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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.
      0
  2. 2. Should I keep uploading pictures for main battles?

    • Yes, keep them about the in-game battles.
      7
    • Try and post some about how the battles are narrated.
      5
    • No, the story is self-sufficient.
      1

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So Kiki's still alive and Solaris is personally hunting Gabriel now, interesting. I'm excited to see how this progresses. I also loved the trick with Murkrow, I was wondering why Gabriel only used five mons.

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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

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.

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

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On 12/20/2020 at 4:16 PM, Dex said:

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.

 

Thank you for your comment and for reading! I'm very glad you liked it. 

 

Apophyll is a decent way to add some stakes and emotion to what is mostly a glorified detour, but in my opinion it's still strange. The heroes know at this point that there are forces in Team Meteor that they cannot hope to defeat, and they still charge in. It's admirable in bravery but does not actually reach the goal. Hence Gabriel's trick. 

 

To be honest, I'm not very comfortable derailing canon too much at this point, because it's always a hair away from disaster, and keeping all the pieces in place after the butterfly effect strikes may be harder than I can handle. Altering motivations for events, or what precisely happens (a bit like what I did at the Orphanage, or perhaps the Corey fight or Blacksteam) is fine. Anyway, Gabriel has enough tricks up his sleeve that canon will be left behind... at some point. So unfortunately, for now, it'll be the same trends as canon plotlines.  

 

 

On 12/20/2020 at 6:25 PM, TheHellHamster said:

So Kiki's still alive and Solaris is personally hunting Gabriel now, interesting. I'm excited to see how this progresses. I also loved the trick with Murkrow, I was wondering why Gabriel only used five mons.

 

Thank you for your comment and for reading! 

I guess you have your answer now (for the five mons). As for how this progresses, I'll upload the answer within a few days (that finale is hard to get right). 

 

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So I commented again, since in my last comment, I went a little off the track...😅

 

So first I'm glad, that Kiki is alive (for now on) and I feel Gabriel's sanity slowly fading away since that battle. Also he embodied very feeling, the newcomers had to pull off strategists against that Garchomp😖

 

But sadly- at some twists- Arceus is going to take Kiki's life to sacrifice herself for Gabriel maybe... And Vicky probably hating him for that... Ouch...

 

But it's just a guess, maybe or I'm really a Psychic after all😅😂

 

So Merry Christmas and an apology for overreacting at the children's current situation... I'm just worried for their safety that's all...

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On 12/24/2020 at 9:16 PM, Evi Crystal said:

He embodied very feeling, the newcomers had to pull off strategists against that Garchomp😖

 

 

Yes. Honestly I can't see the point, worldbuilding-wise, of cheese strats. Why on earth wouldn't everyone use them against enemies outside their level, especially when a Pokemon battle can have a lot of stakes? So I needed some serious drawbacks, which I tried to make. Namely, they take a lot of time to take effect, they're not as effective as they should against stronger Pokemon, and so on...

 

  

Quote

An apology for overreacting at the children's current situation... I'm just worried for their safety that's all...

It's okay, and they'll live (at least, I currently have no plan or reason to kill them off if the game doesn't).

 

 

Merry Christmas (or happy holidays) to all of you who read this post!

This is the last chapter of the fic  of Part 2. There'll be a significant hiatus afterwards (don't count on the next chapter being in less than a month), I need to flesh out my ideas for Parts 3 and 4.

Also I have late homework and I really need to settle on a thesis topic but it's not as relevant

 

Enjoy...

 

 

A little note about the pictures: the layout of the first floor (or second for American readers, I meant the lowest floor which wasn't more or less ground level) that I'm viewing for the Academy isn't the one on the pictures. I'm thinking something more motel-like (sorry for the comparison), a covered corridor with rooms, and a railing. 

 

 

Chapter 45: Dereliction

 

Spoiler

Shit.

 

 

My heart sped up yet again, and I started shivering uncontrollably out of overwhelming terror.

 

I should have seen it coming, I thought helplessly. I certainly had read fictional works describing similar situations. A group of small-scale adventurers turning into heroes, thwarting an evil overlord's insane master plan, wasn't exactly a niche trope. But somehow, I hadn't thought that Team Meteor could retaliate. That they'd be dumb enough to not connect the dots, even though I knew they had futuristic technology. You moron.

 

But now, what could I do? I had just fought Solaris, I knew I didn't have the slightest hope if we wanted me gone. Kiki, Cal, Cain, Victoria... the entire Academy couldn't protect me. I was alone.

 

It would be best for almost everyone involved that I left the Academy, walked to Team Meteor's wrath calmly and resignedly, took the lethal blame for the deception. And while I understood that in some sort of not-quite-subconscious autopilot, my body was like frozen, incapable of motion, only able to dread the deadly outcome.

 

"It's okay, Gabriel," Victoria went to me, in a determined tone. "We're not letting them get to you."

 

"Go hide him, Victoria." Kiki agreed. "And then, come back. We need a plan."

 

With a brisk pace, Victoria crossed the entrance hall of the Academy and went towards the corridor on the right. I was following her resignedly, as in a dream, indecisiveness, panic, powerlessness numbing my will. Yet I was aware on some purely intellectual level, not strong enough to overcome my shock and terror, et alone compel me to talk or move on my own will, that the right thing to do was "not endanger the Academy and leave". She stopped before a small room that looked like a closet full of cleaning supplies.

 

"When you'll have emptied it, you'll find a trapdoor on the bottom. Open it and slip below. I'll put everything back in place afterwards. Nobody will find you there."

 

Doing something, even of so little significance, did me some good. But as soon as I was below the trapdoor, lying in the quite narrow space between the wooden floor of the Academy and the dust it was built over, amid many wooden stilts that further constrained my motion, terror started again asserting its crushing weight on my soul.

 

I was hidden, but certainly not safe. What if they found the trapdoor? Then I wouldn't be able to escape. Same if they -- gulp -- burnt the Academy down as they had intended to. What a horrific way to die... I shuddered and started to waiting in a heavy silence.

 

 

*********

 

It wasn't very long afterwards that a brutal knock shook the front door of the Academy.

 

"Open!" a powerful feminine voice shouted from outside.

 

Victoria, alone in the entrance hall, Cal, Cain and Kiki being at other places, half-opened the door, and her heart missed a beat when she realized who was outside. Two Meteor Dames, the ones she had fought earlier, and the leader's son, with an Alolan Exeggutor, were standing behind the Academy's gate, looking grim in the dimming sunlight.

 

"What do you want?" Victoria made no attempt at concealing her well-motivated hostility.

"We want the boy." one of the women demanded threateningly. "Gabriel."

"No." Victoria snapped back.

"Don't be silly."

"He isn't here."

"We saw him going inside. "

"Get out."

"If we do not come back with him, the boss will be very angry at you. He gives you five minutes to expel Gabriel from these walls. Otherwise, there will be no negociation."

"Let him come." Victoria replied.

"You will regret your decision." Taka concluded in a grim voice.

 

 

*********

 

 

The Meteor Leader's Staraptor slowed down as it arrived near the Academy, flew over the walls, and dived. Solaris let go when he was a few feet over the empty courtyard, landing straight up, the sand having amortized his fall.

 

He watched the open-air corridors around him. He could see a Magmortar on one of them on his right, and caught a glimpse of a Medicham behind him. There was a Primarina in the corridor on his left, near that freaky boy with the makeup, and Alolan Muk and Marowak in the courtyard, glaring at him. They were waiting for him. Very well. They had been, and remained defiant, as his team had reported. Well, they would see now.

 

He emitted a loud peculiar whistle, and the Staraptor made a U-turn, suddenly speeding up, and charged at the Primarina, fainting it in a single hit.

 

"Excadrill," he added, sending out the monstrous Pokemon he wielded. "Drill Run. Scizor, Superpower."

 

Oh god, I thought when I heard the Team Meteor leader's voice. He was there! In the Academy... and attacking.

 

A few seconds later, both of Cain's Pokemon were unable to fight, and the Excadrill was flushing out and viciously beating up the Nidoking who had assumed it could manage a Dig-based sucker punch.

 

At least I was hidden where he couldn't see me...

 

"Excadrill, Scizor, return." Solaris added, satisfied with his entrance. "Garchomp, watch them."

 

"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" I heard Kiki's outraged voice as she reached the courtyard.

 

Z0xzfDd.png

 

But then Solaris may... no, he would take his frustration out on everyone else...

 

"Madam," Solaris said, his harsh voice somewhat smoothed, giving me shivers, "You are sheltering, in your Academy, a person whom Team Meteor is interested in. Hand him over, and I will depart in peace."

 

I was shivering in uncontrollable fear. I couldn't move. I was trapped. If Kiki decided to give me away for her Academy... But she wouldn't, right?

 

But then, what would happen to the Academy?

 

"I do not understand your words." Kiki replied in a harsher voice. "And, if I were to understand them, I would reject these terms. We do not help terrorists."

 

"Woman," Solaris snapped back, his voice with a rougher edge than before, so fierce that even I flinched. "You understand fully what this is about. If you do not hand Gabriel over, Team Meteor will hold you as his accomplices. We will kill every single one of you."

 

Kiki didn't answer. Oh God... Please go away, I begged. I'm not here, don't stay here.

 

I heard a louder knock, and Kiki asked, in an even more outraged tone: "Get out. Now!"

 

 

****

 

A massive punch shattered the door of the Academy. A massive thing rushed the entrance, slapping Victoria on the head so hard that she spun to the ground, letting out a shout of pain and surprise. She rolled to regain her balance, but it was too late, way too late. Meteors were swarming the entry of the Academy, at least a dozen of them.

 

They were already taking positions, in the hall. And that had been her fault.

 

"Okay, everyone," Taka said, "you know the orders. Now split. Sorry, miss, you go in the courtyard now. Or Tyranitar will make you."

 

t8glhAa.png

 

Half-heartedly, she made her way to the courtyard, her head almost dizzy at the brutality of the strike.

 

 

I had heard Victoria shout in the back, a shout of pain and surprise. What had happened?

 

"Everyone here!" Solaris rumbled. "You are sheltering an enemy of Team Meteor. You are required to move to the inner courtyard to not obstruct the investigations of my associates. You will not be molested if you comply with their orders, but resistance will be punished. Everyone in the courtyard. Now."

 

Of course, almost no one complied with the order itself, but there was no stopping the squads of Meteor agents that obediently started patrolling the corridors, knocking loudly at the doors, taking the too surprised residents, punching people who started resisting, and the courtyard started filling with a surprised, fearful rumor.

 

Victoria, one of the first people there, was watching it, filled with shame, sadness and worry. Shame that she hadn't been able to defend the entrance, and now, with the Garchomp glaring at her, she didn't feel like trying anything. Worry about what was going to happen next. An even greater worry when she saw the grunts take hold of Cal and forcefully move him to the courtyard, while Cain had got unlucky again and a vindictive-looking thug pushed him over the railing from the first floor.

 

Kiki had hinted she had a plan, but she wasn't too sure it would work out in this situation.

 

 

I didn't get any of this, of course. But I heard the regular boot noises on the floors, the Meteors patrolling the corridors and grabbing, pushing everyone in the courtyard. I heard the outraged shouts of the surprised dwellers. I felt the courtyard fill up with an anxious rumor.

 

Oh God... What happened if Team Meteor was rounding up these people... All because of my fault...

 

"We didn't find him, sir." the final four-man squad, entering the courtyard and spreading on its border, reported to Solaris.

 

"Fine." the Meteor leader said, his tone dark.

 

"Everyone here." he added, in a voice loud enough to draw the attention of everyone in the courtyard. The anxious, tense rumor stopped. Victoria studied anxiously, from his back, the Meteor leader.

 

"There is an enemy of Team Meteor hiding here. His name is Gabriel. I know that one of you has hidden him here. Does anyone want to reveal his location?"

 

Victoria didn't move.

 

I could but tremble when I heard Solaris's voice. The only reason why he had brought all these people there... all rounded... was because it would be easier to murder them. All of it because of me... And no one answered.

 

"Perhaps I have not made myself clear enough." Solaris went on, with only the absolute silence answering him. A silence made of embarrassment, cluelessness, incredulity and fear. "Kiki," he spoke to the Sensei again. "You know who hid him, if not where. If you do not tell me, I will be forced to demonstrate how serious I am."

 

p0EaU8j.png

 

Victoria didn't move, but her heartbeat sped up. She didn't like the turn the events were taking.

 

"This is Apophyll Academy here." Kiki answered, her voice overflowing with pride and contempt. "We do not give in to violence. And you made a grave mistake already."

 

"Ah?" Solaris asked mockingly.

 

"We are strongest when we are together." she said fiercely, staring straight behind the Meteor leader.

 

Was that a signal? I thought. Sounded like one. Were they about to kick the Meteors out? Finally?

 

Victoria saw a shadow above her head, glanced up to see Kiki's Medicham jumping towards the Meteor leader, ready for a kick.

 

"Magmortar, Shadow Ball!" I heard Cal shout.

 

5bKIiG5.png

 

Solaris didn't even glance at Cal's Pokemon, which was still somehow on Cal's former corridor, on the first floor. The ghost-type attack flew slightly over him, a bit behind him, hitting Kiki's Medicham mid-High Jump Kick, and propelling it against one wing of the Academy. Victoria saw its neck hit the railing at full speed. She thought she heard a snapping sound -- regardless, the Medicham fell to the ground, limp.

 

"Cal!" Victoria shouted, outraged. "What are you doing?"

 

I only heard Victoria's scream, not what had caused it. But I didn't like it one bit. Probably because Kiki's plan had failed. Because of Cal.

 

No... And if Kiki's plan had failed... that meant I was probably dead, one way or the other. And I could only learn of my fate by listening, powerless to alter it or escape it. If my own fear, and perhaps morbid fascination, wasn't locking me in place.

 

"Sorry, Victoria." Cal answered, his voice apologetic and low, his eyes avoiding her (and everyone's gaze). "I know this isn't what you thought of me. I guess I have a habit of not really being what people want me to be. Sorry... Kiki."

 

AabDYJu.png

 

God... Had Cal been working for the Meteors all along? I hoped Victoria hadn't told him my location.

 

"You're... betraying us?" Victoria asked in a broken voice.

