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Drowning

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.
 

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.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
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—
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.

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…
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.
 

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

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.

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

For real, they are courting heatstroke like nobody's business.
THANK YOU I'm glad someone else agrees with their ridiculous choice of outfit.

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.
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.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
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.
Awww... Poor dude.

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?
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.
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
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.
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!

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.
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 24

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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Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Hi everyone! It's great to be back. I've got to apologize on two accounts:

1. The previous chapter was 24, not 25 (gave me some trouble when I edited)
2. This chapter has been ready for over 2 months and I just haven't posted ^_^;

I've been working a lot on editing older chapters and revising it to make it a more cohesive story on the whole while also writing new chapters. Updating will likely be much slower from here on out. But this fic will be finished! I won't let the last 7 years of writing this be for nothing! I hope you enjoy! :)


Chapter 25



Spires of ocean rock rose up all around him, their sides covered with aquatic plants and coral. They eventually gave way to craggy cliffs that formed underwater avenues. Herds of Sealeo, schools of Goldeen, and smacks of Tentacool floated by with the water currents while shoals of Relicanth and groups of Chinchou sat amidst the grasses and weeds on the sea floor. He swam onwards, looking through the water.

Blue.

It was all blue, all the time, except at night when it became black. He had seen it every day for several weeks—he hadn’t been inside his Pokeball for so long. He had forgotten how tiring it was to be out in the wild, always on the alert, aware that someone might try to attack you—and that you had to be faster and smarter than your prey, or else you would go hungry.

It was exhausting, but it was bearable. But what was not bearable was how much he missed everyone. Lanturn, Sharpedo, Golduck, and Maressa… Where did they all go? He fought with Maressa, but panicked when he got caught in that Leech Seed attack and swam away. The vines eventually died and fell away from him, but he had left Maressa behind. When he went back to look for her, he couldn’t find her—or anyone—anywhere.

Where did she go?

She hadn’t been alone; she was with a Team Aqua submarine and a Team Magma ship. But Seaking lost sight of both of them, too.

Where was everyone?

He knew he shouldn’t have left. He was so scared and so sad and so lonely when he realized they were gone. He looked everywhere for days, but only got so lost that he didn’t recognize his surroundings anymore.

Where was he?

And he eventually decided to ask some other Pokemon if they saw human ships. But wild Pokemon were so much different than domesticated ones—they didn’t like to be disturbed, and only minded their own business. And he was so scared. When he did pluck up the courage to speak to some, even other Seaking, they ignored him and went on their way.

He floated in the water. The surface was so far up, and the bottom was so far down. There was so much life in the ocean, but it felt so empty—so lonely.

He was lost.

But he couldn’t just give up! Maressa and the others had done everything for him. He at least had to try and find them. And what if they were lost, too? He had to find them and make sure they were safe. It was his duty.

So he swam. He swam for a long time, and got really tired again. But then he noticed something long, and dark—it wasn’t a Pokemon, it was an underwater ship! Did it belong to Team Aqua? He decided to get a closer look.

As he swam closer, he got scared again—several Tentacruel floated idly outside the ship, their narrow eyes leering from their beneath their bulging bells. They had so many tentacles—Seaking thought he saw something stuck in one’s grasp. He shuddered; these Tentacruel didn’t look friendly at all.

But what if they did belong to Team Aqua? There was the possibility. So Seaking stayed nearby and floated after them, hoping that, soon, he could be courageous enough to talk to them.

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

Walrein pushed Archie out of the seawater and back onto the deck of their ship. When Wailord used body slam, he, Matt and their Pokemon had all been sucked beneath the water. It was a miracle the ship was still all right…

He spat out a mouthful of saltwater and breathed heavily. He looked around—the Wailord and that Gym Leader were nowhere in sight. He grit his teeth. They would have to move their location, and quickly, or else the Pokemon League would be hot on their tail.

He looked over as he heard splashing and saw Matt clamber out of the water, holding something in his hand. The large man pushed himself to his feet, resting his hands on his knees and coughing up saltwater.

“Get below deck,” Archie ordered. “They got away, which means we’ve got to move fast.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where’s the traitor?”

As if on cue, Huntail popped its head above the waters, holding Maressa’s unmoving body in its jaws.

“She still alive?”

The Pokemon spat her out on to deck. Archie checked his watch and made to go inside while Matt grabbed her wrist, feeling for a pulse.

“Yeah, she’s still alive.”

“Make sure she’s breathing and then bring her inside.” He looked over to see Matt place the object he was holding on the ground while he started chest compressions on Maressa. At the first one, she expelled a lot of water from her mouth and coughed heavily before lying still again.

“What is that?” Archie asked, gesturing to the object next to Matt.

Matt smiled as he held it up for Archie to see. It was a PokeNav covered in a water-protective case.

Archie frowned. “Where did you get that?”

“Took it off of that Gym Leader. You can find locations of contacts in this, and he has a pretty public relationship with one of the other League Members.”

Archie’s eyes widened. “Can you find her location through that?”

Matt nodded, still smiling. He flicked the top open and turned on the screen, scrolling through the contacts and stopping at one labeled “WINONA.” He tapped it; the image of a pretty woman with long, purple hair appeared on screen, along with an options that read “CALL,” “MESSAGES,” and “LOCATION.” Matt tapped the last one, and a map of Hoenn appeared—with a blinking dot just a few miles south of them.

Archie smiled. “Time to move.”

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

Steven rushed into the hospital room to see Wallace lying propped up on a bed. His torso and arms were covered in bandages; bits of bruised flesh peeked out from the wrappings. He wasn’t in as bad of a condition as Derek, but he still looked nasty.

Steven walked over to him, a mix of emotions coursing through his mind. He felt guilty and worried, but angrier at Team Aqua than ever before. He paused as his eyes rested on Wallace’s bandages.

“How are you doing?” Steven asked.

Wallace half-shrugged. “I’ll be okay. It’s painful, and the nurse said I have bruised ribs and that I shouldn’t be up and about for a bit… But it isn’t permanent.” He looked pretty despondent about it.

“I heard you met Team Aqua’s leaders when it was just you and Wailord. Where are the rest of your Pokemon?”

“We had agreed to meet up at a certain point at a period of time. Wailord took me back to you guys sooner than we had planned, but as far as I know, the rest of my team still met up. Wailord told me he would catch up with them after dropping me off. I expect they’re hanging in the waters around here somewhere.”

Wallace glanced out the window, and Steven followed his gaze. The window gave a view of Ever Grande City’s lush, green cliffsides leading down to a shimmering ocean. If Wallace believed his Pokemon were in those waters, then Steven figured he was right.

Steven looked back at Wallace. He sighed. “I’m sorry this happened to you. We won’t be sending out individuals anymore—I should’ve thought you guys might come across Team Aqua. Until we have things under control, everyone will be scouting in groups.”

Wallace nodded. “It’s all right; I knew things like this would happen, working for the League.” He looked up at Steven. “Has anyone contacted Winona or Juan yet?”

“We contacted Juan; he showed up here a few hours after Wailord brought you back. And we’ve been trying to get a hold of Winona, but she won’t answer her PokeNav.”

Wallace’s eyes widened. “She won’t even answer a call from you? While she’s on duty? That’s not like her—she doesn’t normally instigate conversations, but she always responds quickly.”

Steven paused, blinking several times. Wallace felt the tension in the air.

But his leader changed the subject. “When you came across Team Aqua’s leaders, what were they doing? Could you tell?”

Wallace closed his eyes. “They had a woman with them, dressed in a Team Magma uniform—at least, I think she was. She didn’t have their red jacket, so I couldn’t tell, but the rest of it looked like a Team Magma outfit. Wailord actually first heard her—screaming,” he said slowly. “When he told me he could hear someone in pain, we followed the sound and wound up with Team Aqua.”

“Did you see what this woman looked like? Did she say anything?”

“She didn’t say anything, she was unconscious the entire time. As far as what she looked like…” His eyes roved about as he thought. “Let’s see… She had long hair—I think it was blonde, or maybe a light brown—hard to tell since it was wet. Her skin was damaged and scarred, but I think she was kinda pale.” He looked over at Steven; the Champion rested his chin in his hand, his eyebrows were furrowed.

“That sounds like it could be the woman Derek was worried about… But he left her with Team Magma. How could she be with Team Aqua?”

Steven stood there for a few moments, his thoughts wandering. After a bit, he snapped away from his train of thought and looked at Wallace.

“Anyway, I mainly wanted to check in with you, and I’m glad you’re not hurt.” When he finished the sentence, he paused, and Wallace felt the tension hang thickly in the air again. Steven spoke slowly. “Also, when Wailord returned with you, we didn’t find any of your personal belongings with you—no wallet, Pokeballs, or PokeNav.”

“They must have been washed away when I fought them.”

“Are you sure? Do you know for a fact that Team Aqua didn’t get a hold of any of it? Because, if they did,” Steven slowly enunciated his words, and he could see the realization of them dawn on Wallace’s face as the Gym Leader stared at him with his mouth hanging open and his face turning pale, “then that means they have access to the locations of everyone in your contact list. That means all of the Elite Four members, all of the Gym Leaders—including Winona.”

Wallace immediately spoke up. “But—I don’t see how—they wouldn’t have recovered it from the sea—and they might not know what it is—or how it works—”

Steven’s PokeNav buzzed. He took it out of his pocket and looked at the screen. It was a message from Winona.

“Hello!” the screen read.

Steven looked at Wallace to see him watching expectantly.

“It’s a message from Winona,” Steven said.

Wallace breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh, good! Can you call her? I want to talk to her—what has she been doing out for so long?”

Steven stared at the screen. Something didn’t see right. Why was Winona only trying to contact him now? She should have reported hours ago. And why didn’t she try to call him? As he stared at the screen and ignored Wallace’s urgings, the unsettled feeling in his heart grew stronger.

“Yeah, I’m going to give her a call,” he said suddenly. Without looking at Wallace, he walked out of the room and into the hallway.

“Hey!” Wallace shouted. “Where are you going? Can I talk to her, too?”

Steven didn’t answer. He kept walking through the hospital hallway and past several rooms until he reached the lobby. Spotting a single-room bathroom, he walked into it and locked the door behind him.

He looked back at the PokeNav screen. There were a few more messages from Winona.

“Heyyyyy! Steven!”

“Steven! Are you there?”

“I have something important to tell you!”

Steven starred at the screen as his heat pounded in his chest. This wasn’t like Winona at all. A thought came to his mind—but he was afraid to dwell on it.

Choosing to bite the bullet and get this over with, he hit the “CALL” button next to Winona’s name.

The screen changed as the PokeNav rang. After a few seconds, a woman’s high-pitched cheerful voice sounded out.

“Hey! Steven? Steven Stone?”

Steven’s hand shook slightly—that was not Winona’s voice. Taking a deep breath, he asked, “Who is this? Where’s Winona?”

“Wha—aw, found me out, did you? I thought I could imitate her voice pretty well! Darn, I guess I need more work. Anyway, I suppose you’re calling because you want them back, don’t you?”

“Who is this?” he asked more forcefully, though he already had a strong guess.

“Oh come on, do you really need me to spell it out for you? That’s not much fun.”

“I know it’s you, Team Aqua,” he said quietly. “And I promise—”

“TEAM AQUA?!”

Steven held the receiver at arm’s length away as the voice shrieked into his ear.

“How DARE you confuse us with those ocean-kissing scum?! We are SO much better than that! Have you even seen what they wear? WHY do all of their women feel the need to show off their midriffs? Can’t they just wear a normal shirt—“

“Let’s get to the point,” Steven cut across. “Where is Winona?”

The woman over the PokeNav sighed. “You’re no fun. Fine. We have them with us, split between our base and Team Aqua’s.” She let out a high-pitched giggle. “You know, they’ve been a lot of fun to have around. They weren’t too keen on letting us in when we showed up, and that young boy wasn’t having it at all—he still isn’t having it—“

“What? Young boy? Who are you talking about?”

“What do you mean? I’ve said ‘them’ like five times—who do you think I’m talking about?”

“I thought you were talking about Winona and the Team Aqua traitor.”

“Oh! So you haven’t—you haven’t noticed?”

Steven didn’t know what to say. The woman sounded genuinely surprised. Was there something he didn’t know?

But it might just be a ruse. Deciding to continue on, he said, “Tell us where Winona and the Team Aqua traitor are.”

“What, is this some game to you? If you think that us going to 766 Moss Landing Way, 83266, Mossdeep City and inviting the inhabitants to come with us and then being a bit—shall we say—assertive about their coming with us when they initially said no is a game to you, then sure!”

Once the woman said the address, Steven’s heart plummeted.

That was where his brother and parents lived.

How did they know?

When he said nothing, the woman continued, “It’s been so convenient having such a strong hold on Hoenn’s police force—we have access to all kinds of information we never thought we’d need! And—yes, Maxie?”

Steven stood, starring at the bathroom floor, not sure of what to do. He supposed he heard one half of a conversation, for the woman was still speaking periodically, but not to him.

“What? Why do you—oh, but this was fun! … Well, I—no, not really—but I told him about his family! … Oh, okay. I’m not sure if I know how—let me fiddle with it…”

Steven heard several random beeps as the woman on the other side messed around with Winona’s PokeNav. He tried to formulate a plan—if Team Magma knew his parents’ address, then they almost certainly had his family. And if they got a hold of his family—Steven didn’t know what to do.

How could he have been do distracted? Why didn’t he think to send people back to look after and protect them? Why didn’t he think to keep a close eye on them? And now, how could he possibly allow them to take the punishment for his actions—for his failures?

The PokeNav screen flickered and he saw the face of a woman with short, dark hair wearing a red hoodie. When she saw Steven, her face lit up.

“Oh, hey! I got it to work! Here, now I think we can all talk to him at once.”

The woman held the PokeNav at arm’s length and Steven saw a man with a thin, pallid face and bright red hair standing next to her. His red eyes stared coldly at Steven, and his face had a sort of perpetual sneer, as if he was always disgusted at something. On the woman’s other side was a man with short purple hair; he wore the same hoodie the woman wore, complete with grey horns on top. His dark eyes gazed blankly at Steven—the Champion couldn’t read his face.

“Hey!” the woman went on. “So, now you can see that it’s us, your friendly neighborhood Team Magma. I don’t think I’ve seen you before, have I? Anyway, I’m—“

“Enough, Courtney,” the man with red hair said coldly. The woman looked upset at being cut off but obeyed and stayed silent.

“So,” the man continued, “you’re the Pokemon Champion.”

Steven said nothing but stared back at the screen, his heart pounding.

“I am Maxie; I lead Team Magma. Now, I believe that your Pokemon League has something of great value and great interest to us. And, as I heard Courtney tell you, we have something of great interest to you.

“What do you want for my family?”

“Let’s not play a game. Give us the Red and Blue Orbs if you want to see them again.”

Steven decided to lie—there was no way Team Magma could know that the Pokemon League had the Orbs.

“We don’t have those—nobody knows where they are.”

Maxie gazed back at Steven unblinkingly for a minute.

“From what I gather, the Team Aqua traitor gave them to her Pokemon and released them into the ocean. Now, Team Aqua is searching for them. Is your precious League searching for them as well? I haven’t heard anything about it. If you’re not looking for them, you must already have them.”

“Just because you don’t know about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

“Oh, but I think it does. There are scouts all throughout the south Hoenn sea—and though they’ve seen a few people with the Pokemon League, they’re nowhere near where the Team Aqua woman released her Pokemon. You’re looking for something else, aren’t you? Are you perhaps looking for the Sky Pillar, where the legendary Rayquaza lives?”

Steven’s heart pounded—he couldn’t think of anything to say as he stared back at Maxie.

“Yes, I am very familiar with Hoenn’s legends and mythical Pokemon,” Maxie continued. “Anyway, back to our deal. If you want your family, you’ll give us the Orbs.”

“We don’t have them,” Steven said forcefully.

Maxie raised an eyebrow. “No? If that’s the case, then your family is useless to us. And I don’t like to hold on to anything for too long.” He turned to the other Team Magma member. “Get rid of Steven’s family.”

“Wait—wait—wait—wait—wait,” Steven said quickly as the man with purple hair disappeared from the screen. “What are you going to do with them?”

“If you don’t have the Orbs, then there’s no use in us holding on to your family. But neither can I let them go. So, to encourage you and your League to search harder for those Orbs, we’ll keep capturing people important to you and disposing of them until you bring them to us.”

“Do not hurt my family,” Steven said quietly, the blood in his veins boiling. “If you do, I will find you and do the same to all of you.”

“Do you really think you can? I know your Pokemon are strong, and you have many of them. But there are many of us—and even if you did take on all of us and succeed, that wouldn’t change the fact that, at the end of the day, your family is gone.”

