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The Age of Harmony (12+)

EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Chapter 16

16: The Path Less Traveled, Or Something Like It


“The hell do you mean, ‘the bridge is closed’?!”

A blonde-haired youth stood over a blue-clad Unova police officer, scowling angrily. The police officer sighed in exasperation. When he took this rather simple job of standing guard over the paved path here in Pinwheel Forest, he had no idea that one of the people he’d have to block from passing would be an irritated teenager with one-percent body fat that honestly looked like he could rip a grown man in half with his bare hands. Even so, an officer of the law was not to be intimidated by anyone.

“It’s as I said, sir,” the officer replied, trying to keep his tone civil, although he was already tweaked from having had to explain this several times that day. “We’re running an investigation in this area for the time being. You can come back tomorrow –”

“Screw that,” the youth snapped angrily. “We don’t have that kind of time.

Or,” the policeman said over him, now even more irritated at having been interrupted, “there’s a path that winds through the forest itself, that’ll put you on the other side of our block. It’s a bit longer, though, and I can’t promise you’ll be entirely safe. Wild Pokémon are all over the place in that area, so unless you have Pokémon of your own, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

The young man kneaded his face with one of his hands.

“Sir, I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Yeah, like hell you are,” grumbled the young man, stalking off toward two other teenagers that seemed to be waiting for him.


Dalton watched as Phineas Assad walked toward him. The latter’s expression didn’t look at all hopeful.

“It’s a no-go,” he said, sounding defeated as he threw up his hands.

“Of course it’s a no-go,” repeated Dalton, mentally cursing his luck. Talia, however, looked fine with the entire situation, if not a bit happy about it.

“Well, I guess it’s the forest path,” she said brightly. Dalton yelped as Talia grabbed him around the forearm and started to pull him toward a nearby gap in the seemingly endless rows of tall trees.

“Hey, Nature Girl – hold on a second,” said Phineas loudly. “Those woods are full of dangerous Pokémon, and I don’t have any Pokémon.”

“We do,” Dalton answered. “So I guess you’ll just have to stay behind us, won’t you?”

Phineas grimaced.

“If you have such a huge problem with it,” Dalton added, “you could just go back to the cop and let him know you’re Interpol, show him your badge... he’d probably let us through then.”

There was a loud slapping sound a second later, and it wasn’t from what you’d think; Phineas had palmed his own face so forcefully that it had echoed, sending Pidove from a nearby tree in alarm. When his face emerged from his hand again, it was wearing a joyless, quivering smile. “Are you – brain dead? What part… of ‘incognito’… do you not understand?”

“Okay, fine, ‘incognito’… geez,” muttered Dalton, turning away from the agent. “Don’t get your panties in a wad.”

“Maybe I’m missing something?” Talia asked, wearing an expression of genuine curiosity. “I’m not getting the logic here, guys… if you don’t want to be seen, wouldn’t the path through the forest be the best way to go?”

“I didn’t give you permission to talk,” said Phineas quickly. Then, turning to Dalton, he asked mockingly, “D-did you give her permission to talk?”

Dalton rolled his eyes.

“Listen,” Phineas said, painting on a very plastic-looking smile as he turned to Talia. “Talia. You’re pretty. Try to work with that. This is a classic ‘beauty-brains-brawn’ trio. I’m obviously the brawn, your ‘would-be-boyfriend-if-he-actually-had-a-pair-between-his-legs’ over there can’t be the brawn, so he’s the brains… which leaves you with the beauty. Don’t try to be the brawn or the brains. You’re f—ing up the balance.”

Talia took what seemed like an extremely elaborate and sneaky insult surprisingly well. She turned to Dalton (as if Phineas wasn’t standing right there next to her), smiled, and said, “Well, now we know why Finn’s single. Doesn’t matter how much muscle you put on if you’re a sexist *******.”

“For your information, princess, I’m single because agents are more effective without emotional attachments,” Phineas answered almost disdainfully, as if this was an obvious fact that everyone knew. “In my line of work, if you can’t guarantee that the people closest to you won’t get shot… you’re better off not having anyone close to you.”

He shot a look at Dalton as he said this. Then he turned his eyes on Talia again.

“Well, for all those muscles, right now, you’re the only one with no Pokémon to protect us,” she commented. “Which makes you… pretty much useless.”

Phineas’s face tightened alarmingly.

“I don’t get that,” remarked Dalton. “You think a special agent that could be posted anywhere would have a Pokémon on him.”

“Well, that’s because you don’t know jack s—t about Interpol, buddy,” Phineas said flatly. “Pokémon represent a degree of brute force that would do more harm to most of our missions than good. We like to operate with a little bit more finesse.”

“‘Finesse’?” laughed Dalton. “So the part where you go out of your way to look like a bodybuilder is all about finesse?”

“There are a lot of advantages… not that you’d know anything about them,” Phineas said, smirking. “Sometimes, our covers call for a little bit of charm – get my drift?”

“So you roleplay the part of a ladykiller with a nice six-pack, is that it?” asked Talia almost distastefully.

Phineas bared his teeth in a smile toward Talia. “Who said I was roleplaying? For that matter, who says I need to roleplay? Of course, if you’re that curious about it…”

“We’re wasting time here,” Dalton cut in. “We could be halfway through the woods by now.”

He shot a look at Phineas, who returned it with something of a smirk. “Then lead the way, O Brainy One.”

Dalton started down the path. Talia fell into stride right behind him, and Phineas (presumably) brought up the rear – not that Dalton would have been too upset if they had managed to leave him behind. It wasn’t long before Dalton started sweating; thankfully, it was still late spring and not terribly hot yet, but it was warm enough, and this forest was almost stiflingly humid.

“What are you doing?” Dalton heard Talia ask. Feeling like he hadn’t done anything worth asking the question, he figured Talia was talking to Phineas and didn’t bother turning around.

“What?” the agent uttered defensively. “It’s hot.”

There were a few more seconds of silence.

“You look curious,” Phineas remarked. “You can touch them if you like.”

Dalton’s jaw unhinged. He still didn’t turn around – now because he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was going on.

“You’re unbelievable,” scoffed Talia, much to Dalton’s relief. (And that relief was much to Dalton’s confusion.) “Do you just try to flirt with anything that has a vagina?”

Dalton whirled around. He couldn’t help himself – Talia’s frankness had thrown him that far off guard. (Then again, he quickly had to remind himself, this was the girl that confessed to having played ‘Doctor’ with a neighbor boy at the age of six. She’d said that the first day they’d met, in fact…) He must have been wearing a priceless expression indeed, because Phineas – who, somewhat mercifully, was merely walking around with his tanktop hiked halfway up his ribcage and his washboard abs on display for the world to see – immediately gave a snort of laughter before looking at Talia again.

“Not ‘anything’,” he said somewhat roguishly. “Only the good-looking ones.”

Talia had her fists clenched and was glaring at Phineas as he passed by, but was also blushing furiously – a mixed reaction that attempting to read, Dalton knew, would only lead to his own bewilderment… and severe headaches.

Meanwhile, Phineas took the front for a moment, stretched his arms, and laughed. “Damn, this is gonna be a fun trip.”

A strange buzzing sound cut him off and he turned around very slowly. Something was hiding in the tall grass in front of them, and the only way Dalton could tell for sure was because the form’s reddish-purple color was a violent contrast to the foliage around them.

“Ah, geez…” muttered Phineas, backing away and making sure Dalton was out in front again. “This is your department, right?”

“What is that?” muttered Dalton, pointing his PokéDex at it.

“Venipede, the Centipede Pokémon. It discovers what is going on around it by using the feelers on its head and tail. It is brutally aggressive.”

“‘Brutally aggressive?’” repeated Dalton, closing the PokéDex. “That doesn’t sound good…”

“The damn thing’s two feet tall, if that,” remarked Phineas disdainfully. “Can’t be all that strong…”

The strange, new, insectoid beast curled up into a ball.

“Looks like it’s scared to me,” commented Phineas.

It was at that point that the rolled-up form of Venipede started to rotate furiously, like the tires on a drag racer.

“Is that bad?” uttered Talia. Then Venipede shot toward them like a missile. Talia and Phineas, both being athletic and better at sensing danger than Dalton, leapt out of the Venipede’s path. Dalton wasn’t so lucky or skilled…

WHAM.

Before Dalton even knew what was going on, something had hammered him right in the split of his ribcage, throwing him for a loop. He hit the grassy earth on his back and felt himself skid along the ground. A sound somewhere between a laugh, a wheeze, and an astonished gasp rang in his ears. “Holy crap!”

“Dalton!” he heard Talia yell. “Are you okay?!”

Dalton could only cough repeatedly in response. It felt like someone had punched him right in the diaphragm, and it was taking all of his effort to draw even a single good breath. With Talia’s help, he sat up, wincing. He choked out an oath as he tried to get back to his feet.

“You wanna play rough, huh?” he uttered, snatching a Pokéball off his belt (and nearly yanking the entire belt off his waist in sheer frustration). “We can play rough. Nina, let’s go!”

And out came the Nidorina.

“<What’s this?>” she asked, eyeing the Venipede.

“Exercise,” replied Dalton. “Nina, use Poison Sting!”

Nina’s ears flared out. Purpling darts of light shot forth from them, hitting the Venipede square on between the eyes. The bug-like Pokémon hardly flinched, and a second later, a similar-looking attack came forth from the Venipede’s mouth. Nina took a step backward as it hit her, and shook her head quickly, not looking very fazed by it.

“That Venipede’s a Poison-type, I bet…” muttered Dalton. “I don’t think you can poison a Poison-type, can you?”

He had asked this question to Talia, who shook her head. “Probably not…”

Dalton grimaced, looking up at the canopy of trees above him. “Dammit. I’d switch back to Lake, but I don’t think there’s enough room for her to fly around in here…”

Meanwhile, Venipede had rolled into a rounded shape again, and was literally revving up to charge.

“Oh, s—t. Nina, move!!” Dalton exclaimed.

Fortunately, when they were prepared for it, Dalton noticed that this strange rolling attack wasn’t nearly as fast as he thought it was. Nina was able to dodge it with ease. Venipede missed, rolled right up a tree, and came hurtling down toward Nina, back-first.

“Nina, use Double Kick!!” Dalton ordered. Nina somehow managed to execute a full backflip and kick the Venipede in the process. The Centipede Pokémon went flying and landed in a heap near the tall grass where it had started. It did not appear beaten yet, though. It rose again, opening one eye blearily…

A bluish-white jet shot forth out of nowhere, hitting Venipede dead on in the face with a loud CRACK! The insect-like Pokémon collapsed. Dalton and Nina looked around for the source of the assault…

They didn’t find anything that looked remotely capable of issuing an attack that powerful. What they did find, however, was a blue creature that Dalton assumed to be a Pokémon. In fact, with its monkey-like appearance, it could have been some sort of distant cousin of the Pansear that Dalton had battled several days back, in Striaton City. It was slumped against a tree, in a semi-seated position.

“<I already told you, braaaaahhhh…>” Dalton could hear the Pokémon say in a blissfully lethargic-sounding voice. “<Y’don’t interrupt the Z’s, brah. Here I am, tryin’ to catch some shuteye, and Kamikaze-san over here decides he’s gonna wreck himself right into my humble abode. ’Snot cool, man...>”

“<Who the hell are you?>” snapped Nina. “<You want a piece of us, too?>”

“<Whoa… aggro vibes, aggro vibes… chill out, lady,>” the Pokémon replied in its slow drawl, thrusting forward its mitten-like hands. “<I don’t wanna ‘piece.’ I just want some ‘peace’… catch my drift?>”

The Pokémon looked around – or at least turned its head toward everyone else. Its eyes, for whatever reason, seemed incapable of opening. Then again, Dalton thought, that may have been because it simply couldn’t be bothered with the effort.

“<We mellow? Nice…>” drawled the Pokémon. “<I’m goin’ up to finish my nap. Catch you dudes on the flip side.>”

And with that, it climbed up into the tree – but then it stopped.

“<Oh… you’re not from around here, are ya?>” it asked.

Dalton looked at Talia, wondering if she could understand the simian creature as well. He looked back at the Pokémon and shook his head.

“<Didn’t think so… yeah, I’d find some shelter to crash under if I were you,>” the Pokémon advised. Patting the strange formation atop its head, it explained, “<My cloud’s gettin’ all puffy… usually means there’s a storm coming, and a gnarly one, too.>”

And with that, it disappeared (rather acrobatically, at that) into the treetops.

Dalton grimaced. So enthralled had he been with the entire exchange that he’d forgotten to scan the Pokémon to see what it was.

“That wasn’t a Pansear, was it?” he queried.

“Using Water Gun? Nope,” Talia answered, shaking her head negatively. “That was a Panpour. It’s what you would’ve fought if you’d battled Cress instead of Chili.”

“Oh…” Dalton frowned. “You think he was serious about the storm?”

“I didn’t hear anything about a storm,” commented Phineas.

“Well, you wouldn’t,” Dalton answered bluntly. “Your phone doesn’t get any freakin’ service in these woods.”

Phineas frowned. “Don’t remind me.”

“I don’t know…” Talia remarked. Then, cupping her chin in a pensive pose, she added, “But I feel like Pokémon would be pretty in tune with nature.”

“I’m not sure that Pokémon was in tune with much of anything,” retorted Phineas.

“What, did you understand any of the conversation?” asked Dalton.

“No,” Phineas admitted. “But that… Panpour, was it? It came off kind of…”

Talia tilted her head. “‘Kind of’ what?”

“You know…” muttered Phineas. Then, he pinched two fingers near his lips and drew in a couple of short breaths. Dalton got the hint and rolled his eyes.

“Seriously? You couldn’t have just said ‘stoner’?” he asked, shaking his head. “We’re all grown-ups here.”

Glancing at Talia, Phineas commented, “Well, technically…”

Talia scowled, gave Phineas the finger, turned on her heel, and walked off. Phineas grinned – a strange, lopsided sort of grin that Dalton could have sworn he’d seen on the internet at several different points. Then, turning to Dalton after Talia was well out of earshot, Phineas remarked, “She’s cute when she gets mad, don’t you think?”

“You don’t think it’s kind of creepy to talk that way about someone who’s that much younger than you?” Dalton muttered.

“What, I’m not allowed to say she’s good-looking for another… nine days? Or is it eleven? Whatever,” uttered Phineas. “I don’t see where that law’s on the books anywhere. Besides, you think the same thing, too. It’s the one thing we probably agree on, right? …Well, that, and that Ghetsis is a massive d—k.”

“That’s beside the point,” Dalton said, lazily starting to walk again. Nina fell into stride right behind him. “It’s not that she’s young. You’re old.”

“Says who?” Phineas asked, sounding affronted. Dalton tried to keep a straight face – he thought this was rather hilarious.

“With your job?” laughed Dalton. “You’ve gotta be at least, what, thirty?”

“Does this face look thirty to you?” Phineas said incredulously.

“With or without the full beard?” Dalton snarked.

“Hey, don’t get jealous that all you can grow on your face are pimples,” Phineas replied. “I’m not even close to thirty yet. Let’s just leave it at that.”

They kept walking.

“What’s her story, anyway?” asked Phineas. “Why’d she run away from home?”

“Why don’t you ask her?” Dalton asked, getting annoyed with this conversation.

“I was going to try to be a nice guy,” sighed Phineas. “…Let you have a ghost of a chance, you know?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Dalton dourly.

“Don’t take this the wrong way… well, actually, I don’t really care how you take it…” Phineas muttered. “But she’s way out of your league.”

He raised both his eyebrows.

“That’s what this is? A competition?” asked Dalton, a bit disdainfully. “Sorry, but I’m not taking the bait… Talia’s a person, not a prize.”

“That’s really idealistic of you,” chuckled Phineas. “You don’t like the game, so you don’t want to acknowledge it… then you wonder why you don’t ever win.”

Phineas raised his eyebrows at Dalton and smiled. Just then, Talia came running back toward them.

“C’mon, guys,” she said briskly. “We’re in a hurry, right?”

Much to Dalton’s annoyance, he was stopped for a battle not long after (“Are you serious? That’s the third Herdier in two days!”) He won, though, and his reward was a fair bit of money and… a berry.

“A berry,” repeated Dalton, holding the tiny fruit in the palm of his hand as they left the defeated trainer (dressed in some sort of faux-official-looking red-and-black garb) behind. “Who gives out berries as a prize? What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

“Uh… eat it?” suggested Phineas. “Grind it up into a smoothie?”

Dalton rolled his eyes.

“Hold on to it,” advised Talia. “It might be useful later.”

Dalton looked askance at Talia. He wasn’t so sure about that.

As they continued walking, Dalton looked up and noticed that the vague blues that had been filtering in through the treetops had darkened. “Geez, how long have we been walking? Anybody know what time it is?”

“Doesn’t your PokéDex gadget have the time?” asked Phineas.

Dalton hadn’t thought of that. Muttering an oath to himself (he was starting to realize how much he hated Phineas being right about anything) he took the small, computerized machine out of its pocket and asked, “What time is it?”

“The current time in southern Unova is: 2:14 PM. It is recommended that people in this area seek immediate shelter. The Unova Meteorological Center in Castelia City has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for –”

Amanita’s voice never finished the sentence – and if she did, Dalton never heard her over the loud, echoing rumble that immediately followed.

Dalton looked at Talia, who gave a grimace. Meanwhile, Phineas buried his eyes in one of his hands and muttered, “Oh, great… now what?”

“What do you mean, ‘now what’?” replied Dalton.

“I mean, do we try to travel through it or hunker down until it blows over?” Phineas asked. Looking at the surroundings (they were standing in something of a clearing), he added, “We need to make a decision now because it won’t be as easy when it—”

Almost instantly, the trio was drenched.

Wearing a deadpan expression of annoyance, Phineas finished, “—starts raining. For f—k’s sake…”

A clap of thunder immediately followed a flash of lightning. Boughs of trees danced in the suddenly swirling winds, their arms undulating in a foreboding group luau that caused shadows to dance over the muddying path. Talia and Phineas were now at full sprint with Dalton bringing up the rear, panting and struggling to keep up. He almost would have preferred standing still and being wet as opposed to being both wet and exhausted… not to mention hungry.

He felt his foot catch as another flash of lightning temporarily blinded the path in front of him. His fall came in time with a crash of thunder in the background. He bit into his lip hard and immediately tasted his own blood. A pair of strong hands tried to yank him up to his feet, but only his shoulder and arm went.

“Get up, damn it!” he heard a snarl above him.

“Lay off!” he heard another shout.

“We don’t have time for this!” the first voice snapped.

“He’s not a robot!” the second voice – Dalton recognized it as Talia’s – bit back. “He needs rest.”

This comment coincided with Dalton’s second wind. He staggered to his feet. Talia reached out a hand for him. Dalton knocked it away. “I’m fine.”

He steeled himself and started to walk again.

“Dalton…” murmured Talia.

It was a mark of how hard it was raining that Dalton’s sigh was accompanied by a fine, rising mist coming from his nose and mouth. “It’s either keep moving or get soaked, right?”

“We’re already soaked,” Phineas pointed out.

“Thanks for that clever observation,” Dalton deadpanned. Looking up, he pulled up short (Talia walked into his back and shoved him lightly in response.) “The hell is that thing?”

What he saw in front of him, despite Mother Nature doing her level best to screen it from view, was a jagged opening, almost cave-like in its formation. There were trees on either side of it for as far as the eye could see (which wasn’t saying a lot in this weather)…

“That’s either a cave or the biggest f—king log in existence,” commented Phineas. “And seeing as we can’t really get through anywhere else…”

Dalton let out a short groan. “Beautiful.”

But as he stepped into the log-cave-tunnel (he found he could see through to the other side rather easily), it quickly became apparent that, although dark and slightly strange-smelling, it was a much preferable place to be than outside in the unforgiving elements.

More surprising, it could fit the three of them rather easily. Dalton knew one thing for sure; he had never seen an ordinary log this large.

“Did something hollow out a tree trunk?” asked Talia.

“What could have done that?” Dalton queried, at the same time not sure he wanted to know.

Phineas allowed a second’s pause before he spoke. “We should rest here.”

“Oh, so you’re running the show now?” asked Dalton a bit bitterly, trying to stand straight as possible in order not to betray that his calves literally felt like they were on fire.

“You’re exhausted, aren’t you? I could go on for another hour or two, but you obviously need some rest. There’s no point trying to push it in this weather and you getting hurt,” Phineas explained, his arms folded. He brushed past Dalton and Talia. “I’m going on ahead to scout for any sort of trouble and a suitable place to make camp. At the rate we’re going, we’re probably not gonna be able to get across the forest today, and even if we do, there’s the bridge to deal with.”

“What’s wrong with the bridge?” asked Dalton.

“Have you seen how long that thing is?” Phineas asked. Then, snickering to himself in a somewhat Evan-like manner, he made his way out of the tunnel.

Dalton leaned against the wall of the tree-tunnel and slumped down to his backside. He smashed a fist into it, which was supposed to be a release of frustration. Now, though, not only was he still extremely frustrated, but his hand hurt, to boot. Talia sat down across from him. There was a long period of silence – almost a minute where all Dalton could hear were the rain and the voices in his own head.

As if answering one of them, he suddenly muttered, “I’m not weak.”

He wasn’t sure who had put him together, but whoever or whatever had put him together had certainly not built him for this. Whoever had tabbed him as the ‘chosen one’ clearly hadn’t made the best choice, either.

“I’m not weak,” Dalton repeated.

How was he supposed to be a Pokémon trainer – let alone a Champion-level Pokémon trainer – if his body was too frail to make the journey? It was embarrassing. How pathetic did he look next to kids three or four years younger than he was? They didn’t seem to be having any problems. Here he was, almost eighteen, and…

He stared down at his forearms. At his height, they were almost spindly. He’d always been skinny, even as a young boy – but he’d hit his growth spurt at fourteen, which had only made things worse. “The spider”, they used to call him in high school. Being just short of six feet tall in high school was likely the only thing that kept him from being stuffed into any lockers. Well, that, and the time Evan Stanfeld hit a would-be bully across the face with his skateboard. The so-called victim lost two teeth and Evan was suspended from school for a week. Dalton had just met Evan back then… Loretta, too. Granted, Loretta seemed to hate his guts from the jump – or so he thought. Hell, maybe she did hate his guts back then before (according to her, at least) falling for him recently. Maybe it was both at the same time. Girls are funny like that…

“What are you thinking about?” Talia asked. She was sitting across from him. He heaved a sigh and didn’t meet her eyes.

“I’m holding everyone back,” he said heavily.

“No, you’re not,” Talia replied so quickly, Dalton was almost sure she was lying to him to try to spare his feelings. He wasn’t sure if he should feel angry or not. She must have noticed, however, that he was skeptical, because she kept talking: “Honestly, I’m tired, too. Finn’s the only one in so much of a hurry.”

She glared out of the opposite end of the tunnel, where Phineas had gone a few minutes before.

“Most of us don’t run on ice water and rocket fuel,” she added dispassionately. Dalton knew she was trying to cheer him up. Dalton heard the wind swirling outside. In fact, some of it came right to the tunnel. Dalton gave an involuntary shiver. Talia noticed; her face contorted into a displeased frown. “You know… maybe you should…”

“Huh? What?”

Talia seemed hesitant, almost… embarrassed, which wasn’t like her. “Your shirt, I mean. It’s soaking. You’ll catch a cold.”

It took Dalton a second, but he figured out what Talia was getting at. “I’m f-fine,” he said, cursing himself mentally for the fact that his body had chosen the most inopportune moment to give another twitch, thus turning his simple statement into a shivering stammer. Talia sighed as if exasperated.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Dalton lied.

“Bulls—t – you can’t even look at me,” Talia answered immediately and flatly. She reached across the small space. “Here. Let me –”

“NO!!”

She withdrew her hand as if something had burned her. She looked at it for a second, flailing it and trying to get rid of some of the awful stinging. Dalton realized what he had done. He looked up into her blue eyes, which appeared to water for a moment as she investigated her hand. She seemed more shocked than in pain. She flailed her right hand again. “God, Dalton… what the hell was that for?”

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, looking away from her. “I… I just…”

She seemed confused. “Do you really not like having your shirt off? I mean… how do you shower or anything? I don’t really get it.”

“It’s not that…” Dalton muttered, now too ashamed to look her in the eye. “It’s just that…”

“You don’t like having it off in front of people?” she asked. “I mean… you seemed okay with it that one time we went swimming…”

“But I wasn’t, remember?” he said. Dropping his voice to a near-inaudible murmur, he added, “Besides… it was dark then…”

Talia frowned. “You’re self-conscious because you’re so thin – is that it? Well, that’s kinda stupid, to be honest… doesn’t mean you should hit people’s hands.”

“I don’t like people reaching out to grab me, okay?!” Dalton blurted out. In the ensuing silence, another gust of wind caused his sopping-wet shirt to go deathly cold again. He shivered – then he swore. Talia rolled her eyes.

“Look… you can be proud and get sick,” she said. “You’re already having trouble traveling as is. If you get a cold or something, you’re gonna be down for the count. Do you want that?”

Dalton mulled it over for a moment. Then, with a snarl of frustrated resignation, his hands came up to the buttons on the shirt that Talia had bought for him. They started to shake violently.

“Are you that scared?” Talia asked, the tone in her voice now making it obvious that she thought this whole thing was becoming ridiculous. “I promise I won’t laugh. Even if I see your entire ribcage, I won’t laugh. That make you feel any better?”

“I know you won’t laugh,” Dalton said. “It’s not a funny sort of thing.”

And then, moving his hands as quickly as he could (lest he lose his nerve and be unable to go through with it), he undid the second button on his shirt… then the third and the fourth.

Talia’s eyes widened. She sat back against the wooden wall of the log tunnel, hand to mouth, her face as white as a Mahogany Town winter, her expression altogether appropriate for someone who had just come face-to-face with a ghost.

“Oh, my god…” Her voice was barely there, breathless, like someone had sucked all the air out of her lungs. No longer having the heart to go all the way, Dalton started to button his shirt up again.

“And that’s what happens when your dad’s got a temper and you cost him his favorite child,” he said lifelessly. “And stop looking at me like that. Didn’t I tell you I don’t want your –”

“Pity?” Talia interrupted, her voice now much higher, almost to the point of absurdity. “How do you expect me – any human being with half a soul – to react to… to that? I just…”

And she turned her head, her face contorted into a lost expression. She quickly ran a hand across her face, but not quite quickly enough to keep Dalton from noticing a couple of tears falling. She shook her head and literally appeared to break down for exactly two seconds before wiping her eyes again.

“I shouldn’t have—” Dalton murmured a bit powerlessly.

“No,” Talia interrupted breathlessly, swallowing hard and wiping her eyes one last time. “I’m glad you did… I feel like I know you so much better now…”

She was trying to put her brave face back on, but it was still obvious by her somewhat deer-in-headlights facial expression that she was still very shaken by what she had seen.

“Talia…”

“I shouldn’t have hit you that one time,” Talia muttered. It took a moment or two for Dalton to remember what she was talking about. “If I’d had any idea…”

“Well… you didn’t,” Dalton said flatly. “Nobody did. Not ‘til now.”

It took a couple of seconds of Talia staring at her knees for the significance of this statement to hit her. Her eyes lit up with realization and then…

“Alright, kids, break time’s over,” Phineas (who had to duck to do so) leaned down and into the log tunnel. Dalton could see from a distance that his hair was lank and plastered to his face by the rain. “The rain’s lightened up enough so we can actually see now. There’s a hill up ahead, not too far from here. If we want to make camp, I’d rather do it there than in a tree carcass.”

And he disappeared from view again. Dalton shook his head. “What a d—k.”

Talia let out an audible giggle as she got to her feet.