 

"Woman." Solaris rumbled again, his voice stronger and angrier. "This will be the last time I ask, for your sake and your students'. Where is Gabriel?"

 

"Fuck you."

 

Victoria's blood ran cold from the swear word. She hadn't heard Kiki speak this way, not even once.

 

"Very well. Garchomp."

 

The dragon-bodied hunter moved in a blur, grabbed Kiki and held her tight. Its claw rested lazily against Kiki's neck.

 

"No!" Victoria screamed. "Let her go at once!"

 

What had... what had happened?

 

"I will count to three. If nobody has given up Gabriel's location in the meantime... Garchomp will slice the throat of your revered Sensei."

 

Victoria's heart went haywire. She couldn't give Gabriel up, but she couldn't let Kiki be killed, could she? What should she do, what could she do?

 

 

Oh god... Please no. I thought. Please give me up, Victoria. I didn't want anyone's blood on my hands. Please, Victoria... But I was too terrified to move. Too terrified to meet my fate. Too terrified to die like a good person ought to. To terrified to stand up to evil.

 

"One."

 

There was a heavy silence in the entire courtyard. Victoria's eyes were panickedly watching everywhere, until they locked with her mentor's. She couldn't bear to let her die. But Kiki, the Garchomp's claw bare against her neck, her eyes on Victoria, articulated: "I forbid you". After that she withdrew her eyes, and Victoria, heartbroken, made up her mind. If Kiki chose the hierarchy of values she wanted to uphold... who was she, still her student, to renege on her?

 

"Two."

 

It was unbearably painful to her, to see Kiki's life about to end in a second, while she had the power to prevent this. It brought tears to her eyes. But Kiki had spoken, and in this supreme instant, she could no more disobey than fly.

 

"Th-"

 

"Solaris, no!" Cal shouted. "Don -- Victoria knows."

 

I was almost catatonic with terror, unable to move or reveal myself, like a thing whose fate wasn't mine to decide anymore. Was that how powerful conservation instinct was?

 

"Is that so?" Solaris drawled. "Who is Victoria?"

 

Every eye in the courtyard turned to Victoria, but she waited until Solaris realized that, turning back to her, and staring at her like the others.

 

"So you are. Kiki's personal apprentice, are you?"

 

"What if I am?" she tried to sound confident and defiant.

 

"Where did you hide Gabriel?" Solaris asked, his voice severe as a stone, disregarding Victoria's entire stance as negligible.

 

tfz9TD9.png

 

Victoria glanced through her tearful eyes at Kiki, still in the Garchomp's hold, still with a deadly threat upon her. Kiki's face was adamant, her eyes uncompromising, her expression resolute.

 

I was feeling the enormous tension, compounded since I knew my life was in the balance and I was powerless to change it. Please, Victoria, don't sell me out.

 

"I didn't hide him."

 

Whew.

 

"Refuse me again, and your beloved Sensei will die. Think it over carefully."

 

Uh...

Please, Victoria... I didn't want blood on my hands. Just send me in, don't sentence Kiki to death...

 

"Victoria..." Cal said weakly. "Don't let Kiki..."

 

Victoria didn't even look at him. The traitor was dead to her. But she looked at Kiki, looked at her eyes, at her face. The memory of all her lessons, all her training sessions flashed before her tear-filled eyes. How Kiki had chosen her. And she could be her murderer?

How could she believe that?

How could she serenely envision this possibility?

 

"Sorry, Sensei... I can't." she sobbed. "Fine." she said Solaris.

 

Oh god. She's saving Kiki. My heart beat furiously and I started feeling really sick. I wished I didn't have to die this way, but I didn't exactly have a choice.

 

"Excellent. Garchomp?"

 

A simple gesture, almost a loving caress on Kiki's neck, and blood spouted from a wide wound. Solaris's Garchomp let Kiki go, and she fell like a rag on the ground, her spilling blood slowly coloring the nearby sand.

 

"NO!" Victoria shouted, disbelieving and horrified, and sobbing. She started to rush towards the weakly convulsing body.

 

"Don't move." Solaris snapped with so much authority that Victoria froze in place, uncontrollably sobbing. "All who oppose Team Meteor will be silenced. She asked you to kill her; you disobeyed her, but I granted her wish regardless."

 

What? Oh no... Please don't kill Kiki...

 

"You... monster..." Victoria growled between the sobs she forced herself to repress.

 

"Now that you betrayed your teacher -" Solaris started again, half-mocking, half-threatening.

 

"Solaris!" Cal yelled.

 

Something in the young man's voice made the Meteor leader's head turn. Cal's eyes were bulging with rage, his face was brick red. He almost could see smoke out of that baby's wet ears.

 

"Why should you be upset?" Solaris asked, coldly contemptuous. "She would have died in the flames regardless. You knew this would happen."

 

Oh god... no.

 

"I -- I didn't want this!" Cal snapped. "I'm done with you, motherfucker."

 

"You coward." Solaris dismissed him.

 

A powerful Focus Blast exploded on his Tyranitar, fainting it on the spot.

 

"Hah. You're as weak as your brother advised, after all. And you've killed your own teacher."

 

VqTh270.png

 

A... brother? Cal had mentioned one, hadn't he?

 

"Don't you dare."

 

Even I could hear the anger, the hatred, the hurt that were in Cal's voice. What I didn't see was the Typhlosion and Charizard attacking the nearby Meteor grunts who had tried to draw Pokeballs, and the Fire Blast that went straight at Solaris, only to be tanked by the Garchomp who put itself straight between his master and the rage-boosted Fire-type attack.

 

"Team Meteor." Solaris said. "The mission is aborted. Retreat."

 

Oh god. A wave of relief flooded me. It was finally over, was it?

 

 

Cal tiptoed towards Victoria, who was kneeling by Kiki's body which was watering the sand of the courtyard with her blood. She had given it her sweat and her will, her body and her mind... and now she was giving it her blood. He didn't intend for this spectacular disaster. He hadn't thought Solaris would kill Kiki just to make a point.

 

"Victoria..." he muttered, unsure of how to go.

 

"Proud of what you've done?" Victoria snapped back with venom, between two sobs.

 

"No..." he said, his voice afflicted. "I never meant --"

 

"Then what did you mean to happen?" Victoria started yelling in grief and fury. "Did you mean to destroy the Academy? All of Apophyll?"

 

"No, Victoria, I didn't --" he stammered.

 

"Did you want me dead, too?" she yelled.

 

This wasn't any more the moral outrage at Cal's actions, this was now Victoria believing that her crush had wanted her dead, and it hurt her so much.

 

"Vic --"

 

"You were lying to us the whole time, weren't you? You didn't care at all." Her outrage, her pain were becoming disgust and contempt.

 

"No --"

 

"Shut up! Don't talk to me! I don't," she almost stumbled on the words, "even want to look at you right now! Go away!"

 

 

******

 

 

"It's over, Gabriel, you know?" I heard Cain's hollow voice above the trapdoor. "You can come up."

 

"They're really gone?" I asked, feeling sick. Then I noticed his face. Apart from the blows that would probably leave a mark on his face for a while, his eyes were red.

 

"What happened? I couldn't see anything..."

 

Cain motioned at the courtyard, but didn't look in that direction. "It's..."

 

I followed the corridor back to the entrance, my balance still not very straight. I had a very bad feeling, due to the shouts I had heard, when I saw a dense pack of people in the courtyard. I felt even worse when I realized the overall mood wasn't cheerful. I walked through the crowd, to the empty space in the center -- so the pack of people was more of an annulus.

 

But Victoria crying, knelt over Kiki's body, was like a punch to the gut. Or a stab through the heart, perhaps. I had guessed it, perhaps... but seeing the body wasn't the same thing. And I knew it was all my fault.

 

I had come to her teacher for help and ultimately killed her instead. If I hadn't said anything... if I had surrendered... all these people... they wouldn't have been deprived of their model... their leader... who had been willing to die for them... die for me... who didn't deserve it... She had been right after all, I thought. In the end, at the time for decisive action, I really was a coward. Someone who let other people die to save his own hide.

 

Victoria raised her swollen red eyes. She did not seem surprised to see me there.

 

"I'm sorry, Victoria." I mumbled, my voice slurred, my eyes filling with tears of shame more than mourning, unable to meet hers. "I'm... so sorry."

 

"Gabriel..." she sighed. "Please, just fuck off."

 

Her request, her tone didn't surprise me.

I didn't object.

 

Why would I even believe I deserved any better?

 

 

 

                                                                                                                               To be continued...

 

Character rates:

Spoiler

Cal: 3/10. (-3) He worked for Team Meteor the entire time? But... he ultimately saved me, didn't he?

Victoria: 10/10. I'm so, so sorry...

Kiki: 8/10 (+3). She... sacrificed herself to save me. I didn't deserve it. I'm so... so sorry. And ashamed

Solaris: -5/10 (-2). Need I say more...

 

Death count:

Spoiler

Start-Julia: 4

    Mosswater: 1

    Julia: 3

Julia-Florinia: 0

Florinia-Corey: 2

    Corey: 2

Corey-Shelly: 0

Shelly-Shade: 0

Shade-Kiki: 1

    Blacksteam!ZEL: 1

Total Part 2: 1

Total: 7

 

Player's note:

Spoiler

So that Kiki battle was quite close, even though I had rather decent mons. 

 

1w2ENoK.png

 

VZ3Pm6e.png

They reply with Payback.

 

dbe6CIP.png

 

TNFO6vE.png

Another Payback -- but we used Psychic. 

 

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We can't beat it like this, we need to set-up.

 

PgAosjn.png

Uh oh. Psychic with Twisted Spoon should still kill, right? 

 

UkyjmFl.png

Please, please...

 

BXwTyq6.png

Oh well (that's a 12 percent roll actually). And of course it's HP Dark...

 

 od94N9Q.png

Oof. If I recall correctly I wondered whether to set up again (because Kiki would heal) or attack. I decided to attack.

 

EaVBr1L.png

Another Psychic well-applied, of course. 

 

sSyDuKs.png

I switch to Mouse on the Fake-Out turn of Hitmonlee to get the Intimidate off.

 

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Uh oh.

 

6fksyzP.png

I've got this, right?

 

E50BJZr.png

RIGHT?

 

fkMLyG9.png

I Leech Seeded, I think. ...This is going to hurt, isn't it?

 

ynZiZfX.png

Oof. Time for another Intimidate.

 

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It's too strong, I need its attack to be lower...

 

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Oops. 

 

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tCFSTIC.png

That was another Knock Off. And of course there's no way this will work, right?

 

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I'm not complaining.

 

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At last.

 

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Um, Sucker Punch is coming, isn't it?

 

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Why did I even do that again?

 

OHHNazX.png

No Sucker Punch this time, and the later one won't kill, now will it?

 

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No Sucker Punch at all. Suits me. Goodbye, Croagunk.

 

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I can win this, right? With no EVs and the field, Psychic is a 2HKO and High Jump Kick isn't a kill because Reflect.

 

 tdVO4Rk.png

Ah. Didn't count on that one. 

 

bR3MTOu.png

Welp, I tried. It doesn't matter actually.

 

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I used Air Slash because I didn't think Psychic killed.

 

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And that's another Ba -- oh wait.😢

 

 

 

Author's note: 

Spoiler

So yes, Evi called it. Kiki's dying here, sorry to all of you who thought she'd make it. But everyone is going to hate themselves and at least someone else for this. Isn't it a great return on investment? 

Gallows humor aside, I don't think Kiki and her terminal illness can play much more of a role, especially as the plot lies now rather east and north. So at least she died for something. 

 

I also apologize for letting some of you believe that Solaris would go on hunting Gabriel down personally. That is not going to happen, for a simple obvious reason: Gabriel wouldn't survive it. Team Meteor is frightfully incompetent when it comes to PULSEs, but with accomplices in high places, an underground presence in the city, and at least Solaris who could curb-stomp a few Gabriels if he were actually trying, there's no way they'd manage to not kill him if they specifically tried. 

 

Another thing which I don't think I'll mention, about Cal's Magmortar. No one in the story is going to ask the obvious practical question of how it managed to avoid attention. The Magmortar managed to remain hidden by being above the Meteors, bracing itself at the ceiling. 

 

Finally, why did Solaris kill Kiki when Victoria gave in?

The general reasoning I gave him is as follows. You want someone to do something they really don't want. So you threaten them, and if it doesn't work, threaten the ones they care about. They finally break, and comply, and live a little double-life (they feel ashamed of) for a while. But if they're strong enough, they'll try and pull their life together -- leave, rebel ... or something else. So you sever their ties to a normal life. Not only will they have betrayed their judgement and what they stood for, but they'll have to do it for nothing and they're all alone now. 

The same thing plays out here: Solaris threatens Victoria to kill Kiki unless she speaks, and Kiki explicitly, in front of everyone, forbade her to do so. Victoria breaks, cannot fulfill Kiki's command, in front of everyone. And Solaris kills the Sensei to make her overt betrayal irrevocable. Since he's the strongest around, Victoria has little choice but to comply now. 

Of course, that's not counting on an enraged Cal. Remember, he probably at least beat Shelly up for something she said. This is righteous fury in reaction to Kiki's murder, Cal would burn Solaris and everyone else to ashes, or at least try. Solaris thinks he can still win but isn't too willing to take chances for the rest of his squad (Taka for instance). 

 

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  • 2 months later...

I'm back!

 

And thank you for your patience (I've seen the view counter grow, we're past 9,500 views now, and we're getting near a very impressive round number...). I hope you've been doing well -- or as well as you could in these, er, eventful times. 

 

For a certain definition of back, anyway. I've been busy over the past months and I haven't written much. I'm still unclear about what happens at some points (say, the Aya battle, to convey how little I advanced, but it's not the only one). But now that my situation is stabler (speaking in relative terms at least) than in the past three months, I think it's time to start posting again. And if chapters don't come on schedule because my buffer isn't as filled as before... then I'll be late. 

 

To be honest, I was a bit uncertain about how to go back to the story. I'll be honest and say that we're going back to a slower pace for the three following chapters at least. Some events have consequences and I think it's important to procrastinate writing when I don't know what to write explore how a few characters are doing after the events at Apophyll. To be even more honest, I don't know how good a decision that was (or how good the subsequent writing is). You'll judge, I guess. (Did I mention that I welcome comments and feedback?)

