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Love in the Time of Tomorrow (PG-13, Amourshipping)

Discussion in 'Shipping Fics' started by Epicocity, Dec 28, 2017.

  1. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    [img128]https://imgur.com/a/R9188[/img128]

    Well, hello there! Hello, for the last time, it would seem. That's right, you've come to the final Ancienverse story I will ever write. Now, don't be sad; I think this may be some of the most intense stuff I'll write for the series, and there's plenty of it. But it's time it comes to an end for me as a fanfiction writer. Hopefully, however we can make this some of the best stuff you've read.

    Naturally, you need to have read everything that built up to this moment from Love in the Time of Teamwork, all the way to now, long after the Epilogue of the Kalos Trilogy. This will certainly be the darkest installment I've done, but I can think of no more fitting ending. Anyway, I won't waste your time when it's time to read!

    Author: Epicocity

    Rating: T for violence and innuendo

    Pairings: Amourshipping, Laserblade, Snowlily, Marisson, etc.​

    Cover done by Captain Luky Greace. As always, many thanks for the amazing work!

    DISCLAIMER: I do not own Pokémon and likely never will.

    Love in the Time of Tomorrow

    An Amourshipping and Ancienverse Finale

    Chapter 1

    A Herald​

    "Finish setting them up over here!"

    "I'm on it, mayor!" yelled the voice of a strapping young man. The older man, sitting at the edge of the river, dipped his fishing rod into its cool and clear surface upon hearing that. He looked up, watching the newest generation of workers walking back and forth with packs of balloons and streamers. Others were carrying stacks of wood to set up even more stands. It was like a party, by all rights, but not for anything he would have expected. It wasn't quite that time yet again.

    But it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to behold. Aston was just glad that he was alive to actually see it happen.

    "Former mayor, are you just going to sit there all day?" At the voice of the current mayor of Ancien City, Aston sat up straighter, raising his fishing pole from the water. Nothing seemed to be biting today; not in the slightest. With a sigh, he realized it was from all the hubbub that surrounded him and the entire city. Knowing that, he gave a toothy grin and looked up at the mayor, her hair pinned back and her lips pursed.

    "Oh, come now, Chrissy, I'm an old man," Aston chuckled out, groaning as his knee made a slight popping noise from movement alone. Old age had certainly taken him on a journey in so long a time. Looking away from Chrissy a moment, Aston looked to the beautiful blue sky, watching the Pidgey and Fletchling fly by peacefully. Peaceful, indeed. "Can't you cut me some slack. My body doesn't move the same as it did nine years ago, you know?"

    "Doesn't stop you from coming out here to fish every day," Chrissy said with a sigh. She reached a hand up, tucking her hair behind her ear as she stared out over the activity of the city. For once, Aston decided to follow her ever hectic gaze. It was a wonderful thing to see the city truly working as one force; he'd seen it many times, but it still warmed his heart to see it again. Aston closed his eyes and felt the breeze a moment. Maybe he'd take a stroll that day, before everything was going to begin in the stadium. Goodness knew he hadn't been to the mural in quite some time.

    "Chrissy, learn to take things at a slower pace in life. Time doesn't wait around forever."

    "Exactly, and there's much to do," Chrissy remarked with her usual snappy tone. "We still have to finish setting up the stands and making sure concessions in the stadium are good. I know we don't need to use all of the underground functions or anything like that, but-"

    "Chrissy!" Aston was coming to stand now, his fishing rod dropped to the side as he used what strength he had to place his hands on the young woman's shoulders, almost as a support. She had always been headstrong and organized, even when he was a younger man (if one could define the seventies as younger), but her years working in her capacity as mayor had sharpened her into a model of efficiency. It also meant… "Take time to just relax. This isn't the Kalos Team Tournament!"

    "Mayor Ast-"

    "Ah, ah!" Aston cut her off, placing a finger to her lips to silence her. The woman glared at him from behind her glasses, but he just smiled back. Youth was so impressionable these days. "I know this is a big event for the city, especially those youth that saw that titanic battle nine years ago. To see the heroes they knew, themselves, on television, battling it out with the best of the best of that generation…It's a wonderful moment.

    "But in no way, does it mean you need to run yourself ragged!"

    "Mayor…" Chrissy's lips pursed even tighter, forming themselves into a thin line. Aston watched her insistently, eyes sharpening with their old flames. The sight of that seemed to relax the current mayor, for her lips finally came out of their line and she chuckled. Her hand reached up and adjusted her glasses. "Very well. I suppose I can take an hour or two and trust everyone to do what they need to."

    "Yes, it's all in good hands," Aston insisted, patting her on the shoulders once more. A loud, yet somewhat dulled, roar emanated from the stadium in the distance. Things were really starting to get exciting, it seemed. Thankfully, Chrissy didn't seem to find more urgency from that sound. She just took a deep breath, fiddled with her hair, patted the older man on the back and walked off. Aston watched her go before reaching to his belt and sending his dormant pokeball cascading out.

    "Ran?" the sand-colored Pokémon asked, looking around, as though surprised he had been called out. Aston didn't blame his steadfast partner. It had been a while since either of them were so active; not since that day when the sky glowed green. It truly made him think of the reason the whole city was gathering in excitement.

    "Well, partner, my old bones don't work like they used to," he chuckled out, picking up his fishing rod with a few groans and tapping Tyranitar with it. "Mind helping an old fella out by aiding these youngsters?"

    "Tartar!" Tyranitar grumbled out, and while some would have taken it as disgruntlement, Aston knew how overjoyed his partner was. With a shuddering footstep in the direction of the young working men, Tyranitar stomped off to help. Aston shook his head with a laugh as the young men gratefully handed their things over to him. With sparkling eyes, Aston watched them a time. Those working were probably the same ones as the teens that had attended that fateful Kalos Team Tournament. The same ones that had been given a future by those warriors.

    "Ah, I'm very much looking forward to seeing them battle again!" Aston commented with a shout to the sky that went largely ignored. He spun his handy fishing pole around, snapping it into the new configuration of a walking stick. Tapping it on the ground twice, Aston started off through the beautifully rustic streets of Ancien City. Most civilians or guests were heading for the stadium, especially the teenaged crowd that looked beyond excited. It was rare to see so many trainer-age kids here for a time that wasn't the Kalos Team Tournament.

    "I wonder if they'll be selling figurines, mommy!" a young child shouted out as Aston neared the city hall. The elderly man looked over to the boy, already wearing a hat on his head that looked ever so familiar. A Pichu slept lazily on his head, as well, scratching its stomach.

    "We'll just have to look, won't we?"

    "I want one of Ash!" the little boy said excitedly. That came as no surprise to Aston, given the boy's attire. Even for a boy who wasn't yet born at the time of the debacle those many years ago, Ash Ketchum was still a powerful influence. Aston gave a small cough from dry throat as he finally reached the doors to the relatively empty city hall, but a few stragglers remaining behind. Those kinds of thoughts always seemed to lead him there, to that mural, reminding him of that day. Perhaps his memory had slipped away for a few things, but that was one that never had.

    The day of the Ancien Debacle, the day that had arguably changed the future more than any other, was seared into the memories of all those that had experienced it, for good or ill.

    "Hey, Mr. Aston, you headin' to the stadium soon?" called a young man, on his way out of city hall. Aston didn't feel like summoning the requisite energy to respond verbally, so instead he raised his hand and smiled at the young man. Said young man seemed to accept that answer, throwing his arms around his friends as he smiled at some tittering girls waiting for them near the entrance.

    Aston sighed out and neared the mural that was his destination, wanting to look over it and its rich history once more. However, he came to a stop before he even reached it.

    Mostly because he wasn't alone.

    There was a woman there, a rather strikingly beautiful one.

    As Aston approached, he took in her features in the bright light of the hall, her hand reaching out to touch, as if a feather, upon the mural with interest. Aston had never seen her around before, with her prominent cheekbones and auburn hair, small star-shaped earrings hanging from her ears. She was dressed rather simply, a small traveling cloak around her lithe frame as she pulled back. Aston couldn't see much else beneath it, but finished approaching. The woman said nothing; she just continued to stare at the mural. The former mayor joined her.

    It hadn't changed all that much in the years, other than the addition to the very end of it. It was still beautifully haunting, telling a history of the space that Ancien City was once built upon. Traveling his eyes along, he saw the edge of the mural, the one with the painting of the bright green meteorite and the shadows of those who had fought in that major battle. While he did so, the former mayor's eyes locked gazes with the woman's and she giggled lightly.

    "There's no need to mind me. I just wanted to pay a visit," the woman insisted. Aston blinked, a little surprised that she was speaking to him. She didn't hold a hand out, but turned to him, as if introducing herself. "Deirdre."

    "Ah, Aston. Pleasure," Aston said with his usual toothy grin. She smiled back at him, but it caused Aston to only blink further. Her eyes weren't quite smiling, he felt. "So, what brings you here to Ancien City? I don't think I've seen you before."

    "Oh, this and that. The tournament, I guess," Deirdre said, reaching behind herself and dragging her hair up, tying it into a prim and proper bun that changed almost the entire structure of her face. "And the past."

    "Yes, that's not uncommon." Aston nodded his head, taking his walking stick and tapping it against the mural, to the point that was the farthest in history. "Ancien is rich with history, you know. Many come…well, most come to see the site of the Ancien Debacle. No doubt you've heard of it, despite nearly being a decade ago by now…"

    "Who hasn't?" the woman commented, very little mirth present in her voice as she continued to stare at the mural. "I wanted to see it for myself, I suppose. To understand." Aston gave no response to that, unable to truly formulate anything reasonably intelligent that he could say to the woman.

    He did, however, take the moment to study her a little more carefully now that she had engaged him in conversation. Up close, she seemed older, with some wrinkles around her eyes and forehead. On top of it, she held herself both with the grace of a woman long used to waiting for extended periods of time. As he thought this, Deirdre turned, her shadow traveling with her and her feet clopping upon the surface of city hall while she began to walk away from the mural. Aston spared another glance to the artwork, noting that she seemed to have been looking most closely at the depiction of the Ancien Debacle.

    "Is the site of the meteorite still here?" called Deirdre's voice. Aston shook his head away from it and turned in the woman's direction. She had stopped, looking back at him with a rather coy and unyielding smile. He smiled back, clapping his walking stick to the ground as he moved in her direction.

    "What's left of it," the former mayor chuckled, drawing to her side. She continued smiling as the two exited city hall, leaving the mural behind. The streets were quieter now, the stadium having grown louder in the meantime. Deirdre looked in its direction as the two walked along, Aston angling the both of them towards the square. "Can I ask your interest? Most like seeing the site, but I don't think many ask about the meteorite in particular?"

    "I'm a fan of history," Deirdre laughed out, swatting at his arm almost affectionately. She didn't dare to actually make contact, though, for which Aston was most grateful (at his advanced age, he was afraid that would make him fall over). "The past is such a fascinating thing. How one can begin a journey, what it means for the future. How it can turn good men into monsters…"

    "Like the Draconids?" Aston asked, his feet crunching upon the stones. Deirdre didn't answer at first, not until they had arrived at the square. He once more took the opportunity to look at her. She looked…sad, almost. Or perhaps it was a resigned look. She sighed.

    "Something like that," she finally responded. That left a silence between the two of them, staring out over the empty, but beautiful, square. At one point, Aston could remember it as a smoldering crater, yet now it was as lively as ever. Well, not quite right now, as a cry erupted from the stadium. Aston had to take a moment to muse to himself if the opening ceremonies for the tournament had begun to be televised. "I almost have to wonder…what was it like, standing there?"

    "Frightening, I have to admit," Aston chuckled out, reliving the memory. He stared out over the entire square, reminiscing. "But, as frightening as it was, we gained a future through those actions. While we may have lost the meteorites, such a defining piece of the town, we gained something more valuable…and you know, I always get the feeling that the meteorites are still here, sometimes, as if parts could never truly vanish. They did make this city for many years, after all."

    "Hm, perhaps you're right," Deirdre noted with a smile in his direction. It looked truly genuine, with her eyes crinkling up at the action. Aston shared the smile, looking at the square alongside her. Maybe he was right about that sentimental feeling of his, though it mattered little. He just knew how sometimes the ground would glow green, though it wasn't all that often. Deirdre was soon speaking again. "We use the past to shape the future. Maybe, in some way, the Draconids and the meteorites will always be a part of this town, helping to shape its future.

    "And that is a rather comforting thought, to me, at least."

    "Yes, yes, I suppose, though it's not like I'll be alive for much longer to see it! Not at my advanced age!" Aston chortled out. He was soon joined by a rather crystalline laugh from Deirdre, as well, and they shared it rather heartily. She seemed to find it so humorous, that she was waving her hand at the air, as if to move the joke and stop herself from laughing. That didn't last long, as another cry from the stadium interrupted them, louder than before. "Well, it would seem the tournament has begun."

    "So it has," Deirdre said, ending her laughter. The two turned away from Meteorite Square, looking set to move towards the stadium. The woman took one last look back at the square and smiled before glancing to Aston. "Would you like some help towards the stadium? I'm not here to watch the tournament for long, but…"

    "Oh, no, dear, go on ahead. My legs don't work quite the way they used to. I'd only hold you up," Aston insisted, tapping his legs with his walking stick. Deirdre frowned, a melancholy smile passing over her lips as she watched him. He didn't care for any pity, so he just smiled back, and she seemed to accept that.

    "Very well. Take care of yourself, Mayor Aston," Deirdre finally concluded with a wave. He nodded and watched her begin walking off towards the stadium. A few stragglers looked to be heading there with her, one or two of them pushing a cart that likely held concessions, hoping to make the tournament showing before it was too late (not that he could tell from his aging eyesight). Aston, however, just watched her go before deciding to take the slower road to the stadium.

    "What an interesting woman," he muttered under his breath. "So graceful and upright in her steps, too. Ah, or maybe it's just been so long since I was…The advantage of youth…" Aston continued to chuckle, walking along slowly as Diedre and the others vanished in the distance. When they had, he cast another glance back and thought he could once more catch a glimpse of that green glow present in the ground. Shrugging it off with a smile, he walked on.

    That was all in the past. Now was a time to celebrate the present.

    "Thea, you little ball of energy, calm down!" Christopher turned his head at the sound of his wife's voice yelling for their little girl, clearly making a very poor attempt at bolting for the door. He chuckled under his breath and moved just a few inches to the side as his little girl came barreling down the front hall of their home.

    "I've got her." That was all that needed to be said, something that Bethany clearly understood in that moment. She skidded into the frame of the hallway, a flushed face as her turquoise hair draped in front of her face. Christopher reached down, grabbing hold of the girl who took far too much after her mother.

    "Daddy, put down!" Thea cried, though there was a rather obscene amount of giggling behind it. Christopher shifted his daughter in his hold, making sure to grab her with both hands and hold her up high. Then he smiled at the little ball of energy squirming in his hold. She seemed to stop after a moment of his rather stoic staring, giggling a little more.

    "She takes after me, but shuts up around you," Bethany finally sighed out, finishing her stride down the hall. Thea finally stopped trying to get out of her father's hold and was lowered into Bethany's arms. The toddler turned to face her mother, reaching up for her face, something the woman smiled about. "Don't know how I'll handle it with all the excitement in town, Substitute Principal."

    "Very funny," Christopher said, folding his arms as he looked over to his wife. She winked to him, taking her hand (as much as she could, given her hold on Thea) and tucking some of her hair behind her ear. Her wedding ring glinted sharply in the light, something that caught Thea's immediate attention. The young man leaned in towards his overly energetic daughter. "You behave yourself, Thea. Don't give your mother trouble."

    "You stay out of trouble," Bethany demanded of him. He drew back up, sharing a silent, yet insistent, look with her. She chuckled a bit, and leaned forward to peck him on the lips before pulling back. "I don't want to hear that Nova Town turned into a riot when Seamus loses to Ash…again."

    "Pretty sure that's expected," Christopher stated, turning around on his feet and aiming right for the door from their home. Bethany offered a slight huff, but further ignored him as he opened the door. "The class will be rooting for both either way! Take care."

    "Yeah, yeah. Come on, Thea, let's go play with Vanilluxe while daddy goes to teach his big battle class," Bethany said cheerily to their daughter, heading further back into the house while Christopher stepped outside.

    "Vanilla! Vanilla!" Christopher almost snorted at that, and then the door was closed, cutting off all sound from the actual house. The wind whispered through the small and peaceful town once he had. The sounds of ambient bustling from Nova Town's square reached Christopher's ears as he strode towards it. Like so many other towns across the region, no, the entire world, they were preparing for a whole town viewing of the upcoming Champion Tournament, set to begin that very day.

    It had been one excitement after the other, and something that had been building with anticipation over the course of that entire week. Seamus, at first, had been the most excited. As Christopher had known for all too many years, any chance to use one of Ash's battles as a lesson usually made the head of their school giddy. Never had he expected to have actually been invited to take part, though. Rocky, who had taken a break from his time with Elaine's excavation studies to stay in the school, told him to go, especially since he missed the last time such a big tournament exhibition had been happening.

    "Yeah, but we all know what happened then, huh?" Seamus had joked before departing just a few days prior. Regardless of that, the blond had had the most infectious grin as he left the town, promising to be back shortly after the tournament's end…leaving Christopher in charge.

    What was he thinking? was the only thought running through Christopher's head at that one. Placing his hands in his pockets, the young father strode down the cobblestone streets for the square, each sound becoming louder as he did so. His thoughts were constantly drifting in and out, towards the battle class he would be teaching, as well as back towards his wife. In just the nine years since Team Brutal had become Team Nova, he was surprised by how much had changed. Maybe that was the reason Seamus had entrusted him with his class.

    They sure were lively ones at that. Not to mention Rocky was useless in calming them down.

    "So, this trainer with the Absol, Mr. Rocky, we've heard rumors…" said one of the girls that were surrounding his friend. Rocky looked stoic in the moment, but even from the distance that Christopher was now closing, he could easily see how uncomfortable the man looked, folding his arms across his chest.

    "Yeah, give us the details!"

    "You know we like a good story!"

    "It's nothing like that," Rocky insisted, nodding his head as though it were obvious. Christopher could now see him quite clearly, along with the rest of the square. Instead of the desks typically used inside their school, various tables were set up in the area, avoiding the fountain, but set in an orderly fashion. Some boys and their Pokémon were arm wrestling on top of one while other girls were either eyeing them or talking to each other, waiting for the "class" to begin. Other townspeople were there, too, sharing in the rather festive feeling. Near to the center, surrounding the fountain, were large television screens, displaying an all too familiar logo: that of the Pokémon League. Finally, Christopher reached the square and neared to his friend.

    "No gossiping, girls," he said sternly. The three turned around, looking sheepish and ashamed. "You're here for a battle class. No dulling the minds."

    "Yes, sir, Mr. Christopher!" the head girl said, saluting and hooking her two friends by the arms. They stuck their tongues out in a teasing manner while their leader looked insistently at Rocky, as though asserting that they weren't done yet. Then they were gone, and Rocky sighed.

    "If I wanted to be treated to teenage gossip, I would have gone somewhere else…" he snapped, still sounding thoroughly annoyed. Christopher refused to address his friend a moment. He just looked around, all of the students getting themselves assembled into their seats. Other adults around the square seemed to be scrambling off elsewhere, as though indicating this was the school's show. From the windows of houses that ringed the square, younger kids were poking their heads out to watch, as if excited that one day, perhaps, they could be joining the school, too.

    "Just tell her," Christopher finally commented. Rocky snapped a glare of incredulity to him, but the reticent young man continued to ignore him beyond his initial statement. Instead, he clapped his hands together, while from the corner of his eye, he saw Allison, Seamus' assistant, running up to him with a sheet of paper that seemed to hold the pointers. The students all settled down, staring raptly at either him or the screens set up in the area (a technological marvel that was said to be the brainchild of Clemont and Molayne, not that he was surprised).

    "The tournament's opening ceremonies are set to start in…" Allison's voice fell off in Christopher's head and he stepped forward, putting all attention on him. The image on the screens changed to that of a large and excited stadium that was positively pulsing with people.

    "Class, you know what we're here for: to watch and examine the battles between all the top tier trainers in the world," Christopher spoke. Some students blinked, while others looked to be way too giddy to contain that sort of excitement. Instead of letting his own voice continue with the talking, he instead left it to the predictable man on the screen to do it.

    "Hey hey hey! Welcome one and welcome all!" boomed the voice from the screen, switching over to the very familiar sight of Harrison Kalas, winking to the crowd with excitement. "Here we stand! After months of planning by the League for a tournament celebrating all the immensely strong trainers the world over in an era of unprecedented peace: it's the Champion Tournament!"

    "Aw yeah!" one of the boys in class cheered, alongside the girl next to him. Their enthusiasm was mirrored by the crowd in the stadium, and even the competitors that they seemed to be panning over in the crowd. Rocky deliberately looked away, while Allison, still close to him, seemed to slacken a little. If it was like him, Christopher would have rolled his eyes. He didn't, however.

    "Here to share a few words with us is Champion Cynthia, who has been at the top of the Sinnoh League for nearly twenty years!" Kalas proclaimed. The pictures on the screen changed to show the rather fetching blonde striding onto a basic battlefield. In her hands was a microphone and she began to speak into it.

    "Fellow competitors, and audience members here and across the world," Cynthia began to speak plainly and calmly. It didn't calm the crowd down, though, all of them getting more and more excited with every word being spoken. "As all are aware, this is a tournament pitting those such as ourselves, the Champions, against trainers of equal measure, as well as those strong enough to battle in such an esteemed tournament.

    "We live in an age of peace, one we have diligently worked for after all these years. In order to step into that bold new future together, however, we feel it is necessary to celebrate all of those who brought us here to this point as much as possible. To this point, we now declare the first annual Champion Tournament open!"

    "YEAH!" the crowd's cry went up, causing the students' to spike right with them. Fireworks seemed to whiz and pop on the screen, and while Diantha seemed to have now joined Cynthia, beginning to explain the rules of the tournament (a simple one-on-one match, it appeared), most of it was drowned out by the following enthusiasm. Faces of ace trainers appeared on the screen, connecting each other with small blue lines, the most obvious faces easily picked out, including one that matched Seamus up with the one they knew as Paul. He was in for a rough battle from the start, it seemed.

    "Huh, looks like Ash is battling that guy who beat him in the League all those years ago," Rocky commented. Christopher nodded, unable to really find much more else to comment on. At the very least it would be a good and instructive fight to watch for sure. The class all moved closer, notebooks out, as the field in the stadium changed to one of grass and the first competitors stepped on to the field (it looked like the Elite Four of Kalos, Siebold, against the Champion from Kanto, Lance). "Oh, guess Astrid is battling that Sawyer guy."

    "Don't mention it to the girls." Rocky snorted in his direction. As the competitors continued to take the field, all the festiveness practically exploding from the screen, Christopher continued to watch. Some older adults were at the edge of the square, watching now, which was no surprise, but Christopher made sure to keep one eye on his students.

    Siebold and Lance stepped forward on the screen, sending their pokeballs out and a static flash glitched across the screen. As a Dragonite and a Blastoise emerged, the two Pokémon ran at each other. The students were already engrossed in the battle when the screen burst with static again. Christopher frowned; he had thought everything worked properly and would ensure no interruptions. Yet as Siebold held out his keystone, Mega Evolving his Blastoise, there was another burst of static.

    "Watch the students," Christopher mumbled out to Rocky and he skirted around the edge of the square. No one was paying much attention to him, but his worry for the connection to the tournament was outweighing any discipline. He was halfway around the square, looking over to the cords and generator, when he stopped, feeling he caught sight of…someone. "Can I help you?"

    "Help us?" asked a decidedly feminine voice. It was hard to tell in the darkness of the forest beyond Nova Town, but in the light of the sun, he could see two figures standing there, cloaked and watching the tournament on the screen. He didn't know how he couldn't see them before, but it was a sight that sent the hair on his arms tingling. "Hm…yes, maybe you can."

    "Steady," said her companion, a gruffer voice on his lips as his fingers played with a pokeball. Christopher's own hand slowly lowered itself to take hold of his own pokeball. In the background, he could even see and feel Rocky moving slowly and stealthily. "That's the famous Nova Fountain, correct?"

    "Wouldn't call it famous, but it's caused its share of trouble," Christopher stated plainly. A small outcry from within the crowd of students indicated an unfavorable match…or perhaps there was yet more static. He swallowed. "You here to watch the tournament?"

    "No," came the easy response. The first one, the woman, turned with a small controller in her hands. "We came for the town."

    "Tyran-"

    "Slaaaash!" One moment, Christopher was pulling his pokeball out, the next, he was suddenly slashed against his midsection, falling back as though the attack, itself, had been imperceptible. Thankfully, the blow appeared to have not cut quite as deep as feared, allowing him to jump back and finish tossing his pokeball. Tyrantrum emerged, slamming onto the ground with a growl.

    "Rhyperior, let's wreck!" Rocky's booming voice was heard next to Christopher as he clutched at his slightly bleeding chest. Looking up, an Aegislash was floating there, unsheathed and glowering menacingly with its singular eye. Christopher whipped his free hand out to hold Rocky back as the sound of loud footsteps indicated the one thing he feared: the students were well aware of whatever was going on in the square.

    "Fighting's not the priority," he said to his friend. "The students."

    "We can fight, Mr. Christopher," said the boy that had first cheered as the tournament began. Neither of the strangers at the edge of town seemed to care much for them, though. On the screens, there was nothing but static. Christopher stepped forward, even with the warning laced through Rocky's eyes.

    "No. Get to the Pokémon Center," was Christopher's response. He removed his hand, wincing at the smarting pain now on his chest. "Allison, go." There was no immediate response, but what seemed to be stunned silence, in return.

    "NOW!"

    "Sacred Sword," came a cool command. Christopher stepped forward, his foot slamming powerfully down on the cobblestones. Aegislash whipped around in midair, its blade glowing a bright blue as it elongated and shot straight for him.

    "Dragon Tail!" the young man shouted sharply. Tyrantrum spun, his large tail glowing green. It slammed right into Aegislash, sending it veering off course and colliding with the fountain. The screens near it broke apart, tumbling across the square. Thankfully, the students had already gotten out of harm's way, with Allison ushering them out.

    "Rock Wrecker!" Rocky roared alongside him, a snarl on his lips at the challenge presented. Neither of the hooded figures made another move, unless one counted the woman, who held her device up and clicked on it. A light buzzing filled the air, and Christopher found himself scanning the area, all while keeping another eye trained on his surroundings. Asking why these people were here seemed like such a redundant and pointless thing to do.

    "Perior!" Rhyperior finished lobbing the large chunk of pulsing-red stone towards Aegislash's prone figure. The humming increased, and Christopher looked up, seeing little black machines floating upwards, filled with a frightening intensity and surrounding the form of the largest Beedrill that he'd ever seen.

    "Rocky, pull back!" Christopher demanded, grabbing ahold of his friend and pulling him away from the center of the square. Tyrantrum did the same, nudging Rhyperior and pushing him along. Just as they both pulled back, Aegislash flipped around, securing itself inside its shield. The stone slammed into it and rebounded, crashing through all of the tables and desks in the area. Naturally, the fountain remained unharmed.

    The force of the collision was enough that Christopher and Rocky were pushed back, near to one of the Gates closest to the school. The students seemed to have fully exited the square, and more trainers within the town had arrived. Christopher spat on the ground; where was Seamus when one truly needed him?

    "Pin Missile Explosion," called the woman, now affixing her remote control to her wrist and pressing a button. The drones rose up into the air, swirling around the Beedrill's figure. Said Beedrill raised its stingers, pulsing with a powerful yellow glow, and then it fired them upwards. The streaks of Pin Missile were yellow in color, and it wasn't the only thing attacking. So, too, were the drones, firing their own yellow projectiles into the air, as if mimicking Beedrill.

    "Rock Slide!" Christopher ordered, clenching a fist. Tyrantrum roared loudly, his jaw opening wide. Above the drones emerged large, gleaming stones that were set to rain down upon the enemy. He wasn't the only one attacking; while Rocky seemed to be standing back, other trainers were ordering projectile attacks upon them.

    "Hypnosis." Christopher's brow furrowed. That wasn't a move of Aegislash's, though the blade moved so fast it was hard to tell. There was no time for thinking on it, as the blade was on the move, unsheathing and slashing across the air with extreme accuracy. The stones were flung away, slamming into some of the Pokémon that were attacking back. Others nailed their trainers. Those not hit by the attack suddenly froze in place or dropped to the ground. Tyrantrum looked to struggle.

    "Hammer Arm on those guys!" Rocky demanded. Christopher's eyes went wide, watching the situation closely. Only those closest to the opponents were well and truly frozen, and Rhyperior…

    The Pin Missile collided, raining upon the square. Combined with the attack of the drones, Christopher couldn't even open his mouth to order an attack. The projectiles slammed into the cobblestone, ripping it apart, blasting the tables into splinters. It was just like before. Just like…The explosion lifted Christopher off his feet at the thought, grabbing hold of Rocky as they were blown on to the street.

    Their bodies hit it with a gasp, rolling off to the side involuntarily until they slammed against the iron gate that led to the school. Christopher scrambled to his feet, hacking a bit from the dust particles in the air. He looked towards the square, noticing that it was all but demolished, save for the gates and the fountain. Numerous Pokémon were down for the count, their trainers right alongside them. Even Rhyperior was heaving, exhausted from having taken a huge brunt of the hit. Tyrantrum seemed all right, but more concerning was the continual humming noise.

    "I'll leave you to handle the square," the woman said and Christopher could see her emerging through the smoke. He finished standing, trying to pull Rocky up. Ever closer, the woman stalked, her Beedrill and her drones moving forward. There was a loud ripping sound in the background, as if Aegislash was flitting back and forth, cutting down all opponents.

    "Don't be too long…you know our purpose. The blood of innocents isn't quite the objective," called her companion. Christopher's body began to shake.

    "Well aware. We just need to set the bait for it all," the woman said. Her face was still concealed, but as she came closer, Christopher could see the smirk on her lips. His breath grew shallow, fear setting in. He squeezed his eyes, not believing he was truly feeling this way. Battle after battle he had been through…why was this woman making him shiver? Was it because of Beth and Thea, hopefully somewhere safe in town…?

    "Rocky, get up!" he said, his voice warbling just a bit. The woman was bouncing with every step, drawing closer. "Come on!"

    "Ergh…" Rocky was groaning, trying to get up, as well, but Christopher could see the wound on his side, one of the planks of wood impaling him.

    "Tyrantrum, Head Smash!"

    "Hyper Beam," the woman's coy smirk called out. Tyrantrum, having recovered from the blast of Pin Missiles earlier, charged through, blazing with a bright yellow light and aiming for the woman with her little army of drones. The drones broke formation and Beedrill pulled back, stingers glowing with a dark fury. Meanwhile, the woman raised her arm, something glittering on the control panel there. She touched her fingers to it and Beedrill began to change, glowing with light. Tyrantrum blasted down the street, ripping up more of it as it slammed into a set of drones. The light around him began to sputter.

    "Drrrrrrrillllll!" The buzzing Beedrill finished transforming, finished Mega Evolving, and then it fired the dark beam. Tyrantrum was caught in mid-attack, its maw opening wide when the blast fired, consuming him. Christopher screamed, but couldn't let out a word. The beam consumed them all with dark intensity, and they were flung back.

    Wood tore apart, dirt and weeds flying into the air with it. Christopher flew back, slamming into a stone statue in the garden as the wind was knocked out of his lungs. Rocky received the brunt of it, spiraling all the way to the back garden of the school. The door flew off, the windows were shattered, and like an enormous typhoon, the whole school was almost blown away. Christopher slid down the statue's front, looking back to see that Rocky was groaning, but very much alive. Tyrantrum, however, was down for the count, head collapsed on the road with ragged breathing.

    There was a crunch of footsteps on the grass leading to the school, and Christopher looked up to see the woman there, a small speck of her sea green hair flickering out from beneath her hood. She kneeled down.

    "I'm terribly sorry, but it was a necessity, you see," she spoke. Christopher struggled to stand, hand gripping at the stone. "We needed the point and…well, other reasons."

    "What…are you…?" The woman reached up, placing a finger to his lips. He couldn't see anything; could only hear the screams in town. The woman looked up, beyond the now wrecked school from her attack, to the graves in back. She sighed and shook her head, a light, nearly sadistic, smirk playing upon it.

    "Sacrifices, hm…? One more, then." The woman stood and began to walk away. Christopher got up, looking back to see Rocky standing and pulling the wood out of his side. He was moving sluggishly, but attempting to catch back up, like he wanted to make one last assault. The woman turned, and Christopher saw it, felt it: bloodlust, sadism and intensity. He moved. "Fell Stinger."

    "Rocky!" Christopher roared, finally finding the adrenaline to push himself up and dash for one of his best friends. Said young man's eyes widened as a searing pain filled Christopher in the back. He gagged, cried out as the heat and pain shocked through his system while the stinger bore itself deep into his back. There was a snapping noise as Christopher fell to the ground, the appendage removing itself so he could. Once he had, his head turned slowly, and he looked over to the woman, now reunited with her male partner, and the drones, as they fired one more Pin Missile to the air. In that moment, they seemed to vanish like shadows into the momentarily pulsing red light of Nova Town.

    Rocky screamed. Christopher closed his eyes.

    The Nova School exploded once more.

    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2017
  2. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    It was madness. The world. The news. And especially the location which ARC had set up as its latest base. All Lionel knew was that eyes on the ground had reported a most disturbing occurrence at Nova Town. It wasn't one he expected, but it was one that needed to be dealt with almost immediately.

    "Chi, Theta, report," his voice snapped the second he entered the room. There were small windows inset to the building, allowing just a little bit of light. In the corner of the room were Aidan and Tau, speaking quietly with one another. Time had changed them all little, if only that they were older, now.

    "We're still trying to make sense of things," Chi ordered, huffing on his glasses to clean them. Theta was silent, holding a pair of headphones to her ears while her lips were set in a frown. Lionel stopped at the edge of the room, looking out into the corridors. There were mutters in those corridors, some of their younger members chatting. There was no doubt that the news was traveling through the organization quickly.

    "Has word reached the Pokémon League yet?" Lionel now asked. He gave another glance down the hall of the abandoned office building they were in. Aidan turned away from his conversation with Tau.

    "We haven't managed to reach them as of yet," Aidan said in a lamentable tone. Lionel finally snapped the door closed and decided to give himself the chance to breathe. He had already been following up on the rumors of something going on in the Johto region, where they had decided to make base for a few weeks, barely having touched down in Azalea Town. Now there was something in Kalos and the League seemed unreachable. He sighed out.

    "That tournament, huh…?" Lionel breathed. He closed his eyes a moment, trying to steady himself further. Seconds in, he felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked to see Aidan there, as unconcerned as ever, his glasses highlighting everything that was going on behind his eyes. "Pssh, sorry. Just stressful."

    "Any news on what's going on elsewhere?" Aidan muttered to him. Lionel pursed his lips, stepping away for a moment to look out of the window to the small city they were currently stationed in. Aidan went with him while Tau returned to Chi and Theta's side, the squad listening for whatever they were looking for.

    "Nothing." Aidan blinked, but waited for Lionel to elaborate. "We went there, but there was…nothing. Not a single soul, person or Pokémon. Then you called me back."

    "That's disconcerting," Aidan stated. Lionel nodded and quickly decided to put his thoughts together, not letting his tired mind get the better of him in such a situation. "Sorry. You need a moment?"

    "Just a second," Lionel indicated with a smirk to one of his oldest comrades. Aidan seemed to understand, and walked over to speak with Alpha Squad. The dark-skinned man leaned forward, placing his forehead against the glass of the small windows. There were some people walking past, completely oblivious or uncaring to the fact there were people in the recently abandoned and foreclosed office building; they'd kept it rather quiet, after all.

    Sounds were still heard in a dull roar beyond the door he had closed earlier, indicating just how affected all of ARC seemed to be by the news. Not that they were a very large operation anymore. In a time of peace, those who sought out to protect artifacts were hard to come by, though they did have those people that occasionally trickled on through the League, and their work was still an altogether fulfilling one with new things and new quests every day.

    Until the odd case would appear, like the one to Unova. Or worse, like the call to check out Azalea Town in the Johto region on the League's request.

    It had seemed a simple call, only for himself and a few the select agents he was with to arrive and find the place utterly empty, as though the citizenry itself had vanished. That was enough to put Lionel on edge. Things like that didn't happen in a time of peace. Things like that usually didn't happen at all. And that became the very reason for Lionel's own unease, with various theories roiling around inside of his brain, joining with others he had already been contending with before then. It could have been some sort of artifact, yet Lionel was unsure…not that he had the time to wait around for an answer or to explore the location; not when Aidan had called with the news.

    "I have some confirmation," Theta spoke solemnly, drawing Lionel out of his own reverie. He didn't like the tone in her voice, but nevertheless turned in her direction in order to listen. "It appeared there was a cease of all communications in Nova Town around the start of the tournament. No messages in or out, and it would seem that our own informant on the ground was only able to do so because we have such a different network."

    "What happened there?" Aidan asked, folding his arms and looking disturbed. Lionel swallowed a little, looking out of the building once more. Less people were around now, so that was one less concerning thing.

    "Still unclear, other than the school being damaged. Our ally couldn't get close," Theta sighed out, finally removing her headphones and sitting back with a sigh. "More than that, a message has been relayed to the League, but it's taking time. I guess there's been some interference with communications on that side, too."

    "An attack?" Tau questioned. Lionel's brow furrowed. He knew the man meant it less in the sense of an obvious attack that was made on Nova Town, but also whether there was an attack on the League itself. It seemed odd for any communication issues to exist within the League. That would only mean that they would be targeted specifically, and no one he had ever heard of could manipulate that.

    "Let's not jump to conclusions," Aidan spoke calmingly. "It's still early days, and we don't have enough information to make a rash judgment call. I only wanted us all to discuss this because if we do have a problem on hand, the League will need all hands on deck."

    Lionel remained silent, contemplating the information being given. Odd disturbances in Unova. A disappearance in Azalea Town. A strike on Nova Town. A lapse in communication with the League. It was all very cloak and dagger. His hand patted at his pocket, feeling the communications device he had there. His worry was increasing tenfold every passing second…and that was usually Aidan's job!

    "Either way, this is rather disturbing…as have the energy readings we've been detecting lately," Chi spoke in his usual measured tone. "We know that we detected readings in Azalea Town, or so it seems from the small data Derek sent us while you were in transit, but judging from your face, that didn't go well. There was also that strange orange glow in Unova that you had mentioned, though whether it gives off power or not is something Derek's data was unable to fully confirm, even if I'd hypothesize that it's the case. Monitoring the sky as best we could after you left that sanctuary, we saw no change, except for the obvious hue in the sky, but that could have been from the natural barrier, too."

    "You don't think someone's trying to force something, do you?" Tau asked, stroking his chin as he cut over Chi's musings. Lionel decided to head things off, finally stepping forward to intervene with the conversation.

    "Now, now, calm down," he said confidently. "There are some things that I've been concerned about lately, especially where those different rocks in Unova are concerned, but we don't have enough knowledge to act on as of this moment. I'm not even aware of anything that could make these things react after all this time."

    "Unless you count the rumors," Aidan noted, as if reminding him of the face. Lionel sent him a puzzled look at that one. "We were so concerned about Michael's plans for Unova at the time, but don't you remember? There was an object that seemingly vanished and never resurfaced."

    "Vanished, hm?" Lionel noted. It may have been an object and not people, but it was still worrying when one considered Azalea Town. Not wanting to delay his attempt at getting a response any further, Lionel dug in and pulled out his communications device. The others watched him for just a moment. "Team Azalea, report."

    "Reporting, sir," called the voice of Derek over the device. It sounded scratchy, further enforcing the point that perhaps there were some issues with communications. Lionel waited, his silence indicating his thirst for information in that moment. "We've been combing the town since you departed, and weren't able to find a single living soul."

    "Then what do you think-"

    "Sir, we checked underneath the well…" Derek's voice was heavy, much like Theta's, and Lionel could already tell that he wouldn't like what he'd hear. "They were there…piled. It looked quick and painless, even with the blood, but all I could say is that it was like a shadow of death crept over them in the night. I don't think there was any artifact involved here, no matter the readings that Chi indicated from my data. Just a purplish glow from beneath the well."

    "Dead?" Tau asked in immediate concern. "For what reason?"

    "I can't confirm," Derek stated, the heaviness in his voice still present. Lionel's mind was churning in multiple directions. A mysteriously murdered town, energy spikes that weren't fabricated but had no source, and then the attack on Nova Town itself, which was far showier than what Azalea Town would have one believe. As Lionel put a hand to his chin, he began to think carefully, even while Derek gave the details and pictures of what he was seeing to Aidan. Was there a mysterious organization in the works? They had spent much time cleaning up any formed organizations that Michael had influenced over the years except for one, which they kept a very deliberate watch on, but had heard nothing potentially harmful from recently.

    No…that wouldn't be possible…Lionel mused to himself, trying to put things together. Michael's influence was surely gone by this point, with ARC already having spent years clearing away the detritus left behind. Sometimes with help, but mostly working within the shadows. And while there may have still been things lurking in the darkness, it was now all too easy to expose the light on them. Their peace, nearly a decade after the true war, had been hard won. Yet, there was still a new, incontrovertible truth in this moment.

    The world was moving again.

    "Continue to observe and report," Aidan was speaking as Lionel pulled himself out. "We'll send more to you to help…with the bodies. In the meantime, Theta, can you contact our special team? We'll need them to get information that's vital. They haven't been slacking but…"

    "I'll send the team out," Lionel noted with a wave of his hand as he turned right back towards the door. His mind was still thinking, now wondering how to sort out the mess in Azalea and whether he'd missed something both there and in Unova. Perhaps there were two forces…or maybe they were just trying to throw them off the trail…or maybe they weren't even connected at all…The possibilities were near endless with so little information. Lionel opened the door, poking his head out to three young women that were chatting in low tones. "Anna, Missy, Clarise, I need you to-"

    Lionel stopped mid-sentence, realization taking over his mind. It wasn't possible. Had they really…? "Yes, sir?"

    "Everyone, dow-"

    BOOOOOOOOOOM!

    The room and hallways exploded around Lionel, sending him flying down the corridor, blood and cuts appearing all over his face. His head slammed against a wall as that wall was ripped away from him, practically conflagrating around his figure. He coughed, hand reaching for his pokeball in seconds and tossing it out.

    "Protect…" he wheezed. Smoke billowed in front of Lionel's eyes as a honeycomb shield appeared. Another explosion ripped through the hallway, but Lionel was protected, if pushed back from the sheer force of the blast. He aimed to stand, pushing against what was left of the wall. Loud crashing sounds indicated the building's collapse, despite the leader of ARC being unable to see anything through the thick smoke. He coughed again. "Anna! Missy! Clarise!"

    There was no answer.

    Lionel stumbled forward and looked up. The area above him was veiled with smoke, yet there was no longer any ceiling, but just the sky above. The whole building had to have been utterly destroyed. Placing a hand on Banette, Lionel walked forward and almost tripped over something. His face contorted into one of pain when he looked down and saw all three of the women staring up at him, lifeless.

    "Li-Lionel!" coughed a voice from the area of the room he had been in. His heart raced and he aimed for it, recognizing the voice as Aidan's. The smoke cleared a little. Some debris and pebbles fell from the wreckage of the building they had been in, and screams pierced the air, though none were close by. Lionel stopped, and looked up, towards one of the few remaining pieces of the structure that was intact.

    "Aw, that's a shame…" The voice, gravelly and playful, sent chills down Lionel's spine, and he came close to Banette. "I had thought all of you had died in the explosion, but it looks like there's still…one, two, three, four…five of you left."

    "Who are you?" demanded another voice from the space of the room. It sounded like Tau, though Lionel breathed no easier. His words, this man's words, were like a bludgeon. They were dead. Lionel's hand gripped tighter.

    "Your grim reaper, don't you know?" the voice called. Suddenly, a large gust of wind came from the direction of the room, clearing out all of the smoke in the area. The covering haze vanished, revealing the numerous agents of ARC now laying charred and dead in the area. Only those in the room seemed to have survived due to Chi's Doublade and quick actions.

    More important, though, was the man atop the slowly crumbling structure. He had shaggy, dirty blond hair and an almost melancholy look upon his face. There was a black cloak around him, nearly allowing him to blend into the smoke, and with him was a Camerupt, already seeming to be in a Mega Evolved state, it's mini-volcano churning smoke. Lionel stepped forward, careful to avoid the bodies of his fallen compatriots. Small pieces were coming together in his head, forming sickening conclusions.

    "You killed the people of Azalea Town?" he asked sharply. The man turned to look at him, tapping his head. "All to lure us out, was it? You killed them to call us away, and damaged Nova Town to call us back…"

    "This is why you're a threat," the man spoke, clicking his heels against the wall. "You figured that out so quickly…and we don't want someone like you interfering and finding things they shouldn't. She wanted to make sure of that."

    "She?" Aidan's voice called. Lionel once more stepped forward, throwing his hand out, as if telling his long-time comrade to stay put. The man above didn't drop his melancholy look, but nor did he answer. Lionel's gaze shifted back, as if telling Aidan to leave, but the man didn't budge.

    "And why is it a shame that there are only five of us?" the dark-skinned man decided to inquire instead. Their attacker raised a finger, snapping it lightly and Camerupt, with surprising skill, leapt off the platform and crashed upon the ground.

    "Because it means I'll need to kill you personally, instead," he answered. He snapped once more. "Rock Polish!"

    "Banette, Snatch! And Mega Evolve!" Lionel called. His hand threw itself out, touching to the charm bracelet. Banette began to change as Camerupt's body glowed. Then it shot forward, rushing straight through Camerupt before disappearing, it's speed enhanced greatly. "Aidan! Get out of here! You, too, Alpha Squad! Rally our surviving memb-"

    "Earth Power!" Camerupt gave a loud cry, the area around its feet glowing a bright yellow. Then the earth exploded, pulsing forward as Banette proceeded to zip along, avoiding it in its Mega Evolved State. The man was truly not going to give any of them a moment to breathe.

    "Phantom Force!" Lionel screamed. Behind him, the sound of movement indicated that, at the very least, Alpha Squad was heeding his orders, crawling their way out of the mess of stones and rubble. Lionel grit his teeth at the thought of it; how many had died from his mistake, his indiscretion. He had thought he hadn't been followed by either person or Pokémon from neither Unova nor Azalea, so how…

    Banette vanished entirely into the mist created from the Earth Power. Lionel tried to track his Pokémon's movements, paying careful attention until it was at Camerupt's backside. It reappeared and went for the blow, landing a decisive hit. Lionel's gaze snapped up to the man, only he was shaking his head, beginning to grin.

    "Eruption." Even as Camerupt was flung forward, the ground underneath Banette churned and bubbled with fiery intensity. Then it blasted outward like a volcano, consuming Banette entirely.

    "Protect!" came Lionel's next command. The honeycomb shield suddenly expanded from within the Eruption, blocking the rest of the damage from being dealt and splitting the flames. Camerupt landed on the ground, skidding across it.

    "You're good," the man jeered across the space. "I'm not surprised. The great and mighty ARC. It was only a small patch of luck that allowed me to pinpoint you exactly…luck, ingenuity and intuition."

    "Was it? Pursuit!" Lionel snapped out. The shield broke apart, dispersing the rest of the flames. It flitted through the shadows, jabbing forward onto Camerupt's head and driving it into the ground.

    "Camaaaaaah!"

    "Now, Phantom Force!" Lionel roared, gripping a fist tightly with a snarl on his face. Banette once more disappeared into the shadows entirely. Lionel stepped forward, raising his other hand in a taunt for the man to come down and fight him. "Then test your luck against me for hurting my comrades."

    "Your comrades?" the man said, his grin now full and leering. He finally stepped forward, doing a small flip to land deftly on the ground. "Your 'comrades' are all that was left of a broken and dying world…well, them and those 'heroes'. I consider it my duty to put them and you out of the misery of your sins. Earth Power!"

    "Banette!" Lionel screamed, but he couldn't make it in time. The ground glowed a golden color, churning and cracking, even beneath Lionel's feet. He tried to back up, but in mere moments, the man was right in front of him, grabbing him by the throat and pinning him to the ground. It exploded around him, consuming Banette and throwing it through the air. Banette's body glowed and reverted form, tumbling on to the street outside the destroyed and decayed building.

    "Oh no! You don't get to go anywhere…" the man pinning him said with the leering grin, now gone fully manic. His voice had lowered in pitch, but sounded just as gravelly as before. "You see…your whole organization is the target: Team Rocket's target."

    Lionel's eyes widened, and he turned his head as best as he could. He could see no sign of Alpha Squad or Aidan…or so he thought. He was slowly losing consciousness, his windpipe constricted. Team Rocket…no…they weren't…

    "Scald!" Aidan's shout made Lionel's eyes snap open as the heated water blasted forth, colliding with the unknown man and driving him back towards his Camerupt. The enemy scoffed loudly, while Lionel coughed. He suddenly became aware of the pain all over his body, and in his legs. A piece of rebar, broken off during the last Earth Power, had lodged itself in his leg, making him unable to move. "Team Rocket, you say? What are they planning? Whose idea?"

    "As. If. I'd. Say," was the man's taunting response. He reached behind himself, placing a hand gently atop Camerupt. "Let's just say, the world you know will burn…be splattered with blood. And it all begins here, with you. Explosion."

    "Ai…dan…run…" Lionel choked out. He attempted to sit up, but found his leg wouldn't move at all, barely twitching in the moment. "Go!"

    "Like hell I'm leaving you behind, Lionel. Jack wouldn't-"

    "Jack's dead!" Lionel shouted angrily. He snapped his head, feeling the pain race up his leg, causing his sentences to become choppy. "But you're not! Now get out of here! Live, Aidan! We know one…part…so…Find him! End this!"

    "Lionel!" Aidan screamed, but the dark-skinned man wouldn't take no for an answer. Instead, he found what little strength he had to reach up and rip his keystone from his charm bracelet, part of the charms remaining attached to it. Before anything else could happen, he tossed it towards his long-time companion. A shadow, sluggish but sure, arrived to grab it as Banette tackled Aidan. It cast one look back at Lionel as the whole entire area glowed red with Camerupt's impending attack. There were tears in his faithful Pokémon's eyes, but it nodded. Lionel pushed at the ground, struggling to stand, all while casting a venomous look towards the man that had attacked them. He wasn't smiling anymore, but looking at him with respect.

    "You fought me to let your comrades get away…how admirable…" he said with a light sigh. "I wish you could have made it to the new world with us, but alas, it's not to be. Goodbye, Lionel of ARC. May you find peace in the light of my explosions, as your comrades did."

    Then the air exploded. More cement was ripped up, the bodies disintegrated. Heat churned at the air and Lionel felt himself already breaking down as he grasped his charm bracelet. Tears leaked from his eyes, and his body shook. I'll be there soon…my loved ones…Jack…my comrades…

    His eyes snapped over, facing it with dignity as the building erupted with a blazing and destructive fury that claimed everything around it.

    The only thing heard above it was Aidan's curdling scream: "LIONEEEEEEEEEL!"

    Author's Note: Well, this was a very big opening chapter! Of course, since this story is set after the epilogue, all promises of who lives and who dies are off the table, and with a lot fates already up in the air, and a major death permeating Chapter 1, you can already see the darker tone this story will take. After all, I haven't made the joke that those who are sent to Johto go there to die for nothing…Ehem, anyway, Team Rocket is finally making a move in the plot, and I think it will be very exciting! Hopefully you all think so too. Just don't expect a Rocket plot like any you've seen before; seriously, drop your preconceptions. In any case, you'll have to wait and see just what happens next! In the meantime, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  3. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    The final chapter of 2017! Boy, I feel like I've published a lot…Anyway, before we start I want to remind everyone that, for one thing, this takes place a year after the wedding, which means 9 years after the Kalos Trilogy and 8 after the Alola. Also, this was written and announced way before Rainbow Rocket was ever revealed to us. That said, enjoy chapter 2 and see you in 2018!
    Chapter 2

    A Reminiscence​

    "Whoo! What an exciting and breathtaking bevy of battles we've been experiencing here at the Champion Tournament!" Kalas' excited voice rang across the stadium. It was so loud, it filled even the hallways of the stadium where the competitors waiting to battle were standing. Though, at the moment, Ash was all alone, tapping his foot against the ground.

    "You ready, Pikachu? Battle one!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed, pumping his fist. Ash grinned, grabbing his cap and tilting it over his face a moment as he did so. The roar of the crowd outside in the stadium was bursting with infectious enthusiasm. The raven-haired trainer had to admit, standing there in the waiting hall and watching the competitor from before making his way down the hall towards Ash with a look of disgruntlement over his loss, that he was just as excited to be there.

    He loved to watch the battles, study them and those that were battling, even if they were people he'd already fought so many times before. Being on a vaunted stage with the most famous and touted trainers in all the regions simply helped to enforce that point. Having a lot of his friends around, poised to be potential rivals, or even just support, helped that case. Ash was already surprised at the sheer number of familiar people and high-level trainers that had been invited…even moreso that he had been invited, despite having known about it weeks in advance!

    Of course, there was one person who was missing from those who would have been cheering him and the others on. Knowing that, though, Ash reached up, placing his left hand on his heart and gripping it in a fist, his wedding band shining in the light of the stadium hallway's floodlights. She may not have been there, but he knew she'd be watching without a single pause, if she could.

    "So, let's do this, then!" Ash said. The crowd erupted with more cheers, and Kalas' voice rose above all of them, making sure to be heard for the next upcoming battle. It was one that Ash, too, had been looking forward to for quite some time…had been outright hoping for it since the tournament had been announced, along with a handful of others.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, next up is a battle I'm sure that you've been looking forward to! I know I am!" Kalas called. He cleared his throat before going on, every syllable seeming to make him even more excited. "These two legends have made a name for themselves over our era of peace, having first battled each other at the titanic Kalos League nearly a decade ago! Now they meet on the same field one more time! Get on your feet and scream for Ash and Alain!"

    Ash didn't say a word to his steadfast partner, resting on his shoulder. He just affixed that battle-hungry grin to his face and walked forward, making his way up the stairs to the stadium's battlefield. It grew in volume with the cheers that filled the whole area, reaching its apex as he finally came to stand in his trainer's box. Once he'd arrived, he looked across the grassy field to where Alain was, dressed in his old colors of black and blue. Clearly, he'd thought that dressing as a researcher for the tournament (or traveling, Ash recalled) was a bad idea. Alain inclined his head, acknowledging him as he reached down to grab his pokeball. Ash did the same.

    "Pikachu, I know you usually start us off at a tournament," Ash admitted. Pikachu seemed to shrug and sigh, hopping off his shoulder to drop down to the floor. Ash chuckled, continuing on with, "but I think there's someone else who has been looking forward to this rematch for a long time! Greninja, I choose you!"

    "Here it is! The epic rematch! And all on the first round of the tournament!" Kalas was screaming. It was no surprise, given that across the battlefield, Alain had already called his Pokémon out.

    "Charizard, time for battle!" With the explosion of light from the pokeballs, both Pokémon emerged on the field: Charizard with a piercing roar, and Greninja with a stoic gaze. So many years had seemed to make them all stronger, seasoned and wiser. Ash's other pokeballs were already twitching on his belt, ready for any other battle ahead; his best were ready to rumble. The referee's flag lowered swiftly, the rules already stated. "Ash, do you mind us going all out from the beginning?"

    "Not at all!" Ash said across to his friend and former rival. Alain's hand raised up, pressing his fingers to his keystone, while Ash sent his arm soaring into the air. Looking into the crowd, he could see familiar faces watching their battle raptly, including Clemont and Korrina, the engaged couple observing with excitement (though it seemed more like the latter was strangling the former). In particular, though, Ash caught sight of Diantha, a light smile on her lips. His body was tingling with the hopes of facing off against her one more time. "Let's go!"

    The water torrent that had surrounded Greninja broke, forming into the giant shuriken on his back. At the same time, Charizard's own body glowed and changed into the familiar black dragon that had once delivered them a massive loss. Ash smirked a little, feeling the determination in his Pokémon's veins. They weren't losing this time.

    "Greninja, use Double Team!" Ash called out. The crowd was already screaming as numerous copies of Greninja appeared across the grassy fields. Alain was grinning too.

    "Flamethrower!" Charizard roared, rearing back and letting forth his torrent of blue flame to cut through all of the copies that were converging in on him. Ash flicked his finger across his nose, getting into a near crouch.

    "Water Shuriken!" Greninja jumped into the air, grabbing his giant shuriken from his back. He spun and twisted through the sky, above the flames, and came crashing down on Charizard's head powerfully with the watery blade. Charizard stumbled as the crowd cheered.

    "Pikaka! Pika Pikachu!" Pikachu cheered, bouncing up and down with excitement. Ash could feel it, too, as Alain called for his next move.

    "Thunder Punch!" Charizard recovered, sending an uppercut imbued with lightning snapping into Greninja's jaw. Ash adjusted his jowls, feeling the smarting blow. Greninja flipped back. "Dragon Claw!"

    "No way! We're not the same guys that faced Alain in the Kalos League!" Ash called, punching forward. Greninja got the message, his limbs glowing a white-hot color as he flipped around again and nailed a kick on Charizard's head. The glowing green claw came soaring out but Ash moved his body as if to block it. Greninja's fist made a block before his other one spun around to snap upwards. Charizard flew back from the sharp impact to his body.

    "Whoo! Look at that! Greninja is on top of the competition!" Kalas called out. Charizard was pushed back, shaking his head while Greninja landed deftly. He didn't look exhausted, but from the subtle shifting of Alain's feet, Ash had a feeling that those few blows had already been enough to deal moderate damage to Charizard. "This, like the battles before, is a high-powered fight. One wrong move could end the match in seconds!"

    "Then let's end it in seconds!" Ash said, throwing his fist out. "Cut!"