Steven stared at Maxie and knew he was right. When it was only the Team Aqua traitor on the line, Steven had been willing to lie and hide the Orbs for as long as they needed to prevent the destruction Team Magma and Team Aqua would cause. But this was his family—how could he throw their lives away for a lie? And he had the slab and the three golems—he could guarantee at least a modicum of protection for a time.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll—I’ll get you the Orbs—somehow.”

Maxie smiled, and his red eyes lit up with excitement. “You do have them. Very well. Meet us at Monsu Island tomorrow night at 10 p.m.”

But,” Steven said aggressively. Maxie and the commanders looked at him curiously. “I want my family, Winona, and the Team Aqua traitor. Or the deal is off.”

“Hmmmm,” Courtney said thoughtfully. “What if you don’t hand over all of them? What if we decide to keep Winona for ourselves but still hand you back your family? What will you do then?”

“Enough, Courtney,” her boss said. “I’m not interested in playing speculative games.” He looked at Steven. “Agreed. Your family, the Gym Leader and the traitor for the Orbs.”

“Hey,” Courtney suddenly cut across, “is Derek with you?”

Steven nodded. “Yes, he’s here.”

“Can we speak with him? Wait, I can’t ask that—I demand you let us speak to him!”

“Why?”

“Oh, you know, just for old friends to catch up and see what’s going on. I bet he wants to talk to us, too—wait!” Her eyes suddenly lit up and she smiled. “Have him be the one to meet us at Monsu Island and give us the Orbs!”

Maxie’s eyes narrowed as he considered Courtney’s words. “I think that’s a better idea—send Derek to meet us instead of you coming yourself.”

“OH! And he has to agree to hand himself over to us and be our prisoner.”

“No,” Maxie said firmly. “I’m done dealing with prisoners. This conversation is over.”

“Can’t we just speak with Derek? I want to taunt him! And, realistically, we need to make plans for him to meet us.”

Maxie sighed. He looked at Steven. “Fine. Let us speak to Derek.”

Steven felt like his conversation with them was over and decided to comply with their request. Turning off the camera in the PokeNav, he exited the bathroom.

Derek lay on his back, looking over the edge of the bed to where Golduck lay curled up. The Water-type spent a lot of time visiting Derek in the hospital, though he didn’t attempt to communicate much. Though Derek couldn’t understand Golduck like he understood his own Pokemon, he could tell that Golduck was upset about not being taken along to raid the Team Magma base. When Derek was wheeled in, covered in bruises and blood, Golduck had flown into a rage of lots of loud quacking and slapping his tail. Derek got the message: whenever they were doing anything that could potentially save Maressa, Golduck wanted in.

Golduck didn’t really speak but he made good company. Dererk wasn’t sure why Golduck chose to stay with him; perhaps he didn’t know of anywhere else to go, or didn’t have anyone else to spend time with. Maybe staying with Derek was some way for him to stay connected with Maressa, as Derek was the only other one who knew her.

At the thought of Maressa, Derek’s heart clenched with guilt and horror. How she could have been left behind, what she was going through…

The medic clenched his eyes then turned to look at Golduck, who was staring up at him curiously—and sadly? Derek wasn’t sure. The Pokemon’s expression was difficult for him to read. Feeling sorry for Golduck, Derek decided to strike up conversation.

“She talked about you a lot,” he mentioned. Golduck perked up, still staring at Derek. “She mentioned how you two made a great team—that you fought a lot with each other, but always stuck through your disagreements.”

Golduck kept staring eagerly at Derek, wanting to hear more about Maressa. Derek went on.

“She told me about the time you two fought a trainer with a Persian—how she told you to attack from a distance with water attacks, and you wanted to fight with physical attacks. You ended up getting clobbered and slashed to pieces by the Persian, but no one expected you to get back up and finish the Persian off anyway.” Derek smiled. “She said you were better about listening to her battle orders after that, and she learned more about how strong you really are.”

At the mention of his strength, Golduck’s gaze fell, and he placed his head on the floor, looking mournful. Derek’s heart panged—

Golduck feels he wasn’t strong enough to protect Maressa, he realized.

“Don’t feel bad.” Golduck looked up at him. “Maressa told me what happened, and it was not your fault that she got captured—it was no one’s fault. No one thought Jirachi would be there. No one is powerful enough to fight off Jirachi—that thing is a god, it’s stronger than all other Pokemon. And she released you—not the other way around. Maressa knew… knew what she was getting in to.”

The last part was a lie; Maressa did not know what she was getting in to, and definitely was not ready to handle it. Her tear-stained, hysterical face flashed before Derek’s eyes, and his gut clenched. What she could be going through…

But he remembered Claydol’s advice: Tabitha was just, and wouldn’t have any unfair punishment dished out to Maressa. But what if it wasn’t Tabitha who decided her fate—what if it was Maxie? Or Courtney? And what if Tabitha said was true, and Maressa was now with Team Aqua? What were their admins like—would they show her any mercy?

And in his heart, Derek knew that no, they would have no mercy for her. He knew that treatment for traitors was ruthless, even by the teams’ standards.

The two of them lay in the silence, processing guilt and grief, until they were snapped out of their thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps. They looked up to see Steven Stone approaching.

Steven held up the PokeNav. “They want to talk to you.”

He turned the camera back on and Derek saw Maxie, Courtney, and the other Team Magma member. His gaze hardened and his nostrils flared slightly.

“Derek!” Courtney said excitedly with a big smile. “Long time, no see! I’ve missed having you around here—it’s been a lot less exciting! Also—” She moved closer to the PokeNav’s camera—“are you in a hospital bed? HA! Tabitha, look what you did to him!”

“Where’s Maressa?” Derek asked.

Her eyebrows furrowed. “Am I supposed to know who that is?” Her head turned to the side and Steven vaguely heard someone’s voice. Courtney turned back to the PokeNav, her face lit up. “Oh, that woman you left after you threw a door on me, told us you were a traitor, knocked out my Ninetales, and tried to set her free again? You know, it’s a real good thing your family is all the way in Johto, or else I would have gone after them and taken them in as hostages instead.”

“Courtney, stop,” Maxie said. He looked at Derek. “Your Pokemon Champion has agreed to exchange the Orbs for our prisoners. So we want you to meet us tomorrow at 10 p.m. at the south shore of Monsu Island. You, and you alone.

Derek looked up at Steven who merely nodded back.

“Who am I meeting?”

“Me, Archie, and whatever commanders we decide to bring. I strongly advise you to not attempt any tricks.”

“Then you’ll bring us Winona and Maressa alive and unharmed.”

Maxie stared at Derek, his red eyes narrowed. “Do you honestly believe that neither Maressa nor Winona are harmed at this point? Both have been held prisoners by Team Aqua. Winona was captured in the middle of the ocean when out with her flying Pokemon. You abandoned Maressa when she found a traitor. How can you possibly expect them to be unharmed? You’ll be lucky to get them back alive. We’ll see you tomorrow at 10.”

With a final beep, the PokeNav screen turned black. Derek looked up at Steven.

“You’re really giving them the Orbs?”

Steven nodded. “We have the slab to control the golems and we’ve discovered their locations. They can at least protect us until we find Rayquaza and finally put a stop to this insanity. We’ll—we’ll manage.”

“You’re doing this for Winona, aren’t you?”

Steven didn’t look up. He turned his face away.

“Team Magma has my family. I would normally think they’re lying, but they read out the address.”

“Because of the members in the police force?”

Steven nodded again. He exhaled deeply and looked up at Derek. His grey eyes were partially closed, and Derek noticed how tired he was.

“I’m sorry you have to be the one to do this. It—it wasn’t my intention.”

“No, don’t worry about it. I think it’ll work out better this way, anyway—I’m more familiar with their tricks and what to do if they try anything.”

“Will you be well enough to go?”

“Sure. I mean, at this point, I have to be, don’t I?”

Putting his hands next to him, he pushed himself up into a sitting position, wincing noticeably. He looked at Golduck, who watched him expectantly.

“You wanna come with me tomorrow and get Maressa?”

Golduck quacked immediately—Steven could only assume it was an eager “yes.”

“Hold on,” Steven said. “They told you to come alone. How are you going to bring Golduck with you? He doesn’t even have a Pokeball.”

Derek pondered that for a moment. “I think they were vague enough about what ‘alone’ means to give me some leeway. For some people, they would expect me to include Pokemon. But with Maxie…” He shrugged. “I think his main concern at this point is getting the Orbs. He probably wasn’t mentally separating the Pokemon from their trainers when he told me to come alone, anyway.”

The two of them stayed silent for a bit. Golduck got up off the bed and restlessly paced on the floor. Steven looked at Derek; the former Team Magma member leaned back on his hands, his eyes staring straight ahead as though he didn’t take in anything he saw.

“Are you feeling okay?” Steven asked him. “I mean—emotionally prepared for this.”

Derek’s eyes dropped.

“I never was.”

“Me, neither.”
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Hello! Here is chapter 26, which is much much shorter than most others but, imo, does what just I want it to. Not much to say about it; I hope you enjoy!


Chapter 26


Derek took in a deep, shaky breath.

The waves of the ocean raced up the sandy shore. To his right, the sand gave way to rocky jetties and cliffs. The waters raged as they dashed against the rocks, painting their sides with white foam. Above Derek, stars twinkled from a cloudless sky, silent spectators over the roaring waves.

Claydol floated nearby, out of Derek’s eyesight but near enough so Derek could communicate with him over their mental link. Golbat soared in circles overhead while Breloom hopped on the rocks along the shore. Golduck stood in the sand several meters in front of Derek, his eyes fixed on the waves.

Derek kept his eyes forward, his heart pounding anxiously.

Monsu Island was a tiny little outcrop of rock—maybe some members of the Pokemon League would have been able to hide somewhere around it, but Steven quickly decided that trying to orchestrate an ambush with the small amount of bare land would be too difficult in the amount of time they had.

The Pokeball of Wallace’s Wailord sat in Derek’s pocket. Wallace willingly lent him to Derek to bring him to Monsu Island. The Water-type would also be large enough to hold everyone they rescued and bring them all back to Ever Grande City. Derek held two cloth sacks loosely in his hand. Each contained an Orb, ready for delivery.

White water splashed around Derek’s feet. It was weird to think that, a few short months ago, he was mending wounds on a Team Magma ship. His only concerns were what he would do for the future to stay financially stable and whether he wanted to go back to medical school. Disobeying his superiors had never crossed his mind—let alone releasing a Team Aqua traitor, a child, and working for the Pokemon League to actively take Team Magma down.

And now, he was waiting for the two teams to appear, to deliver the stolen Orbs to rescue the person who instigated everything.

Maressa.

His heart pounded violently in his chest as he heard the air beating overhead. Looking up, he saw a small helicopter descend from the sky and land on the rocks near Derek. The door opened. Derek winced against the bright light shining from inside and saw the silhouette of Maxie.

“We brought the ones you want, Derek.” He spat the last word with disgust.

Maxie shuffled aside and Derek saw silhouettes of other people march out of the helicopter. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a few Team Magma grunts holding Steven’s parents, brother, and Winona.

Where is Maressa?

Derek was about to shout when he heard loud splashing. Turning his head, he saw a large metal body break the surface of the waves and float ever closer towards him until it was almost grounded on the sand. The hatch opened, and out stepped a man whose black clothes blended in with the night. A woman with copious amounts of bushy red hair emerged after him, her pale arms and bared midriff sticking out in stark contrast to the dark sky.

Derek’s heart leapt to his throat as he saw three large, bell-shaped heads adorned with red crystals emerged from the salty waters. Beneath each bell, a set of eyes glared maliciously at Derek. The sight of two Team Aqua leaders and their Pokemon emerging from the sea before Derek was intimidating, yet in spite of his fear, his resolve to bring the prisoners back grew stronger than before.

“Where is she?” he shouted over the waves.

At his words, one of the Tentacruel lifted several of its brown stingers out of the water. Golduck let out an alarmingly loud, screechy quack and Derek’s heart plummeted as they realized what it held.

Entangled in the slimy appendages, Maressa’s pale form hung limply. Her clothes were torn and mangled. Her blonde hair was a tangled nest, and nearly all of her skin was discolored.

Quaking with anger, Derek began to think of a command to give Claydol when the Tentacruel wrapped one tentacle firmly around Maressa’s waist and another around her head.

“I know what you’re thinking.”

Derek snapped his head back as the Aqua Leader spoke.

“If you think you can save her by commanding your Claydol to immobilize my Tentacruel, then go ahead. But do you really think it can take on three Tentacruel at once? And even then, I have my Sharpedo on me—no amount of Psychic energy will be able to stop him. I’ll give you ten seconds to toss me those Orbs. If you do anything else, or if they turn out to be fake, then Tentacruel will snap her neck.”

“I’m not interested in playing games!” Maxie shouted. “Give us the Orbs, and you get the prisoners. Do that, and we won’t fight.”

Derek looked back and forth between the team leaders. Blood coursed rapidly through his veins in anger—he had never felt so much loathing for anyone before. But the only thing that mattered in the moment was saving Maressa and the others.

Bringing his arm back, he flung one sack into the air towards the Team Magma grunts. One man immediately dropped Winona and rushed forward to catch it. He brought the sack to Maxie, who peered inside. The Magma Leader’s eyes widened and he froze for a moment as he merely stared at the contents of the bag. Closing it, he looked at his grunts.

“Let them go. We have what we need.”

The other Team Magma grunts let go of Steven’s family and dropped them to the ground where they lay unmoving. Maxie and his team retreated inside the helicopter and closed the door behind them. The blades of the helicopter whirred and it lifted into the sky. Within a few minutes, the helicopter was out of sight and out of earshot.


Derek flung the other sack into the air and it landed in Archie’s outstretched arms. The Aqua Leader untied the sack, peered in, and his face was lit with manic joy. The hungry look on his face grew, and an almost-inhuman light danced in his eyes. But a second later, he closed the bag, and returned his cold, callous gaze to Derek.

“Thank you,” he called as he held the bag up. He sounded strained, as though he was trying to hold in laughter. Lowering the bag, his smile lessened as he looked back to the Tentacruel holding Maressa. “But it’s not enough to save her.”

NO!” Derek screamed in panic, but several things happened as he did so.

As soon as the final words left Archie’s mouth, Derek’s fear flooded Claydol, and the earthen doll immobilized the Tentacruel holding Maressa. The other two Tentacruel shot Claydol with powerful streams of water, knocking the Ground-type back. Breloom sprang forward and landed on top of the bell of one Tentacruel where he began scattering spores and pounding the Water-type’s head with rapid-fire punches. Golduck jumped in the water and re-surfaced directly in front of the other Tentacruel and shot it point-blank with a beam of psychic energy. Golbat beat his wings hard and sent gusts of air at all three Tentacruel.

Lastly—and what Derek never counted on happening—an orange-and-white shape flew through the air before colliding with the Tentacruel holding Maressa. The Tentacruel let out a terrible screech as a horn shattered one of the large crystals on its head, and it immediately let go of the human body as it wrapped stingers around its new foe.

Derek stood in shock for a moment, trying to take it all in. But once Maressa’s body dropped, he plunged into the water, running until he held her mangled form in his hands.

“Oh, Maressa…”

She was hardly recognizable. Her body was covered in a number of large, purple-and-black bruises with several gashes and scrapes. What skin wasn’t broken or beaten was red and rough, as though covered in pieces of rope. He dragged her out of the water as he quickly as he could, trying to keep her away from the chaos, begging in his heart that she wasn’t—

A high-pitched chirrup shrilled in his ears, and he looked up in time to see Breloom fly past him and slam into the sand. Derek looked at the Team Aqua leaders, both of whom looked furious.

Taking out three Pokeballs, Archie withdrew the Tentacruel and glared at Derek, his nostrils flared and the corners of his mouth pulled back. But it passed after a moment, and he smiled.

“Take the girl if you want. I have this”—he held up the Orb—“now. You had your chance to stop me; you sacrificed it for the lives of a few people who’ll soon be dead anyway!”

With these last words, he leaped back into the vessel, closely followed by the red-headed woman. The hatch shut, and the seacraft departed.

Derek remained crouched, breathing heavily. He tried to process everything that happened. But as he looked back at the woman in his arms, he couldn’t think about anything else. He put two fingers to Maressa’s neck, finding the carotid artery just under her jaw, his anticipation and anxiety eating at him. He breathed a huge sigh of relief as he felt a pulse—she was alive. But for how long? He didn’t know what the extent of her injuries were—he only knew she needed help fast.

“King?”