 

Here comes...

 

 

Part 3: Mind Games

 

 

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

 

 

Chapter 46: The End of the Day

 

Spoiler

I went back to Amaria's motorboat in some sort of autopilot. It barely registered when Cain said something about staying for the funeral. I was still overwhelmed with shame, more than grief, and (understandably, perhaps) dwelling on what had just happened.

 

It was my fault. And I should have seen it coming. When had I got the notion that we just needed to destroy the PULSE? That Team Meteor would simply leave afterwards, when they could have slitted all our throats far more easily? That so humiliating a trick wouldn't earn a bloody retaliation?

 

We should have been able to plan a defense. We had numbers, we knew the field. We should have been able to manage, with so many people to help. Our desperate situation, our will to protect, could have granted us a further insight -- like it unfailingly did in every story. Which was of course a stupid way to reason. 

 

But we couldn't. And worse... I had fled. I had hidden. Like the coward that I was. Afraid of my own responsibility. So afraid of death that I had been willing to get blood on my hands.

 

Even though the blood on my hands was metaphorical, even by the standard of the saying.

 

I had let die she who protected me. Now despise me.

 

Little wonder Victoria wouldn't want to see me. And I couldn't show my face at the funeral. Perhaps some might call it ungratefulness -- but it was shame, simple as that.

 

I couldn't say that I had so far been a blameless person. Far from it -- but I had strived for that. As much as I knew how, as much as I could, I had tried to be a good person. To help and give, never demand. Never to be petty or harmful, as much as I managed, or even realized. That attempt, that longing... one stroke had shattered it, tainting my soul with another person's blood.

 

How can you grab your self-esteem, your morality back, after you threw someone else under the bus to save your skin?

 

Without thinking about anything, in a sort of mental fog that left me indifferent to everything outside, I walked in the motorboat, sat at the driver's seat, and left the island.

 

 

"I was wondering if you'd show up."

 

 I started, recognizing the speaker's voice -- but where did it come from? I hadn't seen anyone in the boat.

 

"I crouched low. You didn't pay attention." Cal explained.

 

It didn't matter so much, did it?

 

"Why are you here?" my voice sounded dull to my ears. I didn't really care about the answer. If he was trying to regain standing with Meteor... I couldn't claim to deserve any better.

 

"I needed a way back to Reborn City. That was the fastest one."

 

I didn't know what to answer. How could he be so practical at a time like this? Then again, perhaps I actually was being practical too. Grieving and burying Kiki wouldn't get us the Badge allowing the use of Strength, that Cain had said he'd get from Victoria.

 

"I also needed to talk and I figured you'd be the only one to let me."

 

"I'm sorry?" I asked him, with a lot of resignation and a little spark of indignation, which I carefully stifled. I had lost all right to this feeling.

 

"I didn't want this to happen. I never wanted it to come so far."

 

"And yet... you worked for it." I pointed out in as soft a voice as his.

 

"Do you know what they do to you if you try to leave? If you rebel?" Cal's tone had raised. "That's why I tried to sabotage it a couple of times."

 

"Did you?" I asked, vaguely interested.

 

"The second one... was another last ditch plan, like yours. I had messed up the PULSE's settings on purpose. It would never reach full capacity... instead it would overstrain the Camerupt's stamina much more and much sooner, and it would die without provoking an eruption."

 

"I see." I acknowledged the words, without committing myself to whether I trusted them. But surprisingly enough, I did. With such a sad, soft, remorseful voice, Cal could be an overworldly good conman if he wasn't being sincere.

 

"But then, your Murkrow... sped the process up. And raised Solaris's suspicion, I think."

 

"You think?" I questioned, astonished that he wasn't sure.

 

"I never was in contact with them after we left the crater. I was intended to... be myself and be useful in case I was needed by Team Meteor. So I don't know what happened up there. I guess they checked the PULSE data pretty thoroughly when the Camerupt died and they figured out the effect of the Perish Song. And guessed it came from when Cain, Victoria and you were facing them. And you're the only unknown quantity of them... to Team Meteor at least. "

 

"An unknown quantity." I remarked.

 

"You seem to be mostly useless and frightened to death in earnest confrontation, they say. But you've now destroyed five PULSE machines. Victoria is Kiki's personal student and a frequent acquaintance of Ame's, Cain is a former reserve Gym Leader... so they'll have dug up at least a little something about them. Not about you."

 

"I'm not sure I know much about myself either." I answered in a very, very small voice after a long break. He didn't answer back for a long time, and I let him be. Until I prompted him on a subject he hadn't really expounded on.

 

"You said this was your second attempt?"

 

"Yes." Cal answered. "The first one... now I know it was doomed to fail. But I didn't know then. It's a long story."

 

"We have time." I pointed out. The sail to Reborn City was nearly an hour.

 

"Alright..." Cal started, taking a deep breath. "I told you about my brother Blake, didn't I?"

 

"He was the praised one and you were in his shadow, right?" I answered after a pause to collect my memories.

 

"Yes. So I trained Fire Pokemon to counter his Ice-types... and I joined Team Meteor because he was there. I was always trying to one-up him, you see."

 

Yes, I supposed I could see that. Perhaps this was how my younger brothers saw me? But they were capable of so much that I couldn't do...

 

"I understand you met a Gym Leader named Shelly, correct?"

"Uh..." I hesitated. How was that relevant? "Yes..."

"You know that she and a few other children..."

"Got kidnapped by Team Meteor? Yes."

 

"They're in the old Yureyu building, which can only be accessed through the tunnels of the old railnet." Cal explained quickly. "There were earthquakes years ago, and this building sunk and partially collapsed. Enormous crevices now surround it. At least if they haven't moved them."

"How do you -- oh right." I cut myself off.

"Anyway, about Shelly. You've noticed how she's... shy, didn't you?"

"Yes..." I said uneasily.

 

"It's a lot my fault." Cal shrugged sadly. "I used to watch over her, even though I belonged to Team Meteor and I was a Gym Leader. We could relate to one another, as younger siblings scorned by their elder brothers. Back then... I was always full of rage. Shelly understood that, and she understood that Blake was the reason."

 

Cal took an audible breath. "But she didn't understand that my anger wasn't directed like hers, towards trying to earn his love. She said something backwards, and it set me off, and..." his voice grew shakier. "Perhaps you saw, or heard, when Solaris backed off?"

 

I nodded, unsettled.

 

"He understood too. He never was a fool. How could he be, when he raised so many..." Cal trailed off again. "Never mind. But he saw that I was getting enraged and backed off. But Shelly..." Again, Cal's voice was shaky, and raw, and his breathing was shorter and faster. "She didn't..."

 

Another deep breath.

 

"I reacted terribly. I regret hurting her more than anything else... until today. And still... because of that, I was able to change. Kiki helped me understand all this. But now... she's dead."

 

The words hurt me as much as they hurt him. He took another series of deep breaths.

 

"So, perhaps five months ago, I had been training very many Fire-types for Team Meteor. They had wanted them as tough as I could make them, in a very limited amount of time. I hadn't asked any questions... but then, I was finally starting to realize that I didn't care for Team Meteor's goals. So I dug up a little bit, and finally found out about that PULSE project. I wanted to stop it, but there was little I could do for that. It's not like I had an important role or anything."

 

He sighed.

 

"Mostly I was there to help the Pokemon grow as fast as possible. After several further rounds of hellish training, they tested the PULSE on the Pokemon, to see how they withstood the charge-up process. None fully did, and that amounted to hundreds and hundreds of test subjects, mostly Camerupts and Magcargos. I think they also tried to work with Magbys but I was never given one to train. So this meant that very many Fire-types were captured. I decided to raise awareness of this fact, hoping that the public would worry and Team Meteor would relent, but... I was too cautious. I didn't want them to come at me. Four months ago, I think, I discussed that kind of stuff with a family connection's acquaintance, who worked in biology. And then, months afterward, lo and behold, the infamous Apophyll Fires." he finally said, his voice sad and self-mocking. "No one took that seriously... No one at all."

 

I didn't find anything to answer.

 

"Please, Gabriel. Believe me. I never wanted anything like this."

 

"I can believe you." I answered after a silent minute. "I heard you plead to Victoria to give me in to save Kiki." I wasn't bitter or anything. I understood why he would have seen this as the better outcome. "And you finally drove them away, didn't you?"

 

Cal stayed silent.

 

The boat moved in silence in the declining daylight. Soon enough we would reach Reborn City, which we could already see in the distance. The air was starting to smell different, certainly worse. More polluted, maybe. I cautiously sailed it to the pier where I had taken it.

 

"Thanks for the ride." Cal mumbled as soon as it was over, moving to escape the boat.

 

I realized at this instant that I was going to be left to my own in a city where a terrorist organization was the dominant force, and their leader wanted me dead. And nightfall was coming.

 

"Wait, Cal." He froze before he could jump off the boat. "What are you going to do now?"

"I don't have anyone to turn to." Cal said sadly. "Team Meteor knows I betrayed them, and their enemies know me -- or soon will -- as a traitor, an undercover agent. They won't trust me, and for good reason. So I'll work on my own. Against Team Meteor."

"I... see."

"And you?"

"There are children kidnapped by Team Meteor that I have to save." I answered, trying to gather the shreds of my determination back.

"Good luck." Cal said, and then he jumped off the boat and started to walk into the Coral Ward.

 

Leaving me alone. 

 

Then he turned back.

 

"Gabriel?" 

"Yes?"

"I think Solaris is going to let it go. They were pretty busy even without that PULSE Camerupt, so he's other fish to fry than hunt you down. As long as you don't run into him, you shouldn't fear him too much."

 

I couldn't believe it. "Are you sure?"

 

"No." He acknowledged. "I'm not. But that's what I think."

"Thanks, Cal." I answered in a raw voice, after another silence.

 

It was past six in the evening and, according to the map, the new Poison Gym was deep in the Byxbysion Wasteland. It also said that it was a harsh place to walk in. And, all in all, after the insanity of this day... after the grunts, Taka, and Solaris, and... everything else, it wouldn't do any good to fight for a Gym battle tonight. So I mostly refilled my supplies (including candy bars), and went to bed early after a small training session with Hulu the Noibat (which I intended to use in the near future) and Antum the Klink (which would probably be useful in the upcoming Gym fight).

 

But at the end of the day, I had to lie down on a bed in a small dark room and relax. Now that there wasn't any outside demand on my body or mind, I had to face my conscience. The only thing it showed me was a middle-aged woman with short dark red hair, lying in a puddle of the blood she had shed, trying to save little cowardly, ungrateful me. That act, that guilt, that shame, gave a whole new spin on the concept of self-hatred.

 

It certainly wasn't the first time that my own actions kept me awake at night, overwhelmed by frustration after acting so clueless, childish or plain stupid. That these "incidents" were so minor, and so long past that I was probably the only one remembering them, was entirely irrelevant. Remembering them would make me angry, all the more so since I couldn't find anything to break instead -- that would have been pointless, even counterproductive.

 

But all these little non-events couldn't compare to how callous I had been today. And my frustration, my shame, my righteous fury was similarly much greater, while I couldn't turn it to anything else. Little in the room was mine to break. Except myself. There was no point in taking my indignity out on things.

 

The fact, the cold, hard, inescapable reality was that I should have done better. Thought better. Been better. From the very beginning I had been acting stupid. I should have been able to come up with a plan that did not risk such a retaliation. I shouldn't have let Kiki die for my actions. And above all, I shouldn't have hidden and let everyone else plan a defence.

 

But what could I have done? I had known so little then. There had been so little time to do anything. I could have told Kiki, Cain and Victoria about the plan, but that wouldn't have prevented anything. We could have showed up en masse at the top of Pyrous Mountain, after all. Both a better distraction, and a possibility to beat Solaris down.

 

But would it have been so? Maybe it would have unhinged him more, and he would have slaughtered them all. I had witnessed just how powerful and ruthless he was, after all.

 

I could have trusted Cal to think out of the box, find a way to defeat the Meteor leader without beating him in a Pokemon battle. Even though at the time he had been a Meteor agent, unbeknownst to me. And it might have worked out best.

 

Assuming he hadn't been lying to me.

 

How very ironic, my conscience pointed out, that you try and alleviate your own guilt by blaming someone else. And how callous.

 

He was working for Team Meteor at the time.  

 

And he eventually drove them out. He, not you. You just hid like the brave little hero you've always known you weren't.

 

He had, hadn't he? Even then, thinking on this entire mess, I had been an actor at every step... and each time, it would have worked so much better had I not been there. If Cain, not me, had left for Shade's Gym -- the tunnel wouldn't have collapsed, and Team Meteor might even have been impatient enough not to wait outside. Cain and Victoria would have been beaten by Team Meteor at the top of the mountain, they would have lost and left, and Cal's sabotage would have fully worked.

 

Not exactly, actually. Cain would have remained a prisoner until they moved him -- and he'd easily manage to escape early enough -- no one would have heard from the PULSE Camerupt until it was too late, and it still wouldn't have worked with no one outside Team Meteor to blame. That would have been perfect, wouldn't it? Or at least better than what we had got?

 

But actually, my meddling hadn't started then. It had started earlier, the day before the Orphanage raid, when I had argued with Cain to not just charge in. If I had just let him, what would have happened? Perhaps Team Meteor wouldn't have been there or had the patience to wait the entire night for the door to open. However it had been set up... The Apophyll plot would have failed in silence, not killing anyone with it...

 

If I was such a bearer of ill fate, how could I remain associated with this endeavor?

What was the point of trying to help if I would make everything worse? What was the point of even... going on?

 

The fleeting thought of an Escape Rope in my bag. But I didn't know how to tie proper knots. 

 

Who was I kidding? It certainly didn't matter. If I was ready to sacrifice myself because I believed it served the greater good, I wouldn't have let Kiki die.

 

 

Character rates: 

Spoiler

Cal: 3/10. Bonus points for sincerity. At least that's what I hope it was. But negative points for unashamedly taking that sail to Reborn City without asking. 

Myself: minus a lot/10. I had let die she who had saved me. Now despise me.  

 

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Hi again! 

 

I hope you're doing well. 

