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Operation GEAR: The Angel of Reckoning (R)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by The Great Butler, May 5, 2012.

  1. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    “If it was, that would be great,” Kristos answered. “Michina did in fact revert to its previous state, but Arceus taught Damos how to fix things. To replace the Jewel of Life, Arceus gave him a device containing its knowledge… the Life Orb. Once they were done using the Life Orb to bring Michina back once more, Damos sent another of his lieutenants, Kratos, to lead a group of Tenganists tasked with spreading the Life Orb’s knowledge worldwide. In their travels they brought our ways of life to many lands, but when they reached the Tohjo Continent, things took a terrible turn.”

    “Is this where it gets bigger than I ever knew?”

    “Jacob, be patient.” Even while directly addressing Jacob, the Prophet didn’t turn around. “It wouldn't be wrong to say that here, but I said it about… something else.”

    With Jacob sufficiently quieted, Kristos continued his part of the story. “When Kratos and his group reached the place where Argyros Town would later stand, they made a terrible discovery.”

    “There was a village there already,” the Prophet said, picking up where Kristos left off. “The people of the village worshiped a demon called Azrael-”

    At the mere mention of the name Azrael, Pierce’s eyes widened and he turned as white as a sheet. He immediately became dizzy and felt as if he would collapse, but nobody noticed and the Prophet continued talking.

    “-which they were introduced to by a supernatural force we call Dark Matter. Dark Matter induced horrific visions and fed off their negative emotions such as fear, hatred and especially despair like a parasite. It drove the villagers to believe that this entity Azrael would make their dreams come true if they managed to bring her into this reality. To make that happen the villagers sacrificed one of their own to act as Azrael’s host body, and Dark Matter took her over. Her human body couldn’t survive absorbing all the Dark Matter at once, so until the time when her transformation could be completed, the remaining Dark Matter took the form of a Zoroark.”

    “Wait!” Looker exclaimed. “The story you are telling to us is of the events Matt Chiaki took the time to tell me! Argyros Town, Zoroark, I am aware of these things!”

    Though she didn't reply until Looker was done speaking, the Prophet turned back around when he mentioned Matt’s name and walked closer to him and Jacob.

    “He doesn't know about Dark Matter, as far as I know, and I want it to stay that way. Anyway…” Once again, she turned her back to the others. “Kratos tried to save the villagers, but they were too far gone under Dark Matter’s control. War broke out, and ultimately the village and its residents were all destroyed. Kratos managed to drain the Dark Matter from Azrael’s body, but she died in the process as it was bonded too securely to her being. They finally managed to seal Dark Matter away in a stone tablet using the Life Orb, but to keep the seal in effect a sacrifice was required each time the moon covered the sun.”

    “A sacrifice…” Sylpha quietly repeated to herself, turning her head away from her leader.

    “During the war, Kratos and his followers experienced horrible visions of their own,” the Prophet continued. “They saw that one day in the future, the sun would cease to shine and space would collapse in on the Earth, leading to the end of all life. In order to prevent this, they constructed an incredible machine to harness the power of the Pokémon that first sent Gaia flowing through the planet. They called their creation the Coronet Rosary.”

    “So that’s what it is…” Jacob said to himself. “I wonder why exactly Sutter didn't want me to know…”

    “It both is and isn't,” the Prophet replied. “We’ll get back to that, though. What happened next is not completely clear, but it is believed that the Coronet Rosary’s creators realized that it might not save all existence like they intended. In fact, they are thought to have realized that what they built would bring about the destruction they were fighting to prevent.”

    Jacob, Looker and Sylpha all felt their blood run as cold as the cavern air when they heard this. Their outward reactions remained muted, but internally, all three felt like they had just been dropped off tall buildings, and even Mewtwo seemed to have a twinge of discomfort flash across its face. Pierce, Anthea and Concordia felt similarly but remained silent, awaiting what would come next.

    “My leade...uh…” Sylpha found speaking difficult and stumbled over the words she could manage. “But why? Why… for what reason would they build it if that was possible?”

    “I am agreeing with that!” Looker suddenly shouted, his restraint swiftly breaking upon Sylpha providing motivation. “Doing so would be a mistake most foolish!”

    “That would be true if they were fully aware of the consequences of their actions,” said the Prophet. “What is written tells us that Dark Matter works its way into your mind in the most devious ways. If it wanted, Kratos and his followers would be blind to the truth the entire time.”

    “And they’d never know it…” Concordia mused. As the last of her words left her mouth, a realization hit her, causing her to subconsciously reach over and grip Anthea’s arm. “If that was the case, why did you say they realized the truth?”

    “Maybe the Life Orb opened their eyes,” the Tenganist leader blandly responded, “or maybe that was what Dark Matter wanted to happen. Whatever the reason, they went insane from these revelations. To prevent it from ever being used, they sealed the Coronet Rosary away somewhere and spread conflicting myths about it to obscure its true meaning.”

    “No wonder Sutter tried to hide it from me,” Jacob thought to himself. “And I ended up involving Bunny…”

    “As for the Life Orb,” Kristos added, “it was returned to where Dark Matter was sealed, the land of my ancestors. Argyros Town was built there, and we continued to guard the Life Orb for many years. After the Firestorm Rebellion in 1850, however, it left our possession and vanished into history. To this day, it hasn’t been recovered.”

    “I don’t understand what this all has to do with Saeko Oryo though,” Sylpha said. The Tenganist punctuated her question with a forceful step, prompting the Prophet to turn her attention back to her audience.

    “Remember how I said Kratos and his followers spread conflicting myths about the Coronet Rosary across the world?” The Prophet reached up and gripped the leather strap that held her cloak across her shoulders. “One of those rumors was that the Coronet Rosary was a person, someone who would be born with a Transcendence that would open the door to the future. Saeko Oryo, who could see the past and future, was believed to be that person, and thus was treated with great reverence. That reverence came with many responsibilities and rules she chafed against. So it was for much of her life, but things went downhill when she brought two outsiders here.”

    “Sutter and I?” Jacob asked, certain he already knew the answer.

    “Yes. You think you know the events that took place here, but trust me, you have no idea. It was already forbidden for her to have been involved physically with Sutter as she was, due to his outsider status and her being the Coronet Rosary. That was not what made the people turn on her.”

    Confused and apprehensive of what would come next, Jacob tried to conceal his emotions by hiding his twitching hands behind his back. Looker, meanwhile, stared intently at the elderly historian, searching for any sign of Jacob knowing the truth. He couldn't help doing so, as his detective instincts were just too strong. Despite his best efforts to deduce what had happened, Jacob gave no obvious clues to it.

    “In a way I pity her,” the Prophet continued, standing and facing the spring more rigidly than ever. “I understand why she would do what she did next, even if it was against our beliefs. That need to survive for someone else, no matter what… I’m a hypocrite to stand in judgment of her. Saeko’s sin that turned the people against her is the same as mine.”

    At first, Jacob let out a sigh of relief, feeling the weight of his worst fears lift from his shoulders. “It’s basically what I figured,” he thought, “I should have stopped Sutter from-”

    Jacob’s mental dialogue stopped abruptly when he noticed the Prophet gingerly brushing her hand against her abdomen. Her words flashed through his mind again - “That need to survive for someone else, no matter what… I’m a hypocrite to stand in judgment of her. Saeko’s sin that turned the people against her is the same as mine.” In an instant, the dread was back upon him, weighing ten times more than before.

    “That someone else wasn’t Sutter, it was their…” Jacob trailed off.

    “Needless to say, the Chiaki family tree would have been vastly different if our people weren’t so strict back then,” the Prophet coldly said, confirming Jacob’s suspicion. “And you never knew.”

    Behind the Prophet, while the realization forced Jacob to take a step back in horror, Sylpha cocked her head. “I don’t understand…”

    Kristos lowered himself to Sylpha’s height, put a hand over her ear and whispered to her. The man’s words made Sylpha freeze before suddenly gasping aloud.

    “D-did Sutter know?” Jacob finally stammered.

    “Who knows? If he did, he must have lived the rest of his life with the burden of it kept a secret.” The Prophet brought her hand to a rest against her stomach, her voice starting to waver.

    “You all know how it went from there. In the eyes of the leaders of the time, a Coronet Rosary bearing the child of an outsider meant that she was completely corrupted, an absolute fall from grace. Jacob, while you and Sutter were exiled from this place, they were going to punish her for her sin,” she said. “She escaped prior to her judgment and, in a desperate bid to survive, she broke into where a partial Jewel of Life was kept and swallowed it. The backlash from this caused massive amounts of corrupted Gaia to flood out, burning her from the inside out and turning the Tenganist holy land into the frozen wasteland you see today.”

    By this point of the story, Sylpha had become overwhelmed and started sobbing into Kristos’ side. Jacob remained frozen in shock, while Looker stuffed his hands deep into his pockets and turned away. Pierce shook his head silently, deeply affected by what he heard, and pulled his mother and aunt closer to him.

    Even Mewtwo seemed moved, although its response was significantly more muted. “I admit that I feel I understand you more now,” it said to the Prophet, its eyes closed and tail flicking behind it.

    As soon as he heard this, Jacob gasped and stumbled backward, his mind struck by something. Only Pierce noticed, and even then, he thought nothing of it.

    “Now explain to me what your goal is.”

    The Prophet barely moved. She only acknowledged Mewtwo’s demand by lifting her hand over the water before she spoke.

    “As Kristos said earlier, the Life Orb is currently missing.” Her voice sounded nearly soulless and her audience other than Mewtwo had to struggle to hear her. “I want to find it and bring it here. This temple was built for another purpose.”

    “That purpose, which is?” Looker asked, his interest piqued by the Prophet’s claim.

    “Very few people throughout history have had the ability to create even a tiny piece of a Jewel of Life, and they all needed to have at least slivers of Arceus's plates to do it,” she explained. “This place and the Life Orb are our way around that.”

    The Prophet moved the fingers on the hand she was holding over the water, and in response, a gentle green light emanated from deep within the spring. All the others, even Mewtwo, stared at the glow in surprise.

    “This temple was built directly on a wellspring of Gaia,” she continued. “It taps directly into the energy flow, which lives on in this place even though it is currently minimized here by Saeko’s actions. We may not have the plates, but the Life Orb was also created by Arceus. My dream… we will recover the Life Orb, bring it here and use the temple's mechanisms to turn it into a genuine Jewel of Life. With that, we’ll bring our holy land completely back to life and build a permanent sanctuary where all Tenganists can live in safety forever.”

    “We would really be able to start over in that kind of place,” Anthea said in awe. “Pierce, you and your friends must help make this happen.”

    “That would be a great thing for us,” Pierce admitted, immediately realizing the hope the Prophet’s goal meant for them.

    Mewtwo, meanwhile, looked down from midair at the Prophet, its features softening. “I must acknowledge the nobility of your aims, even if I cannot agree with some of your methods. You wish to set right what went wrong here so you can protect those like you…just like I did...”

    Back on the ground, Looker scratched his chin and glanced at Jacob. He recalled the meeting between the elderly archeologist and Matt’s group in Goldenrod City, where he’d personally first heard the Saeko Oryo story. Back then, Jacob had become unusually violent when he believed Matt and Nekou were searching for the Jewel of Life, but now, standing before someone who clearly stated her direct intent to obtain it, he was just staring slack-jawed at her. It was as if his mind had simply stopped working.

    “Jacob?”

    Instead of answering or even acknowledging the detective’s question, Jacob extended his right arm and began slowly walking toward the Prophet, visibly trembling from head to toe.

    “I can’t believe I’ve been so blind,” Jacob uttered. “All this time and I only realize it now… Whatever happened to you after we last met, something kept you alive since then. I get it now. Even after everything you went through, you still want to put this land back to the way it was. You really are the hero they hoped you’d be when we first met. I’m sorry I didn't realize sooner, Saeko. I’m sorry I couldn't save you.”

    The others watched as Jacob put his hand on the Prophet’s shoulder, stunned at his suggestion that she was, in fact, the figure they were supposed to never speak of.

    “How would that even be possible?” Kristos thought. “Wait… the Jewel of Life she swallowed… if she survived that somehow…”

    Several increasingly tense moments passed while the Prophet remained completely unresponsive to Jacob’s words. He wasn’t entirely surprised at her lack of reaction, but it quickly dawned on him that revealing her identity, even among trustworthy people, might have been a mistake.

    Feeling remorseful but unsure of what to do to fix it, he said, “Saeko, I'm so-”

    Jacob never got a chance to finish his apology. He was cut off when the Prophet suddenly lashed around to him and punched him squarely in the face, knocking him down with her surprising strength. All around the pair, a flurry of gasps broke out, while Mewtwo shut its eyes and once again became silent. Looker immediately ran to Jacob’s aid and helped him sit up.

    “That’s right, you should be sorry!” The Prophet’s voice was raw and strained, her screaming clearly reflecting the collapse of her facade of composure. All Jacob could do was stare up at her, totally lost as to what was happening. “You think I’m her? You seriously think I’m her?! After I brought you here and helped you recover from the train crash, this is how you thank me?”

    “But, I don't… I don’t understand…” Jacob stammered. “Even if you’re not her, Saeko was innocent… if you're like her, then so are-”

    “I’m nothing like her!” The anger in the Prophet’s voice was becoming tainted by desperation. “Nothing!”

    The Prophet pulled her leg back, but before she could kick Jacob, Sylpha and Kristos rushed to her side and pulled her away from him. She didn't struggle against them, but continued shouting.

    “You can’t tell me I’m like her! You don’t know anything about what I’ve been through! You blame me and yet-”

    “Please calm down!” Sylpha pleaded.

    “It’s not my fault! It’s… it’s not my fault…” When her anger gave out, the Prophet was fully consumed by her despair. She went limp, slipped from her followers’ grasp and collapsed to the ground. “It’s not my fault… she chose. Saeko chose to do it. She had a choice... I didn’t. I was never given a choice, I didn’t get a choice… Ghetsis…”

    Quickly understanding what the Prophet was saying, Kristos pulled Sylpha over to him and tried to cover her ears. Pierce, meanwhile, felt his blood run even colder when he realized the implications. His face contorted into a look of sheer horror much like Jacob’s and Looker’s, though the two of them said nothing.

    “He didn’t…” Pierce said in shock.

    “When he came to Michina…” Tears rolled down her face, eventually dropping off to make tiny spots on the ground. “I was the only one he left alive. I wish he would have just killed me like all the others… I felt like I died that day… why could I not just… I shouldn’t even tell you this. This is not your burden to shoulder…”

    “But…”

    Kristos’ attempt to intervene in the Prophet’s breakdown proved fruitless, as she started crying even harder.

    “I made all of you take my pain onto yourselves!” she sobbed, further lowering her head and tightening her fists in the dirt. “I lied. I lied to all of you! I brought you all together to get my own revenge on Ghetsis, not to make a sanctuary! I only told you that so you’d want to help me! I have to pay the price for my actions, not any of you…”

    All of a sudden, the Prophet felt the sensation of someone embracing her and stopped crying with a sharp breath. Sylpha, having slipped from Kristos’ grasp after hearing much of what her mentor confessed, was tightly hugging her.

    “We’ve all suffered because of Ghetsis,” Sylpha gently said, a compassionate smile joining her words. “You saved us, now we’ll save you. You don’t have to do this alone.”

    “S-Sylpha…” The Prophet wasn't crying anymore, but she was still overwhelmed by what she was hearing. “I can’t ask you to do this…”

    “It’s for all of us,” Pierce said, “so we all should shoulder it.”

    “He’s right!” Anthea piped up.

    “Revenge on Ghetsis just makes fighting even more worth it!” Concordia forcefully added.

    Looking around herself, the Prophet could barely believe what she was hearing and seeing. She had expected her own people to turn on her when they learned of her duplicitous motives, yet all around her she saw supportive, understanding faces.

    “It’s like… home…” she thought. For the first time in what felt like forever, she thought of the familiar comforts of her hometown instead of the horrors Ghetsis carried out there. The support she found in Sylpha, Pierce and the others made her remember all her friends she’d grown up with. “They’re gone now, but… I can do something to honor them, too…”

    After wiping away her tears, the Prophet felt her strength returning and stood back up. She immediately went to Jacob and extended a hand to help him up.

    “I apologize for what I did,” she said to him. “Are you injured? I can ask Alesia to heal you if you need it.”

    “It’s… fine, don’t worry about it.” As he said this, Jacob curled his nose several times. It did still hurt, but not badly enough that he wanted to bring it up. “I still don’t understand what's going on here. If you’re not Saeko, how do you know so much about the Jewel of Life and how to use it? Only someone who’s held one could possibly know such things.”

    “I haven't held one, but I’ve seen one up close, and I was raised with a more intimate understanding of it than most. The leader of our people who received the first Jewel of Life, Damos, was my ancestor.”

    Before speaking any further, the Prophet reached up and held the sides of her hood. She hesitated for a brief moment, but slowly lowered her hood, revealing her face to her followers and associates.

    Though her brown hair was long, unkempt and not in the buns she once always kept it in, her appearance had otherwise not changed much since Matt painting the picture of her in his pocket watch. The fire in her wide, blue eyes was still there.

    “Looker, it’s nice to see you again. Everyone else, I’m pleased to meet you all. My name is Sheena.” As soon as she said her name, Sheena looked slightly away from the others and smiled to herself. “That felt really good, saying that…”

    “Sheena,” Pierce addressed her. His prompt interruption silenced the others. “I need to speak to you about a rather urgent matter.”

    “What is it?”

    Instead of stating his concern out loud, Pierce quickly walked over to Sheena and leaned in close to her head.

    “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the name Azrael,” he whispered, causing Sheena’s eyes to widen when she heard it. “There is someone I think you should speak to as soon as possible.”

    “We’ll move to a more private area,” Sheena replied, her tone turning completely serious again. “I want to talk to this person right away. Kristos… take Anthea and Concordia to get something to eat. Looker, Jacob, I’m taking you two with me.”

    “What about me?” Sylpha asked. “Don’t leave me out!”

    At first, Sheena did not respond. She was so torn over what to do that she couldn't even look at Sylpha. “You’re still just a child,” she finally said, “and you are one of my people. I have a duty to protect you.”

    “You trusted me with the truth about Saeko Oryo and you told me all about Dark Matter,” the young Tenganist countered.

    “That is fair enough,” Sheena acknowledged. “You can come.”

    The humans soon departed, leaving Mewtwo alone in the cavern. Once by itself, it deftly landed on the edge of the spring and gazed out over the life-giving water.

    “Dark Matter…” it mused, narrowing its eyes as it did so. “A force capable of infiltrating minds like a parasite…”

    -:-

    “...the prince left his kingdom behind and was never seen by the people again. Where did he go? None of us ever knew. What we did know was that wherever he had gone, the creature was with him. That which so many of us feared, he loved and protected. We knew that for as long as he lived, he would always stand by its side.”

    Nekou wasted no time in turning to the next page, only realizing then that it was the last one. She did not find the words she expected, however. Instead, what greeted her was a vivid illustration of a strange, translucent creature. It looked like a squid or jellyfish, but with star shapes lining its head.

    “That thing…” Nekou said to herself in surprise. “That’s what the story was about?”

    For a time, Nekou kept the book open and examined the illustration, trying to memorize every detail of the strangely enticing image. Marie and Zorua nudged at her arm and broke her from her reverie.

    “Oh, sorry, you two,” she apologized to the pair, petting each on the head to their pleasure. She then closed the volume in her lap, took a sip from the beer can she had open, and peered out the window.

    When she saw the orange evening sky, she did a double take.

    “Have I been doing this all day?” Nekou asked herself, her eyes moving back to the book in her lap. “That doesn't usually happen… and I didn’t…” Her words caught in her throat when the incidents of the previous day came back to her mind. “...I didn’t worry about all that shit today…”

    Once again, her attention turned to the world outside the window.

    “I have to thank him… his book, after all.”

    -:-

    After leaving the underground spring, Sheena brought Jacob, Looker and Pierce to her personal quarters, where they awaited Sylpha’s return from her own task. To pass time, Sheena started recounting her own stories.

    “That’s right, Jacob, Looker and I first met five years ago. Back then, it was Matt and I traveling with Olivia and her parents.”

    “So much has happened while I’ve been inside,” Jacob said with a self-deprecating laugh.

    “And going back in you are, at the earliest opportunity,” Looker sternly warned him.

    “I never said otherwise,” Jacob countered, recoiling from the finger Looker thrust in his face. “You don’t have to worry about that…”

    A sudden giggle interrupted them, and the two men turned to see Sheena doing a poor job of hiding a smirk behind her hand. Though stunned at first, both Jacob and Looker soon found the levity too much to resist and laughed as well.

    Sitting nearby with his arms crossed, Pierce commented, “Lady Sheena, I’ve never seen you laugh like that. Your sense of humor is darker than I thought.”

    “I’m sorry, I'm sorry,” Sheena said, waving her hand dismissively. “I know it’s a bit of gallows humor. I just couldn't help myself… I haven’t felt like having a good laugh in such a long time.”

    Just then, Sylpha entered the room, carrying a tray with a teapot and several cups on it. “It’s teatime!” she cheerfully announced.

    Sheena stood and gestured for Sylpha to join the others. “Thank you, Sylpha. I'm sure they will enjoy it.” Peering over her shoulder, Sheena said to Pierce, Looker and Jacob, “Teas are something that cross boundaries throughout our culture, but Sylpha makes some of the best I’ve tasted.”

    “Aw, thanks…” Sylpha said, a hint of redness flaring up in her face.

    “It’s true,” Sheena complimented, smiling. She then looked over her shoulder again and said to Pierce, “You don’t have to call me ‘lady.’ Just Sheena is fine.”

    “You’re our leader,” Pierce replied, “but if you say so…”

    “Anyway, now that we’re all here, it’s about time you introduced me to this contact of yours.”

    Even as he followed Sheena’s directions and moved to stand before his audience, Pierce felt dizzy. His anxiety had been building ever since the conference in the underground spring over what he knew was coming. He truly wished against all hope that he would learn his fears were unfounded, but he knew quite well that wouldn't happen.

    After one last glance back at Sheena and the others, who had all collected their own shares of the tea, he reached into his coat pocket and produced a small cube. Upon activation, a holographic keyboard was projected from its front, allowing Pierce to enter more intricate commands.

    A second hologram materialized, this one projected from the top of the cube. It showed Team Rocket’s insignia, which soon gave way to the scruffy, aged face of Dr. Zager.

    “Doctor,” Pierce addressed him.

    “Pierce,” Zager acknowledged. He sounded tired and far from comfortable. “I read what you reported…”

    “Yes, well, let me introduce you to the leader of the people I belong to.”

    Pierce gestured for Sheena to step forward, and she did so without hesitation.

    “My name is Sheena,” she announced. Jacob and Looker were both struck by how strongly she did so. Only a relatively short time had passed since she first said her name to them. “As Pierce said, I lead the Tenganists opposing Polaris.”

    “And I am Dr. Zager, Team Rocket scientist.”

    An awkward silence settled over the room as, for a time, neither Zager nor Sheena knew what to say.

    It was Sheena that finally broke the impasse. “I heard Pierce mention a report. What did he tell you?”

    Before he answered, Zager exhaled deeply. He avoided looking directly into the camera on his side of the call even when he began speaking.

    “Pierce told me your people once fought against an extra-dimensional force called Dark Matter, which tried to end everything by fusing with a human to create a prophet called Azrael. Is this all correct?”

    “Five thousand years ago, yes,” Sheena affirmed.

    “Tell me then, young lady, what is Dark Matter? Physically, I mean. As the leader of your people, you ought to know. Am I wrong?”

    Pierce watched Sheena carefully to see how she would react. Unaware of his attention, she lowered her head.

    “There are only writings now. With how much time has passed, it’s not clear just how literally descriptions of these events can be taken, at least in a physical sense.”

    “What do those writings say, then?” Zager pressed her.

    “Even if I quoted them directly, it would be difficult to answer that,” Sheena admitted. “There is no clear physical description that I can point right to. The most common theme among the writings is that of an amorphous dark substance, sometimes like a mist or cloud, others a mold-like mass or a hard shell.”

    Immediately upon hearing this, Zager shut his eyes. “From the moment I read Pierce’s report, this is exactly what I was afraid of.”

    “What are you saying?” Sheena demanded. Behind her, Pierce had since turned away, while Jacob, Looker and Sylpha listened nervously.

    “I…” Zager finally looked straight into his camera, allowing Sheena and the others to see his eyes directly. They were mirrors of his shame and fear, giving him the look of a man haunted by something truly horrible. “I was once a member of Polaris, decades ago. They recruited me out of the Pokémon Institute while I was a student hungry for funding and attention. I was all too eager to do what they tasked me with as long as I got what I wanted… Sheena, what they made me do was nothing less than create life. What was I given as base materials to work with? Genetic material from a human subject, female, maybe about fourteen years of age or so. They never told me who she was. That, and a small container… I was told to mix the contents of that container into the genetic sequence I was to create. I never understood how it was meant to work, but it did, and that was the key… that accursed dark substance, Polaris’ Azrael Project needed it.”

    “No,” Sheena had started mumbling over and over, even before Zager was done. The end of his statement brought stress-fueled pacing onto her as well. “No, no, no, no… this cannot… this just can’t be real…”

    “It is,” Pierce chimed in, his voice as icy as the wasteland beyond the temple and caves. “I first heard the name Azrael long ago, but I did not know its true significance until today.”

    “Dark Matter wasn’t totally gone after the war five thousand years ago…” Sheena concluded out loud for all in her increasingly fearful audience to hear. “Not if Polaris somehow got even a tiny amount of it to give to you… if there was only a sliver of it, it might not have sentience, but even that much could be enough to taint a human if fused with their genes… and if creating Azrael was their goal, then she is alive right now…”

    Sylpha pulled at Sheena’s arm, unable to cope with the terror she was experiencing. After everything she’d already heard about Dark Matter and Azrael, knowing that they existed in the present forced her to cry. She didn't know what else to do. “What’s going to happen to us? Are we going to...”

    “Ssh. Don’t say such things.” Sheena tried to reassure her, not only with words but by embracing her and gently patting her head. Even while doing this, she was torn up internally, unable to decide if it would have been better to hide truth from Sylpha. To force her scattered thoughts into some sort of order, she set her attention squarely on Zager.

    “We must make preparations to destroy Azrael at once,” Sheena declared.

    “I thought of that long ago,” Zager wearily countered. “We cannot kill her. I fear that if she were to be killed, only her humanity would perish. What would remain would be nothing but Azrael…”

    “You speak as if you know the new Azrael personally.”

    “I do. Not only did I create her, I was tasked with raising her. Around the time of her fourteenth birthday, I managed to erase her memories, escape Polaris and spirit her away. Ever since then, I have seen to it that she is under Team Rocket’s protection. I have always believed that if we keep her comfortable her programming may never activate.”

    “It’s a risk, but it does make a certain amount of sense,” Sheena conceded. “Even saying that, though… there will always be a risk that Dark Matter could return due to her existence. There’s only one course of action I can think of… we have to get the Life Orb now even more than ever. Five thousand years ago, Dark Matter was sealed away using it, so at worst we can do the same thing again. If we can turn it into a Jewel of Life, we may even be able to destroy Dark Matter. Then everyone wins.”

    While Sheena and Zager talked, Jacob found himself increasingly disturbed by what he was hearing. “I don’t understand any of this,” he thought, reflexively pressing his fingers into his temples due to an intensifying headache. “Dark Matter, Azrael, the Jewel of Life… how did I get mixed up in all this? It was bad enough before I knew these things…”

    Looker, meanwhile, shifted uncomfortably where he sat. Jacob glanced over at the detective just in time to see him scratching his chin, as he was so often wont to do when lost in thought.

    “What do you make of this?” Jacob asked him.

    “If Polaris is indeed searching for a way to bring this Dark Matter into a state of revival,” Looker reasoned aloud, “then it is my impulse to guess that their desires are the same as those of it. Beginning I am to think that Polaris wishes to hand over the world to the Dark Matter for destruction, not anything involving a revolution against the Pokémon League. And if that is the case… the Team Rocket, the Tenganist Liberation Front, we of the International Police, we all oppose the same thing. Our enemy is a common one, taking the form of Polaris.” Looker stood and planted his hands deep in his coat pockets. “I do not have the knowledge of what to do. If we are all on the same side, I am possessing the ability to see that, but my apprentices… caught in the middle they will be, and unwilling to compromise as well.”

    -:-

    A short distance from his mobile home, Matt was seated on a tree stump next to a campfire, with which he was cooking something in a small pot. The late evening air was still and quiet, so much so that the crackling of the fire was the only sound to hear.

    With time to fill, he reached into his bag, retrieved his pocket watch and opened it to the painting of Sheena.

    “If I hadn't let my obsessions consume me you might still be alive,” he mused in a voice completely devoid of emotion. “It’s all my fault… again…”

    The near silence was broken by the sound of leaves crunching beneath someone’s feet as they approached the clearing. Matt heard them, but didn't react at all right away, instead choosing to simply continue considering the painting.

    “Hey.”

    Matt finally reacted once he heard Nekou’s voice addressing him, closing the watch and putting it away.

    “What is it?” he asked without facing her. “Looks like you’re feeling better.”

    “That’s kind of why I came looking for you,” Nekou responded. Starting toward where Matt was sitting, she continued, “Where’s Olivia and everyone else?”

    “Still out training I suppose.”

    “Keeping busy, it sounds like,” she said as she sat down next to him. When she saw the pot on the fire, her eyes lit up. “What's on the menu?”

    “Just some Mauville Ramen,” Matt glumly replied. “Ate the stuff non-stop when I was in school, so I’m still pretty hooked on it. I can share if you want some.”

    “I’d like that.”

    “Okay then.” Once he had a chance to think about the conversation, Matt stopped and finally turned to Nekou. “You don’t sound like yourself… are you sure you’re alright?”

    “I’m better than I would have been if I didn't get to spend all day reading.”

    At that, Nekou took the book, which she’d had her arms wrapped around, and pushed it toward its owner. Seeing it brought Matt out of his stupor, and he eagerly snapped it up.

    “Of everything you could have found in there, it was this…” Even though it belonged to him, he couldn't tear his eyes off the book’s cover, as if he’d never seen it before. “This is… something very important to me.”

    “I spent all day reading it,” Nekou told him with a sincerity unusual for her. “Kept my mind off all the shit from yesterday. So… thank you.”

    “That’s more like the Nekou I know,” Matt said, laughing gently to himself.

    “The Matt I know isn’t the type to love a story like this so much.” Nekou adjusted her glasses as she spoke, and found herself unable to resist a small smile of her own. “Enlighten me on what I clearly don’t know.”

    “My grandfather gave me this,” Matt explained, still unable to look away from the tome’s ornate cover. “It’s an older translation directly from the original language… he gave it to me when I was still young. The story always fascinated me, and it wasn’t just me. Amanda used to love when I read it to her… the time I got to spend reading to her is one of the few completely happy memories I have from back then. That’s why that book is so important to-”

    Matt stopped talking mid-sentence when Nekou put her head on his shoulder. He couldn't see that her eyes were closed or that she was smiling, but he could imagine it. Though he was initially surprised by her actions, he quickly relaxed and made no effort to move her.

    “Who knew you had this side?” she said. “I want to find out more.”

    “It looks like you’ve got some secrets of your own.” Matt shifted himself, but still did nothing to move Nekou’s head. In fact, after he moved, she settled in even more comfortably than before.

    Their peace did not last long, however. Mere moments later, loud rustling in the bushes ahead of them caught both of their attention. Even that didn’t get Nekou to move, despite her becoming much more alert.

    “Who’s there?” Matt called out toward the noise.

    Multiple possibilities of who was approaching cycled through Nekou’s mind. Members of Team Plasma. The Shadow Triad. Other agents of Polaris. All of them sounded to her like candidates for who could be about to emerge.

    It ultimately turned out to be none of them. The shape of a rotting tree appeared from the brush, and both Matt and Nekou recognized it immediately.

    “A Trevenant?” Nekou exclaimed. “But why the fuck is one here?”

    When the Trevenant stopped approaching them and stared at them with sadness in his eye instead of menacing them, Matt realized what was going on.

    “When I was at the Battle Hall, I overheard that scientist, Colress, talking to one of my other opponents, Dino. I heard Dino say he was going to release the Trevenant he used against me because it didn’t pass their experiment, or something.” Addressing the Trevenant directly, Matt asked, “You’re that Trevenant, aren’t you? And you want me to help, right?”

    Plating his root-like feet firmly in the ground, Trevenant grumbled an affirmation to Matt’s questions.

    -:-

    A bright sun hung in a clear sky over Route 38 the next day. The same clearing where Matt and Nekou had their conversation was far less peaceful than it was the previous evening, having become the site of a heated battle between Olivia and a camper she’d encountered while heading out to train with Avril and Monroe. Sparks flew from the clash of Olivia’s Mareep’s Thunderbolt and the camper’s Mothim’s Silver Wind, making the siblings shield their eyes as they watched.

    “You’re doing great, Mareep!” Olivia shouted in encouragement, eliciting a self-satisfied snicker from the Electric-type. “Use Thunderbolt again!”

    Another bolt of electricity sparked to life from Mareep’s wool. Before it could arc through the air and strike Mothim, the camper called out to him, “Dodge it with Lunge!”

    Mothim twisted around in the air, managing to barely avoid Mareep’s Thunderbolt. He then threw himself toward her; his tackle scored a direct hit, but the electricity in Mareep’s wool spread into his body, paralyzing Mothim.

    “Static!” the camper realized, his recognition of Mareep’s ability coming too late.

    “We can win this now, Mareep! Iron Tail!”

    There was no hesitation on Mareep’s part to follow Olivia’s direction. Before Olivia had even finished speaking, Mareep’s tail had taken on a metallic shine, and she whipped around to strike Mothim down with it. Before either Olivia or the camper could react further, however, Mareep pinned the nearly-fainted Mothim to the ground and began gathering energy for another Thunderbolt.

    In an instant, Olivia’s excitement turned to dismay. “Mareep, that’s enough! You don’t have to do that!”

    When it became apparent that Mareep wasn’t listening, Olivia was forced to take out her Poké Ball and recall her. The camper went to his Mothim’s side right away, and Olivia soon joined him.

    “That Mareep of yours is really strong,” he said to her while helping Mothim up. “But why is it so aggressive?”

    “I… I don’t know, really,” Olivia admitted, frowning. “I’m trying to work with her, but we only recently connected and she loves fighting and…” Finding herself running out of words, Olivia sighed. “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

    “Mothim, are you feeling fine?”

    Mothim nodded to his trainer, and to further demonstrate his recovery, he fluttered his wings enough to rise into the air. What strength he had only kept him aloft for a short time, and he shrank back in disappointment when he returned to the ground.

    “Don’t worry yourself too much, Mothim,” the camper said to his Pokémon while petting his head, which cheered him up. Shifting his attention to Olivia, the camper took some money from his pocket and handed it to her. “Here, you and Mareep earned it. Have a good one.”

    The camper lowered himself and allowed Mothim to climb onto his head. When they left, Olivia watched them disappear down the path. A feeling of guilt nagged at her, and she looked down at the paper money in her hand. Ghetsis’ thundering words reran in her head.

    “And as you know, the losing trainer in a battle must pay an amount of prize money to the winner! To the victor goes the spoils, but what goes to the loser?”

    Olivia frowned. She knew she hated Polaris, hated Ghetsis, Team Plasma and everything else related to them, but what they said still ate at her.

    -:-

    “Say what?!”

    Had Jessie, James and Meowth screamed any louder, they could have woken the dead. It certainly was a good thing that Team Rocket’s base was in a busy area of Olivine City; had they been in a quieter neighborhood, those in their immediate surroundings would surely have heard them. As it stood, only their colleagues in Team Rocket’s secret bar were aware of their reactions. The air in the room was thick with emotion, but the trio of agents were the only ones openly exploding.

    “You heard what we told you,” Stacia said, her voice even more frigid and emotionless than usual. The light from the secretary’s computer filled her glasses, hiding her eyes from those speaking to her via hologram.

    “He’s not gone! He can’t be!” James cried out in desperation.

    “With Giovanni gone, the only thing we can do is continue his work.” Sitting against the bar, Proton crossed his arms, only to immediately uncross them again. He remained fixated on the curves in the wood grain floor the entire time. “And for us to do that we should act like he’s still here.”

    Jessie sharply turned and yelled, “Shut up!” Her blatant act of insubordination made Ada, Trevor and Petrel stare, agape at her disrespect for a superior, but Proton mostly ignored it himself.

    “Yeah!” Meowth added. “No way did that pointy-haired, black cloaked musical demon really take our boss out!”
     
  2. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    “You are going to have to accept reality,” Pierce firmly said, addressing the bar from the Sinjoh Ruins via a second hologram. “I witnessed it with my own eyes. Giovanni is gone.”

    “Giovanni is gone…” Ariana emptily repeated. She was sitting away from the others, her back turned to them. “He’s gone, so we must look at the continuation of our leadership. Stacia… you were his closest advisor and aide. You are in a better position than any of us to take his place.”

    “I can…” For an incredibly brief moment, Stacia’s voice faltered. “I can only do so much from where I am. You are the one out in the field, Ariana. I trust that you can lead in executing the next anti-Polaris operation that’s been drafted. I’ll see that you promptly receive all the information so you can begin coordinating with Dr. Zag-”

    Stacia’s hologram vanished in the middle of her sentence. Unbeknownst to the others, the Rocket’s finger had slipped over the button to hang up, leaving most of them to presume that her terminal malfunctioned. Jessie, however, immediately felt slighted and stomped her foot on the floor.

    “Well we don’t take orders from any bob-haired four-eyes either!” she spat, her sharp declaration directed at no one in particular, before turning around and storming out of the room. James followed her without a word.

    “Only the boss is the boss!” Meowth added before joining his human companions in leaving.

    “I’ll go get them,” Proton bitterly said. He started toward the door only to be stopped by Ariana extending a hand in front of him.

    “Don’t bother,” she told him. “They’ll come back. For now we have to just work on planning the mission.”

    “Ariana, wait. I have something to say.”

    Pierce’s unexpected interjection brought the attention of not only Ariana but all the other Team Rocket members in the room to his hologram. Seeing this, he had to look away from them. What he had in mind was something he’d spent considerable time thinking about since hearing Sheena’s story, but he knew his allies might have trouble understanding.

    “It has to be said,” he finally decided. Clearing his throat, Pierce directly faced the rest of his team, though he trained much of his attention on Ariana directly. “The leader of the TLF, Shee…” Pierce quickly stopped himself before revealing Sheena’s name. He masked his error with a cough to buy time for choosing his words more carefully. “...she has told me of her group’s objective. They aim to obtain the missing Life Orb and transform it into a Jewel of Life so that they may restore their holy land and build a sanctuary state for all Tenganists there. For now, their mission intertwines with our own, but when the time comes that such a refuge is established, I wish to resign from Team Rocket and live there with the rest of my family…” The next words represented a concept so alien to Pierce that he found himself having some trouble saying them. “...in peace.”

    “What are we supposed to do if we lose even more members?” Ada wondered, her face twisting into a look of pure terror. “We already are low on manpower for dealing with Polaris…”

    “Don’t worry about that,” Pierce said. “As I told you, our goals overlap. I won’t be going anywhere until Polaris is destroyed.”

    Trevor sighed and shook the glass in his hand. “Rosalie, you’ve got to have something to say about this.”

    “What is there to say, exactly?” the scientist said between draws on her pipe. “Destroying Polaris is all that matters right now. We all saw what Ghetsis did in Ecruteak City, and that was just him. Can you imagine what they can do when they act at full force? If Pierce wants to leave after this is over, who are we to keep him from his family?”

    “You’re certainly right about that,” Ada conceded, though she continued to fidget nervously. “I guess we can’t worry about what happens afterward, but…”

    -:-

    Meanwhile, in Giovanni’s headquarters, Stacia pushed herself away from her computer and leaned back in her floral patterned chair. The large screen was the only source of significant illumination in her room, casting light on her ornate furniture and poster-lined walls.

    Her solitude was interrupted when Persian pushed her door open and meowed loudly. Giovanni’s beloved pet had been sent to Stacia’s care prior to the final stage of Operation Atlas for his safety, and he knew something was wrong.

    Stacia slowly turned her chair around. With the glow from the monitor no longer reflecting in her glasses, her eyes could be seen. They were dull and almost completely devoid of life, yet when she saw Persian a broken smile appeared on her face.

    “Don’t worry, Persian, everything’s going to be okay. Once I finish this report and file it with Mister Giovanni, everything will be back to normal.” She cocked her head and repeated, “Everything will be back to normal…”

    -:-

    With Olivia, Monroe and Avril busy elsewhere, Matt, Nekou and Bunny took some time to rest. They turned to a news broadcast looking for information on anything else possibly taking place.

    “And now we move on to the news electrifying the media world right now,” the anchor read, “the announcement of a new international network by Lysandre Labs president Lysandre Flordelis and Angel Corporation head Gabriella Bouchard.”

    “What’s this now?” Matt said, pausing between sips of the coffee he’d prepared for the three of them. “I never knew she was working on this…”

    “I don’t think any of us did.” Nekou was stretched across the couch again, but in far more comfort than before, allowing her to be more like herself. “These businesses always do their big deals undercover.”

    “Another big expansion…” Bunny mumbled into her cup. “Clean energy and now a huge mass media expansion? I don’t have a good feeling about this. Matt’s in the middle of it, too, so all of us are too by extension...”

    Up on the screen, the broadcast continued. “We caught up with the two masterminds of this new project to get their thoughts.”

    The image changed to one of Lysandre and Gabriella walking in a huge, ornate room alongside the camera filming them. A reporter, partially out of view, was following them with a microphone.

    “We are very excited to tell the world about Flare Network,” the broadly smiling Lysandre explained.

    “That’s FlareNet for short,” Gabriella interrupted, barely able to contain her visible excitement. “We had to have a snappy brand name for our big new project, right? Everyone will remember it!”

    “Well she’s the same as always,” Matt dryly observed.

    “Yes, yes, of course it’s memorable,” Lysandre said, waving his hand in Gabriella’s direction. “We are planning to officially launch in five days, and there will be an inaugural broadcast from the plaza outside Angel Tower. I will be giving a speech then, in which I intend to announce some other very important new projects our newly joined companies shall be developing for the good of the world.”

    “Do you have any statements on the nature of these projects, Miss Bouchard?”

    “Cat’s got my tongue!” As if demonstrating her point, Gabriella playfully stuck her tongue out at the reporter. “You’ll find out everything in five days, just be patient.”

    The reporter couldn’t resist a tiny laugh. “You’re as entertaining as ever, Miss Bouchard. We’ll look forward to it. Now, one more question if I may, Mister Flordelis. Your company, Lysandre Labs, has multiple markets cornered in Kalos. Broadcasting, computer technology, high fashion, those are just three examples. What prompts a man with such influence to come all the way across the ocean to Kanto and merge with a company based here?”

    “To put it simply, the Angel Corporation has the resources to help me make my own dreams come true,” Lysandre explained. He gestured grandly at his surroundings, a palatial, cavernous lobby cut largely from black marble. “Look around you. The Angel Corporation built this great complex using wealth accrued doing good for the health of this world. The pharmaceutical wing of this company allowed it to grow and provide other things needed to improve the planet, like cleaner energy resources. You see, my dream is to create a world that exists in a beautiful and peaceful state. By joining my own resources with those of the Angel Corporation, we can accomplish that goal together. FlareNet is one part of that. By bringing the world closer toget-”

    Bunny abruptly shut the television off and slammed the remote on the table, startling Matt and Nekou. “I don’t like this at all,” she grumbled, scowling,

    “What do you mean?” Matt asked her.

    “The Angel Corporation getting deep into so many different fields, I don’t like it. They’re involved with a huge share of the world’s energy supplies, they have significant holdings in the financial sector, I could lose myself in listing it all. And now it sounds like they’ve created a monopoly over the media? You know what they say about absolute power, it corrupts absolutely. And after we met him in Goldenrod, I don’t trust Lysandre at all. I think something bad is happening with the Angel Corporation and we’re being pulled into it.”

    “I can’t say I disagree with what you say,” Matt mumbled, staring into a sketchbook he’d taken out, “but Lysandre isn’t in charge of it, Gabriella is, and we both know she wouldn’t hurt a fly. If any corruption begins to unfold, though, she has the business sense to crack down on it. She didn't get to her position by doing nothing.”

    Bunny silently glared at Matt from the corner of her eye. “He means well, but he’s always so naive… I guess he never changes.” Sighing, Bunny stood up and started toward the door. “I’ll go check on Olivia. If she wants something I’ll tell you.”

    “Okay, Bunny, thanks!” Matt called after her as she left.

    As soon as she was alone with him, Nekou pushed herself up off the couch and swayed over to Matt’s side.

    “I hope you like it,” he said to her when he noticed the coffee in her hand.

    “It’s alright, but you know Sonata Coffee? I love that. Drank it all the time in Unova, just like you and your ramen. Get that.”

    “When we get to Olivine City I’ll get some, don’t worry.”

    Returning his attention to the sketchbook, Matt started drawing in it with a pencil. Intrigued by what he was doing, Nekou sat down on the arm of his chair and looked over his shoulder. He continued working without reaction to her presence, so she watched him draw quietly for some time.

    “What’cha drawing?” she finally asked.

    “Where we ate last night. Remember, the clearing?” Matt held up the book so Nekou could better see the sketch. “I want to paint it, so I’m planning things out first.”

    “Is there a reason for that?” When Matt didn’t answer, Nekou realized he wasn’t taking her question seriously and grew visibly frustrated, driving her free hand into the arm of the chair. “I mean it, I really want to know!”

    “You know I paint, you’ve seen me doing it.”

    “But why?”

    “Honestly…” Matt put down his pencil, leaned back and closed his eyes. “I started painting things for Amanda.”

    ~:~

    The world was a very different, much more peaceful place over a decade earlier. In times of trouble the regional Pokémon Leagues were trusted to restore order, and as far as the public saw, they did. There was crime and there was unrest, but without Polaris’ open provocations, most lived in a state of blissful ignorance.

    So it was for the Chiaki siblings as well. Enrolled in the Rustboro School under the care of their grandfather Sutter, their lives were quiet and uneventful then. Many might have found it boring, but after running away from home and the ordeal that unfolded afterward, the peace gave them the closest thing to happiness they could get.