    "Dragon Claw and Thunder Punch!" Alain called with a grin. Charizard raced forward, one hand glowing with a bright green intensity while the other crackled with lightning. He soared for Greninja, who whipped out his kunai and raced for the Flame Pokémon. The two finally collided, whirling around each other. Charizard swiped and Greninja ducked. The Flame Pokémon moved his leg and Ash saw his chance, one that Alain, after years of pursuing researching as a passion, didn't see. It was still a fun fight, but Ash could tell his passion was no longer about being the strongest.

    "At his legs!" Ash and Greninja both bowed low and cut forward, slamming into Charizard's leg. His Dragon Claw nicked Greninja's back as he stumbled, but Ash was already on the move. "Water Shuriken, slam it down!"

    "Ninja!" Greninja called, whipping around with his watery blade, and slamming it upon Charizard's head. Steam billowed out as Greninja jumped back. The crowd, like usual, was cheering, and Ash could already tell the short match had come to a stage of being ready to finish. Both Pokémon had advanced that far over the years, and with so many already watching for the quick high-powered battles, Ash knew it was time.

    "Blast Burn!" Alain roared out. Ash shifted his foot, his suspicions confirmed. Charizard was back up as the steam cleared, his fist now burning with a fiery intensity as he plunged it into the ground. Ash raised his arm up, the Z-Ring he'd gotten as a gift from Hala so long ago glittering.

    "Let's have a different result this time! Greninja, here goes!" he called to his longtime partner. His arms crossed and then uncrossed before flinging out. The orange shuriken appeared in Greninja's webbed hands, whirling around as Charizard made contact with the ground. Said ground split apart, burning and spluttering as it made its way for Greninja, who brought his hands together and held the whirring shuriken above his head. "Scorching Shuriken!"

    "There it is! The magnificent, magnanimous, mystical Z-Move! A high-powered clash! How will it go? !" Greninja reared back and then sent the shuriken whirring forward. Its size and stability burned the air around it, causing the Blast Burn to almost shrivel up as Greninja ducked to the side. His shuriken picked up in intensity and then slammed into Charizard, sending him flying across the field and leaving smoke in its wake. Greninja landed on the smoking battlefield, all the grass seemingly burned to a crisp as it all cleared, revealing the end result.

    "Charizard is unable to battle! Greninja is the winner! Ash moves on to the next round!" the referee called out. Cheers filled the stadium and Kalas was screaming his lungs out, while Ash ran on to the field, Greninja turning to him and Pikachu as his form faded away. It was only the first round, but Ash felt proud as he slapped his hand against Greninja's.

    "Nice battle, Ash," called Alain's own deep tones, and the raven-haired trainer looked over to see him approaching. Once the two were close enough, they reached out and clasped each other's hands, to the obvious approval of the crowd. "A lot quicker than the last one…but then again…"

    "We've all grown a lot stronger!" Ash insisted, pumping one of his fists. Alain nodded, retracting his hand now and giving a chance for Ash to return Greninja to his pokeball. Their battle (well, Ash felt it was more a skirmish) complete, even with the crowd still cheering, Alain jerked his head to tell each other to leave the field. Both of them offering a small wave to the audience, the two turned and headed back towards the hallways together, letting the sounds of the crowd and Kalas fade away.

    "Hey! Nice battle!" yelled a voice down the hall, and Ash looked up to see the grinning visage of Seamus running up to approach both of the trainers. Ash and Pikachu raised their hands together in greeting while Alain, predictably, said nothing. "Totally different result than the last time you two faced off, huh?"

    "Guess so," Ash said, throwing his hands behind his head. Seamus nodded sagely and Alain continued to remain silent. "I'm just glad we got to face off again and even the score. Maybe next time we'll have a real deciding battle!"

    "I'll have to work a lot harder," Alain told Ash with a smirk. The roar of the crowd was rising again. "Working in research isn't the most conducive to training for a battle."

    "Nor are the peaceful times or teaching, you know," Seamus pointed out. Alain blinked before he seemed to realize that Seamus was joking around with him. He offered a chuckle at that one. "Ah well, even if I lose, I've gotta give a great fight so my students will be proud!"

    "Yeah! Just don't blink against Paul, he'll take advantage in a second," Ash insisted to his friend, clapping him on the shoulder. Seamus nodded, steeling his face for the battle that he, himself, was about to face. Ash gave off another chuckle and caught sight of the wedding band on his ring finger, his eyes suddenly going wide with a grimace. "Ah, well, I'd really love to watch your battle, but I gotta make a phone call!"

    "Pipika!" Pikachu cheered happily. Seamus quirked an eyebrow but nodded as Ash retracted his hand and decided to go racing down the hallway. He swore he could hear a chuckle emerge from Alain's lips at that, and when he looked back, he saw Seamus stepping towards the stadium, while the earlier black-haired man shoved his hands in his pockets and walked on. He was quite a bit slower than Ash as he blasted out of the hallway and into a more common area with some spectators milling around.

    "Look, mommy, it's Ash!" called a little girl. Said girl's mother turned and gave him a smile that he returned with a wave, making the little girl light up. "You battle so amazing!"

    "Thanks!" Ash said to her, continually dashing off for the phones. He glanced up to see that Seamus and Paul had begun their battle, the latter's Drapion struggling to give what looked like Alakazam a hard time. Ash looked away to see Mairin waiting at the edge of a food stand, completely oblivious to him. She certainly looked to have grown up, even if Chespie hadn't, still sitting atop her head comfortably. Ash decided to ignore that, flicking his eyes towards the screen when he saw Zoroark there, heaving slightly, looking poisoned. Ash shook his head but slowed his pace as he finally approached the phones.

    "Making a call, Ash?" called a voice from the phones next to him, and Ash jerked a little.

    "Oh, Sawyer…didn't realize you were there…" Ash laughed out a little. Of course, he had known that Sawyer was taking part, having actually won against Astrid, of all people, earlier that day. Not that she had had any hard feelings; Sceptile looked ready to collapse after his battle with Absol alone. It probably hadn't helped that both had Mega Evolved from the beginning.

    "Just calling…uh, well, you know…" Sawyer laughed out. Ash laughed with him, though he wasn't quite sure he could fill in the blanks. He had a guess about just who Sawyer was calling, but he certainly didn't want to assume anything. Not really wanting to have a conversation about his rival's love life (and indeed, the green-haired boy was still his rival in the sense that he had spent years being trained by Steven Stone, himself), Ash turned to the phone and called the number he was probably supposed to have called yesterday by this point.

    It didn't take long for the call to be accepted and the image of his beautiful wife to appear on the screen…and Bonnie, it seemed.

    "Ash, we saw your battle! Greninja wins! Yay!" Bonnie cheered, Dedenne joining her on her shoulder. She seemed so enthusiastic, that Serena had to work her way back on to the screen, with little success. "It was really awesome finally seeing you able to beat Alain! I'm going to be your next challenger. Maybe Dedenne will finally be able to-"

    "Bonnie, I'm sure Ash can tell us more if you give him a chance to breathe," Serena's voice cut across. The lemon blonde pouted a bit, but drew back, allowing Ash a much better look at his wife and the girl by her side. He grinned.

    Now that he was truly seeing them, it allowed him to appreciate how mature both of them looked (despite seeing Serena at least once a week, even when busy), though in entirely different ways. Bonnie had certainly grown taller, matching them all in height, with long hair tied into an elegant braid as she wore travel clothes that resembled her past attire, though more fit for someone her age. Serena, meanwhile, was garbed in her beautiful performance outfit, a hand resting on her stomach a moment before she leaned forward.

    "Yeah, I beat Alain! Though it looks like Paul's gonna win this next round…not that I'm surprised. He pretty much said he wanted to face me in the finals of this thing," Ash admitted with a rather hearty chuckle. Serena put her hand to her mouth and laughed as some static moved across the screen. "How's your Spectacular thing?"

    "It'll be fine. I'm back on in a little bit," Serena admitted, sitting back. "Can't refuse a favor from Aria, after all. But it's good work, just as intended. Lots of girls interested in meeting me. How's everyone else doing?"

    "Clemont hasn't battled yet, right?" Bonnie asked, throwing her hands behind her head. Ash shook his head; she reminded him more of himself than her brother. "And not everyone's there, too?"

    "Uh, yeah, some people couldn't make it…and neither him nor Korrina have battled yet. Actually, I think they're battling each other…" Ash answered her. Bonnie looked a little displeased with that, but sighed with a shrug, as if it truly couldn't be helped. Given the slight lull in conversation, Ash brought his mind to thinking of all the competitors at the Champion Tournament. It truly was the best of the best, with every member of the Elite Four and Champions here, and then strong trainers such as himself and Paul, and even those "truly exceptional" Gym Leaders, as they were called. Though, there were still some missing.

    Gladion, for one thing, had stated he was too busy with Foundation work, despite their financial backing of the tournament, which included keeping Guzma and his band of brothers and sisters in line across Alola and other regions. Even then, though, Ash had hoped to see Kahili or some of the Kahunas, including Hau, but none of them had had the opportunity to make it there. He knew the reason for Kahili and Kukui, of course, but it didn't stop him hoping. Nor had Dawn or May ventured to the tournament, the former visiting with Maylene in Sinnoh last he'd heard, while the latter was off…somewhere (he could admit to not being as aware to her own location). Brock, on the other hand, was easy, given his medical duties in Hoenn. Ash tapped his foot a little, realizing almost all of his best friends except for Clemont either hadn't been invited or had prior engagements. This very thought must have taken up much of his mind, because Serena was calling him out of it.

    "Sorry, what?" Ash asked with a sheepish expression. Serena shook her head, but continued to smile.

    "I said we should hold a little private celebration of some sort when you get back," his wife told him. Ash's eyebrows flew up as Bonnie snickered in the background. Serena's face turned red as her cheeks puffed out. "I didn't mean it that way…"

    "Well, I mean, not like I-"

    "Ash!" Serena scolded him, and he just laughed it off again. When she'd settled down, she looked pointedly at him while Bonnie turned away, chasing after Dedenne and what looked to be Squishy. Ash was also pretty sure he heard her Pokédex making snarky comments. "Speaking of that, though, please remember that there was something I wanted to talk to you about. But, like I said, I'll save it for when you get back."

    "Hm?" Ash asked, genuinely confused as to why she was bringing this up again, but Serena's smile wasn't telling. Pikachu tilted his head in interest. Knowing he wouldn't get anything out of her, he just shrugged. "Well, you just take care of yourself in those performances, yeah? No wearing yourself out, okay?"

    "I should be telling you that," Serena insisted. However, she shared no more words after, simply looking to see that Bonnie was otherwise occupied and then blowing a kiss to him before their connection cut off. Ash breathed in with contentment and looked to Pikachu, scratching him behind the ears.

    "That Serena?" called Astrid's voice from nearby, and Ash turned to look at her, holding an ice cream cone. She hadn't changed much in all these years, by Ash's estimation, which was fine to him. He nodded. "She must be real busy in Lumiose, huh?"

    "Seems that way. Performer's life is always busy. How have you been?" Ash asked, turning away and joining the blonde woman. Sawyer seemed to have left already, gone to watch more matches, while Ash's stomach was rumbling. On the screens, Seamus and Paul's match had ended with a definitive victory for the latter, though Drapion looked pretty exhausted in the replay. Meanwhile, Clemont looked to be taking the field alongside his fiancée. Ash could tell it would be a tight battle…assuming Korrina didn't use Mega Evolution from the very beginning.

    "Been good, other than losing to Sawyer…guy is way too strong for us to keep up," Astrid chuckled out. Ash couldn't offer a reply, keeping one eye on the screen as he approached a food stall for a hearty lunch. Pikachu was already selecting from a row of ketchups. "But, hey, that's how it goes. We're all still on a level to compete with the Elite Four, so we should count ourselves lucky. Amazing how little things change in almost a decade."

    "I don't know about that," Ash told her, grabbing his food as the two turned towards the screen to watch the battle between the engaged couple begin. Ash wasn't surprised to see Luxray out against Lucario, though the former had picked up a variety in moves, replacing his old Thunder Fang standby with Ice Fang and biting into Lucario, who retaliated with a Power-Up Punch.

    "Huh…hope there's no hard feelings between those two…" Astrid commented, biting into her cone.

    "No way. They're both happy with the result," Ash insisted. A figure moving in his periphery showed Seamus coming out of the hallway with a resigned expression as he, too, made his way for the phones. "Though, speaking of…how about you? Anyone to, as Brock says, 'settle down with'?"

    "Ash, since when did you become an expert on the romantic?" Astrid joked, nudging him in the side. Ash nearly dropped his food, but steadied it and decided to finish it before Astrid knocked it away entirely. She also, however, sighed as Lucario Mega Evolved, following an Electric Terrain enhanced Wild Charge. "No, there isn't…I think. It's complicated."

    "What's complicated?" Ash asked in genuine puzzlement. Astrid wouldn't answer, looking over to Seamus, now approaching from the phones.

    "Maybe she's talking about how I can't get through to the kids in Nova Town," Seamus pointed out with a shrug. Ash furrowed his brow; his call had worked just fine. "Oh well, Chris and Rocky are probably putting them through their paces, and that works for me. Though Merry really wanted to share the result. Even losing, she worked really hard for that battle! Right, Merry?"

    Astrid stiffened a bit, but managed to finish her ice cream cone entirely as Seamus' pokeball rocked subtly with pride. Ash looked to his female friend and then spied a table at which to sit upon, all while Lucario and Luxray made a major clash in the stadium that sent sparks raining everywhere on the screen. Knowing the result of the match was probably decided, Ash turned towards the table and led his friends over to it, only pausing for a moment so that Seamus could grab some food, himself. Once they were seated, waiting for Clemont and Korrina to come back (the screen showing the Shalour Gym Leader as the victor), Astrid finally began speaking again.

    "So, you guys hear about some of the stuff that supposedly went down in Johto earlier today?" she asked, crossing her legs as she leaned forward. Pikachu hopped on the table, feasting on his ketchup bottle while Ash looked at the blonde. Seamus was paying little attention, fixated on the match of Diantha against Alder taking place.

    "No, what happened?" Ash asked in interest. Astrid leaned further forward, her eyes sparkling with a slight bit of mischief.

    "Not a lot to tell," Astrid finally admitted with a wink. Ash frowned at her, all while Seamus slammed a hand on the table while calling Alder an idiot. "Just some rumors passed around that there was this big explosion in a town at an abandoned building. But there's no report on it or anything, just media speculation. It was just this morning, anyway…or something like that."

    "Still kinda weird news, right?" Ash asked, getting a vocal acknowledgement from Astrid. On one of the screens, Diantha's Gardevoir had locked down Bouffalant's horns, grappling tightly with it. The sound of footsteps indicated that Korrina and Clemont had arrived by this point, the couple discussing something about their battle. "I mean, with all sorts of peaceful times, and the Foundation and ARC and all those people…when was the last time any of us fought a big battle?"

    "Years," was Korrina's reply, clearly breaking away from her conversation to flop into a chair. Clemont, meanwhile, took the seat next to Ash, and the raven-haired trainer flung his arm around the young man. "But what are we talking about?"

    "Explosion in Johto," was Astrid's reply. Seamus groaned out loudly, and Ash looked up to see that Diantha had defeated Alder. For some weird reason, Ash wasn't all that surprised, and it made his blood pump more than usual. Clemont, disengaging himself from Ash, placed a hand on his chin.

    "Natural gas explosion or something?" the inventor asked. Ash snuck a look at him; he definitely seemed fine with the result of the earlier battle, and Ash could see the gears turning in his head. That was just like him, especially given all of his famous inventions, a lot of which had been backed by the Foundation.

    "No idea. Only weird part, and not a single media outlet could agree on whether it was real or not, was that just a little bit ago, there was a rainbow overhead, but no rain. Weird, huh?" Astrid said, offering her own chuckle to the mix. Seamus was still relatively silent, now eating quickly, since the match was over. Ash twisted around to see whether Diantha would be emerging from the halls, or if her status as Champion would prevent it. However, his mind also picked up on what Astrid had said and he looked to Pikachu.

    "Rainbow…I wonder…" he muttered out, though not enough for anyone to hear him. "Oh, well, hope everyone was okay or whatever."

    "We'll know that whenever all the news places get their acts together, don't you think? Well, that or Miss Malva decides to report on it," Astrid commented, tapping her forehead. Ash shrugged, not really having an answer for that. He had no idea how those sorts of places thought, other than knowing he wanted to avoid them as much as possible due to his own sometimes unfortunate fame. Though he did trust Malva, the powerful trainer always in the best interest of providing accurate information, to the point that she willingly chose against participating in the tournament before the announcement.

    "Probably just a coincidence, I hope," Clemont noted. Ash could hear the inventor's stomach begin to growl, and it made himself consider getting more food. In fact, as he looked to his friend, both seemed to determine that was actually a good idea as they stood. "Korrina, do you want anything?"

    "Ice cream!" Korrina cheered out far too happily. Clemont shook his head, but decided to oblige his fiancée's request. The two turned and left from the table, aiming for the ice cream stand. Pikachu, to Ash's surprise, abandoned his ketchup to join him as they walked towards it.

    "You spoke with Bonnie, right?" Clemont asked, prompting Ash to nod his head. "She'll probably scold me after that battle, but I think I did pretty well against someone with Mega Evolution."

    "You were awesome!" Ash insisted, already getting excited again, despite the somewhat somber news from earlier. If he was honest, the news Astrid had shared with them sounded a little disturbing, but he felt that was mostly thanks to the rumor of the rainbow overhead. It stirred something in his mind which he hadn't thought about for a long time. Regardless, he pushed it away at the sight of someone rather familiar. "Diantha! Good match!"

    "Thank you," the elegant Champion spoke, approaching them. Ash said nothing more, watching her draw near; she, like so many others, hadn't changed all that much, unless one counted the lines on her face, from years of her position. "Alder was still a challenge. You all have had wonderful battles, too. Ah, a raspberry cone, please."

    "Comin' right up, Champion!" the man at the stall said. Diantha, who had called her order as she approached, finally came to a stop near Ash and Clemont with a tired smile. The inventor seemed to be the first to pick up on this.

    "Everything all right, Diantha?" he asked, adjusting his glasses a bit. Diantha offered another smile in his direction before expelling a breath.

    "Oh, it's nothing," she said, running a hand through her hair. Now that Ash was closer to her, he could see that she looked tired, though he supposed it had to do with how much planning had gone into the tournament over the last few weeks, given the heavy media coverage surrounding it. "Just some rumors going around the League."

    "Like what?" Clemont asked as the man at the stand finally finished gathering their ice creams and handing them over. The inventor made sure to balance both of his, while Diantha daintily took hers.

    "Oh, just that we've been out of communication with ARC today. Communication issues are plaguing parts of the League, it seems," Diantha insisted with a shaking of her head. Ash held his ice cream over, allowing Pikachu a lick at it, one that soon turned to outright eating, while he surveyed her in contemplation.

    "I made a phone call just fine," Ash told her, though that didn't seem to be what was most disturbing to her. She did shoot him a look of thanks, in any case, for the reassurance. "Guess that's not what it's about…?"

    "I don't actually know what it's about," Diantha said, licking softly at her ice cream as the small trio made their way over to the table of trainers. As they did, Ash caught sight of Paul, the ever-surly trainer offering him a nod. Ash nodded back, but decided to not call out; they always were the kind of people that let their actions do the talking in the end. Diantha, however, was talking again, putting Ash's attentions right back on to her once more. "We Champions may be heavily involved with the way things are run and facilitated, but while I brought ARC into the League, they no longer fall under my personal jurisdiction. Cynthia or Lance are typically in charge of that these days, and I just handle all the administrative stuff."

    "It's been working well enough for years now, so it must be something right," Clemont observed. He barely got a nod as a response from the Champion. "But then, why would it bother you that you're not in communication with them?"

    "Oh, Lance and Looker borrowed them for something or other, last I heard. Lance said he didn't want to share it until he had more confirmation," Diantha finally answered them. Ash wasn't sure what to think or say, knowing these kinds of situations were far over his head. "He just mentioned in passing that he hadn't heard a report from them today while they finished establishing a new base or something, and it just adds onto the stress. Life of a Champion and all that…"

    "Ever thought of retiring?" Ash asked, though he knew full well what the answer was. It was the same kind of answer he would give: being a Pokémon Trainer was never a job you just stopped doing. In fact, she offered a laugh as response to that.

    "Not quite yet. There's still some energy left for me yet, and I think Kathi Lee would kill me if I outright quit, even if it was to focus on acting," she said, and they finally reached their table. Seamus appeared to have left the seat, clearly attempting another call at the phones, but coming away looking just as annoyed as last time. Regardless of that, they all took a seat yet again, no one batting an eye at the fact that the Champion of Kalos was sitting with them. It certainly spoke to how far all of them had come. "Though, I have been thinking of a successor to the position for some time…though none of my Elite Four are very…ambitious, ha ha."

    "Wikstrom and Drasna seem the most fitting. Ooh, thanks!" Korrina said with enthusiasm as she grabbed her ice cream. Diantha shrugged at the mention before elaborating on that action.

    "They're strong trainers, and each would be a suitable replacement, but for Drasna looking to retire, herself and I just can't see Wikstrom leading the newer generation, no offense to him. I have considered Malva, but she never seems willing to commit to that kind of position, same with Siebold," Diantha said, her tone measured. Ash propped himself up on his elbow. He could tell that she had been thinking about and considering all this for quite some time now, considering how well-voiced it was. "These would never be decisions to be made lightly, and there are so many options with phenomenal trainers such as yourselves…and no doubt you'll be fostering the newest generation yourself, soon."

    "Um…uh…" Clemont suddenly hacked out, while Korrina blushed a deep crimson. Ash couldn't figure why they were so embarrassed, given they were already engaged to be married and simply hadn't set a date yet. Surely the thought of a new generation wasn't so far beyond them. It wasn't beyond Ash, either, given his talks with Serena, but neither of them had discussed anything definitive.

    "We're working on it," Korrina admitted with a nervous giggle before she promptly shoved her entire cone of ice cream into her mouth, allowing herself to remain silent. Seamus had finally finished approaching the table now.

    "They just don't want to pick up…well, I'll show 'em!" the blond insisted, throwing a fist into the air and drawing Astrid's attention to him. She looked downright amused. "If they don't want to talk, stupid Christopher, then I'll just let 'em stew overnight."

    "I take it you can't reach your school?" Diantha asked, quirking an eyebrow. Seamus was taken aback, but transferred his fist to have it run his fingers through his hair.

    "Ah, yeah…probably busy teaching or something, and Chris has his kid and all, so…" The blond seemed embarrassed, given his laugh, though Diantha merely nodded and moved on. When she'd turned away from him, Seamus gave Ash a wide-eyed expression, and the trainer laughed, Pikachu joining in with him.

    "So, Champion, I have to ask, any stock in the rumors from the media this morning about the explosion in Johto? Seems like it's all they're focused on," Astrid questioned, leaning in. Ash couldn't help but roll his eyes at the woman's inability to let the topic go, though he figured that she was likely bored, now that she was knocked out of the competition.

    "Mm, couldn't say. Not my purview," was Diantha's curt response. She was almost done with her ice cream now, but Ash couldn't sense any dishonesty or evasiveness in her voice. "Media relations are typically handled by Steven and all that investigative stuff is-"

    "Lance?" Ash asked. Diantha nodded. He sat back in his chair, hearing the cheering crowds at the result of whatever new battle was playing out in the stadium. It was looking late out, the sun beginning to sink on the horizon on the first day of heavy battling. Ten years ago or so, he never would have thought he'd be sitting here, chatting with a Champion, herself, potentially set to battle against her in the coming days…nor did he think he'd understand the structure of the current League system as well as he did.

    Not that Ash liked involving himself in politics. He was into that about as much as Pikachu enjoyed having his electric sacs tugged upon. He just knew enough how things worked…mostly because Lionel was always accompanied by Aidan, who always talked business. It made Ash's encounters with ARC a bit bittersweet, though he did wonder how they were doing, if they weren't making contact with the League.

    Now's not the time to be thinking about that! Ash insisted, shaking his head a bit. They were here for a tournament, after all, not a social call. This became all the more evident by a slight ringing from Diantha's bag. The Champion, having fully finished her ice cream at the sound of it, dug into said bag and pulled out the small phone. She excused herself silently and stepped away, just out of earshot. Ash, feeling lazy as Pikachu decided to finish off their own cone, looked over to the Champion.

    "You're sure…?" came the hushed whispers of Diantha's voice, and Ash had to wonder just what was going on. "No confirmation, though…and they haven't…? I see…Just…keep a watchful eye and…you know what, I'll stop by the office. Mmhmm."

    Ash looked back to Clemont and Astrid, the both of them seemingly just as interested in the conversation at hand. Diantha, for her part, made her way back over. Astrid straightened and addressed her. "Everything okay?"

    "Mm, not sure," was Diantha's answer. Ash frowned, reaching over to pat Pikachu, whose own tense body indicated his shared feelings with his trainer. Her eyes weren't smiling. "Just some news I wish I hadn't heard, but nothing definitive as of yet. Unfortunately, it means I'll have to go into work to see."

    "Oh, all right, then," Ash said. Diantha offered them one more smile, and then a wave, before she was off yet again. More cheers from the stadium indicated that the latest battle was won, and Ash had to wonder how close it all was to wrapping up. He was about to lament the number of missed battles when he heard Pikachu yawn loudly. "Guess that means it's time for us to head back to our room."

    "Sounds good to me," Clemont agreed, himself coming to a standing position, as well, at the suggestion. Korrina still looked a little flushed, but stood nonetheless and brushed her skirt off, skating around the table to take hold of her fiancée's arm. Before he or anyone else knew it, Korrina was dragging Clemont off, looking a bit like a kidnapper. While she did so, Astrid gave a loud yawn while Seamus stretched.

    "I'm gonna get some sleep, too. You better put up as good a battle as you did today!" Astrid insisted, pointing directly at Ash, who chuckled a little. Following that, she stood, spun right around, and walked off. Seamus finished stretching and offered a light shrug before doing the same. Ash had nothing left to say and departed in an opposite direction, deciding to go for a stroll around the facilities before turning in for the night. He debated calling Serena again, but figured she would probably be asleep or just exhausted from her own activities that day.

    "Oh, well," Ash muttered under his breath. Pikachu reclaimed his place on Ash's shoulder as he threw his hands behind his head and strode to the orange-tinged exterior of the area they were staying at. It was a location all too familiar to Ash, causing him to pause at the edge and smile. He had been so pumped up on the adrenaline of battle that he hadn't fully acknowledged it. "Wonder what dad thinks of all this, huh, Pikachu?"

    "Pika…" Pikachu said with a shrug, but there wasn't anything else to say. They both just shared the memory of that day so long ago. Ironically enough, it was also the day Ash had encountered the boy now approaching him. The two of them stopped, neither saying a word, until Ash found what he wanted to say.

    "How've you been, Paul?" Ash asked him. Paul didn't answer, leaning against the entrance of the stadium lobby. Only when he was looking directly at Ash did he answer.

    "I've been fine," was the response. Ash would have frowned, except for remembering that Paul wasn't one for small talk…ever, really. "Reggie is, too."

    "Uh-huh…you had a good battle with Seamus today," Ash said, trying to goad the purple-haired man into conversation. Naturally, he didn't take the bait.

    "It was good enough," was the curt reply. That seemed like a resounding "battle was amazing" in Ash's book. He did keep watching Paul, though, waiting for whatever reason he had come to speak with him, now that he was alone (he never expected his rival to come speak in any truly social setting). "You know we'll face off in the finals, right?"

    "I thought we sorta already promised that," Ash admitted. Paul jerked his head and started to walk off, but paused. Ash quirked an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

    "Cynthia approached me," he finally spoke, quieter than normal under the sound of the crashing waterfalls. "She's…talking about stepping down. Wants to put her passions into ruin investigations."

    "She approached you for it? That's great!" Ash insisted. Paul scoffed almost instantly, and a bit predictably. That made the raven-haired trainer sigh a bit, looking to the continually setting sun and the rainbow created from the misting overhead. A small twinge on the back of his neck made Ash feel like they weren't the only two there, standing outside, despite no one being visible. Not that it mattered once Paul was talking again.

    "Yeah, sure…I just wanted to let you know," his rival told him tersely, before waving his hand sharply. "I guess building the future is sooner than we think."

    Ash couldn't say anything about that. Mostly, it was because he could only guess as to why Paul had told him, and other than the sadness in his rival's voice, as though it spelled the end of their eternal tug-of-war between each other, he didn't have any solid guess. As Paul walked away, though, it certainly cemented that truth inside him: the world was moving on. Time had ticked forward, and while it had merely brought them all with it, Ash knew he was already witnessing a changing of the guard. Champions considering stepping down, a whole new generation of kids taking part in Leagues and going on journeys, and they were at the center of that storm of change.

    Putting his hands in his pockets and walking around the building, Ash realized how different things could look sooner than later. In every way possible, things were changing. Bonnie was a huge proof of that. His footsteps stopped, looking up at the stained glass that had once been shattered nearly a decade ago. For some reason, the man who had precipitated that took the forefront of his mind; now that the guard was changing, would Dalton be proud of the world they and their generation would create? It almost made him wonder if their generation was even ready for that responsibility. If he was ready, and what he could do to help usher it in…

    Taking his eyes away from the stained glass as he resumed his walking, Ash once more caught sight of the rainbow over the falls. That, too, brought him back to what Astrid seemed to be obsessing about: the explosion in Johto, and the odd rainbow overhead. It reminded him of the very first day he had become a trainer, and Ho-oh.

    "Wonder where Ho-oh's been all these years…?" Ash mused aloud to his best friend. Pikachu's ears twitched a little, sounding just a bit interested in the topic as they continued their walk. "I mean, when was the last time we saw it? And I'm pretty sure we've seen it more than most…"

    "Chu…" Pikachu agreed sagely. It was certainly a mystery; just another one to add to all the things swirling around and colliding upon one another in the changing age. It made the setting sun seem almost…metaphorical…and that was when Ash wondered when he started thinking that way, of all things.

    "Ah, who cares? Pikachu, you're up tomorrow and we're gonna win!" Ash proclaimed, throwing his fist to the sky. His other pokeballs radiated with enthusiastic energy and excitement for the battle ahead. Spinning around on his feet as Pikachu cheered alongside him, Ash began running off towards his room and the peacefulness of a good night's sleep, even as the feeling of his hairs standing on end never fully went away.Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  4. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    The next morning, Ash awoke rested and with just as much anticipation as the day prior, wondering who he'd be facing off against that day. There was a bit of unrest in his veins as he stretched, looking out over the waterfalls that morning and feeling that same sensation as the evening prior, like he was being watched. However, he figured that, in the end, it really just came down to a combination of hunger, missing Serena, and ultimate anticipation. Knowing that, the raven-haired trainer finished his stretches and decided to get breakfast, with a quick stop to make sure his Pokémon were in fighting shape before he did so.

    He wasn't the only one below, getting food. Alain and Mairin appeared to have been up as early as Korrina and Clemont, the two couples (or so it looked to Ash…he was never sure on Alain and Mairin's status) seeming to have an easy conversation. It wasn't quite the same for Seamus, who looked just as annoyed now as he had last evening.

    "Still can't get through?" Ash asked of the blond, violently stabbing a plate of crepes. He looked up with a scowl and a growl that all but confirmed Ash's own guesses regarding the matter.

    "They just don't want to pick up! I think I'm going to ask Clemont to use the IRCS at this point!" he screamed out, knocking over a jar of syrup and sending it spilling across the table. Pikachu took the opportunity to lick it up before a nearby waitress intervened. "I thought I'd let them stew, but I didn't think it would make them mad at me, and I don't really want to head back yet."

    "Then I guess the IRCS is your best bet, huh?" Ash asked, seeing a plate of pancakes delivered to him, already topped with some accompanying foods. He thanked the waitress and began to dig in while Seamus seemed to be involved over a debate of what to do, continually looking over at Clemont. Ash decided to ignore the surly and annoyed expressions, just watching the hall as he shoved food in for the upcoming day's matches, despite none of the matchups having yet been announced.

    The most particular of note was Diantha, who was accompanied by Cynthia and Lance, the three talking in hurried and rushed tones. He wasn't able to hear much of it, at least not enough to make any definitive conclusions, and Pikachu was too busy scarfing food to notice, even with his ears twitching at attention. They looked concerned, probably owing to whatever had upset the Kalos Champion the day prior, though their presence here indicated it probably wasn't that bad of a situation. Ash did muse on whether or not Astrid's observations had merit, though.

    "You ready for today's battle, buddy?" Ash asked with a grin, leaning in towards Pikachu, who finished up his food hastily.

    "Pika pika chuuuuuu!" Pikachu cried cheerily, slapping his cheeks rapidly. Ash laughed, giving his partner a high five, and when he looked up, the Champions had disappeared. It made him think about his brief conversation with Paul the day before, but he soon shrugged it off at the decision to make his way to the stadium. Seamus, too, had stood, rapidly striding over to Clemont, his voice carrying across the entire area.

    "Hey, Clemont, you have administrative access to the IRCS, right? Mind doing me a favor?" he was yelling out. Clemont looked taken aback, but at a peck on his cheek from Korrina, he decided to answer with confidence.

    "Sure, let me just get my portable enhancement version from my room. You're calling Nova Town?" the inventor asked, having obviously picked up on the source of Seamus' trepidation. Glad to see it was an easy decision, Ash cleaned up and made a straight beeline for the stadium, Clemont's voice fading as he did so with a, "Not surprised, as no one there has the same abilities or permissions to…"

    As the roars of the crowd hit upon his ears, drowning the duo's voices, Ash did think about calling Serena and seeing how she was doing that morning, but figured she would be far too busy with her Showcase endeavors. He definitely didn't want to take away from that. Irked Serena was a Serena he may have gotten used to in their married life, but not one he wanted to deal with right before an intense battle. Knowing that she'd be fine with it all, he proceeded to the stadium and took a seat with the rest of the remaining competitors as they filled in, keeping his eye on each of them. Before long, Kalas' voice was once more filling the air, overriding the crowd.

    "Welcome back, folks, to another exciting day of a huge tournament, the Champion Tournament! We've whittled down our competitors yesterday to another batch of strong contestants, who will now be engaging one another in an epic set of battles!" Kalas called, as usual whipping the entire crowd into a major frenzy with his words. Even Ash found himself getting excited. "Without further ado, let's show the randomized matchups for today!"

    With Kalas' words, Ash turned to the biggest screen in the stadium, looking at all of the cards with the competitors' faces. They turned over, mixing around like always until they righted themselves and flipped around, lines drawn between them. Ash and Pikachu's expressions quickly changed to one of surprise, and they weren't the only ones.

    "Well, well," was Kalas' own surprised voice, "it seems today's first battle is another rematch; one that was memorable in its own right a few years back. Let's welcome our first battlers for the day to the dirt field: Ash Ketchum and Champion Diantha!"

    "Perfect!" Ash said, clenching a fist as he stood. Across the way, where all of the Champions were huddled together in conversation, Diantha stood as well. She looked perturbed, but Ash could see her eyes light with fire as she looked across to him and smiled. Knowing they were both ready, Ash turned away from his seat and made a quick run for the halls to the battlefield. Passing through them once more, Ash got a shiver this time, his memory of that day prickling at the hair on the back of his neck. Pikachu seemed to feel it as well, though Ash wondered if, just maybe, it wasn't the memory at all, but rather the disturbed sound of other footsteps in the corridor.

    Nevertheless, he shook his head, deciding that it was mere anticipation, and he quickly ran towards the battlefield with numerous cheers and excited screams. To his expectation, Diantha was already down below, standing across from him, though not saying a word. It was really just like her, as he'd learned from all his battles with her over the years. In front of her, no less, her partner Pokémon had already been chosen.

    "Knew she'd go with Gardevoir. Either way, Pikachu, I choose you!" Ash said. The crowd seemed to roar in approval of his choice, making Ash reach up to turn his hat back. That made them cheer even more; over the years, and to Ash's surprise, it turned out that he, Pikachu and their mannerisms were just as popular as their status at winning battles. The referee quickly called out the usual basic tenets of the battle, though Ash just watched Diantha, knowing that surveying her was just as important as watching Gardevoir to winning the battle.

    She looked more reticent than usual before a battle, her eyes not revealing anything, switching back and forth between fired up and clouded. It concerned Ash a little, the shiver passing down his neck again, this time with a more distinct feeling. He looked up, seeing Cynthia and Lance still huddled, holding a tablet as they pointed to something. Ash shook his head.

    "Pikachu, Quick Attack!" Ash called, clenching his fist and throwing it up. Pikachu shuddered a bit and raced forward swiftly, like a bolt of white lightning. He barreled right for Gardevoir, while Ash watched Diantha. She imperceptibly nodded her head, and just as Pikachu reached Gardevoir's location, the Embrace Pokémon vanished. "Iron Tail!"

    "Chu pika!" Pikachu cried, his tail instantly brightening and swiping around. The attack slammed into Gardevoir the second she materialized, being driven into the center of the dirt field. Diantha showed no surprise, though she was wearing a faint smile that showed her appreciation of the hit.

    "Shadow Ball," was the next command. Gardevoir instantly righted herself, forming a Shadow Ball and sending it flying out at Pikachu. Ash nodded his own head now and Pikachu jumped to the side, the attack barely missing him. Diantha raised her head and Gardevoir continued firing Shadow Ball after Shadow Ball, as if trying to keep Pikachu away as much as possible.

    "Counter that with Electro Ball!" Ash called, throwing his fist outward now. Pikachu dodged to the side and leapt up into the air, forming a crackling ball of electricity at the tip of his tail. He waited less than a second, his charge time significantly faster than usual, before he flung it right at Gardevoir. Her Shadow Ball also flew out, colliding with the electrical projectile and then exploding with steam around the battlefield. Ash narrowed his eyes, keeping them peeled for when Diantha herself would next appear across the way, though he gave another command. "Counter Shield!"

    "Moonblast," Diantha said stoically. Ash brought his fist down and clenched it. He should have known she was setting up for that. The smoke whipped away as Pikachu was spinning on his back, sending torrents of electricity out. Gardevoir was a small distance away, having charged up her Moonblast before firing it at Pikachu. It collided with the shield, straining against it before breaking through and slamming into Pikachu, albeit in a weakened form. He went flying through the air, righting himself.

    "Iron Tail! Spin into it!" Ash commanded. Pikachu began to spin forward as Gardevoir remained still. Ash paid close attention to Diantha, waiting for the move he knew was coming. Sure enough, as Pikachu was about to make contact with Gardevoir, Diantha nodded. The Embrace Pokémon vanished once again, but Pikachu knew exactly what to do. He spun out of his roll and whipped around, sending a quick cascade of Electro Balls at Gardevoir where they impacted with popping noises and small little sparks, driving her back.

    "Whoo! Just like in his first official match, Ash is taking the Champion to task! He may be small, but Pikachu is one force to be reckoned with!" Kalas called out. Pikachu landed, grinning back at Ash, who grinned right back. They were really moving in sync today. Diantha was even already reaching for her necklace, looking as though she wanted to try and end the battle more quickly than usual. There was a certain savagery there; one that Ash could tell was not normal, though he couldn't tell why whatsoever.

    "Pikachu, be on guard, something's off," Ash said quietly, enough for his partner to hear. That prickling was returning. Diantha's stance was changing. There really was something very off. As she seemed about to Mega Evolve Gardevoir, and Ash was about to call his next command, he looked up and saw Clemont running towards the Champion section of the stands.

    No…it wasn't just him. Seamus was with him, with both of their eyes so wide that they looked like they'd pop out of their heads. Ash stepped forward, and Diantha turned, looking up. There was a pause in which things must have been said, some news shared. Her lips were pursed, and she looked to be shaking. She raised her hand.

    "I forfeit the match," she called loudly, and murmuring filled the stadium. Ash's brow furrowed. There was no indignation, but just a sense of worry amidst the muttering.

    Something was very, very wrong, and he wanted to know just what it was.

    Knowing that, Ash ran forward, Pikachu joining him the second he was nearby. Diantha didn't waste a beat in calling Gardevoir back quickly, walking to the edge of the stadium towards the Champions. Ash picked up his pace and called to her. "Diantha! Diantha, what was that about? Hey!"

    "I'm sorry, Ash," the Kalos Champion spoke, pausing as she stopped at the edge. Ash finally caught up to her as the confusion in the stadium reached its peak. He looked at her, and could see her quivering lip. He shook his head. "I really wanted to battle you, but…"

    "Forget about that. We can battle later. Just tell me what's going on!" Ash demanded of her, only it wasn't Diantha that answered. It was Clemont, and he looked more pale than usual.

    "Ash, we just tried contacting Nova Town…" Clemont told him. "It…"

    "They were attacked yesterday, but we're such a small town that the news…it didn't reach…it…The school is gone," Seamus choked out, looking like he was close to vomiting at the thought of all of it. Ash stopped for a moment, disbelieving of the words being spoken. He snapped his gaze to Diantha, as people in the stadium began to stand. Kalas was speaking, trying to regain order, though Ash couldn't hear the words spoken. That only explained half of it. The second half was finally explained by Diantha a moment later, even telling Ash just why she had called off the match.

    "We finally received word this morning…and it proves Clemont's news isn't a coincidence," Diantha stated sharply. "That explosion in Johto was an attack on ARC…and as far as we can tell, there were no survivors."

    Ash felt his heart drop. The tournament was already over for him as soon as it had begun.

    Author's Note: So, the plot's pretty much gotten off to a start here. Yes, the tournament: in this case it was staging rather than a major part of the plot. I hope that will become obvious in time. Nonetheless, there're a lot of little things to chew on within this chapter either thematically or plot-wise. I'd like to think I presented it effectively enough, but this is still just the warm-up! That's right, it'll get even more intense as we go. I hope you enjoyed the skirmishes, though.

    I hope you'll continue to support me throughout this final chapter of the Ancienverse. To do that, please leave me a Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  5. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Battling with reader expectation is the hardest part of telling a story. I have the idea for my own plot, but my readers all expect something else will happen or should happen. It's an endless battle. But who cares, please enjoy the first chapter of 2018. Please enjoy Chapter 3!

    Chapter 3

    A Burning​

    There were mutters all around. Confused stares peppered the entire stadium, zeroed in on the point where Ash had gathered with Diantha and the other Champions. Diantha's forfeit had certainly seemed to set everyone on edge, and despite all of Kalas' attempts to calm the crowd down, no one was really listening. They were too busy being confused, unless one counted those in the more knowledgeable crowd, such as Astrid and Alain, already standing from their seats and swiftly making their way downward.

    Ash, however, was still reeling from the shock of the statement.

    "Maybe…maybe you're just confused…" he voiced quietly, before he could even stop himself. He knew it was likely a delusion to be saying that, but there had to be some hope that ARC and Nova Town were okay. His mind flashed back, so many years, to the report he'd seen on the bombing of the League. This felt different, though, because here, people's lives were more at stake…completely innocent people.

    "There's no confusion," Lance muttered out. Ash's fists clenched, not liking to hear those words. All of the confusion in the stadium was reaching a new, feverish pitch at this point, making their small meeting suddenly become acutely prominent to everyone that was there. Cynthia noticed this the most.

    "I think we should move this conversation elsewhere. Alder, can you inform Kalas to get a move on with the battles? Find some way to smooth things over," the Sinnoh Champion said with a light pat to his back. The fiery-haired man was frowning, looking like he wasn't happy about any of this, but he nodded and stood, bustling his way through the crowd. Ash watched him go, but soon moved his vision along to the others from the crowd, on the move.

    "Uh, well, it seems Champion Diantha has forfeited the match, leaving Ash Ketchum as the winner," Kalas called out with a chuckle. The crowd there wasn't as happy or accepting of this simple answer, regardless of the fact that it was the truth. Ash could hear it in all of their mutterings and curse words. They wanted to know why. There was a sudden screeching sound from the microphone, as though Alder had reached his destination.

    Ash began to turn away, to follow after all those that were clustered in worried discussion, now leaving the stadium as swiftly as they could. Diantha was already down the hallway from the field as her fellow Champions were moving out of the stands. Ash turned back before entering, himself, catching sight of Paul standing there, his forehead scrunched in discernment. His rival must have seen something in his eyes, Ash figured, else he wouldn't have turned away with his usual laconic attitude and start walking from the stands.

    "Hey, everyone! No reason for concern!" Alder's voice boomed out with his usual jubilance. The crowd seemed to settle down at his voice, though Ash could hear the small edge in the man's voice that the usually oblivious Unova Champion typically didn't have. "It's just a little thing. Diantha's Gardevoir was still damaged from her amazing battle with me yesterday. Rather than risk more damage, she called the match off! You know how these high tier battles can be!"

    "In-indeed we do, Champion Alder!" Kalas agreed, removing his stuttering to instill confidence back into the crowd. "I'm sure Gardevoir will be healed up sooner than later."

    "Ha ha, of course!" Alder agreed, the sound from the commentator's box making it sound like he was slapping Kalas' back, and rather violently at that. "The other Champions want to make sure everything's all right with one of their own, but while they do, let's get a move on with the second round!"

    Ash didn't hear who would be called for the second round, slipping into the depths of the halls beyond and cutting off the noise, other than the murmuring now growing back into excited cheers. To that, he could exhale in relief. Once he had, Ash picked up the pace, dashing down the hallway to join up with the rapidly clopping steps of Diantha. He very quickly caught sight of her face, the thin line that was her lips expressing everything about the situation. Ash tried to think of what to say, but he'd never been the best with words in this kind of situation, wanting only to move to action.

    Evidently, however, that didn't matter all that much to the woman.

    "Another attack…" she breathed, loud enough for Ash to hear as he got close. Diantha looked a cross between furious and outright shaking. "I thought we'd finally won peace after all these years, but first ARC, and now Nova Town."

    "I'm sure it's just fine, right, Pikachu?" Ash asked, hoping to assuage his own burning rage and fear that was growing inside of him. Pikachu nodded furiously, though Ash was pretty sure neither believed their own words. Diantha stopped a moment and turned back, looking right at him. "Whatever it is, we'll deal with it. We didn't come this far just to let this-"

    "I know," Diantha spoke snappishly. She shook her head, offering an apology with her eyes, and she turned to continue along. "It's just worrisome."

    "Yeah…" Ash agreed, now coming to stand at her side as they broke out of the hallway and started heading for a different area of the League Headquarters. It was an area that Ash had been to only once before: when he'd defeated Diantha some years ago before declining the Champion position. The others must have been there, as well, considering the door was just closing as they reached it. Diantha quickly propped it open. "Have people seen it with their own eyes? I mean, what happened and all."

    "I'm unsure," Diantha answered. Ash looked down and realized her fingers were gripping tightly to her clothing, almost ripping at its fabric. "For ARC, we just have the site of the attack, but from what I know, the rubble is concealing a lot…and we haven't made contact with them. Obviously, Nova Town is a different story."

    Ash had no words for that, either, merely sharing a look with Pikachu. Seamus had seemed absolutely frightened out of his mind, though perhaps things couldn't have been all that bad if he'd been able to actually get in contact with someone at the town itself. That was the shred of hope that Ash held on to. He couldn't believe that all the others wouldn't be okay. What he was starting to wonder, however, was just who would be willing and wanting to go to this effort, and for what purpose.

    "Just when I thought we'd made a difference." Diantha's sigh, sounding so defeated, rang in Ash's ears as they suddenly stopped next to the paned windows, the sunlight shining in upon them. She turned around to face him completely, her eyes heavy and tired. "We've spent how long rebuilding things, making them better. We wanted to safeguard the future, but…"

    Ash frowned, but stepped forward and put his hands on her shoulders, looking at her insistently. Pikachu joined him, looking absolutely fierce. She looked to him, and he stared her down. "Diantha, we've built an awesome future. Dalton would be proud of us. Anyone would be, especially after all the effort you've put in. Don't ever doubt that!"

    "Ash…" Diantha said to him, her tone almost sounding chastising. He gripped tighter, imparting his conviction into her, and she finally let out a loose chuckle. "You're right. We don't know what's happening, and every action we've taken has been to prevent damage as much as possible. If we continue doing that as much as possible, then we'll be fine."

    "That's the spirit!" Ash exclaimed, removing his hands and pumping his fists. Knowing that he'd helped her with all of that, the two finally continued along to the conference room that Diantha had been leading them to in the first place. Sure enough, the remaining Champions, Clemont and Seamus were there. More than that, it appeared that Alain and Astrid were there as well, though no one else. They seemed almost at a loss for words.

    "Lance, what do we have absolutely confirmed?" Diantha spoke up as she entered. It was clear that she wasn't going to let her fears that she'd failed deter her from stopping any further damage. Ash felt positive about that from hearing her voice alone. "And I mean, on the ground, confirmed."

    "Not much," was Lance's answer as he folded his arms. "We only know about ARC due to Derek, who was on site in Azalea Town to investigate that lost contact. He said the rest of their forces had been located in that city with the explosion, but I've not heard from any of Alpha Squad, Lionel or Aidan, so one can only assume…"

    "What happened in Azalea Town?" Clemont questioned rapidly. The Champions in the room all looked to one another, as though unsure whether they should be discussing this, but Lance seemed to relent on the issue in its immediacy.

    "Mass disappearance…the G-Men hadn't heard from them regarding the tournament, and with so many others on deck for this, we sent ARC out, but we never imagined…" Ash felt a pit form in his stomach. Lance didn't say what had happened aloud, but not a person in that room had any doubt of what had gone down or occurred. It made that pit feel like a sinking void that threatened to consume him entirely. Azalea was a small town; whatever had happened there, it likely was quick against a defenseless force. No matter what planning anyone could have done, no one could have prevented that, but for Nova Town…

    "Wait…you don't mean…?" Seamus choked out, sounding like his voice was cracking from the statement. "What about Nova Town? My friends? My school and students?"

    "Relax," Cynthia sighed out. Ash flicked his eyes over to the older woman, noticing that despite her telling Seamus to relax, her body language was completely on edge. "No one has eyes on Nova Town, or on where ARC was, so no one can confirm anything for good or ill, all right?"

    "I know that…and I know Nurse Joy is all right, but…" Seamus was clenching his own fist now, angrily clawing at his palm. Ash looked over to Clemont, who was also glancing his way. They held that look for some time, sharing it with the whirring thoughts in their heads. Ash was pretty sure he could tell what was on Clemont's mind, and the thoughts that were stirring there, but neither were voicing them yet.

    "We need eyes on the ground," Steven commented, tapping his chin lightly. He was the only one in the room sitting, trying to seem like a soothing balm in a room full of ragged nerves. Ash was trying to focus his own thoughts, wanting to scream out whatever ideas he had, but he held them back, knowing it was best not to send everyone in the room into a panic. In the back of his mind, he was thinking about ARC and Lionel, hoping they were all okay or something, but realizing he couldn't do anything about it; not with the situation in Nova Town. He breathed out slowly to remind himself of that and steel his mind. Cheers arose from the stadium outside, indicating that the crowd was back in the swing of things. "ARC hasn't been confirmed, and Nova Town is mere hearsay without any visual confirmation. I know you trust your friends, but they were just attacked; they may not have the full scope of things."

    "Then I'll head home!" Seamus insisted, slamming his hand upon the table. Most barely reacted, except for Astrid, who gave a small pout at the situation. For a brief moment, Ash wondered why Paul wasn't quite here, and whether he was battling, given what he'd said about Cynthia last night, but Lance cut across those thoughts.

    "Not alone, you're not," was the Champion's answer. Seamus looked like he'd been asked to swallow a Grimer of some sort, and stepped back. Lance gave a sigh to the room. "Look, we have no idea what is going on here: mass vanishment, attacks on a League-affiliated organization and your hometown? It's all rather disturbing."

    "You mean familiar," Astrid spoke up. Ash looked closer to her, the blonde having folded her arms. He couldn't disagree with that, and it was something the others seemed to notice, as well. There were very disturbing parallels to Dalton and Team Neo's attack so many years ago; it was too completely evocative of it. "I mean, right down to being unable to contact people."

    "There have been communication issues…" Diantha noted with a weary sigh. Despite that, she held a steeliness in her eyes, and a spark that said she wasn't going to let this get any of them down. "Regardless of that, Steven is right about needing eyes on the ground, and I don't think we'll be able to stop Seamus from going to Nova Town…"

    "Evidently not," Lance drawled. He was drumming his hands against the table now, looking around at everyone in the room. Ash breathed in, now wearing a look of frustration alongside Pikachu. He couldn't take staying silent anymore.

    "Then I'll go with him!" he declared, nodding his head like that was decided. His comment got predictable reactions. Most of the Champions sighed, Alain made no movement and Astrid rolled her eyes while Clemont and Diantha seemed to nod. Seamus also gave no reaction, but he seemed to be more stuck in that moment of fear and worry. It was enough to make Ash step forward and put his hand on his friend. "If Seamus can't go alone, then send me and Clemont. All that League stuff is your thing, and even though I know ARC pretty well, I think it's better for you guys to handle those sorts of things…"

    "Ash does have a point," Clemont elaborated. The inventor reached up and placed a hand to his heart, bowing a little. "He's one of the best trainers here, and we know Nova Town pretty well. Not to mention that I can go as the League's representative."

    "And the tournament? Ash is still participating," Cynthia pointed out. Ash frowned again; he hadn't really thought of all that. Not that it mattered when a friend was far more important than any competition, and judging from Seamus' current state, he really needed a friend to help him.

    "Trade me out for Diantha," he answered, giving a reassuring grin to those in the room. "I know she forfeited and all, but I think it's okay if we trade out, yeah? Just make some excuse that I wouldn't accept winning the tournament on a forfeit. It's more important that she's here to coordinate efforts and help everyone figure out just what's going on, anyway."

    "He has a point," Alain finally spoke up. Eyes shifted to him, except for Lance, who looked like he was thinking. Alain's feet moved, and the man looked outside the windows in the room, seeming contemplative. "ARC is League organization. Nova Town is not. More people would find it odd for a Champion to visit a place like Nova Town, but not for Ash to go somewhere. He is known for being capricious."

    "Hey!"

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu said in agreement with Alain, shaking his head. Ash glared at his long-time partner. Out of everyone there, Steven seemed the most ready to argue the point about it, even if Ash knew that he wasn't budging in the slightest. Like before, however, Lance cut across any and all ideas in the room.

    "I agree with the decision," the Kanto Champion said. His fingers continued to drum on the table and he looked over to Ash and Clemont. "You two are well acquainted with Nova Town and its people, and having a peacekeeper like Diantha remain on site here would be best to quelling any fears of the public should the news officially reach ears here. But we can't have a mass exodus of people still taking part in the tournament."

    "Most people that aren't Champions here are already kicked out," Astrid pointed out. None had a response to that, so she pushed on with her words. "So, yeah, it would definitely be weird if a bunch of Champions and other big figures still in the tournament simply dropped out. But the reckless one over here makes a lot more sense, as does some of us that have already been kicked out. Besides, if everything goes all right, we'd be back before Ash would even have to battle tomorrow, you know?"

    "Astrid has a point," Diantha spoke up, a smile adorning her face. She seemed far less on edge than she was before. That helped Ash to feel a little better about what was going on. "Lance, would you be okay with this course of action? You are the direct link to these actions in managing them."

    "Yes, I'm just fine with it," Lance stated, though it was little more than a mutter. He still seemed lost in thought, but finally jerked himself out of it to look over all of them carefully. "I'll withdraw myself from the match and give it to Diantha if the swap doesn't work. I think it's best I handle whatever happened with ARC, personally. I'll call the International Police in on it. No doubt that Looker will have someone skilled he can send in."

    "It's still a risky play," Cynthia commented, folding her arms, "but I'll agree it's the wisest choice. Meanwhile, we keep peace and order here."

    "And keep others informed," Steven concluded. Diantha looked to him and Ash noticed that the two seemed to be having some sort of silent conversation. She nodded to him, like they came to an agreement, and he moved on. "Keeping places like the Aether Foundation, or possibly some noted professors, like Gary, apprised of these matters would be good, too, in the event these attacks are not haphazard or random. That way, we can mobilize in any given region at any given time."

    ` "Uh, you guys can handle all that," Ash finally chuckled out, taking his hand off of Seamus' shoulders and throwing them behind his head. "I'm no good with all that army stuff."

    "Unless you count motivation…" Clemont commented, enough for only Ash to hear. He grinned a little sheepishly. Nevertheless, he continued on with confirming his own plan of action for the quick and foreseeable future.

    "Well, anyway, we'll just head to Nova Town, see that everyone's okay, figure out what the heck happened and get in contact soon as we can! Right, Pikachu?" Ash asked of his longtime partner. As he did so, Astrid moved herself over so that she was standing with the already predominantly male trio, smirking back at the Champions. Clearly, she'd volunteered herself over Alain.

    "Pikachu!" Pikachu agreed heartily, thumping his own chest.

    "Well, when you've decided, there's rarely any stopping you," Diantha agreed. She walked a little forward, facing the four of them as they stood at attention. "We'll count on you, then. Report back as soon as you're able. When we have more information, I'll send some forces out to help the town, all right? Malva should be able to rein in the media for the time being to make sure things don't get too crazy, as well. You just focus on getting information and getting back here before things become too noticeable for even her to handle."

    "In the meantime, the others just need to focus on keeping eyes on the tournament, huh?" Alain questioned. Steven and Cynthia offered curt nods at the idea. Lance didn't even respond at all, already walking away with a rather cold and indifferent look on his face. Ash had to stop and wonder if, perhaps, the Champion felt that he was to blame for this whole circumstance. However, as soon as that line of thought had arrived, it had flitted away.

    "Will you all need transportation?" Diantha was asking of them and Ash looked back.

    "Nah, I've got a friend on hand that can get me to Nova quick…though he can only ferry two of us, I guess…" Ash answered her. That seemed to answer the question in any respect, though Ash was about to bring up the possibility of calling Latias when Diantha was already walking away.

    "I'll call for a helicopter to pick you all up from the entrance of headquarters. Should be here shortly, so take the time to get ready, okay?" Diantha called back. Ash was forced to shrug in acceptance of the fact, and opted for throwing his arm around Seamus and pulling him away from the room. Alain ended up trailing right behind their quartet.

    "You don't want to come along, Alain?" Ash asked him with a grin. The young man shoved his hands in his pockets and sent a smirk in Ash's direction.