 

So far, I'm managing the rhythm of one chapter per week. Hopefully it'll last, but I'm not quite sure -- we're supposedly now under lockdown again, but I'm not actually sure that gives me more time (and it probably doesn't do wonders to my shaking overall motivation). At least I've now got something about the Aya battle (and I do not look forward to playing it). Relatedly, that should be when pictures re-start. I don't feel like there is much point right now. 

 

Concerning the chapter I'm posting: you're getting a "light" version of it (roughly two thirds). There's something that I've decided not to directly show, because I felt uncomfortable about it -- I still am not sure if it was plain bad, too little, or over the top, while it was intended to be dead earnest. You'll see the consequences, but not the "act" itself. 

 

There are other parts that could have been removed for similar reasons, but I didn't feel it would be as terrible if I got them wrong,so I left them. 

 

Don't hesitate to comment on what you found was good, or bad.  

 

Anyway. 

 

 

Chapter 47: Reckonings

 

Spoiler

Sigmund Connal -- apologies, Dr. Sigmund Connal -- was furious.

 

He had, of course, not been there when the fugitive children had been apprehended. The news had been a very special relief to him. It was over and everything would turn back to normal. He had told he expected the Meteors to deliver the children back the day after.

 

But it had gone terribly wrong the following morning. Before even ten -- he didn't believe these useless bureaucrats were at "work" so early -- two civil servants and a colleague of him had intruded on the premises. Their little speech had been smooth, but thus all the more infuriating. They had explained that the flight of the children had deeply concerned the Grand Hall, and so they had decided to investigate the Orphanage's practices. Until then, he was to regard himself as on a temporary vacation. The other doctor had been wearing the appropriate face, but he knew that incompetent was gloating inside.

 

Not to mention that the tunnels had somehow collapsed, which made it much more difficult to stealthily transfer the children.

 

And then word had spread, and over a dozen Concerned Citizens over the day had made their displeasure very known. This, they had mostly said, was not the Orphanage they were proud of paying taxes for.

 

They had just jettisoned him, under false pretenses of "temporary vacation" -- he had been hanging around institutions for a while, and he knew how they worked -- just for doing the blasted job they had dumped into him!

 

Did they know, the bureaucrats and the polished, sheltered rich, what the laws they had worked and paid for were forcing him to do? They had made him responsible for every lost children in a city who was slowly dying, despite the desperate and dysfunctional life support their incompetence was trying to provide! Did they know the kind of children that left him with? Some of them were horror shows, their minds broken at eight, stuck into the heart-wrenching habits of someone who lived in the street, a prey to everyone else. Some were mechanical -- how much work would be needed to insuffle them some life back?

 

And some were reacting with broken, psychotic violence. How to defend his staff against attacks so brutal that even mobsters would recoil from them? He had been forced to make a degree of discipline and self-restraint stick with electric shocks, always low-intensity and brief.

 

He had heard -- they had had the cruelty to tell him, even though they had just made him powerless to unearth its falsehood -- the child's accusation against him. It may have been anyone, but he didn't doubt that it was one of the children who had subsequently escaped. How could they?

 

These children were bright enough to know they had issues. There had been sessions where he had explained at length what he had observed was wrong with them, and why he believed that more unorthodox methods were necessary. It had even helped them! Anna was having fewer hallucinations, Charlotte didn't have weekly fury attacks any more! Noel had barely had any serious discharges at all, only years ago, when, in the throes of so terrible a depressive episode that he had attempted suicide twice in the same week, and wouldn't talk -- not that he had become much more talkative, of course, but it had helped him reset his emotions! And most of the other non-misbehaving children certainly hadn't had any electric shock in over a year!

 

If anything, he knew, since they had decided to make him redundant, he had better make himself useful where they couldn't. There was little doubt that the excitement, the fantasy of their flight, and its eventual conclusion had harmed the children he was still, ethically speaking, in charge of. This was why he had phoned Team Meteor to go with them. But by the time he met them -- under cover of the night -- it was already too late. Of course these people would try to gain their fear instead of their respect, or trust.

 

He had been beside himself with anger when he learnt the way they had treated Charlotte. This was not, in any way, the path to any successful recovery. And the damage done to the other children was terrifying, all the more so since it happened in so little time. They were escaping their justified terror of the real world into a shining fantasy where white knights would save them. Again, it had required stronger therapeutic measures which he didn't like one bit -- but he had decided, long ago, to be at his most professional when he did that, to emphasize that it was healing, not punishment. And it still wasn't good enough!

 

 

Of course, it had been obvious that the children would strenuously object to them being transported, so much that even flying them out of the building at night, to transfer them into the homelier setting of the Orphanage (even though it wasn't his to head any more) was unrealistic. Due to the state of the tunnel, it wasn't a good idea to try and bring them back that way. And he would be damned if he let them leave the city that was responsible for their care.

 

 So they had been stuck here. In this broken shell of a corporate building, never daring to show up at the windows for fear of being found out! It was ridiculous. And humiliating.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

"My fellow students."

 

The sun was slowly starting to rise at Apophyll Academy. Disaster had struck the previous day, so unforgiving and lethal that it had caught everyone unprepared. The Academy was quite secluded, and no one quite knew how to run those things. An occasional attendant of the late Kiki's school, a hiker who knew a little carpentry, made a wooden coffin with the help of a few other people. It wasn't quite polished, smooth, or professional, but it was sincere, and everyone knew -- or very dearly hoped -- that this would have pleased Kiki most.

 

There had been an informal wake in Kiki's room. They had washed Kiki's body, wiped the blood from the wound that killed her, lain her on her bed for the night, while pondering what to do next. Only a few of the current residents had already lost a close relative, but they hadn't managed to settle on a common procedure to honor the late Sensei. Religions, customs, and so on -- no two funerals had matched. The informal consensus had been one of simplicity. Kiki would be buried outside the Academy the next day.

 

And while Victoria had tearfully watched Kiki's body the whole night long, she had realized that Kiki's magnum opus was now hers to preserve and grow.

 

And she would have to make a speech. One of her own. So there she was, standing apart from everyone else, Kiki's coffin lying on trestles between her and the rest of the group, her body tense, her voice as stable as she could manage. Cain was watching her steadily, his expression a sad smile of encouragement. 

 

"Some of you may have just arrived here, by chance or trusting Kiki's reputation. Some of you are more regular members of the Academy, and some of you reside here full-time. But we all were Kiki's students.

 

Or rather, as she would say, we were all students of the Academy. We learnt together, we grew together. We improved together.

 

Today, we lost Kiki. We lost the founder of the Academy. We lost our guide, our mentor, our Sensei. All that she showed us, explained us, taught us... it is now only ours to understand, deal with, and pass on.

 

The cynic will say that Kiki only taught martial arts and meditation. But, as we know, it went so much deeper than that. Kiki taught that only through inner peace could one appease the outer chaos. For this purpose, she showed us how truly life-changing meditation was. She taught that body and mind were mirror reflections of each other, and that the very balance of life required these two components to be themselves in balance.

 

We all saw how Kiki died. The forces of chaos, of evil, had struck at our door, willing to obliterate us for destruction's sake. They claimed Kiki's life, because she would not bow to their vision of death. The Leader of Team Meteor murdered her because she would not yield to his threats, or treat him as a regular ambassador.

 

Remember this well, in this grim hour where Team Meteor is moving inside and outside Reborn City. Remember that whatever ideals they claimed to uphold, they unmasked their true face in this Academy. Remember that they murdered Kiki because she stood up to them.

 

What Kiki didn't say, however, was that she was already dying. Despite her unchanged dynamism, her perpetual willingness to teach, show, and learn, she knew that she had a terminal disease that would kill her in months. And she did not let it even slow her down. Instead, she gave her life to protect the Academy when it was under threat.

 

And now, deprived of a leader, of our founder, we have to decide what to do next. Kiki bequeathed us this Academy, the fruit of her dreams, the result of her constant deployment of energy and labor; it is our duty to her memory, to her sacrifice to keep it alive. It will not, it cannot be the same without her, but it must go on nonetheless.

 

As most of you know, I was Kiki's top student. Her personal apprentice. She had sent me, barely two weeks ago, to Reborn City to acquire strength -- and when I returned out of necessity, she informed me of her declining condition. She made it clear to me that she expected me to run the Academy in her stead when she would no longer be capable of it.

 

It was much to ask of me, and I was sure I wasn't ready. Even now, I shiver at the idea of having to fulfill Kiki's unique role. I am not as strong, as experienced, as wise as she was. But life is a harsh teacher, and it does not wait for us to graduate before handing us the tasks we are required to accomplish.

 

I am not ready to go on alone and fill in Kiki's shoes. But with your help -- your input -- your experience -- your energy, we can make the Academy work, even without her. It will not be the same, and perhaps it will not be as good.

 

But it will live on.

 

It will honor our Sensei's commitment, sacrifice and memory.

 

Thank you, Kiki. And farewell.

 

And I'm sorry... so sorry..."

 

 

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

 

 

And I woke up, sweating and panting, in my bed in the Pokemon Center. 

 

Some dreams can almost be called stories. They have narratives (not always very consistent), beginnings (of sorts), and endings. They happen, and then they happened. At the end of the dream, it's over and you can go back to sleep or start your day.

 

But this dream was one of a very rare kind for me, who often didn't even notice my dreams. This was the sort of dream that left me awake and very, very disturbed. I knew the horror show I had witnessed was just a figment of my imagination. I knew that an immovable force wasn't about to abduct me, to make me watch my family's torture and murder, led by a rather scathing Solaris. Right?

 

Right?  My small room was pitch black. I couldn't be sure it wasn't about to happen. Of course my relatives were back in Kalos, but perhaps... just perhaps, they'd have found a way to this accursed place?

 

Was there the very faint sound of footsteps one was trying to make a stealthy as possible?

 

But my blood was pounding on my ears, and, trying to recover from my dream terror, I breathed so loudly that Gimli would have easily shot me in the dark with an elven bow. I probably wouldn't have noticed if someone had just slammed shut the door to the stairwell.

 

I had to know. I rose slowly, trying to not wake up the horror that slept within the building, futilely trying to see something in the pitch blackness of the room. I tip-toed towards the light switch, dreading an attack, and turned the lights on.

 

The room was small and contained nothing unexpected: that is, there were the furniture, my things, and me. It was also silent, apart from my breathing which I was slowly forcing into something steadier and calmer.

 

But I went on, and walked slowly, cautiously, trying to tone down my breathing, opened the door of the room, peering into the dark corridor outside my room. It was completely silent, like frozen. I listened as much as I could, but apart from a very dim high-pitched hum which was probably some sort of background noise.

 

I shut the door cautiously, checked the bathroom and glanced behind its door. Of course there wasn't anybody there. I turned the light off, lied down on the bed, and shut my eyes.

And the nauseating images vividly sprang to mind again.

 

Of course it's pointless to be agonized over your past actions. Naturally it's an entirely new level of stupidity to question or feel guilty about the reactions of your dream self. But I knew I had failed somehow. There had to have been a way out, which I hadn't been able to find. Even if it involved pleading first and profusely, grovelling for mercy before Solaris, begging him to leave them alone and only avenge himself upon me. If it hadn't been for my cowardice, my passivity, they'd have --

 

They're still alive, I snapped at myself. You moron.

 

It was a dream.

 

But I wasn't going to be able to forget enough not to dread getting back to sleep. It looked pretty late, but I didn't have a watch. 

 

At least I had books.

 

 

Author's note:

Spoiler

So, if you didn't guess, I cut Gabriel's nightmare off. I was too scared of getting it wrong -- too trite, too poorly written, too much? I don't know. It seemed simpler. 

 

I also confess I'm not comfortable writing speeches with other characters' voices (Victoria's here, in this instance). I'm always afraid that's me speaking, not them. It's been impressed more than once onto me that I don't speak like most (even in my native language), so let alone my writing speeches. Not that I felt very confident writing the entire scene either -- I don't really know how that funeral was "realistically" supposed to happen.  

 

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Hello again. Good to read your story again, as I'm currently dealing with some unpleasant issues and working to finish the first arc, before going off to a big break of 2-3 months. I swear, how you writers can take this on so much further despite all the struggle?

 

49 minutes ago, Mindlack said:

Sigmund Connal -- apologies, Dr. Sigmund Connal -- was furious.

 

He had, of course, not been there when the fugitive children had been apprehended. The news had been a very special relief to him. It was over and everything would turn back to normal. He had told he expected the Meteors to deliver the children back the day after.

Hmmm... I wonder why is he furious now? I though calling the so "helpful" Team Meteor would solve his issue, right? NOPE, it won't! Just had to put them into deep hell now😞😤

 

58 minutes ago, Mindlack said:

If anything, he knew, since they had decided to make him redundant, he had better make himself useful where they couldn't. There was little doubt that the excitement, the fantasy of their flight, and its eventual conclusion had harmed the children he was still, ethically speaking, in charge of. This was why he had phoned Team Meteor to go with them. But by the time he met them -- under cover of the night -- it was already too late. Of course these people would try to gain their fear instead of their respect, or trust.

 

It was at this moment, our Doctor knew... he screwed up soo badly, that the Magic Square Puzzle. Good job right there, just lost 3/4 of my respect now with him😡👏🏽

 

I can't believe, that I once had defended and excused him back then... Now I can see, that I misrepresented reality and was delusional. Sigh nevermind the small outburst here😓

 

56 minutes ago, Mindlack said:

 

Not to mention that the tunnels had somehow collapsed, which made it much more difficult to stealthily transfer the children.

Good to see he's getting that, but like I say before, this won't happen, unless he has a Pokemon with Strengh. And btw, the city isn't in a much stable place and given some messed up parts🤔

 

1 hour ago, Mindlack said:

But it will live on.

 

It will honor our Sensei's commitment, sacrifice and memory.

 

Thank you, Kiki. And farewell.

 

And I'm sorry... so sorry..."

 

Poor Vicky... I just want to hug her right now. She didn't deserve that horror show with like that😔

 

1 hour ago, Mindlack said:

Did they know, the bureaucrats and the polished, sheltered rich, what the laws they had worked and paid for were forcing him to do? They had made him responsible for every lost children in a city who was slowly dying, despite the desperate and dysfunctional life support their incompetence was trying to provide! Did they know the kind of children that left him with? Some of them were horror shows, their minds broken at eight, stuck into the heart-wrenching habits of someone who lived in the street, a prey to everyone else. Some were mechanical -- how much work would be needed to insuffle them some life back?