Derek looked up and saw a Seaking floating in the water before them, almost grounded on the sand. Some of his scales were a bright, irritated red, but the color was quickly fading, and he seemed otherwise unharmed.

As he saw the Water-type gazing at Maressa with concern, something clicked in Derek’s brain.

“You’re Maressa’s, aren’t you? You were with her when she and other Team Aqua members were exploring the sea near Mossdeep, right?”

The Seaking nodded.

“Golduck!”

Derek turned and saw Golduck race over. The Water-type looked different than Derek had ever seen him—once he saw Maressa, Golduck’s eyes opened wide and his normally-expressionless face looked utterly heartbroken. He reached out a shaking hand, as if he wanted to touch Maressa but was afraid to.

“It’s okay, Golduck. She’s still alive—all thanks to Seaking, here.”

Golduck looked at Seaking as if he hadn’t noticed him before. Golduck immediately leapt into the water and wrapped his blue arms around his friend—as much as he could, at least. Seaking joyfully swam in a circle as he and Golduck communicated through a series of noises.

But Derek couldn’t allow their happy to reunion to last.

“I’m grateful to you both for helping, but—we don’t have time. Seaking, I don’t know how you found us, or came here, but… Well, thank you. If it wasn’t for you, Maressa—“ he suddenly broke off, and said, “She needs medical care as soon as possible. So Claydol—“ he stopped again, suddenly aware that the mental link that he shared with his Pokemon no longer existed.

He looked around.

“Claydol?”

“Breloom!”

The Grass-type Pokemon stood with Golbat on a patch of sand next to a large, unmoving object. Derek didn’t need Breloom or Golbat to tell him; he hardly could have expected Claydol to take two hydro pumps to the face easily.

Reaching into his pocket, he took out his Pokeballs and withdrew Claydol, Golbat and Breloom. Taking out another Pokeball, he opened it and released an enormous flash of white light.

Wailord materialized in the ocean. He was so large that he couldn’t be in the shallow water like Seaking and stayed about a hundred meters away from the shore. Derek turned back to Seaking and Golduck.

“Can you please help? My Claydol is unconscious and can’t teleport us back to the Pokemon League—we’ll need Wailord to transport us. Can you take Maressa to him while I go check on the others?”

Golduck nodded earnestly while Seaking heartily jumped up and down. With Golduck’s help, Derek lifted Maressa onto Seaking’s back. The Water-types made noises, and Derek knew they must have been talking, but he had no idea what the Pokemon tried to say.

As soon as Derek let go of Maressa, Seaking swam towards Wailord with Golduck keeping her steady. Derek watched with anticipation—his heart never stopped pounding with anxiety once he saw Maressa. He couldn’t stop worst-case scenarios from coming to his mind—

But he couldn’t think of that now. There were others who needed his help. Turning, he ran to the rocks where Team Magma had landed and checked on Winona and Steven’s family. All of them were unconscious but didn’t seem to have sustained any physical trauma. Derek figured Team Magma probably had Pokemon force them to sleep with hypnosis or sleep powder.

Calling Breloom out of his Pokeball again, Derek had the Grass-type help with carrying them down to the ocean shore to Seaking and Golduck, who transported them out to Wailord. Once all the Teams’ prisoners were transported, the two Water-types came back to Derek and looked expectantly up at him.

“Can you take me back to Wailord, please? We’re heading to Ever Grande City—Wailord took me and Golduck here. If you want to follow along, you’re welcome to.”

Seaking leapt in-and-out of the water in hearty agreement before taking Derek on his back and over to Wallace’s Wailord.

Wailord surfed under the starlit sky with the people and Golduck on his back while Seaking plowed through the waters next to him. Derek held Maressa in his arms, gazing at her scarred face.

As they surfed over the waters, Derek’s thoughts turned to Team Aqua. His blood boiled, and he thought of how now, more than ever, he wanted this whole fight to end. But the anger quickly melted away as he looked at Maressa’s discolored skin.

Hang on, Maressa.

Whatever happened to Team Aqua didn’t matter so much. All he really wanted was for Maressa to be okay.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
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.
Awww. :<

“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.
Good to see that aspect of deep diving accounted for. Water is freaking heavy.

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.
What a cool image. I think I like huntail a little more than I already did now.

Lastly—and what Derek never counted on happening—an orange-and-white shape flew through the air before colliding with the Tentacruel holding Maressa. The Tentacruel let out a terrible screech as a horn shattered one of the large crystals on its head, and it immediately let go of the human body as it wrapped stingers around its new foe.
Ouch. I don't even have head crystals, and yet I felt that.

Golduck looked at Seaking as if he hadn’t noticed him before. Golduck immediately leapt into the water and wrapped his blue arms around his friend—as much as he could, at least. Seaking joyfully swam in a circle as he and Golduck communicated through a series of noises.
Cute!


Good to see Seaking again! And good that Maressa's in friendly hands again, although she doesn't actually seem out of the woods yet--of course, technically nobody is now that the teams have the orbs. I know the League has the golems-and-rayquaza plan running in the background, but it wouldn't surprise me if one team or the other managed to pull off something really unfavorable before said plan can really take effect.
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Hey everybody, here's the next chapter! It's a lot more quiet and expository, but I hope you enjoy! First I'll reply:
Good to see that aspect of deep diving accounted for. Water is freaking heavy.
Good to see you again! Thanks for stopping by. And yes; I can't even freaking dive 8 feet without my ears killing me, so no way can people ride hundreds of meters down with their Pokemon and be just fine.

What a cool image. I think I like huntail a little more than I already did now.
Wow thanks! Huntail's design is seriously underrated imo. It might be weak but it looks so cool.

Good to see Seaking again! And good that Maressa's in friendly hands again, although she doesn't actually seem out of the woods yet--of course, technically nobody is now that the teams have the orbs. I know the League has the golems-and-rayquaza plan running in the background, but it wouldn't surprise me if one team or the other managed to pull off something really unfavorable before said plan can really take effect.
Ohhhhohoh you'll see :p Thanks again for leaving your comments! I'm always happy to see what you have to say :)

Chapter 27


Beep.

Maressa wearily lifted her eyelids, blinking a few times. Bright lights hung from a white ceiling. Panic suddenly overwhelmed her, and she jerked her head around. She lay in a white bed with an IV tube connected to her arm. Several other lines ran from her body to a series of wires on a metal stand next to her bed. A monitor displayed several numbers in different colors. She felt something tickling her nose and saw an oxygen tube leading from her nostrils to the stand.

Her heart dropped as she saw her bare arms—they were covered in dark red lines from the Tentacruel stings. Her back and hips hurt. She was so tired—she wanted to sleep, but a sense of anxiety and nervousness wouldn’t let her relax. When she closed her eyes, it came back to her—it all came back. The reality of those cold hours lying on wet sheets of metal, screaming until her throat went hoarse, salt water sluicing through her injuries… She lay on her bed, loathing her body and what it had been used for.

And as she lay there, a feeling of impending doom crept into her heart.

She opened her eyes and looked around her again. Her heart pounded. The monitor beeped, and a woman dressed in scrubs pushed aside the curtains and walked in. Her eyes met Maressa’s and she smiled.

“You’re awake! How are you feeling?”

Maressa didn’t know how to respond. She just stared blankly at the strange woman, her heart still pounding hard.

“I know, it’s a lot to take in,” the woman said kindly. “There’s someone who wants to see you. I’m just going to adjust a few things and then let him know you’re here.” The woman prattled on about what exactly she was doing as she connected the tubes to different containers, but it was a lot of medical names and terminology that Maressa didn’t understand.

The woman left, and after a few minutes, Maressa’s heartbeat slowed, and she felt considerably calmer, though the feeling of fear lingered.

She looked up as a man with silver hair wearing a black suit and red tie walked in. He sat on a chair next to her bed and looked at her gently with grey eyes.

“Hello, Maressa. My name is Steven Stone. I’m the Champion of the Pokemon League. You’re at the Ever Grande City Hospital. You were saved from Team Aqua and are now completely safe. I want to thank you for everything you’ve done—I’ve heard all about your betrayal from Derek and from your Golduck.”

At the mention of Golduck, Maressa started. Her heartbeat didn’t quicken like it always had, but she felt such a deep, intense longing—a deep joy.

“Golduck’s here?” she whispered. Her voice was scratchy from her throat being so dry.

Steven smiled. “He is—he helped save you. As far as your injuries, the medics say everything will heal. The Tentacruel stings are the biggest things, and you may have Tentacruel Syndrome—it’s a lingering effect that causes your body persistent pain and has psychological effects, but the symptoms improve after a number of hours.” He gave her a small smile, but it quickly vanished. The pitch of his voice dropped and turned stern. “I know you want to see your Golduck, Maressa, but I need to talk to you urgently. I need to hear everything that happened from your point of view—everything since you met Derek until now, as far as you can remember. I’m sorry to ask this, but please understand. Team Aqua is still out there and our fight with them isn’t over. We need to defeat them, and to do this, I need you to tell me everything you know. After that, you can see your Golduck and spend time with him—I promise.”

Maressa averted her eyes. She lay on the bed a moment, not really thinking, but not feeling quite able to speak.

Golduck.

Golduck was waiting for her—he saved her, and he was the only one she really wanted to see. She began to speak automatically, the words coming to her without needing to really recall the situations as they happened. She told Steven about meeting Derek, about everything Tabitha told her—of her escape, going to Mossdeep, reunion with Team Aqua, and stealing the Orbs after Phoebe and Liza’s failed negotiation attempt. She went on about her going through Mauville posing as a civilian, winding back up with Team Aqua, and of releasing her Pokemon and watching Jirachi’s destruction of Team Magma’s fleet. Maressa recounted everything Tabitha told her as clearly as she could. When she got to being handed over to Team Aqua, her voice lost its automaton quality and started to shake. She briefly mentioned what they did to her—Tentacruel’s stings, being held under water, and other things that didn’t surprise Steven but disgusted him nonetheless. At this point, her voice was shaking so badly and tears were rolling down her cheeks; she didn’t go into detail, but the surface information was enough. When she finished, the two of them lingered in silence for a short while, Maressa shaking slightly as tears rolled down her face.

“Thank you,” Steven said at last. “And I’m sorry for all you’ve gone through.” He stood up. “I need to go now. Do you want me to send for your Golduck?”

She didn’t respond right away. Taking a shuddering breath, she asked, “Are my other Pokemon here?”

Steven looked down at her with his head slightly tilted and his chin pointing forward. “What other Pokemon do you have?” he asked after a pause.

“Lanturn, Sharpedo… and Seaking.”

“There is a Seaking that came back with you. I haven’t heard anything about the others. You said you released them?”

Maressa nodded.

“They’re probably still out in the ocean, then, in the south Hoenn sea.”

Maressa averted her eyes, thinking. Her Golduck was here, and Seaking was back—he was back!—and Lanturn and Sharpedo were still out there somewhere. Golduck and Seaking had been found—couldn’t Lanturn and Sharpedo also be found? Steven stared at her calculatingly, but Maressa barely paid it mind.

At last, Steven said, “I need to go. Your parents have been contacted—they’ll be here by tonight. I’ll go tell your Golduck to come in.”

Maressa nodded, and Steven left.

She lay on the bed, wallowing in fear. She looked up as the curtain pulled back—and Golduck entered the room.

“Golduck!”

A huge smile broke over her face as her best friend hopped on the chair previously occupied by Steven. He also had long, red marks on his body, but they looked faded, and he appeared to otherwise be unharmed. His bright red eyes lit up as he gazed at her joyfully, his bright blue tail wagging back and forth in excitement. Maressa reached over and the two wrapped their arms around each other as they best they could with the wires and lines. Her friend’s head rested against hers; his skin was cool to the touch. The two of them remained that way—Maressa felt as though her heart would burst, and fresh tears came back to her eyes.

Golduck quacked—they missed her so much, and here she was!

“Oh, Golduck, I’ll never leave you again!” she choked. “Steven said you saved me! What happened?”

Golduck began to recount the story when Maressa noticed someone standing just beyond the open curtain. She looked up and saw Derek looking over. Once her eyes met his, a relieved smile broke out on his face and he walked in.

“You’re awake,” he said quietly.

Still smiling, Maressa merely nodded. She wasn’t sure what she felt—happiness, sure, but there was the distinct feeling of being abandoned.

Derek stepped forward and looked down at her. There were bruises on his face, and Maressa noticed bandages peeking out from under the sleeves of his t-shirt. His shoulders were tense, as though he was holding something in.

“Maressa, I… I didn’t mean to leave you behind. When I promised to release you, I meant it—and I tried, but my Claydol got me and teleported us to the desert near Lavaridge and he refused to take me back—and—and Maressa, I’m so sorry.”

The words tumbled out in a rush and Derek looked at Maressa as if he was worried she wouldn’t believe him.

“I’m not mad.”

Derek gaped—he still looked incredibly guilty.

“I’m not mad,” Maressa repeated. “Not at you.”

“Everything that happened to you—I know it’s my fault…”

Maressa slightly shook her head. “It’s not your fault. I wasn’t strong enough to stop the Teams—none of us were.” She looked up at him with a slight smile. “You rescued me once. I know you would have done it then, too, if you had the chance.”

Her eyebrows furrowed slightly as she looked at Derek. “Are you those bandages? Are you hurt? Oh—Tabitha’s Mightyena bit you, didn’t he?”

Derek’s face turned pale. “Well, yes that happened—a lot of things happened…”

“Like what?”

Derek sighed and averted his eyes. He wasn’t sure where to begin, or how to tell Maressa everything.

“Yeah, Derek,” she said, “what happened? How did I end up here? How did Golduck get here? How did you get here? And I want to see Seaking! How did he find us? What happened to the Teams?”

Derek looked down at Golduck. The Water-type looked nervous—more nervous than Derek had ever seen him. If Golduck thought telling Maressa the truth was scarier than facing a Metagross or several Tentacruel, then Derek was terrified.

But Maressa had a right to know as much as anyone else did—more than anyone else did.

“Do you want to tell her?” he asked Golduck.

The Water-type vehemently shook his head.

“Okay… Well—I’ll start with what happened to me.”

Derek recounted Claydol taking him to the desert where Claydol and Derek met and then Jirachi transporting them to Mossdeep City in time to see the mythical Pokemon disappear. He met up with the Pokemon League and told them everything that happened, and Steven Stone took him to Maressa’s old house in Mauville to tell her parents everything.

“And we met up with Golduck—he can tell you how that happened—and he gave Steven the Orbs. The Pokemon League was looking for the Sky Pillar and trying to find the places where the legendary golems are. Wallace ran in to Team Aqua and was badly injured, but fortunately his Wailord was able to bring him back to us. He lost his PokeNav, though, so Team Aqua was able to track down Winona and capture her. They also had their people who infiltrated the police capture Steven’s family. Team Magma called Steven from Winona’s PokeNav and told him what happened—that they had his family, and that Team Aqua had you and Winona.”

Derek paused. Maressa stared at him. The pharmaceuticals injected into her prevented her from feeling too wired up or anxious, but the dreaded feeling never left her. She didn’t know if it was the drugs, her injuries, or overall exhaustion, but she wasn’t able to piece together whatever Derek had left to say.

“Okay,” she said, “we were all stuck with the Teams. And? How did we get back?”

Derek licked his lips. “There was only one thing the Teams would offer to exchange for you all.” He inhaled and looked up at Maressa. His dark brown eyes were wide open.

“We gave them the Orbs.”

Maressa blinked a few times. She couldn’t feel anything. She kept repeating Derek’s words in her head.

We gave them the Orbs.

Well, if the Teams had the Orbs, then that was it. They won. They had control over Kyogre and Groudon and knew their whereabouts.

And everything had been for nothing.

Everything she endured while under Team Aqua—every punch, every kick, those times she was entangled in stinging tentacles, all those times she screamed until she could scream no more, giving up the best friends she had ever made knowing full well she would never see them again—

All useless.

She stared at the ceiling overhead.

She didn’t look back at Derek or Golduck. She knew they stared at her, but she didn’t care. She couldn’t think of anything to say.

There was nothing to say.

Golduck nervously quacked. Was she okay?

“Everything you did wasn’t wasted,” Derek said quickly. “But we wanted you back. And if we have Rayquaza and the golems, then we should be able to manage. The golems can contain Groudon and Kyogre’s power, and Rayquaza can force them back to where they came from.”

Maressa stared at the ceiling.

Derek felt guilty, and her prolonged silence only worsened his apprehension.

“Why did I bother?” she asked.

She still didn’t look at Derek or Golduck.

“If you guys were just going to give them the Orbs… Why did I do anything?”

“Because we care about you!” Derek told her. “We wanted to save your life—”

“But I decided to give it up.”