The outside world seemed to have transformed in their absence; Dalton caught a whiff of a heavy, earthy rain musk that was somewhat foreign to him. Concrete-addled as his hometown was, the smell (although it seemed to rain there every third day or so) was nowhere near as pronounced. The ambient buzz of nature reverberated through the trees and through his brain. Above, Dalton could see powerful light filtering through the canopy of treetops, as if the Sun itself had taken note of the time it had lost, and in its return had doubled its efforts. Dalton could already feel the warmth bringing relief to his cold body. On nearby trees, drops of rainwater held on for dear life before falling to the ground below. Four-petaled flowers burst blue and orange out of nearby bushes, some taking to the air on a sudden breeze and spinning like… pinwheels. Now, suddenly, the name of the locale made some sense.

More importantly, Dalton felt somewhat lighter; like he had left something behind in that log tunnel – something that he had not realized he was glad to lose until he had actually lost it. While a slight pang of mourning hit his heart – he was sure Professor McCourt would have loved to see something like this – he found himself, as crazy as it sounded, somewhat happy to be alive.

A hand grasped his shoulder. He went stiff for a moment until he realized there had only been one person behind him.

Talia stared at him for a moment, her face serious. Her eyes were still just a bit red, but they were not watery, and she was lightly smiling. She seemed to struggle with words for a moment…

“You kept saying, ‘I’m not weak,’” she said. “You’re right… you’re not. And… I hope you believe that about yourself one day… or… something like that. Yeah.”

She looked down a bit sheepishly, as if she’d wanted to say something a bit more poignant, and her brain had simply failed to deliver. Then she stood up on her tiptoes just a bit…

A moment after her feet returned to ground level, Phineas came back around the corner. “You guys still back there?”

“Coming,” Talia replied, visibly rolling her eyes. She looked over her shoulder, flashed a smile toward Dalton, and walked off.

Dalton stood there for a moment, staring at the back of Talia’s head. With a childlike brand of curiosity, he slowly put his hand up to a small spot on his cheek…

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

Hidden by a pair of black sunglasses and what looked to be a white helmet, a head peered out from the top boughs of a nearby tree. The man to whom this head belonged (holding tightly on to the tree limb with his remaining three limbs) produced a radio in his right hand and began to speak into it. “Sir, I’ve got a visual on what looks like… a trio of teenagers, possibly young adults.”

He waited for a response from the other end.

“Can you give me a description of any of them? Preferably all of them?”

“Yes, sir,” the man replied. “They all look to be in their late teens, early twenties. Two males, one female. One male’s short, jet black hair, tall, extremely thin…”

“Extremely thin?” repeated the other gentleman.

“Sticklike… sir,” the radio user elaborated. “There’s a female, about the same age… long, orange hair…”

“So one male, one female – male with black hair, girl’s a redhead? Interesting…”

“Sir, are these the targets?”

“Not quite… but still… let’s say persons of interest, if my guess is correct. Now, you said there’s a third person with them?”

“Yes, sir. Male as well. May be a bit older than the other two. Blond hair, about shoulder length… muscular. Very muscular.”

“Huh… sounds like they picked up a new traveling companion,” the voice on the other end mused.

“Should we engage them, sir? They’re starting to open distance.”

“Negative – do not engage,” the man on the other radio answered through the slight speaker distortion. “If you can keep a safe distance, listen in on their conversation. Find out what their plans are…”

“And if we encounter… those others?”

“If there’s one, and you’re sure they’re alone, your group has permission to engage – but I want that individual alive and in a shape to talk, do you understand? We can’t get any information from a corpse or a vegetable.”

“What if there’s more than one?”

“If there’s more than one, don’t engage them. The Rearguard doesn’t have the manpower to handle those guys, if what I hear about their reputation is correct. Also…”

The helmeted man pressed the radio closer to his ear, feeling like this next bit of information might be important.

“Whatever you do, under NO circumstances – none at all – are you to engage a young man with silver hair if you encounter him. Do you understand? I’m ordering you to flee on sight.”

The man paused.

“Captain Marlow, do you copy?”

“… …Yes, sir.”

“Rearguard Commandant, over and out. ‘Nam mundus sine canitia.’”

Nam mundus sine canitia. Plasma Rearguard Captain Marlow, out.” Marlow repeated, silencing his radio. He snarled a curse to himself. He still wasn’t sure about this assignment, honestly. He supposed it was marginally less dangerous than the Vanguard, and a bit less stiff than the Royal Guard. Hell, maybe it was less dangerous than the Royal Guard. He’d heard a rather nasty rumor that one of the Royal Guard members had dropped the Plasma flag while marching His Excellency out of a nearby town… and that his reward had been an immediate pistol bullet to the forehead. Marlow shuddered. Still, though… his commander had a degree of autonomy that meant that he didn’t always have to answer directly to His Excellency. It was almost as if they were not Plasma at all, but rather a rogue splinter group that existed solely to do the Commandant’s bidding. Normally, that would not have been a problem, but it just so happened that the Commandant’s bidding had become a touch erratic in the past couple of weeks. He had gone investigating seemingly random targets, which Marlow supposed was the Rearguard’s job to some extent. The way the Commander talked about some of these targets, however…

“Damned boogeymen,” the captain muttered to himself. “I mean… a flee-on-sight order? What the hell are we chasing, that he’d say ‘as soon as you find it, run completely the f—k in the opposite direction’?”

But Captain Marlow wasn’t about to disobey an order from the Commandant. After all, they were never told whether any given mission was the Commandant’s own idea, or a direct order from the Regent himself. Marlow wasn’t about to take a chance that this was the second. If he was going to get into trouble, he would much rather do it where Plasma had sent him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to look his pregnant wife and four-year-old daughter in the eye, not so much because of shame as an acute and terminal case of ‘bullet-to-the-forehead’. If someone had survived that ailment and been in any shape to tell about it, Captain Marlow was yet to meet that someone. Still, though, there was something about this mission that made him decidedly uneasy…

Commandant Colress… he thought. What the devil have you gotten us into…?

END​
 

Emeraldfan

Well-Known Member
I actually wanted to enjoy the last two weeks of my holiday without thinking about the Latin lessons to come... Still I regret to say that I haven't been able to translate the sentence... yet. I'm having trouble finding canitia, but I will.
I did enjoy the chapter though, kinda wondering what exactly his dad dit to Dalton. I've got quite a too vivid imagination, so I can't really think of specificly one thing that is that shocking (I've also been watching too many crime series (NCIS, Bones etc.).
Not much to say, I might check later for spelling errors, though I don't expect to find any, my English is not that good yet, I can read it, but mostly just read over the mistakes, unlike in my own language.

Allright, the Latin still doesn't make much sense. Namely the world without old age. Would you care to elaborate please?
 
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Air Dragon

Ha, ha... not.
That's a good question, Marlow... what could Colress be talking about? And dang, is Ghetsis cold... decapitation for dropping a flag? I know the US (and many other constitutions) forbid the national flag to touch the ground, but decapitation is a bit... yeah.

Dalton has chats with both Talia and Phineas (Had to pause for a sec when Talia mentioned "Finn", as in "Who?") and, while one clearly went better than the other, that Panpour had an interesting intro. As much as a pain as he is, Phineas DOES need a Pokemon... :D

So, a tail in tow, how do the trio fare in the future? Guess we'll wait and see...

L@er!
 

EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Chapter 17

Hey, all. Sorry for the delay. I've been hiding out in Kalos that last few weeks. There was an incident involving glow sticks, a beach towel, chloroform and a windshield wiper blade... anyway, never mind that. I'm back now. And, NO, I don't know how many Pokemon are being added to the Kalos Pokedex, so don't bother asking. :p

Emeraldfan:

I actually wanted to enjoy the last two weeks of my holiday without thinking about the Latin lessons to come... Still I regret to say that I haven't been able to translate the sentence... yet. I'm having trouble finding canitia, but I will.
I did enjoy the chapter though, kinda wondering what exactly his dad dit to Dalton. I've got quite a too vivid imagination, so I can't really think of specificly one thing that is that shocking (I've also been watching too many crime series (NCIS, Bones etc.).
Not much to say, I might check later for spelling errors, though I don't expect to find any, my English is not that good yet, I can read it, but mostly just read over the mistakes, unlike in my own language.

Allright, the Latin still doesn't make much sense. Namely the world without old age. Would you care to elaborate please?
As for Dalton's father... I probably won't explain exactly what it was, but rather leave things up to you readers' imagination. If I know regular readers of fiction well enough (and I hope I do after almost 10 years of writing), some of your imaginations are far worse than anything I could possibly come up with. But I'll guess that you got the point that I was trying to get across with that r, which was that Dalton's father was a bit of an a**h*le.

As for the Latin motto... that will be explained at some time later in the story.


Air Dragon:

That's a good question, Marlow... what could Colress be talking about? And dang, is Ghetsis cold... decapitation for dropping a flag? I know the US (and many other constitutions) forbid the national flag to touch the ground, but decapitation is a bit... yeah.

Dalton has chats with both Talia and Phineas (Had to pause for a sec when Talia mentioned "Finn", as in "Who?") and, while one clearly went better than the other, that Panpour had an interesting intro. As much as a pain as he is, Phineas DOES need a Pokemon...

So, a tail in tow, how do the trio fare in the future? Guess we'll wait and see...

L@er!
Well, no, it wasn't decapitation... which would have been done with a bladed weapon like a sword (although, to be fair, Team Plasma does seem like the type that would carry swords as part of their attire as opposed to firearms...) ... it was a single gunshot. Much more effective and better for the shock value. Again, it was sort of put into the story to drive home the point (for anyone that didn't know already) that Ghetsis - at least as he's portrayed in this universe - is a bit of a jerk.

As for Phineas having a Pokemon... well, you seem to be operating under the assumption - an easy assumption to make, admittedly - that Phineas is going to be a major protagonist. I'll put it this way. Not long from now, I'm going to be bringing things back to the Pokemon characters. Dalton, I suppose, will have to have a full team eventually, but if I do that with all three, that'll be a lot of different personalities to try to manage.

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​


17: Monkeys and Business​

Sionna put her Vulpix paw down gingerly in the wet grass. She withdrew it gingerly, ironically as if something in the grass had burned her. She squirmed and put it down again. There was a sloshing sound and liquid spewed forth from the grass, overrunning her paw. She gave an involuntary shudder and a mewl.

“<Ugh…>” she complained. “<Did it just rain or something?>”

“<My dear?>” Sionna rolled her eyes. A winged, large-nosed, apparently eyeless, furball of a creature flitted down to land next to her. “<You seem distressed. Is there anything I can – >”

“<Leave me alone. That’s what you can do,>” Sionna sighed flatly. “<Go… mess with Lake or something.>”

“<This ‘Lake’ you speak of… she is not here, milady,>” Fluff, a Woobat who for some reason or another thought himself a night in some courtly tale, and Sionna to be his damsel, replied. “<She seems to have departed in search of… well, what, exactly, I don’t know.>”

“<Probably in search of something to do,>” sighed Sionna. “<It’s dead boring around here and so… wet.>”

“<The air smells heavy, milady,>” Fluff commented, his heart-shaped nostrils flaring a bit.

“<You’d know with a nose that size, wouldn’t you?>” muttered Sionna so he couldn’t hear.

“<What I mean to say is…>” Fluff answered. “<A storm has passed through very recently.>”

“<…Where’s Nina?>” asked Sionna. “<Make yourself useful and find her.>”

“<I wish to, but…>” Fluff muttered. “<I do not believe she wishes to speak with anyone.>”

“<Still moping, is she?>” Sionna sighed. “<Well, I can’t blame her, I guess.>”


This was one of those few times that Nina was thankful for her large ears. The humidity had essentially maxed out after the squall, and now that the sun was out again, it was making things very thick, very fast. She had no desire to exert herself much, even if Dalton had let her out of her ball to stretch her legs. Besides, she’d just finished handling another Venipede, anyway. This time, she wasn’t interrupted – she was able to see the battle through to its end. No matter how many opponents she beat, however, she couldn’t shake the indelible feeling of loss. She knew she was much stronger – foes that had given her trouble now fell easily to her. She had traded this strength, however, for a very lonely existence. She was infertile, and therefore likely undesirable. It shouldn’t have been such a big deal – after all, she’d never had a mate up to this point – but it had been something she would have wanted, had things not been so…

“<Messed up…>” she murmured to herself. “<It’s all just… messed up.>”

She had to remind herself that it hadn’t been Dalton or anyone else that had dragged her into this. No – she tied that noose around her own neck. She was the one that went back when he screamed at her to run. But then… she owed him, didn’t she? His attempt at rescuing her from the humans with those strange, loud weapons – weapons that could hit and kill from far out of sight – it hadn’t been a thing of beauty, but it had done what it was meant to do. It had saved her life.

So, she owed him that. It was that simple.

She sighed to herself. “<Probably would’ve been a terrible mother anyway…>”

She gazed into the distance. He was on his back, staring up into the trees. Or perhaps not. It looked from here like his eyes were closed. Perhaps he was napping. They had chosen a nice, high location in these woods – a strange plateau that almost came level with some of the middle branches of the trees that were down at ground level. Sionna’s human, Talia, had climbed one of those trees, leaning back against its trunk as she straddled one of its sturdier limbs. Nina wouldn’t have thought a human to be as at home in the trees, in this world in general, as she was. She couldn’t imagine Dalton doing something like that… or the other human, who was pacing the plateau and staring out over its steep cliff as if looking for something. He was large, hulking, a bit stubborn, almost like a tree himself. He had joined them in the last town, Dalton said. Nina was sure she had seen him before then, though. She just couldn’t remember where.

In any case, she didn’t like him much. She got the feeling no one really liked him much – which made it a very valid question as to why he was with them in the first place.

But the humans’ dealings with each other, she supposed, were none of her business. After all, she was here to serve her aniki… and if he made a decision, whatever it was, she was going to fall in line.

“<Hey, there, dudette… long time no see.>”

Nina jumped and let out a very uncharacteristic squeak of surprise. She turned in one motion, ready to leap and strike with her claws. Hanging upside-down from a low-hanging branch was…

“<You?>” she uttered. “<What are you doing here?>”

“<Uhh… it’s my home, dudette.>” A bluish monkey with eyes that seemed to refuse to open, somersaulted out of the tree and put a mitten-like hand behind his head.

“<I thought that other tree was your home,>” Nina intoned suspiciously.

“<Every tree’s my home,>” the monkey drawled. “<I see you and your human dudes managed to ride out the storm. Pretty sick, wasn’t it?>”

“<I wouldn’t know. I was asleep the whole time,>” Nina replied with a hint of disdain in her voice.

“<Excuse me?>” Despite the politeness, Nina winced at the new arrival. A Woobat flitted down to her side. The Panpour gave him a quizzical look. At least, Nina thought he was looking… but how does one look at something with his eyes shut tightly? “<Milady wishes to speak with you…>”

Nina sighed. “<Well, she can come and get me herself, can’t she?>”

“<Why should milady be forced to do such a menial task?>” asked Fluff. “<And who might you be?>”

He had turned toward the Panpour. Never had Nina seen two seemingly eyeless creatures stare at each other so intently.

“<I could ask you that same question, grom,>” the Panpour said languidly. “<Who are you?>”

“<I have many names – those given me by family, by friends, and so on, and so forth,>” the Woobat answered. “<Here, I am called ‘Ser Fluff’, so that is how you may address me.>”

“<Relax, dude… don’t be so formal all the time,>” said the Panpour.

“<I am simply trying to maintain a standard of etiquette and propriety,>” Fluff said stiffly. “<And to ascertain whether your presence here is a threat to the safety of milady and her allies.>”

“<A threat? Man, you dudes are paranoid,>” sighed the Panpour. “<Show up for a little bit of social conversation, and everyone gets all aggro… who is this ‘lady’ of yours, Fluff-man? She must be a real babe, right?>”

Nina winced. Somehow, she knew this comment wouldn’t go over well.

“<Are you implying, sir…>” Fluff turned square to the Panpour, which was probably a bad sign. (Nina started backing away slowly, step by step.) “<…that milady is simply a target for your… carnal conquest?>”

“<Whoa, whoa, whoa! That’s aggressive, brah,>” Panpour threw out his mitten-like hands, similar to what he had done when Nina had confronted him in the forest a few hours before. “<All I’m sayin’ is, there’s gotta be a good reason she’s got a dude waitin’ on her hand and – >”

“<Zoom~!>”

All three Pokémon looked up.

“<Blast!>” screeched Fluff, flitting upward to evade another winged creature. This one, also grey but more feathery than furry, landed right where Fluff had been a second earlier. “<Announce your arrival more clearly next time, foul specter!>”

“<Foul specter?>” Lake seemed torn between being insulted and amused. “<That’s not very nice. Hi. Who’re you?>”

“<Are you the ‘milady’ that dude’s talking about?>” Panpour queried, ‘looking’ up toward the flapping Woobat.

“<No, he’s just nuts,>” Lake said frankly.

“<That’s rich,>” Nina muttered under her breath.

“<Sorry, Nina, you say something? Anyway,>” Lake went on before Nina could get a word in edgewise. “<Are you a new member of our traveling circus?>”

“<Traveling circus?>” repeated Nina.

“<It seemed like an appropriate metaphor… or maybe it’s wishful thinking,>” commented Lake, looking around dreamily. “<I’ve always wanted to be part of a traveling circus…>”

“<Uh… what’s that got to do with… anything?>” Panpour asked, sounding genuinely confused as Lake flew off again.

Nina simply sighed.


Dalton’s ears were picking up sounds. Almost like chatter. He didn’t want to open his eyes, though. He had reached that nice, pre-sleep stage where a dream was starting up and the outside world was turning into a bland soup of sounds and blackness. Now, though, his senses were finding themselves again. He was still quite damp, although he wasn’t sure if that was from the afternoon rain (which forced he, Talia, and Phineas to retreat into separate wooded areas to literally wring out their shirts) or the sweat. Given how hot he felt, he was guessing it was a little bit of both.

He was a bit disappointed, though. He’d almost reached the door and opened it… he was kind of wondering what was inside. A fresh and different sort of heat went to his face as he couldn’t help but wonder whether that door would have led not to something, but to someone – and whether or not that someone would have been clothed.

Dalton shook his head. He shouldn’t have been having such thoughts. Or perhaps he should. He was a seventeen-year-old guy, after all. He’d never had a girlfriend, never been the target of any girl’s attention… not up until recently, at least.

But it was all because they – either one or the other – felt sorry for him. Then again, there was that one time…

Dalton shook his head. That obviously didn’t count. In fact, not only did it not count, but Dalton felt like he’d be so much better off if he could have forgotten it. That’s difficult, though, when you’re meeting new Pokémon every day, and scanning it back with a device that repeats information to you in her voice. Dalton squirmed. Now that he thought about it, she had probably done that on purpose, just so he wouldn’t forget about her.

He couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty. It wasn’t as if he thought of her that way – actually, the very thought rightly repulsed him. She’d just turned thirteen, and didn’t even look that old. She, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care. She had been about as direct as direct could be – almost like…

“Holy s—t,” he swore, sitting bolt upright as a strange and terrifying thought hit him. Was that why he recognized her mannerisms so much? Was that why her advances only made him squirm instead of wanting to mainline bleach into his brain? It wasn’t possible… okay, a lot could happen in a couple of centuries. It was possible – it just wasn’t probable. Worse, he couldn’t explain this to anyone. Well, he could likely explain it to Talia, but she wouldn’t like talking about it. Where was Talia, anyway?

He looked up and around. She was in a tree – almost like Dalton had been completely expecting. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. For a girl that had grown up in civilized towns (at least, as far as Dalton knew), Talia seemed very at home in untamed nature. Her hair was matted with rain and humidity, Dalton was sure that her clothes were sticking to her because his own were clinging to him. He had seen her face tanned by sunlight and smudged with dirt more than once… and none of it seemed to bother her. Dalton couldn’t imagine Loretta –

He snarled to himself in frustration. There he was, comparing Talia to Loretta and vice versa again. Why the hell did he keep doing that? Especially since Loretta Burgess was nowhere to be found. Dalton wondered whether, wherever (and whenever) she was, the news of his fate had reached her ears yet. Probably not, Dalton thought. While the mainland forces could get away with it, Harmonia had always been paranoid of bad P.R. on their national fringes – and gunning down a Harmonian citizen certainly qualified as bad P.R.

Back (or forward?) in Harmonia, Dalton Gregg was probably ‘missing’, officially speaking… at least, he hoped this was the case. After all, if people thought he was dead, he was going to have a damn hard time integrating himself into society when he went back.

…If he went back.

In spite of himself (and in spite of Phineas, whose pacing was making him nervous) he was enjoying this trip. There was a small part of him that always wondered what Unova looked like, and now one of his dreams – in a rather roundabout way – was about to come true. He’d always heard that Castelia City was a vast metropolis, boasting buildings that reached hundreds of feet into the air. For some reason, Dalton’s brain always put together the mental image of a giant, illuminated hand flipping off the rest of the world. Maybe that had to do with the fact that Castelia was the capital of Harmonia and the meeting place of the Council of Eight. Yes, a city that looked like a hand flashing an enormous middle finger seemed to be an oddly appropriate seat of government for the Union Party…

But Dalton’s destination was not Harmonia’s Castelia – something that, if anything, fascinated Dalton even more. He would have to wait, though. They still had to traverse this forest, first. They would cross that bridge (a quite large and literal one if Phineas Assad spoke correctly) when they got to it.

Dalton dozed off…

Talia was leaning over him, the berry from earlier dangling from a stem between her teeth. She was trying to lower it into his waiting mouth…

Dalton woke up – straight up, actually. He sat bolt upright and a massive surge of irritation forced its way through his consciousness. His face was burning – perhaps he’d been out in the sun a bit too long…

“Somebody’s jumpy,” chuckled Phineas. “Don’t worry – you’d know if somebody was attacking.”

Phineas’s eyes darted from tree to tree with an aura of impatience. It was almost as if he was growing bored and wanted something to happen.

“Hey, Dalton!” Talia called from her tree. She was hanging upside-down, her ginger hair falling in a matted sheet toward the ground. “You should come up here – the view’s nice!”

“I’ll pass, thanks,” Dalton answered. He didn’t know how to climb trees. Plus, he didn’t feel like moving. It was simple physics; he was an object at rest, and he was going to stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force. Talia groaned. She flipped out of the tree and landed perfectly on the ground.

“You’re no fun,” she groused. She ran her fingers through the tangles in her hair, trying to unmat it a bit.

“Yeah – you’re no fun,” Phineas repeated tauntingly. Dalton responded by giving Phineas a very rude – and anatomically impossible – instruction. Phineas, however, was satisfied in the knowledge that he had struck a nerve, and gave no response. Dalton rolled his eyes and turned away from him, fixing his gaze on a group of Pokémon that had gathered under a nearby tree. With a jolt, Dalton realized that Nina, Sionna, and Fluff were all grouped around a Panpour.

“Hold on a second…” he muttered, taking a vague step toward them…

He had no way to prepare for what happened next.

The tall tree had spawned a man, who had flipped out of it Talia-style, produced a net from out of nowhere, and brought it down over the Panpour’s head. The Pokémon that belonged to Dalton and Talia all leapt backwards.

“<Whoa, dude… what’s the deal?>” the Panpour uttered, his expression not changing in the slightest despite the fact that a strangely-dressed human had just scooped him into a net as if he were an overlarge butterfly.

“The hell?” Phineas turned around. Dalton heard footsteps behind him. Two log tunnels led up to this high spot, and two men each emerged from these tunnels – or perhaps it was a man and a woman from the second. Dalton couldn’t tell at this distance, especially since all of them were wearing sunglasses.

“<Geez, man!>” At last, Panpour started to get a bit agitated, squirming within the net.

“<A sneak attack on a non-combatant?>” exclaimed Fluff, flitting up in the air. “<Craven human scum!>”

He charged. Dalton saw the man produce a short wand from his pocket. He recognized it almost instantly.

“NO!” Dalton shouted. Talia’s voice echoed his, but in the form of a scream that made the hairs on Dalton’s neck stand on end.

Too late. Fluff had flown straight into it and, with a nasty crackle, went stiff in the air before falling limply at the strangely dressed man’s feet.

“Gallant… but not very smart,” he murmured apologetically – moments before delivering a swift kick to the grounded Pokémon. Talia let out a squeal of horror and sprinted over to where her fallen Woobat now lay.

“Well, that’s not very nice,” Phineas said. Dalton saw in his eyes that Phineas was probably ready to tear this mystery man limb from limb. Unfortunately, there were four other similarly dressed individuals he would have to account for if he tried this – a fact of which Phineas was painfully aware.

“Who… in the hell… are you?” Dalton asked, glaring at the stungun-wielding gentleman.

“My name doesn’t matter,” the man spoke. “Is this Pokémon yours?”

He held up the net with the still struggling Panpour. Dalton didn’t answer, figuring that nothing he said at the moment would help the situation.

“You… son of a *****!” Dalton heard Talia yell. With a jolt of horror, he realized that she was going to rush the man for all she was worth. And that was certainly what she would have done if two pairs of hands hadn’t suddenly grabbed her by the arms and pulled her back. That didn’t last very long, though. She stomped on the foot of one of the hands’ owners, then, her right hand now free, whirled around and delivered a wild haymaker to the other, who staggered.

A moment later, she let out a scream of pain and went limply to the ground.

“TALIA!” Dalton yelled.

In the ensuing silence, he whirled around, his eyes darting from Talia’s assailants, to Panpour’s captor, to the two free team members, who had moved into position in front of the two log tunnels that served as safe exits.

“Now, who are you?” Phineas asked. “What is your purpose here?”

“You don’t need to be involved,” the man holding Panpour answered. “We’re here to rescue this one –” He raised the next holding Panpour a bit. “…And to take the girl and the young man into custody.”

“…And why would we want to go anywhere with you?” Dalton asked coldly.

“‘Want’ has nothing to do with this,” the man answered. “We’re placing the both of you under arrest.”

“Arrest?” Dalton answered. “On whose authority?”

“On the authority of His Royal Majesty, King Harmonia, and the Seven Sages,” the man replied, noticeably puffing out his chest a bit. A shaky smile crossed Dalton’s face.

“I had a feeling you’d say that…”

“Dalton, we’re outnumbered,” Phineas said. “Don’t do anything stupid –”

Dalton stuck his Pokéball out and returned Nina, immediately releasing her again at his feet. Meanwhile, Sionna galloped away to Nina’s side.

The sound of multiple Pokéballs opening prompted Dalton to turn around.

“Ah, crap,” Phineas groaned, throwing up his hands. In front of each of the two attackers that were blocking the escape routes, was a red-violet insect known as Venipede. The two others (Dalton’s heart gave a feeble lurch as he saw Talia either stirring or squirming on the ground) had another buglike creature Dalton had seen in passing around Pinwheel Forest. The apparent leader of the pack – Dalton turned around to meet his eyes again – had released a creature that looked like a spiked wheel with horns and eyes.

“You’re outnumbered,” this particular trainer (could they even be called that? Dalton decided to table that internal debate in favor of more pressing matters) stated.

“Tell me something I don’t know already,” deadpanned Dalton, looking around.

“You can come with us the easy way…” the leader offered. “Or we can make this slow and painful.”

Dalton put his head down… and started to laugh.

“Something funny to you?” the leader growled.

“You have no idea…” Dalton answered, his face suddenly alight. “No idea how long I’ve waited for this.”

“Dalton, I don’t know where you learned math,” Phineas commented. “But just in case you can’t count, it’s five-on-two…”

The leader of the group smiled. “Plasma Rearguard Squad One – Tricycle Formation, at the ready!”

“Tricycle Formation…?” repeated Dalton, a bit flummoxed. “…Cute.”

“SIR!” a couple of voices chorused behind him. “Venipede, use Rollout!”

“Huh?” Phineas’s head snapped around. “Dalton, move your ***!”

Nina followed Dalton as he and Phineas split, leaping to opposite sides as two violet blurs screamed through the area. Sionna, however, was unprepared and caught the full force of the double attack, flying several feet before slamming back-first into a tree. She slid down to its base and stopped moving. Meanwhile, the two Venipede had settled, still rolling, behind the wheel-like creature, who also began to tumble. Dalton’s eyes widened with realization as the meaning of ‘Tricycle Formation’ hit him –

“Whirlipede, use Rollout!” shouted the leader. All three Pokémon screeched forward as one, the group focusing its attack on Nina, who held her ground. Dalton jumped away again.

