Pokemon GO! Mystery at Discord Center
Blanche's eyes slid sidelong to their youngest roommate wiping his nose. “Bless—”
“Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!”
“Thanks,” Spark sniffled. He'd been hit earlier in the day by the sleep spores of a vileploom while helping the other Trainers coral the Pokemon into the gym. Though he'd been revived shortly after, the inside of his nose still tickled like he'd snorted a pile of dust.
Spark pulled up the blinds of the broad living room corner window overlooking the landscape. He let out a low, slow whistle at the silver darts of rain needling the window. “Man, it's really comin' down, out there.”
Lightning strobed through the sky, illuminating the sodden training ground two floors below. Seconds later, its companion of thunder rolled through night. The wind slanted the rain in thick silver sheets across the land. Thunderheads curled over the sky in graphite gossamer waves, heavy in breadth and grandeur, but light as breath across ice. “I haven't seen a storm this bad in forever. It's got to be a hurricane. Look at that wind! Did we bring in the lawn chairs?”
“We don't get hurricanes here, doofus. Yes, I brought in the lawn chairs.” Candela sat crosslegged on the couch, barefoot in her sweats, and facing the wall-mounted television screen just down from Blanche's window bench. Her fingers flew over the console controller of her gaming system as the flashing images of her first-person POV shooter game became her world.
“Duh, genius. I was making an observation. I grew up in this region, you know.”
“Uh huh... No!” She shouted to the game. “Son of a—Let me heal you! I know you need healing! Shut up! I am but one angel of mercy, you giant bag of d—!”
“Achoo!” Spark sniffed.
Blanche flipped to the next page in her hard bound book. “The weather report stated clearly that is would be the worst storm of the season, and would likely last into the night. We had to bring everyone inside; except for the Tentacool and Tentacruel. They love it.” She'd taken to reclining in the window seat nook squaring off the glass corner. Her side overlooked the training ground, and the whole floor-to-ceiling window let in a gorgeous panoramic view of the country side behind Harmony Center. The distant lights of the town were reduced to foggy pin points due to the heavy rains. She was surprised she could see them at all.
“Sucks we're stuck inside.” He bounced on the balls of his feet, feeling restless, and played with the strings of his orange sleeveless hoodie. “I wanna go for a ten K run and hatch some eggs. No, a twenty K run! I might get some water Pokemon out of it. Wanna come, Blanche?”
“No.” She flipped to the next page without lifting her head.
“Have fun. Stay safe.”
“I wonder if Markus is up for the challenge. I could tell him about the statistical odds of hatching a Ditto! It's really fascinating!” That Instinct trainer lived to hatch eggs and run. Markus Go had quickly become one of his best friends over the past few months.
“Don't go outside. You'll get lost.” Blanche mumbled in a barely-caring, observant tone. She noted his buoyant behavior, and was about to mention it, when a yellow blur blasted through the living room at top speed, leaving a small sparking discharge trail in its wake.
“Pika! Pikapikapikapikapikapikapikapikapikapikapika!” Zipper lived up to his name as he darted through the house, around the kitchen, between the chairs, up onto the small kitchen table, over Candela on the couch, around Spark, up and over Spark, jumping onto Blanche's lap, and back to the floor.
Blanche watched the Pikachu resembling a highly caffeinated toddler. She flicked her glance to Spark, who'd taken to bugging Candela to play the game. Zipper wasn't the only one with increased amounts of energy.
“Can I play?” He reached for the controller. “Just one game.”
Candela horded her controller. “Personal space, Spark!”
He reached over the back of the couch. “Just one game. I swear I'll unlock something cool.”
She knocked a bag of chips onto the carpet when she moved to put her foot up in his face. “No! No touchy!”
“There are chips on the floor,” Blanche raised the timber of her voice and lowered her book. “Candela! Chips! Floor!”
“Oh!” She stopped struggling with the grabby hands of her roommate and leaned over the cushion to pick up the bag. She knew how much the Mystic team leader hated food outside of any container when not in the kitchen. “Oops. Sorry.” She scooped the rest of the fallen chips into the bag, and what she couldn't fit, crammed into her mouth. Crumbs flecked to the floor. She'd cleaned up the mess, but the damage was done.
Blanche's face twisted with an expression someone gives to a slug shriveling up under a pile of salt. “You ate that off the carpet?”
“Ten second rule.” She plopped back on to the couch with her mouth full.
“It's 'five second rule,' and it's still disgusting. Studies actually show that the moment food touches the floor—”
“--It's fair game,” Spark dug through the bag of chips, and crunched up a handful. He tried to snare the controller from Candela when she wasn't looking, but she wouldn't have any of it.
“Keep your grimy hands off!” Candela pressed her foot into his chest.
Spark kept a grip on his side of the controller. “Sharing is caring.” He crunched on a stray cheesy chip that wound up on the seat cushion.
Blanche cleared her throat. She had a theory that his bond to Zapdos had something to do with his hyperness. He wasn't usually this annoying. They weren’t sure what secrets remained undiscovered regarding their connections to the three Pokemon of legend. She should probably let him know what was going on, and maybe calm down. “Spark?”
“Then I don’t care! Paws off the merchandise!” Candela barked.
“It's the house console.”
“Right now, it's mine!”
“I don't see your name written on it.”
“Flareon! Get me a marker!”
An excited “Flare!” sounded down from the open entrance to a storage space above the apartment. A slim set of railing-less stairs lead up to it. Most of the smaller Pokemon enjoyed hanging out up there, so it was re-purposed to be their personal space when outside their pokeballs.
“Spark,” Blanche tried again.
“You scared I’ll get ‘play of the game’ instead of you?” He laughed.
“In your dreams, biscuit brain.”
“Spark!” Blanche finally had to raise her voice to get through to the two children.
He paused to turn his attention to her.
Candela took the opportunity to yank her precious controller back into her own hands, sending him sprawling backwards. Unfortunately, he landed on Zipper racing through the living room.
“Kaaaaa!” Zap! Zipper let loose a discharge shock that engulfed Spark in an yellow glow. The electrical energy in the storm charged up the little pikachu, so the voltage coursed through its human at a stronger level than normal.
Spark sprawled out on the floor, dazed, his head swimming from the power rush. His fingers twitched as his system tried to absorb it all. He groaned and sat up.
“Chu. Pi-pika.” Zipper cringed. He hadn’t meant to let off that much of a charge, but having a big creature fall on him hurt. It was just a reaction.
“Hah!” Candela knelt on the couch, arms over the back and holding her trophy. “Serves you right.”
“Sorry, Zipper. Fine, Candela. You win—“ A sudden strong sense of agitation and restlessness joined the overcharge. He’d felt this before. Now when was the last time it happened… Oh yeah! The common room of the whole center. He gasped. “No no no no no! Not in the house!”
