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Choice and Consequence


E/GL obsessed
This fic is PG-13 for violence and some swearing.

Disclaimer: Once again, I am only one of those poor, deprived fans of pokemon, with no affiliation to the franchise.

Any simularity between this and anyone else's fic is completely coincidental.

WARNING: Highly recommended you read 'Heart of the Magma' beforehand.

Phew! Finally got around to putting in chapter links...
Chapter 1: To Dance Or Not to Dance
Chapter 2: Myth and Shadow
Chapter 3: The Facts Unseen
Chapter 4: Tricks of the Trade
Chapter 5: She's Got the Powder
Chapter 6: Some Like It Hot
Chapter 7: A Butterfree in the Hand
Chapter 8: Blast from the Past
Chapter 9: The Skylord's Wrath
Chapter 10: Wings 'n' Things
Chapter 11: Go With the Flow
Chapter 12: The Price of Distraction
Chapter 13: Under the Rockets' Red Glare

~ I ~


The streets of Alto Mare were quiet, darkness hanging over the city like a thin layer of fog. Moonlight glinted off the graceful steel curves of the city’s various window frames and railings, their reflection rippling in the black canal water. Comfortably slumbering within their homes, the inhabitants of Alto Mare were unaware of the two shadows which flashed over the rooftops on silent feet, mirrored only in the water below.

Stealthily Keegan jumped from one rooftop to the next, crouching cautiously and looking around to make sure her presence had gone unnoticed. Like a shade, her eevee Hazel appeared at her side, her fluffy tail twitching with tension. Throwing a quick, slightly forced grin at the pokémon, Keegan lay on her stomach over the edge and rapped lightly on the glass pane of balcony door below.

“Ross!” She hissed. Something inside the room rustled and Keegan heard the sound of someone fumbling for the lamp nearby before light flashed on inside the room. She saw Ross rubbing his eyes sleepily, sitting up in his quilted bed, the white stripes on his otherwise blue shirt looking orange in the dim glow. Blinking, he slipped out from under the covers and padded across the wooden floor, running a hand through his sleep-tousled brown hair.

“Keegan?” He threw open the window, almost hitting Keegan in the face, and winced at her expression. “They said no, huh?”

“Good guess,” Keegan retorted, her voice unintentionally angry. Her cheeks were beginning to look flushed from hanging upside-down and her blonde hair glinted in the light from Ross’s room. “Listen, can we talk?”

“Sure,” Ross yawned. “It looked to be a nice night at sunset.”

“I… didn’t see,” Keegan admitted reluctantly. Usually all she looked at was the night sky… unless she was too angry at her foster parents to notice. She swung back up to the tiled roof as Ross clambered onto the balustrade of his balcony and hoisted himself up onto the edge to sit with his legs hanging down. Keegan brushed her hair out of her eyes and smiled gratefully, the faint burn scars on her arm looking shiny in the dim light. “Sorry for waking you,” she apologised, settling down beside him with her legs crossed.

Ross just waved a hand and smiled good-naturedly, the slight breeze tugging at his hair and clothes. “It’s no problem,” He assured her, and chuckled. “I should be used to this by now.” He gave her a quick squeeze around the shoulders and leaned back on his hands as Hazel crawled onto Keegan’s knees, a bundle of warmth compared to the chill night. “So what’s up?”

Keegan stroked Hazel’s fur absently, taking comfort in her pokémon’s presence as the eevee yawned and snuggled into Keegan’s lap soothingly. “It’s not fair,” she said, her tone frustrated beyond words. “It’s like my foster parents are trying to stop me from having a life. I mean, this is Alto Mare, for God’s sake, but they won’t even let me participate in the water chariot races!”

“You know they’re only trying to protect you,” Ross pointed out mildly, gazing up at the stars winking down from the heavens. There was a multitude up there, the only witnesses to Keegan’s nightly rooftop walks.

“Then they’re screwing up,” Keegan retorted viciously, glaring down at the water of the canal below where Ross’s boat bobbed gently. Hazel’s ears twitched and she looked at Keegan mournfully upon hearing her tone of voice. “Because they’re going too far. There’s a difference between protecting and coddling, and they crossed the line years ago.”

“Yeah,” Ross agreed sympathetically. “But when Pete and Simon found you, you were half dead. Ever since then you can’t stand the open sea or being under water. I guess they can’t see the difference between that and surfing.”

“Surfing I can control,” Keegan grumbled. “Out in the ocean you’re at the mercy of the waves – and underwater you can’t breathe. That’s the difference; how is that difficult to understand?” She plucked at her fire stone pendant with her spare hand broodingly. It flashed in the dim light emitting from Ross’s window and Hazel licked Keegan’s hand sympathetically. “But it’s not just the chariot races,” Keegan continued angrily, squeezing the pendant so the chain dug into the palm of her hand. “It’s like they think I’ll break apart if anything bad happens to me. I don’t even remember what happened that night, why do they assume I can’t handle the bad stuff?”

Ross shook his head, regarding his frustrated friend with a slightly sorrowful look. He didn’t want Keegan to be hurt as much as her foster parents, but he was closer to her in age and knew when to let well enough alone. But they’re good people. Sometimes I get the feeling she wants to do more and more dangerous things just because they’re trying to stop her. Instead of speaking the words which leapt to his lips, he said something else.

“You know what I don’t get?” Interested, Keegan looked up to find him studying the sky and followed his gaze. The wind whispered past, making goosebumps rise on her bare arms. “You come out onto the rooftops every night, which some people would say is practically trespassing, and your parents would definitely disapprove.”

Keegan snorted a little derisively. “Of course they would. I could fall off, I could get hurt, I could come across a real criminal and it breeds mischief.”

All valid points, you know. Was Ross’s immediate thought, but he squashed it. He wanted to give Keegan his support, not more doubts. If she felt he was the only one to whom she could rant, how could he estrange her by seeming to take her foster parents’ side? Damn, but they’re gonna hate me for saying this… Ross turned and shot a slightly forced grin at her. “So why haven’t you just entered the chariot races, with or without their permission?”

Keegan blinked and remained silent, thinking about the answer. “Because that’s crossing some major lines,” she said at last. “They don’t know about what I do at night, so we can’t argue about it – but if I entered a race, then they’re sure to see it.”

“So?” Ross shrugged, his next words honest. “You’re eighteen. That’s old enough to make those kinds of decisions in my book.” If only you would listen to them once in a while…

Hazel put her paw in Keegan’s hand and the girl looked down at her. “Bui,” Hazel mewed encouragingly.

Keegan chewed the inside of her cheek and gazed up at the stars thoughtfully. She remembered the fight she’d had with Miriam and Peter, her foster parents, mere hours ago, and again felt the anger rise. Ross and Haze are right, she thought to herself, her jaw clenching with determination. I should be able to choose for myself. I should be able to choose if I want to enter the race, and I should be able to choose if I want to leave Alto Mare. Then she remembered something and groaned, the excitement which had been building vanishing in an instant.

“It’s tomorrow,” she said dispiritedly. “And because it’s not the open chariot race, there’s no more time to enter.”

Ross laughed, covering up a twinge of guilt. “Hey, no sweat. You can take my place.” I just hope none of you overreact… maybe it’ll end up with a fight. Maybe you’ll start listening to each other. Discreetly he crossed his fingers, praying for the latter.

“Serious?” Keegan exclaimed, her blue eyes suddenly blazing with anticipation.

“Sure,” Ross shrugged. “I can redeem my loss next year.” He grinned truthfully this time. “I just have to hope Misty’s not there.”

Keegan laughed and threw her arms around him, disturbing Hazel. Fondly miffed, the pokémon scrambled out of Keegan’s lap and instead curled up beside her. “Thanks a ton, Ross,” Keegan hugged him fiercely. Ross just chuckled and put his arm around her shoulders while she twined the fingers of her spare hand into Hazel’s fur. The three of them looked up at the stars visible over the line of the buildings, listening to the lap of canal water against the curb long into the night.

The next morning Keegan hardly noticed her lack of sleep; she was too charged up, knowing she was about to participate in the water chariot race for Alto Mare citizens only. The fact that it was a secret from her parents just made the tension worse – she had to pretend she was still angry when really she wanted to jump for joy. Although she was directly disobeying them, the freedom of knowing she had made her decision was intoxicating.

She deliberately wore her denim shorts and her cut-off, sleeveless top. It could be cold, but at least her customary jeans wouldn’t weight her down. “Okay, Firefoot, today is gonna be different,” Keegan sat cross-legged on the wooden floor of her room, stroking Firefoot’s orange pelt. The growlithe pup gnawed playfully at her hand, making small growling noises in the back of his throat as his shaggy orange paws danced over the wooden floor. He wasn’t as good at climbing as Hazel or Keegan and so had to remain behind during the night.

Keegan grinned and tousled the white tuft of fur on the top of his head. “We’re gonna go to the library like usual,” she told him, lowering her voice so Peter or Miriam couldn’t hear. “But we’ll sneak out the back window first chance we get. I’m gonna enter the water chariot race, Firefoot.”

“Graawlth!” Firefoot barked, cocking his head and wagging his thick, fluffy white tail furiously.

Keegan chuckled. “So I guess it’s okay if I leave you and Hazel with Ross on the sidelines, right?” She glanced up at Hazel, lying on Keegan’s bed and chewing on her white-tipped tail.

“Eebui,” Hazel mewed, her brown eyes sparkling with her own excitement and not a little bit of pride that Keegan was finally making her own choice.

“Keegan!” Miriam called from down below. “We’re leaving for the library soon!”

“Alright!” Keegan yelled back, tugging on her running shoes. Hazel jumped off the bed, leaving behind an imprint and moulted fur on the quilt, and shook herself. “C’mon,” Keegan gestured to her pokémon, unable to resist a grin as she trudged downstairs. Firefoot followed closely, his wet nose occasionally bumping the backs of her legs, while Hazel squeezed past to lead.

While they walked to the library, Keegan barely listened to Miriam as the plump, good-natured woman chattered on. Her gaze was set absently on the cobblestone path in front of her and her mind dwelled on the race she was to run. Hazel and Firefoot bounded ahead of them, darting and playing blithely, dodging the other citizens of Alto Mare who were enjoying the early morning.

When they reached the library, Keegan was beginning to feel nervous, because she had to get away in time to reach the canal where the race was to begin. But that day luck was with her, for Miriam left her in the back room with orders to unpack the books stored in boxes while she herself went into the main area to watch over the looming shelves.

With a deep breath Keegan set to her task. Switching on the television to make some noise, she worked in the light of the round window overhead, illuminating the otherwise darkened room. Firefoot, nosing around a pile of books in the corner, squeezed past the perilous stack. Hazel, however, jumped nimbly onto the round table where Keegan worked to settle down and watch her trainer.

The next thing Keegan heard was a creak and she turned around just in time to see the tall, unsteady pile of books tumble down around Firefoot, making dust billow. Firefoot, sitting back on his haunches among the books with a look of utmost surprise, sneezed and shook his head, blinking owlishly. Keegan giggled, stepping carefully through the mess of books and removing a loose page which had floated down to land on Firefoot’s head.

“Bui,” Hazel sighed in a long-suffering manner, rolling her eyes skyward and licking her paw delicately.

Keegan began stacking the books carefully, checking the time, as Firefoot watched. The fine dust settled about him turned his black stripes grey and made Keegan’s eyes water annoyingly.

“Oh, I can’t take this anymore,” The girl groaned finally, grabbing Firefoot around the belly and lifting him up onto the top of the bookcase in front of the window. The growlithe, moving carefully against the slight rocking of the shelves, put his paws on the round windowsill and nosed open the latch. The window swung open as Keegan lifted Hazel up to the top and Firefoot bounded through, onto the slight ledge outside.

Within seconds, all three had escaped the stuffy office. Keegan pulled the window closed behind her and clambered down, catching each of her pokémon as they jumped from the ledge. “Okay, let’s hurry,” Keegan urged, checking the clock just visible through the glass for the umpteenth time, and the trio hurried off.

Behind them, the television blared to an empty room.

Ross scanned the multi-coloured crowd anxiously, searching for Keegan. I hope she didn’t get caught. I hope nothing’s happened. I wish she didn’t have to sneak away at all… in the canal beside him, his wailmer tugged impatiently at the leash, almost pulling him into the rippling water. Most of the other contestants were already at the starting line, waiting for the race to begin.

Finally Firefoot bounded out of the crowd, tongue lolling happily. Hazel squeezed her way past two legs and Keegan pushed through the crowd, tugging off her shoes almost as soon as she’d reached a relieved Ross.

“Good luck,” he murmured, handing her the leash. Maybe this will prove to Miriam and Pete that they don’t need to worry… I just hope you don’t forget why they’re so strict. He thought inwardly, his soft eyes regarding Keegan with unseen seriousness.

“Thanks, I’m gonna need it,” Keegan answered with a nervous laugh, stepping uncertainly onto the slick, streamlined chariot. She almost tipped over right there and then as the chariot rocked, making the water splash over the curb and drenching Firefoot and Hazel, but after a moment she regained her balance and Wailmer motored its way to the starting line.

Keegan found herself staring into the clear water. She could almost see the bottom, fragmented and distorted by the waves, and shivered. Falling in wasn’t going to be fun – but she wasn’t intending to fall in. She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. When she looked again at the glittering water track in front of her, her blue eyes were determined. Water, yes. I’m not under it, so it doesn’t matter.

“Okay, Wailmer, ready to show ‘em what we’ve got?” she said to the round, rubbery blue pokémon. It nodded, making waves rock nearby chariots, and Keegan found herself grinning. Who cares if we win? She thought silently to herself, enjoying the bob of the chariot. I’m on the water, I’m about to go fast and I’m sticking to my decision for once. What does it matter if we win or not?

She cast a quick glance to the side, fleetingly touching her pendant for good luck, and Ross gave her a thumbs up sign; then she heard the xatu crow. Wailmer surged forward, already speeding through the water and throwing up two curtains of foam on either side of Keegan’s chariot.

Blonde hair lashing in the wind, Keegan leaned back on the leash the way Ross had taught her during one of the memorable nightly excursions. Someone cut in front of them, spraying Keegan with water, and Wailmer cut their speed abruptly to avoid the collision as Keegan’s spare arm windmilled frantically. Oh God, don’t fall in…! With a jerk the whale pokémon rushed forwards, dodging a spiky, scaled seadra to dart around the corner, hauling the chariot behind him as it skidded on the surface of the track against the force of its momentum.

Her heart pounding, Keegan caught her breath and her balance as they streaked towards the man in the lead, the walls and canals of Alto Mare blurring past her in a rush of exhilarating wind.

Back at the library, Miriam lifted the pile of old books she had just sorted from the shelves, heading to the back office where she’d ask Keegan to pack them away into a box for shipping to the library on the mainland. The salty water around Alto Mare made it difficult to maintain the library properly, so the oldest and most precious of books were kept elsewhere.

As she came to the door, Miriam heard the sound of the television and smiled. Of course Keegan would want to watch Ross in the water chariot race. Using her elbow, Miriam levered the door open and was greeted by an empty room. Shocked, she blinked, setting the books down on the table and looking around.

“And newcomer Keegan just taken the lead with former champion Ross’s wailmer, but Marlin and his golduck aren’t gonna let the race go that easily, as he tails her close behind –”

Miriam whirled about to stare at the screen incredulously, sure she’d heard wrong. But no, there was Keegan, balanced perilously on a speeding, streamlined chariot with her rival pulling up beside her. Miriam’s heart leapt to clog her throat as the water shifted, throwing the chariots together. The plump woman let out an involuntary cry of distress, clutching herself fearfully as they scraped each other, the announcer’s voice merely noise in the background. Keegan’s chariot rocked wildly, almost sending her plummeting into the water. Don’t let her fall, don’t let her fall, don’t let her fall…! Marlin leaned away, narrowly avoiding a second, more serious collision as the foamy plumes sprayed up around them, and Miriam let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

She could have gotten herself hurt! Miriam thought tearfully, covering her eyes with frustrated apprehension. I don’t care how old she is, she acts like an irresponsible child! That’s half the reason we’re so strict with her, doesn’t she realize that? How could Ross have let her enter… she shuddered. Without looking again at the screen Miriam hurried out of the office, her adrenaline-weak legs fuelled by worried anger.

Back at the race Keegan swerved around the last, sharp corner, the chariot wobbling dangerously. The side scraped the brick wall and Keegan winced, her cheeks flushed with windburn and her fringe threatening to lash in her eyes. Not far ahead, Marlin was speeding towards the finish line.

“Let’s go!” Keegan urged Wailmer. With a deep rumble, Wailmer picked up the pace. His watery backlash made Keegan’s chariot veer from side to side but she had a firm grasp of its capabilities now and balanced skilfully against its roll as they drew abreast of Marlin. He glanced over at her and found the time to grin at her under his beard. Catching Keegan’s gaze, she grinned back as Wailmer slowly pulled in front, the water around them and the rainbow coloured audience ranged on the streets a mere blur.

The next thing Keegan knew, the finishing banner had flashed overhead and Wailmer came to a halt, slinging the chariot around as Keegan struggled to maintain her balance. Her adrenaline-weak legs collapsed on her, sending her careening into the clear, lapping water. Her shoulder jarred the chariot, making her hand tingle numbly as water closed over her head with a shocking of gasping panic. Nonono, God this was supposed to be fun! Terrified, choking on water, she scrambled for the surface as Wailmer came up beneath her, lifting her on its rubbery blue back to safety.