She looked peculiar; her gaze was intense, but her eyelids were drooping and her brow was slightly furrowed. Her mouth hung slightly open as she stared at Derek. It was as though she would be very worked up or angry but was too tired to feel strongly.

“I gave up… everything—“

Golduck quacked. He and Lanturn and Sharpedo were NOT ready to give up Maressa. If there was a way for them to get her back, they were going to take it no matter what.

“Excuse me.”

Derek turned around and saw a nurse standing behind him.

“We need to allow the patient to rest, now,” she informed him. “I’m sorry, but I need to ask you to leave. You can come back in a few hours.”

Golduck hopped off Maressa’s bed and landed next to Derek. Maressa looked at them with half-open eyes. She blinked slowly. Derek’s heart twisted into knots.

“We’ll come back and see you soon,” Derek said.

Golduck quacked an affirmation.

Maressa turned away and closed her eyes. Derek walked away, the weight of guilt settling deeper into his stomach.

He didn’t regret giving Team Aqua and Team Magma the Orbs in exchange for their prisoners. But as he left, he saw Maressa looking more broken than he had ever seen her.

But he felt so guilty about her condition. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her heavily-scarred hands and face. If only he had tried harder, fought harder, done more to just protect her, hang on and not let her go…

As he and Golduck stepped out of the air-conditioned hallways into Ever Grande’s sunlight, Derek took a deep breath of the sweet air. Golduck quacked—probably telling Derek that he’d see him later—and plodded off the brick walkway into a nearby stream.

Derek’s mind kept turning back to Maressa, processing all the guilt, the worry—and noticing for the first time that, whenever he thought of her, his heart burst with warmth. He kept thinking back to the smile she gave him in the hospital and the way she gazed at him with those soft, amber eyes.

She’s going to be okay, Derek thought with relief. Knowing that Maressa was going to live and make a full recovery was immensely comforting. Her scars would last a lifetime, but the functions of all her limbs would return to normal.

Walking down the brick path, Derek’s heart felt light as he looked forward to his next meeting with Maressa.

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

Derek visited Maressa the next morning. A few hours after his first visit, he tried going back, but the nurse told him that the only other visitors permitted that day were Maressa’s parents and that he’d have to try another day. So Derek waited until late morning before inviting Golduck to go with him to see Maressa.

The two of them found her sitting propped up on several pillows. Many of the lines previously connected to her body had been taken out. She had a mostly-empty tray before her and was finishing up some toast. Looking up, she smiled when she saw Golduck and Derek.

“Good morning,” Derek said as he sat in a chair next to her bed. “How’ve you been?”

Golduck took the other chair in her room and pushed it so it was between Maressa and Derek and sat in it. He quacked happily.

Maressa gave Golduck a large smile before turning to Derek.

“I’ve been okay. A lot of the symptoms of what I had—the Tentacruel State or whatever it’s called—have subsided. So I’ve been really hungry, but they keep on telling me to eat more slowly and that I can’t have as much food as I ask for.”

She looked a bit dejected at these last words.

“How was your parents’ visit?”

Maressa shrugged.

“It was okay. They already knew I was part of Team Aqua—I don’t know how, as I never told them. I tried asking them but they dodged all of my questions and insisted on questioning me.” She scowled. “I guess it’s public information now, or something. They asked me all about why I would join Team Aqua, what I’ve done, what happened to me…”

Maressa put her fork down and stared blankly ahead. He eyes didn’t move and she didn’t blink—she just remained silent.

“Maressa?”

“Hm?”

At hearing her name, she snapped back up and looked at Derek again.

“Are you okay?”

“Oh—yeah, sorry about that. Anyway, their visit was… Well, I don’t look forward to long explanations every time they come in. And apparently my sister, Betty, is supposed to be in sometime tomorrow.”

Noticing her sour look, Derek asked, “Is that a bad thing?”

“I just don’t look forward to more interrogation sessions. And I might have had my hospital bill from when I escaped from Team Magma sent to Betty…” At these last words, Maressa’s eyes shifted and she shrank back into her pillows.

Derek smiled. “That sounds like something you should have seen coming at some point.”

“I… Yeah,” she admitted with a sheepish smile.

“Anyway,” she continued, “what are you two up to today? And when do I get to see Seaking? I miss him!”

Golduck quacked several times and Maressa’s eyes lit up. She laughed.

“That’s so sweet of you, Golduck! But I’m not surprised.”

“What did he say?” Derek asked.

“That he planned on bringing a kiddie pool filled with water into my bedroom so that Seaking could be with me—but the Chansey working here told him that kiddie pools are banned.”

Derek looked at Golduck—the Water-type looked angry.

“That’s an amazing idea! I wish I had thought of that. I’m sorry they said no to you, though.”

Golduck looked slightly heartened at Derek’s words and nodded. Derek turned back to Maressa. He had been a bit nervous the whole time, but Maressa didn’t seem upset at him or Golduck at all.

“So… you’re not mad?” he asked tentatively.

She looked at him. Her smile was gone. “About the Orbs?”

He nodded.

Her eyes fell and she inhaled deeply. “I… I don’t know. I couldn’t stop thinking about it yesterday once you told me. But…” She shook her head. “It’s so surreal. All of this is. Sometimes, I can’t believe that any of this happened—that I joined Team Aqua, or that I was captured by Team Magma or… I feel like I should be living the life of a college student, that I worry about exams and that’s it. Or that I should just be training my Pokemon or living a day-to-day life working a nine-to-five job…” She trailed off again and sighed. “I just don’t know, Derek. But at this point, I guess we just have to keep going with it and do the best we can.”

Derek bobbed his head. “I feel that way, too.”

The three of them sat in silence for a little bit. Eventually, Maressa spoke.

“Do you have any idea when they’ll let me out of here?”

“With your condition, probably not for at least a few weeks—“

“A FEW WEEKS?!”

Maressa stared at him with her mouth hanging open. Both of her hands balled into fists and her face—already red from all the scarring—flushed with anger.

“I can’t be in here that long! I need to do something! Besides—“

“But I don’t actually know,” Derek cut across. “I can talk to your doctor and ask him what he thinks, but after everything you’ve been through, they’ll probably want to keep an eye on you. I really don’t know much about Tentacruel Syndrome—it might be something that you recover from in only a few days.”

Maressa said nothing but looked at her lap—after a minute, Derek realized that she wasn’t looking at her lap but at her hands. She held one up and studied the red, rope-like pattern crossing it.

“Does my face look like this?” she asked quietly.

A twinge of guilt hit Derek’s heart. “Well, you have some of those red marks on parts of your face.”

She kept looking at her hand.

“I look a lot different, don’t I?”

“It’s not that bad,” Derek lied.

Maressa lowered her hand but kept her eyes on it. She exhaled. Her shoulders were slumped, her eyes were half-closed, and a small frown was on her face.

“What day is it?” she asked.

Derek checked a calendar on the wall. “It’s September second.”

Maressa laughed darkly. “It was my birthday five days ago…” She laid down on the bed, her eyes gazing glassily at the ceiling. “Happy birthday to me.” She blinked several times and yawned.

“Do you need to rest?” Derek asked her.

She nodded. “I think so...”

Derek nodded. He and Golduck stood up but Maressa looked at them sharply.

“Are you leaving?” she asked.

“Just for a bit—to let you sleep.”

“Please, don’t leave.”

Maressa gazed at him pleadingly, and Derek’s heart panged again with guilt as he saw how forlorn she looked.

“You can stay—please, at least until I fall asleep.”

Derek obliged and sat back down on his chair. Maressa relaxed considerably. She settled down into her pillows and closed her eyes.

“Are you okay?” Derek asked her.

She said nothing for a moment—then Derek noticed small pools of tears form under her eyelids.

“I’m so tired.”
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Hey there! I decided to write a bonus chapter for this giving a little peek about what's been happening in the lives of the other grunts. Note that this takes place earlier in the fic, around chapter 13 (when Jirachi had awoken and Team Magma had taken it). You can completely skip this chapter without missing anything plot-important, and I'll have a chronological chapter out before the end of this month! I hope you enjoy!


Bonus Chapter


Sarah’s blue eyes focused on the Team Magma member ahead of her as he gave out orders.

“As Team Magma members, the bond we share with our Pokemon is very important. They need to listen to us—and we need to listen to them…”

At her feet, Zigzagoon yawned and shook his fur. Sarah wished she could have brought Sealeo with her, but the Ice-type had no place in a Team Magma base. As she listened to the Magma member’s comments and commands for them to group off in pairs, the anxiety that had been pounding in her heart started to die down.

She could do this. Shelly wouldn’t have sent her off on her own if she thought it was too dangerous for her.

“It’s a small base of theirs in central Hoenn,” the Aqua commander had told Sarah when she brought her to her office. “What with Team Magma capturing Jirachi, we need to be more aware of their motives and plans than ever. There aren’t any commanders there, just a few members slightly higher-ranking than grunts. They wouldn’t be holding Jirachi there, but it’ll be good for us to know what it’s being used for and whether they have any future plans for it.

“You’ll only be there for three days. Avoid talking to Team Magma members as much as you can. Take a quick look, send us photos of their base maps, and I want reports at the end of every day.” She smiled at Sarah, her red eyes glinting with approval. “You show a lot of promise, and I’m excited to see where you go from here.”

Sarah relished the feelings of excitement and affirmation she experienced in those moments—Shelly trusted her! Matt had referred her, and she was good enough to do this on her own! She was actually helping Team Aqua!

She snapped back to the present as she saw her Zigzagoon face off against a male Team Magma grunt and his Zubat.

“Zubat, use leech life!”

“Zigzagoon, growl!”

The Normal-type bared its tiny fangs and let out a growl at the incoming Zubat. The Zubat’s ultra-sensitive ears picked up the sound and the Poison-type reeled.

“Now, bite him!”

The room all around Sarah echoed with growls, yelps, squeaks, and the occasional embers. She glanced around. Most of the grunts had very young or inexperienced Pokemon: she saw several Poochyena and Zigzagoon, a few Baltoy, the occasional Cacnea and even a Magby. Her eyes swiveled back to the front of the room where the commanding grunt stood and her body went numb in shock.

A second man stood next to the commanding grunt, his arms crossed as he surveyed the new recruits. He held himself confidently and there was an air of authority about him. He was dressed similarly to the grunt but his pant legs were marked with white stripes.

A commander.

What was a commander doing out here? Commanders didn’t drill or train the newest recruits—did they? At least, Sarah, Cloe and Maressa were all interviewed by low-ranking officers in Team Aqua and didn’t even see Matt or Shelly until they had already worked for Team Aqua for a few weeks. And this was everyone’s first day with Team Magma.

What was he doing here?

She snapped back as she heard Zigzagoon bark and saw that the small Pokemon held Zubat, who was flapping his wings madly, between his jaws and jerking his head around.

“Zigzagoon, enough!”

As the other trainer reached out his arm for his Zubat to perch on, he smiled at Sarah. Jovial eyes shone from his round face. “You fight really well!”

“Oh, thanks,” Sarah said quickly, then took Zigzagoon to pair off with another team member.

For a few hours, the trainers and their Pokemon fought each other, seeing who would land the first hit. Sarah was grateful for Zigzagoon—even though she wasn’t a very adept Pokemon battler, the Zigzagoon Shelly lent her was definitely capable of holding his own. Sarah kept her eyes averted from the Team Magma commander—seeing him made her so scared. It was harder to focus on the task at hand knowing he was there, but as long as she gave orders to Zigzagoon, she blended in perfectly.

“Everyone, stop,” the leading grunt commanded. “Your Pokemon need a break. Recall them and take time to rest. I want you all back in here at 5 p.m.”

Looking down at Zigzagoon, she saw his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he panted. She felt guilty—she hadn’t even realized how hard he had been working. Taking out a Pokeball, she recalled him and made her way to the door with the other grunts.

“Hey, hey!”

Sarah kept her head down and eyes forward, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone, until a woman next to her tapped her arm.

“I think he wants to talk to you,” she said, indicating someone behind them.

Reluctantly, Sarah turned and saw the first grunt she battled walk over to her. He was still smiling.

“Hey—you did really well! What’s your name?”

“Sarah,” she said quickly and turned around.

“That’s a beautiful name! I’m Samuel. Do you—do you want to hang out? We can get lunch together.”

Sarah’s heart clenched and her stomach did flips. Glaring up at Samuel, she said, “No, I’m not interested.”

Samuel’s face fell and he suddenly looked guilty. “Oh, I—I didn’t mean it like that, I just thought, since we’re both new—“

No,” she said firmly, and turned around again.

“Sarah,” a different voice said. She looked around and her heart nearly stopped when she saw the commander. His cold, calculating gaze was directed straight at her. “Wait here for a moment, please.”

Sarah numbly stood beside him as she watched the rest of the people leave the room, feeling as if the world was falling apart around her. This was it. She had been found out. They knew she was a Team Aqua member and she was going to be their prisoner.

The group of people quickly became a trickle and soon, she and the commander were the only ones left. The door was still open, and she could hear the people mill about in the halls.

He looked down at her—her fear must have been visible. “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble. I saw that other Team Magma member talking to you. Is there anything there that I should be aware of?”

Sarah stared at him for a second in disbelief. So she wasn’t found out? He was only concerned about the possibility of her and another grunt getting too close?

Regaining composure, she quickly said, “Oh, no, sir, it’s not like that at all. I’m not here for relationships—I’m not about to do anything like that."

The commander nodded. “Was he bothering you?”

“Oh, no! I think he was honest—I think he just wanted to make friends.”

Tabitha gazed at her coolly for a second before averting his eyes and looking at the door. “I’m glad to hear that. I want you to know, Sarah, that if ever someone tells you do to something you don’t want to—if anyone threatens you, or does something to you and tells you to not repeat it—come directly to me. I have no patience for that sort of behavior among our team. If it’s a petty dispute or disagreement between grunts, then sort it out yourself. I have no time for that. But if it’s more serious, let me know. I try to travel between bases frequently.”

Sarah nodded, feeling as if an immense weight was lifted off her chest. “Yes, sir.”

“Thank you. You may go, now.”

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

As a new Team Magma grunt (or so they thought), Sarah was given a small bedroom in their little base. There was nothing in the room but a bed and a few drawers, but it would be plenty for the three days. Bending down, she removed two electric devices from her pack. One looked like a miniature computer that was small enough to fit in one hand. The other looked like a cell phone from the 1980s, with a simplistic screen and a number pad. She then removed a small grey box and some tape. The box was the exact same shade of grey as her Team Magma gloves.

Removing her gloves, she took out a sewing kit and some tape and set about making a hole in the fabric of the gloves and attaching the miniature camera in there. As she worked, her thoughts turned to the events of the past day.

Everything turned out to be going smoothly so far, even with the commander there! The plan had been simple: show up to a recruiting event for Team Magma, display her abysmal battling skills (although, she admitted with amusement, that part wasn’t completely a lie), and be assigned to a small base in the middle of nowhere.

Even if the base was small and would ultimately be unimportant, Sarah felt very affirmed by getting to go as a spy. Who knew? Maybe, if she got all of this right, she could eventually spy on larger Team Magma operations…

Once she finished hiding the camera in her glove, she examined her handiwork. It didn’t look half-bad; only by close inspection could someone see a miniature lens hidden in the fabric.

Turning to the miniature computer, Sarah accessed the camera and turned it on. Now everything the camera picked up was recorded and sent to her small computer—it was just a matter of getting images of the base.

Sarah opened a drawer and stuffed her belongings inside, being careful to hide the electronics under her pack. Standing up, she took Zigzagoon’s Pokeball and attached it to her belt as she headed out the door.

In the late evening hours, the base was silent—but not dark. Ceiling lights illuminated the hallways, filling them with dull, lifeless light. Sarah kept going, her heart pounding with anticipation, just hoping that she wouldn’t come across the commander, hoping that he had already left their little base.

She didn’t expect to encounter much; if she could just find a layout or map of the base, that would be enough. But all she saw around the corner was another empty hall.

She didn’t want to spend too much time out and about, so she walked around with her hand on her chin or held uncertainly before her so the camera could get a clear view of the halls. At one point, she peered around the hall and immediately jerked back: a Loudred stood with his trainer. Both were at ease, leaning against the wall, looking bored. Probably a higher-ranking grunt keeping watch to make sure the newer recruits weren’t getting into trouble at night. He didn’t seem to notice Sarah, but she didn’t want to push her luck.

After an otherwise uneventful walk-through, she returned to her room and pulled out her small computer, typed up a quick report to send to Shelly, and turned on the other electric device. She dialed a few numbers into it and soon heard it hum. Shelly told her the Magneton steel in there would block any interference, so whatever defense a small base like that would have against transmission, the device should be able to stall it so her report to Shelly could get through.

