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Drowning

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Starlight Aurate, Dec 31, 2013.

  1. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Dang. Just... dang. Talk about it all hitting the fan. Jirachi committing a bit of mass murder there was horrifying in its own right, but the cherry on top is the fact that, scared kid that he essentially was, he was quite possibly just as messed up by what he did as Tabitha was on some level, if not moreso.

    Marissa's pokémon being released was a good, strong punch right to the heart. I can't say for certain of course if we really have seen the absolute last of them--Golduck especially seemed too determined to get back to her to lose hope forever--but I'm disinclined to hold my breath.

    I can't even begin to guess what's next. Marissa's fallen out of the pan into a series of progressively more dangerous fires; it'll be interesting to see how--or even if--she gets out of this one.
     
    BTS_fan likes this.
  2. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Hi all, I'm back! I've debated on how to continue this fic, and whether I wanted to still post it here. I've also edited this chapter and switched the scenes around about 5000 times--but I've also written a couple of chapters after it. Anyway, here we go!

    Sike Saner:

    Thanks for the review! I'm very grateful for it ^_^ And yes, Maressa doesn't really get out of this like she got out of the previous one.

    Chapter 22

    The helicopter flew onwards, the wind beating loudly on its metal walls. Maressa sat alone in a room. Blood caked her shoulders where Altaria’s claws dug into her. Tears streamed from her pale amber eyes as she sniffled.

    The helicopter landed. She heard people moving back and forth, shouts, noises from unidentifiable Pokemon.

    The outside noise eventually faded, only her sobs punctuating the silence.

    Maressa clenched her eyes shut. Her heart ached—it ached. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the submarines—nothing more than crumbled hunks of metal—sinking into the sea and Golduck staring at her in shock. She heard his screams echoing in her head, playing over and over. And her heart broke again and again.

    The door opened. She looked up; through her tears, she blurrily perceived Tabitha looking down at her. “Get up,” he said.

    She stood up and followed him out of the helicopter, which stood in a sort of hangar. The Magma commander led her through metal hallways. After a moment, he stopped, looked around, and opened a side door. Maressa followed him inside.

    He closed the door and turned the light on. It was cramped—they were in a small storage closet. He looked down at her, and Maressa raised her head to meet his eyes. For the first time, Maressa noticed how exhausted he looked. Lines dragged from the corners of his black eyes. His face was unusually pale, his eyes were bloodshot. But his gaze was confused and curious.

    “What happened? Team Aqua was right there, why did you release your Pokemon?”

    Maressa stared back at him, sniffling, and grimaced. She refused to speak. Tabitha sighed and glanced around, looking apprehensive—even slightly scared.

    “Look, just tell us everything you know right when we ask you—it’ll be much easier. Please, Maressa,” he said, staring intently at her.

    Maressa said nothing. Tabitha shook his head and led her out of the storage closet and down the hallway. He unlocked a door, told Maressa to go in, and left, locking the door behind her.

    It was completely dark inside. Maressa slowly sank to the floor. Her heart was heavy, throbbing with pain and sadness. Choking sobs rose from her chest. She wrapped her arms around her legs and tried to put her head on her knees, but her wetsuit was dry and severely inhibited her movements—the most she could do was lean forward slightly.

    Her heart jumped as she heard the door unlock. Her head snapped up as the light flicked on.

    “Derek!” she exclaimed as he closed the door.

    The medic crouched down next to her, looking exactly as she remembered him—tousled dark hair, chestnut eyes, white scrubs, and a beaming smile.

    “Maressa—you’re alive!” He gazed at her warmly, eagerly, drinking in what he thought was lost long ago. “How—how did you live? And how did you get back here?”

    Maressa opened her mouth to speak, but only let out gasping sobs. Tears flowed from her eyes once more. She inhaled deeply and rapidly started speaking.

    “Derek—Derek I released my Pokemon—they’re gone, all gone—they’ll know I took the Orbs, that I betrayed my team—I can’t face them Derek, I can’t, I can’t—

    Derek shushed her, repeating her name and gazing directly into her amber eyes. “Maressa—Maressa, Maressa look at me—look at me—Maressa, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine.”

    She sniffled, staring silently at him. The smile never faded from his face. His gaze was so gentle, so soft.

    “They’re not going to find out anything,” he said tenderly. “I got you out of here once, didn’t I? I can do it again. Just wait for me.” He reached out and, grasping her hand, lightly squeezed her fingers. “I’ll keep you safe. I promise.”

    He looked at her. And in his tender gaze, at the gentle squeeze of his hand, Maressa felt a small measure of warmth blossom in her heart.

    Their gaze lasted for but a moment, as Derek abruptly stood up and left, locking the door behind him. Somehow, the room seemed even lonelier than before—but more hopeful.

    Maressa gazed down at her hands: pruned from the salt water, scratched and roughed up from the Sharpedo’s skin.

    What was Derek going to do? And how could he be so hopeful? Even if Maressa got out, how was she supposed to get anywhere or do anything without her Pokemon?

    At the thought of her Pokemon, tears came to her eyes again and she started sobbing again. A moment later, she stopped herself and sighed deeply—Derek had some sort of plan. He promised to get her out, and he did succeed the first time, though not in the way he intended. She just had to wait until he came; if she was interrogated by any members of Team Magma, she would refuse to speak. And once she was out, she would find her Pokemon—she would.

    … Somehow…

    She jolted as the door opened again. She smiled excitedly up at Derek as he walked in—but her face fell when she saw it was Tabitha, followed by two people. He noticed her smile and stared at her curiously but said nothing. Nervous, Maressa looked at the two people who had followed him.

    Both were clearly Team Magma members, though not dressed like anyone Maressa had seen. One was a woman with short, dark hair and a dark grey skirt that reached almost to her ankles. She caught Maressa’s eye and her face broke into a smile. Dread flooded into Maressa’s heart—she didn’t like that smile at all.

    The other Team Magma member was a man wearing a red and grey coat over his dark grey pants. His scarlet hair framed a pallid face with deep-set eyes. His cold gaze swept calculatingly over Maressa.

    “This is the Team Aqua member?” he asked Tabitha with a high-pitched, nasally voice.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “She’s not wearing their uniform.”

    Tabitha said nothing but kept his eyes lowered.

    “Are you a member of Team Aqua?” the man suddenly asked Maressa, his piercing gaze set on her.

    Maressa was caught off-guard and stared blankly at him. But she stuck to her resolve and said nothing.

    “That sounds like a ‘yes,’ to me!” the woman chimed in.

    The red-haired man nodded. “I think so, Courtney.” His piercing gaze never left Maressa. “Tell us what you know about them,” he ordered.

    “Or we can get it out of you!” So saying, the woman took out a Pokeball and unleashed a Ninetales in a flash of white light. The cream-colored Pokemon shook her brilliant fur, ruffling all nine of her tails. Her scarlet, pupil-less eyes stared at Maressa as she walked towards the Team Aqua member. Chills shot down Maressa’s spine—she got to her feet and tried to back away from the creature, ending up in the middle of the room while the Fire-type walked in circles around her.

    “Last chance,” the woman said. But Maressa wouldn’t speak—she didn’t know if she was even able to. She was so stunned and scared that words failed her. And as she stared into the Ninetales’ eyes, the room around her darkened. Orbs of blue flame hovered in the air around the two of them—the temperature dropped several degrees. Maressa’s airway tightened, her heart raced as she started to panic. Ninetales’ scarlet eyes glowed in the darkness. The blue flames danced in a circle around Maressa, growing ever closer, temperature dropping all the more, the room becoming so cold that it sent lances of burning pain through her. She fell to her knees—the flames were almost upon her—

    The entire scene vanished in an instant as the door flew off its hinges and slammed into the Team Magma woman, who was standing right in front of it. A Breloom leapt through the air, smacking Ninetales in the face with its clubbed tail. Green spores flew on contact, and the Fire-type fell to the ground at once, unconscious.

    Before he could do anything else, a Mightyena and a Houndoom appeared in a flash of white light. The Houndoom snarled and shot jets of flame from its snout while the Mightyena chased Breloom around the room.

    Someone grabbed Maressa’s upper arm and pulled her up—

    Derek.

    He started for the doorway, but the Mightyena leapt in front of him, baring its large white fangs. Maressa jerked her head around as she heard a horrible high-pitched cry—Houndoom finally caught Breloom, and the Grass-type was being roasted in a column of flame.

    The red-haired man shouted, “Derek, what are you doing?” He and Tabitha stared at Derek in anger and shock.

    Derek placed himself between them and Maressa, letting go of her upper arm, and instead holding her hand. “I can’t let you do this, Maxie. I’m not going to stay around and let you hurt innocent people—“

    “Innocent? She’s a member of Team Aqua!”

    “She hasn’t done anything!”

    “Team Aqua wants to flood the world, Derek, anyone who works with them is dangerous!”

    “But what about everyone else you’ve captured? What about those scientists, what about that child?”

    “Everyone we capture is dangerous in some capacity—“

    “Did you really expect any of us to sit around while we tortured a little kid?”

    “It was you.

    Maxie and Derek quieted down and looked Tabitha. His eyes were wide with shock.

    “You released Tate and Jirachi.”

    Derek breathed hard, staring straight at Tabitha. “Yes. I wasn’t going to let—“

    “Do you know what you’ve done? Do you know what happened to our team—”

    “You released the Wishmaker, and now you’re freeing a Team Aqua member?” Maxie put in.

    “Maressa’s not on Team Aqua anymore, she told me she left them—“

    “Derek!”

    He glanced back at Maressa and the fury in his face turned to fear as he realized he said too much.

    But Maxie didn’t seem to notice. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing hard. “Derek, if you take back everything you just said—if you deny all of it—if you unhand the Team Aqua member, I will forget everything and you will be forgiven.”

    “Maxie!” Tabitha exclaimed. He stared at his boss in utter shock. But Maxie put up a hand and Tabitha said no more.

    Maxie opened his eyes. He glared at Derek. “Well?”

    Derek swallowed. He was shaking slightly. “No.”

    At Maxie’s command, the Mightyena leapt on top of Derek, knocking him and Maressa to the ground. Tabitha ran to Maressa and grabbed her upper arms and pulled her back while Mightyena ripped into Derek’s shoulder. Derek let out an ear-splitting cry; Maressa screamed and fought to get out of Tabitha’s grip.