“Nina, get outta there!” he shouted warningly. Nina managed to evade Whirlipede, but one of the Venipede slammed into her immediately afterward. She flew sideways with a sudden screech, hit the ground on her back, and rolled to her feet again. The three insect Pokémon rolled back into formation, making a sharp turn as one. Fortunately, Nina had much more space to work with. The Plasma captain’s eyes flashed –

“Positions!” he shouted. “Damsel-On-Rails Formation!”

“What the f—k?” muttered Dalton.

“Sewaddle, String Shot!!”

Again, Dalton’s question was answered quickly. The two dormant Pokémon, bug-like beings with leaves around their heads, sprang into action. Each spat forth what looked like a grayish rope. As the Pokémon-wheels approached, this strange rope clung to Nina’s feet. She tried to lift a leg, found it stuck to the ground, and a look of panic seized her red eyes for the first time…

Dalton, however, was focused skyward, for something winged was approaching from above…

“LAKE, USE AIR CUTTER!”

“What?” the Plasma captain uttered.

A sickle of energy smashed into the ground right in front of the Rollout trio. The ground shook terribly, and a plume of dust rose from the spot almost in an instant, obscuring Dalton’s vision. He heard a couple of muffled thuds, and a moment later, a redhead came sprinting out of the smoke. As Talia ran right into him, Dalton fought and won against his initial instinct to throw his arms around her, settling instead for a somewhat awkward halfway waist-hold and quick release. “You okay?”

“My hands are asleep,” she said somewhat nonchalantly.

“Where’s Finn?” Dalton asked.

Just then, they heard another yell of pain come from the dust cloud, which was starting to settle. Twin screeches likely indicated that one of the Pokémon on their side had found the two Sewaddle and put them to rout. A helmeted man emerged from the dust cloud, however, looking more than a bit threatening. This time, Dalton listened to his first instinct, which was to put Talia directly behind him. Which was good, because the captain was going into his pocket…

BANG.

Dalton and Talia both jumped horribly, the latter letting out a squeak of shock that she quickly stifled with her hands. Dalton knew he hadn’t been shot – after all, he knew what it felt like. Besides, the Plasma captain had never gotten to his weapon. But the sight before him was equally horrifying and evocative of awful memories. A fine mist had exploded from the side of the captain’s head before the captain fell to the ground. One of the lenses to the shades that had been on his face shattered, revealing a single eye that had been given no chance to close.

He didn’t know who had done it… he didn’t know how they had done it… he did know that the Plasma captain had just been shot dead, right in front of him.

Talia separated from Dalton, curiously eyeing the body.

“H…holy sh-t,” she uttered breathlessly.

“Don’t move,” Dalton said, his eyes darting around. “Finn, where the hell are you!?”

“Right here. Don’t yell,” groaned the voice of Phineas Assad as he came into view. A dark red dribble was issuing from the corner of his mouth – someone or something had managed to cut his lip. After giving this small problem some attention from the back of his hand, he immediately saw the body and pulled up short. “Did you –”

“No. I thought it was you,” Dalton replied uncomfortably.

“I don’t have a gun,” Phineas answered simply, with a half-eye-roll that indicated that he thought Dalton should have known this already.

“Looking for someone?”

All three of them turned toward the new voice. Striding toward them was a young man. Shoulder-length, flyaway, blood red hair came from under what looked like it may have been a cowboy hat. As he approached, Dalton could see that they were probably about the same height, give or take an inch. He was wearing an open trenchcoat that simply could not have been comfortable in this sort of weather. This youth also did not seem to know or care about society’s conventions on where a belt – or, indeed, how many belts – belonged on one’s body. He had two across his chest, one across his waist, and even small ones on his black boots.

More important than his outfit, however, was the long, thin barrel that was slung across his shoulders – the barrel of a rifle.

Phineas wasn’t having any of it.

“I’ve had my fill of mystery men for the day,” he snapped. “Tell me your name. Now.

“I thought you’d know. You’re supposed to be investigating us, right?” the young man answered as he came to a stop, just a few paces away from the others. “You need a name to thank for just saving your asses?”

Phineas chuckled mirthlessly. “Of course, why should I expect a murderer to give me his real name, right?”

The young man raised his head to the sky and laughed. “Murderer. ‘Murderer’, he says…” He shook his head. “You’re giving these guys too much dignity. ‘Murder’ is a term reserved for those of us with souls.”

“I don’t know much about ‘souls’,” Phineas said, “but I do know that the man you just shot in the forehead was a human being…”

“Don’t break the guy’s balls, Finn,” Dalton said flatly, interrupting Phineas, who was obviously about to tell this young man exactly what he thought about this philosophy. “He’s obviously on our side.”

“Yeah,” the other youth said in agreement. “Listen to your friend.”

“He’s no friend of mine,” Phineas said a bit coolly. “And you’re not, either.”

“Careful, careful…” the youth said, a smirk crossing his face. “My friends and I tend to have… let’s say, a very black and white outlook on things sometimes. In other words, if you’re not a friend, you’re an enemy. And if you’re an enemy, well… behind you’s ‘exhibit A’ on how I tend to handle enemies.”

He pointed with his chin to the Plasma captain’s cooling corpse.

“You’re fighting Plasma, right?” Dalton asked.

“Plasma?” chuckled the young man. “Plasma…”

He gave a dramatic sigh and began to pace, tapping the barrel of his rifle against his shoulder repeatedly.

“You think way too small, chief,” he finally said, raising his eyebrows smugly toward Dalton. “You’re like a cough drop, only attacking the symptoms. My friends and I are the doctors. We see the disease for what it is, and we attack it at its root.”

“You know, people that talk in abstracts really irritate me,” Phineas grunted, his upper lip curling nastily. “Especially when it’s a lot of fluff and philosophical B.S. Let’s call it for what it is. You take joy in spilling blood. Acting like you have a cause is just the way you live with yourself.”

“You act in the name of the law – a law that’s more preoccupied with jaywalking and old ladies’ stolen purses than, say, plots to overthrow the government,” the youth replied. “I wouldn’t expect you to get it.”

“If you’re not fighting Plasma,” Dalton piped in. “…Then what are you fighting?”

The youth looked upward. “Ignorance. It’s just that simple.”

And he turned to walk away. Phineas gave a spluttering sound that Dalton would have thought very hilarious if not for the situation. “Hold on! Just where the hell do you think you’re going? I’m placing you under arrest!”

Dalton and Talia, who were both standing a step or two behind Phineas, both exchanged a look, thinking the same thing. The Phineas Assad they had gotten to know was cool, calm, and collected – often nerve-gratingly so – and had just been replaced by someone entirely foreign and different.

“That accent…” the youth looked over his shoulder. “You’re not from Unova, are you?”

Phineas gave a stuck look. “How’s that any of your damn business? And I don’t have an accent – you have an accent!”

“I won’t deny that,” answered the red-haired young man. “I’m not from here in Unova… and since neither of us is from Unova, arresting me is probably gonna be way more trouble than it’s worth, isn’t it? Jurisdiction issues, extradition, and all that. Unova’s a good place for asylum, I hear… long story short, it’ll be a pain in the *** for both of us.” He waved his hand as if clearing the air of something unpleasant. “So I guess this is where we part ways.”

Phineas’s face tightened dangerously for a second as he watched the youth walk off. He swore magnificently, then turned around, looking rather like a snorting bull. Talia frowned.

“We didn’t even get to thank him…”

“Don’t lose sleep over it – he’s not worth the breath,” Phineas answered sourly. “You guys alright?”

Talia flexed the fingers on one of her hands in an exaggerated fashion, almost as if trying to find out whether they were still working. “Could be worse, I guess…”

“You see that?” chuckled Phineas, looking at Dalton. “You screamed like a little b—ch for nothing.”

And he walked past them. Meanwhile, the Pokémon had gathered not far away – even Sionna, who had been somehow roused but did not look at all like her normal, energetic self.

“<What a waste of time,>” Nina snarled angrily. “<They weren’t even much of a challenge.>”

“<Says you,>” mewled Sionna, still staggering a bit, teardrops hanging at the corners of her tightly shut eyes. “<My head’s killing me…>”

Talia, letting out a sound that may have been either a laugh or a sob, ran over to Sionna and gathered the Vulpix into her arms. Nina looked up at them and, for about a half a second, wore what looked to Dalton like a longing expression. When she set her eyes on Dalton, however, they were hard and unreadable.

“You doing alright?” Dalton asked. “They didn’t tase you, did they?”

“<Tase?>” Nina didn’t understand.

“…Never mind,” Dalton answered.

“<Is that the best these enemies of yours had to offer?>” Nina asked. Dalton was almost in disbelief. She had genuinely been looking for some much stronger opponents.

Dalton frowned. “I seriously doubt it.”

As they gathered themselves – giving the unconscious and deceased enemies a wide berth – and prepared to leave the area as quickly as possible, a voice drawled out.

“<Uh… guys? Some help here? Somebody? This net’s, like, claw-proof…>”

Dalton’s eyes drifted right. A large bag of sorts seemed to be squirming. He muttered an oath to himself as he realized what was inside. He jogged over to the net and pulled it upward. The Panpour emerged from it, grinning sheepishly.

“<Thanks, dude,>” he said.

Dalton grimaced. “Sorry about that… I guess that guy thought you were with us…”

“<What are you guys into, anyway?>” asked the Panpour. Dalton sighed.

“It’d take too long to explain,” he grumbled, kneading the bridge of his nose with two of his fingers. “Sometimes, I don’t even know…”

“<It’s weird, running into you dudes twice…>” the Panpour commented, as if no longer concerned about Dalton’s situation. “<Almost like it was meant to happen, y’know? Maybe I’m s’posed to ride this wave, see where it takes me…>”

Dalton angled his head. “What are you trying to say?”

“<I guess I’m sayin’ I wanna come with,>” the Panpour replied, setting his perpetually half-closed eyes on Dalton. “<I mean… if it’s cool with you. I’m not a primo badass fighter, but maybe I can help out some sorta way.>”

The Panpour was being a bit modest, Dalton thought. After all, Dalton had seen him one-shot a Venipede earlier that day, and that species of Pokémon was pretty tenacious as a rule. In his situation, it was one thing to ask for help… but he got the feeling volunteers would be hard to come by.

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

“What attacks does this Pokémon know?” asked Dalton a half-hour later, speaking toward the Pokédex, which he held in his right hand while the Pokéball to his newly captured Panpour lay in his left. Talia was looking over his shoulder.

“This Pokéball contains a Pokémon,” Amanita’s voice replied. “Species: Panpour. Gender: Male.”

“Well, I could have told you that,” Talia remarked a bit sourly. She’d never liked Dalton’s Pokédex. Dalton sighed.

“I know that already,” sighed Dalton into the device, his voice carrying twinges of annoyance at having to attempt this for a seventh time. “What type of attacks does he know?”

“Panpour is a Water-type Pokémon,” the Amanita-Dex answered brightly. Dalton resisted a sudden urge to chuck the small gadget at the nearest tree trunk.

“F—k it… I guess I’ll just have to use trial-and-error,” he groaned, pocketing the PokéDex. Rolling his eyes, he added in a dry undertone, “Beta tech is awesome.”

“Well, we know he knows Water Gun,” remarked Talia. “We’ve seen him use it once.”

“True…” Dalton groaned. He ran a hand down his face, which was starting to glisten with sweat from the humidity.

“So have you thought up a name for him yet?” Talia asked.

“Jaco,” Dalton answered immediately. Talia gave him a quizzical look, which didn’t surprise him in the slightest. There’s no way she would have gotten the reference, after all, so he explained: “This guy Evan and I knew in high school. His name was Jake, but everybody called him ‘Jaco’... which also happened to be a slang word for…”

Dalton grimaced.

“For what?” asked Talia. Dalton raised his eyebrows.

“Well, the kinds of plants that make the day go by smoother… or that’s what I’ve heard, anyway.”

Talia let out a laugh. “So did ‘Jaco’ actually… use…”

“We don’t know if he did or didn’t,” answered Dalton. Looking up semi-wistfully, he added, “But he always seemed to be a hell of a lot happier than the rest of us…”

“So you just named one of your Pokémon after the town junkie?” Phineas uttered in astonishment.

“He wasn’t a junkie,” said Dalton a bit defensively. “He was still functional. Of course, he didn’t come to college with the rest of us, but I think that was more because he just didn’t give a damn…”

“You’re a strange, strange guy, Dalton Gregg,” Phineas muttered, shaking his head. “And you seem pretty calm for someone who just saw a guy get shot through the head less than an hour ago.”

“Well, it’s not my first experience with long-range rifles. Let’s just put it that way,” Dalton answered, although there was a definite edge to his voice that hadn’t been there before. “I am kind of wondering who the hell that was, though. Seems like you knew him.”

Dalton was looking over his shoulder. The reluctance to divulge any information was obvious on Phineas Assad’s face. After several moments of seemingly battling with himself, he seemed to come to a decision…

“More like ‘knew of him,’” Phineas said, not meeting Dalton’s eyes.

“So who is he?” asked Dalton.

“A terrorist,” answered Phineas very quickly and matter-of-factly. Dalton tilted his head, not sure if he wanted to buy what Phineas was obviously trying to sell. He even contemplated arguing the point for a moment, but then thought better of it. After all, it wasn’t like they’d ever see that guy again…

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

The rains had stopped, and now, at last, she could bring her umbrella down to rest. The paved road was glistening with water from the earlier rains. Thankfully, the shade provided by the treetops prevented the temperature from rising too quickly, but the humidity was, in a word, awful. It was nearly enough for her to wish she had packed something more comfortable to wear. This weather was unusually summer-like for an afternoon in May, after all.

She allowed a smile to creep across her face. It didn’t matter much. Tomorrow, she would be at her destination, in the cool of the underground. After all, they had things to discuss.

“Well, well, well,” a drawling voice uttered. She looked up. A young man, red-haired and bored-looking, was striding toward her from out of the forest itself. She recognized him. “Fancy meeting you here. Hello, sister.”

She knew they were not directly related by blood or otherwise, but it mattered not to her. “Keeping yourself out of trouble, brother?”

The red-haired youth chuckled. “This is me we’re talking about. Of course not.”

The girl allowed herself a smile – a smile that quickly disappeared, leaving her looking rather older than her young age. “You haven’t been off on some… spree of needless butchery again, have you?”

“Again?” the youth scoffed. “I wasn’t aware there was a first time. Even more than that, I wasn’t aware that how I carry out our father’s work is any of your business.”

“Don’t be a fool,” the girl answered, sounding more exasperated than angry. “He’s got his standards. You know that. How do you think he’d react if I told him you’d been slaughtering innocents –”

“I ran into one of their squadrons here in the forest,” the young man interrupted. The girl gave a gasp. “It gets better – they were attacking a group of travelers. The bastards are getting bold… pep rallies in broad daylight, abducting Pokémon from trainers… That harmless breeze is getting stronger. It’s knocking over trash cans in the neighborhood and bending the saplings over backwards.”

The girl sighed. “Can’t you talk in a language everyone can understand?”

The young man laughed in reply, adjusting the hat atop his head. “Fine, then. Plasma’s about to make a move. That plain enough for you?”

“I guess,” the girl answered, raising her eyebrows in a detached manner. “But I could have worked that out for myself. That’s why we’re here, after all… isn’t it? To gather followers to stand against them?”

“Yeah, and that’s where the plot thickens. Apparently this group’s run into some Plasma guys before,” the young man said immediately. “I don’t know if they’re working independently or part of some other resistance pocket, but it’s pretty obvious they and Plasma aren’t exactly friendly.”

“I was tracking another potential candidate…” the girl said, not meeting the young man’s eyes. “But I think he knew he was being followed. I didn’t want to be forced to fight him. It would have caused… misunderstanding.”

“You mean, the kid from Nuvema Town?” the young man asked. “You’re showing an awful lot of interest in that boy.”

“He’s a strong Trainer,” she replied. “Very strong.”

“You sure that’s the only reason?” the youth asked with a knowing smirk. The girl replied by giving him a murderous glare.

“Don’t be a fool. I took account of all of the Trainers from that town,” she snapped. “His sister – she doesn’t quite have his talent, but more unfortunately, she’s done a good job convincing herself that she doesn’t have his talent. Her persona’s mostly a mask. And then their two friends… neither of them would be much help. One’s too selfish and the other’s too flighty.”

“Wow, you really did do a thorough job,” chuckled the young man. “I underestimated you.”

“That seems to be a pattern of yours,” the girl replied. “And everyone else’s, for that matter. Just because I’m not a stone-cold killer like you doesn’t make me useless.”

The young man smiled. It wasn’t his usual, confident smirk. “Are you sure about him? I mean… that there’s nothing…”

“Why do you always treat me like this?” she interrupted, anger giving her voice a definite edge. “Do I have to show you why Father selected me as a Cardinal in the first place?”

The young man’s smile disappeared. “No, no… but I’m not an idiot. This is a tricky stage of life for you. I’m just saying, if you were – and I’m not saying you are – it’d only be natural. I’m just trying to keep you on the right path, Estelle.”

The girl’s face went sour. “Go to Hell.”

The young man’s eyebrows popped upward for a second. He spread his arms and did a sort of pirouetting walk into the middle of the paved road. “Take a look at the world around you! We’re already here.”

She rolled her eyes and watched him walk away. She stood there for a moment, the breeze playing with her long, wavy, black hair. She looked over her shoulder, to where the road lead to the checkpoint at the west entrance of Nacrene City. The more she saw of the world, the more she got the sense that some human beings were actually enjoying themselves living relatively normal lives. Wasn’t that what they were defending at the end of the day? The freedom for people to choose to live their lives how they wished, instead of having the philosophy of a few forced upon them?

“Are we, Wesson?” she murmured, knowing he was too far out of earshot to answer. “Are we really?”

END
 
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Emeraldfan

Well-Known Member
As for the Latin motto... that will be explained at some time later in the story.
But I did translate correctly I hope?

Fluff, a Woobat who for some reason or another thought himself a night in some courtly tale
Now Fluff might have a rather bright imagination, but I still think that there's supposed to be a k in front of night, so that his imagination is somewhat more medieval instead of, well, I don't know, strange?

Also, good job with the names for attack combinations. It does surprise me that Team Plasma actually does that, in-game they seem incredibly stupid.

Till next chapter.
 

Air Dragon

Ha, ha... not.
Zounds... a grammar/homonym slip? When was the last time that was caught?!

Also:

Fluff, a Woobat who, for some reason or another, thought himself a knight in some courtly tale
Needed a couple of commas. Unless you being suspenseful on purpose, Fluff can't be dead, can he?

Now I see how Phineas sort of recognized Estelle, and why she was being so secretive about her identity until now. Plus who Plasma were to "flee on sight" from. Insensitive as this may be, but: Boom. Headshot. o_O

Jaco's also an interesting blend to the team. Most of the other Pokemon (OK, all of them so far) have been incredibly high-strung. Now I can understand why he's so... mellow.

Keep 'em coming, mate!

L@er!
 

EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Hello, friends. Thankfully, a trip to Kalos was not needed. On the other hand, I have been a bit busy. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for you guys, I haven't been too busy to keep writing for you. :)

Emeraldfan:

But I did translate correctly I hope?
I'm sure you translated better than I did. >.>


Now Fluff might have a rather bright imagination, but I still think that there's supposed to be a k in front of night, so that his imagination is somewhat more medieval instead of, well, I don't know, strange?

Also, good job with the names for attack combinations. It does surprise me that Team Plasma actually does that, in-game they seem incredibly stupid.
Yes. Homonyms are my kryptonite. Or should I say, krypo-knight?

Sorry. Sorry. Very sorry. D-:

Anyway, as for the attack combination names... I'll just say that the guys that showed up in the previous chapter aren't part of the main Plasma force. They're a bit... quirky, obviously.

Thanks for reading as always! :)


Air Dragon:

Zounds... a grammar/homonym slip? When was the last time that was caught?!
I can't believe you used 'Zounds.' That's really old school... LOL. Didn't you catch a grammar snafu in the last chapter, or the one before that? I haven't been as spot on lately.


Needed a couple of commas. Unless you being suspenseful on purpose, Fluff can't be dead, can he?

Now I see how Phineas sort of recognized Estelle, and why she was being so secretive about her identity until now. Plus who Plasma were to "flee on sight" from. Insensitive as this may be, but: Boom. Headshot. o_O
Um... dead? Well, I won't try to manufacture suspense... so no. Rest assured, if he had died, I would've made a much bigger deal of it, seeing as actual Pokemon perma-death doesn't happen very often in my works - or, really, in Pokemon fanfiction as a whole from what I've seen of it.

Estelle... has a lot more secrets before everything is said and done. ;-) And 'Boom, headshot' indeed.

Jaco's also an interesting blend to the team. Most of the other Pokemon (OK, all of them so far) have been incredibly high-strung. Now I can understand why he's so... mellow.

Keep 'em coming, mate!
Yeah, I figured I needed a 'yin' figure to everyone else's 'yang.' I think I'll enjoy juxtaposing his personality with some of the others that have been and will be part of the Pokemon teams.
 
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EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
F
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
18: Bikes, Bridges, and Battles
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

“How long is this thing anyway?”

Dalton Gregg hoped he sounded casual. They’d been walking on the long, blue suspension bridge that served as the foot entrance to Castelia City for what must have been half an hour. He could feel his calves starting to cramp terribly, but was trying very hard not to look too perturbed. Thankfully, the rain from the previous day had brought back the more pleasant late spring temperatures Unova had been experiencing before. If ever there was a day to walk an absurdly long distance across a bridge, today was it.

Unfortunately, Dalton’s calves didn’t seem to care whether the climate was hot, cold, or lukewarm; they were screaming in protest at having been pushed for far too long. It didn’t help matters that Dalton hadn’t had a very good meal that morning; Phineas joining the group had stretched their already thin provisions even thinner, and as a result, they were almost out of food. Hopefully, if they got across this bridge some time this year, they’d be able to stop somewhere and get some food. Dalton had amassed a healthy sum of money because of all the battles he’d been winning. On top of that, the city before Dalton – well, if it looked this enormous from where he was standing, it must have been vast indeed. (To his slight disappointment, the city itself did not appear to be shaped like a hand displaying a giant middle finger.) Between those two facts, they were bound to find food sooner rather than later…

If, of course, he survived the trip across this bridge.

“If I remember correctly,” Phineas said. Dalton rolled his eyes, not as interested in a hard number as he’d made it sound. “It’s 1,328 meters long.”

“Did you pull that number out of your ***?” Dalton asked sourly.

“Yes,” answered Phineas, wearing an irritatingly smug expression.

“How long is this bridge, really?” Dalton asked. “How many feet?”

Phineas raised his eyebrows. “It’s over nine—”

Never mind,” groaned Dalton, slapping his forehead. “You don’t know, do you? Some help you are…”

“It’s short enough for a real man to not b—ch and moan about the distance – how’s that?” Phineas bit back.

Dalton ignored him.

“C’mon, Lake,” he muttered, opening a Pokéball. The small Pidove flitted into the air (“<ZOOOOOM…!>”) and circled a few times before landing on Dalton’s head. He winced. “Watch – God. Lake… talons!”

“<Oh?>” the Pidove twittered, looking down. “<Whoops!>”

But her takeoff from the crown of Dalton’s head proved to be, if anything, more painful.

“Okay, now that you’ve nearly scalped me,” Dalton muttered. Then, raising his voice so Lake could hear, he asked, “Can you fly down to see how far away we are?”

“<Toward that huge shadowy thing sticking out of the ground?>” Lake twittered. “<Looks unfriendly.>” But when Dalton stared at her for a moment, she chirped, “<Okay, okay, I’m going…>”

And she fluttered away. Dalton stood there and watched along with Talia, who was shielding her face with one of her hands.

“We might as well keep moving,” suggested Phineas.

“You don’t want to stand here and enjoy the view for a few minutes?” asked Talia cajolingly. “I heard cruise ships pass under this bridge every so often…”

“Of course I don’t want to stand here and enjoy the view,” Phineas deadpanned. “The sooner we get to Looker, the better.”

Dalton was secretly in agreement. But his desire to spite the young agent (especially for his previous comment) overrode, for the moment, his desire to get rid of him. “I think I’m with Talia. Let’s stop for a few seconds.”

Phineas’s face twitched. Dalton knew Phineas could tell that he was saying that for the sole purpose of getting under Phineas’s skin. He rolled his eyes. In an airy sigh, he muttered, “Fine… on your own heads be it, then…”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Dalton uncomfortably.

Just then, a high-pitched ringing split the air. “Gangway! One side!”

“What?” Dalton looked up dimly. His eyes widened before a pair of arms seized him around the stomach and dragged him sideways. Phineas went into what looked like a combat roll (F—king show-off, Dalton thought) to the left as a small form on something with wheels came screaming through the area. Dalton (his face feeling hot as he wriggled free of a grip Talia didn’t seem keen on releasing) found himself staring at the retreating back of a prepubescent cyclist with a backpack.

“Is that kid nuts?” asked Talia, sounding a bit miffed. “He’s gonna kill somebody.”

“Yeah, well, there’s no law against it,” Phineas said, coming out of his crouch and rolling his shoulders. To Dalton’s great annoyance, he could see nearly every muscle Phineas had rippling under his tight, gray A-shirt. But then, Dalton thought, that was probably the whole point. “Cars, trucks and motorcycles take the highway below, anybody crossing on foot takes this upper bridge. Anybody on a bicycle can take either-or. In other words, it’s hard to make it across this thing without seeing one of those guys. Just be glad he gave us fair warning.”

Just then, they heard a loud yell and a lot of swearing. Dalton, unable to resist, doubled back a few running steps. (“The hell do you think you’re going?” yelled Phineas) What he saw might have been somewhere between horrifying and hilarious.

The young boy from a few moments ago had crashed into a couple of pedestrians, or at least narrowly avoided them at the price of his own body. His bicycle lay on its flank, front wheel still rotating ominously. The boy had suffered what Evan Stanfeld would have called a ‘yard sale’ – his backpack, baseball cap and (most hilariously of all) a shoe had been forcefully separated from his person, each lying a few feet away from the other. Furthest away and on the ground was the boy himself, which would have been alarming if not for the fact that he was already jumping to his feet, dusting himself off, and taking inventory to figure out whether everything was still attached. Dalton had always felt like most boys between the ages of eight and fifteen were somehow made out of titanium alloy. They seemed to have an uncanny ability to walk away from things that would have landed a fully grown man in the hospital for several days.

Meanwhile, a pair of what looked like teenagers were getting to the feet, the boy bespectacled, black-haired, and gently helping up a blonde girl whose green hat had skidded away.

The youngest of the three had barely finished surveying his skinny arms when the black-haired youth was upon him, apoplectic and ranting loudly and profanely. Among the bits that were fit for human ears (or indeed, for the ears of the preteen boy at whom the tirade was directed) were “Idiot! You’re gonna get somebody killed!” and “What are you, crazy?!”

“Stop,” the girl pleaded, pulling feebly on his arm. “C’mon, Cher, it was only an accident…”

The young boy, to his credit, seemed to be taking all of this in stride. “Sorry, dude… I was just tryin’ to hatch my egg…”

Cheren was turning so red, it looked like he was about to lay an egg. “I don’t care if you’ve got a meeting with the President!”

Before Dalton knew what was going on, Talia was brushing by him and on her way down to the scene.

“Okay, you’re done,” she said flatly, interposing herself between the boy and the two teenagers. “Sure, he could be more careful, but that doesn’t give you a right to be a bully. Yeah, I said it – a bully. I bet you wouldn’t talk to him like that if he was your age and size, would you?”

“What are you doing here?” Cheren uttered, tilting his head quizzically.

“Oh!” the girl that Dalton was now realizing must have been Bianca (she looked so strange without that hat on her head) squeaked. “I know you! You’re, um… what’s-his-name’s girlfriend!”

Talia looked taken aback by this and glanced vaguely in Dalton’s direction. Not that Dalton saw any of this; he was too busy burying his face in his hand.

