Sike Saner: I'm glad you enjoyed the Letal developments, and for some reason I'm also really glad you liked the dream. I'm always trying to get dream sequences right.
vareki: Good to see you back as a reader! You're on the PM list again. I wouldn't exactly call chapter 42 a filler since a reader who missed that chapter would immediately realize they missed something (them splitting up, the deal with Molzapart and the revelation with Letal), but of course it wasn't the most interesting chapter around. Chapter 44 should be fun, though, since it has the Polaryu fight and stuff.
And then there's the League chapters, which are all action-packed and plotty and interesting because I've been looking forward to writing them for at least three or four years.
Okay, it's chapter 43 time. It might surprise you (in a non-plotty way), but it's nothing overly remarkable. Eight pages.
Chapter 43: To Champion Island
Alan will fill him in, huh?
The start of their journey across the calm sea was none too interesting, and it was all too quickly dawning onto Mark that this would be a long, long day, especially since May still seemed to be in a bad mood and hadn’t said a word to him since they’d set off. Lapras occasionally glanced over her shoulder at them, but never spoke. There was little to do other than staring at the sunny hills behind them or out at the endless stretch of deep blue ocean ahead – that and talking to Chaletwo.
the legendary Pokémon replied in his head, the voice pained. “What could I do? I didn’t really realize how little he knew until he was out there.”
I noticed you seemed really bent on not mentioning the dragons,
Mark mused. Why is that? I mean, you had no problems telling May and Alan about them or letting me tell everybody in Crater Town, even if leaving out where they came from.
“You can tell a human there are legendary Pokémon they don’t know about,”
was the frustrated reply. “But Molzapart knows there aren’t supposed to be any Dragons of Ouen. He’d start asking questions.”
Right. That made sense. And if Alan is going to discuss it with him, they’ll put two and two together, since he has definitely noticed how much more you seem to care about them than about somebody like Suicune. Gotcha.
And now he’d brought up the memory of Suicune again. He hated himself sometimes.
“It’s not that I don’t care about Suicune,”
Chaletwo responded grudgingly. “But now that he’s dead, what can we do but go on? Of course I’d try to prevent it if I knew he was in danger, but…”
But if you happen to accidentally allow somebody to kill him, it’s no big deal, right?
Mark was getting angrier than he had intended; the last thing the sensible part of him wanted was to get into another argument about Suicune’s fate.
“Please just drop it, Mark,”
Chaletwo replied, and the pain in the creature’s voice made him abruptly much more sympathetic. “It won’t get us anywhere to dwell on it. Suicune died. It was terrible, but none of us could have predicted it. We can’t change anything now. We have to think about all that’s yet to be done.”
Mark nodded decisively. “So,” he said out loud, “where in Champion Cave is Polaryu precisely?”
May looked over her shoulder at him as Chaletwo replied. “He’s in an underground chamber. Pretty deep. When he breaks out, it’ll be in that icy valley.”
Mark nodded; the interior of Champ Mountain was a cold place, and supposedly one path that could be taken to the League included a stretch of going from one cave exit to another through a frozen valley, home to a number of Ice Pokémon.
Something clicked into place in his head.
“Wait,” May said, voicing his thoughts, “don’t tell me that thing’s the reason Champion Cave is icy.”
Chaletwo hesitated in a way that did not bode well. “I can’t claim to know for certain, but it would make sense.”
May raised her eyebrows. “I wonder how long it will take us to set a world record as causes of natural disasters.”
“If this all works out, we can make a deal with Articuno to drop by on occasion or something.”
Articuno. Mark felt another painful sting in his stomach. “Provided he’s not the one draining your energy and trying to destroy the world.”
“Whether he is or isn’t, he presumably won’t be anymore by that time.”
Articuno, the Destroyer. Mark couldn’t get it to make sense in his head. It seemed so wrong
, somehow. And, he reminded himself sternly, they weren’t at all sure yet. Maybe Articuno wasn’t the Destroyer at all.