    "Think I'll pass. Have to keep up some sense of appearance for the public," the researcher answered him. "I'm sure you four can handle things just fine, though I'm surprised you wanted to go, Astrid."

    "Reasons," was Astrid's only, prideful response. "Clemont, you should be sure to inform Korrina, so she doesn't worry where you went."

    "Heh heh heh…I already have!" Clemont proclaimed throwing his pointer finger into the air triumphantly. Ash wanted to laugh, but was afraid that if he removed his arm from around Seamus' shoulders, the blond would go running off well ahead of them and hijack the first helicopter he saw. "Thanks to my wonderful invention, the Eavesdropping Transmitter-"

    "So Korrina heard the whole entire conversation and is probably back in the stadium. Got it." Clemont looked rather crestfallen at Astrid's barbed remark, but chose to ultimately take it all back in stride, puffing out his chest with pride. He didn't make any remark, though, his eyes glinting as he focused himself on the task that was ahead of them. More cheers rocked the area, and Ash had to guess that yet another big match had finished. It did feel a little weird to Ash, in some way, that everything seemed to be continuing on as normal despite the news they had received.

    Guess that's the job of a Champion, though, Ash had to figure to himself. Keeping things normal when the whole world was going crazy…he didn't envy them. Nor, it seemed, did Alain, who had already split off to head back to the stadium. To no one's surprise, a confused Mairin was standing there, looking at him. Predictably, Korrina was nowhere in sight. Ash shrugged it off and continued following, briefly glancing to the phone where he wondered if he should tell Serena, but opted against it.

    Then, he felt a tug on his jacket and was pulled back for a moment, his arm wrenched away from Seamus.

    "Something happened." Paul's ever-so-stern tones met Ash's ears, and the raven-haired trainer grimaced. "You're not pulling out, are you?"

    "Not a chance," Ash answered with a grin. Paul just scoffed. Ash turned to look at him, noticing his sharp eyes glaring at a point beyond Ash, as though seeing something that couldn't be seen. He had to wonder if his rival was aware of what they had discussed at the meeting. "I'll be back. There's just…some stuff going on."

    "Uh-huh…" Paul responded before snapping his glare right back on to Ash. "Just be careful. This isn't worth it if we don't face off again. I couldn't take that position in good faith if I couldn't beat you again."

    "Like I'd let you!" Ash smirked out, holding out his fist to the young man. Paul considered it for a second, like he was crazy. Then he reached out and lightly tapped it away. It was the best acknowledgement that Ash had come to expect. Once he'd done so, Paul turned right around and began heading for the stadium.

    "Tell me what's really going on when you get back. This kind of stuff never ends well when you're involved," the purple-haired man noted, and he was gone before long. Ash frowned after him, but soon after felt a nudge from Pikachu against his cheek, determining that it wasn't worth it to keep scowling. Instead, he whirled around on his feet and raced after his current companions, already far ahead of him. For a moment, he looked back after Paul, seeing some people at the concessions stands watching him with interest, as though wondering over his result, but when they looked away, so did he, trying to quickly meet with his friends.

    Thankfully, it didn't take too long to catch up with them, even if he didn't reach them until they were already outside of the headquarters, listening to the crashing waterfall as they waited for the helicopter that could ferry them to Nova Town. Seamus, in particular, seemed restless, pacing back and forth already, scrabbling at his own palms. Ash really couldn't stand watching it. "Clemont, how much longer until the helicopter gets here?"

    "Five minutes…maybe?" Clemont suggested, but he threw in a shrug that indicated he truly had no idea. It was five minutes that Seamus was likely going to continue being torn up inside. Ash sighed loudly.

    "Then we'll see you five minutes later in Nova Town," Ash told them loudly. Seamus stopped pacing, while Astrid blinked in his direction. Clemont didn't do or say anything, as if he expected all of this. Ash just reached for his waist and pulled his pokeball out, tossing it to the air. "Charizard, come on and help us out!"

    "Rawwwr!" came the loud roar that pierced the air as Ash's ever loyal Flame Pokémon emerged, soaring through the skies with a joyous grin. It wasn't to battle, but to able to spend this time with any one of his Pokémon was precious. Charizard finished circling and landed with a slam on the ground. Ash reached up to pat him on the jaw, to which his nostrils curled a little with pleased smoke. Once he had, Ash looked to Seamus.

    "We'll go to Nova a little bit ahead of them, okay? I know you're too worried to wait around, and Charizard is as fast as they come," Ash assured him. Seamus blinked a little more and then sighed. He looked over to Charizard, who nodded while Pikachu climbed on to his back. "Clemont and Astrid will meet us there just a few minutes later, but this way it's five minutes less of worrying, right?"

    "Right…you're right…" Seamus breathed out. He once more tousled his hair and offered a worried smile. "Yeah, I am worried. Thanks."

    "Then let's go," Ash said, stepping over and thumping him on the back. That action pushed Seamus towards Charizard, where he boarded the waiting Pokémon. Ash soon joined him, making sure they were all secured for the flight. Charizard looked surprisingly comfortable and overjoyed at the activity, despite being such a born battler. "We'll see you when you get there. Where do we want to meet?"

    "Pokémon Center," was Clemont's easiest response. It made sense, and Ash nodded to both him and Astrid. She didn't look necessarily happy, but also seemed to understand, offering the both of them a wave. Ash reached down and patted Charizard, telling him to take off for the skies.

    "RAAAWR!" Charizard roared, sending a spurt of flame flying high into the sky as he gave a great beating of his wings and blasted off into the air. Seamus looked to be gripping tight, though Ash wasn't sure if it was from fear of flying or fear for what happened to Nova. All they could do to assuage that was get him there faster. Ash tapped Charizard once, and his speed picked up just a little. Seamus gripped closer.

    The trees zipped beneath them, Charizard already knowing the route and way to get to Nova Town to the south. It wasn't a far distance, perhaps half an hour by the speed Charizard flew at. However, every second felt like an eternity with the look on Seamus' face and the absolute air of worry that exuded from every one of his pores. It was strange, being unable to come up with anything to say, even if Ash knew he had to say something.

    "I hope they're okay…" Seamus said loudly, over the wind whipping past them. Ash said nothing, sharing the same sentiments. "We've had such peace and…I don't want this to be another Team Neo."

    "Yeah. But don't worry. No matter what happened there, Christopher and Rocky are real strong," Ash assured him, patting him on the back. He squinted his eyes ahead and saw what looked like the distinct monuments that were the Four Gates. "And if you're anything to go by, and your classes I saw, your students will be just fine, too."

    "Sure. Just…thanks for coming with me. You didn't have to," Seamus muttered out. It was nearly drowned by the wind, but Ash couldn't help but smile. There was no need for a single thanks at all, but he liked hearing it. Once he finished smiling, though, his eyes turned to the very near sight of Nova Town, and his eyes widened. "No way…"

    "The school…Charizard, land us down there!" Charizard roared in an affirmative, bending his wings inward and shooting down for the surface of the town. Ash's eyes continued to narrow as he stared out over the sight of desolation that was before him. Now that they were closer, the full extent of whatever damage had been done to Nova Town was growing clearer and clearer. This hadn't been some small skirmish with some thugs or a wild Pokémon. When even the remnants of the Mark Omega looked natural next to the destruction in the town, it was obvious there was something wrong.

    Tiles were ripped up and splintered wood lay all over the place, while some Pokémon lay collapsed on the ground. Ash had to think on just how long ago this had happened, but there was no time to wonder. Charizard was nearly onto the grounds of the school, itself a large pile of shattered windows and wood. It was like a large laser or a hurricane had ripped through the entire area, leaving almost nothing behind.

    Charizard finished his descent, but before his feet touched to the ground, Seamus had leapt off. He ran forward, his eyes wild and worried in that moment, while his breath was audible. Ash waited for Charizard to absolutely stop before he got off. "Charizard, watch the skies, okay?"

    There was a snort as an affirmation, and the Flame Pokémon looked upwards, remaining alert. There were some Pidgey flying overhead, skirting the edge of the town slightly before diving into the forest beyond. Clearly the attack had been expertly targeted, or else the wildlife would have abandoned the place entirely. Of more interest, of course, was the town itself. The sound of crashing wood indicated Ash to Seamus' movement.

    "Chupika!" Pikachu called out, giving Ash the direction to turn. He looked and saw Seamus scrambling over the ruins of the school worriedly.

    "Chris! ROCKY!" he was screaming, looking prepared to dig through the wreckage of the building. Ash frowned, pulling back just a little bit to the main road. He stared down to the square, noting its ruined contents, which clearly hadn't been cleaned up from however long ago the attack was. There looked like screens, shattered and broken, and the wood splinters there appeared to be a little more than just fruit stands. "Come on, come on, come on, come on!"

    "Seamus, relax!" Ash yelled back, drawing back into the school courtyard. Clouds were drawing overhead, and Pikachu's cheeks sparked while Charizard drew his tail in. A thunderstorm seemed to be coming. Stepping closer to the ruined school, Ash saw Seamus whip upwards, dropping a wooden beam that he had been attempting to lift. "They weren't in the school. I'm pretty sure. I think they were in the square, so maybe they're..."

    Ash let his voice die as he saw Seamus straighten and run towards the back of the school. Ash gave a sigh and followed; he didn't want to be out here if it meant there would be a downpour. There were more important things. Pushing his legs in, Ash ran forward, quickly climbing over the remnants of the school that was there and towards the backyard. Seamus had already seemed to have stopped, heaving breaths in and out as he stood before the pair of graves. Ash blew upward, some of his hair ruffling in the wind as he reached him.

    "They're here…they're still here…" Seamus expressed, looking like he was about to collapse from both relief and worry at the same time. A light burst from the man's waist, Zoroark appearing in her own relief at the sight of the graves. Ash put his hands in his pockets, briefly looking up to the rumbling sky. He hoped Clemont and Astrid would get there okay. His eyes shifted downward, to the lone grave there, the unmarked one, and he thought he saw someone there. He blinked, and they were gone like a wispy figment, clearly the result of stress. "Do you think everyone's okay?"

    "Uh…well, like I said, I think they were at the square, and I'm sure everyone else…"

    "The Pokémon Center, then," Seamus said, his voice dark and brooding. It sounded a bit like his old self; like he demanded some form of retribution. Ash whipped his hand out, eyes flicking over to the grave from earlier. Seamus stopped, staring at him with dull eyes a moment as Ash kept him from moving.

    "Don't," was his simple statement. Seamus' lips twisted and he squeezed his eyes shut, his body shaking, but when he finally opened his eyes again, his darkness had passed. That set Ash at ease as the sound of the beating helicopter rotors met his ears. "To the Pokémon Center, it is."

    The two young men turned right back around, heading straight for the courtyard again, where Charizard was waiting, trying to find an eave under which to hide. A small pitter-patter of rain started falling from the sky, freckling on Ash's skin. As he reached the broken segments of the school, Ash looked back. Lightning flashed, and once more, he thought he caught a glimpse of the figure from before, only able to discern a single detail: female. When the flash had ended, she was gone, though. It almost made Ash wonder if the ghost of Merle had somehow appeared near her grave, though he laughed off that possibility as absurd, realizing it was just the windswept trees in the background.

    Wanting to escape the nearing downpour of rain, Ash ran forward, alongside Seamus, to skirt around the wreckage of the school and make their way back to the main road. Seamus wasted no time in darting down the street, aiming for the one location that they assumed everyone could be. Ash was a little slower, looking up to see the descending helicopter landing near the fountain. In the darkening, rainy skies, it tinged the fountain with a faint red as the helicopter was lowering down. Unsurprisingly, Astrid was the first to jump out. Clemont seemed to wait until it had landed before he exited. Even with all the debris in the square, it seemed to land just fine.

    "How are the townspeople?" Clemont yelled out over the beating sound of the rotors. Ash waited until he was close by to finally answer.

    "There was no sign of any of them near the school or the graves there," Ash told him, also yelling. Astrid was scanning the square, scowling at the downed Pokémon. The trio turned in the direction that Seamus was dashing, for the Pokémon Center, and followed straight after him. With the rain moving in, lights began to pop up around the area in that encroaching darkness, drawing Ash's sight towards the Center, where the light was the brightest. There were shadows moving around there, and Ash felt just a little bit of relief.

    The rain started truly falling now as the helicopter seemed to power down, the League pilot relaxing as he waited for them to do their surveying of the area. Feeling his skin starting to soak, Ash picked up the pace and nearly skidded to a stop right outside the Center, its doors sliding open and allowing them inside, nearly running into a frozen Seamus.

    "Mr. Seamus!" cried a student in the area. Her voice was like the signal for a thousand different sounds to assail the area. Ash pulled Clemont and Astrid to the side as the students all surrounded their teacher and hugged him and Merry in relief. Though, he looked more relieved than all of them combined.

    "You're all okay…"

    "Not everyone," called a voice, quiet and strained. Ash looked over to its owner and saw Bethany sitting nearby, her arms around her daughter. The students all let go of their instructor and stepped back, looking like they felt bad about this. Seamus stepped forward with a disturbed look. "Chris is in the back…he…"

    "What the hell happened, Beth?" Seamus asked, his voice guttural and low, like he was prepared to rip something to shreds. Ash shot him another look, and he seemed to get himself under control from it all. Once he had, Ash looked back over to the turquoise-haired woman. She stood, placing her daughter on the floor. The little girl waddled over to Astrid and pointed at her.

    "Puple!" Astrid smiled and leaned down to engage with the young girl while Bethany finished approaching her friend, arms folded.

    "I don't know," was the answer she gave. "I was at home when it happened. I only heard the noises, and then felt the tremors. Before I knew it, I was getting a knock at the door. They told me Chris was hurt, and Rocky wasn't much better and…"

    "Damn it!" Seamus cursed, flinging his hand out, like he wanted to truly hit something. It barely missed Clemont, who ducked low and walked over towards where Nurse Joy was, the woman looking frazzled and distressed. Whatever their ensuing conversation was about, Ash knew it was regarding him using an invention of some sort to aid her in whatever needed aiding. "Do you guys know what happened?"

    "It…" started the first girl that had greeted him. She looked scared, almost trembling, until a boy grabbed on to her and seemed to give her encouragement. "It was like a storm. One minute we were watching the tournament, then the next there were these…machines."

    "Like a missile storm," entered a new voice, one which was all too familiar to Ash. He turned and saw Rocky limping out a bit, clutching at his side. Bethany rounded at him and pointed towards the back room that he had emerged from.

    "You're healing. Go back inside," she snapped.

    "I'm fine. Chris'll be fine, too," Rocky insisted. He looked up, making sure to capture the gazes of both Seamus and Ash, almost ignoring Astrid for the moment. Seamus breathed with more relief over his state. "There were these two people, with these robots, and a Mega Beedrill. They attacked so fast, we barely had a moment to blink. All they said was that they came for us…I got hit in the side by some stuff."

    "The rest of the town?" Ash voiced, wanting to prevent Seamus from going off in his current fragile state of worry. Rocky frowned, looking like he was chewing at the inside of his cheek.

    "The students and those nowhere near the square got out okay," Rocky answered. Ash closed his eyes, already fearing the worst from that comment. He reached across and clasped Seamus' shoulder to prevent him from making any bad moves. "A lot of people tried to fight back, but for those that managed to make it out, they said it was like they couldn't even move…Same with their Pokémon…then one of them started cutting everyone down with an Aegislash.

    "We couldn't move the heavier Pokémon."

    "What?" came Ash and Astrid's flat tones at the same moment, each feeling like just a small piece of them had died inside at the comment. Rocky finally looked to the young woman, his features softening a little bit.

    "We tried, but they overwhelmed us…and some didn't survive. It was so quick…" Rocky's eyes looked clouded, as if he was drowning in a sea of guilt, his hands shaking with a combination of rage and grief, no doubt. "The rest, we moved to either here or the police station. Most of us are here, though, including the students. Felt it was safest."

    "Mr. Seamus, the town will be okay, won't it?" called another of the students. Ash squeezed his shoulder a moment and retracted his hand, allowing Seamus to turn towards them with a smile, no matter how terse it was.

    "Of course. No matter what, we'll keep you all safe," was the reply. The students looked relieved at that, even if they didn't relax in the slightest. Ash didn't blame them. "For now, let's just keep everyone here, yeah? Beth, what's Chris' condition?"

    "Hurt badly, but Nurse Joy and the town doctor says he should be okay," Bethany replied. She seemed to want something to do, so she stepped forward and Ash started hearing her talk with Seamus descend into talk regarding the school. Likewise, Rocky finally approached Astrid as she seemed to play a small game with little Thea.

    "Surprised to see you here," he mentioned. Astrid looked up at him, and offered a tiny smile. As she stood, she gave a small punch to his uninjured side.

    "We Nova Niners need to stick together," she told him. Ash didn't quite buy that excuse, but he let the two have their moment as he walked back towards Clemont through the packed Center. "It's good to see you, though. Kind of missed the old conversations."

    Ash let their conversation fade away, too, when he finally reached the counter. Nurse Joy was already running to the back, leaving him alone with Clemont. His friend said nothing, fingers gripping tightly to the counter. "It was devastating."

    "Yeah…" Ash admitted. Water splashed onto him, and Ash realized that Pikachu had jumped on to the counter, shaking off his fur. "Do you know how many?"

    "Not a lot, but enough," Clemont noted, closing his eyes a moment. He let go and turned around, the both of them now leaning against the counter, which allowed them to survey the whole room. "Nurse Joy estimated at fifteen people…and nearly double the amount of Pokémon."

    "Why…?" Ash asked. His eyes flicked over to Seamus; he couldn't blame him for being so angry. Hearing what had happened was making Ash's own blood boil. "Why would anyone attack a small town like Nova Town?"

    "That's the question…the power of the Four Gates is gone, and even with it, you'd need Rayquaza to make any use of it," Clemont commented. Ash knew this, and so chose not to say anything, glancing outside. The rain was still going, more bird Pokémon fluttering past in an attempt to escape the area. "I just don't see a reason…and to kill so many…"

    "Makes it feel too real," Ash expressed with a sigh. Having nothing much he could do until Nurse Joy returned, Ash resumed raking the Center with his eyes, seeing all the people gathered there, either trying to calm down from the attack or otherwise helping out. He had hoped it was just a mix-up, but that clearly hadn't been the case, and it made his thoughts fly over to ARC, and whether they had been okay. Had they been targeted, the same as Nova Town? And if so, for what reason?

    Pikachu didn't look to have much of an idea, though Clemont was muttering to himself through all the possibilities. A small flicker of flame near the front of the Center told Ash that Charizard had found a spot there to keep out of the rain. It was all above his head, but it made Ash worry regardless. For such a small town to be targeted, there could only be a few reasons, ranging anywhere from being an easy target for sport to potentially a particular person being a target. Like maybe someone they thought would be there, but wasn't.

    "Maybe someone who came back once he'd…" Clemont's line of thought cut off again at the same time as Ash reached his same conclusion. "Is it a targeted attack to take out prominent figures or organizations…? And if that's the case, does that mean this was-"

    "A trap! Protect now!" Ash yelled before anything more could be said.

    Time moved in slow motion. Ash lunged forward, grabbing ahold of Clemont and Pikachu. Astrid, Rocky and Seamus all reached for their pokeballs, tossing them forward while likewise grabbing those around them, with the school's founder returning Merry as quick as he could. There was an explosion of light as Meowstic, Carracosta and Rhyperior appeared. All of them in that building hit the floor.

    The Pokémon Center exploded around them.*Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  6. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    Like gale of wind and fire, the material that made up the Center was blown away, whirling through like an inferno. The students screamed, and Bethany's daughter grabbed tightly ahold of Astrid. Ash lifted his head a little, narrowing his eyes. There were turquoise shields all around, mitigating the damage done and preventing everything and everyone from being blown away, all thanks to the earlier trio's quick actions. More importantly, though, was the figure flying through the firestorm.

    "Steel Wing! Find it!" Ash screamed over the loud noise. He could feel the rain returning now that the roof seemed to be blown off, hitting his skin like hot oil as steam billowed around the area. Ash closed his eyes again, listening and waiting before he heard the piercing roar, felt the wind cut off, and then the subsequent noise of a powerful attack slamming into the opponent. "Pikachu, follow the noise, use Quick Attack!"

    "Vikavolt, String Shot to stop the rubble from crushing us!" Clemont ordered from next to him. The Electric types moved in an instant, each shooting off for their respective goals (Clemont's partner having instantly materialized from within his pokeball) while Ash hauled his friend up. They weren't the only ones moving, with Seamus and Astrid joining them in standing. Astrid quickly moved Thea over to her mother, before turning to face the tussle between Charizard, Pikachu and the foe that had attacked them. "They knew we were coming. The only question was how?"

    "That doesn't matter," Seamus spat out. Carracosta remained outside, but the blond had called out Alakazam. Likewise, Absol was at Astrid's side. Ash ran forward, the steam beginning to clear from Alakazam's Psychic moving it away, offering a better view of whoever had made a second attack upon Nova Town. Seamus was at his side in seconds. "Who the hell are you?"

    "Ah, damn it, not again," called the voice from within the remaining steam, sounding annoyed. A flapping of wings was heard, and Charizard had pulled back, clutching to Pikachu, who he deposited on the ground. Ash peered into the steam and two figures emerged: a man and his Camerupt near to the square, with the man tossing four pokeballs up and down into the air. "Why do people have to make jobs harder than they should be?"

    "Hey, you mind answering the question?" Ash demanded, holding a fist up into the air. The steam had completely cleared now, revealing the man in more detail, his dirty blond hair and darkened cloak accenting the annoyed scowl on his face. Next to Ash, his three companions had joined him, while Rocky and Bethany hung back to guard the Center with the three protecting Pokémon. "Who are you, and why are you here?"

    "Why?" the man asked, his scowl turning up into a small smirk. His Camerupt was pouring slight smoke from its back, as if preparing for another attack. Ash tried to quickly take stock of the entire area while waiting for the answer. "Like. I'd. Tell."

    "Then answer the first question, *******," Seamus demanded, his dark look conveying his intent all too well. "It's obvious you're here to finish some job, so tell me who I'm going to have the pleasure of beating the crap out of."

    "Hmm…" the man said, throwing three of his pokeballs into the air. Three different Darumaka all emerged, dancing and clacking against one another. "I'm the toll gate of Team Rocket, and the price…is your lives."

    "Say what?" Astrid asked. Ash's face scrunched in intense focus. New questions were appearing in his mind now from the declaration made, but Ash was certain there was no more time to think on it. The man, the "Toll", Ash decided to call him, grinned.

    "Earth Power!" he cried out, tossing his hands to the sky and the rain that was yet pouring down upon them. The Darumaka all bounced forward, surrounded by flames that were now emitting steam. The ground cracked and glowed golden all around them. Ash wasted no time.

    "Rocky, stay back and protect the Center! Charizard, Dragon Tail!"

    "Grrrawr!" Charizard roared, swooping right in as he spun around in midair. His tail glowed a violent green before he swiped it downward and slammed directly upon Camerupt's head. Toll made no extreme movements, only leaping away with his hands in his pockets. He looked confident, but other than that, Ash couldn't get a read on him.

    "Energy Ball!" Seamus snapped angrily, his hand like a claw that swiped across his face. A bright light was shining out from Alakazam's body, the Pokémon already Mega Evolving swiftly, before flying around the opponent they were up against. Toll darted to the side, outside its effective range, while the Psi Pokémon called forth orb upon orb of green energy and peppered Camerupt's body with it. Surprisingly, it remained sturdy. Not that Seamus' attack was the only one.

    "Mow it down with Dark Pulse!" Astrid yelled out. Ash looked back to Clemont, who nodded. The Darumaka were already attacking when a yellow beam fired from the zipping Vikavolt to bounce them all backwards. Absol leapt up into the air and sent a powerful Dark Pulse colliding with Camerupt's body, making it slide backwards.

    "I suppose I'll need to be a little more proactive against four opponents than just one, hm? Shame," Toll replied. He took his hands out of his pockets, and placed them against the side of one of the Four Gates. "Rock Polish…and Eruption."

    "Quick Attack, Pikachu. Get moving real quick," Ash told him. Pikachu nodded and blasted forward with a streaking white light behind his body. Camerupt shined brightly, blue sparks traveling all along its body. Then it practically jumped backwards with speed, skidding along the cobblestone that it was ripping up. The ground exploded, a giant geyser of flame jutting up from underneath it. Pikachu dashed to the side, narrowly avoiding it before yet another one blasted upwards in front of him, steam pouring from it as a result of the rain that was pattering the flaming column. A shadow flitted past the other side, Absol on the move.

    "Nail it! Megahorn!" Astrid shouted out. Camerupt finished skidding into the square, a ring of flaming pillars exploding with force around it. Absol was already in the ring, while Pikachu dashed in between the gaps. Both converged upon Camerupt and slammed right into it. From where Ash was, he looked and saw Seamus running for their human opponent.

    "Flamethrower! Seamus, don't!" Ash said, almost disbelieving of the fact that he actually had to tell someone not to be so hot-headed. Another Charge Beam narrowly missed the opposing Darumaka. Charizard came roaring through the air again, his maw opening wide and unleashing a torrent of flame upon the Camerupt.

    "Are you the one that hurt my friends and students? 'Cause if you are, I'll make you pa-"

    "You're annoying." Toll barely even moved; while Seamus punched at the man, he grabbed Seamus' hand and flipped him around, slamming him down to the wet ground and causing him to gag. "Make me pay? Pay for your own sins. Earth Power."

    "Gah…Alakazam, Drain Punch," Seamus gritted out from his place on the ground. Toll looked to completely ignore him. The flames around Camerupt sputtered and died out, replaced with the familiar cracking and groaning sound as the golden glow returned. Alakazam floated forward, all of its spoons traveling behind its figure as its fist glowed green, swirling with power. The ground's glow reached its zenith and began to burst.

    "Psycho Cut," Astrid called out, placing her own foot forward with a scowl. Absol jumped back and whipped its head around, sending the purple crescent out for Camerupt. It whistled through the air in an arc before colliding with the Pokémon and exploding, causing the ground to cease its cracking, just in time for Alakazam to punch down on Camerupt. Water flung up through the air, and Ash looked back to see Seamus scrambling away from Toll, the man still looking disinterested.

    "Clemont?" Ash called back, wondering the state of the side fight before determining his own move.

    "On it!" Clemont shouted. Ash took only a second to look back and then ducked. A thick piece of string came whipping out of nowhere, the three Darumaka all tied to together and being flung right at Camerupt as it recovered. Ash grinned at the expert wrap-up Clemont had shown in mere moments. "Bug Buzz!"

    "Vikshaaaaa!" Vikavolt chattered out, sending red waves pulsing out around the area. It even caused the recovering Camerupt to shudder from it as Pikachu raced in. His tail glowed a bright white light and then he slapped it right against the Eruption Pokémon's face. Toll quirked an eyebrow and then scoffed, once more raising his arms.

    "Eruption!"

    "Contain it with Psychic!" Seamus yelled, finally getting back up to his feet. Ash moved a little to the side, himself, when he saw that Astrid and Clemont were also moving, taking different sides around their foe. They had almost trapped their opponent. Meanwhile, the large explosions that were erupting from the ground were being held in orbs by Alakazam before being dispersed as quickly as it could make them.

    "Charizard, Steel Wing! Hit it up!" Ash yelled to the sky. Charizard gave yet another piercing roar and came blasting inward with his shining wing. He flapped his wings out along the ground and glided near to its surface before reaching the foe and slicing upwards, the silvery wings knocking Camerupt off balance and hurling it slightly into the air. "Now Seismic Toss!"

    "Absol, to me!" Astrid shouted out. Absol leapt back, Pikachu jumping on to his back. Charizard, meanwhile, grabbed ahold of Camerupt and lifted its immense size into the air, spinning round and round as he ascended. Then he changed direction and plummeted downward, spinning rapidly and letting go at the last second. Camerupt impacted with the ground, and the Darumaka beneath its collapsing figure, causing whatever was left of the square to be blasted apart. Camerupt didn't stir. Charizard took back to the air and landed with their circle of trainers and Pokémon already surrounding Toll. Ash took a step forward.

    "You lose. Now, answer our questions," he said sternly. Regardless of his demands or air of authority, however, Ash's body remained tense. Toll was barely moving, still looking pretty relaxed; even his facial expression wasn't exactly showing either confidence or nervousness in any way. "You're from Team Rocket? What are you planning?"

    "The new world." Ash scrunched his eyebrows, but Seamus wasn't going to give anyone a chance to think about any other words that Toll was speaking.

    "Then what kind of new world involves blowing up my home!" Seamus demanded. The Pokémon all growled, each of them on edge at their trainers' sides. Toll pushed himself off of the Gate, cracking his neck a bit before answering lazily.

    "The kind that's for glory. Not that, I'm afraid, most of you will live to see it. You see, we only need-"

    "Tolbert."

    Ash's fingers twitched, a chill running down his spine. The voice was eerie and commanding, almost ghostly in nature. Yet he didn't know where it was coming from. Astrid didn't waver from where she was looking, while Clemont did try to find the source of the voice. After a moment, he did find the origin of the sound: a woman, standing near the fountain, placing a hand on Camerupt. It stirred, coming to stand shakily and tossing its head back and forth.

    "I believe that's enough," she continued to speak, her voice continually chilling Ash. He turned to her, but found his movement suddenly restricted. His head was going foggy and his limbs lost all control of their own. "We can afford a change in plans. Our ideal world can afford a sacrifice or two. There are backups, after all, should it prove unworthy to choose this path."

    "If you say so. It would be much easier if I didn't have to decide, after all," the man, Tolbert obviously, said with a shrug. Ash tried to whip around towards him, but his body still wasn't responding. Tolbert strode forward, brushing past them all with a smirk, towards his Camerupt and the woman, who was smiling coyly at them. "I'm terribly sorry. Nova Town was just meant to draw you out…this particular change of plans wasn't anticipated, but it serves things well, in the long run."

    "What the hell are you talking about?" Ash gritted out angrily, finding that at least his mouth was still working. At his feet, Pikachu was straining as well, unable to move his own limbs just the same. Yet Tolbert was moving altogether fine. The only thing they could seem to move were their heads, each of them staring directly into the square. Seamus gave an audible gasp.

    "What…you…who are you? !" he roared, but his cries fell in vain to the woman's un-telling smirk.

    "Me? Or we?" the woman said, her auburn hair barely even matted by the rain that was still falling. Tolbert stopped his advance and turned to face them all, holding up two objects: a pokeball and a keystone. Ash strained further, unable to explain why his mind felt like it was slowly slipping away from him. Tolbert was the one to answer, however.

    "We are the harbingers of the end of the world," he called, tossing both objects high. From the pokeball emerged a large Darmanitan with a grin on its face. The keystone spiraled through the air in an arc. "The beginning of a new one. One that Team Rocket will take us into in all its glory.

    "One, I'm sorry to say, you will now never see."

    The keystone finished its descent, and Tolbert caught it. Light erupted, with Camerupt changing and Mega Evolving. A bright orb flared upwards from Darmanitan's body, cutting through the clouds entirely and shining the heated sun upon Nova Town once more. The sky turned blue for all of a second before glowing an angry red, some smaller Pokémon fleeing from the air, and a larger shape on the edge of the town's airspace becoming little more than a shadow in the light.

    Only, the sun wasn't the only thing glowing. The whole town was glowing a red hot, steaming and smoking as Camerupt's body looked ready to completely explode. In the haze of that heat, Tolbert appeared to draw back, and all Ash could see in the heat was a shadow flitting across the ground, the man having seemingly disappeared in the distracting heat haze. Little shapes, looking distinctly like the Darumaka from earlier, began to pop up along the ground, just as red, adding to the heat. Ash strained, and finally, he felt his limbs free and stretching forward, falling towards the burning ground.

    There was no time.

    Ash opened his mouth, screaming an order for those near him and the whole town, while his hand reached for his bag. The light pierced the air, reaching its peak at last, consuming all voices spoken and actions taken.

    Then came the rumble.

    Then came the boom.

    And the raging flames erupted around Nova Town with such a fury, that no one could do a thing.

    When it subsided, everything in Nova Town but the Pokémon Center and those therein…was obliterated off the face of the earth.

    Author's Note: Well, this was…er, explosive (pardon the pun). To be honest, this is where the plot pretty much flies off right from the beginning: the introduction at these shady operatives that work for Team Rocket making moves. Yes, Tolbert, or Toll, is the one that killed Lionel in Chapter 1. I wanted to go with a bomber that wasn't all about sadistic explosions. He's targeted and smart and has control of his battlefield, even if his opponents don't think so. That's how I wanted to present this.

    However, we're not done with Nova Town yet, even if Nova Town itself is truly quite done after that explosion. Though, of course, there's much more to the story and who knows if Ash and the others managed to survive. All I can say is that I hope it will be a tense ride.

    Now that the final story is well underway, I hope I can rely on all of you! Until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  7. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    I have this unfortunately sharp feeling that people don't read my author's notes these days, so I might as well repeat here: don't expect anything you usually expect with a Team Rocket plot here. That said, plese enjoy Chapter 4!
    Chapter 4

    A Grave​

    It was a horrible sight. That was Lance's first thought upon seeing the demolished building that was at the site of his arrival. He grimaced, striding forward, his head traveling back and forth as he took it all in. People were running around the building, trying to keep spectators away despite the cordoned off area, while others were plunging themselves deep into the rubble. It wasn't a particularly large task force of International Police officers, Lance knew, but he was grateful for the assistance. The sooner they could wrap all this up, the sooner he could spare some men for Nova Town…assuming Ash hadn't already resolved it all.

    "Might have to call the Foundation in on this one…" the Champion muttered under his breath, hands sliding into his pockets as he approached the pile of debris that was once the building. There was the flash of a camera within the wreckage, but Lance soon heard a clattering of stones from near him, and he turned his head on instinct.

    "Sergeant Anabel of the International Police reporting for duty, Champion, sir!" cried a distinctly familiar female voice from next to Lance. He turned his head and gave an amused expression to the lilac-haired woman that was standing there.

    "At ease, Anabel. And no need to call me 'sir'. You're a Frontier Brain before you're an officer of the IP to me," Lance informed her. Anabel lowered her salute and nodded, instantly looking more relieved. Lance couldn't help but sigh at that; having a League initiative to allow greater involvement from Gym Leaders, and other key officials, in the major peacekeeping organizations wasn't a bad one. It just got annoying when they all felt he was their actual boss. "I'm glad Looker was able to lend me you from HQ."

    "I was happy to come. Something like this requires immediate action, and my psychic abilities may be of some use here," the woman stated. Lance nodded in agreement with that. Their greetings now out of the way, the two made their way in towards the crumbling building. They stopped a few feet inwards, so that they could scan the area. "Rage…sadness…"

    "You can sense the thoughts of the dead now?" Lance asked, his face entirely stoic as he asked it. He didn't want to be jerked around or joked with. Anabel walked forward slowly, shaking her head.

    "No…just those of the living, even if they're attached to a location. But I feel as though there was such a titanic battle here, that those thoughts and feelings are imprinted on this very area," was her answer. Lance squinted at her skeptically, but trusted her words. Anabel hadn't been such an asset to the International Police on intuition alone. "I feel as though two convictions clashed here: one for peace, and the other…it's murky, but there's a feeling I can't describe. It's etched deep."

    "Whatever it was, it was either controlled and targeted or very, very indiscriminate in its anger," Lance replied. Anabel said nothing to this, and Lance headed further inside now (despite the fact there was not enough ceiling remaining to call it an inside). It was completely desolate here, despite one of the officers turning over a stone to find a body beneath it. "Anabel, would you be able to tell if there were any survivors?"

    "Not unless they were nearby," the woman admitted, offering a shrug of her shoulders. However, she also reached for a pokeball at her waist and tossed it down. "Espeon, my friend. Can you search for any bodies in the rubble?"

    "Eon!" Espeon mewled out, trotting forward. Lance watched the lilac-furred fox move deeper into the building area, its red gem glowing lightly. It was almost like the Pokémon was scanning the entire area, calling out every time it seemed to locate something. With every single one, Anabel would act like some sort of director, sending officers over with Psychic types or heavy lifting Pokémon to remove the rubble and show the ARC agents underneath.

    "An out and out massacre," Lance drawled distastefully. His eyes traveled up to the doleful sky, not tinged with the rainbow that had been in their reports. He sighed when Espeon called out one more time. Something about the way it had called to them disturbed Lance. As a result, he snapped his gaze to the final area that Espeon had found, the most amount of rubble having fallen into that space. He ran forward, calling Dragonite out in moments. His trusted partner knew instantly what he wanted, grabbing onto the rubble and with a single swing, knocked it all away. Lance winced.

    "Something wrong, sir?" Anabel asked, before shaking her head rapidly. "Sorry. Lance."

    "How familiar are you with ARC?" Lance asked, drawing his eyes to a close as he bent down before the rubble and the man that was lying there, almost unidentifiable. Anabel shook her head again, indicating that she didn't know much. "This is Lionel…their leader."

    "Then does that mean…?"

    "I don't know what it means," Lance admitted. He reached over, touching his hand to the charred skin. It was difficult to tell, but he knew his identification was correct from the charred pieces of the charm bracelet that were still left on the body's wrist. Once he had confirmed it, he straightened once more, reaching into his pocket for his portable communications device and punching in the administration code for the IRCS. In seconds, he had located Derek's device and connected with it swiftly. In the meantime, Anabel walked away, likely to help more with the "excavation". The Champion watched her go, examining the area with his own eyes.

    "Champion Lance, what news do you have?" was the reply before Lance even realized his contact was on.

    "Lionel is dead. No sign of anyone else in your leadership, far as I can tell, though the bodies are so burnt one can't be certain," was Lance's terse answer. He stepped further in now, examining the site of battle between, likely, Lionel and the one that had attacked them. "Is there any change in Azalea?"

    "We've done what we could, but other than the dark purple color from the well, likely a result of the stones down there being…well…" Derek looked shaken when Lance looked at his face on the screen. He didn't blame him at all. Regardless, the man recovered from it all. "Not much change, no."

    "Hm…all right. If anyone gets in touch with you from your leadership, tell me. Otherwise, you're interim leader of ARC." Lance gave him no time to debate the issue, and ended the connection. The red-haired man strode further in, looking at the state of the wreckage.

    "Scorched beyond belief," Anabel stated, practically reading his mind as she rejoined him. "But centered, as though it came from a Pokémon. At least, that's what some of the IP's experts seem to say."

    Lance remained silent, his fingers starting to twist in and around themselves while he made a three-sixty with the entire area. More crunching was heard over the stones as an officer, someone that looked rather green (all things considered), approached Anabel with a tablet and showed it to her. Lance reached up to tap his chin. A blast centered around a Pokémon, all as part of a well-coordinated attack…

    "Lance, you may want to see this," Anabel stated, drawing close to him and handing him the tablet. He looked down to see footage of what looked like a live news report. "Nova Town. It was bombed in the same exact way just a short while ago. It appears the reporters know it's a follow-up to a previous assault. They're saying it was coordinated with drones that launched an attack."

    "Crap," was Lance's vehement response. He knew Malva wouldn't be able to hold reporters off forever, but nor had he expected Nova Town to be attacked again. That sent an uncomfortable ball into his stomach that made him grimace. Although, the worst part wasn't that it had happened, but rather the manner in which it had. He straightened up. "Anabel, stay here and recover everything you can."

    "Of course, sir, but where are you going?" she asked, neither realizing her slipup in formalities. Lance began walking away, but briefly turned back, debating what to say a moment.

    "I have to stop this media storm before it gets out of hand…then, I need to see your boss," Lance answered honestly. Anabel nodded, her hair flopping a little. The Champion turned away, a grim expression settling on his face as Dragonite reached him, allowing him to climb on. Yes, I very much need to speak with Looker. Especially if my suspicions are right.*Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  8. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    That morning, Serena had expected to wake up and take part in yet another day of the, as the veteran Performers liked to call it, "Showcase Spectacular". It was all to be a three-day event featuring performers from the past and present in a big event within Lumiose City; one that would be simple, enjoyable, and help brighten up the already gleaming Lumiose City. Moreover, it seemed to cover the part of the city and region that wasn't enthralled by the battles taking place at the Champion Tournament.

    What she hadn't expected, however, was the news that afternoon.

    Perhaps it struck harder to her very soul because it could be seen as a sharp contrast of that morning, a morning that she tried to remember fondly as those images of seeming carnage and devastation played out across the screen. Bonnie was gripping to her shoulder, her face looking hard as they both watched the screen. They weren't the only ones, and judging from the way some of her friends in the room were closing their eyes, they were trying to travel back to those happier times, too.

    Serena, herself, lifted her eyes upwards, towards the windows there, as she tried to recall the peaceful morning. It had seemed so simple then, all of the Performers that had arrived in Lumiose City preparing for the third and final day of the Spectacular. It had all been an idea that she and the other older Performers had cooked up together: instead of leaving out those who couldn't care less about battles, they decided to strike up a big event for the more Performance-oriented.

    "After all, the Champion Tournament is meant to bring people together celebrating the top trainers!" Aria had expressed with enthusiasm and agreement at the honey blonde's idea. Serena had been absolutely elated.

    "Though maybe we should make it about more than just Kalos," she remembered suggesting in turn. Aria and the others appeared to like the idea, though it proved harder than Serena thought it would. For one, those of her friends that would have been interested in it all had previous plans (she didn't know where May was, and Dawn was visiting an old friend in Sinnoh), which made that gathering process all the harder. It would have continued to be so, if not for various suggestions from the others. Even along the way, Miette helped remind her of just what it was all about.

    "Remember that we're making it about the current generation of new Performers," she had told them all with a shrug.

    "Of course! It's about more than just us, after all!" Serena and Aria had said in tandem, which led to Miette scoffing loudly. However, what it also led to was an even greater flurry of activity for the Spectacular. Naturally, even with the Champion Tournament to be held, Ash had almost seemed to want in on the event, though Clemont kept him busy with training, as did Korrina. Bonnie just ended up splitting her attentions between the two, given that she was staying in Lumiose City between League challenges (she had actually planned on attempting Alola next, but had not yet told her family).

    It had all led to that three-day event, a few days after Ash and the others had departed. Numerous girls had poured in: some looking to learn from the best of the best in the Showcase world, with each of the older generation of Performers, that included herself, teaching different events and putting on performances. Others wanted to just perform with that older generation, with Serena and Aria having gotten the most attention. What made it most enjoyable was seeing all of her old rivals (except for an elusive Nini), standing on the same side of a performance…well, until Bonnie somehow baited the crowd just this morning into seeing all of them perform against one another while teaming up with another, younger girl.

    "Think about it," Bonnie expressed to them with the sly grin that Serena usually associated with her romantic teasing, "the crowd gets to see old idols go at it in a clash, while the new girls get to work with all of you. It's perfect!"

    Perfect hadn't been quite the word Serena would have chosen to describe the whole event that morning, but it was certainly fun. Everyone in the crowd, those not watching the Tournament, had a great deal of fun, even getting in on the dancing when Serena had suggested it. All of it was a wonderful chance for every Performer, past and present, to revel in the moment of joy. Serena had even been certain she'd caught a sight of Palermo in the crowd, tapping her foot, as unlikely as it was. Though, she had hoped to catch sight of Lillie in the crowd, she knew that three days was far too little time for the now-seasoned traveler to hop right over from where she was currently residing with her boyfriend. Assuming she was still there, of course…

    However, no matter the joy which that event had brought, it was a complete and stark contrast to the images now present on the screen. No matter how many smiles she'd brought. No matter how much fun they'd all had. No matter how many Performers walked away, glad that they had all met, it all fell away at the sight of the burning town. Of Nova Town.

    "Reporters on the scene remain unclear of just what occurred in this small corner of Kalos," a female reporter off the screen said, speaking rapidly, like there was much to say. Serena's lips turned down a little as the chatter of the young Performers in the room increased with worry. She didn't want to let them start panicking, and the honey blonde's eyes turned to Aria, the two sharing a definitive look while the reporter continued on. "All we can tell is that a large-scale explosion seems to have obliterated much of the town, save for the Pokémon Center. The death toll is unknown."

    "This is horrible…"

    "Those poor, poor people," called another girl. Aria clapped her hands together loudly.

    "Everyone, calm down. No time for worrying," the former Kalos Queen called to the crowd, taking some of their attention away from the television and the news that was playing out on it. Bonnie stepped closer, slipping her hand from the Performer's shoulder, and squeezed Serena's hand, like it was telling her that everything was fine.

    "I'm sure our friends there are okay, right?" the lemon blonde asked. Serena didn't answer right away; she wanted the full knowledge of the situation that she could get before rushing to take action.

    "There have to be some survivors," Miette drawled from next to her, coming to stand nearby. Serena looked to her friend and rival, the bluenette having folded her arms. It was subtle, but Serena could see that even she looked concerned about these rather disturbing events going on. It took what should have been a moment of celebration, and turned it into one of mourning. Or, at least, that's where it was heading, and Serena knew she had to take the reins soon.

    "It would seem that a good many survived, thankfully," the reporter continued on (of course, only after all of the destruction was shown…Serena wondered if the media was simply scrambling for answers). "It would seem all the students of the Nova School are present and accounted for, along with some members of the prestigious Nova Nine, wounded though they are. Investigators may be dispatched to the town to find the cause of this explosion soon."

    "May be dispatched?" Bonnie asked almost incredulously. Serena breathed out a little, though not enough to be audible. The girls around them were all calming down from Aria's intervention, though there was still a rather perceptible edge to the whole entire room. She felt she could only imagine what was happening on the outside. Serena turned to Miette.

    "Can you calm down those on the outside?" she asked of her friend. Miette unfolded her arms, giving a sigh that wasn't quite exasperated, but conveyed her feelings toward the situation in general.

    "Yeah, I'll go grab Shauna; she's somewhere around here, right?" Miette mentioned before walking off. It was almost strange to see the bluenette take a request without some kind of challenge towards her, but Serena liked to think that it was more of a testament to how close they were to one another, now.

    That being done, Serena turned away from the television, letting it ramble on repetitive facts that seemed to be getting them nowhere, or at least no closer to the truth. Bonnie appeared to do a double take at her departure, the honey blonde striding towards the phone in the lobby of the League stadium (which they had been using for some of their performances). Quickly, the lemon blonde dashed after her. "What are you thinking of, Serena?"

    "Calling Ash," was the easy answer. Bonnie frowned a bit, but seemed to understand that there was more to it than all of that, given that she didn't say anything. It was true; while Serena said she was calling her husband, it was really more her way of saying she was calling the League. If anyone was well aware of the events that had taken place in Nova Town, it would have most assuredly been them.

    "You can't be sure he'll pick up, you know," Bonnie pointed out. Serena ignored her, reaching the phones that were there and picking one of them up. Her companion flung herself against the wall, frowning down at the screen of the phone. There wasn't much to make Bonnie lose her perennial smile, but this certainly seemed to be one of those things. Dedenne, waking up from a nap, seemed to become aware of his trainer's predicament, scampering up the bag to rest on her head.

    "Maybe not, but someone should know something," Serena pointed out, punching in the number to the Kalos League Headquarters. There was no point calling the public phones there, considering anyone could pick up. "I just want information before I do anything."

    "What are you gonna do?" Bonnie asked, leaning her head a little forward. Serena didn't answer, too busy putting in the number. The lemon blonde sighed and reached into her bag, pulling out the ever-familiar green blob that was one of her consummate partners. It was a bit of a surprise to have Squishy there, even to this day, but at the same time, it always felt welcoming to see…even if he spent a lot of time sleeping. Peace in the world seemed to do that…until now, at least. "Squishy, do you sense anything going on?"

    "Brlbl?" Squishy questioned, almost like it was oblivious. The "answer" made Bonnie sigh again and shrug.

    "Guess it can't be that bad, then," was Bonnie's conclusion. Serena resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Bonnie's laissez-faire attitude as she focused in on the phone, ringing now. Squishy appeared to turn in Bonnie's hands, staring at the television, and the honey blonde wondered if, now that he was aware, something was indeed going on. Maybe Squishy's senses had dulled…or they just hadn't paid attention to any signs…?

    Those disturbed thoughts fled from Serena's mind at someone finally picking up on the other end. To her surprise, it was none of the Champions, or an Elite Four member, but Diantha's eternal manager, Kathi Lee. At the very least, it was a familiar face, as was her own to the esteemed manager. "Ah, Mrs. Ketchum, I don't believe the League was expecting your call."

    "It's just Serena," the honey blonde reminded her. With that out of the way, Serena leaned in, trying to keep her voice even and measured, calm and composed. "I was calling for Ash, or Diantha. Both are fine. I need to speak with them."

    "Not possible, I'm afraid," the manager spoke, adjusting her glasses. It was said in such a sharp and blunt tone that it cut off any hope of receiving a better answer. The Performer stepped back, not particularly caring for the answer as she frowned at the screen. Kathi seemed to realize this and offered a slightly apologetic smile. "Neither are available, at this moment. I'm not authorized to share why."

    "Does it have to do with Nova Town?" was Serena's request. Kathi didn't answer, but her eyes shined beneath her glasses. For not saying a single word, Serena gleaned a lot of information. The League was already acting in some capacity in regards to Nova Town, but it was just a question of how quickly such a large-scale attack could be dealt with. Serena exhaled, blowing her hair upwards for a moment. "Is there anything you can tell me?"

    "Nothing that you haven't likely already seen on the news," came that rather peculiar non-answer. Serena's fingers started tapping on her current dress, trying to parse just what the woman was saying. "The League is doing everything it can to resolve the current string of situations. I'm afraid all resources are tied up until them. We only have time for those with more information.

    "I'm sorry." Serena blinked. The woman's tone had changed at the end there, as though it was apologizing for something more than not giving any answers. She couldn't question it, though, as the connection was terminated immediately after. Serena blinked again, unsure how to process the events that had just happened.

    "Fat load of help that was," Bonnie complained.

    "Dene?" Dedenne questioned, looking down her head and staring at her. The lemon blonde smiled and reached up, cuddling her Pokémon to her with a smile. Serena, however, disagreed, and reached up to flick her hair outwards a little bit. Without a second thought she started taking strong strides towards Aria.

    "Uh…Serena?" Bonnie called after her, but the lemon blonde received no answer.

    Kathi Lee had said quite a bit. While Serena couldn't figure out exactly what she meant by her last words, there was still a lot to be said. Ash was dealing with the Nova problem, no doubt because Seamus was there. Diantha and the other Champions were also incredibly busy dealing with it; after all, there was no reason for such a response if they were unaware or busy with the tournament. But the factor of the most importance was that Kathi Lee was outright telling her to find out more information on what was going on. To help them determine just what had occurred in Nova Town…and whatever other incident the manager had been referring to.

    There was a way to do both at once…all while focusing on the thing she felt was more important than any other.

    "Aria!" Serena called over, finally reaching the pinkette that turned to her. The girls in the area all looked in Serena's direction, and noise was emanating from the outside, showing that Miette and Shauna were doing their job of quelling any panic that might have been inflicted upon the populace. Aria stepped away to speak more directly with her performance partner. "I spoke with the League, though they didn't give me much."

    "Couldn't get ahold of Ash?" Aria asked quietly, keeping her voice low so the conversation wouldn't affect the girls near them. Bless their beautiful souls, but Serena knew that in the peaceful age, so many of them would be ill-equipped to dealing with any nature of disturbance. Knowing that, Serena gave a miniscule shake of her head.

    "It's unimportant, though," the honey blonde told her. Aria tilted her head, as though rather interested in what she could say now, and Serena continued on for an explanation. "I think we should bring together anyone willing to, and offer aid to Nova Town."

    "You want to make sure your friends are all right, don't you?" the former Kalos Queen asked. Serena gave a small tilting of her head at the conversation.

    "A little, but the League seems to be tied down, and even in collaboration with the Foundation, who knows how long it could take to get help to the town," Serena told her sternly. Aria reached a hand up, tapping her chin in contemplation. Serena wasn't worried, knowing all too well of Aria's altruistic heart; the woman was likely planning how rather than whether they should. "Well?"

    "I like the idea. I'll coordinate efforts with the Pokémon Centers. In the meantime, why don't you get changed and gather any that would like to help you out?" was her suggestion. Serena nodded, and grabbed a pokeball at her waist, sending it upwards. Primarina appeared suddenly and cried out with a shrill voice, attracting all attention to her, all while quieting the lobby entirely. Even outside, things seemed to have settled down.

    "Okay, everyone, I know the news on Nova Town is very upsetting," Serena spoke, earning rapt attention from each person there. "However, we're Performers. There's no time to be down about this, okay? People are hurting, and right now, it's our job to help them get better and get through this. I plan on heading to Nova Town with some aid supplies. Who wants to go with me? It won't be easy."

    "I'll go!" Bonnie yelled out from her location, still near the phones. She looked to be feeding Dedenne a cookie while walking over. When she stopped, her hands flew behind her head and she grinned cheekily. Serena wanted to roll her eyes at her friend's ever-energetic personality, but soon considered it a boon.

    "I'll go, too! We have to help them!" called one girl from the crowd. She was soon joined by quite a few others that seemed eager to help out. It was a start, at the very least, while Aria approached Nurse Joy and began speaking with her carefully. In no time at all, many of the girls, a good score of them, had gathered around Serena.

    "All right," Serena said, flashing a smile at all of them to encourage those collected. "Now, remember, this may not be a performance, but it's very important. Whatever did happen there, these people will want the help, and it may be dangerous to go there. I want you and your Pokémon to be prepared for anything and always remain in groups of two or three, you understand?"

    "Yes, ma'am!" called one of the girls, her eyes shining with admiration. Serena sent an extra smile in her direction, which helped to embolden the girl.

    "Good. Now, go get changed into working clothes. I'll be along outside when Aria and I have arranged transportation and supplies," Serena told them. They all rapidly agreed and moved off to an area where they could all change their clothes. Only Bonnie lingered, already wearing her typical traveling clothes. Now that there were less girls to look disturbed, Bonnie was suddenly wearing a somewhat worried expression on her face. "Is there something wrong, Bonnie?"

    "Mm, not really," Bonnie answered, giving a shrug. Serena didn't quite believe that, though, especially when the girl's eyes flicked over to the television screen in the lobby. "Who do you think did it? And why now?"

    It was a rather perceptively mature question that came from her, and it wasn't one that had escaped Serena's mind. The explosion, especially in a place like Nova Town, had not been natural in the slightest. It had been, in all likelihood, an out and out assault. Bonnie's question held merit to it, especially her second one. Why now? Why would whoever had attacked Nova Town attack it now, of all times? The Champion Tournament could have been a reason, but then, why hadn't whatever villain was on the move done so earlier?

    It was yet another reason to get to Nova Town posthaste: perhaps they could also know the identity of their attacker.

    "I don't know, Bonnie. Why don't I leave you in charge of that when we get there?" Serena added with a little wink to her. Bonnie laughed and wore a little smirk on her face, digging into her bag, pulling out her own updated Pokédex.

    "You hear that backup Rotom? You better help me investigate," Bonnie prodded to the computer program that had been her companion on her journeys.

    "Rotom is the perfect investigator, with countless probability algorithms to run," it said proudly. Bonnie just rolled her eyes and shut her Pokédex off again before it could say more. Even a computer program that wasn't an actual Pokémon could still annoy her, it appeared. Knowing that she was in good hands, Serena turned once more to Aria and approached her.

    "Nurse Joy is calling every favor she has in, including police helicopters and supplies from other Centers around the city. It shouldn't take too long to coordinate it all," was the pinkette's explanation for all that was being handled. "I'll handle things here, try to get in further contact with the League, and send more supplies if you or anywhere else needs it, Serena. Sound good?"

    "Perfect," Serena admitted with a loud breath. "And if Ash calls…?"

    "I'll direct him your way," Aria added with a chuckle. Serena nodded, though she couldn't shake the sudden foreboding she'd felt at asking that. Nevertheless, she once more thanked Aria and decided to walk off to where she'd sent the other girls, in order to get to changing into her usual daily clothes: little more than an updated version of the clothes she'd worn in Kalos.

    At some point, Miette and Shauna had entered back into the changing rooms, neither of them saying a word. It seemed like they had been filled in by Aria about what was going on, especially with Shauna offering her a one-armed hug. Miette just looked sharpened and focused, like she was thinking of contacting someone, herself, but was too busy looking elsewhere. No words were shared between the three women as Serena grabbed her bag and left the room, making quick steps to the outside of the building, where the gaggle of girls was gathered. They seemed to have already formed their groups, and just in time, it seemed.

    Helicopters emblazoned with the local Lumiose Police emblem were arriving, seeming to be able to carry groups of four or five, along with the supplies that were arriving by truck from the Centers around the city. Serena quickly helped in filling the aerial vehicles up and apportioning the groups. Thankfully, due to the urgency, none of it took very long to make happen and before they all knew it, Serena was in the first helicopter, alongside Bonnie, to take flight.

    "Miss Serena, do you have anything you want us to do?" asked one of the girls sitting across from her. Serena recognized her as the girl she'd met some years back in Santalune City, waiting for Ash. She was certain her name was Emmy.

    "What I want you to do is deliver these right to the Pokémon Center and do whatever Nurse Joy tells you, okay?"

    "You wanna lend them your costume?" Bonnie asked quietly, but with a snicker, relaxing calmly in her seat. Serena glared at the girl; the older she got, the snarkier she got with it. "I'm sticking with you, so there's no getting rid of me."

    "Whatever it is, focus on the citizens and Pokémon, okay?" Serena continued on, deciding to ignore Bonnie's silly remarks. "They're the most important, so always remember…"

    "Smile!" the girls cheered out. Serena laughed a little, bringing some lightness to their group. It was a guiding light that had been passed down between the Performers of her generation and the next, wanting to give smiles to everyone. Serena only hoped that would help the town a little, even though she knew of at least three people it could help. For that moment, though, she soaked in the lightness.

    It was the last bit of it they had as Nova Town appeared, its desolated buildings coming ever closer. Only the square and Pokémon Center seemed to still have pieces standing…well, not if one didn't count ripped up cobblestones everywhere.