Trembling and weak with relief and exhaustion, Keegan coughed and took in a gulp of blessed air to calm her pounding heart, sitting with her legs sprawled on Wailmer’s back as she brushed her wet hair from her eyes with a shaky hand. She suddenly became aware of the shouts and calls coming from the sidelines and looked up to see Marlin give her a fleeting salute, which she returned with a weak, slightly forced smile. She glanced over to the side to see a worried-looking Ross, prepared to jump in the canal for rescue her. She threw him an unsteady grin and a thumbs-up. Relieved, Ross settled for waving his hands with reproachful elation as Firefoot jumped about excitedly, accidentally knocking Hazel into the water. Drenched, looking remarkably like a wet rattata, Hazel scrambled out of the water and glared at Firefoot, long fur dripping.

And then it finally began to dawn on Keegan, something completely unexpected: she’d won.

The medallion flashed in the light of the day, the path barely visible through the rippling, tinted glass. Keegan studied it, rocking it back and forth and admiring the way the sun brought out the different hues.

Ross chuckled, poling his boat along the canal beside her. “You’ve seen that thing a million times, you know,” he reminded her.

Keegan grinned. “Yeah, but that’s always after you’ve won it.” She rubbed her hand proudly over the raised glass outlines of Latios and Latias circling the Soul Dew, unaware of the troubled look which passed over Ross’ face.

She didn’t learn anything, he thought with the chill of sorrow. She got dunked in and she didn’t even realize why Miriam and Pete’s fears might be justified. He shuddered, remembering the look of terror on her face as Wailmer lifted her through the thin, crystalline sheet of the surface; the look which no one else had seemed to notice.

Firefoot jumped up onto his hind legs, forepaws stabbing in the air as he struggled to see the medallion, so Keegan lowered the medallion to let the growlithe pup take a look. Up ahead, Hazel stopped in her tracks with a gasp, then darted back and hid behind Keegan’s legs. Keegan giggled elatedly, too much on a high to realize something dire might have happened. “What’s the matter, Haze?”

“Grawlth, grrra,” Firefoot backed away slowly, nervously. Keegan finally looked up to see Miriam bearing down on them with hard steps, her brown curls accenting her furious scowl. She didn’t see the worry buried deep in her foster mother’s brown eyes.

“Uh oh,” Keegan went pale, having completely forgotten about the consequences of entering the race. “Listen, Ross, I – I’ll see you later, okay? No point in her getting angry at the both of us.”

Ross nodded, leaning on his pole and staring at Miriam between the long fringes framing his face. “Yeah, sure… ” He felt a pang, knowing that the upcoming argument was his fault. I’m the one who let her enter, I was just hoping that maybe – without finishing his thought or figuring out exactly what he’d been hoping he pushed off the curb, turning down a thin canal, and waved after him. Keegan raised a hand in answer, then glanced down at the medallion.

Once again she rubbed her thumb over the raised glass, her eyes darkening. It was worth it, she thought defiantly, and raised her chin to face her foster mother.

“What were you thinking?!” Miriam shrieked in her shrill voice once Keegan was in hearing range.

<<She’s not happy…>> Firefoot’s ears went down and he slunk behind Keegan’s legs to look at Hazel. His head lowered near the ground and his mournful eyes darted back to Miriam, his fluffy tail twitching.

Hazel rolled her eyes apprehensively in his direction, ears flickering. <<You think?>> she answered, her tone heavy with sarcasm as she rubbed her furry head against Keegan’s legs comfortingly. Oh Latias, when will this conflict end? She thought sadly, regarding Miriam’s round, red face.

“I was thinking about having fun,” Keegan snapped back to her foster mother heatedly, only half aware of the exchange which had gone on beneath her. Miriam grabbed her hand and began dragging her back home, while Hazel and Firefoot exchanged a worried glance and trailed after.

“There’s a reason your father and I stopped you from entering those races!” Miriam said angrily between breaths, yanking Keegan under a bridge down one alley and then another. It was as much for punishment as for safety, didn’t you see that?

Keegan tried to tug her hand away, but for a plump woman Miriam was amazingly strong. “Pete’s not my father!” the girl retorted, her tone just as angry as Miriam’s. Her spare hand was clenched around the medallion, the metal edges digging into her palm and the chain trailing behind her. “And you’re not my mother! You have no right to tell me what to do!” Miriam’s stride faltered and she gave Keegan a stricken look, stopping in the sheltered alley. Keegan wrenched her hand out of Miriam’s grasp, massaging her fingers, and ignored Miriam’s hurt eyes as Hazel and Firefoot crowded supportively at her legs.

She doesn’t think of us as her parents? Miriam swallowed through the hurt lump in her throat and took a deep breath. “We’ve been your only family for eight years, Keegan,” she began, her tone thick with forced calm. Keegan scowled into the ground, trying to fight off the feelings of guilt which were warring with her anger. There was already a lump in her throat and her eyes began to shine with unshed tears; she hated arguing. “I would have thought that meant something to you.” Miriam’s voice was unintentionally accusing.

Keegan gritted her teeth, looking away. How dare she use guilt on me like that! She raged inwardly, angry enough to say something she’d regret forever. “Well, it doesn’t!” she choked. “All you’ve done is hold me back! You won’t even let me compete in harmless chariot races! You won’t even let me leave Alto Mare!” she gestured wildly with the hand clutching the medallion, looking up finally to meet Miriam’s shocked eyes.

Keegan took a deep breath, tears spilling down her cheeks. “All I want to do is make my own decisions,” she continued stubbornly. “I want to be able to decide what I do and where I go, but you won’t even let me do that!”

“And until you learn to look at life seriously, I won’t!” Miriam snapped, finally finding her voice. I can’t! You might get hurt, you might accidentally hurt other people! “So far all you care about is having some fun and getting up to mischief! I’d thought that reading about Lance the dragon master and the other Elites might make you realize just how dangerous it is out there, but so far it doesn’t seem to have worked!” Keegan flushed and Miriam continued relentlessly, brushing her curls behind her ear as she tried passionately to make her stubborn foster daughter see, make her understand – “You of all people should know how dangerous the world is, Keegan. It’s because of those dangers that we came to call you our daughter.”

“It’s because of those dangers that you’ve chained me here to Alto Mare!” Keegan retorted in a trembling voice, her cheeks still pink under the tear tracks. “You’re afraid I’ll break apart or I’ll get hurt, but you don’t know that at all! How am I meant to prove myself if you won’t let me shoulder any responsibility? Facing danger is just part of that!”

“Facing danger is being stupid,” Miriam countered angrily. “You don’t go looking for danger, you have to take it as it comes.”

“I can’t take it as it comes if I can’t live my own life!” Keegan shouted, her voice shaking dangerously. “I don’t even know what I want to do with myself, because this city is all I remember!” she gestured around at the shadowed, ivy-swathed brick walls. “I don’t even know where – where I got this,” she tugged at her pendant vehemently, her wet eyes boring furiously into Miriam’s face. “When am I going to find out who I am, what I’m meant to do?”

“When you finally realize that life isn’t all fun and games,” Miriam answered heatedly. “The people here in Alto Mare know that better than anyone – the sea is dangerous, you have to take it seriously! It’s not a game! No matter where you go and what you do, there are always rules to follow – but you seem to dedicate yourself to breaking them! Until you learn a little responsibility and respect, you’re not ready to go out into the world.”

“Wha – how dare you decide that for me!” Keegan’s fists were clenched, and she was shaking and crying with fury.

Miriam sighed, her frustration draining out of her like a sieve. “Come on home, little fox,” she held out a hand, her tone as gentle as she could make it. Please, please come home. I’m only trying to protect you.

“Don’t call me that!” Keegan screamed, covering her ears childishly, and Miriam flinched with a jolt. “You can’t! You’re not allowed!” With a ragged, choked sob, she dodged down the alley, shoes pounding the stones.

“Grawlth!” Firefoot barked, darting after her. Hazel paused and looked up at Miriam with sad, accusing eyes; then she bounded after Keegan and Firefoot. Shocked, angry and guilty, Miriam watched them vanish around the next corner.

Keegan trudged down the path, wet eyes staring dully at the cobblestones before her. Hazel backed away in front of her, cocking her head to gaze at Keegan’s tear-stained face. Firefoot’s own stride reflected Keegan’s depression. He walked so close behind her his nose occasionally bumped the backs of her legs, as was his wont.

The usually slate-grey streets now looked golden in the late afternoon sun that flashed from across the ocean and most people had retreated into their homes to enjoy a clear, brisk evening. But not Keegan.

The breeze gusted through the lanes and canals of Alto Mare, making the water lap against the curb. It wrapped around Keegan and she shivered, suddenly coming out of her reverie to realize the day was cooling and she was still only wearing her denim shorts – hardly enough to keep her warm.

But she kept walking. Walking was the only way she had to exercise her frustration; and though her stomach rumbled with hunger and her limbs with weary with lack of energy, she felt she couldn’t stop.

The wind tugged insistently at her hair, drawing her ponytail over her shoulder and playing with it, shaking it in her eyes. Idly, Keegan brushed it out of her face and behind her ears, but it tangled annoyingly around her hand. Hazel tripped over a loose stone and tumbled backwards, her fur fluttering in the playful fingers of the breeze.

Suddenly Keegan realized she had reached the edge of Alto Mare and gazed out over the gold and orange lit ocean. The horizon was dyed with purple and red, the clouds etched over the sun dimming its bright glow. Keegan’s jaw clenched momentarily and she glared out at the sea. The snowy-white wingull cawed, darting and diving in the final hour or so of daylight. “Look at them,” Keegan said enviously, feeling wrung out and emotionally exhausted. “They’re free.” As she watched, a mantine broke the surface of the glittering water, rising in a graceful arc before vanishing back beneath the crystalline ocean with hardly a splash.

“Bubui,” Hazel mewed sympathetically.

“Gawlth,” Firefoot whined, and sat at Keegan’s feet, his orange-and-black fur blazing in the setting sun.

“There’s no way,” Keegan said bitterly, eyes following the wingull. “They can go where they want, when they want. Like Lance and the Elites,” she added broodingly. “Sure, they have responsibilities, but they chose to take on those responsibilities. I bet you if Lance were in my position he wouldn’t take all this guff. He’d go out and do what he thought was right, no matter what anyone said.”

“Graaw,” Firefoot cocked his head, soft puppy eyes looking up at Keegan.

Keegan sighed, depressed, and realized she still held the medallion. She lifted it, examining it in the golden light. Distantly, from the last house, she heard the sound of radio music, and tilted her head to listen.

‘I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance;
Never settle for the path of least resistance.
Living might mean taking chances, but they’re worth taking…’

Keegan’s heart skipped a beat; it was as though the radio echoed her frustration. Miriam and Peter just didn’t seem to understand that sometimes, to find your dream, you had to take risks. They truly were afraid of those mountains…

If I stay here, she thought to herself, would I be bowing to Miriam just to avoid a fight? Just to avoid hurting her? She tuned in to the song again, idly wondering what other advice it could give her.

‘Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter;
When you come close to selling out, reconsider.
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance…’

Spellbound, Keegan’s gaze was drawn inexorably to the uppermost stars beginning to wink in the slowly darkening sky, and remembered telling Ross the night before that she’d been too angry at her foster parents to notice them. She spent too much time being bitter to see the beauty around her…

‘…tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
Where those years have gone?’

I don’t!
Keegan felt like shouting, but the lump in her throat stopped her from speaking. The next words she heard with a great deal of irony.

‘I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean…’

No trouble there.
She thought with a sigh, her brow wrinkling forward as she stared at the lapping waves.

‘Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens…’

If I left now, one door would close…
Keegan thought almost wonderingly. But how many would open for me?

‘Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance…’

I will.

‘And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance...’

Keegan lifted the medallion, tilting it from side to side. In the dying light of the sun and with the rippling ocean behind it, it almost looked at though Latios and Latias were doing just that: dancing. Free.

‘I pray you’re dancing…
I pray you’re dancing…
I hope you dance.’

For the first time in what seemed like years Keegan took a deep breath, suddenly realizing that her cheeks were once again damp. Though she still felt exhausted, it was a weariness that she’d never felt before; not angry or tense, but peaceful.

“You know what?” she said at last, to her pokémon.

“Eeeii,” Hazel purred, her voice vibrating. She felt the sudden change in Keegan, her oldest friend.

“Yeah…” Keegan smiled slowly, the breeze wisping past her and drawing her gaze, not for the last time, up to the sky. “I think… I’m gonna dance.”

When Keegan got home the horizon was still lit with the glow of twilight. The tentative calls of the hoothoot and noctowl were oddly comforting and the dust the ledyba and ledian scattered in a celebration of impending nightfall gave Alto Mare a strangely mystical aura.

Keegan pushed open the door and marched tight-lipped through the kitchen, ignoring Peter sitting at the table; in all likelihood Miriam was up in their room. Although it seemed that Miriam was the dominant one, because she got angry at Keegan’s antics more often than Peter, he was really the one who enforced their rules.

And that night there was no way he was going to let the girl go that easily. “Keegan,” he said, swirling his coffee with a spoon absently. Sitting on the table, his aipom held the sugar bowl, dipping his tiny fingers into the granules and licking them off quickly.

Keegan paused, one hand already on the banister of the stairs, and sighed inwardly. “What?”

“You’re grounded until further notice,” Peter’s voice was bland, somewhat depressed. I’m sorry, little fox. He apologised inwardly. I truly am. He had seen the race himself, on a tinny TV in the tackle shed where his sloop was moored. You fell in and you were terrified – and it has changed nothing. If you simply refuse to listen, then we have to try something else.

“Aipuu?” Aipom cocked his head and looked at the girl frozen at the stairs, one paw hovering above the bowl. He exchanged a warning glance with Firefoot, still at the base of the first step.

“Whatever,” Keegan answered so softly she could hardly be heard. Hazel’s ear twitched; she was already halfway up the stairs.

“No going outside except to the library,” Peter continued with a guilty pang. Aipom’s tail waved and he looked back at Peter with huge eyes but Pete looked away, instead studying the grain of the table.

“Uh huh.” Keegan continued on her way up as Aipom watched after her before returning to his sugar. There’s no way they can keep me locked up, the girl thought serenely. I’m leaving tonight, and they can’t stop that. She glanced down at the medallion, hardly noticing the slight smile that tugged at her lips.

Hazel was sitting in front of Keegan’s room, waiting patiently. Keegan threw open the door and headed straight for her wardrobe, letting Firefoot nose the door closed behind them while Hazel leapt onto the soft bed.

Keegan draped the medallion around her neck and opened the door to the wardrobe, grabbing her shoulder bag off the inside handle. She snatched up a pile of clothes and other necessities and stuffed them inside the bag. Hazel, standing on the bed, placed a paw on the tubs of pokémon food she had rolled across from the bedside table and Keegan made sure they were full before fitting them into the bag carefully. Firefoot padded over, Keegan’s belt in his mouth.

“Thanks,” Keegan murmured, taking the belt and brushing her fingers over his orange-and-black fur before buckling it on. She unclipped Firefoot’s pokéball and expanded it, gazing at it doubtfully. She had never once returned Firefoot to his pokéball, but knew that if they were to leave Alto Mare it was necessary. She held out the pokéball to Firefoot. “I have to return you, Firefoot,” she told him gently.

Firefoot cocked his head in an expectant manner. “Grrrawlth, grraw!” he barked.

Keegan smiled fondly, and gave him one last scratch behind the ears. “I don’t know what I’d do without you two,” she told him honestly.

“Eebui, bubui,” Hazel shook her head from side to side, making her ears flap. Keegan chuckled and raised the pokéball, returning Firefoot for the first time in the four years since Officer Jenny had given him to her. The growlithe pup had been too curious and uncommitted to be cut out for police work and a chance meeting on the street made Officer Jenny convinced he should go with Keegan.

Straightening up, Keegan shrank the pokéball and returned it to her belt, slinging her bag over her shoulder. Then she turned towards the window and turned the latch to push it open… but it didn’t budge.

“Bubui?” Hazel whispered incredulously. With a sick feeling of disbelief, Keegan rattled the latch, but it didn’t move. She tried pushing on the window, to no avail. Dropping the bag, she sank to the floor, stunned. Hazel nuzzled her hand, making sympathetic purring sounds. Her huge eyes locked onto something behind Keegan.

“How did they find out?” the girl choked, entwining her fingers into Hazel’s long fur.

“Officer Jenny,” a deep, grating voice, conditioned by a life on the sea, said behind her. Keegan turned around to see Simon leaning against her doorway, his sleeveless T-shirt making his tanned biceps seem even bigger than they were.

“Bui?” Hazel gasped. Keegan just stared blankly; she hadn’t even heard the door open.

“She came round while you were out,” Simon took a step into the room, his dark eyes studying Keegan over his bearded face. He felt a pang; her eyes looked so lost. “She was pretty disappointed, actually. Said she saw you creeping across the rooftops last night and thought we might want to do something about it. Some people wouldn’t take kindly to having a girl on their roofs.”

“But… but…” Tears spilled out of Keegan’s eyes. “But… I’m grounded… I can’t…” A sob wracked her, the peaceful feeling she had managed to sustain shattering. Too emotionally exhausted to even feel angry, she suffered only despair.

“Bui,” Hazel put her paws on Keegan’s shoulders, licking at the salty tracks down her cheeks, the pokémon’s eyes also shining with sympathetic tears. Keegan hugged her tightly, burying her face in Hazel's soft fur.

Simon glanced into the hall and quietly closed the door behind him, kneeling beside Keegan and putting a hand on her shoulder. “Come on now,” he said quietly. “Crying won’t help.” He held out his hand. “But this might.”