“Hey, wait,” May suddenly said. “Isn’t that a Floatzel?”
Mark looked where she was pointing and saw the orange head of the otterlike Pokémon looking at them from a short distance away. As it realized it had been noticed, it dived momentarily under the surface before emerging again, now swimming rapidly in their direction.
“I think it’s going to attack,” Mark said; May was a step ahead of him and had already gotten out a Pokéball.
“Butterfree, go! Hit it with a Bug Buzz!”
The butterfly Pokémon emerged in mid-air and immediately began to flap her wings powerfully, producing a high-pitched sound aimed towards the Floatzel. It shuddered, stopping momentarily, but then sprang out of the water, baring its fangs, and chomped down on Butterfree’s foot. The Bug Pokémon let out a cry of alarm as she was pulled into the water.
“Butterfree, Giga Drain!” May called, clinging to Lapras’s neck as she leaned towards the water to watch her Pokémon. Under the surface, Mark could see the Floatzel twitch as orbs of energy tore themselves away from its body and were absorbed into the Butterfree’s. This caused it to momentarily release its hostage, and Butterfree floated to the surface, where she managed after some desperate fluttering to get herself airborne again. She flew up high as the Floatzel rocketed upwards and jumped out of the water again with a splash; it snapped its jaws in her direction, but couldn’t reach and fell back into the water.
“Sleep Powder!” May ordered, and Mark was momentarily surprised.
“Wait, you’re going to try to catch it?” he asked as the butterfly fluttered her wings and sparkly, green dust filled the air below her.
“Well, I need a new Water-type, don’t I?” May looked at the Floatzel, swimming in circles under the surface while watching them, and frowned. “Butterfree, get it out of the water with Psychic so it will inhale some of the stuff.”
The butterfly nodded and began to glow with a purple aura as the same happened to the Floatzel. Realizing what was happening, it began to struggle madly, but slowly Butterfree’s psychic powers raised it helplessly out of the water to hover in mid-air. The otter was still flailing around when the butterfly flapped her wings once more and it was forced to breathe in a noseful of green powder. It was only seconds after that before the struggling became sluggish and half-hearted and the Pokémon’s eyes closed as it fell limp.
“Okay, great.” May already had an Ultra Ball ready, which she threw lazily at the sleeping Pokémon. “Catch the ball, Butterfree.”
The ball sucked the Floatzel in and began to fall, but Butterfree quickly wrapped it in a purple glow and kept it hovering in the air. The ball shook fiercely for a few seconds, but then stilled with a ping.
May reached out and grabbed the ball from the air as Butterfree released her psychic hold on it. “Good job,” she said, recalling the Bug Pokémon before taking out her Pokédex and pointing it at the new ball.
“Floatzel – sea weasel Pokémon,” said the electronic voice of the device. “This Pokémon has evolved an external gas bladder resembling an inner tube, giving it fine control over its buoyancy. It swims using its two tails as a propeller.”
Mark saw Lapras giving the ball a bitter look and could imagine that watching May so casually capture what was to be her own replacement wasn’t the most pleasant feeling in the world, but he wasn’t the type to challenge her over it.
“Oh, hey, she’s level 47,” May said nonchalantly. “Nice.”
“It’s a she?” Mark asked, a bit surprised; the creature’s aggressiveness had made him deduce it was male, which on second thought had been rather stupid, particularly considering who was sitting in front of him.
“Yup,” May replied while presumably switching another Pokémon to the PC in order to keep the Floatzel. “Didn’t you see she had only one spot on her back?”
She threw the Pokéball back out, releasing the Floatzel into the water beside them in a burst of white light; she floated at the surface, still sleeping. May took an Awakening spray out of her bag along with some sort of a Potion and sprayed both on the creature’s body.
The Floatzel snapped awake and began to struggle again, but upon finding she was back in the water and no longer being held helplessly in mid-air, she stopped and looked around. The Pokémon found May’s face and grinned widely, revealing the rows of sharp teeth in her mouth.