    One night after classes ended, they had traveled from the school to a convenience store in the city, searching for snacks. Their quest ended with Amanda waiting in her wheelchair for her brother, holding a pile of small plastic bags in her lap. Matt was nearby, fumbling for change to feed a vending machine. He eventually found enough to get a pair of drinks and returned to Amanda.

    “Amanda,” he said to get her attention, “here’s your Moomoo Milk.”

    She took the bottle from him, but frowned in his direction and said, “Matt, please tell me you got something for yourself too.”

    Amanda’s concern was well placed, even if she was wrong in that specific instance. Matt’s uniform, though similar to hers with its blue colors and diamond patterns, hung on him. At that time he was remarkably frail, and even though his complexion was less pale than in the present, his poor care for himself made him generally look sickly.

    “Don’t worry,” he assured his sister as he sat down on the bench next to her wheelchair, “I did.”

    “I have to worry about you. Viktor told me you haven't been eating when you work late in Dr. Graceland’s shop sometimes.”

    “I wish he’d just let me be,” Matt sighed. “Right now I just want to relax and enjoy these Lava Cookies.”

    “He means well.” Leaving it at that, Amanda held one of the bags toward Matt. “Let’s dig in.”

    The siblings sat together and ate their cookies in calm silence. Though she had no idea about it, Matt couldn’t stop himself from watching Amanda while she cheerfully enjoyed the snack.

    “You won’t have to ever suffer again,” he thought, “I promise. I’ll protect you and fix everything...:”

    “It’s such a nice night,” Amanda said, making Matt jump as he was snapped out of his thoughts. “So warm…”

    “Yeah...yeah, it is.” Matt sipped at his bottle of milk and lazily turned his eyes toward the sky. What he saw awed him.

    A figurative galaxy of stars spread out in the crystal-clear sky. The glowing ‘Thrifty Megamart’ sign over them and the street lamp near the bench could not dilute the sight, nor could anything else, even the lights from the rest of Rustboro City.

    “It’s so beautiful…” The moment these words left Matt’s mouth, he knew he had made a mistake. Seeing Amanda facing him, visibly confused, only crushed him further. “I’m sorry, Amanda… I’m so sorry! Please, forgive me!”

    “Matt, please! I’m not upset! Just tell me what you’re talking about, that’s enough for me.”

    “It’s… it’s…” The shock of what he blamed himself for doing left Matt unable to directly answer Amanda’s request. “It’s just… the sky, it’s so clear and full of stars. I haven’t seen a sky like this since before we left Snowpoint. I shouldn’t have said anything… it’s not fair to you. I can see it, you can’t…”

    “It’s okay for me to hear you talk about it. Don’t beat yourself up.” While carefully holding down the pile of cookie bags on her lap with one arm, Amanda reached over and felt around until she found Matt’s hand. “You know what? It doesn’t bother me because I can remember all those times I saw the stars before the accident. They don’t change even while we do… so I know that what I remember is still there.”

    ~:~

    “What she said to me that day has always stuck with me.” Matt had long since stopped drawing, instead tightly clutching the sketchbook while talking to Nekou. “I think about it all the time… to have things you can hold onto with certainty, knowing that they’ll be there no matter what happens to you… I paint things because images don’t change, and I started because I swore I’d figure out some way to restore her sight. Until then I paint things so she can see them one day.”

    “That’s really sweet of you, I mean it. You keep surprising me.” Nekou slid off the armrest into the seat of the chair, pushing herself directly into Matt’s side. “Think you can paint me sometime?” she asked with a wry grin. “You can keep me around so she can see me any time, after all.”

    “Something tells me you want me to have a painting of you.”

    “Maayyybe…” Nekou’s grin widened into a full-fledged smile. “I guess you know me more than I expected.”

    -:-

    “You can see that Ghetsis and Polaris anticipated some of our moves, lessening their effectiveness. Overall, though, in terms of results the competence level of our operatives must be rated at an above average level.” Stacia held her body rigidly still, bending her arm at the elbow to push her glasses up. The lights in Giovanni’s office filled their lenses, obscuring her eyes. “Each of our squads performed well in keeping their opponents in check, though it cannot be ignored that outside forces intervened in our favor. For that reason, I am proposing that a plan be developed to continue keeping Matt Chiaki and the circle of people connected to him under our influence. Admin Lalume should be useful for that purpose.”

    Stacia stopped, took a breath, and allowed herself a tiny smile.

    “Do you agree, Mister Giovanni?”

    No response.

    “I understand you need time to think, but we must quickly approve a plan to continue combating Polaris, sir.”

    There was still no response, only silence. Dead, bone-chilling silence.

    “E-Everything’s all right, sir?”

    Stacia tilted her head slightly, her composure starting to crack. It was inevitable that she’d fall apart eventually - she couldn't go on talking to an empty chair forever. The harsh reality it represented could not be escaped. As the weight of Giovanni’s demise crashed down on her, she crumpled to the floor and started to cry.

    “What am I supposed to do?!” she wailed. “I don’t know what do on my own! What am I supposed to-

    Stacia was abruptly cut off when an unseen force seized her body. She slammed her eyes shut and brought her hands to her head, desperately trying to fight it off.

    “No, not again! Not now! Just let me go… let me…” The force soon won out over her attempts to control it, and when she slowly reopened her eyes, they were glowing. “I see…” she droned, “...what I have to do.”

    -:-

    As Matt slowly roused from his slumber, he was greeted by the sound of a downpour on HR-E’s windshield. He blinked several times to focus his vision. Some movement in his sofa bed had woken him.

    “Just go back to sleep.” It was Nekou, as he’d already realized. “I’m not bothering you.”

    “You sound pretty bothered yourself, though.”

    Nekou’s restless shifting around confirmed his thoughts. Something was wrong. He’d known her long enough to tell.

    “I wish I could get one fucking night of peaceful sleep…”

    Hearing the distress in her voice got him to roll over and face her. “Want to talk about it? You sound pretty upset…”

    “Lying here listening to the rain is nice enough.” Nekou’s attempt at evasion left her unsatisfied, and she sighed, frustrated by it. “I had a nightmare, but it felt so real, almost like a memory. I was on the streets of Lumiose City being chased by… something. I… I don’t know, it felt like escaping was a matter of life and death.”

    “I’ve had nightmares like that before. Usually it’s Snowpoint and-”

    “No, dipshit, you don’t understand!” Nekou snapped. “Lumiose is the capital of Kalos. I’ve never been to Kalos in my life! The dream felt so real, it was like I was reliving a life I’ve never lived at all!”

    “I…” Matt suddenly understood exactly why Nekou was so troubled. Just thinking about the idea disturbed him. Living someone else’s life reminded him far too much of what he’d gone to terrible lengths to escape himself. “I’m sorry I didn’t understand. It’s actually kind of funny… I guess we’re more alike than either of us wants to admit.”

    “Guess so.”

    “You don’t have to worry about it, Nekou,” Matt said, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. “You know, there’s a hotel in Lumiose all the travel magazines say is one of the best of the best. After all this nonsense with Polaris is over, let’s go there and replace those nightmares with real memories, you and me.” Matt reached out and put his hand on Nekou's shoulder. “Alright?”

    There was an awkward pause in the conversation, the silence broken only by the harsh rain. Nekou stared face-to-face at Matt, for what seemed like an eternity before violently turning her back on him when what he was saying sank in.

    “What the fuck is wrong with you?!” The anguish in her voice was palpable. “You know what doing that would mean! Why would you want to be around me for that long?”

    Matt’s response was automatic, almost instinctual, but had he stopped to think he would have said something else. “Why wouldn't I?”

    “Because I'm a monster!” By this point Nekou was using Matt’s sheets to dry her eyes. “Do you know what it’s like when that shit happens to me? What happened when I was stabbed? Fuck the voice in my head!” Nekou rolled over to face Matt again and made a fist against her chest. “When that shit happens, I… I can feel my bones and muscles moving around under my skin, like… like they aren't even mine! This isn’t even me, I’m a parasite in my own body…”

    “You aren’t a parasite or a monster,” Matt said softly. “If there’s anything I know it’s that.”

    It took all the strength Nekou had to not lash out at him. “Did you not fucking listen to what I said?!”

    “I heard you, but…” The weight of what Matt was about to admit made him unable to look Nekou in the eye anymore. “If you're a monster, then what does that make me? I… lied about what was done to me. It’s not just limbs and an eye. I should be dead but instead I’m a corpse animated by machines… if you’re a monster, so am I…”

    Nekou suddenly threw her arms around Matt and embraced him as tightly as she could, burying her face in his shoulder. “If there are two monsters then maybe neither of them has to be alone… tell me that’s true. Please…”

    “It sure is.”

    Matt made no effort to separate himself from Nekou. The two of them remained as they were as the pouring rain again became the only sound to be heard.

    -:-

    Deep within the Polaris temple complex, Father sat at his desk, staring at a photograph in an elegantly carved frame. Outside of the glowing double helix statues lining the slate gray path from the office’s entrance to the desk, his cavernous surroundings were largely empty. Behind him, a wall of glass revealed a giant aquarium, populated with all manner of Water-type Pokémon including many Milotic, Alomomola, Relicanth, Corsola and others.

    The sound of a door sliding open behind him made him put down the photo and swiftly reach for the inkwell nearby. With pen in hand, he made an effort to look busy working on the document before him.

    “I already saw you,” the woman entering the office said while drying her bobbed, blonde hair in a towel. Her thin form was wrapped in a lily-white robe that stood out vividly against the dreary decor, and she had no reaction to her bare feet touching the cold floor. “Don’t worry yourself, dearie, I’m not mad.”

    “It is difficult to focus sometimes,” Father explained to her as she approached. “I find myself getting lost in thought about them.”

    “We can’t have that, now can we? Not when there’s so much important work to do.”

    Father didn’t answer, but he took notice when the woman took his staff, which he had left leaning against his desk. He watched as she walked away from him, planted the staff firmly into the floor, and began dancing with it.

    Feeling uneasy with where the conversation was heading, Father took the opportunity to change the subject. “How are you feeling?” he asked of his collaborator. “You were in there for longer than usual this time.”

    “Having to travel to and from Angel Tower for my media spot didn’t do me any favors,” Gabriella said without stopping her twirling around the staff. “You know I always feel like I’m burning up. But the water gives me so much relief, I wish I could stay in it forever!” Gabriella struck a dramatic pose, using the staff to hold herself up while she kicked up a leg and threw back her head and arm. “If there wasn't so much to do, I might stay in that aquarium even longer. Being able to breathe in there is such a blessing. I love it.”

    “It’s fitting you feel that way, considering the oceans are the cradle of life,” Father observed.

    “Fitting, considering we’re going to create life in a cradle of our own,” Gabriella replied, finally halting her dance. She started walking back to the desk with the staff in her hand. “That’s why your role is so important right now. The people only see Polaris as what Ghetsis represented. It’s up to you to bring them into the light.”

    “You’re right,” the masked man admitted. “I have to focus…”

    “That’s right you do.” Having reached Father’s side, Gabriella placed the staff back against the desk and lovingly nestled his head in her arms. “You are so, so precious to me…” she whispered. “Do you remember where you were when I found you? Near death, torn away from everything you loved… never forget that I lifted you out of that, gave you hope where you had none…”

    Behind his mask, Father frowned and shut his eyes in a fruitless attempt to resist his escalating emotions. “I… I remember. How could I forget…”

    “I promise that you’ll get them back. You know that the Oracle shows me what will happen when she speaks to me...you’ll get them back, but we need to create chaos first so Dark Matter will have a feast of despair when Azrael reawakens.” Gabriella released Father, allowing him to slouch in his chair, and started for the exit. “I have to go have a word with Lys. Finish your speech.”

    “Color me surprised Lysandre already knows who Finansielle is,” Father said as Gabriella walked away. “Oh, Gabriella? I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I liked your long hair better.”

    Gabriella stopped, but did not turn around. “Funny you’d say that, considering your wife.”

    “That was her taste, but my daughter shares mine. You’ve seen her.”

    “Touché.” With that, Gabriella left the office, a wicked smile creeping over her face as she slipped outside of Father’s notice.

    -:-

    By that afternoon, the rain over Route 38 had not relented. If anything, it had grown even more intense. It pounded on the HR-E with such force that the television inside failed to completely drown it out.

    With their plans for more training sidelined thanks to the downpour, Olivia and Avril had taken to watching a Pokémon Baccer match, joined by Monroe and Bunny. One of the competing teams comprised a trio of avian Pokémon, somewhat similar to each other in appearance; one was yellow and had pom-pom shapes at the ends of her wings, another pink with a feathery skirt around her body, and the third purple with fan-shaped wings. Opposing them was a Lunatone, a Solrock and a Claydol.

    “Here it comes, this is what I’ve been telling you about!” Monroe excitedly shouted to his sister and their friend, neither of whom quite shared his enthusiasm. On the television, the three bird Pokémon arranged themselves at different angles in relation to the game ball as it neared them. “Watch this!”

    Once the ball reached a certain point, the trainer overseeing them thrust her hand forward and issued a command. The yellow Pokémon responded by waving her pom-poms and releasing a wave of electricity. This was only the start, as her action triggered reflexive reactions from her teammates, making them wave their arms and produce waves of energy matching their colors as well. The ball rocketed from one Pokémon to the next, their coordinated action leaving their opponents helpless as it shot into the goal.

    “Goal!!” the announcer cried. “The Hau’oli Songbirds put another point on the board with their signature triple threat Revelation Dance! The Fallarbor Meteors never knew what hit them!”

    “Those Oricorio are impressive,” Bunny said as the broadcast shifted to a commercial.

    “Yup,” Monroe agreed. “Mele the Pom-Pom Oricorio, Aka the Pa’u Oricorio, and Poni the Sensu Oricorio. Each of their Revelation Dances are a different type, but thanks to their Dancer ability, just one of them using it prompts the others to use theirs immediately. You saw what that lets them do. Olivia, isn’t it great?”

    The frown he was met with completely caught Monroe by surprise.

    “Olivia?”

    “Oh, I’m sorry. They’re great, yeah…” Olivia showed her friend the slightest of smiles, but her gaze remained fixed at an angle just below the television and her emotions began to boil over. “I just… I just remember how my mom and dad and I used to watch Pokémon Baccer together. I miss when we were all together…” When Olivia lifted her head, her friends could see that her forced smile was betrayed by the glassy look in her eyes. “You guys have each other,” she said, gesturing to Avril and Monroe. “The closest I have to that is Nekou, I guess?”

    “You’ve got Matt and me, too,” Bunny added. “Trust me, Olivia, you aren’t alone against everything.”

    “That’s not what I meant!” Olivia snapped back, before becoming apologetic almost immediately. “I’m sorry, Bunny, I didn’t mean to…” Once she saw that Bunny wasn’t upset, she went back to gazing at her balled-up fists on her lap. “I meant siblings. I feel like… having someone like that, they’d understand you on a different level, right?”

    “I wish…” Avril mumbled to herself.

    Olivia failed to notice Avril’s reaction and continued to talk herself. “It… really hurts to think about,” she confessed. “I almost had… brothers or sisters, they never told me which. My mom… she got really sick before they were born, and… I can’t have brothers or sisters now.”

    “Forgive me,” Bunny said. “If I realized what you meant I wouldn’t have said that.”

    “You’ve seen what our family’s like,” Monroe mused aloud, “at least a little bit. We get really competitive, the three of us, but I wouldn't trade Avril and Helena for anything in the world.”

    “I’ve seen the two of you battle, but I don’t remember seeing Helena yet. How does she stack up?”

    Before Monroe could answer, Avril abruptly changed the subject, seemingly ignoring Olivia’s question. “I’m not okay with this,” she complained while watching the rain outside the window. “I told myself I’d be working 24/7 training all the way to Olivine, but with weather like this, it isn’t happening.”

    Remembering Avril’s similarly terse behavior talking about the Olivine Gym Leader days earlier, Olivia silently looked over at Avril as she continued to sulk.

    “If I can’t get ready, there’s no way I’m winning there. No way you will, either. And if we both get stuck there I don’t think I could ever live it down.”

    -:-

    Polaris’ temple was a somber place, a place of reflection riddled with heavy stone hallways lit under the faint glow of lamp light. Excan didn’t know what to expect as he followed the instructions of the paper in his hand to one of the deepest parts of the complex, but when he saw a Polaris member guarding a roped-off doorway beneath a blue neon arch, he began asking silently asking himself questions.

    “Come here for my… induction? They already voted and approved me, what is all of this?”

    Without a word, Excan passed the note to the guard, who read it and pulled back the rope, allowing him to enter the arch. A narrower, darker hallway waited beyond, leading him to a destination he could only question even further. As he walked he could hear the sound of casual conversation and soft music, making him work even harder in an attempt to solve the puzzle. Yet, in all of his ruminations on where he was being led, what he ultimately discovered was something that never entered his mind.

    At the end of the hall was a bar, where a number of the Chromosomes were lounging and waiting for him to arrive. Besides the bar itself and a few booths, a pool table and a jukebox sat under the soft chandelier lights and blue neon. The members of the Sacred Helix that were assembled all turned to their new ally when he stepped inside, giving him varying degrees of greeting. Of all of them, it was Praeses who stood up to meet Excan.

    “Welcome!” he cheerfully said to the new Chromosome. Seeing that Excan was scanning the room, carefully examining his surroundings, Praeses spread his arms and gestured around. “What do you think? Glad I put together the invite for you?”

    Behind his glowing mask, Excan’s eyes were darting around. Something about the bar and its mood struck him as suspicious, almost like a trap. He tried to parse his words carefully, but ended up saying, “This is not what I expected. It’s different from what I thought Polaris was about.”

    Praeses laughed, much to Excan’s surprise. “We hear that just about every time someone new gets in. They always think the Sacred Helix that approves them is the only one, and they’re always so surprised when we bring them in here for the induction!”

    “You can say that again,” Mercury commented from her table, where she was nursing a mixed drink of her own.

    “So come in, come in!” Praeses urged Excan, beckoning him into the bar. The towering man followed his direction, albeit reluctantly. “Tell us, what makes one of the richest men in Kalos come all the way to our door?”

    Excan immediately froze, shocked that he had been so openly identified. “I-I’m still masked…” he stammered.

    “We wear them to symbolize how we discard what we are in this world so we can embrace the promised world,” Praeses explained, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t know each other's’ identities either.”

    “You always make it sound like we all know each other,” Getriebe complained. He leaned against the wall and said, “There are a few who stay under wraps no matter what.”

    “That’s true,” Praeses admitted while bringing Excan up to the bar itself. “None of us know who Father is, but we don’t need to. What matters is that his guidance to us is correct, which it always is. Other than him, the other ones not all of us know are Finansielle and Geminus. The rule usually is that if a Chromosome has their identity revealed to another but requests it be kept hidden from those not privy to it, that request must be honored.”

    “Is that so,” Excan replied. He lowered his head and smiled, taking note of the fact that while the other Chromosomes in the room knew him and he knew most of them, he had knowledge not all of them did - that Finansielle was actually Gabriella Bouchard. His pleasure at this realization made him more comfortable, and he settled in at the bar. “To answer your earlier question, it is essentially what I told you in the meeting. I despise what this world has become. Driven on by modern society, foolish people are destroying each other and their environment. Their greed will continue to destroy everything until they are put back on the right track, and I intend to make that happen.”

    “I thought you’d say something like that. Talk to Athleta, his story’s pretty similar.”

    At Praeses’ urging, Excan turned to the pool table, where the Dragonite-masked Chromosome was chalking a cue. Athleta sighed, put the cue against the wall, and set his right hand down on the table.

    “I’ll admit that I admired what I heard from you the other day.” As he listened, Excan imagined that Athleta was rolling his eyes behind his mask. “The environment must be protected. My home of Blackthorn has been lucky to avoid the worst of it. But when I look to the rest of the country, let alone the world…”

    “You feel angry?” Excan guessed. “Enraged that no matter what you do, it’s not enough to prove to the fools out there that their greed, their inability to stop themselves from taking more and more is destroying this entire planet? I understand how that feels. I’ve spent most of my life watching them destroy themselves and fighting to stop it.”

    “Absolutely!” The annoyance in Athleta’s voice was gone, replaced by a passion very similar to Excan’s. “When the Pokémon League here started, I tried to use my position to act as a role model for the public. All they took from it was the exact opposite of what I wanted. No matter what I did as an Elite Four member, as a Champion, no matter how much I’ve fought, they’ve destroyed more and more in their need to overthrow me, just as you said!”

    “I’m hearing you there,” Excan said, crossing his arms. “I’m sure we’ll be able to accomplish something, the two of us.” Athleta merely nodded in response to this and went back to his game, so Excan asked Praeses, “What about you though? You’ve been eager to get me talking to them, but you haven’t said anything. What gets someone with power like yours into this?”

    “I have a responsibility to use the power I have to make this world a better place, to put it simply.” Praeses brought his hand to his chin. “I was given the power I possess for a reason, but for a long time I questioned what that reason was. When Polaris approached me I finally came to understand it… I am strong because I must lead as many as I can to be strong as well. It’s evolution, just like the process Pokémon go through. In order for both humanity and Pokémon to advance, I am here to help filter out the strong from the weak. It’s why I still battle when politics isn’t keeping me busy. I do have to admit that it’s not a pretty process, but the beauty we create when this is over will more than make up for it.”

    Excan took some time to consider what he’d been told. It was true that building the beautiful world he dreamed of would require the destruction of the current one. The kind of destruction he’d planned on, though, was of a different sort than what Praeses described to him. He’d fantasized about wiping the slate clean in one swift, terrible motion, utilizing the weapon built by the ancient Tenganist king to eradicate all but his chosen ones so they could inherit a beautiful world. The slow, messy collapse of society that he was hearing of now struck him as uncomfortably close to what he wanted to fight against in the first place. Yet he also had to admit to himself that Praeses and the other Chromosomes seemed genuine in their desires to see that same beautiful world, and their passion made him willing to consider their approach. Even though she wasn’t present in the bar, Finansielle’s extreme interest in his ideas made him content, regardless of what happened. If this crude approach proved fruitless, Excan knew she’d back him up in a more elegant plan.

    “Don’t get the wrong idea, newbie,” Getriebe grumbled from his table, where he’d sat down with Jeunes. He did not speak loudly, but the others were able to hear him. “Praeses makes it sound like we all joined for these noble causes. Some of us want nothing more than payback.”

    “Payback, huh?” Excan stroked his beard as he looked down on Getriebe. Calmly he asked, “for what would that payback be?”

    “Surely someone who operates a business like yours is very familiar with the Silph Company,” Getriebe immediately replied, putting a hand up to keep Jeunes from talking. “Right when I should have experienced success for the first time, Silph came in and stole everything from me.”

    Before he reacted to Getriebe’s words, Excan down at the smaller man’s hand, which was gripping a glass so tightly it was shaking. Seeing this made a tiny smile creep onto Excan’s face. “I do know plenty about Silph and their unbridled corporate greed. It’s not surprising they would…”

    “When I first graduated from the Rustboro School, I had a great invention that was supposed to be my ticket to success,” Getriebe bitterly said, picking up on Excan’s lead without looking at him. He reached the pouch to his belt and removed a metallic device, which he then set on the table. “You probably know it… my data-analyzing machine. I invented it to record and analyze battles so they could be studied. Sounds like something a lot of people would want, right? Of course it is. A graduate just out of school couldn’t market their creation independently, so I approached Silph and proposed it to them. They turned me down, then tweaked a few things, branded it as the Vs. Recorder, and dumped it on the market. To this day I’ve seen not a penny of its earnings nor any of the credit I deserve for creating it. I want Silph and all their successes destroyed. I want to take away everything from them just like they did to me.”

    “What an arrogant, selfish fool!” At that moment, the mask covering Excan’s face helped prevent an argument, as it hid the fury burning in his eyes. He curled one of his gloved hands into a tight fist, and very nearly put his thoughts into words, but Getriebe noticed neither. Managing to check his disgust at Getriebe’s true motives, Excan pivoted to Jeunes, who by then was just sitting by and waiting.

    “What I want will probably be more to your taste,” Jeunes said, correctly perceiving Excan’s opinions of what he’d just heard.

    “I hope it is…” Excan thought, though he again refrained from speaking.

    “It’s Team Rocket I want to destroy,” Jeunes went on to explain. “They destroyed my life when I was just a young boy. Both of my parents were scientists who worked on a team that was personally hired by Giovanni for a top secret project, to clone the DNA from a certain fossil and alter it to create the ultimate living weapon. Of course, it’s not so secret now. You know it as Mewtwo.”

    “I do,” Excan reflexively replied, before realizing the implications of this statement. “That means your parents were…”

    “I’ll never forget the day Team Rocket came to our estate to give us their fates.” The bitterness in Jeunes’ voice was so intense that it made Getriebe sound joyful by comparison. “That woman, Ariana, her face has been burned into my memory since I first saw it. It was from that moment that I came to live with only one purpose: to finish my parents’ work and use it to kill Giovanni, Ariana, and everyone else responsible for what happened. I joined the Pokémon Institute and developed my Mirage System there, but by the time I was expelled, Team Rocket’s agents there had already noticed me, and they brought me in. I thought that would be my chance!”

    Jeunes slammed his fist on the table, and the sudden noise made Getriebe and Mercury jump.

    “I thought that would be my chance,” he repeated, “but just as I finished the development of the system, before I perfected my Mirage Mewtwo, they took my research and kicked me out. Polaris found me right after that and helped fund my reconstruction of the Mirage System. I’m more than willing to use it to destroy this world if it will destroy Team Rocket too.”

    Excan shoved his hands into his pockets and frowned. “These two shortsighted fools fail to grasp the nobility of this cause!” he angrily thought. It occurred to him that an awkward silence had settled over the room, so to alleviate it, he put on the most sincere smile he could. “The cause of peace would be greatly advanced if organizations like Team Rocket were destroyed, with that I agree. Any weapon that can be used to that end should be utilized.”

    Seeking to change the subject, Excan searched the room. His eyes settled upon the one Chromosome present he hadn’t yet spoken to - Mercury. Unlike many of the others she had remained largely silent since his arrival, tending to her mixed drink alone at a corner table.

    Approaching her, Excan asked her, “And on that note, a former member of Team Galactic? I fail to understand how a servant of that delusional lunatic Cyrus ends up here.”

    “You assume I believed in his nonsense,” Mercury flatly said. Even as she spoke with him, she remained fixated on the drink in front of her, slowly stirring it as she gazed into the glass. “Where did it even start?” she mused aloud. “I still remember my life before all of this. Back then all I needed was all the mythology in Sinnoh. Then I met that miserable Charon, and before I knew it, our son and daughter were born and Charon’s ego was already starting to spiral out of control…”

    “So it was family trouble that brought you to Polaris?” Excan reasoned.

    “You have no idea.” Mercury stopped mixing the drink, leaving the ice cubes to clink together. “Cyrus recruited both Charon and I while he was putting Team Galactic together. We both had our roles, but it wasn’t long before Charon thought Cyrus was favoring my research over his. That really rubbed him the wrong way, and he started pursuing more and more dangerous experiments to overtake me. One of those experiments blinded our daughter, and our son got fed up and ran away from home with her.”

    Mercury set her drink down and reached up to pinch her brow. Taking notice of her emotions, Excan idly stroked his beard before answering back to her.

    “After everything you’ve been through, it makes perfect sense that you’d be here,” he said. “You want to change this world for a truly noble reason. You’re driven by the pure intent to heal the harmed and bring your loved ones back together.”

    “You flatter me,” Mercury remarked in response. “I actually don’t care that Charon is gone. He was a thorn in all of our sides and the world is better off without him. Matt and Amanda, on the other hand… they’ve been through so much that I want to free them from their pain, but I know they’ll never forgive me and accept my help now. That’s why I’m here. Polaris first approached me after Cyrus started tricking Matt into working for him, and they revealed to me that Cyrus’s claims about making a world without strife really meant he was going to rob us of everything that makes us human. I couldn’t go along with that so I joined Polaris and worked from within Team Galactic to take it down… it wasn’t long after that that I discovered Cyrus’s plan for a secret project in which he was going to have Charon experiment on our daughter… I leaked the existence of that project to Matt, and it opened his eyes and got him to escape Team Galactic with her. I rescued one of the only two survivors from that project and brought her into Polaris as well, and since then, I’ve been trying to do something that will finally help my son and daughter.”

    “To protect your loved ones is the pure wish I’ve been searching for.” Finding himself surprisingly moved by what Mercury told him, Excan reached out and put his hand on her shoulder as a show of support. “The greed of people like Charon and Cyrus, the ones whose egos drive them to pursue superiority for selfish ends…” Excan trailed off, his mind drifting to Getriebe and Jeunes as he continued to speak. “They are the ones who are driving this world to collapse. They are the ones who drove you apart from your children. You have noble intentions. Your rescue of the test subject from Cyrus’s custody shows that. Fumika Chiaki, I promise you that together, you and I will destroy this imperfect world and replace it with the peaceful utopia your family deserves.”

    Mercury could do nothing but stare up at Excan towering over her. She hadn’t expected her story to provoke his sudden outburst of passion. His immediate knowledge of her true identity didn’t surprise her; it had been plenty publicized during the multiple investigations of Team Galactic by the International Police. What she truly never thought she’d hear was his genuine willingness to ally specifically with her. She’d long since resigned herself to a life of relative isolation within Polaris, her dreams of reuniting her family kept quiet from the others, especially Finansielle, who she always thought acted strangely whenever Matt and Amanda’s names came up. There was Séduire, the girl who she rescued from Team Galactic and had always imagined as an ideal daughter-in-law, but aside from her Mercury had no other allies.

    “Sounds like things are going to get busy.” With that, Mercury brought her glass to her lips and drank a significant portion of it in one dramatic sip.

    Meanwhile, near the bar, Praeses smiled to himself and took out his phone. With a single tap on its screen, he brought up a text message to Finansielle. While Excan and Mercury continued talking to each other, he typed in a message.

    “Looks like Excan’s 100% on board with us. He’s really connecting with Mercury, as you thought he would.”

    -:-
     
  3. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    That night, on a large jet sailing over the dark, peaceful ocean, a young woman and young man were wide awake even as most of their fellow passengers slept.

    “Passengers, this is the captain,” a voice said through the cabin’s speakers. “Carmonte Air flight 36 will be reaching its destination, Olivine Airport, in approximately one hour.”

    “Looks like I’m working all the way to the hotel,” the woman muttered to herself. She stopped typing on her laptop, took a pen out of one of the pockets on her heavy black coat, and began spinning it around with her fingers. On the computer’s screen were pictures of Matt, Nekou, Giovanni and Ghetsis, all over a wallpaper of the International Police’s insignia. “Matt Chiaki, Team Rocket, Team Plasma, Polaris, and the Tenganist Liberation Front… how do you all fit together? What is the connection?”

    The more the woman stared at and considered the pictures, the more quickly she rolled the pen between her fingers. She eventually lost control of the instrument and dropped it into her seat, a slip that made her sigh in frustration.

    “I hate flying…” she thought as she retrieved the pen. While doing so she bumped into the arm of her ash blonde partner, who was wrapped up in watching the television in the next seat with his earphones in. “Stay on your side, Silva. We’ve been over this.”

    Her partner didn’t hear her words, and he barely reacted to her touch aside from slightly moving his arm away from her. He was too engrossed in the news broadcast he was watching, and once his fascination became apparent to his associate, she started watching it as well. That was when he finally took notice and turned to her.

    “Mitsumi, listen to this,” Silva said, passing his right earphone to her. She took it, lifted her long green hair from over her left ear and put it in.

    “...we are aware that the victim was a resident of northern Viridian City. Local police are not providing any further information to us at this time, pending the involvement of the International Police in the investigation. Authorities are putting out a warning, however, that men in the area should exercise caution with the Kiss of Death killer’s return.”

    “This happens as soon as we get sent out to find Mr. Looker,” Silva grumbled. “I hope they don’t send us right off to Viridian as soon as we touch down…”

    “The higher-ups aren’t going to pull us off this case,” Mitsumi assured him as she returned the earphone to him. As soon as her hand was free, she went back to twirling the pen between her fingers. “Finding Looker isn’t our only mission, did you forget? We were assigned to hunt down the members of Team Plasma missing after the Ecruteak City incident. Silva, please try to stay focused on all the details of our operation.”

    “Of course, of course,” Silva said with a wave of his hand. “I’ll make you and Mr. Looker proud.”

    “Good.” Mitsumi smiled at her partner, then reached under her seat, where her bag was. She took out a pair of heavy, noise-canceling headphones and slipped them over her ears. “Now if we’re an hour out from landing, I have to block that all out and get this work done.”

    -:-

    Four hundred and sixty seven.

    There was water dripping in the dark room where Nikolai had been placed following his delivery to Polaris’ temple by the Shadow Triad. He’d always been fond of numbers and had expertise with them, so counting the drops helped keep his mind busy. Not only did it soothe the boredom he felt, it helped distract him somewhat from the injuries the Triad inflicted on him.

    When the cell’s iron door opened, it broke Nikolai’s concentration. The frustration he felt about having his counting disrupted was quickly replaced by a surge of pain, and he grabbed the cast around his left arm with his hand in a futile attempt to soothe it. Finansielle entered the chamber, moving in a strange, swaying manner, with two ordinary Polaris members behind her.

    “How nice it is to meet you, my precious angel,” she said to him. Her eyes wandered to the cast, and seeing it led her to pout. “I’m sorry for the rough treatment that foul Shadow Triad put you through.”

    “That means nothing coming from someone they work for!” Nikolai spat back.

    Finansielle brought her hand to her mouth and gently laughed. “You may be the only person on Earth who’s forgotten about Ghetsis’ habit of betraying others, ironically enough. They worked for him, but we’ll be resolving how they feel about Polaris soon enough. As for you…” She took several steps closer to Nikolai, who pushed himself back away from her. “You can’t remember who you really are right now, nor your true purpose. Tragic…”

    “What are you going to do to me?”

    “I’m going to help you become what you really are, something beautiful…” Turning her head upwards and spreading her arms, Finansielle allowed herself to smile at the plans lurking within her mind. “Recover for now, my angel. Soon you’ll be what you were born to become…”

    -:-

    Many hundreds of miles away from what was unfolding in Johto and Kanto, the Orre region was experiencing prosperity far removed from what the other regions faced. Once a barren desert wasteland filled to the brim with criminals, the work of police, business and charity had brought it back from the brink. Orre’s environment was improving, and with it the population of wild Pokémon was increasing. The cities, meanwhile, were leaving behind their collective past as dens of crime, recovering enough that a Pokémon League of Orre’s very own was seen as being in the region’s near future.

    The symbol of Orre’s newfound prosperity was also the crown jewel of its nascent Pokémon League. Looming over the central desert area like a great ivory monolith, the Realgam Tower had once been the headquarters of an international crime group, but upon their dismantling it was repurposed for legitimate business. The tower’s base, by itself a building of impressive size, housed restaurants, gaming facilities, shopping centers and just about every other form of entertainment one could imagine. The next floors served as a luxury hotel for the tourists drawn in by the tower’s other attractions.

    What brought in most of those tourists sat at the top of the tower, nestled among giant, geometric pillars. The Realgam Colosseum was seen by the general public - those unaware of the secretive Orre Colosseum - as the site where Orre’s greatest battles were held for all to see, and that day was no different. On the colosseum’s Poké Ball-styled battlefield, an alternate-color Metagross and a Hawlucha clashed for the thousands of spectators in the hexagonal audience pods surrounding them.

    “Metagross, Zen Headbutt!” the Steel-and-Psychic-type’s trainer called out to it. His silver hair matched the color of his Pokémon, but clashed against the dark colors of his formal clothing.

    With a mechanical-sounding growl, Metagross locked its legs into its body and flung itself forward utilizing its magnetism, the cross on its face glowing a bright blue. Still reeling from the last blow she suffered, the Hawlucha barely managed to stand up before her foe collided with her and threw her across the field.

    “Diantha’s Hawlucha is down!” the announcer declared over a roar from the crowd. “This battle of champions could not be any closer! It’s now down to Steven’s ace Metagross against Diantha’s last Pokémon, and we all know who that is!”

    Diantha, the trainer of the Hawlucha, smiled peacefully as she held up a Poké Ball to recall her Pokémon. Though clothed entirely in gold-fringed white instead of the frilly red and white dress Sheena memorialized her in, she was in fact the same woman who was on the poster for “My Sweet, Sweet Lady” that she kept in her room.

    “I’m enjoying this battle quite a lot, Steven, I must admit that…” she said while putting away Hawlucha’s Poké Ball in her handbag and preparing another. “The spirits of your Pokémon are in top form.”

    “A compliment like that from Kalos’ champion isn’t something you get every day,” Steven responded. “Of course, we’re not through yet, are we? Metagross, are you up for this?”

    Though its body was showing wear from its previous battles with Hawlucha and other Pokémon, Metagross gave an energized grunt of affirmation to its trainer.

    “I would expect nothing else from you, Steven,” Diantha said, still retaining her gracious smile. Instead of throwing the ball in her hand, she simply opened it and gently said, “Gardevoir, come out.”

    Diantha’s last Pokémon took shape on the field, and the response from the crowd was deafening. “It’s a battle of champions and their aces!” thundered the announcer. “Gardevoir versus Metagross! These two titans are going to have a fierce fight to the finish and nothing will stand in their way!”

    “He has a point, Diantha… should we give them what they want?”

    “Yes, let’s.”

    Diantha reached up to her golden pendant, while Steven removed his lapel pin from his suit. Both items had Key Stones attached to them, much like Kate’s headset; Diantha activated hers merely by holding it in her hand, Steven was more theatrical, drawing out his stone’s power by touching it to his lips. Bright lights emerged from the two Key Stones and joined with the Mega Stones worn by Gardevoir and Metagross in their necklace and leg brace, respectively. The two Pokémon were enveloped in cocoons of light, which they soon tore out of to reveal their Mega Evolved states, to the pleasure of the crowd.

    Of the two Pokémon, Gardevoir changed to a lesser degree: her gown had become longer and more flowing, her hair shortened, and the horn in her chest split into a two-pronged shape. Metagross, on the other hand, underwent a dramatic physical change. It roughly doubled in size, and its legs turned sideways to become giant, clawed arms. The four arms it already had faced forward, while four new smaller arms pointed backward. Completing its transformation, the cross on its face turned from gold to blue, and a large spike emerged beneath its mouth.

    “There they are, folks, what you’ve been waiting to see! The signature Pokémon of these two legendary trainers - Mega Gardevoir and Mega Metagross! Two have entered our arena, but only one of these Mega Evolved Pokémon will come out!”

    “Ready to find out which one of us will be that one, Diantha?” Steven asked with a mischievous grin.

    “I am, but don’t assume you know the answer already.” Diantha returned Steven’s expression.

    “Oh, I won’t.” Extending both of his arms and opening his hands wide, Steven called out, “Metagross, Meteor Mash!”

    Metagross locked all eight of its arms into its body to streamline itself, then propelled itself at Gardevoir while enveloped in blue light. In the face of Metagross’s speed and power, neither Diantha nor Gardevoir flinched. They simply waited for Metagross to draw close, then, with an unspoken cue from her trainer, Gardevoir swiftly moved aside and avoided the collision.

    “It’s our turn now, Gardevoir. Shadow Ball!”

    -:-

    Though the storm had passed, much of the sky over Route 38 was still overcast. Not that this mattered - Olivia and Avril were more than willing to make up for the previous day’s lack of training in the gloomy weather. With Matt, Nekou, Bunny and Monroe sitting nearby and watching, the pair went through their exercises with their Pokémon.

    “Krabby, use Bubble Beam!” Olivia called out, getting a fierce, gurgling hiss from the Water-type’s bubble-filled mouth as he faced his foe, Avril’s Eevee.

    “Stop it with Swift!!”

    Avril’s Eevee met the flood of bubbles sent his way by Krabby with an equal flood of glowing stars. The two swarms negated each other with some force, creating a burst of wind that shook the water from the plants around the area.

    “You know two can play that game, right?” Avril taunted.

    “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Olivia said with a smile.

    With that, the two and their Pokémon went back to exchanging their attacks. Off to the side, Matt picked up the plate next to himself and turned to the Trevenant, who was standing alongside him fixated on Olivia and Avril.

    “I get the impression when you were with Dino things were very different than this,” Matt said to the Pokémon, whose single eye did not waver. “I overheard him talking to that Colress guy, calling you a failed experiment… I don’t know what that’s all about, but we don’t see things that way. Here.”

    Matt offered the Trevenant one of the fried pastries on the plate, and its scent got him to finally turn away from watching the training. He stared at it, very plainly surprised and unsure of what to do.

    Seeing the Pokémon’s unease, Nekou leaned over and snatched one of the pastries off the plate herself. “See, they’re delicious!” she exclaimed before taking a huge bite out of the pastry and barely chewing before swallowing it. “I just wish he’d make them more. I haven’t had one since the nineteenth century!”

    “Wh-” Bunny needed a moment to absorb what Nekou had said and understand it. “Yeah, I guess that’s technically true…”

    Encouraged by this, the Trevenant took the pastry into his hands and started to eat it. He chewed on it slowly, deliberating on its flavor while the humans in front of him looked on. The Ghost-type toyed with the pastry in his woody claws, before suddenly putting the rest of it into his mouth, drawing a collective sigh of relief from the gathered trainers.

    The peace did not last long. Unbeknownst to the trainers, a pair of presences were lurking in the bushes nearby, creeping forward with the faint rustling of the leaves. The beings paused, and before anything could be done, they suddenly lunged out. One of the presences struck the back of Matt’s head with enough force to make him drop the plate. Marie, who had been asleep against Nekou’s leg, woke up the moment the pastries hit the ground and made a beeline for them, but she could only collect two before a pink-and-white blur collided with her.

    -:-

    With his battle against Diantha resolved, Steven retired to one of the many restaurants within Realgam Tower to unwind. The silver-haired man absentmindedly took sips from a cocktail in his hand while watching the television mounted on the wall behind the bar.

    “The Orre Region is set to receive another gift from one of its biggest benefactors,” the red-suited news anchor stated. She gestured to the space next to her, where a stylized golden insignia was briefly displayed. Its presence was followed by the image of a glamorous woman draped in her blonde hair standing alongside a scruffy man of large stature, both dressed in lily-white clothing. “The Aether Foundation has announced a further investment of thirty-five billion dollars for the continuation of Orre’s restoration and development. In a statement provided to us here at ONBS, Aether Foundation president Lusamine and vice president and chief scientist Mohn said: ‘We are impressed with the progress the Orre Region has shown. Crime rates have continued to decline as the health of Orre’s environment has improved. These positive steps have already made Orre a much better place for both humans and Pokémon. We have decided to continue the Aether Foundation’s investments in the region because we believe it will one day evolve into a paradise where Pokémon can freely flourish alongside humans.”

    “That Lusamine is something else, isn’t she?” At some point, Diantha had come up behind Steven and joined him in watching the broadcast without notice. “It's good to have passion for something, I suppose.”

    “Her passion is so intense it’s almost scary.” Steven downed more of the drink and then said, “At least it’s for something good. Last time I was in Orre this place was still pretty bleak. Now I almost don’t want to leave.”

    “About that…” Diantha reached into her handbag to retrieve her phone, tapped its screen several times, and held it next to Steven’s head. “Listen to this message.”

    Of all the voices that could have come out of the phone, it was Sheena’s that Steven heard. “Mom, it’s me. I’m sorry I haven't called in so long. Life’s been… a little crazy lately. Don't worry about me. I saw your win today against Steven… you’re amazing. You always are. Mom, listen to me. Keep winning. Beat everyone in your way, no matter who they are. Keep winning so you can stay in Orre. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and I think Orre might be the safest place to be. I know that’s going to alarm you, but please, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I just want you to not get mixed up in everything. I love you, Mom. Let’s see each other soon.”

    Steven’s demeanor was visibly far less casual by the time the message ended.

    “That’s the kind of thing that would have me on the next plane home if my child left it for me,” he muttered.

    “You’re telling me,” Diantha replied, putting her phone back in her bag. “As a mother it panics me beyond belief, but as a woman I want to trust her judgment. I know she’s tough enough to handle herself, but when I hear about what’s going on in the world and then I get that message, the urge to drop everything and rush to her can't be denied.”

    “I’m leaving Orre tomorrow,” Steven revealed after pivoting his seat to face Diantha. “My father wants me to head back to Hoenn… there have been some incidents at Devon facilities he wants me to check out. As soon as I’ve finished seeing about that, I’ll look for Sheena, I promise.”

    Diantha breathed a sigh of relief and set her hand on Steven’s shoulder, patting him several times as a silent show of appreciation for his help. His reputation of reliability was exactly what she needed to start calming her mind.

    -:-

    By the fifth day after Ghetsis’ war on its citizens, Ecruteak City was in the very earliest stages of recovery. The fires were finally out, and the police response brought temporary shelter to the displaced survivors. Unrest fomented by Ghetsis’ rhetoric still smoldered, but for the time being, it was being kept in check by the police with the aid of allied trainers they’d recruited.

    One of the trainers working with the police was Silver. Tasked with keeping tabs on activity in the less developed half of the city, he and his Feraligatr were patrolling the streets near the Dance Hall when his Pokégear began ringing. He stopped walking, sighed, and took the device out of his pocket, but his annoyance turned to surprise when he saw who was calling.

    “Why are you calling me now, Lance?” Silver wasted no time in demanding.

    “Always so touchy,” the leader of the Tohjo Elite Four replied, earning another irritated sigh from Silver. “How is the situation in Ecruteak?”

    “Boring, but I guess that’s a good thing.” When Lance didn’t immediately say anything back to him, Silver began to grow suspicious. He straightened, then asked, “What are you not telling me?”

    “Silver…” Lance’s words were slow, measured. “It’s about your father.”

    “I’ve told you again and again,” Silver snapped, “I don’t want any part of my old man’s business.”

    “No, listen… your father, he didn’t survive Ghetsis’ rampage. He’s gone.”

    There was nothing Silver could say in response to this news. His mind simply went completely and utterly blank. All he could do was tighten his grip on his Pokégear, so much so that he nearly cracked it.

    “Do you expect me to feel sorry for him?” the young man asked, his voice now little more than a strained growl.

