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The Age of Harmony (12+)

Air Dragon

Ha, ha... not.
Wait... Cheren invited N to watch the Pokemon battle? That he hates Pokemon battles? Knowing he'd step in like that? Just how did Cheren meet him anyways? And what does he want to prove here? The questions just compound, don't they?

And poor Bianca is still out of sight. Does anyone (other than Talia) worry where she's gone? Her return should be... entertaining.

Spotted an error earlier, but so did you. Guess there was little for me to do here... spoilsport. :3

P.S.: In the spirit of reviewing reviewers, the word is "sticklers". With a K. ^_^

And words beginning with "se"... second, severance, security... the list goes on. :p

OK, little else to do here. Good chapter, and anticipation building, mate!

L@er!
 
Due to excellent insulation Polar Bears are nearly invisible in thermal cameras.

...Well I had some catching up to do. I had planned on keeping up fairly well but then life happened. I have been so busy with stuff that I haven't even written hardly anything myself in the past few months... Hopefully with the school semester winding down that will change.

I just wanted to let you know that I am still reading. The plot is thickening. I am liking Dalton and Fox's relationship but I have always enjoyed your writing when it comes to that. As usual I will keep the grammar to the gooder inclined.

This fic has taken a more adult approach when it comes to language as well as some male-female relationship things. Thats not a criticism or a positive, just an observation. It is not really my cup of tea but it hasn't taken away my enjoyment from the story.

I find that stuff can lead to "Lazy" writing that gets the job done but doesn't work real hard to do it. I do not think you have crossed that line yet but it is something to keep in mind as you write. Keep up the good work.
 

EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Venastois:

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...?
*Alex Trebek voice* Sorry, that's incorrect. ^_^

And I'll gladly take those two cents, as I'm quickly running out of money. >.>


Yeah, N coming out of nowhere and Cheren knowing about it? What's Cheren hiding? I WANT TO KNOW!!!!!!!
I'm sure you do. That's why I intentionally ended the chapter on a cliffhanger. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA.



Air Dragon:

Wait... Cheren invited N to watch the Pokemon battle? That he hates Pokemon battles? Knowing he'd step in like that? Just how did Cheren meet him anyways? And what does he want to prove here? The questions just compound, don't they?
Come, now, you know I can't just give away answers for free like that. ;)


And poor Bianca is still out of sight. Does anyone (other than Talia) worry where she's gone? Her return should be... entertaining.
Cheren doesn't seem to want her around for this scene, does he...?


Spotted an error earlier, but so did you. Guess there was little for me to do here... spoilsport. :3
My proofreading eyes didn't fail me for once. :3 If there's a disadvantage to waiting such a long time after having written a chapter to release it, it's that your brain tricks you into thinking you've proofread everything. Ten years, and edit tags still kick my ***. -____-


Random Comment Guy:

Due to excellent insulation Polar Bears are nearly invisible in thermal cameras.
...Eff my life. This is exactly the sort of random fact that I'll forget and then spout off at random with no apparent trigger some five years from now to ruin a date. My ability to remember things is inversely proportional to their relevance to everyday life. :-(


...Well I had some catching up to do. I had planned on keeping up fairly well but then life happened. I have been so busy with stuff that I haven't even written hardly anything myself in the past few months... Hopefully with the school semester winding down that will change.
Yeah, that life thing's a bear, innit? Although I find I always wrote more effectively when I was in school than I did on my breaks. I think it was because my brain was much more active. If I could offer any advice at all, I'd say to watch a good movie or read a good book. That tends to jar my mind more often than not.


I just wanted to let you know that I am still reading. The plot is thickening. I am liking Dalton and Fox's relationship but I have always enjoyed your writing when it comes to that. As usual I will keep the grammar to the gooder inclined.

This fic has taken a more adult approach when it comes to language as well as some male-female relationship things. Thats not a criticism or a positive, just an observation. It is not really my cup of tea but it hasn't taken away my enjoyment from the story.

I find that stuff can lead to "Lazy" writing that gets the job done but doesn't work real hard to do it. I do not think you have crossed that line yet but it is something to keep in mind as you write. Keep up the good work.
I'd be interested to hear more on what you consider 'lazy' writing. Just really curious. :) But I'm glad you're still reading and enjoying it, in any event.

And with that, onto the new chapter!

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
22: The Once and Future King
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~

“Mr. N… how nice of you to join us.”

The two youths were within an inch or two of each other’s heights; actually, the one they called ‘N’ was a touch shorter than Dalton Gregg had expected. The square had gone strangely quiet with his appearance as he stood in between the two trainer-Pokémon pairs. Cheren had a hard look on his face. Dalton felt his lip curling.

“I guess I owe you a ‘thank you’, Dalton,” Cheren said. “You played your part perfectly.”

“I guess so,” Dalton replied coolly. The strange kinship he had felt with Cheren had all but evaporated in a moment. “There’s just one problem with your whole plan.”

“Really? And what’s that?” asked Cheren.

“Setting a trap for someone requires being in a position of strength,” Dalton explained simply.

“I don’t anticipate any problems with strength,” said Cheren. Then, in an aside to N, he added, “Of course they’re going to come to your aid… aren’t they?”

“Your Majesty!”

Almost as if on cue, Dalton heard a smattering of footsteps. He almost did not need to be told what they were, but the need for confirmation prompted him to look anyway. No less than a dozen men clothed in hooded, white uniforms were behind Dalton and Talia, surrounding them in a wide arc.

“Uh, Dalton…” Talia muttered.

“Yeah, I know…” Dalton replied, his mouth growing dry.

“That’ll be, what… we’re assuming about two Pokémon each for all of them, six for you… about thirty?” Cheren asked N, who reacted as if Cheren had pronounced some sort of awful swear word.

“Six? I am not a collector,” N replied, his voice betraying its first sign of true venom.

“Right, right. Sorry, I forgot,” Cheren said, pushing his glasses up his face. “But, still… someone of your, erm… high status warrants a protection team of at least three?”

“Protection team?” N replied questioningly. “My friends need my protection much more than I need theirs.”

“Ditto,” Cheren answered with that smile that did not quite meet his eyes. “You know… I’m glad to meet you again. We have a lot in common, you and I. We both follow our convictions. We both believe this world is sick – infected with a virus that needs to be purged.”

“I don’t understand,” N said, sounding about half his age. He was fiddling with the strange Rubik’s cube-like formation on his necklace. Dalton got the sense that it was a nervous tic of his, much like Cheren and his glasses.

“You’re not looking at your problem,” Dalton said. N, who had been facing Cheren, turned toward him again, wearing a bemused expression. “Your problem’s right in front of you.”

“Who… are you?” asked N.

“Somebody that had to pay penance for your father’s sins,” Dalton answered.

“My… father?” uttered N.

“Yes, your father,” Dalton said. His suppressed rage must have been showing on his face, because N backed away a step. Meanwhile, Cheren let another Pokéball roll from his hand to the ground. White light emerged from it to reveal Cheren’s strongest Pokémon – his angry orange, sturdily built Pignite, Chao.

“Now, now, Dalton, this isn’t the time to try to be a hero. Don’t do anything stupid,” said Cheren, positively spitting on the last word. N continued backing away from Dalton and toward Cheren until, finally, Cheren was able to put an arm around the older youth’s shoulder. N looked positively and refreshingly uncomfortable with being touched, and looked down at Cheren strangely. “You’re supposed to be the face of Team Plasma, right? You ought to carry your head higher than that.”

N looked strangely at Cheren and raised his head to look straight. Dalton looked right into N’s eyes. He found them to be, despite everything he knew to be true about N and what his existence would bring about, strangely without malice…

And then Cheren closed one of his arms around the neck of Team Plasma’s puppet king.

There was a mass uproar. N scrabbled at Cheren’s clothed forearm, his eyes wide, gasping desperately. Several high-pitched ringing sounds screamed behind Dalton, and – “DALTON! TALIA! BEHIND ME NOW!”

Dalton and Talia, still confused, did as instructed by Cheren (at the top of his lungs, no less). And it was a good thing they did, too.

“You stay where you are!” Cheren snapped. “Unless you want to be the one to explain to Ghetsis why your precious leader’s got a hole in his chest!”

Dalton was thoroughly unsurprised, after surveying the chaos, to realize that two of the Plasma grunts had drawn swords and were backing away, looking foolish. It was said in Harmonia that the military police in most regions still carried swords, even up to Dalton’s time. Firearms, of course, were as forbidden for the common citizen as Pokémon were, and although MPs had access to them, they were rarely used in street patrols. And as he stared at the shimmering, white blades, he couldn’t help feeling that, even (or perhaps especially) in a time of gunpowder and automatic weapons, there was something particularly fearsome about a cold, hard, steel blade. The second thing Dalton thought about the swords was that he would feel a bit more confident with one, given their present situation.

“Cheren, what the f—k??” Talia snapped at a whisper.

“Shut up, I’m thinking,” muttered Cheren, lightening his grip around N’s throat just enough so that he didn’t choke to death.

“Thinking?” Dalton replied. “You weren’t thinking beforehand?”

Cheren stayed silent for a moment and closed his eyes. “Release your Pokémon. All of them.”

Dalton and Talia looked at each other dubiously. Then N started to struggle—

“Stop moving,” Cheren said in his ear. “Or else you’ll be taking a really long nap.”

“Wh-wh…” N stammered, frightened. “Who – are…?”

“Explain something to me, N,” Cheren said slowly. “Why are your subordinates stealing Pokémon from innocent kids, huh?”

“I had nothing…” N whimpered. “I didn’t know—”

“Liar,” Cheren interrupted flatly. “Of course you knew. These are your men, aren’t they? You’re the leader of Team Plasma, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU!?”

“I am…” N murmured. “I am… king…”

“King, huh?” Cheren repeated. “God, that’s egotistical. It just so happens your ambition to be King of a place where Pokémon are separated from humans doesn’t line up with my ambition to be the greatest Pokémon trainer in the world. Now, normally I’d say we could agree to disagree, but…”

Dalton couldn’t help but think that this was an unbelievably selfish reason to resort to measures this drastic for confronting and stopping N, but he was also thoroughly convinced that this was not the time to have that conversation.