Blanche and Candela both arched an eyebrow questioningly at their roommate’s mad scramble to the balcony door. He pulled the miniaturized ultra ball from hoodie pocket, shoved the sliding glass door aside, and fell forward with the pokeball held skyward.
In half a breath, it returned to normal size in his palm. A stream of energy unlatched the ball on its own and shot a dart of light into the air. The great bird of lightning spread is wings to the fullest, as if stretching in the freedom from confinement. It squawked down at him in time to a loud 'boom' of rolling thunder.
Rain soaked him in seconds and darkened the fabric of his hoodie. He rested his hand above his now slightly-glowing, marigold eyes to block the water and sighed in relief at narrowly avoiding a catastrophe. “Dude! Really?! You could have destroyed the living room. Remember what happened last time?”
Zapdos stayed level above the balcony, not affected at all by the driving wind and rain. Lightning flashed around it. It did remember, and thought that the humans and Pokemon diving for safety was funny. It let out a sound that could only be its unique way of laughing.
“Yeah, you’re not the one who got their butt handed to them by the professor for that. I know you hate your pokeball, but unless you can change your size, the house is off limits. Kay, buddy?”
It rolled its dark eyes, sending a crack of electricity overhead.
“Yeah, I know. It sucks.” He thrust both hands into the sky. “Go play! Fly! Knock yourself out, pal!”
Zapdos flew a tight circle, and disappeared into its home territory—the angry storm clouds. It was finally out in the maelstrom to play, and it was happy.
Spark envied it. Soaring through the storm sounded like fun. He wished he could be up there with it. He smirked. “Being able to control lightning must be amazing. Wish I could do that.”
Leaving his wishes to the mercy of the elements and the elemental bound to his heart, he moved back inside and closed out the storm. The door slid easily along the track to click shut.
Candela had gone back to playing her game. “You let it out?”
“It let itself out. It was feeling 'cooped' up.” He snickered.
“Uughh,” she groaned. “I'm going to hurt you for that one.”
“You’re dripping all over the floor,” Blanche stated. “Stay here. I'll get you a towel.” She got up, grabbed a dark green towel from the hall linen closet and tossed it to him.
“Thanks.” He pulled off his drenched hoodie and used the towel to wipe off his face as he disappeared into his room to change into a dry set of clothes. He emerged seconds later in fresh jeans, a blue sweatshirt with a screen print of a piece of toast with large eyes on the front beneath script that said 'I'm Toast', and clean socks.
He tossed the used towel into the bathroom with his wet clothes, then turned, and was surprised to come face to face with Blanche. Her next move shocked and confused him even more. She clasped her fingers around his jaw. “Uh…Blanche?” he mumbled through pursed cheeks pressed in by her fingers, giving him a minor case of fish-lips …What are you doing…?”
“Your eyes,” she said flatly, noting minute details of the slight golden glow. “You’re connected to a legendary Pokemon who can control storms, and we're in the middle of the most intense seasonal meteorological occurrence to date in this region. You released it to…have fun…so there's no battle, and you're not stressed. This is the first time this situation has come up. The more data I can gather, the more we can understand.”
He blinked down at her, a little nervous and awkward. “Oh...kay... Can you understand without squishing my face?”
Momentarily ashamed that she'd pushed her way so far into his personal space, she lowered her hand. “My apologies. I should have asked first.”
“Eh, it's cool,” He smiled. “I'm getting used to your weirdness.”
Candela leaned back when her game saved and she shut it down. “I'm going for a run through the halls and take a few laps around the gym.” She stood and cracked her shoulders, hands clasped above her head and stretched. “My back hurts from carrying my team.”
“I'll go with you. Let me get one of the eggs from the lab first.” Spark hurried past her to grab his black sneakers by the door when the lights flicked out. A crack of lightning mixed with the timpani 'boom' of thunder cut through the house in brief bleached flickers of light. Everyone froze.
“The power's gone out,” Blanche noted.
“You did it, Blanche! You solved the mystery!” Spark cheered.
She narrowed her eyes in disdain at his sarcasm, and knew he could see it.
“Yes!” Candela punched the air. “Thank Arceus I didn't need to save!”
“Zapdos?” the shortest of them suggested as the reason for the outage.
“You let your bird out and this happens right after?” Candela said. “Convenient.”
“This isn't its fault.” Spark walked to the window, relieved that seeing in the dark didn't pose a problem in this state. He watched the form of the legendary bird glide through his faint, ethereal reflection in the glass, made even more surreal from his once dark hazel green irises. Zapdos spiraled through the sky amid lightning strikes, drawing them toward it like it was playing with ribbons. “It has no reason to fry the Center. It's happy.”
“Maybe it did it out of spite,” Candela folded her arms.
“Nah, it's not that kind of Pokemon.” he glanced back with a sly grin and knew his visage made it that much more mischievous. “Moltres is, though.”
“He's not wrong,” Blanche shrugged.
Candela defended her companion hotly. “Moltres is misunderstood and majestic, and you're absolutely right.”
She wanted to release Artiuno so her vision would carry the same effect of seeing everything as Spark's did, but knew her Legendary would loath her for it. Now, if this were a snowstorm, it would be a completely different story. “The power could be out for a while.”
“We should go find Professor Willow,” Spark said. Zipper climbed up onto his shoulder.
“And check on the Trainers.” Candela offered. She whistled for her flareon, who bounded down the stairs to her.
They all agreed, put on their shoes, grabbed flashlights, and ran out of the apartment into the dark halls of the research center.
It didn't take long before they found their first victim of the power outage—a young, new trainer to team Mystic, clutching her squirtle to her chest in fear.
The trail of confused people lead all the way to the heart of the facility.
* * * *
Anyone with a fire type Pokemon already out of its ball had ordered it to light up the room every now and then, and the charmanders' tails drifted in the darkness like mobile candles. There weren't that many Trainers here today. The coming storm had sent most of them back to town to their homes and warm beds before it hit. This power outage made it clear that Harmony Center had yet to cater to a large, consistent crowd. About thirty Trainers in all were accounted for in the building, and since the center was large and they were spread out, the place looked like a ghost town.
Ai, the young Instinct trainer, handed her pichu a lightbulb. She had just reached level 7 that morning when it was still clear outside, and was too excited to head the warning to return home. The pride of her accomplishment that pushed her to that level was managing to use her Eevee to catch this little pichu. She was trying to teach it how to create a soft discharge into the bulb so she could join the others in creating light, but it, like the other electric types, were feeling charged up from the storm. Its voltage was more than it could control, and it wound up zapping its trainer. “That’s ok, Pichu,” Ai groaned, lying on her back. “Maybe try for the lightbulb next time.”
Nurse Joy had a back-up generator going to keep the medical equipment in her area alive.
The trio jogged up to Professor Willow speaking with two other researchers and the nurse. “Professor!” Candela called.
“There you are.” Professor Willow faced his three top assistants.
“What happened to the lights?” Spark asked.