    “Whether you feel sorry or not isn’t up to me to decide. Listen. The travel embargo in and out of Ecruteak City is going to be lifted soon. When it is, I want you to come meet me in Viridian at the earliest opportunity. We need to discuss what your father left behind.”

    -:-

    Not far from where Silver was patrolling, Rowena sat at a table in a café and busied herself with her laptop. The building had survived the riots and presently provided free beverages to both civilians and relief workers.

    “Getting through that was scary, but it’s amazing watching it play back,” she said out loud to herself. As she tapped her fingers on the laptop’s keys, scenes from the riots and the battle with Ho-oh she’d recorded flashed across its screen. “When this is done and I get it off to ONBS, Secc might pay me enough to live the luxurious life for years!”

    -:-

    With all of the activity that had come to pass through Olivine City, it was only natural that numerous hotels sprang up to serve its visitors. One of them in the city’s north, not far from the airport, was where Mitsumi and Silva ultimately ended up. It wasn't exactly luxurious, but their accommodations were satisfying nevertheless. Plus, the International Police were footing the bill, so Mitsumi and Silva didn't need to worry about money.

    While the two of them prepared for their mission, they had the full length windows at the end of the room open, allowing a cool night breeze to circulate. Mitsumi had laid her red tactical suit on one of the beds in the room, and was busy attaching different pieces of equipment to it. Silva, meanwhile, was lying on the other bed with a high-tech helmet and visor on his head. Three of his Pokémon were playing on the floor; his Plusle and Minun bounced a rubber ball back and forth while the third, one who wore a rag with the features of a Pikachu crudely drawn on it over her shadowy body, was drawing on a piece of paper using crayons scattered around her.

    Once done with the rest of her equipment, Mitsumi returned to one of their suitcases to retrieve a small box. The small brown crystal nestled within glistened when she opened the container. With great care, she carried the crystal over to the suit, where she set it into a larger stone on the left wrist.

    “There we are. Eevium Z, all set to go.”

    Meanwhile, the Pikachu-disguised Pokémon jumped up onto Silva’s bed, carrying the picture she had drawn with an arm extended from under the rag. To get his attention she jumped up and down on his chest, but to no avail.

    “Here, Mimikyu, I’ll take care of that for you,” Mitsumi said, coming over next to her partner’s bed. She gently lifted Mimikyu off of Silva, set her down next to him, then pressed a button on the helmet. “Time to wake up.”

    “What…?” The shock of Mitsumi shutting down the device left Silva plainly confused. Even after Mitsumi removed it from his head, it took him some time looking around to completely return to reality. “I wasn’t goofing off this time, I swear! I really was training! The VR simulation was going great!”

    “I’m proud of you for showing some real work ethic, but it’s time for a break. Here, Mimikyu has something to show you.”

    Mitsumi lifted Mimikyu up once more, bringing her into her trainer’s full sight. Without hesitation, Mimikyu brought a second arm out from her rag and unrolled the paper.

    It was a crayon drawing of Mitsumi, Silva and Looker.

    “Did you draw this for me, Mimikyu?” Silva knew the answer already, but he knew how much it meant to Mimikyu. Her excited, chattering response was all he needed. “I love it. Thank you.”

    Silva sat up and reached out to rub the cheeks of Mimikyu’s disguise. She squealed happily, then used one of her arms to meet his hand in a high-five that excited her even further.

    Suddenly, a new sound joined Mimikyu’s squeaks and Silva’s amused laughter. Only Mitsumi heard it at first. While her partner and his Pokémon kept on with their cheerful exchange, she quickly inspected the room, her nerves on end.

    The source turned out to be her laptop, presently sitting open on the table near the window.

    “That sound…” Mitsumi said, setting Mimikyu down again so she could dedicate her full attention to the laptop. “It’s a call, but…”

    “Only Mr. Looker’s calls use that ring!” Silva exclaimed. He sprang to his feet, almost falling down off his bed as he did so, and rushed to straighten up his appearance. Mitsumi, seemingly paying no mind to him, starting walking toward the computer, prompting him to shout, “Mitsumi, wait! I have to be presentable!”

    “The fact that Looker’s alive and able to call us precludes any concerns we could have about appearance,” she returned, “and besides, I truly doubt he cares about what we look like when we’re not on-mission.”

    With that, Mitsumi tapped her finger against the blinking square on the laptop’s screen that heralded the call. It disappeared and was replaced by a static-filled but still distinguishable image of Looker. Silva stiffened into a formal pose, and despite her words Mitsumi couldn't help standing at attention as well.

    “Looker, sir, it is good to hear from you. Are you alright?”

    “Mi...sumi…” The audio of the call was also cracking with periodic static, but Mitsumi and Silva could still understand their superior when he spoke. “You tw… don’t have w...rry about me. You two must give me y...r attention and list...n. What orders ...re you two hav...g?”

    “We’re in Olivine now,” Silva explained. “Our mission is to start mopping up the remnants of Team Plasma and Team Rocket…”

    “Have most rapturous att...tion to me!” Looker’s image briefly distorted even further when he shouted. “Whate...r orders you are having, I am overr...ding them! I have learn...d much si...ce being rescued from the Magn...t Train. You two, how...ver, you will not have much satis...ction in what I must tell you.”

    “What are you saying, sir?” Mitsumi had been under Looker’s tutelage long enough to have a fair expertise when it came to his oddities. This was outside of how she knew him to act, and all she could do was raise an eyebrow at him.

    “I am saying that you two must m...ke some diff...lt compromises to deal with your n...w mission. What you two beli...ve, it must be put aside. The tr...th between Polaris and Team Ro...ket... the reality of what the Ten...anists call Dark Matter, it is all connected…”

    -:-

    By that night, Matt’s group had reached the turn where the wooded paths of Route 38 gave way to the plains of Route 39, heading south toward Olivine City. It was particularly dark, allowing HR-E’s lights to be seen for quite some distance.

    Matt sat alone in the craft’s cockpit, his only light coming through the door to the back and the screens in front of him. He stared at a small box in his right hand, lost in the memories its contents brought him. He was so preoccupied, in fact, that he didn't notice Nekou enter the room and sidle right up next to him.

    “A ring already?” she teased, grinning mischievously with her eyes half open. “Don’t you think you’re going a little fast?”

    “I know better than that. You’re not the type of person to go for that kind of thing.” Matt raised the box up to his shoulder so Nekou could see inside of it. “Here, look.”

    When Nekou saw what was in the box, her reaction was more extreme than it would have been if it really did contain some piece of jewelry with emotional weight attached to it. It took all her strength to not dive over the back of the chair and grab it immediately.

    It was a round, white stone with a red and blue Mega Evolution symbol inside of it.

    “Do you know what this is?!” Nekou shouted, throwing her head forward so forcefully that her glasses started to slip off. When Matt didn’t immediately answer, she continued, “This is the stone that lets Salamence Mega Evolve! How have I never seen you use it?!”

    That’s what it is?!” This information finally got a reaction out of Matt, where Nekou’s teasing failed. “I… I had no idea! To me it was just a precious stone… I found it on a trip my grandfather took me on to Meteor Falls a long time ago. I kept it as a memory of that…”

    Nekou climbed over the back of the chair and crawled across Matt to reach the keyboard in front of him. As she typed, she said, “Salamencite, the Mega Stone that enables Salamence to become Mega Salamence…”

    Matt squirmed, trying to see over Nekou, but before he could she threw herself back on the couch. A video of a Salamence had appeared on the screen in response to her work. It was quickly enveloped by the cocoon of light emblematic of Mega Evolution, and emerged soon thereafter visibly changed. Its body was noticeably slimmer and streamlined, and its eyes burned with a golden glow. The uppermost of the fins framing its face had grown much longer, and the gray ridges on its underside also lengthened, forming a harness-like shape. Its wings had undergone the most change, each one forming half of a giant, red crescent going across its back.

    All Matt could do when he saw this was fall back against the couch himself. His grip on the box never weakened. “I had no idea this stone could do something so amazing… my grandfather told me everyone should visit Meteor Falls at least once. He was right about that. I wished Amanda could come with us, but back then it wasn’t realistic for her… over all this time, I thought when I caught Sally there, she was the only result of that trip I’d be able to show Amanda. Yet, this stone…”

    “Here, watch this…” Nekou said quietly to him, pushing herself up against his side and smiling as she gestured at the screen. On it, the now-Mega Evolved Salamence tucked its front legs into its harness, then shot up into the air like a comet.

    “Salamence, Hyper Beam!” an unseen male voice called out.

    Matt’s visible eye widened when a light-blue aura surrounded the Mega Salamence as it charged up its energy. When it fired its attack, the usually purple-and-black beam was surrounded by the same aura.

    “What is that?” Matt uttered.

    “Aerilate,” Nekou replied, getting even closer to him. “Salamence gets that ability when it Mega Evolves. All its Normal-type moves become Flying-type, and those same moves get a pretty big power boost, too.” She put her head on his shoulder, where it so often seemed to end up. “I bet you can’t wait to use that stone now.”

    “I would use it if I could.” Once again, Matt turned his gaze down to the Salamencite in its box. “Even knowing what this is, I don’t have a Key Stone. There’s no way I can activate it.”

    “Well we’ll have to see about fixing that, now won’t we?”

    -:-

    “In international news, the cleanup in Johto’s Ecruteak City continues following the sudden appearance of Ho-oh there five days ago. The attack of the legendary Pokémon came following a speech given by Ghetsis, the representative of the Polaris organization, which itself set off riots on the city’s streets. Domestic authorities are working with the International Police to determine the threat posed by Polaris activity here in Hoenn.”

    When the driver of the truck sighed, his passenger immediately reached for the radio and turned it off. The pair sat for several minutes without exchanging a word between them, leaving only the hum of their vehicle’s engine to fill the air.

    “You’d think they’d talk more about what’s been happening to our guys,” the truck’s driver complained. “Not all this stuff happening over there.”

    “It could be that the attacks have something to do with Polaris,” the second man reasoned. “Clearly someone doesn’t like Devon, but do you really think they’re acting alone?”

    “You’ve been listening to the news, right? Polaris says they’re for the average working man like you and me. What would they have to gain by attacking us?”

    All of a sudden, a blast of fire shot down from the sky and spread out over the road. The driver slammed his foot down on the brake pedal and twisted the steering wheel as far as it would go, making the truck spin out as it ground to a stop. The two Devon employees barely had time to compose themselves before they heard the sound of something large swooping over their vehicle.

    Somewhere overhead, the sound of a voice rang out, screaming, “Transcend the confines of time and space!”

    Before the men in the truck even knew what was happening, a wide beam of pink light came down and swept over them. The last thing they saw was their entire world completely consumed by the blinding glow.

    The light came from the hands of a young woman flying on the back of a Mega Salamence. Her red eyes glowed brightly until the light reversed and came back towards her, the backlash causing her to begin convulsing.

    “...Mum?” the Whismur riding next to her murmured.

    Salamence, feeling his trainer’s thrashing, descended to the road and landed, allowing her to roll off his back. The Whismur jumped off right after her and ran to her side, while Salamence reverted back to his original form.

    “Mum?”

    “I’m… I’m alright, Aster,” the young woman said, gradually regaining her composure. “Don’t worry about me.”

    Regaining her strength, she stood up and brushed the dust from her gray shorts. A gust of wind blew through, rustling her cropped black hair and tattered, cream-colored cape. She stomped up to the now-empty truck and put her right foot up on its bumper, allowing the Key Stone set in her anklet to glisten in its headlights.

    “You stick-in-the-muds from Devon are getting what you deserve, using that abominable technology the old man created for your own profit! It’s true what they say, those who refuse to learn history are doomed to repeat it, but you’d think three thousand years would be enough for you to see the truth…” Something clicked in the young woman’s mind, and she threw another of her Poké Balls over her shoulder, releasing a rotund, lavender-colored dragon whose entire body dripped with slime. “Oh, right, I better take care of that fire. Goodra, use Muddy Water to put it out.”

    Goodra nodded to her trainer, then faced the fire, raised her arms up and howled, sending a wave of brown water cascading over Salamence’s flames. At the same time, the young woman stormed to the back of the truck with Aster tagging along closely behind her and threw the doors open to reveal its cargo.

    “Meteonites… just like all the others. What kind of terrible machine could they want to build with these?”

    “...Mum?”

    “We’ll be taking them as always, Aster. Better we take ‘em home with us than Devon use them to profit off Gaia themselves. But let’s have a little fun first.”

    -:-

    The next morning, Devon’s president was in his office at the top of the corporation’s Rustboro City headquarters, carrying on a meeting with Steven via videophone.

    “Another one last night, Dad?” Steven incredulously said. “Is it linked to the others?”

    “Same exact circumstances as every other attack, Steven. Our employees vanished without a trace, and the truck’s cargo was stolen. And like all the others, the culprit spray painted flowers and the word ‘Aster’ all over it.”

    “Flowers and the word ‘Aster’... they must be a message from whoever is campaigning against Devon, but what does it mean? Is it a threat? Telling us what they’ve done with our people?”

    “Unfortunately, we have no clues as of yet,” Devon’s president said with a grimace. “Hurry and get back here as soon as possible. I will redouble security at all our facilities but I need your skills to solve this mystery.”

    “I’m on my way.”

    On his end, Steven disconnected the call, making his image disappear from his father’s screen. The president silently considered his next move for a few minutes, then pressed another button on his desk phone.

    “Rebecca, hold my calls, would you?”

    “Of course, President Stone.” his secretary replied.

    “Thank you.”

    After taking his finger off the phone button, President Stone turned his chair around to face a blank screen behind his desk. He reached into his blue business suit and produced a visor, which he put on before pressing another button on his chair. In response to that cue, the screen flickered to life, revealing Finansielle.

    “Right on time as always, Joseph,” she said, mockingly.

    “Another Devon cargo transport was hit last night,” he revealed to her. “But you already know that, I’m sure.”

    “I know you have your son coming back from Orre too,” Finansielle countered.

    “I couldn’t keep him there when he knows about the campaign against our company. It would attract too much suspicion, and the boy is smart. He might have figured out our connection to you.”

    “Oh, I’m not worried about that. Keep him on his investigation of the attacks and everything will work out just fine. The loss of the Meteonites there won’t affect our plans too much. Just continue your work on Infinity Energy and the Angel Corporation will fill in the rest. It’s how to use that life energy in everything that we need to perfect.”

    -:-

    “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer…”

    Back at the HR-E, the hours wiled away, along with Nekou’s few lingering strands of propriety, as she sprawled out drinking from her usual stack of beer cans on the sofa bed. Matt sighed and put his hand down beside her, listening to her slurring her words slightly as she sang out loud.

    “I don’t know what’s more frightening,” he said to her, “you singing that song to the end or you drinking all the way to the end of it.”

    Nekou stopped singing for moment, considering what he said in silence, then quickly downed the entire rest of the can’s contents before throwing it at Matt and taking another. “Take one of that, throw it at Matt, ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall.”

    Other than waving his hand in front of his face in a futile attempt to deflect the can, Matt didn’t react to Nekou’s provocation. He just sat down on the edge of the bed, staring down at the floor.

    “Come on, that was fucking funny,” she argued, sitting up to talk to him. “Even you would laugh at that.”

    “I’m not in the mood,” Matt said back, remaining still and not looking back even when he felt Nekou crawl across the bed to his side.

    “Wanna talk about it?”

    “I shouldn’t lay my problems on you, especially when you look like you’re enjoying yourself right now.” Still no physical reaction.

    “Come the fuck on, do I look like someone who can’t take things laid on them?” If Matt had been paying closer attention he would have noticed that Nekou actually seemed genuinely offended to some degree, even as she continued teasing him.

    Ignoring the attempt to bait him with a double meaning, he instead just blurted out a single question. “What’s this Maman person like?”

    Nekou gasped and fell back, caught completely off guard by what he said. “Why you… why would you ask me that?”

    “You’ve always been talking about how important she is to you,” Matt explained, his voice remaining flat, empty. “I wish I knew what that felt like, having someone like that.”

    “Maman is…. Maman, I guess.” Nekou’s lighthearted attitude was gone, and although she was still slightly drunk, she was now completely serious. “I don’t know who I’d be without her. Actually, fuck it, I do know. I was so unhappy and miserable before she took care of me… She made me who I am now. She taught me how to enjoy life and have fun…”

    Nekou’s words trailed off by the time she finished, getting caught up in the emotions rising inside of her. Matt noticed this, but before he could do more than raise his head, he felt her move to sit with her back against his own.

    “But as much as I love Maman, I don’t know where I really came from. I don’t know! At least you know where you came from even if they were pieces of shit… I want to at least know who I should hate!”

    “I’m sorry,” Matt said, finally turning around and putting a hand on Nekou’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t have brought this up.”

    “No, it’s fine. Fuck it. Remember I told you I dream about this screaming woman sometimes?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Sometimes I think she might be my real mother… but if that’s true, how do I… no, nevermind. Why did this suddenly come up?”

    “I don’t know… I guess… I was thinking about how my father died and I never really cared. That’s not right… what’s wrong with me?”

    “I already said it, that old man was a real piece of shit. You don’t have to be fucking sentimental if the guy didn’t do anything but hurt you.”

    “I guess that’s true…” Matt pivoted around and returned to staring at the floor, leading Nekou to put her hand on his shoulder. “Still, what am I doing? What did I do this to myself for?”

    “You’re asking the wrong fucking person there,” Nekou said, allowing a slight, bitter laugh to slip from her lips. “You know how I am. I do whatever I fucking please to feel good. That’s how I live my life. But don’t you dream of anything? You did kind of strike me as the type who’s not satisfied with the average day to day shit.”

    “There’s nothing for me here, not anymore,” Matt answered with a sad shake of his head. “When I was a kid I thought it would be nice to go to space one day, I guess. But I’ve long since given up on that… now, it’s find Reshiram to learn the truth behind everything else that happened, and then…”

    Nekou narrowed her eyes and frowned. “And then what?”

    “Well, like I said, there’s nothing for me here anymor-”

    Before Matt even knew what was happening, Nekou grabbed him and threw him down onto his back. She then pinned him down with every ounce of her incredible strength, using her hands to hold down his shoulders while stabbing her knee into his stomach.

    “Why do I have to keep having this fucking conversation with you?!” she screamed at him. “I know I’ve fucking told you this before! There is nothing after you die! Nothing!! How can you keep being so casual about doing that to yourself?! What about Amanda? What would she say?”

    “Amanda would be better off,” Matt mumbled, making Nekou gasp in horror. “She’s got a nice peaceful life without me involved in it. Haven’t you noticed how well she’s doing? She doesn’t get dragged into all the drama around me...”

    “Then what about me?” Nekou sharply countered. “I don’t give a fuck about all your so-called drama! You made me a promise, remember? We’re gonna get through this shit and go to Kalos, remember saying that? Just you and me, remember? And do you remember me saying I would be your bodyguard? How could I do that if you fucking kill yourself? How?!!

    All Matt could do was stare up at Nekou’s face as he absorbed her outburst. He knew what she was saying about his promises was true, but somehow, through his depressed state the meaning of her words didn’t fully register until he noticed tears starting to form at the corners of her eyes. That was when it all hit him at once. For all her bizarre behaviors and the strange circumstances around her, Nekou actually did genuinely care about him. Everything he’d said and done in the past had been under the assumption that she didn’t take any of it seriously, that she would just move on from him. But at that point, there was no way he could think anything else. She did take it all seriously, completely seriously.

    Without thinking, he managed to push his arms upward and pull her down into an embrace. “I’m sorry. You’re right. And to be honest, maybe the drama around you isn’t so bad either.”

    When she realized he was embracing her more and more tightly instead of letting go, she uttered, “What are you…”

    “Right now I feel like you’re the only thing that’s consistent. I don’t know what I’m saying… everything is so fucked up right now, yet you’re always the same by acting like you.”

    Nekou took a moment to absorb what Matt said to her, then settled in with her face against his shoulder. “You’re right, things must be really fucked up if you’re relying on me.”

    -:-
     
  4. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Meteor Falls, situated on Routes 114 and 115 on Hoenn’s western coast, was a site travelers frequently visited all year-round. It wasn’t just Hoenn residents like Matt and his grandfather who went hiking there. Yet, for such a popular location, it held a secret even Sutter may not have known.

    Deep in the mountain range, far from the prying eyes of outsiders, was an ancient, underground village. This was the destination of the Mega Salamence trainer crusading against the Devon Corporation. Using one of the secret tunnels known only to her people as an entry, she flew over the village on her Salamence’s back with her Whismur at her side.

    “Grannie! Grannie!” she called out. The echoing of her voice earned annoyed stares from some of the other residents on the ground, but she cared only about one of them, an elderly woman wearing a cape much like her own. Seeing the village elder near a stone house that stood above the others, the young woman guided her Salamence down to land near her.

    “Zinnia, it’s good to see you back safe,” the elder said to the young woman as she dismounted her dragon. “Are you sure you weren’t followed?”

    “Those Devon doofuses won’t ever find this place,” Zinnia dismissively replied. “I’m like a ghost, they’re never gonna see me.”

    The elder laughed mildly, then walked to Salamence’s side, where she opened the bag slung over his back. “More of these stones…” she listlessly noted upon seeing its contents. “Devon shouldn’t be searching these out so actively. I fear they are aware of the powers these Meteonites contain.”

    “Roger that,” Zinnia said in agreement. “You think they’re trying to recreate that horrible weapon the fallen king used?”

    “I don’t know, but that’s exactly why we have to keep going. If the ultimate weapon fell into their hands it would be an unacceptable risk for the entire world.”

    “And to think they’re trying to do this when we have to destroy that meteoroid up there!” Zinnia angrily dug her heel into the light-colored dirt. “They’re so eager to repeat the sins of the past, but they only want to hear about the parts they can use for profit. We need the Meteonites for Lord Rayquaza, but Devon just can’t stop getting in the way.”

    “We need to figure out what their bigger picture is,” the elder concluded.

    -:-

    On the evening of the final day of their trip toward Olivine City, Matt and the others gathered around a table outside HR-E. He’d prepared a homemade pizza for the entire group as a sort of celebration for their imminent arrival, its aroma and mouthwatering flavor proving so delicious that there was little conversation among the group as they ate it.

    Nearby, all of their Pokémon were having their own feasts Matt prepared for them. Dewott and Mareep, having spent the past week fighting relentlessly, ate separately from each other, the former with Mr. Mime and the latter with Monroe’s Greninja and Steelix. There were also two additional Pokémon in the crowd - one was a blue crab with a partially-closed eye and claws that resembled boxing gloves, while the other was a pink-and-white bear cub who bore a small, tag-like growth beneath its tail. The pair had a bowl piled high with the pastries from earlier, which they were wolfing down with wild abandon.

    “This pizza is so good!” Nekou exclaimed after swallowing a huge bite of one slice. “I could eat all of it!”

    “Good thing I saw ahead and made enough, then,” Matt deadpanned back at her.

    A hearty laugh went up among those gathered at the table. When it died down, Avril looked toward the Pokémon, specifically the pair of new ones, and sighed.

    “I’m going to need you to give me the recipe for those pastries,” she said to Matt. “I can already tell Stufful is going to kill me if I don’t give them to him.”

    “Stufful and Crabrawler already did try to kill us for those,” Bunny clarified. “Granted, Matt was the one who got it the worst…”

    “There’s a saying about not biting the hand that feeds you,” Nekou added, “but hitting them in the back of their head must be different.”

    Matt grimaced, then turned to Avril and said, “Sure, I can do that. I’m planning to do the same with Crabrawler, it’s understandable.”

    “You guys, it’s time.” Olivia had been quietly using her Pokégear during the meal and turned it to show the screen to the others. “That big broadcast is starting soon.”

    “There’s too many of us to watch on that screen,” Matt said, standing up. “Hang on, let me get something ready…”

    Matt walked to where his bag was sitting and searched through it, quickly producing his tablet. Setting a stand to hold it up on the far end of the table, he pointed it toward the side of HR-E, allowing it to act like a projector on the mobile home’s wall. He rejoined the others just as a pink-haired woman wearing red-tinted glasses and a high-necked black sweater came on the broadcast, sitting behind a desk and microphone.

    “Welcome, everyone of Kanto, Johto, and the rest of the world, to the inauguration event for the Flare Network.” An ‘F’ symbol stylized to look like a flame appeared next to the anchor. “My name is Malva, and I will be your host for this evening’s events.”

    “Isn’t she that model and fashion designer from Kalos?” Bunny wondered out loud. “I remember that name.”

    “You’re right!” Olivia exclaimed. “I’ve been into her stuff for a while, but seeing her like this didn’t click right away.”

    “So aren’t you asking yourself why she’d come so far from Kalos just for this?” Bunny put her hand on her chin. “She said ‘people of Kanto, Johto and the rest of the world.’ If she was in Kalos why wouldn’t she say Kalos?”

    -:-

    Bunny’s deduction, even if based on little more than a gut reaction to Malva’s words, was entirely correct. She was broadcasting from a studio in the Angel Corporation complex, speaking to cameras manned by staff wearing the symbol of Gabriella’s company, not Lysandre’s.

    “We will be bringing you a live speech from Angel Plaza in Viridian City, presented by FlareNet founder Lysandre Flordelis and Angel Corporation president Gabriella Bouchard, shortly. Following the speech we will present analysis and news highlighting all the different options for information and entertainment that FlareNet can offer. Before we are joined by Lysandre and Gabriella, here is a statement made previously by President Bouchard.”

    The Flare Network symbol imposed next to Malva in the broadcast was removed and replaced by footage of Gabriella speaking on the day her company acquired Lysandre’s.

    “The acquisition of the media holdings of Lysandre Labs now gives the Angel Corporation ownership of a majority of the world’s media channels. We now have access to all major markets worldwide, with the exception of the Orre Region…”

    While the footage played, Malva rested her head on her hand and allowed herself to daydream. She recalled her first meeting with Lysandre at one of her earliest fashion shows. From the moment she entered the industry she knew what kind of people might approach her, which made him even more unusual in her eyes. When he proposed that she join his company, he did it with an impassioned speech about beauty in the world.

    “His favorite topic,” she chuckled to herself.

    It was odd, she had to admit. Yet his overwhelming passion for what he believed ultimately won her over.

    “Well, that and the great career opportunity.”

    A voice spoke to her through her earpiece, snapping her out of her memory. “Malva, you’re back on in three, two…”

    “Alright.” Malva clasped her hands together on her desk to help regain her mindset for broadcasting. When one of the Angel Corporation staff pointed to her, she looked to the camera and said, “I am being informed that Director Flordelis and President Bouchard are about to join us, so let’s go live to Angel Plaza.”

    As she watched one of the monitors within eyesight switch over to a view of the plaza outside the complex, Malva smiled. Lysandre had long talked about his dreams of a beautiful world, and she’d followed him all the way from Kalos to see them begin to come true.

    -:-

    As Lysandre stepped onto the stage with Gabriella following closely behind, he waved to the crowd assembled to see him. They were a mix of journalists - all now working for his network - and civilians who’d paid to attend the event.

    The journalists would be necessary, that he would admit. They’d take his message back to their respective regions and help cultivate it so it could grow and spread. The civilians, on the other hand, were the ones he hated. Spending their money on tickets just to see a speech that would easily be seen via broadcast only reinforced his beliefs about their entitlement. Even as he smiled at them, he silently seethed with rage, thinking of how that money could have gone to help the needy instead. He knew a good number of them had paid higher prices to scalpers for those tickets, too.

    When he reached his mark on the stage, he managed to tamp down his anger by focusing his mind on his speech. “Thank you!” he said in response to their applause, though his words lacked sincerity. “People of Kanto, Johto, Kalos… indeed, people of much of the world, I thank you and welcome you to this most important day. Allow me to also thank our host and partner in our new endeavors, President Gabriella Bouchard of the Angel Corporation.”

    Lysandre walked towards Gabriella and led the crowd in applause for her. She timidly waved to them, then gestured to him to continue.

    Taking her cue, he headed back to the center of the stage, saying as he walked, “This new endeavor Gabriella and I have created, the Flare Network, is as of now linking most of this planet together.” To emphasize his point, Lysandre spread his arms out in a gesture of size, then brought his hands closer together. “Television, radio, web media, and everything in between. Our world has become closer than ever thanks to FlareNet. But, you may be asking yourself why we need this extensive communication so urgently. Why is now the time?”

    The giant screen looming over the plaza flickered to life when Lysandre gestured to it, displaying scenes of urban sprawl and industrial logging clearing trees away, among other things.

    “The truth is that this planet has reached a tipping point,” Lysandre continued, his voice cracking with the rage he was barely managing to contain. “Humanity has grown more and more prosperous by the year, and with that, the population has exploded. We can see the results of this unchecked growth all over the world.” Continuing to gesture widely with his arms up in the air, Lysandre elaborated, “The middle of the Kanto region is now a massive metropolis grown out of Saffron City, having consumed the once-beautiful Celadon and turned it into a slum full of pollution and crime. Its Gym Leader even abandoned it and moved to Lavender Town! And just north of where I am speaking to you from now, Route 2 and Viridian Forest are being torn down! Ripped from the earth and discarded like garbage to facilitate even further development!”


    Lysandre clenched his fists and turned back to the crowd before him, taking a heavy step that made his shoe crash against the stage. Nearby, Gabriella simply watched in silence and smiled, unnoticed by the eyes of the world.

    “Well I will not stand by and watch as this happens,” he forcefully said, briefly closing his eyes. “Gabriella and I will show, via FlareNet, the path to a new world. A world where resource depletion is left in the past. A world where we stop destroying our planet before it fights back and Mother Nature destroys us! You might be asking yourself how we plan to accomplish that. The world will still need resources, that is without a doubt. Well, my friends…” Lysandre had to force those two words from his throat, he loathed them so much, “...I ask you, what if there were a way to travel beyond our planet, to reach into the vast sea of stars and find their bounty so we can bring said bounty back to Earth for ourselves? That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I am here to announce this evening!”

    Lysandre stood near the screen and spread his arms out wide, while on it, an image of a satellite materialized.

    “I give you AZOTH!” he declared dramatically. “The AZOTH space program, short for Astral Zone Objects for Terrestrial Healing, is a joint venture of the Angel Corporation and Lysandre Labs. We are funding the research and development of a new type of remotely-operated probe system, which will allow us to access celestial bodies and harvest resources that will then be brought back to this planet. And I will tell you where our project will begin.”

    The image on the screen changed to display a rock of significant size, and Lysandre continued speaking.

    “This is a meteorite recovered from near Mt. Moon. It is made of a largely unknown, primordial element we have dubbed “Meteonite.” Our research into this element has shown it has great potential for generating and harnessing energy. It truly could prove to be the resource of the future where mankind is liberated from its dependence on the resources of our planet! We have been discovering small amounts of Meteonite worldwide, but in order to use it to create the energy source we envision, we will need a vast supply of the element. Now, do not give up hope yet. It just so happens that there is a tremendous supply of Meteonite relatively not far from Earth as we speak!”

    Lysandre’s bold claim elicited murmurs from not only the civilian members of the crowd, but the media as well.

    “It will surprise you, but the meteoroid Persephone-2213, on track to make its closest pass to Earth in one thousand years, is composed entirely of the Meteonite element. Persephone will be the first celestial object AZOTH will visit, and we will mine what Meteonite we need from it remotely, allowing us to obtain its bounty without endangering a single human life on a mission into space! With the AZOTH program, we will guide mankind into a new era of true prosperity while preserving our planet at the same time!”

    With his speech mostly done, Lysandre faced the crowd and spread his arms again, seemingly anticipating applause. Of course, the attendees had no way of knowing that it was all an act, that he already knew very well what was causing them to react with uncertainty instead.

    Behind him, the giant screen had filled with static. Gabriella, feigning surprise, turned around to look up at it before allowing an evil smirk to twist her face.

    -:-

    “What’s going on with this?” Mitsumi said to Silva, gesturing to the television in their room, which was also filled with static.

    “We didn’t get our TV service disconnected from the room, did we?”

    Mitsumi pondered the situation for a second, then walked over to her laptop and began working on it. She pulled up a window from a television streaming service, only to find that it too was consumed by the static.

    “There is something very wrong taking place here…” she said, her voice hollow.

    -:-

    Matt’s group reacted with similar surprise to the interruption of the broadcast, though no words were spoken until something changed. The static suddenly disappeared, replaced by a single, chilling image.

    It was Polaris’ helix logo, but different from before. Wrapping around the helix and ultimately surrounding where the loop of the ‘P’ formed, were a pair of serpentine Pokémon.

    Ones frighteningly familiar to Olivia in particular.

    “Why are there Milotic on there…” she murmured into the edge of her cup.

    -:-

    With nearly all of the world looking on, the Polaris logo soon faded, allowing the masked visage of the group’s leader to replace it. He was sitting in an ornate, sculpted throne with a vivid painting forming a vast backdrop.

    “To all those across the world watching this,” he declared, “I am Father, the shepherd of Polaris. I am here to speak to you directly as the traitor Ghetsis Harmonia tried to pervert our message to increase his own power. His treason against Polaris, and more importantly against you, the people, has been dealt with. With him out of the way, I am now able to bring the truth of Polaris directly to you.

    The world is indeed at a tipping point. Why has it been brought to such a place, however? I will tell you. In nearly every corner of the planet, society is controlled by a corrupt system that exploits the people for a select few. You know it as the Pokémon League.”

    Behind his mask, Father had to grunt in anger before he could continue.

    “They tell you that the life of a Pokémon Trainer is a life of comfort, a life of glory. They fill the heads of your children with fantasies of fame and fortune that pull them from your homes with the siren song of the open world. Nowhere do they speak of the many trainers lacking the blessings of the lucky few to find success, but those are the ones who Polaris and I are here to fight for! Like so many of you listening to my words now, I have lost my own child to the seduction of the Pokémon League. Even as I speak, they are out there exposed to the harm this society so cruelly puts upon them… I will not allow it to continue any further!”

    By this point, Father’s voice had begun to crack under the weight of his emotion.

    “From the beginnings that would grow into the modern Pokémon League, this system has had blood on its hands. The empire that once ruled the Tohjo Continent created it in its earliest form as a gladiatorial sport for the entertainment of the masses, meant to give ordinary people a distraction so they would stay compliant with their rulers. A century later, during the first Pokémon League in the Kalos region, the administration ignored warnings of the dangers of disease. Their arrogance led to an epidemic that destroyed many, many families by claiming the lives of countless traveling trainers. We are here to avenge those who were lost by dismantling the corruption that took their lives.”

    With that, the Polaris leader lifted up his staff, displaying that like the insignia shown when they first hijacked the broadcast, it had a pair of Milotic wrapping around the top.

    “This Pokémon is Milotic. It’s revered as being the most beautiful Pokémon in the world, and it shall be symbolic of what we hope to achieve. We will restore the true order of this world and tear down the decaying institutions that have led it astray. To prove my words, allow me to reveal the first of our truths to you all: there is a lost eighteenth type of Pokémon! This lost type disappeared during the great war of Kalos three thousand years ago, when the rebels against King AZ’s rule damaged the Life Plate given by Arceus from which its power flowed. Even today Pokémon of this type exist, but they have lost their true attributes because of the Life Plate’s damaged state. However, we have obtained this damaged Life Plate ourselves, and now, to prove the validity of our message, Polaris will restore this type into the present day!”

    -:-

    At the Adenosine Base aboard the Angel Corporation’s oil rig, the scientists were watching the speech on multiple monitors in a laboratory. Even though they were Polaris members themselves, they were enraptured with their leader’s words. Just as Father finished describing the lost type and his plans for it, Colress entered the lab, dressed in a new and heavier lab coat that had computer terminals installed on its arms.

    “Looks like it’s time to get the show on the road,” he said, grinning in excitement as he tapped at the screen on his right arm.

    In response to his prompts, a mechanism lowered from the ceiling of the lab, containing the large portion of the Meteonite from the Ruins of Alph. The rock was loaded into a gun-like device, pointing downwards at the coffin-shaped object that had been dubbed the Oberon, itself held in place by four metallic arms. Three holographic screens appeared in front of Colress so he could monitor the activity that was about to take place.

    “And now, here we go!” he announced to the other scientists, before decisively slamming his finger down on a button on the terminal on his arm. “Pixie Plate, awaken!”

    The Meteonite sparked to life and began to glow brightly. Cables connected to it and flowing down throughout the mechanism soon filled with similar light as its power was siphoned into the gun. Three rings of decreasing size went down the barrel of the device, and each one lit up in turn as the Meteonite’s power passed through them. All the energy clustered at the end of the gun for a brief time before firing down into the Pixie Plate, creating an incredible flash of light as the relic’s power began to reawaken.

    “Yes, yes!!” Colress cried out. “Let their true power shine once more!”

    -:-

    Unbeknownst to Colress or the other Polaris members aboard the rig, as the power of the awakening Pixie Plate surged through the base and into the outside world, one of the Poké Balls in their very own storage chamber was also affected by it. The sphere shook and fell off the pile it was on, causing itself to burst open. A ring-shaped Pokémon wearing several different keys on his body emerged and looked around the room in confusion.

    “Klef…?”

    -:-

    One of the few places not watching Lysandre’s speech, and therefore not seeing Polaris hijack it, was Zinnia’s village beneath Meteor Falls. Their people did not concern themselves with modern technology, instead choosing to live a simplistic existence by the traditions they’d observed for millennia. Because they had no idea of what was taking place outside their village, when Zinnia collapsed while assisting her grandmother in transporting the small Meteonites, it alarmed the elder even more.

    “Zinnia!” the elder shouted to the younger woman, running to her side as quickly as her aged body would allow her. “Zinnia, what’s wrong?!”

    “It… it hurts!” Zinnia shrieked as she convulsed on the ground. “It really, really hurts!”

    “Mum?” Aster said in worry.

    Zinnia couldn’t meet her Whismur companion’s concern with any further words, merely choking up vomit into the dirt and continuing to violently spasm.

    -:-

    On Route 39, Mr. Mime was having a similar reaction to Zinnia’s, though not as violent. He fell over while eating and began to convulse, and when Olivia took notice, she panicked.

    “Mr. Mime?” she cried out, jumping up at the table so quickly she almost knocked it over. Her jostling caused the projection of Father’s image to briefly break up. “What’s wrong? Mr. Mime, what’s wrong?!”

    Before Olivia knew it, Nekou was alongside her, putting an arm around her shoulder to lend her friend some strength. Nekou didn’t quite know what was going on either, but her instincts told her to support Olivia, so she did. Matt, Bunny, Avril and Monroe got up and began to follow, but stayed back from clustering too much around the pair.

    “By now the effects of what we have done will be felt worldwide,” Father declared as he began to speak once more, pulling the group’s attention back to the projection. “We have reawakened the power of the Pixie Plate, the one of Arceus’ Life Plates long since considered dead! With the revival of the Pixie Plate, all Fairy-type Pokémon, both purely typed and dual-typed, are regaining their true characteristics and power! This step in evolution will be a scary one for many, no doubt. But Polaris’ message is proved valid. We will restore the world to its natural state and this is the first step! Have no fear at all, as Polaris will be here to help guide you through this new change to what you know. This is merely the first step toward the paradise we promise you. We will foment the development of the new world, giving it the purity of the water that life first emerged from in ancient times. I ask you, no, I beg of you, stand alongside me and the rest of Polaris! Join us and march into the promised future! Join us and be saved!”

    With that, the broadcast briefly returned to static, then disconnected completely, leaving the group both dumbfounded and fearful.

    “What… what just happened?” Monroe stuttered.

    Olivia drove an anguished fist into the earth beneath her and said out loud, “Dad, why are you doing this?”

    The magnitude of what Olivia was claiming hit all the others nearly instantly. Despite Nekou getting it first, though, it was actually Bunny who put words to her thoughts before anyone else.

    “That doesn’t make any sense, Olivia. It can’t be Rich. He’s…”

    “Dead?” Olivia snapped, turning around so quickly she threw Nekou’s arm off her shoulder. There were tears starting to form in her eyes. “I spent five years trying to trick myself so I didn’t have to deal with the fact he was dead, but you look at what you just saw! Don’t you think it’s just a little bit weird that there were Milotic all over that message? Milotic wrapped around the ‘P’ symbol… his throne had Milotic carved into it… the painting behind him had Milotic in it… and he had a staff with two Milotic on it and wants Milotic to symbolize this pure new world he came up with? And on top of all of that, you heard what he said. His child was taken from him and is out doing the Pokémon League right now! He’s talking about me, he’s looking for me! He’s looking for me after all this time!”

    -:-

    A significant crowd had gathered around the television in the lobby of Blackthorn City’s Pokémon Center to watch Lysandre’s speech and thus been yet another captive audience for Father’s appearance. Most of them were still clustered in that area as Malva came back on the broadcast and acted as if she was as surprised as everyone else by what had happened, but there was one young man who separated from the onlookers as soon as Father vanished.

    “I knew it!” Renzo growled to himself, slamming his fist down into one of the Pokémon Center’s tables. “I knew he wasn’t really dead, that he was just hiding… he’s going to pay for abandoning us!”

    -:-

    Several hours later, Matt was back sitting in HR-E’s cockpit, the space illuminated by both the moon and the artificial lights installed in the craft. When the door behind him opened, Matt didn’t even have to turn around to know it was Nekou entering the room.

    “Did you finally get Olivia to go to sleep?” he asked.

    “Yeah, but it was a real bitch,” Nekou replied, flopping down on the sofa bed next to Matt. “I don’t think we can convince her that this Father isn’t Rich. She won’t listen.”

    “Neither of us are the only person who can help her now,” Matt said. He entered a command into the control keyboard, causing a window showing a telephone to pop open on one of HR-E’s screens.

    While they waited, Nekou asked Matt, “What do you think? Do you think it’s him?”

    Before he could answer, the video call connected, and the image of the telephone was replaced by a live feed of Anabel in her penthouse at the Battle Tower. She was visibly tired, with bags forming under her eyes and her long hair fairly unkempt.

    “Matt? Nekou?” she uttered as soon as she picked up the call. “Why are you calling me now?”

    “Anabel, I’ll cut right to the chase,” Matt forcefully said. “Did you see that Polaris pirate broadcast during the FlareNet presentation?”

    “How couldn’t I? Pretty much the entire world saw it.”

    “Olivia thinks that the ‘Father’ who gave the Polaris speech is her father,” Nekou wasted no time in revealing. “She’s utterly convinced it’s Rich.”

    As soon as she heard this, Anabel turned even paler than she already was. “How… that can’t be possible… it shouldn’t be…”

    “It shouldn’t be possible, and yet she’s convinced it’s him.” Matt leaned forward and braced himself against the keyboard. “I was there when Rich died five years ago, and I know what happened afterward. You had his body burned, right? I’m sure you still have the ashes.”

    “They haven’t left my mantle, so it can’t be him,” Anabel responded. Her voice then turned low, and she asked, “Do you think it could be him?”

    Matt shut his eyes and put one of his metallic hands on his chin. “You have Rich’s body, that much isn’t in doubt. But I’m thinking about something Sheena once taught me about Tenganist beliefs… she told me about what they call Gaia, the energy that flows through the planet and gives it life. From what she taught me, many Tenganist sects believe that when one dies, their consciousness becomes a part of Gaia’s flow, making their experiences and personality - really, their soul itself - part of the world itself, allowing Earth to keep evolving. I guess what I’m saying is that Rich’s consciousness still existed within the flow of Gaia, if those teachings were correct.”

    “Then there would be two questions,” Anabel reasoned. “One, how would they be able to pull him back out of the energy flow? And two, how did they give him physical form when I still have the ashes of his body here?”

    “I can answer that second one,” Nekou blandly said while sarcastically raising her hand. “Polaris is into some super fucked up science shit. You want to talk about how they gave him physical form, they could very well have cloned him from even a little bit of DNA or put his mind into a robotic body or… fuck it, you get what I’m trying to say. I’ll let him answer the other one.”

    “I’m not sure I should appreciate that,” Matt said to Nekou before turning back to Anabel. “The only thing I can think of that might explain how Polaris could take Rich’s consciousness out of Gaia is if they have a powerful Transcendence user on their side. I suppose it wouldn’t be impossible that there could be someone whose skill is communicating with the souls within Gaia, and from there it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think someone could pull one of those souls back out.”

    “So what you’re saying is that there is a credible chance it is him…” Anabel listlessly concluded, though she suddenly gained a surge of energy when she continued, “He can’t be doing this of his own free will. There’s got to be someone else behind the scenes manipulating him. There’s just no way he really leads Polaris himself…”

    “I didn’t know him but I think you might be right,” Nekou said to her, “but we can’t conclude that yet. Right now, we need you to meet us in Olivine City tomorrow. Before we can unravel any of these fucking secrets, we need to help Olivia.”

    “I agree,” Matt concurred. “We can only do so much to help her. Beyond anything else, right now Olivia needs her mother.”

    -:-

    On the other end of the call, Anabel absorbed everything that Matt and Nekou had told her. She took a considerable amount of time to respond to what the pair caring for her daughter said. When she finally did, though, her face turned serious - a deadly, confident type of seriousness that was once extremely common for her. A fire had reawakened in her heart, one that was buried for a long time.

    “I’ll be there,” she declared. “The Pokémon Center in Olivine City.”









    END of CHAPTER 21
     
  5. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    All right, so you mentioned this would be a much less intensive chapter, and I do agree you delivered on that front! Everyone's got some sort of focus in the aftermath of last chapter, but there's still a semblance of seriousness and melancholy throughout. I'd expect nothing different, given how much some of these characters have had to go through.

    Unsurprisingly, the duo that reminded me most of that was Matt and Nekou. You get to see a lot of affectionate scenes from them this chapter, but most if not all of them devolve into anger and either Nekou or Matt struggling to figure out why the other doesn't want to be rid of them. Matt also had the flashback with Amanda, which was bittersweet, and I agree with Nekou that there's a soft spot to him that's starting to shine through a bit more. I think Nekou's kindness and affection to him attests to that a little bit, at least in part.

    Olivia gets a little less spotlight in the downtime department, I think, and her story is the one that picks up most by the end of the chapter. That's not a criticism, per se, though I think the chapter could've gone without the plot trying to pick up again. The length of this chapter was massive is part of why I say that, but also because it was meant to be a less intensive chapter, like you said, so it's okay to not have anything that's major plot-related happening. At any rate, her situation with Rich potentially coming back sounds super messed up in the best kind of way and intriguing. The ordeals with the jewel of life and the Coronet Rosary and everything else are all intertwined so deeply, and I think this chapter does well to emphasize that. Everyone involved has some sort of role, which is important despite the massive cast of characters; each character could easily become overshadowed by another, but they don't here.