Keegan lifted her head, wiping her eyes, and picked the key off his palm, staring at it uncertainly. “You’re gonna let me out?” she asked, her voice wavering.

“I’ve never agreed with their way of raising you,” Simon admitted. “You’re a curious, adventurous girl, so trying to lock you up only made you want out even more. I’m surprised it took you so long to try and leave.” I just wish it didn’t have to be like this. You still have a lot to learn about the world, little fox – but if you refuse to learn it here, then you’ll have to learn out there, where the lesson will be harsher.

Keegan stood and unlocked the window, then handed the key back to him as Hazel jumped up onto the windowsill. “Here,” Simon held out a pokégear, a small device with several purposes; among those serving as a map, a radio and a phone. It looked small in his big hand. “This might help.” He grinned fervently. “And you’ll need this, too,” He held up a ticket. “For the next ferry out of Alto Mare. It’ll take you to Cianwood – from there you should be able to go to Olivine.”

Keegan took them, clipping the pokégear onto her belt, and stood staring at the ticket for long moments. This is the point of no return, she found herself thinking. If I use this… I can’t go back. She tucked it her back pocket and looked up at Simon, utterly speechless. ‘Thank you’ seemed so… inadequate. Finally she hugged him fiercely and whispered it anyway. “Thank you.”

He squeezed her back. “Get going, little fox. There should be one last ferry leaving tonight, but you have to get there quickly.” Keegan picked up her bag, slinging it over her shoulder once again. “Keegan…” the girl paused and looked back at Simon, who regarded her seriously. “You know they love you.”

Keegan hesitated, then nodded, her eyes downcast. “I know. G’bye, Simon.” Hazel grabbed onto the strap with her teeth and rode the bag as Keegan scrambled out of the window and onto the roof for the last time.

Keegan hurried over the rooftops, ignoring the chill wind that made goosebumps rise on her bare skin and checking the horizon anxiously. The trip to Cianwood City was several days long, and she couldn’t afford to miss the last ferry for a week, but she also knew they had to get out of the harbour before full night.

And yet she couldn’t leave without first saying goodbye to Ross. She dropped silently down onto his balcony, bathed in the yellow glow of his bedroom light, and rapped at the window. Instantly Ross looked up from the book he had been reading and tossed it aside, coming to the glass doors; Keegan stood away as he pushed them open.

He took in Hazel, standing on the balcony balustrade, and Keegan’s bag over her shoulder. “You’re leaving.” It wasn’t a question; his soft brown eyes were already resigned. It had to come to this, didn’t it? The only way you’d learn why Pete and Miriam did what they did – the only way they’d realize why you did the same.

Keegan nodded, her own eyes glimmering. “I have to hurry – there’s only one more ferry, and I have to catch it. But I had to say goodbye.”

“Eebui,” Hazel agreed forlornly.

“Well, then, here,” Ross grabbed an empty pokéball from his bedside table and held it out. “You can’t go around with Hazel free like that. Under the Pokémon Association’s rules, if she doesn’t have a pokéball, she’s wild and therefore fair game.”

Keegan took it gingerly, knowing he was right but not liking it one bit, as Hazel jumped down from the ledge, her eyes resolute. Keegan tossed the pokéball gently; it bounced off Hazel and enclosed her in a flash of red light before dropping to the balcony, rocking only once before locking down. Keegan picked it up and looked down at it somewhat regretfully; it represented just one more change.

Then Keegan drew the medallion from around her neck and looked at it briefly before handing it to Ross. “I was gonna keep it, as a reminder… but I think it’d do better here.” Ross accepted it reluctantly, and met Keegan’s gaze. She managed a shaky grin. “We’ll be okay,” she promised.

Ross smiled fondly. “I know you will,” he said simply before drawing her into his arms. She clasped him around the neck, embracing him tightly for as long as she dared. Then she let him go and gave him one last, fleeting smile before climbing lithely back onto the roof. Ross leaned on the edge of the balcony, the medallion still clutched in his hand, and gazed out into the slowly darkening city with a bitter-sweet pang as the wind whispered assurances in his ears.

Keegan ran as fast as she could, ignoring the stitch in her side and the annoying bounce of the pendant at her throat, her breath coming in short gasps. It was almost full night now, but she could see the ferry up ahead, still moored to the almost deserted pier.

A sailor still on the dock was untying the rope securing the small ship to the wharf. “Hey!” Keegan shouted breathlessly, and the sailor looked up. He waved to her, gesturing for her to hurry, and called something to someone in the shadow of the awning over the deck.

Keegan pounded up the gangplank, legs aching and chest heaving, and sank to her knees, exhausted. “Thanks,” she gasped to the sailor unlatching the gangplank from the ship, and he chuckled.

“It was a close one,” he said, pushing the railing clear of the ship. Keegan struggled to her feet, the salty breeze already cooling her off, and walked to the bow to stand watching the rolling sea as they cleaved through the water.

She looked back only once at Alto Mare. The city was still lit up by the lights of the houses, a glittering metropolis amid the churning, restless ocean. Then she turned forward to their destination and her future.

She was content with her choice; the first of many. Whatever the consequences were… she was ready to face them.


Lame? Yes, it is. So sue me. :p

For those who are interested, the song is called 'I Hope You Dance' by Ronan Keating.
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Twilight Absol

You read me like a book! I was just about to ask for that song....>.>
it fit in so perfectly with your situation, I thought you wrote the fic to base it off the song >.> I know, quite silly of me...
And yes I think I will sue you......for not recognizing a good fic when you see one...:p
well, I love this fic, and I would love to find out more about Maxie, hint hint...
Definitely able to be on the same level as Scrap

BTW, First post!


E/GL obsessed
Wow, that's the second time you've compared me to Scrap...
^.^ I'm flattered.

Finding out more about Maxie, huh? :p You might be disappointed... on the other hand, you might not. ^.^ We'll see.

Oh, that was the other thing... people who know the 5th movie well might recognise Ross as the charioteer who came second to Misty in the intro. ^.^


Yay! I've been waiting every day since I read Heart of the Magma!!! This is great!!!!

Twilight Absol

Hmm...literary allusion eh? I like, I like!
though what I really want to see is [SPOIL]Maxie with his revenge against the ocean, only to find his daughter against him...[/SPOIL]
But then, it would be too predictable, and that wont make this a good fic >.>


One word.


THIS FIC IS INCREDIBLE! The detail, the character descriptions and their interactions, the POKEMON! >DDDDD


Of course, I have a feeling this wont any normal badge hunt. :3

I eargly await the second chap, and am, from this moment on, A LOYAL-O FAN-O! :3


E/GL obsessed
Oooh, goody, I have a new fan! *claps hands excitedly* ^.^

Thanks for reviewing Saber, though whatever gave you the idea this might be a normal badge hunt anyway? :p But you're right, it's not. Although the badges may possibly have something to do with the sequel I'm already planning... *sweatdrop* which won't be begun until I finish this one. So I've better get writing, huh?

As for you, Twilight... *zips up mouth and throws away the key*
^.^ If you know the anime, then you might have guessed I'm using the same timeline - since Ross mentions Misty, whom he met in the 5th movie.
So you wanna know what happens to Maxie's revenge? Well, he does appear in the anime, after all...
And I've already said to much. ^.^ So thanks again to everyone who reviewed.


E/GL obsessed
Okay, here's the second chapter ^.^

This one is different in one major way: At one stage, I write from a pokemon's point of view. So I'm mentioning this to avoid any potential confusion. From a pokemon's PoV, when they speak, they don't go around saying their name; they say words, straight out. So from here on, if any pokemon speaks straight out, then you know it's a pokemon's PoV. If it's too confusing, tell me, and I'll try to find an alternative.

Enjoy ^.^

~ II ~


The harbour glinted in the distance, seeming to signal to the ferry. The ocean sparkled before it with the rare rays of sunlight peeking through the clouds, the crash of the waves distant. Keegan stood at the bow, ignoring the strong breeze which threatened to tangle her hair, and watched with strange detachment as they drew closer. It seemed so surreal that she was actually there, like a dream she would break out of any second. Not just because she was actually free of Alto Mare – but because the crossing had seemed to last for years. With every lurch of the ferry her heart leapt into her mouth and the pounding of the waves against the hull at night kept her from sleeping. The closeness of land calmed that particular fear, but raised another…

Soon they were close enough for Keegan to pick out the buildings and the rainbow-coloured people scattered over the beach. The surf washed over the sand and she fancied she could almost hear the shrieks and laughter of the kids as they played.

The peaceful scene did nothing to calm her nerves. Okay, I’m out of Alto Mare, she thought, trying to force down the panic threatening to overwhelm her. And I’m nearly in Cianwood. Now what? She bit her lip uncertainly. Hadn’t Simon mentioned travelling to Olivine? What was in Olivine that was of interest to her, anyway?

Keegan closed her eyes, shutting out the sight of the city drawing ever closer and of the now grey, menacing ocean. She thought back to that night long past, when she had stood on the edge of Alto Mare and known that the answers lay beyond the sea. I’m doing the right thing. I know I am.

With some difficulty, she remembered Ross telling her about the three trainers he’d taken around Alto Mare after the open water chariot race not long ago. Hadn’t he mentioned they were staying at the Pokémon Centre?

She groaned to herself, much her panic melting away into irritation. Duh. The Pokémon Centre – I’ll be able to get information there. Keegan sighed, annoyed it had taken so long to remember something so obvious, and opened her eyes to find Cianwood much closer than it had been mere minutes ago.

And it was only several minutes later that Keegan found herself on the quay, dodging the crowd and rubbing her arms against the cool, salty breeze coming off the sea, her bag bouncing at her hip. She was intensely relieved to be off the water, but didn’t feel much like battling the throng of people to get into the city.

Instead she turned towards the beach, walking along the uppermost reaches of the soft white sand. The sky was overcast, making the beach almost as cold as the ferry had been; but it was strangely soothing, walking with scraggly bushes atop yielding sand dunes on one side and foamy waves beating up on the shore on the other. Once she turned back to look at her footprints trailing behind her, vanishing around the bend, but after two days confined on the ferry she didn’t feel like going back to find the Pokémon Centre. Not yet. The walking made her feel calmer – and gave her time to think about what she wanted to do next.

Before she knew it the sky was beginning to darken and Keegan realized she hadn’t left enough time for her to walk back before nightfall. “Feh,” she muttered, scrambling up the slight rise which turned from sand to rock and finding a flat place to sit. She released Firefoot and Hazel in twin flashes of light, the wind catching their fur almost as soon as they’d materialized.

“Grrawlth!” Firefoot barked happily, prancing about on the gritty surface of the rock. Keegan giggled, tugging at the lid to one of the pokémon food containers nestled in her lap. Hazel hung over her leg eagerly, sniffing at the rim.

“Well, at least you guys are gonna get something to eat before we get back,” Keegan sighed, tossing a piece of food to Firefoot. The growlithe snapped at it, but it bounced off his nose and landed on the rock several feet away. Hazel rolled her eyes and accepted the food Keegan offered with more dignity than the fiery pup, who snuffled about the rock and quickly wolfed down the food anyway.

Absently Keegan looked back to the ocean, studying the strange islands in the distance. They had passed by them on the ferry and she’d heard one of the sailors refer to them as the Whirl Islands, small but still habitable – all except the rocky crags to the southernmost edge.

Under the grey clouds, the waves battering relentlessly against the rock and the dark shadows lingering between sharp cliffs looked more menacing than they might have under a sunny sky. Keegan shivered, suddenly profoundly glad she wasn’t out there.

Then one of the shadows moved. “What…?” Keegan frowned, pushing the container off her lap and standing to move closer.

“Eebui?” Hazel, having followed Keegan’s gaze, cocked her head and stared curiously. Firefoot looked up, mouth full of food, and blinked densely.

A call echoed out from the crags, sending a shiver down Keegan’s spine. Deep, full and melodious, it resonated eerily. The silhouette rose up on long, slender wings, shadows sliding over slick, silver hide which was either feathers or fur; or both, a strange mixture of beast and bird.

Then, before Keegan could get a proper glimpse, it dived into the ocean like an arrow, stray sunlight glinting off the rows of blue fins on its back. The spray rose and fell, pattering across the bay like fleeting raindrops. “What… was that?” Keegan breathed, mesmerized. She’d never seen or heard anything so graceful and beautiful in her life.

“Eebuu,” Hazel whispered, her eyes wide. Firefoot just stared in mid-chew, astonished.

Keegan snapped out of her reverie and took a deep breath. “We should get going.” She turned her back on the ocean, absently brushing the dust off her jeans, and slipped the lid onto the container, tossing each of her pokémon one last piece of food. Firefoot gulped it down enthusiastically, but Hazel just looked out at the water with darkened eyes.

Idiot! Keegan berated herself as she ran. She shouldn’t have dawdled on the way back… she didn’t know if the Pokémon Centre had a curfew, after all, and it would be difficult to find in the dark.

Firefoot bounded at her heels, his bright orange fur like a beacon in the darkness. Overhead the streetlamps gave off their soft glow, barely splashing light over the front of the buildings on either side. Hazel was already tucked securely inside her pokéball, but Firefoot’s ember had helped Keegan find her way off the beach. Now the dim shine of the streetlamps was enough to light the path.

“There!” They rounded the corner and saw the centre, the huge ‘P’ over the glass doors illuminated with red light. Inside, the main hall of the centre was brightly lit, and Keegan could see several trainers still lingered, chatting on the comfortable benches.

The twin doors slid apart with a slight hiss as Keegan and Firefoot approached, and they slowed on the threshold to a more comfortable pace. The pink haired young woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform looked up upon hearing the doors open, her twin looped pigtails swaying gently. “Oh, hello,” she smiled and raised a welcoming hand. “I haven’t seen you around here before.”

Keegan blinked, then realized the nurse was addressing her. “Oh!” her cheeks went slightly pink, as they often did when she was addressed by a stranger. “Yes, I came in on a ferry this afternoon.” She frowned slightly; the nurse bore a striking resemblance to the one in Alto Mare. Oh, wait… Ross once said all the Pokémon Centre nurses looked the same. Nurse Joy, their names are.

“Did you want me to check your pokémon?” Nurse Joy suggested.

“Um, okay,” Keegan agreed, returning Firefoot to his pokéball and handing them over uncertainly.

Joy giggled at her doubtful expression, placing the two pokéballs in the machine behind the counter. “You’re a new trainer, aren’t you?” she asked with a knowing twinkle in her eye.

“I just started travelling, yeah,” Keegan admitted, slinging her bag more securely on her shoulder, and hesitated. “What kind of wild pokémon are there around here?” she asked in what she hoped was a casual voice.

Joy smiled, typing at the control panel of the machine. “Is there any particular one you’re looking for?”

Keegan debated whether or not to answer that question. The Joy in Alto Mare had seemed nice enough the few times Keegan needed to go into the centre, but this wasn’t Alto Mare... “I saw one this evening,” she said at last. “Out in the ocean – near the rocks which mark the beginning of the Whirl Islands. It was silver and had rows of blue fins on its back, but dived into the water before I could get a good look at it.”

“Oh!” Joy looked up from the panel, surprised. “Did it have wings?”

Seated at a vid-screen phone not far off in the corner, a burly clean-shaven man with hard eyes and dark green hair paused, lowering the receiver at his ear thoughtfully. Then, “I’ll call you back,” he said at the screen and hung up, moving closer to the counter unnoticed.

“Um…” Keegan wracked her brain before remembering that yes, she had seen wings and not arms or fins. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Lugia,” the man said instantly, making Keegan jump and spin around, startled. His thick eyebrows overshadowed narrow, calculating eyes which blazed with triumph. “Where exactly did you see it?” he demanded.

“I…” Keegan flushed. “I’m not sure. I walked for a long time before I got there.” She refrained from mentioning which direction. She didn’t like being snuck up upon, and she didn’t like the look in this man’s eyes. “Look, I’m not even sure what I saw,” she continued, feeling uncomfortable. “It was only for a second.”

The man just grinned. “If you saw a silver pokémon which looked like it was part beast and part bird, then you saw a Lugia, girl. The Whirl Islands, huh?” and he turned away, hurrying out of the Pokémon Centre and into the darkness. Keegan watched after him, unnerved.

I shouldn’t have said anything. She found herself thinking regretfully.

“I hope he’s not a poacher,” Joy echoed her feelings of trepidation. “Sometimes you can’t tell unless you see them in action.”

“You don’t think he’d try to catch it unfairly, do you?” Keegan turned pleading eyes to Joy, but the nurse shook her head uncertainly.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Sometimes even legendary pokémon hunters become too involved in their pursuit, and make rash decisions. He could be one of them.”

“Legendary pokémon?” Keegan echoed, surprised, but at the same time thinking she should have known. There were few pokémon which could match such grace and beauty.

Joy gave her a faint smile. “Oh, yes. Lugia are legendary pokémon around these parts, but especially around the Whirl Islands. They’re called by some to be ‘the beasts of the sea’.”

Beasts of the sea. Keegan sighed. It seemed she’d never get away from the ocean. “So what do I do?”

“I’m afraid there isn’t much,” Joy told her sympathetically. “You couldn’t have helped him overhearing, so if something happens don’t go thinking it’s your fault.” Keegan smiled reluctantly. That may be so, but it still didn’t make her feel any better. She had no doubt if one of the Elites had been there, they would’ve done something about it. “Here,” Joy handed her the pokéballs. “Your pokémon are fine.”

“Thanks,” Keegan took them, replacing them at her belt.

