crunch after a Psychic to the Lycanroc. But speaking of crunches...

 

qaFRWFH.png 

At least, the nuisance number 3 on the priority list is gone. I wish I could Discharge freely but I don't want my other mons to get hurt, because it's not over. 

 

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Not dead yet? And Ampharos's attack isn't targeting it... I should have Discharged, maybe. 

 

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Screen power! Also, Crunch power!

 

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At last. Too close for comfort, I need to step up my game or get wrecked in the future doubles...

 

Player's note: (Taka fight)

Spoiler

qdU34NR.png

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Okay...

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Now we're talking.

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Three to go. 

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Well, this isn't a fair game, is it?

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Oh wait.

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A bit close. Whew.

 

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Oops. Looks like the machinery is dead. The law of unintended consequences...

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Since Sicy can't do it herself...

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Ugh, Harvest + Sitrus Berry. Not only does Quickbeam (Trevenant) not Harvest but I don't think I even have an Oran Berry. 

 

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It hurts, but what does it matter? 

 

3HGSh84.png

I should have shouted "Timber", now? Given how ludicrously tall that Pokemon is... Who thought it might be even a good idea to use it in battle inside? It's like using Earthquake on a volc... you know what, never mind. 

 

 

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Rlly awesome chapter 

I wonder what that piece of paper is...

Spoiler

Probably info on the PULSE lol

Also i think Gabriel needs to understand that Cain will always be annoying but he has gud intetions , heh

 

Waiting for the next chapter tk see the destruction of Aphophyll

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2 hours ago, sayar said:

Rlly awesome chapter 

Thank you! 

 

Quote

Also i think Gabriel needs to understand that Cain will always be annoying but he has gud intetions , heh

I think he’ll get the memo... eventually. He really doesn’t like that. 
 

Quote

Waiting for the next chapter tk see the destruction of Aphophyll

Did you really want to word it this way?🤣

But yes, that’s what’s coming now... but there’ll be a little twist. 

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When I read the part, when Cain got drugged and beaten, I wish I would kick their butt's right now. How dare they touch one of my husbandos?! *angry Crystal noises*

 

But then I got the mental picture of an A-Exeggutor being stuck at the small space of a room... I tried my best do laughing to much.

 

Therefore I can sense great despar in the upcoming chapter at Pyros Mountain. Hope Gabriel's mind won't be that much broken on this. Be gentle with our boi (though I sound like a hypocrite now)

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2 hours ago, Mindlack said:

Did you really want to word it this way?🤣

But yes, that’s what’s coming now... but there’ll be a little twist. 

ofc i know there's gonna be twist
the series can't end here right now, can it? LOL

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6 hours ago, sayar said:

ofc i know there's gonna be twist
the series can't end here right now, can it? LOL

 

Well of course. Or else Gabriel is doing something stupid (no offense to Mindlack) and it's game over

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7 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

But then I got the mental picture of an A-Exeggutor being stuck at the small space of a room... I tried my best do laughing to much.

 

Honestly, I'm very surprised that I didn't see it written by anyone else beforehand. I only thought of it when I wrote Taka sending it out in battle, and realizing that it was, indeed, a bit too tall. 

 

8 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

Therefore I can sense great despar in the upcoming chapter at Pyros Mountain. Hope Gabriel's mind won't be that much broken on this. Be gentle with our boi (though I sound like a hypocrite now)

 

It's a finale. I'm almost obliged to raise the stakes and create some despair. I can't comment (yet^^) on how Gabriel will handle the events though. 

 

7 hours ago, sayar said:

ofc i know there's gonna be twist
the series can't end here right now, can it? LOL

 

I meant twist, as in "it's not going to happen like in canon". 

 

1 hour ago, Evi Crystal said:

Well of course. Or else Gabriel is doing something stupid (no offense to Mindlack) and it's game over

 

Just for that (no offence taken of course), I feel an overpowering urge to show that "not doing anything stupid" is nowhere near a sufficient condition to survive, given who the good guys are up against... but now's not the time to kill everyone off. 

No promises about next week, though.

 

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Hey! 

 

Hope you're all doing well. I had a pretty down week to be honest, but it's looking better now. And I managed to write the second draft of the finale, but perhaps I'll do it again because it's not good enough... 

 

Also, I decided to give a certain type of news earlier than planned. 

 

Enjoy! (I hope)

 

 

 

Chapter 43: Call of Duty

 

 

Spoiler

The previous night:

 

"Heather!" a whisper pierced the darkness.

 

There was no answer. Noel knew she hadn't spoken a word since her first therapy -- even in his thoughts the word sounded horrible -- session. And the latest sessions with the Doctor, which was somehow allied with these people clad in black -- Team Meteor, they had called themselves -- hadn't helped matters in the slightest. Perhaps Heather was truly broken, asleep. Perhaps he was the only one that a guilty conscience kept awake. 

 

All the children but one were in the same room in what was probably a Yureyu building long out of use, isolated by deep crevices from the rest of the Obsidia Ward, accessible only through the old Railnet tunnels. They were sleeping on mattresses that were slightly better than wood planks, with torn, dirty blankets to cover them in the unheated, derelict building. Two Team Meteor grunts were watching over them, replaced every other hour.

 

It had happened fast, Noel remembered dimly, so fast, when they were taken again. They had been taken, their Pokemon had been taken from them, and they had been locked in the Yureyu building for two days now. It was his fault, he knew. If he hadn't said anything, if he had shut up like the good boy he was supposed to be, Team Meteor wouldn't have caught them. But their situation was grimmer now. The Meteors required instant obedience to their orders, and they weren't as squeamish as the Doctor when they tried to enforce it.

 

The morning after her capture, Charlotte had tried to act, get her Pokemon back. She had been fairly angry, and her aggressive behavior would have got her a little trip in the Circuit had she been at the Orphanage. But the Meteors had different ideas about rules. Charlotte had been beaten up in front of their very eyes, while they had been physically restrained and forced to watch.

 

Anna had started shrieking, so they had slapped her until she shut up and started sobbing instead, tears of pained empathy. Shelly had been crying instead, but Heather had looked mostly blank.

 

Then they had thrown a bucket of icy water at Charlotte and locked her up alone in another room. The Meteors and the Doctor only allowed him, Anna, Shelly and Heather a glance at her this night, after a day and a half without news. She had certainly looked unwell, but not terribly so. And the way she was openly chatting with her jailors, making nice...

 

Noel's thoughts shifted to his sister Anna. He had known Anna was... special, but this relapse seemed to have truly broken something. She wasn't peppy and cheerful anymore -- at least, not constantly so. She switched between phases of almost manic trust that everything would work out (she said that certainly Cain and Gabriel wouldn't let them down), and phases of deep sadness and despair. The latter usually started after her own sessions with the Doctor. She had tried to plead with the Meteors when she realized these would start again, but her prayers fell on deaf ears. And dead hearts, Noel mentally added. 