    The opening scene with the Father was another interesting one to note. I thought the dialogue was pretty gripping throughout, and the intrdouction of a new Chromosome interesting to read about. You can really tell there's some tension between the Chromosomes here, despite them all claiming to be working for the same cause.

    I don't have much else to say because of the breather chapter, and I kind of dispensed with my quote-style reviewing because really, I just wanted to enjoy the downtime with these characters. They all deserve something good... well, except the evil ones.
     
  6. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Lysandre's backstory of how he got his Gyarados was interesting, even if it involves, um, perishing the whole town. Then again, he wanted to destroy all of Kalos lol... So Olivia is the key for this time traveling/parellel universe stuff to happen, huh? I know the Pokemon games touch upon this various times (and sci-fi for that matter), but I can't help but be reminded of the show Voltron with one of the premises being some characters trying to go to a better universe/timeline. And Pokerus that works similar to Mega Evolution, obvious that will do more harm than good but still curious how that will play out later.

    Looks like Olivia will have her hands full trying to not have Mareep and Dewott hurt one another. Cool for Avril to help her train there.

    So Saeko and Sutter had a child together? Or well, Sakeo was carrying their child for a bit until swallowing Jewel of Life. The implications of what Ghetsis did to Sheena, though, oh boy that's even worse. So we get more info on Dark Matter, and by Zager's story I think I have an idea of who he's talking about.

    Another cute moment with Nekou and Matt there before being disrupted by Trevenant. Pierce resigning from Team Rocket is an interesting twist there but understandable.

    Matt painting for Amanda is sweet. And of course Nekou would say that lol. The next scene with them supporting one another after the conversion with them being "monsters" is nice too.

    Cute cameo with the Oricorio there. I think I remember Anabel losing the second baby, man now thinking about it stings.

    Oh right, Mercury and Charon are Matt and Amanda's parents, I forgot about that fact. I forgot if Mercury was able to redeem herself in an earlier story, but her reasoning for joining Polaris seems genuine if Lysandre is moved by that.

    Ok, so the next several scenes after Lysandre and Mercury's scene things are going at a faster pace. There's some focus on Mega Evolution with Steven and Diantha's battle, Zinnia's apperance, and Matt having Salamence's Mega Stone. I didn't expect Shenna's mother to be Diantha, shall be interesting your take on their relationship.

    This is also a sweet scene between them.

    Olivia picks up Father's true identity fast, considering lots of talks of Rich's death and the possibility he's back. Knowing you, though, there's something more behind the scenes than meets the eye. Can't wait to see Anabel getting more active again.
     
  7. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    “The Iron Maiden”

    In Olivine City, Matt’s group reunites with Amanda and Anabel, as well as Monroe’s father Dominic. Olivia also meets a trainer interested in meeting the new Olivine Gym Leader, who trains a Mawile like he does, but when they go there, a surprising face awaits them. Meanwhile, the greatest fallout yet may come from outside that battle.


    Character list:

    Matt Chiaki
    Nekou Langley
    Olivia Mistbloom
    Bunny Spruce
    Anabel Mistbloom
    Amanda Chiaki
    Monroe
    Avril
    Dominic
    Helena
    Mitsumi
    Silva
    Morgan
    Zinzolin
    Sheena
    Pierce
    Colress
    Gabriella Bouchard
    Professor Rosalie
    Ariana
    Petrel

    Of course you would expect nothing different, you know me. :p

    It ended up longer than I thought it would be, much longer, but I think it was still successful at delivering what I intended: that feeling of inescapable melancholy in the fallout of what happened.

    This was absolutely intentional. The interaction between the two of them is, perhaps necessarily, becoming much more complex going forward from this point. There's going to be a lot more exploring of them behind the facades now.

    This continues on from what I just said. This is a point where elements of what this story was until now begin to wind down in some ways, while other new things are going to come into effect. One thing that's going to be changing is that until now, it's been hitting a lot of the traditional journey fic beats, with Ghetsis and his allies as the main villains and the story being driven by both the Gyms/Battle Frontier and an eventual confrontation with the antagonists. Now that that's resolved, we're going to be shifting into something that while it has a lot of the same elements, is much more driven by the characters and the plot involving them. The journeyfic elements will still be there, but a bit on the back burner.

    Now with all of that said, what you observed here is what I want to reorient the story to be more about. That's my goal now.


    I understand that, but at the same time, I personally don't want to make a chapter that's complete fluff, if that makes sense. The amount of space I have to work with isn't limited in general, but in this specific case, it was important for the event that happened at the end of this chapter to happen when it did. Olivia may not have gotten the most focus this chapter, but she will get a lot next chapter, and what happened here is important in setting that up.

    Exactly this. This is going to be kicking into gear pretty fast.

    Yes, thank you, I'm glad that worked the way I hoped - what I'm shooting for is for this massive cast to come together into a big interconnected picture.

    That's something that helps them avoid being just another evil team, I think. There's always some element of intrigue when you have any organization of characters, but I wanted to emphasize that here. The scene in the bar is something I felt to be very important, because it shows that while they are working towards some sort of collective goal, they're doing it for different reasons - and some, like Lysandre, don't approve of the "impure" ones doing it for their own benefit.

    lol, well said. Thank you for your kind review!

    I feel like it's something that could plausibly be true in the games or the anime, as well. Lysandre's backstory is always that he once helped people who were in need, but they grew selfish and acted entitled to his aid. I built off of that and the fact that his signature Pokémon is Gyarados even though he visually resembles Pyroar. That told me that Gyarados must have some special significance to him, so having it be involved in what set him down the path of Team Flare seemed like a natural resolution.

    I haven't watched Voltron, so I can't say anything as to that, but I can answer that you have a sense of what is going on there. Maybe not precisely exactly what you're thinking now, but you're in the proverbial ballpark.

    Also, Olivia is a key. The mechanics of it aren't something to worry about right now.

    There's still a lot to go on that.

    Avril's actually not such a bad person. She just has a lot of problems... well, that's something that I think the next chapter will make a lot more understandable.

    All three subjects you just mentioned are connected. How? You'll see. Eventually.

    Funny thing about that, my original plans for Pierce changed a lot over the time it took me to write the last few chapters.

    I wanted to really establish a strong emotional core here and I think I succeeded at that. Thank you.

    We're not done bringing that back up.

    Mercury's someone who is going to be a morally challenging character. Some people might be able to find something redeeming in her while others won't be able to forgive her for the bad things she's done.

    Diantha and Sheena's relationship is actually constructed from something the anime did that almost certainly wasn't meant to be taken this way - she was able to mentally communicate with her Gardevoir in battle without speaking, very much like what Sheena can do. I decided to run with it between that and the fact that they both have prominent eyebrows. Yes, that's actually something I did.

    As for Zinnia, she isn't going to be the exact same character as the Zinnia you know in the games. I just want to put that out there now. She's more of an adaptation that combines Zinnia with another character who will remain nameless for now, and who follows an original storyline other than her existing one.

    Matt having the Salamencite was something that felt natural given his connection to archeology and the fact that he caught Sally on Meteor Falls made it a good place for him to find it. The Draconids living there also made it a natural choice to me. He can't use it yet because he doesn't have a Key Stone, but I have a plan for how that will happen.



    That one got me going, and I'm the one who wrote it. :p

    You're going to have a good time. Trust me on that even if you can't trust anything else I do or say.

    Thank you for the review!
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2018
  8. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Well, let’s continue going. There is nothing of note that warrants any warnings in this chapter.

    -:-

    CHAPTER 22: The Iron Maiden



    -:-

    A bright but cool morning greeted the people of Johto the day after the hijacking of the Flare Network’s inaugural broadcast. With few clouds in the sun’s way, its rays flooded into Anabel’s penthouse, giving her plenty of natural light as she got herself dressed for her trip.

    She slipped her suit jacket on and tightened her necktie as she walked from her bed to a nearby mirror. In front of her reflection, she used a long ribbon to tie her hair into a ponytail that went nearly all the way down her back, inspecting the image standing before her all the while.

    “Black,” she said out loud to herself. “I haven’t worn this much in a long time.”

    Indeed, it was true that much of her outfit was black, the ribbon being the least of it. Her suit jacket and matching pants were also black, as were her shoes and her tie. The only article of a different color was the white undershirt she had on beneath the jacket.

    Anxious for the day’s plans to begin playing out, she stepped over to the heavy, ornate dresser set up next to the mirror to finish getting prepared. She first donned a pair of black gloves, then attached a bracelet - also black - to her left wrist. Before she finished putting everything on, she stopped for a moment to examine the crystal set into the bracelet. It was pink, diamond-shaped, and had a pattern resembling an eye within it.

    “Never did really get too much of a chance to use this yet. I guess that’s going to change… next time I talk to you I’ll have to properly thank you for this gift, Steven.”

    With that, Anabel put on the last two articles remaining on the dresser - a pair of dark sunglasses and a long, dark blue scarf - then picked up her phone and made her way to her private elevator. The doors opened to allow her access to the marbled interior of the lift, and she wasted no time in pressing the button denoting the lowest floor of the Battle Tower.

    As the elevator took her down the tower, she was alone with her thoughts. The only source of sound in the car was the radio piping music into its confines. Anabel found herself unable to resist tapping her foot along with what she could hear, an old song whose words spoke of freedom, second chances and other worlds. It was silly and she’d heard it countless times before, but something about it struck her as appropriate as she was on her way to reconnect with her daughter and possibly her old life.

    She was snapped out of her reverie when her phone started to ring. She reached into her jacket to retrieve it, then tapped its screen and brought it to her ear.

    “Hello? Oh, it’s great to hear from you!” Whoever was on the other end, speaking to them brought Anabel considerable cheer. “Yeah, I think I might be doing a lot better. I’m feeling like myself today. How’s Lissi? Great, that’s good to know… can you let her know I said hi? Thanks, I appreciate that. What did you call for, though? ...Saffron City, I already know it’s there. Wait… what are you saying? You’re really short? Are you offering me… Oh, no! No! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not refusing. I’m on my way to meet my daughter and her friends in Olivine right now, but I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to be in Saffron. Actually, scratch that. I’ll be there. It’ll be great to see everyone again and have fun. No, thank you, I appreciate you calling me. I’ve been wishing I could reconnect with everyone for a while.”

    While Anabel conversed with her friend, the elevator stopped at the ground floor of the Battle Tower. She didn’t notice until the doors opened to reveal the facility’s lobby.

    “Oh, I have to go. Sorry for cutting you short! I can’t wait to see everyone again! See you later!” Anabel put her phone back in her jacket and set out across the lobby, heading for the giant glass wall that the exit was built into. The civilians coming and going took no notice of her, and the staff who saw her knew to give her her space, a courtesy she appreciated.

    A black limousine was waiting for Anabel in front of the Battle Tower as she made her way outside. She descended the stairs from the facility’s forecourt and approached the chauffeur standing near the vehicle.

    He opened the back door and gestured for Anabel to enter. “Commissioner Mistbloom, right this way, please. Miss Chiaki has already arrived.”

    “Yes, thank you,” Anabel replied.

    The chauffeur closed the door behind Anabel as she settled into the limousine’s plush interior. Once she was comfortable, she took a deep breath and raised her sunglasses.

    “Anabel, good morning!” Amanda greeted her. Sitting with her cane laid on the seat next to her, Amanda was smiling broadly as she looked in Anabel’s direction. “How are you?”

    “Doing better than I’ve been doing recently,” Anabel replied, her voice honest but bland in its tone.

    “You mean it? I’ve been wanting to hear you be more cheery for a long time now.” The two women felt the limousine begin to move, prompting Amanda to lean back in her seat as well. “Think about it, once we get to the heliport we’ll be very close to hooking up with Olivia and Matt. It’s not going to be long now.”

    “You’re right.” Even though she knew Amanda couldn’t see it, Anabel smiled slightly at the reassurance. She quickly turned dour again, though, and looked up at the roof of the car as she said, “I just worry that I’m losing my connection to Olivia. I was only a peripheral figure in her life for several years, and she’s been growing up… I should have been there with her but I pushed her away. I was responsible for being there for her after what happened five years ago, but I was too caught up in myself. I failed her.”

    “Anabel… please listen to me. What’s in the past is in the past. Let me tell you what I think… can you get me a drink really quick before I begin?”


    “Huh? Oh, yeah, hold on…”

    Just across from where Anabel was sitting, there was a cube-shaped cooler. She opened it and retrieved a bottle of champagne from its icy confines, then took a pair of tall glasses off a rack on the cooler’s side. She passed one glass to Amanda, then carefully filled both with the bottle’s bubbly contents.

    Amanda gently swirled her champagne in her glass, took a sip, and finally said, “Ah, that’s nice. Anyway, what’s in the past can’t be changed. I learned that after losing my sight so long ago… even if Matt manages to figure out a way to help me see again, I’ll never be able to see what’s happened over all the years I’ve been blind. It was tough to deal with at first, but eventually I came to realize it makes everything in the future I might be able to see that much more beautiful.”

    “That makes a lot of sense, Amanda…” Anabel said. Staring at her reflection in her own glass, she caught herself showing a smile whose sincerity surprised her. “Thank you. How did you and Matt stay so close during that time?”

    Quite unexpectedly for Anabel, Amanda actually laughed in response to her question, though Amanda quickly realized the potential wrong impression her doing so could create. “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh. It just made me remember something really funny that we did once. The real answer to that is that while Matt did take care of me, obsessively so even, he also tried to arrange stuff for us to do together so we could have the closest thing to a normal life the circumstances we were in would allow. It helped us stick together by giving us things to share other than the bad things going on. What you should do going forward is find things you can do with Olivia that you guys can share together.”

    “I think I can do that.” Anabel raised her glass to her lips and took a sip of her champagne. “What’s something you and Matt did? Was one of those activities why you laughed?”

    “Yes, actually!” Amanda replied. “This one time, he actually made plans for us at a karaoke club! Can you imagine, a little blind girl in a wheelchair who can’t see the lyrics and him?” Anabel nearly spit out her champagne at this, prompting Amanda to laugh again as well. “We listened to a lot of music in our apartment in Rustboro so he arranged for it to only be songs we already had committed to memory, to make up for me not being able to see the lyrics. Makes sense, right?”

    “Right,” Anabel agreed, regaining her composure.

    “Well, that little blind girl in a wheelchair who couldn’t see the lyrics absolutely kicked his ass at it. It was legendarily bad, but in the sense that it was such a fun disaster that we couldn’t help walking out of there ten times closer than we were going in.”

    “Mental note,” Anabel said, deliberately saying it out loud so Amanda could hear it, “take Olivia to karaoke clubs. Don’t take Amanda.”

    At that, Amanda threw back her head and laughed so hard her eyes watered up. For her part, Anabel just smiled once more and again sipped from her champagne glass.

    -:-

    In Olivine City, Mitsumi stood cross-armed at the windows of her hotel room, gazing out over the metropolis sprawling before her. She didn’t have anything she wanted to say, but was still lost in thought, so there an uncomfortable silence hung in the air between her and Silva. For his part, he was sitting on his bed reviewing files.

    The silence was broken when Mitsumi’s phone started to ring. Silva looked to her, only to see her remaining rigidly in place in front of the window. He opened his mouth to ask if she heard the phone, but his words faded in his throat when he saw her tightening her grip so tightly on her own arms that he imagined she had to be cutting off her own circulation.

    “Answer it,” she abruptly said.

    “Yes, alright…”

    Immediately, Silva was on his feet, rushing over to pick up the phone. He nearly fell on his face more than once, but managed to collect the device and compose himself enough to speak to the person on the other end. They conversed for a short time while Mitsumi stayed cemented where she was, her attention remaining fixed on the buildings outside.

    “Thank you, I understand. I’ll let her know.” Silva tapped the screen of the phone to end the call, then set it down on the table where Mitsumi had left it. He took several steps towards her, but did not draw very close. “Mitsumi, we got something on one of our perps. Some citizens of Olivine called in to local police and they tipped us off.”

    “Who is it?” Mitsumi demanded, not moving an inch.

    “Ghetsis’ partner, Zinzolin. He was seen in Olivine City, so we should be able to pick him up no problem.”

    “No problem?!” Silva had no way of knowing it, but Mitsumi’s internal rage had been building up the entire time she stared out the window. Her silence had largely masked her escalating emotions, but when Silva described their mission in the way he did, it exploded. She lashed around to face him and yelled, “Looker wants us to put our mission aside and accept help from Team Rocket to bring down Polaris and whatever this Dark Matter is! Doesn’t that bother you?”

    “Well… yeah, but…” Caught off guard by Mitsumi’s outburst, Silva struggled to find his words. “You trust Looker, right? He wouldn’t steer us wrong…”

    “You’ve been my partner for long enough to know how I feel about things like this,” Mitsumi retorted. “Looker’s pragmatic. He’s able to think in terms of the ends. That’s why it was so easy for him to work with Team Rocket on taking out Team Plasma and Team...Team…” Mitsumi suddenly found herself unable to continue speaking, temporarily checked by another geyser of emotions welling up within her. She managed to find the strength to force herself to continue, saying, “...Team Galactic. Me on the other hand… I hate all these teams! I want to rip them apart with my own hands! And we don’t just have to deal with Team Rocket for this case, we have to go through that Matt Chiaki for information, too… “ She stomped her foot in anger. “I hate him! I could kill him when I see him again!”

    “Mitsumi, please, calm down!” Silva pleaded, his voice reflecting his desperation. “You have authority, you’re way more powerful than any of them! You hold all the cards!”

    Mitsumi drew in a single sharp breath and froze, wide-eyed, as her thoughts finally caught up with her emotions. She remained perfectly still, not even breathing, for a few moments before stumbling over to Silva’s bed, where she sat down.

    “Silva, I’m… I’m sorry,” she apologized, holding her head and breathing deeply to try and regain her stability. She reached blindly toward the nightstand, where she eventually found a pen she subconsciously began clicking. “I shouldn’t have taken that out on you… it’s not your fault.”

    “Don’t worry about it,” Silva said to her. “I read your file when they assigned us to be partners, you know that. I wouldn’t blame you if you were even more angry than this.”

    “Silva… thank you.”

    -:-

    There were a number of things Olivine City could boast of about itself. Its Glitter Lighthouse was a famous landmark, and its ports hosted vessels that traveled worldwide. Its previous Gym Leader, Jasmine, was one of the first trainers to specialize in the Steel-type. In more recent years, Olivine was one of the cities in Johto that saw significant investment, leading to the development of an increasingly well-known resort area and the expansion of its cuisine.

    One of these more recent improvements was a new, high-tech Pokémon Center near the entrance to the city. A massive, cube-shaped structure made nearly entirely of glass, it stood out in the city’s north where the development had not yet fully reached. As they entered through the building’s sliding doors, Matt, Nekou, Olivia, Bunny, Avril and Monroe marveled at its equally spectacular interior. Where most other Pokémon Centers had ordinary televisions, this one had a hologram of significant size for viewers to gather around. Other smaller holograms dotted throughout the lobby offered virtually any kind of information a traveler visiting the Pokémon Center could need. The tables and chairs around the spacious room reflected a look of modern art, an image furthered by the huge lighting fixture hanging from the ceiling.

    There were a fair number of other visitors scattered around the lobby, but only one person ahead in the line as the group approached the front desk. From behind, the figure’s shoulder-length hair and purple, knitted cat-ear hat gave them the impression that it was a girl of similar stature to Olivia, dressed similarly as well. Yet, as soon as the nurse returned with a Mawile and five other Poké Balls, prompting the trainer to speak, his soft and gentle voice was still unmistakably male.

    “Mawlly, how’re you feeling?” he said to the Mawile. Ignoring his question, she jumped into his arms and used the iron jaws on her head to pull his hat off. He sighed and said, “Mawlly, I want to get our vacation going as much as you do, but you know we have to find Olivia first.”

    “Isn’t that funny?” Olivia said over her shoulder to Nekou. “He’s looking for someone named…”

    As soon as she turned her head back around, Olivia found herself face-to-face with the feminine-looking young man, who looked shocked. “Olivia?!!”

    Olivia stepped back, nearly colliding with Bunny as she did so. “Seriously? Is there like, no other person with the name Olivia out there?”

    “What are the odds, I know, right?” The trainer started to extend his hand toward Olivia, but his manner suddenly turned nervous, and he hesitated. “My name’s… Morgan, that’s it. Professor Juniper sent me out here to find you.”

    “What’s going on with her?” Olivia tilted her head inquisitively as she spoke. “Did something happen?”

    “No, no, I don’t think you’d call it that…” Though she said nothing, Olivia noticed just how different Morgan’s attitude was when he was interacting with someone he was meeting for the first time. He was much more timid than when talking to someone she assumed he knew for a long time like Mawlly. “Maybe you would. There’ve been Pokémon from regions like Kalos and Alola showing up here, regions that aren’t supposed to be part of the migration project…”

    “We came across some already,” Matt interjected. He saw Morgan shoot a nervous glance in his direction, but felt it would be even more rude to stop talking without clarifying what he meant. “I caught a Crabrawler the other day, and she-” he gestured to Avril, “-caught a Stufful.”

    “That’s right, I did,” Avril piped up from the back of the group.

    Morgan kept his head down and didn’t look at any of them. “You did? That’s… interesting… Anyway, Professor Juniper wanted me to find you. Wait, I said that already. She wanted me to tell you to keep checking out any of the foreign Pokémon you see with your Pokédex, and she also wanted me to give you an upgrade for the unexpected ones.”

    “That makes sense, I guess,” Olivia replied with a shrug. “You want me to give you my Pokédex for the update, or…?”

    “Nah, it’s easier than that. These things are all high tech now.” Morgan produced his own Pokédex from his jacket pocket and pressed a button on it several times, making a white-and-black square appear on its screen. Holding it out toward Olivia, he said, “Just scan this with your Pokédex, and you’ll get all the data.”

    “Alright, that’s easy enough.”

    Olivia followed Morgan’s instructions and held her Pokédex over his, allowing it to begin scanning the square. While the download progressed, Olivia glanced over to the device in Morgan’s hand and took notice of a sticker on it depicting a Koffing drawn in a neon purple spray paint style.

    “Koffing and the Toxics?” she inquired.

    “You know them?” Morgan said in surprise.

    “Yeah, their music is pretty good.”

    “You’ve got good taste.” Morgan visibly relaxed as he realized he and Olivia had something in common. Meanwhile, a beeping sound came from Olivia’s Pokédex, signifying the download was finished. “All done,” he said, returning his Pokédex to his pocket.

    “So Juniper wants me to keep doing what I’ve been doing with this?” Olivia asked him as she stepped past and towards the desk.

    “That’s right. The data on these foreign Pokémon is all in there, she wants to get documentation of them in this region.”

    “I got it.” She then turned to the nurse, who was waiting patiently on the other side of the desk, and said, “Could you take care of my Pokémon? I’d like you to have a special look at my Mr. Mime… he got really sick last night.”

    “Last night?” the nurse repeated.”Was it during that strange phenomenon that took place during the Polaris speech?”

    Olivia put her hand on her face and thought for a moment, then exclaimed, “It was!”

    “In that case, I’ll check him to make sure, but it may be that he has undergone a type change.”

    “A type change?” Olivia said, blinking back at the nurse as a puzzled expression settled over her face. The nurse nodded back in affirmation, moving a hand over Mr. Mime’s Poké Ball as she moved it back to the machine behind the counter.

    “Ever since that event happened, we’ve gotten in several Pokémon who, upon examination, reflected a type that never came in before. Just since last night, it’s been a Snubbull, then a Clefairy, then a Togepi. Oh, and especially that Mawile… the Fairy-type, I think they called it.”

    “Will he be okay?”

    It wasn’t the nurse who answered. It was Morgan, who stepped up alongside her with Mawlly still holding on to his hat in her steel jaws. “Mawlly got sick just like you said your Mr. Mime did, but you can see she’s perfectly fine now.”

    “That’s reassuring, thanks.”

    Standing alongside Nekou and Bunny, Matt couldn’t help but smile as he watched Olivia’s casual, easygoing interactions with Morgan.

    “It’s good to see her making new friends,” he thought, “especially now… if it helps take her mind off-”

    His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden feeling of someone wrapping their arms around him from behind. Before he could question who it was, they said, “I couldn’t wait to see you again, Matt. Well, see you… you get what I mean.”

    “Same to you, Amanda. And if you’re here, that means…”

    Having turned around from the Pokémon Center’s desk, Olivia charged through the group of her friends toward the suited figure behind them. “Mom!!” she cried out, throwing herself into Anabel’s arms.

    Anabel stumbled from the surprisingly strong force of Olivia running into her, but quickly recovered and embraced her daughter. Nothing immediate had to be said between them. Olivia’s soft sobs and Anabel’s gentle stroking of her hair communicated everything.

    “Is it really him?” Olivia whimpered into the lapel of Anabel’s suit. “Was that Dad on TV last night?”

    “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out,” Anabel said, continuing to stroke Olivia’s hair in an attempt to reassure her. “You and me. I’m going to be there for you now. Together we’ll find out if that’s him, and if it is, we’ll bring him back to his senses.”

    “Thanks, Mom…” Her sobs subsided, and Olivia instead nestled herself more deeply into the arms of her mother. Anabel held her more tightly and looked up at the others, briefly locking eyes with Nekou, who frowned, bit her lip and turned away.

    Nekou’s actions struck Anabel as odd, but before she could question them, another familiar voice intervened. “You two are so close, it brings a tear to my eye.”

    The group turned in the direction of the Pokémon Center’s entrance to see Dominic walking up to them, a suitcase in his right hand. Monroe immediately reached out and hugged his father, while Avril approached him, but left it to Dominic to reach out and touch her.

    “Dominic, you brought the papers, right?” Matt asked of the businessman.

    “I sure did.”

    “Good.” Turning to the others, Matt said, “I’ve got to go over these documents for licensing ALEA to the Angel Corporation. That’s going to take a little bit of time.”

    “Wait,” Amanda interrupted, stepping toward Matt and taking out a Quick Ball. “Before you get started with all of that, I brought you that new Pokémon I mentioned, Dragalge.”

    “It’s in here?” he asked as he accepted the sphere. He put his arm around his sister’s shoulder and said, “Thank you, Amanda. How is everyone else doing?”

    “They’re all doing great! Manticore still doesn’t get along all that well with Charlotte, but I think it’s starting to turn into more of a rivalry than a hatred, you know? Especially now that I evolved Charlotte into an Eelektross with a Thunder Stone.”

    “You what?” Matt said in surprise. “What led to that?”

    “Like I said, it’s more of a rivalry between her and Manticore now. If I trade Manticore back to you, she’ll reach the final stage of her evolution, and Charlotte knows that. Anabel and I could tell she wanted to keep up.”

    “That’s… interesting, to say the least. I’ll have to try both of them out at my next Battle Frontier challenge…”

    “Speaking of which, I’ve got an idea!” Olivia piped up, separating herself from Anabel for the time being. “We’re going to all go together to the Gym, right? Well, if they’re going to be doing paperwork for a little while…” she gestured to Matt and Dominic as she spoke, “...what about if Morgan and I have a battle to pass the time?”

    “I’m not so great at battling, you know…” Morgan sighed. “But I guess I can give it a try. I hope you’re not thinking you’ll practice against Mawlly though…” As if trying to accentuate her trainer’s point, Mawlly stopped playing with his hat in her jaws and growled, but then absentmindedly went right back to what she was doing. “You see how she is. I promised her that our trip to Johto would be a vacation so she’s annoyed we’re working.”

    “Don’t worry about it,” Olivia assured him, “it’ll work out.”

    “Yeah, it will,” Anabel said to the others. “We’ll finish up our business here, go to the Gym and once that’s all done, we’ll have a nice celebration since we’re all here together. Morgan, you can come too.”

    “Thank you!” Morgan happily replied. “What sort of celebration? I love pizza…”

    “Matt makes one hell of a pizza,” Nekou commented, recalling with great contentment the dinner of the night before. “You should get some.”

    “No, no. While that does sound quite delicious…” Anabel put a gloved hand on Nekou’s shoulder and continued, “...I was thinking something different for us tonight.” Looking squarely at Matt, Anabel put forth a question to the entire group. “How about karaoke?”

    “Amanda, you didn’t…” Matt’s perpetually pale skin started to turn red when he realized what Anabel’s question meant.

    Immediately perceiving the presence of something greater from Matt’s reaction, Nekou smirked. Matt found himself staring at her, Anabel and Amanda, all wearing three nearly identical faces that made obvious the mischief they intended to cause for him.

    “This sounds like one fucking good story,” Nekou sarcastically said, her eyes remaining fixed on Matt even while she spoke to Anabel and Amanda.

    “Oh, trust me,” Anabel answered, “it is.”

    -:-

    Elsewhere in Olivine City, a figure hid in the shadows of an alley, watching the people and cars go by. They didn’t seem to take notice of him, and that was exactly how he wanted it.

    “Too many prying eyes around,” Zinzolin bitterly noted to himself. “How troublesome. Even now, if I’m seen before I can get out of this country, I won’t be safe from Polaris…”

    Ghetsis’ underling shivered in the cold air, a byproduct of having discarded his easily recognizable hat at the same time he removed the Team Plasma symbol from his coat. With a sigh, he resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to reach the port right away. He took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from where he had them stashed in his coat, but when he tried to light one, he was unable to get a flame going.

    “What a useless flame, one that cannot piece even this marginal cold…” he grumbled.

    “Want a light?”

    Zinzolin hadn’t seen Mitsumi slip up next to him in the alley, so when she suddenly spoke he nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise. He was certain that Polaris had found him, so when he twisted around only to see a young woman casually leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette of her own, he sighed in relief.

    “Oh, good, you’re not one of them…” Zinzolin didn’t speak loudly enough for Mitsumi to hear him, even though his words were seemingly directed at her. “Maybe I’ll be safe after all.”

    “Sounds like you’re in a real situation.” Mitsumi was merely pretending to be unaware of who Zinzolin was or what he was talking about, but acting in such a way was an internal struggle for her. Just under the surface she was burning with anger at him, the disappearance of his Team Plasma insignia meaning nothing for how she saw him. Barely keeping herself from lashing out, she continued forcing her neutral expression as she said, “I tend to need a smoke when I get stressed out, too, so believe me when I tell you I know what you’re feeling. Here.”

    Mitsumi held her lighter out to Zinzolin, a gesture the elderly man took with a sense of pleasant surprise.

    “You’re a rare generous child, I must say,” he complimented her as he put his own lighter away, completely unaware of the trap he was walking into. “I thank you for your kindness.”

    Without another word, Mitsumi flicked her lighter to life, enticing Zinzolin to light his cigarette with it. He did so, then took a long drag on it, closing his eyes in an attempt to relieve some of his stress.

    Closing his eyes was Zinzolin’s final, critical mistake.

    While he attempted to relax, Mitsumi closed her lighter, only to open a hidden hatch on its bottom. Inside was a small electrical coil, and just as Zinzolin exhaled a cloud of smoke, Mitsumi jammed the coil into his neck. Stunned by the electric shock, Zinzolin dropped his cigarette and stumbled for several steps before falling to his knees.

    “That was the Sparking Lighter,” Mitsumi bitterly told him, even though he was too stunned to process what she said. As she returned the lighter to its place on her tactical suit, she stomped out the smoldering cigarette, then took out a set of handcuffs attached to a rope. Tilting her head back so she could look down on him with a harsh gaze, she declared, “These are the Adjustable Handcuffs.”

    With a flick of her wrist, Mitsumi threw the handcuffs toward Zinzolin. One half fixed itself around his right arm, giving Mitsumi the opportunity to pull it up and bind his left arm as well.

    “You’re, you’re…” Zinzolin stuttered, only gradually recovering from the combination of his shock from her actions and the literal shock he received from her weapon.

    You’re Zinzolin from Team Plasma and Polaris, and you’re under arrest.” Lowering herself so she’d be closer to Zinzolin’s head, she continued, “I’m Agent Mitsumi of the International Police.”

    “I-International Police…?” By then, Zinzolin had regained some of his composure, but he was still absorbing how his fortunes had turned so quickly. “What do you want with me?”

    “Are you seriously asking me that?” Mitsumi wasn’t joking, either - she genuinely couldn’t believe what he’d asked. Looking back down the alley, she called out, “Come and help me out here.”

    Silva emerged from where he had concealed himself, and as he joined his partner, he said to her, “You really do get the job done.”

    “The job’s not done yet,” she countered. “Come on, let’s bring him in and then find the others…”

    Mitsumi and Silva pulled Zinzolin to his feet, but before they could get very far at all with him, he dug his feet into the ground and did the best he could to resist being forced to move.

    “Find the others? What do you mean by find the others?”

    “That’s not any of your business,” Mitsumi warned, “so don’t ask again.”

    “You’re looking for the others who were loyal to Ghetsis, aren’t you?” he deduced from Mitsumi’s reaction. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know!”

    Though Mitsumi tried to ignore Zinzolin’s offer, Silva stopped walking, bringing the entire group to a halt.

    “Wait, Mitsumi, let’s hear him out. What if he’s really got something to offer?”

    Mitsumi didn’t answer. She didn’t try to keep forcing Zinzolin along, either, but she showed her displeasure with a sharp huff as she turned away.

    “I get what you mean, Mitsumi. Thanks for listening to me.” Silva tapped Zinzolin on the shoulder, then asked him, “What exactly are you willing to tell us?”

    “Anything,” Zinzolin repeated. “You want Team Plasma? Polaris? I’ll give you the details I know on anything you want! I want protection from Polaris, and if you give me that, I’ll tell you everything I know!”

    Without releasing his grip on the rope attached to the Adjustable Handcuffs, Silva took several steps away from Zinzolin and gestured for Mitsumi to join him.

    “It sounds like a deal we should think about,” he whispered to Mitsumi once she joined him. “He might be able to give us enough to understand the way Team Rocket, Team Plasma and Polaris are all connected together.”

    “You seriously aren’t even entertaining the possibility he’s lying to get protection?”

    “But he didn’t ask for protection from justice,” Silva argued, “he asked for protection from Polaris. If he just wanted to get off the hook for his crimes wouldn’t he have asked for that?”

    Mitsumi paused to consider Silva’s opinion, then bitterly replied, “Offer him protection depending upon him giving us real information first. That’s as far as I’m willing to go.”

    -:-

    Out behind the Olivine City Pokémon Center, Nekou, Bunny, Anabel, Avril and Monroe all sat alongside each other and watched as Olivia’s Mareep and Morgan’s Misdreavus clashed. Mareep’s Thunderbolt cut down one of Misdreavus’ Shadow Ball attacks, showering the earthy battlefield in bright, glowing sparks. As the light of the collision faded, both Olivia and Mareep regarded the scene with similarly wild, aggressive grins.

    “You don’t hold back, do you?” Morgan said to her, his own heavy breathing matching that of his Misdreavus.

    “Hey, that’s true, but you’re still standing, aren’t you?” Olivia countered, punctuating her sharp words by putting her fists on her hips and leaning forward. “You and Misdreavus are keeping up! The way you’re doing, you should challenge the Gym too!”

    “You think so?” Morgan seemed momentarily taken aback by Olivia’s compliment. He then looked at Mawlly, who was sitting next to him eating honey-covered cookies and barely paying attention to the battle, and sighed. “I have to keep my promise. No more work after this. Only vacation.”

    Olivia pouted. “I don’t get it. Why not make it part of your vacation?”

    “You should ask Mawlly that,” Morgan replied, gesturing to his Pokémon, still sitting at his side ignoring what was going on. “She never stops giving it to me if she isn’t happy, but I’d do anything for her. What about that Mareep of yours? The professor never told me you had one.”

    “I got her not too long ago, she’s the most recent Pokémon I caught.”

    “Well she really is something else, then! Wednesday and I have been together for a while and Mareep’s still pushing us pretty far!”

    While Morgan’s praise brought out genuine smiles in both Olivia and Mareep, there was another whose reaction could not have been more different. Standing among Olivia’s other Pokémon on the sidelines near the human spectators, Dewott heard Morgan’s recognition of Mareep and became so angry he nearly threw one of his shells straight at the electric sheep. He restrained himself at the last possible moment, and instead threw it straight into the ground.

    “She might be pushing you far, but when this is done, she’ll push you right over the edge!” Olivia remained unaware of Dewott’s anger and jealousy, which her words only stoked further. “Mareep, Thunderbolt!”

    “Wednesday, show Olivia you can push back! Do it with your own Thunderbolt!”

    Both Pokémon released bright bolts of lightning from their bodies, creating a great flash where they collided. Most of the onlookers had to shield their eyes from the light, but Anabel remained still, her eyes already well protected behind her sunglasses.

    “She’s compensating, I can tell,” Anabel said out loud to the others, though she didn’t direct it at anyone in particular. “Even now I can still tell exactly what my daughter is feeling.”

    “In what way?” Bunny asked, her gaze unmoving from the battle playing out before her.

    “She’s trying to make it look like she’s carrying herself with confidence, but in reality she’s faking it. But she isn’t faking it for us, not alone. What she’s trying to do is fool herself. What happened last night really has shaken her to the core… I can tell.”

    “Maman…” The word slipped out of Nekou’s mouth before she could stop it, and it took several long, awkward moments before she decided to keep talking. “Maman’s the same way with me. She’s always known me better than I know myself…” Suddenly, Nekou grabbed Anabel’s hand, visibly surprising Olivia’s mother, and said to her, “Don’t ever lose that with Olivia! Do anything you have to do to keep it alive! She needs it more than you even know!”

    The abrupt nature of Nekou’s outburst caught Anabel off guard, leading to another awkward pause in the conversation. When she composed herself, though, she put her own hand on top of Nekou’s, effectively reversing who was holding whose hand. “Thank you for looking after Olivia for so long. I know she really likes you, and I have to admit that you were there for her when I wasn’t. Thank you.”

    A sharp tightness swiftly welled up in Nekou’s chest, and she pulled her hand away from Anabel before she even realized she was doing it. When her mind caught up with her, she brought her hand to her heart as she felt her body suddenly become cold.

    “I can’t do this, I can’t…” she thought to herself, clenching her fist tightly in the hopes that the pain would keep her from acknowledging Anabel’s visible confusion.

    Back on the battlefield, Mareep was rushing toward Wednesday, her tail shining like well-polished metal. Wednesday remained unyielding in the face of the oncoming attack, showing not one trace of fear or concern.

    “Wednesday, use Shadow Ball!” Morgan directed his Misdreavus.

    By opening her mouth and growling, Wednesday formed a Shadow Ball in front of herself. Instead of launching it as she would usually do, though, she tilted her entire body backwards, raising it up so it would intercept Mareep’s descent. Mareep swung her tail right into the dark sphere, causing it to explode; the force threw Mareep up into the air while pushing Wednesday into the ground.

    Just as Mareep landed, Wednesday was pulling herself out of the dirt and preparing for more. The sparks coursing through Mareep’s wool made clear she intended to deliver. Though both Pokémon were breathing heavily, they were both too fired up to want to stop.

    Before either Olivia or Morgan could give another command, Matt’s voice interrupted. “Looks like this was really competitive.”

    He was arriving flanked by Amanda on his left and Dominic on his right. While Avril and Monroe’s father greeted his children and the others with a silent smile and a wave of his hand, Amanda was cheerfully talking to her brother.

    “It was competitive, you said?” she asked him. “Tell me what happened! I want to know how they did!”

    “Why don’t you hear it directly from them?” Matt replied. Beckoning them with his hand, he called out to them, “Olivia, come on over and tell my sister about your battle, would you?”

    “You guys got done quicker than I expected,” Olivia said. She took a single step in Matt and Amanda’s direction, and that single step was one too many for her Pokémon.

    Realizing that her trainer was stepping away from the battle and thus ending it, Mareep cried out angrily and turned her rage onto Wednesday, who was simply floating next to Morgan and didn’t immediately realize she was being targeted. Mareep growled and began to charge electricity in her wool. Olivia pulled out Mareep’s Poké Ball with such haste that the sphere nearly flew out of her hand.

    While Olivia finished recalling Mareep and made her way over to Matt and Amanda, Morgan approached Anabel and the others on the sidelines. “Man, really, what is with that Mareep of hers?” he asked them. “Mawlly tends to be the ornery type, but that Mareep is something else.”

    “Another trainer released it in the National Park,” Monroe answered. “It was too much for him to handle, from what I saw… Olivia caught it a while later. I think it was following us because it saw all the fighting it would get to do with her and thought it could satisfy itself.”

    “It’s gonna be a real beast at the Gym, I…” Morgan was interrupted by Mawlly tugging on his leg. She started chattering at him, and he waited until he understood what she was saying. “I think that’s a good idea,” he said to her. “I want to see what happens at the Gym, too. We’ll go with them.

    Morgan didn’t notice, and neither did Monroe, but while they conversed about Mareep’s strength and the Gym, Avril clenched her teeth and pushed her foot harder and harder into the ground.

    -:-

    The old, rusted metal of the cell door grated loudly as Sheena opened it, allowing Jacob and Looker out for what would be the final time. Pierce stood against the back wall of the room, watching wordlessly as the detective and the aged archeologist exited their confines, beckoned by the woman who had come to be a champion for his own dreams.

    “I’ll be ready soon to send you two back to where you came from,” Sheena explained to the pair, “so until then, I’ll let you be here freely. I’ve come to know I can trust the two of you.”

    “Making haste to Olivine City, where my apprentices are, that is what I must be doing,” Looker said to her. “Your help in that, it would be most appreciated.”

    “Then that’s where I’ll have Hoopa send you.”

    Jacob had been standing behind Looker in silence ever since Sheena entered the room to free them, but his biting his lip didn’t help him stay quiet for long. “Please, Sheena, let me stay here!” he suddenly burst out, making both her and Looker jump.

    “Back to prison is where you are headed!” the detective snapped back at his charge. “Allowing you to take advantage of these people to escape justice, I won’t let you!”

    “I’m not taking advantage of them, I swear!” Jacob countered, his desperation causing his voice to sound strained until he calmed slightly. “I’ve spent most of my life beating myself for what happened to this place and to Saeko, but I also never believed I’d ever return here.” Looking to Sheena, Jacob firmly locked his gaze into her big, blue eyes. “I think I survived that train crash for a reason. Sheena, since you brought me here, I’ve seen that there’s still hope for this land and your people, the kind I long since had given up on as impossible. If there’s any chance I can ever find penance for what I’ve done, it’s by helping you in your mission. Please, let me stay and help you.”

    “I do appreciate what you have done and want to do for both me and my people…” Sheena said, “...but I must also concur with Looker. It’s not up to me what justice you face for your crimes.”

    “I admire your will,” Jacob complimented. “I don’t want to stay permanently. I want only to help you restore this place into the sanctuary you said you wanted it to be. That, and I must make sure you don’t destroy yourself with the Jewel of Life… I failed Saeko decades ago. I can’t fail you too. Once everything is done I will gladly go back to prison where I belong, you two have my word.”

    “Jacob, I…” Sheena was taken aback by Jacob’s sudden and earnest plea. She couldn’t help but bring her hand up to the furred collar of her coat. Seeing how stunned she was, Looker started to step in, but she recovered enough to speak again before he could. “I believe you are sincere, so I will allow you to stay. However, there are conditions.”

    “What are they?”

    “You’ll be sleeping in the cell like you already have been. When you come out, you’re going to be staying with me instead of going off on your own. If you’re truthful about wanting to help us, you shouldn’t have a problem with either of those. Follow these rules and you can stay, but if you betray us, I will send you directly back to the custody of people who are a lot less willing to make deals with you. Do you understand?”

    “Crystal clear,” Jacob replied.

    “I cannot be saying I’m entirely happy with events how they have turned out this way,” Looker thought to himself, “but Sheena is a person who is someone that proved herself to be trustworthy. I can place my faith that she will keep a watchful eye over him…”

    Having patiently waited until Sheena seemed done with Jacob and Looker, Pierce approached her and tapped her on the shoulder. “Sheena.”

    “What is it?”

    “I wish to go to Olivine City as well. I must rejoin my team for our next operation against Polaris.”

    “I hope you don't need our help this time,” Sheena flatly said. “We need time to regroup.”

    “It’s fine, I didn’t expect you to help with this. There’s no rescuing going on this time, just an operation we hope will cripple Polaris’ advances. You don’t have any stake in this… generally or personally.” Pierce’s voice became softer and more compassionate. “Take your time and recover. You’ve been through a lot… this time is not your fight.”

    “Thank you,” Sheena delicately said back, before leaving the room without another word.

    -:-
     
  9. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    It was a bright, sunny day over Viridian City, but with the environment Gabriella had placed herself in, she wouldn’t know. She had the windows of her Angel Tower office completely darkened, leaving the only light in the room to come from the lamp on her desk and the huge video screen mounted on the wall opposite it.

    “I simply cannot wait until you see my new projects bear fruit, Lady Finansielle.” On the monitor, Colress was grinning in smug self-satisfaction as he mindlessly tapped his fingers against one of the screens on his sleeves. “Making investments in me always will pay off.”

    “Oh, do clue me in,” Gabriella requested, reclining in her chair with her arms behind her head and her legs up on her desk. “I like seeing where my money goes.”

    “Then you’re going to love this.” Colress stepped to the side, allowing Gabriella to see a glowing, cylindrical tank behind him. An insectoid figure, floating in some unknown fluid, was contained within. “I’m back on the best thing to come from working for Mister Ghetsis in Unova. With the new resources you’ve provided to me, I will be able to perfect Genesect and put it into mass production!” Giddy over the thought, Colress shut his eyes and balled his hands into fists. “Imagine, an army of autonomous weapons that function on their own but solely for our benefit!”

    “Don’t let me be the one to rain on your parade,” the financier replied, her nonchalant demeanor remaining completely unchanged, “but it’ll be tough to justify this to the other Chromosomes. You know what Polaris teaches about mixing biological matter with cybernetics.”

    “This one is merely a prototype, Lady Finansielle, let me assure you of that. By the time I’m done with upgrading the bio-frame according to the new specs I’ve developed, there will be no question. My new weapon will comply with all their teachings.” After pushing his visor up, Colress smirked wickedly. “But of course, what matters isn’t what they think. It’s what you think that counts, isn’t it?”