“If you’re interested in legendary pokémon, you should go to Ecruteak City,” Joy suggested.

“Where’s that?” Keegan wondered, tugging her pokégear off her belt and looking at it curiously. Joy pointed out Ecruteak on the tiny map.

“Of all the cities in Johto, Ecruteak has the strongest ties with legendary pokémon,” she explained. “Perhaps because of the Tin Tower. They say at least four Johto legendaries originated from there.”

Keegan looked down at the red dot, flashing on the screen, and already knew that she was going. It was as good a goal as any; after all, she didn’t have anything else to do. Besides… she had vowed to start looking at the beauty instead of the anger. After seeing Lugia… what could the other legendaries offer her? By searching for them, she might be able to find something out about herself…

* * *​

The night was still. The only sounds to be heard were those of the pokémon, echoing in the motionless air. The sky overhead was overcast, making the night darker than it should have been and leaving shadows ominous and threatening – to those who feared them, at least. But for Keegan, shadows had always been a source of comfort.

After all, she wasn’t the very social type. Ross had been her only human friend in eight years. But that wasn’t the reason the darkness saw her stealing her way over the mesh-wire fence just west of Olivine City.

Crouching, her eyes well adjusted to the night, she darted behind one of the metal struts gleaming in the distant glow of the lighthouse. Her high collared black jacket was zipped up to her chin, and together with her black pants would have concealed her well within the shadow of the strut… if not for that tell-tale, red-blonde gleam of her hair. But Keegan had spent most of her time roaming the roofs of Alto Mare… she knew very well how to counter such disadvantages.

For an instant she stood still, listening hard for the sound of previously unseen security guards or late-night sailors outside the fence. All she heard was the distant crash of the sea. Slowly, a smile crept over her lips, and anyone seeing her would have been struck instantly by the sparkling, almost euphoric elation in her azure eyes. Now this was freedom... freedom she hadn’t even realized she had in Alto Mare. Only when it had been taken away did she realize what she possessed.

With silent agility, she scrambled up the side of the strut, using the triangular holes in the metal like a ladder until she reached the uppermost completed platform. From there she could gaze out over the thin strip of shrubbery which separated the half-completed Battle Tower from the edge of Olivine City.

But Keegan wasn’t interested in that. Instead she grinned, eyes twinkling, and wandered carefully along the edge of the tower, sometimes skirting obstacles and at other times surpassing them. To the south was the ocean, giving way to the black sky and a sense of openness which made her uneasy. She kept to the shadows, exploring the construction site with an almost childlike curiosity.

Then she heard them.

Voices, below on the ground amid the lofty, half-finished walls of the tower. If not for the stillness of the night, Keegan may not have heard them at all; but as it was she immediately shrank against the thick wall beside her, her black clothing blending with the shadow.

Idiot! She scolded herself for the second time in three days. She knew she wasn’t supposed to be there. And she’d left her pokémon at the centre… Firefoot was fundamentally a police dog, so there was no way he’d agree to such a venture. As for Hazel… at times such as this she was almost as bad as Miriam…

No matter where you go and what you do, there are always rules to follow – but you seem to dedicate yourself to breaking them… a voice sounding remarkably like her foster mother repeated her words, spoken only a few days ago.

Keegan shook her head subconsciously. Not breaking them. Disregarding them. There’s a difference.

But is there?
The deepest part of her whispered, but she ignored it. Instead she crept to the edge of the terrace, laying flat on her stomach to gaze cautiously over the edge. At first she didn’t see anything; then she saw a shadow move, and soon her eyes had picked out the faint silhouette of a man dressed in black, standing beneath the gloom of a low balcony.

Now she had marked his position, it was easy to see the white gloves, looking grey in the darkness. Then someone spoke, and she jumped, startled. The voice sounded much closer in the still air.

“Where do we put it?” It was a male voice, sounding almost too young to be in a darkened construction yard in the dead of night.

The man looked from side to side, obviously searching. His black cap was pulled low over his eyes and Keegan could see the letter ‘R’ in dark red imprinted on the front of his uniform. Then he shrugged. “Put it anywhere,” he said impatiently. “They’ll find it; no one comes here this late at night anyway.”

Those words made Keegan’s stomach clench uneasily; for the man spoke true. No one would come to the construction yard this late at night. Not unless they were criminals themselves…

Who the hell are these people?! She’d heard of criminal organisations before… but one name in particular surfaced to her conscious mind: Team Rocket, as evidenced by the giant letter on the uniform. A sudden chill ran down her spine, and she shivered, a sick feeling low in her stomach as she realized exactly where she was and what she was doing… and why…

I’m not a criminal, I’m not! Her mind screamed to herself stubbornly.

Ah, but you’re here, aren’t you? The same, smug part of her said ruthlessly. It was then Keegan realized she was gripping the edge of the balcony so tightly her knuckles were white. Her body was like a coiled spring, tense with fear and uncertainty. Closing her eyes, she made herself take a long, deep breath, and relaxed.

I can argue my morals with myself later. For now, watch. She made herself focus on the scene below, just in time to catch the unseen agent’s words.

“I don’t get it,” the young-voiced man grumbled, moving for the first time from behind the crane which had been hiding him. “All this cloak and dagger stuff. Why can’t we just pass it on face to face? This is a waste of time.”

“Security,” the other man said shortly. “After the Lake of Rage incident, the Executive Triad judged it best to keep all parts of an operation separate.”

What happened at the Lake of Rage? Keegan wondered, her nervousness intensifying, and she watched with fascinated apprehension as the younger agent place a small bundle inside a broken concrete block.

“You took your time,” the more experienced agent snapped, his arms crossed impatiently. “The ferry needs to leave in a few hours, and we need to get out of here before the pick up.”

The younger agent straightened, brushing off his hands. Keegan couldn’t see his face but by the tension in his back she could tell he was annoyed. “Then why didn’t you do it,” he snapped. “And save me the trouble of coming out here.”

His companion just chuckled. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to do all the work around here. Let’s go.” Still hidden high above their heads, Keegan watched almost breathlessly as they vanished into the shadows. She heard the faint rattle of the mesh fence… and then the construction yard was once again silent.

For long moments Keegan lay still, hardly listening to the distant sound of the waves on the beach; not because she feared discovery, but because she was torn between curiosity and caution. She was dying to see what was in the little bundle…

Finally, before she’d even realized she’d decided, she swung down from the balcony onto a strut stretching across the would-be inside of the tower. For several seconds she balanced perilously, then caught her balance and shimmied over to the chain of the crane’s winch, dangling to the dusty, concrete floor below.

Within seconds Keegan had reached the bottom, the chain clinking gently. She cringed with every sound, her nerves tightly strung. Like a nervy fox, she scuttled across the half finished floor to the concrete block, and looked about one last time before pulling out the bundle.

The dark, nondescript drawstring bag was no bigger than her fist; it could have been dropped by anyone, used for anything. She opened it up and shook out the contents, wrapped in a piece of soft cloth. Flipping aside the leaves of the cloth impatiently, the object was revealed: a strange, faceted crystal.

Deep within its centre was a swirl of rainbow colours, but the outside surface was pure white. It was warm and seemed to vibrate slightly, almost humming. Keegan turned it this way and that curiously, strangely hypnotised by the smoothness of the facets, the comforting weight in her palm. Like her fire stone pendant, it had a soothing charm to it. Keegan wondered what it was, and how it was linked to Team Rocket.

But she had lingered too long. Her ears caught the sound of the fence jingling for the second time, and Keegan automatically shrank into the shadows, backing carefully through the littered tower interior. Moving with restrained urgency, she was already over the fence and halfway back to Olivine’s Pokémon Centre by the time she realized the crystal was still clutched in her hand.

Keegan paced the wooden floor of the room anxiously, one hand gripping her pendant as though for comfort. Curled up on the top bunk, Hazel was examining the crystal lying on the light blue blanket curiously, tail twitching. Then she shot a disapproving look at Keegan.

“I didn’t mean to take it!” Keegan blurted jumpily, seeing her. She glanced down at Firefoot to find that his intensely stern glare hadn’t changed, his posture as rigid as it had been when she released him. Somehow they both knew whenever she did something bad.

“Eebui, bubii,” Hazel hissed, her fur bristling as Keegan went to the windows, looking out at the trainers in the yard below before shutting them with a snap.

“I know, I know,” Keegan muttered, tugging at her pendant nervously. “I know this isn’t Alto Mare, and I know we were already bordering on illegal acts then. But the yard was just so empty and inviting…” she trailed off and sighed. “Okay, I shouldn’t’ve done it. And I should’ve taken one of you along. I’m sorry.” Immediately Hazel’s scowl lifted and her fur settled back down, all except for the white ruff around her neck which still stuck up in different directions.

Firefoot, however, just gave a disappointed sort of whine and turned his head away. Keegan fell to her knees before him, trying to catch his gaze. “Come on, Firefoot,” she pleaded with him. “Okay, so I sneak – but I’d never steal anything deliberately, you know that!” He tilted his head to look mournfully at her out of the corner of his eyes; then he licked her resignedly on the cheek. Keegan threw her arms around him thankfully and gave him a squeeze.

“Okay,” she sat back, brushing her hair out of her eyes and looking up at Hazel. “So what do I do with that thing? I mean, I can’t give it back…” she paused, thinking about that possibility, and shivered. “They were criminals. Real criminals.” Firefoot snuffled at her hand encouragingly. Keegan stared blindly into the blanket of the lower bed. “Who knows what they were gonna use it for?” she whispered almost mechanically.

“Grrralth, graa,” Firefoot barked, butting her shoulder with his head.

Keegan jumped to her feet, shocked. “You can’t be serious?!” she exclaimed, pale. “Give it in to the police?! That would mean admitting where I was – what I was doing!”

Firefoot’s stern look returned and he leapt up at Keegan, knocking her over in what, at any other time, might have been a playful challenge. “Grrraa,” he rumbled strongly, standing over her, but Keegan just pushed him off.

“I can’t,” she snapped. “I don’t even know what it’s for. They say Team Rocket is almost as powerful as the Pokémon Association – what do you think would happen if they had an agent watching over the police station and they saw me turn it in?” Firefoot’s ears drooped as he considered this, exchanging a worried glance with Hazel.

<<She’s right, it could be dangerous,>> Hazel conceded, her huge eyes shadowed with worry as Keegan got to her feet, brushing long orange fur off her usual jeans and sleeveless white top.

Firefoot turned his head away and sighed, the white ruff beneath his chin stirring under the force of his breath. <<That doesn’t mean I have to like it,>> he whined to himself, and Hazel let out a sound of agreement as they exchanged anxious glances once again.

Then the eevee nudged the crystal towards Keegan and the girl picked it up, her fingers tingling with tension and her expression darkening. “We’ll just have to keep it with us,” she decided, wrapping it in the cloth she had inadvertently brought with her and tucking it away into the deepest corner of her bag. “And we’ll have to be careful,” she bit her lip uncertainly, trying to dispel the heavy feeling the pit of her stomach. It took a moment before she managed to separate the fear from something else: regret. She shouldn’t’ve gone into the yard…

Then she took a deep breath. It doesn’t matter. She told herself sternly. You did it, and you can’t change it. So get over it. She shrugged on her sleeveless grey jacket, turning to her pokémon. “Let’s get out of here,” she said simply, praying that somehow, she might be able to leave her self-frustration in Olivine.

Fat chance.

* * *​

Keegan stepped through the underbrush nervously, eyes darting around at the foliage with guilty paranoia. She was within a day of Ecruteak, but having passed through several towns on the way she felt uneasy being around other people. Unfortunately, the woods weren’t much better.

Something rustled in the bushes and Keegan froze, one hand flying instinctively to Hazel’s pokéball. Something shiny flashed in a beam of light forcing its way through the canopy, and a magnemite hovered out of the bushes. With a relieved sigh, Keegan lowered her hand. The woods near Olivine and surrounding Ecruteak were filled with the electric pokémon during the daytime, but Keegan hadn’t seen any until now.

“Maa…nem…iiite…” The magnemite’s single eye was heavily lidded and the magnets at its sides drooped lazily. It swayed slightly, floating low to the ground. On a human the posture might have meant intoxication. On a pokémon it just seemed… odd.

Keegan took a step back as the magnemite approached relentlessly, weaving unsteadily in a way that made Keegan revise her opinion – maybe pokémon could get drunk…

But then she lost interest in that subject, because the bushes rustled once more, parting to allow more of the electric pokémon through. Every single one of them was acting in much the same way as the first. Keegan backed away nervously as they approached, chanting eerily.

She jumped, feeling something brush against her, and looked down to find one of the magnemite pressed against her bag, eye closed blissfully. She shook it off and clutched her bag closer, turning around to run… only to find herself surrounded by the steely pokémon.

Do they know?! She cried inwardly, her eyes wide with panic as the magnemite once again approached, crowding her. Who cares?! She snatched Firefoot’s pokéball from her waist and threw it into their midst. With the customary flash of light Firefoot appeared, prepped and ready for battle, but the magnemite ignored him.

“Firefoot, use flamethrower to clear a path!” Keegan ordered, throwing off one of the electric pokémon clinging to her bag and swatting at another. Firefoot opened his mouth wide, showing off his canines, and let loose a stream of blazing flames. Keegan flinched away from it, and the fire licking over the steely bodies of the magnemite seemed to jolt them to their senses – until Firefoot closed his jaws, swallowing the last of the flamethrower.

“Come on!” Keegan took advantage of the momentary path swathed through the swarm of pokémon and fled, Firefoot loping after her. Behind them, several confused-looking magnemite floated off, burns seared across their steel. The rest, their eyes once again drooping dopily, followed an unseen trail left by Keegan.

Keegan jumped over a log, a stitch already growing in her side and her bag dragging at her shoulder. She could still hear the creepy chanting of the magnemite behind her. “What… the hell’s… their problem?!” she gasped to Firefoot, but the growlithe couldn’t answer. Not that he had a solution anyway.

Suddenly the woods ended and Keegan skidded to a halt at the edge of the low cliff, making dust billow. Down below, the woods were pressed to the side of the crag. In the distance, looming over the forest, was the Tin Tower. “Oh, great,” Keegan groaned, clutching the stitch at her side. The cliff was little more than fifty feet tall, but by the time she’d climbed halfway down the magnemite were sure to on her, and after that there was no way she’d be able to maintain her descent.

“Grrrraalth,” Firefoot turned and set his paws resolutely, head lowered and fur bristling in preparation for a battle.

“There’s too many,” Keegan scanned the cliff edge anxiously, searching for a way out. “They’ll swamp you!” Firefoot just snarled in answer, baring his teeth as one of the magnemite appeared through the trees. Keegan spun about and stopped in shock, touching her pendant fleetingly. The magnemite seemed to fill the air. Everywhere she looked there was another, some with burns from Firefoot’s previous attack but all with the same dopey look.

Keegan took in a deep breath, knowing they had the type advantage but the magnemite had numbers. “Alright,” she said as calmly as she could manage against the intimidating mass of magnemite. Her face was pale, but her eyes glittered with stubborn determination. There was the possibility of having Team Rocket on her trail; she wasn’t going to let a few wild pokémon faze her.

“Firefoot, use flame wheel,” Keegan ordered. Firefoot leapt forward into a full run, his fur blazing and paws leaving a trail of fire behind him. The hot air around him crackled and formed into a fiery shield as he ploughed through the magnemite, scattering them to either side. Some, their steel blackened by the fire and their eyes widening to show some glimmer of reasoning, vanished back into the trees. Most ignored the attack, and continued to approach Keegan mindlessly.

Firefoot spun about, charging back through the wall of steel bodies. The magnemite didn’t even try to avoid him, hypnotised by something neither Keegan not Firefoot could find. Bursting through the outer edge of the swarm, Firefoot skidded to a halt before the ledge, snow-white tail and ruff fluttering in the air.

“Miiite… maah…” the magnemite chanted, drawing ever closer. Firefoot snarled warningly, fur still blazing with the remnants of his flame wheel. Keegan gritted her teeth and lifted Hazel’s expanded pokéball, about to release the eevee for reinforcements; but then the matter was taken out of her hands.

A roar echoed through the woods and Keegan automatically turned her head to see what it was. A raging ball of fire, wrapped with flaming orange veins, streaked past her, hitting the ground in the centre of the swarm. The earth shook, throwing Keegan down, the ball flaring into a swift inferno. It enveloped the magnemite and swept out in a loose, quickly dissipating ring. Keegan covered her head protectively, Hazel’s pokéball still clutched in her hand, while the ring seared overhead, the heat drying her skin and leaving her flushed and blistered.

Keegan looked up, shaking, to find a pokémon standing away from her, watching as the magnemite picked themselves up dazedly and retreated into the trees. Like some great beast it towered over her, long brown fur still ruffling in the after breeze of its attack. Giant paws dug lightly into the burned dirt, the black manacles encircling each leg shining in the light, and a billowing cloud of smoke flowed over two jagged grey wings.

She stared, awestruck, at its awesome presence. The very air around it vibrated with heat, its strong posture screaming power, and she had no doubt that the beast was a legendary.

Then it turned its flat face towards her, revealing a mask-like visage with a yellow forehead flowing towards its rear and red cheeks spiking out to the sides. But what captivated her were its eyes. In them burned a raging fire not unlike the flames that seemed to burn within her pendant. Unconsciously, Keegan touched the stone at her throat, her eyes wide. Then the moment was shattered as the pokémon bounded away, darting into the trees with graceful, restrained speed.