“Hi,” May said. “I just caught you, so I’m your new trainer. We’re going to the League, so I’m only interested if you can take some intense training and are any good as a fighter. If you’re just lonely or something or are going to complain, you can go now.”
Mark could only imagine what Alan’s face would look like if he were there, but the Floatzel just laughed a cackling laugh.
“What I attacked you for, isn’t it? You defeated me, so you can make me better. That’s how it goes, yes?”
May nodded, her expression still warily sceptical. “Well, that’s nice, but I still don’t know if you’re
good enough. Why don’t you stay out of your ball and show me what you can do on the way if we find any wild Pokémon?”
The Floatzel laughed again with a glint of glee in her eyes. “Of course! Showing off. I can do that. Yes.”
The otter quickly deflated her floating tube and dived down under the surface before taking a spiralling leap back out of the water, seemingly for the sheer fun of it, and then disappearing underwater again. May watched with passive interest while scanning their immediate surroundings for any signs of wild Pokémon.
Mark looked at Lapras again; she was now staring straight forward and if he wasn’t much mistaken she was swimming faster than before. The Floatzel was still swimming in wide circles around them, occasionally taking a leap that made Lapras eye her with resentment. May either didn’t notice or pretended not to.
Floatzel suddenly stuck her head back out of the water and looked back at them. “A Tentacruel! A Tentacruel!” she said excitedly, waving her arm in the direction of where she’d seen it while looking expectantly at May.
The girl nodded. “Use Quick Attack and then Crunch.”
Mark could see the Tentacruel now; the jellyfish Pokémon was lurking in the water several yards away, only its dome-shaped head and the dark eyes beneath it showing above the surface. The Floatzel zoomed forward at a high speed, took a leap out of the water and smashed her body into the Tentacruel’s. It let out a disgruntled sound of surprise as it was hit, followed by a high-pitched screeching sound that made the otter Pokémon wince as she disappeared under the surface again. The Tentacruel then screamed in pain, swung two of its tentacles out of the water with Floatzel still hanging on to them by her teeth, and smashed the otter into a nearby rock.
“Trap it with Whirlpool,” May called as the Tentacruel motioned to leave. Floatzel shook her head, crawling into an upright position on the rock, and snarled as the water around the jellyfish Pokémon began to swirl downwards, sucking it in so that it had to struggle to stay in the same place. It let out another disgruntled sound and then whipped one tentacle out of the water, flexing the end of it into an arrowhead shape before stabbing it into the Floatzel’s body. The otter cried out in pain as a purple liquid squirted out of the edges of the wound; she bit into the tentacle in retaliation and the Tentacruel withdrew it with another grunt.
“Floatzel, another Crunch,” May ordered, and her new Pokémon wasted no time in taking a calculated leap in the Tentacruel’s direction, landing on its soft head and sinking her fangs into one of the red, eye-like bulges that decorated it.
The Tentacruel let out a crashing roar and flailed around in pain; it was evident that this was dramatically more effective than biting its tentacles, and the Floatzel grinned like a maniac upon realizing this. While the jellyfish Pokémon shook itself violently to try to throw her off, she let out her claws and tightened her bite. The Tentacruel raised a few tentacles out of the water, wrapped them around the otter and started to squeeze. At the same time, the whirlpool underneath them was beginning to lose its force.
“Agility!” May shouted. Floatzel quickly deflated her floating tube and slipped out of the Tentacruel’s grasp in the split second that followed before it had managed to tighten its grip. She darted up into the air at a high speed and then shot back down into the water while the Tentacruel motioned to swim away.
Floatzel shot back towards the jellyfish and tackled it, dark purple wisps of energy releasing from the point of impact. The Tentacruel let out a garbled sound and then sank into the water; Mark wasn’t sure if it had fainted or had just had enough and was getting away. Floatzel looked back at them with a grin.
“Not bad,” May said. “Well, you need a few levels to catch up with my team anyway, so why don’t you just stay there and handle the wild Pokémon we find?”