 

 

Shelly's case was even worse in his eyes. Her misery, her terror, her incomprehension were written all over her, in the way she started every time a Meteor opened their mouth, uncontrollably shivered whenever they looked at her, and her continuous air of wanting to burst into tears. If he hadn't notified this Gabriel, Noel thought bitterly, perhaps they wouldn't have ended up in this predicament.

 

But how could they get out of it? Since Charlotte's attempt, these Meteor bastards were watching them. The shock "therapy" wasn't only painful to all of them, it was also very effective at breaking their spirit. They were physically outmatched, their Pokemon were nowhere to be seen, and their jailors had displayed sickening mercilessness. Right now, they had nothing to do but wait and see. And hope that Cain, and perhaps Gabriel, would, indeed, not forget them. Even though with each passing hour, this hope was dimming, since he couldn't think of any reason why nobody had tried so far. Even though in his grim heart of hearts, he didn't believe in a rescue any more -- because it had all been his fault in the first place.

 

 

 

Shelly was actually, almost literally, frightened to death. She had had to deal with familial neglect (something very, very deeply unpleasant and destructive), but not with this brand of hostility and gratuitous cruelty. She was also feeling the same as Noel -- that she had ruined everything. Had she not intervened, Heather would have been better off. Unlike him, she could see on Heather's face every single tear that the late Corey's daughter couldn't shed. She could feel that every one of them was her fault. And unlike the very quiet Noel, she couldn't help but cry softly, on her own, in the dark, because she didn't want anyone else to find out, least of all Heather or the Meteors -- heaven knew what they would do to her.

 

Because she didn't believe in a rescue any more.

Because it was all her fault in the first place.

 

 

 

Charlotte was the one who had made the most progress, actually. Her being left alone, soaking wet with icy water, in an unheated building, had done wonders to her motivation. It had taken her some time, but she had managed to bottle her anger, and focus on more productive actions. For instance, chatting with her guards. They didn't look like they had any reason to be nicer to her, but they were -- one reason why she decided to not set Saphira off on them once she and her fellow comrades in misery were through this utterly stupid mess. Also, they had expressed outright disgust at their colleagues' treatment of her. But apparently, some of them were so scared of their boss "Sirius" that they'd zealously obey any callous order he would care to give.

 

Soon, she muttered to herself in order to sleep, and soothe the painful memories of the Doctor's favorite "therapy". Soon, they would make a mistake. And then...

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

While we were walking back across the island, the rain having almost stopped, Cain explained me what had happened to him. He had panicked when Team Meteor had sprung out of the entrance that had just unlocked, and even more when they had managed to take the children. He had tried to escape, but had felt doomed... there were too many of them, and it had seemed like his best chance...

 

"And the tunnel collapsed. Guess I wasn't thinking, ha -- ow."  he winced.

 

The advantage of walking side by side with Cain was that I didn't have to watch how badly the Meteors had hit him. And he barely acted like it. How tough.

 

"They really didn't pull their punches, did they?"

 

"No." he had a brief grin. "They didn't."

 

"Why, though?" I asked, disturbed. "Why did they hit you that much?"

 

"They wanted me to shut up." Cain answered after a while.

 

"And you didn't?"

 

"You're kidding, right?" Cain replied, his tone incredulous. "I'm not about to let this scum rule me! I certainly wasn't about to help them in their tasks!"

 

"But... they had you in their power, and you probably had barely any effect." I objected. "Why bother them when you could have been behaving to bide your time?"

 

Cain didn't answer at once and walked on faster in spite of the treacherously slippery and muddy ground. I struggled a bit to follow suit, but I managed to catch up with him in a few minutes. He still didn't answer, though.

 

We finally reached the boat. He settled inside, I sat at the driver's seat and we left the shore of Azurine Island. I thought he would open up, but I guess I had struck a sensitive spot. I didn't insist.

 

It was a bit after 9 am when we set foot on the Apophyll beach, this time much northwards than the first time I had berthed, so that thus time we didn't have to walk all the way to the Academy.

 

***

 

"Cain!" Victoria almost shouted with relief upon seeing us on the Academy grounds. "We saw Team Meteor agents around. I was so worried. What happened to you?"

 

"There's no time, Victoria." Cain answered. "We need to speak, quickly. With Kiki."

 

"She's in her room..." She glanced at me. "She isn't lecturing today. Is it that bad?"

 

"Yes," I chimed in, "it looks pretty bad."

 

"Okay, let's go see her." Victoria gave in.

 

She led us to the Sensei's room, where Kiki was sitting, meditating, and sat up, surprised, when she saw us enter. I entered a bit later than the others, as I had been glancing at the sheet of paper I had found from Taka's desk. It was surprisingly (or was it suspiciously?) filled with quite specific information.

 

"Excuse us, Sensei..." Victoria started.

 

"Why do you look so troubled?" Kiki asked straight, her voice very calm. "Cain, Gabriel, both of you have listened to me. One must defeat the inner chaos to hope to control the outer chaos."

 

"Kiki," Cain started. "Team Meteor is planning to use a machine to make a Camerupt react with the volcano and erupt!"

 

"But..." Victoria reacted, in a strangled voice, "if that happens, then the Academy and everyone here will be --"

 

Yes, they're, you know, mass murderers. Or, at least, accomplices and instigators to mass murder, even if they didn't hold the knife.

 

"From what I was told of their motives, I can only assume that it is more than that." Kiki answered, without showing any agitation. Um, what more? "The two may be separated by the toxic lake, but if Apophyll is destroyed, the city will be hurt as well. Though we refuse the technology which festers in Reborn, we are two sides of the same coin. If one part is lost, the balance will be broken. The power will shift to their favor."

 

xr204Er.png

 

I didn't know what to think. The point of view of balance was an interesting idea, but I wasn't too convinced it wasn't a gratuitous metaphor. And in whose favor would the power shift? The city itself? The Meteors? The former just didn't make sense... the latter was quite a reality.

 

"We must stop them, and time is short." Kiki stated flatly.

 

"Hopefully Cal will be able to hold them off long enough." Victoria said grimly.

 

"There's still time." I chimed in, producing the sheet Taka had left. "I... found some papers where they were working. They suggest that the machine will take some time to fully charge."

 

"How long?" Victoria asked anxiously.

 

"Actually, it apparently took them a huge time, much fine-tuning, and many tries on many Numels" -- wait, so many Pokemon, there would have been some sort of effect on the wildlife -- "to find Pokemon robust enough. So they'll be careful not to mess that try up."

 

Wait... Why were they doing this again instead of having Solaris cut everyone's individual throats?  

 

"Yes?" Kiki encouraged me.

 

"The optimistic estimate is six hours, but it's likely they'll take it slow and they'll make it at least eight hours."

 

"Is that so?" Cain asked. He bent on the paper to read. "What if they're lying?"

 

"Then..." I sighed.

 

"What does that change?" Victoria answered in my stead. "We're not exactly spoiled for choice."

 

"Six hours." Cain said. "Starting from... when they sent the get-go signal, which was..."

 

I shivered at the thought that hadn't yet come to me.

 

"I guess over an hour ago."