    Loud noises came from the hallway: banging, shouting, and various Pokemon noises. Maressa barely noticed a blue blur zip across her vision, leaving a trail of dark smoke. Tabitha threw her to the ground, still hanging on to her. Black smoke filled the room, leaving a clean layer of air only about a foot high off the ground. Maressa felt a powerful ripple of energy through the air—Mightyena let out a high-pitched howl, and something heavy hit a wall. Jets of flame surged through the smoke as the Houndoom tried to hit the unseen attackers.

    Maressa looked over to where Derek lay on the ground, his hand gripping his mangled shoulder. His dark brown eyes met hers—then he was gone.

    Maressa stared. He was gone.

    There was no trace of him, save for a few smears of blood. As the air cleared, there was no trace of the Golbat or whatever caused the psychic energy.

    He left.

    Maressa was hoisted to her feet and dragged through the room and out into the hallway. She numbly followed Tabitha wherever he was leading her—through various hallways, up some steps... Eventually they stopped before a door, and stepped inside. He unlocked another door, pushed her inside, and left.

    The darkness pressed in around Maressa. The sounds of pounding feet and shouts could dimly be heard from the hallway.

    The image of Derek staring at her, lying on the ground, his shoulder covered in blood, was imprinted on her mind. All she could see in the blackness was Derek’s face.

    How could Derek be gone? Why did he leave her? How did he leave her? Did he actually leave, or was this all some surreal dream?

    Maressa’s heart beat furiously within her. She was so tired, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to rest. All she could do was stand in the darkness, the only sound the pounding of her anxious heart.

    Maressa didn’t know how much time passed. But her head jerked up as the door next to her opened and she flinched as the light flicked on.

    Tabitha slammed the door behind him and stormed into the room. He tore his gloves off, threw them in his desk, and glared at Maressa. “What happened?”

    Maressa stared back at him.

    “What happened?” he repeated forcefully. “Why did one of our team medics just knock an admin unconscious, tear through our base, admit that he had been working against us, and try to set an enemy free?” As he spoke, his voice rose to a shout. His black eyes bore into Maressa, and he was breathing heavily.

    “Tell me everything you know. Everything about Team Aqua, about Derek, about whatever just happened.”

    Maressa automatically shook her head.

    Tabitha turned and left, slamming the door behind him.

    Maressa waited.

    A few moments later, Tabitha returned—dragging a woman with him. Her blonde hair stuck to her sweaty face and her Team Aqua uniform was scratched up. Tabitha took a Pokeball out of his pocket and released his Mightyena, who growled at the woman. She lifted her head; her blue eyes widened with fear once she saw the Pokemon. Then her eyes darted to Maressa.

    “Sarah!”

    Maressa bolted up and tried to rush to Sarah’s side—but Tabitha grabbed her and pulled her back.

    “Let go of me!” she snapped.

    But Tabitha didn’t look at her. He gazed coolly at Sarah, who eyed Mightyena warily.

    “Tell me everything what you know, or Mightyena will attack her,” he said coldly.

    Maressa’s heart plummeted with fear. Sarah glanced at her, looking terrified. “Maressa, what—AAHH!” she broke into an ear-splitting scream as Mightyena leaped on her, knocking her on the ground and ripping into her shoulder.

    “No! Please!” Maressa struggled uselessly in Tabitha’s grip. She looked back at him. His dark eyes gazed at her. “Stop this, stop it—please, I’ll tell you what I know, I’ll tell you everything, I promise, just stop hurting Sarah!”

    “Mightyena!” Tabitha called out, though his eyes were still locked on Maressa. The canine ceased its assault. Sarah lay on the ground, sobbing audibly. “Take her out.”

    Tabitha released Maressa and opened the door. Mightyena grabbed Sarah by the neck of her shirt and dragged her through the open doorway. Tabitha closed the door.

    “What’s going to happen to her?” Maressa asked frantically.

    “I promise you, Mightyena is not going to hurt her.” Tabitha crossed his arms and leaned against the door, staring at Maressa. “But unless you make good on your promise, that will change.

    “Now,” he said, “tell me everything.”

    Maressa closed her eyes, took a shuddering breath, and told Tabitha what she knew. As she spoke, tears started falling from her eyes. She told Tabitha about the friendship she had built with Derek—of how they bonded over being recent college graduates, of the friendships they had with their Pokemon, of Maressa’s horror at learning that Team Aqua wanted to awaken Kyogre and Derek choosing to set her free. She told Tabitha about ending up at Mossdeep, meeting the other Team Aqua members and Gloom, heading to Lilycove, meeting Archie and getting re-stationed near Fortree. She told him about fighting with Matt—at which point Tabitha’s eyebrows furrowed and he looked concerned—and how the two of them made an agreement with Liza and Phoebe to recover Tate and get the Orbs. She described the four of them fighting—altering the story so she never got the Orbs—about Gloom dying and her escape, her mission to find Seaking again, and unintentionally winding back up with Team Aqua. When she finished, she saw Tabitha still gazing intently at her.

    “You’re hiding something,” he said automatically.

    Maressa’s blood ran cold. She didn’t know how to defend herself.

    “Why did your Golduck mention something about the Orbs when you released him?”

    “You understood him?” Maressa asked in surprise.

    “I understand most Pokemon.”

    How?”

    He ignored her. “Tell me what you’re hiding, or I’ll have Mightyena drag Sarah back in here. Did you take the Orbs?”

    Maressa closed her eyes. She nodded.

    “How?”

    Maressa explained. When she finished, Tabitha stared at her, his eyes wide. “So now your Pokemon have the Orbs,” he stated.

    She nodded again.

    Tabitha gazed at her in wonder, his mouth hanging open slightly. He then leaned against the door, turning his gaze upward. He said nothing. Maressa shifted her gaze away, guilt gripping her heart. She set her Pokemon free, but now betrayed them—they would be hunted down and captured, one way or another…

    “Maressa,” Tabitha said softly.

    She looked back up at him. He didn’t look angry at all, just surprised, as if he was still processing what he had heard.

    “You haven’t told anyone else, have you?”

    “I’ve told Derek.”

    “But no one on Team Aqua?”

    “No.”

    He nodded. “I might still be able to help you.” Straightening up, he said, “If your Pokemon are in the ocean with the Orbs, then our only hope of finding them is if we enlist Team Aqua’s help. And they would probably want you back—to make an example of how they treat a traitor, and as payback for the damage you’ve done.”

    Maressa’s stomach churned. If she went back to Team Aqua… Matt already hated her. If she was to be treated as a prisoner, she knew what Matt would do to her.

    “Or,” Tabitha cut off her line of thought, “I can take you to Maxie now and you can tell him everything you just told me, with the promise that, moving forward, you will assist and serve Team Magma in any way possible.”

    Maressa switched her gaze away from him. “So… I either join you, or go back to Team Aqua as their prisoner?”

    “And,” he added, and Maressa’s eyes flicked up to meet his, “Derek isn’t here to help you this time.”

    Maressa wrapped her arms around herself as chills crept through her body. To be sent back to Team Aqua or to join Team Magma…


    “Maressa, join us. With your help, we’ll be able to find your Pokemon and you can be with them again. You won’t have to interact with the rest of Team Magma—I’ll watch over you and protect you. We would have you help us find the Orbs and fight with us—but that would be it. We won’t ask anything else from you.”

    Maressa closed her eyes. She could join Team Magma—

    And I’ll see my Pokemon again.

    Warmth welled up in her heart as she envisioned seeing Golduck, Lanturn and Sharpedo. Another pang of sadness hit as she remembered that Seaking was still not with them. But she could at least see the other three—and they would find Seaking eventually. And none of them would mind working for Team Magma, right? After all, they never held any devotion to Team Aqua. She could be with them, and Team Magma would have the Orbs, and awaken Groudon, and turn the entire earth into a desert…

    Maressa’s heart plummeted at the thought. She released her Pokemon so they wouldn’t be subject to whatever punishment she might face. She gave them the Orbs so that the teams wouldn’t get them. And, as long as her Pokemon were free, there was some hope of keeping the Orbs out of Team Aqua’s and Team Magma’s reach.

    Tears welled up in her eyes again. Keeping her eyes closed, she said thickly, “I can’t.”

    “Can’t what?”

    Maressa swallowed, dropped her arms to her sides and opened her eyes. Tabitha looked surprised—and scared. “I can’t join you. It’s against everything I’ve ever worked for—I betrayed Team Aqua, but I can’t betray my Pokemon.”

    His gaze softened considerably. Maressa had never seen him look that way before.

    “You’d do anything for your Pokemon,” he murmured.

    She nodded.

    “Let me ask you a question, Maressa. What do you have waiting for you? What will you do if I release you?”

    She started to speak, but he cut her off. “You released your Pokemon and completely destroyed their Pokeballs, so they can’t be tracked down. They’re out in the ocean, and it’ll be nearly impossible for them to find you. Or are you thinking about your family? One that you’ve likely not seen or contacted since you started working with Team Aqua? How would they react to the news that you’ve joined a criminal organization and that you’ve caused massive damage to public property and endangered countless lives? Do you really think they would want to see you and help you after that? And I’d be surprised if you had friends who would take you in—if you’re like most of the grunts, then you haven’t kept in touch with anyone outside the teams. And how many people on Team Aqua do you know well enough that you consider them friends? And the one person who has been trying to help you abandoned you tonight.”

    His words hit Maressa like a hammer, and as she stood in silence, contemplating them, the reality sunk in painfully. Of course she had never told her parents she joined Team Aqua. Once she had decided to join, she had announced that she had gotten a job, told them that she’d be out on a submarine in the ocean for a few months and would be out of contact. She wasn’t really lying, but she didn’t tell most of the truth.

    And any friends that she had made while on Team Aqua weren’t that close; they might have a similar interest outside of helping the ocean, but there certainly wasn’t anyone she could confide her thoughts or heart in. Not even Cloe or Sarah—who had paid the price of her betrayal and secrecy. No, the only ones who really knew her anymore were her Pokemon.

    The Pokemon.

    She tried to push thoughts of them away. But she couldn’t. Tabitha’s words reverberated in her head, and images of Golduck, Seaking, Lanturn and Sharpedo kept on flashing before her in her mind.

    They’re gone.

    She turned away as she felt tears falling hot and fast down her cheeks. She didn’t bother to wipe them away. They couldn’t really be gone. They couldn’t.

    But they are.

    She kept trying to hang on to the belief that they were still close by, that she would find them again. She would, of course she would. She would go to the ends of the world to find them, they knew that. And she was sure they would do the same for her.

    But how? The ocean is so big.

    She grimaced as she tried to hold in sobs. When she found out Seaking was gone, she had hope of finding him again—when she was with Pokemon who could survive in the ocean. Now, it was just her, trying to find four Pokemon in the ocean all on her own. And she was stuck in a Team Magma base as their prisoner, and Derek was no longer around to help her escape. He had tried to, but as soon as she fell behind, he went on without her.