“Yes. Fight. I’ll do it!” And the Floatzel returned to swimming in circles around them while Lapras gave her a dark look.
It really was a long day.
But now, at last, as the sun was setting, they were nearing their destination. This side of Champion Island was relatively flat above the cliffs at the base of the island, but the mountain loomed ominously ahead to remind them of the undoubtedly difficult journey through Champion Cave that awaited them. The translucent shape of a dome-shaped force field that protected the island from unauthorized access shimmered above it all in the evening sun.
“There’s a little slab of rock there near the waterfall,” May said, pointing to the left side of the roaring wall of water and foam that crashed down from the cliff in front of them. “Lapras can let us off there.”
Mark squinted at the gently sloping stone, reaching just far enough out of the water nearest to the cliff for the waves not to wash over it and just far enough away from the waterfall to avoid most of the spray, and nodded. It was getting cold, probably both thanks to Polaryu’s influence and the nightfall, and Mark looked forward to getting to the warmth of the small Pokémon Center he knew was located at the base of the mountain, near the entrance to the cave.
Floatzel was already darting towards the slab of rock, leaving a spray of water in her wake. Lapras gave the Pokémon yet another glare of resentment, but sped up the rhythm of her flipper movements now that they were nearly there. She still hadn’t said a word on the entire journey, but with each wild Pokémon that Floatzel had enthusiastically beaten to a pulp on the way, her expression had darkened, and Mark was beginning to worry she’d have some sort of an outburst. As she aligned her side with the rock and the kids stepped off her back, however, she just looked at May in silence, throwing Floatzel an occasional glance as the otter Pokémon climbed up behind her trainer.
“So,” May said at last and opened her mouth to continue, but then apparently changed her mind and closed it again.
“Goodbye,” Lapras said quietly.
“I’m… not sure whether to hope we see each other again.”
Lapras looked briefly at Floatzel and said, “I hope we won’t.”
The otter Pokémon tilted her head. “What? What is happening? Tell me.”
“I’m releasing Lapras,” May replied, her tone and expression remarkably emotionless as ever.
“Ah. She was not good enough, yes?” Floatzel suggested cheerfully.
“I asked to be released,” Lapras responded fiercely, with heat that Mark would not have expected from her. “We are not all fighting-obsessed drones like you.”
Floatzel just grinned in a way that could have been oblivious or condescending. That Pokémon was already creeping Mark out a bit.
“Goodbye,” Lapras said again, this time spitefully, and turned away to swim north.
“Goodbye, Lapras,” Mark said, feeling he should at least say something. “Have a… nice life.”
Lapras looked at him over her shoulder but didn’t respond.
“Lapras,” May suddenly called, and the Pokémon turned around to look at her.
“I…” She glanced at the otter Pokémon standing by her side. “Goodbye.”
The sea turtle jerked her head back forward and swam on, eventually disappearing behind the island.
“So do we continue now?” Floatzel asked expectantly. “We go up the waterfall, yes?”
“Mark, where’s the Waterfall HM?” May had snapped back into her ordinary self and Mark had the fleeting odd feeling they had all just made some sort of a silent agreement to never speak of Lapras again. He took off his backpack and found the CD case with the Hidden Machine move.
May looked at the otter Pokémon by her side. “Do you mind if we teach it to both Floatzel and Gyarados? Floatzel are a lot better with physical moves, and…”
“Well, it’s reusable, isn’t it?” He shrugged and handed her the HM while taking out Gyarados’s ball. He sent out the sea monster in silence while May opened the case and held the CD to Floatzel’s head.
Gyarados emerged in the water and looked around, eying the waterfall and sizing it up. “So this is Champion Island,” he just said, and the soft blue glow that was enveloping Floatzel’s head disappeared completely as she jerked her head in his direction.
“It speaks human!” she shrieked, looking up at May. “Why does it speak human? Why are those stones on his neck?”
“He’s just that special. Be still; I’m trying to teach you a move here.”