    Gabriella took her feet off her desk, leaned forward and returned Colress’ expression. “You’re a swift learner.”

    “It comes with having a mind like mine, Lady Finansielle,” Colress said.

    “It does, it does,” she dismissed with a wave of her hand. “Listen, Colress. I want you to start preparing to move over to the Guanosine Base near Mahogany Town to continue your work.”

    Colress’ smug expression faded, his mouth narrowing as he puckered his lips. “I’ll do it, but what’s the reasoning behind the move?” he asked.

    Gabriella lowered her head ever so slightly, allowing the glittering from the water in her pool to reflect in her eyes. “The Angel Corporation will need to shut down the oil platform soon. If you’re asking yourself why, I’ll tell you... that you’ll know soon enough. Sorry, I just had to have a little fun with you!”

    “Lady Finansielle…” Colress shut his eyes, smiled and shook his head. “I would expect no less from you, as wise as your words always end up being.”

    -:-

    “So this is it… Olivine Gym.”

    Olivia, having arrived first at the metallic, pyramid-like structure emblazoned with the stylized Poké Ball symbol all Pokémon Gyms bore, boldly faced it down as if it was a sentient being. Fortunately, nobody else was trying to get inside the Gym at the time, as Olivia placed herself squarely in the pathway to its entrance, standing there with her hands on her hips as the others finally caught up with her.

    “Olivia, slow down!” Matt called after her. “You know we’re not going to start until everyone’s together!”

    “I’m telling you, it’s compensation,” Anabel murmured to Nekou and Bunny. “She’s so enthusiastic about this because she thinks it’s going to help salve the pain of what she saw the other night.”

    “Can you blame her?” Nekou replied, though she turned her eyes away from Anabel as she spoke. Her voice was hollow, as if her mind was detached from the words her mouth was producing. “In that regard, we’re pretty alike, her and I… shit we like is what makes our bad thoughts go away…”

    Anabel considered trying to find out exactly what Nekou meant, but decided against pursuing the subject.

    “It sounds like you and Olivia do have quite a bit in common,” Anabel instead offered. “If she gives you support the same way you do for her… that’s something I’d really like to see. Just having you here supporting her against this Gym Leader means a lot to her, I’m sure.”

    The group, having caught up with Olivia, passed through the automatic doors at the entrance to the Gym. Immediately beyond the threshold lay a lobby whose walls were covered with silvery iron plates. Strangely, despite being the access to a Pokémon Gym in a large city, the lobby was completely empty.

    Sensing the confusion of his childrens’ friends, Dominic volunteered, “Don’t worry, the Gym Leader’s here. I promise.”

    Meanwhile, Morgan and Mawlly walked side-by-side near the back of the group, with only Avril behind them.

    “You know, Mawlly, I’ve heard online that this Gym Leader has a Mawile, too.” Morgan said to his diminutive companion. “Not only that, but they say this Gym Leader is able to use Mega Evolution with that Mawile, too! Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

    Mawlly huffed and turned away, acting like she didn’t care. Morgan knew her too well, though, and he saw through her facade to the interest she was trying to mask.

    “That’s right, she’s a Steel-type Gym Leader, just like the old Gym Leader here was,” he continued. “The old one who got promoted to the Elite Four, they used to call her the “Steel-Clad Defense Girl,” but this one, her title is “The Iron Maiden.” Doesn’t that make you wonder what else might be different between them?”

    “Maw,” Mawlly said dismissively. She did, however, turn around and jump to grab Morgan’s arm.

    “I get you, don’t worry.” Understanding what Mawlly wanted, Morgan gave her another bag of the honey cookies, which she eagerly tore into and began eating as they walked.



    Both Morgan and Mawlly remained unaware of how Avril, following behind them and listening to their conversation, was reacting. She stared down at the floor in silence, her head starting to shake from her distress.

    It wasn’t long before they found themselves at another doorway. Unlike the previous set, this gateway resembled the metallic look of much of the rest of the Gym. Dominic pushed through to the front of the group and opened the doors before any of them could question him.

    Past that set of doors awaited what Olivia eagerly anticipated - the battlefield. This one was a simple, earthy space with the requisite lines drawn into the dirt. Olivia made a beeline straight for the challenger’s box, while most of the others made their way past the metal walls surrounding the field and entered the spectators’ area. Matt, Bunny and Anabel all glanced over at Avril in surprise when she stomped over, threw herself down next to them and stared sullenly at the floor.

    Olivia didn’t notice Avril. She was more puzzled by what was going on right in front of her: instead of joining the others on the sidelines, Dominic went to the middle of the field, while Monroe headed all the way down to an archway opposite where she stood. She cocked her head as she looked back and forth between father and son, trying to reason out what they were doing.

    “Well, here goes nothing,” Dominic said to himself, slipping his fingers into the knot of his tie to loosen it. Once he did this, his expression shifted - where there had been humble humor before, there was now the hardened look of someone who would take no nonsense. “And now, the beginning of this battle in the Olivine Gym!” He extended his right arm to Olivia and announced, “The challenger, Olivia of Sootopolis City!”

    In response to her name being called, Olivia took a single firm step forward. She steeled herself, still unsure of what exactly she was going to end up facing.

    “Now, the new Gym Leader of Olivine Gym…” When Dominic raised his left arm towards the archway, Olivia realized that Monroe had, at some point, disappeared down it.

    Immediately, her mind flashed back to the war with Ghetsis’ forces in Ecruteak, when she had been confronted by the Shadow Triad. “Back then, Monroe helped hold them back… with a Steelix,” she silently recalled. “Wait, it can’t be. The Gym Leader is a girl, I heard them say that. Then why is he…?”

    “...introducing Helena, the Iron Maiden!”

    Everything made sense once Dominic finished his declaration and Monroe emerged again, his tall, redheaded sister walking gracefully behind him. Whereas Matt and many of the other spectators watched Helena’s arrival with great surprise, Olivia just laughed.

    “For a minute I almost thought it was you, Monroe!” she called out. “Then I remembered that the Gym Leader’s title meant it was a girl, so I was wondering…”

    While Olivia trailed off, Monroe signed everything she said. Helena took note of this, then said, “It’s nice to see you again, Olivia. You and all your friends.”

    Matt turned to Amanda, who was facing the battlefield and smiling warmly. Adding up what he was seeing, he asked her, “Amanda, you knew all about this already, didn’t you?”

    “I have to admit that I did,” she replied. “Of course I would know that one of my students was taking the Gym Leader test.”

    “And this would also explain what’s up with you,” Nekou said to Avril, who was still pouting at the far end of the seating. “Wouldn’t it.”

    “Imagine how it feels to know that both your brother and your sister are way stronger than you can ever hope to be,” she muttered into the floor. “I didn’t get to train enough. I’ll never beat her.”

    “If it makes you feel any better,” Morgan ventured, “I didn’t even really want to go on a journey or anything like that. My parents pushed me to do it. Even now I just like hanging out and living my life.”

    “What’s your point?” Avril snapped.

    “Don’t feel too pressured to live up to whatever your dad or your brother and sister are. Be yourself.”

    Though surprised by Morgan’s advice, Avril said nothing. She did turn her eyes up to watch Olivia and Helena, but continued to sulk at the same time.

    “It’s been quite a long time since we last met, Olivia,” Helena serenely noted. “How many Badges have you collected to this point?”

    “I’ve got three,” Olivia answered promptly. “The Hive Badge, the Plain Badge, and the Fog Badge.”

    Monroe signed this for Helena, allowing her to say, “Since you have three Badges, this battle will be a four-on-four Single Battle. Are you ready?”

    “Of course I am!” Olivia enthusiastically replied. “Let’s do it!”

    “Very well. Let’s see how this all ends up, shall we?”

    With that, Helena casually tossed a Poké Ball. The sphere burst open to release a small, silver-bodied insect Pokémon with vicious looking mandibles and narrow red eyes. She hissed menacingly while Olivia took out her Pokédex to scan her.

    “Durant, the Iron Ant Pokémon. Type is Bug/Steel. Durant dig nests in mountains. They build their complicated, interconnected tunnels in mazes. They attack in groups and cover themselves in steel armor to protect themselves from Heatmor, their natural predator.”

    “Alright, a Steel-and-Bug-type, huh? In that case, I’ll go with… Krabby, let’s play!”

    Olivia’s Krabby emerged from his Poké Ball and took shape opposite Durant. With both Pokémon present, Dominic stepped back and raised both of his arms into the air.

    “The first match will be Olivia’s Krabby versus Helena’s Durant!” he announced. “Begin!”

    Helena didn’t need Monroe to sign anything to her to know the battle had begun - watching her father was enough. “Durant, Bug Bite!” she called out, wasting no time in getting started.

    If anything, Olivia was anticipating that Durant would rush straight for Krabby. She was already forming a plan for that, so when Durant leapt into the air with incredible speed and strength, all Olivia could do was was gasp.

    “It’s fast!” she exclaimed, looking up at Durant. “Krabby, look out!”

    Krabby knew he had to move, but Durant’s speed was too great for him, just as it was for his trainer. He had no time to move before Durant was upon him, descending with her mandibles open. Krabby braced himself to get bit, only to have another of his and Olivia’s expectations defied - at the last possible second, Durant’s aim faltered, causing her to hit the ground next to Krabby instead.

    Well aware of how dangerous a swift Pokémon like Durant would be in close quarters, Olivia wasted no time in giving Krabby a direction. “Quick, Krabby, use Mud Shot!”

    After stumbling back, Krabby pointed his pincers at Durant and opened them, shooting twin balls of mud at the Bug-and-Steel-type. The mud hit Durant at point-blank range and stuck to her body, bogging down her movements.

    “You’ve got enough speed to spare, Durant.” Even Helena’s mid-battle encouragement of her Pokémon was calm and dignified. She brought her hand to her mouth, then extended her arm and said, “Give Krabby a quick taste of your Metal Claw.”

    “Krabby, Bubble Beam!” Olivia countered.

    Durant shook off the mud as best she could and, though still slowed by it, lunged at Krabby with her mandibles glowing like polished steel. What agility she still had was more than enough to preempt Krabby’s Bubble Beam, pushing him back but not significantly hurting him. He responded quickly and decisively, barraging Durant with a flood of powerful bubbles.

    “You’re doing well, Olivia. I’m happy you were my first challenger.” Off in the stands, Avril huffed loudly at this, but Monroe didn’t alert Helena to it. “I cannot go easy on you, though.”

    “I wouldn’t want you to!” Olivia shouted in reply. “Bring on more! Come on!”

    “She sure is intense,” Morgan said to Mawlly, who was sitting next to him and eating her cookies. “It’s almost scary.”

    “This isn’t right,” Anabel muttered from behind her scarf. “She’s faking it, I can tell…”

    “If more is what you want, more is what you shall get,” Helena promised. “Durant, see what you can do with Rock Slide.”

    Once again, Durant started hissing loudly. This time her antennae glowed, and ribbons of similar white light surrounded her body. These ribbons soon turned into a number of rugged stones that Durant propelled toward Krabby by pushing herself in the Water-type’s direction.

    The assault was swift, with the rocks unencumbered by the mud. Yet, Durant’s aim faltered, much like it had when she used Bug Bite. The stones ended up missing Krabby and falling around him in a roughly circular pattern.

    Olivia, realizing the opportunity that was presenting itself, swung herself forward and shouted, “Krabby, hit Durant with another Bubble Beam!”

    Shaking off the daze the stones landing around him left him in, Krabby blasted Durant with bubbles again. She snapped her jaws at them, managing to burst a few before they hit her. The rest didn’t seem to faze her much, in fact, she only started hissing even more.

    “Is Durant having trouble?” Bunny asked aloud. “Some of its moves are missing at the last minute…”

    “Helena’s Durant has Hustle as its ability,” Amanda explained, “so its physical strength is enhanced, but at the same time, Durant has a little bit of trouble landing them.”

    “Oh, that makes sense…” Matt said into his hands, which he had clasped in front of his mouth.

    On her side of the battlefield, Helena held her chin as she considered what she was seeing. “As much as I like having you as my first challenger, Olivia, I think it’s about time I stopped toying with you.” After she issued her warning, Helena’s demeanor changed. She raised her arm into the air and called out, “Durant, I ask that you use Hone Claws!”

    At this command, Durant snapped her mandibles shut for a moment before spreading them widely open again. As she let out an ear-splitting screech, light enveloped her mouth and grew out from it, making her mandibles appear longer and even sharper.

    “Now Durant will be even stronger,” Nekou noted, “but the downside of Hustle is pretty much negated, too…”

    “If she was in a healthy frame of mind, Olivia would be able to get around this.” Anabel tucked her head even deeper into the constraining warmth of her scarf. “But like this…”

    “Krabby, just watch out and be careful!” Olivia shouted to her Pokémon, unknowingly confirming Anabel’s fears. “See if you can get another Bubble Beam!”

    “Durant, Bug Bite!”

    Krabby readied himself and aimed his pincers at Durant, but he had no time to launch his Bubble Beam before she rushed and caught his body squarely in her newly-strengthened grip. All he could do was flail his claws and legs around, fruitlessly trying to hit something with enough force to make Durant let go. With Olivia and all the onlookers watching in horror, Durant spent some time chewing on Krabby before lashing around and flinging him into one of the walls surrounding the arena.

    “I think all we need now is a nice Rock Slide,” Helena declared, her posh manner returning.

    Durant complied, sending a cluster of rocks - larger than the ones that had missed earlier - flooding over Krabby. The stones completely covered him until both he and the rocks fell off the wall together. When he collapsed to the ground, he didn’t get up.

    “Krabby is unable to battle!” Dominic announced, raising his arm in his daughter’s direction. “The winner is Durant!”

    “Well, that sure ended quickly…” Bunny said.

    Olivia lowered her head, allowing her bangs to cover her eyes while she recalled Krabby to his Poké Ball. She hesitated briefly, then looked up and forced a smile onto her face. “Krabby, you did a great job, even if you didn’t win! Thanks to you, we’ll definitely beat that Durant!”

    Off on the sidelines, Anabel pushed her sunglasses closer to her eyes, crossed her arms, and frowned behind her scarf. Although she couldn’t see Anabel’s face from where she was sitting, Nekou could tell exactly how she was feeling just by glancing at her.

    “So what will you show me next?” Helena asked Olivia. “We’re only just getting started, after all.”

    “What you’ve shown me is that Durant knows Bug Bite, Metal Claw, Rock Slide and Hone Claws,” Olivia replied, her bold nature seemingly resurfacing. “So I need something to fight that. In that case, Mareep, let’s play!”

    When Mareep materialized from the new Poké Ball Olivia threw, Morgan immediately turned to Avril. “Does your sister know about that thing yet?”

    Avril wordlessly shook her head.

    “Then she better watch out. You saw how vicious that Mareep is…”

    “Let’s not waste any more time, Olivia.” Helena pointed squarely at Mareep and said, “Durant, use Bug Bite again.”

    “Get it with Thunder Wave before it hits you, Mareep!”

    Durant sprang into the air again, like she had done when she first started fighting Krabby. But unlike Krabby, Mareep wasn’t rattled by Durant’s speed. She met the oncoming attack directly with a ring of blue electricity, which paralyzed Durant upon contact. With her opponent’s movements impaired, Mareep ran beneath Durant and got behind her long before the Steel-and-Bug-type landed.

    “We did some damage with Krabby, so let’s go for a knockout here!” Olivia shouted in encouragement, earning a bleat of agreement from Mareep. “Thunderbolt!”

    Realizing what was about to happen from the sparks coming to life in Mareep’s wool, Helena hurriedly directed Durant, “Try to use Rock Slide as a shield!”

    Helena’s efforts were for naught, though, as the paralysis brought on by Thunder Wave rendered Durant unable to act quickly enough. Mareep struck her with a wide, powerful blast of electricity, easily enveloping her small body. The assault only ceased when Mareep could no longer force it to keep going, leaving Durant lying prone on the ground, her steel body covered in burn marks.

    “Durant is unable to continue battling!” Dominic judged, bringing the battle back to even terms. “The winner is Mareep!”

    Mareep let out a victorious bleat as Helena recalled her fallen opponent. Olivia, meanwhile, became so excited that she jumped into the air.

    “Amazing, Mareep! You really helped me turn that around!”

    The electric sheep let sparks dance on her fleece and looked back, giving a triumphant bleat that seemed to ooze cocky self-satisfaction to all present. As quickly as her celebratory spell had come upon her, Mareep trained her attention back towards Helena’s side of the field, pawing her feet impatiently in anticipation of her next challenger.

    “Well done, Olivia, well done.” Helena softly clapped her hands together to accompany her words of praise. “Durant’s pretty tough, but you managed to get through her armor. Let’s see what you do with this next one.”

    Helena gently tossed a new Poké Ball, which burst open to release a Wormadam wearing a pink cloak. A Bug-and-Steel-type like her predecessor in the battle, she stretched her pink, ribbon-like arms and yawned, aware of Mareep’s presence but not terribly concerned.

    For Mareep’s part, the electric sheep knew Wormadam wasn’t afraid of her. Seeing Wormadam sit so casually in front of her made her boil with rage, enough so that her wool was already giving off sparks.

    “What do you think, Mareep? Want to get this going?” Olivia asked her, standing with her hands on her hips. When Mareep responded with an angry bleat, Olivia told her, “Fine, then. Let’s get started with Thunder Wave!”

    “A status for a status, then. Wormadam, Toxic.”

    While Mareep sent another ring of blue electricity towards Wormadam, Wormadam responded by extending her arms in Mareep’s direction and shooting out two jets of thick, purple poison. Mareep was quick enough to lower herself against the floor and just barely dodge the poison, but Wormadam did not have the same agility. The Thunder Wave washed over her, sending a numbing sensation through her body. Yet, she remained as calm as she had been from the moment she appeared.

    “Close, but I don’t think Mareep can keep that up forever,” Morgan observed. “Poison has a way of catching up with you if you get pressed with it. That’s what I’ve seen, anyway.”

    Contrary to Morgan’s expectations, however, Helena didn’t continue pressing Toxic. Instead, she said, “Fine, if that didn’t work, we’ll just move forward. Wormadam, use Hidden Power.”

    Several glowing orbs of brown light surrounded Wormadam’s body and began revolving around her.

    Seeing this opening, Olivia quickly countered, calling out, “Hit Wormadam with Thunderbolt, hurry!”

    Mareep was more than happy to listen, loosing a bolt of electricity that arced through the air and struck Wormadam with great force. Despite that, Wormadam maintained enough focus to continue feeding energy into her Hidden Power, soon afterward releasing the orbs so they could hone in on Mareep. Mareep jumped out of the way of the first two, but the third clipped her leg as she tried to evade it, slowing her enough for the rest to strike her. Unlike everything else she’d been hit with, it was Wormadam’s Hidden Power that finally drew a cry of pain from the otherwise vicious Mareep.

    “Mareep!” Olivia cried out. Her mind started racing, sending a bead of sweat rolling down her face. In an attempt to calm herself, she took several deep breaths. “For that to happen, that Hidden Power… it has to be Ground-type. Mareep,” she called to her Pokémon, “we can't let this take too long! Use Thunderbolt and give it everything you’ve got!”

    Mareep didn’t need to hear it twice. With an ear splitting cry that echoed off the Gym’s metal walls, she tore through the air with a Thunderbolt many times more intense than any of the previous ones. There was no way Wormadam would have enough agility to escape, so she steeled herself, tightening the muscles in her sturdy body to endure the strike. Her cloak was left scorched, but her firm gaze clearly showed that her spirit was not broken.

    “Even that wasn’t enough?” Olivia said through gritted teeth, rattled by Wormadam’s determination.

    “I think you’ll find that I have some more tricks up my sleeve.” Though unaware of what Olivia had just said, Helena’s taunt was still an appropriate one for the situation. “Wormadam, now, head up into the rafters!”

    On her trainer’s urging, Wormadam jumped into the air, uncoiled her antenna and used it to grab hold of a metal pylon at the corner of the battlefield. Olivia and all the others watched as she swung her body to build up momentum and begin spinning on the pole.

    “Mareep, use Thunderbolt on there!” Olivia cried. “It’s like a lightning rod!”

    Mareep discharged electricity from her wool and aimed it straight for the pylon, but with all the momentum she’d built up, Wormadam was too fast this time. Right before the electricity struck the pole, she released her grip on it and flung herself high into the air, where she used her antenna to hang from an overhead girder.

    While Mareep glared up at Wormadam and growled, Helena urged her Pokémon, “Bring Mareep in, now. Flash Cannon!”

    From her new vantage point, Wormadam swung back and bombarded the battlefield with small, explosive bursts of light. Each one wasn’t aimed quite squarely at Mareep, so she was able to evade them fairly easily, but at the same time they kept her running until she was nearly directly beneath Wormadam’s position.

    “Alright, Wormadam, surround Mareep with Toxic!”

    “Oh no!” Olivia gasped, realizing what Helena was planning to do. “Mareep, get out of there!”

    There was no hope that Mareep could escape from Wormadam’s trap, no matter how much Olivia pleaded for her to. Wormadam spewed poison directly in front of where Mareep was running, then surrounded her with it by spinning in a circle around the girder she was holding on to. Mareep forced herself to a stop, only to turn around and discover that she was encircled by the toxin.

    “So what does she do now?” Morgan wondered aloud. “Stay there and be a sitting duck, or step in that poison to get away?”

    For her part, Olivia didn’t have an answer to Morgan’s question. Her eyes rocketed back and forth between Mareep and Wormadam, her breathing rapid and shallow as she searched for a solution.

    “I’ve got Mareep right where I want her,” Helena said. She snapped her fingers and called out, “Hidden Power!”

    Another set of the glowing brown orbs flicked to life around Wormadam’s body. Unlike before, they grew to their full size rather quickly, allowing Wormadam to keep up her offense with little delay. Mareep, unable to escape thanks to all the poison surrounding her, couldn’t do anything before the orbs barraged her and exploded.

    Gasps and tense grimaces settled among the spectators in Matt's party. With a blow like that, Mareep would be on her last legs, if not already out cold from Wormadam's assault. If Mareep were knocked out this early in the fight, would she really have an opportunity to still turn things around?

    Suddenly, light erupted from amidst the smoke left by the explosion of Wormadam’s Hidden Power, accompanied by a deafening scream. Olivia and all her friends, save for Amanda, watched in awe as the bursting light forced the smoke away, revealing the silhouette of a bipedal figure.

    “Mareep…?” Olivia uttered breathlessly.

    “Fla-aaaaah!” the Pokémon shrieked from the center of the light. A massive Thunderbolt erupted out of her body, easily engulfing Wormadam as the Bug-and-Steel-type hung overhead. Now it was Helena who could do nothing but watch as the lightning flickered and faded, revealing Wormadam lying on the floor with what used to be Mareep standing over her.

    “Mareep, you…” Olivia’s shock quickly gave way to the realization that the pink-and-white creature before her was no longer Mareep. “You evolved! You did it! Thank you!” she cheered.

    Such was Olivia’s joy that she completely failed to notice another of her Poké Balls beginning to tremble. Within it, Dewott was aware of Mareep’s evolution into a Flaaffy and so angered by it that he almost broke out of the ball under his own volition to confront her.

    “That was impressive,” Helena admitted after recalling her fainted Wormadam. “I thought I had Mareep… well, Flaaffy now, I guess. I thought I had Flaaffy right where I wanted her. No matter, we’re only halfway done… are you ready to step this up to the next level?”

    As excited as she was over her fortunes, Olivia felt a chill when Helena said that. “I’m ready for anything you can throw at me!” she said back, masking her nerves.

    “She’s going to regret saying that,” Avril grumbled to herself.

    “Then let me show you something,” Helena replied once she knew what Olivia said. “Let’s try this one!”

    When she threw her third Poké Ball, Helena summoned a Pokémon that looked nearly identical to the Klink she showed Olivia at Earl’s school, only with a larger third gear stuck to the back of its body. Olivia dutifully retrieved her Pokédex and scanned it.

    “Klang, the Gear Pokémon. Type is Steel. Evolved form of Klink. By changing the direction in which it rotates, it communicates its feelings to others. When angry, it rotates faster. Spinning minigears are rotated at high speed and repeatedly fired away, but it is dangerous if the gears don’t return.”

    “That gives me some idea of what to expect,” Olivia thought. With the Pokédex’s information in mind, she raised up Flaaffy’s Poké Ball to recall her. “Take a break, Flaaffy, I’m going to need you later.”

    “I didn’t expect that,” Anabel observed, raising her sunglasses onto her forehead. “She’s got some strategy going on after all.”

    “Who do you think is going to be next?” Matt’s question wasn’t directed at any one particular person around him, and none of them answered.

    “I think I have exactly what I need for this one,” Olivia said as she got ready to throw a new Poké Ball of her own. “Herdier, let’s play!”

    Once released from his ball, Herdier recognized that he’d be fighting Klang and turned back to look at Olivia.

    “I know you can do it, Herdier,” she encouraged him. “I’ll help you out.”

    Acknowledging her with an enthusiastic bark, Herdier brought his attention back to his opponent and lowered himself in preparation for battle. Klang responded by slightly slowing its perpetual rotation, both of its faces eerily unmoving.

    Seizing the initiative, Olivia called out, “Herdier, use Work Up!”

    “Very well,” Helena responded once she saw the red aura that surrounded Herdier’s body. “Klang, you use Autotomize.”

    A horrible, ear splitting screeching noise filled the room as Klang rotated increasingly faster, forcing all the humans and Pokémon aside from Helena herself to protect their ears. The small gear with one of Klang’s faces on it suddenly separated from its larger body, and the noise stopped.

    “Autotomize makes the user able to move around much faster,” Bunny recalled.

    “But that’s not the only thing,” Amanda added, “it gets lighter, too.”

    Helena waited for a moment before doing anything, taking the time to watch Olivia glancing back and forth between the two now-independent parts of Klang’s body. When Olivia took no immediate action, Helena closed her eyes, smiled and said, “It’s up to me, then. Klang, use Mirror Shot.”

    The green core of Klang’s larger body flashed with a bright white light, followed by it firing a beam of similar light at Herdier.

    “Quick, Herdier, dodge it!”

    Herdier jumped up into the air, following Olivia’s instruction. Klang’s Mirror Shot struck the ground where he had been standing and dissipated harmlessly, but despite this, Helena kept smiling.

    “That’s what I hoped you’d do.” Gently pushing her right hand forward, Helena called to her Pokémon, “Gear Grind!”

    The smaller of Klang’s gears had worked its way behind Herdier while he was distracted dodging Mirror Shot, giving it an easy opening to ambush and collide with him while spinning even faster. It then returned to the larger body and reconnected for a brief moment before shooting back out the other way, hitting Herdier a second time from the front.

    The force of the dual impacts sent Herdier dropping back down to the ground, but he quickly got up. “Doesn’t seem like that hurt him too much,” Olivia noted to herself, “and my plan from what the Pokédex said looks like it should work.” Responding to Helena’s gesture by thrusting her own hand forward, Olivia shouted, “Herdier, use Crunch on the big gear!”

    Herdier dug his feet into the ground and used the leverage to spring forward, baring his fangs in preparation to bite Klang’s larger body. Before he could get close enough to strike, though, the two parts of Klang’s body darted past him in different directions, switching places with the greatly enhanced speed afforded to it via Autotomize.

    “Charge Beam!”

    Now facing Herdier directly, the smaller gear swiftly pulled static electricity from around itself and launched a beam of it straight into Herdier’s face, knocking him away and again dropping him to the ground.

    “Do you really think she’s got a plan for this?” Matt asked Anabel. “It looks like Klang is running circles around Herdier. Literally.”

    “I’m encouraged,” Anabel replied. “Her confidence right now is genuine.”

    “You doing alright?” Olivia said to Herdier as he picked himself up. He responded with an energetic bark, reassuring her. “I’m not too worried about these individual hits, they don’t seem like they’re doing much… but Charge Beam could be a problem if it starts getting stronger. I can’t wait anymore!” Feeling her confidence swell, Olivia yelled out in a voice just slightly too loud, “Work Up, again!”

    Helena watched Herdier strengthen himself further with a puzzled look. “I’m unsure what she intends to accomplish with that…” she thought, though she quickly pushed these concerns aside. “Let’s go with what we know, Klang. Mirror Shot!”

    The two halves of Klang’s body swiftly exchanged places again, with the bigger gear taking its place in front of Herdier again. It wasn’t long before it fired another of the bright, white beams at him, but both Herdier and his trainer were ready for it.

    “Dodge it again, Herdier!”

    When Herdier jumped into the air again, Helena furrowed her brow even further. “She’s got to know what I’m going to do here. Is this a trap? Herdier should be vulnerable, but I can’t help but think this is a trap…” Unable to conclude exactly what Olivia was planning, Helena decided to push on with her own strategy. “Gear Grind!”

    “Exactly what I wanted.” Grinning widely, Olivia pumped her clenched fist straight up into the air. “Herdier, Crunch - on that small gear behind you!”

    After having control of the battle virtually from the start, Helena finally had to gasp in surprise when she saw Herdier flip over in mid-air and catch Klang’s smaller gear in his teeth. It started groaning in a robotic voice, while its larger body started to shake violently.

    “Give Klang that gear back, Herdier!”

    Taking the momentum from Klang’s failed attack, Herdier spun around and flung the small gear toward the larger one. The small gear directly hit the large gear’s core, critically injuring them and making them screech loudly. They joined back together again, but could only revolve slowly while floating weakly in the air.

    “I’m impressed!” Helena complimented. “I thought you were leading me into a trap but I couldn’t figure out just where it was.”

    “Thanks, but I’m not done yet!” Olivia said back. “Herdier, use your full power Crunch and finish Klang off!”

    Olivia’s rush of confidence was infectious - the excitement in her words gave Herdier all the energy he needed to leap on his weakened prey and push it to the ground. The strength he drew from using Work Up helped him bite into Klang’s metal body. Once he had a firm grip on the gear Pokémon, Herdier thrashed it back and forth before finally jamming it into the dirt.

    When Klang robotically groaned but then tilted backward and fell still, Dominic made the announcement, “Klang is unable to battle! The winner is Herdier!”

    “We did it!” Olivia exclaimed in excitement. Herdier ran to her and jumped up to lick her face. “You did it, Herdier! Thank you!”

    “They’re so close now!” Matt couldn’t help but stand up. “Only one more Pokémon to go!”

    Even Avril was showing some interest in the battle by then. She was still sulking, but instead of staring at the floor, she had started actually watching it.

    “Maybe she really is worth having as a rival,” Avril mused. “I can’t let her get too far ahead of me… even if that road even goes through Helena…”

    Back on the battlefield, Helena looked down at the Poké Ball in her hand. “You did well, Klang,” she said to her Pokémon within it. “This has been exactly what I wanted my first battle as Gym Leader to be.”

    After putting Klang’s Poké Ball away, Helena shifted her gaze to Olivia. Where she had been formal and gentle before, there was now a look of hardened determination that gave Olivia a chill. “I mean that,” she said, her voice as serious as her face. “Olivia, when I said I was glad you were my first challenger, I meant it. You’ve given me everything I could have wished for… I hope I get to have battles like this all the time. But all good things have to come to an end. I am still the Gym Leader, and you are still the challenger…” Helena took out one last Poké Ball and pulled her arm back to throw it. “...so it’s about time I showed you where you fit in that picture!”

    The Poké Ball erupted in a burst of light, and from it emerged another Mawile, one that was a bit taller and bulkier than Mawlly was. The presence of Helena’s Mawile immediately cemented the attention of both Morgan and Mawlly on her side of the battlefield, especially when they took notice of the band around the Mawile’s body.

    “The rumors were true!” he exclaimed. “Mawlly, do you see it? Do you?”

    Morgan’s urging ended up lost on Mawlly, as it so often was. Still, she was more than aware of the other Mawile and what he was wearing. It was enough to make even Mawlly enraptured, the cookies in her hands completely forgotten.

    Attached to the band was a pink stone with a yellow-and-black Mega Evolution symbol within it.
     
  10. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Seeing the stone made much of Olivia’s confidence drain away in an instant. “A Mega Stone…” she whispered listlessly, putting her hands over her mouth. “So Mawile can…”

    Helena lifted her left arm in front of herself, then pulled back her sleeve, revealing a silver bracelet patterned with gray hexagons on her wrist. Set within it, a Key Stone.

    “That’s right,” she said to her awestruck opponent. “My dad’s boss got me this Mega Ring and the Mawilite as a gift for me becoming a Gym Leader. This Mega Ring, these two stones that go with it… they’re symbols of what I must be as a Gym Leader - a goal that all who enter this building must aspire to surpass! Now, Olivia, take every ounce of your strength and bring it against every ounce of mine, so that we will see who the only one left standing is!” Helena pressed her index and middle fingers on her right hand against the Key Stone, causing bright light to erupt from it. “Mawile, in the name of Olivine Gym, bring forth all your abilities! Mega Evolve!”

    Ribbons of light emerged from the Mawilite and arced back to join with those issued by Helena’s Key Stone. After combining, the rays formed a spherical cocoon around Mawile, lasting several seconds until he tore out of it with a vicious cry. Mawile’s transformation made it noticeably taller, with most of his physical traits similar to those of his previous form, with one notable exception - a second set of jaws had sprouted from the top of his head, and both looked much more ragged and bestial than the single set he had before.

    “So that’s a Mega Mawile! It’s so cool to see in person!” Morgan turned to Mawlly, who was so fascinated by Mega Mawile that she’d dropped the bag of cookies. “You could become like that one day too, Mawlly. We just have to find the stone and how to use it.”

    In the face of Mawile’s overwhelming display of force, Olivia forced back her panic. “Don’t be afraid, Herdier, we can still do this. Use Crunch!”

    “Use Crunch yourself, Mawile!”

    Herdier showed great courage in attempting to directly attack Mawile, but it was all for naught. Mega Mawile’s jaws were just too vast, easily engulfing him long before he could accomplish anything. Mawile didn’t immediately take any further action, but instead simply held Herdier using the jaws that had captured him.

    “Iron Head!”

    On Helena’s command, Mawile tossed Herdier up in the air, then flipped forward to smack the Normal-type back down using his other set of jaws, which had taken on a metallic shine. Olivia and her friends could do nothing but watch in horror as it quickly became very clear Herdier was completely outmatched by Mawile’s overwhelming power.

    “Morgan, don’t take this the wrong way, but…” Matt trailed off for a moment before he could finish his question. “...how is Mawile that strong? Did Mega Evolution really give it that much strength?”

    “No offense taken,” Morgan replied. “Mega Mawile’s ability, that’s why… Huge Power makes it twice as strong as it would normally be.”

    “I… I…” Olivia’s thoughts were becoming a mess. Desperate to figure out some way to even touch Mawile, she blurted out, “Just try Crunch again!”

    “Mawile, finish it off with Brick Break!”

    Herdier valiantly bared his fangs again, but it was useless. Mawile simply drove his fist down into Herdier’s midsection, forcing one last howl out of him before he fainted and fell still.

    “Herdier is unable to battle!” Dominic announced. “The winner is Mawile!”

    For the second time, Olivia lowered her head enough for her bangs to cover her eyes. On the sidelines, Anabel once again covered her own eyes with her sunglasses.

    “Herdier, you did really well,” Olivia quietly said to her fallen Pokémon after recalling him. The confidence she felt against Klang was gone, replaced by a strong sinking feeling she struggled to manage. By the time she had another Poké Ball in her hand, her entire arm was shaking. “I guess there’s only one thing I can do now. Flaaffy, let’s play!”

    Olivia didn’t throw the Poké Ball, she merely popped it open in her hand to let Flaaffy back out. The moment the Electric-type re-entered the battle and saw Mawile, she stretched herself and growled aggressively.

    “I guess some things don’t change with evolution,” Avril thought, stifling a chuckle.

    Mawile wasn’t intimidated by Flaaffy’s posturing, despite her best efforts. He simply waved his hand at Flaaffy, challenging her to fight.

    “We have to weaken it first, Flaaffy, or we’ll never have a chance,” Olivia decided. “Thunder Wave!”

    “It won’t be that easy,” Helena countered once aware of Olivia’s words. “Mawile, Sandstorm!”

    Mawile produced twin vortexes of sand from his two sets of giant jaws, obscuring himself within a gusty cloud of grit that covered the entire field. The Thunder Wave harmlessly passed by him, leaving Flaaffy to get buffeted by the sand with nothing to show for it.

    Olivia rubbed her eyes and squinted to try and see through the sandstorm. “Flaaffy, don’t lose your nerve! Try another Thunder Wave!”

    Flaaffy hadn’t lost any nerve, but she did badly wish to just attack Mawile, so when Olivia prompted her to keep restraining herself she clenched her teeth in frustration. She did decide to listen in the end, but Mawile had long since disappeared into the sandstorm again.

    “How can something like that move so fast?” Olivia fumed, struggling to keep her voice down.

    “That Flaaffy probably has Static as its ability. I can’t say I like the risk, but I’ve got to work with what I have.” Helena spread her arms wide and called into the sandstorm, “Mawile, use Crunch, but avoid its fleece!”

    Mawile suddenly emerged from the sandstorm right in front of Flaaffy, startling her long enough for him to clamp down on her with one of his sets of jaws. She bleated in a mixture of pain and anger, making Olivia even more agitated.

    “Thunderbolt! Now!!” she shouted.

    Electricity sparked to life in Flaaffy’s wool, but as Mawile had ensnared her on her fleshy midsection, it had no immediate effect. There was enough time for Mawile to take notice of Flaaffy’s imminent offense and safely throw her aside.

    “Don’t take that, Flaaffy! Try for Thunderbolt again!”

    Flaaffy landed on her feet and recovered quickly enough to finish charging energy. The blue orb on her tail illuminated her surroundings, and with the additional sight it gave her, she cut through the sand with a powerful electric blast. Mawile’s efforts to remain evasive finally failed, and he was struck by the lightning - yet, for all the force Flaaffy put into it, he had little in the way of reaction.

    “I’m sure you appreciate what you’re up against now, Mawile!” Helena called into the sandstorm. “Don’t toy around with it! Use Brick Break and keep avoiding its wool!”

    Olivia hadn’t been paying attention after seeing Flaaffy’s tail light up, so when the Electric-type Pokémon reeled back from Mawile punching her, it snapped her trainer out of the thoughts she was lost in.

    “Dive right back in and get another Thunderbolt ready, but don’t let it loose yet!”

    Flaaffy hesitated, looking back at Olivia and tilting her head. Olivia nodded in response, encouraging Flaaffy enough that she listened and ran back into the center of the sandstorm. Seconds later, the light on Flaaffy’s tail illuminated her surroundings again - revealing Mawile trying to sneak up on her from the side.

    “On your left!” Olivia cried. “Do it now!”

    Just as Mawile got within arm’s reach, Flaaffy spun around to directly face him. This turn of events startled him, giving Flaaffy enough of an opening to strike him with a fully-formed Thunderbolt. The sandstorm dissipated as the two combatants separated, revealing their status to Olivia and Helena. Mawile’s body had several burn marks on it from the two Thunderbolts he’d been hit with, but despite that, he was still physically composed. Flaaffy, meanwhile, was hunched over and panting.

    Olivia tightened her fists. “What is it going to take to stop this thing?!”

    “It’s time to finish Flaaffy off for good, I think,” Helena resolved. “Mawile, Crunch!”

    In her exhaustion, Flaaffy lacked the energy to escape from Mawile again. In an instant Mawile was upon her again, clenching her in his iron jaws. She flailed about in an attempt to escape, but accomplished nothing. On Helena’s prompting he spun around and flung Flaaffy across the battlefield, smashing her into one of the metal walls. For all her spirit, she could take no more, and crumpled to the floor.

    “Flaaffy is unable to battle!” Dominic announced. “The winner is Mawile!”

    Off in the stands, all of Olivia’s friends watched in shock as the sullen trainer called back the Pokémon that, until that point, had seemed unstoppable.

    “That Mareep gave me a hard time, and that was before it even evolved…” Morgan murmured. “I knew Mega Mawile was strong, but this is almost scary…”

    Mawlly snapped out of her fascination for a brief moment when she heard what Morgan said, and pulled on his arm to get his attention. “Wile!” she scolded him.

    “I’m not saying you would be scary,” he said to her, petting her head. “I know you better than that.”

    “See what I mean now?” Avril sullenly mumbled to the others. “The favored child, the first born… already strong and she gets gifts showered on her from that billionaire our father works for. She never needed it, and now that she has that stone she’s terrifying.”

    Back on the battlefield, Olivia felt her strength rapidly draining. “Thanks, Flaaffy…” she said to the Poké Ball before putting it away. “I’ve only got one left to stop this Mawile now… if I fail here, I’ll never be able to find out why Dad is doing all of this… I’ll never be able to, I’ll never be able to, I’ll never…” Olivia abruptly broke herself out of her own spiraling thoughts and pulled out her last Poké Ball. “I won’t lose! I refuse to! I can’t… I can’t… Dewott, let’s-”

    Before she could even finish her sentence, Dewott forced himself out of the ball on his own. The instant he landed on the battlefield, he brandished his shell with a look of utter rage on his face.

    “You go for it, Dewott!” Olivia called to him, misinterpreting his anger for enthusiasm. “If anyone can do it, it’s you!”

    All that did was stoke Dewott’s anger, while the images of Mareep and Flaaffy that cycled through his mind made him tense up more and more.

    Seeing Dewott’s emotions and how Olivia appeared genuinely unaware of them, Helena grimaced. “Mawile…” she quietly said, “...I think it’s best if we bring this to a quick end. This can’t go anywhere good. Use Crunch.”

    Mawile acknowledged his trainer with a nod and started running toward Dewott. He knew just as well as she did that something was wrong, and intended to follow her directions to the letter.

    “Dewott,” Olivia said, fighting back the tremors that were starting to work their way down her arms, “Razor Shell!”

    A cloak of water enveloped Dewott’s body as, instead of listening to Olivia immediately, he propelled himself forward using Aqua Jet instead. The distance between him and Mawile closed in an instant, leaving Mawile startled as Dewott danced around him and closed in from the side. Mawile met his assault with one of his sets of jaws, but Dewott was ready for this exact move. He turned his Razor Shell sideways and stuck it into Mawile’s toothy iron jaws, jamming them open and preventing him from attacking with Crunch.

    With his opponent halted - however briefly - Dewott looked over his shoulder to see if Olivia was watching him. She was, but there were no words of encouragement, leaving him unsatisfied. A sharp growl slipped from his throat as more water flickered to life around his feet, wrapping around both Pokémon. Using every ounce of his strength to push against Mawile’s weight, Dewott slowly forced him up into the air with Aqua Jet.

    “That’s it, Dewott! Get Mawile up high and then drop it with Water Gun!”

    Inside the veil of water, Dewott flashed a smile. It wouldn’t be long before he earned the kind of praise he desired and showed Flaaffy his superiority - it was so close, he could taste it.

    “Mawile, break free with Iron Head!”

    Dewott’s hopes came crashing down on him as hard as Mawile’s free set of jaws did. The iron mouth smashed into him from the side, making him squeal and breaking his grip on the shell holding the other set open. Mawile spat the shell out at him as he plummeted to the ground.

    “Quickly, Mawile, come down on it with Brick Break.”

    On Helena’s word, Mawile spun himself around in midair and aimed himself downward, pulling back a clenched fist as he descended. Despite a desperate plea from Olivia to dodge, Dewott lacked the strength to pull himself up before Mawile punched him squarely in the torso, forcing another pained cry from the Water-type Pokémon.

    “Dewott, no!” Olivia cried. “You have to keep-”

    Before she could finish, Olivia was frozen by a feeling of dizziness. Tunnel vision took hold of her, narrowing her sight to just what was right in front of her - Dewott, Mawile, Monroe and Helena. After Mawile pulled back from the devastating blow he’d landed, Dewott slowly rose up, his body starting to give off a blue aura.

    Taking note of both the aura and the dead-eyed look on Dewott’s face, Anabel said, “No wonder Torrent is activating… I can feel it in Dewott’s heart, he’s desperately trying to get Olivia’s attention, but with Flaaffy around now he feels threatened. And with an opponent as powerful as Mega Mawile standing in his way, he’s afraid she’ll be disappointed in him.”

    “I have a bad feeling about this,” Matt replied after hearing what Anabel had to say.

    On the battlefield, all Olivia noticed was the blue aura. “Torrent, just like in Azalea Gym!” she exclaimed. “Dewott, we can get through this using that power!” Thrusting her fist forward in an exaggerated punching motion, she called out, “Go for it! Aqua Jet!”

    Dewott snarled loudly and dropped to all fours, and a huge wave of water erupted around his body. He shot like a missile toward Mawile, his speed so great that Mawile could barely react before Dewott hit him right back in the same place Brick Break had just landed.

    “Ah, Mawile!” Helena yelled out as she watched him get pushed back. “Be careful, it looks like this won’t be as straightforward as I thought. See if you can land another Iron Head!”

    “Aqua Jet’s working, Dewott!” Olivia said to encourage him. “Go for another one!”

    The two Pokémon rushed each other, but even though Dewott was moving much faster than his opponent, Helena was unshaken. She’d expected Olivia to keep pressing something that seemed like it had worked the first time and was ready for it.

    “Forget Iron Head, catch it with Crunch instead!”

    Mawile planted his feet firmly in the ground, immediately stopping his advance. He had just enough time to turn one of his sets of jaws in Dewott’s direction and engulf the Water-type in them. The Torrent-powered Aqua Jet still packed enough of a punch to force Mawile back again, but there was nothing Dewott could do to escape from Mawile’s grip afterward. He was stuck headfirst in Mawile’s iron mouth, and although he flailed violently, it accomplished nothing.

    “Dewott, you’ve got to do more to get out of there!” Olivia pleaded. “Wait, I know! Use Water Gun to push yourself out!”

    As soon as Monroe signed Olivia’s words to Helena, she knew what a risky situation she was in. “Mawile, spit it out before it uses Water Gun, then use Iron Head!”

    Mawile immediately coughed Dewott up, dropping him onto his back just as he started gushing water from his mouth. His powered-up Water Gun broke up in the air, leaving nothing but a harmless rain to come back down. Before he could even sit up Mawile was upon him again, crushing Dewott back into the ground using his metallic mandibles.