“Your men put their hands on someone I care about,” Cheren went on, his expression now dangerous. “I take that sort of thing very personally.”

“Think about what you’re doing,” said N, his voice slightly panicked.

“I’ve thought about it,” Cheren replied. “I’ve thought long and hard. I don’t have any interest in killing you.”

“This can’t possibly end well,” said Dalton. “If any cops come through here…”

“…They’ll see the three of us trying to hold off twelve men with swords,” Cheren answered. “Twelve men part of an organization whose leader –” He gave N a bit of a shake – “—is wanted by the government for questioning. Hell… we might even get medals.”

“Except we’ve got the wrong guy,” Dalton said. “Ghetsis…”

“…is the voice of Team Plasma, right?” interrupted Cheren. “Oh, trust me, I heard him talk… if ever there was a guy that loved to hear himself talk… but N’s meant to be the face. Honestly, do you think Ghetsis has the charisma necessary to get an entire country to follow him?”

Dalton’s answer caught in his throat. Of course not, he thought as he remembered history’s account of how Ghetsis came into power. N was just a figurehead, but he was a figurehead for a reason. His natural innocence was enough that even Dalton felt uncomfortable with Cheren’s actions. He looked benign and might well have been – a much better face to present to the masses than the grizzled, one-eyed snarl the people in Harmonia came to associate with Ghetsis the Great.

“They’ll do anything you tell them to, won’t they?” Cheren asked N. “Tell them to drop their weapons.”

“Please…” N raised his voice to address the men of Team Plasma. “Lay down your swords.”

“I don’t believe that will be necessary,” replied a voice. Dalton’s heart jolted – in more ways than one – when he recognized it. The men of Team Plasma parted, and through the middle of their line came another young man, every bit as tall as N if not a bit taller, wearing a white lab coat and a short shock of blond hair – well, except for an electric blue cowlick of sorts that, much like Cheren’s hair, didn’t seem to have gotten the memo on the usual laws of physics.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Cheren.

“That’s Colress,” Talia answered. The chill in her voice indicated that she still remembered the events from Striaton City. “He’s one of Team Plasma’s researchers.”

“Cheren Nigel Hawke, is it?” Colress asked. He was looking at a notebook as he spoke. “Aged fifteen, from Nuvema Town. Parents are Nigel and Elynn Hawke…”

“Are you threatening my family?” Cheren said breathlessly. “You forget who I have here with me, don’t you?!”

“Easy, easy – let’s not do anything… rash,” Colress said silkily. Then, a smile twisting his features, he added, “Or… anything else rash, at least. Especially when you have no idea of the potential consequences.”

He stepped aside. Two masked men emerged from the Plasma ranks, and Cheren let out a short scream.

Held up by their grips, with a bloodied mouth and clearly unconscious on her feet, was Bianca.

“YOU SON OF A *****!” Cheren exploded, now no longer even trying to pretend not to choke N to death.

“Let go of him!” Colress shouted in a voice very unlike his own. Small, black, and glistening was the baton he pointed at Bianca’s lolling head. “She’s not dead. Not yet. Although… if this goes off, well… electricity does very bad things to one’s neural system… Or so I’ve heard, I’ve never had fifty thousand volts go right to my brain, but I am, after all, a scientist, and we do love to experiment…

There was a tense silence.

“First on the road to Nacrene, and now here…” Cheren’s body and voice were shaking. “What the hell did Bianca ever do to you!?”

“Oh? She’s crossed us before? Well, that’s convenient,” Colress said, sounding genuinely surprised. “This? This was good fortune – nothing more, nothing less. The word was that a somewhat well-known young girl from Opelucid City had traveled here. We had hoped to barter her for Opelucid’s cooperation, but then this one got in the way.”

He pointed his chin at Bianca.

“Quite unnecessary, really – that young lady could have handled herself. It was a miscalculation on my part. As it turns out, she was a Dragon trainer – next in line to the Opelucid Gym. She slipped through our fingers, regrettably. But, given the situation, I’d say our consolation prize was more than suitable.”

Cheren swallowed hard.

“This is quite the predicament you find yourself in, isn’t it, Cheren Hawke?” Colress asked, pocketing his notebook. “Or maybe not. Your cause or your love? For most of us, I suppose the answer’s fairly easy, isn’t it?”

“Who says I love her? And if I did, who says I’m not willing to make that sacrifice?” asked Cheren. Dalton and Talia both stared at him, horrified.

Colress smiled. “You haven’t lived long enough to become that black-hearted… but it was a fine attempt at a bluff – I’ll give you that. Your face betrays you, though. I don’t blame you for it. She’s a cute little thing, isn’t she…?”

Colress lifted the girl’s head, bunching up her cheeks. She looked even paler than usual in her unconsciousness.

“Don’t touch her!” Cheren snarled.

“One-for-one,” Colress stated, ignoring Cheren’s warning and holding up one finger with his free hand. “Release N to us, and you get the girl.”

“You must think I’m stupid,” Cheren spat. “How do I know you won’t kill us?”

Colress raised his eyebrows with a maddening smile. “How astute of you. You don’t. But let me put it this way…”

He gestured around himself to the dozen or so men.

“If you don’t give us N, you, the girl, and your two little accomplices will die,” Colress said bluntly. “If you give us N, you, the girl, and your two little accomplices may die – but at least you’ll die together instead of you watching us kill her.”

“That’s funny,” Dalton said, stepping to Cheren’s side to allow Colress a better view of him. Colress, who didn’t seem to have recognized Dalton at first, raised his eyebrows. “I thought you said you didn’t march to N’s drum. You were… what was it you said? A ‘seeker of truth’?”

Colress smiled. “Exactly. But it’s significantly more difficult to seek truth – or anything else, for that matter – when your head’s separated from your shoulders.”

“If it were me,” Dalton replied, “I’d just look for another job – preferably one where my boss wasn’t a raging psychopath.”

“Oh, but non-raging psychopaths don’t pay nearly as well,” Colress said, doing his best Cheren impression as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“That’s your problem, not mine,” Dalton said. He swallowed hard. “I’ve found my truth already.”

He glanced at Cheren, then at Talia…

“Two-for-three,” he said. “Talia, Cheren, and Bianca all walk away. In exchange, you get N… and me.”

“Dalton, NO!” Talia shouted. Dalton sighed. He knew she’d take that well. She grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around. Her eyes were full of tears. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“This is my chance,” Dalton muttered, next to her ear so no one would hear. “My chance to get inside. Maybe if I’m lucky, they’ll take me straight to Ghetsis.”

“What if you’re not lucky?” asked Talia. “What if you die?”

“I’ve pretty much been dead for years, Talia,” Dalton answered, shaking his head. “They can’t kill me.”

“B—wh—but… what about…” Talia seemed afraid even to ask. “What about me?”

Dalton swallowed hard, then he answered. “I’ve felt myself dying once. I’ve been there before. Haven’t ever known what it feels like to watch you die. And I don’t plan to.”

She drew in a gasp.

“Don’t cry,” Dalton said. “This isn’t you. You’re not the stupid, super-emotional teenage girl from some bad romance novel. Don’t act like this.”

She swallowed and composed herself – yet at the same time, tears were running down her cheeks.

“Has it ever occurred to you – ever,” she asked in a whiplike whisper, “that I might actually –”

“You don’t,” Dalton said. “Not after a couple of weeks. And if you do, then… I’m sorry. I never meant for that to happen…”

He could see hopelessness changing her expression. It was hard to watch.

“If… somehow…” he said. “If I make it… I’ll come find you.”

“What then?”

“I don’t know,” said Dalton. “I’ve lived most of my life for revenge. Maybe I can live it for something different…”

He turned away from Talia and set his eyes on Cheren.

“You’re actually gonna do this?” he asked blankly, his grip slackening on N. Dalton nodded. Cheren let go of N. Dalton grabbed onto his arm and started to march him toward the Plasma lines.

“So why you?” Dalton asked. His heart was pounding with a mixture of fear, rage, and a strange sort of exhilaration. He had dreamed of a moment like this for years, but never thought it possible – face-to-face with the people that made his life a living hell, touching the king, the original leader… “Why you and not Ghetsis?”

“He says it’s my destiny,” N answered shakily, clearly more comfortable with Dalton than he had been with Cheren for reasons that may or may not have had to do with the fact that the latter had just tried to strangle him. “My destiny to be the hero…”

“Everybody likes to think that,” Dalton said. “Why doesn’t he just do it himself?”

“He says it needs to be me,” N answered.

“Or, he knows he can’t inspire the same devotion from your followers,” said Dalton. “What do you think would happen to Team Plasma without you?”

“I suppose they would follow him,” N said. “Even though he says himself that it wouldn’t be the same…”

“That’s… interesting,” Dalton said. He was very nearly to the Plasma lines. He stopped briefly. “Nothing personal, but I hope you know… I hate everything you stand for.”

N looked at him.

Bianca woke up.

“CHEREN!” It had been so sudden that the two Plasma grunts standing guard over her had no time to react. She wrested herself free of her grip in a split-second then made a beeline for Cheren and Talia, tripping over her long dress on the way…

Colress was there and behind her in a flash. There was a crackle, a scream, and Bianca crumpled to the ground.

Maybe the reason was rage at Colress’s dishonesty. Maybe the reason was simple opportunity. Maybe the reason was neither, or both, or between. Whatever the reason for its appearance, it was out of Dalton’s pocket before he’d even had a chance to think about it.

On a last-second whim, Dalton Gregg had gone back for that pocket knife – something to make him feel better in case of an emergency…

Now, that knife was hilted in N’s stomach.

N gave Dalton a shocked, tearful stare before Dalton threw him into the lines of his own soldiers. Dalton turned and ran like hell, hearing shouts and the scraping of iron behind him. In a tremendously satisfying moment, he glimpsed Colress turn back toward his own lines and seeing N, who was slumping to the ground as his shirt began to redden. Colress’s widened as his lower teeth appeared between his lips to make an ‘F’ sound…

“Chao, Viola! Bring him to me!” Cheren pointed at Colress’s and shouted to his two Pokémon right as Dalton got to him and Talia.