“Please tell me the mainframe isn't damaged,” Blanche pressed in earnest. All of that research...
“Balls with that. What about the incubators?” All of those innocent eggs...
“The mainframe is protected. The incubator's are fine. They're on the same grid as the medical generator. Only the surface systems suffered. Relax.” Professor Willow noticed the golden hue to Spark’s normally dark green eyes. “Spark. Tell me this is not Zapdos’ fault.”
“Why does everyone keep blaming it?” he defended. He gestured to the nearest window in the waiting room where they stood. “It’s a clusterball outside, Zapdos reacted to it. It was either I let it out to play, or it crashed the living room. Literally. End of story.” lightning flashed with thunder as if to side with him.
“You do have a point.” Willow let it slide. He watched Zipper jump down from the youth's shoulder and scamper over to help Ai and her pichu.
Professor Tachikawa bounded into the room with a headlamp secured around her head. The light ring imitated a lighthouse with her twirl. “This is the best! The thunder, the lightning, Zapdos in its element, the power outage,” She bounced up to the professor. “A cup of hot cocoa and a book by charmander tail light is exactly what this night calls for. Wouldn't you agree?”
“I'd prefer a good movie and some popcorn.” He cleared his throat. “Not surprised you're having the time of your life, Professor. You're as bad as Professor Kei when it comes to storms.”
“Well, we are friends for a reason.” Tachikawa faced the leaders, grinned, and hummed happily to join up with the other researchers.
“Um...” Candela fought for the right words, but speaking with this particular researcher had always been difficult for her. She could never figure out how to have a decent conversation with the eccentric woman. She would come to her with questions about Pokemon, and that was it. Tachikawa was a walking pokedex, no question to her wealth of intelligence, but weird.
“Now, you three,” Professor Willow caught their attention from the meandering subject. “I'll need you to go flip the breakers to the get the lights back on.”
“Ok, sure,” Spark stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Easy peasy. We'll have the lights back on in less than five minutes. Where's the breaker box?”
“In the basement.”
Spark's bravado deflated. “Th-the basement? We have a basement? Like, a 'basement' basement kind of basement?”
“That's usually what basements are,” Blanche rolled her eyes. “Surely one of us is enough to solve this issue, Professor. We might be needed here.”
“We've got things handled on this end,” Professor Willow reassured her. He held out his hand. “All you have to do is send what Trainers to run across to the main common room to check in. We need to take a head count.”
Spark groaned in sour reluctance.
“Professor,” Nurse Joy walked up to them and held out a red and white pokeball, “we have a new problem. None of the pokeballs are activating. Something is interfering with the sensors.” She clicked the release catch, but nothing happened. Many of the other Trainers, including the leaders, tried to call their Pokemon. The results were the same.
“Whatever killed the lights must be responsible for this, too. There must be a connection between the two," Professor Willow suggested.
“It could be a coincidence,” Candela suggested.
“I don't believe in coincidences.” Blanche's tight, curt response ended that line of conversation.
Spark opened his mouth to argue against her when the front doors to the center suddenly burst open along their tracks like something had just bulldozed its way in. Wind and rain blasted through on the back of thunder and lightning. Windows in the waiting room flew up one by one in quick succession, crashing against their frames. Many of the trainers and pokemon cried out in surprise.
The professors and the leaders rushed to close them all. Spark and Professor Willow managed to pull the door closed, and the older man locked it.
A Valor trainer dove for the other side of the door to pull the window closed. “This is the strongest storm I’ve seen in years. And I grew up here,” he latched it closed.
Sam climbed onto a chair to push the opposite window shut and pressed down the lock. “But how can the wind open a sliding door?"
Spark offered an idea. "Maybe what’s keeping the pokeballs from working also did this.”
Professor Tachikawa gasped. She quickly accounted for all the pokeballs on her belt, and breathed in relief that all 6 of them were in place. She removed it and placed each ball into the scanner tray. A few seconds later, a blue light blinked, showing all of her companions likeness on the screen. It confirmed that all of her Pokemon were well and accounted for. “Whew. It’s still there.”
“So, we can’t blame this occurrence on it, this time.” Professor Willow picked up a pokeball as she put the rest on her belt.
“Blame it on what, Professor?” Candela asked.
He held the ball up between two fingers. “Professor Tachikawa’s Haunter.”
A cold spear ran up Blanche’s spine. “…She has a Haunter…? And we didn’t know about this?”
“Of course we did. All of the Pokemon belonging to the staff and the Trainers registered here are kept on file.”
“Why didn't you tell me?” The low timber of her voice mimicked a growl.
That didn't get past him, or worry him. He hadn't said anything, because he knew how his daughter would react. Mending their familial relationship meant not causing unnecessary waves, and he wanted to avoid surfing this particular dangerous curl. He already had enough to deal with regarding Aurora's return. It had only been a couple of weeks, and Blanche was still raw from the bitter reunion.
He handed the pokeball back to its owner and nodded with a quick, “There was no reason to.”
Blanche frowned, but said nothing –not far off the mark from her usual demeanor, though her expression held more of a dark, nervous cloud.
“This'll be a snap,” Candela grinned. “Leave it to us, Professor.”
Professor Willow nodded. “The breaker box is located on the north-east side of the basement near the gym. The door to the basement is on the west side. It's kind of a maze since we use it for storage, so be careful down there.” He checked his phone just to make sure it was getting power and sent a text message to one of the researchers in the Incubator room on the 2nd floor of the west hall. He soon received a response in a quick 'Hello darkness, my old friend?”
That was exactly the type of answer he'd expect from his colleague and best friend, Professor Mark Maple. He sent back a message to join him in Medical, and pocketed his phone. He regarded his assistants. “Communication is still working, so give me a call if you need help.”
Candela saluted with the flashlight and started walking. “Save your battery. We won't need any help.”
“Come on, Spark,” Blanche followed.
“Zipper,” he called for his Pikachu. The little guy ran across the floor in a yellow blur and jumped up onto his shoulder. Although Spark could see better than anyone else—aside from a few Pokemon with excellent night sight—he still loathed the idea of willingly venturing into the depths of Harmony Center's subterranean warehouse.
* * * *
The two flashlight rings of light shifted lazily from side to side, illuminating their path. Their footfalls were too loud in the silence normally filled with the din of chatter and the life of people and Pokemon.
Zipper clung to Spark's shoulder. “Piiiika.”
He patted his friend in reassurance.
“Ooooo, it was a dark and stormy night,” Candela echoed in overdramatic spooky tones.
“Shut up, Candela,” Both Spark and Blanche said.
She planted a hand on her hip. “You have no sense of adventure.”
“I love adventure,” Spark defended. “...Just 'adventure' I can see.”
“You're the idiot that didn't bring a flashlight.”
“I don't need one,” he braved and tapped his temple. It was true that he could make out the shapes of every object and person around him, and it was slightly brighter, but still akin to walking through a room with only one dim nightlight on in the corner. Had the intensity been higher, it would be impossible to see in the daytime without wearing shades.