    The ache in her heart was unbearable. She couldn’t stop sniffling. She couldn’t stop crying. She couldn’t stop images of her Pokemon appearing before her mind’s eye. She couldn’t stop going through memories of growing up with Psyduck and living with her parents and sister. She couldn’t do anything. And she was alone.

    An arm wrapped around her and pulled her into a hug. Her face pressed into the shoulder of Tabitha’s red hoodie. He wrapped his other arm around her and leaned his face against her tangled hair.

    “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

    Maressa stood there, loneliness and fear gripping her heart, but finding some comfort in Tabitha’s embrace. How long the two of them stood like that, she didn’t know, but the longer she rested in him, the more at ease she felt. Tabitha held her, letting her spill out her tears and sobs until she eventually calmed down.

    Eventually, Tabitha spoke. “Maressa, join me. I promise, I’ll protect you.”

    Maressa’s gut twisted. She pulled back from Tabitha’s hug and looked up at him. “I can’t.”

    His cool gaze shifted slightly and he looked worried. “Did I do that to you?” he asked, gesturing to the side of her head where Matt had hit her.

    “No, that was Matt,” Maressa said offhandedly.

    Tabitha’s eyes widened. “Your commander did that to you?”

    Maressa’s face turned red and she looked away. She didn’t want to mention the other things Matt tried to do to her.

    “Maressa, don’t go back to that,” Tabitha said pleadingly. “Stay with us. It’s the only protection I can offer you.”

    She and Tabitha gazed evenly at each other. Maressa thought of Golduck—always trying to rescue her, always trying to become stronger. He frantically swam after her as Flygon carried her away; he protected her from Matt every time Matt struck her; he went along with her plan to slowly sabotage Team Aqua from the inside; he tried to protect her from Jirachi when it went tearing through their bases; he fought against Team Magma, the Slateport police—even when he was a Psyduck, he protected her from wild Loudred and Whismur in the Rusturf Tunnel, though there were hundreds of them and only one of him. And when he wasn’t strong enough to fight them all, he evolved—he evolved for Maressa, so she could stay safe. And if he could do all that for her, she could at least try to defend him once.

    “I won’t join you,” she said coolly.

    Tabitha’s gaze hardened.

    “That’s your final answer?”

    “It is.”

    He gazed at her, regretfully and—longingly? Maressa’s heart twinged with unease, but after a few seconds, Tabitha withdrew from their hug and left, closing the door behind him.

    Maressa stood there, staring numbly at the door. She felt so heavy inside. She turned away from the door, and, for the first time, noticed the rest of the room.

    It was a small bedroom. A bed stood against the wall across the doorway. To the left was a small desk. There was a single picture on the desk of a small boy with purple hair holding a Poochyena on his lap. To the left of the desk was a shelf with four black stone tablets. To the right of the bed was a closet, one of the doors hanging open loosely. And after the closet was a closed door. Maressa walked to the shelf, observing the tablets. A name was inscribed onto each one; they all held the same surname.

    Maressa’s head jerked up as Tabitha walked back in the room. His eyes were downcast and he looked perturbed. He noticed Maressa looking at the tablets, and suddenly looked pained and hesitant. His eyes met hers and, for a moment, he just looked at her.

    At last, he spoke. “I just talked to Maxie. You’ll be sent back to Team Aqua tomorrow morning.”

    This seemed odd to Maressa, but she said nothing.

    Tabitha pursed his lips, his eyes darting around the room. At last, he asked, “Do you want to take a shower? You might not get another chance, and what with being outside in the water at all…” He trailed off awkwardly.

    Maressa dropped her eyes to the ground, not actually thinking. She nodded.

    “I’ll get your water running and I’ll try to find you some clothes. I might not be able to find anything other than Team Magma uniforms.”

    Maressa half-shrugged. Tabitha went through the other door, which Maressa realized was a bathroom door, and she heard water turn on. He then walked past her and left his room entirely.

    When Maressa first stepped into the shower, her shoulder wounds screamed with pain. Her skin burned—the water was scalding hot. She made herself stand under the water for a few minutes, enduring the searing pain in her shoulders. Eventually, the pain dulled into a throbbing. Maressa merely stood, no motivation to do anything. Without Tabitha to distract her, she could think only of her Pokemon and of Derek. Of how he looked at her right before he vanished…

    And she was going back to Team Aqua. They knew of her betrayal. She didn’t have any Pokemon to help this time.

    And tears started rolling down her cheeks again and she started sobbing openly again. They were gone, they were gone, they were gone…

    Eventually, her sobs faded. She didn’t think she could produce any more tears. Her throat felt raw, and everything was heavy inside. She turned off the water and grabbed a towel to dry herself off. When she opened the bathroom door, Tabitha was nowhere to be seen, but he left a grey tank top and skirt by the doorway for her. Maressa pulled them on, her shoulders smarting as the fabric rubbed against them. She looked up as she heard the door open. Tabitha walked in, carrying a few bottles.

    He gestured to a chair. “I have something for your shoulders, if you want. Take a seat.”

    Maressa sat down. She was facing away from Tabitha, but heard him mixing different liquids from bottles.

    “Okay,” he said, “this is going to sting, so be ready.” She pulled aside the strap of her tank top so he could apply the medicine. As soon as the cool liquid touched her shoulder, it sparked with pain and she flinched. She clenched her fists, annoyed—and angry.

    “Why are you doing this?” she asked, still facing away from him.

    He paused. “You released your Pokemon.”

    “And?”

    “And I don’t want to hand you over,” he added quietly.

    Maressa sighed. “Why are you with Team Magma?”

    Tabitha hesitated, and Maressa launched into a rant. “Because you say how you ‘don’t want to hand me over,’ but are fine with terrorizing innocent people. And you got angry at Derek for releasing Jirachi, but you captured Jirachi in the first place and now you’re about to awaken another powerful Pokemon!” Maressa jumped out of the chair and stood facing Tabitha, fuming. “And you believe that once you hand me over, Team Aqua is going to be all friendly with you guys and just help you find the Orbs and give you one of them? Not likely! I worked with them, Tabitha, I know what they’re about and they have as much interest in working with Team Magma as they do in working with the police.”

    Tabitha gazed at her patiently while she went on. When Maressa paused for breath, he answered, “There’s a lot you don’t know about our teams.”

    “Maybe not about your team, but—“

    “No,” he cut her off firmly, “Our teams. You’ve only been on Team Aqua for a few months. I’ve been with Team Magma since it was first created six years ago.

    “Take a seat. I’ll explain everything to you.”

    “I’ll stand.”

    Tabitha looked annoyed for a moment. “Fine. The reason why Teams Aqua and Magma exist is to return the state of the world to how it was before humans changed things. To do that, we need Kyogre or Groudon. That’s why we didn’t use Jirachi to expand the land—Maxie wants something that he can have permanent control over. Jirachi is awake for only seven days. Team Aqua wouldn’t have used Jirachi either—and Archie didn’t think it existed.

    “That’s not the only reason,” he said when Maressa was about to speak. “Those are just the basics about Teams Magma and Aqua, what you and some of the team know about. The rest of it,” he said with slight hesitation, “is known only to me, the other admins, and our leaders. And that’s because once either Kyogre or Groudon are summoned—or both—Teams Magma and Aqua will disband and no longer exist.”

    Maressa stared blankly at him, trying to process what he just said.

    “Once either of our teams get the Orbs, that’s it. We win. There’ll be no use for the Teams any longer. The leader who controls the Orbs will decide everything—what the world will look like, how it will work, even who lives and who dies—and whoever has served them has a higher chance of living.”

    “But the world will be wrecked if either of those Pokemon wake up,” Maressa cut in. “Millions of people—if not billions—will die in the initial phase, and how many more will go afterwards from things like starvation?”

    “That was part of the plan from the beginning. We never intended many people to live.”

    Maressa gaped. Tabitha calmly stared back at her. “Why?”

    “They both want the earth restored,” he said simply. “They want it free from the influence that human life has had on it. They want to reduce the human population to its minimal size and let Pokemon populations grow and natural processes to take place without the disruptions humans cause.”

    “Then why don’t they work together?”

    “They did. Originally, they both had the idea to get the Orbs, control both Groudon and Kyogre, and set the world straight from there.”

    “So why don’t—”

    “They realized that they were too similar. They were both too smart, and that presented a threat to the other. What would happen if Archie decided to take both Orbs for himself? Maxie would hardly be able to defend himself if that happened.

    “Not only that, but they found out that Groudon and Kyogre cannot both be awake at the same time without causing massive chaos. This was why humans made the Orbs in the first place—to put them to sleep and make sure they stay that way. And as it’s too dangerous for both Pokemon to awaken, we’ll just have one.

    “Once Maxie and Archie realized it was only safe enough to awaken one Pokemon, they no longer trusted each other. Maxie had always wanted control over Groudon, as he knew that would be the Pokemon to restore the earth. Archie thought the same of Kyogre. They knew that they couldn’t let each other control either Pokemon, and so they went their separate ways with the aim of taking both Orbs and using one to control a Pokemon and keeping the other Orb hidden away. They propagated ideas of saving the earth, gathered bands of followers, and formed the teams that you know today,” he finished simply.

    Maressa stared at Tabitha, feeling sick to her stomach. “That still doesn’t explain why you think Team Aqua will help you.”

    “They will. Archie and Maxie know each other; they’ll work something out. And there are other factors involved—neither Team knows where Kyogre or Groudon are, so we’re both racing to get that information.”

    Maressa’s heart jumped and she averted her eyes guiltily.

    Tabitha noticed. “What is it?”

    “I… I touched the Orbs, and when I did, I could feel the Pokemon and—Tabitha, just don’t do this! Don’t follow through with this! Groudon and Kyogre are too powerful to control. When I touched the Orbs, it was only for a few seconds, but it felt like I could barely remember who I was!”

    Tabitha’s eyes widened. “Maxie is strong—“ he started to say, but Maressa cut across him.

    “Do you actually think this is all a good idea? Tabitha, just looked at what happened with Jirachi!”

    Tabitha cast his eyes downward; he nodded. “Kidnapping Jirachi was a bad idea,” he whispered. “I shouldn’t have done it—I wish I hadn’t…”

    “And after seeing that, you still think you want to kill other people?”

    He looked up at her. There was no anger in his eyes, or shock—Maressa couldn’t make out any reaction in him. Here merely gazed at her, and Maressa gazed desperately at him.