“<Whoa, man!>” Jaco’s voice carried over the din. “<What’s goin’ on??>”

Colress stopped on a dime, turned around, and a Pokéball seemed to fly unbidden out of his lab coat. It bounced on the ground and opened to reveal a black, striped, neighing equine beast that Dalton remembered all too well.

“Go, dammit!” Colress swore to the Plasma subordinates, looking over his shoulder. “Go! GET HIM TO THE TRIAD, NOW!!”

Two or three grabbed hold of N, carrying him away – but several of the grunts stayed to fight. Their swords were drawn and Pokéballs were flying through the air. A quick count from Dalton gave him several Woobat, a handful Patrat, a Purrloin or three… and Colress’ Blitzle. Cheren threw another Pokéball, revealing Pod, his Swadloon, who looked almost as eager to fight as Jaco did. Talia’s Pokémon were out before long as well – Sionna, looking thoroughly nonplussed, and Fluff the Woobat…

“<What the hell’s happening…?>” the Vulpix mewled.

“<Hark! A battle!>” The eccentric bat-like creature was much quicker on the uptake, flitting above his fellows and shouting. “<Our foes outnumber us, but we will not be cowed! CHARGE!!>”

Dalton, for once, understood and agreed.

“Nina – Lake – c’mon!!” he yelled, throwing two more Pokéballs into the air. Lake materialized right next to Fluff and did a quick scan with her eyes.

“<Hey, Fluffy, what’s up?>” she chirped. “<What’s going on? Some sort of party?>”

“<My favorite kind of party,>” Nina said aggressively from the ground. She had first laid eyes on Colress and his Blitzle and recognized both of them immediately.

“We’ve gotta take care of that Blitzle first,” Dalton said, remembering how difficult an opponent it had been. It was right then, at the most inconvenient moment possible, that Dalton looked over his shoulder and happened to remember that Castelia’s central park had a large fountain. The differences aside, this was looking alarmingly familiar…

“Right,” Cheren agreed. “It’s fast – although Woobat and Purrloin are no slouches. But Woobat and Purrloin don’t have type advantages against almost half our—and… they’re coming.

They were outnumbered at least two to one, Dalton thought – and that was probably being generous. The Woobat were coming first.

“Chao – use Ember into the air!” Cheren commanded over the Plasma grunts shouting their respective orders at their Pokémon. Chao spat forth several sparks of flame. Most of the Woobat banked one way or another to avoid them, but a couple were not so lucky or smart. They fell to the ground like small, furry meteors. “Now! Take them!”

“Jaco, use Water Gun!” Dalton shouted swiftly.

“<Alright, dude, if you say so…>” Jaco muttered, inhaling – but his apparent apathy did nothing to quell the force of his attack, which felled a couple of Woobat at once.

Meanwhile, out of Dalton’s line of sight, Nina had leapt forward to greet three Purrloin, who were circling her in unison.

“<Three on one? You’re not serious.>” She dropped her head.

When she raised it again, her red eyes were glimmering with a dangerous ferocity.

“<That’s not nearly enough.>”

One of the Purrloin charged. Nina knocked it down with one swipe of her claw before the other two began to overwhelm her in a whirl of violet and claws.

Sionna flamed a Woobat out of the sky before seeing her friend fall. “<Nina!>” She broke into a run.

“Sionna, wait!” shouted Talia, but the Vulpix was already gone. She looked up and watched as Fluff barely avoided what looked like an Air Cutter attack from one of his counterpart.

“<Another miss!>” he shouted. “<Your attacks are too slow, cur!>”

“Fluff, use Confusion!” Talia commanded.

Fluff let out a shout and the air around him bent. The forms of several approaching Woobat distorted but they continued to come at him, seemingly unfazed.

“Sh*t…” Talia cursed as her eyes widened.

Several Air Cutter waves tore through Fluff, who let out a cry and went limp as he fell to the ground. Talia ran to catch him and watched as the formation circled around her head and doubled back toward the center of the battle, where the ground-bound Pokémon were fighting each other.

Cheren and Chao had engaged with Colress and his Blitzle. Blitzle easily jumped back from Chao’s wildly swinging fist.

“Your attacks are slow and witless,” Colress declared.

“That’ll just make you look worse for losing, then,” Cheren answered.

Colress was momentarily distracted as he watched a Patrat go flying – a Nidorina and a Vulpix were standing in the midst of several other Pokémon, holding their ground.

“Chao, use Flame Charge!” he shouted.

“Blitzle, Flame Charge!” Colress shouted in response.

Chao stomped away whilst Blitzle broke into a trot. Both went alight moments later and ran to meet each other.

The two combatants met in an explosive, flaming impasse. Blitzle gave a whinny of surprise as it returned to Colress’s side. Chao landed heavily on the ground in front of Cheren, flexing his stubby arms, snorting forth a plume of reddish fire.

“You’ve picked the wrong man to go to war with, boy,” Colress said condescendingly. “Blitzle, use Shock Wave!!”

A crackling ball of lightning hummed into being at the end of Blitzle’s horn. The equine Pokémon gave off a neigh that seemed to echo around Castelia’s Central Park and the ball broke, sending waves in every direction. Chao let out a squeal and a snort. Both he and Cheren staggered.

Colress looked away from the battle again, watching the formation of Woobat come back toward where Sionna and Nina were still fighting the ground forces. “Focus your attacks on that Nidorina!”

There was a muddle of shouted voices – most of them said, at some point, “CONFUSION!!”

Four Woobat descended in formation, glowing with ominous auras.

“Water Gun!” shouted Dalton several feet away. A second later, a Woobat fell to the ground before Jaco. Dalton looked up to where the group of Woobat were dive-bombing Nina and Sionna.

Sionna warded off an incoming Patrat with a Tackle attack, then whirled around. “<Nina! Behind you!!>”

Nina did turn, but not in time. Wave after wave of invisible energy buffeted her in quick succession and she tottered to the ground.

“<NO!>” Sionna screamed. A moment later, she disappeared under the forms of two wounded but aggressive Purrloin.

But Cheren seemed determined not to lose his composure. “Chao, go help her!”

The Pignite squealed questioningly, glancing at Cheren and then the Blitzle.

“Yeah, I know – I got this! Go on!” Cheren ordered. “Pod, Viola, to me!”

Viola and Pod were standing aside. Pod started to waddle in that direction but Viola had no intention of waiting – she picked up the surprised Swadloon with her teeth, darted to Cheren’s feet, and set him down. Cheren heard Chao’s squealing again and gazed in that direction. He watched as the Pignite physically punched one of the Purrloin attackers, sending it flying into the belly of its trainer. But the Woobat formation had come around for another pass. One of them disappeared behind a fast-moving stream of water…

“Jaco, hurry up!” shouted Dalton. “Protect Sionna!”

Colress lost his temper. “Don’t mess around, you fools! You’re being too kind to them!”

Blitzle neighed. “Pod, use Vine Whip!”

“Flame Charge, Blitzle!” shouted Colress in response, his attention turning back to the battle in front of him. Blitzle whinnied, reared, and began to dart in Pod’s direction, its form catching fire again.

“Viola, use Pursuit!” shouted Cheren. Viola, glowing dark purple, jumped in front of Pod and rushed Blitzle.

There was a crunch, and Viola went flying, her aura extinguished. Blitzle kept coming, and was on Pod before Cheren could issue a counter order. The Swadloon went into the air with a screech, his entire body covered in flames. Then Blitzle began to glow white – a brilliant, blinding white – and Cheren, caught totally off guard, took the light full in the face. He staggered backward blindly, felt one foot catch on the other, and then felt the agony in his elbows and tailbone as he hit the ground. The light faded – perhaps. Cheren still had spots in front of his eyes. He rolled over and immediately saw a shoe and the lowermost hem of a dress. He also heard Colress laugh in a sick sort of ecstasy behind him.

“Well done, well done!!” he exclaimed, sounding beside himself with delight. “Now, Zebstrika, show them your new power! SHOCK WAVE!!

Cheren dove for Bianca’s body and covered it. He could not see what was going on behind him and overhead…

Dalton, meanwhile, saw everything.

“GET DOWN!” He leapt on Talia, who toppled.

“Sionna!!” she screamed desperately as she fell.

All Dalton heard behind him were noise and explosions. Talia hit the ground on her back, but she did not close her eyes in fear. She did not close her eyes at all. They bored into Dalton’s consciousness, perfect blue, piercing, asking a hundred questions to which Dalton, at the moment, had no answers…

Dalton rolled to his feet and found Colress reaching his hand out toward what Dalton could only assume had once been his Blitzle. It had grown to about twice its original size. Its body was clearly more sinewy, now much more horse than pony, and a lightning-bolt-shaped horn protruded from its forehead.

“Amazing…” Colress muttered, seemingly oblivious now to the carnage that was around him. “Simply amazing…”

The larger, equine Pokémon neighed questioningly, almost as if asking what its trainer was doing.

“So powerful… so strong…” Colress began to stroke the electric-type horse with some pale imitation of affection. Dalton could see confusion in its eyes; obviously its trainer rarely, if ever, acted like this.

Then a stream of purple needles came out of a cloud of smoke near the center of the battle. Zebstrika staggered; Colress just barely got out of the way.

“<Bad news…>” But Dalton’s heart lifted upon hearing the voice. It was Nina, staggering out of the smoke, bruises and wounds peppering her blue body. “<You missed one.>”

Zebstrika neighed, turning toward its newest opponent.

“<You… don’t… remember… me… do you?>” Nina asked between labored breaths.

Zebstrika snorted.

Dalton could already see how this would play out. Zebstrika was newly evolved, and all but fresh. Nina, on the other hand, was struggling just to stay standing.

“Nina…” Dalton said, although it pained him, “stand down.”

Nina’s answer was short and immediate. “<No.>”

“Stand down,” Dalton repeated, feeling the lump grow in his throat. “I’m not asking you.”

“You all annoy me,” Colress said. “Zebstrika, remove this nuisance.” His glasses flashed white in the sun. “Permanently.

Zebstrika’s horn began to crackle with electricity. Even Dalton felt his hair starting to stand on end from this distance. But then Zebstrika lowered her horn and her intentions became clear…

“Enough.”