 

And some were reacting with broken, psychotic violence. How to defend his staff against attacks so brutal that even mobsters would recoil from them? He had been forced to make a degree of discipline and self-restraint stick with electric shocks, always low-intensity and brief.

 

He had heard -- they had had the cruelty to tell him, even though they had just made him powerless to unearth its falsehood -- the child's accusation against him. It may have been anyone, but he didn't doubt that it was one of the children who had subsequently escaped. How could they?

This broke my heart so much and yet I'm pretty confused and don't know, who should I believe here. I'm trying to understand such concept... Damm, Sigmund would just snap at everyone, but it won't help that, right?

 

Sorry for acting a bit over the edge, but the last 3 parts made me really emotional and I'm kinda dealing with other things around. Let's just hope, that everyone is safe despite the healing😔🙏🏼

 

I should try to control my attraction towards fictional characters, because it drives me so mad and my heart is crying, despite it is just fiction🥲💔

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1 hour ago, Evi Crystal said:

Hello again. Good to read your story again, as I'm currently dealing with some unpleasant issues and working to finish the first arc, before going off to a big break of 2-3 months. I swear, how you writers can take this on so much further despite all the struggle?

 

First, thank you for your comment! 
Second, well, I don't know really much. I think the simplest answer is "one chapter at a time".

It certainly helps that Reborn's story is a guideline. And also, there are events I want to show, goals I want to reach (the few last chapters of Part Two, for instance). And breaks, of course. I'll be honest: this is the very first fanfiction I'm leading this far, and I wasn't even sure I was motivated enough to carry on for Part Three.

 

I try to set myself a fixed schedule, and I start with a little buffer, which usually lets me write a bit slower than the schedule. Of course, I have higher-productivity/higher-motivation times too, so it evens out and there are weeks where I can ignore my lack of drive to write. 

 

 

 

Quote

Hmmm... I wonder why is he furious now? I though calling the so "helpful" Team Meteor would solve his issue, right? NOPE, it won't! Just had to put them into deep hell now😞😤

 

 

It was at this moment, our Doctor knew... he screwed up soo badly, that the Magic Square Puzzle. Good job right there, just lost 3/4 of my respect now with him😡👏🏽

 

Not sure I follow everything here. What's the Magic Square to do with anything? (Apart maybe as a self-esteem therapy for Shelly? it's a shame I have other plans.)

 

Anger is a natural reaction. He would know better than suppress it. He's a learned Doctor, after all; the others are foolish well-meaning incompetents at best, corrupt hindrances, if not monsters, otherwise. Part of his anger is directed at himself -- but most of it is directed to all those who don't know, who act in a manner contrary to what he believes is the kids' best interest. 

 

Quote

I can't believe, that I once had defended and excused him back then... Now I can see, that I misrepresented reality and was delusional. Sigh nevermind the small outburst here😓

 

No problem, that's what comments are for, after all. 

 

Quote

Good to see he's getting that, but like I say before, this won't happen, unless he has a Pokemon with Strengh. And btw, the city isn't in a much stable place and given some messed up parts🤔

 

Yeah... That's why "Strength" is just an idea Victoria and Amaria came up with simultaneously and not an official program. And it's not in Meteor's best interests to rebuild the tunnel, they're not philanthropists!

And of course 

Spoiler

Team Meteor has city access via Devon, but neither the Doctor nor the kids can be made aware of that. 

 

Quote

 

Poor Vicky... I just want to hug her right now. She didn't deserve that horror show with like that😔

 

No. She didn't deserve that. 

 

Quote

This broke my heart so much and yet I'm pretty confused and don't know, who should I believe here. I'm trying to understand such concept... Damm, Sigmund would just snap at everyone, but it won't help that, right?

 

No, indeed. He snaps at everyone because he (feels that he) knows best and they don't. And because he's furious at having let himself into this horrible situation where he's actually powerless. 

 

As usual, Connal is unreliable, but not too much of a liar. Some of his griefs are legitimate. He sincerely believes that some of the kids are so badly screwed up by living on the street (and we're not speaking a "friendly" street) that some electric shocks, professionally applied (as he tries to), may help in their treatment. And after all, he's the legal guardian, so (he thinks) consent is his to give. It really is a legitimate therapy method, if ancient. 

 

(we'll come back to this later in the fic -- after all, the MC meets them twice over the runaway children, both soon)

 

I don't know enough psychiatry to know if his assessment is correct, but many kids in the Orphanage are badly screwed up, and his interpretation of (say) Anna's behavior isn't unrealistic. Some epic anger issues for Charlotte or Saphira certainly wouldn't be out of character either, and they wouldn't see it themselves as an issue. 

 

Quote

Sorry for acting a bit over the edge, but the last 3 parts made me really emotional and I'm kinda dealing with other things around. Let's just hope, that everyone is safe despite the healing😔🙏🏼

 

No problem, again. :)

 

Quote

I should try to control my attraction towards fictional characters, because it drives me so mad and my heart is crying, despite it is just fiction🥲💔

 

Funnily enough, I react better to fiction than reality too. I can get worked up (and I did) over characters in Reborn, Rejuv, Deso, Insurgence, a few other video games I watched (Adventures – Red Chapter, anyone?), and many, many other written stories. But most of reality (even the most objectively revolting parts) barely registers as much, emotionally speaking, and I’m not sure why. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Good evening! 

 

We got 10,000 views! Can we take, just a moment, to appreciate how much that is? Thank you to all those of you who read part of the story, or glanced at it. And especially to all of you who read as much as you could and commented. 😀

 

In a less congratulatory (or self-congratulatory) fashion, yes, we're barely two chapters in and already I can't keep up with this rather mild schedule. I truly do not know if it is to be expected several times more. Mostly I'm lacking a little inspiration on these chapters -- I should probably take a good, long sheet of paper and really plan (or just manage it in my head, as it had worked for the two previous parts), and I'm a bit worried about not getting the characters right.  

 

But mostly it's that writing feels harder these days. Maybe I need a longer, or different sort of break, but I'm worried that it might become a permanent one and I don't want that. I'm not saying I want to be ready for E19 (way too many things need to be written first!) but I'd also like to finish less than something like two years afterwards. 

 

 For the record, if that makes sense to anyone reading this apart from me -- group cohomology is ugh. Even though the number-theoretic applications are nothing short of spectacular. 

 

But enough about me, let's talk about...

Erm, well...

 

You know what? Let's just go. 

 

 

 

Chapter 48: Wastelands

 

Spoiler

I woke up sore, barely feeling my right arm, the pages of Foundation and Empire, open about two-thirds of the way, crumpled under my head. They probably had left some mark on the side of my face. I noted, detachedly, that I had somehow managed to stop reading right at the moment where things got bad. Perhaps my subconscious didn't hate me that much.

 

But it didn't matter. It was early in the morning, the sun had barely risen yet. But as I understood, the Poison Gym wasn't exactly close, so I had better start now. I showered and off I was, already leaving the Obsidia Pokemon Center towards the southeast of the Obsidia Ward.

 

Where most of the southern border of Reborn City was on the coast of the giant Azurine Lake, where the desert, surrounded by two narrow mountain ranges, guarded the northwestern side of the city, the eastern flank was defended with a large thick wall, and had only one exit.

 

For some reason, to go into the Wasteland, one had to go through a small corridor, manned by a bored-looking police officer. He looked absorbed in a magazine as I walked in, and I didn't pay him much attention.

 

"Hello." he greeted me, putting the magazine down, as I walked before him.

 

I started.

 

"You're going anywhere?"

 

I wasn't sure what to answer.

 

"Uh, yes... I think? This is Byxbysion Wasteland, right?"

"Yes, but, look, you need an authorization to go there."

"An... auhorization?"

"Yes." he sighed.

"Why?" I asked, uncertainly. "There's a Gym, there, now... there should be challengers, no?"

"Because it's the Wasteland, man! It's dangerous out there!"

"Dangerous?" I inhaled and my voice grew softer and higher-pitched.

"Of course! Don't you know?"

 

He looked so assuredly at me that I felt embarrassed of my ignorance.

 

"Okay, so here's what happened. Not that long ago, perhaps a couple of years ago, Byxbysion used to be a suburb of Reborn City. There weren't that many people out there, mostly those who didn't want to get closer. It had known far better days, and wasn't glittering or anything, but it was livable, about, like, the Peridot Ward. But one day, trash started appearing. Literally appear."

 

What?

 

"Yes, exactly." the guard went on. "And more and more started appearing overnight, and soon enough it was flooding the streets. So we decided to clean it all up. We got as many people as we could involved, and it worked beautifully. It only took a week for the trash to grow back as though we had never done anything."

 

That... wasn't possible, right?

But then again, I'd have said that about most of my misfortunes.

 

"So we started researching it, trying to find out where it came from. While working to keep it out. And we failed on both counts. People stopped getting involved when a few cleansings didn't have any lasting benefit. And it was worse than that, the trash grew faster and more aggressively each time. It constantly flooded the streets, rotting and corroding everything. It was a losing battle and the authorities gave up. They decided to contain the infection. So they strengthened the walls around Byxbysion and restricted the area."

 

"Okay..." I took it in. This sounded so unreal...

"Anyway, I didn't know there was an authorization to ask for. I was just given a key."

 

I showed the guard Cain's key, that he had given to me just before I left -- shame gnawing at my body -- the coast of Apophyll.

 

"Ah. That's okay, then. You better be careful in there, though, it's a nasty place."

"Uh... okay."

 

I waved the guard goodbye and went on into Byxbysion.

 

I didn't know much what to expect, but what I first saw was a large swathe of barren land, which reminded me of an oversized prison yard. The comparison was all the more apt, I decided, since this entire area had been walled. I didn't see as much trash as I had been led to expect. Here and there, there would be rotten papers lying on the ground, small scraps of metal pitched in the ground. The smell was unpleasant in a different way than that of Reborn City, it had a hint of sickening sweetness and was perhaps a little bit stuffy.

 

It was also silent. Reborn City had been a city, and that meant noises: people walking in the streets, talking together, a few Pokemon battles, some quite original (sometimes truly unique) transportation means, and so on. Life, or whatever pretense of it which hadn't left the dying city yet. But Byxbysion was utterly silent.

 

Fast enough as I made my way in the wasteland, the trash grew in volume and variety. Broken household appliances (which probably had been ancient even when they were bought), torso-long blocks of stone or concrete, plastics of all kinds, half-rotten cardboard, a few twisted trees with interesting colors, broken glass, long sheets, or boxes, of rusted metal with some sharp-looking edges, started appearing, I thought myself lucky that I was still protected against tetanos.

 

More concerning, the ground was becoming softer and softer. Soon, my soles started leaving visible footprints, then they started sinking into the ground. Then it got more and more viscous, until my soles were fully immersed into a viscous, and somewhat sticky mud. I was glad to still be wearing the hiking shoes I had borrowed (and never returned -- I realized with a pang of guilt) from Apophyll Academy, because the mud was getting deeper and deeper, maybe over five centimeters deep, enough to start being an impediment.

 

All this had happened in utter silence. I hadn't seen anyone, and that wasn't a good sign at all. The Pokegear wasn't too precise on the location of the Gym, saying that it shouldn't be too hard to find by going in straight line, but that wasn't always easy to manage -- I had never managed it ago, when I was bathing in the sea, for instance.

 

And at the time, there was a sea safe for playing in.

 

At that time, I was still decent and not a cowardly hypocrite.

 

My foot hit something soft, but hidden in the mud, and which felt encrusted in the ground. In a spectacular display of pointless recklessness, I kicked it out of the crack it was resting in to look at it. It didn't disturb the silence because the mud seemed to be quite effective at dulling the sounds.

 

It was a vine and I couldn't believe my eyes.

Not again! I pleaded internally.

 

But the idea of another PULSE made a lot of sense, even though any search should have found it. It wasn't like the machine was very subtle.

 

Then I started noticing something even more disturbing. The mud was moving. Instead of instantly disappearing, the rings my feet movements had caused in the mud were propagating, expanding. It might have been so visible in a body of still water, such as a large lake, but that mud was far more viscous and seeing the wave propagate itself was worrisome. Something about this fluid wasn't right at all.

 

But I didn't want to dwell on this. I didn't want to stay any minute in that place more than necessary. I lifted my foot with more energy than was necessary and told myself to go on.

 

Unsurprisingly, the Byxbysion Wasteland was becoming less and less welcoming the further one went in. The mud was becoming more and more sticky and viscous, reaching near ankle level, a strain to lift my feet off the ground each time. On the other hand, there was so much refuse that it was forming small, composite and often precarious islands (especially where skeleta of household appliances were) of which helped me avoid stepping in the swamp.

 

And it all reeked, the trash and the mud, worse than I had never smelt before. It was like rotten cheese (that was already from a kind of cheese of which few liked the smell), really bad sulfur, and mildew, and many smaller influences tainting whatever cleanliness it might have once had. Breathing in that air was the olfactory equivalent of handling manure -- it was gross, objectively unpleasant, generated unfavorable impressions for other senses, and left one feeling deeply dirty.

 

I was getting nearer to an inhabited area -- or maybe a formerly inhabited area -- and already some street furniture, most of it broken, mainly street lights, but there were a few benches and bins. Neither the goo nor the uncertain, stressful jumps from trash island to trash island that I did as much as possible made for an easy stroll to the forsaken residential area, even though it wasn't that far, perhaps three kilometers from Reborn City's eastern wall.

 

What was left of civilization in Byxbysion wasn't a pleasant sight. The garbage had killed it. It wasn't just attacking and wounding, like in Peridot (however impressive it had been). It wasn't choking it to death, like had happened -- and had been stopped -- in Jasper or Beryl. It had ripped the suburb apart, bled it dry, fed its flesh to a slaughterhouse and was festering in the remains.

 

No pavement was visible -- in the center of the streets, the filthy goo was at calf level (something which left me deeply disturbed when I stepped in innocently), while nearer to the ruined buildings, it was the same level as before -- high enough to stain my soles, but not enough to go into my shoes and doubtlessly damage my body. Hopefully, it wasn't toxic enough to just melt everything in days.