    It took several long seconds for Dewott to rise again, but almost immediately he fell forward and seemingly went still.

    “No!” Olivia cried. “No, Dewott, you can’t lose! We have to get to Dad and stop him! If we lose here…”

    While Olivia trailed off, a pall settled over her entourage on the sidelines. Matt and the others looked on in dismay, Anabel biting her lip with a visible grimace. Bunny turned away entirely, resigning herself to a loss by Olivia and Nekou remained stone-faced, staring straight ahead as Olivia's nerves frayed on the field.

    “I tried to warn you,” Avril muttered, though whether she was directing it at the others sitting with her or at Olivia wasn’t clear.

    Out on the battlefield, Dewott heard Olivia’s words and began forcing himself up, bringing the attention of all the humans around him onto himself. Images of Flaaffy flashed through his mind - her gleefully stuffing food into her mouth, her unleashing a powerful Thunderbolt on Morgan’s Misdreavus, her being lovingly petted and congratulated by Olivia.

    That last thought was the one that enraged him the most.

    A bark turned into a long, screeching howl as Dewott rose to his full height only to immediately drop to all fours. He tried to force even more strength out of his body, but there was nothing more anywhere in him he could draw on. His arms and legs buckled, but he wouldn’t let himself collapse. The anger he felt at Flaaffy and his drive to be Olivia’s favorite wouldn’t allow it.

    Suddenly, a familiar light burst from Dewott’s body. Having just seen it earlier in the battle, Olivia and all the others knew instantly what it was. Dewott’s shape reflected in Olivia’s watery eyes as it changed, while off to the sides, Anabel lifted her sunglasses in surprise. Nekou said nothing, but when she jumped up to her feet, she hit Matt’s back and nearly knocked him forward.

    “What’s happening?” Amanda asked the others around her.

    “Dewott’s evolving, that’s what!” Nekou exclaimed.

    “Wow, really? How exciting!” Amanda clapped her hands together.

    Dewott’s short arms and legs grew into strong, sturdy limbs as he became quadrupedal. His height more than doubled, topped off by a spiked seashell that covered the back of his head and formed a sharp horn. White hair sprouted from his snout and under his mouth, quickly lengthening into thick whiskers that resembled a majestic moustache and beard.

    Stunned by this turn of events and her Pokémon’s new appearance, Olivia could find nothing to say. She merely covered her mouth with her hands and stared.

    “Now that Dewott evolved into Samurott, you might have a shot!” Morgan shouted to her over the growling of the freshly evolved Water-type.

    “Samurott, that’s its name?” Olivia whispered. She lowered her hands, brushing past her pocket where her Pokédex was without a notice. “You evolved for me so we could win, Samurott?”

    Samurott completely ignored Olivia and remained fixated on Mawile, who he now towered over. The stress of forcing himself to evolve after all he’d endured at Mawile’s hands left his entire body burning, and his mind was still stuck on the images of Flaaffy that continued to torment him. He remained still and continued to growl at his opponent.

    Helena could wait no longer after quietly observing Dewott’s evolution. “This could be trouble, even for my Mega Mawile…” she said to herself before addressing her Pokémon directly. “Mawile, we need to finish this up! Use Brick Break!”

    If anyone in Olivine Gym wasn’t surprised or intimidated by Dewott’s evolution, it was Mawile. He ran right for Samurott, pulled back his fist and delivered a strong punch to the sea lion’s right front leg.

    Samurott didn’t react at all, however, and that caused Mawile to step back in confusion. Olivia’s Pokémon didn’t even move. He just stood still and continued to growl until an orange light suddenly burst from his body. When that happened, his growl became a screech and he swept his arm into Mawile, easily knocking the Steel-and-Fairy-type back.

    “That looked like the move Revenge to me,” Bunny noted.

    “Look at that, Samurott!” Olivia exclaimed. “We can do this! We can win if you can do that! Now, u-”

    Samurott ignored Olivia, but this time it wasn’t to stay still. He drew vapor from the air into his body, allowing him to coat himself in water, then lunged forward and tackled Mawile. The water coating Samurott burst off of him when the two Pokémon collided and sprayed over the battlefield.

    Even that wasn’t enough to sate Samurott’s anger, however. The images of Flaaffy getting Olivia’s praise kept on tormenting him. Unwilling to even risk allowing them to become real, he lashed out yet again at Mawile, stabbing the Gym Leader’s Pokémon with his horn. Despite the force Samurott put into this Megahorn, however, Mawile stood fast in resistance against it.

    “Mawile, use Brick Break once more!”

    Seizing on the close proximity he had to Samurott, Mawile swung and punched him squarely in the chest. Samurott wheezed and stumbled back, his strength starting to fail him.

    “Samurott…” Olivia listlessly said while breathing heavily, “...you’re pushing yourself way too hard… it’s okay, just stop…”

    The instant he heard Olivia ask him to stop, Samurott’s eyes snapped fully open. To him, his worst fears were coming true. After all, if he couldn’t even beat Mawile, how would he ever get Olivia to favor him as much as he deserved? No, he wouldn’t give up. He couldn’t. He would defeat Mawile and prove his strength.

    Energized anew by his anger and jealousy, Samurott forced himself to his full height. The orange light of Revenge erupted from his body, and he used one of his sturdy legs to smash Mawile into the ground. He then pulled one of his shells - having grown into a full-length sword upon his evolution - from its sheath on his leg and raised it into the air before striking Mawile with it.

    At that point, he couldn’t stop. His body was burning, his mind was being tormented by Flaaffy, and he sensed that the solution for both of those problems lay in the increasingly weakened Mawile sprawled in front of him. He swung his Razor Shell down onto Mawile again and again, roaring incoherently all the while. It wasn’t long before Mawile reverted into his ordinary form and he completely fainted, but Samurott was unable to even realize he’d won. He just kept beating Mawile’s prone body, growing more and more upset the more he did it. Helena couldn’t even recall her fainted Pokémon, as Samurott was blocking her from getting a clear view of him.

    Olivia watched in helpless horror as Samurott spiraled completely out of control. “This isn’t right, this isn’t right…” she repeated to herself over and over. “Samurott, this isn’t right… I want to win, but not like this…” She abruptly pulled out Samurott’s Poké Ball and pointed it toward him. “Samurott, not like this! No! Come ba-”

    When Olivia moved to act on her decision to recall Samurott and surrender the battle, however, she was suddenly overcome by an agonizing headache. She dropped the Poké Ball and held her head with both her hands, then doubled over.

    The pain in her head soon spiked, forcing her body to lock up. She couldn’t see anything around her, nor did she hear Anabel screaming her name as she ran onto the battlefield. In fact, it was like she wasn’t even in Olivine Gym anymore. The memory of where she really was barely held on while her mind was filled with something else entirely.

    Olivia saw herself on a battlefield, but it wasn’t that of Olivine or any other Gym. It was much more vast than that, surrounded by a massive area of spectator seating broken into three tiers. When she looked around, she saw a giant video screen hanging over the field. It was displaying a red screen with a black stripe down the middle, with a gold Poké Ball outline surrounded by eight stars laid over it - the emblem of the Pokémon League. She was in the Pokémon League stadium at the Indigo Plateau, right at the center of its battlefield.

    Just as she figured out where she was, she suddenly realized there was a figure in front of her. A single glance at him made her want to start crying, even though she couldn’t. He looked exactly the same as he did when she saw him on television the previous day, wearing the same unusual mask and uniform and holding the same elaborate, helix-topped staff.

    “Father?” No matter what she did, she couldn’t force any words out. “No, Dad! Why are you…”

    “It is not time for you to join me yet, Olivia,” Father said to her before turning away and starting to walk off.

    “No, stop! Come back!” She tried to reach out to him, but he disappeared without acknowledging her again.

    In the real world, a single tear rolled down Olivia’s face before she fell completely unconscious and collapsed. Anabel, who had just recalled Samurott herself after collecting his Poké Ball, rushed over to her and held her in her arms.

    “Olivia!” Anabel shouted, her voice cracking. “Wake up!”

    “What’s wrong with her?” Morgan asked the others as they came onto the battlefield. “Is she alright? Is she breathing?”

    “She’s breathing, but barely…” Anabel said without turning around.

    “It’s getting worse…” Matt muttered, clutching Amanda’s hand tightly as he guided her. He shut his eyes and looked away. “The last time was in Ecruteak City, and that was only a week ago…”

    “What?” gasped Monroe. “When?”

    “While you were battling the Shadow Triad, apparently. That’s what Olivia told me anyway…”

    An uncomfortable silence settled over the group as they clustered around Olivia and listened to her labored breaths. All of them had things they wanted to say, but none of them knew how. Even Avril, who was hiding behind her father, wanted to tell Olivia to get up.

    The only one not in that tight circle was the one who considered herself Olivia’s closest friend. Nekou stood away from the others with her arms crossed, watching with both great concern and great distress.

    “These people helped me after what I became…” she thought, “...and now it’s my turn to pay them back. I can’t… I can’t think only of myself anymore. If this destroys everything I have, I’ll have to endure… there’s only one person who can help Olivia now.”

    Gathering her strength, Nekou took a single step forward, making sure to drive her boot into the ground with enough force to make a sound. Her plan worked, getting Matt and Bunny to turn around and look at her.

    “Nekou?” Bunny wondered.

    Nekou opened her mouth, only for her words to get caught in her throat. “No! Fuck this! I have to do this, no matter the cost…” To break the ice, she took out her phone and showed it to them. “I… I can help. I know a really good doctor who works in Olivine. She’s the one who always takes care of me, so I know she’ll have exactly what’s needed to treat Olivia right now.”

    “That’s great!” Matt exclaimed before turning back around. “Anabel, did you hear that?” When Anabel shook her head, he said, “Nekou’s got a doctor in Olivine she can call to take care of Olivia!”

    “Please do!” Anabel begged Nekou once she heard this. “This can’t keep happening!”

    Nekou turned away from the others and grit her teeth. “Don’t worry… Olivia will be well taken care of.”

    -:-

    Far away from Olivine City, Gabriella was lounging in the pool inside her Angel Tower office. A holographic screen in front of her displayed images of both a Mega Mawile and the Meteonite, along with several pieces of data comparing both.

    “Exactly what I envisioned,” she said to herself. “Making use of Gaia is the answer.”

    Pleased with what she was seeing, she took a sip from the champagne glass sitting on the edge of the pool.

    -:-

    Roughly fifteen minutes after Nekou stepped out of the Gym to place her phone call, she came barging back into the chamber. The others hadn’t moved much in the intervening time.

    “They’re here!” she called to them. Her torn emotions had been briefly settled by the urgency of the situation, but still, they quickly caught up to her again. “They’re here…” she repeated, her energy draining.

    “Come on, then, let’s go,” Matt urged the others. “I’ll carry Olivia. This body of mine can be useful for something… Anabel, would you…?”

    Understanding what Matt meant, Anabel nodded and took Amanda’s hand. “We’re going now, Amanda.”

    “Alright.”

    With nothing more that needed to be said, Matt took up Olivia in his arms and started walking towards Nekou and the exit. The rest of the group started to follow, but Nekou held up her hand and stopped them.

    “You kids shouldn’t have to see this,” she uttered. “I know you’re worried, but please, Dominic… keep your kids here. Morgan, you too. Please.”

    “But I want to make sure Olivia is-”

    Monroe was cut off when his father put a hand on his shoulder. “We all want to make sure Olivia is okay, but we have to trust that the ones who know her best will be able to take care of her.”

    “Yeah!” Morgan blurted out. “I, uh… just let us know when she wakes up, okay? I can find something to do…”

    “Don’t worry about it, we will,” Matt promised.

    “I sincerely hope she recovers soon,” Helena said. “Best wishes.”

    “Thank you,” Anabel replied.

    With that, Nekou led Matt, Anabel, Bunny and Amanda back through the lobby of Olivine Gym to the street outside. A fairly large truck was waiting for them outside.

    Sensing the confused glances being exchanged between those behind her, Nekou said to them, “House calls aren’t a usual order of business, so she doesn’t exactly have an ambulance or anything to use.”

    Matt and Bunny looked at each other, then back to Nekou and the truck. “I guess that makes sense,” Matt said.

    Nekou ran ahead of the others and threw open the doors on the back of the truck. After climbing in, she stuck her arm out and gestured to them, saying “Come on, get in!”

    Losing her composure, Anabel absentmindedly let go of Amanda’s hand and rushed ahead to the truck. Bunny noticed this and quickly took up the slack, while Matt got ahead of them and entered the truck right behind Anabel.

    What he saw when he got in stopped him cold. Anabel had the same reaction, staring wide-eyed at the occupants of the vehicle.

    “What… what is this…” Olivia’s mother gasped. “Why are you here…?!”

    Matt didn’t recognize the wheelchair-bound woman sitting next to a stretcher in the middle of the trailer. He didn’t recognize the redhead Nekou was sitting next to either, but Anabel did, from when the Frontier Society’s opening tournament was attacked - it was Ariana.

    When the truck’s driver looked back into the trailer, Matt finally saw a face he recognized. It was the master of disguise who had helped him and Bunny against Yung on the Magnet Train. Petrel.

    “We meet again, my friends!” Petrel exclaimed. “I only wish it was under better circumstances than this, but hey, you’re in good hands with Rosalie’s help!”











    END of CHAPTER 22
     
  11. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Nice to see Anabel donning that new look of hers. I admit, the karaoke story with Amanda and Matt was cute (and Matt's reaction after haha).

    The whole Pokemon changing to fairy type makes me wonder how important this will be in your story later down the line. Nice to see Anabel and Olivia finally reunited.

    I admit, this is a cool arrest scene.

    Jacob asking to stay with Sheena is a big request there. I would've like Looker to say how unhappy he is to Sheena instead of keeping it to himself, perhaps even suggest to Sheena to keep him up on date on Jacob.

    Okay, this is where I go "COLRESS NO." =p

    The remaining chapter has Olivia's gym battle, which has quite a few developments there. Nice you showcased Durant and Mega Mawlie's abilities there, and like what Herdier did with Klang. Two of Olivia's Pokemon evolving was a bit much but it fits where you're going with Mareep/Flaffy's aggressive behavior and Dewott/Samurott's jealously (though I do think that has been repeated quite a bit after a while). Team Rocket going to help Olivia leaves some unease with the group there. Very enjoyable chapter, looking forward to more!
     
  12. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    “Team Rocket VS. Team Plasma: Best Wishes From the Past (Part 1)”

    After learning the truth about Nekou’s connection to Team Rocket, Matt is confronted by Mitsumi, who demands he set up a meeting between her and someone from the organization. When the interview takes place, the story about when Team Rocket and Polaris met for the first time begins to be revealed.



    Character list:

    • Matt Chiaki
    • Nekou Langley
    • Olivia Mistbloom
    • Anabel Mistbloom
    • Amanda Chiaki
    • Bunny Spruce
    • Mitsumi
    • Silva
    • Ariana
    • Petrel
    • Professor Rosalie
    • Ada
    • Trevor
    • Jessie
    • James
    • Meowth
    • Proton
    • Giovanni
    • Stacia
    • Dr. Zager
    • Pierce
    • Zinzolin
    • Dr. Yung
    • Mercury
    • Ghetsis Harmonia
    • N
    • Anthea
    • Concordia
    • Shadow Triad
    • Seven Sages
    • Lenora
    • Hawes
    • Faba
    • Wicke
    • Colress
    • Ash Ketchum
    • Iris
    • Cilan
    • Amelia Mistbloom
    • Ophelia Mistbloom

    Thanks. Given that I decided to put Amanda onto the main cast fairly on the fly, I wanted to make her entrance something really distinct and I think I succeeded at that.

    There's only one plot thread where it's really a very major component, to be honest. Mostly it is just a way for Fairy and the new type chart to exist in this timeline, which was created prior to their introduction in canon.

    That's one I had planned for a pretty long time.

    Hm. I see your point, although I feel like there may be a certain bit of it that doesn't need to be said between them, given that they both already agreed that Jacob isn't going to be escaping justice by staying at the Sinjoh Ruins. I think there's a sort of unspoken understanding that what was said about Jacob's situation is the reality of it.

    That would just make him want to do it more.

    I needed to highlight what made each of the Pokemon unique, so I had to approach each one individually in order to determine what would happen to do that. Mega Mawile was probably the easiest, while Wormadam and Klang gave me the most challenge. Wormadam especially, since it's an incredibly uncommon Pokemon to see in just about all media, so I had to make up things for it to do largely blind. As for Klang, it was a combination of the fact that Herdier would be fighting it and traits mentioned in its Pokedex entry that created the idea of using it like a Frisbee with a dog.

    What I wanted to emphasize, and this is why I stressed the imagery so much, is that Samurott's evolution wasn't natural. He shouldn't have evolved now, but his sheer hate and jealousy toward Flaaffy motivated him towards exerting himself so much that the evolution was triggered by force. There are probably at least two or more times that Mawile should have won the battle if everything was happening as it would normally, but with the X factor of Flaaffy in play, Dewott forced himself to keep going and that's what caused him to evolve at a time when he shouldn't have.

    Yeah, there are some... interesting places we'll be going with that.

    Thanks for your kind review, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
     
  13. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    We were talking a bit about the chapter on Discord, but since I've been down for the count recently, have this review now to make up for it :V

    First, obligatory "omg Steven Stone showed up" fangirl squee. That is all. :3

    The character dynamic between Amanda, Anabel, and Nekou were probably the highlight of the chapter for me. It'd absolutely kill Matt, I think, if he heard Amanda heavily imply he won't be able to cure her blindness ("even if Matt manages to fugre out a way to help me see again"), and even more so that he'll never be able to return all the years she lost without her vision. The support from Anabel was a treat to read in general. It's quite obvious they're close and have a genuine, reciprocal friendship, and what's even more heartwarming is them letting Nekou - particularly with the karoake scene, which I really hope to see sometime. xD Her brash personality just fits right in, and it's great.

    The scenes with Nekou shouting at Anabel about her relationship with Olivia were awkward to read, which seemed to be the point, so you did well there if so. I'd argue Nekou still doesn't know Anabel that well to really assert such a thing, but I'd also argue Nekou's not in the greatest state of mind now (or when is she, really), so I'm not sure. Either way, I can see Nekou connecting Anabel as a replacement Maman of sorts in the future.

    The explanation of why some 'mon weren't considered fairy-types was a neat one. It's described nicely as a scientific phenomenon as a result of an event that happened in the world, which is realistic, despite that fact that this is, well, fanfic. It being a thing discussed about Olivia's Mr. Mime and being discussed in her presence I thought was important given how much she has a lot left to learn as a trainer... and as her training continues, the world around her will change with her.

    Re: Jacob, Looker, and Sheena... Doesn't Looker have a legal obligation to take Jacob in regardless of what Sheena wants? He gives a logical and emotional reason as to why he's not arresting Jacob, but mentions nothing about the legality of it, even if it's just a mention of turning a blind eye to the law.

    Re: the gym battle with Helena and Olivia... I like Helena's dialogue a lot. Very blase, and foils Olivia's excitability quite well. I was wondering if Olivia's commands (or any trainer's, in any battle) are signed to Helena? It seems a kind of disadvantage to not hear what the opponent is doing, and even if she did get to know, she has that reaction time to take into consideration. The attack called by the opponent could be in the middle of being executed by the time the signing reaches her, and then there's the matter of the signer being visible so that she can pay attention to more areas at once... Not sure if that all makes sense, but yeah. ^^;

    I feel bad for Avril a little bit as well. It's obvious it was hard for her to hear Helena say Olivia was the perfect first challenger for her gym, and in general, I like the idea of a character debuting with a brand new gym leader. But of course, Olivia can't catch a break. Her pokémon go haywire, and then her mind goes haywire, and finally, her body goes haywire and Nekou has to choose her friends or her selfishness that's guided a lot of actions so far. So we're diving right back into things after the last breather chapter, haha. I get the feeling Olivia may not feel comfortable with Flaaffy on her team for one reason or another, and the vision of her dad, I imagine, will null any progress she's made so far in her mind. Looking forward to more~
     
  14. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    It was worth the wait! Thank you!

    He's not going to have a huge role, so don't get your hopes up too high, but he does have a connection to certain parts of the plot that will come along.

    It was a big part for me, too. Adding Anabel and Amanda to the main cast really shakes up the dynamics, and I couldn't just leave things the way they already were. That just wouldn't work. We haven't seen too much of Anabel or Amanda before this point, and while they have existing interactions with the likes of Matt and Olivia, neither of them has really interacted with Nekou yet, so that was up in the air until now.

    This actually goes to the center of their characters and what's different about them. You're absolutely right, if Matt knew all of these things, it would destroy him. However, if he's a "glass half empty" type of person, Amanda is more of a "glass half full" person. She wouldn't mind having her vision back, but she's made her peace with her situation and overall is happy with how her life is. She knows that there are things she may never get to experience in the way she would like, but she has found a sort of peace that continually eludes her brother.

    I loved writing that scene, too. I don't know if that incident is ever going to actually be shown, but it is a thing that happened. :p

    Inserting a little outside information into it here, Matt had Anabel care for Amanda for a while while he was dealing with everything that happened to him during the time between this storyline and the events in the past, so Amanda's been living with Anabel (more or less) during that time. She travels to teach part-time in Violet City when she isn't there.

    That scene is really a glimpse into Nekou's thinking in the rawest form. It's her facade cracking and revealing a much more genuine bit of how she feels than you usually see - in this case, she's admitting just how important her own mother figure is to her by telling Anabel how important it is to fulfill that role for someone else. Nekou knows from her experience that that relationship is the most important one (at least to her) so she's trying to make that clear to Anabel.

    I had to improvise that, given that Fairy-types didn't exist until well over a year into writing this story and I couldn't just act like they did. It fit well into what I already intended to do with Olivia and Mr. Mime.

    Hm. This is tough. You do have a very valid point, though... I think this is a Looker who is very troubled by corruption he senses in the levels of the International Police above him. Obviously, one could say right back that his temporarily turning a blind eye to the law is the very definition of corruption. You wouldn't be wrong, but I think he would call it more a pragmatic approach to solving bigger problems. He just found out that Polaris is trying to destroy the world by sacrificing it to a force that defies understanding, and has reason to believe (through being taken off the Kiss of Death case when he began looking at certain evidence) that the International Police are compromised by Polaris somewhere. So he'd have reason to think that if Jacob just suddenly reappeared in the system, whoever the corrupt people are would go right to him and find out where he was, which then endangers Sheena and everyone else there.

    It's kind of cheating to bring this up when I wasn't thinking about it when I wrote this, but you could also add to the context that this is within two years after the Guzzlord disaster in Alola happened to him. I think that experience really changed him even further and pushed him into viewing things with that kind of pragmatism; in other words, what needs to be done to combat the most severe threat is what needs to be done. In this case, it's Dark Matter, and Sheena is the one going against it, so Jacob can be put to use helping her for now because of the magnitude of the threat. Also, though, if you're taking the Guzzlord incident into account, I think it's also worth thinking that Looker is trying to find a sort of redemption by doing something to help Sheena protect herself, her people and ultimately everyone else.

    Hm, I'm not sure blase is the word I would go for; I was trying to go for a more "dignified" style for her. That said, I think you still saw what I intended, so it's not to be worried about.

    No, it makes sense. I think that at one time she probably did receive signs of the other trainer's actions, and may still receive them at times, but generally she's reached a point where she's gotten so used to lip-reading that she's good at it. She might miss some words but she is able to catch the general meaning of what's being said. For contrast, she lost her hearing extremely early in life, if she wasn't born deaf, whereas Amanda was born with leg problems that left her in a wheelchair until she got her prosthetics but only lost her vision in an accident later on. My point is that Helena's had most if not all of her life to find her way to work with her capabilities and get comfortable with them, so she's good at working around her limitations now.

    This is the thrust of the character I've been setting up with Avril from the very beginning when all three siblings debuted: Avril suffers from an inferiority complex (for reasons I can't entirely elaborate on right now) that leads her to try and project her own inferiority on others, as she did when she first met Olivia and has done so pretty much ever since. But she isn't a two-dimensional bully either; I think you can see that Avril does respect Olivia and wants to motivate her to be better, too.

    Oh yes, yes we are. I think things are going to start progressing in a new and different way now.

    There's so much more to come on those notes, let's say. :p

    Thank you again for the thorough review! I loved it!
     
    diamondpearl876 likes this.
  15. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    I know a lot of people have probably been waiting for this ever since I announced that it would happen. Well, here we go.


    One thing I feel that I should mention is that since this chapter and chapter 24 will heavily use flashbacks, it’s probably a good idea to explain how I’ve been denoting regular scene breaks against flashbacks. Regular scene breaks are shown by “-:-”, while flashbacks are “~:~.” A scene break inside a flashback is “-:-”, “~:~” is only for the beginning and end of flashbacks.


    -:-


    CHAPTER 23: Team Rocket VS. Team Plasma: Best Wishes From the Past (Part 1)




    -:-


    The evening sun broke through the clouds, casting a brilliant orange glow over the western Johto sea as gentle waves lapped against Olivine City’s docks. The city’s southern commercial district was its most built-up area, although as time marched on, a number of the buildings were left to rot as abandoned husks. The remaining stalwarts that stood in the decay reaped the rewards of great business, driven by a mix of tourism and shipping traffic.


    One business that ranked among Olivine’s most successful was a Thrifty Megamart. Built in the image of the chain’s other stores around the world, it stood not far from Olivine Port, its neon signs flickering in the light of the setting sun.


    The market’s interior was clean and well organized, again matching the standards the chain set. A throng of shoppers wandered through its aisles, each in their own search for their needs for the coming night, all to the sounds of upbeat music filtering through the Megamart’s radio system in the background.


    Among the shoppers that evening was Matt, quietly heading in and out of the store’s various sections with a basket in his hand. He really wasn’t looking for much outside of one particular item, and when he found it, he stopped and stared at it on the shelf.


    “Sonata Coffee, imported from Unova! Special price, 4 for ₽1,000!” the sign on the shelf read.


    Sonata Coffee, the drink Nekou had specifically requested he find before everything that had happened. As he stared at one bag of the coffee in his hand, Matt found himself remembering those events again, even though they had only just happened.


    ~:~


    “Someone want to explain to me what the hell is going on?” Bunny demanded. She was far from the only one agitated by the situation Nekou led them to in the back of Team Rocket’s truck. “You’re kidnapping us, aren’t you? When Olivia’s sick, even?!”


    “What’s happening?!” Amanda cried, tightening her grip on Matt’s arm with her right hand while instinctively reaching for her Poké Balls with her left. “We’re being kidnapped?”


    “What’s happening is that our so-called friend Nekou just marched us right into Team Rocket’s hands!” Bunny lashed around to face Nekou, who was sitting next to Ariana with her hands held tight in her lap, staring down at the floor. “I knew it, I just knew it. How long have you been with them?”


    “How long have you known?” Nekou kept on avoiding Bunny’s burning glare while also evading her question.


    “Since that Pierce told us that Giovanni was dead in Ecruteak,” came Bunny’s sharp, almost hissing reply. “Matt knew it then too.”


    The mention of Matt made Nekou flinch, though it went by without notice.


    “What should we do?” Amanda spoke up, tugging at Matt’s arm as she did so. “We can’t get kidnapped by Team Rocket!”


    Matt had been silently clenching his teeth while Bunny and Nekou argued, but with Amanda’s entry into the exchange, he had to answer. “I don’t think we’re actually being kidnapped…” he uttered as he sat down opposite Nekou and Ariana, taking Amanda with him. “I don’t… I think there’s more-”


    “Are you seriously okay with this?!” Bunny snapped.


    “Stop it!” Anabel finally yelled, interrupting the escalating dispute. Having inserted herself into the fray, she seized Nekou by the shoulders and directly confronted her. “You said were calling a really good doctor in Olivine, the one who always takes care of you. You said they’d have exactly what Olivia needed. Did you lie?”


    “No, I didn’t…” Nekou answered as she hung limply in Anabel’s grasp. “I called exactly who I said I would. She’s right there.”


    With that, Nekou gestured to behind Anabel, prompting her to turn around and finally register that Rosalie was there. The wheelchair-bound scientist had paid little attention to the scene around her, instead focusing her efforts on getting Olivia’s unconscious form onto the stretcher.


    “I don’t know why I’m even giving you a chance to introduce yourself,” Anabel said to her, “but who are you? Are you really what Nekou claims you are?”


    “Just call me Rosalie,” she replied. Even as she talked to Anabel, she remained focused on securing Olivia. “If what I just heard you say is what Nekou said to you about me, she told you the truth. Correct me if there are any missing details, but from what Nekou told me when she called, Olivia’s been having seizures?”


    “I’ve only witnessed one,” Anabel said, “but Matt-”


    “As far as I know she’s had at least two other ones,” Matt finished, cutting Anabel off in a fit of nerves.


    “She’s breathing well, at least,” Rosalie informed them, “but if the problem is seizures, I need to see if there’s anything unusual going on in her brain and I don’t have the equipment right here on hand to do that. Once we get back, that’s where I can do it.”


    “Back?” Anabel wondered. “Back where?”


    “The base we set up in Olivine City,” Ariana said to the group.


    “This can’t be happening,” Anabel muttered as she threw herself down next to Matt. “You’re joking, right? You’re taking us to your base and I’m supposed to believe this is all because Team Rocket is somehow the good guys this time? That this is all about helping Olivia?”


    “You might not want to believe this, but I really wouldn’t let anyone hurt Olivia.” Finally overcoming the fear of her friends’ impressions of her, Nekou managed to turn her eyes up to look at them with a hardened defensiveness. “Honestly, if we wanted to do something to Olivia, we would have by now, and we haven’t… but that’s probably not enough. I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me… but you deserve to know who actually is going against you. Matt and Bunny never told you who they ran into on the Magnet Train.”


    “Who we met on the Magnet Train?” Bunny said in surprise. She didn’t understand the significance of what Nekou was alluding to, but Matt did. He said nothing and all but stopped breathing, his face turning even paler than it usually was.


    “Maman, just… please show Anabel that video.”


    “Right.” Ariana took up a tablet that had been sitting next to her and tapped its screen several times. After a beat, she swiped her finger across it twice, then presented the screen to Anabel. “This happened during the crisis in Goldenrod City, while we were trying to take a Meteonite away from Polaris on the Magnet Train. Look who was there.”


    The video quality was less than ideal, but there was no mistaking what had appeared on the screen - the image of Dr. Yung confronting Matt, Bunny and the Team Rocket members on the Magnet Train. Anabel gasped the moment she saw him.


    “I was always in Polaris. Enigma Shadow outlived their use for us, so we got rid of them from within. Of course, you and your old friend Rich helped me out.”


    “We wouldn’t if we knew what you really were doing!”


    “Oh yes you would. Maybe you’re too much of a bleeding heart to admit it, but I was able to get into Rich’s head real good. Does that make you feel bad? Or are you not bothered, judging by how you’re working for Team Rocket now?”


    “Do you really think I’m going to listen to you?”


    “I don’t really care if you do or not. It’s not like you’re getting out of this. Mewtwo, get rid of them!”



    “Stop making her watch that!” Matt abruptly shouted, pushing the tablet away from Anabel’s line of sight.


    Even the brief length of the clip she’d seen had Anabel reduced to a state of shock. Just seeing and hearing Yung turned her paler than Matt had seen her since just after Rich’s death. For a dumbfounded moment, Anabel stared at where the tablet had been, her eyes wide and sunken back into her head, rocking back and forth with her arms wrapped tightly around her abdomen.


    “Why is he here? Why? Why?” she mumbled over and over to herself. “He, he… he’s the one, the one who took them from me… Amelia and Ophelia…”


    Unaware of what Anabel meant, Bunny directed a questioning glance in Matt’s direction. He saw it and covered his mouth so Anabel couldn’t see it.


    “The twin daughters who died before they were born,” he whispered to Bunny, “Olivia’s sisters… Yung was the one who poisoned her and caused it…”


    Bunny gasped and covered her mouth with both her hands. Anabel, meanwhile, had remained adrift in her catatonic state, completely failing to notice any of the conversation around her.


    “Why? Why does he keep coming back? He took Amelia and Ophelia from me, how much more does he want to-”


    Anabel’s spiraling thoughts were cut off when Ariana unexpectedly moved to her side and embraced her. All Anabel could do was look back, dumbfounded, as the Team Rocket executive smiled faintly but firmly at her.“I can’t totally say I understand what it must feel like for you to have to face this again, and I know it doesn’t mean anything coming from someone like me, but I’m sorry.”


    “Don’t… don’t worry about it,” Anabel weakly insisted. “I have to keep going… or at least try to. Olivia needs me…”


    “And we’re telling you the truth about wanting to help,” Nekou suddenly interjected. “I couldn’t hurt Olivia, not now, not ever… I’ll do whatever I have to to prove that to you.” Out of the blue, Nekou’s speech raced ahead, her thoughts lagging well behind her words. “How about this? Anabel, watch everything we do. Not just me, all of us. Watch everything we do and if you so wish, turn us over to the cops! I don’t care!”


    “You sure about what you’re saying there, little miss?” Petrel asked, looking back from the driver’s seat of the truck.


    “Honestly, Petrel, it doesn’t matter all that much right now,” Ariana answered. “Without Giovanni, Team Rocket’s pretty much destroyed. Stacia’s doing her best but she doesn’t have the support and loyalty Giovanni always inspired. He was just good at getting people to follow him.”


    “You’re right about that,” Petrel admitted. “Anyway, we should probably be heading on back to the base now.”


    “Wait,” Bunny interrupted. Unsure of how what she was about to say would go over, she clenched her fists and breathed deeply, searching for the confidence within herself to proceed. “I… I don’t think I should be here right now.”


    “Honestly, I can’t blame you…” Matt said to her, catching her by surprise. “But, what will Olivia think when she wakes up and sees you’re gone?”


    “I’m not leaving because of her, tell her that. It’s true, anyway. I got a message from Jacob back in Ecruteak City, remember? He wanted me to investigate what the secret of the Coronet Rosary is. I think… I think I’ll go off on my own for a while and work on that. There are a couple of leads I want to follow.”


    “I have to respect that then, from one archeologist to another.” Matt extended a hand to Bunny, and after a brief moment, she shook it. “Be safe out there. Polaris might still target you looking for Nekou and I.”


    “You know me, I’ll be fine.”


    With that, Bunny opened the back door of the truck and carefully climbed out. Before she closed the door, she took one last look back at Matt, Nekou, Anabel and Amanda, searching for something among them that not even she could identify. Once Bunny finally closed the door, it was Amanda who broke the subsequent uncomfortable silence.


    “This does feel like it might be a bad idea, if you want my opinion,” she said. “How long have Team Rocket been the bad guys again?”


    “This whole mess involves you and your brother far, far more than you know, Amanda,” Ariana revealed to her. “There’s something else that neither of you know about. Matt, you’ll be the only one who can see this, but…” she swiped her finger over the tablet’s screen a few more times, “...I think hearing this one is going to be enough.”


    The image Ariana presented Matt with was an unfamiliar one, at least visually. He could see a woman dressed in a fur coat, her face hidden by the the red, white, and blue of a Braviary mask. Behind her stood four figures in matching outfits, while an Electivire held firm in front of her.


    “You be quiet!” an unfamiliar male voice from just off screen threatened her. “We don’t know what Polaris is planning, but I’ll tell you that Team Rocket will prevent you from doing it so we can rule the world!”


    Neither Matt nor Amanda was prepared for what came next. As soon as the woman on the screen spoke, both of them understood immediately what Ariana had been alluding to.


    “If that’s what you believe in, defeat me.”


    “That voice!” Matt gasped in horrified surprise. “Is that…”


    “That’s our mother, no doubt about it!” Amanda said to finish his thought. “What is she doing?”


    Matt focused back on the screen, searching for an answer to Amanda’s question. By that point a Cofagrigus and Swoobat had appeared between Mercury’s Electivire and the people off screen. The Swoobat was flying toward Electivire, ringed by blue flames produced by Cofagrigus.


    “I’ll give you credit for having the courage to attack head-on. Foolhardy, but courageous. Electivire, take all that out with Electroweb!”


    “That’s her alright,” Matt confirmed as he watched Electivire cut Swoobat down using electrically charged threads. “No doubt about it.”


    “What is this exactly?” Amanda demanded of Ariana and Nekou.


    “This happened right after you passed by Mr. Pokémon’s house en route to Violet City,” Ariana explained. “Our agents wanted to take that Meteonite piece that he acquired, but they were ambushed by a Polaris team looking to collect it from him. One of the Shadow Triad was there, but the one actually sent for Mr. Pokémon to hand it off to was your mother… one of Polaris’ leaders, like Yung.”


    Ariana stood back up and surveyed her three-member audience. They all looked utterly haunted by what they had learned, and none of them spoke as they tried to completely understand it.


    “I don’t totally understand why yet,” she continued, “but both of your families are at the center of this. Yung was always a member of Polaris, which means they’ve been pulling the strings from the very beginning of everything you’re involved in. The only question that remains is just how much further back have they been at this?”


    ~:~


    “She’s a member of Polaris… Matt thought to himself, clenching his teeth as he moved down the aisles toward the Thrifty Megamart’s checkout lines. “But for how long? Was she one of them before Amanda and I were even born? But that would mean… Team Galactic…”


    Those thoughts quickly got to Matt, causing him such stress that he stopped walking to compose himself. He glanced at the shelves around him, where he spotted a Mimikyu doll.


    “That looks sort of like Pikachu, but not the same. Kind of looks like something Nekou would like.”


    He reached towards the doll, and while he did so, more memories of what had happened after leaving Olivine Gym came to his mind.


    ~:~


    “Nekou, you can’t be thinking straight! Just… think about the risk of exposure you’re putting us through right now!”


    It had been a direct drive from Olivine Gym to the abandoned hotel that Team Rocket turned into their base, and after Bunny left, it didn’t take that long for the others to arrive there. Ariana brought them right up to the floor with Trevor’s bar, where Anabel promptly split off to follow Rosalie into another room with Olivia. That left Matt and Amanda to meet the rest of Team Rocket, and Ada was less than thrilled with their presence.


    “I get paid to be an analyst here,” Ada continued, nervously adjusting her laptop in her arms, “and I’m telling you on both a professional and private level, this is a terrible idea.”


    “I didn’t have much of a choice,” Nekou countered. As close as she was with Ada, the tension in the room left her unable to look directly at her teammate. All she could do was mutter bitterly while peeking at Ada from the corner of her eye. “I know you agree that Rosalie is the most qualified to treat Olivia right now.”


    “That’s not untrue, but…” Ada’s objections died off in her throat, halted by a barrier erected by her own conflict over the situation. “Nekou usually knows what she’s doing, so I trust her, but…”


    “I don’t think any of us has any intention to do anything to you,” Matt ventured, “at least right now. It’s more important that Olivia get help, and I’ll hold you to that.”


    “But right now, you owe us a lot of explanations,” Amanda added.


    “I’m not going to lie and tell you otherwise,” Ariana said, “but right this moment, there’s little else I can do besides introduce everyone else. We’re most of the only ones in Team Rocket left. You already met Rosalie and Petrel, and obviously Nekou…”


    “Wait, I know him too.” Matt pointed at Proton, who was sitting on the other side of the room and keeping to himself. “We ran into him in Ilex Forest, I remember.”


    “Oh, that’s right. I nearly forgot.” Ariana shrugged. “And back on the Magnet Train, Ada was there to help you, too.”


    “You were the one with the Milotic who helped us beat back Yung and his Mirage Mewtwo,” Matt recalled. Ada allowed herself a slight smile at his compliment, but her nerves ensured that she remained quiet. “Pierce was there too, and in Ecruteak City.” As he spoke, Matt remembered something and brought his hand to his chin. “There was one other person when we were fighting Yung. I didn’t get a good look at him, but I could have sworn he was-”


    “That’s right, it was me,” came a voice from behind Matt and Amanda. They turned around, and Matt saw Trevor standing behind the bar, calmly polishing a glass. “I knew you recognized me, but we didn’t exactly get a lot of time to talk back then.”


    “I thought I did. But what are you even doing here in the first place? What made you give up your career for this?”


    “That’s a story for another time, really,” Trevor wistfully said, closing his eyes.


    “Heh. How did I know you were going to say that?” Matt replied with a laugh.


    While Matt and Trevor conversed, Ariana turned to Ada as she stared down at the floor. Ariana put a hand on her shoulder and said, “I know this is a tough thing for you to deal with, but I promise you it’s the right choice. You alright?”


    “I… I believe you.” Ada replied, keeping her eyes locked squarely on the floor tile directly in front of her. “I’ll be fine.”


    “Good. Can you give me an update on what those three are up to?”


    “Oh, of course.” Balancing her laptop in her arm, Ada quickly tapped a sequence of keys. She exhaled, finding relief in being able to focus her attention on something else. “Jessie, James and Meowth are still off in the sub working on mapping the Adenosine Base. That job is going to take them more time than this.”


    “Got it. Let me know if anything develops from them.”


    ~:~


    With his purchases paid for and stuffed into his bag, Matt shuffled toward the Thrifty Megamart’s exit, past rows of shopping carts and shelves overflowing with numerous types of Berries. The sun was lower in the sky than when he entered, casting the last beams of daylight over the seaside city.


    Usually, he would have noticed such a beautiful image, if for no other reason than to memorize it and paint it for Amanda. But at that moment, he was so lost in his own thoughts that he wouldn’t have noticed even if the sun had simply disappeared.


    “She was a member of Team Rocket from the very start…” he silently mused, “...but it’s also true that none of them did anything to hurt Olivia, or any of us… and they’ve been helping us against Polaris every time it comes to that. I should be angry at her for not saying anything, yet… I can’t condemn her for it, either. I’d be a total hypocrite. If it’s something she needs to survive…”


    Matt carried on in a daze, so wrapped up in his musings that he nearly collided with the Thrifty Megamart’s exit doors, stopping just short of walking right into them before they could open. He caught himself, leaving the panes of glass to slide out of his way and allow him to step out into Olivine’s salty air.


    Almost immediately, his contemplation was interrupted by a bitter voice from his right. “Matt Chiaki, I need to talk to you.”


    He froze in his tracks and turned his head quickly discovering that Mitsumi had been leaning against the market’s brick wall in wait for him. She threw the cigarette she had been smoking to her feet and ground it out with her heel, then stomped forward with a harsh glare.


    “I hope you heard me. I need to talk to you, right now.”


    “About what?” Matt said back to her. “Who are you?”


    Mitsumi briefly stepped back, her face contorted into a look of genuine hurt. Before Matt knew it, though, her anger at him returned. She grabbed him by the collar of his coat and pushed him against the wall with surprising force.


    “Of course you don’t remember me. Why am I even surprised? But I know you know what this is.” Mitsumi reached into her pocket and produced her International Police badge, but didn’t allow Matt the chance to recognize it. “I’m Agent Mitsumi of the International Police, and I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”


    “I don’t get what you’re talking about!” Matt sputtered. “What did I do?”


    Suddenly, the doors of the Thrifty Megamart opened again, this time allowing Silva to step out. He was eating something, but nearly choked when he saw his partner and Matt. “Mitsumi, we were just supposed to talk to him!”


    Mitsumi paused for a moment to consider Silva’s words, then released her grip on Matt. “I’m not going to apologize for that, but fine. Allow me to introduce my partner, Agent Silva…” Finally noticing what Silva had been doing, Mitsumi raised a brow at him. “Were you eating Poké Snacks again?”


    “Aha, you’re funny when you want to be,” Silva laughed, completely avoiding the question. Mitsumi grimaced in disgust at his non-answer, before the agent cleared his throat, eager to shift the topic of conversation.


    “Let’s just work on the case…”


    “Fine. Matt, I’ll level with you right now. We know you’ve been staying close to a member of Team Rocket. Don’t lie about it, we know this for a fact. I want you to set up a meeting between us and a representative from Team Rocket. We have questions about their motives and relationship to Polaris.”


    “How do you expect me to do that, exactly?” Matt asked.


    “I don’t care. Just find a way to make it happen or I arrest you, Nekou, and every other Team Rocket member I can find as soon as possible,” she threatened. “If I had my way I’d be taking the lot of you in right now, but our superior wants us to find out about anything that might put Team Rocket back on our side again in this.”


    “Your superior?”


    “We’re subordinates of Looker,” Silva explained to answer Matt’s question. “He contacted us and told us a rather interesting story. And yes, he did tell us that Team Rocket might be on our side in all this and said to confirm that.”


    “Fine, fine…” Matt slightly raised his hands to show his surrender, but realized it wasn’t necessary and quickly stopped. “I’ll do my best.”


    “You are to bring the representative to this location by the specified time,” Mitsumi said, pushing a card into his hands. “The arrangements will be taken care of.”


    Mitsumi left no chance for Matt to respond. She turned and walked off, with Silva following after quickly glancing at him. Left alone, Matt looked at the card he had been handed.


    “Sushi High Roller, huh? I guess at least the food will be enjoyable.”


    -:-


    When Matt found himself at the center of an argument for the third time in the past few hours, and the second just involving Ada, a belated realization due since immediately after talking to Mitsumi finally caught up with him.


    “How did I ever think trying to get them to talk to the police was a good idea?!”


    “I’m putting my foot down here!” Ada fumed to Nekou as they both sat at Trevor’s bar, Matt standing helplessly behind them. “What am I even here for if I’m not analyzing risk? I told you bringing them here was a bad decision, and then he comes back and tells us he talked to the police? What did you think was going to happen? The police will just follow him here!”


    Nekou didn’t reply to Ada’s question. She simply raised her glass to her lips and drank from it, allowing an ice cube to fall out into her mouth so she could crunch on it. Her peer’s uncharacteristic unresponsiveness only made Ada even more upset, leading her to slam her own glass down on the bar.


    “What’s with you? This isn’t like you at all!” Ada abruptly spun her barstool around, turning her accusing glare on Matt. “You did something to her, didn’t you?”


    “What?” Matt gasped. “Why would you even say such a thing?”


    “Because this isn’t the Nekou I know!” Ada angrily said, gesturing to the still-sulking Nekou. “The only thing that could have changed her is being around you!”


    “Now, now, Ada, go easy on him,” Trevor intervened.


    “You too?!” Ada demanded as she spun back around. “Is everyone here losing their minds? You actually still think we can trust him?”