“Hm?” Colress turned himself toward the source of the voice. As the form revealed himself, Colress’s look of curiosity changed to one of mild disdain. “Hmph… another kid. Who the hell are you?”

But Dalton recognized the newcomer – brown-haired, not as tall as either he or Colress, and giving the latter a stare that could make a man’s blood run cold. Colress, likely due to sheer ignorance, remained unconcerned. At his side was a doglike creature standing a couple of feet off the ground. Even though it was much smaller than Colress’s new Zebstrika, it looked uncowed as it walked alongside its trainer.

Colress smiled a smile that did not reach his bespectacled eyes. His jawline was shaking with suppressed rage – but then, so was Blake’s entire body.

“It’s the culture, isn’t it?” Colress said sourly. “How they can possibly hope to put their plan into action, I have no earthly idea… there’s always some idealistic child somewhere that thinks he can change the world… What’s your angle, boy?”

Words simply could not do justice to the way Blake was glaring at Colress.

“Angle?” he repeated. His voice was low, controlled but dangerous, like a gun with a hair trigger or a bomb with an extremely short fuse that hadn’t been lit yet.

Colress shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t know how tired I am of people getting in my way. Zebstrika, use Shock Wave!”

Zebstrika’s cry was much lower and more forceful than that of her smaller form – and her Shock Wave attack was much more powerful. Macy, Blake’s Herdier, staggered backward, howling in pain. Blake muttered a curse through his teeth.

“Language, boy,” Colress chuckled. “If you’re going to swear at me, I’d like to have earned it. Zebstrika, use Stomp!”

The Electrified Pokémon leapt into the air with a hair-raising whinny. This time, though, Macy was ready and jumped aside. The ground trembled a bit as Zebstrika’s hooves made contact with the ground where the Herdier had been a second before.

“Tackle!” snarled Blake. Macy hit the ground and, on a dime, launched herself forward into Zebstrika’s flank, staggering the Electric-type.

“Balance, balance!” shouted Colress as his Pokémon tottered dangerously on her thin legs. Blake smirked.

“Just evolved, hasn’t it?” he asked. “Macy went through the same thing when she became a Herdier. Just because your Pokémon’s stronger doesn’t mean it’s used to its new body yet.”

“I’m going to teach you to keep your nose out of others’ business. Thunder Wave, Zebstrika!” Colress said, his glasses glinting ominously. Zebstrika reared as sparks of lightning flew forth from her horn. She stamped on the ground with her front hooves. Suddenly, in a cluster of sparks, Macy screeched and went to the ground.

“Damn!” Blake swore. Colress took one look at the boy’s face and smiled.

“I can see by your expression that you’re no stranger to a Thunder Wave attack,” he said. “So you know you’ve lost.”

Blake could do nothing but grit his teeth and watch as Macy continued her futile struggle to rise to her feet.

“Pray we don’t meet again,” Colress said, looking to Macy and Blake, and then to Nina and Dalton. “Any of you.”

As brazen as brazen could be, he walked right past Blake, who had frozen.

Dalton finally had a moment to survey the carnage. Several fallen creatures littered the ground, some of them turning into streams of red light under cries of “Retreat! Retreat!” Sionna was a distance away, her cinnamon fur dirty and matted with what looked alarmingly like blood. Jaco was on his back not far from her, motionless, but for all the world he could have been sleeping; his serene expression had not flagged in the slightest. Fluff was closest to him and Talia, his battered form feebly stirring on the ground. Some distance away, Cheren was hovering over Bianca who (Dalton breathed a sigh of relief) seemed to be coming to. Ever the stoic businessman, Cheren looked in the direction of his Pignite and returned him. He then did the same with his loyal Liepard, who had fought like the devil to protect him before finally succumbing to her injuries. With one last look at Bianca, he strode over toward Dalton and Blake. As Cheren’s face came into sharper relief, Dalton could see that Cheren’s disposition had hardly changed at all. He wasn’t sure whether he was impressed or angry at this. In fact, he wasn’t sure what to feel anymore.

Cheren stood before him and Blake, and seemed to make a point of not slouching. Now that he was standing straight, Dalton saw how tall Cheren really was for his age. Dalton only had two inches on him, if that.

“You were right,” Cheren said, looking straight into Dalton’s eyes. Shaking his head, he said earthily, “I f—ked up. I… we… weren’t strong enough after all…”

There was a sudden motion in the corner of Dalton’s eye. Dalton moved out of the way, and he was instantly glad he did. A fist – Blake’s fist – came slicing through the air and hit Cheren so hard under the chin that the latter left his feet for a moment. Bianca screamed somewhere in the background. Blake stood over his friend, flailing the pain out of his fist. Cheren looked up at him from his back, not looking nearly surprised enough, in Dalton’s opinion, for someone who had just had his best friend punch him for no apparent reason. But more frightening than Blake’s sudden violence was the expression on his face as their eyes met. His pupils had shrunk to half their size in their sockets, trembling. Yet, there was no trace of anger on his face. He looked lost, like a deer in headlights with the speeding truck feet away – as if the deer realized his fate and had decided, in that moment, to give up on living. As Blake walked away in complete silence, Dalton could only think one thing.

This is what it looks like when someone breaks.

Cheren was back on his feet. “Are you alright, Talia?”

Dalton whirled around. In all the chaos, he had very nearly forgotten Talia was there. She was on her feet now, her back turned, standing as still as a statue. Dalton reached a trembling hand toward her shoulder. It seemed like the right thing to do, after all…

The pain was sudden and incredible. His face was on fire. His eyes were watering, his ears ringing, his balance failing him. He felt a sudden pressure on his knees and realized he had fallen. His tongue twitched behind his lips and he tasted copper.

“You’re all the same,” he heard her say through the ringing in his ears. “You’re all the same, aren’t you?!

Dalton swayed on his knees. Everything went black for a moment and then came back into focus.

Or (Dalton thought as he perceived her footsteps running away in a dead sprint) maybe it didn’t come back into focus.

Maybe things were cloudier now than ever.

END
 
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Air Dragon

Ha, ha... not.
I never knew there were so many ways to describe getting punched in the face... :p

So, Cheren realized you don't exactly play with Plasma and get away with it (and he's meant to be smart...), Bianca gets dragged into it (shocker), and speaking of "shocker", Zebstrika's expression to Colress's emotional display would be funny if the situation weren't so dire.

One question, though: hasn't Bianca once mentioned that she isn't as strong as Blake or Cheren? Why would she get in-between Plasma and (I'm guessing) Iris especially if she'd crossed the former before? Especially if she didn't exactly come out on top last time? Guess some people are just that slow...

The one part of the chapter that looked like a grammar flop can be overlooked in retrospect, so I'll let that go. Wonder what will happen to Dalton and Talia now... guess we'll wait and see...

L@er!
 
Well... That was interesting. This story is definitely taking some twists I didn't see coming. Fox and Dalton are on the rocks... :/. Call me a romantic but I don't like relationship turmoil. Oh, and epic fail on Cheren's part. I would gladly discuss the "lazy writing" comment with you farther if you want to. PM me or whatever. That reminds me of that time I bought fireworks from that guy who was selling them out of his van behind Walmart in Sioux Falls. Then there was that time we dropped the ring into the sink and Igor was able to get it out using his lightsaber.
 

EonMaster One

saeculum harmonia
Chapter 23

Air Dragon said:
I never knew there were so many ways to describe getting punched in the face... :p
I just had to let this stand out by itself. I laughed my *** off when I read it.


Air Dragon:

So, Cheren realized you don't exactly play with Plasma and get away with it (and he's meant to be smart...), Bianca gets dragged into it (shocker), and speaking of "shocker", Zebstrika's expression to Colress's emotional display would be funny if the situation weren't so dire.
Colress... is probably one of my least favorite canon characters in the sense that I feel like a guy like him had so much potential to be a character players remembered - and yet the only thing memorable about him in the games is that weird hair. Since Colress doesn't seem to appear at all until out of the blue in the sequels (the main thing I dislike about him), it gave me a bit of freedom to re-imagine his character a bit as, in this timeline, he shows up as a major player two years early. He's a scientist by trade, so very intelligent, but also (as I could gather from his appearance in the anime) a bit twisted and definitely an 'ends justify the means' sort of guy. He's a bit of a foil to Cheren, who's also very logical and doesn't seem to mesh with other people well. But Cheren's friendships (with Bianca in particular) are starting to make him care about others around him enough that he wouldn't turn into someone like Colress.


One question, though: hasn't Bianca once mentioned that she isn't as strong as Blake or Cheren? Why would she get in-between Plasma and (I'm guessing) Iris especially if she'd crossed the former before? Especially if she didn't exactly come out on top last time? Guess some people are just that slow...
You'll find that out next chapter. Although it is canon in the game that Bianca sort of accompanied Iris around Castelia City initially, since Iris was new to the location and quite a bit younger than the others. Basically, while the two were together, Bianca ended up in a situation that forced her to either try to fight them or run away and leave Iris to God-knows-what sort of fate. Especially as Colress comes off... how do I put this politely... a bit sketchy?


Well... That was interesting. This story is definitely taking some twists I didn't see coming. Fox and Dalton are on the rocks... :/. Call me a romantic but I don't like relationship turmoil.
And I don't like relationships without turmoil. I honestly feel like the only way two people in a relationship aren't having the occasional disagreement is if one or both of them are going so far out of their way not to offend the other that they're actually being very fake. I write relationships with turmoil because I'm something of a romantic, not in spite of it. To me, there's nothing more beautiful than when two people see each other's faults, and whatever cracks they have in their armor, and decide that they love each other even with all of that. But I'm waxing poetic. Time to move on.


That reminds me of that time I bought fireworks from that guy who was selling them out of his van behind Walmart in Sioux Falls. Then there was that time we dropped the ring into the sink and Igor was able to get it out using his lightsaber.
I'd really love to make sense of this, but something tells m that it'll only lead to me getting a severe headache. Headaches are no fun... but I do know something that's fun:

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
23: A Promise
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

The lights flickered. Cheren looked up at them for a moment. A crash of thunder shook the hall.