Sarah kept it on long enough to hit “Send,” then turned it off again. Her heart still pounded with anticipation—she knew nothing would go wrong, but the nature of her work was new to her and it was still nerve-wracking.

As she lay in bed, she thought of all the possibilities that would happen. Was she doing a good job? Would her report get through to Shelly? Did she make a convincing Team Magma grunt? What would tomorrow bring?

As her brain wrestled with these questions, she fell into a fitful sleep.

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

The next morning passed similarly to the first, with the commanding grunt—Sarah learned his name was Connor—giving orders to them and their Pokemon. Today had the trainers and Pokemon work together in doing a series of sprints through the room.

Sarah hated it. After just one round, she was sweaty and panting hard. Why did Team Magma wear such infernally hot hoodies? And after spending so much time in pants for Team Aqua’s uniform, she felt uncomfortable walking around in a mini-skirt. A really, really short mini-skirt. How was it practical at all?

At one point, she looked up and her heart jumped to her throat when she saw the commander standing with Connor again. Why was he still here? Wouldn’t he leave soon? At any rate, it didn’t make her job any easier knowing she would have to dodge him.

Once night came and the rest of the grunts were in their beds, Sarah set up as she did the previous night. She just had to get through the rest of today, then tomorrow, and then she was out of there! As much as she looked forward to finishing, she couldn’t deny that it was exciting to be on spy missions. Setting up her cameras and writing reports made it feel as if her work was tangible—like she was really contributing to Team Aqua’s efforts.

Heart pounding in anticipation, she walked through the hallway as before, keeping her eyes peeled for any map or directory of any sort. She walked down an unfamiliar hallway she had yet—

“Sarah?”

She jerked her head around at the sound of her name, but her fright turned to annoyance when she saw Samuel standing there. His Zubat was perched on his shoulder, its wings folded around its little body. Samuel looked tired and looked at her curiously.

“What are you doing out here?”

“I’m looking for the women’s bathroom—I didn’t see one anywhere near my room.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure it’s in the opposite direction. It should be at the end of the hall from the women’s rooms; this is the men’s area.”

Sarah smiled, but inside she was disappointed in herself. “Oh, thanks for telling me that.”

Samuel bobbed his head. “No problem. Listen, I really want to apologize for the other day—“

“No, don’t mention it,” Sarah cut him off. She was not interested in making relationships with any Team Magma members—platonic or otherwise—or holding idle chit-chat with them.

“I just really felt like I came off the wrong way. I want you to know that I was just trying to be nice, and make friends—“

“Don’t mention it,” she said more firmly, dropping her false smile. “I’m going to bed now. Goodnight.” She turned tail and walked down the hallway, leaving Samuel looking slightly crestfallen. Not that she cared—she was upset at being forced to turn in early for the evening. But it couldn’t be helped. Better to call it quits early than to get in trouble with Team Magma, right?

As she rounded a corner, she jumped in surprise at the sudden appearance of a Loudred. It looked up at her suspiciously. Behind it was the same trainer from the other night, leering at Sarah with a small smile.

“What are you doing up so late, I wonder? New recruits are supposed to be in bed.”

“I know, I know—I didn’t know where the bathroom was and got lost.”

“Sounded like a little disagreement back there,” he gestured with a nod of his head. His small eyes stayed on Sarah, leering at her over his smug smirk.

Indignation rising, Sarah said firmly, “It was nothing. I’m going to bed now.” She tried to walk past him but he sidestepped, blocking her way. She glared up at him. “Excuse me.”

“What are you up to?” he asked with the small smile on his face.

“I’m going to bed.”

“But are you tired? You want to hang out here with me for a bit?”

“No, I don’t. Now let me go.”

“Or what? You don’t have any authority here.”

“I’ll scream,” she threatened.

He scoffed. “See my Loudred there? His soundproof ability stops all sound we make from going through these halls. Go ahead and scream, kick—anything you want. But no one will be able to hear you.”

As Sarah glanced back at the Loudred and saw the Team Magma grunt approach her, her heartbeat raced. She reached for Zigzagoon’s Pokeball and released him in a flash of white light. But Zigzagoon had only just appeared when Loudred delivered a swift punch, sending him flying against a wall.

“Zigzagoon!” she gasped. Zigzagoon yipped and struggled to stand back up.

Sarah looked up as the grunt stood over her and the blood in her veins turned to ice. She wanted to scream, but in her terror, she was reduced to numb silence.

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

“These are their IDs, sir.”

“Thank you, Connor. You may go.”

Connor left Tabitha alone in the small filing room, a folder with IDs from the new recruits lying open on the table. Tabitha swiftly glanced over them. He partly wished he could have done interviews with prospective Team Magma members—getting an idea of what everyone’s thoughts and views were always intrigued him and was something he enjoyed the most. But with the hectic workload lately, it was better for him to hand it off to Connor. Still, he wanted to do a swift glance over their paperwork in case anything was overlooked.

Mightyena was sniffing around the various files and folders lying about in the room. Tabitha grimaced as he glanced—he would have to scold the secretary for letting the room get in such disarray.

As he checked the IDs of the new recruits, his eyes lingered on that of SARAH ARONNAX. Her ID said she was born 25 years ago in Petalburg City. He scanned the other ones, seeing people in their late 30’s as young as 18 from a variety of cities—mostly in Hoenn, but a few from neighboring regions.

He stopped. Something seemed off. He picked up Sarah’s ID and one belonging to GREG STEIN and held them up next to each other. When they were together, Tabitha saw that the printing on Sarah’s ID was lopsided a little bit and the corners weren’t as rounded as the rest. He lightly squeezed both in his hand; Greg’s ID stayed rigid, but Sarah’s bent fairly easily.

He looked at her ID. A fake? But why?

With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he thought of several possibilities as to why—and none of them were good. Pocketing the ID, he made his way out the door and toward the women’s rooms, Mightyena trailing his footsteps.

He stopped outside Sarah’s assigned room and hesitated. He really, really hated walking in to a woman’s room without at least knocking first—but in this situation, announcing his presence would do damage. Looking down at his canine companion, he asked, “Can you go in there and check? Please?”

Without a word, Mightyena slipped into the shadows cast by the hallway as if they were liquid. Tabitha only waited a few seconds when Mightyena poked his head back out.

Sarah wasn’t in there. The room was empty.

Tabitha immediately opened the door—unlocked—and stepped in to her room. Her bed looked used, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Was she on just a quick bathroom break? That would be the best-case scenario, but something told him there was more to it than that. He glanced at his watch; it was well past curfew, and all the new recruits were supposed to up early tomorrow morning.

“Mightyena, can you try to sniff her out? I’m going to look around in here.”

Tabitha heard the padding of Mightyena’s feet as he left the room, letting out whuffs of air as he sniffed. Looking around, Tabitha shuffled the objects in Sarah’s room to see if she had anything suspicious.

He opened the drawers of her dresser—she hadn’t unpacked her things yet, and her backpack was stuffed into the bottom drawer. Tabitha pulled it out and saw a light emanating from the back of the drawer.

Reaching in, he felt two objects and held them up. One looked like a crude cell phone. The other was a small computer that was turned on—the image was moving rapidly, and he couldn’t make any sense of what it was supposed to show. Tapping the keyboard, he was able to exit the moving image and found what looked like a miniature desktop screen. There were only a few portals: “NOTEPAD,” “CAMERA,” and “CONTACTS.”

Tabitha hit “CONTACTS” and it took him to a very brief address book. A few names were listed: “Boss,” “Shelly,” “Mattimeo,” and “Oscar.”

He flipped back to the homepage and hit “NOTEPAD” as his heartrate quickened. In it were a few simple sentences.

“Day 1.

“Went through new recruit training regimen. They had us pair off and do practice Pokemon battles. Saw male Team Magma commander. He noticed me and told me to let him know if I need anything. Walked through the halls after curfew. Didn’t find anything of interest. Spotted another member. Probably on watch. Went straight back to my room.”

Tabitha released a breath of air. Flipping the computer closed and putting the other device—probably something used to block signals—into his pants pockets, he hurried into the hall.

They had a spy. And while this base was small and had nothing of interest, they needed to root out spies as quickly as they could.

Tabitha barely made it into the hall when Mightyena came scampering around the corner.

He yipped—Sarah was already found! Lucius and his Loudred were detaining her.

“Lucius? Can you take me to them?”

Something didn’t sit right with Tabitha. Lucius was perceptive—which was why he was asked to be a guard—but if he realized that Sarah was a spy, why didn’t he alert Tabitha immediately?

Mightyena set off at a brisk trot and Tabitha followed at a jog. Before long, Mightyena stopped at a corner and Tabitha peered down the hall.

A Loudred stood at the end of the hallway with its back facing Tabitha and Mightyena. A small fluff of brown and white was sandwiched between Loudred’s foot and the floor. Between Tabitha and the Loudred were a pair of Team Magma members—one tall one forced a smaller one against the wall and they were struggling.

The sight of it flipped a switch in Tabitha’s brain and, without thinking, he tore down the hallway as fast as he could. Rage and disgust coursed through his veins as he met the duo—the guy didn’t even look up until Tabitha wrenched his hands off the woman, lifted him and slammed him into the opposite wall. Lucius looked angry, but once he saw Tabitha pinning him against the metal, his eyes widened and his face turned pallid.

Tabitha turned his head and saw Sarah slumped against the far wall. Her hood had slipped off her head; her blonde hair was messy; her face was white and she was shaking.

“Are you okay?” Tabitha asked.

She nodded mutely.

He turned back to Lucius.

“What were you doing?”

“Nothing—nothing! I saw her after curfew, so I pulled her aside—I wasn’t trying anything—!”

He was cut off and the air wooshed out of him as Tabitha kneed him in the navel. Lucius slumped to the ground, taking choking breaths of air.

“Don’t lie to me. I’ll deal with you later.” He looked at the Loudred. It stood with its back flat against the metal wall as Mightyena growled at it—neither of them had fired any attacks. A little Zigzagoon lay limply on the floor nearby them.

Tabitha got down and inspected the Zigzagoon: the little guy was knocked out, but he would be all right. Turning to Mightyena, he said, “Can you look after Lucius and his Loudred? I’ll be back to take care of them. I’ll get someone to help that Zigzagoon soon—he’ll be fine if we leave him as he is for now.” He then looked at Sarah. “Follow me.”

Tabitha walked through the halls to his temporary office, hearing the soft plod of Sarah’s steps behind him. The anger in him quickly died down; more than anything, he felt bad for Sarah. Considering the location, he figured this was probably her first assignment as a spy and was just doing as she was told—and already, she had been assaulted by a Team Magma member and found out.

Tabitha realized that the sound of Sarah’s footsteps had stopped. Turning around, he saw her standing in the hallway, hugging herself and staring ahead blankly. Her knees shook badly.

“Do you need help?”

Sarah didn’t look at Tabitha but just blinked a few times and slowly shook her head. Standing up straight, she walked again and followed Tabitha into his office.

Tabitha moved a stack of papers off the center of his desk to leave a clear area in the middle. He gestured to an empty chair across his desk. “Take a seat.”

She obliged. Her deep blue eyes stayed down; Tabitha thought he saw tears well up in them. He turned away—he felt so bad. The poor girl had just been harassed, and Tabitha had saved her only to tell her that she would now be their prisoner. His heart twisted—he couldn’t bring himself to do it yet.

Spying the kettle in the back of the room, he asked, “Do you want some tea?”

She nodded.

Tabitha boiled the water and set leaves in two cups—mainly to give her time. Once the water was heated, he poured it and allowed the leaves to steep. Returning to his desk, he sat the cups down, pretending not to notice her hastily wiping tears away from her face.

The two of them sat in silence for a while, quietly sipping their tea. It seemed to be doing her some good; she held her mug just below her mouth with her eyes closed, deeply inhaling and exhaling.

Tabitha knew the time had come. There was no use in delaying it.

“I actually brought you here for a different reason.”

For the first time, Sarah looked directly at him. Her head was slightly tilted and her brow was furrowed.

Reaching into his pockets, Tabitha took out the two electronic devices and set them on the desk between them. At the sight of them, Sarah’s face fell. She lowered her mug onto the desk and stared at the electronics with her mouth slightly agape.

“I need you to tell me everything you know. Please make this easy—I don’t want to use force.”

Sarah closed her eyes. Tabitha would never attack her himself, but it would be more effective to let her think about the different possibilities of what he could mean. He knew it was cruel—but she was still his enemy and he needed to get information from her.

“Just start with how you joined Team Aqua. Everything from then until now.”

Tabitha waited in silent patience while she told him. He watched her body language carefully, but she seemed to have accepted defeat: her shoulders were slumped, her head hung, and a few tears leaked from her eyes. There was nothing extraordinary about her story; most of what she said about their internal structure was what Tabitha already knew.

“Are there any other spies here that you know of?”

Sarah shook her head.

“Thank you.”

Tabitha turned on the phone on his desk. He believed Sarah had totally accepted defeat and had told him everything she knew. There was no point in holding her there any longer, even if he did pity her.

“Naomi, please come to my office. I need you to take a woman to room 12C.”

He hung up. Sarah stared silently at his desk while the two of them waited.

Before long, a Team Magma member came in. Her long, dark brown hair fell out of her hood and spilled over her shoulders. A numel trailed behind her, puffing out whisps of smoke from the hump on his back. “Yes, commander?”

Tabitha stood up. “I need you to take Sarah, here, with you. I don’t think she has anything on her but check her just in case. Make sure no one has any contact with her. Give her food and water. I’ll give you further instructions later.”

He turned to Sarah. “You’ll be kept in one of our rooms in this base. You’ll be provided with food, water and clothing. Let Naomi know when you want to use the shower.”

Without another word, he exited his office, heading back down the hall to where Mightyena kept guard over Lucius and Loudred. Even though such behavior disgusted Tabitha, dealing with people like Lucius did provide him with a form of stress-relief: there was little thinking involved and he got to expend energy.

And even though Sarah turned out to be a Team Aqua member, Lucius would not be on watch again.

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

Cloe’s eyes scanned the river from her vantage point behind some trees. Looking down, she saw her Corsola splash about with some wild Barboach. Maybe she should have kept Corsola in her Pokeball—if anyone saw a Corsola in a river, they’d know there was a trainer about.

She dismissed the thought. No one was around. The place was totally deserted, just like everywhere else she kept watch at. A small town could be seen not too far off, and sometimes the inhabitants like to explore the area. But it was blazing hot, the air was thick with humidity, and bugs crawled around everywhere. Who in their right mind would be out and about at this hour? What need did they have to keep watch?

Sighing, she looked behind her. Past the thicket of trees, ferns and wild grasses, she knew a Team Aqua base lay well-hidden. And she knew that what they did was important—collecting data on rainfall, soil temperatures, and running simulations on soil absorbancy. But it was the scientists who got to do cool stuff like that. She, a grunt who had only joined a few months ago, got to stand outside and make sure nobody interrupted their ‘illicit’ experiments.

And it was hard to not feel unimportant when she thought about Maressa and Sarah. Maressa and her Pokemon had really climbed ranks—she got to work with Matt and go on missions with him! She did things so important that she wasn’t allowed to repeat them! Cloe knew it came at a cost, and she was worried about her friend; ever since Maressa had returned from being Team Magma’s captive, she was crying about losing Seaking or else looking extremely nervous. Cloe was no therapist and wasn’t going to pretend to be one—but she could be there for her and hear her out whenever she needed someone to talk to or just a shoulder to cry on.

Even Sarah had gotten higher up in the Team’s rankings. Matt put her through spy training, and she always came out at the top of her class with high marks. Whether or not she was actually going on a mission, she was not allowed to say. But it had been a few days since Cloe had seen or heard from her, and she figured that Team Aqua would want to put her friend’s skills to good use.

As Cloe gazed out at the carpet of green grass dotted with vines, ferns, and an assortment of flowers in every color of the rainbow, and as she glanced at the sun glinting off the river to make it look like flowing glass, melancholy settled in her heart. She was happy for her friends, but she felt lonely. She wanted to be important like the others—and no matter how many times Shelly and other older members told her that every bit of work for Team Aqua mattered, Cloe didn’t feel like it.

Sitting down, she leaned against a tree trunk, her eyelids slowly closing in the warmth radiating from the noonday sun. Guess this was just the life of a Team Aqua grunt.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
"Kiddie pools are banned". I wonder if that's because maybe someone tried bring one in once and things Went Poorly, pfff.