 

"Then hurry!" Kiki said in a strong voice, stronger than I could have believed coming from her, a voice that sent shivers of adrenalin through her listeners.

 

You turn to us, whenever we need us, Cain started singing (I had forgotten how well he could sing),

We've got the power to protect us all...

 

rDuZeA6.png

 

No we hadn't! I realized. I had seen... we had seen firsthand how fearsome Team Meteor was. How bad it could all get. What if we were too weak? Outnumbered? Outwitted and led into a trap?

 

"Kiki," I asked uneasily. I had an inkling my suggestion wouldn't be welcome. "There's a possibility that we won't make it. How will the Academy be protected then?"

 

"I don't understand you, Gabriel." Victoria replied. "If we fail, it's all gone. So we can't."

 

"Yes, but what if we do?" I went on. "I've seen their top members battle. Not even Cal can be a serious threat to them. Why risk the Academy on so unsure a fight?"

 

"What else could we do?" Cain turned to me. "Give up? Flee and leave them to their fate?"

 

"We could..." I started, in a voice even less assured than my best (unwilling) intimidated child impersonations. "We could all leave."

 

"I beg your pardon?" Kiki asked, her voice level, but her dark eyes wide. "Are you suggesting that we simply... give in? Flee?" She rose up, and her voice got very animated again, and reproachful, and somewhat disdainful. "We're, among others, a martial arts academy. We fight. We do not surrender."

 

pc1x8Ig.png

 

But sometimes, I thought, without daring to utter it in front of Kiki's visible contempt, you had to control your losses so that you didn't lose everything. That's why martial arts had rules, after all. So that people didn't escalate the battles they were losing until they won -- or died. Heck, wild animals, wild Pokemon did that. That was the important lesson... and a hard one as well.

 

"You need the Machine for Strength, do you not?" Kiki went on, her voice sharp and merciless. "I will not entrust it to a coward. Only disaster strikes when cowards resort to strength."

 

Her use of the c-word hurt me. I didn't think my suggestion was cowardly. It was sensible. How could they not understand? If Solaris was up there... or if there were over a few grunts, which would certainly be the case... we could lose everything. The Academy and its people. Everything.

 

I didn't want to die. I certainly didn't want to die by willingly going to confront evil I knew far too strong for me. If I had to die, I would have to make sure it served a purpose. One commensurate with how much I (beneath all the self-deprecation, however sincere it was) valued my life.

 

"So, Gabriel." Kiki said, stern as an Inquisitor. "Are you bailing out?"

 

How could I explain that, while I understood her decision, I would do differently? That, if the institution I had built with my own hands was faced with too strong, dangerous or risky a peril to fight, I would save its spirit and its people rather than risk them all to save its walls?

 

If only I could find something to save the Academy just in case it all went wrong... I re-read Taka's paper, as if the key was in it, as if he had left me an illumination. Anything that could be a plan B worth dying for.

 

"Gabriel, please." Victoria pleaded. "You're not a coward, I know that. And we'll need you."

 

I took a deep breath.

 

"I'll come along." I said, trying not to wonder why it felt like I was signing my death sentence. "I just need, about, five or ten minutes to think?"

 

"What's there to think about? We go up the volcano... We smash that thing to smithereens, we come back."

 

"I need to change clothes." I answered. "Heal my Pokemon, too."

 

"Hurry, Gabriel." Kiki said. "The clock is ticking."

 

 

*****

 

 

Victoria had very kindly managed to find me shoes better suited to mountain walks than these boots. It was perhaps 10.15 am when we left the Academy to start climbing the arduous Pyrous Mountain. The weather had gone cloudy, without a hint of wind. All in all, it felt very still, as if the weather itself was on alert, which was a pretty bad sign.

 

We were all silently walking, our presences helping each other to keep the rhythm. Victoria was ahead, the most energetic of the three of us. Cain followed her, and I was last, ruminating dark, worrying thoughts, and feeling every inch of my previous hike at this exact same place in my sore thigh muscles. I was also feeling sick, sick with fear.

 

Perhaps I was a coward. I knew I had to fight, to dominate my terror, but I couldn't. I walked on nonetheless, but I kept thinking of a Garchomp stronger than anyone could tell. A Garchomp that would kill me -- and Cain, and Victoria -- the millisecond it was instructed to. How could I have not made that clear to them? Made them understand? How could they not realize it was a losing battle we were fighting?

 

One thing is true: we're kind of magic, Cain hummed,

At the tip of your fingers, whenever you call...

 

"Just move!" I heard Victoria snap in an early part of the hike, with a narrow, steep trail.

 

I forced my weary body to speed up the last few paces, and after a turn, realized that a Meteor grunt was blocking it.

 

So it started, huh?

 

"No, miss. I have orders, I can't do that."

 

"What? You have orders to not move?" Cain intervened, the tone bellicose. "How about a battle then?"

 

"No battle. No entry. No one allowed past this point. Them's my orders."

 

"And how do you suppose you'll end up when the volcano erupts?" I couldn't help but snap.

 

"Feeling brave, are we?" the grunt eyed me, and I lowered my eyes pretty automatically, my fear-organs (or whatever they were) working at full capacity.

 

"Nidoking." Cal called his fully evolved Pokemon out, making a step back to give it some room. It was a pretty impressive one, too. "Final warning, Meteor whatever-your-name."

 

"I'm not going to move, because that's my orders. And neither are you."

 

"Fine." Cain snapped. "Nidoking."

 

Cain's ace Pokemon just... grabbed the Meteor.

 

"Hey!" he protested. "What are you doing?"

 

Y6uD3RZ.png

 

"Sorry." Cain hummed.

 

He didn't look too bothered. The Nidoking shoved the Meteor in the slope, and we could watch it fall pretty spectacularly a bit further. It looked pretty unpleasant, but he got up pretty quickly.

 

"Now, I suggest that we move on." Cain concluded. "I heard they'd be in the crater, we don't have much to lose and he looks like he's coming back. Gabriel, take the lead."

 

 

*******

 

 

My nervousness grew as we climbed the volcano. There were over a dozen Meteor grunts on the track, not very strong but far too many for comfort -- or even, I couldn't help but think, practical and fast evacuation. What would happen to them should the volcano erupt? The worst of it meant that they'd probably have equivalent forces, but united, guarding the crater.

 

After a short break for water and a snack, I ended up behind again, and my legs were more sore than ever. Every step upwards I made, I struggled against my muscles and my own brain, who kept thinking up every possible nightmare scenarios. Only the knowledge that I wasn't alone -- that I had allies -- and my own will to not falter before such unthinkably high odds kept me going. That, and my very few remaining candy bars from that Obsidia Shop.

 

After an eternity, I realized that I recognized the spot we were in... We were very near the crater... Actually, I thought, we should be able to see everything in there. Cain and Victoria were crouching behind a large rock at the final turn, just ahead of me.

 

"Do you see anything?" I whispered nervously.

 

"There's a couple of Meteor grunts." Cain whispered. Uh oh. "Three people not in uniform. That Taka guy from Azurine Island." Crap.