The afternoon storm had hit hard and without much warning. Fortunately, everyone had managed to find their way to the shelter of the Pokémon Center before it had happened.

Everyone except Blake. He had disappeared after the melee, and no one knew what had happened to him. Although, if Cheren was being honest with himself, he – or at least his jaw – could have happily done without seeing Blake for a while. He might have deserved that punch, but likely not from Blake…

He stopped at a door and suddenly the reality of what he was about to do hit him. He couldn’t help but feel a bit sad… but he reminded himself that it would be for the best. And, knowing her, she might even agree with him. He raised his fist and knocked.

A moment later, the door opened. Cheren instantly felt his face growing hot. She was dressed in what looked to be her sleep clothes; a white shirt that didn’t quite stop at the waist and a pair of orange shorts. They certainly left a lot less to the imagination than did her usual traveling outfit, and the thought went through Cheren’s mind for a moment that she might have been wearing it on purpose, just to mess with his head. But then, Cheren thought, she was far, far too innocent for that – and probably too innocent to know why this was making him uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, Cheren tried to fix his eyes directly on her face, which curled into a sad sort of smile. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Cheren said monosyllabically.

It was strange, being in Bianca’s room – or at least the room that was her room today – alone. Her father never allowed such things when they were growing up in Nuvema Town. She and Cheren usually met at the twins’ house if they ever did sleep over anywhere. Bianca enjoyed it at the twins’ place. Blake’s and Whitlea’s mother was far less strict than Bianca’s father… although pretty much anyone was less strict than Bianca’s father. Even in a tiny town with hardly any people and even less strangers, he was always insistent that she be inside before nine – which was reasonable, Cheren supposed, for an eight-year-old. But the further they got into their teens, the more ridiculous it sounded. Cheren swallowed hard. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he would have to twist her arm a bit to get the result he wanted.

“I’m okay, just so you know,” Bianca said. “But it was… it was really sweet of you to come check on me. I mean that.”

Cheren sighed hard. Prolonging this with small talk wasn’t going to make it any better.

“Bee-Bee… I think you need to go home.”

Silence – just as Cheren had expected. The room illuminated with a flash of lightning. Bianca let out a short squeak – she had always been afraid of thunderstorms. And clowns. (But then, Cheren couldn’t blame her for that. He hated clowns even more than she did.)

“I’m not going home, Cher,” she said, very calmly. Cheren breathed an inward sigh of relief. He’d expected her to yell. Still, though, it was time to convince her.

“I know what you’re trying to do,” Cheren said.

“Then why won’t you let me?” Bianca replied. Cheren could already feel his patience starting to thin.

“What happened today changes things completely,” he said. “This is turning into a war. A normal journey’s dangerous enough, but you can’t just pretend everything’s okay with Team Plasma out there.”

“I’m not stupid, Cher. Why does everybody treat me like I’m stupid?” she said, going around the table and toward the huge window that led out to the small balcony. Cheren immediately noticed that the blinds were thrown open, which he found strange. Her arms were folded and she was staring intently at the rain-soaked outdoors. “I never thought it wouldn’t be dangerous.”

“I’m not talking about danger, Bianca,” Cheren answered sharply. “This isn’t regular ‘danger’ anymore. That’s what I’m saying. People could die. You could die.”

“I’m going to die,” Bianca answered. Cheren’s jaw unhinged for a moment; he hadn’t been prepared for that. “Eventually, everyone does. I’d like to live first.”

“Oh, come on,” Cheren groaned, rolling his eyes as his irritation got the better of him. “This isn’t a movie, Bianca.”

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

“Real life doesn’t always have happy endings!” he snapped. “Sure, maybe once in a hundred times, that girl who goes to fight her fears and face the world turns out okay, but you know what happens to that girl the other ninety-nine times? Huh? Do you?!

Bianca flinched. Cheren wasn’t sure if it was because of his yelling or because of the clap of thunder that had joined it in the background.

“You don’t get it,” Bianca said. “Of course you don’t get it. You’re smart, talented, strong, good-looking. You’ve always been able to do anything you set your mind to. If you gave up right now and went home, you’d have a job in Juniper’s lab the next day. If I go home… no. I can’t go home.”

“If you go home, you’ll be safer,” Cheren said, trying to speak so even a four-year-old could understand.

“Safer?” Bianca said, and now Cheren could hear desperation in her voice. “If I go home now, my father and you and everyone else that said I couldn’t do it are all right. If I go home, you all win. And I’ll be in a cage again, never able to get out.”

She shook her head.

“Whit knows. She knows everything. If she was here…”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Cheren said, “Whitlea’s not here. In fact, nobody knows where the hell Whitlea is. I’ve tried to call her – nothing. We don’t even know if she’s alive or dead!”

“And that’s what it’s about, isn’t it?” Bianca asked fiercely, turning to him, her eyes glittering with tears. Cheren somehow knew that she had misunderstood him. “Your precious Whitlea. I never saw you convincing her to go home all the time. Because she’s strong and I’m weak. I’m sorry if I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I ever wasn’t scared of my own shadow, you’d look at me instead of her!”

“You don’t get it!” Cheren said, his voice breaking as he raised it to a shout. “You – are – going – to – die!

“THEN LET ME DIE!” Bianca screamed, at the very top of her lungs, in a voice Cheren never thought her capable of using. She flinched again – a bit less than before – at a flash of lightning and a crackle of thunder. When she spoke again, it was in a cracked whisper. Her scream had all but destroyed her voice. “If being caged up is the only way I can live… I don’t want to live anymore.”

She sank to her knees in front of the large window, staring through it.

“I can’t let you die,” he said. “That’s just what I don’t want to happen. But I’m not strong enough to protect you against these guys, Bee…”

He swallowed hard, fighting down the lump in his throat. A clap of thunder went off with the force of a small bomb. Bianca flinched and hiccupped but did not look away. Cheren walked over to where she was kneeling, and sat down.

“Why are you doing this to yourself?” he asked. “You’ve got enough sense to know you’re scared of thunder by now, don’t you?”

“Sure, I do. That’s why I’m doing it,” she whispered. It was becoming apparent that she wasn’t going to get her voice back anytime soon. “You remember that one storm? When we were ten?”

“…No,” Cheren said. If it was nostalgic, chances were he didn’t remember it. That was always a source of friction between him and the girls. Even when they took their first step together past the borders of Nuvema Town, Whitlea had joked that Cheren would probably forget what that meant in a year or two.

“We were at Whitlea and Blake’s,” Bianca went on. “It was the worst storm of the year. My dad wanted me home right away… but Blake’s mom said no one was leaving the house – that we could all stay there until it blew over. We were in the basement. I was scared out of my mind. Whitlea thought it was fun, that the house might crash on top of us. But I was so scared… then you put an arm around me – you’d never, ever done that before – and you said, ‘Don’t be silly. Grown-ups aren’t afraid of lightning and thunder.’”

Cheren’s face twitched indeterminately.

Bianca hiccupped. Whether she was laughing or crying, Cheren couldn’t really tell. He’d never really been an emotional type and was never really good at reading emotions – especially the emotions of women.

“It didn’t work,” she said. “Five years later, I’m still afraid of lightning and thunder. But…”

She trailed off, looked away from him and straight through the window. The sky and room went white with lightning again, followed by a crash of thunder that shook everything so hard that it felt like someone had run a truck into the nearest wall. This one even unsettled Cheren a bit; he’d been through plenty of bad storms… but never this high up in a building. Buildings didn’t reach this high at home – not nearly.

“I think…” Bianca said, and though Cheren could barely hear her over the rain, he listened as hard as he could. “Of course, I was ten, I didn’t really know back then, but...”

The sound of rain filled the encroaching silence.

“That was… what I meant to say,” Bianca said. “Back in Nacrene. But I asked if we could travel together instead… and then you said no and I didn’t see you again until the bridge and I was so… pissed at myself. I chickened out. I’ve been chickening out for years. Truth was… is… I think that day, back then… I started to fall in love with you.”

Cheren’s heart tripped over itself for a moment, but he stayed within his own skin, sincerely hoping that Bianca wasn’t expecting a shocked reaction – because he wasn’t shocked. Somewhere, deep in the back of his mind, he had known for a while.

“I know it doesn’t matter much now… but you know, and I told you… so I feel better,” she said quietly. “Even though I know you and Whit…”

No,” Cheren interrupted – an utterance of mingled surprise and insistence.

“What do you mean, ‘no’?” Bianca asked. “I mean… I don’t really blame you. She’s funny, attractive, smart…”
“You’re funny, attractive, and smart…”
“She’s got better hair than I do…”
“Nothing’s wrong with your…”
“And she doesn’t have these… these stupid… child-bearing hips…”
“WHO CARES ABOUT YOUR DAMN CHILD-BEARING HIPS!?!” Bianca jumped a little. “If you’d stop looking at the magazines for a second, you’d know how beautiful you are!”

Cheren’s voice rang off the walls in the silence.

Bianca blinked for a moment. “You really mean that?”

“Well… well, yeah,” Cheren murmured, feeling his face grow hot.

Bianca buried her face in her hands and started to cry softly to herself.

Cheren knew what to do this time – he went to reach an arm around her. “Bee-Bee.”

She looked up at him, wiping tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m such a wimp. I just… I guess I’ll always be that little girl to you… right?”

An ample rumble of thunder followed Bianca’s quiet question. This time, only her mouth twitched. Just a bit.

Cheren’s face broke into a smile for a flicker of a second, and they shared their first kiss.

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

Dalton sat on his bunk in the Pokémon Center. No lights, no sound but the storm outside…

That was a habit of his whenever he wanted to think. He found it easy to shut everything and everyone else out.

It had been so easy, in the heat of the moment, to sink that dagger into N’s stomach. Was it just because it was N? He’d always had the feeling he would have to kill N or Ghetsis, if not both. Or was he turning into something? Something – someone – bad? It might have been for a good cause, sure, but taking a life was still taking a life.