    “He didn’t bring the police directly here after all, did he? Don’t you think they’d be here by now?”


    In an instant, Trevor had cut right to the bone of Ada’s argument. She hadn’t thought about the possibility he raised, but as soon as she heard it, she realized he had a point.


    “I still don’t trust him,” she said, “I think it’s a setup.”


    Matt was, again, lost in thought as he watched Trevor and Ada converse. He was searching his memory for something, anything that he could use to try to convince Ada of his intentions. As he pondered what had happened, Mitsumi’s words echoed in his mind.


    “If I had my way I’d be taking the lot of you in right now, but our superior wants us to find out about anything that might put Team Rocket back on our side again in this.”


    “I don’t blame you,” he said to Ada, “I don’t understand everything about what’s going on either. The agent who told me to set up this meeting said that if it were up to here she would have already arrested everyone here, and that their superior wanted to find out anything that would ‘put Team Rocket back on our side again in this.’ Why would they talk about Looker like he worked with you before?”


    This got Trevor’s attention. “Looker?”


    “You know him?” Matt knew he shouldn’t be as surprised as he was. “I guess that makes sense…”


    “We had a bit of a bargain between ourselves and him in Sinnoh and Unova,” Trevor explained. “When it came to fighting Team Galactic and Team Plasma, we were all on the same side.”


    “So if Looker is really the one who wants to talk…” Ada said into her glass, “...then maybe…”


    Ada tightened her grip on her glass and trailed off. The whole situation still felt strange to her, but she couldn’t ignore the truth about their past alliances with Looker, either. Seeing this, Trevor picked up a glass he’d poured for himself and swallowed it all at once, then stepped out from behind the bar.


    “Don’t worry about it, Ada,” he said. “I’ll go. If they want to know about why we’re fighting Polaris in the first place, I’ve been there from the beginning.”


    “What are you talking about?”


    The question was Anabel’s. She’d just entered the room, with Amanda and Rosalie at her side. It was plainly obvious how tired she was, from the slight bags beginning to form under her eyes to the short, slow steps she was taking.


    “It’s more important how Olivia is,” Nekou replied. “How is she doing?”


    “She’s still asleep, but she’s stabilized,” Rosalie said. “I need to do some further tests and monitor her brain activity to see if I can figure out exactly what’s happening when she has the seizures. But don’t worry, she’s resting comfortably right now.”


    This news brightened Nekou’s mood a little, prompting her to return to her drink with a modest smile instead of the blank expression she had before.


    “Anyway, since you asked…” Matt reached into his pocket and produced the card Mitsumi had given him. “Trevor and I are going to talk to Looker’s subordinates at the Sushi High Roller here in Olivine City. They want to know about the reasons Team Rocket and Polaris are fighting in the first place.”


    “Anabel, you should go with them,” Nekou blurted out. “You deserve a break. Go with them and have a nice meal.”


    “I appreciate the thought, but I don’t know if I feel comfortable leaving Olivia alone.”


    “Wait, I know!” Amanda reached out to her side, finding Anabel’s shoulder. “Anabel, you let me protect Olivia. You know how strong I am better than almost anyone. If my Pokémon and I stand guard, nothing will ever happen to her. Go enjoy yourself for a little while.”


    “I know I can count on you, Amanda.” Anabel adjusted her tie and smoothed a few wrinkles out of her jacket. “Just promise me one thing. If her condition changes, call me right away.”


    “Of course.”


    -:-


    Out over the ocean, there would be many types of Pokémon you could expect to see in the skies above. Wingull and Pelipper would probably be one’s most immediate expectations, but there would be a good chance of seeing Pokémon like those in the Pidgey and Ducklett families crossing as well.


    One Pokémon few, if any, would expect to see would be Woobat. Yet, as unusual as it was, four Woobat were flying over the ocean making up Routes 40 and 41, flitting around the Adenosine Base. Or so they were to the naked human eye, A closer glimpse revealed them to be mechanical in nature, highly sophisticated drones equipped with radar functionality. They were transmitting to a submarine deep below the surface of the sea. Within it, Jessie, James and Meowth sat at matching control panels before a set of flickering monitors. The screens displayed a number of maps and other information, chief among them a partial diagram of the oil platform the robotic Woobat were circling.


    “Ada wants a status update on the mapping,” James said to his partners.


    “Tell her we just gave her one,” Jessie replied.


    “You know how she’ll react to that. She’ll just tell Ariana, and then Ariana will get on our case…”


    “Or they’ll get the bob-cut glasses girl after us,” the red-haired agent realized. She sighed in defeat. “Withdrawn. Tell her the scan’s at…” Jessie looked over the screens and hit several of the keys on her panel. “...looks like about 72% completion.”


    “72%, got it,” James confirmed. He typed a series of figures into his own panel, then said, “Transmitting now.”
     
  16. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    “Won’t be long now before we’re running down those halls trashing the place!” Meowth declared. “We gotta get revenge on Polar-”


    Meowth’s excitement got cut off when Jessie’s Goomy slithered over the top of his chair and began chewing on his head. He flailed in a fruitless attempt to pull the Dragon-type off, and when he fell off the chair, Wobbuffet rushed over to try helping him.


    “Get off me, you little slug! Jess, James, do something and help me!”


    “Wobbuffet!” the blue Psychic-type Pokémon exclaimed.


    -:-


    The sun soon slipped beneath the horizon, bringing the darkness of night to Olivine and the rest of Johto. As the moon started to peek out from behind the clouds, the mood of the city changed. The last of those leaving their workplaces for the day filtered off the streets, soon to be replaced by people seeking the pleasures of Olivine’s nightlife.


    Not far from the harbor, among all the other restaurants and bars, stood a stately brown building. Its outer appearance was fairly nondescript, aside from the bamboo stalks and paper lanterns outside its windows. This was Sushi High Roller, one of the most popular high-class restaurants in the city.


    Matt, Anabel and Trevor passed through its heavy doors and found themselves at a gold-lined front desk. They were greeted by a hostess wearing a cerulean furisode.


    “Welcome to Sushi High Roller,” the hostess said to the three, gently bowing her head and smiling. “How may I help you?”


    “We have a reservation,” Matt replied, producing the card he’d been given by Mitsumi. “Well, actually, we’re meeting someone here, they made the reservation.”


    The hostess took the card from Matt and scanned it using the computer at her desk. “I see. Yes. Please follow me this way.”


    The young woman stepped out from behind the desk and gestured for Matt, Anabel and Trevor to follow her. It was a busy night for the establishment, but few of the other diners took notice of the rather odd-looking trio. They passed by numerous tables on their way to a short staircase, which was cordoned off until the hostess released the rope blocking the way.


    “Your table is this way,” she explained. “The others in your party haven’t arrived yet. I will send them when they get here. Please enjoy your time at our restaurant.”


    Matt and the others voiced their thanks to the hostess, and ascended the stairs while she returned to her post at the front of the restaurant. At the top was a single table, raised up to overlook the others. A number of elaborate paintings hung on the walls nearby, while a line of bamboo stalks filled the space on the edge of the platform.


    “Those paintings are great…” Matt said, attempting to break the awkward silence between them after they sat down. “I’ll have to bring Amanda here once she can see again.”


    “You really watch out for her, eh?” Trevor leaned back in his chair. “As a sibling should. That I’ll tell you for sure…”


    “I wish I knew that feeling…” Anabel uttered, her voice hollow. The sickly pallor of her face was plain in the light of the lamps around the table. “I was an only child. I wasn’t really lonely… I had plenty of friends, especially once I discovered I was able to talk to the living things around me. But at the same time, I wished I could have the bond I could only get from other family members.”


    Matt and Trevor exchanged worried glances at each other while Anabel talked. For her part, she didn’t notice either of them, nor did she stop to get a sense of what her audience thought. Just that one thing Trevor said about siblings had broken down a barrier in her mind, and she couldn’t help letting everything out.


    “But then,” she continued, “I was happy for a long time to just lose myself in books and then my job at the Battle Tower. I forgot about that wish I had for a bigger family for a long time, but when I met Rich, it came back. Everything was going to go so great, until…” Anabel’s words were becoming more and more strained as she spoke. Matt could see that her hand was on the table trembling. “Yung took Amelia and Ophelia from me before they were even born, and his poison damaged my system so badly that I could never try again. I wanted to have a big family and I didn’t want Olivia to feel that certain loneliness I did, but now I can’t even give her that…”


    Stunned by Anabel’s sudden baring of her soul, Matt was frozen in his chair, unable to react. Trevor, on the other hand, was moved by it.


    “You listen to me right now,” Trevor said, holding on to her hand to reassure her. “You haven’t got a single reason in the world to trust me yet, but listen to what I say. I’ve been watching Polaris rip up families like yours for decades. If my word has any value to you, I promise that we’re going to put a stop to it.”


    Anabel seized up. All she could do in that moment was stare down at her hand in Trevor’s, her eyes wide.


    “I can’t ask for your help,” she said after a pause, pulling her hand back. “It lacks meaning if I don’t do it. I have to see to it myself that Yung is stopped after everything he’s taken away from me.”


    “It’s understandable you’d feel that way, my friend.” Trevor folded his hands on the table in front of himself. “You must also understand, though, that Yung is Polaris and Polaris is Yung. You can’t separate one from the other, and that’s why we need to be together in this. Beating him and beating Polaris… we do those and we both get what we want.”


    “Wait,” Matt spoke up, “I heard you say you’ve been watching Polaris for decades. What does that mean, exactly? Does that have something to do with why you just abandoned your career?”


    “That’s the story I came here to tell,” answered the actor.


    “Then you best get ready to tell it.”


    Matt, Anabel and Trevor had been so caught up in talking among themselves that they hadn’t noticed Mitsumi’s arrival. Behind her stood Silva, and next to him was Zinzolin. Even though Ghetsis’ former henchman had gotten rid of his heavy coat in favor of ordinary street clothes, Matt recognized him immediately.


    “Why is he here?” Matt complained, pressing his fist into the table.


    “I should ask you the same question,” Mitsumi bitterly countered as she and her companions sat down. “I told you to bring someone from Team Rocket, so you bring the Commissioner too? Why drag her into it? For support after what you did?!”


    “Mitsumi!” Silva scolded her. “I know being here is hard for you, but don’t take it out on Anabel!”


    “I’m here because I chose to be,” Anabel explained in a low voice. “I want to know what exactly is driving Polaris and…” she briefly peered at Trevor, “I have to know who’s on my side, because I will protect the family I have left… at any cost.”


    Mitsumi’s expression softened. “I… that’s not what I expected to hear. Please forgive me. I’m sorry for lashing out like that.”


    Anabel nodded and flashed a small smile at Mitsumi. Noticing the pair sharing their moment, Matt meekly asked, “Can you tell me what I did?”


    “You really don’t remember me, I guess…” In an instant, Mitsumi’s mood turned dark again. She scowled and reached into her coat, saying, “You don’t remember me, but I know you remember this.”


    The International Police agent placed an object just smaller than her hand onto the table, then withdrew to allow Matt to see it. As soon as he did, he gasped and put his hand over his mouth.


    It was a patch bearing the insignia of a sleek, golden letter ‘G.’


    “I’d… I’d know that anywhere, I haven’t forgotten that,” he uttered in horror while Anabel and Trevor looked on. “Team Galactic… just who are you exactly?”


    “One of the two survivors of Team Galactic’s top secret Project Cortex…”


    Hearing those words made Matt inhale so deeply that the sound would have disturbed the other tables, if they weren’t sitting in an area by themselves.


    “What’s she talking about?” Anabel asked him. She could see his arm trembling from the signals it was receiving.


    “I… I don’t remember all the details… honestly, I don’t think I ever knew everything. All I know is that it was a secret project Cyrus, Team Galactic’s boss, had my father working on. I realized I had to get out from there when I found out they were planning to use…”


    “That’s right, you saved your sister from their experiments!” Mitsumi angrily interrupted. “You left the rest of us behind. Cyrus wanted to remove all elements of the human spirit so he could create a world ruled by cold logic. One of his early plans was to have your father experimenting on the brains of orphans he collected…” Silva held Mitsumi’s hand in an attempt to reassure her, but she pulled it away from him. “All of the test subjects died except for two of us. I was CR-004, and the only other survivor was CR-002. But I ended up being Cyrus’ so-called favorite. He thought he saw something special in the way I thought differently than the rest… something he identified with. Being his favorite meant I got special treatment, and by that, I mean torture. He was determined to stamp out any form of emotion I still had… and even after all of that, when your mother left them, she took 002 with her to Polaris, not me… I was trapped in his clutches for years thanks to the two of you! And now I sit here, looking at you… it’s well known what you had done to yourself to turn yourself into a machine… to think Cyrus tortured me for years hoping to remove parts of me, and you just up and have a part of your brain replaced with computers…”


    “I… I don’t…” By that point, Matt’s entire body was shaking. “I’m sorry for everything. There’s nothing I can say…”


    “I didn’t expect you’d have anything to say,” Mitsumi bitterly said. “There’s only one reason I’m here now, to get the truth about Polaris and Team Rocket. That’s why he’s here.”


    “I’ll tell you right now, there’s a limit to my knowledge,” Zinzolin warned. “I only directly served Ghetsis, so what I don’t know that much about everything going on above him.”


    “Well, the deal we gave you was protection in exchange for everything you do know,” Silva reminded him, “so don’t get any ideas about putting anything over on us.”


    “Oh, I’m not going to withhold anything from you. But let me tell you this right now…” Zinzolin leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Everyone sitting at this table now, all of you should be afraid of Polaris. Deathly afraid. There’s nine more leaders at least equal to Ghetsis in rank, some of whom are much more frightening than him.”


    “That’s horrifying to just think about…” Matt muttered.


    “Gotta agree there,” concurred Trevor.


    “But there’s more than that,” Zinzolin continued. “There are a lot of times when they know things that they shouldn’t logically be able to know. Things that happened to people in the past that none of them were there to witness, events that haven’t happened yet that they somehow anticipate with perfect precision… they somehow know. There were rumors going around the base while I was there. They say the leaders of Polaris have an oracle, someone who tells them everything that has and will happen.”


    “Wait, what did you just say?” Matt snapped out of his earlier stupor, slammed his hands down onto the table and jumped to his feet with such force that he nearly knocked his chair over. “Did you just say they have an oracle? Is that specifically the word they used?”


    Zinzolin cocked his head at Matt, but eventually nodded, prompting Matt to sit back down and bury his face in his hands.


    “What are you thinking?” Anabel asked Matt.


    Matt pushed his hands back, first over his forehead and then through his hair with an audible sigh. “Remember what Nekou and I told you the other day?” he asked. “How Polaris could have brought Rich back and may be blackmailing him into acting as Father?”


    “You said that if they had a Tenganist with the appropriate Transcendence, they could have pulled Rich’s consciousness out of Gaia and given him a physical body again. I remember…”


    “Who ever said he was the only one?”


    A suffocating silence settled over the table. The implications of Matt’s suggestion were immediately obvious to Anabel, and she covered her mouth with her hand. Trevor and Zinzolin remained stone-faced, and it fell to Mitsumi to break the silence.


    “What exactly are you saying?” she demanded.


    “If they have someone who’s explicitly being called an oracle,” Matt explained, “and they were able to resurrect someone as they probably did with Rich… I should have known there was more to this story. More to why I’m a target for some reason… they resurrected Saeko Oryo too. She’s still alive. They resurrected her and are holding her hostage to stack the deck using her Transcendence, which was literally called ‘The Oracle.’”


    “Saeko Oryo…” Silva repeated. “Looker told us about that name..”


    “That’s right, he did,” Mitsumi said. She stopped to consider her next words carefully. Looker had told them virtually everything he heard, about Saeko, Dark Matter and the Tenganists. What she had no way of knowing was how much of it Matt knew. For all she was aware of, the information she, Silva and Looker held was vital evidence that could be compromised if she disclosed it. “If Polaris truly does have control of someone with such power…” she finally said, downplaying the thread she could have followed. “You tell me the truth about how Team Rocket and Team Plasma came into conflict with each other, and do it now. If Polaris is to be stopped we must understand exactly how this happened from the beginning.”


    “Alright, I’ll get this started then. Just be warned, it’s gonna be a real long yarn of a tale.” Trevor again leaned back, this time crossing his legs before he continued speaking. “I bet this is gonna surprise you, right off. Did you know it actually goes back over twenty years?”


    “No,” Mitsumi said in surprise, “I didn’t. I must say, though, that it’s hard to believe.”


    “It’s true,” Zinzolin interjected. “I’ve been involved for that long too.”


    Neither Mitsumi nor Silva said anything, choosing to turn their attention back to Trevor. Seeing this, he continued to tell his story.


    “You see, even after I had my breakthrough role in Full Metal Cop, I worked another job. You have to keep a steady flow of cash coming in to pay the bills, you know? Anyway, between roles I was working as a bartender in Virbank City. My two coworkers… they were Anthea and Concordia, the two Tenganist women Ghetsis had held hostage. The ones we saved in Ecruteak City.”


    “Is that really true?” This time it was Silva’s turn to direct a surprised question at Zinzolin. Ghetsis’ treacherous advisor answered it with a swift nod.


    “We became very close friends, Anthea, Concordia and I. Things were good for a while, until… well, I’m never going to forget that day. The day I first lay eyes on Ghetsis Harmonia.”


    ~:~


    Virbank City, situated right up on the ocean, was the largest of the cities in southwest Unova. Its aging infrastructure and heavy focus on industry gave it a grimy feel, but underneath that grungy veneer was a sense of community as solid as the bricks that composed its buildings. In spite of its ungainly appearance, the people who lived and worked there loved the city, which reflected in the homely air the industrial town managed to accumulate about itself.


    A heavy rainstorm had settled in over Virbank City that day, and Trevor gazed out at it from behind his bar as he pensively wiped a glass. Anthea and Concordia sat side-by-side opposite him, holding their faces up while leaning on the bar.


    “Hasn’t even started letting up…” Trevor said to them. “No wonder it’s been such a slow day. If it was up to me, I might just call it here.”


    “It’s not like it would make a difference,” Anthea said back. “I could probably count on my fingers how many customers we’ve had today.”


    “Your fingers?” Concordia teased. “More like on one hand.”


    “It’s slow enough that I’m ready to begin throwing a few back myself,” Trevor decided, setting the glass down in front of himself. “You ladies want anything?”


    Before either Anthea or Concordia could answer, their conversation was interrupted by the sound of the bar’s front door opening. The man entering the bar was impressively tall, his head mere inches from the top of the doorway. He closed the umbrella he had been carrying and put it in the stand next to the door, then turned to the three employees of the bar, putting his hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket as he did so. Each part of his appearance clashed with the others, from his slicked-back green hair to the jacket to the white suit he was wearing underneath.


    “Good evening,” he said to them, smiling. “It would appear I have the place to myself.”


    “You earned it for coming out in this storm, I’ll tell you that,” Trevor replied. “C’mon over. It’s not like there’s a rush.”


    Even before Trevor finished giving his invitation, the man had started to approach the bar. Anthea and Concordia both stood up, expecting to have to busy themselves serving him, but when he sat down, he shot a sly smile their way.


    “No, stay. I’d rather enjoy your company.” Trevor didn’t understand what exactly the man meant by this, but the way it was said and the smirk the man gave as he said it sent a chill down Trevor’s spine. The man himself called no further attention to it and instead said to Trevor, “Fix me a Red-Striped Basculin, please.”


    “Right away.”


    Trevor wasted no time in starting on his task, hoping to push the strange sense of menace his customer exuded from his mind. Focusing his attention on the ingredients he needed to use soothed him, as it always did. Even when working on movies he kept what he needed to mix drinks with him in his dressing rooms. It was always a welcome relief from a tough day of filming.


    Behind him, the man was quietly and carefully taking in his surroundings. “This is quite the nice place you’ve kept,” he finally said. “I’ll have to remember to come here again.”


    “If you’re gonna be around here regularly I might as well ask you your name.” If he had to admit it, Trevor already wished the man would just leave and never return, but he knew it probably wouldn’t happen.


    “My name is Ghetsis,” the man answered. “I decided to come to Virbank City because I’m planning to make a movie.”


    “Really?” The mention of making a movie drew Concordia into engaging with Ghetsis. “All three of us are trying to make it as actors, too…”


    “You say you want to make it as actors, but your friend here has already done that,” Ghetsis pointed out, making Trevor’s face turn red. “Don’t worry, I understand the reality of the business means work can be sparse sometimes.”


    “So why not tell us about this movie you’re working on, then?” Anthea asked.


    “I’d be happy to.” Ghetsis reached into his coat as if he was going to take something out, but when he withdrew his hand, it was empty. “I envision making a historical epic, the likes of which will change the world. I’ve been studying Unova’s mythology at some of our top universities, and the story I want to tell is one about the Hero of Ideals taking his place as the king of Unova alongside the legendary Pokémon Zekrom. I want to chronicle their rise to the throne and all of the battles they must fight to reach their rightful place. Can you envision what I’m talking about?”


    “I think I can, actually,” Anthea said, raising a finger next to her face as she thought.


    “Didn’t the two princes end up realizing the mistake of their conflict and lay down their arms, with neither of them taking the throne?” Concordia wondered.


    “That’s the way it happened 2,500 years ago, perhaps,” Ghetsis mused aloud, “but that’s not the story I want to tell. The king who rules over the people must be driven by an ideal that defines every aspect of his life. The alternative is to have a king who is driven by the truth, and look at the way this world is. The truth is that the world as it is is doomed to face endless war!” Ghetsis grew increasingly animated as the volume of his voice escalated, climaxing with him clenching his gloved hands and pounding them into the bar. “A king who is driven by the truth of the world will do nothing but maintain the status quo. Therefore, it is only right that the king should be someone who will tirelessly fight for an ideal world.”


    “You sure have a vivid picture of your screenplay in mind, don’t you?” Trevor’s teasing masked his own unease with the stranger. As he finished preparing the drink and placed it in front of Ghetsis, he looked the aspiring filmmaker over, searching for any sign of his true motives. Much to Trevor’s frustration, Ghetsis remained a complete enigma. “Anyway, here’s that drink you wanted.”


    “Thank you.” Ghetsis reached into his coat again, this time producing a handful of bills that he placed down in front of himself. “I apologize for getting emotional. This is a subject I feel strongly about. It’s why I dream of making such a movie.”


    “Please forgive me if I’m being too forward, but…” To solidify her determination, Concordia brought her fist up against her chest. “...are you looking for people to act in it?”


    Ghetsis didn’t give any sort of answer at first, and his lack of reaction made Concordia fear she’d ruined any opportunity his project might have held for her. He deliberately allowed many long seconds to pass before directing a wry grin at her. “Now, now, you’re rather enthusiastic, aren’t you? Don’t worry. To tell you the truth, I might have the ideal roles for the two of you.”


    “Really?” both Anthea and Concordia said together.


    “Yes. You see, in this story as it was in the past, the king has a pair of trusted advisors who are closer to him than anyone else in his cabinet. They’re known by the epithets of “Goddess of Peace” and “Goddess of Love.” I think you two may be the ones who can play those roles.”


    ~:~


    “That day was when our nightmare began,” Trevor concluded. Aside from Zinzolin, his audience was clearly fascinated by the tale he was telling. “I should have done something, I really should have… from the moment I met Ghetsis I never liked him, but I thought I was just being paranoid. Anthea and Concordia wanted those roles so badly, I couldn’t bear to intervene and possibly end up stopping them. But I should have…”


    “This is all true?” Mitsumi asked. “And it all has to do with the story I told you you’re here to tell?”


    “It’s true, all of it,” Zinzolin interrupted and answered for Trevor. “Trust me when I tell you this: you have to know the entire story from the start for everything to make sense.”


    “He’s right,” Trevor added. “After that day, Ghetsis probably came to our bar more often than not. He was always there running through parts of his screenplay with both Anthea and Concordia, but it wasn’t just that. I stood by and watched as he tried to ingratiate himself on a much more personal level with both of them. And believe me, when I say ‘personal,’ I mean personal. Especially with Concordia… it seemed like he favored her more of the two. I don’t even want to think about why.”


    “What you just implied is disgusting enough to make me lose my appetite, that’s for sure,” Matt quietly said.


    “A couple of months passed with the situation staying pretty much the way I just described it,” Trevor continued. “I guess if it had stayed that way forever, things wouldn’t have been as bad as they ended up. But then, there was one day where everything seemed off. Concordia was acting strangely and it looked to me like Anthea knew why, but I didn’t. That was a busy day so I didn’t have too much time to think about it, but once business ended for the day and we were closing… well, I should have seen it coming sooner.”


    ~:~


    The clear sky over Virbank City that night allowed the moon to give Trevor all the light he needed as he kicked open the back door of the bar and entered the adjacent alley. He had two large bags of trash in his hands, and barely enough space between the two buildings to drag them both to the dumpster at the end of the alley.


    “I hate having to do this on days like today,” he mumbled to himself. “More customers, more money. But more trash too. Ugh…”


    When he reached the dumpster, Trevor released the trash bags, slouched and took a deep breath. He had to take a moment to stretch and work out the tension dragging the heavy trash brought upon him. Before he could open the dumpster and throw the bags in, a loud crash from just around the corner of the building pierced the relative quiet and made him jump.


    “Let us go!” he could hear a voice - Anthea’s voice - shouting.


    “What is this?! Who are you?!” Concordia added.


    “Why, my dear Goddesses, they work for me.”


    Reacting out of instinct, Trevor hid behind the dumpster. He noticed a piece of broken glass lying on the ground nearby, so he picked it up and turned it back and forth until he could see what was going on in front of the bar in its reflection.


    Ghetsis was there, accompanied by a group of men in dark suits and sunglasses. The men had dragged Anthea and Concordia out of the bar while Ghetsis watched, his hands planted firmly in the pockets of his coat. When they saw Ghetsis, both Anthea and Concordia pulled back in horror, but their captors held them firmly in place.


    “What are you… why are you kidnapping us, Ghetsis?” Concordia’s voice made it sound more like she was begging instead of merely asking a question.


    “Kidnapping you? Oh, no, I wouldn’t call it that.” From his vantage point, Trevor could see Ghetsis reach out and stroke Concordia’s face. Just thinking about the act made his skin crawl. “You two should consider this a great day in your lives. You’ve passed your auditions! You got the roles! We must leave immediately so you can spend the coming months preparing for what comes next.”


    Concordia shrank back upon hearing this, but Anthea only fought more fiercely.


    “I can’t go anywhere like this! I have people here in Virbank who need me!”


    Almost immediately, Ghetsis’ face and tone turned dark. “Oh, I know. I’ll see that they’re taken care of, don’t you worry.”


    Behind the dumpster, Trevor heard what Ghetsis said and immediately began to panic. He reacted before he could even think, dropping the glass and fleeing down the alley with such haste that he nearly tripped over the garbage bags he’d brought with him.


    ~:~


    “I did nothing to try and save the two of them,” Trevor confessed, “but I knew that if Ghetsis got to Anthea’s kids before I did, something even worse would happen. It’s haunted me ever since then… it would have been me alone against at least five people, so I would have failed… but I did nothing to help them. I should have tried.”


    “But Ghetsis never found the children, did he?” Mitsumi questioned.


    “That’s right. As soon as I saw Anthea and Concordia being kidnapped I fled to their apartment. The three of us were very close back then, so I sometimes looked after the kids for them. In order to protect them from Ghetsis I took them away from that apartment and hid them. Not long after that, I managed to get them out of Unova on a ship to Kanto. I don’t even know what I was thinking back then… really, I wasn’t thinking. I just knew I had to get them far away from Ghetsis as quickly as possible.”


    “That one Team Rocket member, Pierce, he said he was the son of one of them,” Matt recalled. “Anthea’s?”


    “Yes,” Trevor said, nodding.


    “Then how did he end up in Team Rocket?”


    “I couldn’t exactly keep being an actor after fleeing Unova, could I?” Even though Trevor tried to make his question sound humorous, the slightest hint of bitterness slipped through into his voice. “If I were to appear in another movie, Ghetsis would see me and be able to track me down. I had to lay low… and unfortunately, money was in short supply for someone trying to survive and raise two young kids on their own. I did what I had to do - Giovanni’s mother was the big boss back then, and her ambitions were a lot more traditionally business-oriented. I got recruited to contribute my skills and make training videos for the rank and file and the like, and I quickly realized that Team Rocket could provide the protection for the children that I could not.”


    “To think that it would fall to Team Rocket to protect orphans…” Mitsumi bitterly noted.


    “Mitsumi, you alright?” Silva asked her, taking notice of her agitation. He put his hand on her shoulder, but she immediately pulled away.


    “I’m fine,” she snapped before turning her attention back to Trevor. “Keep talking.”


    “That’s actually the end of my part of the story,” Trevor said, “so unless Zinzolin has something to add…”


    “I’ll tell you what happened after Ghetsis took them, is that something you want to know?”


    “Talk,” Mitsumi flatly ordered him.


    “Fine, fine, don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything.” Zinzolin cleared his throat before he continued. “Even as far back as twenty years ago or more, Ghetsis had the bulk of what would become Team Plasma working to secretly build a castle underground.”


    “We all saw it,” Mitsumi interjected.


    “That is so, I suppose. I was stationed at the castle while it was under construction, as were most of my colleagues. Ghetsis and a select few of his inner circle, though, they lived at Ghetsis’ estate in Lacunosa Town. That’s where he took Anthea and Concordia when he kidnapped them. I didn’t know what went on there. Ghetsis was very secretive. But I will tell you this, when Ghetsis finally brought them to the castle, they weren’t alone.”


    ~:~


    Nearly a year had passed since Ghetsis kidnapped Anthea and Concordia from Virbank City. He’d gone into hiding since then, secretly supervising the construction of the castle from his Lacunosa estate. Vast wouldn’t even come close to describing the scale of the palace, even before its completion. It was more like a small city, one that would serve as the seat of power for Team Plasma’s kingdom upon its rise.


    While the rest of the castle was under construction, enough of the first floor was complete to provide lodging for the soldiers that would go on to become Team Plasma’s main fighting force. A central meeting hall had also been finished, and it was there that Ghetsis had summoned Zinzolin to. He stood in the candlelight of the hall awaiting his master, making sure to smooth the wrinkles out of his violet robes before Ghetsis arrived.


    The grand double doors opposite Zinzolin were slowly opened by a pair of soldiers in white uniforms, allowing Ghetsis to enter with Anthea and Concordia behind them. While Ghetsis’ appearance had remained much the same as a year prior, Anthea and Concordia had changed immensely. Gone were their ordinary street clothes, replaced by elegant, flowing gowns.


    “Welcome back, Ghetsis,” Zinzolin greeted him, bowing as he spoke. “To what do I owe this honor?”


    Ghetsis placed his hands in his coat pockets and stepped aside, allowing Zinzolin to fully see Anthea and Concordia. They remained completely silent and did not even make eye contact with him.


    “Zinzolin, I want to introduce you to some people who will be very important in the future. Meet Anthea and Concordia, the Goddesses of Love and Peace.”


    “So you found the ones who will be the king’s counselors…” Zinzolin said.


    “Not only that.” Ghetsis gestured toward Concordia, who was carrying a small bundle in her arms. Zinzolin stepped closer to get a better look, and realized he could see a tiny face and a small amount of green hair. “This is the real meaning of our meeting today. Zinzolin, this child is N. He is the one who will be our king.”


    “The Hero of Ideals…” Zinzolin gasped, “...and the one who will serve alongside Zekrom. I knew this day would come eventually, but still, to set eyes upon him is overwhelming.”


    “If you consider merely seeing him to be overwhelming, I can’t wait to see the look on your face when you find out your role in his preparation.”


    Ghetsis often said he couldn’t wait to see peoples’ reactions to events, even in the past. Zinzolin was already well aware of that habit, so even while he hoped to learn he’d have an influential role in Ghetsis’ plan, he remained guarded. Ghetsis teasing something in a way that made it sound positive in order to surprise the person he was speaking to was another habit of his.


    “You’re going to be responsible for giving him the education he will need to be a strong and just king for the people when he comes of age,” Ghetsis continued. “The king must be well versed in the reality of this world before he can change it. But I’m getting ahead of myself… his ideals must be fostered first. Zinzolin, you are to keep him in the castle garden and seclude him from all people. He is only to have contact with the Pokémon I bring here for the purpose of living with him. Am I clear on this?”


    “Yes, yes you are.” Zinzolin exhaled heavily when he realized Ghetsis was being direct with him. “If I may ask, though, how will he survive if he has no contact with humans?”


    “The Pokémon will raise him. They will identify with him and he with them. A boy who has no contact with humanity and Pokémon who were cast out by humanity… they will come together to foster in him the ideal of a world where Pokémon are liberated from the oppression of people. That is the world he and Team Plasma will lead us all into.”


    ~:~


    “Ghetsis never told me where the boy came from,” Zinzolin explained, “but I firmly believe to this day that Ghetsis himself was his father.”


    “Maybe that’s why Ghetsis waited a few months before kidnapping them instead of taking them immediately,” Trevor surmised. “He was seducing Concordia, like I said… perhaps he was waiting for her to…”


    “Don’t finish that sentence, we all know what you were going to say and don’t want to think about it,” Matt interrupted. “Although it does give me one question - is this really the same Ghetsis we’re talking about here? Let’s be honest here, the one I know wouldn’t have waited a day let alone months.”


    Zinzolin couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, it’s the same man, but your naivete can’t be faulted. Twenty years ago, Ghetsis was a much more stable and patient man than he is now. That was back when he was dedicated to goals that he knew would take years to realize. Once he lost those dreams his mental state decayed, creating the Ghetsis of this time.”


    “Wait, there’s one thing about that I don’t understand,” Silva said. “You said Ghetsis tasked you with giving N his education to become king. The information that we had previously suggested that Ghetsis himself was the one who did that.”


    “That’s true from a certain point of view. Ghetsis ‘educated’ him by bringing Pokémon that were harmed by humans into the castle. As I said, they were the only ones who were allowed to be around N. He could hear their voices as they raised him, and he grew to identify with their suffering. It was all part of Ghetsis’ plan to create a king who would fight for the ideal of Pokémon liberation.”


    “But what does this have to do with Polaris?” Anabel wondered out loud. “I’m missing something here.”


    “What you’re missing is that Team Plasma was always a part of Polaris, from the moment of its conception,” Zinzolin revealed, prompting Anabel and Matt to lock their eyes on him in anticipation of what would come next. “Ghetsis was a member of Polaris dating back far before I ever met him. He organized Team Plasma as a division of Polaris under his own leadership when he became one of the ten Chromosomes, the leaders of Polaris who make up a board called the Sacred Helix. Before that, he was nothing but a member of Unova’s high society with great political ambition.”


    “We know all of that already,” Mitsumi complained. “We know all about N’s upbringing, too, so get to the next part involving Team Rocket.”


    “Alright, fine.” Zinzolin sighed and stroked his beard for a moment before speaking again. “There’s a little more about N before I get to that, though. It’s necessary for context. Once he had grown into a young man, been educated and grown obsessed with the ideal of Pokémon liberation, the Dark Stone finally appeared to him. Once that happened, Ghetsis took N and some of us others to Dragonspiral Tower, where N would summon and ally with Zekrom.”


    ~:~


    North of Icirrus City, standing well above the forests surrounding it, was the ancient structure known as Dragonspiral Tower. Nobody knew for sure where it came from or when, but it was an icon in Unova’s mythology. It was said that long ago a king had sealed up Zekrom in the form of the Dark Stone at the tower’s peak. On that ominously cloudy day in northwestern Unova, if Ghetsis had his way, Zekrom would be summoned to the side of a new king.


    The need for his businessman persona had long since expired, so Ghetsis discarded it in favor of a new look much better suited to his ambitions. Adopting the role of another advisor to his self-created king, he clad himself in blue-and-yellow robes bearing patterns that formed large eyes. Armor resembling the battlements of a castle rested on his shoulders, emblazoned just below his neck with the symbol of Team Plasma.


    Zinzolin and five other men, all dressed in robes that matched each other except for their color, followed behind Ghetsis as he approached an altar in the garden atop Dragonspiral Tower. They were in turn followed by Anthea and Concordia as well as a group of Team Plasma soldiers.


    “We’re here,” Ghetsis declared, stopping before he reached the altar and turning around. “My king, please, step forward.”


    The six sages, the Goddesses and all the soldiers parted, creating a direct path to the altar for N. Wrapped in a plain, cream-colored cloak, the now-grown king silently passed all those he believed to be loyal to him, stopping only when Ghetsis put a hand on his shoulder.


    “Are you prepared to ascend to your rightful throne, my king?”


    “Yes,” N replied, avoiding eye contact with Ghetsis or anyone else.


    “Very well. This is the moment your entire life has been leading to.” Ghetsis looked to the crowd of soldiers and gestured with his head to the altar.


    Two soldiers broke off from the rest of the battalion and approached the altar themselves, one carrying a heavy case emblazoned with Team Plasma’s symbol. Unlike the others, who had standard-issue white uniforms with blue hoods, the pair wore black-and-gray tactical uniforms instead. They carried the case right up to the altar, where they placed it on the ground, opened it and carefully removed its contents - a pitch-black, spherical stone with three curved ridges in its surface. Moving with great caution, they carried the stone from the case to the altar, where they gently placed it before backing away.


    “Thank you, Aldith, Barret,” Ghetsis said to them. He then stepped back himself and said to N, “Your time has come, my king. Zekrom awaits you. Step forward and take your rightful place as this era’s Hero of Ideals.”


    N said nothing and simply walked past Ghetsis, who smirked before turning around to watch him. He stepped before the altar, spread out his arms, and looked up towards the dark, cloudy sky.


    “Great dragon of ideals, Zekrom, hear my voice!” N called out. “From my birth I have lived amongst the most abused and neglected Pokémon, and my heart is connected to theirs! We speak as one! I come before you with the voices of the millions of Pokémon worldwide whose freedom and well-being have been denied by humanity! Great Zekrom, hear our voices as I tell you, this is my ideal - I will fight for a world where Pokémon are freed from humans and live in the complete freedom they deserve! Come to my side and lend me your power!”


    A spark of blue electricity coursed through the stone, and it twitched slightly as if responding to N’s words. Overhead, the clouds darkened further and slowly began to rotate, with the eye of the vortex opening up directly above the tower. Ghetsis, his fellow sages and the soldiers all stared up in awe at what was developing.


    “The time we’ve waited for has finally come,” one of the sages, whose robe was brown, said to the others. “We’ll be able to liberate Pokémon and get mankind to treat them with the respect and understanding they deserve…”


    The stone continued to tremble and spark, its activity growing more and more violent as the vortex overhead strengthened. When bolts of lightning began cracking the sky, a blue light enveloped the stone. It rose up off the altar and floated in the air, shooting electricity off in all directions.


    Ghetsis carefully watched the levitating stone. N was the one bringing it to life, yet all the years of planning he’d put in made Ghetsis the real one causing it. It had been all thanks to Ghetsis’ work - the years of isolating N from humans and only allowing him contact with abused Pokémon - that N became the ideologue driven by blindingly powerful ideals that he was. Those ideals were what Ghetsis needed to draw Zekrom out, but they had a beneficial second effect - N was so driven that he would remain completely naive to Ghetsis’ using him as a puppet.


    The stone suddenly shot up into the sky and dissolved into the clouds, infusing its light throughout them. The lightning over the tower intensified, and the center of the vortex projected blue light down like a spotlight. Finally, a huge, dark figure emerged into the light, coming into the sight of the Team Plasma members.


    As the shape descended, its rugged, saurian features became clearer and clearer to those looking up at it from the tower. It had thick, strong legs, hooked claws, angular wings and a cone-shaped tail that glowed with the same blue electricity breaking through the sky all around it.


    N couldn’t help himself from looking directly up into the light and meeting Zekrom’s gaze. The intensity in the dragon’s red eyes overwhelmed him, surging through his body in much the same way its electricity would. That power, that incredible, bursting aura, seized N so deeply that for the briefest moment, he felt doubt about what he was doing.


    Zekrom saw N take a step back and halted its descent. The dragon was well aware of that moment of doubt as soon as it flashed through N’s mind. It roared, breaking the air with a cry that sounded like the rumbling of thunder. The conical generator inside Zekrom’s tail sparked to life in front of the members of Team Plasma, filling with bright blue light seconds before Zekrom rained a storm of lightning bolts down on the tower, throwing N, Ghetsis and the rest of Team Plasma around like rag dolls.


    ~:~
     
  17. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    “N’s heart was appropriately filled with the ideals he needed to summon Zekrom,” Zinzolin recalled, “but at the critical moment, just as Zekrom appeared, N’s resolve wavered. It was brief, but it was enough to make Zekrom not see him as worthy at the time. Zekrom passed down its judgment upon all of us, and by the time we came to, it was gone. We tracked it to Nuvema Town before we lost track of it, and Ghetsis sent N on a quest through Unova to strengthen his resolve.”


    “Wait, you said Nuvema Town?” Trevor said in surprise. “I know when that happened. Three of our agents were there and had an encounter with Zekrom in Nuvema Town, so that must have been right after you summoned it.”


    “Stop for a minute.” Mitsumi put her hands down on the table, a bit more forcefully than she intended. “Don’t just skip ahead like that. Why were you people in Unova in the first place? What brought you there?”


    “You’re right,” Trevor replied with a small laugh. “Sorry about that. Alright, let’s go back to the beginning, before any of us went to Unova. I should tell you, the story from here isn’t just what I saw, it’s based on what I was told afterward, too.”


    ~:~


    One thing that always surprised members of Team Rocket when they were called to speak to Stacia was how much more elaborate her personal office was compared to Giovanni’s, despite him being the head of the organization. He was satisfied having only what he needed to work, while she indulged herself in some of the luxuries Giovanni saved for his living space. Paintings filled the spaces between the lamps on the walls, and she even had a piano next to the full-length windows that gave her a panoramic view of Viridian City in the distance.


    Of course, the Team Rocket members would only notice the office if they weren’t consumed by fear of why they had been summoned to her in the first place. Many who had to go there were. Trevor and the rest of Nekou’s team, however, weren’t. While Stacia sat at the head of the office and tapped at her laptop, Trevor and Rosalie waited at the ornate table in the center. Nekou herself was the only one ignoring decorum, casually drinking a can of beer while spread across the couch opposite Stacia.


    Giovanni’s secretary finally looked up from the laptop and huffed in annoyance at what she saw. “Get your feet off my couch,” she said contemptuously.


    “Oh, alright.” Nekou made no effort to hide her own irritation as she turned to sit upright, though hers paled in comparison to frustration evinced by Stacia’s fierce glare. “So you called my team in here for something, right? Are we going to get one of the legendary Stacia scoldings?”


    “You keep up with what you’re doing and you’ll get worse than that,” Stacia immediately shot back, “but no, you’re here because Giovanni has a mission for you.”


    “It’s a little unusual that we’d be getting those orders from you and not from Giovanni himself,” Rosalie commented.


    “Mister Giovanni is very busy with his own preparations for this mission. This is something that could change the balance of power in the world, and tip it into Team Rocket’s hands for good. Look here.” Stacia pressed several keys on her laptop, causing a holographic image projected from the center of the table to flicker to life. “This is the Unova region, which is far away from Kanto.”


    As soon as Trevor set eyes on the landscape of Unova in the image, he brought his hands to his face and clasped them over his mouth.


    “It has come to our attention that there is an artifact owned by the museum in Nacrene City that is said to possess great power,” Stacia continued. “When I say great power, I mean world-altering power. It will come as no surprise to you that we must obtain that power for Team Rocket.”


    Trevor lowered his hands, bringing them to rest in his lap. “You’re right about that, it’s no surprise. What’s our assignment?”


    “Infiltrate the Nacrene Museum and gather intelligence on the artifacts contained within. You are to learn about anything that could be taken for Team Rocket’s benefit and return that intelligence to Headquarters.”


    ~:~


    “For us, it was a typical job, even if I was nervous about going back to Unova,” Trevor continued. “Infiltration, spy work, nothing we hadn’t done a million times before. That’s what our little team did.”


    “And what kind of work did you do in Unova this time?” Silva questioned him.


    “The same type of thing we always did. Each of us had our own part in it. Nekou’s the one who does the actual infiltration, but Ada and I create her cover identities first. That time, we created a character we named Jane Hammond, who supposedly was an archeologist working on documenting ancient items from different places.”


    “Wait, that name… I’ve heard that name before.” Matt brought his hand to his chin. “Colress, that’s it! Back at the Battle Hall, Colress thought that was Nekou’s name when I ran into him. Did I accidentally blow her cover…? Or did he already know and was just messing with me?”


    “So we established a character for Nekou to play, then the four of us - Nekou, myself, Ada and Rosalie - we traveled to Unova and put up a base of operations at the Driftveil Luxury Suites hotel. Ada and Rosalie stayed behind to provide remote support, and I accompanied Nekou to Nacrene City to act as a lookout while she investigated the museum.”


    ~:~


    Nacrene City, located on the banks of Unova’s eastern river adjacent to the Skyarrow Bridge, was a unique place even among the region’s diverse locales. It wasn’t a city of traditional buildings, be they like the houses and small apartment buildings of Striaton and Nuvema to the east, or the skyscrapers of Castelia across the the bridge. No, much of Nacrene City was made up of old warehouses, repurposed for both residential and business use. It was a bright, colorful place, with artists having turned the buildings, the streets and everything in between into one big, citywide canvas.


    One of the few structures that didn’t fit in with Nacrene’s unique style was its museum, a palatial building in the northern part of the city. Inside, each of its spacious exhibit rooms only furthered that image of splendor with their golden walls and blue marble floors.


    Nekou was waiting in the first of the exhibit rooms visitors entered, taking pictures with her phone from underneath a giant Dragonite fossil anchored from the ceiling. For her character, she wore a pink dress and a black sun hat, and she had further changed her appearance by cutting her hair to roughly half its normal length.


    “Miss Hammond?”


    Upon hearing herself being addressed, Nekou stashed her phone away in the sash of her dress and turned to the thin, bespectacled man who had called to her. He wasn’t alone as he approached her. At his side was a muscular, dark-skinned woman, and next to her, a pink, rabbit-like Pokémon.


    “Yes?” Nekou adjusted her glasses, making sure to covertly press the tiny button on the stem that made them start transmitting footage to Trevor outside.