“It's a power outage. We'll get the problem fixed, and report back to the professor,” Blanche huffed.
“But what if we can't?” Candela's voice went low. “What if...this is the work.... Of a ghost! Boo!”
Blanch stiffened to keep from reacting. “There's no such things as ghosts beyond Ghost Pokemon types.”
Little had she realized, she'd given Candela perfect teasing fodder. “Wait...Blanche, are you afraid of ghosts?”
“...We have a mission to accomplish.” She strode past her companions with the circle of light from her flashlight illuminating the way.
Candela chuckled. “Oh, this is rich. The nerd is afraid of ghosts.”
“I am not afraid of ghosts!” Blanche's voice shouted back from the distance.
“Don't worry, ladies,” Spark interjected. “If you're scared, just stick by me. You're safe as long as I'm around.”
“Thanks,” Candela said flatly. “I feel so much better, now that you're here. My hero.”
Spark rolled his eyes –a creepy motion on is own, since they were still softly glowing from his bond with Zapdos (who likely didn't care what the humans were going through. It was happy to be outside in the storm instead of stuck in that ultra ball.) “At least I don't cling to the ceiling when I see a spider.”
“Where did you hear that?!” Candela shouted. Her flareon at her side mimicked in a 'flare!' vocal retort.
“Come on. Everyone in this building heard you scream.”
A muscle in Candela's cheek twitched. “That thing was enormous, Ok?! It was a monster!”
“It was a grass spider.” He'd been the one to take it outside. “Not a Legendary.” 'Tch' “I can't believe the brave leader of Valor is afraid of itty bitty spiders. I guess this makes sense as to why you don't really like bug Pokemon.”
She held her finger up in his face, getting close enough that her breath brushed his skin. “I will find your fear, Spark, and when I do, I will use it. Mark my words, Instinct, this means war.”
“Bring it on.” He grinned, accepting her challenge. Zipper's cheeks sparked slightly with the same competitiveness as its human.
“You, too, Zipper,” Candela's point switched targets. The flareon beside her called out in affirmative.
“Ahem,” Blanche folded her arms, staring at her two companions. “When you're finished?”
Instead of feeling threatened, Spark actually enjoyed the engagement. Going toe-to-toe with her kept him on his own. He always enjoyed what small competitions they could come up with.
The three continued on. In the light-less trip, they came across two Mystic Trainers and sent them to the main common area lounge per the Professor's instructions.
Soon, they reached the basement entrance—a plain, unassuming white door with a blue symbol stating 'Authorized Personnel Only' painted at adult eye level. Each of them had passed this door countless times since moving here a couple of months ago without giving it so much as an errant thought.
Blanche unlocked the door with her key card and pushed it open. A rush of cold air swept up from the dark abyss. She shined her light into the small space allowing a few feet of preparation before the aerated metal stairs descended into the one place any of them had yet to venture. Going down those steps in the dark was the last thing she wanted to do. “Let's get this over with.”
Thunder and lightning bellowed outside the wide window along this corridor, briefly illuminating the hall in a bleached, eerie, skeletal flicker. To Spark, it was a warning: thou shalt not enter here lest ye be lost forever.
“It's just a basement. How bad can it be?” Candela let her flashlight's protective beam lead her into the maw of black, and walked down the stairs like she was simply going to get her laundry.
Last to follow, Spark swallowed hard, and forced his feet to take him into total darkness. Even with the sharpened eyesight, it was still too dark for comfort.
Zipper seemed to pick up on his human's apprehension, and sparked his cheeks slightly. The little Pokemon's power flickered, casting a crepuscular glow within the immediate bubble around them.
The three froze at the base of the stairs. A vast expanse of boxes, storage, and tech swallowed up into the cold midnight atmosphere. “Famous last words,” Spark remarked. Zipper hopped down to the floor.
“Flareon, use ember," Candela asked. "Just enough to see what's around.”
“Zipper, you too. Use discharge.”
Her flareon breathed a small burst of flame in time to the electrical bolt that flew upward, giving the area a warm glow before dissipating.
They gawked at what it revealed. Pathways wide enough for the three of them to walk side by side in created a labyrinth between stacks of crates, boxes, tables, and equipment. “This place stretches under the entire complex?” Spark's jaw dropped. “And the breakers are on the other side?” His face fell. “Talk about bad architectural planning.”
“The professor did say this was used for storage. Harmony Center was under construction for a long time, so some of this stuff has likely been here for years,” Blanche noted.
“At least we know which direction we need to go. That cuts our search down to a sixteenth of the area.” Candela moved forward toward the hint of a larger open area down the right hand path.
“More like an eighth. Extrapolating the estimated size of the basement from the vague directions of the breakers being north-east, our area of coverage wouldn't be more than that.” Blanche corrected.
Candela rolled her eyes. “Semantics.”
“Do you even know what that word means?”
“Yeah. It means 'who cares?'”
“...That's not what it means.”
The rustle of fabric caught Zipper's attention. His ears twitched. “Pi?” He looked behind him where another line of crates created an alcove to their left. He stared at it for a moment, but all that met his curiosity was silence.
Spark turned. “What is it, Zipper?”
“Pika,” Zipper exclaimed He bounced out of sight down the path.
“Hey, hold on!” Spark followed. He stopped in the alcove, but only saw his Pikachu, who looked confused. “Zipper?”
Zipper whipped around the small circle. “Pi...pi...pi...” He knew he heard sounds from here. He tried to explain it, but of course, Spark couldn't understand him. “Ka?”
“There's nothing here but boxes and dust, pal. Come on. Let's go. I don't want to be down here any longer than I have to.” Spark jogged to catch up with the other two. Zipper glanced behind them, though followed. Still, he couldn't shake the sense they were being tailed.
They wove through the rows of boxes until they reached the open area. Blanche and Candela spanned their flashlights around the space. They were in a hub with different paths leading to different sections of the basement.
“Great,” Spark looked around. “Which one do we take?” He pulled the phone from his pocket. “I'm calling the professor to send us a map.”
“We’re fine,” Candela snapped, pushing his phone down. “It's just a basement. We're heading north-east. We already know where to go. We don't need a map.”
He grumbled, but pocketed the phone. Calming down an enraged beedrill was easier than changing her stubborn mind.
Blanche shone her light to the right, and picked the center isle. “I'll take a quick look. You two stay here.”
“How about we each take one, and if anyone finds the breaker, yell, or something,” the brunette suggested.
“I really don't think we should split up,” Spark offered, his voice quivering slightly. "I mean, this place is massive.”
“What,” Candela needled. “Are you a scaredy meowth?”
He grit his teeth, forcing more bravado. “Me? Scared? Yeah, right. Be prepared to cry when I reach the target first,” he marched down the path to his immediate right.
Candela simply smiled. “Glad you're giving yourself advise.” She moved to the one straight up ahead.