 

"I can see Cal," Victoria added, "but... he's not fighting them? He isn't doing anything..." Well, we certainly weren't on time. We couldn't have been. "And there seems to be someone else everyone is wary of... I've never seen him before."

 

I walked forward, as silently as I could, trembling with nervosity, and looked at the crater as well. And my fear doubled... no, grew tenfold. There were, indeed, five people in the crater. Cal looked lost. He was watching around, not doing anything. Perhaps it had been a while for him too since he had lost a serious battle.

 

IN0Gtss.png

 

Two Meteor grunts were watching the crater, trying to cover all directions. Annoying. Taka was watching the PULSE Camerupt, easy to recognize, at the other, steeper, end of the crater. He looked as if he was monitoring something. I then turned my sight to the final person. I recognized him, whom neither Cain nor Victoria knew. I knew who we were fighting against. I should have expected it, but I had hoped it wouldn't have had to happen.

 

Fuck.

 

"We're so doomed." I whispered.

 

"Why?" Cain asked. "Don't go defeatist just now."

 

"The guy you don't know -- the tall older one in a brown overcoat -- he's Solaris. He's the boss of Team Meteor. He's strong, and he's merciless."

 

"We're together, Gabriel." Cain replied. "We can take him on."

 

Why did they have to think in mantras? In stupid slogans? How could they fail to understand that it didn't work like that?

 

"He beat Amaria up." I asserted. "I was there. Even though he ended up forfeiting the battle."

 

"I'm fighting for the Academy." Victoria added. "I'm not losing either. It'll work out."

 

Did they even actually believe it?

 

"Okay." I sighed, trying to stop my voice from trembling. I had really hoped it would come to this, but what choice did we have? "I'll need a couple of minutes alone to focus. Don't start the fight without me."

 

"Hurry," Victoria said anxiously.

 

There wasn't much to do, actually. Just to focus, to look determined, ready to fight. To not look as terrified as I was. And to plan for the incoming fight. Now, a deep breath, another, and...

 

Why again were we doing this only with the three of us, instead of having a more significant number of allies, since they weren't actually going to flee?

 

I couldn't find any answer to this blindingly obvious question. It was far too late to ask it anyway.

 

 

****

 

 

"Hey, you madmen!" Cain shouted, running down the light slope of the crater.

 

Victoria and I followed suit. I didn't know about her, but I was absolutely terrified. I thought I was about to throw something up, but I couldn't back off now. I had to do or die, preferably the former.

 

"The party's over!"

 

Everyone turned to us at once. I saw Solaris open his mouth, make a few gestures, and the winged Meteor grunts ran in our direction, followed by Taka, and then abruptly stopped. They were waiting for us. They sent out a Skuntank, and a Tsareena, while Solaris walked between them, a nasty grin on his thin face.

 

"We expected resistance." he said in a resounding, powerful voice, looking pleased with himself. "But certainly not one as pathetic as that."

 

The sheer self-assurance of his tone made me, then Cain, and Victoria slow down, and finally stop. I saw Solaris's gaze briefly halt on me, and I steeled myself against the fear making my legs falter.

 

"I swear to you," Victoria went forward, "if you've touched a single hair of Cal's..."

 

I didn't get Cal's reaction, as he hadn't moved so was still too far.

 

"How touching." Solaris answered with a smirk. "I assume you're here for this machine over there?" He pointed at the PULSE, behind him, perhaps the longest fifty meters we ever had to cross. It was hard to get the details when the murderous Team Meteor leader was standing in between, but there really seemed to be a Camerupt inside.

 

"We're here to destroy it." Cain walked on, letting me behind both of them and absolutely terrified. "You fucking lunatic."

 

"And Gabriel is here, too." Solaris commented, with a wider smirk. "It looks like I haven't been persuasive enough last time. But you aren't permitted to interfere..."

 

Oh god oh god...

 

"We're a team." Victoria snapped. "We're going to humiliate you."

 

"Why, I writhe in fear at what you yapping pups could do. Dames, make our lady guests understand the true power of Team Meteor." he said, bowing in mock gallantry at Cain, then at Victoria. "Taka," he added, "should the ladies need further enlightening, you will provide it to them. "

 

Please don't leave me alone with him...

 

"Yes, father." Taka said in a dutiful voice.

 

Father? Oh, fuck.

 

"Whoa! You're that creep's son?" Cain couldn't help but ask.

 

"Seems so." Taka said, in a neutral voice.

 

"And, as for us, Gabriel..." Solaris turned his gaze to me, and despite the huge buildup of fear I felt in my entire body, I forced myself to look at his grey, uncaring eyes. "Perhaps you still haven't learnt your lesson."

 

"You'd be surprised." I swallowed all my uneasiness, and forced myself to answer evenly, almost conversationally.

 

Reasonably confident. Not cocky. Cocky would get me killed. Reasonably confident... might not.

 

"Your stubbornness is commendable." he commented. "But futile. It will not take me more than a single Pokemon to delete you..." don't look this terrified "in a Pokemon battle."

 

He took a Pokeball at his belt, revealing the Garchomp, whose very appearence made me flinch.

 

"Use all your Pokemon, together or one by one. Revive them if you please. It will make no difference. Your pitiful attempt ends here."

 

 

Player's note:

Spoiler

Victoria's battle: we're not fighting Solaris today, so I owe you something, don't I?

 

PgF0p8s.png

 

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Just for the Intimidate. 

 

bEaiAx4.png

 

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And it replied with a Bodu Slam, and I got the paralysis. 

 

VF1iHR7.png

 

Finally. 

 

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Uh oh. 

 

DwBADLl.png

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Oh, come on. That's due to the unfavorable nature. 

 

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After one Fake Out, fate strikes back. 

 

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For Intimidate again...

 

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But Watt is the best Pokemon to down Incineroar, because Power Gem. 

 

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Incineroar has hit two Darkest Lariat, actually, hence the damage. 

 

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Two Power Gems and it's over for Victoria's starter. 

 

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Another Intimidate. I won't need Mouse any more so I use it to weaken Gallade further. 

 

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... She might as well make some damage. 

 

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That was a foregone conclusion. But never mind. 

 

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And done. 

 

I wasn't really prepared for that battle but I still managed to beat it first try. It was quite messy, even though it worked out.

 

 

Character rates: 

Spoiler

Cain: 6/10 (+0.5). For his courage and guts. He's not as sensible as he could be, but my own brand of "sensible" isn't really something I'd wish on anyone. 

 

Victoria: 10/10 (+0.5). Encouraging, determined and brave. So brave. 

 

Kiki: 5/10 (+0.5). Again, for her determination and will to fight. Not that much more because of strange metaphors. Besides, she strong-armed me into applying a most rudimentary plan, which underestimates how terrible our enemy can be. 

 

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Aaaah... Now I have mixed feelings right now. Thanks for making me emotional at the beginning😓

 

But it was another interesting chapter... And here we go... Good Luck

 

Well here goes everyone's sanity. It makes me so helpless, fill with despair and anger towards this.