    “Right or wrong, Maressa, Maxie is my leader. I have pledged to serve him, and I will do what he says.”

    Maressa’s heart sank. She could think of no more to say. As she stood there, the weariness of the day caught up to her. Her body was sore and tired. Her shoulders ached and burned. But she knew she would be too anxious to sleep.

    “Make me a promise.”

    Maressa looked up, noticing again how exhausted Tabitha looked. Bags hung under his eyes; his hair was a disheveled mess; his face was starting to show lines Maressa had never noticed before.

    “Promise me that, no matter what, you’ll try to live. Don’t give up,” he added pleadingly, shaking his head. “Live. Please.”

    Maressa cast her eyes down. She thought of Team Aqua—of Matt…

    Her insides felt flipped upside down. She gave a half-shrug and said nothing.

    She heard Tabitha sigh. “I… have stuff to do.” He gestured to his bed. “You can stay there; try to sleep.”

    Maressa shook her head. “I can’t sleep.”

    “Would you like some medicine or something to help?”

    She gave a brief though to it and nodded. Tabitha went into the bathroom and returned with two little white pills in his hand.

    “That should help. I’m… I’m going to get back to work. Let me know if I can get you anything. Otherwise, I’ll come get you in the morning.”

    “Tabitha,” she said as he opened the door. He gazed at her questioningly. “Will you make sure Sarah is okay?”

    He nodded. “I’ll take care of her.” Without another word, he left, closing the door behind him.

    Maressa took the pills with water and lay down on the bed, staring at the door Tabitha left through. And, before sleep took hold of her, she felt more alone than ever before.


    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


    The sun beat down. Maressa wiped sweat from her forehead. Though she wasn’t wearing their hoodie, the grey material of Team Magma’s tank tops and skirts was trapped heat and was stifling. Why they would choose to design their uniforms that way…

    But her mind was barely on her uniform or the weather. She stood in the midst of several Team Magma members, right behind Tabitha. Maxie stood at the forefront of their group, just a few feet ahead of them. Across from him stood Archie with several members from Team Aqua—including Matt and Shelly.

    “So Maxie,” Archie called, “have you got your payment?”

    “I see you, Maressa!" Matt called. Maressa gasped when she heard his voice and lowered her head. She did not want to see Matt as long as she could avoid it. “I see you hiding behind those Team Magma members, you traitor! You dirty—“

    He continued to hurl insults at her. Maressa’s insides clenched; she felt like she would be sick from fear. Then she felt someone take her hand—though he was standing in front of her and facing away from her, Tabitha had reached back and held her hand in his own. He gently squeezed her fingers. Finding some comfort, Maressa held on to him.

    Maxie cut off Matt and called out, “We have an agreement, then? A few Team Aqua members and an exchange of Pokemon?”

    The smile faded from Archie’s face. “Agreed,” he said stonily.

    “Tabitha, bring Maressa to them,” Maxie told him.

    Maressa closed her eyes and pursed her lips. She had no dignity, no shame—she didn’t want this. Her heart pounded furiously within her chest and her stomach was doing backflips. She wanted to collapse, to pass out—anything to avoid being awake for whatever was to come.

    Tabitha put his arm around her shoulders and led her forward. Maressa kept her eyes closed as they walked across the grassy ground. When they stopped, Maressa opened her eyes to see Matt glaring down at her, looking disgusted. He grabbed her upper arm and pulled her away from Tabitha—for a moment, it seemed as though Tabitha would not let go. But then his grip slackened and he let Matt push Maressa behind him, into the throng of Team Aqua members. Someone—Maressa didn’t recognize her—immediately tied her hands behind her back.

    Maressa looked over to where Matt and Tabitha stood. The Magma commander hadn’t moved.

    “Is there something you’re waiting for?” Matt asked him. Even though Matt towered over him, Tabitha showed no sign of fear. The look in his eyes chilled Maressa’s bones. She wondered if he was going to hit Matt. But after a moment, he turned around and walked back to his own team, not even sparing Maressa a glance.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2019
  3. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Ninetales is actually a pretty creepy pokémon when it all comes down to it. This showcases that pretty nicely, what with the spooky, literally chilling ghost flames.

    For real, they are courting heatstroke like nobody's business.


    Definitely wondering what Derek's deal is--if it even is his deal. I'm not ready to rule out that somebody else whisked him out of there. So there's the who took him out of there question, and there's the why question--which ultimately wraps back around to who, because different candidates could have very different reasons. I've certainly been given something to ponder.
     
  4. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Hi everyone! Merry Christmas and happy New Year, and happy 6th anniversary of Drowning! It's crazy to think that I started posting this here six years ago--what a wild six years it has been. Thank you SO much to everyone who has supported me and reads this story--it means a lot to me ^_^

    Sike Saner


    I always thought Ninetales was creepy, too! So I thought she'd be a prefect Pokemon for Maressa's interrogation.

    THANK YOU I'm glad someone else agrees with their ridiculous choice of outfit.

    You'll get your answer pretty quickly in this chapter--and he gets his comeuppance for it in the next (spoilers but not really).

    Thanks so much for the review! It's always a pleasure to hear from you :)

    Here is:


    Chapter 23

    Golduck sat on a small stone outcrop sticking just above the waves. The sky grew dim as night approached. The evening sun washed the water red, an eerie testament to what Jirachi left beneath the waves.

    Sharpedo and Lanturn hung in the water just by him. Lanturn held the sack with the Orbs in her mouth.

    No one said anything.

    At last, Lanturn perked up. What were they going to do?

    Sharpedo growled. There was nothing they could do—Maressa was gone. Their Pokeballs were destroyed. And they had no way to find her.

    Lanturn refused to believe it. There had to be something they could do! Maressa had been captured once, but she came back to them safe and sound. Surely they could find her and return her to safety again.

    Sharpedo interjected. That was different; all of the Pokemon were still with Team Aqua, and Maressa was a valued member of their team. Now, they didn’t know where Team Aqua was, and Maressa was a traitor.

    No! Lanturn couldn’t just give up. They were family. Maressa had found all of them, taken them in, and raised them together—not just as a team, but as so much more. She conquered Sharpedo when he was the leader of his pod and took him in to train him personally. She saved Seaking from an abusive trainer. She had been with Golduck for almost his entire life—since he was a little Psyduck. And she gave Lanturn a home when Lanturn’s natural environment had been destroyed by trawling nets and her fellow Lanturn and Chinchou were nowhere to be seen. They couldn’t give up on her after all she had done for them!

    Lanturn looked up at Golduck. All this time, he had said nothing. He stared at the water with a blank expression. What did he think of all this? He would help Lanturn find Marerssa and save her, wouldn’t he?

    Golduck remained silent for a while. At last, he quacked a response. He needed fresh water; he couldn’t stay in the ocean for very long. Lanturn and Sharpedo needed salt water. If they were to survive, Golduck would have to leave them.

    Lanturn’s stared at him in shock, slowly shaking her head. He couldn’t leave—they had to stay together.

    Golduck snapped at Lanturn—it wasn’t that he wanted to leave, he had to! And even if they did stay together, what would it accomplish? Maressa was taken away by a Flygon and carried off in a helicopter. She could be anywhere. The three of them could hardly cover any distance. How were they to keep up with a helicopter? Or even a submarine?

    Golduck shook his head. Maressa was gone. As he admitted it, he felt his throat tighten and his limbs grow heavy.

    Maressa was gone.

    The three of them stayed there for a time, saying nothing. At last, Sharpedo softly growled. He was going to look for Seaking.

    Golduck nodded. Without another growl, Sharpedo ducked beneath the waves and swam away.

    Lanturn looked at Golduck. What would he do?

    Golduck thought briefly before responding. He would follow the same estuary they came down—the one that lead to Mauville City. He would swim up it… and figure things out from there.

    Lanturn nodded. She sat in the water, not wanting to leave Golduck alone, but already missing Sharpedo.

    Golduck quacked. What would Lanturn do?

    She would go with Sharpedo to look for Seaking. Like them, she needed saltwater. And at least the three of them could stay together.

    Golduck nodded. He would take the Orbs with him.

    Lanturn started. Was he sure? Wouldn’t the Orbs be safer with them, or at least buried at the bottom of the ocean?

    Golduck shook his head. Maressa told them to bring the Orbs to the Pokemon League. He didn’t know how or when he would find the League, but he, at least, stood a chance. If the other three were to run into anyone, it would probably be Team Aqua.

    Lanturn sighed. She didn’t want to leave Golduck. After being together for years, it felt so wrong.

    Golduck plopped into the water and wrapped his arms around Lanturn. Her heart blossomed with warmth, but the warmth gave way to pain. Would she see Golduck again?

    Rescinding his hug, Golduck looked her in the eyes and nodded. They would definitely see each other again. No matter what, he would find her, Sharpedo and Seaking and their family would be reunited again. But first, he had to find Maressa.

    Lanturn agreed. Giving Golduck one last nuzzle, she dipped beneath the waves and chased after Sharpedo, her fishy form disappearing with the last of the fading sunlight.

    As the sky turned black and pinpricks of starlight shown through the clouds, Golduck grabbed the bag of the Orbs in his bill and headed north.

    --------------------------------------------

    The cold, metal floor vanished beneath Derek and he lay on soft, shifting sand—sand blew in the air, buffeting his face and sticking to his bloody shoulder. Using his good arm, he pushed himself to his feet. Golbat flapped in the air, trying to not get carried away by its currents while Claydol floated, seemingly oblivious to the sandstorm.

    Derek whipped his head around. She had to be here—somewhere around here—

    But all he could see were the endless, moving dunes of sand.

    He turned to Claydol, the adrenaline still coursing through his veins. “Where’s Maressa?” he shouted, partly out of excitement and partly to be heard over the wind.

    Claydol’s only response was to send tender feelings of comfort Derek’s way over their mental link.

    Derek’s blood boiled—he blocked Claydol out of his mind as he shouted again, “Where is she? WHERE IS SHE?”

    His chest was heaving. If Maressa was still stuck at the Team Magma base…

    “Claydol, send me back right now!”

    The Pokemon groaned. He refused.

    “You send me back now! Claydol, if we leave Maressa there, she’s done for!”

    Still Claydol adamantly refused.

    Derek ran over to Claydol and grabbed his earthen body. “Claydol, if you don’t send me back there now—Maressa is stuck with Team Magma, and you know what they’ll do to her! SEND ME BACK!”

    Claydol used his psychic powers to pry Derek’s hands off him and pin them to his side. The Ground-type let out an angry, earthen rumble that reverberated through Derek’s bones and shook the sands he stood on. He would not send Derek back there. Tabitha had been holding on to Maressa when she left; if he had tried to take Maressa with them, he would have taken Tabitha as well. And none of them were a match for Tabitha and his Pokemon.