Blanche sighed and continued down her chosen direction. Those two were going to age her quickly. At least she didn't have to worry about her hair turning prematurely white.
* * * *
Her heart pounded slightly faster with each loud click of her shoes against the cold cement floor. Perhaps in this case, Spark was right. In retrospect, splitting up may have been a bad idea. Still, logically it would prove to be the fastest way to find the breakers and gets the lights back on. Then they could abandon this place for the fresh air of the outside world. She swallowed against the uneasiness gradually crawling through her blood and willed herself to stay focused. Nothing existed down here except inanimate objects.
The sound of rustling fabric behind her made her spin around. “Who's there?” The slim path behind her remained void of life. Of course, there was nothing. She'd taken this route alone. She continued on, turning a corner into a tighter path.
Her flashlight flickered, dimmed, and suddenly winked out.
Her heart lurched. “Oh no. Come on. Come on, you useless piece of tech.” She cursed, hitting it with her palm. The flashlight remained dead. She needed light, but there was no way to call her pokemon.
The sense of claustrophobia joined the creeping uneasiness, steadily turning it into fear. The ceiling rose fifteen feet above her head, but she still felt like it was slowly pressing the darkness down on her, suffocating her like a pillow over her mouth. Her breath started coming in shallow beats. No, she thought, It's all in my head. It's impossible for the dimensions of this path and the center to shift. It would destabilize the entire structure, causing it to collapse in on itself... The sudden thought of Harmony Center succumbing to a quake shot through her mind, grabbed onto the fear, and pulled it into her head.
Something scratched against the floor behind her. She spun. Directly in front of her was a crate ...how did that get there? It wasn't in the middle of the path before. Another sound joined it, reminding her of the crackle of shredding tree bark. This time, it came from ahead of her. Like its twin, a crate blocked her path. Though stuck in the bleak misery of claustrophobia, she knew she was being walled in. The crates grew tall enough to prevent her from climbing over them, and both scraped their heavy girth closer until she could only put her hands out to the side. Then the unthinkable happened...
Her fingers brushed against the under surface of the ceiling. She was trapped. Too close. It's too close...! She began to pant, sweating and clawing for a way out. “Let me out,” she barely uttered the words past shuttered breath. Blanche crouched down around a warm pulse in her heart, and held onto that, scrunching her eyes shut. Too close...too close...help me...
She squinted, looking up. The crates were gone. She was alone.
Confused, she forced her breath to steady.
A ball of white light lit up ahead in the distance, made her heart fly. That had to be Candela. Perhaps their paths had merged. She moved toward it in hope, but it winked out. Her friend's flashlight could be suffering the same fate as hers.
“Candela?” she muttered.
A hand slipped into hers and wrapped their fingers around her palm. She squeaked out a small cry, then berated herself. Her friend was the only other one armed with a flashlight, so it couldn't be anyone else. Her heart raced despite her logic. The hand within hers tightened its grip and pulled her forward. It felt cold. She could hear the shifting of fabric, and light footfalls. Filled with an odd sense of trust, she followed. But why would Candela remain silent? Something about this wasn't right.
Don't let me go. The thoughts poured through her mind like fine sand through a sieve—thoughts not her own. She couldn't stop them. Hold onto my hand, please. Stay with me. Don't let me go in this place. Don't leave me alone down here.
It surprised her. They weren't along the lines of her normal processes. She felt like a child begging her parents to leave the bathroom light on so she could sleep at night. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a whispered name. “Candela...” Her grip tightened despite her will; a vice clinging desperately to a thread of safety. She missed how Aurora would be there for her when they were small, and vice versa. I don't want anyone to know...I'm afraid. Her thoughts circle back to those of a child once more—her own voice, higher in pitch. I'm scared. So scared. Please, don't let go. Hold on tight so I know I'm not alone.
Her breathe sounded too loud, but what unnerved her was that it was the only breath she heard.
Blanche felt the hand softly release hers. She spun toward Candela's voice and held up her flashlight on instinct. To her surprise, the light faded in to life, illuminating the figure of her friend too far up ahead at the mouth of another pathway. Both were now in a more open space harboring a table to the side with dead screens and incubators under limp blue tarps; spares just in case the active ones upstairs failed. “You...but...?” Blanche turned in sharp circles. “How...?”
“Are you ok?” Candela stepped forward, noting her friend's ashen pallor. “You look like you've seen a ghost.”
Her light swept across the space, searching frantically for the source of the one who lead her here. “If that wasn't you, then...who...?”
Her hand began to tremble.
...Who held her hand that entire time?
* * * *
“Achoo!” Spark sneezed.
“Pika,” Zipper said at his feet.
“Thanks.” He sniffled. He still felt a little lightheaded from being out in the rain and hit by that Vileploom's sleep powder earlier today. He hoped he wasn't catching a cold. That would suck.
The sound that drifted to his ears was like the soft susurration of leaves in an autumn wind. He and Zipper paused, listening for it again. It grew stronger, and he recognized the motion of fabric around a person. “H-hey...Blanche? Candela? I..if that's you, quit creeping around and say something.”
The air chilled enough to make him shiver. He heard a soft whimpering.
“Zipper, get ready.”
Zipper's cheeks sparked in preparation to defend.
Spark gathered his courage and peeked around a corner.
There, sitting with her legs curled up to her chest, was a child. She sniffled into the fabric of her long white shirt pulled over her jeans in an attempt to become as small as possible. She wore no shoes or socks.
He exhaled in relief. It was just a lost Trainer. “Hey.” He knelt down by her and motioned Zipper to stand down. “What are you doing down here?”
She looked up, blinking tear-filled green eyes like his through strands of blond hair. “Your eyes,” she began softly, “are really creepy.”
He chuckled, feeling his fear slip away. Now, he was needed. “Yeah, that's hard to explain. It lets me see in the dark...sort of.” He held out his hand. “My name's Spark. I'm the leader of team Instinct. And this is my partner, Zipper.”
Zipper gave her a friendly 'Pikachu!' greeting.
She hesitated, then took his hand and let him help her to her feet. Her head reached his rib cage. She couldn't be more than eight years old. The light motion of the triangular medallion around his neck caught her attention. She stared at it for a good five seconds.
His fingers loosened to let her go, but she held tightly, not allowing him to. The cold from her touch began to creep up his arm, like she was leaching his body heat. At the moment, he wasn't concerned about that. He needed to turn the lights on and get the hell out of this basement.
“I should get you back to the stairs, but, uh,” he glanced around. “You should probably stick with me.”
“Call it a gut feeling. See, I'm on mission to find the breaker box.”
She stared up at him. “You're lost.”
“I'm not lost,” he insisted.
“You're lost. Just like them.”
“Them? You saw my friends?”
She nodded again and started pulling him forward. “You should have never split up. It's after you, now. It made it dark so it could find you.”