And that’s if he had managed to take N’s life. He was probably in some undisclosed location, being mended. Dalton didn’t think he had managed to hit any of N’s vital organs. In retrospect, if he really wanted to kill him, he probably should have put the knife into his chest. He’d studied basic anatomy – he should have known that. Except those were the sorts of things that did not come to mind unless you practiced them over and over again. Dalton swore to himself in frustration. His entire point of going to college in the first place had been to land him a job that would get him close to the higher-ups of the Union Party – or Team Plasma, as they were still called here. Close enough to find out exactly what had happened to his sister, close enough, perhaps, to take out a few while he was at it.

Except the one thing he had forgotten to learn was how to kill.

That would have been a great lesson to pick up at some point. That, and how to deal with women…

On cue, the door opened. Dalton jumped to his feet and asked the question that had been burning inside him for hours.

“Okay – what the hell was that for?”

“It’s because you’re stupid, that’s why,” Talia said breathlessly.

“But you know already!” Dalton snapped. “You know why I came here! I’m here to take down Team Plasma! That is the only reason I’m here.”

“As usual, you’re not making any sense,” Talia said. “You keep talking around the problem because you don’t know how to deal with people problems. I’m not surprised you and Cheren hit it off so well. You’re both two peas in a pod – emotionally stunted little boys that hide behind their intelligence and a whole bunch of other ******** because they can’t deal with the outside world!”

Dalton staggered backward to his bunk and sat down again.

“You… don’t… f—king… know.

Talia seemed nonplussed. “What don’t I know?”

“You don’t get it by now… ” he asked.

“I get it. You wanted to be alone, and I wasn’t part of your original plan,” she said in a tone that was, to Dalton, maddeningly condescending.

What plan?! I’m making this **** up as I go along!” he retorted, standing up and starting to pace the side of the room furthest away from Talia. He was trying desperately to calm himself. “What you don’t know… you don’t know… you don’t know what it feels like to lose the only person in the world you care about. You don’t know what it feels like to get out of bed every morning and get back in bed and not sleep every night, living with the fact that it’s your own damn fault, knowing her blood’s on your hands!”

“What the hell are you talking about? I do know,” Talia said, looking insulted. “I can’t feel it, but I know because I’ve watched you.

“Then you should know why I don’t have it in me to go through that again,” Dalton answered. “I’ll settle for a draw, but I’m not losing.”

“Someone that’s supposed to be trying to save the world shouldn’t talk like that,” Talia said.

“F—k the world,” Dalton replied succinctly. “You think I’m doing this for the ‘world’? Because it’s the ‘right thing to do’? This isn’t a fairy tale. I’m doing what I’m doing for revenge. Plain and simple. I want to make Ghetsis and anyone connected to him pay and suffer for what my life turned into. The ‘world’ can go get bent… didn’t do **** for me anyways…”

“So, suppose you pull it off,” Talia asked.

“You’ve asked me this question bef—”
Suppose you kill Ghetsis, bring Team Plasma down, to the point where they can’t take over Unova or anything else.” Talia talked right over him. “Suppose you do all that. What happens after?”

“That’s what I’m trying to get you to understand,” Dalton said impatiently. “There is nothing after.”

A rainy, stormy, heavy sort of silence followed this statement.

“…So it’s… it’s a suicide mission,” said Talia shakily, her voice almost a whisper. “You’re planning to go after Ghetsis or die trying?”

“Both, if I can manage it,” Dalton said, smiling ironically. “Take Ghetsis out, lay my life down in the process, give the history books something to talk about – or not. It’d be their call – and not my problem anymore.”

“…Are you really that…” Talia muttered for a moment, then shook her head. “Are you really that selfish?”

“You’re damn right I’m that selfish!” snapped Dalton. “I don’t see anyone else that can give me what I need, so I have to take it – for myself, by myself.”

“And what do you need?” asked Talia.

“Rest,” Dalton said simply. “I need to rest. I’m tired of myself, tired of what’s around me – just tired of life in general. And I need to rest.”

“So you just want to kill Ghetsis and die, is that it?” Talia asked. “You’re just going to take that and like it?”

“Do you honestly think I can come out of this a happy, healthy, human being?” Dalton asked. “That’s almost a really good joke. Almost.

“What if I’ve got a problem with it?” she asked. “With you just being so eager to die?”

Dalton grimaced. Talia’s face was tightening with every passing, silent second.

“Talia, I…”

“No – just shut up. Stop talking.” she exclaimed. “Just… stop. Listen, you might… you might hate thinking of yourself as a hero. That’s fine. Maybe you’re not a hero. But you’re not this cold, selfish… robot that exists only for revenge. When I saw you for the first time…”

She swallowed and looked away from him.

“When I saw you for the first time,” she repeated, this time more quietly, “you wanted to know whether or not you’d been getting lied to all your life. You questioned. You were ready to fight with everything in you to find your place. You weren’t willing to follow the crowd, and people thought you were strange for that. But I…”

She trailed off again…. then shook her head.

“I can’t watch you destroy yourself, Dalton,” she said, finally choking up as she flopped onto the lower bunk. “I want to…”

She took a couple of ragged breaths, tried blinking, averting her eyes, but the tears were coming. She wiped them away quickly, almost as if ashamed of herself for crying.

“What do you want?” Dalton asked.

“Don’t check out,” she answered. “Don’t check out on me. If you leave me behind, too…”

She let out a sob that she quickly tried to cover up – but tears were still flowing down her face, which she tried to hide with one of her hands. Dalton watched her for a moment. When he sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulder, she embraced him in return, almost like she had been waiting for it. She didn’t cry much, if at all, after that.

They sat there in silence, listening to the storm and not moving. Her arms stayed latched around him. He looked her right in the eyes. He hadn’t really ever been this close to her before. They were blue and they twinkled – or maybe that was because she had just been crying.

“You’re a lot better than you think you are,” she said. “A lot better than me, anyway…”

“What?” replied Dalton, confused. “Why do you say that?”

“I… I miss my dad more than anything,” she finally said. “It hurts. And I… I really thought he’d be here. Now, I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t want to go back to Accumula Town. There’s just… nothing. I always felt so chained up and… just… stuck. I never liked it there.”

“You’ve been following me around the past couple of weeks,” he answered. “You don’t still feel stuck?”

“…Are you saying I can leave anytime I want?” she asked. It was such an obvious question that it took him off guard.

“Well… yeah,” he answered. “I thought you’d leave last time… but you came back.”

“…I didn’t want to go.”

“And… now?” he asked, knowing she would understand what he meant. But, to his surprise, she shook her head. And more than that, her gaze suddenly hardened.

“I won’t watch you destroy yourself,” she said. “I don’t give a damn if you’ve even written yourself off – I will not give up on you.

“That’s nice of you, I guess… but…” Dalton stood up. “Why do you want to keep me alive so much?”

“It probably sounds ridiculous,” she said, a half-smile crossing her lips, “but I have a good imagination. I can see you finding peace… being happy one day.”

She looked down at the ground and grinned.

“I’d like to be around to see that. Because…”

THUMP. THUMP.

Talia stopped cold.

“You’d better…” murmured Talia, sounding breathless and more than a bit flat. “You’d better get that.”

“Yeah,” Dalton said, going to the door. Dalton knew by the obstinacy of the knocking before he opened it, and sure enough, standing in the doorway was Cheren. He had his hands in both of his pockets, alternating between slouching and drawing his shoulders back, almost as if he could not decide whether this situation called for him to be more relaxed or more serious-looking. Then again, with as little humor as Cheren usually showed, it was very hard not to take him seriously. He could have been in a clown outfit, doing a handstand, and Dalton would have still felt like every word out of his mouth was a matter of life or death.

“I need to talk to you,” said Cheren.

“Obviously, or you wouldn’t be knocking my door down,” Dalton answered, stepping outside into the hallway. The lights flickered. The storm was still hanging over Castelia City, but the worst of it seemed to be over.

And for wanting so desperately to talk to Dalton, Cheren seemed to be at a loss for what to say.

“First off…” Cheren muttered, looking down at his shoes. At times, he seemed much older than his age, but every now and again, the awkward, gawky teenager that he still was would shine through. “Bianca and I…”

He trailed off, becoming suddenly interested in the floor patterns, then the flickering lights overhead.

“Uh… congratulations… I guess?” uttered Dalton, a bit confused. “Why are you telling me?”

“I thought you should know,” Cheren said, still looking everywhere but Dalton’s eyes. Dalton noticed a faint tinge of pink on the boy’s pale cheeks. “I dunno… I don’t mean this in a weird way, but I feel like… like we understand each other.”

“You know, you’re really self-conscious for a kid your age, and that’s saying a lot,” Talia answered from the doorway. Dalton’s insides did an involuntary (but not altogether unpleasant) squirm as she locked eyes with him. Cheren bit his lip. Dalton guessed that Cheren was slightly wondering where Talia got off intruding on their conversation. It’s what Dalton would have thought if he’d been in Cheren’s position. Dalton’s facial expression must have changed, because Talia gave him a strange look.

He’s got a point…

“Because you two are a lot alike, right?” Talia asked, looking between them. Then her eyes seemed to do a double take. “You even look a little bit alike, actually… except for the eyes.”

Indeed, Cheren had dark eyes – but they both had jet black hair. Cheren was not much shorter than Dalton, and Dalton thought he could even see some vague resemblances in their jawlines.

“We’ve gone over this already,” said Dalton, grimacing. “You’re looking in the wrong place for relationship advice. I don’t know any more than you do.”

“I…uh…” murmured Cheren. “Mo…moving on…”

Almost as if someone had strings on his arms and shoulders, Cheren drew himself straight.

“… …I think we should join up.”

Dalton studied Cheren’s face for a moment. He did not appear to flag, or have any intention of looking away from Dalton’s eyes.

“What, you mean, to fight Team Plasma?” asked Dalton. “You didn’t learn your lesson the first time?”

“I should have let you in on the plan,” Cheren answered. “Things wouldn’t have become such a mess.”

“Maybe you should’ve had a better plan,” replied Dalton coolly. “Or better yet, maybe you should have stayed out of it. Your recklessness almost got everyone killed.”