Ever Grande actually being a proper city with like... more than just a pokémon center sitting on top of a waterfall and a cave system leading to the league building... that's always something I like to see. So I was happy to see they have a proper hospital and all, heh.

Feeling like you've fought and suffered for no good reason is rough, to say the VERY least. I don't envy Maressa that in the slightest. She does seem to be coming to terms with the way the situation has changed re: the orbs, though. I imagine her visitors have been keeping her at least partly distracted, and maybe she's managed to find some small comfort in the golems + rayquaza plan. Or maybe the drugs they're giving her are just really good. :V

At any rate, she's definitely still got some recovering to do. Of course she's tired, and I imagine she means that in numerous ways at once.

And of course you already know how I approve of the bonus chapter. :D
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
"Kiddie pools are banned". I wonder if that's because maybe someone tried bring one in once and things Went Poorly, pfff.
Everything has disastrous potential with kiddie pools.

Ever Grande actually being a proper city with like... more than just a pokémon center sitting on top of a waterfall and a cave system leading to the league building... that's always something I like to see. So I was happy to see they have a proper hospital and all, heh.
Heh, yeah, I felt like just a Pokemon Center would be boring and doesn't make for much of a "city."

Feeling like you've fought and suffered for no good reason is rough, to say the VERY least. I don't envy Maressa that in the slightest. She does seem to be coming to terms with the way the situation has changed re: the orbs, though. I imagine her visitors have been keeping her at least partly distracted, and maybe she's managed to find some small comfort in the golems + rayquaza plan. Or maybe the drugs they're giving her are just really good. :V

At any rate, she's definitely still got some recovering to do. Of course she's tired, and I imagine she means that in numerous ways at once.
It's def the good drugs. She's also kinda pulling herself along, telling herself that things can/will get better and hoping to see her Pokemon again. But yes, she's very tired of EVERYTHING and would gladly nap until this mess is all over.

And of course you already know how I approve of the bonus chapter. :D
Indeed I do! Thanks so much for leaving these comments; I always love to see what you have to say! Kinda funny to see you've stuck around so long, heh. Definitely makes me feel better about continuing with this thing ^_^


Hey hey! I told you I'd have another chapter out before the end of the month, and here it is! Knowing myself, there's probably still some editing I want to get done... But I'll put this out and let you know if I go back and change anything. Enjoy!


Chapter 28



Derek met Maressa again later that evening. He hadn’t seen her parents—he wasn’t sure he wanted to and Maressa made it sound like a bad idea.

“It’s non-stop interrogation,” she told him as she wolfed down some spaghetti. “ ‘Why did you join an illegal group? Why did you lie to us? Do you understand how betrayed we feel? Don’t you know how much we wanted to talk to you and see you? We thought you were out of contact but you were within Hoenn the whole time’—it’s never-ending.” She shook her head and downed some Miltank milk. “Also, when can I finally leave this hospital? They have people help me walk during the day, but when can I go outside?”

Derek shrugged. “No idea. How do you feel when you walk?”

“My hips and legs hurt a bit, and there was a lot of muscle pain at first, but it’s gotten better. Do you think, if I asked Steven to tell them to discharge me, he would do it?”

“That’s not a good idea to try and get discharged early; you really should stay here until you’re all better.”

Maressa lowered her fork to her empty plate. She stayed silent for a moment and didn’t look up.

“Derek… I haven’t seen my Seaking in weeks. I know he’s outside but only because you and Golduck tell me that he is. I don’t know where my other Pokemon are. And I don’t know how much longer we all have now that Team Aqua and Team Magma have the Orbs.”

Derek’s stomach twisted into knots as Maressa spoke. He couldn’t imagine not seeing his Pokemon for what may be the last few days on earth.

“I’ll see what I can do so you can at least talk to Seaking again. Maybe I can ask Steven about it—he makes all the big decisions around here.”

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

Pale light shone through the window in Derek’s room. He inhaled deeply as he opened his eyes and watched at the newly-risen sun creep over the horizon. Its rays sparkled brilliantly along the ocean waters. The whole sky was a bright green-blue as the morning star began its ascent.

The room the Pokemon League gave to Derek was nicer than anything he had ever stayed in. Ever Grande City was known almost solely for hosting the Elite Four and Victory Road, the final test for Pokemon trainers. Much of the city was high-end with fancy hotels for trainers to stay in as well as the homes of the Elite Four members. Derek knew there were lower-income parts of the city closer to the island’s shorelines but he had not seen any of it with his own eyes yet. For the duration of his stay, the Elite Four gave him a suite normally reserved for trainers who attained all eight Hoenn League badges and were about to fight the Elite Four.

Apart from his visits with Maressa, Derek spent much of the day exploring Ever Grande’s idyllic nature. The cliffs had several small streams coursing down their sides; the shorelines were dotted with coconut palms; the caves held an abundance of Pokemon; little waterfalls dotted the island; the air was heavy with the sweet scent of flowers that grew along the walkways. Breloom loved exploring with Derek; Claydol enjoyed going along for company; even Golbat, who typically preferred to keep to himself, would join them as they went on daily excursions.

Maressa’s Pokemon stayed together. There was a small river that spilled into the ocean where Derek typically found Golduck and Seaking. He spent time with them and tried to socialize, sometimes bringing his own Pokemon to translate. His heart panged with guilt every time Seaking spoke of how much he missed Maressa and wanted to see her.

As he got dressed and made his way downstairs, his mind buzzed. How could he get her to see Seaking?

As the elevator stopped on the ground floor, Derek walked into the hallway where he saw a woman looking back-and-forth between the directory and a piece of paper she held in her hand. He started.

“Maressa?”

She looked up at him, her face alight with joy. “Hey!”

“What are you doing? Shouldn’t you still be in the hospital?”

“I called Steven and asked if he could tell them to discharge me. He came to my room, talked to me a bit, talked to the medical staff, and I was released this morning! Their Pokemon helped speed up my recovery—Chansey and Blissey fed me nutrients from their soft-boiled and they had Milktank milk for me to drink. This is my only day, though, so I want to spend as much time with you and my Pokemon as I can. I asked him for your room number, so he gave that to me. Do you know where Golduck and Seaking would be?”

“Wait—why did he agree to discharge you? And why is this your only day?”

“He said he needed help—the Pokemon League is trying to find Rayquaza and they need more people scouting the ocean. He said Seaking and I would be good to have, and if we’re out in the ocean, then we might see Sharpedo and Lanturn!”

Maressa smiled, but Derek was deeply unsettled.

Steven is sending her out again?

“Maressa… Well, sure, I’ll take you to your Pokemon. Let’s go outside.”

They walked into the cool morning air down the brick walkway. Derek spoke to her as he led her off the bricks and down a dirt path. Palm trees crossed overhead, their leaves providing some shade from the bright sun. Beautifly fluttered in the thick bushes around them, drinking flower nectar through their proboscises.

“Do you really think this is all a good idea? I know Tentacruel Syndrome doesn’t last that long, but I know more than that happened to you. And do you really want to go out fighting again?”

“Well, it’s not fighting this time. We’re just searching.”

“But haven’t you done enough? Do you really feel like you need to help the Pokemon League after everything you’ve already done? And do you really want to go back into the ocean after everything that’s happened?”

Maressa was silent. Derek looked back and saw that she had stopped moving. She blinked a few times.

“There are a lot of things I want, Derek…” she said quietly. “But—well, given the current situation, we just all have to try and stop Team Aqua and Team Magma, right? No point in waiting around if it can be done sooner. And besides, I really want to see Lanturn and Sharpedo again. So, why wait?”

She looked up at Derek with a sort of half-smile on her face. He knew she was trying to stay positive, trying to believe in the best—but she was struggling.

“Maressa, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything. And would your Pokemon think it’s a good idea for you to go out in the ocean right now?”

She shrugged as she slowly tried to clamber over a fallen tree trunk. “I don’t know. But I’ll find out when I ask them!”

“Here, do you need help?” Derek asked when he saw how much she struggled to lift her legs.

She accepted his help, and the two of them continued down the dirt path, Derek hanging on to Maressa’s hand for whenever she needed support. As they walked, their conversation drifted into other subjects—what their hometowns were like, how family life was growing up…

“This isn’t at all like hiking in Johto,” Derek said as he brushed aside palm fronds.

“Oh really? How so?”

“Johto isn’t tropical. There’s a lot more mountains and caves, and it’s mostly evergreen trees—pine trees and stuff like that. There are some forests with broadleaf trees, too, but no palm trees or anything like this.”

“That sounds a lot more like Kanto. And it isn’t nearly as humid.”

“Makes sense, as they’re right next to each other. Have you been to Mt. Silver or the Tojoh Falls before?”

“No, I haven’t! I heard they’re great, though, and I’ve always wanted to go. I haven’t been back to Kanto since my family moved to Hoenn.”

“We should go sometime. It’s gorgeous—if you haven’t seen Johto yet, those are great places to start. We can also visit New Bark Town so you can get a real cultural taste of the region.”

Maressa looked up at him and smiled—not one of the half-smiles she kept giving before when she tried justifying helping the Pokemon League. She actually seemed to like the idea of hiking in Johto with Derek.

“That sounds fun!”

Derek smiled back at her before looking ahead at the path before them again, his heart considerably lighter and carrying the familiar warmth.

Before long, the path opened up to a river. Golduck sat on the sandy edge while Seaking floated in the water before him. The two of them looked up as Derek and Maressa came into the clearing.

“Seaking!”

Maressa’s amber eyes lit up and welled up with tears at the sight of her friend.

“Seaking, you’re really here!”

“King!” Seaking jumped in and out of the water in joy.

Maressa let go of Derek’s hand and hobbled over to Seaking as quickly as she could, half-laughing, half-crying. She ran straight into the water and wrapped her arms around him.

“Oh, Seaking, I’ve missed you! But I always knew I would see you again—I knew you were out there looking for me. I knew you wouldn’t give up—oh, Seaking!

Tears streamed down her cheeks and her face was flushed as she hugged her companion. Her chest heaved as she sobbed and laughed at the same time.

Derek hung in the back, smiling as he witnessed the reunion. He had never seen Maressa so happy.

“Duck?”

He looked down to see Golduck standing next to him. The Water-type kept quacking, talking about what Derek knew not.

“You know, Golduck, I can’t understand what you’re saying, but I’m glad I got to be with you.” He smiled at Golduck. “I know Maressa has been in good hands as long as she’s been with you.”

Golduck crossed his arms and nodded, looking pleased with himself.

Derek released his Pokemon from their Pokeballs and watched them interact with Maressa and her Pokemon. At about noon, he returned to the main city to grab lunch and brought it back for Maressa and the others. As he and Maressa sat on a grassy patch near the river, eating sandwiches, they watched Breloom show off his strength by snapping a fallen tree trunk in different spots using first his claws, then his feet, then his tail. Golbat and Seaking raced down the river to see who could make it to the ocean faster. Claydol and Golduck tested their psychic powers by levitating different objects including (but not limited to) coconuts, fallen tree branches, and other Pokemon.

Derek leaned back on his hands—wincing, as his ribs were still tender—and smiled as he watched Maressa cheer on Seaking in his race against Golbat. She looked so relaxed. If it wasn’t for her scars and his injuries, it would be easy to forget about Team Aqua and Team Magma causing chaos out in the world.

Derek lay on his back and looked up at the sun peeking through the tree branches. How could today be so perfect? How—after everything that had just happened, with everything currently going on in the outside world, and with everything that was going to come—could they have a day so full of peace and laughter? He sighed. If only every day could be like this.

“Derek?”

Maressa leaned over him, the sun shining brilliantly on her golden hair. Her amber eyes were soft, and the smile on her face made Derek’s heart swell.

“Enjoying the weather?”

He nodded. “Enjoying everything.”

She smiled wider. “Me, too.”

Maressa looked back to see Seaking swim up the river back to the starting line so he could race Golbat again.

“I wish I had more time for this… but I head out tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll go with you."

“Are you sure? None of your Pokemon can swim. Do you think Steven would let you?”

“I’ll talk to him.”

Derek stood up. Maressa, with his help, got to her feet as well.

“I guess I should talk to my parents before I leave tomorrow—I really don’t want to, though. And Betty is supposed to come in at some point today… That won’t be a fun reunion, either. Have you talked to your family at all?”

Derek shook his head. “Maybe I should, but… It’s just a lot.”

Maressa nodded in agreement. She looked at their Pokemon—just in time to watch Golbat and Seaking whiz by.

“I guess we can let them all be, for now.” She sighed. “I wish every day could be like this.”

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

Maressa sat in her bed, propped up on pillows. She stared down at her arms and the red scars spiderwebbing over her newly-regenerated skin—the bruises and cuts she had sustained under Team Aqua healed somewhat with medical attention, but the scars were still there.

Though Steven agreed to have her discharged, and the Pokemon had considerably accelerated her healing progress, she was still tired. The marks from the Tentacruel stopped stinging, but the bruises all over her body still ached and the scabs still cracked if she moved in certain ways. The doctors said no bones were broken—Steven speculated that Team Aqua wanted to keep her in decent condition to bargain with, but…

Golduck sat next to her, quacking away about new fighting strategies he wanted to try. Maressa knew he was doing it just to occupy her and she was grateful. It was hard to be alone. In the moments when Maressa was by herself, everything she had gone through under Team Aqua returned to her with astonishing clarity. The same fear and terror that inundated each moment came back in full force and her wounds hurt again. Try as she might, she usually couldn’t stop herself from crying.

Glancing at the window outside, she saw the sun begin to dip into the horizon. Derek had just walked her back to her room. She asked if she could have some time just with Golduck before Betty and her parents showed up again. She was trying to spare Derek from meeting her family—she was sure they would have plenty of questions for him.

Maressa heard someone knock on her door.

“Come in!”

The door opened and a woman slightly taller than Maressa slowly walked in. Her face was paler than Maressa’s and dotted with freckles. She had short, brown hair and eyes of matching color. Her purple sweatshirt was rolled up to the elbows. She looked apprehensively at Maressa.

“Hi, Betty.”

Betty softly closed the door behind her and walked up to Maressa’s bedside.

“Hey,” she said with a soft smile. But the smile quickly vanished and her eyes roved up-and-down Maressa’s body. Her mouth hung open slightly and she looked as though she was about to cry.

Maressa’s stomach twisted into knots. It was the first time seeing Betty in nearly a year, and she looked like this: mangled and scarred.

The sisters stayed in awkward silence for a bit until Betty broke the tension.

“So… I got a bill from the Mossdeep City General Hospital.”

Maressa flashed her a smile. “Uh… If I told you that I hoped by the time I talked to you about it, this current situation would be completely different and I expected that I would have enough money to repay you in full, would you be okay with it?”

Betty chuckled.

“Well, seeing as you now have two hospital bills, I guess I can help you out and try to cover this one.”

“Heh… Thanks.”

The two of them became quiet again until Betty suddenly spoke.

“Why did you do it?”

Oh no, Maressa thought, not this again.

“Why don’t you just ask Mom and Dad? I’ve already told them about five times,” she snapped.

“Yeah, but you can tell me the real reasons. Did you not have a job after you graduated? Did you want to be rebellious, or feel important?”

“I don’t know!” she shouted.

Betty looked shocked but her gaze quickly hardened. Maressa glared back at her.

“Yeah, when I graduated, I didn’t have a job and I needed to pay off debt. Mom and Dad had been telling me for the past four years that what I was studying was useless—that there were already people doing work with the ocean, that it was best left to government entities, and that nobody in their right minds would work for a government entity, and that I would have been better off trying to work in healthcare or finance or—or something useful.”

Betty rolled her eyes. “Mom and Dad always say that stuff—“

“I had it for four years!”

“You think they didn’t yell at me when I dropped out of college? When I told them I would rather go to a trade school and learn carpentry? They flipped, Maressa! I came straight to you once I got here instead of seeing them first because it’s nonstop, ‘Betty, you’re wasting your talents. Betty, you’re wasting your life. That stuff is for people who aren’t good enough for college. Do you know the sacrifices we’ve made to raise you and give you an education?’ But this is what I want to do!”

“And I thought this was what I wanted to do! I knew I wanted to do some work in the ocean—go out on a boat, be at sea for days at a time, study marine Pokemon and everything about the sea. But I also knew that working for the government would be awful. And when I first met Team Aqua—well, I didn’t exactly know who or what they were. I saw a recruitment ad to work for a company called ‘Ocean Incorporated,’ so I went to talk to their recruiter. They interviewed me—I told them what I told you, that I believed we could make the world better. They asked if I wanted to work outside the government, if I was willing to work around the government and explained that trying to work completely in accordance with government regulations wasn’t possible.