As if he wasn't paranoid enough being beneath the belly of the facility, her ominous revelation didn't help. “It?”
She continued to guide him, rounding corners with ease without any light aid. “Red Eyes.”
He did not like the way she said that. It sent a chill through his bones.
Although Spark could see as if the basement were lit with nearly-dead lightbulbs, he was sure she didn't have anything like that to go by. From the way she moved, it might as well be daylight in a room without windows.
He couldn't help but send glances behind them, trepidatious about seeing a pair of floating, slanted, solid crimson eyes tailing them. Though he saw nothing, the urge to run heightened in his core. Adrenaline surged through his veins. According to her, something else was with them in the dark, some unknown malicious force living in the pitch blackness he feared the most.
“Hey,” he tried to divert his fear away with conversation. “What's your name?”
The mysterious girl remained silent. She lead him into a broad space outlined by tables supporting various pieces of medical equipment, parts, scanners, and a solid black case marked 'UL.'
Without warning, the small child's fingers slipped from his hand. She drifted forward silently into the darkness beyond his sight and disappeared.
He soaked up the haphazardly decorated area as best he could. “Look at all this stuff. Man, this would be a perfect set up for a horror movie...er...kid?” He looked around for his companion, but aside from Zipper on his shoulder, he was completely alone. There was only one way in and one way out of this place. He existed in the eerie silence for a few seconds that lasted minutes. “Where'd she go?”
He stepped forward past a replacement vanity mirror for one of the guest rooms and up to the table supporting the case. The plastic latch-tabs clicked open when he pressed them in. As he'd expected, it was a stash of spare ultra balls. If there was something dangerous in here, it might be a Pokemon, and with this, he had a chance of defeating it and capturing it, thus ending the threat. He pocketed one of the pokeballs. He prayed it was unaffected by the power outage and would function if he had to use it. Zipper jumped down to the floor.
He turned at the whisper of his name. “Hey, kid? N-not funny. Come out.”
His gaze landed on the mirror, and the reflection of his faintly-lit golden irises. The little girl was right. He really did look creepy in the dark, especially surrounded by the thick atmosphere of the unknown. The voice whispered his name again, and seemed to be leaking from the smooth surface. Its siren-esque, dulcet tone wrapped around him like cheese cloth into its trance. Cautious, he slid his foot forward.
Zipper looked up at him curiously as his human's legs moved in a languid manner toward the mirror. What was he doing? “Chu?”
“Spark,” the disembodied voice went straight to his inner ear, beckoning for his attention. “Spark.”
He stared at the space next to his reflection. The glass morphed like something rolled beneath it. His heightened eyesight picked up the outline of a slim female form shorter than himself. Its hand lifted lethargically, palm out, pressing on the other side of the glass.
The etchings on the gold medallion around his neck filled in with a slight golden luminescence identical to his eyes. He noticed it. He'd worn this most of his life since his uncle Maple gave it to him when he was 10, and it had never reacted like that before. Maple had explained that his uncle Surge discovered it when he'd returned to Hamlin Island to search for Spark's parents, but only uncovered this from the lower level observatory rubble. Maple gave this to the young Spark as soon as he was sure the boy could handle the truth. That was a rough night.
Though he couldn't make out facial features, the voice gently calling his name held a familiar, sad resonance. Spark rested his palm against the glass over the same point as the spectral mirror shadow's. “...Mom?”
The image faded out, leaving him alone.
“No... Mom. Mom!” He planted both hands on the glass.
The surface gave way beneath his touch. He lurched forward, swallowed up to his elbows by the mirror. Panicked, he shoved at it, bracing his foot against the table and ripped himself out of the mirror. He landed hard on the floor with a grunt that knocked the wind from his lungs.
The mirror's surface rippled back to a solid, as if nothing had happened.
“What the hell was that?” He breathed.
“Pika,” Zipper leaped up onto the table next to the mirror and waved his paw to get Spark's attention. “Pika..Pi pikachu. Pika!” He tried to snap his human out of it.
Spark got to his feet and shook his head. “Man, I'm going crazy in here.” He took a deep breath, exhaled, and composed himself. His head felt lighter as whatever had affected him drifted away. “Sorry, buddy. I don't know what came over me.”
Zipper knew more about Spark than anyone at Harmony Center—including Professor Maple—so he understood. In his heart, his human had never lost hope that he would find his parents again. He believed that anything lost had the potential to be found. Even something deemed lost forever.
Spark lifted the medallion. “What was that?” He let it rest against the blue sweater and looked up.
A pair of red eyes winked to life over his reflection's shoulder.
“G'ah!” Spark inhaled sharply, whipped around and stumbled back, hitting his heel against the table and knocking the glass off balance. It fell to the floor in a deafening 'crash!' that shattered it to sharp, jagged pieces. His pulse raced, hitching his breath in his throat. It was only when he focused that he saw the eyes were gone. He could make out a slight hazy, translucent blob shifting through the air toward the wall of boxes. His eyesight dimmed further despite his connection to Zapdos, until all he could see was a blanket of nothing. He existed in absolute darkness.
Desperate to escape, he reached out, and to his horror, his palms hit cold, unforgiving rock. It surrounded him on all sides and above his head. A bead of sweat dripped down his face. Not again...he didn't want to go through this again!
The little girl's warning played in his mind. Whatever she was afraid of had found him. He forced his voice to work. “Zipper. Thunderbolt!”
“Pika...Chu!” Energy surrounded the little pikachu as a yellow streak of electricity zigzagged back the way they'd come, slamming into the blurry outline and shoving it into a box. The supplies knocked it to the floor with loud 'clank' sounds as its contents spilled across the cement.
The instant flare of light burned his eyes. The glow in his irises flashed, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut. He'd been unconsciously calling upon Zapdos help to improve his sight. He'd become so accustomed to forcing himself to see in the dark that the pikachu's attack temporarily blinded him.
He covered his eyes and slouched. “Good job, Zipper,” he praised his companion despite the side effects. “I think it's gone.”
“Pika?” Zipper questioned.
“I'll be fine. Just gotta shake it off.”
“Spark, what are you doing!” Blanche ran into the area with Candela right behind. “Do you want to blind us all, you idiot?”
“Too late for that,” He cringed, cracking his eyes open. Everything was far too bright. He gave up and kept his eyes closed. He'd have to wait for the power to calm down. A warm pulse of energy bled through him from his heart; Zapdos' reaction to his panic. “I can't see.”
Blanche reached out to gently open his right eye. “Hm. At least we can learn from your mistake.” She let him go. “Why would you tell Zipper to use Thunderbolt when you're in this state?”
“I didn't know this would happen. It's never happened before. Look, we're not alone in here, guys. There's something spooky as balls with red, glowing eyes hunting us, and there's a little girl in here who's running from it.” He reached out, gripping Blanche's arm. “Did you guys see her?”