“You know,” Phineas muttered from somewhere behind him. “If it were me, I’d just go with it.”

“Whose girlfriend?” asked Cheren meanwhile.

Bianca kneaded her temple with one of her hands. “Ohh… I can’t remember his name, either. You know… the bum we met back in Accumula Town. You’ve got strange taste in boys, you know…”

She had looked up at Talia, who seemed to go even redder.

“Is it just easier on your brain to make me a bum?” Dalton asked as he approached the scene. Cheren regarded him with a renewed interest.

“Long time no see,” he said, pushing his spectacles up his nose.

“Is that a nervous tic or something?” asked Dalton, frowning.

“It’s hot,” commented Cheren simply. “The bridge of my nose is sweaty and these damn glasses don’t fit my face.”

“Ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” Dalton laughed. “No wonder you and Blake get along so well. I’m having a hard time figuring where a girl like – what’s your name, ‘Bianca’? – even fits in your little circle.”

“She ‘fits in’ just fine, thank you very much,” snapped Cheren suddenly. Readjusting his glasses for what had to be the tenth time, he added, “And I’ll thank you to mind your own business.”

“Where is Blake, anyway?” asked Talia. “Don’t you usually hang out together?”

“Travel with Blake? You’re joking, right?” chuckled Cheren. “Blake’s my top rival.”

“I thought he was your best friend,” remarked Talia.

“Are the two mutually exclusive?” replied Cheren, the lenses of his glasses flashing.

“This is all beside the point,” Dalton said, waving his hand. Turning to the young boy, who was watching the entire scene in silence as he tied his shoe, no doubt wondering if he would be just as strange in a few years, he asked, “You okay, kid?”

“I’m fine,” the young boy muttered, grabbing his backpack and clambering back onto his bicycle.

“Ride a little bit slower!” Dalton yelled at his back as he disappeared into the horizon.

“Very noble of you,” said Cheren, his voice thick with sarcasm.

“Don’t talk to me like that,” Dalton answered flatly. “You were overdoing it.”

“Overdoing it? He almost ran Bianca into the ground!” Cheren barked, his ears visibly reddening.

“Seriously. Cool it. You’re about to have a stroke,” Dalton said just as flatly.

Cheren raised his eyebrows. His face contorted into the sort of strange smile that only appears when a person is struggling mightily to keep his temper. Dalton smiled vaguely in response.

“Just, speaking hypothetically,” Cheren said slowly. “What would you want to do to me if I, say… tried to knock her…” he pointed with his chin to Talia, “off this bridge?”

“Well, I’d stomp on your throat, wouldn’t I?” Dalton responded with surprising immediacy and a calm, almost languid tone. They were speaking hypothetically, after all… “I know how many pounds of force it takes to crush a man’s windpipe, and it’s not as many as you think – much less for a guy with a skinny neck like yours.”

Cheren laughed. “That’s rich. So… you and Blake… who ended up winning?”

“Nobody,” Dalton answered. “It was a draw.”

“A draw, hm? Well, I guess that means you’ll be more than enough competition.”

With that, he backed away from Dalton and Talia several paces.

“I challenge you to a battle – right here, right now,” Cheren answered.

Dalton learned a grunt of a swear right behind him. He ignored it. “How many?” he asked.

“How many do you have?” asked Cheren.

“Three,” answered Dalton.

“Three? Your arm must be exhausted from throwing Pokéballs all the time,” commented Cheren, his sarcasm again very obvious. “Okay, since I guess I can’t go above three and have it be a fair battle… three it is.”

They backed away from each other.

“Should I referee?” asked Bianca in her sprightly voice. Cheren smiled with the air of a father allowing a young child to have a piece of candy.

“If you’d like,” he answered simply. Bianca looked like her day had been made.

“Yay!” she exclaimed. “But first –” She then confirmed what Dalton had already guessed by kissing Cheren on the cheek. Or maybe she hadn’t confirmed anything at all; even though he hadn’t resisted, he’d squirmed and looked visibly uncomfortable.

“Bee-Bee, could you not…?”

Bianca skipped to a spot somewhere at the midpoint between Cheren and Dalton. “Okay!” Her voice, now that Dalton was hearing her talk at length, sounded like a caffeine buzz personified. “This battle between Cheren from Nuvema Town, and… um… random guy from the… hamlet of Public Park Bench…” (Dalton and Cheren kneaded their foreheads in stereo. Talia snorted somewhere behind him and gave a quickly stifled wheeze of laughter.) “…will be a three-on-three Pokémon battle with no time limit!”

“No time limit?” groused Phineas from somewhere vaguely behind Dalton as well. “God, we’ll be out here all after—never mind…”

Dalton wasn’t looking behind him, but he had the sneaking suspicion that Talia had shot Phineas the mother of all death glares.

“The match will be over when all three of either Trainer’s Pokémon are unable to continue battling!” Bianca continued, very fast as if she were under a time limit. But then, she suddenly seemed to break character – “How was that, Cher? Good enough?”

“It’ll do,” answered Cheren, showing a rare and fleeting smile. Bianca bit her lip, blushing furiously like he had paid her the highest of compliments. Apparently, it was tough to coax praise out of Cheren – even for his girlfriend.

“Are both Trainers ready?” she asked enthusiastically.

“Yes,” Dalton said. Cheren responded with a nod and Dalton could have sworn he’d seen Bianca wink at the younger Trainer. God, get a room, he thought.

“Okay,” she said. “Ready… GO!”

“C’mon out, Pod!” Cheren shouted.

If Dalton could have put a short description on the Pokémon that burst out of Cheren’s Pokéball, he would have called it a pear with a bad attitude. Covered mostly in large leaves, this yellow bulb of a creature wore an expression that suggested mild, perpetual gloom. “Swadloon,” droned Dalton’s PokéDex, “The Leaf-wrapped Pokémon and the evolved form of Sewaddle. It protects itself from the cold by wrapping up in leaves. It stays on the move, eating leaves in forests.

Dalton knew which Pokémon he wanted. “C’mon out, Jaco!”

Cheren smiled in a way that Dalton took for a bad sign, but the ball was out of his hand, and whatever mistake Cheren obviously thought Dalton had made, he could not undo. The blue Panpour sprouted out of his ball and bounced on the bridge in appraising fashion.

“<’S one of you humans’ constructs, innit?>” he drawled, sounding disappointed as he pawed the pavement on the bridge with his mitten-like hands. “<Thing’s got no soul, man…>”

“Never mind that,” Dalton sighed, wondering if all Pokémon were this strange, or if he just had a knack for attracting the Pokémon world’s most outlandish personalities. “We’ve got a battle to fight.”

“<Fight? These guys harrassin’ us, dude?>” Jaco asked, peering down across the bridge.

“Not exactly,” Dalton sighed. “This battle’s for fun… more or less…”

“<For fun?>” Jaco seemed surprised. Obviously, Dalton thought, Pokémon likely wouldn’t know anything about competitive battling before being caught by humans. “<Well… fighting’s not my best idea of ‘fun’, but you’re the boss, I guess…>”

Swad??!” the Swadloon rasped, its face (finally, to Dalton’s relief) changing to a look of surprise. Jaco pulled up short, too.

“<Hey… don’t I know—>” he uttered.

“Pod, use Razor Leaf!” Cheren shouted. Dalton saw Cheren’s Swadloon give Jaco what he could have sworn was a short ‘nothing-personal’ look before its leaf garment splayed open. It swung its ‘arms’, which seemed to be made of large leaves as well, and many smaller leaves appeared out of nowhere, spinning toward Jaco like a couple dozen tiny Frisbees.

“<Whooo-ooa! Aggro!!>” uttered Jaco in a slight panic, raising his voice for about the second or third time since he and Dalton had met. He avoided most of the leaves with an acrobatic backflip. As he landed on the ground, a stray one came flying in and caught the Panpour dead center in the face. Jaco recoiled, mitten-hands over his tiny nose. “<Ouch! Dude, really?>”

“Use Water Gun!” shouted Dalton in response. Jaco inhaled (wincing visibly) and spouted forth a large stream of water, which caught Pod in the side and pushed it backward a bit. All in all, though, Pod didn’t seem to be affected that much, as it shook its body, clearing the water away. Although part of that might have been because Jaco (despite Pod standing perfectly still) didn’t land a direct hit. “What the –”

“He’s pulling back on his Water Gun,” Cheren explained almost wearily. “Whenever he opens his mouth, he has to use those muscles around his nose, which I imagine don’t feel very good right now after just taking a Razor Leaf directly to the face.”

Dalton took a quick glance at Jaco and noticed that he still was favoring his nose a bit.

“Although, to be honest…” Cheren pushed his glasses up his face. If Dalton had been closed enough, he would have yanked them from his face and chucked them into the water below out of sheer annoyance. “…you’d lost this round as soon as your Panpour came out. Pod, use Razor Leaf!!”

Another salvo of the apparently sharp foliage (Which is probably why the attack’s called ‘Razor Leaf’, thought Dalton mordantly) rocketed toward Jaco, who darted sideways.

“<No way, dude!>” he exclaimed, suddenly revealing glowing, white claws from his mitten hands. Dalton knew he had a short opening for attack, and had a feeling which was the right one to call.

“Use Scratch, Jaco!” he ordered. Jaco darted forward, faster than Dalton thought he could move, and raked his claws directly across the Swadloon’s leaf-covered head. Pod slid backward…

“Tackle, Pod!!” shouted Cheren in response. No sooner than Pod had stopped sliding backward than it propelled itself forward. But Jaco was quick on defense as well. He sidestepped Pod’s straight-ahead attack, getting a piece of the Swadloon with his outstretched claws in the process. Jaco whipped around.

“<Man, I dunno, man, maybe you were right,>” he laughed. “<I’m really startin’ to feel it, dude! Don’t you feel the adrenaline!?>”

And he rushed forward toward Pod, his arms swinging so quickly that they looked like blurs to the naked eye. Pod was caught in the middle of this blur and screeching in obvious pain. Cheren seemed a bit unnerved.

“Damn. Fury Swipes...” muttered Cheren. Thanks a lot, thought Dalton. Now I’ll know how to call the attack later… Dalton saw Cheren’s eyes dart around. He was looking at the beams of the bridge. Dalton grimaced, starting to see Cheren’s plan. Please don’t… “Pod, use String Shot and get some distance up into those supports!” Awesome.

Pod shot straight up into the air as if on a lift, supported by the white, sticky thread it had spit forth. Jaco swiped in with a claw but hit nothing but air. He looked up. The Swadloon was now swinging around on the bridge’s iron supports like they were its own personal playground.

Cheren’s lip started to curl into a smirk.

“Jaco, use Water Gun!” shouted Dalton. Jaco inhaled and shot forth a powerful stream of water at the moving Swadloon. Pod managed to get behind one of the bridge’s beams just as the attack arrived. Water hit the side of the bridge, splashing everywhere like a fine mist. Even Dalton felt a few droplets settling on his head. He didn’t complain – it really was quite warm standing in this sun.

“Razor Leaf, Pod!” ordered Cheren. Now, in the process of swinging, the Swadloon was throwing salvo after salvo of tiny, sharp leaves at Jaco, who had to use every bit of agility he had to elude them. Dalton, meanwhile, was watching Pod’s movement patterns, trying to find any weakness… “Razor Leaf again!!”

Jaco had just evaded one Razor Leaf attack but could not avoid the second. Spinning green blades bombarded him from above, opening cuts on his blue flesh whilst he covered his face with his mitten-like hands. To Dalton’s great shock and dismay, Jaco sank to his knees and then to his belly.

“Panpour is unable to bat—” Bianca started very enthusiastically, but Cheren cut her off.

“Come on – that wasn’t anywhere near five seconds,” he said a bit tersely.

“Oh?” Bianca lowered her hand and stopped for a moment. “Well…” she looked at Cheren again. “He’s not getting up, is he?”

Cheren grimaced, taking a look at the beaten creature and waiting for a moment. “No, I guess not.”

“No harm, no foul, then,” replied Bianca cheerfully. She raised her hand a second time. “Panpour is unable to battle! Swadloon is the winner!”

Dalton grit his teeth as he returned Jaco to his ball. “One shot…”

“He held out pretty well for having a type disadvantage,” Cheren remarked as Pod landed in front of him. “Swadloon’s a Grass-type.”

“…And Panpour are Water-types,” sighed Dalton. “Dammit, I need a chart for this sort of sh-t…”

“You don’t know basic type relationships?” Cheren asked, tilting his head. “Where’d you go to school?”

“Pokémon type relationships weren’t part of the curriculum where I went to school,” Dalton said darkly, pulling out his second Pokéball, which felt strangely light for some reason. “Let’s just put it that way. Lake, let’s go!”

“Dalton –” Talia started behind him as he threw the ball, but it was already out of his hand. He waited as the sphere smacked against the concrete and opened. He waited for the white light, for his Pidove to emerge from the ball and take to the air…

Neither happened.

Cheren’s jaw dropped for a moment. “An empty Pokéball? Tell me you didn’t just do that.”

“That’s Lake’s ball,” Dalton muttered to himself in a slight panic. He always kept hers second from the front, and he was routine-oriented to the point of obsession. “Why isn’t – aw, ****!

Cheren raised his eyebrows, which Dalton didn’t see. He was too busy palming his own face.

“What?” Cheren uttered as if he couldn’t help it.

“I sent Lake to find the end of the bridge…” Dalton groaned to himself, incredulous at his own stupidity.

“<Yoo-hoo! Did somebody call me?>” a high-pitched, perky chirp that sounded familiar but different rang from somewhere above. Dalton looked up, expecting to see the Pidove, but didn’t; he had to dodge the outstretched wings of a rather larger bird as it came in right over his shoulder to land at his feet. From what he had seen of Pokémon evolution patterns, he could tell almost immediately by its gray plumage that this bird had evolved from a Pidove.

“What the—?” was all Dalton could get out, however, scanning the avian creature with his Pokédex.

Tranquill – the Wild Pigeon Pokémon and the evolved form of Pidove,” Dalton’s Pokédex announced. He immediately pocketed her – or it – not wishing to hear Amanita’s voice any longer and remembering (with a shiver) the young girl’s behavior at the end of their last meeting.

“Lake?” Dalton uttered inquiringly. “What…? How…?”

“<Ducklett,>” Lake answered laconically. For the first two seconds, Dalton thought that this was one of Lake’s non-sequiturs. Fortunately, she backed it up with an explanation. “<Thought it’d be funny to shoot me out of the air. So I beat him up. Then it got really hot all of a sudden, I couldn’t see anything. Then this happened. Good thing it wasn’t a second slower or I’d have hit one of your metal nests beak-first…>”

It was becoming clear to Dalton that Lake couldn’t seem to put a good paragraph together without one of the sentences making little to no sense at all. “What’s a metal n—never mind, don’t answer that…”

“So, let me get this straight,” Cheren said slowly, as if trying to make sense of the entire scenario in his head. “You sent your Pidove to the end of the bridge a few minutes ago and it came back as a Tranquill.”

He pushed his glasses up his face.

“Better lucky than good, I guess,” he remarked. He seemed to contemplate things for a second. “Pod, return!”

He thrust forward a Pokéball, which pulled the Swadloon back into it immediately.

Bianca moaned. “Can we get a move on? I’m starving…”

Cheren’s face contorted, as if he’d scowled and tried to keep himself from scowling at the same time. “Fine, then… Viola! C’mon out!”

He launched a Pokéball toward the concrete. It hit the bridge extremely hard (What the hell are these things made of that they don’t break? thought Dalton) and bounced into the air, spilling its contents of white light into the world. Just by shape, Dalton could tell that the Pokémon that was on its way out of this ball was bigger than what he’d grown used to seeing. The light faded and proved him right at once. It stood high off the ground – if it wasn’t four feet tall, it wasn’t that far off. It was lithe, with four limber legs and a slender, purple body. That purple color was awfully familiar…

“Liepard – evolved form of Purrloin. Dark-type,” muttered Dalton, remembering a conversation he and Talia had several days ago after meeting a Purrloin.

“Hi, Viola!!” Bianca said in her triple-shot-of-espresso voice, taking a step toward the feline Pokémon.

Viola’s reaction was instant and frightening. Its body (Her body, Dalton guessed, with a name like “Viola”) tautened and she let loose a snarling yowl that made Bianca jump backward. Viola turned her light Liepard body toward Cheren and leapt up to his shoulders. It had been subtle, but Dalton had noticed the Liepard’s claws, which looked long and quite lethal, retract as she put her forepaws up into Cheren’s shoulders. Cheren turned his face just barely as Viola attempted to nuzzle him, just like he had when Bianca kissed him on the cheek earlier. Yet, as with Bianca, he didn’t resist – maybe because he was thinking about what those claws could do to him if he angered her.

Hey!” Bianca obviously didn’t approve of this behavior – the airiness in her voice was gone. Viola screeched at her again.

“Viola, stop,” Cheren said firmly. Viola’s reaction was instant this time as well. She detached herself from Cheren and went to all fours again, head down and wearing the half-hurt, half-guilty expression of a child who had just been severely scolded. Pushing his glasses onto his face – necessary, this time, as Viola had nearly dislodged them – he commented, “Sorry about that. Viola’s… very… affectionate.”

He averted his eyes, as if this was a matter of deepest shame.

“Well, I’d be affectionate, too, if you’d saved me from getting mauled to death by a pack of five Lillipup,” remarked Bianca a bit dreamily.

“You’re already – never mind.” Cheren thought better of his sentence, mid-sentence. “Well… shall we get on with it?”

“Ready when you are,” Dalton replied.

“Viola, use Assist!” Cheren ordered instantly. Dalton held his ground, as he had no idea what was coming. Viola leapt in place for a moment, then took off in full stride toward Lake, who cooed questioningly, tilting her head. Viola’s form was overtaken by an angry red light. Two strides later, she was in full gallop, streaking toward Lake and Dalton with brightly burning flames surrounding her body.

“<Um… Miss Kitty?>” Lake chirped. “<You’re on… …fire.>”

“Might want to move now, Lake!” shouted Dalton warningly. Lake, as she always seemed to do, took flight at the last second. Her wings were noticeably more powerful, and she hardly needed any effort to reach a height of twenty feet. Viola kept running, however, only stopping inches away from Dalton, who had to leap backward to avoid being set on fire. He could feel the temperature rising noticeably.

“Sh-t, Dalton, watch it!” snapped Talia. He felt her hands in his back, trying to keep him from knocking both of them over. He staggered forward again…

“Lake, use Air Cutter!” he yelled. With one powerful beat of her new Tranquill wings (it had taken many when she was a Pidove), she spawned a sickle of white light that sliced through the space.

“Dodge it, Viola!” Cheren shouted. Viola tried to leap aside from the oncoming attack. Dalton realized it quickly with a gasp of horror – with no Viola in front, the sickle (which Dalton could only assume would be dangerous to a human’s health) was heading directly for Cheren. Almost before all four of her feet had touched the ground, Viola threw herself back into the path of the attack. There was a nasty slicing noise that Dalton prayed wasn’t flesh, and the Liepard hurtled into her Trainer, throwing both of them to the ground.

“Cheren!!” Bianca screamed.

“I’m good!” Cheren exclaimed immediately, pushing himself up to a seated position – a task made harder by Viola’s full weight lying directly on his chest. Viola clambered off him as he staggered to his feet, very obviously favoring one side of his ribcage. Viola mewled questioningly, to which Cheren repeated, “I’m fine… just probably a bruise, that’s all…”

“You could do with a couple of hamburgers,” Phineas commented. Dalton, although he hated the thought, inwardly agreed… although he wasn’t going to be the one to say so. After all, he was every bit as borderline-skeletal as Cheren himself.

“Go f—k yourself,” Cheren deadpanned. Dalton couldn’t help but smirk at this; it was the exact way he would have reacted. “Now, where were we? Oh, yeah, that’s right… me proving I can go toe-to-toe with anybody.”

“Geez…” chuckled Dalton under his breath. “Chip on your shoulder much?”

“Viola, use Assist again!” shouted Cheren. Viola stood still then appeared to retch. For one bizarre moment, Dalton thought the Liepard was going to be sick. He was very wrong. What actually happened was much more bizarre. Viola coughed forward what looked like a fist-sized stone. Lake was completely unprepared and ‘caught’ the flying rock projectile with her beak. She gave a squawk of pain and managed to leave the ground just as a second rock burst forth from Viola’s maw. The Dark-type adjusted her aim for her now-airborne opponent and cast forth a third stone, which Lake banked to avoid.

Dalton frowned. He wasn’t sure how Assist worked quite yet, but he was getting the sinking suspicion that it was going to look slightly different with each new incarnation.

“Rock Blast, huh? Maybe luck’s on my side today,” said Cheren, wearing a smirk twisted by the obvious discomfort in his ribs.

“Lake, get some altitude!” Dalton shouted. “Keep your distance!”

Lake began to beat her wings and thus beat a retreat into the air. But Cheren had other ideas.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” he growled, the lenses of his glasses shining stark white in the midday sun. “Viola, use Pursuit!”

In a maneuver that defied everything Dalton had ever learned about physics, Viola sprinted up one of the vertical beams of the iron bridge. She went about halfway before leaping from it and toward Lake. Fortunately, the Tranquill was facing her and saw this coming. She banked away from the brunt of the strike. Viola came up empty and took a long tumble to the concrete ground below.

“Now, use Air Cutter!” Dalton ordered.

Viola barely had time to turn around before a sickle of energy caught her flush. She gave a catlike screech as her form disappeared into a cloud of dust.

“Sh-t!” cursed Cheren. When the cloud of dust and smoke subsided, Viola lay motionless in the middle of the bridge. Bianca waited for what Dalton thought was a suspiciously long time, then finally raised her arm.

“Liepard is unable to battle! Tranquill wins!” she said. Then, with a morose look at Cheren, she added, “Sorry, Cher…”

“Don’t worry, you won’t have to do it again,” Cheren answered, returning Viola to her ball.

“You’re awfully cocky for somebody that lost to me last time we battled,” Dalton remarked.

“A four-way battle’s a different animal,” Cheren replied simply. “I made a couple of miscalculations that proved costly. Rest assured – I won’t be repeating those mistakes here.”

“Oh, great… Guys?” uttered Phineas. He had turned around to look over his shoulder. Dalton, not willing to be distracted, kept his eyes forward, but couldn’t block out a high-pitched warbling that seemed to be growing louder and louder with every passing second. It took a few moments for Dalton to figure out that it was a siren. He turned around. A woman wearing a beige uniform was riding a bicycle toward them. It turned out that the siren was coming from somewhere on her bicycle.

“F—k!” snarled Talia in a bit of a panic. She stood behind Dalton and turned her back on the woman as the latter slid to a halt right in front of them.

“I thought so,” she sighed, sounding annoyed. “You two – return your Pokémon immediately!”

“What? Why?” Dalton, who had seen far too much of law enforcement abusing their powers to trust them completely, uttered.

“I thought that would be obvious,” the policewoman said snippily. “It’s illegal to battle here.”

Dalton groaned. “You mean to tell me Castelia’s a Pokémon-free zone already?”

“Not Castelia, no,” replied the officer, seemingly a bit bewildered by Dalton’s assumption. “Just this bridge. You’re not from here, are you?”

“Not even a little bit,” answered Dalton.

“Even so, it should be a common sense sort of thing,” the officer remarked, which made Dalton feel somewhat insulted. “There are only two ways out of town by land. This bridge is one of them. Ergo, we have to keep it in one piece. Ergo, battling on top of the bridge is prohibited by law.”

“Well, that’s a pain in the ***,” muttered Cheren to himself.

“Not nearly as much of one as going to prison for destruction of public property,” the officer said. “If I were you, I’d cease and desist, and be thankful Dispatch didn’t send anyone on the back end of a double shift. If I’d been working since midnight, I wouldn’t be feeling nearly as merciful…”

And she hopped back onto her bike and started back toward the city.

“That’s the end of that, I guess,” Dalton said, turning around toward Cheren.

“Lucky for you,” Cheren said, his hands now in his pockets.

“Sure,” Dalton answered sarcastically, returning Lake to her Pokéball.

“…So I guess we might as well stick together until town, right?” Bianca said perkily.

“Bee-Bee…” uttered Cheren, clearly not thrilled about this idea.

“Strength in numbers and all that?” she went on.

“…And I’m gonna be a fifth wheel now,” groused Phineas. “Freaking awesome.”

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

She bit her lip and gave a shiver as a warm midday breeze blew across the balcony. Honking car horns and passing engines filled the slightly smoggy air below her. The buildings were much taller here, and everything smelled of iron and humanity. Still, there was something of a twisted beauty about the place, she thought as she spat a few strands of her straight, slightly wild, royal blue hair from her mouth.

“Do you enjoy it?” a low, smooth voice came from behind her as a hand touched her shoulder.

“It’s not as cold here,” she answered simply.

“…That’s not quite true,” the man answered, stepping to her side. He was tall and lean, and despite the shock of well-combed silver-white hair upon his head, still quite young. He wore a black shirt with gold buttons and the distinctive collar of a vicar. Smiling at the young woman and setting his cool, blue eyes upon her, he looked next at the city view and said, “This place is just as cold… in its own way.”

“But that’s why we’re here, isn’t it, Father?” the young woman asked, a hint of childish curiosity in her voice.

The young man (apparently taking no issue with a woman near his own age addressing him as ‘Father’) smiled and said, “Yes, Norwyn. That is why we’re here. Light by its very nature brings warmth. But you know that already, of course.”

Norwyn smiled warmly, then turned away from the man, hiding her blush. “Of course.”

“…Norwyn, you wound me,” the man said after a moment. “Why do you not look me in the eye?”

The young lady sighed. “Just wondering about something.”

“What is that?” the silver-haired man asked curiously.

“How the recruiting’s going, really,” Norwyn said.

“I’m sure Estella and Wesson have found… suitable help for us,” he answered. “After all, one cannot hope to win against an army with a mere band of five – skilled as all of you are.”

“Wesson might have shot our help by now,” Norwyn said sourly.

“He would not do that,” the man said calmly. “He is fully dedicated to the cause, even if he is a bit…”

“Trigger-happy?” Norwyn added. Then, seeing the look on the man’s face, she backed away, her eyes wide. “Oh, Father, please, I’m sorry –”

The young man put his hand over Norwyn’s mouth – a gesture that, if anything, frightened her even more.

“I believe a better word would be ‘overzealous’,” he said simply, removing his hand from Norwyn’s mouth. She gave visible sighs of relief. “Do you fear me, Norwyn?”

“I…” she uttered, not meeting the man’s eyes again.

The man sighed and turned his back on her.

“You’ve seen me at my most ruthless. Of course I’m ruthless. There are times when the message of light must be backed up with a sword,” he said fiercely. Then, as he rounded on her again, his voice changed. “But I reserve that treatment only for my enemies. I do not need it for my friends. And for you, Norwyn, I reserve something else entirely.”

She finally gathered the courage to look up. “Why send Wesson and Estelle? Why not put the call out yourself like he did?”

The young man smiled. “Ghetsis is a fool – a fool that loves to hear himself talk. And that will be his downfall. My time has not yet come – a fact of which I am well aware. That is why they go out before me. The prophets always show themselves before the savior.”

“I…” Norwyn stammered again. As if she knew she would be pushing her luck by asking the next question, she blurred out very quickly, “Why didn’t you send me? I would have done it for you.”

The man sighed heavily. “I know, Norwyn. I know you would have. But… you’re too valuable…”

“And Estella and Wesson are not?” Norwyn asked.

“All of you are valuable to the cause, but…” the man started. He clenched his hands on the balcony railing for a moment. “I… foresee a special, unique role for you. Do you know what I am trying to say?”

Norwyn took a deep breath. “No.”

“I mean to say that I love you.”

All was silent on the balcony for a moment.

“I know that,” Norwyn answered. “We know that you love all of us. I’ve never for a second questioned it—”

“NO, NORWYN!” the man screamed in a voice very unlike his own. Norwyn gave a gasp that degenerated into terrified sobs as the man approached her, backing her toward the corner of the balcony. In an instant, the man’s voice had dropped to a trembling whisper. “No. You – are – privileged, don’t you understand? You have something from me that I will not, can not, share with anyone else.”