    Serena had to make herself breathe a little, trying to remember the sight of the town as it once was, rather than the hell that was before her. Houses were leveled, buildings were crushed, and what looked like walkways through the town were reduced to piles of the mottled debris. Only the lake looked relatively untouched, but considering it still bore the remnant of the incident there so long ago, that was hardly any solace.

    "The school, too…" Bonnie exhaled, her eyes drawn to the outside of the helicopter. The transport was already lowering, searching for a place to touch down nicely when Serena saw just what Bonnie was talking about. The school truly was decimated, though it looked like some students were there, using their own Pokémon to move things aside and clean up the wreckage. "The whole place looks scorched…"

    "Ne…" Dedenne said with a tone of melancholy no one would have expected from the Antenna Pokémon. Serena reached over and patted the little one on his head.

    "Don't worry. We'll help them out," she said confidently. The other girls took reassurance from that, though Serena didn't admit how much uncertainty and fear there was in her chest, waiting to spill out. The sound of the helicopter rotors blasted out as their own finally touched down and Serena hopped out, making sure to not stumble on the blown-up pavement. She thanked the pilot and immediately led their small group, each of them taking a pack of supplies, towards the Pokémon Center. Their helicopter took off in order to let the next land.

    "It seems lively," Emmy said, her head swiveling back and forth. Sure enough, there were some people out and about, looking to try and repair some things. Not that much looked like it could be repaired easily. Serena sent those workers a flash of a smile, a couple townspeople noticing and recognizing her, but she didn't take her eyes off of the approaching Center. Now that she was closer, even that building looked heavily damaged. The roof seemed to have been ripped off, with some townspeople stretching a tarp over the top of it as best as they could, while Pokémon and students from the school were administering treatment.

    "Serena? !" The loud, warbling voice that was Bethany's caught Serena's attention and she looked towards the entrance to the Center. Standing there was the turquoise-haired woman, holding tight to her daughter and looking beyond relieved. The honey blonde continued forward, urging the other girls along into the building as she stopped in front of Bethany. The little girl in her arms smiled up at Serena and she smiled back, feeling her stomach clench a little, gripping at it for a second. "I…I wasn't expecting you here."

    "I couldn't stand around and do nothing once I'd seen the reports," Serena pointed out. Her other hand came out and poked little Thea on the nose before looking up to her friend. "You guys have had a rough time of it all, huh?"

    "You mean, you…" Serena tilted her head, looking at Bethany curiously. The woman shook her head, looking as though she'd swallowed something nasty. "A-anyway, you're here to help?"

    "We'll do what we can," Serena affirmed, holding up her own boxes of materials. Bonnie did the same, giving a rather toothy grin to the mother. Bethany sighed out, seeming conflicted, but she led them into the Center nonetheless.

    "Thanks. We're trying to get back on our feet here, but two attacks in two days really hampers that," Bethany told her. That was news to Serena; she had thought it had only been a single attack, but to find out it was two…

    "But why would anyone want to attack you guys?" Bonnie asked. Their little trio had made their way inside the Center, and the lemon blonde put her supplies on the counter. More girls were now arriving and Serena looked to all the supplies being brought in, finding the different refreshments and such. Those would be helpful for all the students working at the school, she figured.

    "You've got me," Bethany answered. "I…wasn't exactly around for either attack. Chris got hurt in the first one and the second one…"

    "It was Team Rocket," Rocky answered in the woman's stead. Serena looked over to him, seeing that he was gripping at his side, but standing straight and proud, even if that was associated with a grimace on his face. "And not those bumbling idiots that you all know."

    "Of course not!" Bonnie defended their most persistent trio. Even Dedenne and Squishy seemed to agree. "They might be idiots, but they would never hurt people like this. Petty theft? Sure. Stupid schemes with robots? Yeah. But they'd never…well, not this."

    "Team Rocket, as an organization, might, though," Serena countered, her mind casting itself backward into her own thoughts. She had never had any major (or minor, if she really considered it) interactions with any Team Rocket operatives beyond Jessie, James and Meowth, though her rival and companions had been considerably less active of late. She had to wonder how much merit there was to Rocky's words, though she hardly doubted them, even if she voiced the question. "How do you know for certain?"

    "The guy said it…Tolbert, I think he said his name was," Rocky answered. He removed his hand from his side and remained standing. His gritted teeth, though, said that it remained an effort to do so. A soft purring sounded out near the man's feet and Serena looked down to see a Meowstic there, looking forlorn. It looked oddly familiar, and Bonnie was the first to point that out.

    "Since when do you have a Meowstic? Looks a lot like Astrid's," the girl pointed out, throwing her hands behind her head. Serena watched Rocky, and then Bethany, as the two shared a gaze with one another. A sudden sickness bubbled back up in her stomach. Her hand began to quiver. "But Astrid was at the Tournament, so-"

    "It is Astrid's," Rocky said, and his gaze moved downward. He refused to look at them now, and though Serena couldn't explain it, the sickness increased tenfold.

    "Rocky, Bethany…why is Astrid's Meowstic here?" Serena asked. Bethany looked away, as though the answer wasn't for her to say. Rocky, in his case, took a far more proactive approach to the whole entire situation: he started walking away from the Pokémon Center entirely, even as it grew livelier with the arrivals. Serena looked at Bonnie, who only offered a shrug, and the two reached for a case of refreshments, following him out. As the honey blonde looked back, she saw Bethany clutching tightly to her daughter, eyes closed.

    The sickness inside continued to intensify.

    Rocky said nothing, hands shoved in his pockets as he walked, turning in towards the "road" that led to the school. It almost made him reminiscent of Christopher, and Serena wondered if his seeming absence was the reason for the nausea she felt. There could have been another solid reason, but she was sure that neither of those two were the reason for it. No, there was something Rocky didn't want to say…at least not in the Pokémon Center.

    "Mr. Rocky, look, we got the library cleaned up! Er…what's left of it, at least," a student called out from nearby, grinning with another boy and girl. They looked extremely excited that they had managed to clear the debris from an area. Their gazes slid back and saw Serena and Bonnie approaching. "Ah…it's Bonnie! You were totally awesome in last year's Kanto League! Runner-up!"

    "You guys are fans?" Bonnie asked cheekily as the group of three all swarmed her excitedly. Rocky didn't stop for that, nodding brusquely at the other students in the area, a group of girls tittering excitedly at the sight of Serena. Seeing that, she grabbed her refreshments and tossed them to the girls, who caught them excitedly.

    "Spread them around and share! There's more here, okay!" Serena called over to them, placing the case down on a flat patch of grass that wasn't covered in the school's remains. Bonnie got her own message from that, and thanked the students around her own age before excusing herself to join up with Serena. She looked positively glowing from the encounter. "Must be nice to have fans, huh?"

    "I don't mind it," Bonnie admitted. The expressions on Dedenne's and Squishy's faces indicated that they felt the same exact way. Of course, Bonnie was always bound to have fans as such an expert trainer, even if she still hadn't beaten Ash to this day. Her rival, on the other hand…

    Rocky suddenly stopped, and Serena saw where he was standing, near the graves that held Dalton's body and an empty space where that man's daughter should have been. It looked untouched compared to the rest of the town, as though whatever explosion had leveled the town and nearly obliterated it had been directed to not touch this place. It made Serena's eyes look to the unmarked grave. Someone was standing near it, almost blending in to the gray lifelessness of the forest and land beyond, only made plain by a Pokémon at their side. Regardless of that, Serena focused all her attention on Rocky.

    "So, what's going on, exactly?" Bonnie asked first. "I mean, you said Team Rocket attacked, and Astrid's Meowstic is here and…wait…you two aren't…oh my!"

    "Bonnie…" Serena almost growled out at the girl. She sent a stern expression her companion's way, which Bonnie grinned at. That grin quickly dropped at the sight of Rocky tightening his fist angrily. Serena steadied her breaths.

    "Astrid…Astrid was here." Rocky looked positively furious as he spoke. He raised his fist upward as he said this and then brought it crashing down, stopping it before it hit Dalton's grave. "She was there when it…when he…I couldn't do anything…"

    "Rocky, try speaking more simply. I'm pretty sure neither of us know what's going on," Serena told him, each syllable feeling like a struggle to contain that sickness and trepidation. He lowered his fist and turned around with the most distraught expression she'd seen on his face.

    "They came here, wanting to help. Then that guy, Tolbert, blew up the Center, and they faced him. They…they won…but something stopped them. I wanted to help, but Beth grabbed me back, insisted we protect the Center. I could hear it, though. I could hear everything. How he said he was part of Team Rocket and they were 'making a new world'. Then he blew everything to hell, including them." Serena swallowed now, closing her eyes as the nausea reached its peak. Then, Rocky answered the unasked question. "Astrid, Seamus…and Ash and Clemont."

    "Big brother? !" Bonnie asked, the unadulterated fear creeping into her voice. Serena just felt the sickness burst and she bent over, vomiting on to the ground while she fell to her knees. Bonnie called for her, but there was a sharp ringing in her ears. Ash had been here. Ash had fought here. He hadn't told her. And now he was…now he was…

    "N-no…" she gasped out, feeling herself retch from the emotion inside her. "He's not."

    "Serena, there's no way. He'd have to move faster than lightning for any one of them to have escaped that," Rocky told her, his own voice shaky. He didn't want to share the news any more than she wanted to hear it. But she didn't want to believe it.

    Surely, if Ash had been obliterated in the way Nova Town was, she would have felt it. There would have been something to tell her that the man she loved with all her soul had perished. That she hadn't, didn't it mean he was alive? He wouldn't let an explosion do him in; not when he'd already been through so much. Then why isn't he here?

    "You're wrong!" Bonnie protested, shouting. The loud voice pulsed and thrummed in Serena's head, and she had no choice but to vomit once again. "My brother isn't dead! You need to get your eyesight checked, old man!"

    "Denenenenene!"

    "Wolololo!" Squishy trilled, as well. The girl had balled her fists, though that was all Serena saw at the edge of her blurred vision. Her nausea was coming under control, and she felt like she could breathe again, even if her hand reached up and clutched at her chest tightly. Soft footsteps padded over the grass as Bonnie stepped towards Rocky angrily.

    "Don't ever say something like that! Clemont is stronger than that! He'd die and come back to kick everyone's ***. Plus, he still…he has to marry Korrina…still…" Bonnie looked to be shaking now, as though the reality of at least the words was setting in. She was shaking her head rapidly and Serena finally got her breathing under control.

    "Bonnie," she rasped out, finding her voice after the retching, "it's okay."

    "Serena…" Bonnie expressed, and she could hear the tears in the blonde's voice. The Performer lifted her head towards her longtime companion and managed to force a smile on to her lips, searching deep down for the slight spark of hope that Ash was alive.

    "I'm sure…it'll be okay," she finally spoke. "They're made of sterner stuff than that. We have to believe that. Remember what our motto is?"

    Bonnie didn't answer right away, as Serena drew herself back to her feet and quickly embraced her. Rocky watched a moment before jerking a bit and turning towards the direction of the unmarked grave. Finally, with a choked voice, Bonnie answered, "No giving up."

    "That's right. No giving up. How will we ever face Ash and Clemont when they come back if we gave up now?" Serena asked, drawing back and placing her forehead to Bonnie's. She was feeling a little bit better now, the ringing in her ears having subsided. Now that it had, it also made her more aware of the swishing of the grass, and what sounded like a soft beating of wings. At this, Serena turned her head to see the figure from earlier, very clearly a woman, and her Altaria approach.

    "Everything all right?" the woman asked, maintaining a distance. Serena fully straightened up now, looking at the newcomer. She was a rather striking woman, with auburn hair that flowed down, as she wore a black coat that was unfettered by the breeze. Beyond her, at the unmarked grave, was a set of flowers: burning red carnations that looked lonely there. However, the woman retained her distance, smiling at their group of three. However, the longer Serena looked, the more she realized how entirely vapid the smile was.

    "Yes. Just a momentary shock."

    "I'd imagine. Losing a loved one…family…it can rip the soul raw." The woman's words made Serena swallow, retaining her smile, yet bringing her hand down to her belt and one of the pokeballs that rested there. The woman cast her gaze upwards a moment, before looking back to the grave, a mystifying expression adorning her face. "Tell me…did you know him, once upon a time?"

    "Him?" Bonnie asked. Serena flicked her gaze to the teenaged girl, noticing that her body language was just as defensive. Rocky seemed it, too, though he was stepping back, rather than holding his ground. Serena's hand was decisive, now fully gripping her pokeball.

    "Hm…I guess so. Shame. Altaria, Dragon Pulse." It was like a flash of lightning, and Serena acted in that same flash. As the Dragon type before her reared back and sent a purple draconic beam soaring out at them, Serena instantly called out her prized Pokémon. No words or orders were given, but in those split seconds, Braixen sent a Flamethrower roaring out to collide viciously with the beam. Bonnie was on the move, too.

    "Squishy, dog form, come on!" the younger trainer cried, pushing her palm forward. Squishy hopped out of the bag, glowing green as numerous green cells flew out into his small form, transforming him into the familiar dog form that howled. "You use Dragon Pulse, too!"

    "Rhyperior, let's-"

    "Rocky, stay back! Get to the town! You guys have been hit twice, a third time is-" Serena's command died in her mouth. Altaria was soaring in, and Braixen twirled her wand around to slam it onto the Humming Pokémon in order to slow it down. The Dragon Pulse from Squishy fired forward, slamming into Altaria and sending it careening off for a moment. However, it wasn't the only thing on the move. At the same time that it was acting, the woman was running forward, an almost familiar, manic grin upon her face. Serena acted on instinct, flipping back.

    "Aha," the woman gave a slight laugh to the air. She nearly stopped, skidding along the grass as she brought her fist crashing upwards. The air rippled with the force, and without even registering the full contact of the striking fist, Serena felt as though a radiating jab of pain suddenly slammed into her chest. In fact, the blow was so sharp, it felt like multiple hands were slamming into her until she was flung back and landed upon the ground with a sickeningly audible thud. The woman then swept her leg out, moving so swiftly that it seemed like she'd only drawn just close enough to send Bonnie and Rocky also sprawling back. They landed with loud "oof"s. "Draco Meteor."

    "Altaaaaaaar!" The Altaria recovered from Squishy's strike, looking completely undamaged in the moment as it rose upwards, glowing a bright orange. That orange glow traveled up to its mouth and it fired. Serena tried to move as the orange orb split into cascading meteors, but she winced at the new pain smarting in her chest. With just one strike, despite their quick actions, the woman had managed to counter them effectively, at least long enough to get a second powerful blast off.

    "Wh-why are you…?" Rocky demanded, but he grunted, clasping at his side once again. He wouldn't be able to move, and there would be no way for Serena to intercept. The woman looked at him with lidded eyes.

    "I wanted to know something. This answered it," she responded cryptically. Serena moved to get up.

    "Braixen, Psyshock!"

    "Are you with Team Rocket? !" Bonnie demanded at the same time. Braixen struck, swiping both claws and sending the purple streaks outward and sailing for the falling meteors. They twisted and squiggled through the air before impacting and exploding against some of the plummeting stars. It wasn't enough, though. There were too many, while the woman placed a coy finger to her lips.

    "May-be," she answered Bonnie. "But can you stay long enough to figure it out?"

    "They will if I have anything to say about it," roared an angry voice…no, beyond that…it was flat out infuriated. Serena pushed herself up, only to have a hand push her right back down. A shadow flitted through the air, slicing across the meteors and sending them to explode in a cluster of glittering fireworks. At the same moment, a blistering hot water stream blasted towards the woman, herself flipping outside of its attack range with amazing dexterity, leaving it to burn into the ground. The pressure was removed from Serena's head as a crunching was heard on the grass. "And just as well, if you've anything to do with what happened here, I will destroy you, down to your very bones."

    Serena finally looked up and saw the man standing in front of her, his Samurott at his side. It had happened all too quickly, but Serena could already feel the spark of an ignition in the air.

    Aidan was here, and he looked ready to kill.

    Author's Note: Whew, there was a bit going on in this chapter. This was probably one of the hardest chapters to write, even if I started finding my groove again. The thing about this story is all the start and stop with the characters, but now that all the main characters are into the plot, it will only pick up pace from here. Plus, the ending just brings in a lot of tension and mystery what with the woman and a very furious Aidan. It's time for this to get exciting!

    Now that we're into the meat of the story, I hope it just gets better and better for you. Until that next time, though, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  9. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    It's always nice to see readers trying to figure out what's going on when that's what I've intended. There may be answers ahead, but we still have a long road ahead. Time for Chapter 5!

    Chapter 5

    A Fury​

    The remnants of the meteors sprinkled down on to the grass, flickering out of their tiny embers as they made contact with its surface to leave what remained virtually untouched. Serena's chest heaved, watching as the older man stepped forward. Aidan wasn't walking with his usual gait; no hands tucked behind his back, no bookish looks of intelligence. All of those were replaced with a man wearing hard lines on his face, and his arms at his side. It was the first sign of just how much he was not playing around.

    Nor was the woman.

    "You took out Draco Meteor…impressive," she spoke, almost looking pleased. The meteor debris finished falling completely, the sky returning to its opalescent blue. Next to Serena, Bonnie was also trying to get up. Squishy was right in front of her, acting as a protector while Dedenne recovered as well, though Serena was more focused on the woman in front of them.

    "Not all that hard," Aidan spoke, though his tone said he wasn't looking to have any notion of small talk in this encounter. There were some noises in the vicinity, and Serena wanted to guess at the fact that the students had caught sight of the battle, beginning to flee, though she didn't dare tear her eyes away from the scene to confirm. "Now, answer me, filth."

    "Answer you? You've hardly asked a question," came the woman's taunting remark. Serena's eyes narrowed, and she tried to stand, but Aidan's body language shifted just a little. It was screaming at her to stay put in that very moment. So, all she could do was stare at the woman's upturned smirk, her auburn hair curling at the ends as the blond walked forward yet another step.

    "Rocky," Bonnie hissed to her senior next to her. He turned his head, supporting himself on Rhyperior as Squishy closed ranks. "Can you get to the town or something?"

    "Don't know if I'll have time for that, squirt." Serena had to agree, observing the two forces that seemed about to collide with one another. Already, though, she was looking for an opening, either to aid in the dam that was about to break loose or to escape and make sure no further damage was done to Nova Town in its wake.

    "Why are you here? What is your purpose? To cause further rancor and death?" Aidan asked harshly. The shadow that had cut through the meteors reappeared now, this time materializing itself next to Samurott, enough for Serena to see what it looked like: it was Banette. Her face scrunched in confusion. "Did you blow this town half to hell? Did you kill my son?

    "Did you kill my best friend? !"

    Serena's eyes widened, almost sending another shock of sickness through her veins, but she held on. It wasn't just any normal Banette. It was Lionel's Banette. The stark realization of Aidan's words slammed upon them, even if Rocky seemed completely nonplussed by that exact phrase. Bonnie, however, wasn't.

    "Lionel…" she gasped out, halfway to trying to stand up. The woman's expression was un-telling, her eyes closing a bit to appear like a smug, lidded expression. "He's…no…not…not Mr. Lionel…"

    "So what if I did?" the woman finally responded. A question being returned to the initial question clearly did not amuse Aidan, whose face etched itself further in anger, like a palpable aura that flared around him. "Granting, I had no direct hand in it. But are you just going to go after everyone involved?"

    "No, I will not. So, just answer me this: why did your Team Rocket attack Nova Town? Why did you kill my friend?" Aidan asked one last time. His voice cracked at the end, now running out of any sense of patience. Above, Altaria hovered back down to a reasonable level, regarding each opponent with the same lidded eyes as its trainer. The woman smiled now, but it was just as vapid as before.

    "Take the win from me, and perhaps I'll answer." The tension ratcheted further. Serena found it almost hard to breathe, but her eyes were still flicking everywhere, trying to find a moment to exploit.

    "Take a win…?" Aidan questioned. His hand was shaking, and he raised it up, grasping on to his glasses. He removed them from his face, his steely eyes shining as he crumpled them in his hands. "I'll take your life. Aqua Jet."

    "Mura!" Samurott barked out, its large body surrounding itself with water. One moment it was there, and then the next, it was firing off towards Altaria, the Formidable Pokémon suspended in midair with a torrent of water. The woman flipped back, out of range, as Altaria descended in front of her, like a layer of protection.

    "Hyper Beam," she said, barely even raising her voice with the command. Serena looked over to Rocky and Bonnie, both looking like they wanted to join in on the action, but lacking the opportunity. Altaria's tiny beak opened, yet from it fired a nearly bright-white Hyper Beam that was aimed straight at Aidan. Before it could even impact, Lionel's Banette was moving, throwing up a honeycomb shield that completely absorbed the attack. Serena quickly shuffled over to Bonnie's side.

    "Don't get involved," she whispered, placing a hand on Bonnie's shoulder. Bonnie looked to her like she was absolutely mad in that moment.

    "But she…Lionel…" Serena understood. At Bonnie's words, the young trainer's body had begun to shake rapidly. It must have been too much for her, first to hear the news about her brother and then about the man that had traveled with her once, been like an uncle to her in some sense. It was a shock to Serena, as well, one that made her want to gag and retch just as before. Yet there was also an undeniable truth at play in that moment.

    "I know…but I have never seen Aidan look like this. He's always controlled, and if you step in the middle of…" Serena's words trailed off as Samurott slammed into Altaria, driving it back, before pulling away from the Dragon type with his quick movements. Bonnie was shaking with her own anger, wearing the same look as Ash whenever some atrocity was done. There would be no way to stop her, even if interfering in what looked like such a high skill battle that was coupled with rather high stakes would be suicide. That left only one option. "Follow my lead, Bonnie. You, too, Rocky."

    "Me?" the young man asked, and Serena offered a nod.

    "Just watch and wait. No rushing in, and we'll see what we can do to help," Serena insisted to the pair. Bonnie's body language said she was ready to disobey those decisions, but she still nodded her head.

    "Dragon Pulse."

    "Scald. Banette, Phantom Force," Aidan called. He wasn't making a single movement on his own, and Serena had to truly wonder why. Was it because of Altaria's peerless defense of its trainer? Or was it because he had already sensed, unlike the three of them, that the woman was peerless in her own manner of defense?

    Banette disappeared silently, it's eyes gleaming with anger. Samurott landed upon the grassy battlefield, skidding back as the water vanished from around it. It opened its mouth as Altaria let off a screech, its own beak likewise opening. The familiar draconic shape emerged, gleaming with purple intensity as it fired out for Samurott. In the meantime, heated water emerged from Samurott's mouth in a torrent of steam that seemed so hot, it made Serena begin to sweat, even from her distance. The two beam-like attacks made their way on a collision course for one another.

    "Hold on!" Serena shouted. She moved to grab hold of Bonnie, but the lemon blonde already grabbed on to Squishy, who dug deep into the ground. Serena did the same as her friend as the attacks collided. Steam exploded around the area from the clash, and the air felt like there was an explosion ripping through it. Serena looked up in time to see the Dragon Pulse break through, slamming into Samurott and pushing it back. Then, Banette appeared behind the Humming Pokémon and slashed down on it, almost sending it crashing to the ground. Altaria righted itself.

    "Draco Meteor!" the woman said, her eyes snapping open. It looked eerie in its own way, as though pulled by strings to an unsightly position. It sent a shudder down Serena's neck as Altaria raised up, the familiar, burgeoning orange glow crawling from its chest to its beak before blasting outwards to the air.

    "Intercept with Pursuit," Aidan made sure to direct Banette. It was such a simple command for the explosion of meteors that burst from the orb and spread in multiple directions. Banette flew through the air from its location, zipping from meteor to meteor with massive speed, slicing across them. Through the haze of the meteors' destruction, Serena peered. She let go of Squishy and saw a figure, standing beyond the haze. No…not one figure…there seemed to be three…

    "Of course…Braixen, Psyshock, now!" Serena screamed to her faithful Pokémon. Bonnie snapped a look to her and seemed to understand it was time to act.

    "Dragon Pulse!" Squishy barked, and as Braixen danced forward, sending her purple streaks from her claws, the legendary sent a roaring dragon from his own maw. They arced upwards, aiming for the remaining meteors that Banette wasn't getting to. They collided, exploding and obliterating the threat before them. Seconds later, Banette had vanished yet again, and Serena took a moment to understand just what Aidan was moving for.

    "Rocky, Bonnie, we'll need to surround her," Serena whispered to them both. Aidan, despite his seeming rage at facing the woman before them, cocked his head, indicating that he was listening. It really had been all part of his plan. He may have been fueled with rage beyond the boiling point, but he had retained all his intelligence that made him the brains of ARC. "Now, Braixen, Flamethrower!"

    "Braaaaaixen!" the Fox Pokémon cried. From her wand lit a spark that erupted into a powerful flame. The flame swept along the grass, lighting it on fire and cutting off one side of escape for the woman. Bonnie and Rocky were acting, too. Squishy howled, the land beginning to churn and bubble with stones, while Rhyperior slammed the ground and sent numerous other stones racing out to close the back exit for the woman. Aidan was still on the attack.

    "Aqua Jet, once more!" he shouted, now growing bolder and louder in the face of the changed battle. Serena looked to Braixen, both drawing to their full heights, and giving her a nod. Braixen ran forward swiftly, bouncing into the air to reach the other side of the battlefield. Samurott was veiled in water and shot off for Altaria again.

    "Sky Attack!" the woman shouted. She moved a hand upwards, clenching her fist, punching it forward as a wicked smirk crossed over her face.

    "Riiiiiiia!" Altaria sang out, its body glowing golden as it soared backwards. As the golden glow eclipsed its entire body, it shot off for the attacking Samurott. Both grunted and screamed as they collided in midair, breaking off and then aiming for yet another collision in the sky. Rain and smoke burst outwards from the collision, raining over all of them. Braixen reached the other side and plunged her wand into the ground. Fire spread from it, finishing off the blocking of all access to escape routes for the woman.

    "Hyper Beam," was the woman's command now. To Serena's surprise, she didn't seem all that concerned at being trapped in, or perhaps she was completely lost in the battle. Altaria broke off, calling the pure white beam to her beak and firing off.

    "Circumvent and Megahorn!" Aidan roared. Now, he finally took a step forward, running for the woman. The three shadowy figures from earlier moved inward. Samurott aimed inward, its horn glowing a bright white as well, aiming for one of Altaria's wings. The Formidable Pokémon appeared to pick up speed, aiming even more directly, only for Altaria to turn. The Hyper Beam snapped to the side, slamming into Samurott. The water broke apart, ending the Water type's attack and sending it crashing through the air, on to the line of stones. "Now!"

    "Net-et-ette…" the cackling, almost chilling, voice of Banette emerged. Serena looked to the woman now, noticing that Banette had materialized once more, a shadowy claw held near to the woman's neck, like it was threatening to snap it off. There was a small jangle from Aidan's hands and Serena saw part of the charm bracelet that once belonged to Lionel, clasped in his hand in threat.

    "Altar…?" Altaria chirped out, drawing Serena's attention upwards as well. A Mothim was behind it, while a Doublade floated right near it, its blades crossed and poised for action. Sure enough, as Serena's eyes came down, she noticed the very familiar forms of Tau, Theta and Chi surrounding the woman.

    "Now, answers, or I keep my promise," Aidan demanded, fully striding forward to face the woman. She cocked her head slightly, her once more lidded eyes feigning any interest she had in the situation. Serena noticed her fists clenching almost imperceptibly.

    "You haven't won yet, you know," the auburn-haired pointed out, her lips turning upward into a rather Cheshire grin. "Which means I'm not obligated to answer any questions…but would you like a freebie?"

    "Bane…" Banette hissed out, almost pressing in towards the woman, though her neck moved a fraction of an inch away from it. The Marionette Pokémon did not look pleased, and from the way Bonnie was still shaking next to Serena, she knew it was for the reason that its trainer and partner was dead.

    "You'll give me every information I want, and perhaps I'll spare you. I'll just throw you and your comrades into a hellhole you'll never get out of," Aidan said sharply, holding the keystone on the bracelet higher than before. The woman's eyes seemed to grow cold, the grin dripping off her face.

    "You know nothing of hell, Aidan," the woman said coldly. Aidan's lips tightened, and his eyes went with it as he considered the woman. It seemed like he was searching her for any sense of familiarity, but couldn't quite notice it, no matter how unsettled he looked in that moment. Although, Serena was more pulled in towards the woman's words, and what she could have possibly meant. After the moment passed, however, Aidan tossed out any notion of consideration for her words and stepped forward yet again.

    "What are you and your comrades in Team Rocket planning? Where can I find the one called Tolbert?" he demanded. The woman continued watching him with cold eyes, and eventually, she sighed liberally.

    "Perhaps in several places. Connect the dots." It was a vague answer, one that made Serena look to Bonnie and Rocky, who looked as bamboozled by the response as she felt. Aidan's eyes gleamed, and Serena wondered if he knew what she meant. "But what a shame…maybe he was right all this time."

    "Don't think like that. As long as we do, we will falter, and there is no time for that now." The new voice took Serena by surprise, sounding ghostly, almost like it wasn't even there. However, Braixen drew close to her, holding her wand tightly, as though primed for a battle. That communicated that there was someone or something there, and it was just a matter of finding that person.

    "My apologies. It was just a momentary lapse…Alastair." Serena acted at the same moment as Rocky and Aidan. They weren't the only ones, as Chi's own voice cut through the air with the same command they all screamed (only Serena tossed a pokeball out at the same time).

    "PROTECT!" Sylveon emerged, her feelers whipping around as Banette and Doublade pulled away from their targets. Rhyperior just stomped forward. As one force, the quartet erected honeycomb shields that encapsulated all of the members of ARC and their own little group that was in the area.

    It had been just in time, too. There was a loud sound, like the stones being blasted apart, or just sliced into ribbons with extreme force. The attack made the air ripple and attempt to push them backwards, though they were protected from the rocketing debris thanks to the Protect in the air. It created a dust cloud that plumed upwards and concealed the woman for but a moment, all while dousing the flames Braixen had made. Serena kept staring ahead, not affected by the particles in the air, and watched as a new figure emerged next to their opponent.

    "It took you quite some time to get here," the woman spoke, and the new arrival responded.

    "My apologies, but I had to ensure that our forces in Hoenn and Sinnoh were moving the way they should. It took more time than expected, even with our resources and travel methods. I think I may even have to return to one of the sites to ensure it goes as well as it did here, particularly the base in Sinnoh," Alastair responded, his voice smooth, yet a little biting, almost like a strong coffee. It was a strange analogy to make in her mind, but one that Serena felt worked, even if his appearance didn't quite fit that image. As the dust finished, the honey blonde could tell he was a lean man, evident due to him not wearing a cloak like his compatriot was. Instead, he was dressed in a trench coat, flapping about in the wind caused by his own attack as he placed something inside one of its pockets. At his side was an Aegislash, unsheathed and deadly.

    "Oh, well, it's not like I'm angry," the woman insisted, shrugging a little. "The overall plan is more important. We can't disappoint Giovanni, now can we?"

    "Of course not. But no worries, everything's in order. Shall we make our own exit back to headquarters?" Alastair noted, holding out a hand to the woman. She didn't take it, and sighed once more. Her companion seemed unfettered, as though this was a common ritual between them.

    "Naturally. I suppose we've been doing individual things too long. Don't want him getting suspicious for no reason. Besides, with the original initiative failing, perhaps Doctor Zager can help us locate our 'Pokémon Master' a little faster. I authorized the change but, presuming things are as we expect, it's always good to try and stick to the plan, even if we're flexible," she responded. Serena's body tensed, her fists clenching. She stepped forward as the shields dropped.

    "Are you talking about Ash?" she yelled, running for the duo. At her side was Aidan, himself having the same look on his face as she felt inside. Seamus had been here with Ash, and there was no doubt that the possibility of which the woman was speaking had set him off. Braixen was with Serena, her wand pointing forward, like she was ready to attack. "Is he alive? What did you-?"

    Her body froze, stuck in a single location. Aidan's had as well, and they weren't alone. Each one of the people in the area, and their Pokémon, seemed to be stuck, though they could move their upper bodies, even if their legs seemed rooted to the ground. The sun was setting overhead, casting long shadows in the golden glow, and it made the two opponents before them look as if they were fire. The woman grimaced a bit, looking to her companion, who nodded.

    "Our apologies, but we've no idea of what's happened to your husband. Tolbert can be over-enthusiastic, though I wouldn't worry," Alastair said, cocking his head to Aegislash. It withdrew, snapping into its shield as the two turned away. "Everything will be just fine. Now, if your fun is done, let's make sure to take care of things before them."

    "Naturally. Again, my apologies, Alastair." Whether Alastair accepted the apology or not seemed to be irrelevant. There was a flash, and Serena found her eyes drooping, sleep wanting to claim her. Aidan struggled against it, taking his lower body and beating it against his legs, though they yet refused to move. The shadows lengthened, and Serena felt like she only saw them melding together as her vision blurred…and then they didn't, indicating the regained clarity in her eyes. Her legs gave out, sending her stumbling to the grass as the last bit of the flames flickered down. Aidan did the same, each of them released from whatever hold there'd been on them.

    Alastair and the mysterious woman were gone.

    "Damn it…" Rocky grunted out, his voice laced with pain, likely from his earlier wound. Serena touched her hand to the ground, looking for where the two had disappeared to, but seeing nothing. "How did we let them get away?"

    "I don't believe we had a choice," Tau's voice spoke up. Serena looked back at him and noticed that he was shaking his head. Skuntank was at his side, helping him up as he walked his way over to Aidan. "It seemed like she came here with an escort, and we just didn't sense it."

    "Yes…both were quite skilled," Aidan admitted. He frowned, recalling Samurott at last and stowing the charm bracelet away inside a pocket of his. His fist appeared to shake inside of his pocket and he still looked as though he remained furious. "She played us for fools."

    "But her information…" Theta pointed out. Aidan stopped shaking and nodded. Serena watched the interaction between Aidan and his remaining subordinates. They seemed to have some unspoken realization towards each other, and the honey blonde worked to try and understand what had been said between all of them there. As enigmatic as the woman was, she was still somewhat informative, Serena felt.

    Bonnie precluded any chance to think or discuss it, in any case.

    "Mr. Aidan…is…is it true…?" Aidan turned slowly to look at Bonnie, herself now clutching Dedenne and Squishy to her chest, the latter having changed back into his usual form. She had approached the man in a manner completely unlike her usual peppy self, eyes looking low to the ground. Behind her, Rocky spat on the grass, as if unamused that he'd been kicked around yet another time.

    There was a moment of silence, like a bated breath that was just waiting to be exhaled. Serena swallowed, knowing what the answer to Bonnie would be, and so close on the heels of what she'd been told by Rocky.

    "Yes." Serena closed her eyes as Bonnie gasped, bringing Dedenne and Squishy closer. They nestled into her chest, as if feeling the pain she was experiencing from those words. Seamus' father raised a hand up, closing his eyes and looking ashamed. He seemed about to rub the back of his head, but instead he approached Bonnie and leaned down just a little to match her height. "He went out with a fight. Protected us, and we, in turn, protected you."

    "He…he did?" Bonnie asked, her voice quivering. It was the most vulnerable that Serena had ever heard her voice in all the years of knowing her, even after her torture at DARC's hands, or Rotom's death.

    "Do you really think he'd go out any other way?" Aidan asked, tacking on a chuckle at the end to alleviate the clear emotional pain. At least, he attempted to.

    "No, he wouldn't. Neither would Clemont…My big brother, I know he's out there somewhere," she said. Serena breathed out, glad that her friend, almost sister, wasn't taking this all so hard. She was holding on to the possibility that Clemont, and Ash, were truly out there, even if they didn't know where. There was still the possibility that maybe they had fallen, but the woman's words had somehow inspired confidence in Serena. "Was it her…?"

    "No," was Tau's own definitive answer. He stepped closer, his usually slicked back hair all disheveled with a frown on his face. It was clear that whatever had happened to them had been crushing. "It was likely the one who blew this place up: Tolbert."

    "Hey, boy, is Beth all right?" Theta barked at Rocky. The young man didn't seem to like being called a boy, but he nodded. Theta seemed relieved at that, but still must have held a sense of urgency in herself, since she turned with her husband and headed into the town proper. The lack of sound in that direction indicated that the students working at the broken school had run at the sign of the battle.

    "Tolbert…" Bonnie said, clenching her fists in anger. Serena reached out and placed a hand on the lemon blonde, calming her down. Rocky looked just as incensed as her, though.

    "He wasn't the only one that attacked. I think that guy, Alastair, attacked us first," Rocky grunted out. He had long since returned Rhyperior and was even with them, his eyes sparking with an unbridled fury. "They made a total joke of us! They ruined our town!"

    "Calm down," Tau sighed out, though it did little to halt Rocky's anger. There was something inside the young man's eyes that Serena saw: something that said he wanted to destroy Tolbert by himself. Aidan looked up to the clear blue sky and breathed in that direction.

    "Alastair…" It wasn't said with familiarity, but there was a slight line of thought in his brain, if Serena's own observations were anything to go by. "His face seemed familiar, but I can't think of where…"

    "Could it have been the reports on Team Rocket…?" Tau suggested. Aidan shook his head, lips twisting in thought.

    "Not sure…it's something to look into, though."

    "And what about everywhere else?" Serena asked, finally putting her own thoughts into the conversation. Aidan stopped exhaling and brought his head back down to look at her. "Her words…she said that we needed to connect the dots between multiple places. I know you figured out what she meant."

    "It's just a guess, and it needs some confirmation." Serena wanted to argue with the older man, who was now placing his bent glasses back on his face. They looked out of place now, but after some slight adjustments, they seemed to sit decently there. It put her more at ease, but she still stood there adamantly for an answer which didn't seem to be coming.

    "Miss Serena! Miss Serena!" The sudden voice of Emmy broke apart the tension in the group and returned them to the reality that they were in Nova Town. Fixing a smile back on to her face and pushing away any worries churning in her stomach, Serena turned towards the trio of approaching girls. "Some of the students came and got us, said you were…fighting someone…"

    "Nah, nothing wrong!" Bonnie assured them with a grin. Whether it was plastered on for the sake of the other girls or not, it seemed to be enough to placate them, at least.

    "Just a misunderstanding. Everything's fine now, right?" Serena's tone had dipped low, pressuring Aidan into nodding. The seemingly new leader of ARC shoved his hands in his pockets and began to walk in the direction of the school. Rocky followed too, as if he wanted to remain attached to the man's side for a shot and striking back against their combined foes.

    "You'll have to forgive Aidan," Tau said, drawing Serena's attention to him. "I think he's more affected by Lionel's death than he says and wants to handle matters personally."

    "We don't have time for personal…not if Ash and the others…" She trailed off, biting her tongue to get her emotions in check, especially since the girls, led by Emmy, were nearly within non-yelling earshot. "If what she said is true, then we need to move before another Nova Town happens. Is it true that this is a plan from Team Rocket?"

    "That's our guess. Tolbert said as much, and Aidan thinks it's some sort of bid for power by the organization. Create enough chaos with deaths and the power void will widen, allowing them to step in," Tau explained. Bonnie had split apart from the two of them now, obviously keeping one ear on their conversation as she reached the girls and slung her arms around the Performers. Serena stepped closer to Tau, feeling comfortable conversing with him. "The only thing we're trying to figure out is why. ARC, on its own, is not a threat, especially with the times we've had. We just look into dangerous artifacts, so they wanted to get at us for obvious reasons, if they're planning on using one…but the attacks appear…targeted. Almost like it's not so much about that."

    "Hm…" Serena hummed out. She saw Tau jerk his head, indicating they should join the others in moving back towards the town. Serena agreed, but she cast a single look back at the gravestones, wondering what the woman had been here for in the first place. "You think there's a reason they're targeting people and places at each specific location."

    "I do. So does Aidan, but I have a feeling he's casting his mind elsewhere," Tau elaborated. The two stepped over the ruined school and onto the ruined streets. Tau stopped for a moment, looking it all over. Serena only imagined he was reflecting upon the moment he and Team Neo had once done this to their own hometown. He moved on quickly enough, however. "By the way, it's wonderful to see you again, though I do wish it was under more peaceful circumstances. Every time, I'm reminded of what a strikingly beautiful young woman you've become."

    "Thank you, though it's hardly the time, is it?" Serena told him, adding a wink on the end. He chuckled at it, and it was like a slight balm inside Serena's soul. As if, despite all the horrible sensations around her and inside her, things were still okay, and would be okay. She would see Ash again. She had to hold on to that.

    "Well, that's interesting, isn't it?" Tau's question made Serena stop as they were about to enter the square, and it caused her to blink. She had thought it was a mere trick of the eye before, or perhaps a reflection of the helicopter, but there were no further airborne vehicles in the vicinity.

    Yet the fountain and the gates in the area were pulsing an angry red.

    It was gathering spectators, as well. Now that the sun seemed to be setting, it was becoming more and more evident, the embers of its descent fading to night and leaving only the pulse of colors. Serena turned in the direction of the Pokémon Center, knowing that Aidan was likely there, hopefully with some kind of answer. Tau's body movement agreed with that, and the two pushed for the Center. Murmurs passed through the crowd at the odd sight, but the duo ignored them until they got to the Center.

    "Never before? You're sure. Even since the Nova Incident?" Aidan was asking of Nurse Joy. The pinkette shook her head, and Serena quickly put the pieces together that he was asking about the fountain and Gates, having obviously seen them for himself. Bonnie and Rocky were there, too, clearly listening in, though the remainder of ARC in the town wasn't quite visible. Upon stepping in, Aidan addressed his comrade sharply. "Tau, we need to get a contact to the League, but I'm guessing communications are down for much of the town."

    "That's correct, sir," Nurse Joy answered, now nodding her head. Aidan looked frustrated at the answer until the door to the backroom slid open almost imperceptibly. Serena looked towards it, seeing Chi and Theta stepping out. Behind them was Bethany, sitting at her husband's side as he was bedridden, convulsing a little, but otherwise fine. She hoped he would wake soon.

    "Leave it to me," Chi stated, pushing his own glasses up on the bridge of his nose. The first thing he did was walk to the large television in the room, hanging from the barely intact wall. Theta strode with him and moved to fix things alongside her own husband. As they got to work, people fell silent in the area and Serena found herself staring at her wedding band.

    "Don't worry," Tau said calmly from next to her. "Lionel always said it to us: Ash is resourceful beyond belief. If anyone found his way out of an impossible situation, it's him. No doubt with whatever Team Rocket is planning, he'll show up sooner or later to one of their attacks."

    "Knowing him…" Serena joked. It felt good, talking with someone like Tau; someone who was removed. He wasn't just giving her hope for the sake of giving hope, but because it could actually mean something in that moment. That was worth more than words could express at that very moment.

    Her legs shook for a moment, and she felt the sudden desire to sit down, the initial adrenaline of hearing the news and battling the woman finally leaving her. She breathed in and turned away, finding one of the few remaining benches that allowed her to set herself down. Aidan looked antsy while his companions worked, though it had nothing on Bonnie, who was nearly kneading her two most loyal partners, or Rocky, who was wearing a hole in the floor with his pacing. The door slid open again.

    "Bethany…how is Christopher?" Serena asked, not even needing to look to know who was joining her on the bench.

    "He'll live. Nurse Joy is no human doctor, but she's certain he'll recover soon. I don't think he'll be going anywhere for a couple days, though," Bethany admitted, folding her hands. It was only for a moment, however, as she soon reached her hands over and clasped Serena's. "He did take a Fell Stinger to the back, after all. But as long as he's okay, I'm okay."

    "And your daughter?"

    "Nap time…amazing how children can sleep even in the middle of this mess," Bethany laughed out. Serena joined her, letting it lighten her soul. Little Thea was no doubt precious to Bethany and Christopher, and Serena was glad they had made it out through all of this okay. She breathed out.

    "This should do it…Do we have the code for administrative access to the IRCS?" Chi asked, straightening up from his job. Serena stood with this, bringing Bethany with her. The two women proceeded forward, joining the cluster of people now gathering against the righted screen. Displayed on it was the logo for the ever-useful and familiar Inter-Regional Communications System, proving that Chi had done what he said he would and connected the town to some sort of communications network.

    Forgot he was an expert at that kind of stuff…Serena mused in her head, though at the moment, she was grateful for it. Aidan was up now, clearly having the information that Lionel likely would have told him. Bonnie stopped squeezing, her eyes settling itself into a glare at the screen. Serena just waited, and as soon as Aidan was done, the screen lit up, splitting into numerous screens.

    "Contact: Kalos League Headquarters," Aidan spoke clearly. There was a moment of waiting with bated breath…and then Diantha's face appeared on the screen. She wasn't alone, joined by Steven Stone and Cynthia. As Serena squinted, she could see Alain and Korrina in the background, both looking worried.

    "Finally!" Steven exclaimed, looking relieved. "We've been trying to contact you. Derek told us of the attack on-"

    "Save the chitchat," Aidan barked. It was so forceful that even the Champion seemed to cower in the face of it, swallowing thickly. Well, perhaps "cower" wasn't the right word, but he certainly held his tongue. "Yes, I'm aware you've been waiting to hear from us. Yes, we were attacked. Yes, Lionel is dead."

    "So, Lance's report was accurate…He had speculated…" Cynthia said, as though hearing it caused her a great sense of heaviness. Aidan tapped his foot loudly. "My apologies. Proceed."

    "We've been busy. All but our forces at Azalea, myself and Alpha Squad have been decimated. We are all that remains of ARC." The silence at his statement was all too heavy, and no one said a word, letting it all sink in. The gravity of the foes they were facing, of Team Rocket's ruthlessness now that they were acting, was all too palpable between those that were gathered there. "In this event, we've been trying to get a bead on what is occurring.

    "Champions, what you and we have been fearing would come, has now arrived."

    "Team Rocket," all three spoke at once. Serena's hands left Bethany's, clasping together. They had been expecting this? No, not that, but perhaps just thinking of it as a possibility. Now that it was here, however, everyone had been caught unawares, and Serena had to wonder just why. She also couldn't help but wonder if Ash had known…though it seemed unlike him to truly know and not do anything about it.

    "They've already sent out their top operatives; that's how they were able to decimate ourselves, Azalea Town and Nova Town. They're the reason the four you sent here have disappeared," Aidan continued. Serena pursed her lips, seeing the reaction coming before it came.

    "Clemont? What about Clemont?" Korrina demanded, shoving her way forward, only to be held back by Alain.

    "We don't know what's happened to your fiancée," was Aidan's response. He sounded rather matter-of-fact, though Serena knew that inside, he was probably absolutely churning with fury. Korrina's eyes widened, and she sought one of the more familiar faces in the room, locking in on Bonnie. Whatever she saw in her soon-to-be sister-in-law's eyes must have encouraged her, because she stopped struggling and straightened up, a fire burgeoning in her eyes.

    "Aidan, what do you know? Or rather, what can you tell us?" Diantha asked, striking to the heart of the matter. She looked exhausted, as though she'd spent the day worrying about all of this.

    "We encountered one of their operatives. A woman. As well as a man named Alastair." Cynthia's eyes narrowed, and she looked to someone just offscreen, but that appeared to afford no answers. "There was something familiar about them, and I want to look more into it, but right now there are pressing matters to be concerned with."

    "Do tell," Diantha insisted.

    "The woman mentioned something; whether she intended for me to figure it out or not, I neither know nor care, but I do believe she said it intentionally," Aidan briskly spoke. He breathed in, giving them just a moment to prepare for any of the words that he was about to say. "She said there were dots to connect in several places for whatever Team Rocket was planning next."

    "That presents a challenge, and a tricky one," Steven commented. "On the one hand, it appears she's baiting us into engaging with Team Rocket. That could be what they want. However, if we don't engage them, they can harm many people unchecked. Where do you believe these locations of attack will be next, Aidan?"

    "Sinnoh and Hoenn are confirmed," Tau spoke up, answering part of the question. "That Alastair mentioned the two regions. Beyond that…"

    "We can narrow it down given events here," Aidan said after clearing his throat. "Nova Town was attacked, and the fountain is glowing red. Azalea Town was slaughtered, as though the townsfolk were assassinated in their sleep."

    "But neither have a connective thread, unless…" Cynthia's face adopted an expression of thoughtfulness, trying to consider every angle that Aidan was approaching here. Serena observed the older man, wondering what conclusions he had reached behind his brain. "Lance told us that Derek remarked how Azalea was glowing, too…though it was supposed that was from…"

    "I believe there is a single connective thread: meteors."

    "Again? !" Bonnie asked, her expression absolutely flabbergasted. "Why is it always meteors? !"

    "It's just a speculation, but one we'd do best to heed." Bonnie pouted at Aidan's instruction, folding her arms with a huff. "Knowing that, or speculating it, I believe there are two areas that can fit the bill: Mount Chimney and Veilstone City."

    "Mount Chimney? Would Meteor Falls not be a more apt location if the meteors are involved?" Steven questioned. Aidan inclined his head, as though he would have agreed with the notion at some point in time.

    "Yes, I thought so, at first. Until the second attack on Nova Town, as though it wasn't enough. As though there needed to be more death. More destruction," Aidan pointed out. "There have been the uses of meteors at Mount Chimney before, and it's speculated that a meteor once bore the surface that may be the very object of Team Rocket's search: the volcano itself."

    "And Veilstone has the asteroids," Cynthia concluded.

    It all made sense, at least in Serena's mind. All of this was incredibly planned for maximum destruction. The only thing that didn't correlate in her mind was the scope of destruction that the plan seemed to entail from Team Rocket. From what Jessie and the others had always said, Team Rocket was hardly interested in world destruction, but rather domination. She reached up to tap her chin. Then again…targeted attacks leave just enough devastation for them to do their ultimate subjugation.

    "Then we'll move forces into position," Diantha clarified, clasping her hands together. She looked quite concerned, as if itching to get in on the battle action herself, but holding back. "I'll leave some forces on standby here, as well, just to be safe. Though, I'll also try to contact Gary."

    "Yes, soon as I'm able, I could probably work with him," Steven noted, looking a little relieved.

    "Um…" Bonnie piped up, walking forward a bit. It spoke to how well-regarded she was, despite her age, that the others all paid attention to her swiftly. "Isn't Brock in the Hoenn region? He's a great doctor, so if people need help from the attacks…"

    "Yes, of course," Diantha stated. There was a lull of silence from their end, leaving everyone in the Nova Town Pokémon Center to wait quietly. The single screen fully split into a few more, and other familiar faces began to appear on it as the calls were answered. Serena exhaled in relief at numerous faces she knew so well appearing on the screen, namely those of Brock, Dawn, Gladion and May's younger brother, Max. Bonnie, in particular, glared at the screen that contained Brock and Max, with the bespectacled boy glaring right back. Serena walked forward to pat Bonnie on the back and end her glaring contest.

    "Well, this is a surprise," Brock spoke out, blinking rapidly (which was really more of his closed eyes thinning a bit). He glanced to Max at his side, but otherwise said little. Most surprising, he didn't even try to hit on Diantha or Cynthia once, though Serena had a guess that it had to do with a certain former Kalos Queen currently in Lumiose. Of course, it could have also been that he picked up on the tension through the screen, his nearly closed eyes further tightening on his face. "I'm going to guess right now that there's a reason you called."

    "I'd like to assume so, as well," Gladion's deep tones rumbled over the connection. The only one that didn't say anything was Dawn, whose gaze seemed to be looking pointedly at Serena with question. There was a woman of roughly the same age with light pink hair in the background, taking peeks at them. "A contact from the League was not something I expected now, not after already being contacted for relief efforts in Kalos. But I take it you've helped with that, Serena."

    "Somewhat. They can definitely use the assistance here, though," Serena noted to the young man. He nodded, grabbing a clipboard that was handed to him from offscreen.

    "The League can also use the assistance of the Foundation at Mount Chimney in Hoenn and Veilstone City in Sinnoh," Cynthia said with authority. Gladion blinked and then reached up to brush his bangs aside while scratching his head.

    "I'll do what I can. Hoenn won't be a problem; we have a fairly large contingent of our two divisions there, working at the desert. They can be at Mount Chimney by the middle of the night," Gladion informed them all. Serena breathed out at that, grateful to have the support of the Foundation in these troubling times. "Veilstone will be a little trickier."

    "No need to worry! I'm here in Veilstone, and my friend Maylene is super strong!" Dawn popped up, sharing her own thoughts on the issue. She still looked perplexed, however, and chose to share these exact feelings with everyone in the group that was connected. "Uh…but does anyone mind telling me what's going on?"

    "Lup!" Piplup chirped out over the screen.

    "I was wondering the same thing, myself," Max insisted, sounding almost smug. Bonnie appeared to roll her eyes, and it was no mystery on Serena's end as to why. Aidan chose to not beat around the bush, his hard face radiating what now felt to be a cold fury, as opposed to the heated and passionate version he'd been exuding against the woman.

    "Team Rocket has made a move as an organization. They are most likely converging on Mount Chimney and Veilstone City for whatever their next phase is. We are going to stop them, no matter the cost! Even if it means taking out their top operatives…permanently." Aidan's choice of words did not go unnoticed. Wanting to quell the situation that was now rearing its ugly head, Serena stepped forward.

    "At the very least, we need to try and protect as many innocent people as possible, so that another Nova Town incident doesn't occur here. I think…that's why I'd like to go to Veilstone," she said. Dawn's eyes lit up at the suggestion, looking like she'd be happy to see Serena again. This kind of assessment seemed to be something that Cynthia was quite pleased with, overall.

    "I agree. In a city setting there's much more to worry about, so we'll want reliable trainers to protect the populace," the blonde Champion spoke. "Alain, would you be…?"

    "Yes. I think Sawyer is still around after his loss last round, as well, and I'm sure he'd be willing to help," Alain noted, giving a nod to the groups of people clustered there. "As for Paul…?"

    "He cleared the earlier rounds today, so until the moment we can't use the tournament as a distraction for a while, we'll keep the illusion up," Cynthia answered the concern and query. "I'm sure he'll want to go home as soon as he's finished up tomorrow. We'll make sure he's up first."

    "Then I'm guessing you'll want me to head for Mount Chimney?" Brock asked. He already looked rather prepared by Serena's estimations, hauling up a bag full of medical supplies with a grin. "Don't worry! We'll take care of it!"

    "You're just going to drag me along without asking?" Max complained a little, adjusting his glasses. Bonnie scoffed, placing her hands on her hips.

    "No complaining! I'm coming, too, so you don't get to complain!" Bonnie snapped at the boy. Max looked at her, spluttering loudly with concern while the girl stared him down. They acted like rivals more and more every day, despite having only had a mere handful of battles against one another.

    "Wh-why should that matter? I'm doing this because I can, and because May is off in Unova or something. So, what do you matter?" Max demanded. Before the two could get into an argument from that, Rocky interjected with his own response.

    "I'll go with the squirt," he stated, placing a hand atop the lemon blonde's head, even though he had to reach quite a bit up to so. Bonnie brushed him off. "Those Rocket guys ruined my home, and right now I'm the last one standin' that can do anything. Chances are I'll nab one of them at that Mount Chimney."

    "I'd like to join, too," Korrina interjected, but Diantha rapidly shook her head.

    "Much as your battle prowess would be welcome at any one of these sites, I'd prefer you here for now, Korrina. With Lance away on investigation, keeping the League together and trying to keep things as normal as possible is for the best right now, does everyone understand?" Diantha made plain to them. They all nodded, accepting her decision, even if Korrina was grumbling about being sidelined. Serena didn't blame her.

    "I'll get on that aid and those forces. Pretty sure Plumeria might be with the desert group…" Gladion mumbled out before the connection terminated. Dawn offered Serena a wink before closing the connection, herself, all while Alain left the screen with the Champions on it.

    "We'll be at Mount Chimney in no time, especially with orders from such beautiful Champions as your-ah, okay! Going!" Whether Brock had been jabbed by Croagunk or pulled by Max, Serena didn't know, considering that connection terminated as well, but it did leave the rest of them there.

    "The board is set," Aidan spoke, and it seemed like he was saying it to everyone. "We all have our plans, and I need to do some investigation, just as Champion Lance has. Everyone here, say what you need to say, and do what you need to do, then move out. Understood?"

    "Yes, sir!" Bonnie stated with a positive salute. It described all too aptly what this felt like: it was almost akin to going to war. Serena's fists clenched, watching as her little sister and Rocky turned with Beth (who had patted Serena on the shoulder) to go to Chris. She turned away, towards the entrance of the Pokémon Center, where she would grab a helicopter that Chi looked to be contacting.

    "You won't be alone, you know," Tau said, falling in step with her as she began to leave the broken Center. "I think it's best if I go, too. And besides, a big city? Need the help you can get."

    "I know," Serena said, striding to the outside and already hearing the beating of the helicopter rotors once more. Tau stood at her side as they watched it descend on the blood red square. If what she hinted at was true…it's possible that Ash may be there, too…But…even if he isn't…no matter how he is… "I'll just have to fight in his stead in the meantime."Chapter to be continued in next post...
     
  10. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    "That was a close call this time," snapped the all too familiar voice. The woman turned her head to Alastair, the two of them resting on the trees overlooking Nova Town. She looked in his direction, craning her neck forward with a sly smile upon her lips, as usual. "It was a reckless decision."

    "I told you it was but a lapse in judgment on my part, nothing more," she told the worrying man. He, unlike herself, was not sitting down, but standing on one of the sturdier pine branches. Alastair walked forward, his jet-black hair almost shining in the starlight that was beginning to show. It was almost a miracle that any stars would come out under the veil of smoke, shadow and the blood red glow coming from the town. She sighed. "Thank you for the help, Alastair."

    "As if you needed to ask, Deirdre." Deirdre chuckled under her breath; that was all too true, but it was hardly something she wanted to take for granted. Her gaze moved upwards to the bright moon…clouds were beginning to move in on the town again. She wanted to assume they were storm clouds, ever so fitting.

    "You're always saving me, anyway. Always keeping your promises to me, no matter how painful. I'm grateful," she spoke into the rustling trees. Alastair said nothing. He merely exhaled, his hand reaching up to his face and covering his left eye. Moments later, it retracted, as though it was wiping away something, as ludicrous as it was for a man such as Alastair. "They must be running around now, don't you think?"