    Derek tried to argue, but Claydol rumbled over him. By this point, Tabitha would either have put his Mightyena with Maressa—making it impossible for Claydol to teleport her away—or he would have put Maressa into a room that Claydol hadn’t been before. The base was sure to be swarming with Team Magma members and Dark-types. How were they supposed to fight through them? Breloom was out. That left only Claydol and Golbat to fight through who-knows-how-many Pokemon.

    Derek stopped, processing what Claydol told him. But he felt guilty—so, so guilty. He thought of what Maressa might be going through now—surely Maxie or Tabitha were making her pay for Derek’s actions…

    “Claydol, we at least have to try. Do you know what Maxie or Tabitha might be doing to her?”

    Claydol groaned. Did Derek know what was happening to Maressa? She was stuck with Tabitha, and although he was harsh, he was just. He knew where Derek was at fault and would know where Maressa was at fault. He wouldn’t punish her for what Derek did.

    The best thing they could do now, Claydol reasoned, was to find someone who could help Maressa. Not the police—the infiltration ran far too deep for them to be trusted. But if Derek could find reliable people to whom he could give away Team Magma’s information, then they could go in and rescue Marressa.

    Derek shook his head. “It’ll be too late by then! If we don’t go back for Maressa now—“ he stopped suddenly and looked pleadingly at Claydol, his eyes screwed up against the onslaught of sandy wind. The Ground-type gazed back unblinkingly.

    Golbat swooped down and landed atop Claydol, trying to use his wings to shield himself from the sandstorm. Claydol was right; if they went back now, they would only get themselves captured. And that wouldn’t do Maressa any good.

    Derek turned away from them—his blood was still racing through his veins, sand scratching at his face. He couldn’t keep arguing with them, but he couldn’t do nothing.

    He looked around. This was the same desert he had captured Claydol in when he was still a Baltoy. The base they had just escaped from was near Lilycove—halfway across the Hoenn region. There was no way he could get there on foot in time to save Maressa.

    “Claydol,” he called out, spitting sand out of his mouth and wiping grit from his eyes, “at least get me out of this sandstorm!”

    The sand all around Derek vanished and he was suddenly standing on solid rock. He looked around—and felt a twinge of annoyance when he realized Claydol had merely transported him to a nearby rock outcrop that overlooked the desert. Though the sandstorm didn’t reach him, he could see it fill the air in the distance, looking like some great, amber haze. Above him, stars twinkled in the twilight, their luminescence overshadowed by the great Millennium Comet, which left a white shimmering streak across the inky darkness.

    He sat down and sighed, shaking sand out of his hair. As the adrenaline faded, the pain in his shoulder caught up to him—it stung horribly from all the sand and loose threads of fabric that were stuck in it. He grimaced; he’d have to clean it out before it scabbed over. He tried wiping his hands clean as best as he could before picking out bits of dirt while he mulled over the situation.

    Claydol was probably right; the best he could do was to give away information about Team Magma. He was free. Unlike Maressa, his Pokemon were with him—his team had no leverage to use against him. Betraying Team Magma and overrunning their bases would be simple. It was just a matter of finding a Pokemon League member. And he knew where the Orbs were—or, at least, he knew Maressa’s Pokemon had them. Whether or not anyone could find them out in the ocean was another matter.

    He stopped picking at his shoulder and gazed at the Millennium Comet. He didn’t regret letting Tate go; the kid was innocent and didn’t deserve to be kept captive. Although it caused a lot of problems for the people close to him—Tabitha nearly had a heart attack when he heard Tate and Jirachi had escaped.

    He felt a twinge of sorrow. Looking back, he remembered the late nights he spent sitting in Tabitha’s office, talking about the state of their teams, their Pokemon, and life in general. Tabitha used to come visit him in the infirmary and ask to learn how to do different procedures—what kinds of medicine were to be used for what, how to put in an IV, how to intubate someone… The two of them used to stand alone in empty sparring rooms, chatting while Mightyena chased Golbat around and tried to hit him with Shadow Balls.

    But those days were over. And Derek knew that, no matter how things turned out, they wouldn’t be that way again. It reminded him of moving away from home for college and transferring to a different place to begin med school. Both times, he had formed solid sets of friends. And both times, those groups dissolved as people moved on. Derek tried to keep in touch with them, but not everyone was responsive, and none of his friendships were ever the same. And when he joined Team Magma, he had to cut off outside contact completely.

    But that was life. That was then, and this was now. And now, Derek was sitting with a bloody, useless shoulder while Maressa was undergoing who-knows-what. The guilt returned, permeating Derek. He clenched his fingers into a bloody fist and shut his eyes. He had left Maressa to deal with his problems—he had to fix it—he had to do something.

    He stood up, staring at the brilliant comet. The adrenaline returned, shutting out the pain. How could they leave Maressa?

    “What do I do?” he shouted.

    The echo of his voice quickly vanished in the hum of the sandstorm. He shook his fists—he didn’t even have room to pace. He had to save Maressa now but Claydol wouldn’t even transport him back to where she was. What could he do?

    He felt the familiar feeling of weightless suddenly overtake him—he was being teleported again. But where was Claydol taking him? Back to Team Magma? Would he finally save Maressa?

    The desert vanished, and a crowd of people met his eyes—but not Team Magma members. They were people of all ages, and they were dressed in civilian clothing. He was still outside, but there were so many cameras flashing that they filled the night air with light. Derek immediately felt a presence—a powerful presence; more so than any he had ever felt from Pokemon before—filling the air. He looked around—he saw a man wearing a black suit and red tie staring at him in shock. Next to him stood a young boy dressed in blue—

    Tate.

    And floating in the air right next to Tate, shimmering with a brilliant gold aura, was Jirachi.

    He jumped as the eyelid on Jirachi’s stomach lifted to show a brilliant red eye. As Derek watched, the glow around the Pokemon became ever brighter, the colors blending into a pure white. Tate started sobbing hysterically.

    “Jirachi, don’t go!” he shouted. “Please stay! I didn’t get much time with you, and I really want to stay with you! You can live at my house—we’ll give you food and a bed, and we’ll give you everything you need! Jirachi—Jirachi—!” His voice broke as his sobs became so heavy that he couldn’t speak. All the while, the Pokemon gazed kindly at him, its yellow tails wrapping around its small body. As Jirachi’s body became too bright to make out any of his features, it dipped into a white rock—which flowed like liquid at the Pokemon’s touch—and was gone.

    The immense psychic field that filled the air suddenly vanished. Tate let out a horrible scream. He ran to the rock and started hugging it and banging his fists on it. Someone dressed in the same outfit as him—whom Derek assumed was Tate’s sister, Liza—ran over to him and tried to pull him away from the rock.

    “Tate, it’s okay! He’s gone—you can’t make him come back. Come home with me! I’m still here—so is Solrock, and Lunatone, and Mom and Dad! It’ll be okay. We still love you and we’ll still take care of you!”

    The man wearing a black suit didn’t say anything—his grey eyes were wide open and he stared forward, as though lost in a trance.

    Seeing Tate sob so much moved Derek. But he was also a bit excited, even relieved. If anyone could save Maressa, it was the Pokemon League!

    “Tate, is that you?” he called.

    The boy looked up at him. His eyes were red and puffy; his cheeks were shiny with tears. “Derek!” he cried. “Jirachi is gone!”

    “Tate, do you know this man?”

    Derek turned his head to see the grey-eyed man staring at him warily, his brows furrowed.

    Tate sniffled and wiped his nose with his sleeve. “Yeah, he saved me from Team Magma. But Derek, you’re covered in blood! What happened to you?”

    Derek didn’t get a chance to respond before the other man asked, “Who exactly are you?”

    All at once, the words tumbled out of his mouth. “I’m Derek—I was on Team Magma, but I just betrayed them and they’ll be looking everywhere for me. But please, I need your help. My friend is in danger—they’ll kill her if we don’t do something soon. I can tell you anything you need to know, I know all about Team Magma’s bases, I know where the Red and Blue Orbs are—“

    “You know where the Orbs are?” the man cut him off, his eyes wide in surprise.

    “Sort of, but we have to act now—“

    The man cut him off. “Come with me, and tell me everything.” He gestured and headed into the crowd which parted to make way for him. Derek didn’t hesitate—he had nothing to lose. If this man was with the Pokemon League, he might be the only one who could help Maressa.

    --------------------------------------------

    He stared up at the two-story townhouse towering above him. In the bright sunlit day, people strolled down the cracked sidewalk, hardly sparing him a glance. A young couple with their small child walked by. A woman with a stroller containing a Togepi went past him. The sounds of laughter and children shouting resounded through the air. And for whatever reason, his heart had never ached as much as it did now.

    Even as he stood there, he could envision an eleven-year-old Maressa opening the front door and stepping into the sunlight. By that time, she had traded in her blue Eevee backpack for a yellow Pikachu one. Her blonde hair already reached down to her waste. Her socks were scrunched up around her ankles, and she was missing several teeth. When she looked at Golduck, her amber eyes lit up, and she would walk down the sidewalk with him, telling him all about how Betty told their parents that Maressa didn’t do her homework, so she got angry at her sister and threw oatmeal into her hair. Maressa wouldn’t be allowed to play with Golduck after school; her parents were making her wash the windows.

    Golduck shook his head to snap himself out of his memory. The door in front of him remained closed. The green paint on the front door was much more faded than it used to be. The curtains on the downstairs windows were new. Golduck craned his neck up, trying to see the window to Maressa’s bedroom.

    Maressa didn’t want to keep Golduck in his Pokeball very much, but her parents didn’t want him inside the house. So Maressa quickly found a way where he could climb up to her window and into her bedroom.

    The corners of the townhouse jutted out; a gutter ran alongside them. Holding the bag of Orbs in his bill, Golduck grabbed the gutter with his webbed hands and shimmied up it, using the wall of the townhouse for support. It was a good thing he evolved not long after Maressa’s family moved to Hoenn—there was no way he would be able to do this as a Psyduck.

    When he got up to the second story, he walked along the ledge and to Maressa’s bedroom window. She broke the latch on the window so it couldn’t be locked—she didn’t want one of her family members to shut Golduck out if Maressa needed him to get into her room while she wasn’t there. She often sent him back to grab homework she had forgotten to take to class.

    When he got the window open, he stepped inside.