“I see where this is going,” Cheren replied immediately. “‘You’re in over your head. You’re just a kid, so you’ll get in the way. You’ll get yourself hurt, or worse.’ I should probably just let an adult handle it, right? Adults like you and your friend from Interpol? Yes, I know who he is. Blake and Whit told me back in Nacrene City. In any case, I don’t see him jumping up to help Bianca or anyone else.”

Cheren’s guess had been more than accurate; he had outlined Dalton’s entire thought process in a paragraph. He knew it, too; he raised his eyebrows.

“And don’t call me ‘reckless’,” he added. “I’m not the one that shanked Team Plasma’s king.”

“Let’s just call the whole thing a clusterf—k and be done,” Dalton sighed, shaking his head. “In any case, you’d probably do better to just… leave it alone, I guess. Get back to your Pokémon Training. It’s not your fight, really.”

“If it were only that simple,” said Cheren, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling in a faux-wistful expression. “Colress and N have both seen all of our faces. Unless Ghetsis is completely brain-dead, he’s going to see us as a potential threat and want all of us eliminated. Besides…”

He looked meaningfully from Talia, back to Dalton.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Cheren said. “We’re still rivals. We have to be. You want to be Champion, I want to be Champion, and only one of us can be Champion. But if Team Plasma isn’t brought down, there won’t be a Champion because there won’t be a League.

“Trust me,” Dalton said darkly, “if Team Plasma wins, not having a Pokémon League is gonna be the least of your problems.”

“So you see my point, then,” Cheren answered. “I think the five of us should travel together. And when we get to Nimbasa, we should start telling anyone who will listen about Team Plasma, what they plan to do, and the methods they’re willing to use to do it.”

“Why Nimbasa?” Talia asked. “We could start here in Castelia.”

Cheren looked at Talia strangely, almost as if he had not expected her to talk. Dalton could see the moment in Cheren’s eyes, however, when the latter realized that the question was very valid.

“If you take a look at this place, you’d know why that’s not going to work,” Cheren said. “This is the sort of place where people get too busy for their own good. They may make just enough time for family and friends… but not for strangers.”

“What makes Nimbasa any different?” asked Talia. “It’s the entertainment capital of Unova, isn’t it?”

“That’s just it,” Cheren said, and now he was starting to pace. “That’s exactly why. People come there from all around Unova – all around the world. People aren’t going to put up with this if they know it’s coming. Imagine what would happen if a trainer from every town in Unova went back home and told a couple of friends?”

Dalton frowned.

“You don’t think that would work?” asked Cheren.

“It probably would – and that’s what worries me,” Dalton replied. “You’re being naïve. Most Pokémon Trainers are, what, your age?”

“There are plenty of Pokémon Trainers older than we are,” Cheren argued.

“That’s not the point,” Dalton answered. “You’re talking about trying to raise an army to fight. What if some impressionable little kid wants to get in on the action and gets himself killed because of it? You think Team Plasma’s above hurting children? Is that it?”

“Hell, no, I don’t,” said Cheren fiercely. “They’ll hurt anyone if it suits them. They tried to kidnap a little girl. Look what they did to Bianca!”

“And you still want to pick a fight with them. That’s not very smart,” said Dalton.

“Oh…” Cheren uttered, his voice awash with snark. “Classic pot-kettle situation.”

“I’m gonna say something here,” Talia said, raising a finger. Cheren just gave her a stuck look. Talia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I know… ‘Stay in the kitchen, b—ch. Men are talking.’”

“I wasn’t gonna—” Cheren started.
Good, because you need to hear this. It’s obvious you two are too much alike to agree on anything,” Talia interrupted him. “Both of you have really good points, but I think you’re missing each other a little bit. Cheren, there’s something about Dalton you have to understand…”

“Wait… I can’t talk for myself all of a sudden?” asked Dalton, half confused, half indignant.

“This isn’t something you’d say on your own,” Talia said quickly, looking back to Cheren. “Dalton… well, he’s gone through a lot, and he thinks he’s meant to be the one to take down Team Plasma.”

“Really?” Cheren asked. “Man, and I already thought one guy with a messiah complex was one too many…”

“It’s not a messiah complex,” said Dalton through gritted teeth, unable to help throwing even Talia a dirty look for a moment. “It’s… it’s the only reason I came to Unova. That’s the difference between you and I, Cheren. If I had to choose between being a Pokémon Trainer and wiping Team Plasma off the face of the planet, I’d take out Plasma every time. But you… you’d have to think about it, wouldn’t you? You’d be perfectly content to let someone else take out Plasma as long as you got your dream of being Champion—”

“Dalton, come on!” Talia shouted warningly.

“No – he was right,” Cheren answered, looking away from both of them. “He… was right. That used to be me. Yeah, I’ve had a run-in or two with Plasma before I got here. I fought them with Blake to back him up. He’s on fire to crush all of them. You should have seen his face… I figured he’d go on to be the great hero and deal with Plasma, and I’d go on to be Champion right behind him. I’d be taking on the Elite Four while he was still dealing with Ghetsis’ rank and file… and of course I would’ve ended up stronger than him. Plasma’s goons don’t make good practice in a fair fight – that’s why they always attack in groups… Most of the time, I just thought they were a bunch of crazy activists… it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard some extremist group come up with something like that. Back before I was born, I heard a bunch of religious nutjobs tried to shut down the Pokémon League. They said Pokémon were born from evil spirits and Pokéballs were demonic artifacts used to seal their power and summon them from the underworld. Which… I guess they sorta had a point. Nobody’s sure exactly how a Pokéball works… anyway, the point is, everybody just shrugged ‘em off. You’ll still get the occasional one-off guy, but there haven’t been organized groups for years. So I figured, leave ‘em alone, maybe teach a lesson to the handful that get really crazy… they’d disappear. But… these guys are different. I don’t think they’re going away. And I think… I think if they leave bodies in their wake, they’d just see it as a sacrifice that had to be made. They’re willing to go that far.”

“I know they are,” Dalton replied.

“Well, somebody needs to stop them, then… but you know that already, don’t you?” asked Cheren. “You seem to know an awful lot about them in general, which makes me wonder…”

He paused significantly.

“You were one of theirs once, weren’t you?” asked Cheren.

“Nnnn…” Dalton started. Instead, though, he glanced at Talia, who – as discreetly and imperceptibly as possible – nodded. “Worse than that. I was raised by one of theirs.”

“Then you started asking questions, and they put you out of the fold?” asked Cheren.

“…That’s pretty much how it went. I was the type of kid that always needed to know why. My sister was the same way. Plasma couldn’t have anybody asking why… so they took her.”

Cheren’s jaw dropped. “Is she… is she… alive?”

“I don’t think so,” Dalton said simply. “Actually, there’s times were I hope not.”

Cheren’s face went through horror, realization, and then horror again. He raised his hand, opened his mouth slightly to say something… and then turned and walked away.

Meanwhile, Dalton stood still. What he wouldn’t give, as his hands shook and his fists clenched, for a way to forget. But he couldn’t forget. So he had to do the next best thing – remember always.

“Cheren!”

The younger boy whirled around, looking a bit surprised.

“When do we leave?”

“Tomorrow,” Cheren answered. “Once this weather clears and Bianca’s had a little bit more rest.”

Cheren turned his back on them again.

“We’re gonna take them apart. That’s a promise.”

~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~​

The storm was over. The sea, however, refused to sleep completely, still churning iron gray and white and crashing against the edges of the pier. The bad weather had scared most people to shelter.

All except for Blake.

He sat on a double-sided bench on the pier, soaked through to the skin but not caring much as he stared to his right, out to the horizon where gray sky met gray sea.

At least he had done one thing right – coaxing Whitlea to get her badge and leave Castelia as soon as possible. Although, a nasty voice in Blake’s head said, that may not have been the best idea, either. The idea of crossing that desert alone… not even Blake was looking forward to it. From what he had heard, there were sandstorms all the time, and trying to travel through one could get a person lost at best, and killed at worst. A lump formed in Blake’s throat. Whitlea was a tough girl, to be sure… but he didn’t know if she was alive or dead. She was his most precious treasure, one of the few people about whom he cared above all else. They had come into the world together.

Maybe he should have gone with her.

No… that would have been running away. He had just been trying to protect her from the inevitable. If he had gone himself, that would have been cowardice. And Blake was no coward.

“Interesting weather to be sitting outside, isn’t it?” the voice of a girl asked. It wasn’t Whitlea – he could tell that right off. He didn’t turn to acknowledge the voice. “Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but… you’re all wet. Let me guess… drowning your sorrows? I guess I’m splitting hairs, but most men choose to do it with alcohol.”

Blake shut his eyes tight in annoyance. Judging from the sound of the voice, the girl had sat on the other side of the bench, right out of his view.

“Do I look old enough to drink to you?” he asked. “And I wouldn’t, even if I could. Stupid thing, alcohol. Dulls the senses. Only fools and weaklings need a crutch like that.”

The girl made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a scoff. “You’re… not much of a people person, are you?”

“No, not really,” Blake said, wishing sincerely that the girl would stop talking to him.

“And yet you wish to change the world in your own way… but you’ve got the temperament of an irritated Voltorb… and the personality of a blank sheet of paper.” the girl said in a maddeningly serene tone. “You’ll never change anything like that.”

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t change,” snarled Blake. “And if you’re gonna do it, at least have the guts to show me your face.”

“Ooh, prick…ly,” she squealed. She was mocking him – not in that affectionate way that Whitlea and his friends always used to do, but genuinely mocking him. “Blake.”

This finally got Blake to turn toward the voice. She was leaning her head over the back of the bench and looking toward him. She had a curtain of long, regal-looking black hair, and her eyes were a bluish gray.

“How do you know my name?” asked Blake, standing up and stepping away from the bench.

“Your name?” She stood up. She was wearing, of all things, a long halter gown of sorts. Apparently, she didn’t like to show her legs but had no problem with her back being out in the open for all to see. She turned around toward him. “I know a lot of things about you, Blake. You’re from Nuvema Town. You have a twin sister… where is she, anyway?”

“Somewhere you wouldn’t be able to hurt her,” Blake said suspiciously.

“Hurt her? Why would I want to do that?” she asked, trying her best to sound innocent. Blake wasn’t buying it.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“You’re so rude,” she replied, folding her arms and assuming a mock-petulant pout. “You shouldn’t talk that way to a lady.”