Edited by Evi Crystal
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4 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

Well here goes everyone's sanity. 

Isn't the usual sentence "here goes nothing"? Granted, it doesn't make much of a difference in this particular case... 😢

 

4 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

It makes me so helpless, fill with despair and anger towards this.

I about felt this way when I watched a Reborn playthrough (before playing it). And it's certainly justified here... how can they destroy the PULSE when Solaris and his full Pokemon team is standing between them? How can they hope to make a difference?*

 

 

4 hours ago, Evi Crystal said:

Aaaah... Now I have mixed feelings right now. Thanks for making me emotional at the beginning😓

 

You're welcome? You had been asking for news of the children for a while... It's a bit short, but I feel that it conveys at least some of their situation. I'm not sure about what your mixed feelings are about though...

 

 

*Hint:

Spoiler

Someone in the crater might be hiding something...

 

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25 minutes ago, Mindlack said:

You're welcome? You had been asking for news of the children for a while... It's a bit short, but I feel that it conveys at least some of their situation. I'm not sure about what your mixed feelings are about though...

Well I got pretty emotional at the beginning and I'm a bit relieved, yet more worry... Doesn't matter. Why was Sigmund thinking allying with Team Meteor, huh? Why? He could've at least bring them back in the orphanage instead of the whole hostage situation at worst case... 

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On 12/13/2020 at 2:27 PM, Evi Crystal said:

Why was Sigmund thinking allying with Team Meteor, huh? Why? He could've at least bring them back in the orphanage instead of the whole hostage situation at worst case... 

There'll be another Sigmund bit soon enough, in perhaps five chapters? But it's complicated for himtoo, even if he's quite the bad guy...

 

Anyway, that is my 252nd post, a very round number on a Pokemon forum, isn't it? How fitting that it's also when I upload one of the chapters I have been most eager to write (although conversely, this means that I'll be more upset if I missed it... never mind). 

 

Before starting to read, please take a second to glance through Chapter 43 and refresh your memory. Please keep the situation in mind. And please try to think, if only for a short while, of what might happen. Of how it might be prevented. 

 

And enjoy! 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 44: The Art of War

 

 

 

Spoiler

Years ago:

 

"We're a bit ahead in the curriculum, so today we'll make something different... and unusual."

 

Oh dear, I thought. More pedagogy crap. Like yet another catastrophic group project. Couldn't we just be done with that? I didn't know, get another hour of math?

 

"What we're doing is outside most curriculae on Pokemon training, but I think it's important for you to know it, or at least the basics." Great. Another set of basics again. Which no one knew about. Why did I have to listen to this again?

 

"Many of you will be going on Pokemon journeys. Some of you will do more than the usual Kalos turn." Yes, but not me, so what do I listen to this again? "It's somewhat likely that you will run, at some point, into a Trainer significantly stronger than you." I don't know, just Curse their mons and flee, then? Or don't battle at all?

 

"Most Trainers have no idea how to deal with a foe much stronger than themselves. They'll try offense... they'll try defense... they'll try to whittle their enemy down... Lower stats, drain their health, get them to sleep... or set up..."

 

"Look, you've all memorized some of the textbooks. That's what you would do too. The thing is that..."

 

The teacher stood up and rose their voice. "It takes much more than what you have been led to expect."

 

"Most people assume that once a Pokemon has evolved, they're mostly done with their progress. They'll rarely notice the progress afterwards."

 

"What if they Mega-Evolved?" a student asked. That was so irrelevant, I thought. I had a math problem I didn't want to search because it had eluded me for days and I needed, yet couldn't give myself, a break. Just finish it.

 

"That's a good point, but it's only temporary, as you very well know. I'm speaking about something more incremental, and permanent. Experience matters. There is far more difference between a Pokemon who's been on a journey than between, say, even a baby Larvesta and a newly evolved Volcarona."

 

Yes, and?

 

"Anyway, my point is that whatever you try to do to an enemy Pokemon much stronger than yours, it's going to be severely weakened. The moves colloquially called 'cheese strats' lose much of their interest when they take so much more effort to set up. Defense drop for your enemy, offense boost for your Pokemon, will not go up a certain usefulness. Destiny Bond will not down your enemy if he is too much stronger than you. Endeavor will be strong, but not nearly as strong as you should expect. Focus Sashes will stop working. Leech Seeds won't be as damaging. Curses will be less effective. And Perish Song, of course, would need a much longer song to perform its function, so it would probably be easier to beat your enemy the normal way... Gabriel?"

 

What again?

 

"Can you tell me why?"

 

Uh, Perish Song, Perish Song...

 

"Is it the move that... yes, it fails when the enemy becomes active and moves, right? You said something about nerve impulses resonating?"

 

That was, as it turned out a decent answer. 

 

 

 

******

 

 

You know how sometimes you feel that school is pointless? That nothing taught there is even remotely helpful? That you're wasting your sweet youth that you could have employed to other things (these things being, of course, very dependent on whom you're asking)?

 

And yet, sometimes, they turn out to be precious.

 

"Nidoking," I heard Cain, just a few meters away and yet utterly powerless to help, "I'm calling you!"

 

"Incineroar, I'm counting on you!" Victoria called at her turn.

 

Both Pokemon seized the initiative. I could hear the earth tremoring under Cain's Pokemon's power, although its intended target was perhaps twenty-five meters away. The Incineroar was far less subtle and threw itself in a fiery charge at the Tsareena.

 

"They can't help you." Solaris stated harshly. "Nobody can help you."

 

That was true indeed. But I didn't need help. I was the help. Which was about as bad as it could be. Except when it was about math, of course. I heard a grunt of pain coming from my partners' battles. I glanced, and saw that Victoria's Incineroar had apparently missed, while the Tsareena was kicking it in the face and enjoying the experience.

 

Never mind. I had a battle of my own.

 

"Mouse," I said. "Come on."

 

hRKD2Rb.png

 

Mouse came out on the battlefield, and her glare left the Garchomp just about indifferent.

 

"Finish it, Garchomp."

 

I took back Mouse immediately, sending Watt out instead, to take the full power of the Garchomp's attack. It hurt to see the Ampharos, with whom I had trained, battled and even fought for our lives, get wrecked in a single hit, not even a dignified move, but the equivalent of a punch.

 

"Incineroar, retreat!" Victoria shouted, causing me to glance at the Fire-type fighter again. It had managed to subdue the Tsareena, but wasn't paying attention to the large Milotic looming over it. It reacted too late and got nastily scalded. I heard its shout of pain, before it fainted. The Nidoking rushed to take its place, but...

 

"You can't win." Solaris asserted. "Don't flee your reality."

 

Indeed I couldn't, I thought.

 

"Mouse, come back." Please, please, let it work...

 

"And now you won't be afraid? Garchomp, the same."

 

I called Mouse back, knowing I needed her again, and called out she whom it hurt even more to send to slaughter. 

 

"Sorry, Leaf..." I managed to whisper, as the Garchomp slammed into her, throwing her to the ground so hard it cracked. "I'm so sorry..."