Firefoot was paralysed. Paws set in the blackened dirt, he shook with overwhelmed awe. He could still smell Entei’s scent in the air, feel the heat of his attack in his fur. The growlithe’s heart was racing, and his legs, suddenly robbed of adrenaline, threatened to fail on him; but he couldn’t move.

Such power, he thought longingly, unaware of the faint whines deep in his throat. Such speed.

“Firefoot?” Keegan’s voice broke through his paralysis and he blinked up at his trainer. The naturally bad eyesight of all growlithe blurred her into nothing more than a faint shape, but he could smell her awe and concern at his reaction. “Are you okay?” the blurry figure shifted, and he knew she was looking into the trees where Entei had vanished. “Do you know that pokémon?”

<<Entei,>> Firefoot whispered, feeling ashamed. If he had known that attack, the ultimate of all fire attacks… if he was strong and fast like Entei… he would have been able to protect Keegan. <<The Lord of Flames.>> his sentence faded into a whimper and he lay down, burying his muzzle in his paws.

He felt Keegan beside him and she ruffled his fur comfortingly. Reassured, Firefoot leaned into her hand and closed his eyes. “You want to be like him, don’t you?” It was hardly a question; Firefoot could smell her certainty. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you that power. We can do it together.”

Firefoot cocked his head, wondering if she knew; if she realized that power was right in his paw prints. He didn’t have to sniff the air to sense it. He could hear it in the burning melody, feel it even...

In the tantalizing beckon of the Ho-Oh’s Eye jewel around her neck.
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E/GL obsessed
^.^ Thank you, Saber.

No, Keegan won't be alone the whole way. She eventually travels with up to two other people - one is a character from the anime. The other is one of my own invention.

I'm already working on the next chapter, and it should be done by Wednesday. ^.^ Thanks for reviewing.

Twilight Absol

Hm...even more so interesting....
i WONDER ...I wonder.... what is thy crystal?
hm... nice, but it doesn't seem as if it was from a pokemon's POV though >.>
great chappie...


E/GL obsessed
^.^ lol, I don't mean the whole thing is from a pokemon's PoV. But at the end, I did write from Firefoot's PoV. I thought some people might be confused with the fact he suddenly started talking. <_< Obviously I just caused more confusion...


Hm. I did that talking thing once with the pokemon. It confused people too... I wonder what Team Rocket wants?


E/GL obsessed
WARNING: This chapter contains some violence and the aftermath of violence.
But enjoy it anyway :p

~ III ~


The setting sun flashed over the forest, gleaming over the Tin Tower and dyeing the timber many different shades of brown. Beneath the canopy, the pokémon of the night were already emerging, while the citizens of Ecruteak, laid at the base of the Tin Tower, were retreating into their homes.

With a slight rustle of leaves, Keegan’s blonde head poked out among the branches of the oak tree, and she surveyed the horizon with annoyed blue eyes. “We should’ve hit Ecruteak by now,” she grumbled to her pokémon, both sealed within their pokéballs. She turned around, intending to climb back down, when she saw the Tin Tower looming over her, not more than a hundred or so yards off through the woods.

Keegan sighed. “Naturally.” After the incident with the magnemites, Keegan had discovered she had no idea where the path was. The only landmark she had was the nine-storey Tin Tower visible over the treetops, which was hardly a perfect trail to follow; especially since she’d been occupied with wondering why the magnemites had been acting so strangely.

Scrambling back down the tree, Keegan set off purposefully towards the Tin Tower, skirting the spinarak spinning their webs between trees and branches. She reached a high, wooden wall shadowed by the first of many tier roofs and scanned it with twinkling eyes; but before she could make a move, she heard the sound of a noctowl behind her.

Turning, Keegan found the owl pokémon staring at her with huge round eyes shadowed by its cream-coloured crest, resting on a nearby branch. Once she met its gaze it spread long, soft wings and glided silently to the next branch, looking back at her expectantly.

Keegan cast a regretful glance back at the wall of the tower, then followed obediently. The noctowl led her to a wide stone path leading to the entrance of the tower, landing on the bald head of a man dressed in brown robes. He looked at Keegan approaching uncertainly, eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“What is your purpose here?” he demanded, scowling at her under thick eyebrows, his thin face giving him an almost haunting look.

“I… I got lost in the woods,” Keegan explained. “But I managed to find my way to the tower. And then I came across your noctowl…” she trailed off as the monk looked up to his noctowl in askance. It fluttered off his head to a nearby branch, tipping its head and hooting in confirmation.

“Oh!” the monk’s expression cleared. “Very well, then.” He nodded down the stone steps nearby. “Ecruteak is down that way. You had best hurry; at night the spinarak cast webs across the path to stop intruders.”

“Oh… thanks…” Keegan turned from him and returned down the path. If the monk had seen her face, he would have noticed that her eyes were lit up with sparkling elation. Below, the forest ranged on each side, while a small wayhouse separated the tower from city; however, she had no intention of going into Ecruteak… the defences of the Tin Tower appealed to her special sense of adventure.

But at her belt, the pokeballs contained Hazel and Firefoot shuddered, and Keegan’s pace slowed. She plucked Firefoot’s pokéball off her belt and expanded it; through the surface of the ball she could see Firefoot’s intensely disapproving look. “Don’t look at me like that,” Keegan protested, her excitement dying down. “It was just an idea…” Hazel’s pokéball quaked once again, registering her objection as well.

With a sigh Keegan shrank Firefoot’s pokéball and replaced it at her belt, knowing they were right; but instead of continuing on her way she looked wistfully at the Tin Tower. Her curiosity and rebellious side wrestled with common sense; the last time she’d gone where she wasn’t meant to be, she’d run into Team Rocket…

But this was different… this was a well-guarded tower. So how do I know I’ll be able to get in there without being caught? She wondered, then grinned. I don’t. That’s why I want to do it. It was decided. Not for the first time, nor for the last, her insane curiosity had won over, and she stepped off the path to melt into the forest.

Keegan stared at the noctowl, eyes wide and unblinking. Crouched behind a bush to the left of the pokémon, she felt exposed; but she also knew that any movement would make it easier for the noctowl to spot her.

It cocked its head and scanned the trees again with a soft hoot, resting on a low branch. Keegan’s eyes began to water and she wished she could sit down; but her stubborn nature made her keep still, even in the face of discomfort. Such ventures required a certain kind of patience, and it was thanks to Keegan’s obstinacy she had that patience in spades. Finally, the noctowl spread its wings and glided off to patrol a different part of the woods.

Immediately Keegan let out a slow breath and relaxed cautiously. The tower was just ahead, beyond the tree the noctowl had been resting on. Carefully, Keegan crept from cover to cover, eyes darting about anxiously, until she reached her mark. From there she could see the tower’s wall; but she could also see something else – a spinarak’s web glistened in the scant moonlight, blocking her way. The instant she touched it, swarms of bug and grass pokémon were sure to descend upon her.

Instead Keegan looked up, thoughtfully considering the tree’s wide canopy. It was clear of traps, so without another second’s hesitation she swung herself into the branches.

And promptly found herself face to face with a sleeping pineco.

Keegan froze, not even daring to breathe. The slabs of bark layering the pineco’s spiky shell had disguised it completely from Keegan’s hasty inspection. Slowly, without taking her eyes off the slumbering pokémon, Keegan raised her hand to the branch above, levering her foot into a suitable position before raising herself past the pineco with careful, controlled movements.

Unfortunately the pineco wasn’t alone in the tree. Sitting tensely on the branch above it, she found herself surrounded by the bug pokémon, all likely to explode at the slightest disturbance.

Keegan winced. Great move, she growled to herself inwardly, climbing carefully around the pineco. Her muscles were already aching with the strain of having to hold her weight for such controlled periods of time, and it didn’t help that her skin was peeling and itchy from the heat of Entei’s fiery rescue.

But it was already too late to turn back. Even Firefoot and Hazel were wise enough to realize that. If either of them had burst out of their pokéballs, it was likely to land Keegan in even worse trouble.

Finally Keegan made it to the branches closest to the tower, where the outermost leaves just barely brushed the gently sloping tier roof. Keegan gathered her bag close to her chest and touched her pendant for good luck before she leapt for the edge of the dark canopy. Her scrabbling fingers managed to catch onto the wooden bar lining the edge of the roof and she swung crazily for several seconds, her bag pulling cruelly at her shoulder, before she pulled herself onto the roof.

Heart pounding, arms and legs feeling weary yet charged with adrenaline, Keegan shrank into the shadows of the next tier’s roof. She struggled to keep her breathing to a slow, silent pace while praying the still-rustling leaves of the tree she’d just exited would go unnoticed. When she finally judged the coast clear, Keegan shakily rubbed her damp palms on her jeans and turned towards the wide glass windows arrayed behind her.

Digging her fingers into the edges of the window frame, Keegan managed to pry one open; as she’d suspected, they were unlocked. The Tin Tower was undoubtedly a very old monument of Ecruteak, and any modern renovations would have destroyed the tower’s value. Besides, as far as Keegan had heard, it was a shrine honouring a legendary pokémon of the city; a good reason for the pokémon to protect it but hardly enough to install locks. After all, what was in there worth stealing?

Keegan slipped through the open window and dropped silently to the smooth, wooden floor with an intense feeling of satisfaction. Carefully closing the window behind her, Keegan grinned, eyes sparkling, and turned towards the wooden staircase up to the next level.

If she had lingered outside for several moments more, she might have seen three shadows gliding silently towards the tower from the sky above, framed against the dim stars.

Keegan rubbed her hand over the smooth, polished wood of the rail as she made her way up the consecutive staircases of the tower. So far each room had been much the same, boasting bare wooden walls with huge, shining brass bells secured in each corner by an ornate metal frame. At first the bells’ smooth surface had soothed and interested her, but now it seemed a little more… routine. And yet at the top… the view would have to be incredible. That thought alone kept Keegan’s interest.

Yet as she drew nearer the pinnacle of the tower, the air grew strangely warm. Laying a hand on the wall, Keegan noticed that the wood seemed to be retaining heat from a strange source. Looking up the staircases, she could see a strange glow emitting from the topmost chamber.

Is someone else up here? She wondered, gripping her pendant reassuringly as she mounted another staircase. If there was… she could get into very serious trouble. What if it’s someone else? Someone who’s not meant to be here? Keegan thought to herself, hardly able to draw breath with uncertain tension as she continued on her way to the next level. The chamber was identical to all the others below, complete with bells and all – only this time they were silver, set in a place of honour in the centre of the ceiling.

Keegan touched one gently, revelling in the coolness of its surface. Then she turned towards the stairs up. Hesitating for long, dangerous moments, Keegan considered her options, wiping sweaty palms on her jeans as she ignored the heat which permeated through the tower. After a time she decided; the strange, ethereal warmth left no doubt the tower was devoid of human life. Or so she thought.

With a deep breath, on carefully silent feet, Keegan climbed the last stairs, the air seeming to vibrate around her. As she emerged from the staircase, the first thing to meet her gaze was the biggest bird she’d ever seen.

It turned a gold crested head towards her, startled by her sudden appearance, and flared rainbow coloured wings to show a snow-white belly. Instinctively Keegan flinched back as the long, dazzling feathers filled the room. Then in a flash of fiery tail feathers, the bird was gone. Fleeing through the open canopy above, it lit the sky like a tiny sun.

Down below, in the wayhouse separating the tower from Ecruteak, the three guardian monks gaped, astonished, as a shining flurry of feathers lanced out of the tower, vanishing into the night. “Ho-Oh,” one gasped. “Something’s scared her!”

At the pinnacle, Keegan was too stunned by the bird’s size and quick escape to do anything but stare after it. The next thing she knew, something slammed into her with the force of a truck. Keegan sailed back down the stairs, tumbling across the wooden floor to hit the opposite wall with a loud thud echoed by the tinkling of the bells. Her bag slid across the opposite side of the room, lying half open on the wooden floor. Winded, Keegan gasped for air, her ribs and back aching and her limbs strangely unresponsive.

She tried to get up but her head pounded, her vision momentarily searing white. The room spun and distantly something snarled. Instinctively Keegan fumbled for her pokéballs, releasing both Hazel and Firefoot to combat her attacker.

Then her vision cleared and she found herself confronted by a snarling, mask-like visage preceding an electric yellow and black striped body. Shocked, Keegan scrambled to the side as the dark rain cloud on the tiger-like beast’s back flashed, sending a thunderbolt to sear the wood where Keegan had sat moments before.

Brushing static-charged hair from her eyes, her head throbbing sharply, Keegan saw Hazel rush at another cat-like beast. Blue with white diamonds and a strange long, turquoise crest, it was merely a blur as it dodged Hazel, its twin, ribbon-like white tails sweeping forward. It opened a long muzzle, firing a forceful beam of bubbles towards the eevee as the purple cloud on its back billowed, revealing a slim, quick body, and even in the midst of the chaos Keegan marvelled at its grace and beauty.

The bubblebeam caught Hazel harshly in the ribs and she was sent flying back, hitting the wall and crumbling to the floor, her fur sodden and tangled. With a melodious, almost purring cry, the beast raised its head, a glowing white sphere growing in its mouth. Recognising the onset of an ice beam, Keegan hastily returned her dazed, panting eevee.

But that proved to be a problem, because then the beast directed its ice beam at her. Keegan jumped to the side, flinching away as shards of cold ice splintered against the wall. Several arrowed past her, one leaving a long, shallow red scrape along her upper arm. Shivering in the ice-dust, Keegan scrambled away, eyes searching frantically for Firefoot.

Her stomach lurched when she caught a glimpse of a snarling, battered Firefoot standing up to towering, angry Entei. Then the wind was once again knocked out of her and she was driven back into the wall by a rapid stream of bubbles. Coughing, dazed and wet, chest throbbing hurtfully, Keegan found herself by the electric beast as it nosed feverishly at her bag, short, kinked tail twitching jerkily. It seemed worried, anxious, but Keegan didn’t have time to think why.

Grabbing the strap of the bag, she slung it over her shoulder and stumbled to her feet. With a thunderous bark, the beast jumped at her, knocking her over and standing over her, snarling furiously. Desperately, Keegan swung a double-fisted blow at its closest paw, knocking it off balance. It lurched to the side, almost falling on top of her. At the last moment it caught itself, but Keegan was already gone.

Firefoot tumbled head over heels, sprawled over the wooden floor. Sides heaving, fur matted with the blood of numerous cuts and scrapes, he struggled to his feet. Taking a resolute step forward, his right foreleg failed on him, a burn seared across his shoulder rendering it useless. The pup staggered, the scent of his own burning flesh in his nostrils, only to find Keegan beside him.

Keegan held out the pokéball, about to return Firefoot, but the pup, eyes blazing with furious determination, leapt for her. Shocked, Keegan only flinched when the growlithe knocked her over. His fangs scraped at her throat as he tore her fire stone pendant from around her neck, leaving a red mark as the chain snapped.

White light rippled over his bloodied fur, his wounds engulfed in the thickening of his coat, and a magnificent snowy white mane swelled over his head and shoulders. Keegan rolled to her side and watched, astonished, as white tufts flared back from his growing paws. Then the light faded, revealing a fiery dog whose size and majesty rivalled that of the beasts arrayed against him. Firefoot lowered his head, fur bristling, and growled as the now dim pendant slipped from his mouth and dropped to the floor with a clunk, sliding on the slick wood towards the beasts.

Keegan reached for it, but Entei roared deafeningly, making her head pound, and she clutched her ears, cowering. Firefoot stepped back defensively, but didn’t change his battle-ready stance. The lithe, blue beast drew back its head, about to fire another bubblebeam while sparks flowed over the striped beast’s fur.

My pendant! Keegan thought desperately, but Firefoot nudged her urgently. Reluctantly, Keegan reached up with shaking hands, grabbing onto Firefoot’s thick orange-and-black fur and swinging her leg over his back. With a short bark, Firefoot bounded down the stairs with newfound grace as the thunderbolt and bubblebeam collided on the floor where he’d stood, leaving a searing black mark and sending the pendant skittering over floorboards to rest beneath the gently tinkling silver bells.

Keegan hunched over Firefoot’s back, clutching onto his mane with all her might. Her legs were clenched tightly around his ribs and she struggled to keep her balance against the unfamiliar, supple flow of muscles beneath his skin which threatened to throw her off. Behind them, through the sound of her heart pounding in her ears, she could hear the trio of legendary beasts giving chase, determined to drive them from the tower in a flurry of fire, water and lightning.

As they burst down into another of the identical rooms, a startled, darkly clad woman with orange hair looked up. Paws scrabbling on the slick wooden floor, Firefoot tried to dodge around her. She dove to the side as he flashed past, and Keegan caught a glimpse of two astonished men dressed in the same uniform. Then the floor rose up around her and they vanished from sight as Firefoot continued on his downward escape.

Keegan turned away, eyes tightly shut and teeth gritted. The next instant she heard alarmed shouts and pain-filled cries amid the sound of roaring flames, shattering ice and cracking electricity.

Those disturbing noises were soon left behind and they finally exploded out of the tower’s entrance. But their worries weren’t over yet, as they came face to face with a leering, red-eyed gengar. Instinctively, Firefoot jerked aside, his jaws already open to bathe the gengar in flames; but the gengar wisped away into nothingness, hidden in the darkness, and the flames washed uselessly over the wide, white stones of the path.

“You!” a familiar voice shouted. Keegan winced, then raised her throbbing head and blinked blearily towards several blurry figures. She could feel Firefoot’s rumbling growls and blinked rapidly, trying to coalesce the figures into something recognisable.