He stroked her face. She didn’t dare recoil, and even if she did dare, there was nowhere else to go.

“Fear not,” he said. Then, to her great shock, he kissed her.

“…Father…” she gasped when their lips parted. He put a finger to hers, silencing her.

“Not in private. It sounds… strange,” he said. “Call me by my name.”

She had never said it before. It sounded strange leaving her mouth. “Mordecai…”

He smiled, kissing her again, but drew back when he saw the look on her face. She bit her lip hard enough to draw blood, trying hard not to make a sound as he began to kiss her neck. He drew back again and looked her in the eyes. Her face was on fire, and he was standing so close to her, she was sure he could feel her heart pounding behind her breasts.

“Don’t feign innocence,” he said, tracing the outline of her mouth with his thumb. “There is no shame in being pleased by one that loves you so deeply. I want to see your smile.”

All the time she had spent loving him in secret, trying not to betray her feelings lest she incur his wrath… All the nights she had awoken in a blissful daze after dreaming of him doing all of this and more… and now that the moment had finally come, she was too afraid to smile.

“Do you think me a villain? Do you think us villains?” Mordecai asked, pulling Norwyn from the wall and holding her gently – more gently and more lovingly than she had been held in several long years. “Villains have no use for love. Some of them are simply incapable of it. No, Norwyn. We are not villains. Sometimes we must play the role, but we are not villains.”

Finally, a smile crossed her face. She leaned up and kissed him.

“You frighten me sometimes, Mordecai,” she said. “But I think I’ve always felt something for you. I just thought you would choose… differently.”

“Do you mean Estelle?” Mordecai asked, the slightest trace of a laugh on his voice. “Estelle is young… and even if that were not the case, if I were to have Estelle, I would lose Wesson. I sense that, whatever he says to the contrary, his feelings toward Estelle are not as simple as a brotherly protective instinct.”

“But she does not return them,” Norwyn remarked. It wasn’t a question, but Mordecai answered it like one anyway.

“No, I don’t believe she does. She’s always been a complex girl. An old soul, some would call her – has seen much and talks about none of it. Wesson is ill-suited for her as far as a match goes. But stranger things have happened…”

“So you chose me because no one else loves me?” asked Norwyn.

“Does that hurt you? It would not be the first time,” Mordecai answered. Norwyn actually smiled at this comment; after all, all of them were castoffs before Mordecai found them. “But no. I chose you because I love you.”

A faint tinge of pink painted Norwyn’s cheeks, making her look younger than her years.

“What will we tell the others?” she asked. “About… us? I mean… if there is…”

“Of course there is,” Mordecai said, caressing her face. “Do not doubt that…”


Nearly half an hour later, a man entered the apartment to find it seemingly empty. This was a strange-looking man for many reasons. Firstly, he was clearly old, as his face was lined and his hair was light gray, but his long, slightly spiked, flyaway hairstyle might have been much more appropriate on a man forty years his junior. On top of that, he apparently favored a hakama for normal everyday wear, and had a patch covering one eye.

He gave a heavy sigh, causing the hairs of his heavy, gray mustache and beard to ripple.

“Where are they?” he muttered to himself. He took a few steps forward before hearing something of a series of muffled gasps coming from behind a door. A feminine but exhausted-sounding mewl and some murmuring followed it more slightly, and then the voice:

“That’ll be Solomon… rest.”

A couple of seconds later, the door swung open and a man emerged. Through the crack, Solomon glimpsed an unmistakable head with blue hair, lying in the bed, her body perhaps unclothed…

The silver-haired young man (who was wearing a robe as opposed to his usual garb) closed the door behind him and looked Solomon in the eye. Solomon tried to keep the young man’s eyes and feign ignorance, but the young man did not buy it. “Tell no one. At least, not yet.”

“I can’t do that, unfortunately,” Solomon answered. When the Father glared at him, Solomon explained, unable to hide his smile. “Young Brother Wesson owes me money now, see. We had a wager on whether you and Sister Norwyn would… well…. In any event, he didn’t think you had the guts.”

“Do not mock me, Solomon,” Mordecai bristled. There was a brief second of silence, and then smiles appeared on both men’s faces.

“You didn’t believe me. I told you,” Solomon chuckled. “Even I could see it – short one eye, at that!”

“Yes, yes, but save your gloating and wagers for later. What have you learned?” Mordecai asked in a serious voice.

“Wesson and Estelle have returned,” answered Solomon immediately. Mordecai raised his eyebrows. “They’re staying at the Center. I believe they’re waiting for someone to arrive.”

“‘Someone’?” repeated Mordecai questioningly. “Can this ‘someone’ be of use to us?”

Solomon walked forward into the center of the small suite and gazed out to the balcony.

“Perhaps,” he said.

“What of our contact? The one in Nimbasa?” Mordecai asked.

Solomon frowned. “If you would allow me to be frank…”

Mordecai raised his eyebrows. Although Solomon had placed himself under Mordecai’s leadership, he was also very nearly old enough to be Mordecai’s grandfather – and Mordecai himself was just old enough a man to realize the irreplaceable value of white-haired experience.

“You always are, Solomon,” he said with a smile.

“Do you think it wise to trust this man so?” Solomon asked. Mordecai closed his eyes. He’d almost seen that one coming. “He is not one of us, after all…”

“Perhaps not in name – yet,” Mordecai reasoned. “But certainly he is a brother in spirit, seeking the same things we are seeking.”

“I don’t question that at all,” Solomon answered. “I simply wonder whether he would have the… stomach for some of your – some of our… methods. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s honest, almost to the point of being naïve. If we happen to tread down the path of pragmatism, I am not sure he would follow us.”

Mordecai smiled. “It’s a fair enough question, I suppose, and one that must be dealt with soon enough. But better an ally today and an adversary tomorrow than no ally at all. A beggar does not help himself lashing out at the hand that offers him coin.”

Solomon smiled a smile of acquiescence. “Wise beyond your years as always, Father.”

“After all, he’s a smart man, but soft,” Mordecai answered. “You talk of us being pragmatic – if he becomes an issue, we may have to… twist his arm a bit. You know of what I speak.”

“I do, and I do not like it,” Solomon answered. “To make a threat against a young girl, even an empty one…”

“She is not so young,” Mordecai interrupted. “About the same age as our own Sister Estelle, if not a bit older, if I have heard correctly – which, in many places, makes her practically a woman grown. Alas, Solomon… it is as you have told me many times.”

He gazed toward the window.

“In order to be a true hero… sometimes you must be willing to play the villain.”

END​
 
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Air Dragon

Ha, ha... not.
Interesting battle. Jaco's approach to battle is interesting... Lake evolving too is an interesting (albeit expected) twist too. And three become five. Lucky Phineas. :p

Dalton learned a grunt of a swear right behind him.
Interesting choice of word... I'd have used heard, but it must have been a new one even for Dalton... :p

Mordecai's group's intro (or the other half) was interesting, and their interrelationships... diverse. So if Mordecai's "playing the villain", hates Ghetsis (for being Ghetsis), is "light"... then this got confusing and exciting all at once. :p

Keep it coming, mate!

L@er!
 

Emeraldfan

Well-Known Member
I keep learning new words each chapter, maybe I should ask my English teacher whether I can read this instead of working from the textbook...
Anyway, didn't really find anything wrong grammar wise, then again, I did neither check for it, nor is my knowledge anywhere near good enough to spot all possible mistakes.

What are eggs made of anyway? If you crash your bike, losing your shoe, whilst trying to hatch an egg.... Shouldn't the egg be in a somewhat bad shape?
And how is it that Cheren and Dalton can be charged with destruction of public property if nothing's been destroyed (at least, I don't think anything ended up being destroyed)?
For some reason I'm hoping Solomon's not the guys real name. To be named after someone wise and then to be wise yourself... Aren't you overdoing it with the name at that point? I kinda feel like that's the case, but hey, your choice :)

And don't you either die a hero, or see yourself live long enough to become the villain?
Maybe Fluff thinks he's the knight Dalton needs, but not the one he deserves :p
 

Venastois

Well-Known Member
*Fluff is the knight Sionna needs, but not the one she deserves

Great chapter, bud! Leave it to Lake to have the fastest and most nonchalont evolution of any pokemon character you've created thus far.
As for Solomon, we just rushed straight into that cluster-bomb of relationships! Hoping for some more backstory on all those characters. They seem interesting.

Keep writing! I'm loving it!
 

EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Another month, another bunch of reviews to which to respond... is that correct grammar? Geez, f@$k the dude that said you couldn't end a sentence with a preposition. What the hell was the point of that? Just to make things more difficult? Sometimes English makes no effing sense. [/rant]

Air Dragon:

Interesting battle. Jaco's approach to battle is interesting... Lake evolving too is an interesting (albeit expected) twist too. And three become five. Lucky Phineas. :p
Lucky indeed.


Interesting choice of word... I'd have used heard, but it must have been a new one even for Dalton... :p
It's an interesting choice of word because it's the wrong choice of word. -____-


Mordecai's group's intro (or the other half) was interesting, and their interrelationships... diverse. So if Mordecai's "playing the villain", hates Ghetsis (for being Ghetsis), is "light"... then this got confusing and exciting all at once. :p
You ain't seen nothing yet. ;-)



Emeraldfan:

I keep learning new words each chapter, maybe I should ask my English teacher whether I can read this instead of working from the textbook... Anyway, didn't really find anything wrong grammar wise, then again, I did neither check for it, nor is my knowledge anywhere near good enough to spot all possible mistakes.
Fair enough.


What are eggs made of anyway? If you crash your bike, losing your shoe, whilst trying to hatch an egg.... Shouldn't the egg be in a somewhat bad shape?
Egg was in a case, which was in a bag. That's what a case is for... presumably. If the egg's in a case, it doesn't splatter. ^_^


And how is it that Cheren and Dalton can be charged with destruction of public property if nothing's been destroyed (at least, I don't think anything ended up being destroyed)?
Yeah, but with the Pokemon up around the wiring and scaffolding of the bridge, they can't afford to take any chances, can they?


For some reason I'm hoping Solomon's not the guys real name. To be named after someone wise and then to be wise yourself... Aren't you overdoing it with the name at that point? I kinda feel like that's the case, but hey, your choice...
I didn't choose Solomon for that reason, but it is a very interesting coincidence... :)


And don't you either die a hero, or see yourself live long enough to become the villain?
Maybe Fluff thinks he's the knight Dalton needs, but not the one he deserves :p
... ... ...Dark Knight references galore. :-3


Venastois

Fluff is the knight Sionna needs, but not the one she deserves...
Yeah - probably closer to accurate. ;-)


Great chapter, bud! Leave it to Lake to have the fastest and most nonchalont evolution of any pokemon character you've created thus far.
And that's a lot of Pokemon characters... lol...


As for Solomon, we just rushed straight into that cluster-bomb of relationships! Hoping for some more backstory on all those characters. They seem interesting.
Cluster-bomb? To quote Air Dragon, "Interesting choice of words." You're going to have to wait to find out. :-D
 
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EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
19: The Game

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~

Dalton could have used another pair of eyes – or another pair of pairs of eyes.

It was as if he had stepped out of one forest and into another – from a forest of wood and leaves to a forest of glass and iron. The familiar smell of crowded city life encroached on his nostrils more strongly than Dalton had ever remembered it. Perhaps the time spent in wilderness and relatively small towns had made his nose especially sensitive. Cars motored past, and the occasional honk of a horn or shout of a couple of well-placed swears from a car window pierced the ambient buzz of activity. Hot dog vendors dotted the sidewalks, hawking their wares, and Dalton caught sight of a large cluster of people that all seemed to be watching something. Closer inspection revealed that ‘something’ to be a trio of dreadlocked men taking part in some sort of group dance session. Whatever it was (Dalton thought as he watched one man perform a gymnast-like flip in the middle of his routine) it was acrobatic and very entertaining to the raucously cheering spectators.

If Dalton could describe his first impression of Castelia City in one word, it would be that it was all a bit… much.

“It’s too loud,” Cheren grumbled from somewhere behind him. Dalton hadn’t known Cheren very long, but he got the distinct feeling that Cheren was an extreme misanthrope trying to pass as a normally functioning, social person. Either that, or Cheren was a curmudgeonly, old man trapped in the body of a gawky teenage boy.

Which was just as well, because Bianca seemed to be effervescent enough for the entire group, with some to spare. Her green eyes took in every sight they could, punctuating most of them with a gasp or an exclamation of delight. She tried very hard to convince Cheren to be as excited about this new experience as she was.

“It must be interesting, though,” she said quickly. “There must be tons of stuff to do around here! What do you think it’s like at night? I bet this city never goes to sleep at all!”

“Trust me, you don’t want any part of Castelia at night,” Phineas answered darkly. It was the first he had spoken in probably about an hour, which was just how Dalton liked it.

“But let me guess – it’s fine for guys?” asked Talia, glaring at Phineas.

“Guys like me? Probably,” he answered casually. “Guys like these two? Probably not.”

Dalton looked over his shoulder and glared at Phineas. “Screw you.”

“I don’t swing that way,” Phineas muttered, looking upward at one of the buildings. With a nasty smirk, he added, “But some guys around here do, and those are the ones you’ve gotta watch out for.”

“So what’s the difference between you and I, then?” asked Dalton.

“Simple. You look like someone they could physically dominate—” Phineas said carelessly.

“Okay, that’s enough.”

Cheren had cut Phineas off, and he was frowning at him sternly. This brought the group to a halt – everyone involved knew Cheren had a temper beneath his cool exterior.

“We’re in mixed company,” he said. “How about you try showing a little bit of class?”

“What’s the matter? Too sensitive for your young ears?” Phineas asked a little bit harshly.

Cheren’s face was unmoving. “You shouldn’t be joking about things like that.”

“Who the f—k said I was joking?” replied Phineas, a dark expression seizing his face. “You should be thanking me for giving you fair warning. I’ve lived here in Castelia about six months. It’s a hell of a city if you get caught in the wrong places. I’ve already pulled three girls out from these alleys in that time span. Like I said… not the sort of place you should be walking around after dark.”

“Can we move on, please?” Talia finally asked, a bit more patiently than Cheren. “We get the message – Castelia looks fun, but it’s really a wretched hive.”

“Speaking of hives…” Dalton said. Everyone else except Bianca (who was gazing dreamily up at the buildings and didn’t seem to have taken in a word of the last minute or two of conversation) gave Dalton a strange look. “You got any idea where the Gym is? Um… what’s-his-face?”

“You mean, Burgh?” Cheren asked, and it seemed to be with great effort that Cheren did not roll his eyes. “Yeah, his gym’s somewhere on the west side of town.”

“You’re not thinking of challenging the Gym now, are you?” Talia asked. Dalton didn’t know whether she was talking to him or to Cheren. “Either of you? I mean, your Pokémon both sort of beat the hell out of each other a couple of hours ago. You – we’d all probably be better served finding a Pokémon Center before we did anything else.”

“Good point,” answered Dalton, frowning. “Where’s the Pokémon Center?”

“Oh, that? We passed that about half an hour ago,” Phineas said casually. Dalton and Cheren both gave him identical glares.

“You… what…? I…. why…. what…” Cheren seemed to be unable to put together a sentence in his irritation. Fortunately, Cheren had hands, and through a finger on one of those hands, he was able to convey his feelings very transparently.

“I think…” Dalton uttered, glancing at Cheren, “what he’s trying to say is… ‘Why in the hell didn’t you say something?’”

“You guys seemed content to walk the city and gawp at everything like you’d never seen it before,” Phineas said, taking Dalton’s and Cheren’s reactions as a cue to lead them back toward the Pokémon Center. “Who am I to rain on your little parade?”

“Oh, we’re going this way? Awesome! Now I can see that huge billboard again!!” Bianca cried out enthusiastically, running ahead. On the way, Dalton had caught a glimpse of a monstrous screen that bore the picture of what Dalton could only assume to be a Pokémon. A yellow rodent creature with fire engine red blush stickers on its cheeks, it looked like the sort of cuddly critter to be owned by a ten-year-old and, Dalton supposed, must have been popular indeed in this world to warrant space on a display that large.

“She is fifteen, right?” asked Talia. When Cheren turned to answer, though, she waved her hand and said, “Never mind. Ten-year-olds aren’t that shapely, are they?”

Cheren sighed as Dalton fell into stride alongside him. “You know… between you and me… Burgh’s a real peacock. I wonder if he’s one of those types…”

“I’m pretty sure he’s not,” said Phineas, who had heard them.

“How do you know?” asked Cheren, a raised eyebrow clearly visible behind his glasses.

“I caught him once coming out of a str-er…” Phineas cut himself off, as Bianca had come running back to the group. “A gentleman’s club. He was muttering something about ‘the unspoiled beauty of…’ never mind.”

“Cher, what’s a ‘gentleman’s club’?” asked Bianca innocently.

Dalton had to resist the urge to laugh out loud – not at Bianca’s obvious naivety so much as Cheren’s face going blue, then beet red, then settling on a color somewhere roughly in between.

“What were you doing in there, Finn?” asked Talia, a sly look in her eyes.

“I was on Interpol business,” Phineas said, more than a bit uncomfortably. “That’s classified information.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Talia murmured, elbowing Dalton and grinning. This time, Dalton did allow himself an amused smile.

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

When Dalton first entered Castelia City, he got the immediate impression that the city did everything just a bit bigger. How right he was. Not only was this the largest Pokémon Center he’d seen yet, but he guessed that the Pokémon Center from Accumula Town could have fit into this one at least twice – and that was just on the bottom level. The Center was at the base of a high-rise that was also apparently a hotel.

“It’s so crowded!” Bianca exclaimed rather unnecessarily. Dalton hardly could have extended his arms (which, to be fair, were a bit long) without hitting another human being. It was with a secret pang of strange mourning that Dalton observed the bustling hub. It was a bit like seeing a portrait of a relative or friend mere weeks before their death. How long, Dalton wondered, did this Pokémon Center stay open after Ghetsis took over in his time? Castelia, as the capital city of Harmonia, must have been the first city to fall to Ghetsis. He wondered about the fates of those who were there when the new laws came down. The more Dalton learned about Unova, the more he realized that they would have tried to resist. People clearly had not always obeyed Ghetsis’s rule without question. Force must have been used…

Fire jumped into Dalton’s throat as his eyes darted around the spacious atrium. Most Pokémon Trainers, as it turned out, were teenagers about Cheren’s and Bianca’s age, if not a bit younger. Did Ghetsis impose his will by force on those children? The thought sent a chill down Dalton’s spine because, deep down, he knew already. To the Party, it would have been a worthy sacrifice. After all… to reach the level of monstrosity that would see a young girl kidnapped from her family, subjected to things at which Dalton could only guess… they would have had to start somewhere. Was this building standing in the other world? Maybe the Party converted it to something that would have served their purposes. Maybe they chose to use this very building – Dalton’s heart jolted –

He had seen the Capitol Tower of the Union Party on newscasts once or twice. It, too, was a monolithic structure that seemed to reach toward the sky forever.

But another newscast image was that of a moldering ruin – a warning to anyone who dared to stand against them. It was more likely, Dalton thought, that this became that building. Yes, it would be the sort of symbolic, flourishing gesture that the Party would make…

“Hey…” a voice shook him out of his daydream.

“Yeah?” Dalton answered robotically.

“Finn’s gone to talk to the lodgings people,” Talia said. “And then Bianca’s gone off to look at things. I think I’m going to keep an eye on her – make sure she doesn’t get hurt. You think you can sit over there and not kill each other?”

She was pointing toward a table, at which Cheren was sat, already nose-deep in a newspaper.

“Sure,” answered Dalton.

Talia came around to his front. “You okay?”

“…Yeah. Yeah, sure,” Dalton muttered. Talia gave him a smile and disappeared into the ground. Wordlessly and still looking around at the building, Dalton plopped himself into a chair at the small table opposite Cheren.

The several seconds of silence that followed were no less than Dalton expected.

“Hmph… apparently there’s been a rash of Pokémon robberies,” Cheren muttered somewhat sarcastically. “Where the hell do these people get their news? I could’ve told you that…”

He flipped the top of the newspaper down. From here, Dalton could only see Cheren’s hair (unfortunate cowlick included) and his bespectacled eyes.

“So, who are you, anyway?” asked Cheren.

Realizing that he never had gotten around to introducing himself properly, he answered. “Dalton. Dalton Gregg.”

Cheren paused for a moment. “That’s interesting… really interesting…”

Dalton couldn’t understand for the life of him what the hell was so interesting about his name. He himself hated it.

“So…” Cheren murmured. “Where are you from exactly?”

“Johto,” Dalton answered.

Cheren’s face – or at least the half of it Dalton could see – seemed to relax with either relief or disappointment; Dalton couldn’t tell which. “So you wouldn’t be… okay.”

“Feeling social now?” asked Dalton, noting Cheren’s change in behavior.

“Not really,” admitted Cheren. “But my mom always tells me I’m in my books too much… that I should use this opportunity to get out and meet people. Like I need more friends… I don’t really need more friends. I’ve got Blake, and Whit, and Bee-Bee. Three’s enough. That’s no offense to you, of course. In fact… I suppose I dislike you a lot less than most of the other people I’ve met so far…”

“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment,” Dalton answered.

Then he remembered what he had figured out about Cheren on the bridge, and somehow realized that he and Cheren would be friends (after a certain fashion) from that moment on.

“So…” Dalton murmured, feeling a bit bolder after this realization, “You and Bianca…”

“It’s complicated,” Cheren answered.

“Doesn’t seem too complicated to me,” Dalton admitted. “I mean… actually… it’s kind of obvious that she’s crazy about you…”

Cheren sighed.

“Well, if you don’t feel the same way, you probably ought to tell her so she doesn’t get her hopes up,” Dalton said, reading Cheren’s body language.

Cheren sighed again. Then (to Dalton’s relief) he lowered his newspaper. “You’re probably the last person that should be offering anyone relationship advice.”

“You’re probably right,” Dalton admitted. “After all, I’ve never had a girlfriend in my life…”

“You prefer books to people, right?” Cheren asked. “Trust me – I know the type. I’m the same way. But that just makes it more obvious.”

“Makes what more obvious?” asked Dalton.

Cheren gave Dalton an ‘are-you-serious?’ expression. “That redhead girl… what’s her name? Tanya?”

“Talia,” Dalton corrected him. “And there’s nothing going on between us.”

“That’s an awful lot of ‘nothing’, then,” Cheren remarked, raising his newspaper again. “You think nobody notices the little nudges you give each other? Not to mention she’s the only one that can get a smile out of you.”

“You’re dodging my question,” said Dalton. “If you and Bianca aren’t together, then what are you?”

“…Not together,” Cheren answered. “It’s complicated. I guess you could say I’m sort of… humoring her, I guess.”

A chilly silence fell between them at this explanation.

“Well…” Dalton replied, measuring his words carefully. “…That’s f—ked up.”

“What am I supposed to do, huh?” asked Cheren, throwing up his hands. “Of course I don’t want to break Bee’s heart. But at the same time, I’d feel… well, wrong.”

“Wrong?” repeated Dalton.

Cheren raised his newspaper, presumably so Dalton couldn’t see his reddening face. “She… doesn’t know what she’s doing, does she? It’d be like I was taking advantage of her… and… well… I care for her too much to do that.”

This explanation hurt Dalton’s brain, which was saying something. Dalton was a sharp fellow with the knack for figuring things out. But then, he supposed, men had been living with women ever since the dawn of men – or else he and Cheren wouldn’t have been sitting here having this conversation. Despite that, even the sharpest male minds had failed to figure out how to do perfectly by a woman after several millennia of collaborative research – much of it quite intimate; otherwise, again, he and Cheren wouldn’t have been sitting here having this conversation.

“Well, if you love her, that kind of un-complicates things, doesn’t it?” asked Dalton.

“Not really. It makes it worse,” muttered Cheren darkly. “It’s a bit like falling for your little sister.”

If Cheren’s aim had been to make the conversation uncomfortable, he had done it – to the point where Dalton’s only logical response was, “What in the hell made you come up with that comparison?”

“Well… me and Bee… and the twins, of course,” Cheren added, obviously referring to Blake and Whitlea (or Hilda, as Dalton couldn’t help calling her in his head). “We all grew up together. We’re literally the only four our age from our town. It’s tiny. If you ran through at a full sprint and blinked a couple of times, you’d miss it.”

“Seems simple enough,” Dalton commented. “It’s all pretty simple up until he gets tall, and she starts filling out, and then sh-t gets awkward. It reads like every other coming-of-age fiction I’ve ever seen. And people wonder, ‘why does that kind of stuff happen so often in fiction’? Well, because art imitates life as much as the other way around.”

Dalton felt a pang of something like grief; the last part of his statement had been said, almost verbatim, by Dr. McCourt on several different occasions. Cheren tilted his head, a bit surprised by Dalton’s candor.

“Not… exactly,” Cheren uttered. “Well, most of what you say is true, but… it’s more like Bianca’s mind stopped at age eight, but the rest of her…”

“…Didn’t wait for her mind to catch up?” finished Dalton – delicately, he hoped.

“Well… that’s one way of putting it,” Cheren uttered, going quite red. No matter how Cheren tried to hide it, Dalton could tell that Cheren’s teenaged-boy brain had wandered at least once or twice to curiosity about what, exactly, Bianca’s long, orange dress was hiding. “It’s a… quandary.”

Dalton couldn’t help but smirk. He knew he liked this guy. After all, he had always thought himself to be one of two people in his age range (the other being Loretta) who knew how to use the word ‘quandary’ properly in a sentence.

“Her dad went ballistic when he found out she was coming with the rest of us,” Cheren said. “He said there was no way his little girl would be safe out in the big, scary real world. Of course we were going to help her leave – she’d been dreaming about it for years. But… her dad had a point. She…”

But Cheren stopped mid-sentence. Bianca had come bounding over to them, grinning. “Hey, Cher?”

“Hm?” Cheren looked up.

“I just got us our room. It’s up on the fifth floor,” she said enthusiastically, her bright eyes scanning Cheren’s face for any sign of approval. It was obvious she expected Cheren to be proud of her for taking such adult-type initiative all on her own. Approval, however, was not on Cheren’s face. What was there was bemusement, almost as if he hadn’t been sure that he’d heard her correctly.

“Room?” he repeated. “As in one room?”

“Well… yeah,” Bianca said, her jaw slackening in childlike bewilderment. It was obvious she didn’t see any issue with this. Cheren folded his newspaper and took a deep breath. Dalton subconsciously started looking for a way to slip away unseen, but it was much too late for that…

“Bee-Bee… we can’t share a room.”

Cheren grimaced right after the statement, obviously expecting a very bad reaction. Bianca just stood there confused. “Wh-what? Why not, Cher?”

“Well…” Cheren looked extremely uncomfortable. Dalton felt a pang of pity for him. “Guys and girls don’t room together unless they’re family or…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but Dalton could think of a number of things to fill in the blank. Bianca, judging by her expression, hadn’t thought of any of them.

“But we used to have sleepovers all the time!” she groaned. “You, and me, and Whit, and…”

“We were ten years old back then… it was different,” Cheren said patiently.

“Why? I thought we were—” Bianca started. Then Cheren jumped to his feet.

“Look – I’m supposed to be training to beat Blake, and then the Elite Four, and then Alder!” he shouted. “I’m supposed to be using this time to get stronger, and I can’t afford any distractions!”

The drone of the buzzing crowds around them was a complete non-factor; for all the impact of that statement, the world might as well have gone totally silent. Bianca’s reaction was as predictable as it was hard to watch. The light in her eyes went out instantly, as if someone had pulled a switch. She looked down at her hands, which were already trembling.

“That’s what I am?” she said in a small, shaky voice. “A distraction?”

Cheren had the pained look on his face of someone who knew that he had done awful damage.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked, in a cracked voice so tiny Dalton never would have heard it if he hadn’t been listening so intently. “What’s wrong…?”