 

"Raichu, Thunderbolt!" Victoria commanded. I heard a bird shrieking in pain, but I couldn't afford to lose focus.

 

"Mouse, come on out, now!"

 

"Again?" Solaris sneered. "Just what do you hope to accomplish? Garchomp, finish it."

 

wtFsE63.png

 

"Mouse, Baby-Doll Eyes."

 

Tears came to my eyes as I saw the merciless dragon brutally beat down Mouse, while she only took on her most defenseless, hurt look. Anyone else would have been moved, but Solaris wasn't.

 

"There is no escape." he asserted sternly.

 

That's what I want you to believe.

 

"Tech, I'm sorry." my voice broke. "Reflect."

 

Again, Tech managed to set up the barrier before Solaris's emblem Pokemon struck him, but it was a weak protection for a weak Pokemon, against a beatdown which sembled more and more brutal. That Garchomp sure was inhumane.

 

Please make it enough, I prayed. Don't let it end like this...

 

"Quickbeam!" I called my last Pokemon, my last hope, the one I had prepared when I was too scared of such a threat. All the rest had just been a setup -- if anyone could resist the Garchomp's supposedly weaker blows, it would be him... "Will-o-wisp."

 

The Garchomp rushed at his new enemy, all claws out, ready for the kill, and my throat was probably completely blocked by a giant lump. And I saw the small flame move around ominously, touch the dragon's skin...

 

And for the first time, Solaris's Garchomp roared in pain before me. While Quickbeam was still able to fight.

 

"Hmph. Is that how it is, then? Entertain yourself. Garchomp, dispose of that tree."

 

"Leech Seed!"

 

KvUzL8G.png

 

Quickbeam managed to hit the Garchomp as it was biting him, with flames of rage surging from his mouth. And Quickbeam still stood. Barely.

 

"Sorry, Quickbeam," I muttered, while I took a Revive and gave it to Mouse. "Sorry Mouse," I whispered to myself.

 

I forced myself to watch the Garchomp's final attack, another Dragon Rush which left its breath faster. At least I was giving it a workout.

 

"Mouse, your turn!" I commanded, ignoring Cain's shout, and proceeded to give Quickbeam a Max Revive, still while forcing myself to watch the Garchomp slam into Mouse, throw her to the ground, lacerate her flank...

 

"Come back, Mouse." I was on the verge of crying. But I couldn't. Not yet.

 

"Sorry for this, Quickbeam, but you're back. Curse!"

 

The curse hit the Garchomp mid-jump, as it was furiously battering the Trevenant, its huge power finally dulled to tolerable levels. Even the sight of its fury was disgusting me, and I took profit of the opportunity to give Mouse another Revive, and peek at the other battle. I saw Victoria's Pangoro punch a Mightyena in the face, and Cain's Alolan Marowak hit with all the strength of its bone a Venomoth's wing, downing the Bug Pokemon. And then rocks started falling on that Marowak.

 

zaT1Hmp.png

 

"You cheater!" Cain protested.

 

"Who's setting the rules here?" Taka shrugged, his Minior flying near him.

 

"Hariyama, go!" the Meteor Dame sent out.

 

"Mouse," I remembered to call her out, "We did great weakening that thing, now Take it Down!"

 

Mouse didn't look too convinced, but she faithfully -- thank you, Mouse, thank you, I'm so sorry for that -- sped and sped and hit the charging Garchomp... only to find herself on the losing side. The Garchomp was visibly growing more tired now, its breathing was more audible and much faster. But its anger was precisely commensurate to that, and it furiously dogged (sorry, I'm so sorry) Mouse, while I gave yet another Revive to Leaf.

 

I only had two left now. But I knew what I had to do.

 

"Sorry again, Mouse. Leaf, come on out, Double Kick it!"

 

I realized I had over-estimated how fit the Garchomp remained when I saw it not make a gesture, patiently wait for Leaf to come. In a lightning-fast move, it struck Leaf's leg mid-kick, completely unbalancing her and having her crash to the ground.

 

"Pathetic." Solaris tssked me.

 

Leaf rose again, with difficulty, and, her rage renewed, kicked the Garchomp again. It let out a gasp, and replied in a fashion as brutal as usual, its arm striking Leaf on her neck, bringing her down again.

 

It was getting harder and harder to me to Revive Pokemon to send them back into battle, only to be dismissed by the Garchomp's unmatched raw power. I had successfully weakened it, but perhaps the limiting factor was my psyche rather than how many Revives I had, or how long the Curse would need to take effect.

 

But I didn't have a choice. By agreeing to this demented plan, I had accepted the consequences. It didn't matter if I lost the battle. But I had to win the war, because no one else would.

 

I had given, while watching, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, a Revive to Quickbeam. There was little time left for me.

 

"Fight fair, you coward!" Victoria snarled. "Alright, Mienfoo, you can do this, Fake Out this Heliolisk and then punch it out."

 

5Yalyhm.png

 

I glanced at the battle field. Taka's Gligar was flying back to him, and Victoria was replacing her fainted Pangoro with a Mienfoo, while Cain's Alolan Marowak was wearily trading blows with the Meteor Dame's Hariyama.

 

"Do you understand now?" Solaris asked, his voice harsh, his eyes unforgiving.

 

"Quickbeam... it's all up to you now!"

 

Seeing the Pokemon who had most hurt him, the Garchomp lost its discipline and started to avenge itself. Every blow was weakened, and I had trained Quickbeam to be tough, but they looked frighteningly powerful, and I could see the tremors of pain that Quickbeam let through its sturdy facade. I first gave Tech a Revive -- my last one -- I thought, feeling sick with nervousness and terror, and then I kept spraying open cans of Lemonade at him -- these long-range sprays were wasteful, but great, I realized. How bad it would have all turned if I had to walk over to Quickbeam each time I wanted to heal him?

 

"Muk, Gunk Shot!" Cain commanded, and I glanced at his Alolan Muk which sent a massive amount of garbage towards a Serperior. 

 

And I kept giving Quickbeam Lemonades. The Garchomp's moves were losing efficiency, but that was compensated by the added brutality. Quickbeam couldn't last very long anymore.

 

5ZzJBzP.png

 

"Oh well. Sorry about that, guys." Taka said. "Minior, Chatot, come on."

 

I finally used my last Lemonade. I couldn't delay it anymore. It would have to be good enough.

 

"Quickbeam," I whispered, hoping it could hear me, "Destiny Bond."

 

"No! No!" Victoria shouted. "I can't hold on anymore... Go on, Cain, here's a Revive!"

 

"Take it. I still have Primarina!"

 

I didn't look because I was too focused on the Garchomp, checking that the final blow it dealt to Quickbeam... somehow hurt it as well. As Quickbeam fell, his enemy, the one I had been battling for an eternity... was panting.

 

"Tech, Fake Out."

 

k3FqEeo.png

 

The Garchomp wasn't lucid enough to avoid the move, but it certainly didn't deal much damage.

 

"Reflect."

 

Tech re-raised the energy barrier. The Garchomp gathered its wits again. It shook its head and growled wildly.