 

None of the taller constructions remained -- they had been systematically broken near their base, and the rest was now lying, usually broken apart, or in some kind of demented construction game with other nearby collapsed buildings. The street lights had all been felled like trees, and always on the nearby buildings, breaking through walls (and certainly leaving cracks so deep that they had to have been flung against them rather than just falling), or, for the smaller and unluckier ones, the roofs.

 

The overflowing bins had been unmistakably been slammed so hard and so many times against the houses that they were almost shapeless, and sometimes encrusted into the walls. Holes that might have been windows in life had been enlarged with benches, a halo of cracks surrounding the openings. Other houses had simply crumbled under the weight of part of mounds of refuse, the weight of the mound crushing to powder whatever was at the bottom. And there were rarer, irregular holes, corresponding to nothing in particular, that I wasn't sure I wanted explained.

 

Little wonder that all the inhabitants had left and the area was restricted. It wasn't surprising either that everything was silent. Facing such latent violence, even Pokemon that would otherwise thrive in such an environment would tread carefully, fearing its re-awakening. If anything, the question was rather: how come some people still lived there?

 

The map said the Gym was northwards. Wherever north was. I had a decent idea of where I had come from, and fortunately, the city grid has kept enough of its original, rectangular grid shape that I could guess leftwards would be approximately northwards. Still trying to hop between the smaller, eclectic mounds of garbage, and walking in the disgustingly viscous fluid otherwise, I made my way in this direction, trying to look for anything resembling a Gym.

 

Finally, I found a mostly unbroken house north of the area, where the dwellings were smaller and sparser (most of them still utterly and obviously unlivable). The walls were unbroken but stained. A metal billboard, near the front of the house, read at eye level: Reborn League Poison Gym, in black hand-written capital letters of unequal sizes and spacing.

 

So, there is was. I had to be ready, win this. For Shelly, Noel, Heather and the others. For Kiki -- I shuddered at how vivid my recollection of her dead body was. Because I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't do everything I could to fix this mess I had involved myself in creating. I walked up the few steps before the entrance, took a deep breath and rung.

 

I waited for perhaps a minute, before someone yanked the door open.

 

"Yes?" a middle-aged woman asked, visibly annoyed. "Oh, you're a Gym challenger, aren't you?"

 

XJhKLkL.png

 

She said it as if that was an insult or something worth despising. Which it perhaps was, in these parts.

 

"Of course, why don't you come right in?" she added ironically. "Waltz in my house, require another battle with my daughter like that's what you're entitled to, disturb us, all just for a worthless piece of shining metal?"

 

Her tone was so increasingly angry, so scathing, that I stood there speechless, flinching back.

 

"Damn the bloody moron who just had to die at that exact time! And now we have to shoulder his effing responsibility, of course. "

 

"Look at me when I'm talking to you!" she yelled at me. I flinched again, but forced myself to meet her irate gaze. It was like looking at a knife -- I felt as though her very emotion was going to materialize as a sword outside her eyes, aiming to blind me. I forced my eyes to keep looking at her. For my own sanity, or whatever was left of it, I couldn't stay in this spot for long, any more than one couldn't stare at a glowing hot iron.

 

"Sorry," I muttered as she was silent. "I'll just..." I moved to leave.

 

"No, you don't just get to say sorry and leave like that. You'll get your fucking battle. Aya!" she shouted, turning back to the inside of the house. "You have another challenger!"

 

I saw her shoulders raise, fall, and heard an audible breath, after which she turned back to me, the anger in her eyes gone.

 

"I'm coming, hold on!" a muffled voice answered from somewhere inside the house.

 

"Sorry." she said, her tone calmer. "I'm not used to it. It's not your fault. I'm Lana, and the Gym Leader is my daughter Aya. She'll come down, she's studying. Nice to meet you." she gestured me in, making a step back.

 

Er...

 

"I'm Gabriel. Nice to meet you." I answered uneasily in a small voice, deciding to give her the benefit of the doubt.

 

I made one step ahead, and glanced at my feet as I was about to enter. I froze, and then put my foot back outside. It was that, in no uncertain terms, it was disgusting. Part of the sludge had solidified around my feet, making a literal crust of refuse. The rest was, with a nauseating slowness, flowing around my shoes, part of it falling, the rest simply flowing on, sticking to the sole.

 

"Ah." Lana followed my glance at my shoes. "It's fine... just take them off."

 

There was no need to. There was the sound of feets on stairs and a girl about my age appeared near Lana. She was slightly smaller than I was, with untied dark hair glistening a deep purple falling at least at shoulderblade level. The global shape of her face was like Cain's, but unlike him, she didn't look very excited or enthusiastic, which, I thought, probably had advantages as well.

 

"So you're the challenger?" she nodded at me. "It's a little walk to the Gym. Wait for me a minute?"

 

I waited silently while Aya tied her shoes -- walking shoes, not unlike those I was wearing, but in better shape, and probably actually hers -- vaguely waved to her mother, and left the house. I followed her.

 

She volunteered no conversation, so I decided to start one, as insignificant as it could be. 

 

"Aya, right? I'm Gabriel."

"Nice to meet you." she answered distractedly, her step steadier and faster than mine.

 

She was also very relaxed, barely glancing at the garbage syrup she was stepping in and out of, without any concern for the effort she had to be expanding to lift her feet, and it was contagious. Soon enough I wasn't hopping any more and just walking, while trying to avoid the inevitable potholes, because I was positive it wouldn't be good for my skin if the mostly liquid waste came in contact. But after most of ten minutes of this, there wasn't anything in sight like a Gym.

 

"Is the Gym far away?" I asked her.

"Half an hour away." Aya answered laconically.

"Is there a reason?" I went on, with a slight hesitation.

"It's my baby brother." she sighed. "Cain. He was the one wanting to be a Gym Leader. But he just up and left a month ago. Never said a word to me or Mom since -- he didn't even take his Pokemon. So I got the job, which I never wanted in the first place."

 

So that had been Cain's mother. Little wonder he didn't like to mention his family.

And his sister called Cain "baby", I noticed detachedly. That city was insane.

 

Hah, another voice pointed out. Look who's talking. The insanest of them all. Bet you anything that Cain doesn't have blood on his hands. Neither does she.

 

"He hated home. He hated us, I think. He wanted to be as far as he could. I should have guessed he'd run away for good, frankly."

"For good?"

"In the past year, he left home several times. Without any note, or anything. I was sick with worry. But he would come back a few days afterwards, looking worse each time he came back. He would be angry, and sad. He hated home, yes, with good reason."

"I've met him. I don't think he's said a bad word about you." I answered. "He's becoming famous." I jokingly added. It was irrelevant; and still, by some sort of weird magic, it didn't feel so.

 

sZtT9HD.png

 

Aya froze.

 

"What?" she asked, dead earnest, facing me. Then, without waiting for my answer, just by looking at me -- I might have been wearing an amused grin at the light in which I had displayed his situation -- "I should've known." she sighed. "I -- Mom and I -- were holding him back, weren't we? I already knew I had treated him terribly." she added with what was probably a half-joking, half-apologetic and half-sincere tone.

 

Yes, that made three halves, but psychology wasn't exactly mathematical either. 

 

I had passed a similar judgement on myself many times, even before ending up here, where I knew the assessment was justified. I believed that Aya was completely sincere, and I knew from experience that it would take a better person than me -- least of all the equivalent of a coward and a murderer -- to change her mind.

 

"Join the club." I mumbled.

 

Aya ignored my reply. Perhaps she thought I was decent and she wasn't. Perhaps she was thinking about me as I thought about her.

 

"So, how is he famous?" Aya walked on slowly, her stride lifeless, more akin to inertia drawing out motion than an expression of energy.

"Well, he broke out a war within the city administration by taking a few children Gym Leaders from their home. Then he got kidnapped by Team Meteor. They were pretty pissed off at him when he got rescued."

"Why?"

"They were in a small underground station. Cain was in a cage nearby. They apparently had an important job to do, and he was discouraging them. Annoying them. Talking, singing. Yelling. Flirting, maybe."

"What did they do to him?" Aya enquired, the anxiety in her voice audible.

"Blows. They hit him, I meant. That didn't deter him."

"Sounds like him." Aya agreed, her voice dull. I thought that some of what I had said had briefly sparkled her interest, but not for long. "It's been over a year since he stopped talking to Mom."

 

A year? In the same house as her and not a word? That was epic stubborness. But not unbelievable. 

 

We didn't talk more while walking to the actual Gym, which was conveniently located to the west of the house, so that it was actually closer to Reborn City. But I certainly didn't expect the sight. The wide arena was a large pool, perhaps a meter deep, with only a few centimeters of that viscous syrup of refuse at the bottom. But there were a few stands on the side, the lowest part being about a meter and a half high, and the two battlers were supposed to stand on platforms at least two meters off the ground, at each end of the arena.

 

Good thing I wasn't afraid of heights. At least, too much afraid.

 

There was a little shack, intact, near the terrain. Aya pointed it at me, saying that it contained a PC and a healing machine, as well as a communication line with the League office at the Grand Hall. Perhaps they'd explain a bit what this unusual Gym was about.

 

"The Grand Hall never picks up though." Aya said. "I don't actually know what the machine is for."

"They usually advise challengers on the specific hurdles of the battle. What's the field like, what's the Leader like, what to look out for." I explained.

"What? They're helping you win? How is that fair?"

 

"You get to fight on a field you've designed with a team of Pokemon you've designed for it. You've usually access to many more resources than challengers. It's not like they say: if I were you, I'd use this couple of Pokemon in that way, the Leader can't counter that. It's not very specific. And, you know, battling without any idea of what the field does usually makes one a bit nervous."

 

"I'm using Cain's Pokemon, he left them a month ago or so, and I didn't know them until I was named the new Poison-type Leader. I only attended to a few of Cain's battles. I don't know that much about the field. It's not even like I actually care about the job. I think you don't need expert advice. "

"Am I the first challenger?" I asked, taken aback about so much frankness -- and she sounded really bitter about this.  

"No. There was another guy a couple of days ago. I think he was overconfident and underprepared, so he lost. He really didn't take it well."

 

Right... So I still needed at least some knowledge about the field.

 

"Why the high platforms? Why the pit?"

"The sludge responds to battles. It's not unusual that Pokemon attacks summon big waves of the stuff. It's pretty gross if you ask me, but that was Cain's idea. Up here we're safe."

 

Uh oh.

This might be a real problem.

 

"Anything else I'd need to know?" I asked, more jokingly than seriously.

"Well, I'm fighting in doubles, and that's all I'll volunteer." she answered dully. "Any other questions?"

 

Doubles. Tidal waves of the stuff.

I needed to win.

I really had to.

But victory wasn't mine to decide. It never had been.

 

I shut my eyes, trying to shut out the distraction, and think of what could help me win this fight.

 

Why didn't Cain just "nepote" his Badge? That would have been so much easier...

 

As if I would be flexible enough to accept an undeserved Badge. 

 

Why don’t you ask Kiki about your “moral flexibility”? You wouldn’t accept a dubious Badge for an urgent cause, even temporarily, but you’d accept an undeservedly longer life. You holier-than-thou hypocrite. 

 

And soon enough, the dreadful picture of the Apophyll Sensei, superimposed with the corpses from my dreams, my sister's torture and my brother's agonies, were vivid in from of my eyes. I flinched.

 

I had never needed to win an official battle so badly.

I had never come to such a challenge in such a terrible state of preparation.

 

I glanced at Aya, torn between my desire of asking her to go easy, explain the stakes, and my unwillingness to twist the rules -- as I was clearly unworthy of an exception. How could I feel so entitled, after what I had done?

 

"Are you ready?" Aya asked. She didn't sound thrilled.

 

No, every particle of my mind screamed.

 

"Yes", I answered lifelessly, and walked toward my end of the arena.

 

Character rates:

Spoiler

Aya: 6/10. It's far less awkward to be with her than with her brother, that's for sure. But I don't know why she's so keen on accusing herself and that's unsettling.

I mean, I know I'm accusing myself a lot but I'm guilty of these serious things

 

Player's note:

Spoiler

That's the Cain battle. 

3wjDH9U.png

 

Q3w3WGs.png

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I lead Prankster Meowstic because I'm not sure what Cain's lead is, and it lets me choose my answer better (well sort of: it's either screen or switch. Here I get to switch to an Intimidate mon with a super effective move, so that's decent).

 

ZFAYMqN.png

So I used Crunch (and didn't take damage in the switch because it used Shadow Bone), but I didn't see the burn coming (even though it's the second time!)

 

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But the burn isn't too major an impediment, we can take our time. Maybe that's why Cains switches.

 

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So do we. We need another mon which isn't as damaged.

 

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Oof. That's critical Thrash (not in the switch, at least). It hurts a lot, but Hex survived and her job is basically done.

 

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One weakling coming in 3,2,1...

 

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Intimidate is back.

 

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Cain switched Pokemon as Nidoking was asleep. He can do whatever he wants in this turn. Either way, I don't take damage and can heal Mouse's rather penalizing burn.

 

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Did you really think that wasn't going to happen?

 

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I switched to Batley while Cain was switching. This is going to be a fun set-up.

 

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That's Shadow Ball damage at SpDef+2 on Batley, from an unboosted Meowstic. That's how frail it is. See also: the SpAtk+2 Air Slash which didn't kill.

 

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Leaf bulked up and got Gunk Shot in return. Muk hits hard but not hard enough. 

 

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This is game over for Leaf (and for Cain, even though he doesn't know it yet).

 

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I Faked Out. Not much point but chip damage is chip damage.

 

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Then I went to Watt. Note that damage through Light Screen is really weak and I have all the time in the world...

 

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Charge...

 

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I'm not sure how come Watt got to attack first. I might have attached a Quick Claw to it? A speed tie doesn't seem very likely.

 

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After Charge, that was a foregone conclusion... and Cain's powerless now.

 

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Well, yes. Our little "quality time" has lasted way too long already. We should have just stolen the HM from Kiki and nepoted the Badge out of Aya long ago.

 

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For protection. 