    "It's to be expected," Alastair agreed. She nodded, looking in the distance. From where they were, it was a little difficult to see Nova Town, but the bright lights of the Pokémon Center, and various other setups around the small town for illumination, gave enough insight as to the movement there. The sound of a loud helicopter was also rather informative. "No doubt they'll be engaging the forces. Do you wonder which side will succeed?"

    "Perhaps a little. The boss wouldn't like my ambivalence towards this, but it's too adorable to watch both sides grapple, no matter which side we truly support."

    "Hmm…" Alastair hummed out, flicking his eyes back towards her. The clouds were moving in slowly, inching towards the moon and stars, causing Deirdre to sigh loudly. "Let's just not pull any more foolish stunts that can ruin the organization's plan, or yourself. You must nearly be at your limit with that last one, and I don't wish to act on my promise to you. Not at all, and especially not this early in the plan…" There was a pause from his words, and then, "You never confided in me, though…was this an act of revenge that you needed?"

    "No, I abandoned that long ago," Deirdre spoke, swinging her legs over to hang off the side of the branch, as though she was floating. "That's what I wanted to see, but there was nothing towards that concept. No rage. No hatred. Just…amusement."

    "Well, that's something different, at least," Alastair huffed, pulling his coat tighter to himself. Deirdre looked back towards the town, a faint feeling of nostalgia filling her at the ruffling of the breeze.

    "All that's left is fixing what he made so wrong," she whispered out, only Alastair able to pick up on the nearly imperceptible response. Breathing once more, Deirdre dropped from the tree, landing with incredible lightness on the forest floor. "Come, Alastair, let's return to Team Rocket while the shadows can still hide us."

    Alastair nodded, joining her on the ground, and then the two faded away into the shadows.

    Author's Note: I've never really had the chance to show Aidan in a battle (nor Lionel, but he always got more screentime before he kicked the bucket), so this was a chance to really show him doing so, even if it was just a skirmish for now. Naturally, this was part-action, part-setup. The groups are splitting up to deal with the threat that Team Rocket is presenting. I'd like to think I'm doing a different Team Rocket plan here than most would expect, but we'll see. Either way, expect a lot of intensity to come in the next few chapters!

    Now that the final story is picking up, I hope you'll continue to enjoy into the future. Until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  11. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    I see a humorously large amount of people misspell Aidan's name in reviews. I also have a humorously large amount of people asking where Ash is, if, indeed, he's alive. All I can say is to chill and go with the flow of the story. Oh, and enjoy Chapter 6!

    Chapter 6

    A Star​

    "You just gonna stay at his side?" Rocky asked, his voice coming out from one of the few rooms that were relatively untouched within the Pokémon Center. Bonnie looked towards it, adjusting her bag on her shoulder while she did so. Serena and Tau had seemed to have already left the Center for the helicopter, with even Aidan having long since departed, himself. Bonnie, however, was waiting for her own new companion to finish speaking with his friend.

    "For now," Bethany stated, leaning back upon the chair that she was seated in. Bonnie poked her head in, watching the trio of friends that was taking up the room. Rocky was leaning against the wall lightly, observing the breathing of Christopher as Bethany watched over her husband. "I'm surprised to see you so proactive."

    "We have to do something," Rocky grunted out, now shoving his hands into his pockets. "Seamus is…well, we don't know, and with you two out of commission, I have to keep active."

    "You never were content with sitting still like the rest of us," the turquoise-haired woman sighed out, though to Bonnie's ears, it sounded like a sigh of acceptance. She tipped her head back, taking in the ceiling that was still surprisingly intact. Sounds of the Performer girls and the people of Nova Town working outside those walls continued on as the two sat in silence. Bonnie thought about interrupting, but it seemed like such a quiet moment between friends that she didn't want to. Instead, she looked to Dedenne and smiled at him, petting him softly.

    "This isn't about that. It's for Chris…and Astrid," Rocky breathed out. Bonnie looked at Dedenne in surprise. She had always suspected it about the Nova Town native, but to hear him admit something about the blonde-haired woman still came as a near shock. She was so used to people dragging their heels when it came to their feelings, positive or negative. Though, on further thought, she realized it had been nine years since the two had first met.

    "Hm…I understand," Bethany spoke, now folding her hands upon her lap. Another moment of silence passed between them, and Rocky blew outwards. He chuckled a bit and stepped forward, slapping a hand to his female friend's shoulder.

    "Don't worry about a thing. Bonnie and me, we'll clean up," he insisted, taking his free hand and thumping himself upon his chest with a smirk. Even though he couldn't see her, Bonnie yet nodded with triumph, letting Dedenne climb up to rest upon her head as Squishy dozed in her bag. "You just focus on helping Chris get better, all right?"

    "You should focus on yourself, idiot," Bethany said, a small smile on her lips. Bonnie watched the two, and looked as Christopher's fingers seemed to twitch, a small grunt emitting from his mouth as he turned slightly. It was a sign he was nearly recovered in Bonnie's book.

    "Please, I'm like steel. Nothing will break me! And Chris is doin' just fine; I'm sure he'll be up before I even get back. I just don't want another thing to happen like here in the meantime." Rocky lifted his fists and flexed his muscles, like he would take care of everything without a single problem. Bethany reached up and punched him on the shoulder.

    "I thought you were like rock," she joked, a slight snicker escaping her lips. He swatted her away and knelt down to his best friend, hands on his hips. Bethany continued on. "You really cared for her, didn't you?"

    "Maybe. Not sure she…" Rocky sighed. He cut himself off and shook his head, reaching over and brushing some of Christopher's hair away. The other man seemed to smile in amusement, even in his sleep, which Bonnie took comfort in. "That doesn't matter. I just gotta wreck 'em. For hurting her and my town…not necessarily in that order. In the meantime, Chris, you stop making Beth worry so much, you lunkhead."

    "You're one to talk," Bethany laughed out, finally standing. She grabbed hold of her friend and began to wheel him out of the room. Bonnie barely moved out of the way as the woman pushed Rocky away and sent him nearly stumbling into the Center proper. "Go on. We'll make sure Nova Town is cleaned up. I'm not just going to sit around, and we need some of the top people in this town helping out."

    "I got it, I got it!" Rocky chuckled, as well, finally righting himself. He looked to Bonnie, who offered him a rather toothy grin. "Ready to kick some a**, squirt?"

    "You got it!" Bonnie agreed, reaching over to give the man a high five. She didn't even mind being called "squirt", knowing that Rocky had said it in a good-natured ribbing. On her person, Dedenne and Squishy seemed to give their own cries of battle-readiness, despite their previous relaxed state. Both of them ready, Rocky turned towards the exit, raising his hand in farewell to Bethany. She watched after him fondly, as Bonnie trailed after the man, seeing his broad shoulders precede her. He looked like he was still a little pained, but running on adrenaline and the want to get back the people who had hurt his town.

    Rocky was a man going to war.

    "We have to do our part, too," Bonnie told her partners. They nodded at her, facing forward as they raced off after Rocky. The sound of a helicopter was once more filling the air, indicating that their ride had already arrived, touching down to the square in the dark of the night. Not that it was entirely dark with the disturbingly angry red glow. Still, Bonnie ignored that, focusing on the mission ahead…well, that and who she'd see once she reached the site of it. "Can't believe we're gonna have to deal with him again…"

    "Dene…" Dedenne agreed with a yawn. Squishy didn't seem to care at all, and Bonnie felt she was fine with that. Trying to ignore her impending reunion with the one that had called himself her rival (by nature of age rather than skill, she felt), she ran closer to Rocky as the two approached the helicopter. The young man tapped on the screen that separated them from the pilot.

    "Mount Chimney, here we go!" Rocky shouted over the loud whirring, before seating himself down and strapping himself in. Bonnie did the same and prepared to feel the liftoff of the helicopter into the air. It jerked slightly as it came off the ground, traveling slowly into the air with that sensation. Bonnie didn't bother grabbing on to anything, her seatbelt holding in place as the vehicle took to the air and shot off towards the ocean that separated them from Hoenn. Knowing it was some distance, Bonnie sat back and stared out of the window, to the black ocean.

    It had been non-stop from the second they'd touched down in Nova. Even though it was the kind of lifestyle she was used to, jet setting across regions on wild adventures that, while not living up to her childhood days with Ash, Serena and her brother, were still an exciting experience. This one had her filled with more trepidation than she was used to, however.

    "Yo, squirt, you okay?" Rocky's question drew Bonnie away from the window and she looked to him. His body language communicated that he was gearing up for a fight, but his face still held a smile.

    "Just a little worried, I guess," Bonnie admitted with a huff. She didn't like seeming like she was scared to anyone, especially in front of Max of all people. Not that she was quivering or anything, but there was a fear and thrill inside her bones. Rocky leaned back.

    "You? That's a surprise? After all the world ending stuff, I figured you'd be a pro at it by this point," he expressed, still with his grin. There was a moment where Bonnie blinked, and then Rocky began to laugh loudly. Bonnie couldn't help it, and she quickly joined in with the man, their laughter filling the helicopter. It was completely dark in the aerial transport, save for the soft light emanating from the cockpit, but their laughter made Bonnie feel a little better…if only just a little.

    "Maybe it's because it's been a while since the last time. Alola feels like a long time ago…" the lemon blonde said, remembering fondly on their last big adventure together there. It had been right before she'd decided to start her own journey in Hoenn. However, thinking about it, she realized her fears and worries didn't come from a lack of life-or-death battles, but from the fact that someone she had loved and admired all her life wasn't by her side.

    She had no idea where Clemont was, or if he was even okay. That scared her to death. On top of it, knowing these villains, Team Rocket of all people, had the strength and lack of morality to outright kill people as kind as Lionel…

    "Rocky…my brother…do you…?"

    "Clemont's a smart kid," Rocky said, cutting her off. "Well…guy…but you get my point. I might have been…not so nice in thinking about it before, but…The four of them there are gonna be okay…maybe. But right now, we don't have the time to worry about them."

    She had to admit that he had a point regarding that, at the very least. No one really knew what had occurred, and while the thought of whatever had happened to her brother absolutely frightened her down to the bone, their route to Mount Chimney said there was no time to wallow in fear. Bonnie looked to Rocky, noticing that he was looking out of the window. The lemon blonde trainer had to imagine it was taking all of him to not worry about Astrid in the long run. To that, Bonnie finally breathed in.

    "Right! I have to do my part for big brother, too!" Bonnie declared to the both of them in the helicopter. Rocky looked over with a smirk in her direction.

    "That's the spirit, squirt. And don't worry, I'll look after you. Nothin's gonna take us down!" he insisted, reaching over and offering another high five to the girl. That made Bonnie feel instantly better. Clemont wasn't there, but she was sure as hell gonna fight as hard as she could while he wasn't. She just trusted he'd make his way back eventually. She had to believe in that.

    "We're on approach," the pilot called back to the duo, and it drew their attention to the gleaming lights that were nearing. Bonnie and Rocky both pressed against the windows, looking out at the lights of what seemed to be Mauville City through the darkness. She had no idea how long they'd been flying, but a slight patch of light far off on the horizon suggested that it may have been close to dawn.

    Or, she would have thought that if her mind wasn't occupied by the belching smoke in the direction of Mount Chimney.

    "Think that's natural or…?" Rocky questioned, but Bonnie didn't have an answer. She wasn't even sure if Clemont would have had an answer to that kind of question. All Bonnie did know was that there was definitely some sort of battle there, if only because of another helicopter coming from a different direction.

    "You want me to land on the volcano or what?"

    "Nah, we'll just jump," Bonnie insisted, unbuckling herself. Rocky gave her a mad grin, like he really enjoyed the way she was thinking about all of this. Bonnie reached up, taking her ponytail and tying it into a bun on her head. The battle was here.

    The smoke soon moved in, almost obscuring their vision, though the pilot proved expert enough to maneuver his way through it. The other helicopter was nearing them, though keeping some level of distance to ensure no accidents occurred. The smoke billowed upwards, but cleared soon enough to give sight of what seemed to be the battlefield down below.

    "Whoo…looks like a lot of people!" Rocky commented. His lips were in a grin, Bonnie noticed, but his eyes were zipping around the area, as if looking for a target to strike at. She joined him in that, trying to get the lay of the land.

    Rocky's observation certainly wasn't a wrong one. There was a popping sound from down below, as though a set of attacks had collided powerfully. The battle had begun down below, a mess of white and black, almost like a chess board, writhing and swirling around on the volcanic surface. Somewhere further along was the crater that contained the lava of the volcano. Bonnie spared that a look for all of a minute before she was back to seeing the colliding forces. Aidan's conclusions had been right, because the mass of black appeared to be Team Rocket, here for whatever nefarious purposes, while opposing them was the white of the Aether Foundation, only made obvious by the large jet resting on the volcano's surface, emblazoned with its logo.

    "Squishy, you ready?" Bonnie asked of her trusted partner. He burbled up at her, smiling with his eye before closing it and preparing to draw in more magnitudes of energy than before. Rocky also grabbed a pokeball. The helicopter grew close enough to the volcano, the heat now buffeting up at them and making Bonnie sweat a little bit. She was ready, though. "Let's go!"

    "Denenenenene!"

    "Probopass, let's wreck!" Rocky shouted, tossing his capture device forward. From it emerged the familiar shape of a Probopass. Rocky opened up the helicopter door, allowing Probopass out, before he leapt out of it. In seconds, Compass Pokémon had caught him and was descending rapidly.

    "Here goes!" Bonnie shouted, grabbing hold of Squishy and tossing him out of the helicopter. The sound from her partner grew louder and the area glowed a powerful green, numerous streaks of light streaming through the air and joining with Squishy's body. Bonnie giggled a little and followed Rocky's example of jumping out of the helicopter.

    Squishy's body began to transform from the streaks of green light, elongating into a slithering tail. His head changed, becoming large and spiked. Dedenne clung tightly to Bonnie's shoulder as she threw her arms out, features tightening into one of focused determination. The green light burst, revealing Squishy in his snakelike form, eyes glowing with ferocity. Bonnie had to wonder if, perhaps, her trusted partner sensed something now that he was at the site of battle. It soon proved irrelevant as Bonnie reached him and enclosed her arms around Squishy while he began to drop to the surface of Mount Chimney. Rocky and Probopass were floating downwards slowly, keeping pace. In the vicinity, Bonnie could hear another helicopter, like there were others on approach, though Squishy was aiming right for the Aether ship.

    Their descent didn't take all that much longer, gravity finally taking over fully and completely to force them back to the ground. Rocky landed far smoother, Probopass hovering above the ground, while Squishy made impact with the surface, sending a shudder through the area. Bonnie shook a little from it, but otherwise let go and dropped to the ground, getting herself steady on her feet. A voice shook her from her recovery.

    "Well, someone knows how to make an entrance," drawled a familiar voice. Bonnie turned her head to see the form of Plumeria, hips cocked as she stood there. She was still dressed in black, as she had been so many years ago, though instead of the Skull brand, she wore the revamped logo of the Aether Foundation on her uniform. Forming ranks around her were her brothers and sisters. "Took you long enough. This thing is complicated enough as it is."

    "Yeah, yeah," Bonnie waved off, finally getting her bearings. She looked up at Plumeria, frowning at her. She knew just how much the woman hated complications. The multi-colored haired woman seemed to wear a mixture of emotions on her face, like she couldn't figure out quite what to say to her. It was possible that news of Clemont's disappearance was already spreading. An explosion sounded in the distance.

    "Sis…" one of the people surrounding Plumeria said in a frightened voice. She reached over, placing a hand on the guy's head.

    "Don't worry. We've got our 'heroes' here," she said with a smirk. "We'll make it back to the boss, both of them, just fine."

    "Speaking of, mind telling us what's happening here," Rocky spoke, almost spitting his words out with venom. Probopass remained at his side, though the man reached for his pokeball and called Rhyperior out, all three of them looking to "wreck" as he would put it. Plumeria surveyed him, just as the sound of the other helicopter drowned out the din of battle. Bonnie glanced back, seeing three figures emerging from the secondary vehicle. This surprised Bonnie, but when the helicopter had taken off and revealed who was left behind, it made more sense, even if Bonnie scowled from it.

    "Status report," snapped an authoritative voice from the three that were approaching. Bonnie raised her hand, greeting Brock, who was taking up the rear with medical supplies. The man smiled to her, and as Bonnie turned back, she caught sight of Max, who was staring at her. Had it not been for the setting and situation, Bonnie would have ignored him, but instead she nodded, before turning to the boy's father, who had come with him.

    "You the Petalburg Gym Leader, then?" Plumeria asked. The clean-cut man, one familiar to Bonnie, nodded, his arms held at his side, fingering a pokeball of his. Plumeria seemed to decide that was good enough. "We arrived at the volcano on Gladion's orders. Decided to survey the area because, well, that's our job."

    "Then we got attacked, yo!" one of the females near Plumeria shouted. "Like, big booms, yo!"

    "It was hella scary!"

    "What these idiots said," Plumeria indicated. Norman was nodding, taking the information in. While he did so, Brock was setting his equipment down, staring out at the smoke strewn battlefield, much of what was in the distance still vaguely obscured. Bonnie joined him, Max coming up to her side as the two stared out over the area. It must have been so sudden, like Team Rocket had known the Foundation would be there and just waited to make their strike. Max was shaking his head. "We haven't been able to get close. Between the drones, the Rocket operatives and their top agents at the base of the volcanic crater…"

    "Explosions…drones…" Rocky's voice attained an obvious edge to it, the young man sounding furious. Bonnie looked at him, understanding what was going through his mind. They were the same as those who had attacked their town. Bonnie's blood began to race.

    "Then they are planning something there," Norman stated. The lemon blonde looked up to the older man, seeing how his mind was working at lightning speed to come up with a battle strategy. He clearly came up with one quickly enough. "How many here have even a modicum of medical expertise besides Brock?"

    "Myself," Plumeria's answer was. "Not that I'm great, but you spend years bandaging up your idiot brothers and sisters, and this is the result."

    "Excellent, you'll stay behind as a rendezvous point," Norman explained. Plumeria shrugged, easily accepting the orders; her love of few complications was quite evident. "I'll take the middle ground in order to more easily coordinate our efforts. Brock, I'll need you with me to help there as our top doctor. We'll send back those that we can to join up with Miss Plumeria."

    "What about us, dad?" Max asked, his voice grating in Bonnie's ear for a moment. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath; now wasn't the time for their petty rivalry. They were joined in a unified cause.

    "I'll need some of the better fighters up front and center to find out whatever Team Rocket is doing, with myself joining once some of the chaos has calmed," Norman answered his son. Max nodded his head jerkily, prompting Bonnie to look at her rival. He seemed to actually be shaking, though whether from anticipation or fear, she didn't know. She could feel how antsy Squishy was, though, his head turning back and forth in surveying of the battlefield. "Whatever Team Rocket plans to do, it is no doubt by the crater, and having to do with it. Top operatives or no, we need to engage them there and stop whatever it is."

    "There was a crane we saw on our descent," Brock pointed out. He was now closer, Croagunk out with him, alongside what looked to be a Blissey, smiling at all of them. "It was for just a moment, through the smoke, but it was there, with a glow. Might have just been our particular angle, though."

    "Then that's where we're heading!" Bonnie said, slamming her fist into her palm. Dedenne chattered out in agreement. Knowing they couldn't waste any time, Bonnie reached over and grabbed Max's arm. "We're sticking together. Strength in numbers."

    "O-okay…" Max said, his voice warbling a little with it all.

    "Screw that," Rocky's voice called. It sounded far away, and Bonnie looked over to see the young man already on the move, picking up speed as he headed for the thicket of battle. "Those freak Team Rocket bastards are mine."

    "Rocky!" Bonnie called out, but it was to no avail. He was picking up speed, the steam and smoke almost completely obscuring his figure as he did so. Norman looked to take it in stride, as though he'd always planned to send the man to the front of the line.

    "Everyone, stick together. We've no idea how strong their operatives are, but they look to have come prepared. Make sure we protect our escape route here," Norman indicated, pointing to the airship from the Aether Foundation, "and get to wherever the source of their plans are. Go!"

    "Come on!" Bonnie shouted, running forward at the order, dragging Max along with her. Squishy began to slither across the ground, though his form was obviously noticeable. Max yanked his arm out of her hand and tossed his pokeball into the air, a Gallade emerging.

    "Gallade…" Gallade hissed out upon the sight of Dedenne, who was staring him down.

    "Not now, guys," Bonnie sighed out, beginning to pick up the pace, herself. The smoke billowed into her face, and she gave a slight cough, but otherwise proceeded forward. A clanking noise near her indicated Brock's arrival. "Nice to see you, Brock!"

    "Likewise…kind of," Brock chuckled out. The smoke seemed to, ironically enough, be clearing as the sounds of battle were heightened. Squishy tensed nearby and shapes moved within the clearing smoke. "Didn't expect there to be a battle, I'll say that much. So, let's save the reunion for later."

    "On it! Squishy, Dragon Pulse!" Bonnie ordered, her eyes narrowing once more. Squishy cried out loudly, rearing back. A purple glow appeared near where one would suspect its mouth to be, brimming with energy. Then it fired out, like a triple-headed dragon, maws wide open as it sailed through the smoke. The force of the attack caused the smoke to ripple and disperse, clearing the land and giving Bonnie a much better view of the battle ahead.

    "Well, that's a lot…" Brock commented. Even with the Dragon Pulse striking perfectly into a group of gathered Team Rocket agents, blasting them apart, it still proved Brock's comments absolutely correct. The top of Mount Chimney was positively swarming with agents of Team Rocket and the Aether Foundation alike, though the former had far more than the latter. It was a practical warzone; one which reminded Bonnie of the battle in Alola eight years ago, ironically against the very people on their side now.

    "Gang up, Aether Style, yo!" one of the former Skull members shouted. As Bonnie ran into the thick of the battle, she saw a group of five of them gather up with their Pokémon and combine a group of Bubblebeam attacks that blasted a group of Team Rocket members back. Bonnie almost shook her head.

    Then she began to hear whirring.

    "Gallade, Psycho Cut!" Max called, though he held a tremor in his voice. Gallade skidded along the ground, his arm glowing purple before he slashed it down. The purple crescent soared through the clearing air and slammed into what looked like a flying robot. Attached to it was a Weezing, which dropped the second the attack struck.

    "Dedenne, Parabolic Charge!" Bonnie shouted, her own ears pricked for the sound of more of those drones. Sure enough, they rose up in the air, like the cloud of smoke from earlier, their little rotors whipping up some air. Dedenne leapt from Bonnie's shoulder, summoning the electricity to himself.

    "Denenene!" Dedenne shouted, and the electrical orb emerged from his body. Sparks flew around the area in a shower. The drones sparked and began to smoke themselves as the electricity made contact. Gallade, without Max's order, dashed in and slammed each of them down with an attack. The clearing storm of drones revealed the form of Rocky, already slightly ahead of them, though with the slower Pokémon on his team, he wasn't moving as fast as perhaps he would have liked.

    "Air Cutter," snarled a nasty voice. Bonnie and Max turned their heads. The slicing blades of wind flew through the air and Bonnie grabbed her rival. Yanking him to the side, the attack barely missed where he'd been standing. He was still shaking there, as Bonnie looked and saw that in the mess of drones, the Team Rocket members had been working to trap their group. "Agent 009, are they the target?"

    "Target…?" Brock mused, a clanking noise indicating that he had dropped his medical supplies already. Bonnie walked back a bit, coming up against Squishy, who was tensing even further. She could feel it in her connection with him; whatever Team Rocket was doing, it disturbed him. It was almost as if he'd been awoken, in a sense. The fact that he kept looking over in the direction of the crater all but confirmed that. "What are you talking about?"

    "No…none of them, as far as I know, though our information is rather lacking," said a snappish female voice. Bonnie breathed in, wondering where the voice was coming from. Another explosion sounded out, and the lemon blonde looked to see the black-clad forms of both Team Rocket and the former Team Skull members flying into the air. It made Bonnie's heart hurt, while Squishy coiled in. That hadn't just been a simple explosion. "What does he think he's doing?"

    "Why don't you answer questions?" Brock said. His body was rigid, his voice laced with a certain sense of fury. Bonnie felt her head hurt, empathizing with the pain that Squishy was feeling.

    The owner of the voice finally appeared, the group of Team Rocket members parting to let her through. Brock's face tightened, as though he recognized the woman striding through, her blonde hair bouncing. She looked older, as though the beauty she once had as a young woman was fading with the years and stress. She stopped, some feet away from them, as the battle continued elsewhere, fraught with more screams and tension.

    "I know you…" Brock breathed out, though Bonnie felt that only she could really hear it. She even heard him almost whisper the name with vehemence under his breath. "Domino…"

    "Hmm?" the woman asked, cocking her ear to the side, as if listening carefully, but Brock said nothing more. She clearly didn't care, a cold demeanor settling on her face. "No, none of them, for sure. They're expendable for the point."

    "Ex-expendable!" Max squeaked out. He sounded like he was genuinely about to freak out at this point. Wanting to comfort him, Bonnie reached a hand out and touched his arm, though it didn't do all that much good. Domino looked at him, reaching up to her ear. It almost seemed like she was talking with someone.

    "No, sir, I'm afraid not, at least as far as Alastair mentioned. He may yet be untraceable, if rumors are anything," she said. Bonnie's eyes were flitting around all the enemies surrounding them, thinking of a way out of the situation. She reached over and placed a hand on Squishy, trying to think up a battle plan as swiftly as she could. "Louise is working on retrieving the object to confirm for this location, yes. I have no idea what Toll is doing…Understood."

    "Squishy, get ready," Bonnie whispered, keeping her eyes on Domino. She could no longer see Rocky, and figured he must have gotten much farther ahead, the girl only hoping that he hadn't gone the way of those blown away in the distance. Instead, she pulled Max closer to her, the bespectacled boy looking to almost blush a bit. "We need to get ready, 'kay?"

    "Uh…y-yes," Max said. He swallowed, steeling the look in his eyes. For a trainer that was so analytically brilliant on the battlefield, he was still shaking like a leaf in this situation.

    "Kill them. They're utterly useless. Boss' orders," Domino spoke, waving her hand. She turned away, the agents once more parting for her to get through. Bonnie watched her trajectory, noticing that she was moving in the direction of what was now quite visible as a crane. It was hard to tell much beyond that, but it was obvious to be the place of Team Rocket's base of operations on the volcano.

    "Squishy!"

    "Hyper Beam!" Norman's voice overrode Bonnie's own. A bright orange beam, slicing through the air, exploded all around them. Bonnie grabbed to Max, holding him against Squishy as the gale howled through the area on impact. Team Rocket flew up into the air as a large Pokémon, a Slaking, charged through and punched them powerfully. They flew forward, tumbling across the ground towards the crater. They landed at the edge, scrabbling to make sure they didn't fall down.

    "Extreme Speed, dog form!" Bonnie yelled, stamping her foot to the ground. Squishy gave a jerk of his head and then shot forward, blazing with a combination of white and green lights. His body changed, cells flying out of it as he went back into his dog-like form. He howled, still shooting forward with the light, right for Domino. The woman turned for a second and then cartwheeled away. The attack missed, while Domino skidded backwards, hand gripping at her belt. "Come on, Max!"

    "R-right!"

    "Slaking, hold the line. Brock, tend to the wounded!" Norman shouted. Slaking slammed down on the ground, looking tired, as usual. That gave Brock the moment to grab his materials and run for the nearest cluster of Aether employees. Bonnie ran forward, aiming right for Squishy and Domino. She dragged Max along, Gallade running at his side.

    "What did they mean by 'target'?" Max breathed out, seeming to put himself back together bit by bit from whatever was leaving him so shaken. "And what are they planning…?"

    "I don't know," Bonnie said. She felt a squeezing in her chest as she looked at the ground, right at the face of a Foundation employee lying there. He was unmoving. It gave a slight stutter to her steps, but she shook her head. Now wasn't the time. Now wasn't the time. Now isn't the time, Bonnie! Not now! "But you can figure it out, right? You're smart! Probably the smartest guy here…unless you count me, of course."

    "Do you always have to be this way?" Max asked, sounding a bit annoyed as he adjusted his glasses. It reminded Bonnie of her brother, and she resisted the urge to laugh. To do so, she faced forward and saw more drones sailing out from the site of the clearly lava-specialized crane, where a woman dressed in Team Rocket regalia sat. The chain connected to it was slowly moving upwards.

    "Of course!" Bonnie shot back at him, grinning at the boy. For whatever reason, Max appeared to take comfort from that and smiled back at her, though she could see that hint of arrogance shining right through. "I'll take on that person, and you get the crane shut down so you can help Rocky, okay?"

    "Right," Max said, now sounding more confident in the moment. Gallade drew closer to him as the two ran ahead, for a group of Rocket agents and drones. At the same time, Bonnie closed ranks with Squishy as Dedenne dropped down to the ground, all three of them facing the crater. Domino was straightening, a light emerging from her waist as a Lopunny appeared, a bracelet on its wrist.

    "Unexpected complications, sir," the woman spoke, eyes focusing forward on Bonnie. Even with that, the girl could tell her opponent was thinking and focusing elsewhere. The sound of whirring drones filled the air yet again, and while some seemed to be smashed from Max and Gallade breaking them apart, others looked to be firing off little missiles.

    "Have to make this quick and join up," Bonnie muttered under her breath, a sentiment shared with her Pokémon. Domino seemed momentarily distracted, even if her Lopunny wasn't, but Bonnie took the moment to see where Rocky had gone, running towards the crane and the woman that was there, surrounded by drones.

    "Louise, how close are we?" Domino asked, her voice picking up in volume. "The boss expects a good status report!"

    "Close," another voice called over from the direction of the crane, confirming its operator's name. "Just a small test with our own fragment and we'll be ready. A shard from the Alpha should cause the reaction we're looking for, as predicted."

    "Then I'll destroy this child and we'll proceed with the plan," Domino spat. It seemed like she was telling both of the people she was speaking with, but Bonnie ignored that. She wasn't about to treat Domino as anyone but a battle and person that needed to be defeated for hurting others. A pulsing sound filled the air as more smoke and soot belched upwards. The area glowed almost yellow from the heat and Bonnie closed her eyes, filtering out the sounds of explosion and devastation all around them. She blocked out the sight of Brock running to a wounded Foundation member, bandaging her leg, as well as Max's attempts to join with Rocky. It was only time for the battle. "Bounce."

    "Lopa!" Bonnie turned her eyes right back to Lopunny, just in time to see it bounce into the air like a swift moving bullet. Her eyes tracked it upwards, right into the air, snapping down in time to see Domino grabbing what looked like a black tulip from her belt.

    "Squishy, Dragon Pulse!" Bonnie ordered. Domino tossed the tulip right at her and Bonnie ducked, the object sailing over her head, nearly shaving some hairs off. Her heartrate accelerated as Squishy bounded forward again. He opened his mouth and fired the purple beam into the air. It soared outward in the form of a dragon, arcing upwards for Lopunny. "Dedenne, Nuzzle!"

    "Nene!" Dedenne agreed. He scampered along the ground, climbing up Squishy's leg, to his head, and then jumping upwards, rubbing his cheeks. Lopunny came flying back down. Bonnie's vision was a complete whirl, trying to keep track of so many things going on at once. Domino was running at her, taking out another tulip. Bonnie's eyes widened as she brandished it, the object extending into a staff, brimming with electricity.

    Lopunny's foot slammed into Dedenne's head, carrying him down with extreme force, before striking Squishy and crushing them both into the ground, a small crater left behind in the space. Rocks crumbled off into the lava beyond their battlefield, while more explosions rang out. Domino took a swipe with her staff. Bonnie fell backwards, onto her butt, to avoid the attack. Lopunny, without any orders, brought a glowing knee snapping straight upwards, slamming right into Squishy's head and sending him flying backwards.

    "Dizzy Punch," Domino stated, twirling her staff around and bringing the electrified end soaring down. Bonnie flattened herself on the ground and began rolling away, her bag slipping from her arms. The staff impacted with it, causing it to burn and smoke. Bonnie swallowed. Lopunny's large ears slammed outward, striking Squishy on its side and sending him flying. He slammed upon the ground, closer to the crane, but when he stood, his head was whipping back and forth. "That will make things easier."

    "Not for you!" Bonnie shouted. She decided to get up, feeling she'd have a better chance on her feet. In order to do so, her feet kicked forward, causing Domino to evade the attack while Bonnie regained her balance. "Parabolic Charge!"

    "De! Ne ne ne ne ne neeeeee!" Dedenne squealed out, rubbing his cheeks. He was back on his feet, racing right for Lopunny as his whole body showered with sparks, sending the orb of pulsing electricity out. It burst, raining shocks all over Lopunny's body, while Squishy thrashed about. Lopunny hunkered down as Dedenne stood up straighter.

    "High Jump Kick," Domino stated coolly. She was swinging her staff again, and this time, Bonnie decided to jump, missing the swipe. Engaging Domino in any kind of physical battle was clearly not a good idea, especially with Squishy still out of commission. Lopunny's knee came slamming outwards, nailing Dedenne square on and sending him flying away. He righted himself in midair while Bonnie ran in Squishy's direction, taking her chances.

    "Play Rough!" Bonnie shouted, landing on the ground and running towards her Pokémon, and towards the crane. Getting closer, she could see Max surrounded by drones, only a short distance away from the mint-green-haired woman at the crane's console. She looked utterly unperturbed by the battle waging around her, tossing something up and down in the air.

    "Ne!" Dedenne confirmed, righting himself in midair and shooting forward for Lopunny. His small size enabled him to slip through any gaps and get close. Dedenne landed in the center and his tiny hand punched forward. Bonnie grinned as the attack rippled through Lopunny's body before Dedenne made his next strike. Dust and smoke appeared around Lopunny's body while Dedenne beat upon it, sending it flying through the air with a final strike. Domino was en route to catching up with Bonnie.

    "Take a chance…Squishy, Land's Wrath!"

    "Hurrr!" Squishy barked, still thrashing back and forth. His eyes alighted green and another howl filled the air. Spires of earth emerged, cracking with the heat of the location they were battling upon. Bonnie spun to the side, barely avoiding her own partner's attack, while Domino was forced to maintain a distance from it. Lopunny slammed to the ground while Dedenne landed right atop Squishy. The Order Pokémon stopped thrashing, blinking as though its haze was clearing. Bonnie exhaled from that.

    "Squishy, we need to keep her away from me while we deal with Lopunny," Bonnie said, patting the canine form on the head. Squishy nodded, but only for a second. Bonnie looked up and saw that Domino had flipped on top of one of the spires, grabbing yet another tulip…this one containing a keystone. "Oh, no…"

    "Mega Evolve," Domino stated, her attitude all business in the moment. She clasped it tight, and the bracelet around Lopunny began to shine. It transformed, and Bonnie stepped away, while Squishy and Dedenne advanced. Lopunny's ears grew longer, looking more powerful than before. Bonnie almost shivered; the battle had already moved swiftly before, but now she knew her only chance was with the two already fighting at her side. "Did you think that because you had a modicum of skill, you could stand up to Team Rocket? We have planned for our domination too long, and our leader has entrusted me and our Pillars with the safe operation of this mission. I wouldn't leave something like that to chance.

    "You're out of your depth. You, and all your friends."

    "Squishy, Dede-" Bonnie couldn't get the words out before Lopunny struck. As the glow of its transformation finished, Lopunny was racing forward. Its ears extended, practically restricting both of Bonnie's Pokémon as it wrapped around them. Then it sprung up, leaving Bonnie to watch in horror. A sudden pain entered her shoulder, and she felt it grow numb and useless, flopping to her side. Looking down, she saw how a tulip had struck her there, shocking her. Lopunny spun around in midair and hurtled back towards the ground. Before reaching the ground, it let go of Bonnie's partners.

    "Double Hit…and make sure you get the girl," Domino stated callously, tossing another tulip almost lazily. Another sharp shock entered the lemon blonde's leg, leaving Bonnie's knee to collapse underneath her, sending her to the ground. Lopunny's ears snapped out, slamming into Squishy and Dedenne while in midair, knocking them away with extreme force. Its other ear came out and nailed Bonnie in the chest, flinging her near useless body to the side with her Pokémon.

    She flew through the air, unable to move, and before Bonnie knew it, she'd slammed into Max and Gallade. The drones they had been fighting scattered, some of them disappearing as they gathered around their master, the one named Louise. Said woman spared a glance, allowing Bonnie a good look at her: mint green hair, tied in a bun, and sharp eyes, with a pair of glasses resting on her forehead. Her eyes were almost pitying as Bonnie rolled off Max.

    "Come on…move…" Bonnie groaned, realizing her body didn't want to move, too shocked and numbed by Domino's tulips. Louise turned away, back to the crane, as a loud sound was heard, as though something was being pulled from the depths. Max strained to stand, as well, while Domino approached. "Move!"

    "Stone Edge!" Rocky's strong shout indicated another battle taking place nearby. Bonnie looked up, her vision hazy from the numb feeling in her limbs. Rocky was certainly battling, Rhyperior slamming his foot on the ground. Stones flew out from his body for a Camerupt in the distance, its owner's voice traveling just as Rocky's had.

    "Earth Power," the man called, his shaggy blond hair flecked with soot. The ground glowed golden, cracking and crumbling before blasting out underneath Rhyperior, who dropped to a knee.

    "Rhyperior, no givin' up! We're wrecking the guy who wrecked our home!" Rocky roared, running at the man in charge of the Camerupt. Bonnie finally realized: this was Toll. The one that had killed Lionel. The one that had destroyed Nova Town. She urged her numbed limbs to move. Domino was close now.

    "What is Tolbert doing?" Domino asked coldly of Louise. Lopunny was standing above Squishy and Dedenne, who were struggling to stand, as well. Louise waved her hand.

    "I have no idea," the green-haired woman answered. She seemed to flick her glasses down. "He's never been good at following orders, and since he's been on such a roll lately…"

    "Well, I'd prefer he not go blasting apart our agents," Domino stated, finally reaching a position to stand above both Bonnie and Max. Bonnie wasn't sure where to look: at the woman standing above them, ready to kill, or the battle that Rocky was waging with Toll.

    "Rock Wrecker!" Rhyperior was standing again, raising his hands and forming a glowing red rock between them. With a tremendous heave, he sent it hurling at Toll. At the same moment, Rocky reached his own target and punched the man across the face. Toll took it without even flinching, and in seconds, his knee had driven into Rocky's chest. Then then blond had grabbed his opponent's head, slammed his own against it and punched Rocky's chest to send the man flying backwards, right into Rhyperior. "Hammer Arm!"

    "Rhyperior!" the Drill Pokémon brushed his trainer aside, and Bonnie watched as Rocky's arm drooped at his side. Clearly, he'd taken damage. Rhyperior's arm slammed down upon Camerupt, collapsing it to the ground and leaving an indent so large, Bonnie was surprised it hadn't sent Camerupt to the depths of the volcano.

    "Nice one…" Rocky breathed out. Domino and Louise both looked up, watching the sight of the battle, as opposed to their victims. "Now, we take out the guy that hurt our town. You're done!"

    "And who are you, again?" Toll asked, an eyebrow quirking in genuine confusion. That looked to incense Rocky further in his emotions.

    "Tolbert, stop fooling around," Domino snapped. Toll seemed to look over in his commander's direction, and Bonnie watched as a grin split his face. It wasn't manic, but a cold and calculated one. "This is an important mission, and we have no time to-"

    "All of you should shut your faces!" Rocky roared, running with Rhyperior, right for Toll. The man's grin never dropped, and Bonnie wanted to scream. Max was attempting to stand now, but Bonnie was still straining against the paralysis in her limbs. Feeling was slowly returning. She opted for yelling.

    "No, Rocky! He wants you to-"

    "Eruption."

    Sound. Sight. Touch. All of it slowed down for a second. Rocky and Rhyperior were hurtling for Toll. The clanking of the chain sounded so distinct, as whatever they had been pulling from the craters depths became visible, glowing a faint yellow. It looked familiar, but all Bonnie could see was Rocky. He looked almost frozen in midair to her.

    FWOOSH! Lava practically erupted from the surface, Camerupt's attack enhanced by the location. Rocky had almost reached Toll, but it wasn't enough. The plume of smoke and fire emerged right beneath him and his Pokémon, consuming him. Suddenly, there was a laughter from Toll, and when the smoke faded, it revealed Rocky standing there, his body burned and broken.

    It was horrifying. Nothing like the moments where Charizard would playfully flame Ash, or Pikachu would scorch him with a Thunderbolt. It had been intended to…

    Rocky and Rhyperior fell, eyes wide, and they slammed upon the ground. Max gave a whimper, his body suddenly shaking. His Gallade looked back, worried for his trainer, and while Bonnie couldn't believe her eyes, she was still urging her body to move. From within the crater from earlier, Camerupt emerged, walking slowly towards their own location and Bonnie's head screamed for herself to get up. Toll looked towards their own little group, as if considering to attack them there, but Louise quickly grabbed his attention.

    "Leave them, Toll," the woman stated, moving aside to make the object from the volcano now fully visible. It looked like a meteorite, or perhaps a fragment of the one that had impacted with Mount Chimney long ago, untouched by the ravages of time. "You know why you were sent here."

    "Heh…of course," Toll said, plunging his hands in his pockets as he approached Louise. Once more, the object in her hand was tossed into the air, a glowing shard of numerous colors, before she caught it. Domino leaned down.

    "Well, your friend put on a show. Hopefully, you enjoyed it, and the hopeless despair of facing Team Rocket that came with it," she stated with a leering grin. Bonnie strained, and the woman looked towards Max, frozen in place. "But this isn't the place for that. If you aren't prepared to live or die on the battlefield, then you have no place being here at all!"

    Domino's staff extended once again, crackling with electricity, and she sent it plunging towards the inert Max. Bonnie's fist clenched, screaming inside her head, and her eyes snapped open. She could clench her fist.

    "Ha!" she chuckled, flexing her toes. Then, summoning all her energy, she swung her legs around and nailed Domino behind the knees. The Team Rocket commander was sent tumbling backwards, almost towards the mouth of the crater. Bonnie's legs came around, planting her feet on the ground and she dragged herself upwards. "We're not…done…yet…"

    "Ne…" Dedenne breathed out, taking inspiration from his trainer as they all stood. Only Max remained unmoving, while Lopunny backed off a bit, as if surprised by all of them coming to their feet. Toll and Louise seemed utterly uncaring of the situation, the drones with Pokémon swirling around them, some looking to be invisible with a barrier of Protect erected. Bonnie was finally up again. She knew she could deal with them once she'd dealt with Domino.

    "Max, get up!" Bonnie shouted. The black-haired boy didn't move. She looked to him on the ground, seeing him paralyzed more than any of Domino's tulips would do. Said woman was standing now, an annoyed and angry snarl on her face. She was screaming something into her headset, and Bonnie saw other Team Rocket agents on the periphery start to move in. "Max!"

    "He…he killed him…" Bonnie blinked, and looked to see where Max was staring. It was at Rocky, the young man unmoving alongside his Pokémon, still smoking from the attack. At last, she understood: he had never truly been in a life-or-death situation before…not the way she had. Knowing that, she breathed out and walked over to him, slapping him across the face. Now, Max blinked and looked up to her.

    "Get ahold of yourself! This is a battle! We have no time to be scared!" she screamed. Max looked at her, eyes wide. He looked confused, as though he couldn't comprehend. "Of course, I'm shaking! Of course, I want to leave it up to everyone else sometimes, but we can't do that! We're standing here, right now, so we have to fight! Swallow your fear and help me do that! You're a man, aren't you? !"

    "B-Bonnie…" Max gasped out, as though surprised she would hurl such words at him. She looked down to him, defiance in her gaze and oozing out of every pore in her body. Dedenne and Squishy were standing, as well. She kept holding that gaze as Team Rocket agents ran in, and Toll and Louise continued their own efforts. Then, Max's eyes changed to those of sharpness and intelligence; he was pulling himself back together.

    "Have my back," Bonnie said, facing forward towards Domino and Lopunny. "Take 'em out."

    "Yes." Bonnie reached out now, clasping her rival's hand, the two of them almost sparking between their touch as they did so, and she hauled him up. Gallade came close, nodding to his trainer. The grunts converged.

    "I am Bonnie of Lumiose City, sister to the greatest Gym Leader in the world. I am going to be the greatest trainer of my generation. No one's gonna stop me! Especially not some moldy jerks from Team Rocket!" Bonnie screamed, bending low and touching her hand to soot-covered surface. "So…Dedenne, power up time!"*Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  12. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    "De! Ne ne ne ne ne ne ne ne NE!" Dedenne shouted. Electricity surrounded his entire body like a storm of lightning that couldn't be stopped. Some of the Team Rocket members were caught in the waves of electricity, stamina returning to Dedenne with a green glow. Domino was done giving orders, as some of her agents fell and Gallade sent a Psycho Cut roaring into the group of grunts.

    "Extreme Speed," Bonnie said sharply, her voice offering no room for anything but a swift conclusion to the battle. Squishy heeded the command instantly, firing off with a blaze of white light that slammed into Lopunny before the Mega Evolved Pokémon could even blink. Bonnie shifted her foot, scraping it along the ground. "Aerial Ace!"

    "Dene!" Dedenne shouted. His body also became covered with white light and he dashed forward. A second later, he vanished, leaving Lopunny and Domino both confused. The area was cleared of grunts thanks to a sudden strike from Gallade. Max was still shaking, but he seemed to be moving forward. Dedenne reappeared, slamming into Lopunny from behind.

    "Double Hit!" Domino ordered, snapping her staff out once again. Lopunny's ears whipped outward, aiming for the form of Dedenne, but Dedenne vanished at top speed once again, looking almost like a blur of powered electricity. He once more reappeared behind Lopunny.

    "Nuzzle!" Bonnie commanded, punching forward. Dedenne did as such, rubbing his cheeks and nailing Lopunny in the back. Shocks spread through its entire body, causing it to convulse and turn more slowly than before. "Now, Land's Wrath!"

    "Hurrruff!" Squishy barked, slamming his paws on the ground. The area churned and rumbled, and the same stone spires from before sprung upwards at a swift pace. Domino dodged to the side and began running for Bonnie, brandishing the staff. Lopunny crouched and then sprung up into the air. Bonnie looked in its direction, noticing that Dedenne was clinging to one of the ears. He let go and glowed white, zipping through the air and slamming into Lopunny once more without a command. Domino was nearly there.

    "High Jump Kick!" Lopunny twirled around, its knee snapping outward and slamming into Dedenne. He tumbled through the air, but shook his head to right himself.

    "Dragon Pul-whoa!" Bonnie barely managed to dodge the staff swinging over her head. Squishy, nevertheless, followed the order, sending the draconic beam arcing up into the air, where the creature snapped its jaw around Lopunny and exploded. Both Dedenne and Lopunny dropped to the ground. "Play Rough!"

    "Dizzy Punch!" Domino's voice had gone up an octave, as though she was worried she might lose for the first time, despite her Mega Evolution. Lopunny certainly looked like it was having issues. The ear came sailing out for Squishy, but suddenly stopped as the electric shocks of paralysis wracked its body. Dedenne made contact, impacting with Lopunny's chest and then beating it with white puffs of smoke that sent Lopunny flying towards the ground.

    "Dene!" Dedenne said proudly, a little grin on his face as he raced back towards Lopunny from the air.

    "Bounce," was Domino's command as she stabbed her staff forward. Bonnie grimaced, but decided to play a little reckless. A crashing noise showed that Max had succeeded in fully wiping out the grunts and drones around the area, and was now heading for the two Rocket operatives. In the distance behind them, Norman looked to be continuing to hold the line with Brock. Lopunny sprung upwards, Dedenne carried with it.

    "Extreme Speed!" Bonnie shouted as she surged forward and grabbed ahold of the staff. It hurt, almost burning at her hands as it sent convulsions along them, the electricity acting like molten hot lava, itself, along her hands. Squishy leapt into the air, white light streaking from his body before he slammed into Lopunny and sent it careening through the air. "Now, Parabolic Charge!"

    "High Jump Kick! Finish them off!" Domino demanded of her Pokémon. Bonnie inched her hand up the staff and then yanked it forward, slamming her forehead into Domino's. It hurt, but the woman let go of the staff, causing Bonnie to fall backwards, and the staff to roll on the ground. Dedenne, falling through the air, charged up his electrical attack before sending the orb straight at Lopunny. Lopunny aimed right for Squishy with its glowing knee, hurtling quickly, when the orb struck it and exploded, feeding back into Dedenne. Squishy jumped back, and the enemy's strike impacted with the ground.

    "Pa!" Lopunny cried out, clearly injured from the attack. Bonnie scrambled to her feet, grabbing the staff as she did so. Domino was stumbling, but flipped back to gain her balance, while Squishy and Dedenne moved in like a pincer on the foe they were facing. Lopunny was still recovering.

    "Aerial Ace and Dragon Pulse!" Bonnie roared, before picking up the staff and hurtling it forward. It soared through the air at the same time as her Pokémon's attacks did. Both of the attacks smashed into Lopunny, impacting and exploding with great force. Likewise, Domino reached out to grab hold of her staff as Bonnie ran at her and kicked. The blonde dodged the kick, but in doing so, grabbed hold of the electrified end of the staff. Bonnie touched to the black tulip on the end and pressed the button she found there. "We win."

    She let go, and blue electricity blasted all around Domino's body, shocking her for a moment with bright, flashing lights until, finally, she fell to the ground, twitching. Lopunny also fell, its form reverting as it slammed to the surface. Dedenne and Squishy, quickly going back to his usual state, also dropped to the ground, while Bonnie joined with them, feeling utterly exhausted.

    "We won…" she breathed out, trying to get her bearings. Now that that phase of the fight was over, she could feel the heat emanating from the crater, and she looked up to see Max battling futilely against the wall of drones and Pokémon using Protect. Beyond them, Bonnie could see the crane with the fragment hanging from it as Louise touched the other strange shard to it. It seemed to react, pulsing with a sickly yellow light, while Toll handed something to the woman. The lemon blonde grimaced; of all the times to have left her other partners at home…She shook her head to clear the exhaustion settling in. "No time to rest…Dedenne, I need you."

    "De…ne…" Dedenne heaved out, but he hauled himself to his feet.

    "After this, you can sleep all you want…" Bonnie insisted, dragging herself to her feet, letting out a light cough. She looked behind her, seeing Brock having treated a number of people, though it seemed both sides had suffered heavy losses. It was something she didn't want to think about. Norman was busy taking care of those forces in the middle, and Bonnie knew it was up to her and Max to stop Toll and Louise. She shuffled forward, swiping her burned bag from the ground, Squishy jumping inside it, before she reached the bespectacled boy that was her rival. "Can't get through?"

    "Not yet," Max answered with a grimace. "Maybe if we…"

    "Right," Bonnie said, reaching her hand out for his. Max nodded and took her hand while Dedenne and Gallade faced front and center. "Dedenne, let's short circuit it with Nuzzle!"

    "Gallade, strike at the sides. That's where it's weakest," Max observed. Bonnie had to smile a little at that; in all their battles, he always knew exactly where to strike. Gallade crouched while Dedenne leapt for the center, electricity pulsing from his cheeks to hit the shields surrounding them. Gallade slashed forward, sending purple crescents out that struck at the sides. The shield faltered for a moment, but otherwise did nothing. "Not enough power…If we had some sort of device like your brother could make…"

    "Hmm…" Bonnie mused, though she knew there was very little time allowance for her to do so. They had to break through the circling drones to get to the crane, but with so little time…

    "Perhaps flying over would work," chirped a voice from within Bonnie's bag, the girl realizing it had come from Rotom. She blinked at the suggestion a moment, clutching the satchel close to her. Then she smiled.

    "That's it! Dedenne, go to Plumeria! Use her Crobat to go over the drones! Nice one, Rotom!"

    "Rotom is always intelligent!" called the muffled voice of her Pokédex before it went silent.

    "I'll keep hitting the outside so they don't suspect! We can win this yet," Max proclaimed. Dedenne, still seeming tired from the battle, got back to the ground and began scampering quickly across the battlefield, unnoticed by most of those that remained. Gallade was still striking, using all sorts of different moves in a futile effort to break through. Bonnie walked a little closer, but wasn't quite able to see what was going on within. Elsewhere, it sounded like the sounds of battle were fading, as though things were slowly being decided.

    "My apologies," called a voice, sounding just like Toll's. Bonnie snapped her look up, wondering to whom he was speaking. "I think we have a rat to take care of, Louise."

    "It's all fine. Experiments are complete. The boss will be pleased," Louise spoke. Bonnie narrowed her gaze, and in seconds, everything filled in place within her mind. She tried to jump back when a spurting flame erupted to the side. It looked like it was completely controlled, aiming for the two of them while avoiding the drones. Max dove towards her, grabbing her and pitching her to the side. The next explosion erupted from the ground, and a drone fired a missile. The duo rolled to the side, barely missing that explosion from impacting with them.

    Not that it stopped the force of it. That propelled them forward, far more than Bonnie would have thought, right for the edge of the crater. Another struck nearby, erupting from underneath the surface, and Bonnie and Max were forced off the edge. They held to each other with one hand while their other hand flew out, gripping to the stony edge of the crater that they could.

    "Hot hot hot hot…" Bonnie breathed out. The heat of the lava already felt like it was melting her skin, even being such a far distance away. Max was gripping tight. The lemon blonde looked up, right at the crane, and standing over them seemed to be Louise and Toll, the former more focused on her work. Before either could say a word, the woman had pressed a button that detached the crane.

    With a horrible wrenching noise, the whole entire base of the crane came off, the fragment of the meteorite that had been pulled from the volcano still wholly attached to it. As it began to wrench itself away from whatever platform it was attached to, Bonnie noticed something attached to it: a bomb. She tried to pull herself up, but found she couldn't, panic setting in that she absolutely needed to. Her eyes flitted upwards, seeing Toll and Louise looking over, the latter observing her work as she pushed her glasses back on to her face with interest.

    "How long, do you suppose, for detonation?" she asked. There was no maddening gaze, or even the kind of expression that Bonnie imagined had been on Faba's face when Clemont had confronted him those years ago, but rather a cold, cruel precision of sadistic calculation.

    "Just a few minutes. If your hypothesis is right, it should cover the entire volcano," Toll admitted with a shrug. Max's hand scrambled for purchase on the rock as a loud splash indicated that the crane and meteorite had hit the lava. They had no time left. Bonnie raised her voice.

    "Why are you doing this? What is Team Rocket up to? !" she shouted. To her surprise, it seemed to draw Louise's attention. The woman peered over the edge, regarding them carefully as her glasses slid down her nose. Bonnie didn't like the look, as if they were something to be studied and watched. Max's foot hit against the rock, clearly trying to find a foothold.

    "Control," was the woman's answer, and she smiled. Bonnie shivered. Not because there was a sign of sick pleasure in Louise's eyes, because there wasn't; she was giving a genuine smile that showed a sense of happiness. As if this was a lifelong dream. "Now, Toll, I don't think we should deal with these children any longer. They'll be a pain. I'll prepare transportation."

    "As scheduled," Toll commented, his blond hair waving slightly and curling at the ends from all the heat. Louise turned in a different direction, and with her, the drones flew upwards and away. Meanwhile, the man walked forward to the very edge, his Camerupt with him, smoke curling from its back. Bonnie and Max let go of each other, both grabbing with two hands to the side. The ticking time bomb beneath their feet was certainly about to go off, even if Bonnie was surprised it hadn't already. "My apologies. But not all are sinless."

    "Tolbert!" the voice of Domino shouted, and Bonnie's eyes widened as she watched the fallen woman from earlier begin to stand shakily, a snarl present upon her face. "What do you think you're doing? Giovanni ordered-"

    "Orders changed," Tolbert spoke, his eyes shifting over to the woman that was his comrade. "Mission comes first, right, Agent 009? The Black Tulip? Or would you rather be the first domino to fall to send everything tipping. I doubt Giovanni will mind too much."

    "I wasn't informed! We were…supposed to pull out…before…"

    "Stop talking," Toll sighed out, and he snapped his fingers. Camerupt's body shined, and streams of fire began to shoot out of the ground. The whole mountain began to rumble. Steam shot out from next to Bonnie's hand, nearly searing it in that moment. The ground crumbled and shook, and the lava beneath them began to bubble.

    "Brock!" Max yelled out, his voice cracking. "Get everyone out of here! Dad! Get out!"

    "You need to run! The whole mountain is going to blow!" Bonnie shouted. There was another explosion up above, and Bonnie looked up to see Domino running for Toll, her staff outstretched. She jabbed forward, but the man avoided it before sweeping low, like an expert agent, and knocking her legs out from under her.

    "Tolbert, you tr-" Her words were cut off by Toll grabbing ahold of her head and hauling her up. It was a frightening display of strength to witness as he walked to hold her above the crater.

    "Oh no, these are orders," Tolbert said. "There's no need for you in the new world. Boss' orders, to be carried out by one of the Pillars." It was all Bonnie could do to hold on to the rocks, but she looked up to see Domino's eyes go wide with fear, tears spilling from them. Yet Tolbert looked to take no pleasure, as though it truly was a duty for him. "My apologies, but the new world has no room for sinners such as yourself. Goodbye, Domino."

    Then he let go. Max averted his eyes, while Bonnie just shut them. It was only pure and simple luck that the sound of Domino's body hitting the lava was covered up by the rumbling explosion coming from beneath. Toll turned his eyes back to them as a plume of lava exploded upwards. Bonnie reached a hand up, gripping on to a rock that soon fell away.

    "It's rising…" Max squeaked out. Bonnie chanced a look to see that the lava was indeed crawling up the side of the crater, slowly, but too quick for them to pull out with Toll standing above them. "We're going to die if we don't move."

    "Then think of something!" Bonnie shouted. She looked up, seeing that there was no sign of Dedenne or a Crobat. Max was clearly unable to think of anything in the pressure of the moment. Toll raised his hand, placing his fingers together.