 

"Psychic. Read it, Tech. Please, read it and dodge it."

 

"Take that, you cheating asshole." Cain grunted, as I heard another Gunk Shot landing on a Pokemon.

 

I heard Victoria's Incineroar's battle cry again.

 

The Garchomp took one step forward. Then another, much faster one. Darn it. It was so imposing. So impressive. A deadly hunter. And it just wouldn't stop killing. It pounced towards Tech.

 

"Minior, Rock Slide." Taka instructed. "Exeggutor, Wood Hammer."

 

The Garchomp's entire claw went straight at Tech's neck. Please, Tech...

 

He... dodged it, by approximately nothing. And struck back with Psychic. The Garchomp roared with pain, trying clumsily to get revenge on Tech, but Tech was out of reach... and its balance was wavering.

 

"No..." Victoria's choked voice broke. "It's impossible..."

 

And the giant, the strongest, the deadliest of the foes I had battled so far, fell. Holy sweet... Whew.

 

"You... beat him, Gabriel?" Victoria asked in a small voice.

 

"He did." Solaris acknowledged, his voice as powerful. "However, it is inconsequential."

 

"What do you mean, inconsequential?" Cain turned to us. "It's a battle that you lost!"

 

"Gabriel won," Solaris turned back to me, "against a single one of my Pokemon. It took him an effort he cannot expand any more, and you cannot hope to help him. I have five more of them, every one as deadly as Garchomp... and eager for revenge."

 

Of course. And that had been -- I barely repressed a shudder -- the easy part.

 

"I will admit that your stubborness is impressive. You saw me in action, and prepared, with your little means, should our paths meet again. That is commendable. However..." he called back the fainted Garchomp, which he replaced with a Tyranitar which made me just as uncomfortable. It was the Pokemon who had beaten Amaria up, after all. "I cannot allow this to continue. You know for yourself that your effort is doomed."

 

Yes, that one was. But the cavalry was there. It had to be, otherwise... it was over. For us and Apophyll.

 

"All four of you, Gabriel, and your little companions, and... Cal, is it? Leave at once. Desist, and I will not pursue. "

 

3XmaRsP.png

 

Oh god. Was he offering us a way out? Or was it trickery?

 

Was there an actual way out of this trap?

 

"Like hell we will!" Victoria shouted defiantly.

 

"Tyranitar, if they haven't left in five minutes, kill them." Solaris stopped watching us.

 

The sentence was laconic, heartless. It wasn't as much a message to the Tyranitar than a message to us, really. Quit, or die. There was an awkward silence between the three of us.

 

"I think... we should comply?" I said, trying to sound uncertain. But I wasn't. I was scared, of course. But I wouldn't let the Tyranitar kill me. I'd leave first.

 

"Gabriel..." Cain sighed. "We've talked about this already today. We can't let it fail here. Apophyll is counting on us! We can't give in."

 

"And there's still time to save everyone here!" I replied, badly wanting to be sure of that. "If we die here -- because make no mistake, we're not going to make it if this guy actually tries to kill us..."

 

"We're together, we'll figure something out!" Victoria contradicted me.

 

"No we won't." I snapped back. "This Tyranitar landed Amaria in the hospital. And none of us is as tough, as strong as her. Please, Victoria. Please, Cain. Don't let your pride kill you."

 

"Gabriel..." Victoria said gently. "Sometimes you can't give in. Sometimes you have to look at evil in the face and stand up to it. Not comply. It leads to complacency, and soon enough you won't fight them, you'll work for them, believing it's for the greater good! I'm not doing that. Let them try to kill me."

 

"But if you do that," I pointed out, "you sentence Apophyll to burn. We can't prevent the PULSE from erupting. But we can still save the Apophyll people if we go down and warn them. We can still leave, and train, and fight Team Meteor another day. We can still save the children. But if we stay up here... Apophyll is destroyed. Noel, Anna, Charlotte, Shelly, Heather... they will remain in Meteor's power, because no one will ever think of looking for them."

 

"But Kiki..." Victoria argued.

 

"She's not here. You can save her... for a while... if you admit defeat and leave. Else, she'll die like us. Except that she'll burn in lava. Come on." I added with more decisiveness. Actually, all the decisiveness I could muster, as I felt them both unsure. "I don't like that Tyranitar's look."

 

And so our group of three -- well, four with the sulking, silent Cal -- slowly, hopelessly, started the disappointed hike down Pyrous Mountain, to spread the terrible news.

 

Did I say disappointed? Well, they certainly were. But I wasn't. Given Solaris's presence, it had gone on as smoothly as it could. I wasn't discouraged. I was nervous as fuck and I couldn't show it.

 

Please make it alright...

 

 

*****

 

After our first slow phase of descent, we picked up the pace quickly, moved by the urgency to go on and warn everyone off the volcano. We were climbing down fast, in silence, saving our breath to be fast. Victoria and Cain knew I had a motorboat that could help people get out. I had even left Kiki the key before climbing, saying it would be a waste of an opportunity. If only Cain had brought with him an army of Alolan Muks to transport people...

 

But perhaps even this wouldn't be enough, I realized. If this PULSE was like the others, such an eruption would be epic in scale. It would level everything to the ground, perhaps the smoke and debris would be enough to choke Reborn City... I really hoped I had made the right decision.

 

With every turn, every step, I could feel my nervosity increase. The volcano could erupt, raze everything at any moment, but... it couldn't happen, right? I had seen to it...

 

"Victoria." the voice pulled me from my thoughts, as we were down the mountain, perhaps five kilometers from the Academy. It was Kiki!

 

"Sensei..." Victoria answered, but her voice lacked conviction. I noticed she didn't managed to look her in the eyes.

 

"And Cal too. I assume that you were unsuccessful in defending the Academy?"

 

"I'm sorry, Kiki." Cal said for the first time. His voice was shaken. "They were just too strong. I couldn't beat them. They" -- he motioned at us -- "did remarkably well, but they couldn't have won."

 

"I see. And yet you are leaving the mountain, turning your backs on your task. May I know why?"

 

They turned to me. I didn't like how intense Kiki's stare was, and I lowered my eyes quickly. I knew I was supposed to feel shame, but I wasn't.

 

"Coward." she spat. "Saving your own skin first. Take your boat." she ordered in an unnaturally powerful and contemptuous voice. "Get off this island. Don't look back. Let me take them on."

 

ISVk72Z.png

 

"But Sensei..." Victoria protested. "You're..."

 

Kiki didn't pay her any heed, and strode off, lookingdetermined to finish the job we had failed. Seemingly failed. But I couldn't let her keep this misconception. Once again, I summonned all my assertiveness.

 

"Kiki, it's pointless. The PULSE is probably already dead."

 

"What?" Cal asked, in an absolutely dumbfounded voice.

 

Victoria and Cain were also giving me some very dubious glances.

 

"I am giving you two minutes to explain yourself." Kiki turning back, said in an icy voice.