    It was similar to how he remembered it. Boxes filled with Maressa’s personal things were stacked in front of a wall. The desk was bare. The walls still held a family photo and a photo of Maressa when she was a baby—she looked nothing like she did as an adult. She was bald and her eyes were blue. Dressed in a frilly white dress with a flowery headband, she glared at the camera in a very Maressa-like manner.

    Golduck shoved the bag of the Orbs under Maressa’s bed. He remembered watching her sit at that desk into the late hours of the night, studying or writing essays. She would throw dress after dress on to the bed, trying to figure out what to wear for her senior prom. She habitually turned the room into a gym and would spend hour after hour exercising—her pullup bar was still lying in the corner of her closet.

    A layer of grey dust had settled over the desk and the dresser. A few small bugs could be seen crawling on the bookshelf. The paint on the walls—once a bright blue—was faded. The room had a distinct feel of being unused.

    Golduck suddenly felt exhausted—and lonely. He had never felt so lonely. He was home, but it had never felt more alien.

    Getting up onto Maressa’s bed, with its heart-scribble comforter, he curled up and closed his eyes. He remembered what it felt like to have Marerssa’s weight beneath him, rising and falling with her gentle breathing.

    --------------------------------------------

    Dawn’s rays crept through the window and fell onto Golduck’s face. He clenched his eyes shut and ducked his face beneath his tail. He didn’t want to get up. What would he do? He didn’t want to talk to Maressa’s parents.

    As the sunlight grew brighter and gradually lit the room, Golduck lay in Maressa’s bed, unmoving.

    Eventually—when the sun was well past its zenith—the doorbell rang. He covered his head with his webbed hands. Why did it have to be so noisy? Why couldn’t the house just be quiet, and just let him be with his memories of Maressa?

    Whoever rang the doorbell was clearly staying over. He heard rambled bits of speech—including Maressa’s name over and over again.

    Maressa.

    At the sound of her name, Golduck jumped out of bed, opened the door and hurtled through the hall and down the stairs into her parents’ sitting room. Maressa’s mother, Rhiannon, screamed with shock.

    Her dad, Dylan, stood up from where he was sitting. “Honey, isn’t this Maressa’s Golduck?”

    Maressa inherited her mother’s height but her father’s hair. Rhiannon was tall with dark hair and was very thin. Dylan was slightly taller but with blonde hair and a more muscular build. Behind them on their couch sat a man wearing a black suit and red tie. Although he had silver hair, he didn’t look very old—his face didn’t have any lines on it. And next to him sat another man with his left arm in a sling. He looked vaguely familiar.

    On seeing Golduck, the man with the injured arm stood up, smiling. “Golduck! Do you remember me? We met before. I’m Derek—I was that Team Magma medic who helped Maressa escape.” He gestured to the silver-haired man. “This is Steven Stone, the Pokemon League Champion.”

    Golduck’s heart skipped a beat. A second later, he started quacking furiously—what was Derek doing there? What had happened to Maressa?

    But the four humans just stared at him uncertainly.

    Golduck growled with frustration—they weren’t like Maressa; they couldn’t understand him. He launched himself across the room and threw himself onto Derek. He gave an oof as the Pokemon tackled him back onto the couch and remained on his lap. The man’s shoulder was bound in a sling. He wasn’t wearing the Team Magma uniform or hospital clothes. What was going on? Where was Maressa? He was part of Team Magma, he should know!

    “Calm down, calm down!” Derek said loudly. “Steven and I are here to tell Maressa’s family what’s been happening. She’s still with Team Magma; my betrayal was found out and Claydol teleported me out of there but she got left behind.”

    Golduck let out a strangled yell and grabbed Derek by the shoulders and shook him hard. He got away? And Maressa was left there? What did he mean—how did he not take her with them? Why did he leave her?!

    Derek yelped in pain the moment Golduck grabbed him, but Golduck didn’t care. He wanted to throttle Derek. Derek had Maressa, he could have saved her, but instead he just left without her!

    Golduck hardly noticed Steven release a Pokemon from its Pokeball until all of Golduck’s muscles suddenly locked up. An invisible force took control of his body and pried his webbed hands off of Derek’s shoulders. Golduck was rotated and came face-to-face with a Metagross. Angry that he had been forced to stop, Golduck tried to lash back with psychic attacks, but the Metagross’s psychic powers were much more powerful than Golduck’s and the Water-type failed to do any damage.

    “Golduck, we will get Maressa back,” Steven stated. “She’s with Team Magma, and Derek has been informing us of their whereabouts and we are working on taking down their bases. Now, as I understand it, she left the Red and Blue Orbs with her Pokemon.” Steven stared at Golduck, and though the man was overall calm, Golduck noticed an eager glint in his grey eyes. “Do you know where they are?”

    Metagross released Golduck from its psychic hold, and the Water-Type plopped to the ground. Golduck looked up at them. He didn’t want to give away the Orbs, not to people who had left Maressa behind. But Maressa did tell him to take the Orbs to the Pokemon League, and a League member was right here.

    Golduck looked directly into Metagross’s eyes—each eye was almost as big as Golduck’s head. The Steel-type stared back at him evenly. Golduck quacked: Steven and Derek had to make him a promise. He would give them the Orbs if they promised to set Maressa free as soon as possible.

    Metagross translated for him. Steven replied, “Golduck, I promise you, we are doing everything in our power right now to get rid of Teams Aqua and Magma. We’ll find Maressa and keep her safe.”

    Golduck stared at Steven for a second. He didn’t want to give the Orbs away, and he didn’t want to trust this man.

    But he had to obey her—she gave him a direct order to give the Orbs to the Pokemon League. Maressa’s dad started to say something, and Golduck didn’t want to listen. As soon as the man spoke, Golduck bounded up the stairs to Maressa’s room, dove under the unused bed and onto the dusty floor, retrieved the bag of the Orbs, and brought them downstairs. Reluctantly, he handed the bag to Steven. The man peered inside.

    Golduck quacked sharply—he shouldn’t touch them!

    Metagross relayed Golduck’s warnings. Steven murmured, “Don’t worry, I know better than that.” Holding the bag so he could expose the Orbs without touching them, he eyed their glassy surfaces. Golduck felt a shift in the atmosphere—some sort of power seemed to emanate from them.

    Derek and Maressa’s parents gazed at the Orbs in wonder and confusion. Steven merely stared at them, but Golduck saw an excited gleam behind his grey eyes.

    After a moment, he withdrew the Orbs into the depths of the bag. The four humans stood and exchanged a few words, but Golduck wasn’t listening. He was uneasy—should he have given the Orbs to them?

    “Golduck,” The Pokemon snapped out of his reverie and stared up at the silver-haired human, “we’re heading out. Will you join us?”

    The Water-type nodded. They were going to save Maressa, and he would make sure that they rescued her as soon as possible. He would rip apart any Team Magma Pokemon that stood in his way, he would take down Tabitha and that conceited jerk of a Mightyena…

    He glanced up at Maressa’s parents and quacked. He would rescue their daughter and bring her home safely—he promised.

    He didn’t look back to see whether or not Marerssa’s parents understood him; he didn’t want to take time to try and get his point across. He followed Steven and Derek, his blood boiling in anticipation of the battles to come.
     
  5. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Awww... Poor dude.

    Awww!


    I really enjoyed the focus on the pokémon characters this time around. They really do have their own story, woven into all of this, and there's a good deal of tragedy there (seriously i just want to hug these poor dears, possibly even Sharpedo), but also a nice air of determination--especially on Golduck's part. What a cool dude.

    Also thought the bit where Derek was lamenting what would become of his standing with Tabitha was done really well. Losing friends does indeed suck, especially when the friendship goes out on a bad note.
     
  6. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Thanks ^_^ I always try to get their individual points of view and feelings across, so this affirmation that I'm doing well is really good to hear!

    Thanks! It's definitely been on my mind a lot lately as I grow older and look back on life. I didn't know if it would come across too blatantly, so thanks for that!

    Here's the next chapter! I meant to get it out in January but time got away from me ._. I have the next few chapters drafted but they need heavy editing ^_^; Hopefully the 25th will be out at some point this month. Thanks to all of you who stay with me throughout this crazy journey!



    Chapter 25

    Derek passed by the earthen walls, Claydol floating just ahead of him. His left arm was no longer in a sleeve, but his shoulder was still bandaged. After he accompanied Steven to explain the situation to Maressa’s parents, Derek led the Pokemon League in clearing out the Team Magma bases—at least the ones he knew of. Meanwhile, Phoebe was researching the golems and Rayquaza as a backup plan in case Kyogre or Groudon woke up.

    Derek reached into his pocket and felt the Magma Emblem—it was a coin-shaped object marked with Team Magma’s insignia and was used as a sort of key to gain access to certain bases. It proved necessary to gain access to Team Magma’s base within Mt. Chimney, and Derek chose to accompany them in clearing it out.

    But so far, it was empty. He kept Claydol with him—he knew that Claydol wouldn’t be able to detect the many Dark-Types on Team Magma, but he should be able to detect any human as long as they weren’t holding on to a Dark-Type.

    Static crackled in Derek’s earpiece. “Find anything?” Sydney’s voice buzzed.

    “Nope,” Derek replied. “Some drilling and mining equipment, but nothing useful.”

    “We’ve found some computers over on the east end,” Sydney said. “They’re password-protected. I’m sure we could hack our way in, but if you happen to know the passwords, that would make it easier.”

    “Hmm… I might. I’ll be there in a bit. I just wanna finish checking this section out.”

    “All right, but don’t lollygag too much.” With one last crackle of static, Sydney’s voice faded.

    Derek trotted through the earthen hallways off the base, remembering when he used to patrol them in his Team Magma uniform. He wasn’t on patrol duty for very long; the admins wanted to make use of his medical skills. But they had him do it for a short period of time for the sake of discipline, if nothing else. He could easily envision Team Magma grunts marching past him, not looking at him, not talking to him, all keeping their faces straight and attentive to make a good impression on the higher-ups.

    Derek sighed. It was so weird to return to the base when it was totally empty. The heat emanating from the walls felt just the same as it ever did.

    Derek and Claydol reached the end of the hallway; a single metal door was closed. If his memory served him correctly, that was where they kept trainer supplies—spare Pokeballs, antidotes, potions, and the like.

    Claydol groaned. It was not trainer supplies; it was spare computer parts.

    Derek didn’t feel like arguing. “Yeah, well, either way, what’s in this room will be useful to us.” He placed his hand on the door handle—which was oddly cold in the warm hallway—and opened the door.

    It was pitch black inside. Derek flicked the light switch, and a small lightbulb in the ceiling briefly illuminated a small room filled with crates—but after a second it went out. The air in the room was oddly cold. Derek reached into his pocket to pull out a flashlight but paused. Something was wrong.