“Spark, there's nothing else down here but us and a bunch of random crap.” Candela said. She took in the scene of the broken mirror amid the toppled, burnt box. “And I'm sure the professor won't appreciate you breaking his stuff.”
“That was an accident. I didn't mean to do that. Red Eyes was right there. I saw it move. It was invisible, but I swear, I'm not lying to you.”
“If it was invisible, then how did you see it?” Blanche asked.
“I... I don't...that's not fair.”
“I admit, this entire experience has us on edge, but we have to keep it together. It's just a basement, and it's just a storm, and it's just a power outage. There's nothing abnormal about it, and no reason to be afraid. There are no ghosts in the basement.” Blanche insisted.
He hesitated. “Who are you trying to convince, Blanche? Us, or yourself?”
Her jaw tightened. How could he possibly see through her mask? His eyes were closed. “I'm not the one who hallucinated a red eyed monster out of fear.”
She'd left out the part about the little girl, and he picked up on that. “But you believe me about the kid.”
“It's unlikely a child could be down here. The door is locked. Only a staff member's key card can open it.”
“Pi pi! Pikachu, pi! Pika!” Zipper defended his trainer. He'd seen the little girl, too, so it couldn't have been a hallucination.
“Spark,” Candela rested her hand on his shoulder. “You might be an annoying goofball, but you're not a liar. You put others before yourself. We saw that with Soul's Protect. If you say you saw a kid down here, I believe you.” She looked to her companion. “Blanche?”
She sighed, pushing stray strands of hair behind her ear. “It's implausible, but... not impossible.”
Knowing that they trusted him calmed him down. “We have to find her, and get the hell out of here before that thing comes back.”
“Running after her in the dark is futile. We'll get the lights on and then search for her.” Blanche said.
Zipper jumped up onto his shoulder. Spark was about to tell his friend to direct him left or right with 'pi' or 'chu' when he felt someone grab his hand. He cracked his right eye open enough to make out the blazing blue of Blanche's jacket. His fingers wrapped around hers. Until Zapdos' power through the bond settled down, she would be his eyes.
They continued east, weaving through the corridors of support beams, supplies, and bubbles of open spaces toward their goal.
“We're lost,” Spark blurted out.
“We are not lost,” Candela replied.
“I told you we should have called the professor to get a map. 'We're fine,' you said, 'we don't need a map,' you said. Care to swallow your pride now, Valor?”
“I stand by my words. We're still going in the right direction,” she defended. “We are not lost.”
“Whatever you say,” He rolled his eyes beneath their lids. "We're lost," he mumbled in direct rebellion.
Candela angled her flashlight to her left to two large boxy machines with the sale tags still dangling from them; extra washers and dryers. She idly wondered what else the professors and researchers were hording down here.
Spark blinked a few times. He sighed in contentment. The world was back to being its dully lit self. “I can see again.” He tried to let go of Blanche's hand, but she wouldn't surrender. In leading him, she was also taking comfort for herself. Much like with the little girl, he sensed that, and returned his grip when she finally relaxed hers.
She glanced back to him, wanting to ask why, but he simply smiled back.
“It should be right around here somewhere.” Candela followed the light of her flashlight, hoping it would cross over their target. “Finding it is the hard part. Resetting it is easy. I had to reset the one back home all the time. One too many appliances plugged into the wall, and boom! Lights out.”
“I hear ya. My uncle's was a mess.”
“Candela, I think you're underestimating the complicated nature of a control panel regulating power for a facility of this size.”
“It's just a breaker box,” Candela shrugged it off, glancing back to her worried rival leader. “How bad can it be?”
The path let them out into an open corner space with a right and left row leading further into the depths of the labyrinthine room. Wires and cables neatly arranged snaked up along the gray wall.
The box itself served as its center point. It was massive, holding three columns of color coded switches side by side. The wires bled out from its hub like hungry vines.
“I really wish you'd stop saying that,” Blanche stated.
Candela left the duo. “Relax. It's a few switches. We'll have the lights back on in no ti—“
A pair of blood-red eyes blinked to life directly in her line of sight, mere inches from her face. She screamed, dropping her flashlight and stumbling back.
The only two sources of light in the room winked out.
Blanche's skin matched her hair to a wide, terrified expression.
Spark hugged Zipper, who's fur fluffed out.
Flareon cried out and hid behind her Trainer's legs, shivering.
The eyes circled them slowly, sizing them up. Though Spark could make out the outline disturbing the air around them, the others could only see the disembodied red specters.
It let out a loud shriek and dove toward them.
The trio screamed in unison and scattered as the eyes tore through the space they just abandoned. It's raspy laugh mimicked the rusty groan of old door hinges. The sound bounced around the space and making it impossible to pinpoint its location until the eyes opened again.
The blood in her veins turned to ice. Candela stared into the soulless, upward slanting eyes of something blending into the darkness. What she couldn't see, her imagination more than filled in. The red eyes set above a maw of sharp fangs on a head connected to a bulbous black body manipulating eight jointed legs with the grace of a drunken puppet master.
Fear gripped her throat, choking any scream from escaping. Her heart pounded, her mind froze, and her body trembled. Even as she stared unblinking, the eyes winked out, leaving her alone in the darkness. “Where is it? Where did it go? Where did it go?!” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Flareon. Flamethrower... Flamethrower, now!”
“Flare!” Her Eeveelution fluffed up its brown fur, gathered its power, and sent a plume of fire directly at the previous position of the eyes. They appeared overhead, mocking her, taunting her.
Flames lit up the room.
Candela refused to blink. Each inferno attack revealed her greatest fear—all eight of them. “Again! Again! Again!” She backed up against a metal crate. Moltres reacted to her fear, igniting the mark on her heart from their bond and giving her the strength to command her limbs. She had to keep this threat at bay.
“Zipper! Help her! Use Thunderbolt!” Spark ordered and clamped his eyes shut.
Zipper joined its friend on the attack, sending a blast that violently ignited the room to the brilliance of day. The dual attacks struck different items thrown at them; books, boxes, spare parts. They had to protect their trainers.
He stumbled forward, blind by choice, toward where he remembered the breaker box. A rush of cold wind swept through him. He felt like his insides were doused in ice. Something cold and inhuman passed through him, drawing out a gasp that chilled him from the inside out. It through off his directional sense off balance. The breaker could be in any direction, now. “Dammit. Blanche! you have to get to the breaker. I can't see! You have to find it!”
Blanche trembled on the floor, watching with wide eyes as the scene came to life from the fire and electric attacks. The flashlights lay on the floor, useless and dead.
“Blanche!” Spark yelled.
She blinked, and in that moment, a little girl with blond hair and green eyes knelt in front of her with her hand out. The child's expression displayed that of concern and desperation. Was this the girl Spark was talking about? How was she not affected by the darkness?
The little girl waited patiently. “It makes it dark so it can find you. Make it not dark anymore.”