“I—I believed them! I gave them my contact information, had another interview, and then with a follow-up not long after, I got a job offer. So I took it. And, yeah, I knew it was illegal, but EVERYTHING is illegal in some shape or form these days! But I was getting to do work I believed in, that I loved. It wasn’t until later that I realized that they’re a full-on criminal gang…”

Betty stared at Maressa for a moment. She sat down on Maressa’s bedside next to her and stared at the opposite wall.

“But, Maressa, why didn’t you at least tell me?”

Maressa sighed. “You know our relationship isn’t the same as it used to be.”

Betty said nothing but Maressa knew she was upset. Neither of them liked to admit that their relationship had deteriorated, and they both always tried to sweep the reality under the rug, in hopes that, by ignoring it, it would go away and things could be like they used to. They would have a close connection; always accompany each other through everything; stay up late into the night talking about all sorts of possible topics; practically be able to read each others’ minds…

But those days were long gone.

Maressa wasn’t sure what started it. She didn’t know if Betty knew, either. She had a feeling it started with Maressa openly disagreeing with their parents about the state of the world—about the oceans dying and how humans caused it and, legal or not, something needed to be done about it. Betty never felt strongly and tried to keep quiet and keep out of it.

She’d tell Maressa to stop fighting with their parents and let things be. Maybe that was when Maressa no longer wanted to talk to Betty. As they grew older, they reached a point where silence and resentment was easier than open disagreement and fighting.

Betty stayed quiet for a bit. Her shoulders slumped forward. Her eyes roved back and forth.

“I know we fight,” she said slowly, “but… you’re still my sister.”

Maressa nodded.

Betty looked back at her sister. Her eyes roved over Maressa’s scars and her look softened.

“I guess… I guess you couldn’t really say anything, even if you wanted to.”

Maressa shook her head.

“No… I did want to. But… Well, I couldn’t.”

Betty nodded, still staring at Maressa’s scars.

She stood up.

“I’m going back to my room. Do you need anything before I leave?”

Maressa shook her head. “No, I’m good.”

Betty nodded and made her way to the door. “Well… Good seeing you.”

Maressa smiled.

“Thank you for coming by.”

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

“Come in.”

Derek opened the door and walked into Steven’s office. The Champion stared intently at the screen of his computer. Behind him, the glass walls gave a wide view of the lush cliffsides of Ever Grande City which tumbled into the sparkling ocean beneath a crystal-clear sky. Steven looked up.

“You said you needed to talk with me today?” he asked Derek.

“Why are you sending Maressa out tomorrow? Why did you have her discharged from the hospital?”

Steven’s grey eyes narrowed. “Think of our current situation. The teams have the Orbs. If what Maressa says about them is correct, it won’t be long before they find Groudon and Kyogre. From there, they’ll wreak havoc. I already have the three golems, so once Kyogre and Groudon clash, they should be able to contain the chaos—for a little bit. But to permanently stop all this, we need Rayquaza. We cannot afford to lose time or any helping hands. Drake reported his findings to me and we believe he found the Sky Pillar, where Rayquaza is supposed to reside. Sidney is going out tomorrow morning, and I asked Maressa if she’d be willing to go out. Her Pokemon would be a big help in whatever awaits—we don’t know if Team Aqua and Team Magma will be there too, or what exactly will need to be done with Rayquaza. She said yes. So she goes.”

“Wait wait—you think the teams are going to be there? You’re sending her to fight? She thinks she’s just going out to scout—”

“I don’t know if there’ll be a fight or not,” Steven said crossly.

Derek glared at him for a moment before saying, “After everything she’s done and has been through, you know she shouldn’t go.”

“She’s an adult. She can make her own decisions. If you don’t like it, then tell her. I’m not forcing her to do anything.” He put his head in his hands and sighed. “This is going to be bloody, Derek. I am grateful for what she has done—and for what you’ve done, too—but people are going to die. Maybe a lot, maybe only a few—I don’t know. But we need everyone who’s willing to do something.”

“Then I want to go with her tomorrow.”

Steven looked up at him. “Why?”

“Didn’t you just say that you need everyone who’s willing?”

Steven stared at Derek evenly. “But why do you want to go with her?”

Derek stared back at Steven, trying to avoid giving the obvious answer. He sought for an answer that would sound reasonable in the given situation, but—

“I know why you want to go, Derek,” Steven said, “but in this time, you need to set aside your personal feelings and do what’s best for everyone. You have no Water-type Pokemon, so you won’t be much help out in the ocean. Since you served as a medic for Team Magma, I wanted to have you at the ready for when everything blows up.”

“So are you having me stay here in Ever Grande, or moving somewhere else?”

“I don’t know!” Steven suddenly shouted and put his hands in the air. “I feel like I don’t know anything, Derek! There isn’t much recorded or known about these Pokemon or the Orbs. My team members are looking through mythology books to find out about what we’re dealing with—I had to dig through my childhood bedroom and grab my Hoenn’s Myths and Legends for Children! book to get even a clue about where to find Rayquaza!”

He reached under his desk and pulled out a long, thin book with brightly-illustrated pages. Flipping it open, he stopped at one page near the end and read out loud.

“At the top of the highest floor in the tallest tower in all of the Hoenn region, Rayquaza lives. Sometimes, people in Hoenn think they can hear loud cries at night. These are the cries of Rayquaza. Why is he sad? He is sad because he is so lonely. He is too strong to be friends with the rest of Hoenn’s Pokemon.

“When Rayquaza went to the rainforest to see his friend, Tropius, all the rain stopped!

“ ‘Hey,’ Tropius said, ‘why did you make the rain stop?’

“ ‘I’m so sorry,’ Rayquaza said. ‘I can’t help it! Rain always stops whenever I go out to play.’

“ ‘But the Pokemon in the rainforest need rain!’ Tropius said. ‘I need you to leave so that it can rain for us again.’

“Rayquaza was very sad about this. He loved playing with Tropius. He decided to see his friend Flygon in the desert. The desert didn’t have any rain! Flygon wouldn’t mind.

“ ‘Hello, Flygon!’ Rayquaza shouted when he went to the hot, sunny desert.

“ ‘Hello, Rayquaza!” Flygon said when he saw Rayquaza. But once Rayquaza landed in the desert, clouds blocked the sun! The sunlight wasn’t strong anymore.

“ ‘Hey,’ Flygon said, ‘why did you stop the sunlight?’

“ ‘I’m sorry,’ Rayquaza said. ‘Whenever I go outside, it gets cloudy and blocks the sun.’

“ ‘But the desert needs sunlight!’ Flygon said. ‘It keeps us warm. I need you to leave so that the sun can shine and we can be warm again.’

“So Rayquaza flew far, far away to an island in the south. ‘If I’m by myself, I won’t ruin things for anyone anymore,’ he said. He lives all alone at the top of the Sky Pillar, still crying that he doesn’t have any friends.”


Steven looked up at Derek. “This was my starting point. Rayquaza stops weather conditions and lives at the Sky Pillar which is somewhere in the south of Hoenn.”

He set the book down on his desk and wrung his hands. “Until we find Rayquaza, I don’t know what we’re going to do. We don’t know where Groudon and Kyogre will go, what they’ll do. Phoebe thinks they’ll either be drawn to Mt. Pyre or Sootopolis City—she’s guessing Mt. Pyre, since that’s where life ends, but we don’t know. Guessing wrong could be a disaster—if they do head for Mt. Pyre, we need everyone in Lilycove and Fortree to evacuate, and possibly other nearby cities as well. I don’t know how far-reaching Groudon’s or Kyogre’s effects will be. I hope they head for Sootopolis, surrounded by so much water, as that’ll only be one city—but we don’t know. I need to make an accurate prediction, but I can’t predict anything! The world is about to fall apart but until it does there’s so much uncertainty about what’s going to happen! And even with the golems, there are going to be consequences—they can’t be controlled forever.”

Steven glanced to the corner of the room, where a purple cloth lay draped over a rectangular shape. His silver eyes quivered with worry.

“As soon as I recite the incantation on the slab, the golems will awaken and I’ll have control over them… for a time. We just got Winona back, and already—“ He cut himself off and closed his eyes, exhaling deeply.

He looked back up at Derek.

“That is why I need to be ready whenever the next thing—whatever it is—happens. You don’t have to help us out, but I cannot allow you to hinder us, either. You may not go with Maressa.”

Derek stared at Steven as he slowly said, “If Team Magma never captured your family, would you have still tried to save Maressa?”

Steven glared back at Derek.

“That’s a matter of the past. I don’t know what I would have done. What has happened has happened. There’s no use dwelling on it now.” He turned away from Derek and looked back at his computer screen. “If you want to help us out, I’ll have someone take you to Sootopolis by Tuesday.”

Derek knew the conversation was done. Turning around, he walked out of Steven’s office. The more he reflected on their conversation, the angrier he became.

No, he did not believe that Steven would have tried to save Maressa if his family hadn’t also been in danger. Had she been the only one on the line, he would have let her face the consequences.

Derek looked out the windows to see the setting sun. Its orange light washed over the earth, painting the seascape a brilliant array of warm-colored hues. For the first time, Derek wondered how many more sunsets he would get to see.

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

Far away, Archie led a troop of Team Aqua members through the winding aquatic caves of the Seafloor Cavern. The Blue Orb glowed brightly in his hand, illuminating the entire cave with an unnatural azure light. Upon reaching a giant block of impassable stone, the grunts and commanders sent out their Pokemon to chip away at it and fill the cavern with water.

An ear-splitting rumble shook the Seafloor Cavern, and the stone burst open to reveal the enormous marine monster. The blue light in Archie’s hand shone like a star plucked from the heavens, reflecting the maniacal happiness in the Aqua Leader’s eyes.

The crew barely made it back into the aquatic vessel as Kyogre followed them, ripping through caverns and caves as though the stone walls were pieces of paper. Archie audibly cheered as the leviathan followed them through the black ocean depths and into the blue seas.

Upon Kyogre’s awakening, the heavens tore open and sheets of water poured down on the earth. Lightning crackled in the sky, illuminating mile-high cloud formations. Gales tore through the salty air, and the seas raged violently as the ancient Pokemon awakened nature’s catastrophic forces.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Heck yeah, more Ever Grande-building. :D It sounds so pretty. Like both a proper city AND a real reward for anyone who's managed to make it to the e4. This is what Ever Grande has always deserved to be.

It's interesting, seeing relatively mundane trouble such as deteriorating family bonds juxtaposed against a possible imminent apocalypse. It adds an extra dash of realism, of humanity to the whole thing. The world may be about to end, but in the meantime, life goes on and the past is still close.

I definitely get the sense that it's about to hit the fan. Like, even harder than it's already doing, what with Kyogre officially On the Scene. There was the calm before the storm with the pleasant taking-in-the-scenery-with-the-pokémon bits, and the not-so-calm closer to the end of the chapter. Heck, even Steven is losing his cool. Things are getting real af.
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Heck yeah, more Ever Grande-building. :D It sounds so pretty. Like both a proper city AND a real reward for anyone who's managed to make it to the e4. This is what Ever Grande has always deserved to be.
Thanks so much for stopping by! I thought that just by looking at where Ever Grande is--an island in the middle of an ocean that holds enough life to have Victory Road and all of its Pokemon and waterfalls and really pretty grassy areas--it MUST be a beautiful place. So I just built from there haha. Glad to see you think so to!

It's interesting, seeing relatively mundane trouble such as deteriorating family bonds juxtaposed against a possible imminent apocalypse. It adds an extra dash of realism, of humanity to the whole thing. The world may be about to end, but in the meantime, life goes on and the past is still close.
Nothing puts a pause button on the apocalypse like dealing with family drama! But yeah, I felt like a scene between Maressa and at least one of her family members was warranted before the whole world falls apart.

I definitely get the sense that it's about to hit the fan. Like, even harder than it's already doing, what with Kyogre officially On the Scene. There was the calm before the storm with the pleasant taking-in-the-scenery-with-the-pokémon bits, and the not-so-calm closer to the end of the chapter. Heck, even Steven is losing his cool. Things are getting real af.
It's not a spoiler at this point to say that, yep, things are about to get crazy. Thanks again for coming! Reading your comments is always a bright spot for my day ^_^
Here's chapter 29! It was a fun one for me to write, and I hope you all enjoy!


Chapter 29



Trees and scrub brush passed by rapidly beneath them as the helicopter flew over the craggy land. Looking through the window, Tabitha watched the rocks flit below the speeding vessel. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Maxie holding the Red Orb in his hands, staring at it hungrily.

When Maxie and the Team Magma grunts returned from Monsu Island, Maxie had the Red Orb and, it seemed, hadn’t let go of it since. Tabitha usually saw him studying it closely. The glassy Orb seemed to give off a faint glow, reflecting the famished light in Maxie’s eyes. Once Maxie brought the Orb back from Monsu Island, Tabitha felt a shift in the atmosphere—there was some lingering presence around them. He knew that others felt it, as well—grunts looked over their shoulders, discreetly trying to glimpse the Orb in their leader’s hands. They whispered and murmured amongst themselves, their shoulders tense and eyes darting about nervously.

Maxie had barely spoken since he received the Orb.

“What do we do now?” Tabitha asked when he saw Maxie alone in his office with the Orb.

For a few moments, Maxie didn’t speak but continued to stare at the object sitting before him on his desk.

“We get Groudon. This Orb speaks to me, Tabitha. When I hold it, I feel Groudon’s presence—he’s in central Hoenn. He’s sleeping, waiting for us to wake him up.” He bent closer to the Orb, examining it. “But there’s more. There is much this Orb knows. We must awaken Groudon, but this Orb… it’s also attracted to the East… I think, to Sootopolis City...”

Maxie said no more but continued to gaze closely at the Orb, cradling it in his hand. Tabitha waited a few uncomfortable moments and, when Maxie made no gesture, he decided to speak.

“Shall I give the order for us to go to central Hoenn?”

“Hm?” Maxie looked up, blinking at Tabitha several times. “Oh, departing—yes, give the order. And I want you and Courtney to both come along. We head for Mt. Chimney.”

Without any other questions, Tabitha left the office. He was very uncomfortable with the whole situation—after the ordeal with Jirachi, he felt like messing with ancient, powerful Pokemon would only lead to further disaster, and that things might not play out as Maxie had so carefully planned…

But, right or wrong, Maxie was his leader. Tabitha had sworn allegiance to him and would see this through to whatever sticky end it led to.

Tabitha asked how everything had worked out with Derek and the prisoners, but Maxie didn’t know. Once he had the Red Orb, Team Magma had left.

Tabitha couldn’t keep his mind off Maressa, wondering if she was still alive. Realistically, he didn’t think she was—Team Aqua easily could have tortured her to death by the time the bargain was set in place. He also didn’t put it past Archie and Matt to purposefully kill her before handing her body over—Shelly might not do such a thing, but the others…

His heart sank at the thought of it.

Why Maressa? While he knew that it was peoples’ lot in life—traitors were rewarded as they deserved—Tabitha knew that Maressa was responsible for everything on both sides. Without her, Team Aqua might not have had a chance at the Orbs. Without her, the Pokemon League definitely would not have received the Orbs. Without her, Derek may never have chosen to release Tate. And without her, they might not have the Red Orb now, on their way to Mt. Chimney to awaken Groudon…

If they had the Orb and were to awaken Groudon, then this would be over soon. It was so surreal—what would life look like when it was over? Most people wouldn’t be able to survive. Even then, someone like Maressa, who deserved it the most and held some responsibility in it, wouldn’t be around to see it. Tabitha’s heart ached, and he wished Maressa was there. He wanted someone who had done so much, who cared so much for her Pokemon, who worked so hard to make things happen to live.

He exhaled deeply. Maressa was gone. So what would life look like for him? Tabitha knew what he wanted—he always had. But duty to Team Magma always came first. He promised Maxie—and himself—that he would only focus on his personal life when Team Magma’s goals were accomplished.

And now, after six years, things were—finally—almost over.

Tabitha shook himself out of his reverie and scanned the helicopter with his eyes. Several grunts sat in chairs before the helicopter controls; others looked through the windows, and still others just sat or stood while idly chatting. Tabitha’s brows furrowed.

Where was Courtney?

It was possible she was in the bathroom, but Tabitha hadn’t seen her since they left the base. He had barely seen her since Maxie returned from Monsu Island.

Tabitha decided to look around for her. Besides the main area, the helicopter only had the storage room and another small room. Going into the storage room, Tabitha quickly found Courtney sitting on the floor behind several large crates. Her face was pale and beads of sweat gathered on her forehead. One hand lay on her abdomen while the other was stretched out.

Tabitha immediately crouched down next to her. “Courtney! Are you okay?”