    Claydol’s presence left his mind.

    Derek spun around so he was facing the hallway—which was now pitch black. He squinted, trying to make out something, anything—but the darkness was impenetrable. He could see nothing—no ceiling, floor, or doorways.

    “Claydol?” he called out, his voice echoing down the empty hall.

    His heart pounded fiercely within his chest; he started panting, his breathing the only sound he could hear.

    “Claydol?” he called out again.

    But there was no response, only the unnatural emptiness pressing in around him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his flashlight and flicked it on—but immediately it was wrenched out of his hand and turned off.

    Derek didn’t have time to register what happened before something grabbed him by the wrist and hauled him forward. A fist collided with his gut and he let out a choking cough. Then someone grabbed his hair and punched him in the face—then his body was lifted and his face slammed into a wall. A hand grabbed a fistful of his shirt—and then he was floating, floating in nothingness, with blackness pressing in all around him, free from gravity…

    The weight of his body suddenly returned to him and he was slammed down into the ground, the air whooshing out of his body. He tried to breathe in, but the effort sent sharp pain through his abdomen. His face and head throbbed—lances were shooting through his torso—and he was lifted up again and his back slammed into what felt like rock.

    Blinking, Derek realized that he was no longer in pure darkness, but that there was moonlight. After the blackness of the base, the moonlit scene seemed as bright as day to him. The distant sounds of fighting—squealing, roaring, and shouting—could be heard. He was back outside the base—and glaring at him, holding a fistful of Derek’s shirt, was Tabitha.

    “Tabitha?” Derek started to speak but was cut off when the commander kneed him in the lower abdomen.

    “You decided to come back,” Tabitha said, “after betraying our team, releasing two prisoners and a Pokemon, and getting our teammates killed.” He threw Derek to the ground and sent a kick to Derek’s side. The medic grunted and curled into a ball. “And as soon as you were exposed, you left—didn’t even bother to help the Team Aqua traitor.”

    When Tabitha mentioned Maressa, Derek’s face burned and he tried to push himself up off the ground—but Tabitha quickly lifted him and slammed him face-first into the rock.

    “Maressa released her Pokemon to keep them safe. She stood up for what she did. You took off and let her take the blame for your actions.” Tabitha’s hand was on the back of Derek’s head, grinding his face into the rock. Derek couldn’t speak, only grunt. He flailed, trying to get some sort of footing, some sort of leverage to get out of Tabitha’s grip—but the commander stood his ground and kept Derek pressed into the rock.

    “And now, because of you, Maressa is paying the price.” He released pressure from Derek’s head only to throw him back to the ground and deliver a stomp on Derek’s chest. Derek let out a choking cry.

    The distant sounds of howling and fighting grew louder.

    “But I’ll let you in on a secret.” Tabitha got down on one knee, staring directly at Derek, keeping pressure on his chest. “Maressa’s back with Team Aqua now. I take it that you know her Pokemon have the Orbs. Team Aqua is searching for them, out in the Hoenn sea. If you find them—“ the pitch of Tabitha’s voice dropped and suddenly became urgent—“don’t return them to Team Aqua. They’ll kill Maressa as soon as they get the Orbs. Hand them to me, and I’ll save her.”

    The sounds of fighting were very close now. Derek inhaled deeply as the pressure of Tabitha’s foot disappeared from his chest and the Magma Commander stood up.

    Derek lay on the ground, sore and throbbing everywhere. He glared up at Tabitha, who stared calmly back. Shaking, the medic tried to push himself up—but the pain in his chest was too much.

    “How can I believe you?” he spat.

    Mightyena ran up to Tabitha, nuzzling his owner’s hand. He looked around and yipped. Keeping his eyes on Derek, Tabitha gripped a fistful of thick fur on the Dark-Type’s back.

    “You don’t have a choice.”

    Mightyena leapt, and the two of them disappeared into the shadows.

    Derek lay where he was. His entire body throbbed and ached—even just breathing was difficult, as though solid weights were sitting on his chest. He heard padding footprints and saw Sydney’s Absol walk up to him. The Absol looked down at Derek, her face unreadable. She turned her head to the side and gave a high-pitched cry. Sydney ran over.

    “What is it, girl—whoa, what happened to you? I thought you were down in the base! How’d you get so beat up? What happened to your face?”

    Derek tried to speak, but the pain was only getting worse. All he could do was let out a choking cough.

    “Hold tight,” Sydney told him. “I’ll get you to the Pokemon League’s hospital.”

    ==========================================

    The dull light from the ceiling barely illuminated the metal room. The smell of sea salt inebriated the air. Water occasionally dripped from the ceiling. Grime plastered the metal panels. In the back half of the room, the floor gave way to water. The room connected to a metal tank where team members could release their Pokemon and allow them to move around freely.

    Maressa knelt before Matt and Shelly. She kept her eyes down. Her heart had been pounding heavily for several hours. Her gut twisted itself into knots. Her mouth was dry. There was a lump in the back of her throat. She felt nauseous.

    She jumped as the door opened but didn’t look up. She knew who it was.

    “So,” Archie’s voice met her ears. “Maressa, Maressa, Maressa…”

    He chuckled. “All that effort we put into rescuing you, and you had betrayed us all along!” He spoke nonchalantly, as if discussing the surprising outcome of a football game. “You had a friend in Team Magma, you attacked your commander, and you kept the Orbs from us.”

    There was a pause.

    “LOOK AT ME!”

    Maressa jumped and, shaking, raised her eyes to see Archie staring down at her. His eyes bulged and he breathed heavily. Veins stuck out on his neck and forehead. He regained his composure and chuckled.

    “You know, I’m just so baffled by all this that I don’t even know what to do with you.” He turned around and took a few steps. “When Maxie told me of your betrayal, relayed everything… Well, I didn’t know what to think. Of course, I didn’t want to think that one of my beloved, trusted team members would have betrayed us after she came so far.”

    The pitch of his voice dropped. “But it does make sense.”

    Maressa’s heart kept pounding furiously, her stomach sinking ever further.

    “Now, as for the matter of what to do with you—but I know Team Magma already took some liberties, or they wouldn’t have chosen to hang on to you until dawn.” He turned back around and looked down at Maressa. Her blood chilled as their eyes met.

    “But the most pressing matter is to get those Orbs back from your Pokemon. And what will want to make them come more than hearing their master screaming in pain?”

    Maressa could only stare up at him.

    “Do you have anything to say for yourself, Maressa?”

    Maressa couldn’t think of anything to say—and even if she could, her throat didn’t seem to be working. All she could do was sit in numb silence.

    He raised his eyebrows. “No? Well, then, I’ll see you on the other side.”

    Maressa didn’t have any time to wonder what this meant before she heard a splash behind her. She whipped her head around to see a Tentacruel emerge from the water. Beneath its mushroom-shaped bell, two slanted eyes glared at her. It raised its brown tentacles out of the water, each one as thick as a branch. Panic set in to Maressa as she saw the tentacles snake out towards her.

    “No—no—aaah!” she screamed as the tentacles wrapped around her arms and legs.

    Maressa had experienced Tentacool stings in the ocean several times growing up. The slightest touch from one tentacle had been enough to turn her skin red and lumpy and send her running out of the water, crying. But a Tentacruel’s sting turned out to be much, much more severe than a Tentacool’s, and its tentacles weren’t just brushing against her accidentally—they were wrapping around and gripping her, the cnidocytes sending lances of pain everywhere they touched.

    Maressa screamed ever louder the more the tentacles bound her legs, arms, and body. “NO no no no no—please—no—stop!” She gasped as she felt water—the Tentacruel was pulling her into the tank. She raised her eyes and saw Archie, Shelly and Matt all staring at her, apparently indifferent.

    “Don’t worry about holding your breath,” Archie called as the Tentacruel pulled her down, “you’ll be able to breathe inside Tentacruel’s bell—for a time.”

    Maressa’s pleas gave way to pure screams of terror as the pain became more severe and her body was pulled into the tank. She only stopped when water flooded her mouth and she could make no more noise, enveloped in a jungle of stinging tentacles.

    =============================================

    Phoebe closed the large book and sat back in her chair. She rubbed her temples, staring at a Pokeball lying on the desk a few feet away from her.

    Matt’s Crawdaunt was still in there; it hadn’t come out since she and Matt had first exchanged Pokemon. And Banette was still with Matt…

    But where? She closed her eyes, remembering a recent conversation with Steven.

    “Steven, please!” she sobbed. “Banette is already injured, and I don’t know what Team Aqua will do to her! I have their Crawdaunt, please, just let me go and get her back!” Her voice broke on the last word and she dissolved into muffled sobs. Steven’s grey eyes looked at her with pity.

    “I hear you, Phoebe,” he said gently. “And we will get Banette back. But rushing into it won’t do her any good. We have to take this more slowly—and I am working to get Banette back. I haven’t forgotten about her.”

    Phoebe dissolved further into tears and only pleaded harder—she could rescue Banette all on her own, she wasn’t asking for help. She would be quick, and she wasn’t scared of getting caught. But Steven had made up his mind, and reminded her—more firmly this time—that Phoebe working on her own would only cause more trouble. And that was the end of it.

    Through the translucent lid of the Pokeball, Phoebe could just make out Crawdaunt. It appeared to be sleeping. How was Banette doing? Was Team Aqua torturing it out of some twisted desire for revenge? They couldn’t be happy about losing the Orbs…

    She put her elbows on the desk with her head in her hands, her eyes scanning the large book in front of her. Steven had asked her to do research for him, but her thoughts were consumed by worry for Banette—she had taken in minimal information.

    But what she did take in perturbed her.

    Because the dust-covered shelves of her grandparents’ library absorbed all noise, she didn’t hear Steven Stone walk in.

    “Have you had any luck?” he asked.

    She jumped, knocking over her tea. Letting out a shaky breath, she picked up her mug and tried to mop up the spilled tea with her skirt.

    “On the golems’ whereabouts? I can still only find the general locations. On the tablet…” She hesitated. “Yes, I found out more about it. And what you need to do to activate it.”

    Steven nodded. “Good. Write it in an e-mail and send it to me, please. Thank you.”

    He turned to go, but Phoebe called after him. “And I know what the tablet will do to you.”

    Steven halted in the doorway.

    Phoebe straightened up, holding the sopping edge of her skirt in her hand. “You’ve known all along, haven’t you?”

    “Yes,” he said quietly.

    “And that’s why you’d rather find Rayquaza, isn’t it?”