 

"I..." I glanced around and lowered my voice, despite our surroundings being desert. "I'm sorry for the role I had you all play. But I feared that something might give us away. The entire fight in the crater was a ploy. A diversion. Its only goal was to give my sixth Pokemon " I called Crowphet, the Murkrow, out "enough time to sneakily get at the PULSE, and mutter a Perish Song in its ear for as long as possible, and leave without being spotted."

 

"You... went into danger... despite there being a safe plan?" Cain asked, outraged. "Not even telling us? With an ally such as you, we don't need Team Meteor!"

 

"It wasn't safe! The entire point of us going into the crater was to divert the Meteor's attention from the PULSE. They may blame it on a technical failure, because the effect is delayed, since PULSE Pokemon usually resist attacks better."

 

"You... didn't tell us, Gabriel." Victoria sighed, immense disappointment in her voice and visible in her eyes. "How do we even know you're not making this stuff up? How... how can we trust you after that?"

 

kYv5K4F.png

 

"Crowphet didn't fight Solaris. Yet I had it with me, and it knows Perish Song. Why would I not have used it, as a way to gain some time anyway?"

 

"Gabriel..." Cain chimed in. "It's ridiculous. You expect us to believe that it was all part of your plan anyway?"

 

"The idea," I explained again, not daring to look at them in the face -- I was too nervous and too ashamed -- "was that we needed a plan B if the Meteors at the top were stronger than us. A concern I raised to you, and which you dismissed. That was my plan. If it had to be enacted... If we died ensuring that Crowphet killed the PULSE before it erupted... I would have found it worthwhile. It turned out a bit better than that. That's all. "

 

 "But how do you know that it even worked?" asked Cal, his voice worried.

 

"I..."

 

How, indeed? The answer was one I didn't like.

 

"I don't know it. But Crowphet went to the PULSE -- I saw him going towards it, and I got him back afterwards... So what else would he have done? If you take into account the fact that the volcano still hasn't erupted..."

 

"Of course," I added, unable to stop myself, "this isn't sufficient to say that it worked all right. Perhaps Crowphet misunderstood me and didn't actually use the move, since we didn't spend that much time together -- a bit, but not too much. Perhaps the Perish Song will take too long to act. Perhaps it wasn't strong enough to begin with -- although I think Crowphet took his time and the PULSE wasn't moving, so I think it would work..." my voice trailed off again, lost in hypotheticals, and worried.

 

"There's something I don't understand." Cain asked. "Why not have the Murkrow openly use the Perish Song?"

 

"Er..." Why had I wanted to do that again?  "We don't know how tough the PULSE was. But if Crowphet had started doing this openly, he'd have been immediately shot down by every Pokemon of Team Meteor without the attack dooming the Camerupt. And also," I realized, "we would have looked more like serious threats rather than wannabes, so they might have simply killed us. Really, it was a plan B if the Meteors at the top were too strong -- as they were. The goal wasn't to defeat them in any meaningful way, but getting the best chances of destroying the PULSE."

 

"So all you did on the top..." Victoria asked in a small, pensive voice. "I still don't... Why not tell us?"

 

I realized that I wasn't sure myself. But I gave an attempt at a sincere explanation. "Because I wanted Team Meteor to believe us beaten, powerless, despairing, harmless. I'm not sure if we could have maintained the pretense if we all knew what Crowphet was doing. And because..." it hurt to say it, and I owed her sincerity. But I couldn't bring the words past my mouth. "Because I didn't want to let your hopes up too high. I had hoped it would work, but it was safer to assume it didn't."

 

I didn't tell her the other reason I thought of. Because I didn't think she'd have listened to me. She didn't seem to believe that she could fail to defeat Team Meteor. She hadn't seemed to understand the need for a plan B beforehand.

 

"I see." Kiki muttered after another pause. "Perhaps I owe you an apology."

 

"No need for one. I'm certainly a coward." I admitted. "But I agree there are things worth dying for. I just would rather... die on my terms, to enable a better way out of a predicament, than to fight for a cause that cannot win."

 

"And you mastered your fear. Perhaps this is an accomplishment worthy of the Machine for Strength."

 

"Is it?" I asked skeptically. Surprisingly, the idea didn't please me.

 

"It could be... I would need to think it over... and of course, that your plan succeed."

 

That was obvious. But I was less reassured than I was trying to be. I probably was trying to convince myself that it had worked.

 

 

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

 

It turned out that during the last hour of the way back, the volcano didn't explode either. That should have made me happy. But instead, it merely racked my nerves, torturing me with the tantalizing hope that my ploy may have saved Apophyll. Kiki was leading the way to the Academy, Cal was a bit behind her, and Cain and Victoria were chatting, all of them easily fifty meters in front of me and my sore legs.

 

And yet, two days ago, Victoria had been walking here from Reborn City.

 

I also had the feeling that they somehow weren't too pleased with the situation, which I could understand. I wasn't, either. Both the hope of saving the Academy, and the dread of having doomed it because my plan hadn't worked were playing havoc with my mind. Not to mention the memories of having to send my Pokemon, companions alongside whom I had been fighting for my life, to be sliced, beaten up, injured, butchered by that fell Garchomp. I had sent them to their own torture, and they had done it bravely, not knowing that their own battle had been a sham, for the purpose of distracting Solaris for as long as possible.

 

"Are you coming, Gabriel?" Victoria enquired, polite but little more.

 

All of them had reached the wooden gate of the Academy, and I was still lagging behind, but it was no more than a few dozen steps.

 

"Look!" Cain frowned, pointing above my head.

 

I hurried on, glancing up to see what he had spotted.

 

I froze instantly, my mind sending frantic and contradictory orders (and counter-orders) to my body, which reacted in his own way. Without doing anything, I felt my heart rate speed up by a lot.

 

The Chatot landed between me and the rest of the group, staring at everyone else, then focusing on me.

 

And then, it spoke in an unmistakable human voice.

 

Solaris's voice.

 

I know it was you, Gabriel, it said. And I am coming.

 

 

 

Player's note: 

Spoiler

It might have been fun to give you screenshots about the Solaris battle. But actually I messed up the Trevenant's movepool (Forest's Curse over Curse is a terrible idea) so I simply Prankster Perish Songed the Garchomp instead of going the slower way (curse/leech seed/will-o-wisp/attack drops and then whatever took it down). 

 

Trevenant turned out very handy for Kiki, but that's for another time.  

 

Character rates:

Spoiler

Kiki: 5.5/10 (+0.5). While I don't appreciate the insults, she had reason enough to throw them. Points for determination to finish the job.

Taka: 1/10 (-1.5). He cheated in a Pokemon battle. What the heck kind of game is he playing? And why is his Chatot the conduit for --

Solaris: -3/10 (-2). Ohgodohgodohgod. 

 

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And the plot has been derailed and I love it. This is the kind of stuff I live for in these screenshot/written Pokemon stories. I was half expecting this story to just go the way of canon, but the trick with Crowphet was brilliant. So was the battle with Solaris, it was tense as all hell and was made retroactively all the more so by the fact that the whole endeavor was a hair away from complete disaster.

 

 

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