    “I apologize for keeping you waiting,” the man said, placing his hand against his chest and tilting his head forward. “I’m Hawes, the assistant director of the museum, and this is our director, Lenora. She happens to be the Nacrene Gym Leader and my dear wife, too!”


    “You two make a cute pair,” Nekou complimented them. It wasn’t a part of her character, either - her playful grin made clear just how genuine it was.


    “No need to flatter us, you know!” Lenora replied with a hearty laugh. “So, I’d like to know exactly what kind of research you’re working on. My aide mentioned you wanted to talk with me about something, but I want to hear what it is in your own words.”


    “Well, I’m conducting research on behalf of Malie University in Alola,” she explained, recalling the backstory created by Trevor and Ada. “I’ve been going here and there, looking into stories about different powerful artifacts. My studies led me here. I want to document anything of the sort that you might have, so my research can be as comprehensive as possible.”


    “You know, dear, I think I might know something she’d be interested in,” Hawes said to Lenora. “Since she’s from an Alolan university.”


    “I think I’m getting what you mean.” Setting her eyes on Nekou as she spoke, Lenora proposed, “Miss Hammond, since Alola’s mythology heavily centers on the sun and moon, how would you like to see something that could be considered an artificial sun?”


    Nekou’s eye twitched the instant those words hit her ears. “An artificial sun?” she thought. “Such a thing would be unimaginably fucking powerful… it could change the balance of power in the world… and tip it right into Team Rocket’s hands! Just like Stacia said!” She brought her cheerful side back to the surface, but this time, it was more of an act. “Yes, that sounds exactly like the kind of thing I’d like to see! Please take me there!”


    “You’re an upbeat one, aren’t you?” Lenora teased. “You remind me of myself. When I was little, my dad always brought home bones from the mine he worked in. Looking at them captivated me and fostered a desire for adventure that brought me to where I am today. Come on, I’ll show you what I’m talking about. This way.”


    Lenora started to walk away, gesturing with her hand for Nekou, Hawes and the rabbit Pokémon to follow. She guided them down a wide hallway linking the room with the Dragonite fossil to another exhibit room. Nekou couldn’t help but glance around at the paintings lining the walls as she walked, but it was something else that caught her attention enough that she had to force herself to not stop walking.


    Going the opposite direction down the hallway, heading back towards the Dragonite room, were three men dressed in identical dark suits and black sunglasses. Their coordination wasn’t what struck her about them, though. It was what they had stitched on the breast pockets of their suits - a shield, half black and half white, bearing a blue ‘P’ overlaid on a backwards ‘Z.’ The symbol of Team Plasma.


    She made sure to adjust her glasses as they passed by, ensuring that an image of the men and the symbol got sent to Trevor. “Can’t tell if they looked at me…” she thought, feeling a chill run down her spine.


    “Miss Hammond?”


    Hawes’ voice snapped Nekou back into reality, and she returned to her false persona. “I’m sorry, I got distracted,” she said, forcing herself to sound as sweet as possible.


    “No worries,” Hawes replied with a smile. He gestured to the right and said, “Come this way, please.”


    Hawes led Nekou over to Lenora, who was waiting for them next to a glass case. She frowned, put her hands on her hips, and said to them, “Let’s see some more dedication.” Nekou and Hawes responded with pouts of their own, and as soon as she saw them, Lenora couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m just teasing you, come on!”


    “I’m tough, I can take it,” Nekou responded. “Let’s just see that artificial sun of yours.”


    “You got it. Audino?” The rabbit Pokémon, who had followed closely at Lenora’s side, trilled softly and handed her trainer a tablet computer she’d been carrying. Lenora tapped the screen several times, and stepped aside to allow Nekou a better view of the case. Inside was a chunk of rock, its black surface covered with cavities. “This is called a Meteonite. It’s a piece of a much larger object that entered Earth’s atmosphere in ancient times, where it broke up into pieces that landed all over the planet.”


    “Meteonite? What makes it different from an ordinary meteorite?” Nekou wondered.


    “This one is made of a unique element we don’t yet fully understand,” Lenora tapped on the screen a few more times, then raised her finger as she started to relate its information. “There is a volcano called Reversal Mountain in eastern Unova. In ancient times, it experienced a major eruption, filling Unova’s sky with volcanic ash. The sun was blocked out by the ash, and subsequently, the survival of Unova’s people was threatened. It was in this most desperate time that the people of Unova discovered a Meteonite much larger than this one, and realized that it shined with a light like that of the sun. To survive, they took the Meteonite and put it in the sky, allowing it to act as the sun until the day the air became clear once again. For them, the light of the Meteonite...” Lenora lowered the tablet to her side and turned to the others before finishing, “... was truly the light of hope.”


    “Amazing,” Nekou whispered to herself. She stepped closer to the display case, having to stop herself from reaching up and taking the small Meteonite right then and there. “If we can get our hands on the whole thing, Team Rocket will be free to do whatever the fuck we want! And if Team Rocket can do anything, then so can I…”


    “Impressive story, isn’t it?” Lenora asked Nekou. “We’ve got some more materials about that era in our library, if you’d like to see them.”


    “Oh, of course!”


    ~:~


    “It was to obtain the Meteonite that Giovanni sent Jessie, James and Meowth to Unova. Well, that was one reason. Needless to say, when I found out that Team Plasma was involved, it terrified me. The memories of what happened in Virbank City never faded from my mind, not then, not now.”


    ~:~


    It wasn’t long after Nekou finished gathering intelligence at the museum that Trevor contacted Giovanni. The Team Rocket boss received the call at their headquarters in Kanto, and when the subject matter became clear, he swiftly brought Dr. Zager in on the conversation. He had three holographic screens projected in front of him from his desk, displaying Trevor, Zager and a still image of the Team Plasma logo from Nekou’s recordings.


    “Why is that here?” Zager demanded, losing control of his voice. “Where did you see that symbol?”


    “Nekou saw it while she was doing some work at the Nacrene Museum,” Trevor answered. He had a better handle on his volume than the scientist, but his weary look gave away that he was just as distressed.


    “Team Plasma, a division of Polaris led by Ghetsis Harmonia,” Zager identified. “I never worked with him, but his ambition and drive were well known throughout Polaris.”


    “We’ve known for a long time that there was a secret organization operating in the shadows of Unovan society, so it’s not much of a surprise that we’d run into them when we went there.” Giovanni scratched Persian, who was sitting faithfully next to him. “I already have Stacia selecting the next agents who I’ll be sending to Unova to work alongside you and your teammates, Trevor. They’ll be acting on the intelligence you’ve gathered, so stand by for your next orders.”


    “Very well.”


    With that, Trevor disconnected his end of the conversation, making his screen disappear. Now alone with Zager, Giovanni said to him, “It appears that the conflict you warned us would come is almost here.”


    “I’m worried that we’ve only seen Team Plasma and not the rest of Polaris, to tell you the truth,” Zager confessed. “Polaris intends to destroy the entire world and recreate it according to their vision. If they’re hanging back and letting Ghetsis do all the work, I fear this may be a trap.”


    “It could be, but this is still an opportunity that Team Rocket cannot pass up. The Meteonite, a cosmic object that can harness energy like an artificial sun… if Team Rocket can obtain it, it will be a valuable weapon when the rest of Polaris emerges.”


    “I can’t argue with that. Now, please excuse me, I have some preparations of my own to do.”


    “You are dismissed.”


    Just as Zager ended his own communication and the remaining two screens vanished from Giovanni’s desk, the doors to his office opened and Stacia entered. She said nothing as she crossed the room, moving with deliberate, practiced steps. Once she reached Giovanni, she took a black folder from under her arm and slid it onto his desk.


    “I informed the agents assigned to the project to return here immediately,” Stacia said as Giovanni reviewed the papers in the folder.


    Giovanni looked up and replied, “Well done. Thank you.”


    “I’m certain they’ll be perfect for the job.”


    “Good. You can go now.”


    Stacia bowed, then turned around and started to leave the office. As she did so, Giovanni laid the folder down on his desk, spreading the three documents inside across it.


    They were personnel files of Jessie, James and Meowth.


    ~:~


    “So that was when Giovanni decided to send more agents to Unova, and he sent the three Stacia selected. Jessie, James and Meowth were the ones who encountered Zekrom in Nuvema Town before it disappeared.”


    “There was so much more to that than I expected…” Matt said to Trevor. “To think those Meteonites are that powerful… now what I saw on the Magnet Train makes a lot more sense. And Nekou knew…”


    “Don’t hold it against her,” Trevor said. “From what I know, she wanted to keep Olivia safe. Back during that battle in Goldenrod, you and Bunny ended up going to retrieve the Meteonite while Nekou kept Olivia with her, right? You’ve seen how hard Nekou will fight to protect people she cares about. There was no safer place for her to be.”


    “Is that really true?” Anabel wondered out loud. “I’m her mother. I have to be the one to protect her.”


    “That’s totally understandable,” Trevor agreed. “Once we go back and Olivia’s feeling better, I hope you and Nekou will have a heart-to-heart about that. Olivia really likes her, and she really likes Olivia. I want to see all three of you work something out.”


    “So what you’re saying is that you decided you were going to obtain this Meteonite,” Silva said, recapping what he’d heard, “and three more members of Team Rocket were sent to Unova to do it. What else happened before you fought Team Plasma? That didn’t happen immediately, did it?”


    “No, it didn’t. Even with everything Nekou learned from the Nacrene Museum, we lacked something we needed to find the big Meteonite. Any guesses what it was?”


    “It’s not going to be something as simple as a map, is it?” Matt ventured. “It never is…”


    “If there was a map, someone else would have found it by then,” Anabel said in agreement.


    “You’re actually not all that far off,” Trevor revealed, making both Matt and Anabel look at him in surprise. “It wasn’t a literal map. What we needed was a way to track the energy of the Meteonite. Think of it as like a magnet drawing in metal. We found a lead to that when we learned of the Dreamyard.”


    “The site where research on the energy of dreams was being conducted?” Mitsumi questioned for confirmation.


    “Indeed. It was thought that if the Meteonite had could act as an artificial sun, then using another powerful type of energy might reveal the Meteonite’s own energy field to us and allow us to track it. Giovanni sent Jessie, James and Meowth to the Dreamyard with plans for a mechanical weapon Dr. Zager designed to absorb the Dream Energy. Even though they got disrupted, they managed to acquire enough of the Dream Energy for Dr. Zager to examine. And he made an incredible discovery with it.”


    ~:~


    None who passed by the abandoned building in a small town between Striaton City and Nacrene City would have thought much of it. With its walls beginning to crumble and many of its windows either cracked or completely missing, it didn’t exactly have much to call attention to itself. It was just one of many old buildings that had fallen into disrepair in an urban landscape.


    And that made it perfect for Jessie, James and Meowth to use. They gathered around the computer terminal they used for communications inside one of the building’s ruined offices, and when they entered their login information, Giovanni’s face flashed onto its screen.


    “Ready, sir,” James said. “All units assembled.”


    “Good,” answered the trio’s boss. “Your next mission will take place in the Desert Resort.”


    “The Desert Resort?” Jessie inquisitively repeated, her eyes widening slightly.


    Giovanni’s image was replaced on the screen by a map of Unova, which promptly zoomed in on the region between Castelia City and Nimbasa City. “The Desert Resort is located here,” he explained. “There is a meteor called a Meteonite buried somewhere in this area. Your mission is to locate and secure it.”


    With Jessie, James and Meowth watching attentively, the image on the terminal’s screen changed again. This time, it displayed a computer-generated animation of a large meteor approaching Earth.


    “A long time ago, this Meteonite burst into our atmosphere, broke apart, and was scattered around the world,” Giovanni continued, with the screen illustrating his words. “It’s said that the largest piece of it can be found in the Unova region. Even one tiny fragment of this Meteonite can unleash an enormous amount of energy. Very soon after the analysis of the energy sample you sent us from the Dreamyard was completed, we located an enormous energy flow in the Unova region that has an identical energy signature, and the center of that energy flow is located within the Desert Resort.”


    The screen changed once more, returning to Giovanni’s image.


    “So now, if we can obtain the Meteonite, we can alter the energy balance of the entire world. This is the key to Team Rocket’s plan for world conquest.” Giovanni’s bold declaration drew ambitious, excited smiles from his followers. “Also, we’ll be sending you an additional agent for this most important mission.”


    An electronic personnel file materialized on the screen, revealing both a full-body image of Pierce and a great amount of information about him.


    “The significance of which I’m sure cannot be overstated,” James said in agreement.


    “Proceed to the rendezvous point immediately,” Giovanni commanded.


    “Sir!” all three members of the trio responded, saluting their boss.


    ~:~


    “That certainly fills in one critical point, why you were in the Desert Resort in the first place,” Silva said. “The picture’s starting to fill out, but what I don’t get is why Team Plasma hasn’t done anything yet.”


    “We were doing our own research into the Meteonite,” Zinzolin answered. “That’s why we had men at the Nacrene Museum and the Antimony Research Lab…”


    “Antimony Research Lab?” Anabel interjected. “What’s that?”


    “I was actually about to get to that,” said Trevor. “So at that point we had a basic idea of what the Meteonite could do and where to find it. What we still needed was a way to understand in real terms how we could use it for our own gain. Obviously, with Team Rocket’s scientific prowess we could study it and find all that out ourselves, but with Team Plasma’s activity we needed a way to move the clock forward. The Antimony Research Lab was our ticket to that.”


    ~:~


    After finishing their work at the Nacrene Museum, Trevor and Nekou returned to the Driftveil Luxury Suites, where Ada and Rosalie were waiting for them. The four had no further orders at the time, so all of them took the opportunity to enjoy their accommodations while awaiting word from Giovanni or Stacia.


    That morning, Trevor, Ada and Rosalie were sitting around a table in the suite they’d turned into a command center. Trevor and Rosalie were caught up in a conversation about his past in Unova while Ada quietly read on her laptop.


    “I really would like to go back there,” Trevor said to Rosalie, “even if it was to just see a movie in the Pokéstar Theater again. But you know, I can’t… it would be too risky. I’m too worried someone will recognize me, and if Ghetsis finds out it could jeopardize everything we’ve worked for. I’m sorry.”


    “Don’t apologize.” Rosalie took a sip of coffee before continuing. “There are other movie theaters around. There’s one right here in Driftveil. If I really want to see Mystery Doors of the Magical Land right away, I can go to one of them.”


    “The experience of seeing a movie at the Pokéstar Theater isn’t like anything else. That’s why I feel bad. I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing a movie there for the first time as a kid… that’s why I even decided to become an actor in the first place. It changed my life. I feel bad that I’m preventing you from experiencing that.”


    “Like I said, don’t worry about it.” In an attempt to help Trevor feel better, Rosalie reached out and grasped his hand, then smiled at him. “Once we beat Team Plasma and get rid of Ghetsis, there’ll be plenty of time for me to see all the movies I want there.”


    “Speaking of,” Ada abruptly interrupted, “I just found something in the news that you two might find interesting…”


    “What is it?” Rosalie asked her.


    “Let me just read it to you…” Ada leaned in closer to her laptop’s screen and started to repeat what was on it. “The Antimony Research Lab will be hosting a function for the media, as well as scholars and scientists from around the world, at which it is expected that new information on the facility’s work on alternate energy sources will be presented. Sponsored by the Aether Foundation, the Antimony Research Lab has been conducting experiments on the unique elements found in meteorites, with the goal of finding a new source of energy that is both low-cost and sustainable. The staff of the laboratory did not respond to request for comment, but a statement was provided to Unova News by President Lusamine of the Aether Foundation. She says, “We are very proud of the encouraging work the Antimony Research Lab is showing us. While humanity has made incredible advancements using fossil fuels, it is important to make the transition away from them in order to preserve the environments of humans and Pokémon. We will be providing more information as it is announced by the Antimony Research Laboratory.””


    “The unique elements found in meteorites?” Rosalie repeated. “Does that sound like what I think it does to anyone else?”


    “So you noticed it, too…” Ada confirmed. “We have to get into that laboratory. If we had the Meteonite research they have, it would send our goals much further ahead…”


    “You can say that again.” Even though she had been bathing in the adjacent room, Nekou had been listening to the whole thing and by that point stepped out in a loosely-tied bathrobe to talk to her teammates. “Ada, you up for forging me an invite?”


    “Absolutely, you know I always am.”


    “We better contact Giovanni first, though,” Rosalie said. “As big an opportunity as this is, we might need help from the other agents for it.”


    ~:~


    “That’s exactly what happened,” Trevor continued explaining. “We called Giovanni and he told us he would have Pierce send Jessie, James and Meowth to help us get the data out of the Antimony Research Lab. It was a good thing we did, too. It wasn’t an operation we could have done on our own. Our job? Get in that party and find a way to take everything that lab had.”


    ~:~


    Nekou sighed as she surveyed the hall where the function was being held. It wasn’t that she disliked parties, far from it. No, this wasn’t a party at all. The report Ada read about the event called it a function, and Nekou couldn’t think of many more words that would accurately describe it. Function. A word that carried an air of dignity around it, though looking at all the finely dressed people around her, Nekou thought she would call it snobbery instead.


    “I hate this,” she muttered to herself as she worked her way through the crowd. “All these stuck up…”


    “Just focus on why you’re there,” Rosalie said to her. An image of the scientist was projected onto the inside of the masquerade mask Nekou traded her sun hat for. “If the lab is doing a presentation on their work, their people should have to have access devices on them. Get as close to the high-level staff as you can and we should be able to do the rest remotely, then pass it off to Jessie, James and Meowth so they can break into the research wing.”


    “I’m going to need a spa day to unwind after this.” Nekou stopped walking when she noticed a table covered with food and drink on ice. “Or I’ll just enjoy this as much as I can while I’m here.”


    “Welcome, miss,” the man running the table said to Nekou when she approached. She flashed him a forced smile in return. “Would you like anything?”


    “What is it?”


    “Clauncher claw meat imported directly from Ambrette Town,” he answered, “and vintage wine made from Bluk Berries harvested at one of Unova’s finest wineries.”


    “Fu-” Remembering that she was still in character, Nekou caught herself and fumbled, managing to say instead, “...fantastic, that sounds fantastic! Of course I want some!”


    Nekou eagerly accepted both a small plate of the Clauncher meat and a glass of wine before making her way over to a place where she could sit down. While she ate, she continued to survey the room. Even among all the formally-dressed people there, when she spotted the three men in the dark suits bearing Team Plasma’s symbol, they immediately stood out to her.


    “Rosalie, you seeing that?” Nekou whispered.


    “Crystal clear,” Rosalie replied. “They weren’t exactly subtle to begin with, but their movements are getting more and more suspicious… they really must be after the Meteonite too.”


    “I think you’re onto something. First the museum and now here? You don’t think they figured us out already, do you?”


    “It’s not impossible that they might have.” Rosalie shut her eyes. “We can’t give up our mission now, though. We can beat them.”


    “I hope you’re right about that.”


    Just then, the lights in the hall dimmed, and a spotlight went up on the stage at the head of the room. The people in the crowd, who had been talking among themselves, all turned to watch as a bearded man in a lab coat stepped out and walked to a podium that had been set up on the stage. He adjusted the microphone in front of himself, fixed his large green glasses and ran a hand through his thick blonde hair before finally addressing the crowd.


    “Thank you all for coming here tonight,” he said to them. “I am Faba Antimony, the illustrious leader of this laboratory. All of you, you will be the first to receive the honor of knowing what we are developing here. Wicke, my dear, if you please.”


    Faba extended his arm towards another scientist who had entered the stage, a woman wearing pink-framed glasses. She nodded to him and then tapped the screen of the tablet she held in her arms. In response to her prompting, multiple projections of green windows bearing graphs, diagrams and other types of data materialized in the center of the stage.


    “Imagine a world where a single object could provide enough energy to run not an entire city, but an entire region,” Faba declared, urging his audience to share in his fantasy. “Not only is this world often cruel to its inhabitants, its inhabitants are not kind to it either. Our ever-increasing population places ever more strident demands upon our society to provide for them, but we do not treat our planet with the respect it deserves. In order to provide for ourselves, we pollute, we consume, we destroy. And when we do, Mother Nature punishes us, lashing out by taking away the environments we need to survive and bringing down her harsh judgment in the form of extreme weather and natural calamity. Looking into the far-flung future, this situation is truly not sustainable. That is why, with the assistance of the Aether Foundation, my Antimony Research Lab is here to act as a line of defense for the survival of both the planet and those living here!”


    Unable to stand still behind the podium any longer, Faba disconnected the microphone from it and walked closer to the holographic projects. The eyes of the crowd followed his every movement, and Nekou was careful to watch him as she continued drinking so everything would be recorded.


    “We must end our reliance on fuels that are torn from the earth and then end up fouling the atmosphere,” Faba continued, “thus warming our planet and causing ever more extreme weather. Environmental destruction threatens the survival of both humanity and Pokémon, and both I and the Aether Foundation believe that this must be stopped. I… well, not just myself. My dear Wicke and my son are working here too… the personnel of the Antimony Research Lab are working on a new energy source that will give us the ability to end our reliance on planet-destroying fossil fuels. This,” Faba said as he pointed at a projection that overtook the others, “is the Meteonite. It is made of an element that we currently believe is not found natively on this planet. In Unova’s ancient past, it is said this was used as an artificial sun following a devastating eruption of Reversal Mountain. That age is long past, but it is time for the modern era to learn a lesson from it. Using the Meteonite today, we will be able to replace all of Unova’s power plants with a clean, limitless energy source! This evening is a celebration of the bright future the Meteonite holds for not only Unova but the entire world, so please, enjoy what we have brought you. This celebration will be only the first night of many.”


    ~:~


    “So Faba, Wicke and their son started mingling with the crowd and talking abo-” Trevor cut himself off with a sudden laugh he couldn’t suppress. Turning to Matt, he said, “Oh, right, their son. You’re gonna laugh when you hear who it is.”


    “It’s someone I know?”


    “Someone you know from quite recently, no less.” Trevor took a deep breath, deliberately drawing out his revelation. “It’s Colress.”


    Matt couldn’t help but gasp at stare at Trevor for a moment, his uncovered eye going as wide as it possibly could. Yet as the initial surprise wore off, he simply took off one of his gloves and put his metal hand against his face.


    “It all makes perfect sense now,” he said to himself with a sigh.


    “What do you mean?” Anabel asked him. “Who is that?”


    “Back in Ecruteak City, at the Battle Hall, he was one of the other competitors. I lost to him because Cordelia didn’t have any moves that would really work on his Klinklang. Thing is, he’s really a member of Polaris who was working with Ghetsis, but also, when I ran into him he asked me about Nekou using the Jane Hammond alias. Now I get it. He knew all along who she was, what Trevor’s describing now must be when they met…”


    “Wait, no, this doesn’t make sense,” Mitsumi interrupted. “Team Plasma members were at the function, Colress worked there on Meteonite research… it all implies that there’s a connection between Team Plasma and someone who’s a high-up in the Aether Foundation, plus this is much earlier than any other known link between Colress and Team Plasma.”


    “I know how it sounds, but that isn’t the case,” Zinzolin told her. “Faba never had anything to do with us, and Colress didn’t join Team Plasma until after this.”


    “Unless you’re lying to cover up the truth,” Mitsumi shot back.


    “Why would I do that when it would risk my deal with you? Lying to you after telling you this much would be a fatal mistake.” Zinzolin raised his finger for emphasis. “No, it’s very simple. While N was on his journey through Unova, Ghetsis tasked the rest of us with finding new ideas and recruits to bring into our fold. It is true that we were looking for the Meteonite and ended up recruiting Colress after the incident in Castelia City ended. I’ll even add something new - by the time of the event at the Antimony Research Lab, Team Plasma already knew that Team Rocket had come from Kanto and was up to something in Unova. We knew that because we were monitoring police activity and found out about a report filed by the Officer Jenny of Striaton City.”


    Mitsumi hesitated, but ultimately sat back in her chair. “Fine,” she bitterly said. “Go on.”


    “I guess that means Team Plasma only knew about Jessie, James and Meowth,” Trevor mused before continuing his story. “So anyway, Faba, Wicke and Colress… all three of them went to talk to the people attending the event. Matt, you already guessed it, but Colress was the one Nekou ended up targeting.”


    ~:~


    A group of people had clustered around Colress, filling the space between him and Nekou, but she still was able to clearly see him. She could hear him going on and on about the research he was involved in, praising himself and his intelligence all the while, but she cared little for the particulars.


    “Tell me I can go after him,” she asked Rosalie through their remote connection. “Tell me I can go after him instead of Faba.”


    “If he, Faba and Wicke are running the show over there, they should all have access to the lab’s systems,” Rosalie replied. “Go wild.”


    “Oh, I am going to enjoy this one.” Nekou slowly licked her lips while considering exactly how to approach Colress. An answer came to her quite quickly, so she took a deep breath to focus her mind, adopted the phony smile of her persona, and pushed her way through the throng around him. “That’s fascinating, Mister Colress! Only someone as smart as you could come up with something like that!”


    What she said had little with whatever Colress had been talking about, and Nekou knew it. But what she also knew just from watching him for a few minutes was that he was someone easily manipulated via his vanity and ego.


    “That’s Doctor Colress to you,” he smugly said to her, “but I’ll forgive that little error of yours because you’re right, my dear.”


    “Got him. Like a Venomoth to a flame.” Keeping her true thoughts to herself, Nekou smiled sweetly at Colress. “My mistake. It’s only natural someone involved in such difficult work would have a doctorate. Where’d you graduate from?”


    “Oh?” Colress put his hands in the pockets of his lab coat and turned to fully face Nekou, then adjusted his glasses before he spoke again. “I graduated from Opelucid University. Your curiosity has me intrigued, though.”


    “I’m from Malie University in Alola myself, that’s why I asked.” Nekou extended her hand to Colress. “Jane Hammond. My work is on documenting rare artifacts from all over the world.”


    “Ah, another academic!” Any hesitation Colress had about the situation evaporated at the presence of someone of comparable intelligence, and he eagerly shook her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Hammond! I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about our work on the Meteonite for your research. As long as you cite me, of course!”


    “You don’t have to worry about that at all,” Nekou assured him with yet another false smile. “Can the Meteonite really be used as an artificial sun?”


    “Everything we’ve found says yes! With our small samples of the element, we’ve observed a type of energy that reacts with the energy within the earth itself. Our experiments have shown that its energy has comparable effects to those of real sunlight. That’s consistent with all the evidence from the time of Reversal Mountain’s eruption we’ve found, too. Not only were the ancient Unovan people able to get the necessary benefits sunlight provides from it, its energy was so great that it even was able to affect the weather. The Meteonite was able to stave off the prolonged winter that the eruption threatened to force upon Unova! Incredible, no?”


    “Yes, that is incredible…”


    Nekou was already actively reviewing all the potential uses Team Rocket could have for the Meteonite in her mind when a text transmission from Rosalie appeared on the lenses of her mask.


    “Detecting an access device. Unstable signal. Get closer.”


    Luckily for her, Nekou already knew exactly how to approach the situation this change brought on. She took a long sip from the glass of wine in her hand - her second - then groaned and wiped her forehead with the back of her free hand.


    “Whew…” she sighed, “...your father wasn’t kidding with this stuff. I’m feeling a little woozy, so how about we go somewhere a little more quiet and keep talking?”


    “That’s a fair request, my dear.” Looking over his shoulder, Colress said to the others who he had been boasting to, “Sorry, but I will be spending some time with my new acquaintance for now. I’ll be back.”


    Colress took Nekou by the hand and led her to a nearby doorway, which allowed them into a long hallway lined with potted plants. Once they were out of the crowded hall, he let her hand go so they could walk side-by-side.


    “What about what your father said?” Nekou asked him. “Is there really a way for the Meteonite to provide enough energy to power all of Unova?”


    “Not with the small samples of it that we have,” Colress explained. “There are bigger ones out there, including the one that the ancient Unovans used as their artificial sun. Once we get that, we’ll change the world!”


    “Do you know where that one is?”


    Colress shut his eyes and put his hands in his pockets again. “Unfortunately, not yet. A survey we conducted using the energy of the small Meteonite we have indicated that it might be somewhere in the Desert Resort, but who knows right now where its exact location there is.”


    “So we aren’t the only ones who know about that,” Nekou thought. “Sounds like it’ll be tough to track down.”


    “You should know, being from Malie City and all. That’s not too far from Haina Desert and I know very well the reputation that place has.”


    “Got a lock on the access card, but it’s weak. See if you can get closer.”


    The instant Rosalie’s message flashed across Nekou’s lenses, she knew what she had to do. She could see a coat room with its door left open only a few feet away. That would suit her needs perfectly.


    Before Colress even realized what was happening, Nekou grabbed his arm and pulled him into the coat room. She kicked the door closed behind her and pushed Colress against the wall, keeping him from moving by pinning his arms down.


    “Now what is this all of the sudden?” Colress’s wry grin made clear that he already knew the answer very well. “Something tells me artifacts aren’t the only thing you’re interested in studying.”


    “No.” Nekou didn’t look him directly in the eyes. “I like that brain of yours. I like what you’ve got in there. I want it.”


    “Is that so.”


    Nekou licked her lips again and pushed herself against Colress. “That sure is so,” she whispered, running her finger around his curl of blue hair as she slowly moved her face closer to his. “There isn’t anything I enjoy more than someone who knows a lot. And you do know a lot, I can already tell.”


    “You aren’t wrong about that, my dear…”


    While Colress talked, another message from Rosalie appeared on Nekou’s mask. “We got it. Pull out so the raid team can go in.”


    “...so why don’t you take that mask off so I can get a look at that face?”


    “Close your eyes,” Nekou replied in a breathy voice. “I have a surprise for you.”


    Colress did exactly as he was told, an act Nekou couldn’t help but roll her eyes at. He had no idea that she was pointing not her face but her arm at him until a cloud of orange power sprayed over him from the device on her wrist. In an instant he was overcome by a violent coughing fit, his spasms forcing him off the wall and into one of the coat racks. His legs quickly failed, sending him bowled over on the floor as he continued to cough.


    “What did you do to me?!” he yelled at Nekou, who was straightening out her dress as if nothing had happened. His voice was quiet and strained as a result of the powder’s effects.


    “Stun Spore,” she answered indifferently. “Don’t worry, you’re not gonna die. You’ll just be spending some time by yourself in here, and I’ll be blunt, it ain’t gonna be fun.”


    “Why?” Colress choked. Speaking was becoming more of a struggle as the paralysis took hold. “Why would you do this?”


    “I did it because I do what I want. That’s how I live.” She looked down on him, though because of her mask, he couldn’t see the harsh gaze she wore. “There isn’t anything else worth doing in life when you get down to it. When that Stun Spore wears off, try learning something from that.”


    With that, Nekou went to the door and left the coat room, reassuming her false persona as she went. She gently closed the door behind her, leaving Colress there to remain hidden.


    -:-
     
  18. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Meanwhile, outside the lab, Jessie, James and Meowth ran along one of the walls surrounding its perimeter. They’d received all the key data copied from Colress’s access card, and armed with it, they were ready to carry out their own part of the mission.


    When they stopped, Jessie turned to James. “We’re all set,” she said to him, giving him a thumbs up.


    “Right,” he replied, returning the gesture.


    Nothing more needed to be said, so the trio threw ropes with grappling hooks attached over the wall and used them to scale it. Once they were atop the barrier, they put on high-tech goggles that revealed the extensive grid of security lasers spread out before them.


    “Hmm… just look at all those sensors.”


    Jessie’s words were unmistakably true, in fact, they might have been an understatement. The wing of the facility where actual research was carried out was blanketed with security devices, combining together to create a net with barely any space between its lines.


    “Trip just one of those and we’ll set off the alarm,” James noted.


    “That’s tight security!” Meowth added.


    “Which goes to show you how valuable the data they’re protecting is,” Jessie said with a smile. “Ah!”


    With graceful, smooth motions, Jessie leaped down off the wall to land within its perimeter, then deftly worked her way through the web of sensors. James and Meowth quickly followed, and within moments they reached the building. Using a card programmed with Colress’s information, James was able to open the doors of the lab’s research wing, leaving only some more lasers between them and their goal. Most would be caught by the sensors, but the training the trio had gave them the ability to easily pass them all by.


    Before long, they arrived at their destination - a spacious air vent directly above the room where the lab’s main servers were located. James moved one of the tiles, allowing himself and his teammates to look down directly into the chamber.


    “Looks like this is packed with sensors too,” Jessie observed.


    “Then let’s give ‘em our little surprise!”


    Meowth’s suggestion prompted a grin from James. “Right,” he said as he took out a small black cube. “Here goes.”

    A tiny propeller emerged from the top of the cube, lifting it out of James’s hand and down into the server room. It carefully navigated around the sensors and landed on the array’s central unit, where it deployed a connection to the system while the propeller folded into a transmission antenna.


    “Excellent,” James said. During the probe’s journey, he’d set up a laptop to manage the download, and managed the infiltration with Jessie while Meowth kept watch over the room.


    “Connection?” Jessie asked Meowth.


    “I’m on it,” replied the Pokémon.


    “Password protected, as suspected.” A green window with a field for entering the password appeared on the laptop’s screen, and James chuckled to himself at how easy the entire thing was. “Not a problem.”


    James entered the access codes stolen from Colress into the terminal, prompting a rain of glyphs to zoom by as within mere seconds, any resistance the server’s security could have put up melted away.


    “We have access!” he exclaimed. A single tap of a key brought all the same data Faba had displayed at his speech up on the laptop’s screen.


    “That’s the Meteonite data?” asked the smirking Jessie.


    “Correct!” The data windows moved to the perimeter of the screen, and a status bar appeared in the space in the middle. “Copying now.”


    -:-


    The next day, Pierce was walking down the dark tunnels of an abandoned part of Unova’s subway system. He’d just finished meeting with Jessie, James and Meowth in order to collect the device containing the Meteonite data, and was on his way to give Giovanni a report.


    “I’m impressed at how good they really are,” he thought to himself, looking down at the cube in his hand. “Who would have known three like them could be shaped into such exemplary agents?”


    As he neared a track switch, Pierce stopped and surveyed his surroundings. He was so deep into the disused region of the subway system that he reasoned only people wanting to hide themselves would bother going that far. Of course, that worked perfectly for him.


    He reached into his trench coat and retrieved a small disc, which he set on the signal box next to the tracks. It activated when he pressed a button on its side, producing a hologram of Giovanni with Stacia at his side.


    “Giovanni, sir, I have obtained the data about the Meteonite retrieved from the Antimony Research Lab. I’ll begin the transmission now.”


    Pierce held up the cube and pressed two buttons on opposite sides of it at the same time. A few seconds later, Giovanni looked away from the camera for a brief time.


    “We are receiving it now,” Giovanni confirmed. “Pierce, for your next mission I want you to arrange for Jessie, James and Meowth to receive a dummy Meteonite, which they are to replace the Meteonite on display in Nacrene Museum with. Some of our other agents within Unova already possess it, so with the information you possess you will be able to arrange the drop. I am sending Dr. Zager to work with you directly in Unova. Once those three replace the Meteonite in the museum with the dummy, I want you and Zager to pick them up so that Zager can examine it himself.”


    “Understood, sir.”


    -:-


    “We’re finally in Nacrene City!”


    A few more days had passed since Pierce’s last transmission to Giovanni. In that time, a group of three young people made their way to Nacrene City. The boy in the middle of the group, who wore a blue-and-white jacket and had his Pikachu riding on his shoulder, couldn’t help himself from shouting out his excitement.


    “Look at all these cool buildings!” one of his companions, a girl whose Axew rode in her voluminous violet hair, said.


    “They’re actually unused warehouses,” explained the third member of the group, a taller young man wearing a suit with a bow tie that matched his green hair, “which the city leases to artists. And because of that, Nacrene City is known as the city of art.”

    “Wow, there’s beautiful art everywhere you look!” the girl exclaimed while looking at a display in the window of the art gallery they’d stopped in front of.


    “The city is also admired for its style, so it’s the city of admiration too.”


    “Well as far as I’m concerned, you can call it what you want,” the boy with the Pikachu said to his friend, “but I came here to Nacrene City for one reason. A Gym battle!”


    “The city’s museum just happens to be the site of the Nacrene Gym!”


    “Yeah?” This surprised the boy, but he never stopped smiling as he talked to his finely-dressed companion. “How awesome is it to have a Gym inside a museum? Let’s go there now!” He pumped his fist into the air, a gesture his Pikachu matched with a cheerful cry.


    However, as they walked off, they remained unaware that they were being watched. Nekou, still in her disguise, had been standing in the entrance of the gallery and eavesdropping on their conversation. Having heard everything, she took out her phone and placed a call.


    “You three,” she said into the device once the recipient of the call picked it up, “those kids you call twerps are heading over to Nacrene Museum right now. You should wait to head there for a little longer.”


    “We’re in no hurry,” Jessie responded from the other end. “So don’t worry about it.”


    “Our mapping program is still working on the museum’s layout anyway,” James added. “There’s no need to rush.”


    ~:~


    “Wait, stop,” Mitsumi interrupted. “Something about this is bothering me.”


    “Oh? What is it?” Trevor asked her.


    Before laying out her concern, Mitsumi glanced around the table. Silva, Zinzolin and Anabel were all paying just as much attention as she was, but Matt was sitting perfectly still, staring at the table and lost in thought over what he was hearing.


    Finally, Mitsumi took a breath. “Why did you even continue this operation if you knew Team Plasma and Polaris were there to oppose you?”


    “If we were just trying to gain power, then maybe we would have left and tried something easier,” Trevor admitted, “but once we knew Team Plasma was on the hunt for the Meteonite too, we had another reason to pursue it. You see, Team Rocket wants to keep things the way they are. The only change we want to make is to be the ones in control. Team Plasma and Polaris, though… they want to destroy this world’s order. Ghetsis just wants to be a king, but the bigger presence of Polaris behind him… let’s just say that if Polaris destroys this world, there won’t be anything left for you to stop us from taking over. It’s about survival and that puts us all on the same side.”


    “That certainly tracks with what Looker told us,” Silva whispered to Mitsumi. “About Polaris and Dark Matter and everything.”


    “I can’t disagree with you there,” Mitsumi agreed. She turned back to Trevor and told him, “Keep going with your story.”


    “Alright. So Jessie, James and Meowth had to take a day to finish mapping out the museum and wait for an opening to carry out their mission. That next night, after the museum closed, they got that chance.”


    ~:~


    With the museum closed for the night, Jessie, James and Meowth knew the time was right to make their move. Jessie and Meowth went inside to carry out the actual replacement of the Meteonite, while James stayed behind in their truck to assist the operation.


    “R1 to R2, R1 to R2,” he said to his teammates from his place at a computer terminal in the back of the truck. “Hacking successful. I’ve taken command of every one of the building’s controls. I can arm or disarm the security system at will.”


    Inside the building, Jessie was walking calmly down a hall toward the Meteonite exhibit with Meowth at her side, both of them wearing the same goggles that helped them in the previous infiltration. She carried in her hand a small case containing the fake Meteonite.


    “Understood,” she said. “Let’s continue with our mission.”


    The pair reached the opening where the hallway connected to the exhibit room they were searching for, and stopped before entering it. Jessie surveyed the room and activated her goggles, revealing all the security sensors surrounding each of the exhibits. Before long, she spotted the case where the Meteonite was held.


    “Target confirmed. Deactivate system.”


    “Consider it done,” James replied. “I’ll give you twenty seconds.”


    “Ten seconds would be more than enough,” Meowth said smugly.


    “Right. Proceeding. Three, two, one…”


    As James counted down, Jessie and Meowth got ready to run.


    “...go.”


    The security sensors deactivated at James’s prompting, leaving the exhibits unguarded. Jessie and Meowth rushed in, rolling the case containing the false Meteonite alongside them as they rushed toward the real one. The case opened up by itself, giving Jessie access to the dummy Meteonite while Meowth got in front of her and leapt up to take off the glass covering the real one. Jessie followed by acrobatically jumping over the exhibit, snatching the real Meteonite and setting the fake one in its place in the blink of an eye. Meowth finished by dropping back down to replace the glass, and they arrived at the other hand of the chamber in time to put their prize into the case as soon as it stopped rolling.


    They took a moment to watch the lasers go back on in satisfaction before turning and leaving.


    ~:~


    “Once we obtained the Meteonite from Nacrene Museum, the next step was to confirm it was what the Antimony Research Lab claimed it was,” Trevor further explained. “For that purpose, Pierce brought the three of them aboard Dr. Zager’s helicopter, where he has a mobile laboratory. As soon as they all met up, Zager put that Meteonite from the museum under a beam of the energy from the Dreamyard.”


    “And what happened?” Anabel asked.


    “The analysis definitively confirmed that the Meteonite was made of an ancient element not native to this planet, as the lab’s work had indicated. That wasn’t the only thing, though, oh no. It also displayed a potent reaction to the energy showering it, which made very clear just how its power could be used. Armed with all of that knowledge, only one step remained - going to the Desert Resort and finding it. And that wouldn’t take long.”


    ~:~


    The Team Rocket helicopter flew slowly over the dry, craggy landscape of the desert between Castelia City and Nimbasa City, surveying the area using a signal from a satellite dish attached to its bottom. Inside, the small Meteonite had been put into a container so it could act as the signal’s source. Pierce and Jessie were watching the piece of rock, while James and Meowth sat at two of the helicopter’s computers.


    “Sensor readings?” Jessie asked.


    “None yet,” answered James.


    Finding himself somewhat impatient for results, Pierce turned to Zager and questioned him, “Well, Dr. Zager?”


    Standing at a computer of his own, Zager answered, “Excellent, if we’re able to maintain these coordinates.”


    “Coordinates holdin’ at one-two-one-six,” Meowth reported from his terminal.


    “We’ve picked up something!” James exclaimed.


    Pierce looked up at the mobile lab’s main monitor, where the flow of energy in the area was all being focused into one spot on the map. “Oh my…” he uttered, the weight of the moment robbing him of any further words.


    “Yes, I’ve found it!” Zager excitedly announced to the others. “The Meteonite!”


    The helicopter came to a stop over one particular part of the Desert Resort, pointing the dish squarely at a point where, deep underground, a huge Meteonite awaited.


    -:-


    Less than a day later, another Team Rocket aircraft was on its way toward Unova. This one was much bigger and served a very different purpose than Zager’s helicopter. It was Giovanni’s personal jet, a silvery shuttle emblazoned with the Team Rocket logo on the sides and front.


    In his plush quarters, Giovanni sat in a chair as luxurious as the one in his office. He was calmly thinking about what would happen when he landed until he was interrupted by the appearance of a Team Rocket grunt on a screen in front of him.


    “Update. Arrival in the Unova region imminent.”


    “Very good.” Giovanni dismissed the grunt, then leaned back in his chair, smirked, and laughed to himself. “The Meteonite… exclusively for the power and glory of Team Rocket!”








    END of CHAPTER 23
     
  19. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    This might be a record turnaround for me. :p A big read, here, but a good one. First, I think it was smart to split this into parts, though IIRC you were skeptical about it. You handle this immense amount of exposition/setup well, but diving headfirst into what's coming next may have made the chapter feel it was overstaying its welcome. That said, I'm not 100% sure the exposition part is finished, and I might've recommended finishing it if that's true. The chapter felt like it abruptly ended is why I say that; it would've felt less so had it ended with Matt, Trevor, Mitsumi, etc in the present, I think.

    Bunny being upset and leaving the group for the time being isn't surprising. The contrast between her and Matt's calm reaction worked well for me. Matt doesn't even seem surprised, and like he says, if that's what she needed to survive... Well, Matt seems more likely than most to forgive and understand in that situation. I'm looking forward to Nekou seeing them all again and how they interact with her differently, or if they do at all. I hope not. D: They've all got enough on their plates to start letting themselves become distant with each other.

    We talked about these in DMs, but I wanted to reiterate now that I read the whole thing that the transitions worked out really well. They felt natural, and you chose the perfect spots to switch back and forth between the past/present. I'm continually loving the portrayal of a more dependable Jessie/James/Meowth trio, and the expansion of N's upbringing was fascinating, especially the part where Zekrom rejected him for his wavering ideals. An upbringing like his would harden just about anyone, but compassion has a way of making one open minded and questioning things if they don't feel right.

    Says a lot that he remembers. <3 ;P

    Yikes, the juxtaposition here hit hard. I don't blame Mitsumi for feeling the way she does. It sucks knowing that people who hurt you, well, don't know they hurt you, or worse, know and don't care. I think Matt handled his reaction really well, though. Sorry doesn't fix anything, but he doesn't try to make excuses. Surprisingly, he doesn't beat himself up too much here, though. Not sure if that was intentional.

    Heh, why am I not surprised Nekou does the actual infiltrating, taking on different disguises? It fits her character well, not least because of her identity struggles.

    I lol'd. I liked the scene with her duping Colress especially. xD She plays the role well - even with this almost slip up - and seeing a conceited scientist get what he deserved was fun. I'm not sure how I feel about her revealing that she duped him unless her whole appearance was changed, though. IIRC it wasn't mentioned, but changing appearances also seems a natural part of disguises, so...

    You have a real knack for writing speeches, as usual. My only complaint is that mentioning the "world" so close together like this is confusing. The first time, it's a hypothetical world, and the second... Well, I think you're referring to the real world, but it tripped me up and made me think you were continuing on with the hypothetical world.

    Looking forward to Part 2~
     
  20. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Okay, finally have the time to sit down and read this!

    Geez, I remember Anabel having a miscarriage in one of your stories but forgot that it was twins. Having the miscarriage trope with twins added is a bit much, but what's done is done. Not surprising Bunny would leave for a little while, hopefully that tip she has gotten is correct.

    The backstory of how Ghetsis got Concordia and Anthea, well that's something. Like Matt I too would grimaced on the implications between Ghetsis and Concordia. Interesting twist on Zekrom not choosing N the last second, I take this this version Ghetsis favors Zekrom instead of in the anime where he went with Reshiram.

    Lenora and Hawes! Indeed they're a cute couple heh. I like that Nekou gets to do a couple personas, though that later backfires with Colress, Speaking of which, interesting you have Faba be Colress's father. Usually I see Colress either shipped with him or related to Lusamine instead. But yeah, I too thought it was fun Nekou duping him like that haha.

    Yeah, there's still defintely a lot of more stuff between Team Rocket and Team Plasma considering this is part 1. Looking forward to more!
     

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