She inhaled and exhaled slowly and deeply. “I… I feel it…”

“Feel what? You look like you’re getting a fever—you should probably get in bed—“

“No,” she said sharply. Her red eyes glared venomously at Tabitha for a few seconds before clenching shut. “It’s not a fever. I’m not sick. It’s… the Orb…”

Tabitha blinked several times. The only other time he had seen Courtney like this was when she had been having nightmares—when Jirachi was with them.

Dread trickled its way into Tabitha’s heart.

“Courtney,” he asked, “do you know why you feel this way? Does this—does it have to do with Jirachi, or what you saw before?”

His co-admin opened her eyes. She stared forward blankly, not really seeing what she looked at. “It’s because I bear the three-thousand-year grudge… And because of my stupid parents…”

Guilt and worry weighed in Tabitha’s heart. Courtney did not look good, and he felt obligated to make sure she was cared for. He was curious about whatever the “three-thousand-year grudge” was and what Courtney was talking about, but those needed to wait.

“Come on,” he said, putting an arm around her, “you should get some sleep before we—“

No,” she said forcefully. “I’m not sick. I can’t sleep. You should… you should at least know, I think…”

She sighed and looked at him with half-closed eyes. “I’m from Sootopolis City. My family is one of the old, native families from there—there are pockets of tribal people, but most of us are dying away or marrying into other families. We’ve been there since people first landed in Sootopolis, a couple thousand years ago…

“Sootopolis has the Cave of Origin. People say that’s where life begins… Supposedly, it’s where Kyogre and Groudon come from. The appearance of either would bring rain or sun, and allow people to farm and go on with life and all of that…

“People used the Cave. It healed injuries and illnesses, it kept the land fertile. But Sootopolans weren’t the only ones in Hoenn. We were invaded time and time again. There are accounts of Kyogre and Groudon stopping the people who tried invading…”

Courtney’s eyelids fluttered. “People saw the Pokemon’s power and wanted it. They tried to harness it—but the Cave couldn’t be used for that. So they changed the Cave. They filled it with writing for evil magic and conducted a ritual in the Cave that sickened it and poisoned it. It doesn’t give life anymore—it’s cursed. People haven’t been allowed in since.”

Her face hardened and her eyebrows furrowed. “Native Sootopolans watch the Cave and guard it—that includes my family. My parents were fanatics and wanted to control that same power that was used to make the Orbs. They wanted to experiment, to have a connection to the cave… My mother gave birth to me inside of it. There were complications and she nearly died—I wish she had,” she spat bitterly. “And when I was six, they took me in and performed rituals on me. I’ve been tied to the Cave—tied to those.” She looked at the door leading to the main body of the helicopter where Maxie held the Red Orb.

Courtney’s eyes looked back at Tabitha. “Do you want to know what my parents did to me?”

“That’s up to y—“

“Ever wondered why I chose to wear a full-length skirt?”

The question had never crossed Tabitha’s mind, but he watched as Courtney hiked up her skirt partway to show her right leg. Several markings that Tabitha couldn’t make sense of were scattered over Courtney’s skin—they were dark, as if they were burned in.

“It’s like that with my torso and hands, too,” she said. “Ever since my parents did that to me, the Cave of Origin has made me feel sick and has given me visions.”

She closed her eyes and pursed her lips, looking as if she was trying to hold back vomit. When her eyes opened again, dark storm clouds raged behind her red irises as resentment boiled within her.

“It’s those horrible people from Mt. Pyre. They invaded my home, tortured my people, and used them for their twisted ideas. Native Sootopolans were slaughtered by invaders, their blood poured into the Cave to create Orbs powerful enough to control the two ancient beasts. Those who were not sacrificed held a grudge—my bloodline…”

A chill ran up Tabitha’s arms. This was not making their current situation look any better.

“Okay,” he said quietly, “we should—“

“I’m not done,” she said quickly. Tabitha, though curious, was also a bit annoyed. Even when sickly and out of breath, Courtney could still talk endlessly.

“The people who made the Orbs tried to use them… Others were envious. So wars began for people to take control of the Orbs. Those who used them met nasty ends. No person ever had an Orb for long. Their use was dangerous... Groudon and Kyogre caused never-ending drought or constant storms. All of Hoenn was affected.

“So people nearby built their own Pokemon to stop them. Three golems they could control to contain the chaos and damage caused by Groudon and Kyogre…

“Groudon and Kyogre fought… Even with the golems trying to protect people, all of Hoenn started to fall into ruin.

“Then the fighting stopped. A green Pokemon came out of the sky… Groudon and Kyogre stopped fighting and have slept since…

“Pieces of the story… are missing… We know the green Pokemon is Rayquaza… But we don’t know how it got there, or who summoned it… The Orbs were made to control Groudon and Kyogre, so they must have not been in use when Rayquaza came… The golems were ‘sealed away,’ but no one seems to know how or by who…”

Tabitha watched Courtney, waiting for her to say more. She kept breathing heavily; her eyes remained closed. Tabitha’s legs had gone stiff from staying in a crouch for so long. But Courtney did not say more.

He didn’t know what to make of it—his mind whirred a mile a minute, and so many different questions came to his head. One question was certainly more important than the others, though.

“Does Maxie know all this?”

Courtney’s eyes opened a little. “Some of it. I told him about me when I joined, like what happened to me, and what I know about the Orbs…”

“Does he know about Rayquaza?”

“I… I think so…”

As he watched sweat bead on Courtney’s pale forehead, Tabitha’s heart panged with pity.

“Courtney,” he asked softly, “are you sure you want to be here with the Orb around? Would you rather stay at base or go somewhere else?”

Courtney slightly shook her head. “Maxie… told me to be here…”

“Has Maxie seen you like this?”

She gave a half-shrug. “He doesn’t notice anything, now he has the Orb…”

Something shifted within Tabitha—this wasn’t all sitting right with him.

“But he should at least see that his admin isn’t able to command the grunts. And why are you so okay with him not paying attention to anything else?”

Courtney narrowed her eyebrows. “I can… can still command grunts…”

“Courtney,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Once I get away from the Orb… I’ll be fine. Maxie… Maxie knows.”

Tabitha scowled. “Well, do you at least want me to get you water or something?”

“No. I’ll… I’ll be okay, once Maxie takes the Orb out of here.”

Tabitha stood up, gave one last look to Courtney lying on the floor, and left the storage room. Nothing had changed: grunts still chatted, Maxie still stared at the Red Orb. Tabitha walked over to a window and looked at the mountain looming towards them.

Since the day they battled Team Aqua at Mt. Chimney—a day that felt like ages ago—the volcano had gone dormant and the sky was clear of smoke and ash. Jirachi caused a temporary spike in volcanic activity, but after that single incident, the volcano once again was totally inactive. But Maxie was positive that Groudon lay somewhere beneath. If the beast woke up within a dormant volcano…

Tabitha watched the mountain grow closer. He had no idea what would happen; all he could do was meet it when it came.

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

Tabitha passed through the halls of their abandoned base. It seemed that the Pokemon League had been there but had not done much. Once Derek confessed his betrayal, Team Magma packed up their stationary bases as quickly as they could and left. All of their large equipment had to be left behind, along with anything small that wasn’t deemed essential. Computers were wiped or destroyed.

Large equipment was still there—drills, large computers, storage crates and the like. There wasn’t a trace of anything smaller, though—perhaps the Pokemon League believed that the smaller items such as trainer supplies would be helpful.

It was surreal to be back there, going deeper and deeper into the base. Several Numel and Slugma accompanied the team, giving off firelight to brighten the dark cavern. Maxie led the group, the Red Orb in his hand giving off a faint red glow that grew brighter as the caves darkened. Tabitha and many of the grunts followed. Courtney stayed behind in the helicopter with the rest of the team. Tabitha told her to give him a call as soon as she felt better, but he wasn’t sure how reliable she would be about it. Whether she chose to follow up was entirely dependent on her unpredictable mood swings…

He also doubted he would be able to pick up any signal from her. Hours passed by as Team Magma walked through Mt. Chimney’s winding interior corridors. The air was as hot and stifling as ever; sweat welled up in pores all over Tabitha’s body. He was grateful he had usually not assigned there. He forgot that constantly sweating was the norm for everyone in the Mt. Chimney base.

Tabitha looked at Maxie, who stared at the Orb in his hand. Seeing his leader—his trusted leader who had led and served Team Magma so well for the past six years—become single-mindedly obsessed with the object unnerved Tabitha. Whenever things were rough, Tabitha always trusted Maxie to see a way through, to come up with a plan, to explain why they did things the way they did. He showcased that well enough with the Jirachi incident. And even when Maxie didn’t give the full reasoning behind his motives or actions, Tabitha carried them out and trusted that it was all in accord with his leader’s ideas.

Remembering the debacle surrounding Jirachi caused Tabitha’s heart to sink. None of the guilt faded away—not that of capturing the ancient Pokemon, or of kidnapping an innocent child, or handing Maressa over to Team Aqua, or watching Jirachi destroy the submarines and allow a large portion of his team to be crushed and sink to the bottom of the sea…

But overall, Maxie had to be right about controlling Groudon and creating a better, more habitable world. Right?

Glancing back, Tabitha saw lines of Camerupt and Numel walking alongside the Team Magma grunts; the magma from the Pokemon’s bodies gave extra light to the dark mountain halls. Pools of lava bubbled around the walkway, filling the passageways with an eerie red light.

“Here.”

Tabitha barely heard Maxie. The commander held up a hand, signaling everyone behind him to halt. The craggy pathway had come to an end and there was nothing before them but rock. Maxie walked up to the rock and lay a hand on it.

“Groudon is in here.”

The Red Orb in his hand looked the same as ever, still giving off the faint glow in the dim cavern. The rock Maxie had his hand on looked the exact same as any other rock around them: enormous, flat and featureless. Taking his hand off the rock, Maxie turned and looked back at Tabitha.

“We have to release Groudon from the rock to awaken him. Dig through the rock and heat it up to get to Groudon.”

Tabitha organized the grunts into different groups to retrieve excavation equipment and to use their Pokemon to chip away at it. Before long, Camerupts and Magcargos fired streams of molten lava at the rock to melt it down while they waited for others to come with drills to continue digging.

Tabitha’s heart remained uneasy while he oversaw the grunts excavate. He told himself that all this would work out well—he trusted Maxie. But Maxie hardly seemed interested in the excavation; he kept staring at the Red Orb in his hands, interacting with no one.

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

“Sir!”

A female grunt named Jamie ran up to Tabitha. Her face was covered in dirt and sweat and she panted heavily. Behind her was a sloping cavern showing where the drills had dug into the hard rock. Tabitha couldn’t see them, but he heard the drills continue to dig deeper—until they suddenly stopped a few moments ago.

“Why have you all stopped?”

“We’ve hit some sort of rock that we can’t dig in to—the drills won’t work.”

“Then use the Pokemon.”

Tabitha and Jamie turned their heads to see Maxie staring at the two of them. For once, his attention was diverted from the Orb in his hands.

“Send out our Camerupts, Numels, Magcargos—anything that can produce lava. That ‘rock’ you cannot break through is Groudon. Immersing him in magma should awaken him.”

“Uh—I—yes, sir,” Jamie said hesitantly. She turned to go when Tabitha called her back.

“Jamie.”

“Yes?”

“Has your group gotten a break?”

“No.”

“Tell them all to come back here and take a rest. We’ll switch out squads so you don’t all get tired out.”

She sighed; her tensed shoulders relaxed and she slumped forward slightly. “Thank you.”

The squadrons did as they were told; while the former group rested, the second group commanded their Pokemon to enter the newly-excavated chamber and flood it with magma.

Tabitha stood back while several Pokemon stood before the entryway and belched out molten rock. Their attacks formed a small current of lava that brightly lit the chamber, making it appear as though it was the inside of a great forge. All humans had to stand a long way back; the heat, which was already pushing human limits, grew too great for them to withstand.

For the first time, Maxie did not look preoccupied with the Red Orb. He stared intently at the various Pokemon belching out attacks, sending the flow of lava down to where Groudon lay.

“Maxie.”

The leader blinked a few times as Tabitha approached him. “Yes, Tabitha, what is it?”

“Do I have permission to have our grunts evacuate this base? If—when—Groudon wakes up, it won’t be safe for any of us here.”

Maxie nodded slowly. “Yes, go ahead.”

“Sir, that applies to us, too. If we stay here, Mt. Chimney will collapse in on us.”

Maxie did not reply but kept staring at the entryway. The grunts recalled their Pokemon and hastily made their way out of the tunnel. Tabitha felt guilty and uncertain about what he was going to do—Maxie would not be happy about it, but Maxie’s life was more valuable than anything else. So Tabitha grabbed his arm and led Maxie—who neither resisted nor complied—through the tunnels. The light from the Red Orb shone more brightly than ever.

Though the trek in felt like it would never end, their exit felt much shorter to Tabitha. Perhaps because he ordered all of the grunts to move swiftly, or because there was the sense of urgency and danger hastening them along. Maxie jogged by Tabitha’s side at the back of the group silently, still clutching the Red Orb.

At last, they stepped out of the dark passages and into the sun. Everyone took in great gulps of fresh air, its cripsness accentuated after hours in the poorly-ventilated mountain halls. Maxie breathed slowly, looking at the glowing Orb in his hands.

“Hey!”

Tabitha looked up and saw Courtney making her way through the scrub and down the crags toward them. “What’s…” She stopped speaking and looked queasy. Tabitha followed her gaze, leading to the Orb in Maxie’s hand.

Before he had a chance to speak, Maxie raised the Orb into the air.

“Now, Groudon! Come out!”

The Orb blazed brilliantly as if Maxie held living fire. It cast deep red light on all the Team Magma members staring at it. It blotted out all sunlight, filling the world with its ethereal dark radiance.

The ground beneath the Team members’ feet trembled and the trembling steadily grew in capacity. Tabitha heard rocks falling, crashing. Some grunts panicked and fled to the helicopter for shelter. Courtney fell to the ground. Maxie held the Orb straight up, his eyes opened wide and a wide smile on his mouth.

With a deafening crash, the ground before them ripped open. The dormant volcano crater, previously filled with rainwater, drained into the endless abyss that opened. Several long, white spikes rose from the pit and dug into the rock. Tabitha had trouble comprehending what he saw—until he realized that each enormous spike was a separate claw, gripping the sides of the open crater. A ridged head peaked over the open rock. The yellow eyes looked relatively small and beady, though each was probably as large as Tabitha. Several serrated teeth were visible from the beast’s open jaws as it panted, pulling itself out of the open volcano.

Rocks tumbled and crashed all around them. Trees and scrub were uprooted. The air filled with black ash and smoke. As the behemoth pulled itself all the way out of the mountain, Tabitha had to crane his neck to get the creature in full view.

With the giant standing before him over the ripped-open mountaintop, Tabitha realized for the first time just how helpless he was.

The beast inhaled deeply and let out an earth-shattering roar. Lava spurted from the top of Mt. Chimney and oozed through cracks on its sides. Finally snapping out of his shock, Tabitha turned to the team.

“Everyone, inside the helicopter!”

Bending down, he lifted Courtney on to one shoulder and grabbed Maxie’s arm with his other hand and took them both into the helicopter.

“Yes, Groudon!” Maxie shouted. “Burn this world! Make it all new! Go on to Sootopolis, fight Kyogre and claim your destiny!”

Releasing Courtney and Maxie as soon as they were all aboard the helicopter, Tabitha ran to the control panel and immediately launched them into the air. He set the coordinates for Sootopolis City and called a grunt named Connor over and had him take control.

Tabitha got up and looked at the window outside. The sky was turning dark from the ash released by Mt. Chimney. Molten lava flowed down the mountain sides, alighting trees and scrub brush. Hordes of Pokemon rushed about, all trying to evade the fires and deadly magma flow.

But he couldn’t peel his eyes off the giant. Maxie stood near him, suddenly full of life and excitement and speaking to Groudon. The giant moved slowly, but it was so large that every step covered significant distance. And as they flew on, Groudon plodded along behind them, the bright sun heralding its awakening.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Oh nice, some Courtney backstory. Saying she had it rough would be kiiiiind of a big understatement jsdfdfgdf... Awful parents and a big damn historical burden to boot = yikes. I definitely feel for her.

3,000 years since all that started, I couldn't help but notice. Seems like a lot of crap went down thenabouts. Wouldn't have wanted to be there!

That orb has one hell of a hold on Maxie, as one would expect. I'm half surprised he didn't just hold it right up to his face and start going "orrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrb" in a weird voice. Although, we didn't see him during the entire chapter. Who knows what he might've done while out of focus. :p
 
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