 

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This is not going to kill, but it's better than a clean 2HKO. Also, let's pretend that I didn't waste a turn trying to set Light Screen again because Nidoking has Shadow Ball in the wiki -- which is false, it has Throat Chop. And thus, the inevitable (first try)

e98qXAJ.png

 

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hi

i relate to the needing to plan things so much. so, so much. i have an outline and i still need to plan.

 

anyway, i said i'd pull quotes and i'm here to do so:

Spoiler

first up--

6 hours ago, Mindlack said:

It was also silent. Reborn City had been a city, and that meant noises: people walking in the streets, talking together, a few Pokemon battles, some quite original (sometimes truly unique) transportation means, and so on. Life, or whatever pretense of it which hadn't left the dying city yet. But Byxbysion was utterly silent.

love this !!! i'm such a sucker for eerie silence being pointed out, especially when it's in a direct comparison, and byxbysion is the perfect place to do it!

 

6 hours ago, Mindlack said:

uncertain, stressful jumps from trash island to trash island

pulling this just bc i like the phrase a lot

 

6 hours ago, Mindlack said:

It had ripped the suburb apart, bled it dry, fed its flesh to a slaughterhouse and was festering in the remains.

this line!!! this line is so good!!! very very much so one of my favorite lines i've read/heard in a while!

 

6 hours ago, Mindlack said:

in some kind of demented construction game with other nearby collapsed buildings.

"demented construction game" is so, so grand. 

 

6 hours ago, Mindlack said:

Holes that might have been windows in life had been enlarged with benches, a halo of cracks surrounding the openings.

"might have been windows in life" + the halo bit is !!!,

your metaphors and imagery are so on point this chapter, i really can't say it enough

 

6 hours ago, Mindlack said:

Yes, that made three halves, but psychology wasn't exactly mathematical either. 

pulling this just bc it made me smile

 

6 hours ago, Mindlack said:

But victory wasn't mine to decide. It never had been.

love this love this love this, especially in combo with "How could I feel so entitled, after what I had done?"

 

also! aya's characterization here is extremely good! how relaxed she is in the wasteland, how she talks about her relationship with cain; how she talks about her job--all of her parts are really well done!!

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Hi Fawn!

 

17 hours ago, familiarfawn said:

i relate to the needing to plan things so much. so, so much. i have an outline and i still need to plan.

 

I've tried it and while I got some valuable insights out of it, I'm not sure how worthwhile it is. I misjudge the appropriate level of detail, I get tangled in the possible plots... I'm having a lot of trouble sorting the information too, between what's described in the chapters, the rest of the timeline, character motivations which aren't stated, and so on.  

 

17 hours ago, familiarfawn said:

anyway, i said i'd pull quotes and i'm here to do so:

  Reveal hidden contents

first up--

love this !!! i'm such a sucker for eerie silence being pointed out, especially when it's in a direct comparison, and byxbysion is the perfect place to do it!

 

pulling this just bc i like the phrase a lot

 

this line!!! this line is so good!!! very very much so one of my favorite lines i've read/heard in a while!

 

"demented construction game" is so, so grand. 

 

"might have been windows in life" + the halo bit is !!!,

your metaphors and imagery are so on point this chapter, i really can't say it enough

 

pulling this just bc it made me smile

 

love this love this love this, especially in combo with "How could I feel so entitled, after what I had done?"

 

also! aya's characterization here is extremely good! how relaxed she is in the wasteland, how she talks about her relationship with cain; how she talks about her job--all of her parts are really well done!!

 

I wrote it on discord, but I'll thank you again for your comment. I really didn't expect a response this positive (and it literally made my day), I was actually unsure about this chapter. The trouble is, of course, that this sets a very high bar for the next chapter (especially since we have another sequence of character interactions which always feel pretty difficult) and now I'll have to angst over the possibility that I don't meet it... 🤣

 

Some comments on the quotes you highlighted:

 

Fun fact: I don't think I made much reference to sound in my previous descriptions of places in Reborn City (they were a while ago, so perhaps I don't really remember them). I think it was your story (Coral, maybe? but I've just checked and I didn't see any mention of it) which made me realize (or remember? that feels so natural at the moment that it's hard to say) the significance of silence. 

 

The "three halves" is from experience -- that's sort of how I'm trying to sound when I make a self-deprecating remark (when I sort of mean it but not quite). Though this is probably (even fictional people are hard and I'm not sure I'm up to setting a definite interpretation to what they say most of the time) Gabriel misinterpreting, I think it's serious enough for Aya that she isn't joking about this. 

 

"Victory wasn't mine to decide. It never had been."

Actually, what Gabriel had in mind was pretty clear to me when I wrote it, but your comment made me wonder whether it ended up conveying a different meaning. And of course I'm too scared of a positive answer to try and clarify. 🤣 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi! 

 

It's been a while. I said it, I meant it, here's the next chapter.

 

A few things I would mention beforehand: again, the pictures aren't as good as I'd like them to be, and in particular suffer from some inconsistencies. I don't like that, but I'm not really sure how to do it better. And I’m positively hyped for those I’ll have to make in Yureyu. Not to mention the actual re-adapting of the draft as the picture gets clearer. 
(sigh) 

 

Second, you get the written (and pictured) account of the Aya battle this chapter. However, I'll only detail how it went in-game next time (it's different from what I wrote, because I played the battle only last night, while this chapter was "ready" at least a week ago).  

 

Third, we're in a part called "mind games", so I may be hiding some “secrets” for you to discover or deduce.

Some relevant information may be hidden for you to realize, or at least not explicitly written out until a while. The “while” could be just a couple of chapters – or perhaps not. 

 

 

(also, some spoilery information may be hinted at much earlier and more explicitly than the in-game events). 

 

 

 

Chapter 49: School Reunion

 

 

Spoiler

Aya sent out a Nidoqueen and a Toxapex, who took positions in the trench they called a battlefield. Their appearance made a rather large splash. The Toxapex looked like it was comfortably sprawling. The Nidoqueen turned back to Aya, then to its partner, and nodded.

 

I didn't know too much what to do. I didn't have that many Pokemon able to do much against these Pokemon, which the sludge was probably empowering. Watt the Ampharos could harm the Toxapex, but she would be vulnerable to the Nidoqueen. Calling Leaf (Blaziken), or Hex (Swalot) had the same drawbacks and none of the advantages -- I had finally decided not to use Antum (Klink) who was weaker and whose mobility would be greatly hindered. So only Mouse (Stoutland), Tech (Meowstic) and Batley (Swoobat) remained.

 

In fact, if Aya didn't have much experience...

Hopefully, Cain's mons weren't as strong as Cal's...

 

"Tech, Batley, it's up to you." I decided. "Batley, use Calm Mind; Tech, Reflect."

 

The Meowstic winced at the touch of the disgusting mud on his skin, but conjured up a little barrier of light that would doubtlessly help strengthen his and Batley's weaker defences. Batley dismissed everything around her and focused.

 

But Aya certainly knew what was coming. She gave her orders, and the Toxapex started blowing a breeze which made Tech and Batley shiver. It also unsteadied Batley's flight, and, to keep her focus, she was left at the mercy of the wind.

 

Simultaneously, there was a liquid sound and I looked down to notice that the waste was flowing into the pit, faster even than rapids, towards Aya's side. The Nidoqueen let out a cry, and then all the disgusting stuff was launched at Tech, the flow slamming him against the wall of the pit, while the "fluid" bounced with enough momentum to target the disoriented Batley.

 

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"Batley, Psychic the Nidoqueen, Tech, Light Screen." I ordered.

 

I couldn't let it direct such attacks. Batley shook herself, and, trembling -- what had happened to her? -- unleashed a psychic attack right at the Nidoqueen, while the second round of Icy Wind that the Toxapex was producing was mostly held off by the Light Screen. Aya's Nidoqueen collapsed into the ooze as soon as Batley's move hit it.

 

"This isn't over." Aya said distinctly. "Toxapex, Sludge Wave, Drapion, go on."

 

I asked Tech to use Psychic on the Toxapex, and Batley for an Air Slash on the massive scorpion about which I felt somewhat nervous. But meanwhile, the waste was running to the pit even faster, called by the Toxapex (which seemed quite in shape), and the Drapion was dodging the wind attack by diving into the sludge.

 

Again, the foul liquid sped up at an unnatural rate and shot towards the other end of the pool, hitting Tech first. What I didn't expect was the geyser that shot from underneath Batley, with the Drapion riding it and hitting my psychic bat with terrific momentum and deadly precision.

 

Tech was shaking on his legs, and Batley was unmoving in the gross paddling pool. I had been overconfident and paid the price. I should have known.

 

"Thought it'd be a breeze? I'm new to this, but I'm not that clueless."

 

So, what was my next move? Batley was down and Tech was weak. The numbers were even. What could I do?

 

Time to weaken an aisle. I had one bulky Pokemon whom the terrain didn't put at a disadvantage.

 

"Hex, Yamn the Drapion." I commanded. "Tech, Psychic on Toxapex."

 

Hex looked ecstatic when she realized she had the home field advantage. She didn't waste time in riding the dwindling waves of sludge -- half melting, actually -- to reach Aya's purple scorpion, while Tech struck at the Toxapex again, his thought faster than the frantic attempts of the deadly shell to hurl the poisonous tide again.

 

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The shape of the Toxapex's shell relaxed slightly from its rigid state and Aya recalled it without wasting any time. She knew that she would have to switch Drapion out very soon.

 

"Salazzle, Heat Wave!" was her retaliation. "Drapion, Knock off the Meowstic."

 

I promptly recalled Tech, who wouldn't stand the attack, sending Watt out instead. The intensity of the fire attack was enough to make her visibly shiver in distress, but she held firm, helped by Tech's still active Light Screen. Meanwhile, Aya's Drapion, swifter than Hex once the surprise of his means of locomotion was over, was furiously beating it up, until the onslaught slowed down, and the scorpion fell over.

 

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Hex's revenge was short-lived, as Aya instantly replaced the sleeping Drapion with an even more furious Venusaur. It let out a yell, answered by the Salazzle, and once again the viscous concentrated refuse started flowing in the pool, quickly accumulating near Aya's side.

 

But Watt, slow as she was, was ready to unleash the Power Gem attack that I had instructed her to do. The magical rocks raced towards the Salazzle that, too focused in controlling the Sludge Wave, didn't try to avoid the attack -- but the tide was rushing once again towards Watt who couldn't escape it. Meanwhile, the Venusaur had rid itself of Hex's heartfelt Take Down by simply rolling over in the toxic muck, and had kicked it furiously to the other end of the arena -- my end, so that she would get punished doubly with the incoming Sludge Wave.

 

Watt held on, just enough to send another Power Gem into the Salazzle, fainting it. Hex seemed in slightly better shape, at least until the Venusaur charged in, ignoring the weaker Sludge Bomb, and angrily used Stomping Tantrum. Tech's screens were starting to fail, and the damage was enough to bring her down.

 

Three to four, I thought.

 

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But Tech and Watt were tired, Tech's protections were failing, and Aya had likely not used her ace. I only had Mouse and Leaf in full shape, but they might not be able to hit Aya too hard while her Sludge Waves would be devastating...

 

I wasn't sure I was capable of winning this.

 

I shut my eyes to try and think.

 

The dream was still vivid and I opened my eyes back immediately, to try and shut the train of thought off. But I still had to win.

 

"You fought well, Hex. Rest. Leaf, I need you, come forth! Watt, Power Gem the incoming Pokemon."

 

Aya recalled her Salazzle and sent out a Dragalge, a Pokemon that I had never seen before, except in pictures. It was airborne, tall and slim, with a large wingspan. Its global shape was reminiscent of hugely overgrown, thickly ramified seaweed. It looked (apart from "disgusting") positively thrilled to fight, and was shivering with anticipation. I could see an even stronger and faster tide of sludge building up, one which Watt wouldn't be able to tank.

 

Leaf sprung into the field as soon as she was out of her Pokeball, and did not waste a single second by rushing at the Venusaur, disdaining the viscous flow of liquid garbage that should have slowed her down, the flames at her feet quickly building up. She leapt at the Seed Pokemon, and the Blaze Kick was enough to bring it down.

 

However, upon landing, she also took the full blast of the playful Dragalge, one more powerful than the others which left her unsteady on her legs and fainted Watt.

 

"At last," Aya sighed audibly, and she sent out the still-sleeping Drapion.

 

I could win this. Maybe.

 

"Tech, I know you're tired, but I need your Light Screen. Leaf, Blaze Kick on the Drapion as well!"

 

Leaf's head snapped backwards, and slightly upwards, towards me. She looked distressed and was still unstable on her legs. But she nodded and went at the Drapion, her stride not as elegant as just before. Something had hurt her, I guessed. At the same time, the Dragalge looked at her with mild interest. I saw it disdain the panting Tech, carefully aim, and spit a high-pressure jet of water right at Leaf as she approached the Drapion.

 

pAo2t76.png

 

Crap.

 

Leaf was blasted to the side, desperately trying to get up, but the Hydro Pump had been too strong and she fell to her knees. Worse, the cold water had shaken the scorpion, for it stirred uneasily, shook itself, and then furiously rose. It shrieked angrily, and it started slithering quickly at the wide-eyed Tech.

 

"Okay, Mouse, I need you, go defend Tech! Tech, Psychic on the dragon!"

 

Mouse glared and growled at the Drapion as she came into the arena, and she charged at it. The scorpion was intercepted, thrown back, before it could finish Tech off, and his Psychic move went off. The Dragalge drew itself up against the assault, snarling defiantly, and called back the waste which hadn't really left the pit for another furiously powerful (and nauseating) tide.

 

Tech was leaning on the arena's wall. He would never be able to resist the attack, while Mouse definitely would, to some extent, thanks to the Light Screen. But I couldn't expect Mouse to win the ensuing two-on-one.

 

"Tech, climb on Mouse to escape the pit!" I ordered.

 

Tech glanced panickedly at me, but, sensing the incoming the toxic tidal wave, climbed shily at Mouse, then pushed against it to jump higher and grab the top of the hole. I could see him desperately push on his small arms to escape the poisonous wave, while Mouse braced itself, glaring daggers at the Drapion.