    "And farewell to yourselves as well," he said, a sigh on his lips. "I would leave you to the lava but-"

    Toll couldn't complete his sentence. Before he could do either that, or finish snapping his fingers, he was suddenly hit from behind, barely regaining his balance at the edge of the crater. In fact, he nearly fell off, only managing to succeed by grabbing ahold of the lip and pulling himself back up with a flip. Bonnie couldn't see who had hit the man, not until she felt something pushing her up.

    "St-Stone Edge…" came the loud gasp. It was loud, sending further tremors, but Bonnie turned behind her to see numerous stones lining the crater, blocking the lava from proceeding for just a moment. Beneath their feet was a Probopass, pushing them up. "You're not…gonna hurt…anyone…"

    "Rocky! You're alive!" Bonnie shouted as Probopass finished getting them up to the ledge. She looked over and saw the gasping form of the Nova Town native. He looked like he was pushing himself beyond his limits, Rhyperior right alongside him, only a fuel for vengeance in his veins keeping him going. Max had run to Gallade, unconscious, and returned him with an exhaled breath.

    "Told you I'd be just fine, squirt…" Rocky breathed out, chuckling a little. He drew himself to his full height, staring over at Toll, who seemed to be regarding him differently than before. "Now, go! Get yourselves and everyone the hell out of here!"

    "Rocky!" Bonnie shouted. She wanted to run to him, to help him, but the young man raised his foot and slammed it down. Rhyperior roared, and before Bonnie could stop it, stones sprung up from the ground, separating everyone from the two. Two loud noises pierced the air, like opposite airships firing up. Max was tugging on her clothes in the back, now. "Rocky, don't fight him!"

    "Just go…" Rocky breathed out. Bonnie briefly looked back at Max's second tug and saw that almost the entire mountainside was clearing off, piles of Team Rocket agents laying there, wounded and stranded, only a few boarding a sleek black airship. Their own forces were also dwindled and retreating as the volcano shook, the lava level threatening to burst at any moment and consume those Aether employees that had fallen. "Damn it, Bonnie! Go! Live! If he's out there…if they survived…then you need to…need to…

    "Live and find them! Find your brother, Ash, Seamus…Astrid…But just…GO!"

    "Rocky!" she screamed, but allowed herself to be pulled away by Max, towards the Foundation's own airship, feet scraping along the ground as she was forced in the airship's direction. A pressure on her shoulder told her that Dedenne had returned.

    "Well, I wasn't expecting an opponent that I'd face twice," Toll said, a mark of respect in his voice. "Rocky, is it? I'll remember that name."

    "Yeah, remember it well. 'Cause I ain't lettin' you hurt another person. Not one!" More stones covered up the entire area, and Bonnie felt herself go numb. "If you think I'm gonna sit back and not protect the people I care about, you're dead wrong! So, I'll buy them the time they need to get out, and I'm takin' you with me! For Nova Town, and my family…I'm gonna wreck you!"

    Bonnie just kept staring, watching as she was dragged on to the airship where Plumeria, the Foundation, Brock and Norman were. Bonnie briefly registered how few of them there were left, but it hardly mattered when she couldn't get the words out. All she could do was watch; watch from the air as Rocky ran at Tolbert. Watch as Camerupt exploded, and took the man with it in a great explosion that nearly eclipsed the volcanic crater itself. Watch as the lava overflowed, covering the mountainside and all those that had been left behind, with only the sight of two black shapes in the distance serving as a contrast, the larger one shooting off while a smaller hung behind as if to watch.

    Then, before it was all over, there was a single explosion on the quickly drying lava that glowed its sickly yellow hue, and Bonnie knew what had happened.

    Rocky was gone.

    Sounds. Muffled sounds. It sounded like people talking, but he couldn't identify them.

    Seconds passed, then minutes, and the voices began to grow more distinct, like they were…happy. It was a stark contrast to the last few words he had remembered hearing. Soon, they became more than just muffles, and he heard words, though none of them seemed to pertain to himself. He did pick up on other sounds, though, like those of the wind and the outside, which surprised him.

    That alone caused Christopher's eyes to open, and he realized he was staring at a cracked ceiling. He blinked, the room coming into focus, though he didn't dare to sit up in that moment. He just opened his mouth and asked a rather groggy question.

    "Where am I…?"

    "Chris!" came the relieved voice of his wife. That, at the very least, set his mind at ease. It was even more so when she came into his vision and revealed her smiling face, tucking a strand of turquoise hair back. "You're awake…thank goodness…"

    "What…what happened?" he asked. Now, he decided, it was a good idea to sit up. His back hurt, stinging with every movement, but he still felt he could move himself effectively, wiggling his fingers and toes. Things came back to him: the attack on the town, Rocky's injury, the school. He reached behind him and touched to his wound. Christopher flinched, but then he looked around the room. There was a bustling noise outside, and bright lights that indicated it was nighttime. More importantly, was that there was no one in the room but himself and Bethany. "The students? Rocky? Thea?"

    "Pff, the students are just fine, and Rocky was a right sight better than you. Thea's still sleeping in another room," Bethany insisted. Her smile soon dropped off and she sighed. It seemed like there was a much longer story to tell than whatever she had shared with him. To that end, Christopher reached forward to her once more loose strand, and pushed it behind her ears with a smile. "It's been a long couple days…"

    "I'd imagine," Christopher said. He finally brought himself to stand, stretching a bit, despite the pain radiating up and down his back. He stepped forward, stumbling a little until he reached the door to leave the room in the Pokémon Center. There were a lot of people there, though the most noticeable thing was the lack of ceiling in the lobby. "So…where is Rocky?"

    "Oh, he went on some mission for the League. Wouldn't take no for an answer. I'm sure he'll be back with his crazy story in no time," Bethany insisted, coming to his side and gripping his hand. He noticed there were different people around than usual, but otherwise paid it no mind. The man looked past the obliterated ceiling, and at the stars twinkling in the sky, though they seemed a little dimmer by his estimation. It took him some time to notice why, but it looked like one particular star had gone out, making them all seem less bright.

    "The stars are pretty cold tonight."

    "Hmm," Bethany mused, joining her husband in looking up. However, in response, she merely chuckled, drawing him closer, as if to say she was glad he was awake. "I don't think so at all.

    "To me, I think there was just one star that burned brighter for a second, before it went out in a moment of glory."


    Author's Note: Rocky's dead. No fake deaths. No copouts. No deus ex Machinas. He is dead. Which was really hard for me, you know? I mean, this is a guy that's been around since Teamwork! To kill him off, especially with the Astrid subplot in the wings feels almost cruel, but necessary to me. Other than that, this was Bonnie's big chapter for her to shine. Now that she's a trainer, I wanted to give her a battle where she gets to own. Could I have involved Max some more? Sure, but I didn't want to.

    Of course, there was a lot of stuff in this chapter. Team Rocket is officially beginning their strike, leading to massive casualties on both sides, though what they plan to do still remains unclear. If this is feeling a bit like an earlier story in this trilogy…it should. Also, I really wanted this subtle buildup to Rocky's almost indiscriminate death to lend an almost tragic feeling towards it. I said the body count would be high.

    We're only just getting started, as is Team Rocket, and you can expect many more surprising developments in the future. Until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  13. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Even after last chapter, the story continues on, if from a different perspective. Do enjoy Chapter 7!

    Chapter 7

    A Chaos​

    She wasn't sure what had awoken her, given that nothing had changed in the slightest, but at some point, Serena was jerked from her nap aboard the helicopter, letting all the sounds surrounding her flood back into her senses. She blinked, wondering for just a second where she was, and what she was doing there. The horrible realization settled in before her companion even noted a thing, and she clutched at her chest, placing her wedding band upon the old ribbon that rested there.

    "You have some drool, Miss Serena," muttered Tau's voice across from her. The honey blonde sat up, her gaze drawn outside the vehicle, the dotted lights of what looked like the Sinnoh Region passing by them. It almost looked like daylight was peaking over the hood of Mount Coronet. Taking Tau's suggestion, she used the back of her hand to wipe the drool away and shake her head. "Everything all right?"

    "Mm. It was just a dream," Serena insisted. She finally took her gaze away from what was below, and looked over to Tau, the older man sitting there calmly, with one leg draped over the other. He was gracious enough to not ask what the dream had been about, though it wasn't like it was a nightmare. No, it had been pleasant…and that scared her.

    It was such a simple dream, of a simple life with Ash. She closed her eyes again, her hand sliding down her chest and into her lap. Not that she didn't want a simple life with her husband, but the very thought that he had been…Serena shook her head. Those kinds of thoughts were distracting, though not any more than the words the woman in Nova Town had spoken. Locate our Pokémon Master a little faster. The possibilities it presented were full of both hope and fear, the dichotomy threatening to consume Serena. Maybe Ash was alive, and if he was, she was beyond happy. The problem was that if he was alive, and Team Rocket knew it, then they were targeting him for some reason or another.

    That alone scared her. More than that, however, Team Rocket's targeted strikes thus far sharply reminded her of something; something pertaining to the man sitting right across from her.

    "Tau, can I ask what you think of all this?" Serena asked, opening her eyes and looking at the purple-haired man. He raised an eyebrow, like he was asking her to elaborate. "These attacks on Nova Town, key strategic places…the only thing we're missing is an attack on the League…"

    "You're finding it similar to our past actions, yes?" Tau asked. Serena nodded, not wanting to beat around the bush about anything. Tau removed his leg from its position, and placed his foot on the floor of the helicopter. "I won't deny it's similar, but I believe the motives are altogether different.

    "Dalton dreamed of a world where children didn't have to die needlessly, and where the League took responsibility for its actions. We live in that kind of world now, thanks to the efforts of yourself and noble Champions, like Diantha. I do think he'd be proud to see the world we live in. Team Rocket, however, doesn't care. They wish to harm as many people for the glory of their 'new world', whatever that means. I don't think it's for anyone but themselves."

    "You don't think this could have been avoided, then?" Serena whispered out. She wasn't scared to ask the question, but it was something that was, and had been, forming at the back of her mind ever since she'd first seen the news on Nova Town. Tau stared across at her, blinking, for a moment. Then, he leaned forward and crossed his fingers.

    "Part of me wants to say it could have been…That ARC and the League should have made it so," Tau admitted, but he shook his head just moments later. "However, I know that it was likely an impossibility. This strike, it was perfectly planned, as though it took months, possibly years of planning behind the scenes and in absolute secret. Perhaps they studied Team Neo's attack and incorporated it into their own, but no matter what, their targeted attacks have been made with amazing precision, it can't have been avoided. It was too perfectly plotted to prevent that.

    "What we have to do now is mitigate the damage, and I think we're well on our way to doing that."

    "Then that's good enough, for now," Serena responded, tilting her head once more to look out of the helicopter. The sun was certainly appearing now, and the lights of Veilstone City were fast approaching them. She affixed a smile to her face, glad that she had spoken with Tau to reassure her that prior to this point, there was nothing they could have done.

    "Yes. And seeing your smile will make all the difference, I guarantee it," Tau added with a wink in her direction. She laughed at that, feeling lighter from it. No longer burdened by any of that, Serena looked out at Veilstone City, noticing the different sections of the city from the Pokémon Center to where the meteors sat, buried in the ground at the edge of town by a vast expanse of forest, some office buildings situated right nearby.

    "Looks more peaceful than I thought it would be," Serena admitted. Tau said nothing, gazing over the area with the same perception that she had. People were getting up for the day, already, it seemed, a number of office workers making their way to the buildings near the meteors, a light, simple aircraft near one of them departing the city. They seemed to be a popular attraction, since a lot of people went out of their way to look at them. It wasn't what Serena had expected when she'd heard Team Rocket could attack here. Some of the lights darkened in the closest building as the helicopter turned, the rotors seemingly cutting its luminescence off, and that was when she saw where the vehicle was heading.

    Rather, it was the loud call that alerted her.

    "Serena! Hey!" Serena leaned forward more and saw Dawn down below, standing outside what looked like a gym. There was a narrow road there, so the helicopter aimed to avoid that area, going for a more open area down the way. Dawn saw that and began to run to meet up with them. The sound changed as the vehicle touched down, and Serena opened the door to the helicopter, jumping out. The second she did, she was met by Dawn, the two clasping hands and pulling each other in for a hug. "Good to see you!"

    "Yeah," Serena confirmed, drawing back as Tau now exited the helicopter. He offered a nod to Dawn, though the young woman clearly didn't know what to make of it and just offered a smile. "How have you been?"

    "Ah, all right. Nice to have a vacation until all this crazy news started pouring in…" Dawn admitted scratching the back of her head. Serena noticed she wasn't wearing her beanie cap, making her hair flutter in the wind a bit. "But no need to worry!"

    "Right," Serena admitted. On instinct, she moved to hook her arm with Dawn's, and the bluenette began to guide her in the direction they needed to move. The sound of the helicopter lifting off was distinctly heard, drawing some attention while drowning it out, as well. "Seems pretty peaceful here, though."

    "Yeah, but everyone's still on edge," Dawn admitted, bringing them towards the gym. No one was waiting outside, and Serena thought that they'd turn in, but they didn't. They walked slightly past it, to another house with what looked like a large yard, full of Pokémon, beyond it. "Reggie and Maylene are pretty concerned, especially with what happened here years ago."

    "Do you mean Team Galactic, miss?" Tau asked, his hands behind his back. Dawn sent a beaming smile and a nod in his direction, while Serena just narrowed her eyes. She'd heard of what happened from Ash and Brock once upon a time, though it didn't answer how it correlated to the events of today, unless one said it had solely to do with meteorites. "I could understand where their concern lies."

    "Yeah, but I always thought all that meteorite stuff vanished back after the battle in Geosenge, nine years ago," Dawn admitted, turning into the house. Said house was empty, it seemed, except for one room in the entire dwelling, where the sound of a television was blaring from.

    "Not quite," was Tau's answer to that. "They lost their dimension opening properties was all. Gary Oak's research on that proved it quite well. They're still around, even in places like Ancien City, deep in the ground or, as evidenced here, sticking out from it. They're just…useless, now, is all…"

    "Except for the fact that they're glowing," Serena pointed out. Tau shrugged, conceding the point, but their trio said nothing more as they finally reached the room of the house from which sound was coming. They pulled to a stop, and Serena looked in to stare right across at the television that was there, relaying news footage from what looked like Mount Chimney. Serena swallowed, and looked downward to the two people watching the screen: one with pink hair, and the other with a deep purple.

    "Reggie, Maylene, what's going on?" Dawn asked, stepping into the room. The male turned his head back, acknowledging those that were there before answering.

    "There was an eruption on Mount Chimney," he spoke. Serena immediately attempted to steady herself and her breathing. Bonnie…Brock…Max…Rocky…She stepped into the room now, attracting Reggie's attention for a second as she stared at the screen. Surely, they would be okay. Seeing her evident trepidation, Reggie turned the volume up and the voice of the reporter came into the room.

    "…appears the eruption was quite extensive, covering the whole entire top of Mount Chimney," a reporter was saying, even if she wasn't seen. What was seen on the screen was footage of the volcano itself, though that seemed more off than anything to Serena. It wasn't flowing lava and magma, but rather like another heated layer of rock over the surface. "However, by the time this reporter arrived on the scene shortly after the event, the lava had already ceased its flow. Local scientists are already flocking to Mount Chimney to try and explain what happened."

    "No need to worry, I guess…?" Dawn asked, adding a nervous chuckle to the end of it. Her brief exhale at the end belied her own worry. "Maybe they'll contact us when they have the chance."

    "Y-yeah," Serena breathed out as well. Whatever had happened at Mount Chimney in those early hours was going to be a mystery for now. All they could possibly do was focus on whatever was going to happen here. A hand was placed on Serena's shoulder, and she looked to Tau.

    "Let's take solace: our predictions were right," he pointed out. It was a very small sliver of hope in the midst of everything surrounding them, but Serena was willing to take it. There could be no doubt that Bonnie and the others had managed to get away from the site of the eruption. Now, however, they knew Veilstone was likely next on the list and they had to focus their efforts here. "The oddity is how easily the lava cooled, so I can only imagine it had to do with whatever they were doing there to make it erupt in the first place."

    "Like the meteors?" Dawn asked with a near imperceptible roll of her eyes. Tau didn't respond, as though he didn't wish to commit to any one particular line of thought. Serena felt that was best for the moment; in this dire situation, assuming anything would be the death of them. "Well, if Team Rocket comes here, we'll just stop them!"

    "Lup!" Piplup called out, now waddling into view from what looked like a kitchen. Serena was surprised the penguin hadn't been with Dawn before, though the cookie in his flippers explained that.

    "Whenever they get here," Maylene commented. The television suddenly shut off, with Reggie placing a remote down, while the pinkette stood and stretched her limbs. "I've got some people sitting on the meteorites and all that."

    "And the others?" Serena asked, this time directing her question right at Reggie. The young man stretched his legs out from the couch and then proceeded to stand, looking towards Serena. She had only met him twice, at her wedding and then a battle between Ash and Paul a year or so ago, and he had certainly been as kind as claimed. So, seeing the contemplative and harsh lines on his face was almost disturbing, in a sense.

    "Paul still has his battle this morning, but called to say he'd be right over as soon as he was done."

    "That's surprising," Dawn said in a huff. She stepped back, leaning against the wall. Piplup decided to climb up and sit on her shoulder, still munching upon his cookie. Now that Serena was watching him, he seemed a little sad; the news of Ash's disappearance, and thus Pikachu, must have hit him hard. As the penguin looked up, catching sight of Serena, she smiled at him, which seemed to perk him up. "I thought Paul was always 'Only if my Pokémon get stronger'."

    "He is, but this is still his home," Reggie told them with a slight laugh at Dawn's impersonation. "He says all his Pokémon are here, and if Team Rocket wants to attack, they'll have to deal with him."

    "And it would be good training for them, right?" Dawn added with a sly expression. Reggie shrugged at that suggestion while Serena exhaled. She turned away from the room. If Paul would be here later in the day, then she presumed that Alain and Sawyer were already on their way. Walking towards the doors that led to the backyard, Serena reached up and ran a hand through her hair, Tau at her side.

    Just outside, in the backyard, were numerous Pokémon. Some of them looked unfamiliar with the area while others, like a Magmortar and Aggron, were relaxing or just waking up for the day. It certainly was peaceful, and Serena took a second to let herself breathe. Tau said nothing, glancing to the backyard as well. Hushed voices from the living room showed that Dawn, Reggie and Maylene had continued their conversation.

    "Maybe it can just stay peaceful here, huh?" Serena joked out, though she couldn't shake the ominous feeling from inside of her bones. Tau chuckled out next to her, but said nothing. They both knew.

    It was like a deep breath before the plunge. The silence before the storm.

    And all too soon, the storm came.

    The ground rumbled, pitching Tau to the side, stumbling into the wall that Serena braced herself against instantly. It seemed like just a momentary shuddering, except for the glow that now pervaded the air. Gone was the peaceful, rising sun, replaced with an all too disturbing indigo glow. It washed over the entire atmosphere, and the Pokémon suddenly reacted in the backyard. The ones that Serena supposed were Paul's Pokémon perked up, looking ready for action, while others seemed to turn away, in the direction of the meteorites. Serena also did, even if it was towards the front door of the house, showing that the shining color was spreading all over the city.

    "That was no explosion," Tau pointed out, his hand already gripping to a pokeball. Serena had to agree; it was too short, too brief, and too embedded in the land to be anything explosion or earthquake related. "It seemed more like a trigger being pulled."

    "Everyone still okay?" Dawn's voice yelled out from the living room. Her hand flung around to grip the wall and pull herself away, her face coming into view while Piplup tumbled off, his remaining cookie breaking to pieces.

    "Lup lup piiiiip!" Piplup chirped out, sounding upset. Serena straightened herself further, quickly checking to see that Dawn and Piplup were okay before dashing for the door. Tau was right on her heels, the duo almost immediately breaking out into the main roads as the nearby phone in the house began to ring shrilly.

    People were standing outside, those few that were already awake for the day, muttering and looking all around them. Serena glanced upwards, towards the sun, but realized it was still the same color that it had always been. Nothing had changed in that regard, which meant the glow was truly coming from the city itself. There were no further tremors, and Serena was turning and twisting in multiple directions until Tau tapped her on the shoulder, just as Dawn emerged from the house. All three faced in the direction that Tau was pointing, to the deep blue glow shooting up into the air from the direction of the meteorites.

    "Guess we're heading that way, huh?" Dawn spoke up, drawing even with the two of them. Serena looked to her, and the young woman nodded, giving a thumbs up.

    "No need to worry?" the honey blonde asked.

    "You got it!" Dawn insisted. Tau brushed past them, clearly already focused on their destination, as opposed to where they were. Serena took that as an indication to join him, though Dawn all too quickly took the lead. Knowing the streets well enough, the bluenette was expertly able to maneuver themselves through the street's twists and turns.

    More people were stepping outside now, staring at the area and the large, glowing beam that was coming closer. Said beam was shrinking, it's brightness fading away a little bit, as though it were some bizarre, reverse, slow-motion lightning strike. It was growing closer, now, though, and the area was opening up more, revealing a wide open plain with a collection of the meteorites in the ground that stretched to the forest beyond.

    There was nothing there, though. Just the glowing meteorites and the two burly men that were Maylene's running from the site with confusion, talking into phones.

    "Um…" Dawn's footsteps slowed, and Serena looked to her as she drew even. The young woman looked confused, but there was concern, as well. Serena shared in that, wondering why there was nothing of note there. Piplup looked up, facing towards the trees lining the edge of the area. Tau was facing in the opposite direction, and it was that direction which Serena looked to: that of the office building.

    "The lights…" the older man said, the lines on his face becoming more pronounced. Serena squinted, peering through the glow that was still receding. He was right. Where once there were bright lights and people streaming in, there was now darkness, and not a single person entering or leaving. Tau shot off, running forward for the building. Dawn was still staring at the meteorites, her finger on her chin while she considered them, only giving a brief double take to the men that had likely finished their panicked call to Maylene. Figuring she'd leave Dawn to it, Serena raced after Tau for the nearby building.

    The closer she got to the building, the louder a sound she heard. It seemed like an engine running, but there was nothing nearby, making Serena wonder if she was just hearing things. She slowed as she and Tau reached the building, climbing the steps that led to the double glass doors. Both were on high alert, holding to their pokeballs in case of a sudden fight to be had. Tau reached them first, and pushed the doors open to reveal what would have been a spotless inside.

    Would have been…except for the bodies strewn around the building. Serena's eyes widened, and she took a single step backwards, while Tau moved forwards to examine the space that they were in. Clutching at her chest, Serena looked back outside, seeing that Dawn had moved towards the meteorites now. The thrumming noise was louder, as if a mismatched frequency was sounding out.

    "Dead," Tau noted. Serena snapped her look back to him just as he was feeling for a pulse on one of the people there. "Looks like it was sudden, and painless. Just a quick execution for some of them. Like an assassination of sorts…like Azalea Town's reports…The others…seem like they were just…cut apart."

    "That's disturbing," Serena said, her face twisting itself with disgust. Tau grunted a little and made to stand, moving over to a receptionist's desk, which appeared to be empty, though the computer was still running. Serena stepped over the body that was there and walked over to join the man as he turned it fully on. "Are you trying to access security cameras?"

    "'Trying' is the operative word here. Chi is much better at this than I am," Tau told her, clicking on a few things to bring up footage. Serena leaned over to watch the black and white screen, full of milling people in normal business suits, seeming to be at the start of the day. Tau sat back a bit, merely watching.

    It seemed a normal office building with everyone running in to start their day, drinking coffee or sharing some papers with each other, and Serena couldn't figure out exactly what they were even looking for in that moment. Thankfully, it didn't take long before there was movement on the screen, four figures emerging into the main hall some hours earlier. Had it just been three, Serena wouldn't have been suspicious, but the fourth was far more obvious.

    "That's…that Alastair from Team Rocket," Serena noted in a hushed whisper. Tau's face tightened, and he kept watching until, suddenly, the feed got cut off, replacing the images with static.

    "And I recognize the other three from our Special Operations division's intel…Doctor Zager, Agent Pierce and the organization's secretary, Matori," Tau commented. He looked up now, surveying the building once more. "This was a Team Rocket base of operations…"

    Serena looked up in surprise at that, staring at all of the accumulated bodies in the space. If this had been a stealthy Team Rocket base, it could have only meant a few things, and they were obviously conclusions that Tau was reaching as he stepped away from the computer. For one, it proved the older man's words that this had been a long game to play if they had taken the time to establish a base in Veilstone City. But the other, and far more disturbing conclusion, was… "If these are all their members…why are they all dead?"

    "And who killed them?" Tau voiced, as well. It was certainly something to ponder, given what appeared to be a massacre in the building. Had it been a part of the plan? Some other mysterious organization? Was that what had caused the light to appear from the meteors, considering that everything seemed fine when they had arrived? There were so many questions, and little in the way of answers. Then, Tau proposed another one. "I would guess that the secretary departed on the aircraft earlier to return to their base, but Zager and Pierce also left the site, and judging from the meteorites, this was the base of operations…so…where are they, and what are they doing?"

    "The humming," Serena acknowledged. Tau looked at her, his eyes widening as he did so, realizing what she was referring to. Neither wasted a second, gripping their pokeballs and tossing them high. The explosion of light was matched only by a sudden blasting of the windows in the building. Glass shattered around them and Serena put her arms up to make sure none of the shards cut her face. A few nicked her on the arms before the blue shield was erected, bouncing the rest back harmlessly. "An explosion?"

    "Not this time, either, it would seem," Tau commented harshly. Serena lowered her arms and looked up. It certainly hadn't been an explosion, but instead a group of wild Pokémon, their eyes glowing red. At first, it seemed to be rage, but Serena quickly figured that it wasn't the case; they were far too calm for that. "Yes, I thought so, too. They're being controlled."

    Serena shifted her foot, Sylveon in front of her with her feelers writhing. None of the Pokémon that were there attacked or moved, simply scanning the area, the Bibarel and Kricketot all scanning the area. Serena stepped over to Tau, his Skuntank ready to attack at a moment's notice. None of those Pokémon seemed fully aware of their presence, like they were looking for something…or more like checking. The unsettling sickness rose in Serena when she realized they were checking for survivors.*Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  14. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    "I'm going to cover us in a Smokescreen, just in case," Tau suddenly hissed. One of the Bibarel perked up, almost like it heard him. "Then we run. Can you handle defense if they give chase?"

    "Yes," Serena whispered out. Sylveon's feeler snaked upwards, indicating that she had heard their plan, as well. One of the Kricketot stopped and looked at them, letting out a jingling sound. "I think we should do it now…"

    "Agreed. Skuntank!" Tau shouted, no longer needing the cover of silence. Serena reached up and pinched her nose immediately while Skuntank opened its mouth. Smoke belched from it, swirling around them as the Pokémon's noises increased. They had found their living target. Under the cover of the smoke, Serena and Tau ran, Sylveon trailing just behind them as the incensed sounds of the Pokémon sounded out. "We'd known Team Rocket had obtained control technology from that scientist Colress many years back…but…this level of organization and control is insane…"

    "I don't think it matters what for!" Serena yelled out. A Water Gun was fired from one of the Bibarel, striking the side of the entrance wall. It was stronger than Serena would have thought, as chunks of the drywall flew off. Thankfully, they had been close enough to the door to jump out onto the streets of Veilstone City. Another Water Gun shot out, but Sylveon rapidly blocked it.

    "Guess they weren't just sent there," Tau commented, prompting Serena to look up at the area. She grimaced. The building certainly hadn't been the only site of the Pokémon swirling and swarming. In fact, they seemed to be all over the place: in the air, on the ground, emerging from the forests. Like an army of Pokémon, similar to the battle against DARC, they seemed to be converging on a point.

    No…not converging…intersecting.

    "Dawn!" Serena yelled out, watching as the Pokémon began to grapple with one another above the meteorites, covering it all up like a screen that prevented visibility regarding anything else. There was nothing in her way at first, and Serena ran forward. A loud screech filled the air, a Staravia divebombing towards her. "Fairy Wind!"

    "Veon!" Sylveon shouted, whipping her feelers out and sending the pink tinged wind blasting outward to the Staravia. The attack blew it back, allowing Serena the chance to run forward. The humming sound returned, merely diluted by the sound of all the swarming Pokémon. Now that Tau had pointed it out, it was obvious as to how they were moving in a very sharp and controlled fashion. That was what made it so disturbing that the Pokémon were fighting each other.

    "Now, Swift! Tau, are you-?" Serena asked, turning back to her companion. He wasn't answering, too busy sending a command for Skuntank to send its Acid Spray all around, in order to deter their attackers. Realizing he was too busy to respond at all, Serena faced back to the Pokémon and the site of meteorites. Sylveon's golden stars impacted with the Pokémon in her way and Serena dashed into the thicket. The humming grew louder, though now it was from two separate directions, causing Serena to look up as the sun was blotted out. "Well, that's good…"

    "Serena, time to worry! A little help! Hydro Pump!" Dawn's voice shouted out. Serena couldn't yet see her in the midst of the marauding Pokémon, and was forced to only use the oddly glowing meteorites as a guide to find her friend. It helped that, moments later, a loud cry from her Piplup was followed by a burst of water to Serena's left. Sylveon turned right away as a roar pierced the air, a Flamethrower exploding up towards the sky.

    "Serena, hey! Sorry we're late!" yelled a voice that was unmistakably Sawyer's. Serena looked upwards as Sylveon began to split into multiple copies all over the place, each one whipping up a gale that scattered their obstacles. The green-haired boy above threw a pokeball out, Sceptile emerging with a cry.

    "Took us longer to get going than we thought, though this is problematic," Alain grunted. His Charizard finally hovered down, depositing the two trainers upon the ground. Both of the Pokémon acted without their trainer's authority, slicing with a Leaf Blade and sending a Flamethrower into the opposition; neither of the young men seemed to mind. Alain, for his part, instantly noticed the meteorites. "Just like in Nova…?"

    "More or less, I guess," Serena pointed out. She pointed over towards the office building. "Then there's a whole building of dead Team Rocket operatives."

    "That's weird," Sawyer commented. Serena could already see that analytical side of his brain firing at a lightning quick speed, endeavoring to figure out what the best play for the situation was. Serena would have left him to it, but the more pressing issue was the sight of Dawn, ordering for Piplup to use a Countershield through the maze of enemies. "One would think…"

    "Sylveon, Swift, now!" Serena ordered, plunging her hand forward. Sylveon snapped her feelers out again and sent the golden stars rocketing out. Alain clearly liked that battle plan.

    "Dragon Claw!" he shouted. Charizard flapped his wings, taking to the air as his claws extended with a bright green. Then he slashed through at the hole Sylveon had formed in the opposition's ranks. The Pokémon tumbled away. They seemed to freeze, as though receiving new orders or some such. Whatever it was, Serena took the chance to run through the gap that had formed, Alain at her side, dragging Sawyer along.

    "Dawn, what happened out here?" Serena asked, coming to a stop next to the bluenette just beyond their foes, while Sylveon joined at Piplup's side. Dawn reached back, tying her hair into a ponytail.

    "I wanted to look more at the meteorites when the Pokémon started attacking," Dawn said to her. Serena faced forward. The Pokémon all seemed to be relaxing a short distance away and Serena sharpened her focus. Somehow, she didn't think the Pokémon were the real problem at this point. "Okay, now it just got weird…"

    "Lup…" Piplup sighed out, sounding tired from having battled the numerous opponents. Alain stepped up, Sawyer right with him as they peered through the forces. Next to her, she could practically feel Alain's fist clenching tightly, as though he sensed a presence. Serena looked to Dawn.

    "Do you remember how many meteorites there were?" she asked of her friend. Dawn's lips twisted in thought. Alain was further tensing, just the same as Sawyer. It was clear they felt something approaching that wasn't a Pokémon…and wasn't friendly. "Not really, but I know they're pretty much all behind us, except for one."

    "There's nothing in the forest?"

    "Not that I remember," Dawn stated. That was a good enough answer, as it meant, if the meteorites were the source of an attack, then there would only be one up ahead they'd need to get to. "The real problem is the Pokémon, though."

    "We can leave you two to deal with them," Sawyer commented, reaching up to his waistcoat pocket, still a fashion choice he chose to exhibit to this day. There was no doubt he was grabbing his keystone. Sceptile and Charizard both closed in as the figure, looking almost smoky in the darkened forest's sunrise, continued to approach. "There's probably somebody controlling these Pokémon with a device or something, and I doubt it would belong to the one doing the dirty work on the battlefield. They're probably hiding in the forest."

    "I also doubt there's anything but Pokémon out here for the attack," Alain growled out, rubbing at his bracelet. "We'd have seen them by now if there was."

    "So get going," Sawyer insisted. Sceptile's elbows glowed green, its leafy blade extending threateningly to whatever force was about to approach. "Those Pokémon are only clearing for whoever is coming here. We'll hold off the meteorite until you can shut it down. Then we'll take them in and get some information in the meantime!"

    "Always thinking ahead, aren't you, Sawyer?" Serena asked, reaching over to clap her friend on the back. Dawn cracked her knuckles, looking almost menacing. A loud sound from outside the barrier of Pokémon sounded out, and Serena figured that more trainers had joined into the battle from the city. Their window was closing. "Dawn, let's do it."

    "Yeah. Piplup, Whirlpool! Make us a better path!" Dawn shouted, pointing her finger forward as her ponytail flew out behind her. Piplup leapt into the air, spinning around as he was wrapped in a spinning vortex of water. It traveled upwards, into his hands, and then he tossed it right on the open path. The spinning didn't stop, but as it collided, it caused the Pokémon caught in its path to be washed out further to the sides. Neither of the young women waited for it to fade, already running to get to their destination.

    A shadowy form leapt out of the path of the attack, bounding for the trees that were slammed by the excess water. Serena looked up towards it as she and Dawn ran forward, and quickly caught sight of the dark-haired man hanging from the branch there. He looked just like the man from the security camera, the one Tau had called Pierce. For a moment, Serena paused, looking up at him, though his eyes were focused more on a point beyond her: the meteorite. In his hands, flying up and down, was a small shard of something, jagged and broken.

    "Sceptile, Frenzy Plant!" Sawyer's call immediately alerted Serena to what she needed to do, and she ran forward to close the distance that had now appeared between herself and Dawn.

    "Tile!" Sceptile roared out, plunging his claws into the ground. Even so far away, Serena could feel the ground churn and break apart. Vines erupted, aiming right for the tree where Pierce was, but the man seemed far too nimble, swinging off the tree and landing on the ground, away from the zone of the Frenzy Plant. Sceptile swept outward, his tail aiming for Pierce.

    "Flamethrower!" Alain called out. Neither had Mega Evolved their Pokémon, though it seemed relatively inconsequential. Charizard roared forward, his red-hot flames rocketing out for the top operative of Team Rocket.

    "Inconsequential," Serena heard the man say coldly. She kept moving, but turned her head back and saw Pierce flip backwards, up to another row of trees as the Flamethrower scorched itself across the ground. Alain and Sawyer came to stand next to one another.

    "Dragon Claw!" they yelled simultaneously. Sceptile dashed along the ground nimbly while Charizard approached from the air. Both had their claws glowing green as they converged upon Pierce. Once they had, they slashed. Pierce one again jumped into the air, landing nimbly upon Charizard's back. Alain had something to say about that. "Shake him off!"

    "Rawr!" Charizard roared, pitching to the side in an effort to remove the operative. Serena took one more look, just in time to see Pierce expertly drop off, grabbing a thin rope and tying it to Charizard's leg, almost like a rappel that allowed him to hit the ground harmlessly. Sceptile was running at him with glowing green blades.

    Finally, Serena knew she couldn't watch them any longer, quickly running for Dawn. The second after they met up together, the air changed, and Serena's voice called itself to action. "Protect!"

    "Piplup, Bubblebeam!" Dawn shouted as well. The two women stopped their movements, drawing their backs against one another while their Pokémon acted. Just as detected, the marauding Pokémon all moved in, the Staravia streaking towards them with Aerial Ace while some other Pokémon at charged them on the ground.

    "Piplupluplup!" Piplup cried out. Sylveon's shield wrapped around their group, while Piplup remained on the outside, sending a cascade of bubbles into all of their attackers and forcing them back with a bit of steam rising in the air. Under the cover of the assault, Serena decided to finally, and quickly, discuss their next course of action with Dawn.

    "That agent…his name is Pierce. Tau told me," the honey blonde said to her friend. "That means, assuming the footage is right, he's here with Doctor Zager of Team Rocket, who I'd imagine is the one controlling all the Pokémon. Alastair might be with him, too."

    "Alastair?" Dawn asked. Serena shook her head, feeling the explanation would take far too long, especially when she wasn't even sure she was correct on that count. Dawn appeared to take it in stride, making sure her ponytail was secure. "Then this Zager guy, he's probably with whatever is controlling them, inside the forest, right?"

    "Probably," Serena answered, though she didn't explicitly know for sure. Dawn didn't appear to mind, reaching out to grab Serena's hand with both of hers. Serena responded in kind, the two feeding off of one another's determination and positivity. "Worth a shot, right?"

    "Can't get anything without taking a chance. We can leave those two to deal with that Pierce guy. In the meantime…Pachirisu!" Dawn called, throwing up another pokeball. It burst with light, showing the adorable little EleSquirrel Pokémon, who instantly perked up, like it sensed some electrical waves. "Think that helps us out. Pachirisu, lead the way!"

    "Sylveon, protect us!" Serena said. Sylveon dropped the shield, instantly whipping her feelers out and sending the stars cascading outwards to blast away their landlocked attackers. It knocked them back while the women went running off again. Pachirisu was leading the way, charging into the forest while Piplup waddled behind, sending a Hydro Pump or Ice Beam out whenever he had the chance.

    There was another loud sound in the background, and the ground appeared to tremble a bit. Alain and Sawyer must have really been going at it to defeat Pierce, and from what Serena had seen, the special operative didn't even require any Pokémon to do his job. It was an amazing technical skill, no doubt from years of training his body with someone that was likely an expert, but Serena turned her mind forward. The humming sound was returning, invading their senses, and the air was changing yet again.

    Gone was the immensely heavy hostility from the Pokémon, a number of them lost in the brush of the forest, with some of them now almost inert, judging from the lack of sounds. The ground shook again, nearly sending Dawn forward, were it not for Serena catching her. Another scent entered Serena's nose, and it was one that Dawn seemed to notice as well, from the way her nose was twitching. It smelled like…fuel. Both of them raised their fingers up, as if to tell themselves to remain silent as they slowly approached the sight of where the fuel smell was coming from. Pachirisu was slowing down now, its figure drawing in. Dawn bent down to pick her Pokémon up.

    "Is the signal up ahead?" the bluenette whispered. Pachirisu nodded, which proved to be enough for Dawn, as she returned it. Sylveon snaked her feelers up Serena's arms, and the two drew in towards the trees, aiming to remain unseen. Inching forward, the smell grew more intense, as did the hum, like an engine of sorts that was whirring. Soon, the smell became overwhelming, and they stopped, looking out to a small clearing in the center of the border forest. No…not quite a clearing, as Serena soon noticed how trees were toppled in a ring, like they were sliced down but recently for whatever mission was going on here.

    The air was rippling nearby, straight through the clearing, like a heat haze that was consuming the area. It was only the sight of the people that were actually in the clearing that she realized it wasn't heat or shimmering air, but a cloaking that was surrounding a decent sized airship. Certainly nothing on the former Aether Turbo or Mark Omega, but larger than the aircraft that had taken away Team Rocket's secretary earlier, and definitely large enough to ferry a decent amount of Team Rocket operatives. Having perceived what was there, Serena looked down to the gaggle of grunts, only three of them, that were near to Alastair, and the one that she believed to be Doctor Zager.

    "How are the readings, doctor?" Alastair was asking, almost making Serena hold her breath from the sound of it. There was no way she was getting caught now, and Dawn seemed to place her hands over her own mouth for the same exact reason. Zager appeared to bristle a bit, adjusting the monocle on his face.

    "Unclear," Zager explained, his hands busy smoothing his lab coat. The grunts near them appeared bored, yawning a bit while walking to keep their eyes on the surroundings. "Until I get back to headquarters and examine the data, it will remain that way. Though, we'll also need the fragment back from Pierce after he runs his own test to further confirm."

    "I figured as much," Alastair stated. His head turned, looking right at where Serena and Dawn were in the shadows of the forest, and Serena felt herself suck her lips in. Had he noticed them? His turning back to the scientist moments later indicated he hadn't, though Serena didn't let herself relax at all. "Matori merely informed me before her departure for the home base that Giovanni wanted to confirm it was the case. Otherwise, I would have moved on to preparing the next site, assuming Giovanni doesn't send his efficient secretary first, of course."

    "Yes, yes, I know," Zager waved off. The man's face seemed to hold some sense of excitement there, but he was fully absorbed in his work, cutting off the reality otherwise around him. "Ever since the secondary property was discovered, knowing that it resonates with the meteorites…Yes, perhaps calling it the Alpha is appropriate. Though, again, to ensure everything is going right, I'll need-"

    "The lab," Alastair sighed out tiredly. He shoved his hands in his trench coat pockets and leaned back. His action confirmed what Serena already suspected, as he was soon leaning against the air and doing little more while he crossed his legs. It would have been unsettling if Serena hadn't figured out that there was a cloaked airship there. "Shame we couldn't move things along sooner until Louise definitively confirmed the reaction at Mount Chimney. I'd have hoped the locations before would do the trick, but she's always been hands-on for her own little experiments."

    "Perhaps," Zager chuckled out, his white, bushy hair swaying in a wind that now swept through the clearing. It wasn't a natural wind, Serena figured, as there was more heat to it than what would have been expected, indicating that it was likely from Charizard. "Still, this is the first location we've been able to study the meteorites themselves for some time undisturbed, compared to the others, all in preparation for this long-term mission. The Pillars have most assuredly been very beneficial in setting things up, and now that Giovanni will be informed of our work being completed here ahead of time, things will move all the smoother."

    "We try," Alastair remarked. His eyes once more flitted back over to the trees as his own hair bristled in the wind. He made no remark. Serena turned to Dawn.

    "Maybe if we control that doctor's control console, we can stop the Pokémon?" Dawn asked worriedly. Serena didn't answer, not having one at all. "Or, at least, it could hamper their mission in some way."

    "It's worth a try, but Alastair is the one to look out for," Serena said, pointing towards the leaning man. Dawn craned her neck to get a good view of him, and shivered a little upon the very same sight of him. He certainly radiated a confidence that the other Rocket members didn't seem to have (especially their old stalkers, Serena remembered, biting back on the snort). Perhaps that was what Zager meant by "Pillars" when it came to referring to him, and others. At the very least, it was a piece of information about Team Rocket that none had known before, even when they had known of people as high up as the boss' secretary (which, in hindsight, Serena realized that that woman's earlier presence alone indicated how large this operation truly was for the organization).

    "We'll need to move together, and quickly," Dawn said, looking serious as she glanced to Piplup. Serena agreed, taking note of the grunts; they would be easy enough to defeat, making the primary goal taking out the console, and stopping the attack. "Together on three?"

    "On three," Serena confirmed, reaching over to slap the back of her hand with Dawn's. The two women crouched, with the bluenette holding up three fingers. She started counting down, but Serena's eyes didn't leave the form of Alastair. They only had one chance. Dawn's hand dropped to one, and Serena readied herself.

    "Doctor Zager, form ranks," Alastair suddenly said. He was no longer leaning, but standing ramrod straight, a harsh look upon his face. Serena froze, turning to Dawn. He had to have sensed them there, though how he knew they were about to strike…

    "Blast Burn!" Serena's head whipped around quickly, hurting her neck a bit, but hearing the sudden command, one she couldn't have even guessed would be coming, she dove to the side, bringing Dawn with her. That sole movement brought her out of the path of the flames that were churning along the ground. It was breaking up, making a beeline for the console that Zager was working at. The scientist, himself, looked utterly unfettered as he moved a laptop up. At the same moment, Aegislash came soaring in, locking in its shield and forming a honeycomb barrier that Alain's Blast Burn impacted with. The ground bubbled with fire, lifting the three grunts from the ground and into the airship, knocking them out, though neither Zager nor Alastair looked perturbed.

    "I'd suggest you do it now," Alastair said. "I'll prepare the ship for departure, yes?"

    "Yes. Best we return to headquarters. Presumably, Giovanni should have everything ready to analyze with Matori's report, all to move forward on the next phase. I'll wait here for Pierce, a moment, however. He'll have to oversee packing up the base here and bringing the operatives there back to headquarters," Zager spoke. Alastair nodded, and Aegislash unsheathed itself, following after its trainer. The man's trench coat flapped out behind him as he approached the front of the airship, pressing a panel. Said panel sent a chain reaction going that revealed the ship, jet black and emblazoned with the R on the side that said who it belonged to. "Oh, and if you can, contact Louise en route. I do believe her theory was needing Ash Ketchum to complete experiments, correct?"

    "Oh…yes," Alastair noted, and then he disappeared. Serena turned her head, looking at Dawn with wide eyes. It hadn't just been a flippant comment, but almost sounded rather…knowing. Perhaps the scientist didn't know Ash's location, or perhaps he didn't even know what had happened in Nova Town (though that seemed entirely unlikely). But his words had been chosen, and spoke to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there was a clue to Ash's whereabouts at the Team Rocket headquarters. That maybe one of them, one of those higher up like Zager or the Pillars, would know.

    "Thunder Punch!"

    "Leaf Storm!" Alain and Sawyer's voices rang out, disturbing the air. A rocket practically fired forward, swirling with leaves for Zager's location. The man still looked undisturbed, punching in some keys on his laptop. There was movement in the trees, and Serena looked to see both Sawyer and Alain running through the forest, their Sceptile and Charizard, respectively, right in front of them, both Mega Evolved.

    "Doctor," Pierce's deep voice rumbled out. Both of the women in the trees looked to see the blue haired man narrowly escape Charizard's electrified punch in order to run over to Zager, still clutching his small fragment. "Did you register the reaction?"

    "There were tremors," Zager admitted, snatching the object from Pierce. A loud, guttural, churning noise filled the air, and the airship that was on the ground suddenly lit up, the trees behind its engines nearly bending over from the force of it. Serena's body and breath were speeding up: that airship was heading to the Team Rocket headquarters, possibly the only place to get information about Ash.

    Take the chance to infiltrate.

    Or stay and fight.

    It was a choice that was difficult, as each had its merits. From the start of the engine, there was more rustling in the trees, and Pokémon burst out of them, like a protective shield, including a Staraptor that swiftly moved in to intercept the Leaf Storm. Serena's fist clenched, and Dawn almost screeched a little at the Pokémon slithering across the ground, towards where Zager was. They seemed to ignore the duo entirely, moving solely to act like a bulwark for Zager, protecting him until he could reach the airship.

    "Aura Sphere, Lucario!" shouted the voice of Maylene.

    "And Shadow Ball!" That was Tau's voice, no doubt about it. Serena's nails began to dig into the surface of her hand, still debating and wrestling with the decision in her mind. Dawn watched her, looking concerned. The attacks flew out, slamming into the Pokémon that were making a protective wall. Serena's eyes closed, grappling with it.

    "Pierce, take care of this, and get the base cleaned up. Return to headquarters when you're ready. Giovanni and myself may yet have more missions for you," Zager said, snapping his laptop shut and running off for the airship that Alastair had started, or so Serena had guessed. More crashing through the trees indicated that their secondary reinforcements had arrived.

    Serena's eyes snapped open, and she knew, as everything moved fast.

    The airship closed its doors, beginning to rise.

    Charizard sailed in, slamming with a Thunder Punch upon the console that was left behind. It exploded, leaving smoke curdling into the air.

    Sceptile slammed his hands into the ground, the large roots springing up as Skuntank was running forward, exuding its putrid smell that happened to catch Pierce off guard.

    The Pokémon that had been attacking stopped for a second, and while some seemed to slink off, others let out a loud cry and began to thrash about indiscriminately. That sole distraction allowed the roots to finally slam into the prone Team Rocket agent, knocking him against the side of the airship, just like the grunts. The forms of Maylene, Reggie and Tau appeared in clearing, with Lucario rushing to leap upon Pierce and hold him down with a Bone Rush.

    Things were more than handled here. Serena sprung to her feet, took a single deep breath and rushed forward, dashing out of the woods. She wasn't alone, either, with Dawn trailing right at her side, having picked up Piplup in her arms. Not that the honey blonde went unnoticed, as she was certain she heard Tau calling for her. None of that mattered in the mess of chaos though. As the Pokémon were going berserk, firing off attacks randomly or attacking anyone and anything in range from the loss of control they had been put under, Serena slipped into the crowd, aiming right for the airship, and what looked like a backdoor that was now visible due to the decloaking.

    "Sylveon!" she called, and the Intertwining Pokémon understood. Her feelers snapped upwards, right for that door, just a small crack revealed as she pulled. They strained, but the airship was just low enough to hook into it, and as Serena and Dawn grabbed hold of her, the Fairy type pulled them up. Serena's hands dug into the door, and with Dawn's assistance, the two pulled it open.

    Just as they got inside, closing the door behind them without a sound of alarm, the airship took off, rocketing through the air at a moderate speed for Team Rocket's headquarters. For where answers could be found.

    Author's Note: This was actually one of the most difficult chapters for me to write, so I kind of hope that it turned out all right. There were a lot of moving pieces here and a lot of little hints at things dropped. I've kind of enjoyed bringing in older Team Rocket characters to serve a role (even if it's just a role of keeping Giovanni informed like Matori, or not even battling, like Pierce) while bringing in the new characters as well. Originally, this was going to be pretty similar to the last chapter, but I didn't want that, so the focus became less on the battle and more on this sort of mystery angle, with quite an ending! Serena and Dawn, on their way to Team Rocket headquarters; the belly of the beast.

    There are a lot of moving plot points this time, and I hope that I'm presenting them all solidly so there's no excess confusion beyond what should be confusing. I've had a harder time getting into this with all the start and stop, but I think it's about to get easier, and even more exciting than the pace has already presented.

    With the plot moving apace, and so many things in so many different directions, I hope you'll all hold on with me. Until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  15. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Perhaps a bit more boring than the last chapters, but with a setup for the future that will allow this story to continue on at a quick pace. Time for Chapter 8!

    Chapter 8

    A Strike​

    "Skuntank, Acid Spray! Debilitate the attacking ones," Tau called out. The trees and wind were whipping around them all from the flight of the airship and its liftoff. It almost felt like gravity pushing on them, threatening to topple their entire group in that moment, though each of them held fast, digging their heels into the ground. Skuntank held the best, alongside Alain's Charizard, the black dragon slamming its feet deeper into the ground than the others.

    "Tank!" Skuntank acknowledged, leaning its head upwards, towards the Staravia that were streaking down with a powerful Brave Bird. Its mouth opened, and an orange globule formed near its jaw. Then it burst forward in stream. Skuntank turned its head quickly, whipping the spray around all over the place, and into the flock of Starling Pokémon. They careened off, landing on the ground with thuds. Tau strode further into the clearing, noticing the prone forms of the collapsed Team Rocket grunts.

    "Sceptile, Frenzy Plant! Protect us!" yelled the voice of Sawyer, the green haired man clasping his hands together and then separating them. Sceptile cried out as the wild Pokémon all around them behaved frenetically. Tau dodged, nearly missing an assault from a Combee, and he turned his gaze under his shoulder to see Reggie hanging back, touching to a Bidoof and calming it down.

    "Scept!" Sceptile roared, his hands plunging into the ground. The vines and roots whipped outward, circling and writhing like the all too familiar Countershield strategy that Tau had seen Ash and all his friends utilize at least once in old tournament footage. The vines beat around the area, the chaos of the Pokémon surrounding them making it near impossible to see, even in the wide-open clearing. Charizard pulled back to Alain's side, while Tau straightened to face Reggie.

    "I don't see Dawn," the male spoke to Tau. The leader of Alpha Squad turned, glancing around the clearing. It was true: the bluenette seemed to be nowhere around the area. Tau sighed loudly, realizing just where the young woman had gone in the mess and chaos that had resulted in Zager's departure.

    "No doubt far out of our reach," Tau commented to Reggie, the gale of the now departed airship ceasing. Said man cast him a confusing glance while the Frenzy Plant continued to whip around rapidly, beating away the Pokémon. In response, Tau pointed upward, which most certainly answered Reggie's question, owing to the dawning look of enlightenment on his face. "For now, the greater issue is all these Pokémon. Serena and I guessed that they were being controlled."

    "Whatever it was that did it, that's no longer an issue," Reggie answered. A bright burst of light came from over the top of the trees, the sun finally fully rising to say hello to the air. Reggie finished what he was relaying to them. "I was able to calm down some Bidoof easily enough. We might want Nurse Joy to check them out, but I'd say they're all fine. The only issue is that now with that control gone, they're all panicking. It can be a real problem if they break into the city."

    "Then, we hold them down," Tau indicated. Reggie nodded now, understanding just what Tau was asking of him. He was glad that he didn't have to go through all the motions of explaining every little thing to those that were there. Reggie already knew that he would be instrumental in calming down the rampaging Pokémon once they were secured. "Sawyer, stop beating them off. Hold them down!"

    "You heard that, Sceptile!" Sawyer called out. Sceptile nodded from his position, still keeping his claws latched into the ground as he did so. The roots stopped their movements. It was just for a second in the middle of ending their writhing, but it seemed to be an advantage that the last remaining and conscious member of Team Rocket took advantage of.

    "Oof!" The grunt from Maylene sounded out, as though she'd been nailed in the chest by a kick. Tau snapped his sights over, watching as Pierce spun around, a small device on his hand that he plunged onto Lucario's chest, as well. The device snapped out, binding the Aura Pokémon's arms and legs, and causing it to tumble to the ground. Then the top operative flipped up. The roots began to move, this time, slamming down on the ground. In that change and confusion, Pierce remained up and running, dashing for the forest at the edge. The roots all tried to slam down upon him and halt his progress, but the man simply jumped to the side or spun out of the way to avoid them.

    "Damn…" Tau spat out, turning in the operative's direction. They weren't going to let him get away now. "Alain, to me! Reggie, Sawyer, Maylene, contain them all!"

    "I'll calm them all down. When you capture him, bring him back to my place. It should be safe there," Reggie shouted out to him. Pierce had already reached the forest, diving into the thicket of trees and branches. He wasn't as stealthy as he likely would have hoped, considering his progression through the forest wasn't silent in the slightest. At the very least, it made him easy enough to track in the scheme of things as they gave pursuit.

    "Charizard, let's go!" Alain's voice was heard, approaching Tau. The man didn't spare his new companion a glance, knowing that Alain, being of a younger age than himself, would easily keep pace. Charizard sailed forward, his black wings illuminated by the morning sky in that moment, before being consumed by the shadows of the forest. Skuntank, too, disappeared into the forest just as the two trainers reached it.

    They blasted into the trees, tracking the sounds of Pierce's movement through the area. Charizard shot upwards, getting above the forest in order to track their quarry, not that there were many places for him to flee to from their location, or at this hour. Already, Tau had a guess of where Pierce was heading, Skuntank's own sense of smell and direction practically confirming his initial guess. Charizard gave a roar now, and the rush through the branches continued. Pine needle flooring soon turned exclusively to dirt, and then grass, and as the duo ran along silently, hearing only the sounds of the battle behind them calming down, their feet hit stone.

    "He's heading for their former base," Tau told Alain. The younger man grunted and nodded, digging his heels in the ground to catch up to Pierce, fully visible now that they were out of the forest. A small shortness of breath entered into Tau, but he ignored it to press forward, subtly changing direction and speeding for the building that Pierce was attempting to get to. Alain followed his lead, and soon the darkened building, its lighting condition not as obvious in the bright daylight, approached them both. "Skuntank, prepare yourself."

    "Skun!" Skuntank cried out, all four of its stubby legs trampling along the ground. Charizard dipped lower, shooting ahead, as if to catch up with Pierce.

    "Flamethrower!" Alain roared. Charizard's maw opened wide and flames jetted out, scorching the ground as they aimed for the Rocket operative. He turned, avoiding the blast. Then his feet pitched to the side and began to ascend the steps to the building. Pierce had already reached the base, which either meant he could hide, or merely escape, given the tools there. The trainers sped up, making a tight turn for the stairs, themselves. Charizard now officially dropped low, in order to be at their side as they raced upwards.

    They needn't have bothered doing so. Pierce had stopped stone cold in the lobby of the base, staring at the bodies strewn about. Glass still littered the area, remnants of what had occurred before, though none of the Pokémon were present any longer. Either way, in the cold daylight, the sight was a horrific one, Tau could imagine. The blue-haired operative remained staring for a moment, and then turned his head with a cold scowl.

    "Was this your doing, ARC?" the man asked, his voice low as he cradled a small device in his hands. The ill intent was clearly seeping from him, his lips twitching, but Tau only let his eyes narrow. The reaction wasn't quite what he had expected. Spit flew from Pierce's voice as he roared out his next question. "WAS IT? !"

    "I'm surprised someone like you would care," Alain said with his own scowl. Charizard landed on the ground with a loud shuddering, though Pierce didn't acknowledge him at all. He was staring right at Tau with that same rigid fury. Alain's hand looked to be twitching, clearly still not understanding how Pierce could be upset over his comrades, despite being criminals, being found dead. Tau knew, though. He understood all too well.

    "We didn't do this. There was no time," Tau spoke evenly, trying to make sure that Pierce understood everything about that moment…what little there was that could be understood. "We found them just like this. Every last one."

    "Charizard, Thunder Punch!" Alain had wasted no time in taking ahold of the moment. Pierce's distraction cost him, with Charizard flying forward with a roar and slamming his electrified fist into the man's stomach. The operative gagged, convulsing a little, and then dropped to the ground, the device in his hand tumbling outwards. Tau closed his eyes a moment and then reached down to scoop it up, placing it to their captive. It snapped out and bound him.

    "That should contain him for the foreseeable future," Tau spoke out, not fearing to raise his voice. Charizard bent down and gathered Pierce in his claws as his Mega Evolved form faded, leaving the member of ARC to only wonder if Sawyer and the others had finished. The absence of Pokémon sounds told him that they might have. "Bring him to Reggie's house and wait for me there."