Mark had to stifle a laugh as May pressed the CD down on Floatzel’s forehead again to complete the learning process that had been interrupted. The otter glanced suspiciously at Gyarados for a second but then gave him an indifferent shrug and closed her eyes to concentrate.
“She was quick to find a replacement,” Gyarados said.
“We’re going up the waterfall, I assume?”
May handed Mark the HM and Gyarados lowered his head to the rock they were standing on so that Mark could hold the CD to his forehead as well. The shining blue hue of the CD itself spread out around Gyarados’s head for a moment and then sank in. The sea monster blinked and shook his head.
Mark climbed onto Gyarados’s back and couldn’t help imagining the monster suddenly diving and dragging him into the depths to drown. He shivered and realized with pain wasn’t sure he would ever be able to get himself to properly trust Gyarados again.
But they needed him, and the last thing he wanted was to start thinking about Suicune again, so he just fixed his gaze and mind on the top of the waterfall and the hundreds of liters of water crashing off the edge every second and said, “Okay, up we go.”
On second thought, he really should have closed his eyes. As soon as he gave the command, Gyarados lurched forward, and he only barely managed to hold on to the fin sticking out of the Pokémon’s back in front of him as he suddenly shot straight upwards. It only got worse when Mark felt their connection to the surface of the planet disappear altogether, and for a very sickening moment they were hovering in the air just above the waterfall; then Gyarados plunged down into the river again and let Mark slide off his back at the bank.
Mark had never liked rollercoasters. He spent a few moments just lying on his back in the grass, breathing and listening to the roar of the waterfall while assuring himself the ground was solid again. He heard Floatzel shriek in joy as she also shot up the waterfall with May on her back and looked up to see them climb onto the bank near him.
“Ugh,” May said, looking down at her soaked clothes, and Mark felt some grim satisfaction in the shaken tone of her voice that indicated she hadn’t found the ride up there any more pleasant than he had. He sat up and recalled Gyarados, who had wrapped himself around a rock in the middle of the river to avoid having to swim against the current, and looked around as he shook some water out of his sleeves.
Just a few meters ahead of them was where the force field dome touched the ground; there was a small rotating gate on it of the kind that made it impossible for more than one person to pass through at the same time. Behind the whitish-translucent wall, he glimpsed a few Squirtle playing in the river, and a simple trodden path led leftward to the mountain, past a smallish house half built into the rock that proclaimed itself to be a Pokémon Center, and up towards a large, dark crack that was clearly the entrance to the cave. The other side of the path led along the mountainside on the right and disappeared from view behind the rock.
The mountain itself was humongous enough that Mark preferred not to think about it.
“Well, this will be fun,” May said with mock cheerfulness in her voice, squeezing some water out of her hair. “Let’s see how that gate works.”
Mark walked to the gate and pushed the rotating door; it didn’t budge. On the right side was a metallic panel with eight shallow, disc-shaped holes in it, and it took Mark a second to realize that this was where he had to verify his badges. He took them out of his pocket and placed them in the holes in the right order, although he wasn’t sure if it mattered. The machine sprang to life, a small black screen below the holes flashing with green letters saying ‘PLEASE REMOVE YOUR BADGES’.
He took them out one by one and put them back into his pocket, and as he removed the last one, the resistance preventing the door from rotating abruptly disappeared, causing him to almost fall through the gate before it locked in place once again with him safely on the other side.
The Squirtle had noticed him and watched him curiously from the other side of the river. He momentarily considered trying to catch one, but then realized that capturing a low-level Pokémon now would require him to either sacrifice a lot of time training it to be able to participate in the League or basically never use it at all, and he needed enough training as it was without adding a low-level new member into the mix – besides, he reminded himself, Gyarados would do just fine as a Water-type no matter how little he trusted him anymore.
He waited for May to get through the gate and they headed silently towards the Pokémon Center. He eyed the silhouette of a big turtle-like Pokémon watching the sunset from the sea to the north, but said nothing and wasn’t sure if May noticed it at all.