Blanche glanced to her hand, then back, and willed herself to move. With trembling fingers, she placed her long-fingered palm into the outstretched, tiny hand. A sense of cold immediately crawled up her skin, stealing its warmth.
As if in response, a wash of warmth flowed from her heart to her limbs—her bond with Articuno. Even trapped in its pokeball, it could still pick up on her distress. She pulled on that aid and stood.
The little girl lead her to the breakers and let go of her hand. Her voice resounded more through her mind than her ears, and mimicked the thoughts she'd heard earlier when she was alone holding the hand of an unknown phantom that lead her back to her friend. “My name is Alice.”
Blanche looked down, but she was gone. “Alice,” the name left her lips like a soft breeze. She swallowed. She eyed the expansive panel, lit up in spastic, intermittent flickers of orange and yellow. It was up to her to end this nightmare.
She began flicking every switch back, then forth to reset them, going down the line of each column in blinding speed. If she focused on this, she could fight the fear of ghosts and claustrophobia constantly clawing at her chest.
Her fingers flew across the breakers, resetting each one until she finally reached the reset lever. Gripping the rubber of the thick metal switch in both hands, she pulled on it with all her strength. It fought back, making it clear it had never been forcefully reset. Finally, it slammed down to the 'off' position. Blanche immediately pushed it back up to 'on' with a loud 'crack!'
The naked bulbs in the hanging saucer lights above their heads buzzed and crackled to life in successive rows spanning across the ceiling. One by one, each row lit up more and more of the basement until the entire subcomplex bathed in the blessed artificial light. The familiar, welcoming electronic hum of the generators replaced the stagnant silence.
Blanche rested both palms against the metal surface. At last, light. Beautiful, amazing light.
The wounded Red Eyes cried out, diving for the first shadow it could find—Spark's.
"Spark, look out!" Blanche cried.
Spark opened his eyes automatically from a rush of cold that pulled from his back, and instantly regretted it. The new lights were too much. “Ah! Son of a—!” He braced his arm over his face, but the burned image of Blanche staring at him from the breaker box remained etched into the backs of his eyelids.
He could feel the phantom nearby. He pulled the new ultra ball from his pocket and tossed it in Blanche's direction. “Catch it!”
Blanche picked it up, sized it back to normal, and took aim. “Zipper, use thunderbolt on Spark's Shadow!”
“Pika!” Zipper ran over, jumped into the air, and sent a bolt of concentrated electricity spearing at the floor behind his trainer. “Chuuuu!”
Red Eyes screamed out of the shadow, clawing up from the floor.
Spark scrambled away as soon as he felt released.
Taking her chance, Blanche threw the ultra ball at the space between its demon eyes. It connected. In that moment, its form became visible. Blanche and Candela watched as the ball popped open, snared the purple form in its energy, and pulled it into its confines. The ball dropped to the floor. It wobbled twice, three times, ...then stopped. The sphere on the front glowed, confirming the capture.
Blanche exhaled. She walked over and stared down at the ball, not yet ready to pick it up.
Spark stood. “The air just got a lot lighter. You caught it, right? What was it?”
She knelt, hovered her slim fingers over the ultra ball, and finally accepted it. It seemed impossible that she, of all people, a bastion of truth to understand everything as best science could offer, had just captured the one pokemon she could never understand, and thus feared. “A wild Gengar.”
Candela walked over and lifted Spark's hand so he could hold onto her shoulder. She knew he'd have to keep his eyes closed until he could recall Zapdos, or the energy calmed once more. She didn't want to admit it, but she wanted contact from another living person right now. Flareon and Zipper stayed at their feet. “No wonder we were all scared out of our minds. It used Illusion to show us our fears. That would explain the giant spider.”
“And the sense of claustrophobia.”
“And the mirror,” Spark added.
“You're afraid of mirrors?” Candela's eyebrow raised.
“No, but it showed something relating to it.”
“Like I'm that Stupid.”
“You know ours. It's only fair.”
“Fine,” he paused, “It's...the dark.”
“You're afraid of the dark?”
“Don't judge. I'll tell you later. Let's just get out of here where I can open my eyes, please.”
Blanche stared at the ball, then looked to her friends. “Where's Alice?”
“Who's Alice?” Candela asked.
“The little girl. I don't believe she was one of Gengar's illusions.” Blanche pocketed the pokeball.
They looked around, even Spark out of habit, but the lingering stillness convinced them that they were alone. If she wasn't part of the Ghost Pokemon's trickery, had they all simply imagined her?
“Let's go,” Candela spoke up first. The trio made their way back to the basement door. Even with the lights on, the expansive warehouse-like subterranean room still gave off an eerie vibe that had them walking at a fast pace just to escape.
Spark felt a small hand slide into his right palm and hold on tightly. He glanced down despite the futility of the motion. He couldn't see anything, but he could sense the presence of someone there, and hear the light bare footfalls of a child. The hand within his was cold. “Good, I'm glad you caught up to us,” he smiled slightly.
“Thank you,” he heard a small voice say in a smile.
Candela glanced behind her slightly, seeing the blond hair of a short girl in a long white shirt and jeans walking next to Spark. She smiled. Thank Arceus they didn't have to come back here to look for her. She saw Spark tighten his grip on her tiny hand, and felt relieved that she'd made their jobs easier.
He walked hand in hand with the little girl while keeping his left on Candela's shoulder. When they reached the stairs, he took each step after listening for his friend's steps on the metal first. “You'll be ok once we get you out of here. It's been one hell of a night, huh.”
Alice's hand squeezed his in answer.
After they walked through the basement door to the glorious freedom of the first floor of Harmony Center, and Blanche closed and locked it, they heaved a sigh of relief.
“I never want to set foot in that place ever again,” Candela leaned against the wall with her eyes closed as Blanche rested her hand on her knees. Her hair spilled over her shoulders.
Spark moved across to the window, slid it open with one hand—keeping his other firmly around Alice's—then pulled Zapdos' ultra ball from his pocket. He recalled the Legendary to a squawk of disapproval. His eyes returned to normal. He opened them, blinked, and smiled. The storm was a beautiful sight. “We made it, Alice. Now we can get you back to—“
Spark looked down at the little girl, and froze. He could feel her grip, feel her cold skin against his, but his fingers closed around nothing. Confusion, uncertainty, and fear bound together in a knot in his chest that seized up his muscles. The chill from her grip subsided as he felt the sensation and pressure of her hand gradually fade away. It left him clutching a disturbing sense memory.
“...” No way. He was holding onto her the whole trip back to the door. She hadn't let go of him—not once.
Candela and Blanche stared wide eyed at the place where they all knew a barefoot little girl should be standing. “Where's Alice?” Candela's whisper choked past her suddenly dry throat.
Alice had helped them all in the threat of the gengar's illusion. She had made sure they all stayed together, and they'd heard her thank them on the way back to the outside world.
Spark painfully relaxed the tendons in his fingers and held up his hand. “She was right here. I was holding on to her...
or is it?