 

Tech got out of the way, barely on time, and watched anxiously, panting, Mouse being carried backwards by the powerful current, and painfully getting back on her feet with a small whimper. Tech imitated her and pushed himself up.

 

"Again, this is the last time! Mouse, Take Down the Drapion, Tech, Psychic the Dragalge!" I ordered.

 

And indeed, this was the end. The Dragalge wasn't swift enough to escape the exhausted but determined Tech's psychic attack, while the Drapion rushed at Mouse, eager for payback after her meddling in the scorpion's assault on Tech. While Mouse was hit by the sneak Cross Poison struck from her side, she had the greater momentum and her charge upon the Drapion was fully effective, striking it low and hard.

 

The Drapion rolled back, beaten. Mouse was shaking and didn't look good. Tech was lying on the ground, panting.

 

I had won. I realized. I didn't believe it -- how could it have been possible -- but there wasn't any denying the reality.

 

Aya recalled both of her mons.

 

"You win." she commented rather blandly, already climbing down the platform. "Great."

 

YrnyqjS.png

 

"What a pair of scrubs." a voice I knew commented loudly from the stands.

 

Still, I turned at them in an unfortunate reflex -- I should rather have ignored it altogether -- and wasn't entirely surprised to notice Fern. He hadn't changed much, I assumed, with the glasses, and the green-ish necklace, apart from his new choice of clothes, dressing down in something more suited to the filthiess of the Wastelands -- khaki and boots, and probably not a shirt underneath.

 

"Oh, it's you." Aya said, lacking any form of enthusiasm.

 

Fern was already walking towards me as I climbed down from my own platform.

 

"No surprise you beat her." he said, walking with me to the healing machine. "She's a total noob, worse than you." he added at me, clearly intended at her as well.

 

No one's worse than me, I thought bitterly.

 

"Excuse you?" Aya, who had reached the healing station, turned towards him in surprise and maybe mild outrage. "I beat you on my first battle on the field."

 

"Beginner's luck," Fern spat, and I could feel his hostility. "Doubles are cheap. And that field is wack. Now I'm wise to your tricks, chick, and I'm going to wipe the mud with you."

 

"But it'd be a shame if you went all the way here without even getting a good battle, wouldn't it, Gabriel?" he then turned to me, his hostility becoming a smirk. "And my team needs a little warm-up."

 

"My team needs to rest." I replied softly, waiting for the machine to release Aya's Pokemon. "They've had a rough couple of days and I'll need them in shape soon. They won't be much of a warm-up."

 

"You're scared of me, aren't you?" he sneered in mock compassion. "But I gotcha, I promise I'll go easy on you."

 

Yhn5Jui.png

 

"If that's what you want to think." I retorted conversationally. "It'd be a nice idea to have a rematch someday, but now's really not a good time for me."

 

"You're just a scrub who's scared shitless to lose."

 

I didn't answer him, only watching Aya retrieve her Pokemon. If he wanted to believe that, there was little I could say to change his mind. I certainly didn't like losing -- who did? But I wouldn't refuse a battle just because I thought I might lose. I'd refuse one that I was sure to lose, too, if there weren't any stakes, or -- a stab of pain and guilt -- if I could lose this battle to win one of higher importance.

 

And ask Kiki what she'd have thought of that viewpoint?

 

"Do you want to battle me or do you want to battle him?" Aya asked Fern, some annoyance in her voice. "Just get to your platform while I give him his Badge."

 

Oh, that, too.

 

Aya waited for me to put my Pokemon in the healing machine, and then handed me a piece of colored metal she called the Blight Badge -- one I undoubtedly deserved, I couldn't help but think -- and another gift.

 

"Here's the badge, and the TM Sludge Wave. You've seen it in action. Figure it's all I'm good for, spreading toxic waste like that. Oh, and if you want to watch the next battle, you can." she added in a monotone. "We'll wait for you."

 

A5nenBF.png

 

"No need to." I sighed. "Just start and I'll watch after they're healed."

 

"Fine." she answered in the same monotone.

 

I assumed I hadn't given the correct answer, because she audibly sighed, and walked away slowly towards her platform. It looked a lot like she really resented having to do that.

 

"Hey, you coming or what, chick? I don't have all day!" Fern snapped from his stand.

 

Aya didn't pay him attention, and went on dragging herself towards her stand at Dragalge speed. Not unlike Simon when asked to do his homework.

 

A Garchomp cutting off his hand. A piercing scream of agony that died as slowly as he did.

He got paler and paler as he was bleeding to death.

 

It was a dream! I told myself angrily.

 

And thus the battle had barely started when I got to the spectator stands.

 

Fern quickly proved himself much more prepared for that battle than I had been. He had started with a Rhyhorn (who was definitely to be reckoned with, even though it wasn't even evolved), and a Roserade. Aya had the same opening, and the Rhyhorn had immediately charged the Nidoqueen while Roserade sent the Toxapex to sleep.

 

Fern was better coordinated than I had been. He and his Pokemon clearly knew what to expect, and paired together much more smoothly than mine or Aya's, stepping in front of attacks meant for their partner when it was useful, coordinated to disrupt Aya's Pokemon's moves, covered one another when they were charging up a move or otherwise vulnerable. On paper, the battle should have been even, but it definitely wasn't. Fern didn't win in fifteen seconds -- but it was blatant that he would win, and he was taking his time.

 

He also clearly relished the sensation of being in control of the situation, and wasn't above voicing disparaging remarks at Aya, mostly about her skill with Pokemon, which she met with apparent utter indifference.

 

The battle was reaching its conclusion when I felt a draft, and, looking upwards, I saw a large, stony-looking bird, bigger than me and apparently much, much meaner, vaguely reminiscent of an Aerodactyl. Someone was riding it. I watched the bird slow abruptly while it was doing a U-turn, until it was stationary atop the stands, and the rider got down nimbly, making his way to the least high row, where I was sitting.

 

He looked young, too. So young to let what I had realized had to be a Mega-Aerodactyl chauffeur him around. Then again, I probably was, too, but maybe less than he was? And I didn't have a Mega-Evolved Pokemon, which probably was for the best.

 

"With great power," and suchlike. I had never seen that movie, but I knew the concept all too well.

 

So the newcomer was a male teenager, with long, rather unruly brick-red hair that barely avoided his eyes. He was quite casually dressed, with, as should be expected, boots. He also was smiling while looking at the battle, until his gaze settled on the challenger, and he let out a not-very-approving "Tch". He turned back to me and his smile was back, an earnest, rather contagious grin.

 

"Hey! Name's Hardy. What's yours?"

 

"Gabriel." I answered, without needless elaboration.

 

"You're a challenger, mate?" he went on.

 

Mate?

 

"I just got the Badge." I said back cautiously. "You?"

 

"I'm the Agate City Gym Leader." he replied. "Rock-type. I heard there was a new Gym Leader, so I wanted to greet her into the team. " he nodded in Aya's direction. 

 

"A team?" I asked, somewhat incredulous.

 

"I know it's a bit of a mess in Reborn City, but that's precisely why I try to welcome the new Leaders!" he answered brightly. "Cheer them up, meet up regularly, that sort of thing, so we Leaders stick together."

 

"That's a pretty good thought." I thought back of Florinia. Of Shade-whatever. Of Corey. Even Shelly, actually. Poor Shelly...

 

"It's over, anyway. It's time we head down."

 

Hardy just leapt from the stands, not minding the fall of over one meter and a half, but he winced as his feet started sinking into the viscous ground and the waste started sticking to his boots. I got down as well, but using the little stairs on the side. He nearly tripped as he tried to make his first step in the sticky and disgusting mud, but he managed to lean on the stands to recover his balance.

 

Cautiously adjusting his pacing, he still trotted towards Aya as she dragged herself to the healing machine, and Fern was following briskly after her, with great angry steps, asking loudly (and rudely) that she stopped to give him his Badge first.

 

I hurried after them, because there didn't seem to be a point in staying at the arena without trying at least to listen to the small talk afterwards. Also, I was curious about what Hardy would say to Aya, what sort of words he would employ to welcome her to the club of Gym Leaders, a pretty, er, colorful bunch from what I had seen.

 

"What are you doing here?" I heard Fern ask Hardy, his tone almost accusatory. I tried to remain as far as I could from them -- this way, I wouldn't be needlessly embroiled in the obviously renascent conflict.

 

"Right back atcha. Aren't you supposed to be at school or something?" Hardy replied.

 

Pot, kettle? I thought, knowing full well I was not to utter this.

 

"Ugh, you're another challenger?" Aya turned back to Hardy. "Why can't I be left alone?"

 

"No, I'm a fellow Gym Leader!" Hardy explained enthusiastically. "Name's Hardy. Reborn's Rock Leader, at your service!"

 

jQPlpnL.png

 

At Aya's quizzical glance, he added, slightly downcast, and looking pointedly at Fern:

 

"Yanno, the plan was to give you a warm welcome, but I guess you already got a sour one."

 

"Of course a loser like you would be with a scrub like her." Fern snapped back.

 

"Wait." Aya asked, somewhat more interested. "You know each other?"

 

"'Fraid so." Hardy answered first. "I had the misfortune of being stuck in the same class as Fern in the Onyx Trainer School, until we moved to Agate a year ago."

 

"In short," Fern supplemented helpfully, "Hardy's jealous because I was the top dog and he was another loser. Plus our sisters were friends, so we often got dragged to the same places."

 

"Yeah, that's it, mate." Hardy mock-approved.

 

"So there's no one else to challenge me, uh?" Aya commented dully, eyeing the three of us. "Great." she said in a voice that certainly didn't mean that.

 

"Aya," Hardy said in a softer tone, "don't take your loss" -- he eyed me -- "losses so hard. I watched the end of your battle and you put up a solid fight."

 

"Do you need glasses or something?" Fern asked in a snide tone. "I swept her."

 

"Nah, that was pretty even, you just rocked a little harder." Hardy replied with perhaps a slight hint of mockery.

 

"Ugh. I don't care about that." Aya said. "I don't care about that job. It was my baby brother's and he's dumped it onto me."

 

"So now the noob's all emo and excuses." Fern chimed in.

 

"Lay off her, mate." Hardy's tone, for once, was dead serious. "You've got your Badge, why do you stay here? Do you hate her or something?"

 

"Nah, I mostly hate you." Fern said back to Hardy. "But her too, I guess."

 

"Why don't you just leave, then?"

 

"Enjoy your new girlfriend then. See if Gabriel wants to be third wheel. Later, losers."

 

These were Fern's final words before he turned around, walking away, ignoring Hardy's shocked face and Aya's placid raised eyebrow.

 

"Sorry that you had to meet him." Hardy said when Fern was far enough. "He's a jerk."

 

"But he's right. To hate me. To despise me. I'm not a good person. I'm poison to everyone I touch."

 

W5bdofc.png

 

I would have chimed in, in spite of my better sense -- I was busy constructing my disclaimers -- if Hardy hadn't answered instantly that no, she wasn't.

 

"Yeah, and that's why Cain didn't even try to stay in touch after he ran away a month ago."

 

That conversation had stopped being productive long ago. I wouldn't be able to help Aya with her self-esteem, but perhaps someone as confident and upbeat as Hardy could. Regardless, I didn't have that much free time, as I didn't know when Cain would be coming back. My part of the job was done. So I muttered a vague goodbye, got a glance and a wave in return, and set out to walk back to the city.

 

My part was done... Now I just had to wait for Cain, I thought, and then we could finally rescue these children -- I'd be free. At least free to lament over my lost conscience.

 

As I was getting farther from the arena and closer to the city, my expectations grew more precise. I would have to prepare for such a rescue operation. And even afterwards, it wasn't certain where the children would live or sleep -- I'd have to go shopping.

 

And the rescue itself? I froze in my tracks, realizing at last the obvious part. We'd be two, not exactly very good, to fight an unknown number of terrorists in a building they had been occupying for at least a few days? When we didn't even know how strong they were? The last time, I had been with Amaria, and it hadn't been far from utter disaster.

 

For me at least... Had she seen my dead body, she probably would have been more more cautious about defending her own.

 

It was far too risky to proceed as I had first thought. But what was the alternative? Who could help?

 

It took me perhaps three hundred more meters of silent walk through the muck -- trying to think of the people I had met -- to find the obvious answer, the inspiration that made me stop walking again. I hoped they'd agree, that the danger wouldn't repel them -- but maybe Cain wouldn't want to be with them and I'd have given someone false hope.

 

The children first, an inner voice whispered.

 

You're just trying to save your own skin, guilt pointed out.

 

It's really the same thing if we're just two to fight Team Meteor.

 

You'd be exposing them to horrific dangers you'd have to tell them about, involving them in this horrible situation.

 

Weren't they already, though?

 

What if they didn't want the dangers?

 

We'd find something else.

 

What if Cain disagrees?

 

I'll tell them that I don't speak for him. Apart from that, not much I can do.

 

You could be signing their death warrant.

 

Four is safer than two. Just try it.

 

 

Character rates:

Spoiler

Hardy: 7/10 (new). Looks nice. Another good point is that he's able to dismiss Fern's crap with some class.

 

Fern: 3-/10 (no change). I already knew he was capable of being petty and offensive for little reason. After what he did for Corey and Shelly, I can't say that what he did just then was a reason to lower his rating even more.

 

Player's note (Fern battle):

Spoiler

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 I chose to play in set mode, no items. This way Fern can't call me cheap, right? 

 

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Sicy outspeeds and oneshots Rhyhorn.

 

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I switch to Mouse to protect Sicy (Ice Beam isn't even a 2HKO -- I can't wait to evolve her) and get one Intimidate off.

 

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Oops, Decidueye just used Sword Dance. This may be tricky. But Stoutland gets the Defense drop, so perhaps?

 

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Close one. Whew.

 

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I switch for Tech, to help defend my team against Roserade.

 

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And now, Roserade is predictable so we can avoid Extrasensory when switching to Blaziken.

 

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Blaze Kick is a one-shot.

 

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Somewhat surprisingly, Technician Scyther oneshots Blaziken even from full, hence the switch.

 

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But Scyther has nothing against Watt.

 

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I decided to sack Mouse to get a clean switch and Intimidate Fern.

 

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Double Kick is a one-shot, but quite a narrow one. Maybe the Black Belt helped.

 

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