    "Wait for you…?" Alain questioned, his eyes clearly tracking Tau as the man moved into the building a little. "What do you plan to do?"

    "Try to get some answers," was Tau's response, but he didn't explain himself any further. Alain apparently decided to not argue the point, because he shrugged and turned to exit the building with their new hostage. Tau's face darkened, consternation setting into his features as he stepped over the bodies. There was no time to worry or wonder about the computer, but instead he chose to go further in and look at the rooms.

    What had caused the deaths of the Team Rocket members? It had seemed quick and painless, yet Pierce's reaction indicated that he hadn't known a thing. It almost made him wonder what else the agent wasn't told…or rather, how much he could tell them. Tau continued inward, towards stairs that led to the two upper floors. It was possible that there was something up there, though Tau didn't dare to hold his breath on it. A light above sputtered and sparked, sending some freckles of electricity showering down upon him as he climbed the stairs. Halfway up, he paused, looking backwards at the shadows dancing in the sun, almost as if there was movement, but at the lack of sounds, he continued upward, remaining wary.

    The second story was almost a complete copy of the first, though with less bodies, and some of them wearing the official Team Rocket uniforms. Although, what Tau was attracted to was the line of dead scientists wearing white coats with red Rs that were scattered in a line. The man decided to follow said line, Skuntank keeping alert at his side as he did so. Like their comrades, they were all slain, even if they were left as a convenient trail of breadcrumbs that led to a door which was an obvious shade of red. Tau wanted to laugh, finding it to be like a large sign that said "Please, look in me!". That very thought in his head, Tau approached it, only to find that it wouldn't open. He heaved a sigh.

    "Excuse me," the leader of Alpha Squad said, bending low to rip a keycard from a nearby scientist. He raised it up to the door and slid it through the slot. The door slid right open without issue, allowing Tau inside.

    Like the rest of the office building (or base) it was dark in here, though lined with a series of track lighting that gave a certain ambience to the space. The room itself was cleaned out, indicating that it was a location Zager had clearly had tidied up in his departure. Tau did wonder if Zager had known about what had happened, but took a guess at him being ignorant. More dead scientists were in the room, the location smelling a little, but next to Skuntank's own fumes, it was nothing. Tau swiveled his head, finding that the room was so utterly cleared out, it was impossible to even guess at what might have been going on in that location. All that truly remained was a pillar in the center of a room, looking like it may have contained an object some time ago. A placard remained on the pillar, however.

    "Alpha Project…hm…" Tau grunted out. His fingers brushed the placard, but shortly left it. That didn't tell him much, but it certainly looked like something big had either been examined here or created. He wasn't sure which, and there was nothing to…

    Tau's head turned at the glimpse of a glow in a corner of the room. He moved to examine it, finding a stone sitting in the corner, like something that was broken off. Leaning down to grab it, he found it was cold and glowing the same indigo as that of the meteorites outside. It seemed strange, though…too…normal. In all of his dealings working with ARC and the underworld that existed out there, never had he come across an artifact that had no signs of strange activity. He held it up, trying to examine it in what little light there was in the room, but couldn't think of anything to identify it.

    Was this, possibly, the reason that all the agents had been slaughtered? Were they not trusted with this "project"? Or was Giovanni making his own moves without the knowledge of most of his force? It didn't seem a very good plan, but with the sheer amount of force on his side…Tau turned away and left the room, keeping the stone firmly in his hands. There was no need to spend any more time in this hellhole, knowing he wouldn't glean a speck more of information. Wishing away the bristling hair on the back of his neck, as though there were eyes dotting the dancing shadows, Tau picked up the pace, leaving the room and striding back through the halls and stairways to emerge back outside in Veilstone City.

    The hubbub of the city was picking up in volume now, people starting the day for real now, though there seemed plenty of confusion hanging over it all. The remnants of their battle over the meteorites must have piqued quite the interest. Thinking on that, Tau stared over to the plethora of meteorites in the field. They were still glowing and pulsing, much like the Gates and fountain in Nova Town. There was certainly a connection there, and Tau began to wonder if, maybe, that was what Zager and Pierce had been sticking around for in the first place. Wrinkling his nose a bit, Tau and Skuntank made their way over to the meteorites, intact with the ground. Tossing the stone in his hand once, the man touched it down to the other surface.

    Nothing happened. Nothing at all. They just kept glowing on as normal.

    "A bust, huh…? Anything, Skuntank?" Tau asked of his partner, giving the rock to it. The Skunk Pokémon sniffed at it, and then the meteorite, but shook its head. "Maybe it's not of the same material…Hmm…Guess we'll hold on to it until Chi can examine it, or someone that can get answers. Return, friend."

    Tau's pokeball shined with a red light as he returned his partner. That action complete, he plunged both hands into his pockets, the rock contained within, and set back off for Reggie's house. The sound of a beating helicopter or two was in the distance, and Tau could only guess at who was on the approach. He picked up his pace, running past the people in the streets until he reached the familiar place he had been to just a few hours back. It felt strange, not entering with the woman he had arrived with, but that didn't prove to be an issue. There were just as many people in the house now as then, after all.

    "Is he conscious?" Tau asked sharply, the moment he entered. From the direction of the conversing voices, they were all gathered in the living room for whatever discussion they were trying to have. It quieted down almost instantly, and the humming rotors from outside got louder.

    "Not yet, and everything's fine by the city's border," Reggie called back. Tau took quick steps forward in order to join all of them, and he looked over the living room once he had. Alain was leaning against the wall while Sawyer appeared to have been speaking with Maylene by the television, covering that day's early start of the Championship Tournament rounds. It appeared they were already on the fourth round. Only Reggie was sitting, right next to their captive on the couch, the man still in a rather unmoving state. Sunlight was now completely streaming through the windows in the room, illuminating the man's dark hair. He looked peaceful, except for the fact that he was an enemy.

    Tau chose to take all of that into his own hands as he stepped around the couch.

    "Get up," the man commanded. Pierce didn't answer right away, so he reached down and grabbed the operative's shoulders. Then he shook him rapidly. Reggie backed off, clearly wanting no part in whatever was happening there. The shaking didn't quite work, so Tau reached back and slapped the man across his face.

    "What…?" Pierce coughed out suddenly, the slap having jolted him awake. He seemed disoriented, looking lost, though he soon cringed and flinched, wanting to touch for his stomach, but realizing that his arms and legs were fully restrained, preventing him from doing anything. Once he seemed to realize this, he began to struggle a moment, though never losing his cool demeanor. Tau pressed down on his chest to hold him tightly in place.

    "Do you know who I am?" Tau asked calmly, not wanting to waste time. Pierce didn't answer, staring with cold hatred that was directed at him. "I'm not responsible for the death of your comrades, though you are more than responsible for the death of my own."

    "Revenge, then? Retaliation?" Pierce asked, his lips curling into a smirk. It seemed like his intention, now that he was captured, was to needle him as much as possible into making a mistake. Tau wasn't going to let that happen, and a sigh emerged from his own lips. He pressed further, kneeling a bit to get in Pierce's face.

    "Information. What is Team Rocket planning?"

    "Isn't ARC aware of that?" Pierce asked with a menacing chuckle. Tau's hand inched up, moving towards the man's throat as a snarl appeared on his face. The others standing there watched with rapt fascination and fear, both. "Oh…you're not…"

    "I'm not in a patient mood," Tau insisted. Pierce offered no answers but an enigmatic smile, showing his inability to betray his organization. "You know, your comrades, I don't know how much they suffered, but it looked quick and systematic. A planned assassination. I wonder what your boss isn't telling you."

    "What Giovanni orders of me is irrelevant," Pierce said, his smirk even more taunting than before. "The boss' orders are…orders."

    "This is getting nowhere," Alain commented testily. Tau was inclined to agree as he heard a door open near the front of the house, already surmising who could be coming through it. Clearly threatening with death wasn't enough to shake the man, and he couldn't think of any other particular way to make it happen.

    "Then hypnotize him already," a gruff voice interjected. Tau removed his hand from Pierce in order to look up at their new arrival. Just as he'd guessed, the trainer named Paul was standing in the doorway to the living room, hands in his pockets. He didn't look remotely happy, and while that wasn't unusual in and of itself, there was an extra harshness to his face now. "If he won't talk, hypnotize him and get the answers you want."

    "I take it you won, Paul," Reggie asked, smiling over at his brother. Paul gave him a look, but otherwise didn't answer, waving the whole thing off.

    "Irrelevant," was the younger brother's response. Tau couldn't glean anything from that, though he did wonder why the cold, nearly unfeeling, trainer was here after the battle was over. Paul stepped around the couch without a word to anyone until he, too, was facing Pierce. He reached for his belt and held a pokeball up. "Why did you attack Veilstone?"

    "Orders," was Pierce's smug remark. Paul's eyes narrowed. "What do you care for?"

    "It's still my home," came the cutting response. "I don't like people messing with my Pokémon. And I wanted answers."

    "You mean about Ash," Alain noted. There was almost a collective inhalation within the room. His was the name no one had wanted to mention, especially with Serena off who knows where on whatever infiltration she was in the middle of. However, Alain had struck on it perfectly. Whatever Paul's attitude towards most, it was clear that his eternal rivalry with Ash was something he was intent on keeping. Regardless, the purple-haired trainer didn't answer.

    "One last chance, and I'm done," Paul insisted. Pierce just laughed, as though he found the threat amusing.

    "I'm not scared." Tau had the feeling that was a big mistake. Perhaps Pierce felt he would be saved. Or maybe he just assumed that none of them there would be willing to stoop below using unscrupulous measures in order to get the information they so desired. Whatever it was, the operative had clearly underestimated Paul.

    "Your choice. Frosslass, Confuse Ray."

    The bright light that exuded from Paul's pokeball coalesced into the form of the ghostly Ice type, her eyes glowing a bright yellow for a moment. Small orbs surrounded Pierce's face, the operative regarding them warily. Then they converged on him. For a moment, Pierce looked to be resisting the attempts, almost looking like he was going to bite his tongue. Tau put a stop to that, holding the agent's mouth open until, at last, the man's head drooped. Paul stepped back, while Frosslass remained floating in midair.

    Tau bent low and looked into their captive's eyes, noticing them glossed over, but responsive. That, at least, opened conversation. "Do you know who I am?"

    "ARC," was the single word response. Tau frowned; the operative knew he was ARC, but not who he was. In some way, that was encouraging.

    "How did you come to know that?"

    "A man, with blond hair." Tau grimaced. That couldn't have been anyone but Michael, which was a fact they had been more than aware of in their years pursuing his influence.

    "What are you planning?" came the next question, everyone in the room waiting with bated breath. Pierce didn't answer right away, almost like he was fighting the confusion. Frosslass floated closer, clearly ready to react and enforce the hypnotized state, but doing nothing for the moment.

    "Don't know…everything," Pierce answered, his eyes still stuck in a haze. Reggie came near, reaching over to check the man's pulse. He nodded, as if saying it was rock steady and low. "Pieces of the plan, only. Something about…golden light. Calling forth golden light, and…blood. Sparks of blood. Zager knew something, but all the information was only truly privy to the Four Pillars of Team Rocket."

    "Who are the Four Pillars?" Sawyer asked impatiently, taking a step forward. Tau was surprised to see him so excitable, or perhaps just apprehensive. From Paul's slightly defensive nature, it appeared he was interested in the answer, as well. Pierce was struggling with this question, as though he couldn't figure out quite how to answer while his mind was actively resisting the Confuse Ray.

    "A…Alastair," was the first name that managed to escape his lips. Tau leaned in, as Pierce's voice dropped to a whisper. "Tol…bert…Louise…and…her…"

    "Her?" Alain asked, clearly in simple reaction. Pierce wasn't answering, however. Whether it was because he didn't know the name or simply couldn't reveal it, even under the control, Tau didn't know, and he wasn't going to stress the man any further at the expense of information. He shuffled closer once more.

    "What is Zager trying to do? What are the 'sparks of blood' for?" Tau asked sternly. Pierce looked up, his eyes bulging in his head. Frosslass moved closer, another orb appearing threateningly, in case the operative would break out.

    "Unclear. Followed orders," was Pierce's own response. His body was shaking a moment, eyes flickering open and then shut before snapping so wide, it looked like his head was pulling itself open. "Only said to activate the meteoric veins running through…but wouldn't say…why…Aggh!"

    "Drop the confusion, but keep your eye on him," Tau commended. Paul looked at him with his standard frown, but nodded towards Frosslass, who dropped the Confuse Ray. Pierce slumped, breathing heavily, while Tau stepped back with his hand on his chin, contemplating what was shared.

    The "meteoric veins" were an easy enough concept to understand thus far. Between Nova Town, Mount Chimney and now here, they had already long since predicted that. Throwing in Unova and Azalea Town just made that even more clear. Besides, Tau figured, Aidan's conjecture had already suspected the meteors during his earlier conversations. However, the "veins" part was a little more tricky, now that Tau was considering it. How did meteors have veins? What were they running through? More particularly, what did those "sparks of blood" mean…? It was a baffling concept, and nothing he was close to figuring…out…

    Tau's stomach dropped a little.

    "Reggie, do you have a map of the many regions? A world map?" Tau demanded. Reggie seemed taken aback by the request, but soon after nodded. Tau knew it was a tall order; until recently, most places only carried regional maps at best, but a world map was more important now. The older brother dashed out of the room while Pierce was groaning, his mind seemingly returning to him, even as Frosslass remained on standby.

    "Why do you want a map?" Sawyer asked, taking a pen out of his pocket. Tau wasn't sure if he had guessed at the same suspicions, but he obviously had some idea. Moments later, Reggie arrived back in the room, laying the large map across the coffee table, shadows from the sunlight dancing across it and the entire room. Tau bent over it, just as Sawyer did. The green-haired man handed his pen over and Tau instantly tapped down upon the rough location of Nova Town, the pen halting a moment.

    "No…Not Nova Town, but Kalos itself," he muttered, placing an X through the entire region. His pen moved along, crossing out Hoenn, and then Sinnoh, then Unova, and then…Johto. Five major regions. Five different colors. Five different meteorites. It wasn't a complete answer, but Tau had to wonder just what they were forcing, and where or what they were forcing it to. "Pierce, Azalea Town. Was that your doing?"

    "Azalea…?" Pierce answered, still trying to become focused. He seemed to remember the events of what had happened before the hypnotism. "I don't know. I know there were…seven missions, I think. Though the Pillars talked about an eighth that I'd never heard of, entrusted only to them…by…Giovanni…?"

    It was about as much of a confirmation as Tau could have expected. Five regions had been desecrated so quickly by violence, all shining with a strange light. If Tau's own suspicions were accurate, it could only leave two more…even if it still left the largely unanswered question of why out in the open.

    "And what about Ash?" Paul now demanded, his tone harsh and biting. "What was your pathetic intent in taking him out?"

    "Taking him out? No…" Pierce said, shaking his head. Tau observed him, watching the operative come to his senses. Whether it was realizing that ARC hadn't been responsible for the death of his comrades or just the shock of it finally settling in, Pierce was being incredibly forthright. Tau wanted to milk that opportunity while he could. "No, she said something about wanting him to connect…Connect…Gah!"

    It was sudden, happening in the blink of an eye. One second, Pierce was revealing information, and the next, a shadowy claw had erupted from the floor, impaling his entire figure. There was a loud spluttering, but Tau wasn't paying attention. Nor was Paul. Both were facing the exterior of the house.

    Pierce's body was twitching, gagging on his own saliva as the claw retracted, racing back out through the window, hiding itself in the morning sun. Tau wasted no time, gripping the edge of the couch and flinging himself over Pierce's dead body to reach the other side. Paul was right alongside him, both of them aiming for the door into the backyard. The younger purple-haired man reached it first, kicking the door open and blasting out.

    "Magmortar, Flamethrower on that shadow!" he roared. Magmortar, who had been lounging just seconds before, brought himself to full height and sent red hot flames roaring out at the shadow chasing along the ground. Tau followed them with his eyes until seeing a placement just over the fence that they were drawing to. The flames did nothing to their target. "Honchkrow, follow it!"

    "Krow!" Honchkrow squawked out, taking flight from a nearby tree to chase after the shadow. As Magmortar's flames receded, Tau and Paul instantly gave further chase, reaching the fence in moments before grabbing hold and flinging themselves over it to reach the other side.

    When they had, however, all they caught sight of was Honchkrow diving at a formless shadow that disappeared into the ground, leaving a puff of smoke in its wake that obscured all of their vision. Paul swore loudly. Tau strode forward into the smoke, waving it away but finding nothing beyond the pale. The assassin had come and gone, leaving nothing behind.

    "Damn…" the man muttered, turning back to the house. A sigh escaped his lips, lamenting the loss of a source of information. He looked upwards, the sky a normal blue despite the glowing meteorites, and saw something flit off into the horizon, masked only by the sounds of the city and other aircraft. For a moment, Tau's scowl etched itself deeper, wondering if the assassin had still been there, taunting them. However, in moments, it turned into a smirk. They had some information. That was a start; he just had to trust in Serena, Dawn, and others on the battlefront to gather more. For now, however, his course was set. "I'll need to contact the League. The crisis we're facing is far larger than I thought, and it needs dealing with right now."*Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  16. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    The airship bumped, experiencing a slight bit of turbulence, but Bonnie couldn't bother to notice. Meetings and partings…she had experienced so many of them in her lifetime, but somehow, nothing had prepared her for this very moment of sharp pain inside. Her fists were clenching on her knees as tears trundled down her face, unable to stop the flood of them inside. Max and Brock reached over, each putting a hand on her.

    "It's okay," Brock spoke in a low tone. She knew he was just saying it to comfort her, but Bonnie couldn't help but feel it was all her fault.

    Rocky was gone, and it was because she hadn't been able to save him.

    "Denene?" Dedenne asked softly, scampering up to her face and placing a small paw there. She sniffled, reining in her snot and tears before reaching up to touch her longtime partner. Even Squishy, heaving with the exhaustion of the battle, looked up to her with encouragement.

    "He chose it, in order to get all of us out of there," Brock spoke again, now reaching to clasp her shoulder in comfort. Bonnie felt it would have been so easy to just fall apart right then and there, but she chose not to, clenching her fists once more and drawing herself up. The sound of a whooshing door indicated the arrival of Plumeria, the former admin of Team Skull watching their trio for a moment. Whether out of respect, or perhaps even mourning for her own lost brothers and sisters, the woman waited, watching them until Bonnie looked up to her.

    "Leader Norman wants us to land back at Petalburg. A League helicopter is waiting there," the woman said. Bonnie rubbed at her nose, some of the snot coming loose as she nodded. Plumeria jerked her head in acknowledgement and turned, making to leave the room, but stopped at the threshold. "We'll be contacting the boss. And…let's not cry for them. We all knew what could happen against them. Save the tears for once we've kicked their asses, got it?"

    "G-got it," Bonnie said, and she made to stand. Max retracted his hand, coming to stand with her, alongside Brock. The feeling of the airship changed as it began to lower itself down slowly. The lemon blonde walked over to one of the windows, the light of day flashing through, and saw they had already arrived back in Petalburg, making Plumeria's announcement rather late in the telling. That didn't matter to Bonnie; she was already steeling herself for whatever the challenges ahead were.

    Live! Rocky's command to her hung in Bonnie's head as she breathed in. It hadn't been the request of a man who had given up hope. Instead, he had insisted on hoping in her, and protecting that. While part of Bonnie still felt like all her years of making sure she was strong enough, enough to never be taken advantage of again, had been wasted by his need to sacrifice himself, there was also a fire burning in her.

    That same fire was felt by the pair of Pokémon at her side, pushing her forward. Fixing a smile on her face, Bonnie turned to the door that would lead them out of the airship, and into Petalburg City. That final descent didn't take long, the airship shuddering to a stop on the ground, and Bonnie proceeded forward, Max and Brock both flanking her as she did so. In moments, she'd stepped outside, into the flowing breeze of Petalburg City, near enough to the gym that she could easily see it from where they were. To the building's side was a helicopter, looking similar to the one that Bonnie had rode in to Mount Chimney on, the pilot waiting patiently inside.

    "Come on," Max mumbled out with some embarrassment, nudging her a little. She glared at him playfully, but followed her rival off to the gym, where Plumeria was going, as well, side by side with Norman. Neither were speaking to one another, but that suited Bonnie just fine. Brock, meanwhile, hung back a little to check on the remaining, and wounded, people from Aether. In no time, their little group had reached the gym, and were making their way to a room that looked like an office. Clearly, Caroline was nowhere to be seen, and Max wasn't looking.

    "Should only take a moment," Norman commented, striding over to the touchscreen in the room and pushing on buttons. Bonnie didn't say anything, only listening for the movement behind her that indicated Brock's imminent arrival. Plumeria looked uncomfortable in the setting, shifting back and forth, probably because of who and what she'd have to report.

    Sure enough, in seconds, the screen was split in two to display two entirely separate locations and individuals, the faces revealed being Diantha and Gladion.

    "Plumeria, you're all right…" the president of the Aether Foundation breathed out, like he'd been holding it in for hours. Plumeria quirked an eyebrow, as though intrigued by the fact her boss had worried about her. "When news of the eruption reached us…well, Guzma was freaking out until I was forced to sedate him."

    "We're fine," Plumeria said shortly. Her eyes went downcast for a moment, and her lips twitched slightly in disgrace. "Some of them…didn't make it. And we…we failed bad, boss. Sorry."

    "That you're okay is a better thing," Gladion insisted to her. That didn't seem to improve her mentality towards it all, but Diantha left no time to dwell on that failure. Even Bonnie felt herself straightening as the Champion began to speak to those in the room. Norman had busied himself at his desk, organizing papers like the current conversation didn't apply to him, though it was obvious he was keeping an eye on it.

    "So, Team Rocket succeeded in their plans at Mount Chimney, did they?" the older woman asked with a sigh. It returned the guilt to Bonnie, but she rapidly shook her head to get rid of that oppressive feeling. "That just leaves Veilstone…"

    "Same news there," called a new voice, joining into the conversation. Bonnie blinked, and saw as a third partition had appeared on the screen, displaying Tau's face. The lemon blonde looked closer to the screen, noticing that Serena was nowhere near it, even though people like Alain and Sawyer could be seen in the background. That struck her as odd. "On the one hand, everyone here is fine. But we did fail in securing the meteorites, and Team Rocket's top scientist, Doctor Zager escaped. We managed to take an operative hostage but he died before he could reveal too much."

    "Are we back to square one? That's all we've started to care about," Diantha insisted. Now that Bonnie was listening closer, she felt the Kalos Champion sounded very terse, ready to snap out in the tension of everything surrounding them.

    "Not quite. Pierce didn't say too much, but we have a working theory. I'd just like to not share it over open communication," Tau responded. He breathed in again and then exhaled, looking through to Bonnie, as if communicating silently. She didn't get the message, only tilting her head in confusion, so the man chose to speak. "We'll leave any more information gathering to Serena. She's…er…pursuing a lead on Ash's location."

    "Is he okay, then?" both Diantha and Gladion asked at the same exact moment, making Bonnie almost laugh at the weird synchronicity. Tau didn't give an answer, all but proving that he had nothing concrete at that moment. To that, Diantha once again sighed.

    "Well, then…I suppose we'll need to reconvene with information in a secure location while we can. Lance still hasn't reported in, and neither has Aidan since he said he had things to do and left," the Champion spoke, pursing her lips as she did so. "Gladion, can you…?"

    "Yeah. Plumeria, refocus your efforts on recovery and research around Mount Chimney," Gladion said to the woman. She folded her arms and jerked her head in agreement. Clearly not wanting to stick around anymore, she whipped towards the door and made to depart. "In the meantime, I think it's important that I head to where we're all meeting. The more information, the better."

    "I'll call Steven up. I believe he's discussing things with Gary, but showing his face in the Hoenn region would be a morale booster right now," Diantha said. Bonnie was starting to notice how utterly exhausted she sounded with all of this, rubbing at bags that were forming under her eyes from the intense level of stress. "As for the rest, send all the wounded to the League Hub as soon as you can."

    "League Hub?" Bonnie questioned, tilting her head to the side. Part of her felt like she'd heard of it before, but couldn't place the idea. As a result, she briefly looked to Max, wondering if he, in his know-it-all ways, knew what Diantha was talking about. He just shrugged, though, wearing a perplexed expression.

    "I'm surprised you haven't heard of it, considering your brother helped design it. But, it's our sea-bound…well, I don't want to call it a fortress, but that's essentially what it is," Diantha remarked. "It's been our pet project for some years for a safe gathering, operated exclusively by the League. It should be safe for all manner of discussion and defense. That's where I want each of you to head. You pilot has already been informed about the location."

    "If the wounded are heading there, then I should definitely come along. Do you want me to bring a Nurse Joy?" Bonnie didn't miss the slight happy lilt to his voice as he asked that, and Max's fingers looked like they were twitching.

    "No, we have plenty on hand there. Gladion, should I expect your own arrival shortly? And you, Tau?"

    "We'll bring our whole group along. Can't be of further use as we are now…" Tau chuckled out, running a hand through his hair. "Hopefully, Aidan will get in contact soon…things have just been falling apart since Lionel…"

    Bonnie's fists clenched again, and the sight of Rocky's sacrifice swam in her vision. She hated feeling like this; people throwing their lives away, or having it taken from them, all so people like her could live. It cut deeply. Now, she had to worry about Serena, on top of Ash and her brother. The only solace for that was that Tau seemed to believe the latter two were alive, even if they hadn't seemed to show themselves, which in and of itself was so unlike them. Her face scrunched itself up with the thought of it, almost twisting itself into a gnarled expression when she felt a sudden hand on her shoulder that jerked her out of it. She blinked rapidly once more and looked to Max.

    "Hey, you all right?" the bespectacled boy asked. Bonnie swallowed, putting a smile back on her face, just like Serena always would.

    "Totally fine! The three of us are ready for anything!" Bonnie insisted, throwing her arms up and flexing her muscles. She looked down to her two most loyal partners with a grin. "How about you guys?"

    "Blrbl!"

    "Ne!" Dedenne confirmed, also attempting to flex what little muscles he had. That made Bonnie give a more genuine smile and she looked to her rival, who seemed to swallow. He removed his glasses and cleaned them with shaking hands.

    "You need to get yourself together, though. We're gonna have lots to share about what happened at Mount Chimney!" Bonnie insisted, reaching over to slap the boy on the back. He jolted, nearly dropping his glasses, it seemed. She rolled her eyes, spun around on her feet and then dashed out of the all-too-familiar gym. Her footsteps slowed as she walked past the battlefield that was there, remembering holding her own gym battle there while Max had once watched. For some reason, he worked even harder to surpass her after that day, and though she had an inkling as to why, it wasn't an idea she wished to entertain.

    Thankfully, she didn't need to do so at all, especially when she went back out into the crisp, Petalburg air. Brock was outside there, having seemingly left with Plumeria to speak more about the wounded on site. Now that Bonnie was looking, she could see there was a second, larger aircraft that the wounded from the battle at Mount Chimney were being helped into. Brock was thrusting a first aid kit of some sort into the hands of one individual that looked…well, somewhat responsible, there. They accepted it and ran off like a kid that had been handed candy. It made Bonnie snort with amusement; about the only bit of it she'd been getting lately.

    No! she chastised herself in her head. Her hands reached up and violently slapped her cheeks to help her get ahold of herself. There was no time for thinking about those darker thoughts. There was just one thought that she was going to cling to in that very moment: Live. Live for them, and do their part until everything is all right.

    "Yeah! We're ready to kick more Team Rocket butt!" Bonnie shouted out to the air. Her scream did attract a little bit of attention, but most just moved on, clearly unaware of all the facts of what was happening in the world. Bonnie hoped that would continue to be the case. People didn't need to be worried about all that stuff. It was far better for those peaceful times to continue for them. That was what she wanted to happen, at least.

    "I see someone's all fired up," Brock chuckled out as he now approached.

    "Yeah, I am!" Bonnie insisted, reaching out to fistbump with the man. He accepted it gratefully. "Gotta keep movin'! For Clemont…and Rocky, too."

    "Well, just don't push yourself too far, Bonnie," Brock reassured her, reaching over to ruffle her hair. She swatted him away, but appreciated the good-natured nudging. The sound of another door opening revealed to her that Max was exiting, obviously planning on traveling with the two of them back to the League Hub. "Your dad's approved?"

    "He wants to call the Gym Leaders up for the situation at Mount Chimney, I think," Max said from behind Bonnie. She spun around, holding her hands behind her back as she stared at him. He coughed a little, looking red, before he continued on. "I'll go as his 'representative', I guess. Besides…I…asked to…"

    "Mmhmm," Brock said, wiggling his eyebrows teasingly. In no time, he'd approached the younger boy and threw his arm around him, leading the pair off towards the helicopter they'd be taking. "Our young Max, growing up so well. Don't worry, leave it to good ol' Brocko to teach you all the ways of adulthood!"

    "I think I'd like to pass, Brock, given your track record," Max snapped at him. Brock reached his free arm up to cover his ears with a cringe. Bonnie laughed loudly, skipping off after them and soon passing the duo. As she did, she briefly looked towards the Aether transport, re-loading itself quickly as some Pokémon, or what looked like Pokémon, landed atop from a distance, listening cheerfully. "If what you're saying is the case, and I'm not saying it is, then I'd rather take lessons from Ash. At least he's married, for some baffling reason. And I'd rather not take advice from May's significant other."

    "I'm hurt, Max," Brock said jokingly, now putting his hand over his heart. "Haven't you heard? I'm the apple of the eye of the one and only former Kalos Queen, Aria!"

    "Uh-huh…Brock, I'm not going to indulge your fantasies," Max retorted, now reaching up and pulling on the older man's ear.

    "Gah…all right, cut it out. Not even Croagunk is this cruel these days!" The rest of Brock's protests were drowned by the helicopter, along with Bonnie's ceaseless laughing, enjoying the show that the two were putting on. Both of them ignored her, even as they sat in the helicopter than was all set to take off. Max made sure to sit next to Brock, likely to monitor him while they waited. Bonnie just leaned back with a little grin on her face as she felt the helicopter jerk up.

    The stinging of the events at Mount Chimney was still present, especially remembering the last time she'd rode in a helicopter but a few hours ago, but she decided to not let that get her down, for sure. Dedenne and Squishy were here with her (even if the rest of her Pokémon had been left at Professor Sycamore's lab in her rush to get moving). Her friends were here with her. She had all the support she needed to get through this.

    "To the League Hub, Team Bonnie!"

    "Please don't remind me of that…" Max said to her, averting his eyes out the window. Bonnie grinned cheekily, knowing she had inadvertently reminded him of the time Dedenne had defeated Gallade at the Kalos Team Tournament two years back.

    "You know you like the name," Bonnie told him, leaning over with a grin. He turned away haughtily, letting the distraction of the helicopter attaining full altitude take his mind over clearly. Bonnie just shrugged and sat back, hands behind her head. The helicopter seemed to make a sharp turn west, heading out for the ocean. It made sense in Bonnie's mind; a League fortress for all of the major regions would have to be somewhere on the water, just Diantha had said. The lemon blonde looked peacefully out the window a moment, a shimmering heat just outside it at their height, as she thought of those she'd be meeting up with at the Hub. Knowing she'd be reunited with familiar friends and faces, Bonnie took solace in all of that, taking Dedenne and Squishy into her hands and tickling them a little bit. They giggled at it, making Bonnie smile.

    "Squishy, Squishy, you're oh so very soft. Squishy, Squishy, you're oh so pretty green," she sang softly, her little companion swaying to the ever-familiar tune. Max looked over at her with a light smile, his pokeballs seeming to enjoy the song as well. The only one there that didn't look to be entertained was Brock, his elbows resting on his knees as he appeared to think. Bonnie stopped her song, and her tone grew more serious. "Brock, what's wrong?"

    "Hm? Just thinking…" Brock admitted, though his own expression didn't change. Petalburg seemed to have been left far behind by now, their chopper nearly over the ocean at this point. Hoenn was fading just the same, replaced with deep blue seas and small white and green islands approaching to break up that vast expanse. The pilot clearly knew where he was heading, but Brock remained concerned.

    "What about?" she asked in response. Dedenne hopped out of her lap with Squishy, the two of them sitting comfortably next to her on the seat, instead.

    "Something Diantha and the others were talking about," Brock noted. He hadn't shown any concern, but Bonnie could only guess that now was the first moment he had to think. "It's weird, don't you think? They had a hostage from Team Rocket, but he was killed. A good number of them were killed at Mount Chimney."

    "What are you getting at?" Max asked. Bonnie rolled her eyes at his usual tone, smoothing her skirt out. She briefly looked out the window to hide the expression, noticing one of the larger islands down below, hidden behind the heated shimmer.

    "It's just itching at my mind, but…why are they being so reckless with all of their operatives?" Brock asked. Bonnie looked back curiously. "Sure, Jessie, James and Meowth were usually shown to not be cared about, but this is different. I feel like…somehow, they're trying to systematically destroy their own organization."

    "Maybe the leader is just power hungry? Doesn't want to share it with anyone?" Bonnie suggested flippantly. Max now took his turn to roll his eyes. "Hey, it's valid, and you know it!"

    "Doesn't mean it's right," Max shot back. She leaned forward, wanting to glare at him even closer, though he pulled back.

    "Maybe…or it could be…"

    Boom! The first blast rocked the helicopter, pitching it to the side. Bonnie rolled down, sliding down the seat to hit the door of the chopper. The latch on the lock broke from the sudden hit, the girl banging against it. Bonnie reached out, trying to grip for a railing while Brock held to Max. The latter stared out the window.

    "It's those drones! I-I think they were cloaked!" Max called. Bonnie grimaced, trying to pull herself up, but slipping as another attack struck the helicopter. There was a horrible snapping noise, like a rotor breaking off. The helicopter suddenly shuddered, dropping in altitude. "There are Pokémon with them, too…that Pin Missile-"

    "Brace yourself!" Brock yelled, gripping to a railing.

    "Dedenne, Squish-" Bonnie's cry was cut off by a sudden intake of breath. Another attack, sounding more like a Hyper Beam of sorts, impacted with the helicopter, blasting a hole through its back half. The door, no longer secure, slid all the way open. With the banging around, Bonnie's hand slipped, letting go of the railing and she flailed in midair, falling through the now open gap. Dedenne and Squishy called for her, but Bonnie could do nothing but scream.

    "BONNIE!" Max screamed, sounding frightened out of his mind. Bonnie wished she could have called for him, but her voice was gone, left above as she plummeted.

    Then she hit the ocean, and sank below.

    Author's Note: So, in and of itself, this chapter had a lot of little things going on, and a rather disastrous ending. Some things were revealed about Team Rocket's plan, and that, perhaps, Giovanni isn't quite willing to share the glory, even if the man, himself, has yet to appear on the scene. On top of it, Pierce's assassination certainly shows there's something big at play. But really, I also wanted some focus on Paul, who I've neglected in the series, and the fallout from Rocky and Lionel's deaths thus far. Hopefully I highlighted that well enough.

    Right now, we're nearing the second act of the story, and I can guarantee it will get more intense and complex in a way. That said, please remember to Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  17. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    There might be some answers this time around, but I guess you'll have to think about it. Do enjoy Chapter 9!

    Chapter 9

    A Foretelling​

    Wingull chirped in the ocean breeze, filling the active city with their cries. The waters lapped at the docks and the site of the large object that was the landmark of the city. Some people, citizens and tourists alike, were looking at it, enthralled by its shimmering purple hue in the light of the day. Aidan merely stood staring up at it with a frown.

    "An unexpected meeting at an unexpected place," a voice said from behind him. Aidan grimaced at the sound of it; he knew that voice far too well, but hated the thought of hearing it, even if not the man to whom it belonged. "I was surprised you contacted me, Aidan of ARC."

    "I'd have rather not," Aidan barked out, his gruff voice causing some teenagers nearby to recoil from it. They all leaned in and whispered to ignore him, shuffling far away from the blond as some of their words revealed snippets of news in the wider world. Their retreat suited him just fine. He was happier with more space and secrecy, especially in these dark and troubling times. That didn't mean he was happy with the man standing behind him, to the point that he refused to turn in his direction. "Only that your leads may be the best leads at this moment."

    "I haven't done excess research in years…not since Alola. You know that," his new companion spoke, the sound of footsteps indicating his imminent approach.

    "And if I know him, you didn't stop just because you chose to return home after meeting your daughter. I somehow can't see you as the doting house husband," Aidan snapped, and he finally turned his head. The man was chuckling, coming to stand next to him. When Aidan's head finally turned, he got his first good look at the man, though it wasn't quite who he had remembered, for better or worse.

    "True enough…I can't seem to stay away. No wonder my daughter married the man she did," Y chuckled out further. It annoyed Aidan immensely. At first, he thought it was because the man looked just like their ever-mortal adversary, Michael (save for the fact that he was, in fact, dead). However, looking at him now, Aidan realized it had nothing to do with that rather unfortunate connection, but more that this version behaved more like Lionel. It made the blond's face tauten as he glared at the man. "You can drop the glare. I'm not going to hurt you. Besides, if the rumors are true, you've all but eliminated my counterpart's poison from the world."

    "All but," Aidan agreed. There was always the possibility of yet another poisonous sac of Michael's waiting out there somewhere, and it was just a matter of finding it, if there was. Not that there was time right now. "And I have no fear of that. How many years has it been, and you've not taken an action in that time?"

    "Well, that's not entirely true," Y said, his voice losing its humored edge. His eyes were dead set, staring at the Anistar Sundial as he considered things. "I'm a researcher at heart, always looking to move the pieces."

    "And what pieces have you been moving lately?" Aidan asked of him, adjusting his bent glasses a bit.

    "Not enough," was the response. The honey blonde sighed out, now looking up to the blue sky. "The League has been on top of so many things these days. From researchers like Gary Oak and Burnet studying the various dimensions, to Champions Cynthia and Steven examining ruins, while your own organization looks for ancient artifacts…there's not much left to find in this day and age.

    "It's almost as if an era is coming to an end. Officially, this time."

    "That's a scary thought," Aidan agreed. Y shrugged and refused to make a further comment, letting Aidan's thoughts draw inward once more. Was the end of an era on the horizon? Had Lionel's death been a sign of that? If it was, the man wasn't sure he wanted it to be. Every "end" always seemed to be brought about with more death and more sacrifice. Lionel was the beginning, but how many more would there be? His son? Aidan shook the oppressive thought from his head. "Then, do you mind sharing what you have been looking into?"

    "Not at all, though it's always just conjecture with me," Y admitted, shoving his hands into his pockets and leaning against the nearby railing that bordered the sea. He nodded towards the Sundial. "Just looking into the meteorites that seemed to have started all this business, more out of curiosity than anything."

    "You think that may be it? The key to this mess with Team Rocket?"

    "I wouldn't know," Y sighed out. His hand reached up to run it through his hair, and Aidan noticed it had actually started to gray a little. "All I can tell is that so long ago, far enough back that only AZ would be alive to remember, wherever he may be these days, the meteors fell. But among them was the first meteorite, said to be the meteorite to end all meteorites. It split into two: the small Alpha Meteor and the far larger Omega Meteor."

    "Might that have anything to do with Hoenn's legends of Primal Reversion, then?" Aidan questioned, but once more, Y shrugged.

    "Could. I did have a theory that, in some way, the meteorites were connected to the very world's origin or some such, but could never find a way to prove it. It's possible that these meteorites were connected to everything like the Lustrous Orb, the Hoenn Legends, the Unova stuff…hell, I wouldn't put it past them being involved with the Megalith and the Sundial." Y sounded giddy, almost like a child, as he waved off towards the object before them, but Aidan simply considered his words. The theory sounded ridiculous, if it was possible at all. Although, Aidan figured, if the idea of the tipping points was provable, then it wasn't a completely ludicrous idea that the meteorites were a thread that was pulled through the events of the world since the dawn of time.

    "And the original meteorites?" was Aidan's follow up question.

    "Lost to history. All that remains were the rumors that they arrived in two different regions, but the trail ends cold soon after," Y admitted. Once he had, he turned to Aidan. "Now, do you want to tell me why you called me to Anistar City of all places. I don't think it was for the sights or the Sundial."

    "I didn't want to go out of my way when I decided to see someone. You're more than welcome to come with," Aidan snapped once more. Having the information he'd wanted to hear, the blonde snapped around on his heels and headed further into the city. Y immediately proceeded after him. Aidan found it odd that he didn't ask where they were going, though it seemed rather obvious, given the only major sights in Anistar.

    Sure enough, the approach to the gym drew a scoff of obviousness from the man. Within moments, both were pushing in and towards the bizarre space that was the Anistar Gym. They'd barely taken a couple steps inside when a voice flared out to them.

    "Welcome, one who rules ARC, and one who walks the other side!" The voice made Aidan stop, and Y right alongside him. He wasn't surprised that she knew they were there, but the simple commanding presence brought him to that halt. "You have come for information."

    "I'm not surprised that your precognition told you that…Gym Leader Olympia," Aidan spoke. He picked his steps up once more, walking on to the sheer battlefield and turning his gaze upwards. As expected, Olympia was floating in midair, her body surrounded by a blue glow as her cloak fluttered around her. The rest of the Gym was empty. "What else does it tell you?"

    "Tell me…?" Olympia asked. The purple-haired gym leader swiftly began to descend, coming down to their level, her eyes wide. Aidan stared into them, but couldn't see anything there that was telling. "My ability does not work on command. Is this why you have come?"

    "More or less," Aidan admitted. Olympia tilted her head back a bit, regarding him with lidded eyes. "What have you seen? Surely there is something in there to aid us."

    "Perhaps…but what I perceive does not have the power to change your fate," Olympia spoke. To this, Aidan raised his eyebrows, regarding the woman carefully, and with a look of amusement. Was she implying he would meet a grisly end? Or did it simply mean that the events in the world would be unchanged?

    "I'm not too concerned," Y spoke to the woman, though she paid him no heed. "Changing fate has become a specialty of this world and its people. Though, knowing what will be at hand would be a boon in the upcoming battle."

    "Hmmm…" Olympia mused, now regarding them both carefully. Aidan looked to Y, who shrugged at him yet again. There was nothing they could do if the future-sensing Gym Leader did not wish to tell them anything. Unfortunately, it seemed that was the case as she turned away, her cloak whipping outward as she floated into the air. Aidan sighed…until Olympia's cloak flared out around her, as did a smoldering flame of many colors.

    "I see a flame, set to consume the world!" she called. It sounded dramatic, but from the way Olympia's body had gone rigid, Aidan knew it was hardly a joke. "Drawn from the beginning of time! Through the world's history itself! The curtain on a game, long played by those at hand!"

    "A game?" Y questioned, but Olympia was too far in her trance to give a solid answer.

    "It will spell the end for the world, unless it is turned the right way. The battle to end all battles," the Gym Leader continued. The flames mutated, swirled around, becoming checkered. It was like a chess board with multiple pieces, and something swirling in the middle of it. "From beginning to end, the world will make its final play. A final point…ending where it all began…or perhaps, where the end was triggered. And there, the pieces will gather.

    "The ones who will guide the future. The shadow. The golden light. Those filled with rage…All for a new world to come. Everything will collide! Beginning and end! And it shall be decided! All for that ideal…And you, you shall take part in the final fate." Olympia's vision ceased, as did the swirling flames, combining into the form of a multi-colored arch before splitting away. The Gym Leader now lowered, her body no longer rigid as she turned towards the two of them. Aidan just watched silently for that moment. "That is all I have seen."

    "A final battle…" Y mused, almost sounding like it was a triviality. However, Aidan could already tell that it was anything but. He assumed the other man believed the same, even if not stating it.

    "Or a final turning point…" the blond breathed out. His hand reached up to touch to his glasses with a scowl. Olympia said nothing, merely continuing to watch the pair of them, like she'd said everything that needed to be said. That confirmed Aidan's suspicions. Long had they battled to make sure no more turning points would come to pass, but now, it seemed they were at the edge of one they could no longer escape. There was no more staving off the fate of the world. It was a truth they could no longer run from. To that end, Aidan asked a final question, believing all other details to be irrelevant in the moment. "And this battle, if it will truly be the end, how will we know?"

    Olympia took a moment, her eyes flashing with those colors yet one more time. "Because it will be the end of everything that has led to now.

    "This world's current age will at last end as we know it."

    "Hold tight!" Brock yelled, the helicopter pitching to the side. Max flew forward, his face slamming into one of the windows, but missing the door. Brock barely managed to keep his own grip on the railing that would have otherwise sent him capitulating downwards. He reached with his own free hand for Max, but the boy was so occupied with not falling out of the helicopter that he didn't reach for it in that moment. That was fine with Brock.

    The helicopter jerked again and Brock flung his hand back to have a dual grip on the railing. His knuckles were whitening from the force exerted by them in that instant, though it was all he could do to truly hold on. Alarms were now blaring in the vicinity, each one shrill and harsh from the cabin of the helicopter. Brock wanted to call out for their pilot, but in the roaring chaos he simply couldn't find the chance to do so.

    Hold fast, Bonnie! I am coming! a voice suddenly screamed in Brock's head. Even as the helicopter jerked again, he looked to see the green, bounding shape of Squishy making way for the door that Bonnie had fallen through just moments ago. The doctor certainly hoped that she would be all right, but between the height and location to which she'd fallen, not to mention their own current predicament, he knew there was certainly no guarantee that she would be okay at all.

    "Denene!" Dedenne called out, also making to bound after his companion. That, Brock knew he couldn't allow. He may have been too slow to stop the green blob from jumping out after Bonnie, but Dedenne in the middle of the ocean did not seem like a very good. He detached his hand from the railing and lunged forward for the Antenna Pokémon. Brock's fingers waggled at the air before finally managing to close on Dedenne's tail, sparks jolting up his body from the action. The doctor jerked him back as quickly as he could. "Nene ne!"

    "I'm sorry, Dedenne, but I can't let you fall with her," Brock insisted, bringing the small Pokémon to his chest. Max was pushing up now, attempting to straighten his back against the side of the helicopter carefully. The helicopter shuddered again, and the open door banged shut and open again, briefly allowing Brock a look outside. They were flitting quickly by, but whatever drones had attacked them were now coming back for a second attack on the vehicle, fully visible to the naked eye. Meanwhile, Squishy was glowing green, transforming into the dog form before he hit the water's surface.

    That mattered little to Brock, as what looked like a strange, drone-supported Pelipper suddenly sent a rocketing Scald for the pilot's seat of their helicopter. Brock cried out, or attempted to, in order to warn the pilot, but the attack was so fast, it hardly would have made a difference. The steam from the strike exploded in the vehicle, flooding the area they were in. The electrical controls sparked and it was all Brock could do to tuck Dedenne into the breast pocket of his vest. The whole helicopter shook, and bile rose in Brock's throat. The whole vehicle seemed to have been sent on a tailspin by the latest attack.

    With one of his hands free, Brock lifted off in the shift of gravity, his feet slamming against the top of the helicopter. Nausea continued to roil in his stomach from it all and Brock reached down, trying to once more grab ahold of the railing, only missing by mere inches every time. Max was screaming, though it seemed less from fear and more from a need in the frightening moment. Even Brock felt he would pass out.

    Sight was passing around in a blur, and the surrounding sound was naught but a droning klaxon ringing in Brock's ears. His mouth clamped itself shut, afraid that if he opened it, his guts would come flying out all over the cabin. Thankfully, that didn't happen, and the sound of what seemed to be rushing sea was gathering ever closer to his ears. His eyes only widened at the realization of how dead they'd be once they hit the water.

    The helicopter jerked again and Brock's hand released from the railing entirely, causing his whole body to float backward and slam into the ceiling of the helicopter. Said vehicle was doing no more than a spin, rolling in midair as it made way for wherever its impact point would inevitably be. Brock's body fell, now hitting the floor of the helicopter as he began to slide a little, air forced out of his lungs. Max had fallen, too, almost hurling from the level of tumbling they had been experiencing. Dedenne screeched inside Brock's pocket, but the doctor was too focused on retaining his own presence of mind.

    That, on its own, was difficult, with the entire world feeling like it was on some sort of tilt-a-whirl journey that he simply could not get off of, no matter how much he wanted to. Brock's head slammed against the floor, sending stars exploding through his eyes with a loud cough, when he saw something outside of the rotating doors: sand. White sand. Not blue. Not water.

    There was land beneath them, and it was the only chance they'd get.

    "Max…hold…on…" Brock grunted out. He pulled himself along the floor for just a moment as he reached forward to clasp Max's wrist. Once the younger boy was secured along with him, Brock kicked against one of the seats, propelling him towards the ever opening and closing door. He closed his eyes further as they traveled whatever distance there was left to close, and hoped that the door would open when needed. As the duo slid along, the helicopter let out a horrible whine that said they were nearing to an absolute catastrophic failure, but Brock tried to ignore that. He just focused on the door, and getting out of there.

    The door slid backwards, slamming against its frame in the open position, indicating from the stream of light filtering through his lids that they were on their way out. The helicopter twisted and tumbled in the air as the door began to close inward and Brock held his breath, hoping they'd make it. The door inched closer towards them…and closer…and then they were free, sliding out of the exit towards the beach surface. Or Brock thought so, until the door finished its closing cycle and slammed upon Max's ankle with extreme force.

    "Aggh!" Max roared in pain, tears flying involuntarily from his eyes at the event. Brock looked back, seeing the boy's foot flopping around at an impossible angle. His fingers slackened, and Max let go, sending the both of them away from another. They spiraled through the air on a course for the sands, not too far away by now. Brock impacted with ground at the same time as his companion, slamming into the sands. The helicopter gave off what sounded like a final groan, and then slammed into the beach some distance away. The gust of wind from the resulting collision washed over Brock and pushed him back down, face-first into the sand as he coughed loudly.

    The gale howled over Brock's head for a good half a minute before calming down and replacing itself with the sound of the ceaseless surf. His hand shook, pressing into the beach and pushing himself up, continuing to cough as he did so. Already, his hand had gone to his belt and two of the pokeballs there. He silently called out both Croagunk and Blissey as he struggled to stand. "M-Max!"

    "I'm…I'm all right!" Max's nasally voice called back. Brock shook his head, trying to eradicate the intense ringing in his ears that was trying to block out all other manner of sounds. It distorted his vision, making it more difficult than it should have been to locate Max, to the point he barely noticed Dedenne popping out of his pocket and on to the beach. There was radiating heat all around him from the helicopter, and Brock certainly knew that their pilot hadn't made it; those drones had targeted the helicopter effectively enough to have likely taken their pilot out immediately. "My…my foot is broken."

    "Hold on," Brock grunted. He was finally on his feet again, though wavering and nearly pitching to the side before Blissey caught him and smiled at him. He patted her with gratitude and shut his eyes tighter. The ringing began to diminish in his head as he slowly reopened them to their usual state. Now that the blurs were gone, he could get a better view of the island they had crash-landed upon, surrounded by nothing but ocean, only a few palm trees dotting the area to provide some shade. Under one of these trees was Max, his foot still sticking out at a horrible angle. "Croagunk, Dedenne, keep watch."

    "Croa…" Croagunk agreed, having moved over to the ocean. Brock figured he was probably staring at his reflection, but knew the Toxic Mouth Pokémon would spring into action if a threat happened to arrive. Dedenne had also scampered to the water's edge, clearly worried for his missing trainer and friend. Brock, meanwhile, regained the feeling in his own legs to make his way over to Max. Kneeling at his friend's side, Brock touched his fingers to the leg.

    "Gah…hurts…" Max hissed out, showing just how tender it was. Knowing that, Brock turned to Blissey, who glowed a light pink. The waves that surrounded her figure began to pulse outwards, flowing over the broken foot. As she did so, Brock reached into his bag and brought out a brace and bandages. Working as quickly as he could, he set the foot and bandaged it tightly, though Max still grunted from the pain. "Feels a bit better."

    "It should," Brock told him, breathing out through his teeth a moment. "If we had a Center's facilities, you'd be back up on it in hours. But, as it is, let's keep you off it for now until we can figure out a way-"

    "Gunk!" Croagunk shouted out from the water's edge. Brock's anticipatory Pokémon was already acting, purple globs of Venoshock appearing in his hands. Blissey, too, seemed to be on edge from her ruffling, while Dedenne's cheeks sparked. They were no longer alone.

    "Gallade…help us out…" Max gasped out, reaching for his belt and calling his prime Pokémon out for battle. Gallade seemed to instantly react with concern for his trainer, wanting to dash for him with wide eyes. Max shook his head and the Blade Pokémon stopped, understanding his wishes. Brock was waiting, straightening himself, as he listened.

    It became quickly obvious that Croagunk was far ahead of the game, hearing the drones well before they were appearing. Though, appear they did, some materializing out of thin air, but all of them flitting swiftly over the ocean, carrying an amalgamation of Pokémon that stemmed from a Gabite, to what looked like a Metagross of all things. This was definitely going to be a rough fight. "Go, Croagunk! Blissey, Egg Bomb!"

    "Ps-Psycho Cut!" Max screamed out, sounding guttural through his obvious pain. Croagunk jumped into the air, sand billowing upwards from his action, as he threw his arms back and tossed the Venoshock right at the drone with the Metagross. It collided, exploding the machine in midair and sending the Steel type to the ground.

    "Meta!" it shouted angrily and Brock peered at it suspiciously. As it skidded along the beach, a black beam formed near its mouth, coalescing. For having no trainer, it was acting with remarkable precision, and Brock had to wonder just how they were being controlled. There were no markings, and the drone had obviously not done it. No devices. No machine or soundwaves. Nothing. It seemed so remarkably…not like Team Rocket. At least, not those that he remembered.

    "Croagunk, on top! Brick Break!" Croagunk spun through the air as he descended, landing atop Metagross. His arm raised upwards, glowing a bright white before he slammed it down onto the Pokémon. Blissey and Dedenne were on the move, as well, bright eggs forming in the former's short arms that she spun around and chucked at one of the other incoming drones. The latter sent a crackling orb of electricity to the air that showered out and shuddered through the last of the remaining targets and Pokémon there. Both of their own attacks landed at their targets, as well, exploding with force that sent the attacking Pokémon sprawled onto the ground. Gallade rushed forward, arm glowing purple before he hurled the crescent at Metagross. Croagunk leapt off as the strike collided, sending the heavy Steel type into the water.

    "There's gonna be more," Max pointed out with a sharp intake of breath. Brock was inclined to agree. There had only been three drones there, leaving their participants stranded on the beach. Brock shook his head, rubbing at his temples for a second as he approached the downed Gabite. It looked to be stirring a little, and Brock reached down to check it out.

    The Pokémon seemed okay, if completely dazed, but the odd part was how its pulse was beginning to rise. It had been steady before, if lower than Brock would have hoped for in a healthy Pokémon, but now it was quickly racing back, like it wanted to get caught up. The anomaly made Brock frowned, but knowing that the Pokémon were okay, he turned his attention to the downed drones. For the most part, the mechs were in pieces, though there were some particularly large ones that he approached. Croagunk was there, too, now staring at his reflection in the shiny surface of one.

    That seemed completely normal to Brock, at least, until the insidious observation made its way into his mind: the robot was entirely blank. There was no red R or any other marking to suggest that the drones were from Team Rocket at all, despite the fact they had been used in the operation at Mount Chimney. It was small, and Brock was unclear if it meant anything at all, though now he could only deal with the fact that they had been attacked on their own route…like they were being used as some sort of bait.

    "Get ready, Max. I don't think they'll want to let us out until we take down every last one here," Brock snapped to him. There was a loud humming noise, more like a buzzing, as from high up in the sky, a group of drones at least ten times the size of those that came before, each carrying an aggressive looking Pokémon, arrived with speed. The implications and suspicions coming to rest in the back of his mind, Brock came closer to Max while the drones surrounded all of them.

    He'd have to focus on getting the both of them out of here alive before he could think about anything else. Knowing that, Croagunk leapt into action, Dedenne huffed as he gathered electricity for a new attack and Blissey readied her bombs. Both sides struck forward, and the island exploded with the force of colliding attacks.

    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  18. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    Bonnie was falling, her weight being crushed by the turbulent ocean, stealing her breath away. She tried to kick her legs, tried to break free, but found herself being shackled by the water. Bubbles ghosted upwards, away from her breath, and the sunlight was fading as her body sunk. She didn't think it would happen like this; from all of Clemont's talks of science, she was almost sure that she shouldn't be sinking so quickly. Not that she always listened when he blabbered on. She regretted that now.

    Gotta get out of here! Gotta swim for the surface! Her thoughts continued to scream out to her in that same fashion, and once more her legs and arms thrashed around, trying to push herself upwards. Soon, she was forced to stop at the pain rippling across her chest. Her breath burst out in bubbles again, and one of her hands flew to her mouth, trying to stop it from doing so, while her other hand flew to her breasts, clutching at the pain that was jolting here there. No…come on…move! Move! Move!

    Bonnie! Hold fast! I am coming! Bonnie's eyes snapped open at the sound of Squishy's voice, though she didn't call for him, knowing it would be folly to do so. She wondered if Dedenne was okay, or if he, too, was going to come swimming after her. She didn't want that, especially as her body sank lower and lower. This wasn't natural. It was the only conclusion she could come to as she continued to sink within the void of that ocean.

    Something blasted through the water, like a giant current or Pokémon beneath the surface, slamming into her smaller body. The riptide forced her further under, now being pulled downwards with a magnetic force. She coughed, unable to keep her breath in much longer. Salt water flowed into her mouth, the taste fouling up her senses, and the burning sensation in her chest turned into the kind that she could only refer to as knives stabbing into her chest. There was a shape above her in the water, looking familiar to her as it burst with green light, but her vision was blurring so much, she wasn't sure it was actually there.

    Help…someone…Clemont…Bonnie's mind felt itself going blank deep underneath the water, and her eyes threatened to shut for good, the water and the pressure crushing her bit by bit. She coughed, the exhale floating upwards in a stream of bubbles. Her fingers unclenched, her body going numb, and Bonnie felt ready to slip into oblivion. Lights…green lights…Squishy…?

    Bonnie, I am almost…there…!