“Well, maybe you should tell me your name so I have something to call you,” Blake answered stubbornly.

“Fine, then,” she said, pulling her arms away from herself. She took a few steps toward him, crouched into a curtsy, and said, “My name’s Estelle. Nice to meet you.”

“That’s a strange way to greet someone you’ve obviously been following for a while,” Blake answered, continuing to be suspicious. Surprisingly, Estelle smiled at this. She had dimples. Blake normally wouldn’t notice this sort of thing, but she was very pretty. Although there was this feeling of familiarity he couldn’t shake… like he’d seen her somewhere before…

“Nothing gets past you, does it, Blake?” she asked. “You got me. I’ve been following you.”

“Why?” asked Blake. Estelle giggled.

“Isn’t it obvious? Your warm and charming personality is so inviting,” she said. Blake’s face twitched. She was mocking him again. “Except that it isn’t any of those things.”

“Oh, that’s really cute,” Blake deadpanned. “Another person that doesn’t like me very much. Like you’re the first. Hell, not even my so-called ‘friends’ like me that much.”

“Let me guess… your sister’s the popular, social one?” Estelle asked. “You ever stop to think she doesn’t like all of the attention?”

Blake smiled the opposite of a smile. “You’ve never met Whitlea, then,” he said. “She loves attention. Nobody can even fault her for it because she’s the type of person people love to be around.”

“So, since you’re not that…” Estelle asked probingly, “you’re better off as a lone wolf?”

“What are you, some sort of shrink?” Blake questioned, a disparaging tone to his voice. “Of course not. You’re just some random girl that thinks she knows me, but she really doesn’t…”

Blake turned his back on her.

“Tell me, then,” Estelle said. “What makes Blake… ‘Blake’? And why does Blake insist on being so weak and one-dimensional?”

“One-dimensional?” Blake scoffed. “You’ve gotta focus on the things you do well. I train Pokémon. I look out for my sister and people who need defending. That’s what I do well. Or at least, I thought I did that well…”

“…Yes… you do,” Estelle answered, the tone of her voice sweetening.

“How long have you been stalking me?” Blake asked directly.

“Oh, I wouldn’t call it ‘stalking’,” said Estelle. “‘Stalking’ implies some sort of attraction. You’re not very attractive.”

“Oh. Gee, thanks,” said Blake sarcastically.

“Don’t get me wrong, you’re good-looking and all, but…” Estelle sighed. “Well, you’ve got more spines and barbs than a Qwilfish.”

“What the hell is a Qwilfish?” asked Blake. Estelle laughed.

“I’m assuming you’ve never been to Johto before?” she said.

“Uh… no,” he replied. “All your… stalking, and you don’t know that already?”

“I’ve only been following you since right before Nacrene City,” she remarked. “Waiting for a chance to speak with you...”

“Well…” sighed Blake. “Here I am. What do you want?”

“Oh, Blake…” said Estelle with a smile. She walked to his side. “It’s not about what I want. It’s about what you need.

“Hmm…” Blake uttered skeptically. “Okay, since you’re suddenly an expert on the needs in my life, what do you think I ‘need’?”

“You’ve got a little bit of a hero complex,” Estelle said. “You think it’s your destiny to win the League Championships… but if you’re honest with yourself, that’s not enough for you, is it? You want to leave your mark on history by doing something truly great.”

Blake watched her with an investigating eye.

“But you’re in over your head,” Estelle said, and suddenly her sweet mannerisms were gone.

“What did you say?”

“One against… a dozen? Two dozen? A hundred? How many men and how many Pokémon do you think Ghetsis has available to him?” Estelle asked. “And you’re going to go in, two guns blazing and accomplish what? You’re going to get yourself killed. That’s what. For every person that tries to be a hero and succeeds, there are a hundred that try and fail – and guess what? Nobody remembers their names.

“You think my motives for wanting to stop Team Plasma are that selfish?” Blake asked, his rage simmering right below the surface. “They prey on the weak…”

Exactly,” Estelle interrupted, looking a bit impatient. “They prey on the weak.

“…Are you trying to say that I’m weak?” asked Blake, his face contorting into something terrible to behold. “Maybe you want to battle me and find out how ‘weak’ I am?”

Estelle sighed. Her maddening smile returned. “I’d crush you and it wouldn’t accomplish anything,” she said casually. “But you’re proving my point. You don’t choose any allies, and everyone’s some kind of enemy. How long do you think you’re going to last going on like that?”

“Everyone’s not so charismatic,” Blake said. “I have to make do with what I’ve been given.”

“That’s good… because I’m here to offer you a gift,” Estelle answered immediately.

Blake looked up. Approaching them was a group of several people, appearing to move uniformly but each with a different appearance and style of dress. One was garbed in very dark gray, a feathered cap leaning off his red-haired head in a devil-may-care fashion. A second, much older man, was wearing what looked like the sort of thing that would be worn by a martial arts teacher. Appropriately (and somewhat alarmingly) attached to his outfit appeared to be a scabbard to a sword. Was that legal?

The third person, and only other woman, had royal blue hair and walked in the shadow of the fourth.

The fourth was a relatively young man, thirty at most – although his hair, which was a perfect, uniform silver-white, seemed to have forgotten this. He was dressed impeccably in a two-piece gray suit with a high-collared shirt – the type a vicar would wear.

Blake drank in the sight for a moment as Estelle turned to stand at his side, facing the others with her trademark smile. “So, this is your ‘gift’?” he asked through grit teeth. “A freak show?”

Estelle’s teeth were locked into a smile. She wasn’t listening.

“So this is your prized recruit, daughter?” the young, silver-haired man looked Blake over appraisingly. “I was expecting… a bit taller.”

“He’s the one,” Estelle answered plainly. “Although if the rest of our family thinks he’s beneath us, we can continue on as is…”

“Mind your tongue,” the blue-haired woman started, and rather aggressively at that. Estelle’s eyes narrowed at the perceived threat, and suddenly she looked a full decade older and more hardened.

The young man’s eyes flashed. “Both of you, calm down,” he said. Turning his eyes upon Blake, he spoke: “Blake… no, it doesn’t sound right. I shall call you by your true name. Do you mind?”

“Yes, I mind,” said Blake flatly. “I hate that name.”

“Do you, really? ‘Blake’ is such a common-sounding name, if you don’t mind me saying so. Hilbert… Hilbert Krieger. That… that is a powerful name – the name of a warrior,” the young man reasoned.

“Either that, or his mother was just trying too hard,” chuckled the tall, young man in the hat.

Enough, Wesson,” Estelle said, her eyes flashing dangerously.

The red-haired young man chuckled. “Forgive me.”

“While we’re on the subject of names,” said Blake, “what’s yours? And who are you guys?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” the young, silver-haired man said, peering at Blake through his spectacles. Almost as if she had been given a signal, Estelle returned to the man’s side. “We are the ones who stand in the way.”

We are the ones who stand in the way,” all five of them repeated at the same time. “The light in the shadows, the watchers at midnight, the shield of chaotic freedom that stands against the sword of ordered tyranny. We are the chosen ones. We are Ekklesia.

“And as for me…” The silver-haired young man stepped forward, his eyes glinting behind his glasses. “You may call me Father Mordecai Crane.”

END​
 
Hollering to let you know I'm keeping up. You've been a busy bee.

A lot has happened in my absence. Ekklesia seem very shady and kind of creepy at the same time. There's definitely a culty vibe about them, so I would predict that Blake will eventually join their ranks, with his hot head and temper. Still though, sitting outside through a rainstorm? He's not a big pragmatist, I guess.

Bianca got a nice bit of character development here. I've always enjoyed her little storyline, so it's nice to get a glimpse into her life. I particularly enjoyed her heartfelt confessional of why she can't just go back home - which, in turn, painted Cheren as somewhat of an a-hole. This constant "I know what's best for you, infantile woman" is giving me bad vibes, to be honest. I hope Bee Bee keeps speaking her mind in this budding relationship.

Even though Phineas is written as somewhat of a foil to Dalton, I enjoy his presence. He's no-nonsense, focused on his work and determined. Arrogant, sure, but I'm getting the feeling we'll see more of him and I'm looking forward to that.

And speaking of Dalton, he's still doing his thing. Not much to say there: he's sympathetic enough to keep the reading interesting. The confrontation at the park was a key scene, in my mind, as it effectively upped the stakes of what's being fought for. It's the first time the reader gets the sense that people really could die, and that even in a world of Pokémon, a knife to the gut is just as effective as a Hyper Beam. It's a nice balance.

But now to move on to a bit of criticism, which I hope you won't mind. The ending of that chapter was pretty damn flawless in my mind - Talia finally having had enough of this martyr bull. It was an absolutely great setup for future tension between Dalton and her... except next chapter, they're back to their banter, and she's back to her #1 goal, which is for some reason to fix this conflicted teenaged boy. Sure, their relationship is not badly written, but what would make it better is some underlying conflict. Dalton's goal is clear, but Talia doesn't seem to have agency of her own, which is kind of a wasted opportunity. When she looks for her father, instead of spending time with her, we just see her drop off the story and then pop back up later. Now, I know you might include some further development for her, but so far, reading her character has sort of been aggravating.

Referring back to Maverick Heart if I may, what made Nalani interesting is that she really did not stand for Luc's acting out that much, and even though she cared deeply for him, she still had motivations, backstory and a lot of personality. Their seemingly endless tug of war made the dynamic interesting, doubly so because it felt like both characters were fleshed out. It would be nice to see some of that in this story.

Alright, now, this is basically my only big fault so far. The story is really good, though: lots of that teenage angst that you're pretty good at writing. So, keep on keeping on.
 

Evidence42

New Member
Great chapter. I do have one question what is the exact time difference between daltons timeline and the current time line?
 

Dragon_Wind

Swordsman
Dalton goes back from 147 AH to 1 AH=2024 CE to 2022 CE, except without the pause in between, leading to a time change of 146 years in the first stretch of time, and two in the second, giving you a total of 148. This information was given in chapter 4, "A Grave New World"
 
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