Cheren contemplated it for a second, then reached for her. “Bee…”

She shook her head once and darted away, leaving her sobs trailing behind her.

Cheren slumped back to his chair for a moment, staring aimlessly. He took hold of his newspaper with one hand as he stood, crumpling it and tossing it toward a nearby trash can. It hit the rim and bounced rather pathetically to the ground. He did not bother picking it up as he stalked off in silence.

“What was that?” Talia asked a moment later, sitting down where Cheren had been moments before. Dalton shook his head.

“Typical teenage drama,” he said, neither able nor willing to fully explain the details of what had just happened.

“Oh, please,” Talia scoffed, rolling her eyes and wearing a wry smile. “You act like you’re so much older and better than those two.”

Talia seemed to study the table for a few moments.

“So, did you find anything about your dad?” asked Dalton. Talia looked up and right at him. Dalton had seen through her pretense instantly. It would have helped her case if she hadn’t done the same thing in the Pokémon Center in each town. The frown that Talia wore would have told the whole story, even if she had said nothing.

“Nothing… but what would any of these guys know? Dalton, listen…”

Talia’s nostrils flared as she sighed heavily. Dalton had a feeling he wasn’t going to like what came next.

“You’ve got your whole deal to get through with Phineas, right?” she asked. “It was enough of a stretch, letting me tag along. They probably won’t let me be in on whatever that is. So I figured… well, I figured I might as well use the time to search the city and dig up anything I can find on my father. I think Fennel said this is where he’d been seen last, anyway…”

She did not meet his eyes completely.

“Why are you asking me?” Dalton questioned. “Go ahead and do what you have to do.”

“I’m just saying…” Talia muttered. “You may not see much of me for a couple of days… and if I find him…”

“That’s fine,” Dalton answered immediately. “No, wait, that sounded awful… I mean… sh-t….”

He ran a hand through his black hair. He had realized in a few short hours that he and Cheren had many things in common. One of them was a gift for saying the worst thing at the worst possible time. Thankfully, Talia was a much better sport about it than Bianca had been…

“You’re not good at this sort of thing, are you?” she asked, wearing an almost pitying expression.

“No,” he said flatly. “I guess my point is, I’m not gonna stop you.”

A smile crossed Talia’s lips.

“You expected me to say something different?” asked Dalton.

“No,” Talia admitted. “I just think it’s funny how you think you could stop me if you tried.”

“I don’t,” Dalton said flatly. “That’s why I’m not going to bother. Just…”

Dalton stopped himself. He’d been about to ask her to come back, whatever happened. After all, wouldn’t she go back home if she found her father somewhere in this city? The selfish part of him hoped it didn’t happen… how awful was that? He couldn’t lie to himself. There was a huge part of him that hoped she would come back empty-handed, just so she wouldn’t leave.

But she’s going, he told himself in his head. She’s going like everyone else goes, and you’re a fool if you expected anything different.

“Yeah, thanks…” Talia said. “You can beat Burgh without my moral support, right?”

“Without you flipping me off from the sidelines?” quipped Dalton. “I’m not sure, but I think I’ll manage.”

Talia gave him a half-smile, biting down on her lip. She got up from the table about halfway and drifted somewhat over it, almost as if indecision had frozen her for a very long moment… She was blinking an awful lot…

Then, without a further word, she whisked away and was gone from his sight.

Well, Dalton murmured to himself, at least you got to say goodbye this time…

He sat in boredom at the small table, now alone and sincerely wishing that Cheren hadn’t balled up the newspaper (which a couple of very young children were now pretending was a football). He was tired of watching people walk out of his life. Just because he was used to it didn’t mean that enjoyed it. He thought of the port he had seen outside the building, not far from here… his existence was like that port. Ships came and left every day. It was just part of being what he was. As awful as it sounded, she could be replaced… because he didn’t have much a choice but to replace her.

Still, though, after everything they had gone through together, he couldn’t help feeling some sort of… attachment.

No. ‘Attachment’ was bad. Bandages may cover wounds, but they also hurt like all hell when you ripped them off.

Seized by a sudden urge to stand up and walk – didn’t matter where, and maybe he’d luck into finding the Gym in the process – he jumped to his feet.

“Where are you off to so fast?” a slightly sneering voice queried behind him. Dalton stopped.

“Damn it,” he muttered under his breath as he turned around.

“Say something?”

“Getting some fresh air,” said Dalton.

“Bullsh-t,” Phineas Assad said with a derisive laugh. “We’ve been out in the wild for the past two or three days, and the first thing you want after getting back to civilization is ‘fresh air’? Do I really look that stupid to you?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” replied Dalton flatly. Phineas appeared to chew on his tongue.

“Where are you going really?” asked Phineas. Then, looking around in an exaggerated fashion, he added, “And why are you by yourself all of a sudden? I thought you were building yourself a little fan club.”

“Why’s that any of your business?” Dalton asked – not so much to spite Phineas as the fact that it was indeed a very valid question.

Phineas tilted his head jauntily and gave Dalton a patronizing chuckle that only increased Dalton’s constant nagging desire to punch him in the face. “Where’s Talia?”

“She’s left,” Dalton said. Then, as much as it pained him to think about it, he added, “She may come back… she may not.”

“And you just let her walk out?” Phineas said incredulously. “After giving me all sorts of hell so she could tag along with us, you let her leave, just like that?”

He snapped a finger. Dalton’s expression remained unreadable. Phineas, on the other hand, bent himself double as he went into a fit of raucous, histrionic laughter. As he raised himself upright again, he put a hand on Dalton’s shoulder. Dalton knocked it off immediately.

“I really was right about you. You’ve got nothing between your legs at all.”

“Who gives a damn anyway?” snapped Dalton irritably. “I thought she was useless to your little ‘investigation’. I’m the one you and Interpol want, right?”

“I guess you are,” Phineas said grudgingly. Then, giving Dalton a key, he added, “I went through the trouble of getting you reserved. You’re Room 522. You’re welcome.”

“So,” Dalton said, “are we gonna get this over with?”

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

And about half an hour later, Dalton Gregg was standing in a dank, dark, musty alleyway – exactly the sort of place Phineas had warned him about earlier that day. There was a musk of beer in the surrounding air. He knew it was beer because he’d had beer once from his friend, Evan – and thoroughly hated it. He’d always supposed that the sole purpose for drinking beer was to be drunk, because he couldn’t understand how anyone could grow to like that taste or smell. To be fair, though, Evan had told him from the beginning that it was cheap beer that a local bartender hadn’t thought to be worth serving to his own regular patrons. In theory, alcohol wasn’t allowed for anyone under eighteen, and no one regardless of age if that person was in the Scholarship Service Program like Dalton. However, as with most minor regulations, the MPs who guarded the wall couldn’t be bothered with enforcing something that petty. (They were more concerned with what lay beyond the wall – whether human or otherwise.) On top of that, as with most minor regulations, the right connections or the right amount of coin were more than enough to get many would-be enforcers to look the other way…

It had been a wasted venture as far as getting Dalton to enjoy a drink was concerned. But they were sticking it to the man in some small measure, and that thought alone had been good enough for him.

That was nearly a year ago, though – or at least, a year’s worth of days. Dalton’s perception of time was a bit off-kilter for obvious reasons. Here, drinking was clearly tolerated, if not completely encouraged, and the overwhelming smell of it all turned his stomach, especially when mingled with the other pungent scents of the alleyway. Someone had very recently used it as a bathroom (Dalton wondered if the drink had been the cause), and the smell of cigarette smoke seemed to grow stronger with every step.

“Don’t worry, you’re with me – they won’t do anything,” said Phineas with a laugh, striding ahead of him as they passed two quite large, quite bald men who were leaning against a brick wall. Each turned an eye and a sinister grin in Dalton’s direction.

A few steps past the men (but still uncomfortably close for Dalton’s liking) was a door. Phineas stopped here, much to the chagrin of Dalton, who had been hoping very sincerely that this jaunt through the alley was a shortcut to a much cleaner, less seedy destination. This place was, as Evan would have termed it, “sketchy.” Phineas raised a knuckle and rapped on the door in very rhythmic fashion, almost as if using the metal as a drum. There was a couple of seconds of silence, during which Dalton tried very hard to avoid the eyes of the chuckling roughnecks on the nearby wall –

Someone opened the door. Standing behind it was another bald man, this one smaller and bowed with age, with no beard, but a rather impressive handlebar mustache. Still, there was something Dalton couldn’t quite trust about the gleam in his eyes.

“Fancy meeting you here,” the old man said in a croak.

“I’d have expected a little bit fancier,” said Phineas, looking around. With that, the old man disappeared into the shadows, allowing Phineas and Dalton through. Dalton hesitated for a bit, but decided that he liked his chances much more with Phineas and his people inside, than outside with these two suspicious-looking characters that kept eyeing him like a piece of fresh meat.

Just when Dalton thought it could not be any more dark in the daytime, he stepped through the threshold of this establishment. Judging by the racks of alcoholic beverages set up on the wall, it was obviously meant to be a bar. It still had a dirty, somewhat unscrupulous air about it. Then again, most bars probably do, Dalton thought. Even so, it was better by several magnitudes than being out in the alley.

“Special Agent Assad…”

Phineas and Dalton turned toward the voice, which was not hard to find in a place this small. A trenchcoat-wearing man who might have been in his thirties or forties, with dark hair and stubble on his thin face, was sitting at one of the few tables in the bar, sipping on, of all things, a glass of ice-cold water.

“You are very late.”
 

Emeraldfan

Well-Known Member
“You mean, Burgh?” Cheren asked, and it seemed to be with great effort that Cheren did not roll his eyes. “Yeah, his gym’s somewhere on the west side of town.”
“Oh, please,” Talia scoffed, rolling her eyes and wearing a wry smile. “You act like you’re so much older and better than those two.”

Talia seemed to study the table for a few moments.
I personally would've replaced the second Cheren and second Talia with he/she. I don't know exactly why, but it just sounds better that way. It's somewhat redundant to use the same name again, when he/she makes just as clear who's doing what.

Also
“It’s a… quandary.”
English lesson continued :)

Didn't find any mistakes, but then again, I wasn't looking for them and there were quite possibly also none to be found. (Aside from, as probably mentioned before, my not perfect English language skills)

Great chapter, till next time ;)
 

Air Dragon

Ha, ha... not.
“You are very late.”
Ooo... Phineas is in trouble... :p

Dullsville grammar lecture first...

or Cheren was a curmudgeonly, old man trapped in the body of a gawky teenage boy.
Aside from making a fan's dictionary his new best friend, the comma (heck, everything boldened) is redundant, given the meaning of 'curmudgeon'.

He said there was no way his little girl would be safe out in the big, scary real world.
Not a grammar flaw, but the words in bold could do with single quotation marks. It'd read better to me that way.

Viva Castelia, and Talia splits up with Dalton, her primary objective "met". Why do I get the feeling this is only a temporary separation? If it lasts longer, that'd be interesting...

Cheren could not have emotionally hurt Bianca worse there. Hopefully he can find her before Whit can and "return the favour"...

Looking good, mate! Keep it coming!

L@er!
 

EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Well, apparently something big happened when I was away. Forgive me for being cynical, but this would be the exact spot where I posted an Eddard Stark image macro featuring the words "Brace yourselves - Poorly researched Pokemon X & Y fanfics are coming." ...but image macros are sadly frowned upon on these forums, so I'll have to resort to an explanation of my current cynical feelings.

I've been on this forum for nearly ten years now - no, that's not an exaggeration - so I've seen a fair few generations of Pokemon come along and the same thing happens each time... caught up in the emotion of the new releases, would-be fiction writers try to capitalize on the situation by writing fics based on the new region that are neither well researched nor well thought out. To be fair, badly-researched and badly-executed fanfiction happens all the time. It just tends to be a bit more prevalent at this point in the 'cycle'. I imagine the poor moderators will be working overtime the next couple of weeks until all the hubbub subsides.

Anyways, back to more pressing matters...

Emeraldfan:

I personally would've replaced the second Cheren and second Talia with he/she. I don't know exactly why, but it just sounds better that way. It's somewhat redundant to use the same name again, when he/she makes just as clear who's doing what.
Oh... bollocks, I suppose you're right, aren't you? These are the sorts of things that happen when you go back to edit sentences without paying attention to context. -____-


English lesson continued.
Certain people who shall go unnamed (but I will give a hint and say it's the only other person that reviewed this previous chapter) have offered me some friendly advice that 'English lesson' words can intimidate readers to some extent. While I try to keep things reasonable, obviously, I learned most of the vocabulary I know now in the context of reading something or other. I think that's how the human brain's wired. ^_^

And I love the word 'quandary'. I've been writing nearly a decade, and I think that's only about the second or third time I've used it. I think it's because you just don't see a lot of words other than 'question' that start with the letter 'Q'. Variety, indeed, is the spice of life.


Didn't find any mistakes, but then again, I wasn't looking for them and there were quite possibly also none to be found. (Aside from, as probably mentioned before, my not perfect English language skills)

Great chapter, till next time
Uh, I'd say the awkwardness with the pronouns was a 'mistake'... don't be so easy on me. ^_^



Air Dragon:

Aside from making a fan's dictionary his new best friend, the comma (heck, everything boldened) is redundant, given the meaning of 'curmudgeon'.
Oxford Dictionary's definition of 'curmudgeon' doesn't imply anything about being old. Although I do admit, it might sound redundant because it's a word usually used of old people. So by connotation, you're right. By denotation, I'd have to disagree.


Not a grammar flaw, but the words in bold could do with single quotation marks. It'd read better to me that way.
Now that I'm seeing it again, that's actually a really good point.


Viva Castelia, and Talia splits up with Dalton, her primary objective "met". Why do I get the feeling this is only a temporary separation? If it lasts longer, that'd be interesting...

Cheren could not have emotionally hurt Bianca worse there. Hopefully he can find her before Whit can and "return the favour"...
Won't spoil anything here. I guess the question to ask is, did Cheren just react in a way that revealed his true self, or was he attempting to conceal it?


~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
20: The Abyss
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

“You are very late.”

Dalton studied the face of the speaker. His extremely alert, almost piercing stare seemed out of place on a face that seemed to be permanently gaunt and tired. Either by choice or by chance, he had not been near a razor in a couple of days. The stubble on his jawline was not only visible (even in this relative darkness), but was audible as the man stroked his chin every couple of seconds. The glass of water in front of him was silver with chill and condensation. It looked like the kind of water cold enough to cause an awful brain freeze, even if imbibed delicately.

This man, however, must have been one with whom Phineas Assad was very familiar, for he took a seat from a neighboring table and flopped into it languidly as he said, “C’mon – really? Ice cold water? All the sh-t you could have in this bar, and you go for ice cold water.”

“Clear mind,” the man said simply, pointing to his temple with one finger. It was with these words that Dalton realized that the man had an accent - what kind, Dalton wasn’t sure. “Also clears other things…”

Well, that’s too much information,” Phineas interrupted, looking mildly disgusted. “Dalton, this is Detective Looker. Looker, Dalton Gregg.”

“Dalton Gregg,” Looker said very slowly, almost as if trying to ingrain Dalton’s name into his memory. “Sonny here said ‘Pokémon Trainer’. For you to be a bit younger, I expected…”

Dalton gave an askance look at Phineas, then turned his eyes on Looker again…

“Pardon my strange way of speaking,” Looker said in a very stilted manner, waving his hand. “From here, I am not.”

“Yeah, me, neither,” Dalton said darkly, taking up a chair.

“Where is this infamous lady friend of yours?” asked Looker after a moment, the shadow of a smile finally finding his features. “The one that made you so difficult?”

Dalton shot Phineas a dirty look for a moment and received a smirk in return.

“She’s not here,” said Dalton tacitly.

“A sense of humor,” laughed Looker. “I like it. A bit like yours, Phineas.”

“Yeah, he’s a real riot,” deadpanned Phineas. “Listen, can we skip the preliminaries? We’re here for a reason.”

“Never to be distracted from your objective, are you?” Looker said, the tone of his voice making Dalton wonder whether Looker completely believed that this was a good thing. “Alright then… to business… Mr. Gregg, you do not look comfortable.”

Dalton glanced around. “To be fair… this place is a total dive. It’s shady. Looks like the sort of place criminals would meet.”

“Spies and criminals are not so different, Mr. Gregg,” Looker said sagely. “We do, both of us, deal in deceptions and secrets and hidden things… and, occasionally, we spies… for the greater good… we operate outside of ‘laws.’”

“So while we’re on the subject of hidden things,” Phineas said. “Why don’t you spill already? What’s your story? Because, according to our Johto branch, Dalton Gregg doesn’t exist.”

Dalton’s face betrayed him in the ensuing silence. They had certainly been thorough.

“They’re right… technically,” he admitted.

“Technically…?” repeated Phineas. “What do you mean by—”

“You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Dalton answered, interrupting him. “I don’t believe it myself sometimes… so it’d be better to move on.”

“No – see, it’s not that easy. Now, I’m really interested,” Phineas answered. Dalton noticed he wasn’t smiling. “Someone with a fake identity and a grudge against an organization that just appeared on the public radar… that’s a very intriguing character. Sounds just like the type of person we’re looking for… you wouldn’t happen to be a member of Ekklesia, would you?”

“Phineas!” Looker snapped. “Too fast, that was. Much too fast.”

“I’m sick of playing around,” Phineas said through his teeth.

Dalton took a deep breath. “What in the f-ck is Ekklesia?”

“A group of people with fake identities and a grudge against an organization that just appeared on the public radar,” repeated Phineas. “The sniper we ran into in Pinwheel Forest is probably one of two guys we know are part of them.”

“Sniper?” repeated Looker. “Tell me about this, you did not.”

“Oh, yeah, it was a hell of a trip,” Phineas said with the air of someone talking about a particularly eventful vacation. “We ran into a group that was obviously Team Plasma – or at least an offshoot. They didn’t seem to have Plasma’s subtlety…”

“They attacked us,” Dalton said succinctly, feeling like Phineas’s explanation of events was falling flat. “We fought back. The leader came for me, went for his gun…”

“We don’t know that he had a gun,” Phineas interrupted. “And we didn’t get to find out, either. His hand was still in his pocket when he took a bullet through the forehead.”

“Slow down – both of you,” Looker said. “Now… are you saying… you encountered both Plasma and Eklesia?”

“Who are Eklesia?” asked Dalton, this time more loudly.

“Who are Plasma?” asked Phineas just as loudly.

Silence fell upon the room for a moment.

“Why would you expect me to know that?” asked Dalton.

“I have a very good memory, Dalton,” said Phineas, standing up and starting to pace. “I remember, the first day we met, you saying that I knew more about the Team Plasma of now than you would. I’m not a fool. That can only mean one thing – you’ve had a run-in with Team Plasma before you came to Unova. And that’s a problem. Think you can tell me why?”

Dalton frowned and shook his head.

“They spout a lot of rhetoric, but since they can’t be directly connected with any criminal activity, nobody can prosecute them. And even if someone could, they’d have to find the bastards first,” Phineas remarked. “We were hoping that they stayed contained in Unova, but if you’ve met them somewhere else, that makes our job monitoring them a hell of a lot harder.”

“Information, we are asking from you,” Looker said calmly. “There are things you know about Plasma, obviously, that the rest of the general publics do not.”

“It’s ‘public’ – singular,” Phineas muttered without looking at Looker.

“Thank you,” Looker replied. Apparently Phineas correcting Looker on his grammar was normal.

“Ghetsis is the leader. Do you know that much?” Dalton asked after a long pause.

“…No,” said Looker, looking at Phineas a bit uncertainly. “Ghetsis is a spokesman. There is a man within Team Plasma that they call ‘King’…”

“He’s a figurehead,” Dalton interrupted. “Ghetsis is the real problem.”

“I guessed as much,” Phineas snorted. “I mean… seriously, if you’ve ever seen the guy… first of all, he’s huge. I’d put him at six-foot-four at minimum. Then there’s that eyepatch thing… bright red. Then that smile… I’m not sure you can call it a smile, actually. Something about it looks… off. Okay… Ghetsis being the real bad guy’s not that hard to swallow. So who’s ‘N’?”

“His son,” Dalton asked. “Or at least, that’s how the stories go.”

“That Ghetsis character has a kid?” uttered Phineas, managing to look disgusted and awed at the same time. “Who in their right mind would ever want to f—you know what? Never mind that. I don’t want to know. So what’s the story on Plasma? What do they want?”

Dalton sighed. Hopefully they didn’t ask how he knew any of this. “Ghetsis is going to – or… he wants to – set up a world government. His message, as you’ve heard it, is that people and Pokémon are better off separate, right?”

“That’s what I’ve heard, yes,” Phineas said, nodding.

“It is also what I have heard,” echoed Looker.

“Think about this,” Dalton said, sitting up straight. “What’s the advantage of having Pokémon?”

Looker looked to Phineas, who responded, “Why the hell are you looking at me? I don’t have any Pokémon.”

“Which is why, for all your tough talk in Pinwheel Forest, you were the least useful out of the three of us,” Dalton said, unable to help the slight smile that curled his lip at the end. He’d been waiting to get Phineas on that one for days. But then, his face became completely serious again, because the next part was no laughing matter. “Imagine what would have happened if none of us had any Pokémon?”

“Well, they would’ve left us alone, right?” asked Phineas. “They only came after us because you two had Pokémon.”

Dalton grimaced. This was a good point. “Okay, then. What do you think would happen if a government outlawed Pokémon for everyone but themselves?”

Phineas and Looker looked at each other silently.

“Look at the things Pokémon can do – breathe fire, shock you with God knows how many volts of electricity… poison you… and most of them I’ve met have teeth and claws they can use to cut you open,” Dalton said. “If any one group had a monopoly on that kind of power, they could create a dictatorship, with them as the ruling class. That’s the dirty little secret. Plasma would love for everyone else to give up their Pokémon… but Ghetsis doesn’t have any intention of holding up his end of that deal.”

There was another long silence. Looker had his hands folded across his mouth thoughtfully.

“That’s all I’ve got, really…” Dalton said a bit feebly.

“You seem to know an awful lot about this game that’s being played,” Phineas said. “Almost as if you’ve played it before…”

“Not exactly,” Dalton answered darkly. Struggling against a very sudden lump in his throat, he added, “I just know what happens to the losers.”

“And who are the losers?” Looker asked, staring at Dalton intently.

“Everyone that takes the bait,” Dalton answered. “And you know what the scary part is? I get it. Now that I’ve been a Pokémon Trainer for a little while… it makes sense on one level.”

“What makes sense?” asked Phineas.

“They… we… walk a tightrope,” Dalton answered, choosing his words carefully. “People catch Pokémon and battle with them, essentially for money, or sport, or titles, or bragging rights. And the Pokéballs we use to catch them sort of convert them to some sort of light or energy for easy storage. It’d be easy to forget that they feel pain… that they bleed… and unless you bothered to find out, you wouldn’t know that they had stories and souls. They’re not all that different from us, really. So what right do we have to order them into battle? That’s what Team Plasma is saying, essentially. And I agree with all of it.”

“Then what’s the difference between you and them?” asked Phineas probingly. “What made them extremists, and you the guy that’s hell-bent on taking them down?”

“I see both sides of the coin,” Dalton said. “It’s human nature to want to prove ourselves – to want to please those we care about.”

“It’s human nature for us to want to please ourselves,” Phineas argued.

“That, too,” conceded Dalton. “Humans are proud. I’ll give you that. You ever think Pokémon have pride, too?”

“I have a hard enough time understanding humans,” scoffed Phineas. “My brain only has room for one race of creature.”

“You’d be surprised,” Dalton said. “Pokémon have pride. I’ve seen it. They can also grow to care for us as humans… see us as friends… and that’s when things change.”

“Now… like I said, I’m not an expert on Pokémon,” Phineas remarked. “But from what I’ve seen, it’s humans giving orders and Pokémon following them. Like a general with soldiers.”

“And I’m no expert on sports, but I think Pokémon Trainers are more like coaches,” replied Dalton. “Nina’s grown up since we met. She knows how to do things that she didn’t before. Pokémon are plenty strong enough on their own. Yet, there’s something about uniting with humans that brings out their potential.”

“That’s all well and good,” said Phineas, starting to wave his hand dismissively. “But I didn’t come here to get a lecture on… Pokémon philosophy.”

“You are still young,” Looker interjected himself into the conversation very quietly. “If you know how an enemy thinks, you know how to beat him.”

Phineas looked like he might punch Looker for a moment, but then turned toward Dalton. “So, how do you plan to stop a force that’s thought to be hundreds strong?”

“Nothing lives very long without a head,” Dalton said simply. “I think our marksman friend would say the same thing.”

“Unfortunately, neither you nor your ‘marksman friend’ have the authority to dispense that brand of justice,” Phineas said coolly, sitting forward in his chair. “Categorically, you’re both vigilantes. I guess the only thing that separates you from being scum like him is that you haven’t murdered anyone yet. Hell, if Ghetsis was here in this room and you had a gun between his eyes, I doubt you’d even have the balls to pull the trigger.”

“Of course you don’t. You don’t know what motivates me, and you have no idea how much,” Dalton said. “And Ghetsis doesn’t have ‘eyes’ to put a bullet between. He’s got one eye to put a bullet to the left of.”

At this, Phineas finally laughed… and yet it sounded alarmingly like a cackle.

“Well, at least you’ve mastered the art of talking big,” he said. It had been obvious, though, that his laugh had been somewhat fake; either that, or he was one of those rare people that was able to go from a full laugh to a straight face in an instant. “Dalton Gregg, I’m only going to tell you this once – for your own good. Go home.”

“Home?” Dalton asked. “To where?”

“Where?” Phineas snorted as if Dalton had told a mildly entertaining joke. “Where? Anywhere. I don’t give a damn where. But this is our investigation, and you’d be better served to stay out of our way.”

“Are you serious?” Dalton replied. “Listen, if you think I came all this way just to sit on the sideline while—”

“You seem to be under the impression that this is a negotiation,” Phineas interrupted. “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. You have no badge. You have no jurisdiction – and frankly, you don’t have enough power to bring to bear even if we allowed you. You’d just get yourself killed and I can’t let that happen.”

“Really, now?” asked Dalton. “You’ve grown attached to me? That’s nice.”

“Get over yourself,” Phineas snarled. “I just don’t want to be the one to have to tell your family—”

“I don’t have a family. That’s just it,” Dalton said. “The Party – Team Plasma, that is – took my family away from me.”

“Oh. Well, that’s too bad,” Phineas said, obviously going out of his way to sound as unsympathetic as possible. “But, believe it or not, the world doesn’t revolve around you and your little quest for revenge.”

“I’m not asking it to,” Dalton said. “I just need it to keep turning, period… until I can get my hands around Ghetsis’s neck.”

“You’re biting off more than you can chew,” Phineas answered stubbornly. “Just… stick to your whole Pokémon Training bit. You’ll be happier if you do.”

“I know I will,” Dalton said, standing up. Turning his back on the agents, he added, “I think we’re done here.”

“The hell we are,” Phineas spat back immediately, and from the sounds of things, he was on his feet as well. “I don’t think you’re getting my message, Gregg. Do not interfere with our investigation. If you get in our way, you’ll have to face our justice.”

“And if you get in my way, you’ll have to face mine,” Dalton snapped, turning around.

“Your justice?” Phineas repeated. “That’s rich. Your justice. If we implicate Ghetsis in any criminal activity, he’ll be locked up for the rest of his life. What justice are you planning on—”

Something in the back of Dalton’s brain snapped just enough to decide that he was finished hearing Phineas Assad talk. That same something was also the voice that convinced Dalton that the quickest way to stop Phineas Assad from talking was to slap him across the face in mid-sentence.

“You…” Phineas, for all the world, had obviously wanted to hit Dalton back, but as it turned out, Looker was surprisingly quick, and his grip surprisingly strong. “You just assaulted an agent of the International Police. You’re good and f—ked now – that’s a year in prison at the very least—”

“Whose prison? Huh? Where are you gonna lock me up?” Dalton muttered, his every word and motion seized by such a rage and a recklessness that it was as if he was watching himself from somewhere outside of his own body. And yet, he heard his voice tremble with barely contained fury, felt his own hands shake as his mind dangled by the thinnest of threads over the great abyss called insanity – “You’re gonna extradite me? Is that it? Send me to stand trial back in my own country? I HAVE NO COUNTRY!”