    He said nothing.

    “Then don’t bother with the tablet and golems, Steven! We have the Orbs, Teams Magma and Aqua aren’t a threat now! We have all the cards in our hand—there’s no point in preparing yourself for sacrifice when we know we won’t need it!”

    “We don’t know, Phoebe,” Steven said tensely. “Yes, we have the Orbs. But the Teams are on the offensive now as much as they ever were—and we’re currently interrogating and purging our entire police force from any potential Team members! It’s a slow process, and until it’s finished, we barely have anyone in the law enforcement we can work with. The Teams are attacking more openly because they know they can get away with it. They’re trying to pressure us into giving them the Orbs. Meanwhile, we’re trying to find their leaders but have been making no headway whatsoever in their whereabouts—even with Derek’s help, it seems the majority of the Teams have made themselves undetectable—carrying around Dark-types to stop themselves from being spotted…” He stopped and sighed. He stood in the doorway, still facing away from Phoebe. “Yes, we have the Orbs. But Team Magma and Team Aqua are still fighting.”

    “Then why not just focus all of our efforts into finding and stopping them? Why am I still here? Why can’t I at least try to rescue Banette?”

    “Considering your recent actions, Phoebe,” Steven said coldly, “I’d rather have you doing research than direct confrontation.”

    Guilt flooded Phoebe’s heart. She closed her mouth and cast her eyes downward as tears welled up in them.

    There was a pause. Steven turned around—he didn’t look mad at all. He gave her a small smile. “You’re doing good work, Phoebe. Thank you.” Without another word, he turned and left.

    Phoebe sat down, still feeling guilty and a little offended that he ended their conversation so abruptly. She looked at the large books spread out before her.

    Her grandparents’ library was deep inside Mt. Pyre. The walls were all windowless, covered completely with bookcases bearing large, dusty tomes. Occasionally, Ghost-type Pokemon flitted through the shelves around Phoebe. She looked up at a Shuppet that glided over her and managed to give it a small smile before it passed through a bookcase. Her eyes glazed over as she watched Ghost-type Pokemon swirl in the air above her, her mind wandering to matters other than her assigned research.

    When the Pokemon League received the news a few days ago that they had the Orbs, Phoebe was immensely relieved. Others shared her relief—the twins, Flannery, and Brawley were open about it. She could tell that even the more stoic ones, such as Norman and Winona, were happy about it. But when Phoebe saw Steven, he still seemed troubled and tense.

    He was right—the Teams were creating as much chaos as ever, and what with Derek letting them know that their police had been infiltrated, stopping them was no easier than it had ever been before.

    She closed her eyes as she thought of Derek.

    He and Sydney had gone to infiltrate a Team Magma base and ran into an ambush. Sydney was all right, but Derek was found covered in bruises, his nose and mouth bleeding, and with several broken ribs. She shuddered—yes, Team Magma was definitely still dangerous.

    But why did Steven feel the need to prepare with the golems and Rayquaza? He had sent out Wallace, Juan and Winona to find Sky Tower, and he was having her seek out the golems. And though she knew he was a “better safe than sorry,” type of person, it didn’t seem possible that they would lose the Orbs at this point.

    She shook her head and turned back to the books in front of her. She began reading but couldn’t get very far before her thoughts grew distracted.

    She was in her usual favorite reading spot—how many times had she sat at this desk, drinking tea and reading books, to see Banette’s head pop up through the wood and give her a smile? How many times did Banette make books levitate off the shelves and dance around her?

    With the memories fresh in her mind, she couldn’t get them out—she couldn’t alleviate her heartache. Clenching her eyes, she set her head on the desk and quietly cried.

    ======================================

    The salty wind whipped Wallace’s smiling face. He couldn’t help it; in spite of the urgency of their situation, he loved being at sea—he loved seeing the shimmering surface, the rolling waves, hearing the call of the wild Wingulls. It was all so glamorous. Beneath him, Wailord cruised effortlessly through the waters.

    They were somewhere south of Route 123 and west of Sootopolis City. With all the research being done on the whereabouts of Rayquaza’s resting place, the only indicators they could find was that it lay somewhere in the southern region of the Hoenn sea.

    Wallace, Juan and Winona all teamed up and sent their Pokemon to scout as far as they could. As more of their police force were interrogated and proven trustworthy, they would soon be able to enlist in help from them as well.

    Wallace looked down at his PokeNav. No messages from Winona or Juan. He checked Winona’s location: still several miles south of him. His heart panged; it wasn’t that he was worried about her—she was the strongest, most capable woman he had ever met. But he didn’t like having to be away from where for such long stretches of time. It was difficult enough as it was, working in different cities. He hoped she might at least have tried to call him or leave him a message by now… But it had only been a few hours. She left messages infrequently and often felt that Wallace was overbearing. Resisting his temptation to contact her, Wallace pocketed his PokeNav and sat back as Wailord cruised onward.

    Before long, Wailord rumbled uneasily.

    “Hm? What is it, Wailord?” Wallace asked him. Wailord rumbled again—he could hear a human in distress nearby.

    “ ‘A human in distress’? Probably a trainer who needs help—let’s go find them!” At Wallace’s prompting, Wailord set forth, going much more swiftly than before.

    Before long, Wallace heard it too—screams, bloodcurling screams. Whoever it was, they definitely weren’t drowning. No, it sounded like they were in constant pain. The screams rose and died, and rose and died again… They didn’t pick back up. Wallace’s heart pounded; what was going on?

    Pretty soon, a small ship came in to sight; two figures stood atop it. He saw a large Huntail break the surface of the water, holding a figure limply in its jaws. It spat the person onto the deck of the ship before it noticed Wallace and Wailord. It growled, baring fangs each as large as Wallace’s head. The two humans on board turned around—Wallace breathed in sharply as he recognized them as Team Aqua members. One was dressed all in black, and the other wore blue pants with an open blue vest. At their feet, a woman with long blonde hair wearing a grey tank top and grey skirt lay—it looked like the Team Magma uniform, but without the red pullover.

    “Are you looking for this?” asked the man wearing black as he pulled the woman to her feet. She hung limply in his arms, unconscious.

    Wallace’s mind was running a mile a minute. He had no interest in Team Magma prisoners, but he wasn’t sure what to do with the situation. He could hardly let the leaders of Team Aqua leave, but he wasn’t confident that he could take them on with just Wailord—he wished he had his other Pokemon with him. Could he fight? Or would he have to retreat?

    He made up his mind quickly. “Wailord, use Water Spout!” he shouted. Wailord inhaled deeply; Wallace felt the Pokemon rumble beneath him before a geyser of white water shot out of the Pokemon’s blowhole. The water skyrocketed into the air, leaving loud smacks and splashes wherever it fell. The Team Aqua leader threw the woman to the deck of the ship and jumped into the water along with his lackey. Huntail did not dive beneath and was slammed by the Water Spout attack. It cried in pain as the water left red welts wherever it hit.

    “Wailord, bring me to the ship!” Seeing the woman lie unconscious made Wallace’s heart trip with guilt, and so he quickly hopped off Wailord, picked the woman up, and awkwardly climbed back on. He jerked his head around as he heard more loud splashing—Huntail resurfaced, accompanied by a Walrein.

    “Walrein!” Wallace turned his head to see the Team Aqua leaders standing on the deck of their boat again, dripping wet. “Use Sheer Cold!”

    “Huntail, use Whirlpool!”

    “Wailord, counter with Whirlpool!”

    Huntail swam in a large circle, causing a circular current in the water. Wailord swam in the opposite direction, trying to create a countercurrent more powerful than Huntail’s. Wallace glanced at the Walrein, whose fangs were becoming covered with ice. If that Sheer Cold attack hit Wailord, he would be done for.

    “Wailord, Dive!” Wallace shouted. Wailord ceased creating a countercurrent and dove deep into the sea, forming a bubble through its blowhole that enveloped Wallace and the woman. Wallace breathed in the air bubble; the pressure within it was equalized, so he and the woman weren’t crushed by the surrounding waters. He looked up to see the light quickly dim—and a dark, swimming silhouette following. Bright, white spots lit up along the swimming form—it was Huntail, following them into the depths. Wallace pounded his fists on Wailord’s back, and the Pokemon quickly changed direction and shot to the surface. Huntail’s eyes opened wide with shock just before Wailord slammed into it and shot it out of the water, sending it flying through the air like a cork out of a bottle. The deep sea Pokemon’s body hit the surface with a loud smack! and lay there for a few moments—stunned or unconscious, Wallace wasn’t sure.

    Wailord let out a cry of surprise. Wallace whipped around—the Team Aqua leader had hopped from his ship onto Walrein and then onto Wailord’s back. The man glared at Wallace and spoke with his deep, gravelly voice.

    “Your Pokemon might be a skilled fighter, but I doubt you are.” Wallace could only stare in shock as the Team Aqua leader launched himself at the Gym Leader. He let the woman fall out of his arms as the Team Aqua leader grabbed him by the shirt, lifted him bodily and slammed him onto Wailord’s blubbery back before delivering the worst beating Wallace had ever received. Wallace let out coughing chokes every time a punch landed on his abdomen. He couldn’t do anything—his hands were trying to pry the leader’s hold off of his shirt, but it was useless. Wailord was busy trying to fight Walrein without knocking the people off his back—all Wallace could do was lie there.

    Wailord was rocking around so fiercely that Wallace came close to falling off his back—but after a few seconds the Pokemon plunged into the depths. Wallace and the Team Aqua leader submerged with him. Once the water enveloped them, the Team Aqua leader let go of Wallace, and Wallace was left floating at the surface of the ocean, too weak to try and swim. He couldn’t stop coughing—water was getting in his mouth—he couldn’t stop swallowing it—

    He felt his body rise with a wave—an enormous wave—and he saw Wailord launch himself out of the water. The cetacean’s colossal form seemed to fill the whole sky, leaving a cascading trail of raining water in its wake. The three humans could only stare in awe as all 100,000 pounds of its enormous form slammed down into the sea, creating tidal waves that pushed the Team Aqua boat, Pokemon, and Wallace all in different directions.

    A wall of seawater rushed onto Wallace, sucking him under and tossing his body about as if he was no more than a rag doll. But he only tumbled for a second or so before he felt himself sucked in to what seemed to be a small, dark cave. His body hung in the water until it all drained out and he lay on the familiar surface of Wailord’s rough, slimy tongue.

    Wallace lay there, choking. His body hurt horribly—he could hardly move it. He didn’t know where Wailord was taking him, but he trusted his Pokemon.

    Thank you, he thought as they traversed through the ocean depths.
     
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