    That somehow didn't matter to Bonnie, slipping to the floor of the ocean. She was certain she should have died by now, but her breath was just leaving her lungs as her back hit the sandy floor, deeper than she would have thought possible. Her arm spread out, splaying across the ocean floor. The dark shape above her finally closed in, changing form to a rather large thing, green lights streaming to it, but Bonnie's eyes were going dark as her fingers finally finished unfurling.

    Just as her last breath was exhaled, her nail tapped against something, and her chest fell, the breath stilling inside her.

    All that remained with Bonnie was nothingness.

    It was just a minute, the world completely dark around her, settling in the ocean with a sadness…and then it exploded with color. Green sparks burst out from the ocean floor, like it came from a vein that was spraying the world's lifeblood itself. The sparks touched to Bonnie's skin, sending a shock of life through her tiny form. She gasped loudly, feeling power and strength flowing back into her near broken body.

    Visions were whirling inside her head, and despite the water, her body moved without restraint. It curled in on itself, eyes widening as the images popped throughout her brain. It was like nine years ago, but without all the pain or the torturous reason for doing so. Bonnie began to shake rapidly as all of the visions entered her head, but she couldn't yet discern what they were.

    Bonnie! Bonnie! Speak to me! Speak to your Squishy! her partner cried out, reaching forward to cradle her, but clearly finding himself unable to drag Bonnie out of that spot. It was like an anchor to that one location, and Bonnie turned her eyes up to Squishy, transformed into his large Complete Zygarde forme.

    "Hah…hah…" Bonnie was gasping, and her eyes went completely wide, feeling colors spreading through their irises. She could see so clearly now, but it was hurting her brain. She could see the veins so deep down on the ocean floor, painted in multiple colors, writhing with energy…sick. She couldn't figure out how or why it happened, all this in her brain, but her hand reached up, touching to Squishy's large face. "Are you…why…?"

    Squishy didn't answer, and it confirmed to the lemon blonde that her connection with the transforming Legendary Pokémon was the exact reason she could see all this. She just didn't know why it was happening now, until her eyes focused and saw the veins stretching through the ocean floor. Now that she could fully see them, she could tell there were two veins that looked fine. Most importantly, it was like they were feeding into the same place, as though compensating for something…or drawing towards something for energy. All she didn't know was what all of this was trying to tell her.

    "AAAAAH!" Bonnie screamed, her breath fully entering into her as her exhale bubbled up. Her eyes flashed wide open as the images now slammed into her completely, each tinged in a separate tone of color. She couldn't stop from hyperventilating, but already, she could finally make out each of the different images.

    A world where fire, ice and lightning destroyed all that was held dear.

    A world where two ancient legends dueled off the coast of an island, drowning and burning the world all at once.

    A world where all emotion was destroyed, disintegrated by a space and time anomaly.

    One by one, Bonnie could see events play out like a spool of thread, linking together. There were stars, appearing to her as little orbs, that were blasted apart one at a time, while other worlds yet remained, hanging on and connected by but a single thread. She followed that thread in her vision, noticing it was all attached to a singular object. Through the water, that object seemed to travel, and Bonnie felt like she was being pulled backwards.

    Through time, she felt the water rush by her, rippling across its ever-changing surface. The spool of thread continued to bind itself, drawing back to the moment that things, perhaps, began to go ever so wrong. A pulsing golden light shined out, showing a Pokémon that was familiar to Bonnie; one she'd only seen once, so very long ago: Arceus. It looked weak, powerless, and yet tied inexplicably with humanity.

    A meteor struck, but not just one location. It rained countless meteors, including a large one that split in two, binding itself to the earth. There was devastation in its wake. Trees and plants withered. People and Pokémon alike died, and though Arceus attempted to save the land with its powers, it was weakened. So other Pokémon took action around the world. Bonnie watched as green flames revitalized the land, a song calmed the seas, and a rainbow flame restored that which was lost, igniting a spark. All of them were tied in its place, connected to that string.

    The thread unraveled, just as the meteors that had desecrated the land did, flying out to meet with those other golden orbs that were the stars. Bonnie could feel her breath shortening, her vision holding her in complete and utter rapture. It was like a single event that the resurrection of her body had tied herself to.

    Then the strings began to snap. One by one, and the veins pulsed, only to quiet down. Bonnie wasn't sure what to understand from the sight of it all anymore. She felt she was losing her mind, gripping her head and just wishing again and again to make it all go away. There was so much pain, death and rancor going through her head, and the familiar space of nothingness to consume the void that was left behind.

    Bubbling up beneath her vision, Bonnie saw those veins beneath the sea, each pulsing with light, sickening from the wickedness poured upon them. They were flowing somewhere, like a source, or perhaps from a source. She couldn't be sure, but she could feel them writhing…shifting. The world itself was changing, as though correcting an imbalance that had been created by the disasters so long ago, before any single one of them could exist. She felt herself being pulled in, towards the sight of a ragged world, a horrific vision before her very eyes. Cracks were appearing in the veins, the world crumbling away, and with it were the other destroyed spaces, coming together as one, blending in their pain and sadness, threatening to break…

    "STOP IT!" Bonnie shouted, and her eyes were suddenly freed, her breath returning, only to ghost up in bubbles. Clearly, Squishy no longer took his chances, gripping to her and blasting upwards with all the speed he could muster, firing for the surface. Bonnie held to her breath for just a moment until the two broke the surface and were flying into the sky. The lemon blonde hacked and coughed loudly, water spluttering out of her mouth from her time underneath. Once she stopped heaving, and her voice returned, she gasped out, "Squishy…what…what was that…?"

    Squishy was silent, hovering in the air, eyes glowing as he silently floated forward, to the small island that was in the distance. Bonnie turned in his arms.

    "Squishy. What did I just see? ! Tell me now!" she demanded, and Squishy stopped his progression. He looked to consider just what he wanted to tell her before lowering his head.

    The world…is moving towards its end, the Order Pokémon responded. Bonnie felt her heart rate increase, and her breaths draw themselves shorter. The veins…I can only imagine that they are sickening, for whatever reason. Perhaps your tie with me allowed you to connect with the world's power and witness this breaking, but I cannot be sure…

    "Did you know this? Did you know this the whole time?" Bonnie asked. She was growing a little angry, hoping that her longtime partner wasn't hiding such crucial information from her. Zygarde lowered its head and then shook it slowly.

    No. Only after Nova Town, when the first vein truly began to sicken, did I feel it within me, and even then…I could barely sense it at all, like my ties with it had been cut, Squishy answered. Bonnie calmed down a bit, but continued to remain at attention, continuing to listen. The world is sickening, Bonnie. These events are making it compensate, drawing power from that which is not natural to the world. Originally, all its power was drawn from the Tree of Beginning, that which acted in Arceus' stead, but now…

    "So, what will happen? Where is the power shifting to? From what?" Bonnie yelled out, a slight bit of panic inside, but Squishy seemed unable to answer.

    I cannot say. My power and tie with the world is diminished; I can only imagine that Bluey is the same, wherever it may be. Only Arceus could say at this point, but its power is weak, was Squishy's newest response. Bonnie swallowed at that, only for Squishy to finish up. However, all of that is irrelevant. No matter the way the world is moving, or what it is moving towards, this final moment is for the humans and Pokémon to decide. For that, we shall work together. No matter what.

    "R-right!" Bonnie agreed. It wasn't much of an answer, but she trusted that Squishy truly couldn't say anymore. After all, he had never had the power of precognition, but knowing that the world was beginning to crumble, and wanting to do what he could, was enough for Bonnie. For now…all they could do was… "Well, if something's happening, we need to tell everyone."

    Yes, though I cannot hold this for long…Squishy informed her. Bonnie nodded and Squishy blasted towards the island, which seemed to be smoking, the closer that they moved to it. She continued to grip to him, even as his body descended while glowing a bright green. Just as they approached the edge of it, his form dissipated, leaving him as the singular blob that Bonnie grabbed to before hitting the sand and rolling across it, caking her legs in the material. She sprang to her feet.

    "Max! Brock!" Bonnie yelled, their names tearing from her lips in a gasp as she ran forward. Feeling was returning to her limbs and throat as she tripped a bit, but continued onward as she felt her body rejuvenate itself. There really was smoke from the area, downed machines and Pokémon around the small islet. Gallade was collapsed against a palm tree with Max, looking exhausted, while Blissey, wobbly on her feet, seemed to be treating Croagunk. Brock was on the ground, heaving atop the sands with burn marks on his arms and legs. "What happened? ! Are you two okay? !"

    "Dedene!" chirped a very familiar voice, which jumped up towards her. Dedenne instantly landed on her chest, snuggling in with relief and exhaustion. She smiled at him, but soon turned her attention to her companions, running up to Brock and looking him over. He turned his head and smiled, holding out a thumbs up.

    "We're all right…just tired…and a little bruised," Brock gasped out, clearly looking like he was about to pass out. "They gave us a tough fight, I'll admit, those drones…especially the cloaked ones. Must've been how they followed us without us noticing, ha ha…But I'm just glad to see you're okay."

    "That doesn't matter if you all are hurt," Bonnie exclaimed, looking around to all of them. Max didn't seem to be moving much, his foot bandaged up from something that had clearly happened earlier.

    "We're okay, though," Brock reassured her, placing his hand on top of her head kindly. "They must have wanted to stop us from reaching the League. I feel like they did it to specifically take us out, for whatever reason, but we beat them back. How about you?"

    Bonnie exhaled, falling back and feeling her butt hit the beach while she stared at the doctor. She sighed in relief, even realizing that their surroundings were desolate, with no sign of escape given the downed chopper at the edge of the island. "I'm fine, but…the world isn't. I saw things there, and Squishy told me that…well, something's happening to make things sick. I…"

    "Bonnie? What's going on?" Max asked after a brief moment of silence. The lemon blonde looked up to her rival, then down to the exhausted Squishy, and then back to her companions once more.

    "I think the real Team Rocket is way more dangerous than we thought," Bonnie admitted, her hands coming to twist themselves together. "I think they aren't after conquest or glory…and whatever they're doing to reach it is making things a lot worse than any of us could have imagined."

    There was humming in Serena's ears, and she sat up. It had changed. For a couple hours now, the thrumming sound had been the same, continued on as the same. Now, however, it was changing. It sounded lower, like it was descending. The honey blonde looked down to Sylveon, sleeping calmly in her lap, and returned her before anything more could be done. Then she looked to Dawn, the bluenette taking a small nap. Deciding to let her do so until things were confirmed, Serena turned away and stood, crossing over to the window of the small room they had sequestered themselves in.

    On the whole, the Team Rocket airship turned out to be quite the luxurious one. Serena had to wonder if, perhaps, it had originally been meant to move armies of agents in droves, but she was hoping to never have to figure out the answer to that. It had been more than tense enough sneaking onto the ship itself. Between the possibility of being detected or there being even more grunts aboard to contend with, she had almost been completely sure that they wouldn't have even managed to make it to Team Rocket's base, wherever that was.

    So, upon their seemingly successful infiltration of the flying craft, both Serena and Dawn had made to figure out a place to hide. In the empty ship, that turned out to be surprisingly easier said than done in the grand scheme of things. Every room had seemed to have some sort of war fortress purpose…and it looked like it had been used recently.

    "Do you think…they're planning some kind of war?" Dawn had asked worriedly.

    "Luplup…" Piplup called dolefully, peeking around a corner to make sure they wouldn't be caught by some straggler that was in the halls. Serena had no answer to that, but she was absolutely certain that whatever the case was, none of it could be a good thing.

    More disturbing than ever, in any case, was the fact that Zager had distinctly mentioned Ash, and though he had been missing since whatever had happened in Nova Town, Serena still held on to that hope that he was alive and out there. She just hoped that Zager's words weren't quite bluster in this situation, and that he really did have a clue as to her husband's whereabouts. It was when Serena had voiced this that Dawn brought up a rather sagely point in the grand scheme of things.

    "Maybe he was lying, or doesn't know what he's talking about, but we can get info on Team Rocket, right?" she told to her, adding a wink at the end. Somehow, Serena had thought she was covering up her own fear in descending to the belly of the beast.

    "I know, but I guess, I'm just worried about the point that if they are looking for Ash, what happens when they find him? Why are they looking for him in the first place?" Serena asked. Dawn had no answers for her, and nor did she have any answers for her upon stumbling to a room that looked like a mobile science lab.

    "What in the-?" At Dawn's exclamation in that moment, Serena slapped a hand over her friend's mouth once more and then pulled her back. Zager appeared to be inside the lab, though thankfully hadn't seen or heard them at that juncture. He seemed to be busy consolidating data (if Serena's memories of Clemont's science talk was anything to go by), but it certainly said that whether or not he was searching for Ash, that was far from his only objective.

    It was at this exact moment that the two women decided to hide, officially, throwing themselves into a very large closet with a multitude of combat Team Rocket outfits, right off of what seemed to be a kitchen area. There was even a window there, staring out of the aircraft itself. Figuring they would be safe there until they got to where they needed to go, both of them chose to rest, with Dawn dropping off to sleep. Serena's mind, however, was too busy whirling with thoughts to allow herself to sleep, and she had to once more suppress the feeling of nausea inside her.

    It was the exact reason she was up and at attention with the slightest shift of the airship's engine, surprised to hear the difference in it at all as she came to stand. Her feet shuffled over to the window, staring out, wondering just where they were. Gathering that observation took some time, due to the cloud cover that still concealed their descent, but that cleared up in next to no time, allowing Serena the clearest vision of their location.

    "Dawn!" she hissed loudly, and the bluenette jerked. Her companion jerked, rubbing at her eyes while Piplup woke alongside her. They looked over at Serena, blearily, until the honey blonde waved them over. That seemed to command their attention, as both trainer and Pokémon stood, finally waking themselves up to join Serena at the window. Just like herself, they both raised their eyebrows in surprise. "A sight, isn't it?"

    "And who knew…This is Kanto," Dawn pointed out, glancing further out the window. Serena nodded; being married to someone from Kanto meant she could easily tell when they were in the region, and the style of houses that signified Viridian City some distance away indicated that. More impressive, however, was truly the area they were really approaching.

    It was a giant base, with a large, red R on it, though to anyone around the area, it was probably too treacherous for them to even reach this point at all. Canyon walls, rugged and rough with brown and shimmering black rocks, surrounded the building, making it boxed in and perfectly hidden within plain sight. There were various loading bays and walkways that extended out from the complex, but regardless, the Team Rocket base was truly the epitome of secret in the location they had chosen…at least until now.

    The whining of the engine changed once more as it seemed to finally reach a landing pad for the airship to go. Serena tried to get a better angle to see down there, catching a mere glimpse. The canyon floor looked far less busy than what was going on up above. That area looked mostly like a place set aside for construction, with thin, narrow pathways that looked deadly, stretching into the canyon beyond the base, even if one could stand on the tops of the canyon itself. There was a light glow down there, and Serena wondered if they were building something big for their plan, but chased the thought away as the airship finally groaned one more time, touching down to the landing pad with another loud hiss.

    "Well, heh heh…looks like we're here," Dawn chuckled out, though she looked white as a sheet. Serena could admit to trembling as well. They had both been through so much, but the thought of an infiltration for information that they didn't even know existed was topping the list for scary things. There was a sound outside the closet and both Serena and Dawn drew back, hoping to let themselves be hidden by the hanging clothes. Their breaths were held as they pushed back, hoping against hope, especially when the door to the closet slid open.

    "Alastair, I'm sure Giovanni is waiting for his report," Zager stated, though his voice sounded from some far distance away. It told Serena exactly who was near them, and she wondered if the man knew they had snuck aboard from just how quick he had gotten here upon landing. "I'll need to see to this data before we move to the final phase of the plan."

    "Of course. I was merely checking on the uniforms for the team to board soon," Alastair's voice called out. There was a brief grunt of acknowledgement from Zager, and a slight shifting of the clothes. Footsteps were heard, slow and deliberate at first, before pausing, and then taking off with greater speed away from the closet as it closed of its own accord. "I have my own duties to complete, after all. Do you know if…?"

    His voice and its owner faded in the distance. The women let their breaths out loudly, hardly believing they had managed to make it past that without being caught by such a perceptive man. Dawn was clutching at her chest. Serena, meanwhile, took a moment to steady herself, and then strode back to the window. Outside of it, she could see Alastair striding into the base from where they were, some operatives of Team Rocket snapping themselves into a salute, dressed in uniform.

    "Well, Dawn, time for a do or die situation, I guess…"

    "I'm just hoping it's more 'do' than 'die', thank you very much," the bluenette admitted, now coming to stand. Serena nodded, taking her hat off and running a hand through her hair. It was a dangerous situation either way, but they had come this far. Whether Alastair knew they had hitched a ride or not was irrelevant.

    It was time to find out more. Serena sighed out. "Let's go."


    Author's Note: This was a lore heavy chapter, huh? A shorter one to be sure, which, when you're not dealing with a big journey or battle, it inevitably becomes shorter in nature. But in any case, there was a lot of content this time around, from the meeting with Olympia to the stuff on the deserted island and Bonnie's insane visions. The world is crumbling and the final tipping point for the world is near. If that doesn't spell "end of series" I don't know what does. Of course, there's more clues to it than that, but I'm leaving those covered up for now. Instead, we've reached the point of arrival at Team Rocket's base. What madness will happen here?

    The infiltration has begun, so I hope you'll all stick around for it. In the meantime, please do Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     
  19. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Last chapter sparked some really great theories from you all. Should be interesting to see what the rest of the story provides. Chapter 10 time!

    Chapter 10

    An Infiltration​

    "Maybe we should think this through," Dawn said as Serena opened the door to the closet's exit. The honey blonde poked her head out, looking around to make sure that they were, indeed, alone. That seemed to be the case, with the kitchen area seeming completely quiet and empty. That done, she turned back to her friend, who was clasping Piplup in her arms. "I mean, we can't just walk right in as we are. That'd be weird."

    "Lup," Piplup agreed. Serena had to, as well. Judging from the guards that were right outside the landing platform, guarding the airship with hawk-like security, there was no way they'd be able to even leave the airship without being caught in seconds. That would preclude any sort of progress they were looking to make. Serena put a finger to her chin, and then remembered exactly where they were, shifting her eyes over to Dawn, a smirk on her lips. The bluenette shared in that smirk.

    "Well, we can always dress up," she said. A small giggle escaped Dawn's lips, and they both moved down the rack of clothing, looking for what seemed to be female uniforms. Serena pulled one off the hanger, looking it over for just a second. She was glad to see it was nothing like Jessie's uniform from years past, with no midriff; it just meant less complications in hiding her own clothing. Although, the reminiscence did make her wonder whether she'd run into her magenta-haired rival inside the base at all.

    Taking the clothes off the hanger, Serena began to pull the skirt up, bunching her skirt and blouse to make sure it would all fit properly before sliding the shirt on and placing her hands inside the gloves that came with it. Dawn had done much the same, with Piplup diving inside of the shirt in order to be hidden. It looked odd on the young woman, who laughed nervously. Dressed in the clothing, both of them swiped hats from the top of the rack and placed it upon their heads, making sure to stow their rather identifying hair beneath the caps.

    "Gotta say, we look pretty good for Team Rocket agents," Dawn admitted, winking at Serena. She laughed in response, finding the whole thing rather funny in a dark way. "Let's hope it works for them. Probably should, compared to…"

    Dawn's trailed off response told Serena just what she was about to talk about, and the little smile on her face dropped off, though it wasn't like she was mad. Instead, she decided to take it all in good humor. "We should be fine. Ash would just run in, Pikachu and all the others right with him. Instead, we're going to be sneaky and see how much information we can gather."

    "No need to worry, I guess," Dawn breathed out, patting at where Piplup was and then nodding to Serena. They were finally ready to infiltrate the base.

    Feeling certain of this, the two women turned and finally left the closet, striding as confidently as they figured any member of Team Rocket would on their own ship. It was still utterly nerve-wracking to Serena, trying to hold the self-assured gait of any member of Team Rocket. Dawn looked just as nervous, walking stiffly next to her as they proceeded for the exit of the airship. It came sooner than expected, but both held their heads high and walked down the ramp to the landing platform. As soon as they touched down to it, they felt the cold air of the canyon wash over them, its rocky precipices looking harsh and uninviting.

    "You guys are late! What took so long for you grunts to get off the ship?" barked a harsh voice. Serena and Dawn both snapped to attention, staring right across at the two Team Rocket members that were guarding the entrance to the base on the platform. One was glaring angrily at them while the other addressed them. "Weren't there three of you on Doctor Zager's protective detail?"

    "Um, complications," Dawn said, her voice warbling at the end. Serena blinked, unsure of what she wanted to say, exactly. "The doctor was interfered with at the site. Our other member was knocked out."

    "Tch, grunts that just can't hack it," the operative in front of them said. "Not that I'm to talk, on guard duty. But go get yourselves cleaned up. You look horrible in those outfits."

    "Y-yes. For the g-glory of Team Rocket," Serena responded, throwing a salute up. She wasn't sure if it was exactly the right thing to say, but the grunt waved it away, allowing the two to proceed inside the opening door relatively unnoticed. It was a tense moment as the silent grunt glared at them, but once the door had snapped shut, they let out an exhalation of great relief. "Oh, goodness, this is more tense than I thought…"

    "He called us ugly," Dawn said with a scowl on her face. Piplup popped out for a moment, touching his flipper to his trainer's face. "Team Rocket really is stupid."

    "Let's just hope they're stupid enough to not recognize us, yeah?" Serena said comfortingly, patting her friend on the back. Dawn nodded, still not looking happy about the slight against the two of them, but agreed on moving forward. Straightening their uniforms (with Piplup popping back into it), the two of them walked down the hallway that led to the base proper.

    It was certainly an experience right from the beginning.

    The base, in and of itself, seemed almost exactly like what Serena would have expected from a criminal syndicate in hiding. Metal walls with the sleekest of sleek technology for everything around them. The floors were polished to a sheen, making them nearly slick to walk on, yet loud as well, with squeaks from every footstep bounding off the walls in an echo. It looked a little twisty, as well, with numerous doors and shoot offs from the area into other hallways. Though none of that surprised Serena; instead, she was merely surprised by the level of activity.

    Walking down that first, main hallway, head swiveling back and forth as she and Dawn looked for a map to help them get their bearings, Serena could see all manner of interactions. While her assault on Po Town with Ash and the others eight years ago had shown the group in Team Skull to be full of freewheeling buffoons, Team Rocket was nothing like that. Yes, there were operatives gathered in the rooms to the side, some of which were relaxing, but all of them seemed to be on high alert. Some were gathering Pokémon, others weapons, while yet others were leaning over a table, as if going over a battle plan.

    That wasn't even getting into the fact that every room seemed to have something going on, and as they turned down a hallway, they found it was busy up and down the entire corridor. Serena could hear Dawn make a sharp inhale next to her ear, as they both realized the same thing: they were in way over their head. Serena's fists clenched, the gloves of the Team Rocket outfit making a somewhat audible noise. No giving up. Have to find some answers.

    "Come on," Serena whispered, drawing her back up in confidence, and plunging into the crowd. There was no immediate context to where any one of the operatives were heading, but from the moderate pace the women walked at, they both began to get an understanding of where everyone was heading. Snippets of conversation, in particular, aided in that endeavor immensely.

    "…mess hall for filling up beforehand…"

    "Make sure you get that stuff to the transport. We'll need it."

    "Medic bay on the third floor! Clean your vomit up, man! Doctor Louise is busy enough as it is! You shouldn't burden a Pillar so much!" Serena had stopped at that one. She'd heard that term before, from Zager and Alastair. Not that she knew what a Pillar was, but if it was involved in even the slightest way with whatever the Rockets had planned for the world or Ash, she knew it was a place to start looking.

    "Third floor, huh?" Serena muttered out of her mouth towards Dawn. The bluenette's eyebrow arched as a light smile settled on to her face. "What floor are we on now?"

    "Uh…good question?" Dawn chuckled out nervously, clearly holding herself back from looking around. All it meant was that they were stuck once again, just with an actual direction instead of wandering aimlessly. Feeling they should at least keep moving, Serena started walking again, aiming for the end of the hallway. The amount of operatives thinned as they approached the end of it, where the corridor split in two. Stopping at the end, she looked down both sides, realizing that one led to a stairwell. Instantly, they both took that route, arriving at the door with number painted on it. "Second floor. Pretty high up for a second floor."

    "Maybe they have a basement level or something," Serena said as she pushed the door open. The stairwell had less people, like they were all using an elevator to move whatever they needed to. Whatever it was, she was certain they were all very busy, armed to the teeth with whatever was going on here in Team Rocket. The two women stepped on the stairs to climb upwards, when a door down below seemed to fly open with any provocation. They stopped, and looked over the edge of the stairs to see a woman stride out. Serena almost gasped, grabbing Dawn and pulling her against the wall as the woman walked up the stairs lightly and swiftly.

    "Sere-" Serena elbowed Dawn swiftly to shut her up. She tried to get control over her brain as the woman strode up the stairs.

    She was the same exact one. The one that had attacked them at Nova Town near the nameless grave. Now that she was no longer challenging them, merely passing by like a swift-moving emissary of darkness, Serena could take in her features, hoping against hope that the woman wouldn't notice her there. The honey blonde's eyes looked directly at the woman's empty expression, focused on naught but where she was going with the shadows of the stairwell distorted by her swift movement until she reached the third floor. Serena looked back down to Dawn as that unseen doorway opened above them.

    "Let's follow her," Serena instructed. Dawn, looking completely nonplussed, shrugged and accepted the suggestion. Looking to make sure no one was around to follow them, Serena stepped forward. She craned her neck up the stairs to see the last of the woman's auburn hair disappear through the closing door, and then led Dawn up the stairs.

    "Is there a reason we're following this specific person?" Dawn whispered out harshly, though in the silence of the stairwell, there was really no need to. Serena answered as they remained in motion.

    "That woman…she was in Nova Town, said something about Ash." Dawn nodded to this, accepting the answer as they pushed the door back open to the third floor. Entering into the hallway, Serena saw the flash of hair that indicated their quarry, far too obvious in the much less populated hallway. Silently, they gave chase, turning down one hallway and then another, but keeping their distance to ensure she didn't notice them. After some time, said woman turned into a door on the side, leading to what looked like a rather large room.

    "Think that's the medical bay?" Dawn asked, her tone indicating she knew full well that Serena didn't have an answer. She just proceeded straight towards it.

    "Hey! Grunts!" Serena stopped, feeling Dawn tighten up next to her, as though recognizing the voices. They turned, snapping themselves into a salute so as to not appear suspicious. Upon doing so, Serena was instantly able to see two operatives that were approaching them, a Raticate in between them and both wearing condescending expressions. One had voluminous blonde hair, while the other, a man, had green hair. It was the woman that was speaking. "What are you doing, lazing about the medical hallway?"

    "Er…um…We were just getting ourselves checked out before the next operation," Dawn said, though it wasn't quite as convincing as Serena would have liked. Either way, the two operatives sneered at them, hardly recognizing the fumble. It reminded Serena a lot of Jessie, in a way, just with more condescension and villainy.

    "Grunts don't need medical work," the green-haired man said. "You're just to do as you're told."

    "Quiet, Burger," the woman snapped, leering at both Dawn and Serena. The man gave an indignant huff, telling her that his name was "Butch" or something like that. However, neither Serena nor Dawn dared to change their stance in fear of being discovered. "I don't like you two. You're far too pretty for grunts. Are you going to be part of the next operation?"

    "Yes," Serena answered, though she wasn't quite sure what would follow. The woman scowled further.

    "I don't like that kind of answer. I doubt two grunts like you would be put on such a sensitive operation," she snapped angrily. Dawn tensed further, but neither flinched at the anger from it. "That kind of talk reminds me of that idiot, Jessie, always thinking the boss would actually put her and those other idiots on an actual assignment."

    "Cassidy, you know the boss would always send them to take down big organizations in recent years," the man named Butch said.

    "Shut it, Boff," Cassidy screeched at him. She seemed to walk over to another nearby door, wrenching it open and dragging out what looked like a whole custodian cart. "Here, you get to clean the hallways. Then you can go on the operation. I doubt Giovanni will have any use for simple grunts like yourselves. Hmph."

    "Cassidy," Butch sighed out under his breath as Raticate clicked its jaws. "You know if any of the Pillars find out we're taking-"

    "Who cares? ! Now, clean this hallway. I expect it to be spotless when we return from the operation!" Cassidy yelled one more time, before turning on her heels and storming down the hallway. Butch followed after her, looking alarmed by her behavior, but he took the chance to throw a glare back at the pair of them, reinforcing the order. Serena just grabbed the mop and smiled, going to place it on the ground until they had rounded the hallway corner, and were gone.

    "Those two are unbelievable…" Dawn sighed out with annoyance. Serena looked at her friend, wondering if it would garner more explanation. "Pretty sure they were like rivals to Jessie and James, but none of us cared enough to find out. I'm surprised you never met them."

    "Probably because Jessie and James were already far above them or something," Serena said. Dawn shrugged, clearly not having the answer. She did grab a mop, though, and began to clean the floor. It looked more like she just had something on her mind. Serena watched her, hand on her own mop while she waited for the bluenette to respond further. Piplup popped his head out of the uniform, breathing for air.

    "Weird, though, huh? Another 'operation'? And besides, has anyone even seen that trio?" Dawn asked. No one else was in the hallway, thankfully, so Serena leaned further on her mop, contemplating the issue.

    "Not since the wedding," she pointed out. Dawn's eyes lit up, as though she'd made the greatest point in the world, though Serena didn't quite know what that is. Nor did she share, leaving Serena to work through her brain to figure it all out on her own. Had the rather interesting trio been working for Team Rocket that whole time since? Or were they on some other detail? Serena was never sure with them, and Lionel, bless his soul, had always been rather coy when it came to details about them. It was possible they were doing something for ARC undercover, or they had reverted to their criminal ways and been doing a top-secret mission for Team Rocket.

    It made Serena wonder all the more what they might have known about this whole situation, if anything at all. Suddenly, Dawn stopped her mopping, staring at the device with a slight sense of revulsion. Once she'd stopped, she lifted it up and plunged it back in the pail.

    "Why are we doing cleaning work for Team Rocket? !" she shouted out. Serena looked around in alarm, but found that no one was there, so she followed suit in her friend's actions and pushed the cart back to the door that Cassidy had gotten it from. Once that was secure, leaving no real evidence of their presence in the hallway (unless one counted the mop marks), the duo proceeded further along to the door they had seen the woman entering earlier, pulling to a stop outside. Dawn leaned in first, staring through the glass pane in the door. "Yep, definitely there…looks like she's talking."

    "To who?" Serena asked, before realizing she should just take a look herself. She peeked her head around, staring into what seemed to be a medic bay, as suggested from the grunt talk. Sure enough, the woman was there, sitting on an examination table, while the doctor sat in a different chair, speaking to her while tucking some mint green hair behind her ears. Serena pressed her ear against the window, hoping she wouldn't be seen, but wanting to hear more.

    "…more careful, Deirdre," the doctor was speaking. "This kind of recklessness can cost it all, you know that."

    "I'm well aware, Louise," was Deirdre's reply. Serena frowned, looking to Dawn, who shrugged. She knew even less about the auburn-haired woman than Serena did. "My limit's only gotten better in recent years, as has your own technological advancements in the field. Besides, it won't be long, anyway."

    "I'm just concerned," Louise commented, tapping her glasses down and staring at the floor. There was silence, and Serena wondered if the whole conversation was finished until the doctor stood, hitting a light in the room. Deirdre moved at the light's movement, coming to stand. "Just keep yourself in mind. Your trip to Nova Town was foolish."

    "I know. Alastair already saw fit to chastise me, I promise. I'll try to keep things calm until it's time to move on the next mission," Deirdre finally said to the doctor. Louise nodded, a small smile gracing her face. Deirdre then made to move right towards the door for the exit. Dawn all too quickly pulled Serena away from the door and made to act like they were walking away, heads down as the door hissed open. "I'll need to see Doctor Zager about the meteonite. He's arrived, yes?"

    "I believe Alastair told me he had just met with Giovanni and his secretary," Louise answered. Keeping her head down, Serena turned her ear towards the medical room. The doctor sounded so kindly, almost like a young grandmother, but it said barely anything to Serena about what she was really like. There was a hidden side that Serena just knew had to be concealed behind quite a few of these "Pillars". Like a veneer that covered up everything about their true personalities, be it in battle or not. Then there was the tone, and the way that woman's name was spoken: like a deep sadness that seeped into the bones. "Just…take care Deirdre. A little longer, I promise. We'll get there soon."

    "Hah," Deirdre laughed out. "I'm made of sterner stuff than that. Just get ready for the next mission. Seems it might be happening sooner than we think, Louise."

    "Should I call Tolbert?" Louise's voice had changed, sounding interested and amused, rather than concerned. Deirdre stopped at the edge of the room and looked back to her comrade, waving her hand with a smile.

    "No need. I believe Alastair said he'd speak to him when he returned," was the woman's definitive response. "Be well, Louise." That was definitely the end of the conversation, because Deirdre now officially left the room, and Serena held her breath. However, the woman never once came in their direction, her feet gliding silently down the length of the hallway in the opposite direction.

    "What now, do you think?" Dawn whispered to the Performer. It sounded louder than expected in the empty hall, and Serena couldn't answer right away, watching after the woman. She seemed so perfect and elegant in her strides that it was hard to believe she had need to ever visit the doctor. The only thing she could have guessed at was that her work for Team Rocket had led to her sustaining past wounds that were acting up. Not that watching her there had provided any real answers or insights into Team Rocket's intentions. "Serena?"

    "We'll keep following her," Serena said sharply. Dawn said nothing, but clearly agreed with the course of action as they turned to face the retreating woman. "Maybe this meteonite might be the key to whatever Team Rocket is planning."

    "Good call. Let's do this," Dawn said. The two clasped hands and then proceeded as quickly as they could down the hallway without making too much noise. At least Butch and Cassidy hadn't returned to complicate matters for all of them, in any case.

    This time, Serena kept her distance from the woman a little more on purpose, being very careful to not get caught. Considering that the Pillar wasn't heading back for the stairwell, the honey blonde had to wonder just where Deirdre was heading this time. Mostly, she had to wonder if it had anything to do with Ash, and if not that, then perhaps it would shed light on the vague plans that Team Rocket was enacting, or at least some clues on that part. At the same time, all of Serena's thoughts were turned towards Deirdre.

    The woman's self-assuredness was almost alluring, in a strange way; like a charismatic figure that others gravitated towards, and though she spoke little, her actions spoke volumes. She was strong and capable, yet she had her follies. She didn't like making others concerned, but she seemed to be reckless. It was like a bizarre contradiction. Upon closer and more peaceful observation, it was just like her hair, akin to a dying flame with spitting embers: auburn yet flecked with gray. Perhaps that was what made Serena the most wary of her, even as she turned a corner, her gray eyes flashing in their direction but paying little attention. Then, she was gone and Serena picked up her pace a little.

    It wasn't enough, because by the time she had managed to round the corner, herself, Deirdre had already stepped on an elevator and was riding it up. That made the honey blonde grimace as she approached the device, noting the floor number on it as being the top floor itself. Dawn finally caught up with her and saw the number for herself, having remembered to shove Piplup back down. Serena breathed in, trying to think about how to get around this, and whether there was a way upwards.

    "Please don't tell me we're stuck after coming this far," Dawn groaned out, though her head swiveling around said that she wasn't giving up either. Serena tapped her foot, glancing around the corridor they were in until she saw the end of the hallway, where a larger door was, someone wheeling a large cart, full of some kind of material that was covered up, in through the door.

    "Service elevator," Serena pointed out, holding her finger aloft to the end of the hallway. Dawn quirked her eyebrows again, seeming to find the idea rather interesting. Of course, the only reason Serena had guessed at it being a possible idea was because of the Aether Foundation's design. "Even the top floor needs to move stuff down."

    "Makes sense to me," Dawn mumbled out, pulling her cap down a little more as some other members of Team Rocket were now entering into the hallway. Once they had passed through it, the young women looked to each other. There was nothing else for it. The two broke into a light run, feet continuing to squeak along the ground. "This uniform is really hot."

    "It's itchy, too," Serena laughed out, trying to give themselves some levity to the situation in hopes they wouldn't be caught. "How did they stand it all those years?"

    "Those three always were unique…probably had custom made outfits, too," Dawn admitted. It was the best Serena could figure as they reached the end of the hallway and the site of the service elevator. The operative from before had dropped his cart in there, and Serena could see him going down the hallway to get another. They took their chance, sliding into the space and closing the door. Once they had, Dawn lunged for what looked like a sleek control panel. She took a moment to look it over, and then pressed a silvery arrow. "Up we go?"

    "If you say so," Serena admitted with a shrug. The elevator shuddered, the cart on the rack shaking quite a bit as it did so. This certainly wasn't a smooth ride in any way, but neither woman was one to complain. Both women reached up to remove their hats for a second, allowing the coolness to flow back on to their heads for just a second while they kept an eye on the number that was going up, nearly reaching to that top floor. Once it was close, they put their hats back and waited. The service elevator dinged, and the doors slid open…to the sight of a man in a black suit, with brown hair and a menacing aura of authority.*Chapter to be continued in the next post...
     
  20. Epicocity

    Epicocity Well-Known Member

    Chapter continued from last post.
    "Ah, is this the apparatus Doctor Zager mentioned, then?" the man asked upon seeing them. Serena gulped, looking down at the man's feet, a Persian traveling back and forth between his legs, purring as he went. Her gaze now slowly traveled upwards to the man's sharp, soulless, black eyes. He was staring at them with an air of impatience.

    "Y-yes, sir," Dawn responded first, snapping a salute to him. Serena likewise followed within a matter of seconds. A door opened only a short distance away, and the man turned his head. That gave Serena the very brief chance to look at the space of the top floor, smaller than the rest of the base. It seemed to only contain three very distinct rooms: a large office, some sleeping quarters, and the bigger room that was likely the lab Deirdre had been heading to.

    "Excellent. Then Doctor Zager is ready to move us forward with the next phase of the operation. Matori, I'd assume everything in order from your surveying. It appeared to take a little more time than expected for your return from the mission sites. Nothing's amiss, is it?" Serena made sure to not appear startled or shocked, though she quickly figured out just who the man in front of her was: Giovanni, the leader of Team Rocket. She could certainly see why he was the leader. His very palpable aura of leadership and ruthlessness was almost leaving her rooted to the spot, not wanting to make a move. He was also being approached by a woman, having come straight from what Serena guessed was his office.

    "No, everything is fine, as scheduled, sir. At least, as much as it can be," his assistant said. Giovanni gave a small smile, looking more like a smirk, and Serena felt chills running down her spine. The woman was now fully visible, clutching a clipboard to herself, as she adjusted the glasses on her face. As she did so, her bob cut shook, light reflecting off of her purple hair. "I've taken the liberty to begin instructing the field agents to prepare for the next operation, Master Giovanni. And given my surveying of some of the sites of the previous operations, as requested, it would seem that everything is going as you planned."

    "Except for a single hitch, yes?" Giovanni asked, putting his hands behind his back as he watched his secretary. She let out a small sigh, shifting the clipboard in her arms.

    "Minor, but Deirdre, Louise and Zager all seem to agree that it's something necessary, especially since Zager began to finish his experiments back here," Matori responded. "I've put our very best operatives when it comes to finding Ash Ketchum on the job. Butch and Cassidy were incensed, but I've assigned them to be guards on the next operation. That made them happy enough."

    "I'm sure it did," Giovanni spoke, sounding almost amused by it. He seemed to be ignoring the two women in the elevator at the moment, and it revealed quite a bit of his true colors. Serena's initial impressions were absolutely correct: this was a man who cared little about anything but himself and his own aspirations, twisted though they were. "Those two are easy to please. Make it seem like they're in a higher position than that bumbling trio and we can move them anywhere. Speaking of, have those three reported in on his potential location?"

    "Regrettably not," Matori sighed. She seemed to flick through some papers with a rather annoyed expression, her eyes occasionally flicking back towards the two disguised women, but saying nothing. Finally, she stopped on a sheet. "No, their last report was over a few weeks ago when we first deployed them. If you remember, we gave them full autonomy."

    "Yes, well, we gave Tolbert the full authority to do what he needed in eliminating ARC, on suggestion, and he let the target slip through our fingers…With no sighting since, either…Hmm…perhaps I'll need a stern word with the Four Pillars," Giovanni mused, a wicked smirk on his face. Serena's hands gripped tighter to the cart that they seemed to be escorting in that moment. They really were after Ash, but she couldn't discern whether her husband was truly alive or for what purpose Team Rocket wanted him.

    "I'm afraid that may have to wait, sir," Matori stated calmly. Giovanni looked to her, glaring at the somewhat mousy secretary. She bowed her head in apology, stating nothing about the topic at hand. Instead, she changed tacks to something else entirely. "The operatives are about to be moving to the final location, and once Doctor Zager has finished his research on the meteonite, we can finally utilize it."

    "Hmm…since we were prevented from using it back in Unova, I'd always figured we'd have another chance for a good use out of it," Giovanni stated. His face became sharper as he said this, like it was turning cruel and calculated. Serena just kept watching him, while Dawn shivered a bit. Giovanni was certainly ruthless and uncaring. "I'll have Butch and Cassidy remove it to the main transport. Zager and Louise have both said it's almost time, I believe. After that, they can go their own way."

    "And the troops? Would you want to spare a few words for them, sir?" Matori now turned away, towards the elevator that Deirdre had likely traveled up through before. Said woman was nowhere in sight, but Serena was all too thankful for that when Giovanni began to walk away. Dealing with so many perceptive individuals was a problem.

    "I suppose. An increase in work ethic should help with the final phase of the plan. Then they're just disposable, like Domino. One of my best operatives, but to be caught so off-guard by a child makes her useless to me, in the end. No wonder she didn't get away," Giovanni spat. His hands were no longer behind his back, and he was beginning to walk away. "In the meantime, I want Alastair to secure the meteonite upon delivery to the main transport, and I'll need to speak to Deirdre. She should be able to keep Tolbert in line, and I have no need of an operative who can't keep things in check. Have we heard from Pierce yet?"

    "Not as yet," replied Matori, her fingers hesitantly twitching on her clipboard a moment. "I'll look into it and inform you of his status. Also, I'll let Deirdre know you wish to see her as soon as her business with Zager is complete."

    "Excellent. Now, time for the new world of Team Rocket." Giovanni's final statement was followed by a slow and menacing chuckle. Persian remained sitting there on the floor, staring up at Serena and Dawn for a moment before slinking back off towards Giovanni. Serena craned her neck in time to see Giovanni look back at the two of them. Both Serena and Dawn saluted while the man kept a wary eye on them. Matori was utterly unobserving, waiting for the elevator to arrive. They waited, watching him with his discerning eye, until Giovanni and his companions disappeared into the elevator.

    "Oh, that was close…way too close…" Dawn breathed out. Serena couldn't find the words to agree, acting on an instinct of pushing the cart out of the service elevator. Once they had, and the door had sealed itself shut once again, she tried to find her voice, though Dawn obviously had her beat. "I never thought we'd meet the big boss."

    "Lup lup lup!" Piplup agreed, popping out to take yet another breath. Serena looked back towards the elevator and the office that was clearly Giovanni's. She briefly considered finding a way inside, wondering if there was some special kind of documentation there to help her in her own personal quest. Serena quickly decided against it though; Giovanni had seemed shrewd enough that he'd be onto her in seconds. Any man so willing to toss his operatives aside was not someone that she wanted on her trail.

    "So, they do need Ash for something, but we still don't know what," Serena said, feeling she was able to talk at normal volume in the emptiness of the hallway. Dawn looked to her, watching her for a moment. In a second, she placed a hand on Serena's shoulder with reassurance.

    "Whatever it is, we'll be fine. No need to worry, okay? And maybe it has to do with that meteonite they were talking about," Dawn told her. She nodded, finding it logical. Giovanni had certainly mentioned it being a key crux of the plan for whatever they would be doing at their next destination. That was enough to find it and figure out what it had to do with everything. Recognizing that the cart in her hands was her ticket in, Serena wheeled it around and, with Dawn at her side, pushed it straight for where she supposed the lab was. It didn't take all that long to reach the doors there.

    As soon as they approached, said doors opened wide, revealing a large lab space. Serena glanced one more time around the hallway, making note of its labyrinthine paths, just in case, and then she and Dawn completed the journey inward. Like the brief shot of the lab on the airship, the one up here seemed relatively the same, only equipped all the more with high level technology. From test tubes that appeared to be empty to all manner of monitors and computers that dotted the entire area, it looked like a scientist's dream. Had it not been used for such evil purposes, Serena was certain that Clemont would have loved to be in such a space.

    Although…a lot of these look familiar…Serena noted to herself as she pushed the cart into the room. Some voices were heard from a smaller room, further into the lab, but Serena allowed herself the brief respite of examining the current space that they were actually in. Diagrams littered the walls and smaller things were also strewn about the place. There were prototypes and designs of all the various inventions that Zager supposedly had a hand in. Or that was what it would have looked like if Serena didn't know the truth.

    She stepped away from the cart in order to move over to a diagram on the wall. That one wasn't quite as clear to her, looking something like a crane, but she was almost certain that its design was merely a modified version of the crane that Clemont had used during the crisis in Alola. Raking her eyes along she could see other things. Scale models of what looked like the Aether Turbo, a composition of a fake Z-Ring or Z-Crystals, some different types of mined ore, and various drone designs. Among the sketches was also a representation of something that looked to be a project meant to mimic synchronicity, like with the Bond Phenomenon, if not quite in the same form as that connection, making Serena discount its help in locating her husband, given that it appeared to be for organic and non-organic elements, both, much like the Z-Ring sketch. Scanning along, there was even what seemed to be an unworkable version of Clembot. Although that, to Serena, was something she was grateful for.

    Zager, if he ever claimed to be something else, was merely a hack.

    Dawn was moving her own way, now, looking for a computer in the room that she could access. It brought her out of view when it came to the inner room of the lab, though Serena wasn't quite so lucky. At that moment, Zager looked up, catching sight of the cart and barked to her. "In here! I'm glad you've brought the transportation apparatus. Are you here to escort it?"

    "No, sir," Serena replied as swiftly as she could. She scrambled back to grabbing the cart and pushed it along. Only now that she was giving it to Zager did she finally take in the specific details of the caddying device. It was completely covered up by a white cloth, splashed with the red R, with something rattling underneath that cloth. She had no idea what it could be, or rather, how it looked, just from Zager's words alone. She pushed onward, however, while avoiding any chance of a look at Dawn. She didn't want to give that away. "Butch and Cassidy will arrive to transport the meteonite to Alastair, sir."

    "All right, then," Zager said. He paid attention to her only long enough for the cart to roll into the area and come to a stop. There was a brief moment where Zager looked at it, and then ripped off the white sheet to reveal what was underneath. Serena looked down to see a small box, made with some sort of material, only having a glass covering. Of course, she had to assume it wasn't something so simple. Zager looked away, towards something bright and shining in the room, while Serena turned away to look back. Dawn was still out of sight, and Serena didn't know if she'd found anything or had even gotten into the system. The honey blonde looked back towards the doctor, only to find herself face to face with the woman she had been chasing after all this time.

    "My, you have very pretty eyes," Deirdre said, a small upturn of her lips present, as she stared into Serena's eyes with her dull grays. "A wonderful shade of blue."

    "Th-thank you, sir…?" Serena blurted out before she could help herself. She was caught so off guard by Deirdre's stealthy movements, that she was even forced to take a step back from it all. Her heartbeats ratcheted up as Deirdre pulled back, still smiling gently. Yet Serena kept herself on guard; the smile was completely empty, just as before, with more agenda hidden behind it than, perhaps, even Giovanni. There was a tense moment while Deirdre continued to look at her, and then the woman turned around, back towards the glowing shape that was suspended in midair.

    "The meteonite…" Serena breathed out, though her observation was thankfully not heard by anyone else in that moment. Rather, she took the chance to observe the object that was floating in that space. At first glance, it would have appeared to be nothing more than a small shimmering rock in five different hues, but Serena had had more than her fair share of experiences with simple "rocks", and from the hairs standing up on the back of her neck, she could already tell this was no simple one. It felt like it had power, but had simply lain dormant all this time until now. She took a step back, letting Dawn come into view for herself, having seemed to gain access to the computer and scrolling through the multitude of files there.

    "It reacted, just as predicted," Zager was now informing the auburn-haired woman, and Serena tried to keep her ear open to listen. "When Pierce touched a shard of the Alpha to the other meteorites, I believe it began to resonate back here. It even seemed to grow larger, resembling these tales of old."

    "Yes…" Deirdre noted, leaning in. She raised a hand upwards, but stopped just shy of actually touching the meteonite. "I would begin to presume that this phenomenon happened with everything. Alastair saw to it in Nova Town, while our efforts in Unova and Azalea Town paid off, even if we lost the shard at that last one."

    "Hmm…I just don't quite understand the need for so much death. Team Rocket's goal has never been to kill so many people, as you're well aware. Giovanni is usually more capable than that," Zager pointed out to the woman. She shrugged, as if it was far beyond her comprehension, though Serena somehow doubted that.

    "It's irrelevant. Besides, the less people, the less opposition," she commented. Her lips had turned upwards again, keeping themselves in that same smirk from before. It frightened Serena, even if Zager couldn't see it with the blossoming light. "Just a little more to go now…"

    "Yes, the final operation is to begin soon. Team Rocket's new world is nigh," Zager proclaimed, his face taking on a rather sinister expression. Neither of the operatives seemed to quite notice that Serena yet remained there, looking at the object. The meteonite. Or rather, the Alpha, as the doctor had seemed to call it in Veilstone. The whole small object pulsed with light in an undulating circle of five colors: red, orange, purple, yellow and indigo. They seemed pretty, almost like one of Ash's signature Z-Moves, yet now that she was looking at it longer, it almost seemed sleepy. Almost like it was copying something elsewhere. Perhaps her theory on how it had lain dormant all this time and was now awakening to that power wasn't all that far off.

    That was what scared her the most.

    Breathing in, Serena stepped back while Zager approached the cart and the apparatus inside. She didn't want any more part in this, and she turned to Dawn, who was still at the computer. Piplup was out now, but silent, watching with her on the screen. She approached silently while the sound of Doctor Zager fixing the meteonite away echoed plainly in the room. When Serena had sidled back to Dawn's side, she looked at the screen as well. "Anything?"

    "Not unless you count a ton of stolen designs," Dawn said from the corner of her mouth as she spoke. It was quiet enough that it couldn't be heard over the sound of anything else except for the one standing right next to her. "Pretty sure there's lots of things from Clemont, and even Conway. Very few original designs."

    "So, Team Rocket is a bunch of copycats?" was Serena's query. Dawn didn't answer, but that all certainly looked to be the case in that moment.

    "Even if they are, though, they put a lot of time into planning this with research on the meteonite and a whole bunch of other stuff. There's still nothing in here about their plan, so they must have decided to keep all of that secret until the end or something," Dawn continued to say. She scrolled through more of the files that were on the computer, eventually clicking on one of them. A diagram popped up, looking to be one of the meteonite, itself. It was only a quick look at the rock on the screen, depicted as more of a set, or broken off of something larger, but neither woman was willing to waste time reading the text in their situation. Serena leaned back, taking a look at Zager placing the object into the case. There was still something off, but she just couldn't put her finger on it.

    The doors slid open to the lab, and Dawn hastily clicked on the computer to close the screen out, though she had no time to hide Piplup, who squashed himself against his trainer's back as they waited. Much to their unfortunate chagrin, however, the newcomers were now way too familiar for comfort, and Serena tipped her head down to try and avoid being seen.

    "Hey, Doctor Zager, the boss sent us to collect the meteonite for the plan. Is it ready?" Butch called out as he and Cassidy entered the room, looking ever-smug and self-assured of themselves. From the sound of a scrolling chair, the doctor had wheeled himself out.

    "Yes. Just some final touches to ensure that our months and years of hard work don't go to waste from some screw-up."

    "Hah, we're not Jessie," Cassidy cackled out. Serena felt her lip twitching, disliking hearing her rival being spoken about in that way, regardless of whether they had been enemies or not. Even Dawn didn't seem to like hearing that, fist clenching in her glove. "We'll make sure it gets to Alastair on the boss' orders. Oh, and we were also sent to inform you that he wants to speak with you, Deirdre, sir."

    "Oh my. I have to wonder if he's angry," Deirdre said with a light laugh. She truly didn't sound worried at all. Serena pushed herself back with Dawn, trying to make themselves as small and invisible as possible. "Did he say how long he'd be willing to wait?"

    "I doubt he'll wait for long, and he seemed pretty serious from what his secretary told us," Butch said. He had stepped into the inner lab, grabbing ahold of what they were looking to transport, which seemed rather heavy, making a loud noise as it was placed back on the cart. Deirdre appeared to chuckle.

    "Well, that's interesting. Must be serious." She didn't elaborate, and Serena certainly hoped she wouldn't, all so Cassidy and Butch would get out of their hair sooner than later. It seemed to work, because Butch was soon rolling the cart around, containing the meteonite, as they made to leave the lab. Cassidy trailed behind him lazily, not wanting to put in any amount of menial work, just like her rival. Serena exhaled quietly as the lab doors slid open, letting the cart exit. Just before Cassidy did, she turned to salute the doctor and stopped. The women froze.

    "Wait…didn't I leave you grunts mopping the floors? ! What do you peons think you're doing up here? !" she shouted. It was a rather disproportionate response, Serena felt, but there was little they could do. The blonde stalked forward angrily. Neither woman dared to move as Cassidy approached them. Her little outburst attracted the attention of Zager and Deirdre both, who emerged from the smaller room to watch. Cassidy reached Dawn first, and with a look of extreme annoyance, flicked her cap off.

    It was like watching a disaster in motion. The hat flipped through the air, landing right upon Piplup, who chirped loudly. If that hadn't been bad enough, Dawn's hair fell in tresses around her face, making it quite clear who she was to anyone who was remotely interested in the Contest circuit. Serena's eyes slid over to Dawn, as if wondering what they should do while everything happened. Deirdre quirked an eyebrow. Cassidy stepped back in recognition. Then, Dawn stepped to the side, while Piplup turned.

    "Bubblebeam!" It was the only action under such short notice. Piplup leaned forward and the cascade of bubbles fired out from his beak. They slammed into Cassidy, flinging her across the room and into the wall. She hit her head, but seemed otherwise okay enough to stand. Whatever that case was, Dawn's attack had instantly set everything spiraling into motion. "Enough of these crummy outfits."

    "Yeah, I guess they were stuffy," Serena remarked, as well. Like the trio of villains from the very base they were in did so well, both of them women grabbed their Team Rocket uniforms and flung them off, leaving them in their usual clothing and feeling much more comfortable. "Much better. Pancham, come on out!"

    "Join in, Buneary!" Dawn called. The burst of light from their pokeballs revealed their team members, looking ready to battle in the circumstance. Cassidy finally regained her balance while Deirdre strode forward a couple steps. The tension inside of Serena ratcheted up, and even Pancham looked more than alarmed.

    "Now, now, girls, no need for excess violence," the auburn-haired woman stated soothingly. It sounded almost motherly in a sense, which sickened Serena a bit. Her eyes flicked to the side, noticing Zager was looking less eager for negotiations. There was no doubt this was about to be a fight. "Just a little talk. We all can handle that, can't we, Serena?"

    "If you're in the mood for answering questions," Serena told her. Deirdre's eyes sparked with a near sense of playfulness, but she said nothing. Pancham stepped forward, as did both Piplup and Buneary. This woman wasn't in the mood for actually talking, but Serena decided to try her luck. "Why are you after Ash?"

    "Your husband? No reason," Deirdre answered, tilting her head to the side. "Though if I were to give you an answer, I guess I'd say for the glorious new world." Serena wasn't sure how to take that, but she knew she wouldn't be getting any more answers. This "new world" schtick was becoming old very, very fast. "Now, how about you answer a question of mine. I didn't have the chance before my silly tantrum in the heat of the moment, but now that you're closer to me, I'm quite curious. My son. How well did you know him?"

    The question threw Serena for a loop. It meant nothing to her but complete and utter confusion, and it was in that confusion that Zager made his move. Cassidy was up and running, now dashing for the exit from the lab while the white-haired doctor reached up to grab a lever. It took only a moment of staring at Deirdre before the lights dimmed, the room flashing red. Then the loud slamming of doors throughout the base was heard and a klaxon alarm sounded out. Bright bursts of light appeared near Zager as an Amoongus and Jellicent appeared, all while Deirdre stepped back.

    Serena and Dawn tensed, the former keeping her eye on the woman in the room as she seemed to raise her hand up to her ear. Deirdre's eyes rapidly flicked towards the different diagrams and the door through which the meteonite had departed as she did so, adding to the tension. There was a brief, bated breath in the room, both Serena and Dawn knowing they could no longer sneak around. The whole base knew they were here and it was only a matter of time before they arrived. Serena watched Deirdre, who brought her hand down, and then smiled with her vapid smile. It was only a second more before she then made a proclamation to the room at large, one that set everything into a cascading motion of chaos. "Yes, I believe it's time for Team Rocket's final operation to begin."

    Author's Note: The action's exploding now! But first, I wanted to do an infiltration scene because I'd never really done something like it before in the series. The closest was really Bonnie on DARC's ship. It revealed a lot of tidbits and brought us face to face with Giovanni, himself. Hopefully that scene worked well enough for you, since I'm so unused to writing him. He definitely (obviously) has a role to play in the coming chapters. But yes, the meteonite is coming into play. I know there was a different plan for the anime's use of it, but since those never aired and didn't affect the plot, I'm doing my own thing. Hope that's okay.

    In any case, Deirdre is quite the enigmatic woman, isn't she? I hope that mystery intrigues you, even if you think you've figured her out (and I'm sure some of you have). There are other mysteries, of course, and I'm trying my best to make them interesting but non-confusing. Not sure how well I'm doing, though. But for now, the battle at the Team Rocket has begun. Will Dawn and Serena make it out alive? You'll have to wait and see.

    Full steam ahead next time with some very exciting battle moments! Until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.
     

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