He heard something click somewhere vaguely to his right, and then Looker’s shouted voice, “HOLD FIRE! HOLD FIRE!!”

“Seven years. Seven f—king years – and counting,” Dalton said, pointing a violently trembling finger right at Phineas’s snarling face. “That’s how long I’ve thought and dreamt of getting my hands on the people that ruined my life. And now I’ve got the chance, and you think your words are gonna be enough to put an end to that? This is the thing I’ve lived for – not something, the only thing. Thirteen years old, locked in the basement of my third home in two years… they were stupid enough to leave their gun down there and I found it, I took that pistol in my hand… and I stared at it, and stared at it, and stared at it… and I could’ve put it to my forehead and pulled the trigger, but I didn’t. You know why? Because I decided… if I was gonna die… I was gonna do it fighting. It might take me a little bit more time to find Ghetsis, but when I do… when I do, I’m gonna open the gates of Hell. And once I do that, there’s no closing them for anyone. So if you’re not gonna stand behind me when that happens, you’d better make damn sure you’re not standing in front.”

Phineas looked Dalton over for a moment. Looker had an expression of concern etched upon his slightly lined, slightly stubbled face. It was then that Dalton realized how uncontrollably he was shaking.

“I believe,” Looker said slowly, “found out all we need to know, we have.”

“You… need to see a f—king shrink. You’ve got problems,” Phineas said.

“No, I’ve got one problem,” Dalton answered, staring blankly ahead.

“If you interfere with us, you’ll have two,” Phineas said.

“Fine,” Dalton said, his face contorting as he tried to keep his voice level. “I’ll have two. And I’ll deal with both of them the same way.”

He heard no more from either Phineas or Looker – only a strange chiming noise when the door opened to signal their departure.

Dalton looked at his hands.

“We have received word that your daughter has been exposed to images and information that have a high potential to be harmful to her mental and social development.”

“Let me go! Daddy!!”

“KALLEN!!”

“It is, therefore, for the safety of your family as well as the greater Harmonia community as a whole that His Majesty has ordered your daughter to be transferred to a facility in Castelia City for special re-education.”

“No! No! I don’t want to!!”

“Please, I’m begging you, please… don’t do this… have a conscience…”

“We are the conscience. His Majesty’s word is law. Laws must be followed, and when they are not followed, justice must be handed down.”

“Justice!? For God’s sake, she’s eight years old!!”

“…Justice must be handed down…”


“…Justice must be handed down…”

Justice must be handed down, he thought. Or else everything’s pointless…

He closed his eyes and slumped into a chair, feeling suddenly weary. His emotions overtook him for a moment and he sat silently, tears running down his face. Once he felt up to doing something other than sitting and crying to himself, he signaled to the reluctant bartender, asked him what the strongest drink was that the small bar had to offer, and ordered it. And he gave no thought to how any of his five senses would protest. He wanted to murder the lot of them. His mind had drifted back into Hell, and the only way for it to venture out again would be for it not to be aware of its steps. The first bitter mouthful was calm warmth, the second sweet amnesia, the third a ferry to a slightly spiraling world of familiar voices…

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

Talia’s legs were throbbing. It would have done her very well to check the weather, she thought, hearing herself sloshing along slightly after the third sudden downpour of the evening. The sky was burnt sienna with the artificial lights of the city. Here, on the wrong side of the line dividing heavy fatigue and utter exhaustion, all of the lights seemed unnecessarily bright, all sounds unnecessarily loud. The yellow rat on that damned billboard was moving. It would have been great if she could hit the thing with a rock, knock it over…

Yet, it was very nearly too much for her to walk.

She trudged back into the Pokémon Center, stepped through the sliding doors, felt gooseflesh erupt everywhere her skin was uncovered – for whatever reason they wanted things as cool as possible. She scanned the interior for any familiar faces. The kids weren’t around – just as well, she didn’t like them much anyway. One was hardheaded and the other airheaded. Where was that agent? He was good-looking. Maybe, if he hadn’t been such a tool…

“Hey, watch it, lady!” a grumpy boy carrying a Patrat nearly bumped her, causing her to perform a strange sort of pirouette to avoid him.

Talia trudged up to the counter.

“You look tired,” Nurse Joy answered. “We’ve got rooms available…”

“Dalton Gregg?” the words were out of her mouth before she had the chance to think about them.

Nurse Joy seemed taken aback. “Uh… huh? Are you his girlfriend?”

“Does it matter?” asked Talia. Nurse Joy frowned. “What, did something happen?”

“I…” the pink-haired nurse was very abashed. “Well, you see…”

“He’s not hurt, is he?” asked Talia.

“He stumbled in here about an hour ago…” Nurse Joy explained, her eyes averted from Talia as if she was discussing something shameful. “I’m surprised he was able to direct himself anywhere at all.”

Talia tried to make sense of Nurse Joy’s disconnected ramblings. It wasn’t working. “What’s his room, please? I’d like to see him.”

“522,” Nurse Joy, who had been typing most of this time, answered, looking up from the rather large screen of her computer. “It’s Room 522. Although I can’t guaran—”

Talia gave Nurse Joy no chance to finish her statement, darting instead for the elevators. When the elevator opened, she stepped in, followed immediately by another girl, who stepped into the elevator silently before giving Talia a coy, vague sort of smile.

“Twelve, please,” she said sweetly. Talia hit the button labeled “12” as well as the one labeled “5”, and felt a slight lurch underneath her feet as the elevator started upward.

Talia guessed the girl, although she was a bit shorter, was about her age. Even Talia had to admit, she was a budding flower of beauty, her hair as dark, as long, and as lustrous as Talia had ever seen on a young girl. She carried herself with a sort of womanly grace – although Talia, for the life of her, couldn’t figure out why she was wearing what she was wearing unless she had recently come back from some sort of ball. On top of all that, she looked vaguely familiar in a way Talia couldn’t quite place…

A loud ping got Talia’s attention. She saw the number of her floor on the digital display board as the door to the elevator slid aside. Once across the threshold, she turned around to cast one last glance at the black-haired girl, who bared her teeth again in a smile before the closing elevator door hid her from view. The clunk the door made seemed to jar her back to reality, a reality where disappointment and worry were twin neighbors flanking her on each side. Her eyes found a sign directing her to ‘Rooms 513-525’, and she walked in the direction the arrow pointed.

Her disappointment turned into a haze of disbelief as she walked, so much so that it took her a moment to put two and two together. She had walked past the room she’d wanted. An immediate sense of panic descended on her as she realized the door was hanging open. Gingerly, she stepped across the threshold. A couple of unpleasant odors assaulted her nose at once, and the television was drowned out by a loud rush of running water from a faucet, mingled with grunts and growls. The bathroom door, too, was hanging open, revealing a shirtless, gaunt, young man washing his face in the sink – or perhaps just drenching it with water. He threw another torrent over his face, and then a third, slapping himself repeatedly and trying to stare at himself in the misted-over mirror. Talia slowly stepped inside the bathroom. The toilet seat was up, and the toilet completely clean…

Up until he threw himself nearly into it, and nasty splashing sounds twice signaled the contents of his stomach making an unwilling reappearance. He nearly threw himself backward from the toilet as if repulsed by it, but his balance failed him. He staggered terribly and looked ready to teeter to the ground before Talia rushed in to help. She pinned him against the flatness of the wall, but he was resistant, and in this strange state, stronger than he looked. He pushed her backward. His eyes, bloodshot, red, obviously having cried fountains of tears very recently, finally found hers…

Then he went to his knees, covering his head.

“Oh, god…” he sobbed breathlessly. “Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!”

Talia struggled to stay still, struggled against the horrible feelings she sensed literally choking her…

He went to the ground, cursing and screaming at the top of his lungs. “KALLEN! KALLEN! KALLEN! Oh, god…”

She bent down near him, and a whiff of his breath confirmed what she feared, and yet, knew. She’d never dealt with something like this before… but he was hurting, hurting so much more deeply than she had ever seen him let on.

He was on his back now, his reddening face covered by his forearms. Talia watched in horror as the scars she had only glimpsed once before were now thrown into full relief – crisscrossing his thin, pale chest, angry, red-orange, awful, boiling sort of things. It was almost as if someone had tried to light a pack of matches with his skin as the tinderbox…

“It’s all my fault…” she heard him murmur, watching tears spill down his face from underneath his forearms. “All my f—king fault. All because of that book… I’ll make this right. I’ll get them. I’ll get them, I swear to f—king God, I’ll kill them all…”

Almost zombie-like, Talia went over to the suite’s front door and gently shut it. She came back into the bathroom to find Dalton supine and unsteady on the rim of the bathtub, crying. She bit back tears of her own with almighty effort, hit the flush lever for the toilet, waited for its noise to stop, and then finally spoke.

“Dalton.”

He looked up – looked at her as if recognizing her, and yet as if seeing her clearly for the first time.

“It’s me – Talia,” she said.

“Talia,” he repeated slowly, a bit like a small child – a very unsteady, intoxicated small child. To her great horror, he tried to stand, did so much too quickly, and then teetered forward. The split-split-second opportunity she had to dodge and let him fall passed, so she did the only thing she could do; she tried to catch him. She staggered under his weight and felt her ankle twinge horribly as her feet tried to dig into the slick, smooth, slightly wet tile floor. But her balance held and, finally, everything went still. It was only then that Talia realized how violently she herself was shaking. She felt his arms then – thin but long, more than long enough to engulf her…

And, just like that, each was holding up the other. Her ear was squeezed into his chest. She could hear his heart beating, feel him push against her face as he took short, shallow, uneven breaths. She even felt one of her cheeks resting against one of his many scars.

And she heard the hum within him as his words escaped:

“You came back.”

The tone was nuanced, a mixture of a dozen different small emotions at once. There was more than a hint of despair, and yet the three words were awash with gratefulness. What the hell are you doing here? You shouldn’t have come. I didn’t want you to see me like this.

Please don’t leave.


And what was there to say – that she hadn’t had a choice? That wasn’t true at all.

“Yes,” Talia answered after a moment.

“Why?” Dalton murmured.

Talia thought about it for a moment. She felt herself choke on her own emotions. What if she had come ten minutes later – or not at all?

“Dalton…” she said seriously, trying to block everything out until she had time to think. “Let’s get you to bed…”

He did not resist and yet his body did not go obediently. They wound a strange sort of dance out of the bathroom and to the bunk. Talia thought a silent prayer of thanks to the heavens that this wasn’t the Pokémon Center in Nacrene – that Center used two lofted beds, which would have made this nigh impossible – and she dragged him and let him drag her across the room.

“Okay,” Talia muttered. “Lay d—…!!”

Something strange had happened. She had tried to guide him to the bed, but he had either fallen or pulled her down with him. In any rate, however it had happened, the end result was the same. He was on his back, her on top of him. She could smell the repulsive odor of alcohol on his breath. The possibilities hit her all at once – the things his drunken mind could be contemplating… and she could get away if she tried hard enough. Maybe it was time to leave…

He reached a hand up. She flinched for a moment until she felt his fingers brushing indecisively against her face. Surprised and yet trying to figure out what he wanted, she leaned down into the clasp of his surprisingly gentle hand.

“You’re something else,” he murmured. His speech was slurred, but in the silence, she understood him perfectly. “Just like this, you know… like you are right now. That’s fine with me.”

She went to smile, but something twisted it midway and, before she could even think to stop them, the tears started flowing. She separated herself from Dalton and darted into the bathroom to try to gather herself again. When she returned, she heard his body rumbling with light snores.

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

The first thing Dalton became aware of in the morning was an awful headache. Really, the word ‘headache’ failed to do it justice; it was more like somebody drilling into both of his eyeballs. With no regard for what might have been in his way, he leapt from the bed and darted to the restroom. He barely made it over the toilet it started again. He swore to himself and flushed the toilet, standing and walking over to the sink, where he started to brush his teeth furiously – half to get the awful morning breath-vomit potpourri taste out of his mouth, and half because the violent motions with his hands put his mind enough at ease that he didn’t feel like punching anything. After a few moments, he looked up at himself. Staring back at him was someone barely recognizable. His hair, once closely cropped, had grown untidy in the back. A light shadow sat around his mouth and chin, accented by stray black locks around his jawline – the sum of facial hair that refused to fully emerge. In what he supposed was something of an upside, the traveling had put a few pounds onto his body… but only a few. And it had done nothing at all to help the scars…

Dalton’s eyes focused on a flash of ginger behind him.

“You okay?” Talia asked.

Dalton swallowed hard. “What the f—k happened?”

“I’m not sure,” Talia answered. “I came back looking for you and… well, you were in here… drunk…”

Dalton’s knuckles went whiter as he gripped the sides of the sink. “Drunk? …F—k. I knew it was only a matter of time…”

“…I didn’t know you were an alcoholic,” said Talia.

“I’m not,” Dalton groaned. “I’m… way worse.”

His grip on the sink slackened along with his entire body.

“Talia,” he said, “you need to go.”

“Where?” she asked.

“Anywhere,” Dalton replied quickly. “Anywhere that’s away from me.”

“But you know this about yourself, don’t you?” Talia asked, her voice a bit stronger. “You’ve been trying to act like you’re alright. You’re not. You need help.”

“Help?” Dalton whirled around. “What kind of help? It’s all up here. I can’t turn it off. ” He jabbed at his temple violently. “I can’t turn it off without killing it – and I can’t kill it. I can’t die. I’ve got too much left to do. You don’t see what goes on up here, do you? You don’t know what I dream about every night—”

“No, but I have an idea,” Talia interrupted him.

“DAMN IT!” screamed Dalton, turning around toward the sink again, stopping himself seconds before following through on an impulse to deliver a haymaker to the mirror. He felt his eyes water and his words catch in his throat. “You… I’m not joking. You need to go away.”

“Why?” asked Talia. “Why do I need to go away?”

“WHY THE HELL DO YOU THINK!?” Dalton yelled, making Talia jump. His head dropped. “I… I don’t want to hurt you. Not after everything… everything you’ve… damn it, if I’m gonna self-destruct, I don’t want to take anyone with me except the people who deserve it…”

He took a ragged breath and then let out a sound somewhere between a gasp and a sob. “…F—k… I hurt you, didn’t I? Last night, when I…”

Talia, with a jolt, realized what Dalton meant. “No. God, no. Dalton, you were just…”

“I can’t afford to do that again,” he said simply.

“No,” Talia agreed. “No, you can’t. And that’s why I’ve decided to stick around.”

Dalton stayed silent for a moment. “…You didn’t find him, did you?”

Talia’s head lowered. Her voice, small and cracked, betrayed her even as she said, “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it…”

Dalton detached himself from the sink, wincing as his head continued to throb. He nodded uncertainly for a moment. “This doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s not one of those stories.”

“You don’t know what kind of story this is,” Talia replied immediately. Dalton’s face failed him for a moment. He went to turn around and folded his arms across his chest, hoping to hide most of the scars. But Talia approached him and started to pull his arms away from his body. “You can’t hide anything from me anymore,” she whispered.

A look of astonishment seized Dalton’s features. “She was right…”

“Who was right?” asked Talia.

“‘You won’t be alone,’” Dalton said breathlessly. “She was talking about you.”

“Dalton, what’s that m—” Talia started to ask. But the half-sentence hung perilously in the air as Dalton started to lean down toward her…

THUMP. THUMP.

Both of them jumped. There was a knock at the door. Dalton’s eyes widened.

“Stay here,” he said, darting back into the main room to find his shirt and leaving Talia in a red-faced daze.

He threw his shirt on and went to the door. He opened it bracingly.

The boy on the other side was just as thin and black-haired as he was, and it occurred to Dalton for the first time that the two actually looked somewhat alike. He presently had his arms folded, tapping his foot impatiently on the carpeted floor while trying to look interested in a light overhead.

“Just thought you should know – Burgh’s gym is back up and running,” he said, not meeting Dalton’s eyes.

“It wasn’t?” asked Dalton.

“I thought you knew that,” answered Cheren, frowning.

“I’ve been…” Dalton grimaced. “…a little preoccupied.”

“Hmm,” Cheren murmured, as if thinking about things other than Gym battles was the greatest sin in the world. “Hey… listen. I… I thought maybe you’d be able to help me with something.”

Dalton looked at Cheren askance. “I thought we said I wasn’t qualified to give relationship advice.”

Cheren’s teeth showed with an expression appropriate for someone forced to endure something painful. His face also went pink underneath his glasses. “It’s not that. But, now that you mention it…”

As if on cue, Dalton heard Talia’s voice behind him. “Who’s at the door?”

Dalton followed Cheren’s eyes and knew that they had flickered to where Talia’s face was showing in the gap. Dalton cleared the doorway to let her forward.

“Oh…” she uttered, sounding nonplussed. “It’s you.”

Dalton tried to keep his face neutral, but he could only imagine how this must have looked to Cheren.

“So you two are… seeing each other?” Cheren asked. He was not nearly as naïve as Bianca; Dalton could practically hear the unspoken implications in his question. Cheren must have caught them too, because he added, “Dating, I mean?”

Dalton didn’t answer. In truth, he didn’t know. He may have been unaware of his senses the night before, but he was completely aware of them today. He knew that he’d had every intention of kissing her just a few moments ago – and, at least from his point of view, she’d had every intention of letting him…

Cheren raised his eyebrows. “Fascinating,” he said with the air of a scientist doing research.

“Where’s Bianca?” Talia asked. She was obviously hoping to get the focus off what had just happened – although Dalton probably would have asked a question completely unrelated to anyone’s relationship status to accomplish that goal. A pained squeak escaped Cheren’s throat, almost as if someone had kicked him down low.

“I thought you’d know,” Cheren said. He closed his eyes, looking away distractedly. Then, with an expression that said all too clearly that he was putting that particular problem on the proverbial back burner, he set his eyes on Dalton and said, “Anyway, I was hoping you’d have a battle with me.”

For some reason, this comment set Talia off. “Dalton isn’t in any condition to—”

He barred her from charging forward with his forearm. Cheren smiled.

“Under the weather?” he asked. “Your girlfriend’s really protective of you. That’s nice, I guess… I mean… you two are together, right?”

“No… yeah.”
“Yeah… no.”

Each of them had spoken at the same time and then amended their answer to what they thought the other had wanted to hear. The resulting confusion was almost enough to bring Dalton’s headache back in full force. He didn’t look at her. That would have to be a conversation they had very soon, but not out here with a third party watching.

“Why do you want to battle so badly?” asked Dalton.

“Same reason as last time,” Cheren said. “I want to see where you stand on the figurative totem pole.”

“What’s up?” asked Talia, apparently a bit nettled by Cheren’s insistence. “Your boyfriend Blake not around anywhere?”

Dalton wasn’t sure if there was any one look that specifically said to its target, “F—k you,” but if there was one look for that, Cheren was giving it to Talia. As it was, though, he ignored the question.

“Most of the major roads in Castelia lead to a town square,” Cheren explained. “There’ll be enough room there so we can battle without breaking anything. Should draw a nice size crowd, too. So… noon sound good?”

Dalton’s gut told him it was somewhere around mid-morning. That is, he hadn’t had breakfast yet and his stomach had started grumbling. “Yeah. Noon sounds good.”

“Great,” Cheren said, starting down the hall. “Don’t leave me out there by myself. That’d be bad form.”

And he disappeared, leaving Dalton in the hall with Talia and one enormous pink elephant.

“Dalton…” murmured Talia.

Well, he thought to himself in resignation after several long seconds. She’s already seen me naked and sh-tfaced… maybe there’s a chance that telling her I feel something for her won’t scare her off…

“Yeah?” Dalton uttered at last.

Talia had her hand over her stomach, looking uncomfortable. “I…”

Not possible… is it?

“I really need some food,” she said. Somewhere in the back of his brain, Dalton heard a sound akin to a grating record scratch. At the same time, he felt immense relief. “It just occurred to me that I didn’t eat dinner last night.”

“Yeah…” Dalton murmured. “Yeah, same here.”

“Even if you had,” Talia said, walking past Dalton. He saw a flash of the foxlike grin return to her face. “Most of it will have come back up.”

Dalton grimaced. “I guess I deserved that one… I just felt awful. It was a jackass thing to do. I just…”

“Beating yourself up isn’t going to make it any better,” Talia interrupted.

“I’m sorry,” Dalton repeated, still not feeling as if he had done enough penance. “Are you sure I didn’t, like… hit you or anything…?”

“I’m telling you, you didn’t,” Talia answered – although she did go a bit red in the face, and Dalton couldn’t figure out why. “Actually… actually, you were kind of sweet to me for being so hammered…”

Dalton’s jaw unhinged for a moment.

“Still, though, I think I’d prefer it if you were sober from now on,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Agreed. Kick me in the junk if you see me drinking anything stronger than black coffee,” Dalton said distastefully.

Talia raised an eyebrow. “So you’re actually giving me permission…”

“I’ll be pissed if you don’t,” Dalton told her. “I’ve heard a couple of people say you don’t feel anything when you get drunk… that sh-t doesn’t work for me.”

He put a hand on his forehead.

“Those scars are awful,” she said. “But… here you are.”

“Yeah,” sighed Dalton. “Here I am. It’s like I said… I don’t think you’d be able to fix me.”

“Maybe you don’t need me to fix you,” Talia answered, stepping around to the front of him. “Maybe you don’t really need fixing at all.”

There was a look of mingled mischief and tenderness in her eyes.

“Who is Dalton Gregg?”

END
 
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Air Dragon

Ha, ha... not.
Well, that was an interesting adventure of a chapter. So, Dalton's pretty much gotten Phineas off his back for now, Talia's returned, and Cheren's come-a-knocking for a battle. Not to mention Cheren's concerned about his little "Bee-Bee"... *smirk*

Interesting.

There was an error somewhere, though...

Well, he thought to himself in resignation after several long seconds. She’s already seen me naked and sh-tfaced… maybe there’s a chance that telling her I feel something for her won’t scare her off…[/I]


Three guesses where it was... :D

So, who IS Dalton Gregg? Guess we'll find out bit by bit...

L@er!
 

Emeraldfan

Well-Known Member
10 Years? Yeez... I think this account started maybe 5-6 years ago... Wait a sec, I really have been here quite some time... I'm starting to feel old...

I wasn't really planning on reading any new fanfics, so I haven't yet read any poorly researched X/Y fanfic. What I did do was look at the starters and suspected stats. I must say that I like Delphox (T-Bolt you Water types... MUHAHAHA). Reading this fic among other things really made me think of other fics as rather amateuristic... Maybe my standard's just too high these days...

Now who would've offered that advice, I'd have to check the various responses to find the person who did that ;)
But I suppose I could say that the enrichment of my English vocabulary has continued? I don't remember the exact words I had to look up, though I believe tacitly was one of them. Took me a while to comprehend the explanation as well, but I think I got it now.


Then, to the mistakes. There's two I've remembered, but I got this nagging feeling that I've seen more things that I wasn't so sure about. I might re-read and look for those.

“Yeah, me, neither,”
This one, I'm not so sure about all the commas. I'd have said "Yeah, me neither," but that might just be wrong. It looks strange in the text though, at least to me.

He was on his back, her on top of him
My belief is that her refers to an object, whereas Talia seems to be the subject in the second part. So, instead I'd have used "she was".


And onto the story...

“Also clears other things…”
I must've missed something, because I can't figure out what Phineas was thinking of when Looker said that.
I'm also gonna find my Greek dictionary tommorow, because Eklesia sounds Greek.

Dalton and Talia sure make for an interesting pair/couple. Somewhat like Lucas and Nalani I suppose (speaking of which, you haven't forgotten about them, have you? :) ). It'll be interesting to see how that all works out, as with all the other stuff happening.

Anyway, I've been at this some time now, and said pretty much everything I wanted to say. So only one thing left to do.
Till next chapter!
 
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EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Well, let the games begin! And may be odds be ever-

...Wait. Wrong fandom. Bollocks.

Moving on...


Air Dragon:

Well, that was an interesting adventure of a chapter. So, Dalton's pretty much gotten Phineas off his back for now, Talia's returned, and Cheren's come-a-knocking for a battle. Not to mention Cheren's concerned about his little "Bee-Bee"... *smirk*
They're so adorable at that age... lol. I've got a younger cousin that's about the same age as these two, and he's starting to discover the ups and downs of dealing with women. A hundred dollars says he still gets his first girlfriend before I do. *sigh* ...Such is my lot in life...


There was an error somewhere, though...
...Really? I think your error pulled a Houdini right before you posted. ;)



Emeraldfan:

10 Years? Yeez... I think this account started maybe 5-6 years ago... Wait a sec, I really have been here quite some time... I'm starting to feel old...
Ain't that the damn truth?


I wasn't really planning on reading any new fanfics, so I haven't yet read any poorly researched X/Y fanfic. What I did do was look at the starters and suspected stats. I must say that I like Delphox (T-Bolt you Water types... MUHAHAHA). Reading this fic among other things really made me think of other fics as rather amateuristic... Maybe my standard's just too high these days...
Ooh, Delphox learnes Thunderbolt? I never did worry much about trying to cover 10 different types with one Pokemon. As far as I'm concerned, that's what a full team of six is for. Unless you're doing a solo run or you get in a pinch where Delphox is your only Pokemon left, or you're leveling and don't really want to switch out (but with the Exp. Share, does it really matter?). But I'm going to get Pokemon X/Y before the end of the year. I'd have it already, but my budget isn't going to allow me to plunk down the $200 or so for the 3DS AND the game as well as the $200 or so it will probably cost me to pay off the rest of my PS4 when that comes out in about a week and a half. *sigh* First world problems...


Then, to the mistakes. There's two I've remembered, but I got this nagging feeling that I've seen more things that I wasn't so sure about. I might re-read and look for those.

“Yeah, me, neither,”
This one, I'm not so sure about all the commas. I'd have said "Yeah, me neither," but that might just be wrong. It looks strange in the text though, at least to me.
I've always seen "me, neither" or "me, either" separated by a comma. I actually don't know the rule on that, and I'm not sure it occurs often enough for there to be a rule about it. Speaking of being here a while, a couple of my reviewers from the old days knew grammar rules about the English language that most people didn't even realize were rules. I kinda wish those guys were still around......


This one, I'm not so sure about all the commas. I'd have said "Yeah, me neither," but that might just be wrong. It looks strange in the text though, at least to me.

He was on his back, her on top of him
My belief is that her refers to an object, whereas Talia seems to be the subject in the second part. So, instead I'd have used "she was".
Yeah, that's awkwardly phrased. I think your way would have made it a run-on sentence, though. But my way isn't right, either. Not sure what to do with that one... :(


And onto the story...

“Also clears other things…”
I must've missed something, because I can't figure out what Phineas was thinking of when Looker said that.
I'm also gonna find my Greek dictionary tommorow, because Eklesia sounds Greek.

Dalton and Talia sure make for an interesting pair/couple. Somewhat like Lucas and Nalani I suppose (speaking of which, you haven't forgotten about them, have you? ). It'll be interesting to see how that all works out, as with all the other stuff happening.

Anyway, I've been at this some time now, and said pretty much everything I wanted to say. So only one thing left to do.
Till next chapter!
Without sounding too crass, Looker was referring to being, erm... regular.

Eklesia is Greek. Get to searching. Or just go to Google Translate. That's how I did it. ^_^

Um... Lucas and Nalani? ...I haven't made a final decision, but I don't believe I'll be going back to Maverick Heart - at least not with a serious re-write. It's strange, because it's one of the fics that I enjoy reading the most whenever I go back and read my own work. It just never felt like a Pokemon fic, to be honest, and I might've done a bit too much. Although I would like to round out the trilogy... at the same time, there's hardly anyone around who gives a **** enough about the Trilogy for me to revive it. Plus, I'm tentatively planning on a se-

Whoops. Too much. Too much. We're just... going to, erm... yeah. Next chapter.