“There’s -” she began, but then cut off short as her lungs complained about the damage they’d taken. Coughing harshly, it was several moments before she caught her breath, one hand pressed weakly to her chest. When she did, she looked up to find the same monk clasping his hands fitfully, his thick eyebrows drawn forward in an expression of utmost anguish.

“I told you to leave!” he cried accusingly, wringing his hands. Behind him were two other monks, one plump and the other elderly. Both peered past her with anxious eyes. Pale, Keegan shook her head helplessly, unable to speak, then regretted it instantly; it made the world spin dizzily.

“You say you saw this girl at sunset?” A blue-haired woman who was a perfect match for the Officer Jenny in Alto Mare demanded. Keegan took a deep, slow breath, stifling an outbreak of coughs.

The monk nodded worriedly. “She said she was lost in the woods… I told her to return to Ecruteak.” He turned to a yellow haired young man with a blue headband, staring thoughtfully at Keegan. His blue and yellow jumper stood out brightly in the darkness. “I should have guided her down there,” he apologised earnestly. “I’m sorry, Morty.” Morty nodded absently. At his side, a proud-looking brown-haired young man was glaring at Keegan suspiciously, arms crossed over his purple suit. His white cape fluttered slightly in the night breeze.

“Right,” Officer Jenny said briskly, and pointed accusingly at Keegan. “You’re under arrest for trespassing and breaking into the Tin Tower.” Instantly Firefoot growled, his hackles rising.

“No,” Keegan found her voice finally, her fist clenching momentarily in Firefoot’s striped fur. “There were – there were -” she coughed and continued determinedly through the tickle in her throat. “There were three people in there,” she managed at last. “A woman and – two men.”

Jenny glanced questioningly at Morty, followed by the three monks. He gazed at Keegan piercingly through lidded eyes, as though he could see into her very soul. Uncomfortably, Keegan flushed and looked away, her heartbeat finally slowing down. “She’s telling the truth,” he said at last, confidently. The monks gasped.

“Lead the way,” Jenny ordered. Firefoot glanced back at Keegan, his eyes concerned at the sight of her pale face and the red graze down her arm. Nonetheless, she touched him on the shoulder. Obediently, Firefoot turned around, only to find the gengar had blocked their escape back into the tower.

The gengar dissolved and reappeared at Morty’s shoulder, its grin widening. Firefoot padded into the tower, the slight breeze tugging at his fluffy white tail as Officer Jenny and her companions followed. He carefully stepped up the staircase and Keegan closed her eyes, leaning forward and taking slow, steady breaths in an effort to keep the room from spinning. The headache was beginning to make her feel sick.

As they ascended, Keegan listened intently for the sounds of the legendary beasts, but to her relief the tower was silent. And yet when they reached the correct floor, Keegan’s stomach lurched, and she swallowed hard. The room smelled of burned flesh, and she stared with horror at the scene as Firefoot entered, giving the others room to come in.

One of the men was pinned halfway up the wall with icicle spears. One had pierced his shoulder, but the edges of the wound were turning black with the sheer cold, stopping it from bleeding. He was unconscious, limply hanging from his icy restraints. His skin was pale, almost purple in the cold. His black-and-blue uniform and the navy-coloured bandanna covering his head were coated in a thin layer of glittering ice crystals. Keegan could see he was alive in the small puffs of cold breath.

Almost directly beneath him was the second man, in a bundle on the floor. His bandanna and the brown hair peeking from beneath it were sticking up with static electricity, and he still twitched occasionally. His body was scored with electrical burns and Keegan shuddered, absently fingering the pearly scars on her arm.

The third of the trio, the orange-haired woman, was slumped against the wall behind the staircase, her chest rising and falling slowly in evidence of life. The right half of her face was red and bloody, badly burned, and her hair and bandanna still smoked, almost completely gone. Her uniform, however, seemed more intact than the men’s. It also smoked, shiny with residue of flames, but appeared to be resistant to fire.

Firefoot backed away and Keegan slid off his back, finally noticing every ache and pain which afflicted her. Her legs almost collapsed, but Firefoot braced himself to hold her weight and she leaned on him weakly. Looking at the three other intruders, she felt a chill, realizing just how lucky she had been to get away with a few scrapes and bruises.

Of course, you led those pokémon straight into these guys… she thought to herself guiltily.

“Goodness,” the elderly monk gasped, paling as he entered. The plump monk clapped a hand over his mouth, horror-struck eyes travelling over the three unconscious intruders. He immediately waddled hastily up the stairs, evidently to escape the room and to be sure the upper levels were undamaged. Jenny checked the brown-haired intruder’s pulse, finding that he was alive, while Morty, seeing there was no threat, returned his gengar to its pokéball.

“Tell your arcanine to melt this ice,” the caped young man ordered, touching one of the icicles, then drawing his hand away with a hiss at its burning frostiness.

“Firefoot,” Keegan said faintly, leaning back against the wall and sinking to the floor. With a worried glance, Firefoot padded over and breathed gentle flames over the ice, slowly melting it until the half-frozen intruder fell into the young man’s arms. He set him down by the wall gently, tugging the ragged edges of the uniform over the frozen wound.

“You’ve defiled the sacred tower,” the thin-faced monk murmured anxiously. “Look… look at what you’ve done…” he swept an arm around the room, but Keegan’s head snapped up.

“I didn’t,” she denied, horrified. “I didn’t!”

“If you didn’t attack these people, then who did?” Jenny demanded, looking up from the three compact hang-gliders resting in the corner. She held out a scrap of black material. “And what’s this?” Keegan looked. Imprinted on the fabric was a blue emblem, similar to the tiny symbols on the intruder’s bandannas. In the centre was a circle, while at the bottom were two short lines, with a third at the top, making it look vaguely like an ‘A’…

“I don’t know,” she admitted, her words muffled by her knees. With her spare hand, Jenny reached for her radio, preparing to call for paramedics. “But I guess they were attacked by Entei and those other two beasts.”

At this, the caped man’s head snapped around, his blue eyes suddenly kindling with passion. “What other two beasts?” he demanded, rising from his crouch.

“Entei?” the elderly monk echoed at the same time. Jenny halted for an instant, also surprised, but then turned away and covered her ears to speak into the radio.

Keegan nodded, shifting her position to sit cross-legged. “I didn’t expect to come across any pokémon, truly I didn’t!” she appealed to them honestly. Which was the truth. The last thing she’d expected to find in the tower was legendary pokémon – after seeing Entei and Lugia, what were the chances she’d see others? Quite high, it now seemed.

“Tell us exactly what happened,” Morty turned around from checking the female intruder, his baggy jeans rustling, and fixed her once again with that eerie, intense gaze as his friend crossed his arms impatiently.

“I went up to the top of the tower,” Keegan explained, looked down at the now slick, wet floor as Firefoot lay heavily down beside her. “And… it was getting hot, all of a sudden. When I went into the top room, there was a giant bird…” her voice turned wistful. “Like a phoenix.” The monks exchanged astonished looks and Morty’s eyes went wide as sudden, fleeting envy flashed over his face.

“Except… I guess I startled it,” Keegan admitted. “Because it flew off. And the trio of beasts attacked me.” She fiddled with the hem of her jeans uncomfortably, absently breathing through her mouth to avoid smelling the air. There was no avoiding the fact she wasn’t meant to be up there, which had obviously been reason enough for Entei to attack her when he’d helped her before.

She looked at Firefoot proudly, and ruffled his fur fondly. “Firefoot carried me out. On the way down we ran across those three,” she nodded her head towards the intruders, ignoring the sudden stab in her temple which reminded her of the dull ache behind her eyes. “I guess they distracted the beasts.”

“Legendary dogs,” the caped man supplied, no longer seeming to care about her. His eyes turned elsewhere.

Huh. They looked more like cats to me, Keegan thought to herself idly, but seeing the young man’s sudden fervour kept her from saying so. She blinked, surprised, as he moved with swift, barely controlled zeal towards the stairs leading higher.

“Eusine,” Morty grabbed his arm and Eusine pulled away with a jerk, his eyes alight with smouldering passion. “Now’s not the time.”

For an instant Eusine glared at him, and Keegan thought he would hit his friend; but then he calmed out of whatever desire had gripped him and turned his gaze back to her, frowning at her with intensity altogether different from Morty’s. “But all that doesn’t explain what you were doing up there in the first place,” he snapped.

Keegan flushed again. “I…” Officer Jenny also looked at her sternly, apparently prepared to arrest her on the spot.

“It’s just as well,” the elderly monk pointed out suddenly, and bowed towards Keegan. “If these criminals knew that the legendary dogs and Ho-Oh were in the tower at the time, they could have injured one or all of them.”

“Her intentions weren’t malicious,” Morty agreed, and glanced at Jenny. “I’m inclined to let it slide. This time.” His last words carried a hint of warning which Keegan didn’t miss, and she nodded silently, her stomach roiling with annoyance. But it wasn’t irritation that she’d given in to her rebellious impulse; it was because she’d gotten caught… she felt a chill as she realized that, and bit her lip, disturbed.

Jenny stood, brushing her hands absently off on her blue skirt. “I’ll wait here until the paramedics arrive,” she volunteered calmly.

“Good,” Morty agreed, and pointed a finger at Keegan. “You should go to the Pokémon Centre. You’re not in perfect shape yourself.” And with those parting words he threw a stern look at Eusine and ascended the tower, followed by the last two monks.

Keegan held out Firefoot’s pokéball and returned him, then scrambled to her feet, anxious to escape the stifling, smoky air of the chamber. Eusine scowled up the stairs, then sighed and went to her side. He understood Morty’s wishes, and acknowledged it was probably for the best he remained behind. He wasn’t a guardian of the tower, after all, and really had no business being there.

Keegan took a deep breath, shunting off the dizziness that momentarily overwhelmed her. Then she obediently followed Eusine’s light touch on her arm as he led her back down the tower, hitching her bag more securely on her shoulder. Absently, her hand went to her neck in reassurance, only for her to remember that her pendant was still at the pinnacle of the tower.

* * *​

The sun shone through the open window, splashing morning light over the wooden floor of the wide room. Within were two bunk beds, carved from richly coloured timber; but only one was currently occupied.

Keegan rose unwillingly out of her sleep to find herself burrowed comfortably under the warm blankets, hugging her pillow soothingly. Or it would have been comfortable… except for the fact she ached in places she didn’t even know she had. With a groan, Keegan rolled over, reaching up to touch her tender head. The action stretched the scabbed graze on her arm, and the events of the previous night came back to her.

“Oh… yeah…” blearily, Keegan sat up, cross-legged under the blankets. “Oooh, Hazel’s gonna kill me,” she groaned, hiding her face in the pillow. Her stomach was already twisting with apprehension and she wished the day was over. Why, oh why, couldn’t she learn?

With a sound of utmost disgust, she threw aside the blankets, turning to sit on the edge of the bed with the pillow still on her lap. Unfortunately she forgot about the bed above hers, whacking her forehead painfully on the frame.

Her head throbbed, reminding her it had already put up with enough damage in the past night. Leaning over the pillow, Keegan wished she could crawl back into bed. No, I shouldn’t stay here longer than necessary, she told herself sternly. It’s your own fault… you know it is… none of them are going to trust you as long as you’re around. Besides, that Morty guy is kinda creepy...

For several moments she sat there, trying to convince her body that yes, it was fine, and it would be able to handle getting out of bed. Finally, her muscles complaining the whole way, she tossed the pillow aside and got up.

Several minutes later she stumped wearily downstairs to find Eusine in the lobby of the Pokémon Centre, waiting impatiently. Oh, boy… maybe they’re not letting me off the hook as easily as I thought… She hesitated at the base of the stairs, but there was no other way out and the caped young man had already spotted her.

Nurse Joy peered at her as she approached the Pokémon Centre’s counter silently, not at all sure what to say. “Are you sure you should be up?” the pink-haired nurse asked with a frown. “You looked terrible when you came in last night.”

Keegan grinned, hiding any evidence of her aches and pains. It wasn’t the first time that she got herself injured, and probably wouldn’t be the last. “Yeah, sure,” she answered in a perky voice which belied the graze on her arm and the dark circles under her eyes. “What about my pokémon?”

Joy held out the two pokéballs with a slight smile. “They’ll be fine.” Gratefully, Keegan took them and added them to her belt before turning to Eusine.

“Look,” she began, looking down at the floor. “I’m really, really sorry I went into the tower last night. It was pretty stupid of me.”

Eusine shrugged, white cape flapping gently. “I’m not the one you should be apologising to,” he said honestly, but his tone of voice sounded aloof, as though she were a peasant and he the envoy of a greater power. “I’m Morty’s friend, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to enter the tower without permission either.” His expression darkened, the thin lock of hair which hung over his eyes making them seem slightly more accusing. “But I also know when to show respect where it is due,” he added, and Keegan flushed. That was very similar to what Miriam had said before Keegan left Alto Mare…

Eusine turned towards the exit, looking at her expectantly. “Come along. We have to go to the gym.” And he strode out of the Pokémon Centre. Wondering whether she should be worried or not and feeling slightly annoyed at his superior tone, Keegan trailed after.

She quickened her pace so she could catch up to Eusine as they passed a few early-morning trainers heading into the Pokémon Centre. “Are the other intruders okay?” she asked anxiously. Even though she knew they meant nothing but harm, she still felt guilty for getting them hurt.

Eusine glanced at her, his blue eyes serious and yet distant. “They’re fine,” he answered shortly. “They looked a lot worse than they are. The legendary dogs aren’t bloodthirsty by nature; most pokémon aren’t.” He frowned slightly in brooding contemplation. “No, that’s a disposition reserved for humans.” Keegan fell silent, considering that as they passed by a man opening his shop. Ecruteak City was beginning to wake up, the early morning making the air fresh.

“Why are we going to the gym?” Keegan asked after a while, her eyes flickering to the Tin Tower in the distance. The sun gleamed off the canopy at the apex, making it seem serene compared to the battlefield it had been the night before.

“Because that’s where the closest arena is,” Eusine answered flatly. “And I’m not letting you leave Ecruteak without a battle.” Keegan’s head snapped around to look at him apprehensively, suddenly charged with adrenaline. She couldn’t remember ever being in a proper battle in her life. “And Morty wanted to see you about something,” Eusine added after a moment, a slightly amused smile twisting his lips at her expression. It softened his eyes slightly, making them seem more down-to-earth and less superior. “I think he’s going to offer you a reading.”

“A… what?” Keegan blinked, confused and hardly listening, wondering whether Eusine would accept a rejection. Somehow she didn’t think so…

“Morty has a very special psychic ability,” Eusine explained. “Called distant vision. He can see things other people can’t.”

“Like what?” Keegan demanded, her heart skipping a beat in excitement and her mind leaving the issue of the battle in an instant. “Like, people? Pokémon? Lost objects?” her hand drifted automatically up to her throat, where she sorely missed the weight of her pendant.

“Many things, I suppose,” Eusine acknowledged thoughtfully, and his eyes darkened slightly, the amusement leaving his face. “I’ve asked him to scry for Suicune, on occasion; but legendary pokémon seem to be beyond even his sight.” Seeing her confused expression, he added, “Suicune is the legendary dog of water.” His tone was reverent, and Keegan realized exactly why he’d reacted the way he had the night before as his voice turned wistful. “I’ve been searching for her many years. The closest time I ever came to battling her was right here in Ecruteak.”

“I can understand that,” Keegan agreed quietly, remembering the utter grace of Suicune. While Entei had presence, Suicune had elegance, and the third beast had been somewhere in between; tough and quick. For an instant Eusine’s eyes flashed jealously and he glanced at her sharply to find she was gazing at the ground in remembrance. In her eyes he could see the same appreciation of beauty he possessed and his mistrust faded. He met very few people who could understand, let alone match, his respect for Suicune. Perhaps she’s worthy after all… he found himself thinking.

“So why’s Morty offering a reading to me?” Keegan asked suddenly as they approached the gym.

Eusine broke out of his reverie and shrugged, sending his thoughts scattering to the wind. Worthy or not, he’d soon discover. “But don’t think it’s going to come cheap,” he warned. “Just because he’s a gym leader doesn’t mean he’s set for life in terms of finances.” Keegan nodded, and Eusine pushed open the doors to the gym, leading her inside. He looked with a hopeful gleam in his eyes around the arena, but then Morty emerged from a room to the side and disappointment crossed over his features.

The yellow-haired gym leader gazed at Keegan sympathetically with lidded eyes. “You don’t remember much of your past,” he said, but it wasn’t a question. It was clear from his tone that he knew. Mutely, Keegan shook her head, and Morty held up her pendant, complete with a new chain.

Keegan gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. “Oh! I thought…”

“You’ve had this a long time,” Morty held the pendant back, its new golden chain dangling over his fist. “It was a gift; and it was given with a great deal of love.”

“You… you can tell that?” Keegan faltered, her heart pounding with excitement. If he knew that – what else could he tell me? She took a step forward, her eyes pleading. “Can you tell me who gave it to me?” she implored him, eyes wide. “Where they are? If they’re alive?”

“I could try,” Morty admitted. “But you received this a long time ago,” he waved the pendant. “And what I see might not be to your liking. Many things may have changed since it was given to you.”

“I don’t care!” Keegan cried passionately, her eyes shining, and she clenched her fists. “Do you have any idea what its like to know that you’re missing half of your own life?!” Eusine gazed at her speculatively, taking note of her fervour.

Morty nodded, accepting that as truth. Pressing the index and middle fingers of his right hand firmly to his forehead, he closed his eyes, gripping the pendant tightly. “Your arcanine used this to evolve itself,” he observed idly.