~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
21: Lines Blurred
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~


“Are you sure about this?”

Talia Renard’s voice rang, barely muffled, through the closed bathroom door.

Dalton stared at himself in the mirror for several silent moments. The last inward and outward vestiges of his awful journey the night before had started to fade, replaced now by a terrible, weighty feeling of shame that seemed to bubble within his stomach.

Or maybe he was just extremely hungry.

He studied his face in the mirror again, tracing his thumb around the stubbly spots on his face. It occurred to him that he probably ought to shave… except there was the rather unfortunate obstacle of his being short a razor. He’d almost thought to deign to ask Talia if she had one, but knew she hadn’t – mainly by the colorless down that he could see on her legs when the light hit them a certain way. Not that he had been studying her legs all that closely, of course – but he wasn’t sure he could blame anyone that had, either. She was a shade taller than the average girl. With a decently sized pair of heels, she would all but match him in height. Dalton, though, was fairly sure that high heels didn’t hold much appeal to Talia – least of all now with them doing all of this walking and traveling. But she likely wouldn’t look half bad in a pair… in fact, Dalton got the feeling that she probably cleaned up magnificently…

THUMP. THUMP. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah, I’m good!” Just fine… thinking about your legs, is all. Dalton swore mentally, shaking his head. Somewhere at the back of his head, he knew this would happen eventually. He was too male, and she too beautiful, for it to be avoided. His nostrils flared as he once again remembered Evan. Evan would laugh… and laugh… and laugh…

He would probably say something like, “So you are a guy after all. I was starting to worry about you…”

The thought brought Dalton a pain-tinged smile. Most of his smiles nowadays were pain-tinged. A guy with an almost infinite supply of humor like Evan Stanfeld was hard to come by. He certainly hadn’t found many on his journey so far. Phineas’s humor too often came at his expense to be truly enjoyable. Cheren was too much like Dalton himself – sarcastic, snide, and a bit stoic. Bianca was the type of girl you felt slightly dim for laughing with, yet awful for laughing at… Blake had nearly as much humor as Cheren did (which was to say, none), and Hilda… well, he didn’t know Hilda too well. She seemed funny enough.

THUMP. THUMP. “Dalton!!”

“I’m fine!!” he shouted. There was a stab of annoyance, but then he remembered that he was dealing with someone who had not known him too long, someone who could have easily not cared nearly enough to nag him to this degree, and yet did… because she cared.

Dalton felt ready to face the world.

He emerged from the bathroom to see Talia sitting on the bed, her arms folded. She sprang to her feet. “What were you doing in there?”

“Trying to decide how the hell I’m gonna shave,” muttered Dalton – it wasn’t exactly a lie, of course.

“Well, don’t look at me, I didn’t pack any razors,” said Talia, looking down at her legs, which prompted Dalton to look down for a half-second, then look away, mentally cursing himself and her… “Not that I mind it like this, though…”

I kind of figured as much… Dalton thought to himself.

“You should keep it,” Talia said. “Makes you look more rugged.”

“Yeah, a rugged-looking beanstalk,” Dalton answered snarkily. “F—k it, I guess… I’m not really here to impress anyone, anyway…”

“Maybe not, but…” Talia trailed off. Her eyes drifted to an alarm clock that was beside Dalton’s bed. “Oh, geez, it’s almost ten. We’d better go down to eat.”


The lower atrium was much less crowded than Dalton was anticipating. Probably, Dalton thought, because most of the Trainers had left to see about getting an early shot at Burgh. From what he had gathered from overhearing gossip, Burgh specialized in Bug-type Pokémon. Just the thought of that made Dalton squirm. He had no real fear of insects, but he wasn’t a big fan of them, either. And compared to normal insects, bug Pokémon were quite enormous… and could, among other things, both poison you and spit enough silk to turn a man into a mummy. It didn’t sound like his idea of a fun afternoon, but it had to be done to get the badge. Thankfully, as Burgh had also overheard, Bug-types didn’t much like Flying-types, and he had one of those to spare. And on the subject of type matchups, it also occurred to him that his acquisition of Jaco from the Pinwheel Forest would likely make taking on Cheren’s Pignite a touch easier. He assumed Water-types did well against Fire-types, anyway. He’d never actually gotten a chance to try the matchup. But leave it to my luck that this world’s got f—ked-up logic and it’s actually the opposite… Dalton thought darkly. But, no, he was reasonably sure that he’d read in that book that one time…

A clanking-type sound brought Dalton back to the present. Talia was sitting down opposite him, wielding a tray as orange as her hair. Dalton glimpsed cereal – dry cereal, at that – in a bowl, a carton of milk, and an apple. It looked like the sort of bland breakfast a primary school would have served if forced.

“They ran out of toast,” she said, sounding mildly disappointed.

Dalton couldn’t help himself. “What’s with the dry cereal and the milk in a carton?”

“Oh, this? I don’t like too much milk,” she explained. “Usually, when a place serves cereal, they’ll fill the bowl damn near to the brim with milk. That way, they get to use less cereal. And it’s too much milk. If I try to walk or run afterward, it doesn’t settle right,” she added with a frown. “And it makes the cereal all soggy.”

Dalton grimaced. “Should’ve known that… I used to do the same thing when I was little.”

“Oh, really?” she asked, and her eyes brightened. She opened the carton of milk and poured just a bit into the bowl. It crackled against the cereal and she dug in with her spoon. With the second spoonful halfway up to her mouth, she stopped and said, “That’s interesting. I guess I don’t know much about you.”

“You know plenty about me,” said Dalton, uncomfortably.

“I know plenty about what’s happened to you,” Talia said. “Not you, really…”

But everything that’s happened to me is part of who I am, Dalton wanted to argue. Somehow, though, he felt that if he did so, he and Talia would be arguing that point for days on end. Mercifully, Talia didn’t allow him to answer.

“Like, who are you?” she asked. “What are your hobbies?”

“I don’t have any—” Dalton answered. He knew how pathetic it sounded. So he decided to pick the closest thing he had. “Writing, I guess.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. You do have a way with words,” Talia answered. Dalton wasn’t thrown so much by this compliment; he’d heard her say it before. “So what do you like writing? Action? Mystery? Maybe romance?”

Dalton sighed through his nose. “Never thought about it before.”

“I guess you read a lot, right?” Talia asked.

“Yeah – well, I did,” Dalton murmured. He’d probably picked up a proper book once his entire time in Unova.

“What did you read? What were your favorites?”

Dalton thought about it for a moment. “…Anything where the so-called heroes weren’t all good, but the so-called villains weren’t all bad.”

Talia’s nose wrinkled – not an expression of disgust, but confusion. “Why’s that?”

“Because they’re the most realistic,” said Dalton. “People are complicated. In a lot of stories, it’s black and white. In the real world, it’s shades of gray. Of course, some people in the world don’t always get that, but…”

Talia grinned, almost mockingly. “Deep. You sound like you’re about fifty.”

“You’re not the first person to say that to me,” Dalton murmured. “Evan used to…”

…Used to tell me that all the time, was what Dalton had wanted to say, but the words caught somewhere in his throat. Talia must have noticed the body language. A sad expression came over her face.

“He must have been a really close friend of yours,” she said, trying as hard as she could to sound sympathetic.

“I guess so,” Dalton admitted. “I didn’t realize how much until… until I got here.”

Talia sighed. “I’m tactless. I shouldn’t have made you…”

“It’s okay,” Dalton interrupted. “Better you trying to pry and get information than…”

He trailed off. Talia took another bite of cereal. “So I’m guessing the interrogation thing didn’t go well?”

“It wasn’t an interrogation,” Dalton said. But there was torture involved, he thought to himself, glad that the filter between his brain and his mouth was working better than usual today. He would have hated to see Talia’s face, had those words actually come out. “It’s just… I didn’t feel like I could explain things properly without going into my past a little bit, and I… that’s not something I enjoy doing much… sorta brings everything back, makes it all fresh again…”

He screwed up his face and looked away in an effort to get rid of the lump in his throat.

“Let’s not talk about that anymore,” Talia answered, and she sounded casual but also insistent. “So… music? Did you listen to any?” Dalton nodded. Talia smirked. “Something classical, I bet…”

Dalton had a fraction of a genuine laugh. “No, actually… Evan kinda got me into metal…”

“A metalhead? You?” Talia seemed genuinely amused by this.

“I couldn’t listen as much when I was home,” he said. “Ms. Lucy hated it, and the neighbors were even worse.”

“Ms. Lucy?” Talia asked.

“She was sort of my… caretaker, I guess. Or I was kind of hers. I don’t know what you’d call it, exactly,” said Dalton, who didn’t feel like launching into a protracted explanation of the Service Scholarship Program. “She… died, a little bit under a week before I… before I came out here.”

He was wearing a strange smile, and it only took him a moment to realize why. In retrospect, Lucy’s death had been a mercy – Dalton would have hated for this to have happened when she was alive… she would be sick with worry at this very moment, wondering where Dalton had gone. She would likely call in the authorities, who would either tell her the awful ‘truth’ – that Dalton had died as a criminal – or make up some sort of lie to make his disappearance seem like an unfortunate accident. Yes, it was a mercy that Lucy didn’t live to see Dalton’s fate.

“Sorry to hear that,” Talia said. “I didn’t have my grandparents very long. Both my dad’s parents died before I was born. My grandfather on my mom’s died when I was too young to remember, and my grandmother died… three years ago, the same year dad disappeared…”

Dalton grimaced. “Rough year.”

“We weren’t really that close,” Talia admitted. “They lived out in… God, I don’t even remember. We haven’t been back since I was about ten.”

Dalton asked, “You an only child?”

Talia took another bite of cereal and then leaned her elbow on the table, resting her head upon her hand. “Yes… and no.”

Dalton raised an eyebrow.

“I had an older sister, apparently. Three years before me – stillborn. They named her anyway… Miranda,” Talia said. Then, with a roll of her eyes and a bitter smile that was somehow still attractive, she added, “I like to think she would’ve been the proper lady in the family.”

It was strange, Dalton thought. There were times – very often, actually – he sincerely wished he could be half as detached about his family history as Talia was.

She took a deep sigh. “But that’s all over now, I guess. I’ll probably never see my dad again, and if I never see my mother again, it’ll be too soon…”

But her voice cracked on the last couple of words; she looked away blankly. Her hand was resting, palm down, on the table by itself. It probably surprised Dalton himself more than it did Talia when he gently took hold of it. She gave a slight gasp, and he could feel her hand tensing underneath his.

“Sorry,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t even be complaining… not after…”

“No, I completely get it,” Dalton said. Trying to keep at bay the rage that always seized him when the subject of his family came up, he added, “I hate my parents. My father, especially. I’d probably kill him if I ever saw him again.”

Talia’s eyes popped upward and her hand flinched, which meant she had taken that statement better than Dalton could have possibly expected. He knew it sounded extreme, but he didn’t care. He meant it, too. She opened her mouth as if to say something. Then, her eyes widened as if she had just remembered something, right before her gaze turned stony. Whatever thought she had flew away from her quickly; her eyes were lively and inquisitive again. “So… when do you turn eighteen?”

“I don’t know when I turn eighteen,” Dalton answered, which was sort of true. Physically, he was seventeen, but chronologically, he didn’t exist yet…

Talia frowned. “You know what I meant. When’s your birthday?”

That seemed like a much simpler question, Dalton thought. “Seventh of June.”

Talia’s eyes widened almost comically for a moment. “Really? That’s a weird coincidence.”

Dalton hesitated for a second. “Yours, too?” She nodded. “Well, what are the odds of that?”

“That’s in about a week, you know,” remarked Talia. (Dalton, who had lost track of the date again, didn’t.) “We’ll have to celebrate.”

She gave him a grin.

“Maybe we’ll be in Nimbasa by then,” she mused.

“Nimbasa?” repeated Dalton.

“That’s where the next Gym is,” Talia explained. “Of course, you probably want to take care of Burgh first. You don’t want to have to backtrack – especially not across the desert.”

Dalton raised his eyebrows. “Desert?”

“Yeah, there’s a desert between here and Nimbasa,” Talia said casually, as if crossing a desert on foot was no big deal at all. Dalton leaned back in his chair and muttered a florid string of curses to himself. “But let’s not think about that right now,” she added quickly. Dalton couldn’t help but notice that she was going rather out of her way to keep him happy – or as happy as he would get, anyway. “We’d probably better get going… I mean, if you’re going to battle with Cheren…”

“But you’re not done eating, are you?” Dalton asked, looking at Talia’s half-full bowl. Dalton thought he saw her eyes light up for a moment when he said that. But, then, that would be a very strange reaction, given the context…

“I mean…” Talia contemplated the bowl for a moment. “I guess I’d better not eat much more if we’re going to be doing a whole lot of walking. Well, it’s not really a lot of walking… all the major roads lead from the harbor to the town square.”

“Is there a major road that’ll take us past someplace where I can get some new clothes?” he asked. “I figured, now that we’re not broke anymore…”

“New clothes?” repeated Talia. “That doesn’t sound like a bad idea…”

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

Talia found a store on what was apparently called Mode Street, next to a small ice cream stand that had to sell some sort of delicacy, judging by the two dozen or so people waiting in line. Annoyingly enough, one suit-wearing man had his nose buried in a mobile phone and was blocking the entrance, forcing Talia to nudge him aside to allow herself and Dalton through to the door.

Dalton got the sense upon entering that the store marketed itself to a slightly edgier crowd. A very loud, violent-sounding song that Dalton didn’t recognize was playing over the loudspeakers.

“Hey, bro,” a sandy-voiced youth said as they walked past him, his spiked hair the type of black that only comes from a bottle. Dalton couldn’t help but wince as he took a second glance at the boy’s ears. Their lobes were gauged to the point of absurdity. He never did see the appeal of walking around with earlobes stretched down to parallel with one’s jawline.

“I’m gonna go check some stuff out,” Talia said, and Dalton saw a swish of red hair as she departed. As he scanned the store (which he could have sworn didn’t look this large from the outside) for the men’s section, he walked right past the cashiers. Both of them were female and both looked to be right about his age. One of them was short, with hair bleached blonde and a heavy mascara that brought attention to her blue eyes. She nudged a focused-looking brunette, who looked completely ordinary. Dalton supposed the latter girl must have been new – although he couldn’t figure why the two of them were giggling. Probably some sort of inside joke, he thought.

As Dalton arrived in the men’s section (passing a boy of about sixteen that had nearly that many piercings on his face) he started looking for a shirt that fit. V-necks, he’d noticed back in Azalea City, were usually the trend for tall, gawky teenage youths. Unfortunately, one of his many chest scars ran high – not quite up to his collarbone, but high enough that a plunging neckline would expose it. It was bad enough when Talia had started asking questions – he didn’t want to be subjected to the stares of the general public on top of that. He snarled a curse as he passed them by – a curse that he hoped would cause his father’s ears to ring across the distance and years.

Speaking of curses, his eyes and fingers soon feel upon a black shirt (crewnecked, mercifully) that was unadorned except for its stark white print: “F*CK FEAR.” Asterisk and all. Dalton chuckled a bit at the shirt; it wasn’t a good match for him (partly owing to being a size too big), but he could definitely see Evan wearing it…

“Something funny?”

Dalton looked up. Talia emerged from behind a rack of clothes. She’d dispensed with the hunter green tones and was now wearing a pastel blue crop top with matching arm warmers sand-colored leggings. The camisole was loose and perhaps a half-inch low-cut, but other than that, her only exposed skin was that on her shoulders. Perhaps, Dalton thought, Talia felt somewhat exposed in her old outfit here in this big city…

“What’s wrong?” she asked, registering his shock.

“Oh, nothing,” Dalton uttered. “I just thought you’d choose something more… I dunno… it doesn’t seem like your normal style, is all.”

“It’s not,” admitted Talia, looking herself over with a frown. “But you’d have to be stupid to try to cross a desert in the outfit I was wearing.”

“Good point,” admitted Dalton. “But… arm warmers in the summer?”

“We’re gonna be hot either way,” conceded Talia. “I’d rather be hot and not sunburnt.”

Dalton nodded. Talia leaned around to see the shirt that Dalton was holding.

“‘F—k fear?’” she read curiously. Letting out a laugh, she added, “So much for being kid-friendly, right?”

Dalton rolled his eyes and moved on. She followed.

“You’re gonna pay for those, right?” asked Dalton furtively. He wasn’t looking at the two young cashiers, but he felt a phantom warmth on the back of his neck that could have only been from them staring at him.

“Of course I am,” Talia answered, sounding mildly affronted. She started searching through the circular rack ahead of Dalton, who eyed the display walls distractedly. He became captivated by what looked like a pocket knife… until a mild squeal of “Ooh…” captured Dalton’s attention.

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

And so it was that Dalton dispensed with his borrowed garments and re-emerged into Castelia City wearing a white button-down shirt with a symbol on its right shoulder that resembled a bird of prey taking flight, and dark pants.

Talia, on the other hand, had changed her mind about the arm warmers – although she did get the rest of the outfit.

“Those cashiers were checking you out, you know,” Talia said casually, as they walked past the crowded ice cream stand on Mode Street.

“…Hmm,” uttered Dalton noncommittally, somewhat distracted by paintings in the window of what looked like an art studio right across the road.

Talia laughed breathily. “I don’t think they liked me very much,” she said. “If I hadn’t been buying from them, they probably would have been a lot ruder. Then again, they were pretty b—chy as is…”

Dalton felt his face contort into a smile – but, once again, a smile colored with irony. It was almost humorous, the way Talia was going so far out of her way to pretend that she hadn’t found him sloppy drunk and raving mad the night before. Her humor was borderline grating.

“So, what happened with that Bianca girl?” Talia asked suddenly. “She kind of disappeared after yesterday, and Cheren didn’t look too happy…”

“He’ll be just fine,” Dalton answered. Her, on the other hand… “I can tell, he’s one of those types… nothing really fazes him.”

“I used to think it was great to be all stoic like that,” Talia said, raising her hands behind her head, which had the side effect of drawing attention to…

“OUCH!” Dalton walked right into a harried-looking young businessman, who dropped his briefcase on his foot and launched into a glorious stream of profanities. Right behind him came a young mother holding her hands over the ears of her even younger son, as the two sought to clear the area as quickly as possible. Dalton would have found the scene somewhat hilarious if the businessman wasn’t staring a death laser right at him from two feet away.

“Do the world a favor,” he snarled, picking up his briefcase. “Watch where the hell you’re going.”

And he walked off, muttering one last salvo of swears to some deity Dalton had never heard of.

“Everyone seems really busy around here,” remarked Dalton. “I’m not sure if I like it that much… makes me nervous.”

“Nervous?” repeated Talia.

“Well, yeah,” answered Dalton, who thought this statement made perfect sense. “You know… like, if you’re sitting down trying to think, and somebody else in the room keeps pacing back and forth…”

“Where would you like to live?” Talia asked. Dalton remained silent. She frowned. “That’s a weakness of yours, I’ve noticed. You spend so much time talking about what you don’t like.”

“A weakness?” repeated Dalton.

“You’re negative,” Talia said simply. Then, doing this weird hand gesture that very nearly made Dalton laugh, she added, “You kind of walk with this little storm cloud over your head everywhere you go, and I’m not gonna lie… it’s f—king depressing.”

“Not everybody can be bubbly and cheerful like you,” Dalton said. Even in his frustration, he found he couldn’t yell at her. “I’m not that good at pretending nothing’s going wrong.”

“I’m not that good at pretending nothing’s going right,” Talia said without missing a beat.

“I don’t…” Dalton had an argument ready-made but lost it somewhere. “So this is your new thing? Trying to fix me? Since you can’t find your dad…”

“Look, don’t ask me to explain it, okay? Because I don’t know,” Talia interrupted a bit huffily, although she looked down at her feet. “It’s just that… that… well…”

If this was one of those sappy romantic fiction stories, Dalton thought, this would probably be the part where Talia confessed to some sort of unrealized feelings for me, despite the fact that she’s way the hell out of my league. But this isn’t one of those sappy romantic fiction stories...

“…We need each other, don’t we?” asked Talia. “I mean… you need someone to keep an eye on you so you don’t lose it… you told me that yourself.”

“Fair enough,” said Dalton as they continued to walk. “What do you need me for?”

“So I can be something other than a disappointment.”

Dalton stopped and turned toward her. She had her fists clenched and was staring ahead – smiling, but it was the bitter, ironic sort of smile Dalton knew all too well. For him, it was a well-worn garment – almost threadbare enough to be a non-entity. You could see right through his painted grin, just as he could see through the same expression on the face of anyone else.

“I didn’t turn out how my mom wanted me to…” she said. “She never called me a disappointment, but I’m not stupid. You know how it feels, right? To have somebody look at you with that look that says, ‘Why aren’t you different?’”

Dalton’s face twitched. “You’re not a disappointment. Not to me.”

“Of course not,” she replied, her smile lightening a bit. “That’s why I stay around.”

She finally turned her head to look at him.

“At the room… you were gonna say something.”

“Huh?” uttered Dalton dimly.

“Before Cheren showed up…” she reminded him. “You were gonna say something, right?”

Dalton grimaced, averting his eyes. “Well… no… I wasn’t.”

And he kept walking, not noticing Talia’s crestfallen expression.

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

When they arrived at the town square, they found Cheren sitting on one of the benches, cross-legged and reading a newspaper. (Travelers Growing Frustrated With Slow Bridge Repairs, the front page read). He flipped the top half of the paper downward, exposing the top half of his bespectacled face.

“Not a damn thing,” he muttered, folding the paper and setting it down on the park bench. “Mass media hushing things up as always. ‘Oh, no, let’s not put people on their guard… it’d bust their safe, little bubbles. They wouldn’t know how to handle it.’ And that’s exactly why…”

“Something wrong?” asked Dalton. Cheren glanced at the newspaper he had cast aside and stood up.

“It’s 12:07,” he said simply. He gave Dalton’s outfit a once-over. “Busy clothes shopping with your girlfriend?”

“That’s none of your bus—” Talia started hotly. Cheren raised his eyebrows.

“What is it with you and being on time for everything?” asked Dalton, watching Cheren as he started to pace.

“If you don’t respect a person’s time, you don’t respect the person,” he said. “A lot of this city thinks money’s their most valuable resource. It’s not. Depending on what you’re willing to do, you can almost always earn more money. Time, once it’s gone, you can’t get back.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’ve got the head of a grumpy old man on your shoulders?” remarked Talia.

“Only once or twice a week. Unless Bianca was around, then it was once or twice… a day,” murmured Cheren, somewhat to himself. He shut his eyes and then— “It’s better this way, though.”

His eyes darted in their sockets – an almost furtive expression that made Dalton wonder if they were being watched.

“All right – enough small talk,” he said tersely, revealing a Pokéball. “Let’s go.”

Dalton was many things, but a fool was not one of them. He had also read a lot of stories. “You waiting for someone, Cheren?”

“I figured we’d have an audience sooner or later,” Cheren answered, trying painfully hard to sound nonchalant. “It’s a very public place, isn’t it?”

Dalton’s instincts said, “Trap.” Or maybe that was just his cynicism talking. After all, if Cheren had proven one thing in the short time Dalton had known him, it was that he was honest – perhaps to a fault. He probably had the least tact out of anyone Dalton had ever met. Yet Cheren was doing something with his eyes as if he were waiting for something or someone to swoop down on them.

“Dalton…” Talia murmured. Dalton looked over his shoulder.

“Don’t do that,” he deadpanned.

“Do what?” she asked.

“Whatever that was. The mewling kitten thing. It sounds weird,” he said without the slightest bit of inflection.

“It’s not a ‘mewling kitten thing,’” Talia said.

“Well, whatever it is, it’s weird,” Dalton said. “You don’t sound like yourself.”

“Like myself?” she repeated. “What’s that supposed to mean? I thought I was being—”

“You’re acting too much like a… nevermind.”

“Are you two really doing this now?” Cheren uttered, at the height of annoyance. He was looking at his watch. “You think you can discuss the details of your relationship on your own time? Please? We’ve got a battle to get to.”

“Fine, then,” groaned Dalton. “I’ll make this quick so you can stop whining.”

“There it is,” Cheren muttered, barely audible, as his lips turned upward into a smirk. It was the first time Dalton had ever seen Cheren so much as hint at a smile – and it was frightening. “Let’s begin, shall we? CRUSH THEM!”

This moment of bravado was marred significantly when Viola, Cheren’s Liepard, appeared from the Pokéball Cheren threw and promptly began nuzzling herself up to Cheren’s leg and purring.

“I wasn’t acting anything like that, Dalton,” Talia said from somewhere behind Dalton – although he could hear it in her voice that she was trying very hard not to laugh. Dalton threw the Pokéball in his hand. From it emerged Jaco the Panpour, wearing his usual, blissfully unaware smile.

“<Hmm… nice ambiance…>” he drawled. “<But I feel negative vibes… not sure why…>”

He turned his head in the direction of Viola, who bared her teeth. A long tongue traced its way across her muzzle and disappeared before she crouched low, giving Jaco a threatening hiss.

“<Hey… don’t be so catty…>” Jaco muttered. “<You really, really need to mellow.>”

“Alright, Viola, use Scratch!!” Cheren yelled. Viola hissed again and darted toward the blue monkey Pokémon.

Dalton went to give an order. But Cheren had an unmistakable ‘brain-cogs-at-work’ expression on his face. If Dalton replied, surely Cheren was expecting the way Dalton and Jaco would retaliate. Cheren probably had a counter-strategy for Dalton’s counter-strategy…

“<Ouch! Not good!>” Jaco screeched, staggering backward as Viola’s sharp claws raked him across the face violently.

“Hit him again! Fury Swipes!” called Cheren with unwonted brutality. Viola seemed to be taking her trainer’s cue, slashing Jaco across the body multiple times before knocking him to the ground with the final blow. “Now! Attack! Use Purs—”

“NO! STOP!!!”

A scream brought the scene to a halt. Jaco was attempting to stagger to his feet, so that couldn’t have possibly been the source of the footsteps…

A very tall figure took a place in between the two Pokémon, long arms thrown out to block the way.

“Stop it right now!” he shouted. Between his somewhat high voice and the immature delivery, if the figure hadn’t been taller than either Dalton or Cheren, Dalton would have thought they were receiving orders from a small child. But this figure was tall, pale, and probably about Dalton’s age, just going by height alone.

“What the hell are you doing?” Nonetheless, whoever he was, as far as Dalton was concerned, he was in the way.

“I won’t let you go on like this!” the youth yelled, sounding desperate. His mane of teal-green undulated beneath his baseball cap as he shook his head violently. “Pokémon are friends – living creatures, not toys for play or tools for war! Your Pokémon are going to kill each other if someone doesn’t stop it, and for what? So you can prove a point? Bragging rights? Does no one care about their souls, their hearts? I cannot, will not allow this to continue!!”

Dalton was wearing a look of confusion, but he could see over the man-child’s shoulder – and over that shoulder, he could see Cheren, whose head was down and whose shoulders were trembling. Was he… laughing?

“I’m actually surprised at how much of a fool you are,” he said, staring in Dalton’s direction and smirking. The smile came off his face. “Mr. N…”

Dalton’s eyes narrowed as the green-haired youth turned around to face him. Dalton had seen the face in pictures, in statues, in nightmares, and in the image of that youth’s descendants. After all that, there was no mistaking it. And there was no mistaking what Cheren, who Dalton had thought was, if not a friend, then certainly an uneasy ally, had done:

“How nice of you to join us.”

END
 
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Venastois

Well-Known Member
In response to a sentence in the last chapter before this one....

"He was on his back; her on top of him."

Also, in REAL technical terms, neither "me neither" or "me, neither" is correct. It SHOULD be "Niether am I" if we're wanting to be real sticklers about standard written english. but if the aforementioned phrases ARE used, it's with a comma. :)
SRC: http://speakspeak.com/resources/english-grammar-rules/various-grammar-rules/me-too-me-neither

just thought I'd throw my 2 cents in.... Great last chap btw! Now for words that begin with "se" for $200.... hmm.....what is...? ;)
 
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