“Yes,” Keegan nodded, her eyes riveted him tensely.

Morty expanded to scope of his vision, searching for someone he knew could well be too far away even for him to see. And then… “I see a red-haired man, dressed in crimson and black… black or grey, I can’t tell. He’s the one who gave this pendant to you.” Keegan’s cheeks went slightly pink. The first person to leap to mind was Lance the dragon master. “But I can’t see his face…” Morty trailed off. “There’s also fire. And water.”

Fire and water. Keegan sighed. Fire and water. Why is everything fire and water? Damn ocean.

Morty was silent for several seconds longer before opening his eyes and lowering his hand. “That’s all – save that this man is currently in another region. Too far for me to see anything detailed.” He held out the pendant. Distractedly, Keegan reached out to take it, and as their fingertips brushed, Morty experienced an unexpected flash.

- hazy figures which looked vaguely like birds; they soared in the sky, the wind lifting them through the clouds -

Then Keegan pulled back and Morty blinked, startled. Usually for him to see anything he had to look for it first. However, sometimes passionate people unintentionally projected their inner values so strongly he could catch a glimpse of them. Eusine was one of these; that was how Morty had discovered his distant vision ability, and how they’d become friends in the first place. “You should go to Kanto,” he blurted before he’d had a chance to think.

Keegan looked up from her pendant. While it no longer had the flickering fire in its centre, the weight of it in her palm was comforting. “Why?”

“Because I saw birds,” Morty explained, and smiled briefly at her startled expression. “The last thing I saw. In Kanto are three legendary bird pokémon, the winged mirages. You should search them out.”

Keegan considered this, fastened her pendant back around her neck. After all, she’d come to Ecruteak for inspiration, and Morty had given her nothing if not inspiration. Besides, she thought to herself, her fist clenching around the pendant. He said the man who gave me this pendant is in another region. Kanto is as good a place as any to start looking.

She reached into her bag, looking for her wallet. “I understand that your services aren’t free,” she said honestly. “I may have snuck into the Tin Tower illegally, but I’m not a criminal. What do I owe you?”

Morty named his price and Keegan handed over the money as Eusine fidgeted, casting impatient glances at the bare, wooden arena. There was only one thing on his mind – Suicune. And the fact that Keegan had seen Suicune, even by accident… he wanted to show her the real power of a Suicune-hunter – before Morty tried to send her away and prevent him from reminding her of his challenge.

So when Morty opened his mouth to bid Keegan farewell, Eusine cut him off. “Are you still up for a battle?” he demanded of Keegan, his eyes determined and one fist clenched. Morty’s mouth snapped shut, his expression resigned.

For a few moments Keegan only stared at Eusine mutely, studying the resolve in his features. With a pang she realized that despite his superior attitude, he was a kindred spirit. He would search the world over, seeing beauty wherever he went, struggling to discover where his true place in life was. That’s why he chases Suicune. For inspiration. Idly, she wondered what her inspiration was; then she remembered. Her inspiration was the song she’d heard in Alto Mare – the one which had encouraged her to leave the city. The one which told her to dance.

Slowly, Keegan nodded, accepting his challenge.
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Twilight Absol

Another excellent fic, I loved the ending, and I ache to find out about the battle
and...Keegan shall dance the night away :p


E/GL obsessed
Oh, good ^.^ I was afraid Eusine was OOC, since I've never actually seen the episodes with him in it.
*cries* why do i have to live in deprived australia?!
anyway... :p glad to know he's as lovable as I've heard... although he's gonna be a combination of manga Eusine and anime Eusine, so go figure.
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Twilight Absol

Hm.....What does that crystal thingie do? >.>
plx tell me?


E/GL obsessed
<_< you never give up, do you twilight? ^.^ There's no way I'm gonna tell you what it *does*. But I might consider giving you more info on what it *is*. Depending on how curious everyone else is. I don't wanna give out info if people don't want it - spoiler tags or no spoiler tags.

This chapter contains a little bit of violence again. ^.^ Enjoy.

~ IV ~


If nothing else, you have to admire his passion, the gym leader thought to himself, standing on the sideline of the arena as referee. On one side, Eusine was waiting grimly for Morty to begin the battle; on the other, the girl whose name they still didn’t know was looking uncertain but determined. But sometimes it’s like he thinks he’s the only one worthy of seeing Suicune – like with Ash a few weeks ago. A slight smile touched the gym leader’s lips. Although I am surprised he managed to wait until after I finished talking to her.

Keegan expanded Firefoot’s pokéball, releasing him in a flash of light. “Arrcth!” The arcanine barked, prancing happily about on the cleanly swept field with his tongue lolling.

“C’mon, Firefoot, this is a battle,” Keegan told him. He looked over his shoulder with the exact same, sternly mournful eyes he’d possessed when he was a growlithe, and cocked his head severely. “Aw, don’t do that,” Keegan groaned. “Okay, you were right and I was wrong. Happy?” Firefoot gave a short nod and turned back towards Eusine, eyes bright.

Eusine followed Keegan’s lead, releasing a female alakazam onto the field. The dark brown armour on her forearms, torso and knees almost seemed to absorb the light. Keegan had never seen an alakazam before, but she had seen abra around Alto Mare, and gritted her teeth. How am I meant to contest a psychic pokémon? She wondered nervously.

“Ka?” the alakazam tilted her head, puzzled. The next thing Keegan knew she had teleported right in front of her. “Kaahza?” Crossing her twin silver spoons, the psychic pokémon seemed to examine the girl through the scope, the two utensils travelling over her face and then down to her bag. Startled, Keegan stepped back, and Firefoot blinked densely.

“Alakazam!” Eusine snapped, also surprised. Instantly Alakazam teleported back to his side of the field in battle position.

“This will be a one-on-one match,” Morty declared, his tone resigned. “No time limit.” He raised his hands. “Begin!”

Okay. Let’s do this. “Firefoot, use flamethrower!” Keegan ordered, and Firefoot drew back his head, firing a stream of flames towards Alakazam as rainbow light swept over the field.

“Mirror coat!” Eusine returned. Raising her spoons, Alakazam narrowed her eyes, generating a barrier of pure energy to deflect the fire. Morty jumped to the side, raising an arm against a streamer of the flames which coursed past him before disintegrating into nothingness.

“Quick attack!” Keegan cried, and Firefoot darted forward, avoiding the reflected attack. He flashed across the ground, but just as he was about to hit Alakazam the psychic pokémon teleported behind him. Startled, Firefoot tried to stop as Alakazam raised her spoons once again, aiming a shaft of psychic energy towards the arcanine. Before Firefoot had a chance to dodge, it engulfed him in rainbow flashes of light.

Firefoot skidded across the arena under the force of the psybeam, shaking it off as best he could. “Flamethrower!” Keegan commanded again, her own fists clenched and her eyes sparkling with excitement. Obediently Firefoot sent another ribbon of flames towards Alakazam. The psychic pokémon just generated another mirror coat; except this time Keegan was prepared. “Follow it up with take down!”

Firefoot bounded forward through the flames of his own attack, but Eusine had seen Keegan’s plan. By the time Firefoot burst through the mirror coat, it was only to find a maze of the gleaming barriers, each one reflecting Firefoot’s startled expression and the strangely warped image of Alakazam.

“Tackle it, Firefoot!” Keegan shouted, and Firefoot leapt forward to tackle what he thought was Alakazam, only to have the mirror coat shimmer and vanish.

“Psybeam,” Eusine ordered calmly. Keegan watched keenly, waiting for Alakazam to reveal her position. The multiple images of Alakazam raised her spoons, firing a psybeam, not at Firefoot, but at one of her own mirror coats. With iridescent flashes of light, the psybeam ricocheted off the glimmering barriers with increasing power until it reached a confused Firefoot, engulfing him once again in light and sending him sprawling across the field.

The mirror coats faded, revealing Alakazam on the opposite side of the field as Firefoot staggered weakly to his feet. Physically he was fine; psychic attacks drained the spirit, an altogether different but nonetheless effective technique. “Use psychic,” Eusine told Alakazam, and she crossed her spoons.

“Ahhllaa,” she grunted, her eyes flashing bright, cerulean blue. Surrounded in that same colour aura, Firefoot was suddenly raised into the air, fur fluttering. Pointing with one of her spoons, Firefoot was thrown against the ground, the wind expelling from his lungs in a swift burst. Then Alakazam raised him up again; but this time his fur flared, flames veining their way through his mane and down his shoulders as his tail blazed.

Seeing this, the onset of a fire pokémon’s blaze ability, Keegan quickly ordered a fire spin. Firefoot opened his shaggy jaws, driving a roiling twister of flames towards Alakazam. They swept over the field, warming the ground and engulfing the psychic pokémon in fire.

Keegan grinned, confident she’d scored a hit. Firefoot’s blue aura faded and he plummeted to the ground, landing with a heavy thump. “Arrcnn,” he snarled, lurching to his feet.

“Take down,” Keegan ordered, and Firefoot leapt forward at a full run. The next instant the inferno glowed blue, shooting out in a blazing ring. Keegan ducked instinctively as the halo shot over her head, but the circle caught Firefoot in the chest and sent him tumbling back, his fire-resistant fur smoking. He hit the ground, slewed across the field, but didn’t rise. Alakazam, panting, still remained standing. Her armour was blackened, seared by the fire, and her golden skin held evidence of burning.

“Arcanine is unable to battle,” Morty declared. “Alakazam is the winner.” Anxiously, Keegan ran to Firefoot, kneeling beside him. She made to place a hand on his heaving side, but jerked back with a curse; his black and orange coat was scorchingly hot.

The arcanine rolled onto his paws and struggled to get up. Gingerly, Keegan put a hand on his nose, ignoring the uncomfortable warmth of his fur. “It’s okay,” she assured him, raising his pokéball, and smiled. “You did great for your first real battle.” With that she returned him to the safety and comfort of his pokéball.

Eusine also raised Alakazam’s pokéball, his expression pleased. “Excellent work, Alakazam,” he complimented his pokémon, and she turned a weary but grinning face towards him before disintegrating into the customary beam of red light.

Keegan stood, feeling dispirited. Her aches and pains, forgotten in the excitement of the battle, seemed to return tenfold. No wonder we were getting thrashed last night, she thought, depressed. How can I expect to get anywhere if we can’t battle properly?

Eusine, approaching, saw her expression. “You faced the wrath of the legendary dogs last night,” he told her, his eyes glittering, not seeming as ill-disposed towards her as he had been. “That is true power. This battle just proves that to chase a legendary pokémon, you must not only be strong – you have to have more than one trick up your sleeve.” So saying, Eusine raised a simple playing card; he passed over it with his other hand, and in its place was a small, crimson rose bud. With a slight bow and a small flourish of his cape, the enigmatic young man handed it to Keegan.

Keegan blushed and accepted the flower, impressed; then she offered an uncertain grin. “So. Strategy, huh?” She summarised, feeling a strange sense of déjà vu. She seemed to vaguely remember someone giving her similar advice.

“Not that Eusine’s strategies have helped him get very close to Suicune,” Morty said dryly, joining them, and Eusine scowled. “Besides,” Morty added. “Psychic pokémon are widely considered the most dangerous of all, because there are only a few other types with any immunity to them. It’s difficult to win when your pokémon’s attacks keep getting reflected right back at you.”

Why doesn’t that make me feel any better? Keegan wondered dismally before brushing the thought off. It doesn’t matter. I won’t let that stop me. She nodded firmly. “That’s no reason to give up,” she said with utter determination. “I can always get better. Besides, after seeing so many beautiful legendary pokémon here in Johto, I have to wonder what those winged mirages are like. And on the way, I can look for the man who gave me this,” she touched her pendant, still holding the rose.

Eusine’s scowl evaporated. Hah. If she can recognise the beauty of the legends, she can’t be so bad. Besides, with determination like that in the face of defeat, she could go far. Even if her curiosity did land her in trouble.

“Then I’d recommend you head down to Goldenrod City,” Morty advised Keegan. “You can take the magnet train into Kanto.”

Keegan nodded, her eyes profoundly grateful. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she began. “For giving me some hope. Maybe I’ll be able to find out about myself after all.” Her thoughts were already elsewhere, considering the possibilities; for if the key to her past was in Kanto, then she was almost there, just steps away. It was strange how a reckless decision such as breaking into the Tin Tower could end up being so beneficial… despite all the pain and guilt, it was worth it.

Painful ventures usually were, after all.

* * *​

Far away from Johto, in a thriving city sprawled on the eastern coast of Hoenn, the Hoenn TV headquarters was a bustling hive of regulated chaos. It was nearing the end of the day and there were still many things to be done; though for the broadcast team’s chief, few of them had anything to do with his news reports.

In his cluttered office on the upper storey of the whitewashed building, Archie watched a recently recorded report with narrowed eyes, one hand stroking his bearded chin absently. The recording was about the recently instated Petalburg gym leader, but Archie was barely paying attention. His position as the chief of the station was borne of necessity, not interest.

One of his phones rang, shattering through the drone of the TV; not one from an employee down below, but his blue one. The one which he never let anyone touch. The one which could herald either success or disaster…

Muting the report, Archie answered the phone, eyes flickering automatically to glance out the soundproof window looking down on the main hall below, where most of the station’s editing and broadcasting was done.

“Sir, you should turn to IRC2,” a scratchy voice suggested on the other end of the line without identifying himself or activating the vid-screen. It didn’t matter; only three people could contact Archie using the blue phone. Immediately Archie did as the man suggested and the screen changed, showing a close up shot of a short-haired reporter with glasses standing in front of a timber constructed police station.

“…despite their injuries, have been recaptured,” the reporter was saying seriously. Behind her, Officer Jenny pulled up on her motorcycle and hurried into the station. “However, all evidence pertaining to their intentions and their background was destroyed in the attempted escape. It is now believed they have an accomplice on the outside, who may have even helped them break into the Tin Tower. Investigations are still being conducted into these new theories, and Officer Jenny requests that anyone with information come forward. Coming to you from in front of Ecruteak’s poli -” Archie shut off the television, having heard enough. The screen blipped into a single dot, quickly fading into matte black.

“So they failed,” Archie snorted. “What about the others?” His voice was deep and rumbling, booming almost like a wailord.

“So far there seems to be little opposition,” the hoarse man on the other side of the phone line answered quickly. “This may just have been bad luck.”

Archie tapped at the disorganized tabletop irritably with the remote control. “Bad luck or not, I’m not willing to give up on this operation yet. But we can’t afford to send in anyone else – it’ll just have to wait until Matts is finished. Tell him to continue as planned, then move on to Ecruteak.”

“What about our agents in custody?” the other man asked.

Archie shrugged, turning away from the window on his rotating chair. “If Matts has the time and manpower, he can retrieve them. If not, they can stay there.” His tone was cold. Every single one of his agents knew that he didn’t take failure, for whatever reason, kindly.

“Yes, sir.” The hoarse man hung up with a click, and Archie lowered the phone with a frown.

This may be more difficult than I thought, he reflected, then shunted the matter from his mind and turned the television back on. It was nearly time for the six o’clock broadcast…

* * *​

Keegan trudged down the thin path, her legs aching. Idly she wondered if it was downhill all the way to Goldenrod. The woods surrounding her were thinner than around Ecruteak, and the trees often surrendered to hard, rocky ground. I have to be close, she thought. It was more of a prayer than anything else. The Joy at the last Pokémon Centre she’d visited had mentioned Goldenrod was within a day’s walk.

It seemed more like a year. Keegan was all for the quiet serenity of nature, but sometimes enough was enough. She was still sore from her venture into the Tin Tower, and had been tempted to remain in one place for a few days just so she could sleep in a proper bed. The only problem with that was, if she stopped, chances were she wouldn’t start again.

She was just debating whether or not to rest for a while when she heard a weak, wavering hiss. A weedle in a tree nearby paused and cocked its head. Keegan stood for a second, then stepped off the path and into the thin forest, following the noise. There came a harsh chittering sound, hardly audible over the sound of rushing water. Keegan came to a stream and hesitated; then the calls came again, and she ran alongside the stream.

The trees parted to reveal an elegant vaporeon backed against a natural monument of rocks. Its blue fur was slick with the blood of a thousand tiny cuts, and the fin around its neck was torn and ragged.

The vaporeon tried to dart past its foe, a spindly-legged ariados, into the safety of the water; but the ariados fired a small, sharp thread from its mouth, catching the vaporeon on the paw and pinning it to the ground. With a jerk and a pain-filled cry, the vaporeon slung about, its injured paw stretched out as it lay on its side. Its sides were heaving and its eyes were glazed not just with pain, but with some kind of sickness. It shivered and trembled, tail twitching, as the ariados reared back, mandibles snapping

Without hesitation Keegan expanded Hazel’s pokéball and threw it. The pokéball hit the ariados squarely on the head and bounced before it. Dazed, the ariados didn’t have time to react when Hazel bounded out of the pokéball and tackled it, sending it skidding back.

Recovering, the ariados clicked angrily, shooting a string of fine thread towards Hazel, but the eevee darted to the side and the string shot hit the rocks uselessly. “Quick attack!” Keegan ordered. Hazel barely touched the ground before she flashed across the clearing, striking the ariados squarely on it bulbous, red abdomen. The spider pokémon tumbled back as Hazel landed, defensively, in front of the now wheezing vaporeon.

The ariados hesitated, clicking uncertainly. Then it seemed to decide a battle was too much trouble and retreated, skittering easily over the forest’s debris. Approaching cautiously, Keegan could see now the vaporeon was a young male, and the ariados had probably targeted him because he was sick. Kneeling, Keegan pulled the barb out of the vaporeon’s paw. An eye slitted open and he coughed, struggling to his feet.

“Woah,” Keegan held out a hand as he staggered, flanks heaving. His injured paw looked like it was swathed in red silk, except for the tiny drops which stained the ground. His fin-like ears drooped, the darker blue markings on his head a sickly shade of grey. Keegan expanded a spare pokéball she’d bought in Ecruteak, intending to capture the poor thing to take to a Pokémon Centre, but at the soft whooshing sound the vaporeon’s head snapped up and he snarled, showing small, sharp fangs.

Hazel jumped between the girl and the pokémon, gazing at the vaporeon with wide, earnest eyes. Keegan lowered the pokéball to let Hazel talk some sense into him, chewing her lip.

<<You need help, cousin of the lake,>> Hazel mewed, her ears back with worry and her paws beating the ground in a dance of unease.

The vaporeon took a faltering step towards the stream, tail dragging on the ground. <<Brother will help me,>> he answered Hazel shortly, his voice weak and wavering with sickness. <<He’ll be back soon.>>

<<That may be too late, cousin,>> Hazel begged him, taking a step closer. Her thick tail swished anxiously, cutting the air like a blade.

The vaporeon looked over his shoulder through slitted eyes. <<Brother will protect me,>> he repeated stubbornly, as though it were an edict he didn’t quite believe but dearly wanted to. <<More than that human of yours will, little cousin of the wilderness.>> Hazel stiffened, her almond shaped eyes flashing angrily, and she hissed, her bristling fur registering her indignation. The vaporeon just chuckled wearily. <<I pray for your sake she’s not like the human I once knew.>>

<<She’s not,>> Hazel said proudly, raising her head and tilting her ears forward confidently. <<She’ll help.>>

The vaporeon took another limping step towards the stream. <<The only one who helps me is Brother. He’ll be back soon with a cure.>> A shudder ran through his light frame. Hazel bounded in front of him, blocking his path, but he didn’t try to escape into the water. Instead he hung his head, shaking and panting. Bending to look at his huge, black eyes, Hazel knew it was all he could do to keep his feet.

<<We’ll help you too,>>
Hazel whispered, and looked pleadingly up at Keegan. Instantly the blonde haired trainer raised the pokéball and tossed it towards the water pokémon. He turned his head to look at the pokéball as it flew towards him, but could do nothing to escape its relentless, tantalizing grasp.

The pokéball rocked and locked down. With a comforting mew, Hazel put a paw on the shiny red surface, looking at the tired, wounded vaporeon within. <<You’ll be alright, cousin of the lake,>> she promised him, and Keegan picked the pokéball up, shrinking it to place at her belt.

“C’mon,” she hitched her bag more securely on her shoulder. “We need to get to Goldenrod.” Holding out Hazel’s pokéball, she returned the eevee in a flash of light, and ran out of the clearing.

Many minutes later, a dark, nimble umbreon trotted into the clearing, holding his head high against the weight of the green Lum berry in his mouth. His red eyes narrowed, seeing the trail of blood on the ground, and he dropped the berry, springing over it to examine the scene.

His tongue flickered out, licking his nose to take in the taste of the surroundings, and he picked up the familiar scent: a human. Paws jerking with wild fury, the umbreon vanished into a slit in the rock, but upon finding it empty he returned to the clearing, an angry growl rumbled deep in his throat. Tail and ears whipping, he darted out of the clearing and into the trees, leaving the berry behind.

Keegan paced the shiny floor of the Pokémon Centre’s lobby anxiously. Outside the high windows she could see people passing up and down the wide boulevard next to the centre. The sky was already dark, lit only by the streetlights, hanging like a shroud over the city.

“Chaanssi!” the pink, balloon-like chansey bounced up to Keegan, offering the pokéballs containing Hazel and Firefoot to her.

“Thanks,” Keegan smiled down at the happy-go-lucky pokémon, taking the pokéballs, and it bounced off to take care of a group of trainers just entering the centre.

The red emergency sign over a pair of double doors dinged off, making Keegan spin around to see Nurse Joy exiting the room, her heart leaping to her mouth. Joy smiled reassuringly, and Keegan breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing.

“Vaporeon was quite ill,” Joy told her, clasping her hands in front of her apron. “And with his injuries, it was just as well you came here so quickly. But after a night in our emergency ward, he’ll be fine.”

“Oh, that’s great,” Keegan sat down wearily on the cushioned bench nearby. She’d run most of the way to Goldenrod, and was feeling quietly exhausted.

Joy giggled. “You should get some rest yourself,” she suggested.

“Yeah, I think I might,” Keegan agreed gratefully, and retreated into one of the trainers’ rooms for a comfortable night in dreamland.

* * *​

The next morning it was already quite late before Keegan finally dragged herself out of bed and trudged downstairs, yawning. Nurse Joy greeted her with a smile and a wave, gesturing for her to come to the counter.

Glancing blearily around the mostly-empty lobby, Keegan did so, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Joy held up the vaporeon’s pokéball. “What were you planning to do with this vaporeon?” she asked mildly. “You said you only caught him because he needed treatment.”

“Uhm, I don’t really know,” Keegan admitted, putting her elbows and bag on the counter and leaning on it. “I never thought that far ahead. What should I do?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Joy smiled. “I think all he needs is a good trainer to take care of him. He doesn’t seem as hateful towards trainers as some abandoned pokémon are. I just wanted to make sure you were willing.”

Keegan straightened, frowning. “Abandoned? How do you know?”

A sorrowful expression passed over Joy’s face. “I’ve seen enough abandoned pokémon to recognise the look,” she answered sadly. “They have a certain kind of manner about them.” She handed over the vaporeon’s pokéball and Keegan accepted it gingerly, looking down at the pokémon within. He looked happy enough, but he still wore a slightly guarded expression of doubt. With an inward shrug, Keegan shrank the pokéball and added it to her belt, dragging her bag off the counter and slinging it back over her shoulder.

“Thanks, Nurse Joy.” The girl waved goodbye and strolled out of the centre, raising a hand against the bright sun. She was blissfully unaware of the pair of red eyes which watched her malevolently from a nearby alleyway.

For a long while Keegan just wandered along the boulevard, dodging the throng and looking around at the various store fronts. Pausing at a wide newsagent’s window to avoid the large, laughing crowd coming down the paved path, Keegan studied the various magazines on the racks. One, a shiny edition with red, gold and white as its colours, boasted a huge picture of a pretty, grinning woman. Her pink hair looked soft and shiny, and she was giving a coy wink towards the camera.

‘WHITNEY! GOLDENROD’S WONDER ACTRESS!’ The title screamed. Beneath that was the caption: ‘Whitney – talented actress and pokémon trainer.’ Keegan snorted; she had very little respect for rich people who played at being strong pokémon trainers, and the expression in Whitney’s eyes seemed to mark her as one such person.

“Oh, please,” she muttered as the crowd passed behind her. “Like any bimbo air-headed actress could be a proper pokémon trainer too. Betcha all she cares about is her pokémon getting a broken nail.”

“Excuse me!” Turning, Keegan found herself face to face with the real, live Whitney. She was scowling angrily, arms crossed over a white and red-lined shirt. Keegan flushed, suddenly realizing the crowd must have been Whitney and her fans. Those same fans were also glaring at Keegan, several murmuring to each other. Beside Whitney was an older man carrying a cane, who cast his eyes up to the heavens.

Oh, great. Now I’ve gone and done it. Keegan thought to herself, wishing she could melt into the pavement. She hated being in the centre of attention.

“So you don’t believe I’m a real pokémon trainer, do you?” Whitney snapped.

Keegan, acutely aware of her red cheeks, raised her chin and held Whitney’s gaze rebelliously. “I’ve never seen you battle,” she answered. “So I guess I really can’t judge.”

“Sure sounded like you were judging before,” an anonymous fan sneered, and the crowd murmured with agreement. Whitney looked smug at her support, but the man beside her discreetly rolled his eyes, straightening his tie to cover it.

“Show her what for, Whitney!” someone else cheered.

“Right,” Whitney nodded, holding out an expanded pokéball almost accusingly. “Let’s battle! Right here, right now. The boulevard is plenty big enough. Right?” she glanced to the man beside her dangerously, as though daring him to disagree. The man shrugged helplessly, spreading his hands.

“Think I’ll pass.” Keegan turned away, fully intending to leave, but the crowd wouldn’t let her through. Instead they all glared at her jeeringly.

“What kind of a trainer are you?” Whitney demanded. “Refusing a challenge like that?”

“I never said I was a trainer,” Keegan snapped without turning. She was too busy staring down the tall, freckled girl who stood in her way.

“On the contrary, miss,” the older man spoke for the first time, gesturing with his cane. “If you have pokémon, then by the Pokémon Association’s rules you are considered a trainer.”

With a sigh, Keegan stepped back. “Fine,” she grumbled. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Oh, it won’t take long, don’t worry,” Whitney said snobbishly, turning around to walk to the centre of the boulevard. Keegan scowled, following to stand opposite her. Most of the shoppers browsing the boulevard stopped to watch, whispering, but some merely skirted the wide crowd lining the edge of the makeshift battlefield.

“A one on one battle sound good to you?” Whitney asked with false sweetness.

“Whatever,” Keegan muttered, looking down at the ground. Her cheeks had gone slightly pink again, for now she was even more in the spotlight than she had been before. Please, please don’t let me screw up, she found herself praying, and that annoyed her more than anything else. Why should she care what this obnoxious woman thought?

With a twirl and a pose, Whitney tossed an expanded to release a matronly pink cow pokémon, miltank. Keegan remembered seeing a farmful of them as she travelled to Ecruteak, but she didn’t know anything about its attacks or its type. Whitney smirked. “Your turn.” The miltank swished its tail, the small black sphere on its tip absorbing the sunlight, and yawned.

Hmn. Keegan frowned, wondering which of her pokémon to use. Then she shrugged inwardly. Good a time as any to test out the vaporeon’s abilities. She plucked his pokéball off her belt and expanded it. Inside, the elegant water pokémon looked as though he was trying – and failing – not to look interested.

“Awright, Tarn,” Keegan grinned, making the name up on the spot; “Let’s show ‘em.” And she tossed the pokéball, releasing the newly named pokémon.

“This will be a one on one battle,” the older man, standing with one arm behind his back between the two young women as ref, announced. “No time limit. Begin!” he tapped the ground forcefully with his cane to accent his words.

“Miltank, rollout!” Whitney rapped out before Keegan could say a word. Miltank curled into a ball and spurted forward, spinning towards Tarn swiftly, its pink and black markings a blur.

“Water gun!” Keegan cried, uncertain what attacks Tarn knew. Tarn blasted a stream of water towards Miltank, but it just blundered straight through, sending sprays of water shooting to the sides and drenching half the audience. At the last minute, Tarn jumped to the side, avoiding the attack. Whitney crossed her arms and smirked as Miltank skidded about in a sharp turn, barrelling back towards Tarn with increasing power.

I need something to stop it. But I don’t know what attacks Tarn knows… Keegan bit her lip and as though sensing her uncertainty Tarn cast a doubtful look towards her. Screw it. You know what attacks he can learn – so pick one! “Aurora Beam!” Tarn looked relieved and dodged away, firing a glittering, rainbow beam of ice towards the miltank. A barrier of glimmering ice surrounded the pink cow, and for an instant it seemed as though the rollout attack had been halted; then the miltank burst through, its speed proving too much as the ice wall shattered into a million shards.

Keegan winced, raising a hand as the sun reflected off the ice shards smashed on the boulevard. “Use quick attack to get away,” she ordered through gritted teeth. Obediently Tarn flashed across the pavement, avoiding the spinning miltank. For a moment he stumbled, then caught himself, and Keegan clutched her pendant worriedly. His paw might not be as healed as I thought, she cursed. I should’ve used Firefoot…

“What’s the matter?” Whitney asked smugly, seeing Keegan’s expression. “Out of your depth?”

Keegan scowled. She was, but that’s the last thing she wanted Whitney to know. It was only her second battle! And she’d been thrashed in her first… Of course. She remembered Eusine’s advice suddenly. Tricks. I need a trick!

“Tarn, use aurora beam on the ground!” she shouted. Tarn leapt up his full height, casting a sheet of glimmering ice over the boulevard until it gleamed with a sheath of frost. Miltank’s speed picked up, and Whitney laughed.

“You just made my pokémon faster,” she smiled arrogantly.

“Maybe,” Keegan snarled unconvincingly, her arms prickling with goosebumps in the chilly air hanging over the field. “Tarn, use the ice to dodge miltank!” Tarn slapped the shining surface with his flippered tail, sending himself skidding across the field on unsteady paws. The miltank spun into one of its sharp turns to follow, but it was then that the slippery ice played against it. The sturdy cow careened off course towards the watching crowd, out of control.

“Stomp!” Whitney shrieked, her fists clenched up to her chest as the crowd fled. Miltank unrolled itself, stamping the ice so hard it cracked. It skidded to a halt, leaving a trail of shattered ice.

“Water gun,” Keegan commanded, unable to contain a grin. The stream of water splashed uselessly over the shop window beyond as the miltank slithered onto the ice, gliding away unsteadily. Then it planted its hooves for a second time, stilling its drifting movement.

Unfortunately Tarn wasn’t as lucky; his padded paws made it impossible to get a grip on the ice, a fact which Whitney noted with glee. “Stomp your way over to Vaporeon, Miltank,” she called, flashing a triumphant grin to Keegan. Miltank tramped towards Tarn, making the ground shake slightly, the ice cracking. Tarn slipped and slid, struggling to keep his feet.

More than one trick up your sleeve… “Tarn, use mist,” Keegan commanded, praying he knew the attack. Instantly Tarn opened his delicate mouth, breathing a fine, chilly mist over the field. Keegan shivered and rubbed her arms.

“It won’t do you any good!” she heard Whitney screech somewhere through the mist. “Your vaporeon can’t move anywhere!”

Keegan smirked to herself. That’s what she thinks.

Whitney strained her eyes to see the girl’s vaporeon, her own pokémon’s pink and black body bright enough to provide a blurry figure in the mist. She shuddered but refused to rub her arms against the chill, refused to show that upstart little bitch any sign of weakness. Air-headed bimbo indeed!

She didn’t even notice that her miltank was shivering in the cold, her pink skin turning slightly purple and her black ears drooping. “Miltank, use rollout to clear the mist,” she ordered through gritted teeth. Obediently Miltank did so, the windy backlash blowing the mist away in streamers of frosty air before Miltank stomped the icy field again.

Whitney expected to see the vaporeon still struggling to keep its feet, but instead she found the field was covered in thick lumps of ice, rising from the ground and gleaming in the sunlight. The vaporeon was nowhere to be seen.

“Quick attack!” Keegan ordered Tarn, and the vaporeon flashed out from behind an ice rock, darting from one to next, using them to keep his balance.

“Body slam!” Whitney tried, but Tarn was too fast, bowling Miltank over and sending it skating across the ice.

“Cool it down even more with water gun!” Keegan called. Tarn bounded off an ice rock, changing direction effortlessly, and shot a stream of water towards Miltank. The blow and the slippery ice drove the pink cow back to crash into one of the ice rocks; dizzily, it slumped to the ground, shivering, and didn’t get up.

“Miltank is unable to battle,” the older man said firmly, tapping the ground with his cane. Whitney stared incredulously at her freezing pokémon, then burst into tears and returned it, running off down the boulevard. Her fans started chattering disbelievingly. Some followed after Whitney, but most didn’t seem to know quite what to do. Slowly, the crowd dispersed, skirting the frozen section of the boulevard.

Keegan held out Tarn’s pokéball. “Awesome, Tarn,” she said cheerfully, feeling happy enough to break into song or dance a little jig. She settled for a huge grin as the vaporeon bounded up to her, his slick blue fur glittering slightly from the ice particles still caught in it. His huge eyes were glimmering with satisfaction. Keegan returned him, releasing Firefoot at the same time.

“Firefoot, use flame wheel to melt the field, please,” Keegan requested, shrinking Tarn’s pokéball and replacing it on her belt.

“Arccth!” Firefoot barked happily, and bounded onto the slippery ice, his blazing paws and flaming shield melting a trail as he pranced about.

“Excellent battle,” the elderly man complimented her, tipping his round, stiff-brimmed hat. Keegan blushed a little, and managed a chuckle.

“Well, I’d’ve said it was luck,” she answered dryly.

“Oh, perhaps not,” the man smiled. “You certainly used the ice to your advantage. This, I do believe, belongs to you.” He held out a square, silver-lined badge, and Keegan looked at it curiously. “This is for beating Whitney,” the man explained. “She’s Goldenrod’s gym leader. If a gym leader is beaten in battle, they have to award the victor with a badge.” He smiled somewhat long-sufferingly. “Unfortunately, Whitney tends to forget that in the face of defeat.”

“Thanks,” uncertainly Keegan accepted it, examining the shiny, lime-green surface as Firefoot approached, splashing in a puddle of cold water and soaking the hems of Keegan’s jeans. “Aw, Firefoot,” Keegan groaned, shaking off the water, and the man chuckled. “So I don’t get it, how come you’re giving me this instead of Whitney?” Keegan waved the badge, hopping on one foot to wring out the hem with her spare hand.

“I work for the Pokémon Association,” the man said primly. “The Johto headquarters are based here in Goldenrod.” He touched his brim. “I should get after Whitney. Good day, lass.” And he strode off, vanishing into the excitedly chattering crowd, spread over the wet pavement that had served as a battlefield only minutes before.
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